IGN Review of Soulcalibur Legends
"What's the point?" asks main character Siegfried after you've successfully completed some battles in Namco's new spin-off, Soulcalibur Legends. It's just an end-stage one-liner, of course, but it nevertheless feels like the sword-wielding warrior is reading our minds. This new Wii-exclusive effort from Namco borrows some of the storyline elements and characters from the popular Soulcalibur fighting games, but it ditches the winning play mechanics from previous titles for a new action-adventure makeover that's heavy on simplified hack-and-slash and light on brawl control depth and cinematic presentation. The end result is an experience that borders on Soulcalibur for dummies. Fewer characters, a watered-down fighting system and all-around slimmer production values - but there is waggle. You won't find us at the peaks of mountains trumpeting the successes of this re-worked design, but neither can we call it a failure. The core package is still entertaining for a short while, particularly if you're a die-hard fan, but the repetitive swordplay and recumbent level designs will inevitably wear thin.
Legends is powered by a convoluted storyline involving ancient swords and evil demons. There's a war. You need to collect shards for this powerful sword. If you've played a Soulcalibur game before, you will undoubtedly recognize some of the common themes. The game begins with a semi-impressive full-motion cinematic that hints at higher production values than are actually maintained throughout the entire experience. The atmospheric setup eventually gives way to static storyline snippets where text scrolls over unmoving backdrops. Every so often you'll encounter a game-engine cut-scene that guides you along your quest, but these are usually over shortly after they begin. To its credit, Namco has hired adequate voice actors to give color to the characters, but unfortunately genuine speech is usually benched in favor of textual dialog, and the occasional one-liners that do pop-up seem out of place.
The title doesn't hold any gameplay secrets - it is pretty much exactly what you see in videos. You pick a character - there are upward of seven that become available through the course of the game, including Siegfried, Mitsurugi, Ivy, Taki, Sophitia, Astarotha and Lloyd from Tales of Symphonia (a great addition for fans) - and go through stage after stage fighting enemy after enemy. The design is so simple and so templated that veteran gamers will surely grow bored with it quickly. But it's not bad. While lacking any real depth, the controls are passable. You move through the locales with the analog stick and can perform a handful of unique moves per character with the Wii remote and nunchuk, whose motion controls are both used. Flick to the left or right with the nunchuk and your fighter will side-step in the appropriate direction. It works most of the time. Stab forward with the Wii remote and they'll thrust their weapon forward, too - again, most of the time. Swipe vertically and horizontally with Nintendo's controller and your on-screen warrior will do the same with their weapon - uh-huh, most of the time.
The motion controls do feel a bit tacked-on - a sloppy replacement for buttons and with no tangible purpose besides the obvious, which is simply to use waggle on Wii. They generally are fun to perform, though. There are moments in the heat of battle, to be sure, when gesturing with the Wii remote to carve up enemies feels more tactile than merely tapping a button. Add in the special moves, which can be performed with the Wii remote after tapping a button, and there is at least a hint of the fighting franchise before it locked away in the action title.
Legends runs at a near-constant 60 frames per second (and in both pro-scan and 16:9 widescreen, although the latter is cropped) and as a result the game has a very fast, action-friendly flow to it. (This flow takes a hit in the included two-player split-screen cooperative and versus modes, unfortunately.) The speedy fluidity is easy on the eyes, even if the sometimes-blurry textures aren't. The biggest in-game technical shortcoming, though, is the camera, which lags behind corners as you run through hallways, disabling a proper view until it's occasionally too late.
As you advance through the title, you will gain new weapons and upgrades, in addition to unlockable characters. You will eventually be able to choose multiple fighters and toggle between them, utilizing their strengths for particular battles, in different levels. The more weapons and upgrades you make available, the meaner your characters become on the battlefield. This RPG-light element adds a much-needed layer of strategy to the experience and simultaneously offers a compelling reason for die-hard fans to keep playing. We make the distinction between devoted Soulcalibur players and other Wii owners because we don't believe players who aren't already invested in the franchise will be able to sit through dozens of the same looking stages and same few enemy characters in order to keep advancing, even if there is the promise of unlocking extra items.
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