Fans of Namco’s landmark franchise have no doubt been keeping tabs on Soulcalibur Legends with a small sampling of cynicism. While everyone awaits the next chapter in the long-running fighting franchise Legends makes its way onto store shelves much earlier and for a console that will likely not even house Soulvalibur IV. To hardcore gamers this feels like a tease of what is to come but for Wii owners it may feel like a consolation prize. Either way Soulcalibur Legends is a solid action title that actually makes good use of Nintendo’s motion controlled console with precise controls and enjoyable gameplay.
The story revolving around Legends is about as convoluted as it always has been. There are two swords, one evil and one good and the objective is to seek out shards of the good sword to gain enough power to stop the evil one. Sure the plot is about as deep as a mud puddle but fans of the series will appreciate the consistency as well as the enormous amounts of cameos from their favorite characters including Taki, Siegfried, Cervantes, and everyone’s favorite buxom beauty Ivy. The dialogue is presented almost entirely through text menus with only small samplings of voice work here and there and the story moves along at a plodding pace without much progression. The cinematic intro is still up to par with Namco standards of gorgeous visuals and dramatic camera cuts…the soul still burns.
Unlike the story gameplay doesn’t shroud itself in mystery. Legends is a straight up action title with full waggle and plenty of invisible barriers. Each stage lets you choose which character to set out with; initially only Siegfried is available but you will obtain nearly ten by the end of your journey. Levels are not overly exciting consisting mostly of the same few enemies and locales and each mission is very linear leaving little room for exploration. The combat is also typical of the genre but of course with waggle. This doesn’t mean there isn’t some enjoyment to be found here though. Legends may rest upon its laurels, but it is also finely tuned and paced well enough to keep you interested level after level.
There is also a fine layer of RPG to the game that can give it some depth. There are various weapons and upgrades you can gather throughout the game that will make each of your different combatants stronger. Of course this means grinding through level after level of repetition which begs the question of will casual fans care and will hardcore players be willing to invest the time and tedium to unlock it all. It’s a fine balance that works on the level it is intended, however it may be too overbearing for casuals and again too repetitious for hardcore players.
Thankfully the biggest gripe with most Wii titles is handled quite nicely in Legends. Motion controls are also a point of concern when it comes to precision and fun factor and Legends executes this nearly perfect. Each motion with the remote performs a different attack. Jab the remote forward and you perform a stabbing motion. Swing it side to side and you get horizontal slashes. Everything works surprisingly well, especially with the faster, smaller characters, and the response time is some of the best we have seen on the system thus far. You control your character with the analog on the nunchuk as well as dodges by thrusting it in different directions. This is the only area where response time was questionable as I found myself avoiding the dodge entirely in favor of blocking because it was too hit-or-miss.
Visually Soulcalibur Legends isn’t going to knock your socks off; in fact it shares more in common with a last-gen title than Namco’s upcoming visual knockout SC IV. But what it lacks in visual wow factor it makes up for with performance. The game runs at a blistering frame rate that rarely dips even when the screen is flooded with enemies. Legends also supports 480p and a cropped widescreen option that cuts a chunk off of each side of the screen just enough to be annoying. Character models look fantastic and are the highlight of the entire game. Everything else feels half-assed with repeating enemies as well as bland environments that deliver several Groundhog Day moments as you will feel like you have been there, done that on more than a few levels.
Fans of the Soulcalibur legacy would due well to check out this taste of the next iteration in the franchise. While it doesn’t do anything criminal it also fails to do more than coast by on its laurels. The motion controls work better than any other game of this type and the visuals, while not stunning, are technically proficient and impressive. Wii owners will likely enjoy the fact that this isn’t another mini-game collection while hardcore fans of the series will simply enjoy the deep weapon and character customization. Soulcalibur Legends is a nice way to soften the blow that is the long wait until we finally get our hands on the true sequel sometime next year.