Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown Review – The Ultimate Comeback

    Title: Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown
    Developer: Am2
    Release Date: June 1, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Sega
    Genre: Fighter

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown on PS4 is part of a larger revival effort to restore the once legendary and pioneering 3D fighting franchise into the gaming zeitgeist. Joining the PS4 release is the x eSports arcade release, which is looking to rebuild its competitive fighting community in Japan and potentially worldwide.

At the time of review, the PS4 release immediately joins the June 2021 PlayStation Plus lineup, and it is also part of the PlayStation Now service. If anything, this makes it easier for even the most unacquainted fighting fan to give the game a try. Still, even as a purchase, this PlayStation Store exclusive costs far less than its other fighting game peers.

Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is officially the third and now final revision of 2006’s Virtua Fighter 5. It is not to be confused as a mere port or remaster of Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown, the latter which launched on Xbox 360 (backward compatible on Xbox One and Series X|S) and PlayStation 3 back in 2012. In recent years, Final Showdown was included as a free mini-game in Yakuza 6: The Song of Life, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, and even Judgment. But even with Final Showdown already being accessible in various forms, Ultimate Showdown does plenty to live up to its namesake as a brand new edition.

The game is a co-developed effort by original creator AM2 and Ryu Ga Gotoko Studio. The latter lending their impressive Dragon Engine to completely remake the graphical style and presentation of Virtua Fighter 5. Far beyond being just a mere remaster, the fully remade character models in Ultimate Showdown are immediately apparent in their impressive facial detail and texturing.

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Anyone familiar with the character models of the Yakuza series will notice the same attention to detail here, with some facial expressions almost being visible for the first time. Even the stages benefit from the graphical makeover, especially the backgrounds, which animate with more vivid details than previously. The Dragon Engine certainty does its part well to make Ultimate Showdown look like a worthy 2021 fighting release, whether running on a PS4 or a PS5.

The fluid and refined 60 FPS fighting is fully intact, and it’s easy to take for granted just how sublime and meticulous Virtua Fighter can be. Ultimate Showdown is the best the series has ever felt from a gameplay standpoint. While adding a new character probably would have helped, the complete roster from Final Showdown has been updated, revised, and balanced in this new edition.

It’s great to get reacquainted with the cast and remembering how there isn’t a fighter quite like the legendary Akira Yuki and his deadly Hakkyoku-ken. Watching him go to work at his best is a bit like watching a lion absolutely maul a gazelle on the Discovery channel, and so it’s no wonder he is both the protagonist and final boss of the game.

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Fighters like Akira and the rest of the cast are also a testament to why Virtua Fighter is still a refined 3D fighting experience, even in the modern scene.  The variety in the real-world fighting styles represented is diverse and impressive, with everything from sumo to mantis-style painstakingly recreated with as much realism as possible.

The fighting roster is balanced, with each character rewarding to learn and master with something to suit all play styles. Ultimate Showdown proves how there’s still nothing quite as disciplined as learning to play Virtua Fighter beyond just mashing buttons.

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The core fighting uses a simple three-button approach: punch, kick, and block, with an additional throw command. This deceptively straightforward control scheme works wonders with the intricate fighting systems and styles. Fights take place in both closed and open arenas, with the latter allowing for ring-out victories.

There are even breakable walls and fences in some stages, which blend the core fighting system nicely with the stage design to add depth and strategy to the bouts. Although the core game might still feel similar to how most would recall the original Virtua Fighter 5, the refinements, updates, and expanded roster all help make Ultimate Showdown feel fresh and enhanced in many ways.

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Ultimate Showdown comes with the standard arcade mode as a home console release, where the goal is to reach the end and then defeat the bonus boss Dural on the first attempt. There aren’t any other single-player modes here, but the game does come with a comprehensive training mode that contains detailed tutorials and even move-by-move exercises, providing plenty of help to anyone looking to really learn and master Virtua Fighter. It’s definitely one of the best training modes in any fighting game.

There is also a costume customization mode, where new outfits can be created for all characters. While the customization options are limited, there’s still enough here to create some fun outfits and styles, and there’s likely to be more costume packs in the future. In addition to these customizations, Ultimate Showdown really celebrates the franchise’s legacy by featuring the music from the entire series, which means you can play the entire game to the iconic soundtrack of Virtua Fighter 2. Launching alongside the game is the Legendary DLC pack, which includes classic polygonal models for all of the characters done in the style of the 1994 Virtua Fighter and other fun filters such as classic UI and HUD.

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A quick glance at the Trophies list clarifies that Ultimate Showdown was designed with multiplayer in mind, as the goal here is to rebuild a competitive community. To address the proverbial elephant in the online lobby: unfortunately, this game does not, in fact, feature rollback netcode, which is deemed as essential for serious competitive fighting. Instead, it uses the tried and tested delay-based netcode. There were limited players and match matching opportunities available at the time of review, so it’s hard to comment on the quality of existing network code once more players join the server.

That being said, the multiplayer features, settings, and statistics are all comprehensive and integrated, and of interest is the ability to spectate fights that have occurred, as the main menu allows players to seamlessly watch encounters from all over the globe. The spectating features and all the ranking and tournament options certainly give players plenty to work with, but ultimately, this all comes down to the end-user. So enough players are needed to create an active community.

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Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown appears to be a test to see if a revival would be feasible for this series to modern consoles. There seems to be a push to get this game in as many hands as possible to gauge interest and show that Virtua Fighter can still put up a fight. Thankfully, the updated systems, balances, and visuals make this a worthy fighter, but a lot rides on the competitive modes.

While the game itself is basically the same Virtua Fighter 5 bolstered with a graphical makeover, it’s hard to fault it when the core fighting system is just so meticulously polished. Regardless of what the future may hold for the franchise, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a welcome return of a 3D fighting legend, one that looks and plays better than it ever has before. The major caveat here is that the wealth of online multiplayer options are potentially held back by the netcode.

Score:
8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Jahanzeb Khan

Old SEGA games will go up in value... you'll see!