Ultimate Might Be A Slight Exaggeration
Whether Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is the fighting game for you depends largely on your gaming priorities. After nearly a decade, Sega tasked Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio with modernizing a nearly fifteen-year-old classic. For the most part, they’ve been successful. This is a beautiful game, inside and out. Everything included here is incredibly well done. However, the main issue is that despite the title, this is not the ultimate version of Virtua Fighter 5. There’s too much that isn’t included.
Releasing free on PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now, Ultimate Showdown is almost entirely designed around online play. A series of online modes are included, which should satisfy most players. The ranked mode works well, and a room mode allows you to group up and simulate that old arcade feeling. It works great. A tournament mode seems to be coming, though it still wasn’t live as of this writing.
Still One Of The Best Fighters Ever Made
Everything still plays like a dream. Virtua Fighter 5 holds up as one of the best fighting games ever made, and its core gameplay was left alone. That’s the nice way of saying that there’s nothing really new here. No new characters, no new stages, nothing that could throw off the balance between the game’s twenty combatants. With each character here being viable and an incredible selection of fighters covering different styles, that’s not a terrible thing. Whether you want Judo, Muay Thai, Sumo, Pro Wrestling, Drunken Boxing, or many more, there’s a character for you. Sometimes you don’t want to fix what isn’t broken.
The combat is as fast and furious as I remembered. Virtua Fighter uses a three-button fighting system based around punches, kicks, and blocks. It manages to be incredibly simple and easy to pick up while containing an enormous amount of depth. Each character has hundreds of moves, but unless you plan to headline a future EVO, you can get playing after learning just a few. Moves flow effortlessly into each other with a fluidity few fighting games can match.
Solo Players Need Not Apply
Speaking of learning, Virtua Fighter continues to have one of the best training modes in fighting games. Whether you want to learn new moves, practice them, or even see frame data, there’s helpful information here whether you’re a first-time player or someone who has played for years.
Once you get beyond the training mode though, we start to get to why this won’t be a game for everyone. The only single-player mode outside of training is a basic arcade mode. This features no story and no endings, just a series of matches against the AI to complete. It can be fun for a short time, but it’s very basic. This is where calling this “Ultimate” starts to feel a little disingenuous. The original console release of Virtua Fighter 5 featured an excellent Quest Mode which provided a challenge for those who didn’t want to play online. Even the last release of the game, 2012’s Final Showdown, included things like Time Trials and Score Attack despite being a similarly stripped-down experience designed primarily for online play. This time Sega seems to have thrown their hands up and decided it wasn’t worth even considering solo players.
With such a focus on the online play, though, some of the things left of Ultimate Showdown don’t make much sense. In recent years, rollback net code has become the standard for online fighting games. Without getting too technical, this is a system where the computer simulates how players will react and accounts for changes as they come in. This cuts down on lag and provides the most seamless possible experience. Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio decided not to use it for some reason. Online play is still mostly excellent. Far better than many fighting games. Every five to ten matches, though, I would have a round significantly impacted by lag. When a game is otherwise this smooth, moments like that stand out.
There are significant options included to customize who you want to play against. I didn’t have them on their most strict settings, which may have contributed to those issues. If the community dwindles, though, loosening these will become important to find matches at some point—something worth considering.
Other means of customization are more limited than even older versions of the game. There are some cool options to change each character’s costume here, but nowhere near the freedom prior versions of Virtua Fighter 5 offered. There are still, however, over 2000 customization items available in the legendary pack. My favorites are skins designed to look like old-school polygonal Virtua Fighter characters. They’re very cool and included with the purchase of the game, which is nice. Still, other missing items feel like odd omissions. Perhaps they’ll show up as future DLC.
If you have PlayStation Plus, there’s no reason not to check out Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown. Even if it fails to hook you, free is a good price. If you don’t have Plus, there’s very little reason to get it, however. This is especially true since Plus is required to play online, and there’s almost nothing to do if you aren’t playing online. While it is a shame that so much content from past games isn’t here, this is still one of the best playing fighting games ever made. That’s no small accomplishment. For those who don’t love facing live opponents over and over, though, this may be more of a curiosity than a new passion. Still, I’m just glad to see Virtua Fighter back in the fight. Hopefully, the next time the series makes a return, it will be with a new title.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4(reviewed); Publisher: Sega; Developer: Sega; Players: 2; Released: June 1st, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PlayStation 4 review copy of Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.