The Nintendo DS often represents a rather difficult proposition for developers. The unique nature of the hardware can sometimes pose a significant stumbling block when it comes to porting existing franchises to the popular handheld. Do you stay true to your roots and ignore the innovations the DS offers, or do you embrace these features at the detriment of the original game concept?
We’re pretty sure that developer Arc System Works was faced with this very conundrum when it decided to port the massively popular 2D fighting series Guilty Gear to Nintendo’s portable console. While fans of the franchise will spot many familiar faces and find many things that remain faithful to the countless other titles that have gone before, they will be disappointed to discover that much of what makes Guilty Gear so captivating is unfortunately absent and has been replaced by what is fundamentally a very broken game engine.
Ignoring the traditional one-on-one fighting action that Guilty Gear is so synonymous with, Arc System Works has instead looked towards the brilliant Japan-only brawler Jump Superstars - which in turn is more than a little inspired by the Smash Brothers range of titles. The play area is now two screens in height – thereby making use of the dual displays of the DS - and four characters fight it out at once. As you can imagine this is a massive change from the highly focused combat of the original Guilty Gear games and bouts have tendency to be quite chaotic, making it difficult to follow your progress and anticipate the tactics of opponents.
The conversion from one-on-one scrapper to four player free-for-all is not an altogether successful one. Games like Jump Superstars and Smash Brothers work because they have been built from the ground up with this kind of gameplay in mind; Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers fails because it’s a jack-of-all-trades that tries to fuse the ideals of one style with another – the measured approach of a one-on-one fighter and the gloriously unpredictable nature of a multiplatform beat ‘em up.
Characters have been dumbed down deliberately to make things easier, which of course will only serve to anger hardcore followers of the franchise. Advanced techniques such as dodges and evasion manoeuvres are also cast aside, and as a consequence each fight is severely lacking in finesse. The final nail in the coffin is that despite the tinkering done to shoehorn the Guilty Gear concept into the multi fighter arena, the roster of fighters still harks back to the format of original games and guiding each combatant around the arena is no where near as intuitive as it is in Jump Superstars. As a result, mounting an assault on rival pugilists is nowhere near as straightforward as it should be and very often you feel like you’re controlling characters that have somehow gotten lost in altogether foreign territory.
Fans of the more traditional Guilty Gear experience may be mightily aggrieved at the sweeping changes seen here, but they’ll be even more aghast at the visuals. In order to fit so many fighters on the screen at once Arc System Works has had to shrink the sprites considerably. Previously, if you were playing a Guilty Gear game you could be assured of a sumptuous visual feast thanks to the massive, high-resolution sprites and silky-smooth animation. This aesthetic splendor is sadly missing from Dust Strikers and although we don’t accuse fans of the series of being graphic tarts, it’s clear that the game is rendered a lot less appealing as a result.
Rather predictably the developer has also seen fit to include several throwaway mini games that make predicable use of the DS’s features. These are mildly engaging at first but lose their appeal faster than a chat show hosted by Charlotte Church. Why the developer expects you to waste your time with such trivial pastimes when games like Wario Ware do it so much better is anyone’s guess.
Ultimately, Arc System Works has tried to do something new here and failed. You can’t blame them for at least attempting to take their beloved franchise in a new direction, but in messing with what is viewed by many as a winning formula they’ve caused the wheels to fall off in spectacular fashion. Guilty Gear: Dust Strikers is just too bland, too unfocused and too cumbersome to be entertaining. It’s a crying shame that the sublime Jump Superstars and its sequel are unlikely to see release in the West, yet we’re served up average product like this.