GUILTY GEAR / Atlus / Playstation
This first release of Guilty Gear on home consoles is the most stripped-down version of the game in terms of characters and options, but is still pretty great and was a great introduction for the series.
At first blush you could be forgiven for dismissing it as a Samurai Shodown clone, but really, the only similarities it has with Shodown are that it's a fighting game and that people are generally wielding sharp weapons at each other. Where Shodown is deliberate, restrained and based on careful timing and technique, Guilty Gear is more balls-out rockin' with a much faster pace and a focus on rattling off big combos whenever you get the opportunity.
The game actually looks a bit like a low-budget PC shareware fighting game from the mid-90s at first, that is until you actually get into a match. Large, fluid, detailed sprites are the order of the day here, with some nice character designs and even some pretty cool backgrounds thrown into the bargain. The game is the brainchild and basically the labor of love of one Daisuke Ishiwatari, who in addition to crafting a very solid and fun fighting engine (that doesn't quite feel like that of any other fighting game), also plays some pretty rockin' guitar-based tunes for background music as well. The high point of soundtracks in the series was the later Guilty Gear X, but the music here is quite good, with a lot of early versions of the character themes that sound a little different than the ones you might be used to.
Oh, and why can't all fighting games show you the character's moves prior to each match? It's very courteous. Maybe they were all in league with Gamepro or something. Except Daisuke Ishiwatari, a headbanging rebel who plays by his own awesome rules.
The one thing I'd like to see gone from the game is the cheesy Destroy moves. Sometimes, during a fight, I think when characters hit each other with the same strength of attack at exactly the same time, the screen flashes red for a second and the action freezes. At this point you can hastily mush in a button combination which kills the foe instantly - not only for that particular round, but for the whole match overall! Gives fatality a whole new meaning. Anyway, when you tune up on someone in the first round, and you're inches away from winning the second round, and then they suddenly bust a Destroy and take the whole match from you in one move, that's really lame. That's some Time Killers ish man, I dunno why the otherwise top-notch Ishiwatari sank to this level.
Other than that, though - very good characters, great animation and detail, fun fast and fluid fighting engine that's fairly easy to pick up but still has some depth and meat to it, great sound effects, and totally kickass metal soundtrack. Grab this if you see it at a reasonable price.