Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
If the dream match you've been waiting for since Street Fighter came about in the late eighties was a scuffle between a stable of Capcom classics and some stars from huge-in-the-seventies anime company Tatsunoko, you're probably one of the people who petitioned for the game to be released in the West to begin with. For the rest of us, who have no idea what it means to dragon punch Yatterman-1 in the face, you'll probably be wondering why they couldn't have made Marvel Vs Capcom 3 instead.
The roster is interesting on both sides. The game, the first in the Vs series to be rendered in 3D, cuts down on MvC 2's ridiculous 56 characters to provide a still-hefty 26. Ryu and Chun-Li make a mandatory appearance but the rest of the usual suspects - Ken, Guile, Akuma et al - are out. Instead there's room for characters such as Dead Rising's Frank West, new for TvC's Western release, who plays like an updated version of MvC 2's undead-summoning Jill and uses zombies in shopping trolleys as long-range projectiles. Also new is Megaman X's sidekick Zero, who joins a returning crowd from the Japanese version including tragically ill-fated Viewtiful Joe, obscure gun-toting dating sim darling Saki Omokane and Batsu from Rival Schools. That's quite the bunch.
On the other side of the fence, calamitous genie Daimou has found himself chopped out of the Western "Ultimate All-Stars" release for licensing reasons; the rest of the Tatsunoko characters from Japanese "Cross Generation of Heroes" find their way across the pond. Despite not knowing anything about them - other than visually recognising Ken the Eagle from Gatchaman - it takes about five minutes to realise that these characters, with their bright costumes and eccentric backstories, are absolutely perfect for a fighting game. Tekkaman Blade is my new hero.
Capcom have been afforded good-will status after successfully resurrecting Street Fighter IV, but the comparison here is not analogous: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is an iteration of the Vs (duh) series, an even more cultish entry to Capcom's prestigious fighting stables. The production values are equally spectacular, however, with each character brilliantly animated alongside some excellent backgrounds. Yes, Frank West's is set in a mall.
The biggest difference from former Vs games is with the controls, which have been pared back to a four-button system. In what could initially be considered Capcom heresy there is no distinction between individual punches and kicks, instead being replaced with Light (A), Medium (B) and Heavy (C) attacks. Like in MvC, a basic bread-and-butter combo (although this is very character dependent) goes from progressing from the weakest attacks to the strongest. For example, an A, A, B, down-forward (df) + B, C, df+C combo with Ippatsuman knocks off a healthy chunk of damage without being overly complicated to pull off.
Launchers make the jump from previous games and are still integral to achieving big combo damage. df+C with any character will launch an enemy into the air, then tapping up during the animation will cause your character to join them. Here you can unleash your combos in the skies, which is important because most attacks can be jump cancelled to allow for a few extra attacks. Zero can supplement an A, A, B air combo by jumping again and attacking with B and C, for instance. It looks complicated on paper but the timings are generous compared to some of SFIV's FADC combos: Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is all about pulling off massive combos, doing billions of point's worth of damage and having the screen erupt in plumes of colour as if a bomb has gone off in a skittles factory.
Another significant difference is that the series has given up the third character and gone back to simpler 2v2 tag battles. The fourth button (P) is your Partner button; pressing it will call your partner in for an assist attack. These attacks cannot be used to the same extent as they were in MvC2, which keeps the screen clearer and the action manageable. Tag features and powerful partner super attacks are still around, though.
In summary: if you're the kind of person who refers to a hadoken movement as a '623' and would sell your first-born to see a sequel to Garou: Mark of the Wolves, you're probably going to go straight into TvC with no problems whatsoever. At this level you'll also be interested in Variable Air Raid (tag a partner in the middle of an air combo and reset damage scaling) and Mega Crash (use up two bars of super meter to deflect an attack) techniques. Most important is the Baroque Cancel, which sucks up all your red life (which would slowly regenerate if you tagged to your other character) to strengthen your attacks and allow you to combo with no recovery time. It's similar to the Roman Cancels seen in Guilty Gear and equally as devastating, so high-level play heavily revolves around them.
As with all fighting games, it's an experience best enjoyed with an arcade stick. MadCatz (producers of the SFIV arcade sticks) have the market covered, though this seems like an expensive investment for a platform that's unlikely to see another game that will ever need it. The alternative is to solder a GameCube connector to an existing arcade stick, although that might be an equally unrealistic proposition. Nintendo's new Classic Controller Pro makes for a decent, affordable option. Whatever you do, don't try and use the GameCube "you thought the 360 had a dodgy d-pad?" controller.
It's also worth noting that the game's online mode doesn't seem to work as successfully as SFIV's, with many of my games ruined by frequent lag issues. This is potentially caused by a lack of players, though I don't necessarily see the numbers going up anytime soon. At this stage in its life cycle you'll also find yourself frequently matched against endless waves of scrubby Ryu/Zero teams, so it's best to keep your air dash fingers limbered up.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is fighter that works as a successful iteration in the Vs series as well as a friendly introduction to fighting games for beginners. It's far more than a gaudy offshoot of SFIV, with the inclusion of the Tatsunoko characters adding fresh faces to a familiar fighting engine. For the sake of everyone's recently-purchased arcade sticks I'd love to see a port on the 360/PS3, as well as some better netcode, but there's absolutely no faulting such a well-made game on the Wii. It's a boon to Nintendo's device.