If history has taught us one thing, it's that people love it when characters verse other characters. Eighty percent of the Japanese film industry is predicated upon Godizilla's continued interest in fighting a wide variety of giant monsters. One of the most burning questions on the playgrounds of my childhood concerned whether He-Man could beat Luke Skywalker in a fight. It's only natural, then, that I'm fond of Capcom's habit of pitting their roster of game characters against all comers. Their battles with Marvel and SNK both generated wonderful fighting game experiences, so I was anticipating more of the same. Sadly, it was not to be.
Perhaps the game's title deserves most of the blame—it's borderline false advertising. This really isn't a SNK vs. Capcom game at all, it's actually a King of Fighters vs. Street Fighter game. Despite the fact that both companies have literally hundreds of colorful, interesting characters for them to choose from, they stuck almost exclusively with characters who have already appeared in fighting games. Each side has sixteen instantly playable characters, only six or seven of which aren't stars of their flagship fighting game franchises. Now, I understand how this is a time and energy-saving tactic—SNK, the game's developer, can just reuse the character animation from previous King of Fighters games, and while they still have to draw all new animation for the Street Fighter characters, at least those characters have well established moves and play styles—saving them the trouble of figuring out just how Master D can handle himself in a fight. The characters simply don't look as good as they ought to. It's a little strange seeing familiar Street Fighter characters rendered in the semi-realist SNK style, rather than their normal exaggerated cartoonish style. If it was just a stylistic question though, there wouldn't be a problem. The graphics are strangely outdated for a newly-released game, mostly pixellated and grainy. If I didn't know better, I'd have guessed that I was playing whichever King of Fighters came out four years ago (King of Fighters 2001, I suppose). The backgrounds are even worse than the characters. They're inexcusably bland and blurry, with no significant movement of note. Given how limited the selection of the backgrounds there are, I can't understand why they're all so uninteresting and colorless.
Another place that the game disappointed me was just how perfunctory the game's story felt. Now, this might seem like an odd complaint to make about a fighting game, but the fact is that although it's possible to overlook them, the fighting genre generally has the second most elaborate plots in all of videogaming, edged out only by the narrative grandeur of the better role-playing games. The individual series being represented here have a combined thirty years of continuity behind them, spanning over twenty games, as well as countless movies and comic books.
The developers don't make any attempt to merge the two games' storylines into something interesting and coherent, instead settling for just enough story to justify the fighting. Except that it doesn't. Given the wide variety of characters and motivations that fill any fighting games, it can be difficult to come up with a single final boss character that all the characters have a reason to fight. Many games have gotten around this by giving each character their own boss, chosen from the roster of playable characters, with a little dialogue tacked on to explain just why this fight is so much more important than the rest, followed by an ending that wraps up the fight's aftermath. This game doesn't bother to do that, though—instead every character fights the same four bosses, two that are relevant to the Street Fighter franchise, two relevant to King of Fighters characters.
Then there are the secret bosses, surprise Capcom guest stars whose appearance in the game is so completely out of left field that, upon defeating them, a few of the characters' endings revolve around their confusion at having to fight such an arbitrarily odd character.
For all of its flaws, SVC Chaos is still a decent fighting game, and a decidedly old-school one at that. When starting a new game, the player isn't asked to choose how fast they want to play, or what kind of stance they want to us—just pick a character and start brawling. All moves are performed using classic Street Fighter controls—giving the game an instant accessibility for anyone who's ever played a 2D fighting game. It certainly feels more like a King of Fighters game than a Street Fighter game—while the Street Fighter series has become more complex and intricate—not to mention fast—with each successive generation, the King of Fighters games have retained a slower, almost deliberate pace. SVC Chaos plays like SNK games have played since the first King of Fighters, and will no doubt be a familiar and pleasurable experience for anyone who has been following the series all that time.
Unfortunately, this reliance on tradition has the possibility of a alienating new players, as there isn't any real tutorial to get them comfortable with the controls and play style. This problem is only aggravated if players don't have a proper arcade controller. I've been doing fireballs, Dragon Punches and Yoga Flames for fifteen years, and even I had problems pulling the moves off using the Xbox controller.
When I took a good look at the sub-par graphics and the wasted potential, I found myself studying a decidedly mediocre game. There's nothing really new here, and nothing that hasn't been done better elsewhere. While it's nowhere near being a blot on the history of either franchise, it's nowhere near being a high point either. There are better fighting games available at the moment, relegating the interest level of this game to fighting game completists or people obsessively collecting every game appearance of Final Fight's Andore. Everyone else can take a pass without worrying about missing anything special.