I knew I was going to be in for a treat when I saw that silly nun-boy Gene described jump onto her...his, yo-yo and ride it like a pair of roller skates. Is it terribly original though? That's hard to say. For some odd reason Guilty Gear X2 reminded me a lot of DarkStalkers, a game featuring a Little Red Riding Hood look-alike who fired rockets from underneath her skirt, and a freaky looking 'bee-girl' with bug-eyes nested in her fifties home-maker hairdo. As twisted as the nun-boy sounds, gender-bending roles are also a common thing in anime and manga. Guilty Gear X2 is weird and zany, but only in the same sense that a dating or train simulator would look weird and zany to a western audience.
Is it still entertaining then? Very. As Gene pointed out, Guilty Gear X2 has all of the basics down. The game features an interesting and mostly balanced cast, the controls are tight and there is a ton of style to behold. It's speedy, gaudy, and a watermark in 2D graphics. But ultimately, what sold the game for me was how unabashedly 2D Guilty Gear X2 was. Most conventions of 2D fighting were exaggerated to the point of hyperbole in the game, in effect reminding us that the 2D fighter is a very distinct genre compared to its polygonal counterpart. It's this distinction that probably best explains the dogged insistence of 2D fighters to exist, when many other genres have never looked back after the making the move to 3D.
Gene's mention of Zappa is a great example. Crazy demonic beings surround the boy during his attacks, with little green hands popping out of his head when the punch button is hit. On his back is the image of a tormented face that spits gobs of green slime, and his torso can take the shape of a giant corpse' head. In a chain combo, the beautifully fluid animations run into each other like mixing paints, and any sequence of attacks becomes a flashy collage. Of course chain combos exist in 3D fighters, and Tekken makes them a staple of gameplay, but they don't exist like this. The speed at which Guilty Gear X2 is played is simply astonishing. Zappa's morphing body takes no breaks contorting every microsecond. Blink and something might be missed. To play Tekken 4 afterwards is like riding tortoises.
The breakneck speed and hyper-kinetic play isn't the only 2D feature that this game overextends. Guilty Gear X2 also makes marvelous use of vertical space. Like Capcom's Versus games, the background extends up well past what can actually be seen. There are some differences though, and one of them is when characters are launched up for an air combo. Once up high, the background dissolves into a red glow, creating a surprisingly effective sense of vertigo. In combination with the zooming effect stolen from SNK's Samurai Shodown, backgrounds feel particularly spacious. Characters also have the ability to dash back and forth in mid-air, and perform double jumps. My only complaint here might be the inability to chain Dust attacks (the launching hit) into normal combos, limiting the use of air combos. That aside, Guilty Gear X2 is a very nice game to play, no doubt.
A disagreement I have with Gene's take is in his comparison to Marvel Versus Capcom 2 since I don't think it's necessarily applicable. In Capcom's Versus games, space is utilized differently and players generally have much more mobility than they would in Guilty Gear X2. To illustrate the point, characters in Guilty Gear X2 always appear in the screen together whereas it's possible to have one of the characters off-screen in the Vs games. Maneuvering and navigating around opponents is quite different between the two games. Overall, the Dust attacks and air combos didn't strike me as anything more than a bit of an extra, and without them Guilty Gear X2 seems to play more like SNK's Last Blade games—with better counters, cancels and recoveries, of course. And better graphics, too.
This is certainly one of the best fighters available right now, and it is really a fun ride. What's a little worrisome is the amount of excess that has been pumped into Guilty Gear X2. It is such a spectacle, and one that revels in so much glorious excess, that one can't help but think Sammy just went for broke. Guilty Gear X2 goes right over the top in terms of style and visuals. After which it's hard to see where else Sammy might take the series. As much as I like this installment, I can't help but think that Guilty Gear X2 has painted itself into a corner.
Maybe they'll be prudent, avoid the Capcom-like temptation to run things into the ground, and finish things off here?