2D fighting games may not be as popular as they used to be, but Arc System Works' Guilty Gear series has continued to chug along over the years. The newest edition in the series is Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, and just in case the title didn't make it obvious, this is the latest edition in a long-running series with a lot of different features that have evolved over time. Even so, casual fighting-game fans should be able to get into the game rather easily. It isn't hard to get started dishing out big, long combination attacks by hammering away on various buttons. But hardcore Guilty Gear fans will get the most out of the new game because it has a few new features that make higher-level play a bit more interesting.
Like with many other games of this sort, this 2D fighting game offers one-on-one matchups between characters inspired by Japanese anime cartoon designs who heroically shout out the names of their mighty fighting techniques in battle. In the Guilty Gear series, you can attack your opponent with a combination of punches, kicks, and two different types of "slashing" attacks (most characters carry a weapon or some equivalent) by stringing together punches, kicks, and slashes with other types of attacks on the ground, and also in the air as part of extended "juggle" attacks. But the game's character designs are clearly intended to be as bizarre as possible. Among the roster, you'll find a masked man who wields a pool cue as a weapon; a young girl whose weapon is a gigantic talking key that's bigger than she is; and a hunched-over zombie who won't stop talking to himself. Technically, none of the game's default characters is all-new, but several characters have been updated and fine-tuned slightly for balance purposes. Pretty much all the game's characters seem strong enough to compete against each other.
As any fighting game sequel should, Accent Core tweaks some of the characters' moves and the overall game balance. It also adds some higher-level features that advanced players will probably appreciate most. The game now includes "force break" attacks, which are powered-up versions of most characters' special techniques that can be used to enhance your offense and your combination attacks. It also adds new defensive options, such as the ability to escape from standard throw grapples. You can also use a new type of defense, the "slash back," which, when properly timed, will let your character come out of his or her defending animation much more quickly and give you more of an opportunity to counterattack. For the most part, the series has always been pretty fast-paced and has emphasized offense over defense. This is still the case in Accent Core, which offers numerous ways to squash cowardly opponents who sit and hide in the corner. The game also includes a running penalty system that actually makes cowering players less powerful over the course of a fighting round. The way to victory in Guilty Gear is still usually through relentlessly aggressive play, but Accent Core's new gameplay additions seem to add a bit more give-and-take to matches, assuming your fingers are fast enough to make use of them.
Otherwise, the game has a handful of other extras that Guilty Gear fans will appreciate, such as the ability to unlock original versions of the game's characters (with their original abilities and attacks) from the previous Guilty Gear and Guilty Gear XX games. It also includes an art gallery, a single-player arcade mode, a training mode, and two different single-player survival modes, standard and "Medal of Millionaire," the latter of which occasionally rewards successful attacks with bonus items and health-replenishing pickups. Medal of Millionaire is perhaps a bit easier to go through because of the pickups, but all this stuff is pretty straightforward single-player content you'd expect from a modern console fighting game. As with pretty much any fighting game, Accent Core is at its best when played competitively against real people.
Accent Core also offers a new coat of paint with new backgrounds to fight on and new voice-overs for its characters. The backgrounds themselves look just fine; they're colorful and interesting, but they aren't so cluttered or busy that they distract you from the action. The new sound samples and backgrounds add some welcome new window dressing, though Accent Core, like the other games in the series, is still all about keeping an eye on your character and your opponent during the fight. Accent Core reuses the same 2D sprites for its characters, as well as many of the special effects, that have appeared in other games. The characters are still very colorful and still very distinctively weird, and though some are better-animated than others, Accent Core looks pretty good.
These days, you really don't have many choices when it comes to new 2D fighting games for your home consoles, but Guilty Gear XX Accent Core should offer enough action and variety for most fans of this sort of game. If you're new to the series, you may be taken aback by just how strange its characters are, as well as by the twitchy, fast-paced gameplay dominated by long strings of combination attacks. Nevertheless, you'll get used to it quickly enough. If you're a Guilty Gear veteran, you'll probably find enough to like about Accent Core to make it worth your while, too.