48. Soul Calibur
Format: Dreamcast, Arcade
When it came out, Soul Calibur was critically lauded and much loved. But looking back, it seems that you could make a point for it being an important title in gaming history as well – an emblematic envoy for the time when arcades officially handed over to home gaming.
The second instalment in the Soul series, a weapons-based fighter from Tekken bods Namco, it was an unremarkable arcade cabinet. But then it was ported to Sega’s Dreamcast, the first 128-bit console. The Dreamcast was lacking in a great fighter. Sega’s legendary Virtua Fighter 3tb had launched with the machine, but it was showing its age. Capcom had proffered the brilliant Power Stone (more on that later), but that was a completely different prospect from a straight-up one-on-one brawler. So Namco decided to make the most of the port. Extra characters were added, a lengthy one-player mission mode was whisked up, and the graphics were massively overhauled to the point where the Dreamcast version of Soul Calibur was pretty much the best-looking game anyone had ever seen. (And they rigged it so the VMS – the Dreamcast’s memory card, which plugged into the controller and could display basic graphics – showed a little cartoon version of your character.)
It didn’t hurt that it was a joy to play, either. The fighting system was more instinctive and natural than pretty much any other title out there, meaning you didn’t have to learn arcane special moves to play well – just enter a command that seemed like it would pull off the manoeuvre you wanted, and 95% of the time that manoeuvre was what you got. Even now, it remains one of the best one-on-one beat ‘em ups you can get hold of.
So: a great game. But with hindsight, when you look at how a decent arcade title was turned into a huge, gorgeous home title, you can see how arcades, already becoming quite quaint by 1999, would be pretty much done in a few years.
MAGIC MOMENT: One of the many nifty bits and bobs to unlock allowed you to re-direct the intro sequence by changing which characters appeared when. Cue giggles as you turned the “girl in the breeze” bit – starring Xianghua, I think, originally? – into silliness with a very camp Lizardman or Astaroth.