Here it is. A little late but finally here nevertheless. Sega was unlucky in that Virtua Fighter 5 hit shelves before Street Fighter IV helped reignite the embers of fighting games, but frustratingly remained static when the genre roared back to life, with Final Showdown only appearing in Japanese arcades. It’s taken almost two years for it to make the trip to consoles, but Sega has made enough changes since Final Showdown’s arcade bow that it doesn’t show any signs of age.
Two fresh faces join the roster – Taka and Jean – while the old crew have been overhauled to the point where familiar tactics have been rendered obsolete. This isn’t just a case of Sega adjusting minor details, but one of going so far as to adding new moves while changing the inputs and properties of old moves too. Few examples: Sarah’s throws have switched from Flamingo stance to her previously weak Step stance, while Vanessa has a new stance where she lays on the floor, with options to taunt, hit throw or roll to safety. No-one has escaped Sega’s overhaul.
The system has also been tweaked. Attacking from the side has been buffed up, while hitting evade attempts rewards you with a counter-hit, so there is higher risk and higher reward for evading. In the meantime, throw clash and zero-frame throws have been removed, so attacking through suspected throw attempts becomes a viable option for defending players. The end result is that the pace is higher and favours the attacker. Along with the new moves, Final Showdown looks and feels stylish, something Virtua Fighter 5 struggled to pull off.
Concessions have been made for this downloadable release and customisation has taken the biggest hit. To limbo under the memory limit, all items are DLC-only, so you don’t even see customised opponents without snapping up the extra content. An understandable quirk, perhaps, but no less frustrating for it. It also means single-player feels dry, relying on its License Trials to give the title legs outside of Versus modes. Likewise, while the reputation of Virtua Fighter 4: Evo’s training mode grows with each fighter released that fails to support new players, Final Showdown falls in line towards the latter trend.
It’s fortunate, then, that the netcode is strong enough to encourage sustained online play. The title doesn’t do enough to highlight the strides Final Showdown has taken for the series – particularly for PS3 owners, stuck with Ver.B of Virtua Fighter 5 as opposed to Xbox 360’s later release of Version C – but it’s a still complicated, technical beast of a fighting game, and more than ever worth the effort of learning.