When I tell one of my fighting game-playing friends that Capcom's releasing a new fighting game called Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, the first thing they ask is, "What's a Tatsunoko?", frequently with an incredulous tone of budding disinterest clearly present in the questioning.
Instead of answering their largely unimportant question, I instead cut to the chase and let them know that Tatsunoko vs. Capcom plays like an evolved version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, features 26 characters (21 of which have never been in a fighting game before or have all-new play styles), is as easy to learn but hard to master as the Super Smash Bros. series, and features online play that is thus far nearly lag-free. Their incredulous tone turns into excitement.
Really, that's all you need to know about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. I expect that fans of Capcom's superhero rave series (X-Men: Children of the Atom, Marvel vs. Capcom), fans of Smash Bros., or anyone who wants to play an almost completely new fighting game with 26 characters, will love the game. It has a few flaws, but it's otherwise a fantastic game, easily my favorite Capcom fighter of this generation.
Still not convinced? Well, then hit the jump for the full review, you stubborn son of a b*tch.
[Editor's note: Also see the Destructoid review of the Japanese build of the game, which was released back in 2008. --Jonathan]
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (Wii)
Okay, about that Tatsunoko question: Tatsunoko is the name of a Japanese animation company that's been around for the better part of fifty years. A few of their creations have gone on to star in big-budget live-action films (like Yatterman and Casshern), while others have managed to even grab some crossover success in the United States (like Gatchaman/G-Force). Over the past two years (since the release of the Japanese version of the game), I've learned just how much Tatsunoko means to certain high-ranking staff at Capcom Japan. A lot of armchair critics have been quick to claim that Tatsunoko vs. Capcom has little chance of selling in the US due to its weird name and cast of partially unfamiliar characters. What I've come to find out is that Capcom USA and Capcom Japan are well aware of this, but they made the game anyway.
Why? Well, the answer's simple: they wanted to make a videogame for themselves and for like-minded fans. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is truly a labor of love, and it shows. The game is packed to the gills with fan service, characters from both the Capcom side and the Tatsunoko side that were thought to be dead to the world, and a general feeling of exuberance that can only be the result of a creative team whose inspiration has thrown their imagination into overdrive.
"Imagination" is the key word with Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. The game is brimming with ideas, both in terms of visuals and gameplay. If you can imagine a combo or fighting technique, it's probably possible. The only thing limiting you is your own creativity and technical skill. Unlike in Street Fighter IV, the characters in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom don't generally fit into the typical Capcom types (charge character, 360-throw character, shotokan, etc.). These are characters the likes of which have never been seen in a fighting game, and may never be seen again, ranging from a giant 25-foot robot to a five-foot-tall, super-deformed superhero who can control time. For a fighting game fan, a game like Tatsunoko vs. Capcom represents truly undiscovered country.
Thought the basic combat system fits firmly into Capcom's superhero rave line of fighters, there are a few major changes worth mentioning. Like Capcom's other tag-team fighters, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom allows you to pick two fighters at the start of a match. You can call out the second character for assist attacks, or tag them into the primary combat roll, allowing their partner to replenish some health from the side-lines. The Baroque combo system changes that a bit. Instead of replenishing the red part of your health meter by tagging a character out, you can also sacrifice it to power a Baroque combo. Trading health for offensive power is a risky maneuver, but it can yield huge rewards. There is nothing like being on the verge of defeat and using your red health to power a 114-hit Viewtiful combo, bringing much shame and sorrow to the competition.
While the Baroque combos are sure to please fighting game enthusiasts looking to learn ever more complicated fighting techniques, the game's simplified controls work to appease the other side of the market: gamers who like fighting games in theory, but can't actually play them in practice. Using an arcade stick, GameCube controler, or Wii Classic Controller makes Tatsunoko vs. Capcom play like a slightly stripped-down version of Marvel vs. Capcom 2 that employs three buttons instead of four. If you use the Wii Remote or Wii-Remote-and-Nunchuk control schemes, the game plays much more like Smash Bros., with one button for all regular attacks, and one for all special attacks. This effectively opens the game up to everyone who ever wished they could effectively play a traditional 2D fighing game, but terminally sucks at quarter-circle-forward-and-fierce-punch controls. Now even the least dexterous among us can know the joys of chaining a hadouken into a shin-shoryuken.
The game's cast also smacks of Smash Bros. influence. While previous Capcom vs. titles have featured a broad range of characters as well, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom has by far the most varied (and insane) roster of players utilized in a 2D fighter. On the Capcom side, newcomers Frank West (Dead Rising) and Zero (Mega Man X) join Ryu (Street Fighter), Chun-Li (Street Fighter II), Alex (Street Fighter III), Batsu (Rival Schools), Morrigan (Darkstalkers), Mega Man Volnutt (Mega Man Legends), Roll (Mega Man: Powered Up!), Kajin No Soki (Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams), Viewtiful Joe (Viewtiful Joe), PTX-40A (Lost Planet), and the Cabel-esque Saki (Quiz Nanairo Dreams) to form the most eclectic cast the publisher has ever put together. There's an equal amount of Tatsunoko-based characters, the majority of whom will be unfamiliar to most American players, but they definitely still hold their own in providing a wide range of new and interesting fighting styles for the player. I don't care if you're a 5-year-old girl or a 40-year-old man, you will find teams on Tatsunoko vs. Capcom's roster that you can relate to and enjoy playing with.
Also included in the package is an unlockable side-game, "Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Shooters." This is a game that anyone, even those completely phobic of the fighting genre, can pick up right away and enjoy. It's a 4-player cooperative shmup set in the Lost Planet universe, starring Ryu and PTX-40 from Capcom, and Ken the Eagle and Tekkaman Blade for Tatsunoko. Just like the main game, Ultimate All-Shooters is fun alone, and it can become incredibly addictive in multiplayer, especially for fans of Lost Planet. Though you'll be playing the game as a team, you also play for points, and are ranked at the end of each mach based on score. Multiple paths, bosses, and special moves round out what could easily have been its own full-fledged downloadable release.
Speaking of online, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom features online play, and thus far, I've had no real issues with it. Out of the hour or so I've spent playing others who presumably are reviewing the game for their respective game sites/magazines, I've not had slowdown, and only a few instances of frame-skipping lag. It's been a generally better experience than the time I've had with BlazBlue and Street Fighter IV on the PS3, despite the fact that there's no online chat. Random battles are quick to load, and after fighting a stranger, you can add them to your rival roster and fight them at any time. The all-too-familiar friend code system is in effect for other planned matches, but just like using a cell phone, it doesn't bother me to have to enter a number into my Wii every once in a while to connect with people.
Probably the two coolest things about the game's online system are its ranking and matchmaking features. As you play, the game detects your play style and will pin you with a fire (offensive), ice (defensive), or lightning (evasive) badge, letting other players know what they're likely up against. You'll also only be put up against players of similar skill and experience, so as you get better at the game, you'll be permitted to take on players who are more skilled. Perhaps best of all, the game also keeps track of every time you disconnect early from a match. Disconnect enough times, and the game will only match you with other players with a tendency for cowardly disconnects. As much as the Wii's online system can be overly protective, being saved from fighting sore losers who disconnect before a loss is something I fully stand behind.
What I've described so far should sound like a near-perfect fighting game experience, and it is. Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the game's flaws, a few of which carry over from the Japanese build of the game, and a few of which are new to this Western localization. While the game holds up Capcom's long tradition of providing amazing animation, the game's cel-shaded character models are a bit of a mixed bag. Some of them, like Zero, PTX-40A, Gold Lightan, and Karas look amazing; a few others, like Morrigan and Frank West, look a little janky up close. For the most part you won't notice, as once the camera pulls back and everyone starts moving, every character in the game looks great. It's only during pre-fight introduction screens and close ups that you'll sometimes see Doronjo's overly blocky boobs or Frank West's broken armpits.
As a fan of the Japanese verison of the game, I also noticed a few things are missing. One character from the Tatsunoko side, a fat genie whose name escapes me, didn't make the cut for this Western release. Honestly, I don't miss him. He had a cool fighting style -- one that involved a weird mix of throws, ranged attacks, and dropping random objects from the sky -- but thankfully, Frank West can do all that and more. Dropping zombies from the sky is better than a fat genie in every way, so I can't really complain, but it would have been nice to have them both.
Also worth noting is that due to licensing issues, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom doesn't have the character-specific soundtrack of the original game. In the Japanese build, tagging out to Viewtiful Joe would cue the Viewtful Joe stage one theme, Ryu would cue his theme from Street Fighter II, etc. Instead, each stage now has its own specific theme, and while they are all good (especially the one that sounds like Dead Rising's mall music), they don't offer the same nostalgic flair as the character-specific tunes. They also cut the game's fully animated endings and swapped them out with static illustrations by the team at Udon Comics. These endings are even more filled with even random Capcom references than the ones that were cut. Seeing the cast of Haunting Ground in Joe the Condor's ending totally blew my mind.
The additions and subtractions continue. Twenty-one of the character-specific side-games were also cut from the Japanese build. In a way, Cacpom more than made up for that by taking PTX-40A's game and turning it into Ultimate All-Shooters, but I can't help but miss the motion-controlled hadoken throwing game and Yatterman's bizarre robot-dog-launching Olympic event. If you've never played them before, you won't know what you're missing, but it's still worth noting that the game isn't quite as much fun without them.
On the whole, though, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars is a better game than its Japanese counterpart, with more characters, improved balance, and online play. Due to the slightly uneven graphics and the occasional downgrade from the original version of the title, I can't say it's a perfect game, but it's damn close. Unlike Street Fighter IV, which only has six new characters and a few minor gameplay additions, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom feels, looks, and plays almost totally new. It's the most interesting and exciting fighting game to hit the market in years, so if you're at all curious about the game, I'd suggest you buy it immediately.
Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)