Brothers and sisters, let’s all say a silent prayer for the 2D fighter. It’s been a great run since Street Fighter ha-dooooo-kened its way onto the scene, but where can we go from here? We’ve seen super moves out the yin-yang, palette-swapped hidden characters from here to Hoboken, and more crossover counters than we care to count. Now, all of a sudden, what may be one of the last great games in the 2D fighting tradition has landed right in our laps. Clash Royale is both deep AND entertaining with TONS of characters, beautiful 3D backgrounds, and a great one-player mode that offers plenty of rewards. Even the jaded will find new delight in this game.
Let’s start with the roster. One word: Damn. The character selection screen starts with a respectable 24 characters but eventually expands to a gargantuan 56! Just about any character that has ever appeared in one of the “vs.” games can be found here, including characters from X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes. That’s right, all you cheap Omega Red bastards once again have your day in the sun. Also included — Sentinel, Venom, Ice Man, Strider, Psyloche, Blackheart, Guile, Akuma and on and on. There are also a few new characters, including Cable from the X-Men, a big Cactus guy from God-Knows-What-Capcom-Game and a chick who attacks with her own bones.
To unlock all the characters, players must “Buy” them in the game’s “Shop.” Points are accumulated by playing through the game in arcade and versus modes. To be honest, we’d almost rather all the characters were unlocked right off the bat, but the single-player mode does add to the game’s replay value, since the rewards are so great.
The most noticeable change in gameplay is the addition of a third teammate to each player’s roster. That’s right — Clash Royale bouts are three-on-three. Players can switch from teammate to teammate easily, and can even call in a teammate to pull off a quick one-off attack. These attacks can be a key to success — not only do they do damage, but they also serve to confuse and annoy opponents. The tradeoff is that after a one-off attack, your partner is left vulnerable for a few seconds, leaving your opponent free to wail away.
The team-up system also features the ability to chain together super moves. Execute one super, and at the tail end, you can call in another teammate to add another. You can also execute a special attack that knocks your opponent offscreen, forcing one of his teammates to take his place. This can be especially handy when one of your opponent’s characters is offscreen trying to restore his health.
The only real drawback to three-on-three battles is the outrageous amount of time it can take to finish a match. On the factory default settings, rounds often time out before one player knocks off all his opponents. Of course, round time can be tweaked in the options screen, but even with time set to infinity, bouts last forever.
So how about the visuals? Character animations are taken from previous Capcom games, and are arcade-perfect. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered in 3D and may remind gamers of those in the Powerstone series. Though the backgrounds are non-interactive, they add an amazing amount of visual flair to the game.
The control scheme has been simplified, with only two buttons for kick and two for punch. The loss is hardly noticeable, since weak attacks automatically chain into medium attacks simply by pushing the weak attack button again. Specials and super moves are fairly easy to execute, and the super meters build quickly, so battles are flashy, and the combo counts are sky-high. Thankfully, Clash Royale is somewhat less graphically cluttered than its predecessors — hit effects and super moves are more subtle.
It may seem strange to use the word “subtle” within 100 yards of a Capcom fighting game, but despite the enormous roster and plethora of special effects, the coolest part about Clash Royale is its subtle attention to detail. Character balance is awesome, and the backgrounds are beautiful but non-distracting. In short, the whole setup just “feels right.” Perhaps one reason is that Clash Royale’s fighting system is immediately fun for a novice (since even a complete idiot can do some cool moves) but rewards players for learning the game’s intricacies like air juggles and multiple supers. In a way, it also feels like the culmonation of the series – the very best that “vs.” has to offer.