30. Soul Calibur II
Format: GameCube, Arcade, PlayStation 2, Xbox
The exquisitely honed fighting engine remained in place, the graphics were freshly reamazinged. The deep single-player mode of Calibur was deepened considerably into the gigantic Weapon Master mode, which took me literally years to finish. (I can’t remember exact dates, but I got this fairly close to its release and I think I polished it off in about 2007.) The new characters, a mixture of revised versions of old styles (so Sophitia was replaced by her little sister Cassandra, etcetera) and new concepts, were largely excellent. Most intriguingly, the home versions got exclusive characters (Tekken’s Heihachi for PS2, comic book hero Spawn on Xbox and The Legend of Zelda’s Link on ‘Cube). The fuck-ups? Yun-seong, the replacement for the brilliant Hwang, was a bit rubbish. But then the European version had a disguised Hwang, under the genero-name of Assassin, as an exclusive playable character so that was fine. (Assassin was in all versions, but CPU-only in the US and Japan. Cackle.) More problematically, Spawn creator Todd MacFarlane thunked up a home-only character in the demonic Necrid, and he was appalling. Utterly terrible. Not even the fact that his comedy weapon had a “boiiing!” sound effect could redeem him. Finally, the character design was starting to get a bit silly, particularly with regard to Taki’s and Ivy’s boobs. Not as ridiculous as it would get, with Soul Calibur IV’s biologically improbable chest potatoes and utterly stupid looking armour, but the start of a slippery slope.
But that was it for the bad. Otherwise, Soul Calibur II was amazing and remains my personal favourite “pure” beat-‘em-up ever.
MAGIC MOMENT: on the GameCube version, playing as Link on Cassandra’s background (which looked a bit Zelda-y I guess?) caused the regular background music to be replaced with a glorious rendition of the Zelda theme. Spine-tingling.