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Game Review

On the heels of 14 years of karate chopping, hook-kicking success, the godfather of 3-D fighting games has released a new edition. And the years have been kind. The highly anticipated Virtua Fighter 5 makes its next-gen splash on Sony's PlayStation 3, with vibrant scenic detail and character animation that will take your breath away almost as fast as a knee to the solar plexus.

Players step into the shoes (or slippers) of one of 17 male and female world-beaters who are all experts in their chosen discipline. Pai Chan, for example, is a Virtua Fighter regular who hails from China and excels at the graceful martial art of Ensei-Ken, while Mexican El Blaze makes his first competitive appearance tossing opponents about in the Lucha Libre wrestling style. Each style is rendered with letter-perfect form.

Practice Is What Makes Perfect
So, after choosing a character with an interesting brawling technique (or maybe just the coolest outfit) you have the option of jumping immediately into fighting CPU-controlled versions of the other colorful characters in Arcade mode. However, if you take this path, grasshopper, you'll soon find that Virtua isn't a very beginner-friendly game. Just mashing buttons will get you through, maybe, three matches before you're sent to the canvas.

A wiser choice is to visit Dojo mode where you can learn and practice the many button combinations, mastering your chosen character's unique attacks and defenses. And even then, the journey can be quite challenging since each fighter has almost 100 moves in his/her repertoire.

But with practice you get into the swing (and kick) of things and give Arcade another spin or match up against a friend in VS. mode or try your fist at single-player Quest mode. Quest players travel the world from arcade to arcade and try to whup their opponents, raise their ranking, win special prizes and earn money to buy gear and accessories.

Perfect Is What Raises Questions
Buying new outfits, by the way, can sometimes be a necessity, just to keep from blushing. Some of the incredibly realistic looking fighters are dressed in rather skin-tight or revealing getups. One of the most risqué is a young woman wearing little more than a pair of camouflage pants and a skimpy sports bra. Another contender in the objectionable content arena is an old fella who's fully dressed (thank goodness), but who employs the "Drunken Kung-Fu" style and staggers around with a jug of booze always close at hand.

In the real world, real Ultimate Fighting is gaining popularity while fake professional wrestling seems to be on the outs. And the popularity of Virtua Fighter 5 may well reflect that shift. Which brings us to the one part of Virtua that's universally problematic with all fighting games, shows and movies. The constant and violent beat-'em-up.

I'm not talking about heart-ripping, blood-spewing Mortal Kombat violence (Virtua maintains its poise in that department), but let's face it, everybody is out to beat everybody else to a pulp in a game like this. And because the various martial arts moves are so well executed and crisply rendered, Virtua's combat comes off feeling pretty ... real.

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Bob Hoose Kevin Simpson

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