Widely regarded as the best beat-‘em-up title released on the previous generation of videogame consoles, Soul Calibur II returns in high-definition (HD) on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It’s a videogame with a reputation that precedes it, thanks mainly to the inclusion of an exclusive character on each of its host formats, but also because at the time it was undeniably a revolution for the direction 3D beat-‘em-up videogames had taken.
First and foremost, Soul Calibur II HD Online brings with it two of the three exclusive characters seen on the previous generation releases. The PlayStation 2’s Heihachi (of Tekken fame) and Xbox’s Spawn (from Spawn) make their way into this PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 rendition. The GameCube’s Link, for reasons that should be obvious, sadly hasn’t made the jump to HD formats. It’s a shame as Link was widely seen as the best of the three exclusive characters, both in terms of adaptation to fit within the Soul Calibur universe and being fun to play as, but who knows? Maybe one day we’ll see a Wii U version of Soul Calibur II HD Online.
For now however, Soul Calibur II HD Online comes to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on good form. It’s the exact same videogame that originally released nine years ago touched-up in HD and offered an additional online gameplay component. It’s here that Soul Calibur II HD Online makes a play for the hearts (and wallets) of it’s original audience, as human competition is undoubtedly the strongest suit for a beat-‘em-up videogame and Soul Calibur II HD Online breathes new life into Soul Calibur II with this addition.
Sadly, it’s not all good as a result. Soul Calibur II hasn’t quite made the jump to modern control pads as successfully as we’d hope. It performs well enough but neither the Xbox 360 nor PlayStation 3 can hope to compete with the precision of the GameCube’s analog stick – arguably the best version of the videogame – and as such the disconnect felt is a disappointment by comparison. Ignoring this fact Soul Calibur II HD Online retains a deep and hugely enjoyable fighting system which refuses to overcomplicate matters.
The basic combo system allows players of all skill levels to enter a battle and pull off some impressive moves, as Soul Calibur II was originally famed for, and it will take many hours of investment for a player to plunder the depths of just one character’s full repertoire. Alongside these basic move sets come the standardised Guard Break, Guard Impact and Soul Charge manoeuvres, which are vastly more demanding. Of course, these latter abilities have a fantastic payoff when executed properly, creating the risk/reward system that laid the foundation for many subsequent mechanics added to the Soul Calibur series.
Soul Calibur II HD Online is actually very well presented, far more so than the screenshots on this page would suggest. Undoubtedly looking better in motion, Soul Calibur II HD Online is surprisingly smooth in its animation and retains the bright, detailed backdrops of the original release. There are a number of textures which have noticeably suffered by the leap to HD hardware, but in the whole Soul Calibur II HD Online is a well met presentation of a nine year old videogame.
As enjoyable as Soul Calibur II HD Online can be it simply fails to stand next to more progressive modern beat-‘em-up titles, including its own successors. If it’s the heritage you’re after Electronic Theatre would be hard pressed to recommend Soul Calibur II HD Online over tracking down a GameCube and a copy of the original Soul Calibur II, but if this isn’t an option Soul Calibur II HD Online is an interesting look into years gone by, if little else.