Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fighter's Misery: Virtua Fighter 3tb

I'm very disappointed in you, Sega.

Granted, it wouldn't be the first time. Sega's offered a steady stream of disappointment since the well-intentioned but badly botched Sonic Spinball. However, Virtua Fighter 3tb is the company's most bewildering blunder. Since its debut in 1993, Virtua Fighter was critically important to Sega; perhaps even more than its mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. It helped ease Sega into the 3D gameplay that would become dominant in the 21st century. It was the fighting game other fighting games wanted to be, as evidenced by Tekken and Dead or Alive. It was one of the few titles that made Americans seriously consider buying a Sega Saturn.

And this is the send-off it gets on Sega's last game console.

Pants... too... shiny! Can't... concentrate!
Admittedly, Virtua Fighter 3tb isn't a bad fighting game. Well, it is compared to other fighters on the Dreamcast, and the original arcade game, and players' expectations after Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn. When judged on its own merits, however, it's... okay. I mean, it's recognizable as Virtua Fighter. You've got the usual punch, kick, and guard, along with a button that grants some rudimentary 3D movement. If you press it, oh, about thirty times, you can lure the opponent to the edge of the playfield and knock them out of the ring. The stages are more organic than in previous Virtua Fighter games, with dips and hills in the topography. However, it doesn't add much to the action beyond window dressing, and it's not nearly as exciting as knocking your foes off buildings and down stairs, like you could in Dead or Alive 2.

There's a sumo wrestler somewhere in
that mess of polygons, I swear!
I tried, I really did, but it's hard not to compare Virtua Fighter 3tb to other Dreamcast fighting games. The graphics are well below the standards of fellow launch title Soul Calibur, with sharp-edged polygons that frequently clip through each other. The developers tried to disguise the low poly count with an extra helping of gouraud shading, but the hasty paint job only highlights the fighters' creepily skeletal finger joints and scraggly hobo hair. 

Virtua Fighter 3tb has a (tacked-on) team battle mode, but without the robust character selection of Project Justice, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or King of Fighters Evolution, it gets repetitive in a hurry. If you fought Aoi in one match, don't be surprised if she comes back for revenge in the next. Adding to the boredom is the fact that you can't swap partners on the fly or double-team your rival. What you can do is wait five seconds for your next fighter to load after losing a round, which is all the time you'll need to reset the game and play the traditional arcade mode instead.

Finally, the game lacks the thrills of Dead or Alive 2 or Fighting Vipers 2, with a leisurely pace and little to distinguish it from previous games. Sure, you get a couple new characters, but one's not especially memorable and the other is a generic sumo wrestler Sega would like to forget, writing him out of later games. 

Luckily, that includes Virtua Fighter 4 for the Playstation 2, which set the series on the right track after Virtua Fighter 3tb derailed it. It's fun, it's gorgeous, it's readily available, and there's even an update with more characters and some compelling bonus features. Its only real flaw is that it's not on the Dreamcast, but Dreamcast owners are used to that kind of disappointment.


  1. Oddly/sadly/weirdly, I've only played the first two Virtua Fighter games. Loved both of them, though. Never even thought to buy the DC version of 3tb. Sounds like I should be glad I didn't!

    1. The Saturn games (especially 2) were fine, but this sequel seems strangely half-baked. I think Sega outsourced it to another development team, which explains why it feels so underdone compared to past VF games.

      You know what's pretty good on the Dreamcast, though? Fighting Vipers 2. It's got the excitement this game lacks, and the graphics are livelier and more vibrant. It makes a big, big difference.

    2. Oh, yeah, I thought both of the Saturn VF games were very well done given the system's tech. I've never played any version of Fighting Vipers, by the way. May have to give it a go sometime soon...