Capcom's first foray into the world of 3D fighting was a futuristic weapon-based fighter called Star Gladiator. For its time, Star Gladiator was a slick little PlayStation game - it was never the best fighting game in your collection, but it was interesting just the same. Plasma Sword (known as Star Gladiator 2 in Japan) captures some of the same aspects that made the original game interesting, but a severe lack of technological upgrades and cookie-cutter character design make this a tough game to recommend.
Most of the first game's characters have returned, including Hayato, June, Gerelt, Gore, Blood, and Bilstein, the original game's boss. But each character now has an alter ego of sorts, or, to put it another way, Capcom doubled the character lineup in an extremely cheap way by making almost all of the new characters clones of existing ones. The standard fighting-game modes, including group battle and training, have been included. Training mode shows you each character's branching tree of combos.
Graphically, Plasma Sword doesn't look bad until you consider how much better just about everything else on the Dreamcast looks. The characters aren't very smooth looking, and the animation just seems jerky and almost unfinished. The static 2D backgrounds really give the game an almost ugly look, and the effects that surround most of the special moves and counters are quite plain. The one nice graphical effect is the lighting. The weapons, all made of some wacky form of plasma, give off a nice glow, and this glow lights the characters up pretty well.
The gameplay has become a little more Street Fightery than the previous game: using back to block, and containing lots of dragon punch-style moves. There are lots of little special attacks, such as Saturn's Doll Bomb, which causes little Saturn dolls to run at the opposing player, exploding on contact. There's also a reflect counter that lets you stun your opponent for a second or two so you can get in some quick damage. The game is juggle-friendly, but the damage resulting from being juggled is relatively low.
Plasma Sword isn't a bad game, but it's not a very good game, either. The Dreamcast is capable of much better graphics, but even if the game looked like Soul Calibur, it still wouldn't be terribly exciting. Hard-core Hayato fans would be better off waiting for his 2D debut when Marvel vs. Capcom 2 releases in the States later this year.