First released 14 years ago (yup, THAT long ago!), Virtua Fighter 5 was the latest entry in the storied franchise that introduced many players to 3D fighting games, as well as numerous other historic firsts that today litter the fighting game world. Virtua Fighter is perhaps one of the most historically important fighting game series, but struggled to stand out against flashier titles like Tekken and Dead or Alive, as 3D games became more and more common. Virtua Fighter, in many ways, built a strong following based on the depth of its gameplay, but tended to lack an ability to crack into being a global hit that would rival Tekken or Street Fighter when it came to competitive popularity and following. The depth and technique of Virtua Fighter was also possibly it’s biggest flaw, with publishing and development issues from SEGA not helping things.
Enter Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. Celebrating SEGA’s 60th anniversary, this graphically updated version of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown harnesses the power of the Dragon Engine (that’s right, the one engine used in the Yakuza games) to deliver a damn good-looking fighting game, updating the animations of the original with stunning graphics and framerate. So, should you get Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown? Well, that question has two answers. One: If you are a Virtua Fighter fan, you already downloaded the game and you’re just reading this while it downloads, or you just woke up and saw my tweet and are now going to download the game. Two: You’ve never played a Virtua Fighter game, and you’re not sure. Well then, my friend, I think this review is for you.
If you’re new to Virtua Fighter, the game may seem almost simplistically barebones upon first glance. There’s really only 4 modes (well, 5 if you count the Training mode) of play when the game boots up: Ranked, Unranked (or Rooms), Arcade, and Offline Versus. There’s no story mode, no challenges, nothing to unlock, just pure, unadulterated combat. When the game loads, the first thing you’ll notice is that half of the menu is eaten up by a screen replaying actual ranked matches that are happening while you decide what to do. You read that correctly: the main menu contains a video player that displays actual, live ranked matches that are going on as you’re online. It’s a simple, yet beautiful, way to sell what Virtua Fighter is all about: fighting, and becoming stronger.
This strength is also a weakness, though. The lack of single-player, or “Easy” content, like Street Fighter and Tekken’s story mode campaigns, means that Virtua Fighter is likely going to scare off players who aren’t interested in spending the time to master the systems and characters of the game. There’s only the Training mode and Arcade mode to entertain you, but otherwise you need to find another person to play against to fully enjoy Virtua Fighter. Thankfully, Ultimate Showdown takes advantage of another update since the initial release of Virtua Fighter 5: better internet.
In my time with the game, I found internet play to be smooth; even in times when I thought the person I was playing against had a poor connection, I found that the matches felt good and I encountered little to no lag. To my understanding, the particular netcode that SEGA chose for this relies on various Google internet hubs, which may be a double edged sword: people living near the hubs will get great connections, while those who don’t, will likely have a rough time. For what it’s worth, I never experienced anything bad or even egregious, and found playing online smooth and easy to do. While spectating games, I also noticed little slowdown in the matches between other people, and spectating people’s rooms (if available) was a pretty interesting way to get a sense of how other people were enjoying the game overall.
As with all reviews, though, I think it is fair to say that my experiences are based on playing against people who also had the game early (thanks to the fine folks at SEGA!); as the game gets wider release, I assume there will be higher numbers of occasional internet hiccups and bad connections. Take my experience with a grain of salt, but I will stand by the fact that I had no real lag or disconnects during my time with the game, and would gladly play it online any day. New players will probably find this welcome news, as easy to access netcode and consistent games is the best way to engage with Virtua Fighter 5 and continue to play the game; perhaps my biggest worry was that the internet play would be terrible, and immediately ruin the game, since there isn’t much else to do other than play locally with someone else, which, since COVID is still a thing, is not exactly easy to do unless the people you live with love fighting games.
In between matches, players can learn character via the Training options, which provides a standard Tutorial that goes over basic game concepts, and some more complex tutorials that ask players to learn the moves of each character by executing them. The training mode is not exactly robust, but it provides a very good foundation for learning the game and each character. Virtua Fighter is a 3 button game (Punch, Kick, and Guard), meaning that the technique comes from executing certain button presses and directional controls with finesse, rather than memorizing various input commands for special attacks. Virtua Fighter is also fairly different from Tekken’s “dial-a-combo”, in that it often asks players to include directional inputs, timing, and other things that break the flow of simply hitting the buttons in the correct order, and instead responding to various game flow changes and momentum. One of the more confusing aspects of Virtua Fighter for a lot of new players is the fact that blocking is based on pressing the square button, and that players need to learn to block High/Medium/Low attacks with correspondingly correct Guard inputs.
Virtua Fighter’s insistence on using realistic (ish) fighting styles is perhaps another great selling point: characters are all unique, with various ways to play and styles to learn. That comes also with the caveat that some characters make far better introductory characters than others; Akira, the poster boy of Virtua Fighter, is also one of the more difficult characters to play, with lesser known characters like Jean or Goh provide greater accessibility to new players. While many games will have players talking about who they “main”, Virtua Fighter rewards some level of experimentation, with more complex characters offering more seasoned players a higher skill ceiling at the cost of ease of play, and other characters offering easier access but potentially diminishing rewards over time. Either way, the best advice is always to go by the Rule of Cool: pick the character you think looks the coolest, and learn them!
This is, of course, sometimes easier said than done. However, while Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown doesn’t innately have this feature, something that I can suggest is that if you’re truly interested in trying to learn Virtua Fighter, there is a vibrant and intense community out there waiting to help you out. While fighting games often get reputations for fairly competitive and unfriendly communities, Virtua Fighter’s skill ceiling and lack of bells and whistles generally leads to its players being fairly chill in a lot of cases–perhaps, quite frankly, because they can’t afford to scare people off–and there are many great Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown combo videos and guides out there, as well as tons of streamers likely returning to the game with an easier online option to play. In lieu of a brand new game, Virtua Fighter has never had a better way to get into the game than Ultimate Showdown.
So where does that leave a totally new, never tried Virtua Fighter before player? Should you get this game? Well, my answer is… It depends. I know that’s not a great answer, but let’s try and divide this into two camps. Are you a fighting game player (new or old) that wants to delve into a deep fighting system that rewards your practice and time with the game through improvements in your rank and skill, but offers little else to do? If you think that sounds like fun, then yes, absolutely play Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. If you think “I’ll probably get bored”, then I don’t know if Virtua Fighter is for you, but there is a silver lining here: PS+ users can get the came as part of your PS+ membership, meaning that trying the game, and deciding whether you want to stick with it or not, is technically a question of the time it would take you to download it than any real monetary cost other than your probably already existing PS+ membership.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is an excellent update to an already amazing game, bringing the graphical quality of the game in line with the technical and rewarding gameplay. The netcode (at least currently) seems stable and responsive, meaning that you’ll find many new opponents, rivals, and potential friends to play against. So don’t be scared–stretch out those fingies and prepare yourself for some martial arts mayhem! If you’ve got a PS+ membership, you can download the game for free, and you can grab the additional Legendary Pack DLC for $9.99. If you don’t have a PS+ membership, you can still grab the game + DLC for $29.99.
Thanks again to the amazing folks at SEGA for chance to get an early look at the addictive fighting game that is Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown. Don’t forget to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube to see what they’re up to.
Until next time! ✨
Are you picking up Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown? Are you a returning VF player or a new player? Let me know in the comments!