When it was released last year, the PlayStation 2 version of Virtua Fighter 4 was the best home conversion of Sega's acclaimed arcade fighting series to ever hit the market. The game's solid visuals, tight controls, and impressive array of game modes provided the underrated series with its best shot at mass appeal. Sega and developer AM2 are now following up with a home conversion of the arcade follow-up to VF4, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, a game that featured some significant improvements on its predecessor. We've spent a good amount of time exploring an import copy of the PS2 version and have been impressed by what it has to offer.
In its attempt to create the illusion of online play, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution is essentially the fighting game equivalent of Nintendo's Animal Crossing. With VF4: Evolution, the development team at Sega-AM2 has not only built upon the kumite mode found in the original PS2 game, but it has also improved on the original's use of computer-controlled characters to create the impression that you're playing against human opponents with different styles. Of course, other aspects of the original Virtua Fighter 4 have also been expanded upon, including the roster, the character customization features, the visuals, the training mode, and even the arcade mode.
In particular, Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution adds special "mission matches" that appear at different times during the arcade mode. These mission matches add certain criteria to the fighting, and you'll earn a prize for your fighter if you can meet them. In one instance, you must land more punches and kicks than your opponent before the end of the match, while in another, you have to perform four throws to earn the prize. Of course, you don't need to fulfill these criteria to win the overall match and progress through the arcade mode.
But the additions to the arcade more are pretty insignificant when viewed in light of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution's quest mode, which is essentially a much more diverse and robust version of the kumite mode from the original Virtua Fighter 4. After selecting a character, you'll be brought into a map area that initially has two different areas to choose from: Sega World West and Event Square. There are other areas to go to in the quest mode, but they will have to be unlocked.
Sega World West allows you to challenge a steady stream of opponents with varying ranks and skill levels. This particular area also provides an excellent demonstration of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution's refined fighting AI, as you'll see several different fighting styles being used by the same characters. Interestingly, some of these opponents even have badges that you can earn by winning the match, though these opponents can and will challenge you repeatedly to get their badge back if you defeat them. Of course, the ranking matches also make a return appearance, so your fighter will be able to move up in rank by winning several matches in succession.
The Event Square area is a little different from Sega World West. Here you can enter your fighter into one of five tournaments types, such as knockdown clash, iron fight, survival, wall deathmatch, and hyper action battle. Each of these tournament types has special stipulations that come into play during battle. For example, in knockdown clash, extra damage is inflicted upon any fighter who gets knocked to the ground, and in an iron fight tournament, fighters compete in a single-round match where punches and kicks do very small amounts of damage. But perhaps the most entertaining type is the hyper action battle, which speeds up attacks and combinations so the game plays more like Dead or Alive and other fast-paced arcade games.
If you win any one of these tournaments, or at least place in the top three, you'll be rewarded with money that you can use to purchase items in the store. These items range from masks and headdresses to blocky character models from the original Virtua Fighter. It seems as though the number of items available in the game has been increased substantially, as you'll see while participating in Sega World West fights.
Even the two new characters, Goh Hinogami and Brad Burns, can earn some new gear by going through the quest mode. Interestingly, Goh and Brad play a little differently from most of the other characters in the game. Specifically, Goh is especially proficient in ground attacks, while Brad has a dizzying array of punches and kicks that are suited to a kickboxing style. They also seem to be designed for veterans of the Virtua Fighter series, as very few of their combinations are accessible via button mashing.
To top everything off, the technical aspects of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution are an improvement on the original as well. The new versions of each stage are much crisper and more detailed, and the characters now sport a much softer look. There is some weird choppiness when the camera pans around an arena before a fight, but otherwise the game maintains a brisk frame rate throughout. In terms of audio, a number of sound effects have been added for the game.
The initial attraction for Virtua Fighter fans will undoubtedly be the two new characters featured in Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, but there's actually much more to the game than that. The quest mode is far more diverse than the kumite mode, especially with the different tournaments, and the level of customization that's possible with the characters will add a great deal of replay value. A North American release date for Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution has yet to be announced.