Guilty Gear Dust Strikers Hands-On

We sit down with the latest build of Guilty Gear Dust Strikers to see what happens when a traditional 2D fighter meets unique DS touch-screen mechanics.

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Currently scheduled for release at the end of this year, Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is a portable version of the classic 2D fighter that features, among other things, four-player wireless multiplayer. We had the opportunity to try our hand at a few battles to see what changes had been made to the series, as well as to see what the touch screen is all about. We're happy to report that it contains many familiar faces and the same fast-paced gameplay that made the original Guilty Gears so exceptional. However, for the Guilty Gear faithful, it's important to note that Dust Strikers follows more in the vein of Guilty Gear Isuka than the older games--for what that's worth.

Although Guilty Gear is fairly young (as far as fighting games go), its unique and complex mechanics, combined with quirky characters and moves, have propelled it to the status of instant classic. The last entry in the series, Guilty Gear Isuka for the PlayStation 2, switched up the gameplay a bit by introducing simultaneous four-player free-for-all battles. Those battles, as well as those for three and two players, are all present in Dust Strikers, in addition to a story mode and a ton of touch-screen-inspired minigames.

The first thing we did after getting our hands on the game was jump right into an arcade match to see how the gameplay was coming along. After taking a peek at the character list, it's evident that the majority of playable fighters are from previous entries in the franchise. We made sure to play a few rounds with the paper-bag-adorned Doctor Faust, the yo-yo-toting transvestite schoolgirl Bridget, the witchy rock-goddess I-no, and other Guilty Gear favorites. Though the button setup is reminiscent of the previous games in the franchise, we weren't able to tell exactly how much of the move list has been carried over to this one. You'll execute slashes, kicks, and plenty of specials, all while navigating around the multitiered levels. Since gameplay occurs on both the upper and lower DS screens, Dust Strikers is pretty vertical for a 2D fighter. To do this without reinventing the characters' jump abilities and aerial moves, each screen is split up into several tiers. You can jump between the four levels on the upper and lower screens fairly easy, although you have to be careful that you don't drop down a level when you're trying to execute a move that requires the down button.

The gameplay on the two screens is identical, and there are no particular bonuses or reasons to be on one over the other. In fact, the only way you'll know you're playing on the DS at all is because of the pickups. Randomly throughout the two screens, pickups will spawn on the ground. When you run over them, you'll pick them up automatically. And then you can use them by touching the icon that appears on the lower screen. This is an interesting dynamic, although, admittedly, you won't have the time or coordination to futz with the stylus in these moments. Since your fingers will be busy working at staying alive and executing moves, if you get a spare moment to hit a pickup, it will have to be with a quick hand-touch to the lower screen. It wasn't clear what all the pickups did, but one particularly interesting one let you instantly invert the places of the people on the two screens. So if you were on the lower screen when you hit it, you'd warp up to the top one. We look forward to seeing how this will play out in longer, heated bouts between closely matched opponents.

The game will even support up to four players via the DS' wireless function.
The game will even support up to four players via the DS' wireless function.

Arcade mode is an opportunity for you to just jump in and have a few quick matches, and it will let you play as the same character in levels of increasing difficulty until you quit, making the transition between fights much smoother than if you had to return to the character- or level-selection screen each time. If you want to find out more about the nutty Guilty Gear bunch, the place to do it is in story mode, which has made a return after its conspicuous absence in Isuka. The battles in story mode start off with four players at once, which makes the game fairly difficult. Though Guilty Gear games have always been difficult, four-player has always (evidently) doubled that difficulty level, especially when you're dealing with three people ganging up on you at once. Entirely new to this game is the minigame mode. The touch-screen-based minigames each correspond to a single character in the game, and you'll be able to level up that character based on your minigame performance. Faust's minigame consists of him doing the "In your face!" move, where he opens up a door and pops out of it, all over the lower screen. Sometimes he comes out of the door, and sometimes he doesn't. The times that he does, you must click on him before he disappears, Whack-a-Mole style.

We didn't get a chance to play the wireless multiplayer, but if it's anything like four-player single-player, it's guaranteed to be frantic and crazy. So far it looks like Guilty Gear Dust Strikers is incorporating plenty of old gameplay with new DS mechanics, so we look forward to seeing more of that progression in future versions of the game. We'll bring you more information as it becomes available.

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