'Soulcaliber': A Beautiful Mashy-Slashy Mess
"Soulcaliber" for iPad brings the familiar family of heavily armed weirdos together on a touchscreen platform using virtual arcade controls. The action is relatively easy to get a handle on, and the game delivers the exagerated, bone-crunching action the series is known for. At $12, though, the price may also be a little over the top.
04/24/12 5:00 AM PT
Action games can be tricky to pull off on iOS. Everything's done through a touchscreen, so you don't have as much tactile feedback -- there are no buttons under your fingertips to let you feel exactly where you need to touch at precisely the right moment, while your eyes are busy with the screen.
Some games have based their entire designs on touchscreen use. "Infinity Blade" I and II let the player control swordplay action by slashing away with a fingertip.
Others try to take a game originally designed for a console and port it to iOS by giving the user a virtual joystick and set of buttons. The images of the controls are found on the bottom corners of the screen, and just like a normal arcade game, you control the action by touching the buttons and moving the stick. Except you can't feel them.
I found this virtual arcade approach off-putting the first few times I played games that used it. Nothing felt right. But I've found that two factors can have a big impact on whether a given implementation of the virtual arcade approach "works" or not. One is iPad vs. iPhone/iPod. The bigger the screen, the less of a proportion you're covering with your thumbs.
The other is the nature of the game itself. How tolerant is it of button mashing? That is, can someone do reasonably well at the game by randomly hitting buttons? One-on-one fighting games are usually like that -- have been since the original "Street Fighter II," and probably long before. Another classic, mashy fighter game is "Soulcaliber," which has recently found its way to iOS.
Blast From the Past
The "Soulcaliber" series first debuted in the late '90s, and although I'm not highly familiar with the games, I understand the iOS version is similar to the original title.
The goal is fairly simple, at least in Arcade Mode. Select a character out of the 10 offered. All have multiple outfits, and some look quite creepy. Each specializes in a certain type of hand-to-hand weapon, ranging from an enormous sword to some sort of knifey-hand claw contraption. Once you've made your selection, please proceed to beat the tar out of everyone else, one by one, in an array of exotic locations. Make it all the way to the final bad guy -- some kind of being apparently composed of fire and stone -- and you'll unlock yet another character to choose in future battles.
There's a faint whiff of a story in "Soulcaliber," but after beating Arcade mode with three different fighters, I still couldn't really tell you what that story is. You're told the ending to your character's saga once you defeat the final baddy, but I don't recall being told the beginning. Where are these characters? Why are they fighting? How is my soul strengthened by mashing someone up with a set of nunchucks? The answers to these questions and more are no doubt found in some specially dedicated wiki online, but not in the game.
Are games like this even supposed to have a plot? How about this: The story is, a person bought a game on iTunes and is now having a wonderful time turning ridiculously dressed opponents into jelly. You want a plot? Read a book.
What "Soulcaliber" delivers is some over-the-top, bone-crunching combat. Epic combos send bodies flying halfway across the room; then they just get up and take on more abuse. Each punch lands with a satisfying impact, but even though we're dealing with bladed weapons, blood and gore are nowhere to be seen -- this is not "Mortal Kombat."
Would you like to play as a 110-lb. femme fatale using a foot-long knife to take down a masked behemoth four times your size with an impossible haircut and an axe the size of a tree trunk? Have at it. You have a more than even chance of beating him if you know what you're doing.
Button-mashing isn't the only way to play a game like "Soulcaliber," of course. The more difficult settings require actual skill, and if you go head to head (which you can do via Bluetooth) with someone who has any kind of experience, you might have to actually know what you're doing. But on medium difficulty, I was able to beat the last villain without knowing anything about combos, special moves or strategies.
Those are things you can learn, however, in Practice mode, which pits you against a dummy opponent and provides a complete rundown of all the moves your character is capable of. Other modes include Survival (a never-ending parade of opponents) and Time Attack.
"Soulcaliber" makes for a good few minutes of mindless slamdown action. Its characters are suitably over-the-top, and unlocking new ones keeps things interesting. You'll need a relatively new device to make the game work, though -- iPad 2 or newer, an iPhone 4 or newer, or a fourth-gen iPod touch or newer.
The only thing that really gave me pause about this game was the price. At $12, it's outside the range of a typical top-shelf iOS game, especially considering that it's a port of a title long past its heyday. It's still a good one-on-one fighter, even on iPad, but I wonder if charging nearly twice the price of a game like "Infinity Blade II" is kind of pushing it.