When I heard the name Virtua Fighter, I sat back in my chair, grabbed my corn cob pipe, blew some bubbles, and said, "Virtua Fighter... now that is a name I haven't heard in a long time." Here's an abbreviated history lesson for any kids who are reading this. Once upon a time, Virtua Fighter was an A-tier fighting game franchise on the level of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Tekken. Sadly, one day, it wasn't. However, many people have a high level of respect for this series that helped define 2.5D fighting. Among them is the team at Ryu ga Gotoku Studios, the folks behind the Yakuza series, who took the opportunity to update the most recent game in the franchise with a fresh coat of paint. The result is Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown.
Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is a remaster of 2012's console update, Final Showdown. There's nothing new, in terms of mechanics, but the thing about Virtua Fighter 5 is that it doesn't really need any. And, feature-wise, this proves to be a worthy update, even if it doesn't offer a lot for solo players.
The ultimate revival
The first thing that stands out about Ultimate Showdown is that it is a visual upgrade in almost every way. Built using the same engine as the recent Yakuza games, this update to Virtua Fighter 5 is the best looking one yet. Characters look more fleshed-out, stages are more intricately detailed, and the user interface has been given some notable updates. While the Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown that's in the Yakuza: Like A Dragon arcades looks dazzling, Ultimate Showdown surpasses even that from a visual standpoint, as evidenced by the stage's improved textures and lighting.
One element that hasn't been updated is the voice acting and it sticks out badly when compared to the game's other major updates. Winning a match with one of Wolf's sweet giant swings and watching him celebrate, only to then hear a tinny and badly-delivered "Wrestling is the best sport!" doesn't feel too great, but I guess I can't have everything.
Ultimate Showdown's UI improvements include some quality-of-life updates, like an Arcade Mode timer and other negligible changes to the in-fight presentation. (If you don't like those changes, the option is there for retro UI.) However, the UI changes are most noticeable with the game's Tutorials. Virtua Fighter has always been a game where beginner players could get away with a certain amount of button mashing, but there is a very clear gap between the button mashers and the pro players. Ultimate Showdown appears determined to help beginners close that gap with some detailed and friendly tutorials and that's the main thing that makes this package stand out.
Reaching the next level
Ultimate Showdown gives players the option to jump in blind, but those who sincerely want to learn to be better can do so with different Training mode options. Players can learn the basics, thanks to simple-to-understand tutorials. The basic Tutorial also goes out of its way to teach more advanced defensive techniques, such as evading. While the explanations are helpful, some beginners may be frustrated by the lack of visual cues. For example, one specific tutorial lesson instructs players to hit the Up or Down button when the opponent attempts to strike, but there's nothing indicating exactly when the button should be pressed, often leading to players getting hit in the face over and over. Of course, this is a fighting game, so ultimately, players will learn through persistence and dedication.
Command Training is a much meatier tutorial that allows players to learn individual characters. Given that Virtua Fighter 5 excels in regards to characters with distinct fighting styles, this is a godsend. While it similarly has issues in regards to offering window cues, this is where beginners can go to either learn how to master their favorite character or at least learn enough moves to hang in an online session.
Speaking of online, that's going to be where most Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown players spend their time, because there isn't going to be much else.
Put your quarter down
In terms of game modes, Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is all about playing with friends or strangers. There are Ranked Mode matches, though the lobbies were empty during the time of this impressions piece. That'll undoubtedly change when the game becomes available to PlayStation Plus members, but with nobody playing online, I was unfortunately unable to properly judge the strength of Ultimate Showdown's online component prior to this post.
Ultimate Showdown also offers something to friends who want to play in a more private setting. Room Match allows for groups of friends to jump into Ultimate Showdown with their own private lobbies, complete with custom options and spectator features. There are public lobbies available, too, for those who want to play by a certain set of rules, but having this private feature available will be a plus to groups of casual friends who just want to hang out, as well as professional players who want to get some practice in.
If you're playing by yourself, that's where Ultimate Showdown is going to let you down. Outside of Arcade Mode, there is nothing to do as a solo player. Even the Offline Versus mode doesn't allow for play against CPU players. Solo players are stuck with the Arcade Mode, which is a bare bones component that gets old very fast.
What stands out about Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is how intuitive the fighting still feels after so many years. It's a game that features numerous fighters with distinctly different styles, yet doesn't feel so intimidating that a beginner can't just pick it up and jump in immediately. The series has always felt friendly that way and it's something that still has a place in 2021.
It's too early to tell whether Virtual Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is Ryu ga Gotoku's audition to officially revive the series with a new sequel. However, if that proves to be the case, that's something to be happy about. Ultimate Showdown shows that the fighting game landscape is better with Virtua Fighter in it. But, even if this is the end of the road for Virtua Fighter for the time being, the Yakuza developers have left it in a good place.
These impressions are based on a PlayStation 4 digital code provided by the publisher. Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is available now on the PlayStation Store for $29.99 USD. The game is rated T.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown impressions - Ultimate facelift
Beat fighting game.