Tatsunoko vs. Capcom Hands-On Preview

One often observes bizarre things in Los Angeles. Take the following: a male twenty-something leading a French maid about on a leash, a man dressed as Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 while brandishing a wall clock with the word “rape” in place of each digit, and–most disturbing of all–a middle-aged man fully clad in a Japanese schoolgirl outfit.

What do all these spectacles have in common? While they may seem like they belong in latest David Cronenberg film, in reality they were samples of the many costumed fans at this year’s annual Anime Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center (July 2-5). This reporter waded through this menagerie of Japanese animation enthusiasts with one goal in mind — to find a playable copy of the latest, Wii-exclusive entry in Capcom’s long running “Vs.” series, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars.

Fighting game aficionados will be readily familiar with Capcom’s forays into super hero crossovers. Marvel vs. Capcom, Capcom vs. SNK, and their sequels were huge hits in arcades and on home consoles. While these earlier games featured recognizable brands, only the most hardcore anime fans will be readily familiar with the characters of Tatsunoko Productions. The animation studio–while quite popular in Japan–is perhaps best known in the United States for the original Speed Racer cartoon.

Last December, Capcom released TvC on the Wii in Japan. Since that time, North American “Vs.” fans eagerly awaited the possibility of an overseas translation. A myriad of factors, including the esoteric content and rights issues, seemed to doom TvC to import-only status. Yet, in one of E3 2009’s many surprises, Capcom announced that TvC will indeed be making its way to North American shores later this year.

As with previous “Vs.” games, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom features a solid lineup of 22 characters from both companies. Capcom’s ensemble includes characters such as Ryu and Chun Li from the Street Fighter series, Morrigan from the Darkstalkers series, Mega Man, and Viewtiful Joe. Tatsunoko’s cast consists of Ken the Eagle and Jun the Swan from Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, and Hakushon Daimaô from The Genie Family among others. It is uncertain at this time as to whether or not Capcom will add new fighters to the U.S. version from either side.

The gameplay of TVC is exceedingly similar to earlier installments of the “Vs.” series, with the player choosing two fighters at the character select screen. During the match, the player can switch characters at will by simultaneously pressing back on the control pad and the “assist” button. Alternatively, the player can summon the second character for a brief intervention by simply tapping the assist button. Only the two giant robots – Gold Lightan (from the Tatsunoko series Golden Warrior Gold Lightan) and PTX-40A (from the Capcom game Lost Planet) – cannot be paired with other fighters.

Aside from the characters, the largest difference between Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and its predecessors is the controls. Whereas Street Fighter IV and almost every other Capcom fighter features six attack buttons, TvC only uses three. These correspond with weak, medium, and strong attacks, and the nature of the attack depends on the position of the fighter on-screen. For example, a tap of the weak attack button when Ryu is crouching will cause him to perform a weak floor kick.

The full Japanese version of TvC was playable at the Anime Expo, and it generally felt quite comfortable to play. The simplified control scheme may feel strange to long-time Capcom fighting game veterans at first, but you get accustomed to it quickly. In reality, there is not a tremendous amount of new content to distinguish TvC from its “Vs.” brethren, aside from the Baroque system that allows characters to extend combos and deal more damage when activated during an attack.

Tatsunoko vs. Capcom supports several control options, including the Wii remote/nunchuck combo, the GameCube controller, the Classic controller, and arcade stick peripherals. The GameCube controller was the only available input device at the Expo. While it worked decently enough, the analog stick and under-sized D-pad made pulling off moves somewhat difficult.

Graphically, the game translates quite well to the Wii. It visually falls somewhere between Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, as the fighters and some elements of the backgrounds are 3D rendered. The stages feature varied environments that range from an airship infested with Mega Man Serve Bots to the fiery ruins of a demolished building. As with Street Fighter IV, the camera will often zoom to close-ups of characters when they perform special attacks.

Whether or not Tatsunoko vs. Capcom will have potential in the mainstream North American market remains to be seen. The Japanese version features local multiplayer only, but Capcom has hinted that the American version may support online competition. That being said, Capcom’s gamble in bringing the game to North America shows that the company – much like a costumed anime fan roaming the streets of downtown Los Angeles – is not afraid to take a few risks.

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