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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 13:21 GMT 14:21 UK
A different calibre of game
How much room is there for surprises and innovation in fighting games, wonders Daniel Etherington of BBCi Collective in his weekly games column.

Screenshot Soul Calibur II
Mix of old and new characters on offer
The fundamental beat-em-up formula has not really changed much in over 15 years.

There are thematic variations such as boxing and wrestling, but if Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance, released earlier this year, is anything to go by, the genre is stagnant.

Then there is Soul Calibur. This 1999 Dreamcast title, sequel to Namco's earlier game Soul Blade, was the most refined beat-em-up to date.

It boasted a sophisticated combat system, sumptuous graphics, and even a mission mode, which provided a strong sense of purpose for solo gaming.

Thankfully, the slick control, baroque visuals and involving one-player mode return in the new, multi-format sequel to Soul Calibur.

Specific characters

Most of the same characters are also back, including the fearsome Nightmare and Astaroth, the kinky Voldo and Ivy, and the cool Maxi and Mitsurugi.

Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat offered few surprises
But there are also new characters - swordsman Raphael, Necrid (a contribution from Spawn comic creator Todd McFarlane) and platform-specific additions. On Xbox this means Spawn himself.

I have had a bash on the PlayStation 2 version, where the platform-specific geezer is Heihachi from Namco's other beat-em-up franchise, Tekken.

But I have the most experience with the GameCube incarnation, which is graphically sharper, has a better sense of oomph in the blows, but suffers slightly from the agonies potentially incurred by getting carried away with the dinky controller.

Like the Dreamcast game, Soul Calibur II invigorates the beat-em-up. But I am still not convinced about how much variation is possible in this genre.

There is always the chance of some serious innovation with Soul Calibur III.

Soul Calibur II is out now for the GameCube, Xbox and PS2.

Daniel Etherington writes for BBCi Collective, exchanging views on gaming, music, film and culture.

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