SPOILER ALERT - Reality Fighters is not the Vita launch title you're looking for. Sorry to be blunt about it, but I might as well start this review with the big reveal, so the lazier and less literate among you can continue on with your lives, happy in the knowledge that you have the compressed IGN opinion, while the rest of us can dive into the nitty gritty.
Before we do that, though, it's absolutely worth acknowledging that the premise behindReality Fighters is a fun one. Who wouldn't, after all, see the appeal in starring in their own fighting game, with action that's set on an augmented reality stage – i.e. in the real world.
It's quite surreal and cool seeing avatars duking it out atop a desk or in the street or wherever you care to place them, especially since the system accounts for the angle you're holding it, so if you're looking down at a table, you'll see the fighters almost from overhead. Ultimately though, this thrill is short-lived, and you'll start looking for some fun and some substance. And that's where Reality Fighters falls over.
Nitty gritty time. Creating a fighter is pretty simple. Snap a photo of your face (or someone else's) and it gets mapped onto your fighter's body. From there you can customise your character from what is, frankly, a schizophrenic set of options. On the one hand, you have the slightly more serious bits and bobs. A variety of normal haircuts, glasses and facial hair. On the other, you have dinosaur suits and cockroach outfits. The zany stuff, in other words.
In a game like this, you need both. You want to be able to let players create both an avatar of themselves, and a bunny ear-wearing cockroach with ballerina slippers and claws, should they choose. Unfortunately, Reality Fighters doesn't do either option particularly well. On the realistic avatar side, you can't set your height or your hair colour, and the range of clothes is bizarre and never looks quite right. There is zero chance of accurately creating yourself in this game, or anyone else. Yup, those dreams of pitting Kaz Hirai against Reggie Fils-Aime die today.
On the zany side of the character creation fence, the selection feels utterly random; a grab-bag of the strange and banal. There are plenty of amusing combinations to be found, of course, but it doesn't feel in any way exhaustive or thematically sound, and there are all sorts of little quirks with the system, like elements that override another, even though they probably shouldn't. Ultimately this would have been fine if it was backed by the ability to create believable avatars, but it's not.
I'm also not sure why the ability to record audio wasn't taken a step or three further. Sure, you can record your own (very short) audio clip for when you enter the arena and for when you win, but why not a taunt? Why not a clip for when you lose? Why not sound effects? If you could do it in Photo Dojo, why not here?
There are some solid elements in character creation, however. There are plenty of fighting styles to choose from for one. (One for each opponent you'll face in the story mode, basically. 15 in all.) Sure, the vast majority have to be purchased, but hey, it's nice to have some choice. After all, a ballet beatdown or break dance boogaloo bring with them their own kind of humiliation. More so than, say, going at an opponent using karate, muay thai, capoeira or wrestling moves. Weapons can also be unlocked and equipped, so buying a guitar means you can fight with fiery licks, which are statistically proven to be the best kind of licks.
Kids will probably have a good time playing around with all these options, although they won't have much to choose from at first – the vast majority need to be purchased using the in-game currency. That would be fine, of course, if it didn't mean having to play the damn game, and this is where Reality Fighters is going to lose all but the most forgiving of players.
The game's meat and potatoes is the 'story' mode, although the word has been applied rather loosely in this case. What we have here is a series of fights introduced by - no kidding - Mr Miyagi. Yes, he of Karate Kid fame. This game exhumes a character from a film made in 1984 and gambles that a comic take on him will be enough to give its story mode some life. And that comic take revolves around broken English and a cast of oddball characters. Hmm.
Miyagi becomes your 'trainer', although – again, that word is applied rather loosely as he at no point even attempts to train you. Not even a 'hey, here's a rough overview of how the game plays'. Instead, players must look at the specials list in the pause menu or head over to the 'training' mode – again, a liberal interpretation of the word, as the 'training' is entirely passive.
Anyway, Miyagi plays host to a series of fights against such fish-out-of-water characters as a ballerina, a disco dancer, a couple of wanna-be super heroes, a cowboy, a punk dentist from Poland (yes, you read that right) and a bunch more. To be fair, the illustrations that accompany the character introductions are often very amusing, and as mentioned earlier, each character has a unique fighting style, and some really great animations to accompany it.
It's hard not to chuckle when you see your in-game self doing elegant ballet moves, or biting into sweet, sweet flesh as a zombie, and there are some nice moments when fighters manipulate the environment: a wall appears to smash your opponent into, or a train bears down on you. Ultimately though, these elements need to be backed by a fun fighting engine, and that's just not the case.
As a fighting game Reality Fighters is a bit of a mess. At a basic level the augmented reality presentation doesn't do it any favours. It largely works very well (although it does have a tendency to refuse to centre the fight where you asked it to), but the upshot is that you're constantly moving the Vita around to keep track of the action. It feels like you're watching a found footage version of a fighting game, except the guy who recorded the footage (i.e. the player) simply wasn't very good at pointing a camera at things. Probably because he was also trying to mash his way to victory.
There are a host of backdrops other than what's around the player to choose from, and these seem as random as the selection of customisation options. The Taj Mahal? Dubai? Sure, why not? Russian Forest? Bolivian Desert? Aaaah… say what? You can also add in your own environments by taking photos in 360 degrees and having the game create a composite surrounding, but in our experiments it wasn't exactly a seamless process. In any case, while the augmented reality effect is cool, it definitely gets in the way of gameplay at times.
Mind you, I alluded to mashing buttons before, and frankly, that's the only real way to get through this game's story mode without punching a wall in frustration. As I mentioned before, Mr Miyagi makes no attempt to tell you how to play the game, but the way to play pretty much seems to be 'spam the most powerful attacks you have in the hopes of getting a hit in before your opponent', because there really isn't much rhythm to these fights. Opponents are either ludicrously easy or farcically hard - the last couple in the story mode in particular make SFIV's Seth look like a Sunday stroll.
There just isn't much depth here. Most fighting games have a whole series of basic combos upon which the special moves sit. Reality Fighters just seems to have a handful of standalone attacks. You can try and mix them up, and characters generally have dash-in attacks, but it certainly doesn't flow or feel intuitive. Even jumping in at an opponent to start an attack – a fighting game staple – feels utterly clumsy. Nope, your best bet is just to spam your special moves, all of which are basically quarter and half circle movement variants. I understand this isn't meant to be a hardcore fighting game, but I was at least hoping it would be a fun one. Sadly it comes up lacking.
Aside from the story mode, there's the aforementioned and - in inverted commas - 'training' mode, as well as time attack and survival, both of which pretty much become irrelevant once you realise how poor the fighting is, and basic multiplayer over both ad-hoc and infrastructure. Not a lot to distinguish it, in other words.