I didn’t play Virtua Fighter until Judgment; not gonna lie to y’all. That said, as a longtime junkie for many other fighting games, Virtua Fighter has always been on my radar. So with this new version of the fifth game, of which there are several, I got to dive in. It’s a confusing game, and maybe even intimidating. But Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is ultimately a deep, fascinating videogame bloodsport. And it’s pretty dang easy on the eyes to boot.
Virtua Fighter 5 originally dropped in the aughts, moving from arcades to consoles as one of the earlier PlayStation 3 releases. More iterations were made over time, until Virtua Fighter V Final Showdown seemed to close the book on everything. Sega turned 60 this year, and this new version of an arcade classic is one of the marquee party guests. And despite its quick announcement to release timing, this isn’t just a shined-up port. It’s a full-on remake.
Related: Sega Reveals Lost Judgment, Launching Globally in September
With Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio coming along for the ride and leveraging the Dragon Engine, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a total visual overhaul. And it looks amazing. Just go back and watch some old Final Showdown Evo footage, or hit up Club Sega in Yakuza 6 or Judgment. The difference is remarkable. But it isn’t just the characters that have been bumped up. The soundtrack has been redone, the UI is new, and the online options have been expanded. I can’t speak to balance changes if any, but Ultimate Showdown just feels like Sega flexing its Yakuza-given muscles.
The reverence for history is present too! There’s a “Legendary Pack” DLC that brings a lot of silly throwbacks to Virtua Fighter’s long history into the mix. If you drop the extra ten bucks you’ll be able to use music from older games, and even change the in-game HUD to the Sega 32X style. The pack also gives each member of the roster alternate costumes giving them the full old school, polygonal look. That’s even for characters who weren’t in the older games. For the sake of disclosure the pack came with our review copy, but if I were on the other side of this equation I’d probably be opening my wallet.
Additions aside, it’s time to talk shop. As I said before, Virtua Fighter 5 is equal parts intimidating, fascinating, confusing and deeply engaging. This is an arcade-ass arcade fighting game, but at the same time it’s much more grounded in reality than something like Tekken or Soulcalibur. At times it feels like Virtua Fighter has contempt for its own command lists, but that vibe is a side effect of a smartly defined combat style.
With only three buttons, Virtua Fighter 5 does a lot with a little. Your moves change based on small things like directional inputs, and while there are juggling properties you’re lucky to get more than two or three hits. Rounds are also lightning fast, with a default timer of 30 seconds. This is a game about quick strikes, faster thinking, and optimizing punishments. That big ol’ flying kick looks awesome, but using it without a plan will cost you dearly.
Going through arcade mode, I often found myself (and the CPU) doing far more small strikes and basic pokes than anything else. There’s a lethal combination of speed and precision at play, and it can be hard to digest or keep up with if you’re used to games like Street Fighter. I played online with someone who knew what they were doing, and I didn’t lose to big, fancy combos. I lost because I gave away too many opportunities.
Even with the lucha styling of El Blaze, who is definitely my favorite character, Virtua Fighter 5 isn’t a flashy fighting game. There aren’t big explosions, crazy maneuvers or super moves to contend with. It’s like watching an actual mixed martial arts tournament, albeit one that is still very much a videogame. Much like Bloodsport, this is a game that uses larger than life characters to exhibit exaggerated, but very real, martial arts.
Considering the Japanese title for Ultimate Showdown is “Virtua Fighter esports,” it’s easy to connect some dots here about why this package exists. I’m assuming we haven’t seen a Virtua Fighter 6 by now because it might be a hard sell as a competitor against games like Mortal Kombat 11 and Guilty Gear -Strive- for larger audiences. But leveraging the series’ street cred and dropping a competition-ready fighter that’s small scale enough to appeal to fans and pros feels very smart. This PlayStation Blog post lines up with that assumption, and that’s great. Anyone into fighting games as a genre and competitive space should absolutely give Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown a look, especially those who missed out on earlier versions.
Top-notch overhaul to visuals, UI, music, etc etc
Extremely fine-tuned combat experience that’s distinct and exciting
Not casual friendly in many ways
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.