When we were kids playing our entertaining fighting games, we always thought it’d be cool if we could somehow put ourselves into the combat. A little later, thanks to the magic of character customization and editing, we could attempt to create fighters that looked a little like us. But now we finally have a game where it actually is our face on a character, and the background actually is real (to some extent). The problem is that it just feels a touch gimmicky, and the fighting lacks substance.
In many ways, the graphics are extremely subjective. Much of it involves pictures taken with the Vita’s camera and the AR cards, so the visual presentation will be very different for everyone. However, the good news is that the rendering of both your likeness and real-life environments is decent, and the cartoony AI characters are nicely designed. I don’t think anything here really pushes Sony’s portable (besides the nifty implementation of technology), but it looks okay.
The sound is mostly limited to kooky exclamations from fighters during combat, and the solid sound effects, which are quite pronounced. Landing a hefty strike or an effective combo results in some satisfying audio, but I wish music played a larger role in the experience. Overall, the technical elements are sound without being impressive, as the combination of competent design and engaging fighting effects gives the combat a nice boost. There just isn’t much else here, that’s all.
Sony wasn’t shy about showing this one off at press events, primarily for the sake of highlighting the Vita’s substantial tech capabilities. Therefore, you probably know the basic premise, but let me explain how it works: Reality Fighters lets you slap your mug (bizarre expression and all) on a standard character model, and then lets you alter that model by changing height and muscle tone. You can also choose from one of 15 fighting styles, although most have to be unlocked as you progress.
Progress really is a big incentive, as you can’t even equip weapons until you’ve completed the Story mode once. You’ll also unlock new set pieces that add a little goofy flair to the background, and of course, the stars you earn can be used to purchase all sorts of cosmetic goodies for your character. There really is a huge amount of customization involved, as you have access to just about every part of your body, and there are lots of items in the store. Once you get them, there are over 20 weapons, including more zany stuff like garden gnomes and fire extinguishers.
The best part is that certain equipment will in fact boost your fighting ability, which is good, because you don’t get those weapons immediately. But there’s one big problem with all this tweaking and customizing— It just doesn’t matter much in the long run. The AI is basically the same throughout; your opponent almost always employs the same strategy, which is that of an aggressive moron. If you’re not careful, that aggression can end you quick, but meeting aggression with aggression usually works, regardless of what you’re wearing.
Therefore, too much of the experience comes down to mashing on buttons, although there are diverse combos to master if you so desire. Even then, though, I’m not sure they’re all that essential, as you can probably complete the Story Mode with well-timed basic attacks. Obviously, the focus is on the tech; i.e., being able to take a picture of your face and slapping it on a fighter, and playing in realistic-seeming environments. There are also some front and rear touch features, and the motion sensing function gets into the action, too. So the Vita gets plenty of use.
The biggest issue with the backgrounds is that they’re just too finicky. The fighters don’t always stay in their designated position and you might battle the Vita as often you do your opponent. Basically, you simply move the entire unit in the direction of the two fighters to get them back into the center of the screen, but it’s jumpy and annoying. After having my fill of this, I decided the best option might involve those AR cards; I haven’t tried them yet with the Vita, so this was my chance.
As it turns out, while they can’t save an essentially mediocre fighting game from being a little bland and repetitive, you really have to use those cards if you want the true Reality Fighters experience. You don’t even have to use the card; just use the AR technology, which can result in all sorts of outlandish battlegrounds. Because your fighters scale, you can take your Vita with you to the top of the Empire State building, snap a picture, and have two massive characters battling it out for ultimate goliath supremacy.
Beyond that, though, the depth really isn’t here, and even Mr. Miyagi gets a little tiresome after a while. Reality Fighters is best for families and kids who want to fiddle around with fancy handheld technology; I’m not sure the hardcore gamers are going to get too involved. The combat just isn’t fleshed out enough, and while there are a couple extra modes besides Story (Time Attack and Survival), it all feels very much the same. But even if it relies on the gimmicks, at least this one makes better use of those gimmicks than Little Deviants did. That’s something.
The Good: A fair showcase of the Vita’s neat-o capabilities. A lot of customization options and items. Control is mostly responsive and reliable. Taking photos and using AR tech makes it interesting.
The Bad: Not really enough content or depth. Fighting mechanic is too simple and repetitive. Predictable AI. Standard 360-degree arenas don’t work very well.
The Ugly: “…this all depends on the face that ends up atop your fighter’s body."