[This post is part of the Completionist series. Check out the other entries here.]
Is there any genre of video game which ages as gracefully as fighters? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. Of course there isn’t. And you only need to play a game like Virtua Fighter 2, a rereleased (and slightly tweaked) version of Sega AM2’s arcade classic, for proof of that. It isn’t just the shock of seeing a game released in 1994 look and animate so smoothly over twenty years later, although that’s certainly a part of it. More impressive is how satisfyingly deep and complex the game still feels; as much, if not more so, than any contemporary genre fare. For once, it has nothing to do with achievements (for the record they are very easy here, which is a good incentive to check it out, though you should really do that for the game’s own merits) and everything to do with history.
Generally speaking, the thing that stands out about arcade ports is unfairness. In their original format these games were designed to effectively pickpocket players by fucking them over at key hurdles (close to the end, usually); the logic, clearly, was that they’d be compelled to reach into their pocket for another quarter, and it mostly worked. You can see shades of this mentality in Virtua Fighter 2. Its final boss, Dural, follows the genre trend by being a bit of a prick, but a couple of late-game arcade opponents (namely Lion and Pai) also seem designed to completely ignore the difficulty setting. But Virtua Fighter 2 doesn’t lean exclusively against this crutch. It also seemed designed to keep players coming back by being genuinely compelling to play. Achieving mastery of this game (even just one character) didn’t only require an investment of time and skill – it also cost a fortune. This is why the series translated so well to the home console scene, and why this instalment is still so enjoyable; it was designed to be flat-out good.
Virtua Fighter 2 is one of a handful of Sega Mode 2 arcade ports that are available on Xbox Live and Playstation Network. It’s the best of them, but others will be showing up throughout this series and causing me varying degrees of irritation. But Virtua Fighter 2 is a bona fide arcade classic and deserves to be regarded as such.