Title :Virtua Fighter 4
Platforms :Sony PlayStation 2
Publisher :Sega
ESRB Rating :Teen
Game Rating :8.5
Review by :Ken Gagne

The venerable Virtua Fighter series was born ten years ago, with an arcade game that can now be found in the Smithsonian under the heading, "First 3D Video Game". Sega's fighter now appears for the first time on a non-Sega console with the release of Virtua Fighter 4, for the Sony PlayStation 2. 

Whether or not this game is for you depends on your preferred fighting style. There are essentially two modes of fighting games: fantastic and realistic. The former encompasses such games as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, where fireballs, gravity-defying hurricane kicks, and preposterous fatalities are the norm. Such attacks are usually executed individually using complex joystick motions. 

In comparison, in realistic games, such as Tekken and Virtua Fighter, characters' moves are modeled after actual fighting styles and consist primarily of punches and kicks. Single attacks are easy to perform, but must be strung together into deadly combinations for any real effect. 

Virtua Fighter is very much a realistic fighting game. It is not something one can pick-up-and-play with any great success. The moves a character can perform vary depending even on his or her stance; understanding these subtleties takes practice. Though it's possible on easier difficulty settings to mash the buttons and pray for victory, fighting veterans will perforce dedicate themselves to learning the ins and outs of the game's mechanics and each fighter's repertoire. 

A player who becomes familiar with the flow of Virtua Fighter's style can perform works of art, however. Deflecting and countering attacks with moves normally seen in a Jet Li movie are not uncommon by those who know how to execute them. 

There are diverse modes in which to participate, including the standard Arcade and Vs. Kumite mode offers a variety of awards — usually costume accessories and other trinkets. Players can also train an artificial intelligence (A.I.), which will copycat players' moves and learn from them. This mode is a cross between a sports game's "Coach" mode and raising a virtual pet — neither of which is as good as the real thing. But while editing player and A.I. data, I was able to consistently crash the game, forcing a reboot. 

The deep gameplay is accompanied by impressive presentation. The characters are lifelike, though their frames of animation do not always flow smoothly from one routine to another — especially for the player who is randomly hitting buttons and not making an effort to connect his attacks. 

The backgrounds can be stunning, with numerous moving figures and plenty of detail. The spacious arenas are ringed with walls which may or not be breakable, the penetration of which can result in an instant "Ring Out" defeat. Other effects can also be altered by player action, such as snow on the ground which is pressed flat during a fight. 

Virtua Fighter is an exemplary title in the genre of realistic fighters. It offers plenty to reward the player serious about his gameplay, and a fantastic presentation and variety of fighting styles and gameplay modes that will immediately appeal to anyone. It can also be an intimidating game for those new to the series. Approach with caution.

This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 08-Apr-02