virtua-fighter-4-evolutionWithout a doubt the finest fighting game in the world  – Virtua Fighter 5 loses out by lacking the comprehensive training mode, something that definitely should have gone into the 360 version. Characters and stages are beautifully rendered with water, snow and sand thrown about by the fighters’ movements, and lighting and camera effects emphasise the dramatic action. Even now, the PS2 version impresses.

Two-player mode is, as usual, reliant on finding an opponent at your level. If you’re lucky enough to know someone willing to pit their Pai against your Sarah, make the most of it as there’s enormous fun to be had. Even though VF5 on 360 features online play, it can never provide the accuracy needed to perfect your Dragon Smash Cannon or Tetsuzankou.

Even if you can’t find anyone, VF4:Evo compensates with the greatest single-player mode in a beat ‘em up: Quest mode. Virtua Fighter mixed with role-playing parts, you take on VF players at Tokyo’s top arcades, gaining experience and collecting items to customise your character. Your opponents are based on real players from Sega’s arcade network, so you face AI versions of Chibita, Napoleon, Ohsu, DemonKitty, Kyasao and more. There’s a real sense of achievement when you manage to defeat one, and with the tiered ranking system there are still promotions and items to be won long after the final tournament has passed.

The real beauty of Virtua Fighter has always been in finding a character you click with, learning their moves and building combos and strategies. Evo’s training mode contains all character moves as well as their best attack series, combinations and tactical advice. It teaches you how to predict and escape attacks and throws, which attacks are best countered with grapples, when and where to dodge and the meaning and application of Evading Throw Escapes, Half-Spinning Attacks, Sabikis and everything in between. The deeper you go, the more you discover and the more wonderful and engrossing it all becomes. Virtua Fighter 5 may be bigger and prettier, but without a Dojo mode it doesn’t give up its subtleties as easily; had I started with VF5 I would have been playing at scrub level for much longer.

I think certain players might have convinced themselves VF’s not for them, but with an open mind, a little instruction and the right character, it proves itself as a hugely rewarding game of limitless depth and opportunity.