Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament Preview

We put our spirit power to the test as we go hands-on with this anime-inspired fighting game.

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Fans of the Yu Yu Hakusho anime won't need any introduction to Yusuke Urameshi, the scrappy young man who died pushing a small child from the path of an oncoming car, only to be granted new life (and new powers) as a spirit detective. The animated series follows closely the exploits of Yusuke, his good friend Kuwabara, and their demon allies Hiei and Kurama as they all grow in strength battling a wide array of naughty spirits. Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament is a fighting game based on the Dark Tournament arc in the series, which pits the teenager and his allies against a number of memorable demons in an effort to reach and summarily defeat the insanely powerful Toguro brothers. We recently got to test our itchy spirit-gun trigger fingers with a preview build of the game.

Yusuke and pals are in the fighting spirit in Yu Yu Hakusho: Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament. Click "stream" for a larger view.

Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament has a number of gameplay modes to choose from, with its story mode likely the one that will be the most gratifying to fans. Story mode follows the progression of Yusuke as he is challenged by the elder Toguro, trains, and then teams up with his faithful cohorts and fights his way through the grueling tournament. This mode features selected clips from the anime in between fighting sequences, and stages are arranged much like episodes from the show.

The game also sports a variety of other modes. Skirmish mode will let you jump in and battle the computer or a friend using a wide variety of some 25 characters from the show (when they're all unlocked), including notable adversaries from the tournament itself. Arcade mode lets you pit yourself against a string of enemies, culminating in a battle against an end foe that you select. The practice mode is just as it suggests: It provides onscreen direction for you to execute and master characters' basic attacks, as well as combos and special move sets.

You can have each character perform a standard array of jabs, hard punches, and kicks using the square, triangle, and circle buttons, respectively. With many characters, initiating light jabs and kicks in close quarters with your foes enables you to hold that attack button down and unleash a flurry with your fists or feet. You can use these basic moves to chain simple yet devastating combos against your opponents, as well as throw your enemies and block their attacks using the X button.

Yusuke and his friends square off in the Dark Tournament.
Yusuke and his friends square off in the Dark Tournament.

However, there would be no point in controlling teens enhanced with spirit power and demons wielding all manner of dark arts unless you could command these forces as well, and Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament doesn't shirk in this regard. Each character has an array of spirit abilities that jive with what he is able to perform in the animated series. For instance, Yusuke can channel power through his index finger for his spirit gun and spirit shotgun, and Kuwabara can channel forth a spirit sword and, with concentration, extend its length.

Use of these powers depends on the amount of spirit energy a given character has at the time. The button combinations for these moves are very simple to learn, enabling you to start leaping around and doing scads of damage in no time at all. These abilities are very mutable, so you'll also find them easy to perform in the midst of other move sets, making for a very satisfying, action-packed experience.

As you clear stages in the various modes, you'll unlock various extras, including the traditional new playable characters as well as alternate outfits for those characters. In addition, you can earn special items called tokens, which can be used in an extra minigame you can play against the computer or a friend. The game involves setting out tokens on a small board, which is ringed by "spectators." Where you can place your piece on the board depends on who's rooting for your team, and each token can have the ability to add points to your total or remove points from your opponents'. Whoever ends up with the most points at the end wins. It's a simple little game, but it's a nice extra for those who enjoy collecting doodads.

A good-sized stable of insane spirit powers are readily available and easy to use.
A good-sized stable of insane spirit powers are readily available and easy to use.

Visually, the game sports a cel-shaded, cartoon look for its characters, much like the Dragonball Z series of fighting games. The characters are very simple in design, with strong lines and not extreme amounts of detail, but they all closely match their cartoon counterparts nicely and move pretty naturally. The various backdrops are similarly simple, though they're not shaded; they range from forests and jungles to stadiums and boats. You'll be hearing music and voice talent from the show, particularly in the story mode. Though characters aren't very chatty in battle itself, they'll call out their own moves when appropriate, as with Yusuke's spirit gun.

Yu Yu Hakusho: Dark Tournament looks to be a treat for Yu Yu Hakusho fans craving action outside of the Cartoon Network, and those who enjoy anime-inspired fighting games might do well to take a peek at this game also. It's currently slated for release on the PlayStation 2 later this year. Look for more soon.

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