It's not often that we here in the Western world are privy to the plethora of games released in the Japanese market. Along with a multitude of games that contain questionable content (most of which would never get past our censors without that all-to-coveted R18+ rating), there are literally hundreds of fighting games that have seen the light of day in Japan that we will most likely never even know about. Tatsunoko vs Capcom was
one of those games. However, by some divine miracle, Capcom has seen fit to release the game in the west, for you the fans - completely updated with extra features. And on Nintendo's Wii, no less.
I was lucky enough to be exposed to this impressive game last year on Wii via a Freeloader with a few beers and an entrepreneurial friend. Several months afterwards I found myself in the heart of Tokyo's youth district, in an underground arcade playing the original release. From my previous dabble, and having tirelessly played Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, I was familiar enough with the game mechanics, however, after a few rounds against the CPU I had my ass handed to me by some locals.
As I am sure you all know, Capcom's Vs. series pits Street Fighter and other infamous Capcom characters against another selected franchise. Most previous franchises you'll likely be familiar with, but Tatsunoko may be a little more obscure - at first glance anyhow. Tatsunoko has been, for many years, one of Japan's leading animation studios. Although not a household name here, they have a history dating back to the 60s, releasing titles you may be familiar with such as Casshan, Tekkaman (Teknoman Blade) and, probably more famously, Gatchaman (Battle of the Planets). All of which feature playable characters in the game.
Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars - the seventh in the Capcom Vs. Series - initially loads up with 20 characters, providing you several more to unlock through completion of Arcade mode. Sprawling Capcom's colourful and jam-packed gaming history, Megaman, Morrigan, Viewtiful Joe, and Street Fighter favs Ryu and Chun-Li all appear, and that's just to name a few. We westerners are also lucky enough to be graced with extra characters including Frank West from Dead Rising.
There is an effective balance between characters' power to speed ratio, something that Capcom have a knack for achieving. It's also quite refreshing that Capcom have decided not to smother the character roster with an overkill of Street Fighter characters, instead choosing to represent a wide range from their other titles.
Ultimate All-Stars takes place on the familiar 2D fighting plane previous Capcom fighting games have made their home(not counting Street Fighter EX, but let's pretend that abomination never took place shall we). But for a first in the Vs. series we are provided with beautiful cel-shaded fighters - retaining the cartoon-like appearance many of the Tatsunoko benchwarmers are better remembered for; full of the colour and vigour of their original iterations.
Backgrounds are interesting and busy, all rendered in 3D polygons juxtaposing the cel-shaded characters creating a bright and thoroughly interesting visual appeal, even on the Wii. We can bitch and moan about the Wii's lack of high-def, and the lo-res visuals will always appear deficient, but this game looks pretty similar to its original arcade version, with only minimal pixelation appearing in the character animations.
Speaking of which, character animations are fluid, fast and imaginative; move-sets (beyond older characters we know) are all original - obviously drawing on their source material. Frank West for example, can set zombies on screen that lurch across until being knocked down or make contact with anyone. He comes replete with a baseball bat and can call in for a trolley, and while these moves sound a little ridiculous, they seamlessly meld with the overall presentation without coming across as farcical.
With a three button combat system consisting of light, medium and strong, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a lesser version of previous Vs. titles. However, don't be fooled - Ultimate All Stars does have a brilliantly shallow learning curve but any advanced player can focus on their aerial attacks, combos and counter/reversal techniques. With such a diverse range of different special moves and fighting styles it will take time to master everyone.
Along with the two usual Wii control options, we are thankfully and expectedly offered the use of the classic controller or GameCube controller. Although it's still worth forking out the cash for an arcade controller, just to make the experience that bit more genuine.
Musically, Ultimate All Stars delivers exactly what we have come to expect - an absurdly cheesy J-Pop opener with techno background tracks. It's worked good thus far for Capcom, is synonymous with their fighters and I see no reason to change it now (it's kind of like their trademark).
The game contains several unlockable bonuses. A gallery, Illustrations, new outfits etc, which can be bought from the shop with 'Zennys' you earn from playing. The most interesting unlockable feature, however, is the 'Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom Ultimate All-Shooters' A top down old-school style shooter, reminiscent of old NES titles.
Comparisons between Ultimate All-Stars and Street Fighter 4 are inevitable due to release timing but unjust. This game is of a different style and continues a legacy of games that relies on a player's ability to pick a team that has effective combined abilities to play in a fast paced over-the-top environment whilst still focusing on technique (or button mashing if you're a newbie).
With quality graphics, a fast pace, Wi Fi Connection play and a strong roster of characters Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a definite buy. It's the quintessential Smash-Em-Up for Wii (that's right, even better than Smash Bros) - a system that is severely lacking in quality fighting games. You honestly can't get better on the Wii. Period.