Sega's Virtua Striker series has been a popular arcade franchise enjoyed by many fans, thanks to its beautiful graphics and enjoyable, simple gameplay mechanics, which put an emphasis on pulling off spectacular moves over simulation-style control. The latest GameCube version of Virtua Striker is no different, featuring exciting, contact-heavy action that nicely demonstrates the game's impressive animation routines and its lush, colorful visuals. We had a chance to put the recently released Japanese version of Virtua Striker 2002 through its paces and found quite a bit to hold our attention. Featuring an impressive array of options and modes to explore, including the standard exhibitions, a remarkably deep franchise mode, seeded tournaments, a wide array of editing options, and even an exciting sudden-death shootout competition, Virtua Striker 2002 looks to offer an engaging arcade experience.
There are 64 international teams to choose from, and they span six regions, ranging from Argentina and Japan all the way to Cameroon and Qatar. The official Japanese team has been included, along with each member's real-life likenesses, and the many different venues to play in include well-known stadiums from across the world. If the fictional players on the international teams aren't enough, a fairly deep create-a-player mode is also available, which lets you tailor several player details, including hair, outfit, player number, and skills. While the standard games play according to traditional soccer rules--referees adhere to offsides rules and will punish overly aggressive play with red and yellow cards--the feel of the gameplay is absolutely arcade in nature. Players slide-tackle with abandon and are rewarded for offensive play with high-scoring games. Despite the seemingly simplistic nature of Virtua Striker's gameplay, you'll have a variety of options to experiment with on the field, such as line changes, player changes, and aggression levels.
Virtua Striker 2002 is a great-looking game, with bright, nicely detailed graphics that make good use of the GameCube hardware. The player models are large and nicely varied, with good-looking clothing textures and finely detailed hair that flows as the players race across the field. As two teams stride on to the pitch, they carry their country's flag proudly between them. Players will pose for photographs before each match as well. The effect is completed by the reflection of camera flashes on their faces. The large number of stadiums to pick for your home field bring a particular atmosphere to games played in each one. The nicely done crowd, featuring a host of animation and dynamic sound that reflects the action on the field, brings them to life. The polish that has gone into re-creating these scenes and the game overall marks Virtua Striker 2002 as one of the best-looking games on the system yet.
One of the hallmarks of the Virtua Striker series has been its reliance on computer-controlled AI to eliminate the elements of soccer that aren't quite as action-intensive as the deft crosses, and header goals. Specifically, Virtua Striker 2002's AI takes control of player movement on defense, letting the player initiate only slide tackles--and only if he's within range. While it may seem that the game plays itself on defense, it's understandable why--the amount of detail that has gone into the ball-handling animations is nothing short of astounding. As players jockey for position, they'll bump into each other, making noticeable contact, and the slide-tackle animations offer a good deal of variety, from shorts-staining long-distance slides to close-distance pokes, which impress with their frame-heavy, smooth transitional movements. When offensive players take control, the animation proves just as stunning, with great-looking passes, one-touch moves, and a nice array of shots, such as bicycle kicks and headers. To keep the arcade theme intact, the visual and audio effects maintain the distinct Sega arcade feel by incorporating rainbow arcs on excellent passes and shots during replays, as well as an overly enthused announcer who can't stop gushing over a well-shot goal.
What impressed us most about Virtua Striker 2002 was the incredibly deep franchise mode, which lets you take your team on the road to the International Cup. Running through a weekly calendar, games are played, and a wide variety of options are made available to the budding coach. You don't make all decisions unassisted, as a competent staff advises your every move, including your secretary and an assistant coach. You'll need to make decisions both on and off the field, and your choices will affect how well your players and team will develop, not to mention their motivational levels. Individual players can be trained to hone their skills and raise them to championship caliber. Over the course of a game, your team will be challenged to friendly matches and participate in regional tournaments and other seemingly random events that will crop up. The variety of experiences serve to entertain and bring to life what managing a fantasy soccer team would be like.
While Virtua Striker 2002 is by no means an accurate simulation of real-world soccer, it should appeal to casual fans of the game or those who would like to delve into a deep franchise mode with a totally different look and feel from those we've seen in the EA and other Sega Sports games. Check out our latest screens and movies, and check back with us on more on Virtua Striker 2002 as it nears its stateside release this coming May.