Soulcalibur Review

Soul Calibur gets the fighting right, but without online play or the single-player mission mode that made it fun to play alone, this XBLA re-release is a flimsy package.

But the soul still burns?
But the soul still burns?
You know, my least favorite thing about the Soul Calibur series has been Namco's unwillingness to stick to one spelling and capitalization scheme for the series. At some point, Soul Calibur became SOULCALIBUR and, in some cases, was also listed as SoulCalibur. But regardless of how Namco is spelling it this week, all you really need to know is that this Xbox Live Arcade release is a lightly updated remake of the first game in the series that offers the same gameplay that made it such a hit on the Dreamcast back in 1999. But the featureset is more in line with the arcade version, and it lacks online play, making it feel like a $10 teaser or a demo for the latest game in the series rather than something you might actually want to add to your collection.

For those unaware, this is a weapon-based 3D fighting game featuring all manner of characters, from samurai dudes with samurai swords to armored ladies with a sword and shield to a dude with nunchuks and a hairdo that screams "rockabilly date rapist." Then there's a sword ghost, a bondage fiend, a dual-wielding pirate, and Yoshimitsu from Tekken. There's a pretty good variety overall, covering the standard range of speed and power.

But chances are you probably already know a thing or two about Soul Calibur, considering how popular it was on the Dreamcast. This version faithfully duplicates the gameplay and looks reasonably nice for a cleaned-up version of a game that's been around for close to a decade. It's sort of lame that the game doesn't let you expand to fill 16:9 displays by just showing more background or, as an alternative, cutting off the top and bottom a bit to change the aspect ratio. Instead, you're left with a tastefully mute Soul Calibur wallpaper that surrounds the game screen.

The real problem with this re-release is the lack of features. Modern releases of fighting games have online play. Even the remakes and downloadable re-releases of the classics on Xbox Live Arcade have adhered to this standard, and Soul Calibur feels pretty empty without it. If you're living in a neighborhood full of people who are down to play Soul Calibur, maybe this isn't an issue for you. In my neighborhood, where I'm the only one who's even remotely interested in any fighting game at all, it's a deal breaker.

It's like salting a wound, then, that this version of the game also lacks the enhanced single-player options that made the Dreamcast version so rich. You get team battle and a pair of survival modes, as well as practice and a basic museum mode full of concept art and voice tests. The mission mode from the Dreamcast game isn't here, which was the sole reason to care about playing this game by yourself in the first place.

In highly conditional situations, I could see recommending this re-release to someone. It's a quality fighting game and it's $10. But all the caveats weigh heavily on the full package, and left me feeling like I was playing half of a game.