Over the past three decades, Arc System Works has managed to carve out its own identity within the fighting genre through Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, and even Dragon Ball. By choosing to forego the more traditional 3-punch-3-kick control scheme, 1998’s Guilty Gear (developed in-house by Team Neo Blood) managed to stand out as a uniquely stylized competitor amongst its peers. Following half a dozen main series games, as well as countless revisions and spinoffs, the original Guilty Gear now finds itself on the Nintendo Switch over 20 years later. While much of the original game’s charm remains intact even now, other elements leave Guilty Gear feeling dated when compared to more modern takes on the genre.
Right from the menu, Guilty Gear immediately appears limited in its content offering, spanning only three modes – Normal (arcade), Versus, and Training. As was the case with many fighting games of its time, Normal Mode consists of fighting individual combatants in sequence to eventually reach a conclusive boss match. Versus can be played in single-player or couch co-op, with each player being able to fight using only a single Joy-Con controller. Fights in this respect are more than feasible, as the four-button primary control scheme – punch, kick, slash, and heavy slash – suit the Joy-Con’s button arrangement nicely. Lastly, Training Mode acts as a serviceable, no-nonsense area to practice combos and special moves. CPU opponents can be set to stand, sit, jump, and guard against attacks to help practice different scenarios. Unfortunately, that’s it. This may not be an issue for the most dedicated of fans, but the limited number of modes is glaring when looking at it in 2019. Compared to its more contemporary peers, Guilty Gear feels barren and lacks staying power. Other potential deterrents are the rampant difficulty spikes encountered in Normal Mode, where enemies at later stages often launch one-hit-kill moves seemingly out of nowhere, abruptly ending your match. Worse yet, instant kills grant two wins instead of one, resulting in an immediate match point. This can be incredibly frustrating after whittling away the enemy’s health, only to die in an instant.
While the four-button control scheme makes up the foundation of Guilty Gear’s combat, complexity shines in the myriad of grabs, special moves, specials, and instant kills that can be performed with each of the 13 characters (10 available and, 3 unlockable). In addition, each player has a tension gauge that fills from dealing and taking damage (and drains from more defensive play), encouraging more fast-paced, aggressive play. Filling the gauge allows the player to unleash chaos attacks – powerful skills that can easily tip the odds in your favour. When the player is seamlessly chaining combos and subsequently looking for the next moment to strike, Guilty Gear is at its absolute best. Finding the perfect opportunity to counter an opponent and land a devastating combo is still as immensely satisfying here as in more modern fighters, and that feeling alone is enough to leave you craving one more match.
In addition to solid gameplay, Guilty Gear’s visuals also hold up surprisingly well. While character models appear somewhat pixelated, they still retain their charm. Fluid movement and attack animations add to their appeal and do wonders to keep things feeling fresh and vibrant. Following suit is the game’s soundtrack, featuring punchy electric rock that pairs nicely with the more aggressive combat style. What does not hold up, however, are the sound effects in combat and voiceover work. Both sound understandably muffled, which is a bit disheartening when considering how well the majority of the presentation holds up. While the sounds affiliated with punches and slashes can come across as endearing, the frequent inability to understand phrases exclaimed by the commentator and fighters is disappointing nonetheless.
In terms of performance on the Switch, I did not encounter any frame rate stutters or slowdown. From my experience, both docked and handheld modes manage to offer smooth gameplay without any hitches. Granted, I would hope this to be the case as Guilty Gear is far from a modern release, but the result is pleasing, nonetheless.
With only a small price difference between Guilty Gear and 2012’s Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R, it is extremely difficult to recommend the former over the latter. More premium options in the form of multiple Blazblue titles and Dragon Ball Fighterz make recommending this Switch port even more of a challenge. There is no denying that I genuinely enjoyed my time with Guilty Gear, but that time was brief as repeating Normal Mode began to slowly shift from fast fun into tedium. While the fundamental combat mechanics remains fast, fluid, and thoroughly satisfying, aged audio and punishing difficulty spikes serve to remind that this is, in fact, a two-decade-old game. Guilty Gear stands as a proud inspiration for many fighting games that followed, but modern gamers are more likely to get more out of newer titles from Arc System Works’ arsenal.
REVIEW CODE: A FREE Nintendo Switch code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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