There are a few series that have proved themselves to be worthy entries into the 2D fighting realm. Street Fighter is the more obvious choice but there are certainly others vying for that crown. Guilty Gear finds its way onto the GBA with this port of the PS2 game and shows us that the humble handheld knows how to do 2D right.
The core may seem like most other 2D fighters. You'll have the usual directional movements and four attack commands consisting of weak and strong variations of punch and kick. Mixing these up with your movements will link together for some very tasty combos, and if anything I find that attacks link together extremely well in this game and offer a wealth of combat approaches alone. There's also great variation between fighters in terms of even these basic attacks.
Stepping it up a gear are the special talents each fighter can call upon. These are perhaps even more diverse than the standard attacks. Execution is typical sequence of directions with an attack command followup and the way they are done means that most can be easily integrated into a combo stream effectively. Unleash a series of punches and kicks, follow up with a flaming backflip kick and then proceed to beat down on your floored opponent.
The one thing to worry about here is that special input commands tend to be more specific than other fighters. Whereas other games would accept any attack or any punch or kick command to execute a specific attack, Guilty Gear X generally requires you to use a specific attack command or you'll end up either doing a completely different special or just a standard attack. All this means is that you'll need to memorise technique commands more precisely than other fighters though.
But now we have the extras that really help to sell the game. The most important one for me is fighter pacing. The action itself is kept at a fairly brisk pace, which is complimented by the dash and run features, which allows the player to make swift approaches that you can combo attack out of or to make quick retreats. You can even perform these in the air, giving a lot of options for setting up approaches or escapes.
The air game is pretty impressive in general. Aside from air dashes you can air jump and perform high jumps. Going skyward and launching airborne assaults is just another way you can attack the opposition.
A couple of close range moves deserve mention too. One will knock the enemy off their feet, which is ideal for giving yourself some breathing room. Another will launch the opponent into the air, where you can give chase and literally combo them as they fly.
Hope the red on that scythe is just paint.
Then we come to the tension gauge, which is Guilty Gear's version of the now common super gauge. It builds up power as you fight, but this one can be used for a variety of techniques. The most obvious one would be the supers that are designed to wreck opponents, but naturally requiring a more complicated button sequence than normal specials. However, there are other things here too.
Dead angle attacks are designed to be swift counterattacks against an enemy's oncoming combos if timed right, or you can perform a special block that pushes the opponent further back. You've also got Rage Mode, which depletes your tension gauge while active and allows you to pull off a Destroy Move. These moves are effectively instant kill but very hard to hit with. If you're willing to gamble these techniques may be worth investing in. The variety of ways the tension gauge is used makes it feel quite special.
Difficulty is a bit more widespread than other games in this genre I've played. Generally the easiest setting is probably far more accommodating to gamers new to 2D fighters than other games, although sliding the difficulty setting up will provide more threatening computer opponents that will string together more devastating attacks and increase their offensive drives.
Game modes are plentiful on offer. Arcade mode makes its appearance as the main single player campaign and sees you fighting a sequence of 1 on 1 fights up to the boss characters Testament and Dizzy (who are subsequently unlocked for use when beaten). A neat touch is that winning quotes are tailored based on who you just beat instead of pulling out random ones each time. Survival mode is here to test your skills with a single health bar. Versus mode is on offer for those wanting to beat the crap out of their friends too. 3 on 3 doesn't differ greatly from the standard 1 on 1 matches aside from picking a team of 3 fighters and being forced to switch when one is knocked out. Essentially this replaces the usual round counter with the chosen fighters.
My money's on the girl with transforming wings.
Training and tag team deserve special mention. Training gives you all the freedom you need to test out any fighter you wish. You can tweak a variety of settings like your opponent's behaviour. statistics display and even simulate game modes like tag and 3 on 3 to get a feel for the other modes in relative safety. Tag team throws in a nice dynamic where you pick two fighters whom you can switch between with a common input command. With clever usage you can start a combo with one fighter, switch midway and deliver the finisher with the other character. There's a lot of potential for setting up killer strikes with this.
The game looks quite nice too, with some very flashy character designs, which includes some rather standout ones like the young female pirate that swings a ship anchor around or the final boss Dizzy whose wings consist of one angelic and one demonic shape shifting wings. Animations are similarly flashy with concepts like one girl using her hair as part of her attack actions or unleashing elemental style kicks.
By contrast I must admit that the backgrounds could be better. There were certainly some nice design choices and a solid variation in the locales and indeed there were some stages that looked nice enough to make me want to see them again, but then there are others that just came across as boring static images and it became too easy during fights on those stages to forget about the scenary altogether. Considering the excellent consistent work on the characters and effects this doesn't stack up quite as well.
Similarly, the background music itself felt bland and boring in too many of the tracks on offer. It wasn't ear bleeding bad, but again I found myself completely ignoring the musical numbers pumping out in the background. The sound effects were more impressive though with the solid clashing and explosive elemental effects, but the total lack of voices was a downer.
The presentation should have had more work done on it, but on the gameplay front Guilty Gear X does extremely well. Combat definitely flows well here and there are an insane amount of fighting options to use against opponents.