Novorama has a history of augmenting our reality for Sony handhelds. Their previous star turn, Invizimals, was joyfully impressive on the PSP. The pleasure of augmented reality comes in seeing ourselves in the game we’re playing. Not necessarily our form, although you’re encouraged to put your face right there on your fighter, but our familiarities. The most joy comes from watching the game play out in your living room, on your kitchen counters or at the end of your bed. Our world, reflected in theirs.
This augmented reality feature is clearly the star gimmick in Reality Fighters but it isn’t the most impressive aspect, at least not in isolation. Taking a live feed of what the, fairly poor, Vita camera can see is not a new trick, nor is it a particularly welcome one in many situations. Playing on the train is fine, for example, but perhaps not if you’re playing against the backdrop of the attractive woman and the group of young children sitting opposite. In some cases, you’ll just want one of the generic backdrops provided.[drop2]This is where the most impressive aspect of the game shows itself. The stock locations, more of which are unlocked as you progress, are 3D panoramas which your fighters inhabit. The high resolution photographs are mapped into a kind of 3D world and the Vita, thanks to its internal spatial awareness witchcraft, knows where you’re looking. Turn the Vita left or right and the background pans accordingly. It is almost flawless and actually adds a little to the gameplay as the action needs to be followed with your own personal camera. This means that, from time to time, you’ll have to hold the console at uncomfortable angles just to make sure you don’t miss your opponent’s attacks.
Of course, you can just play in your current location but there is also the option of making your own locations with the camera and storing them on the device. This means that you could scan your office in the daytime when it’s nice and light, only to spend all night tucked up under the duvet at home beating up ballerinas and boxers all over your desk. It’s a gimmick, certainly, but an enjoyable one that works well enough and provides ample opportunity to show off your new toy to friends and family.
As with most of Sony’s first party, camera-enabled game catalogue, much emphasis is placed on customisation and item collection. You create your own fighter by taking a photograph of your face and having that mapped onto the head of a customisable body. This generally results in some kind of hideous frankenstein-esque representation of you which, although technically impressive in how the hardware detects key points of the face automatically, never really stops looking a bit creepy.
You’re guided through the game’s forgiving story mode by the (usually) disembodied head of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. Yes, really. He talks (although not with the voice of Pat Morita) in the broken, pseudo-philosophical manner of the much loved ‘80s film icon. Miyagi introduces each new fighter to you and explains why you’re meeting them and what you should learn from them. When you beat each one, you might get several unlocked items and a new location. You’ll also receive some funds to spend on unlocking even more equipment with which to style your fighter.[drop]The actual characters themselves seem to be very basic models with quite poor quality textures stretched over them. The visual fidelity isn’t really the point though, they’re supposed to act as a kind of marionette you dress up in one of the millions of combinations of clothing options and they perform this function adequately. There’s an emphasis on comedy value rather than realism with bunny ears, ballet shoes and fancy dress costumes de rigueur for your pixelated combatants. Many of the items will give you a boost to your fighter’s various attack or defence rating to the relevant area. So, for example, wearing boxing gloves makes your punches count for more and the right trousers will give you some extra leg protection.
In addition to the single player progression and a training mode, there is multiplayer in the form of local Ad-Hoc and internet-wide Infrastructure – enabled via an online pass. Obviously, at this stage it would be incredibly difficult to get a game for testing purposes but with online multiplayer games looking a little bit sparse at launch, it’s likely that there will be quite an active community looking for opponents.
It’s unfortunate that the weakest part of this package is the actual gameplay. It’s full of stock fighting game tropes that will be familiar but it doesn’t feel as tightly tuned as the greats of the genre and there are several common frustrations. The game is very easy, to a point, but there were occasions when I found myself getting beaten thanks to the animation my fighter took getting to his feet and the unblockable attacks rained down during that time. It wasn’t a case of being caught by a combo either, just that you can’t fight back or defend yourself while standing up at the edge of the arena. Fortunately, defeat is no real impediment to progression, you just get right back up against the same opponent.
- Quick game rounds lend themselves to mobile gaming.
- Mountains of customisation options.
- Shows of several key features of the hardware.
- Character models are poor and textures are rough.
- Gameplay is nothing special and has some frustrations.
- Gimmicks aside, it doesn’t seem to make great use of the Vita’s power.
So Reality Fighters is a collection-based, customisation-heavy, augmented reality-supporting fighting game. It may fall down in a number of ways that would make it a better game but in many ways it has a more important purpose. At this stage in the PlayStation Vita’s life, the most important thing for Reality Fighters to be is, perhaps, a tech demo. In that sense, it is quite spectacularly impressive. Impressive enough to warrant a big purchase and plenty of game time? Probably not. It demonstrates exceptional potential though, and sometimes that can be enough.