August 30, 2009
If you’ve looked around this blog, you’d notice something about my gaming habits. I play a lot of licensed games, specifically ones based on anime and tokusatsu. I’m even willing to put up with a somewhat bad game, as long as it utilizes its license well. That brings us to my latest gaming conquest, Kamen Rider: Climax Heroes.
Climax Heroes is the first console Kamen Rider game since 2006’s Kamen Rider Kabuto. It’s also interesting in that this is a PS2 game, clearly aiming to take advantage of the large install base compared to the 360 or PS3 in Japan, but for whatever reason not wanting to do it as a Wii game.
Climax Heroes fits into the overall theme of everything happening in Kamen Rider this year, celebrating 10 years of the “Heisei” Kamen Rider shows. On TV, Kamen Rider Decade was an ambitious crossover featuring Riders of the past Decade. Climax Heroes is essentially Kamen Rider Decade: The Game. While it doesn’t follow the story of the Decade TV series, the meat of the game does have you following Decade as he crosses through the various Rider Worlds, taking on their resident Riders. One interesting thing to note is that the versions of the Riders you encounter in this game are the ones from the original shows, not the alternate ones seen in the Decade TV series.
Gameplay takes the form of a 1-on-1 fighting game. All 10 main “title” Riders of the Heisei era are playable, along with Zeronnos, Ixa, and DiEnd as unlockables as well as a “Dark Decade” created just for the game. You can also play as Gatack, G3-X and Auto Vajin in secret Story Mode missions, though their abilities are incomplete.
Controls are fairly simple, which is not necessarily a detraction. Square initiates a weak combo, Triangle initiates a strong combo. You can not switch between weak and strong attacks during a combo, but you can change the combo depending on what direction you hold when you start it. You can double tap left or right to cancel a combo in the middle and transition to another one, but this costs you two blocks of your Rider Bar. X uses support moves, also costing you Rider Bar energy. These are usually summons, but may be another type of attack depending on the Rider. The support move also changes when used as a counter while being hit by your opponent. Finally for basic attacks, O uses “hissatsu waza” moves like your various Rider Kicks, Ongeki, whatever you’ve got. Again, these may change depening on the direction you hold. Evasive moves include a dash by double tapping left or right, and evasive rolls using L1 and R1. Usually the control seems OK, though there are some things which are annoying, like the timing to do an aerial attack being very specific. Usually, you have to hit the attack button before the apex of the jump, which will be executed from the apex. You can not vary the timing to control the angle of attack.
L2 initiates a “Form Change”, which is key to the game’s mechanic. Generally speaking, this causes your Rider to use one of his power up forms, changing his abilities and fighting style accordingly. Form Change can only be done with a full Rider Bar, which is then begins to drain. The rate which it drains depends on the exact Form Change, as a way of balancing things like Kabuto’s Clock Up and Faiz’s Axel agains more basic Form Changes like Kuuga Pegasus. The most important thing is that anything which requires Rider Bar (combo cancels, support moves, some hissatsu attacks) does not have any cost during Form Change. This nuance causes what may be the game’s biggest problem, spamability. The relative strength of a character tends to come down to what kind of attack/combo you can spam the hell out of during Form Change. Some of them require some skill to pull off, which is OK. However, others basically have, what I’ve heard best described as a “win button”. Zeronnos, for example, goes into Zero Form for his support move and does a machine gun burst from the Denebic Buster. When you Form Change (to Vega Form), you can then just sit there and mash X at point blank range, easily draining half or more of your opponent’s life with no effort. The best they can hope to do is try to get knocked down, then lay there until your Form Change runs out. R2 initiates your Super Hissatsu waza. These consist of a lead in hit which, if it connects, will trigger a cutscene attack that drains exactly 1 life bar of health from the opponent. There is no penalty if it is missed or blocked which, again, leads to a potential to be really cheap.
Decade himself adds an interesting level of depth to the game. As you go through the game’s story “Decade Mode”, you will unlock abilities for Decade. At the beginning, he is very limited having no Form Change, no Super Hissatsu, and very basic X and O attacks utilizing his Ride Booker weapon. As you progress, you will unlock other Riders that you can “Kamen Ride” into as your Form Change, as well as unlocking “Final Form Ride” attacks that can be used to replace X or O button moves. This customization, deciding which set of abilities work best for you, makes Decade a really fun character to play. The last thing you get is his Super Hissatsu move, utilizing Decade’s Complete Form. Unfortunately, you have to choose between this and the ability to use Final Form Rides, though you can still use the Kamen Ride Form Changes. Personally, I think the FFR’s are more fun and more useful than a cutscene attack.
Overall, as a Kamen Rider fan, I had a lot of fun with the game. It lets you set up dream matches, improves on the experience of playing some of the older Riders compared to their own games, and brings in Den-O and Kiva who did not get their own games. It also makes extremely good use of the license by allowing you to use all these Riders, power up forms and hissatsu waza, as well as really making each Rider play in his own unique way. For those of you who are Kamen Rider fans, its ease to pick up and play will be a benefit to those who are not fighting game hardcores. It also has an option, presented right at the first power on, to put the game in “Kid Mode”, which makes all menus and in-game text switch to hiragana and katakana for the kanji-impaired youth (or stupid foreigner). However, I think some game balance issues, slightly quirky controls and mediocre graphics will probably keep more hardcore fighting game fans away. If you can get past those faults, it’s worth a play. If you love Kamen Rider, this is a game you’ve been waiting for.