While Namco Bandai is set to bring Soulcalibur IV to consoles in just over a month, for many fighting game fans, the original Soulcalibur remains the highlight in the series. Originally released on the Sega Dreamcast in 1999, the game featured a colorful band of fighters, silky-smooth controls, full eight-way run movement, and cutting-edge graphics for its time. The game is set for a revival, thanks to its upcoming arrival as a downloadable game on Xbox Live Marketplace, and we downloaded a preview copy of the game to see how it stacks up against the original.
First, the good news: Visually, this is a pretty faithful re-creation of the original DC game and, yes, those decade-old graphics still hold up remarkably well. The character animations are still as speedy and fluid as you may recall. Lumbering giants, such as Astaroth and Rock, feel immediately different from lighting-quick warriors, such as Taki and Xianghua. Better yet, the game controls beautifully and the characters are just as responsive as you might remember. Also, because the Xbox 360 controller is reminiscent in shape to the old Dreamcast controller (though obviously less unwieldy), your fingers will feel right at home executing your favorite combos from the likes of Kilik and Maxi.
While the characters themselves look great, the backgrounds don't always hold up. First of all, the game runs in 4:3 aspect ratio, with the Soul Calibur logo taking up the pillar boxes on each side of the screen. No problem there, really, but on a modern high-definition television set, the disparity in the texture quality between the ground underneath your fighter's feet, which is remarkably clear, and some of the background textures can be pretty noticeable. Interestingly, while the far background textures can be occasionally blurry, some of the background objects that are positioned more in the foreground are just as clear as the ground textures beneath your feet, resulting in a sometimes odd disparity. Still, for a ten year-old game, Soulcalibur still delivers.
So we know that Soulcalibur looks a lot like its forebearer. It certainly sounds like the original, what with the original music, character voices, and that dramatic voice-over ("The soul still burns..."). So does that mean it's a note-for-note reproduction of the original game? Well, not exactly. One of the key features found in the Dreamcast game, Mission Battle mode, is not in the Xbox Live version. In the original, Mission Battle mode had you guide a character through a storyline, taking him or her through multiple battles and earning points as you went along. You could use those points to unlock extras in the Museum mode; things like concept art, fan art, and the like. Though Mission mode is removed in the XBLA version, the game will still have all of the items in Museum mode unlocked automatically from the beginning.
Modes in Soulcalibur include Arcade, Versus Battle, Team Battle mode, Time Attack, Survival, Extra Survival, the aforementioned Museum mode, and Practice. While online fighting seems like a natural for a game like this, it doesn't seem to be in the cards for Soulcalibur, though the game will include leaderboards where you can upload Time Attack times and scores in Survival and Extra Survival Mode. If you want to get your online fight on, it seems, you'll have to do so in the upcoming Soul Calibur IV for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game is due for release this summer and will run you 800 MS points when it's released.