Virtua Fighter has become a staple of the fighting game genre over the years.  Originally created as a technical showpiece of polygons and weird-looking characters, the series has since grown into more, thanks to incredible revamps of favorites (Sarah Bryant has grown into quite the looker since the old days), an improved fighting system that still relies on old-fashioned brawling tactics over fireballs and special moves, and options so deep that even the most truly concentrated fighting fanatics are finding something new.

A few years back, Sega hit its peak with Virtua Fighter 5 for both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but despite reaching the apex in visual glory and including all the fighting action fans have come to enjoy over the years, it still felt like something was keeping it from being the “ultimate” Virtua Fighter.

Next week, that problem gets resolved with the release of Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, a game that takes most of the content from the original release and includes a wealth of new options, including some new online goodies that will be appreciated by all.  In the game, you’ll be able to choose from 20 characters– from favorites like Jacky and Sarah Bryant to returning faces like Taka-Arashi (the sumo wrestler from Virtua Fighter 3) to powerhouses like the newly introduced Jean Kujo and the always-shifting Dural. You’ll run through venues that change over the course of each battle, and eventually brawl your way to the top, ready to face whatever challenger comes your way.

Sega recently invited us to try out the game using a specially made fighting stick that will actually be released shortly after Final Showdown becomes available for download. 

It’s a very durable model, and the way that Sega has concentrated the gameplay to fit perfectly with arcade-style movements is really something else.  You don’t lean on the supernatural tactics of fireballs or special flaming punches to win the fight, but rather brute strength, key counters, and a few ideal throw techniques to dwindle your opponent’s energy down to nothing. There are a few combos to discover, but the key to winning the battle, above all else, is being able to anticipate how your opponent is going to hit you, and trying to counter the best you can – like in a real fight.

In addition to single player battles, you can hop online through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and challenge friends in custom match-ups or quick ranked and unranked battles, just to see how you fare.  This is a worldwide competition game, though, so stay on your toes.  You just might stumble across a master here.

Along with the game, which will sell for 1200 Microsoft points (or $15, depending on your platform), you’ll also be able to customize your fighter with additional outfits, which will be available in the storefront following the game’s release.  Over 500 to 1,000 items will be on hand, ranging around $5 per pack.  The entire thing will run you $50, like a retail copy of the game, so it won’t break the bank if you want to collect everything.  Still, the core VF5 experience is more than suitable for giving you what you want when it comes to fulfilling your general fighting needs.

Visually, Final Showdown hasn’t lost a step since its predecessors.  The animation continues to impress, as each fighter adapts to their own style and sticks to it, from Lucha Libre wrestling to sumo wrestling to old-school kung fu.  The drunken master, Shun Di,  is one of our favorites, as he’s so unpredictable launching from one attack to another while taking a swing from his bottle.  The backgrounds are equally impressive, ranging from a fighting arena to a traditional Japanese village to a boat, with boards that shake loose and threaten to knock you into the water if you don’t find your proper footing during a counter-attack.  The game looks impressive, at just under 2 GB in download.

Final Showdown seems like the ultimate package that no one should miss.  From variable fighting options both online and off to characters with varying styles to some of the best graphics you’ll find in a fighting game, we don’t see who would possibly choose to miss this fighting party.  Get your fighting sticks and we’ll see you in the arena next week.