Crispy Gamer

Soulcalibur Legends (Wii)

There?s a wonderful scene in the Soulcalibur spinoff Soulcalibur Legends. It?s so wonderful it exists in a universe wholly separate and distinct from this existence, possibly on a distant and foreign plane where people wear socks on their hands and -- watch out! -- donuts eat humans. It certainly couldn?t exist in this mundane realm, where Johnny Lunchpail and Billy Punchclock trod wearily across the earth in search of lotto tickets and cheez.

Anyway? Legends drops a hero into a series of (previously visited) catacombs for what?s a standard meet-and-greet. Enemies, delightfully called ?Evils,? await tea and crumpets, and by that I mean ?a severe pummeling.? This tour of the facilities comes with a twist: a series of rooms only accessible by the most ridiculous means possible.

Doors here must be unlocked -- and this is no exaggeration, nor is it a flight of fancy -- by whipping a statue (or similarly smacking it with an oversized blade) in order to rotate it 90 degrees clock- or counterclockwise. It is at once the most transparent, shamefacedly obtrusive ?Hey! Look at this! It?s a sequence in a videogame!? moment since Master Chief was made to stop all the shooting and make a Warthog run through some inept game designer?s notion of an off-road racing track at the conclusion of Halo and Halo 3.

It would simply be enough if the game put forth statues for whipping, but Namco will have none of this. At its high-water mark, the game has players running through a series of rooms hunting down multiple statues for whipping. Some of these statues will only provide entrance to secret rooms where other statues demand whipping. The goal then is to unlock these secret rooms to whip more statues in order to, finally, open a door. It?s in man?s nature to want to unlock the barred door to see what?s inside. Well, what?s inside is more statues.

Soft, you. Past its labyrinthine sensibilities and tendency to intersperse gameplay sequences with huge chunks of gibberish text spouted by static talking heads, Soulcalibur Legends emerges as perfectly tolerable 3-D, third-person perspective beat-?em-up. The game adopts a quite acceptable hit-and-run attitude towards its gameplay, offering up missions that can be quickly dispatched in the course of, say, 10 minutes or so. It keeps things lively by serving up a steady stream of the aforementioned ?Evils? to smite and also provides for some good smashing with the requisite goodie-holding barrels, jars and the like.

Strikes, thrusts, sidesteps and parries are accomplished by flailing the Wii?s motion-sensitive remote and Nunchuk controllers. The game is generous enough to accept random flails, and even the least skilled of swordfighters will be able to pull off enough zippy bladework to tear through the competition. More advanced players can avail themselves of deft swordplay and footwork for dodges and parries, but Legends certainly does not demand any of this.

A lock-on system further simplifies matters by allowing focused targeting of one enemy or siege weapon. It?s possible to disengage this to allow for wholly free roaming, but here Namco has genuinely stumbled. The free roaming makes it possible to break off from combat to, say, smash a barrel in order to quaff down a health-restoring orb, but it also makes the fighting prohibitive. It?s genuinely difficult to hit anything when locked on; being near a target without benefit of the lock hardly ensures a successful strike. A warrior will oftentimes swing through or past or around a target, even if it?s placed directly in front of him. The idea of non-intuitive combat flies in the face of everything fans of the Soulcalibur series hold dear, and Legends? reliance on the lock mechanism is certainly disappointing.

The game pays homage to its fighting-game roots, to be sure, but purists will likely dismiss Legends as the Soulcalibur series? ?Star Wars Christmas Special.? Its storyline follows the intrigue behind the swords Soulcalibur and Soul Blade (which will likely someday be penetrated by nuclear physicists), but it all seems sort of tacked on, as if it were marketing guy?s afterthought. Yes, it?s nice to tear through a series of skeletons with the huge-bazoomed warrior Taki, or take down the swordsman Mitsurugi before adding him to the list of playable characters, but it comes at a price. The slight, almost sad, tinkling sound you hear is water being poured over a great franchise.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by Crispy Gamer.