Dark RiftDark Rift is a solid weapon-based fighter for the N64.
Publisher: Vic Tokai|
It must be said that Nintendo 64's fighting genre has not seen the best of days. With the decent 1996 arrival of Killer Instinct Gold and the unimpressive Mortal Kombat Trilogy, the system then received War Gods, which arrived to a less than thunderous applause. Now, Kronos, the makers of PlayStation's Criticom, have brought us Dark Rift.
Dark Rift, in and of itself, is a good fighter. It's a far cry from the company's last attempt, a visually attractive game with very little in the way of gameplay. Dark Rift packs the goods in many ways. Technically, the game has one of the best looking characters on the system (Morphix), and refreshes the characters and the backgrounds at an amazing 60 frames per second. To date, this is the only game that has achieved this feat on N64.
The science fiction influenced scenarios are refreshing to a degree, while the mixture of an alien and human cast provides variety and a true range of different fighting styles to the tournament. Gore and Aaron are hefty and slow, but pack powerful attacks, and there are four females out of eight total fighters. (Two bosses are playable by cheats and by beating the game for a total of 10 overall.) Niiki, Eve, Demonica, Zenmuron and Scarlet are all relatively fast in comparison. Morphix is an ethereal creature with a set of cool morphing attacks, while all of Eve's attacks are based on true to life fencing techniques. Each is polygonal and wrapped in intricate texture maps, and all can move in and out of the full 3D arena.
Kronos's motion capture work is best represented in Eve, who moves fluidly and smoothly, and who's fighting approach is subtle but dangerous. And for those of you familiar with the utopian silent film, Metropolis, Eve's character bears a striking resemblance to the central character in that movie.
Using Tekken's built-in combo fighting style, Kronos packs each fighter with a respectable list of moves. The differences between the two games are many, but begin with Dark Rift's weapon-based approach. Each character wields a weapon of some kind, although in the case of Demonica and Morphix, their bodies are their weapons. The benefit of weapons is the close in clashes and cool alternate moves -- Morphix's scissor attacks, Eve's carefully choreographed combinations, Demonica's chest thrust, and Aaron's grenades.
All characters feature two built-in projectiles -- usually one close in and one long range -- and each contains a throwing move, too. The controller configuration is easy to learn, with B for throws and A and a quarter turn for projectiles. Side-stepping enables full 3D movement, so players can avoid an oncoming attack. But for whatever reason, many of the characters look terrible when they side-step, as if they were limping or suffered major injuries to their legs. The movement looks unrealistic, though overall side-stepping in Dark Rift is more effective than in War Gods.
Dark Rift is Kronos's first attempt at a fighter on N64 and it shows in both graphics and the gameplay. Graphically, the game is solid, with a few exceptions. Occasionally, proprietary z-buffering is used for certain characters and so a flickering appears in that area, like near a leg or buttocks, and it can be distracting. Demonica is a stylistic beast with an awkward, unearthly look that's overall kind of nasty to look at, especially her weirdo pouch. She is, in a word, grotesque. The fighting grounds are also similar to Tekken's first games, with broad stretches of land that don't blend into the background very well, and that aren't interactive or even remotely 3D.
There are problems with the fighting engine, too. Too often, the game ends up in a your turn-my turn pattern, and seldom are the quick, natural, grueling close up battles that immerse players in games like Virtua Fighter, Street Fighter, or even Mace. War Gods, for all its problems, feels better than Dark Rift when players get up close for fast, head-to-head brawling.
Projectiles are cool looking, but they're almost worthless at even medium range because they take too long to ignite. This makes them painfully obvious to the opponent, who can side step and attack while you're still attempting to project. And despite the 60 fps, response times can be slow and unnatural. Blocks, projectiles, and some combos are mostly guilty of slowness, and will certainly frustrate the player.
Throws are, for the most part, cool. They're easy to pull off, and the camera zooms overhead to present a cinematic look that best shows the damage done. Aaron's rib crusher, Demonica's face muncher, and Morphix's slice-and-dice throw are perhaps the most memorable ones of the bunch. But there's not too much incentive to perform them because they cause very little damage.
Overall, Kronos has overcame its Criticom syndrome: the level of character detail is there, the many chained combos, the feel of the game, the variety of fighters and fighting styles are all good. Dark Rift shines through its weaknesses, and, for the time being, can be called the best fighter on Nintendo 64.