I have a confession to make before we go into the full review of Soul Calibur for iPhone; that I am a massive fan of the series with huge expectations for this new iPhone release. To get across my slavering hunger for Soul Calibur to you, I should tell you that this is the first game in a long time where I actually sat and watched the download bar on the iPhone chug along. When you consider how many big releases we cover here, you would be right in guessing my anticipation for this release.
So the real question here has to be, has my Soul Calibur itch been scratched by this iPhone release, or is this a lazy and disappointing port? Well the truth actually lies somewhere between the two extremes, as I will explain in a little while.
Soul Calibur was originally an arcade game that was ported to the Sega Dreamcast. A 3D beat ’em up where the characters used weapons instead of their fists, which added a sense of depth and combat variety like few other games, the real innovation was the freedom to run in eight directions, something completely unheard of at the time. Add fabulous graphics and an excellent combat system, as well as an impressive and inventive layer of content for the Dreamcast release, and an instant classic was born. The game has recently been ported to Xbox Live Arcade, and this iOS release has a lot in common with that particular build.
Soul Caliber has a convoluted background story about a quest to stop a creature called Nightmare, who is actually a young knight possessed by an evil sword, Soul Edge. A blade known as Soul Caliber is the only sword that is up to the task, and so a rather complicated, but not entirely unenjoyable tale unfolds.
You take control of one of an impressive roster of nineteen characters, and the brilliant thing here is that a lot of the characters truly feel and play differently from each other. Different weapons have different ranges and speeds, and the joy of mastering one of the fighters is a hallmark of the game.
This iPhone version has improved graphics over the original Dreamcast version, but lacks a little definition compared to the XBLA release. All the original moves, music, characters and stages are there as well, as far as I can remember.
Unfortunately, there are three massive problems that seriously make me question whether this is a worthy purchase. First of all, the big one; a complete, total and utter lack of any kind of multiplayer. No Bluetooth, local WiFi, and no online.
For me, a one on one fighting game is all about the multiplayer, with one player modes, be they story or arcade, strictly for practice. It truly baffles me how Namco have managed to leave it out. They have said that additional modes will be forthcoming, and I’m guessing this was rushed out the door to help promote Soul Calibur 5, but to have no two player mode is inexcusable.
The second big omission is the brilliant Mission Mode from the Dreamcast. In this mode you took on all kinds of crazy challenges on a RPG-lite quest that saw you earning points to unlock new content. Not here, and neither is Team Battle Mode. You do get Arcade, Time Attack, Survival, Extra Survival and Practice, as well as a museum to view artwork, but that lot really just boils to three real modes of play, not a lot when you consider that Namco are charging a whopping £7.99/$11.99 for the privilege of playing this. That is with a 20% launch discount.
The third problem is perhaps even bigger, the controls. While Namco have obviously worked hard to get the virtual controls right, you never get anywhere near the level of control needed to truly excel at the game. It isn’t really Namco’s fault, and you can get by pretty well in the default difficulty level in Arcade mode, but try anything more difficult or even Extra Survival mode and the lack of true precision really starts to tell. Advanced combos and tactical play are very difficult.
Whatever you do, don’t try going online with..oh wait, you can’t go online with this anyway.
I really could have forgiven the understandably imperfect controls if Namco had thrown in all the modes of the original and even added a few more to give iPhone owners something to shout about.
I love Soul Calibur. I loved it in the arcade and I loved it on Dreamcast, but I find this iOS version a lot more difficult to care about. The lack of multiplayer, mission mode and team battle mode is only exacerbated by the hugely inflated price. The not quite perfect controls help to enforce a feeling that, while Namco have done a great job getting the game to look and run well, they had their eye on the release of Soul Calibur 5 rather than on producing the best possible version for iPhone fans.
Genuinely painful to rate a version of one of my all time favourite games so low, but as the game stands now I just can’t recommend it to anyone but the most die hard Soul Calibur fans, which is odd as they are the ones who will be the most disappointed of all. There is some fun to be had here, but lets hope they get with the updates quickly.