Even after six crossover games, uniting the casts of several of the best fighting games Capcom and SNK ever put out, the Capcom/SNK games still seem sort of weird to me. They're fanboy dream projects, the kind of thing that, once upon a time, excited weird and pointless discussions outside arcades, on message boards, and in horrible fanfiction. The fact that, after a decade or more of making fun of each other, Capcom and SNK actually managed to make some games together, seems crazy, but yet, here it is.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 is a "dream match," like its predecessor, with very little plot and nearly nonexistent endings. It still draws its cast, in large part, from Street Fighter and King of Fighters, the two flagship series of 2D fighting games, with a few extras from Samurai Shodown, Last Blade, Rival Schools, Darkstalkers, Art of Fighting, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, and, oddly, Final Fight 2.
Of course, Dan Hibiki and Joe Higashi, the true champions of Capcom vs. SNK, have returned from Capcom vs. SNK Pro. On the Capcom side, the new cast consists of Eagle, who hasn't been seen since the original Street Fighter, and who is surprisingly prissy-sounding for a guy who beats people in the face with sticks for a living; Maki, the Bushin ninja who had a starring role in Final Fight 2, and whose pure fighting power stems entirely from the strange compulsion to flash her underwear up to thirty-six times a minute; Rolento, from Street Fighter Alpha 2, who is less a martial artist and more a heavily-armed psychopath; Yun, one of Street Fighter III's two teenage kung-fu masters; and Kyosuke Kagami, pimp-in-training and one of the lead characters from Rival Schools.
SNK has brought along Rock Howard--Geese's son, Terry's ward, and fighter from THE FUTURE--from Garou: Mark of the Wolves; Hibiki Takane, a fast-draw champion from the underexposed, underrated Last Blade 2; Haohmaru, Samurai Shodown's Miyamoto Musashi stand-in; Chang Koehan, the wrecking-ball-wielding mainstay of KOF's Korean team, and who's accompanied by his buddy Choi Bounge, the midget Freddy Kreuger impersonator; Athena Asamiya, everyone's favorite Chinese pop star-slash-kung fu fighter-psychic magical girl (she's only everyone's favorite because there aren't too many of those); and, in a twist that I don't think anyone could've predicted, Ryohaku Todo, who hasn't been playable in a game since he was the first CPU opponent in the original Art of Fighting (although his daughter Kasumi has been in several KOFs, and somehow made it into SNK vs. Capcom Chaos), and who retains his deadly "I only know one move but it's the best mo
ve ever" style of aikido.
The original CvS was set up like an SNK game, with four attack buttons: light punch, heavy punch, light kick, heavy kick. CvS2 changes it to a more Street Fighter-oriented moveset, with three punches and three kicks.
The returning cast has been revised, to some extent. One of the big criticisms leveled against Capcom vs. SNK was that the SNK crew had been nerfed, to bring their available special moves down to the level of the Capcom characters' arsenals. (KOF characters generally have six to eight special moves; by comparison, the Street Fighter standard is three to five, and Guile only has two.) In CvS2, most characters have been given a revised moveslist, consisting of the "greatest hits" of their ordinary and EX selves from CvS. For example, Terry Bogard has regained his Power Dunk, which was only available on EX Terry's moveslist in CvS.
Yeah, I'm a Terry scrub. I know.
The result here is that the KOF characters now act more like they do in their own games (many of them regain their KOF CD attacks as a fierce or roundhouse), save for the extra couple of normals, while Capcom's fighters remain comfortably the same.
As a matter of fact, that's overstating the case. One of the more irritating things about Capcom vs. SNK 2 is that Capcom, as is their wont lately, recycled a lot of the sprites for their characters. Chun-Li has been redrawn; Ryu, Ken, and Bison retain their slightly-updated looks from the previous game; and the new Capcom characters are, of necessity, sporting brand-new sprites.
Then there's Morrigan.
Morrigan Aensland, of Darkstalkers fame, is still sporting the blocky 1997 sprites she's had since, what, Nightwarriors? Against CvS2's smoothly animated, polygonal backgrounds, she sticks out like a circus clown at a funeral.
She's the leading example, but most of the Capcom cast look just as bad. Everyone is a little pixelated, sure; they're sprites against a polygonal background. It was going to happen. The difference is that the effect is barely noticeable with redrawn characters, such as the entire SNK side of the roster, and is blatantly obvious with the recycled ones. Sagat, Zangief, Sakura, Rolento, and Cammy are all still using their old Street Fighter Alpha sprites, which were not exactly technical marvels back in the day.
I'm not usually one to talk very much about graphics, but this really is ridiculous. It was silly in CvS, where Morrigan, as a secret challenger, looked like a child's drawing on the wall of her elegantly rendered background, and now it's up into the "Somebody got fired over this, right? Right?" stage. I find it impossible to believe that at some point in the design process, somebody didn't look up from what they were doing and say, "Y'know, guys, Morrigan and Sakura kinda look like crap."
Aside from such minor issues as close to half the cast being underanimated, the game looks pretty good. It flows smoothly, and each flare-up of thermodynamics-busting ki power is accompanied by arc flares and flashes that're a wonder to behold. Hand-drawn characters are coupled with polygonal explosions, just as they were in CvS, resulting in a very bright and flashy game. You can only imagine what Marvel vs. Capcom 2 would've been like had this system been implemented; I can only figure that most of us would've been struck instantly blind (as opposed to wishing we had been struck instantly deaf).
CvS2's story is about the simplest one there could be (well, besides, "And now they fight!" a la Marvel vs. Capcom 2). Sponsored by two millionaire corporations, the greatest fighters in the world have come together to find out just who is the best. Of course, whenever this kind of thing happens, somebody happens along to spoil it. Whether it's by attempting to stick the winners of the tournament into a giant raygun or using their fighting power to summon a dark god or just showing up at the end to do a run-in on the champions, there's always going to be a dark god or a corrupted warrior in the mix somewhere to rain on the parade. This time, it's not M. Bison or Geese Howard, who'll show up to interrupt the tournament right before the final round if you score high enough, but there'll be an unexpected finale just the same.
To enter the tournament, you'll assemble a team of up to three characters. The fixed ratio system from CvS has been abandoned in favor of a looser style, where you've got four points to "spend" however you want, regardless of what characters you pick. The higher the ratio of a given character, the higher their hit power and defense will be in relation to those of higher or lower numbers. A ratio-4 character will, naturally, be capable of tearing through an average ratio-1 character with ridiculous speed, but by way of balance, that ratio-4 character is the only person on his team.
CvS2 also features a new "Groove" system, somewhat like the original. Here, there are a total of six Grooves, each of which is patterned loosely after a pre-existing fighting game.
C-Groove features a three-level super bar and the ability to instantly counter out of a block, like Street Fighter Alpha, while A-Groove features the custom combo system that we all learned to hate and fear in Street Fighter Alpha 3. P-Groove contributes the parrying system from Street Fighter 3 (you can push toward an opponent at the very last second to harmlessly deflect an incoming attack), as well as the ability to charge up one, and only one, devastating super move at a time.
The S-Groove is functionally identical to SNK Groove from CvS, or any KOF game before 1997; taking around 70% damage unlocks your desperation move, and you can start firing off first-level supers for "free." N-Groove is the current KOF system (first seen in KOF97 as Advance mode), where you charge up three levels of super, and can then "break" one for a temporary increase in power. K-Groove, finally, is a lot like Samurai Shodown's Rage meter; when it's full, your character's hit power goes up considerably, and you can spend that meter on a single, maxed-out super move. K-Groove also boasts the slightly parry-esque Just Defend system from Mark of the Wolves (blocking incoming attacks with the proper timing will give you some super meter). Your Groove also determines whether you have access to running, dashing, rolling, dodging (the weird "sidestep" move that you might recognize from, say, KOF95), or short jumps.
Each Groove is sufficiently different from the others that it'll force a change in the way each character is played. A-Groove opens the way to some sickening combos (no, really, track down some videos; some of the A-Groove combos, like Vice's 96-hitter, are just unbelievable, albeit nearly impossible to do against a human opponent), while S-Groove specializes in come-from-behind victories. A good P-Groove player is almost impossible to hit unless you outthink him; the same applies to K-Groove, although it's more geared towards all-out offense. It's not a situation where the Grooves effectively multiply the number of available characters (this isn't the Slash/Bust Samurai Shodown system or anything), but especially when combined with the free ratio system, it can be sort of close.
Added on top of all this is the console-only EO system, apparently put in there to make it easier to play the game on an Xbox controller. EO stands for "Easy Operation," and forms an "-ism" on top of the Grooves. In EO-ism, your character's special moves and supers are each linked to a specific direction on your second thumbstick; push in that direction, and the move goes off, with no need for input from the left hand at all.
This was not the brightest idea anyone has ever had.
Oh, sure, it looks okay on paper. It removes a lot of the rote memorization from the game, and allows just about anyone to pick up CvS2 and start playing it relatively well. The EO system, in the hands of a novice, isn't that big of a deal.
In the hands of someone who's played the game without the EO system, it's potentially game-breaking. For example, Guile, in EO-ism, is capable of the kind of combos that you usually only see from the computer, because he no longer has to charge up his special moves. Blanka, who was already hellishly overpowered, becomes slightly moreso; Geese Howard, once he gets his meter charged, becomes horrifyingly destructive, because now the Raging Storm, which is usually limited by its weird controller motion, comes out instantly.
EO-ism may be great for newbies, but it removes about 90% of the skill involved in playing the character. From where I'm standing, if there's no skill involved, then there's no fun. (I am all too aware that I do not actually possess a great deal of this skill--I am by no means a tournament player, though I know a few of them--but the point must be made.)
It doesn't help that, even before EO-ism, Capcom vs. SNK 2 was not exactly a balanced game. It's almost impossible to find any fighting game where the entire cast is on a genuinely even keel, but CvS2 is broken.
You'll see the same problem in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, where six to ten of the fighters are capable of effortlessly destroying the rest of the game. Capcom vs. SNK 2 is by no means an exception.
It's not even really an issue of skill. A few characters have been given basic, entry-level tools that're so blatantly and hideously effective that they overshadow the rest of the roster. Early on, people were complaining about Cammy, and how she could keep you in blockstun for about thirty years.
Now, the issue is largely one of the crouching fierce.
There are people right now lying in the murky depths of terminal comas who can play CvS2 Sagat effectively. If it moves at you in a vaguely threatening manner, immediately crouch and hammer on the fierce button. You will win.
Sagat and Blanka rule the roost in CvS2. Once they get going, it's difficult, if not impossible, for other characters to stop them. Granted, this implies an equal level of skill on both players' part, but it's a lot easier to win with Sagat or Blanka than it is with anyone else. The same applies, to a lesser extent, to Cammy, Hibiki, Iori, and Yamazaki (some people will also add Vega and M. Bison to the list); they will simply blow away anyone else in the game, due to overprioritized normals, braindead strategies, invincible air defense, being insanely easy to master, or really "safe" special moves (that is to say, you can do them all day, and there's no real way for you opponent to punish you for your repetition).
Some fighting games have flexible character balance, or opt for a sort of "round-robin" approach, where each character has a natural counterpart. CvS2 has neither of these things (unlike its predecessor, where the best character, Nakoruru, had four or five characters who were at least going to give her a really good fight). A Sagat/Blanka team is going to mutilate any other team on the field, and there's not much that other team can do about it.
I haven't even touched on roll-canceling, either. It may be the single most annoying facet of CvS2, and were it not in every version of the game I've played, I'd think it was a glitch. For some reason, in Grooves that have access to a roll move, you can cancel into a special move the same way you can, for example, chain a normal move into a special (i.e. Ryu being able to chain a fierce Shoryuken off of his crouching fierce). When you do, that move will keep its invincibility.
Thus, Blanka, for example, can roll into his famous Blanka Ball, which means it's totally invincible for its duration. You can do the same thing with a lot of moves; roll past someone, input the move while you're rolling, and when your character comes out of the roll, the move goes off and it's totally unstoppable. It's insane. It's not easy to learn, but once you do, you've just broken the game in a deep and fundamental way. Now you get to be like half the guys on Live and constantly roll into Shoryukens! Yay!
This is starting to turn into more of a rant than a review, but there are a few more things that should be mentioned. First off, if you intend to get into Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO at all, you need an arcade stick; the D-pad on the Xbox controller is too unresponsive, and the buttons are inadequately placed. If you've got a Magic Box converter, a Saturn controller's not bad, but an arcade stick is your best option.
Finally, CvS2 is fully playable over Live, and there's a minimum of slowdown. If you just want to mess around with some friends, it's not bad at all, especially if you avoid trying to scrub each other out with the aforementioned braindead characters.
However, the last thing you should do is go online and fish for matches with strangers. You'll run into a veritable army of roll-canceling, shotoclone twinks, possibly using brain-melting color edits and Action Replay cheat codes. It's just not worth it. The Japanese players are better about this, but they're also Japanese players. They will destroy you. It'll be a fun destruction, but you'll still be destroyed.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 is a great idea for a game, but it's a broken, uninspired mess. It looks okay, the music's fine, and upon first blush, it plays as well as you'd expect it would. The deeper you get into it, though, the less you'll find to keep you playing. There's no "there," there.