The closest I’ll ever come to being a hardcore fighting gamer is knowing that Soulcalibur is one word. So now that I’ve established my credibility as a fighting game authority, let me tell you why I really like Soulcalibur IV.
After the jump, it’s all about the do
In Soulcalibur IV, you can select a random character. I don’t mean random character in the sense of letting the computer choose whether you play Ivy, Voldo, or Kilik. I mean random character in the sense that your character is assembled from random bits and pieces. Maybe it’ll be an Astaroth body wearing jodphurs, a frilly blouse, and a monocle. It could be a pirate in leather S&M gear and a cowboy hat. Who knows.
This is a great way to play head-to-head arcade matches with your friends who also don’t know what they’re doing and might not even realize that Soulcalibur is one word. So there we were one night, banging random characters into each other. Soulcalibur IV even lets you knock bits of armor off the other character if you keep hitting him hard enough. This is mostly amusing for reducing female characters to their unmentionables. Ha ha. There’s nothing quite like punching your buddy down to his brassiere.
One character was wearing a helmet on this particular evening. No big deal. Just a metal helmet. Nondescript, to protect his melon. After taking repeated blows to the head, the helmet shattered and a generous afro appeared with that same gaily springy “pop” of a magician producing a flower from his sleeve. Who knew that was under there? We couldn’t have been more delighted if a candy geyser had erupted from his ears.
Maybe you had to be there, but at that point in time, Soulcalibur IV secured its place as one of the greatest fighting games of all time. No one expects an afro. No one.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a lucky dice throw to get an afro. Heights of tailor-made ridiculousness are freely available in the character builder. You can paint your characters just as you’d paint your army in Warhammer. What’s more, there are also items with stats that determine how a character plays, and what special abilities he or she has, complete with an almost Dissidia level of customization based on stats. It’s kind of ridiculous, really. Is it wise to allow so much flexibility in something that should be as finely tuned as a fighting game? I suppose that’s why you can choose to disable the character abilities when you’re playing.
Revisiting the actual fighting in Soulcalibur IV hasn’t been so easy, and of course, we’ll never recapture the magic of the revealed afro. It’s tough to adjust to the range of movement in a 3D game after playing so many 2D fighters, and the characters are weirdly icky. It seems like every other character is a sexual deviant. Also, the move list is pretty unfriendly to casual players, as are a lot of the game’s mechanics. I understand there are fatalities in Soulcalibur IV, but I’ll never know, because I can’t get through the obtuse mechanics of soul crushes and the soul gem and, uh, whatever else I’m supposed to know to do a fatality. But I don’t really need to know that stuff. The RPG character-building aspect, along with a nifty challenge tower that’s every bit as good as the Mortal Kombat challenge tower is goofy, makes Soulcalibur IV an incredibly gratifying single-player game about dressing up dolls and making them punch each other silly.