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Let’s get one thing clear: I’m a big fighting game fan. I’ve played nearly every Street Fighter, Tekken and Soul Calibur game both at the arcade and on home consoles, I’m a diligent follower of the SNK/Playmore King of Fighters series (dating way back to the nearly unplayable 1994 edition) and I’m usually fairly lenient to fighting games that at least try something different or unique, such as Versus or Tobal No.1 for the PSX. However, I must admit with all sincerity that the free-to-play MMO, Splash Fighters, is very disappointing.
Cyberstep’s online brawling game is a unique step in a different direction for online fighters. It’s not often that fighting fans get a game that’s setup like an MMO but focuses mainly on side-scrolling fighting or arena style tournaments. Nevertheless, that’s what Splash Fighters has to offer; tons of customizable character types, a decent selection of moves and plenty of challenges, maps and enemies to combat.
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Much like Rumble Fighter, Splash Fighters’' main entrée is about eight-player bouts in mildly interactive environments with lots of items and weapons to use during each fight. Now based on this description it would seem like Splash Fighters would be a dream-game come true for fans of old-school beat-e’m-up titles such as Final Fight, Streets of Rage or recent classics such as Little Fighters 2. However, everything about Splash Fighters works so much better on paper than it does in the actual game.
First of all, I must commend the designers for an easy-to-use create-a-fighter feature and the well-designed tutorial for helping beginner players get acquainted with the controls. Now for a free-to-play title there are quite a bit of options available for players to customize and upgrade the appearance and skills of their player. That’s all fine and dandy, however the problem comes in with actually being able to win fights and upgrade a fighter.
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Much like Little Fighters the game has a simplified control scheme that affords players with some basic combos, defending options and special attacks. There are also tons of different weapons that range from baseballs and bats, to swords, spears, ray guns, rocket launchers, pikes, 2x4s, shotguns, pistols and even assault rifles. The variety of the weapons and items is quite impressive, though using these items are usually rendered void of success. Guns require a specific range in order to be effective against opponents and standing too close ensures that their effect is futile. Bats, swords, hammers, lightsabers and knives look cool in the game but they are only effective if used in combos. The problem is that doing combos isn’t easy in this game at all, which means that if you miss with a weapon chances are you’ll get hit, lose the weapon and have it used on you by the near perfect computer opponents.
What’s worse is that as a beginner player there is no way to fight multiple opponents at once. This fault is actually addressed in the tutorial, though it’s something that will plague players throughout the entire game. The reason that fighting multiple opponents is a bit of a no-no is that there is no multi-enemy combat system implemented. If a special attack doesn’t have an area-of-effect perimeter that affects more than one enemy at a time, then it’s just not possible to quickly hit one opponent and then switch to another and continue pummeling on them. One thing to blame for this is the poorly implemented targeting system.
The game allows players to target one enemy at a time, which is actually quite effective for throwing items, blocking incoming attacks or firing projectiles at a single opponent. The problem is that this targeting system does not afford players to quickly switch targets mid-combo. Heck, it’s not even possible to manually use a combo without the targeting system and still quickly switch opponents. This makes the fighting rather disjointed and ultimately ruins any chance of gamers feeling powerful by imitating Bruce Lee or Jet Li with pummeling multiple opponents at one time.
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Splash Fighters, to be free, isn’t all that bad, though. Aside from the faulty combo system and lacking versatility for attacking multiple enemies, the item management, upgrade system and challenge games are all quite fun. In addition to being a side-scrolling beat-e’m-up or tournament style free-for-all, the game also has some nifty platforming elements incorporated into its gameplay.
Some of the challenges require players to nimbly hop from one platform to the next while battling foes, or activating switches to reach new areas of the level. Realistically, the game works better as a platform game with fighting elements than it does as a fighting game with platform elements. There are even items available in the game to help improve jumping, speed, etc., which helps make the experience as a side-scrolling adventure game that much more enjoyable.
Another highlight of the game is also the variety of stages. This game is chock-full of original battlegrounds that could very well rival the likes of Smash Bros. The stages range from standard fare coliseums and training grounds, to battlefields and subway trains. Some of the stages even include turrets, mechs and other interactive entities that prolong the game’s replayability.
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The Final Verdict
The sound and music in the game are presentable but nothing noteworthy. For the most part anything audible is just a placeholder for the visual action taking place on-screen. The soundtrack could probably best be summed up as something you might find in a 1990’s Sega arcade game. Although, given Splash Fighters’ look and appeal, that’s somewhat of a compliment.
For Splash Fighters to be a free-to-play MMO, it’s hard to argue that there’s much to keep gamers away. This is especially considering that online fighting games with ranking, skill sets, customizable characters and tournaments are hard to find. However, given the game’s broken targeting system, inefficient combo mechanics and extremely poor controls, it would be advised to avoid this game for something more playable like Rumble Fighters. You can at least spare yourself time and frustration.