Everything but ‘net.
Fans’ prayers were answered late last year when 2007’s Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, the best game to ever bear the name, finally became available on modern consoles, and it made the transition near perfectly. Now, with Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R (say that three times fast) not only do Vita owners get a pixel-perfect port of the original release, but they also get exclusive North American access to the most recently balanced version available. And though the lack of online play hurts the overall package, AC+R is still an enjoyable fighter for beginners and experts alike.
Now, that last bit is something you probably haven’t heard about Guilty Gear before. Much like the guitar virtuosos providing the stellar soundtrack, Guilty Gear players are known for their uncompromising technical prowess. Few fight fans would contend that there’s ever been a more mechanically advanced 2D fighter. Controls map to the Vita without compromise, and the wide array of mobility options and flashy moves for each character can be appreciated within minutes of playing.
But man, I’ve been playing fighting games since they existed, and I still had to put in major work just to get anything resembling a combo down. Where I can learn a solid combo for any member of the cast in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 within 15 minutes or so, anything threatening in Accent Core took a couple of solid hours to get down. And that’s without getting into the hard stuff. Guilty Gear’s input interpreter is as strict as they come, and even normal moves can have a dizzying number of unique properties that become crucial in specific situations. While this may sound intimidating – and it is – it’s this very depth that’s kept hardcore players coming back for years to level up their game. Don’t let the double-black-diamond steep learning curve dissuade you though, as you can still have plenty of fun at the foot of the mountain without trying to claw your way to the peak.
While many of the finer points are tucked away under the hood for advanced players to discover and exploit, you don’t need an expert’s eye to discern what makes these characters special. The biggest freak show of a cast Capcom ever managed to conjure up was for Darkstalkers, but Sol, Ky, and the gang make that lot look like a Saturday morning cartoon. Slayer is a vampire assassin with a “come at me bro” walking animation, and Johnny’s cane-sword and fedora helped him define “swag” way before it started popping up on tee shirts. If the original had ever seen a real domestic arcade release, Ky and Sol might very well have been the next Ryu and Ken… or at least the next Scorpion and Sub-Zero.
For as varied as the 25 characters look, their play styles are even more divergent. They wield everything from swords and scalpels to undead dogs and yo-yos, and unlike many other fighting games, even the oddballs can be bigtime threats in the right hands. One of AC+R’s biggest changes is that Kliff and Justice are both unlocked from the start, and have been toned down in power to match the rest of the bunch. Every member of the cast has some sort of unique mechanic to leverage, or some way in which they appear to break the rules of the genre, like Baiken the one-armed samurai who can cancel out of block stun, or Jam who can string her various special moves together in any order she’d like. Sure, it may take some head scratching to figure out how to apply these concepts in useful ways, but in the meantime you’re throwing out screen-filling flame punches of doom and riding a dolphin into your opponent’s face.
The real question is how this port stacks up to more modern games, and its handheld contemporaries, which have largely been of high quality. Visually, AC+R fares very well. The art direction is incredibly strong, and like most games with a vibrant color palette, it looks great on the Vita’s screen. While it’s a bit disappointing to see it limited to a 4:3 aspect ratio, it was a necessary evil for remaining true to the original’s gameplay. Sure, its modern-day console offspring look better, but graphically it stands proud against Vita’s other fighters. In terms of features however… well that’s another story.
AC+R’s menus seem indistinguishable from those of AC’s console release at first. The fully featured, but confusing-to-navigate training mode is back, and still lacks the detailed move descriptions that Arc System’s newer games sport. This may sound like a minor detail, but in a game where moves can have so many unique properties, it’s actually quite valuable. As is a combo trial mode, another staple of modern fighters that AC+R lacks. But easily the biggest omission in this port is that of online play. Despite being the most competitively tuned version of the title available in the West, the only option you have for fighting other people is an ad-hoc connection. Needless to say, this is hugely disappointing, since human competition is the beating heart of one-on-one fighters. The substantial single-player content is identical to the console in every way, but the inability to reliably play against others puts a considerable damper on the experience.
Both mechanically and visually, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R is an excellent fighter, whose gameplay matches the quality of any of its portable compatriots. Its also the only way (for now) that North American Guilty Gear fans can get their hands on the most balanced version in existence. But every other fighting game on Vita offers netplay, and without it, you’re stuck hunting for someone else with a system and a copy of the game if you want a real fight. It isn’t enough to kill all the fun, but it does make AC+R feel incomplete compared to some other portable brawlers.