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Game Review

The SoulCalibur saga—with its exotic characters, odd spiritualism and mystical Soul Edge blades—has always been a little bit out there. (How exactly does a sword grow an eye, anyway?) But ever since its days as a coin-fed arcade game, this franchise has consistently been considered cutting-edge when it comes to 3-D weapons-based fighting games. Now the developers at Namco Bandai have offered fans a chance to keep that sword-slashing action tucked in their back pocket with a new entry designed for Sony's PSP handheld system.

A casual glance at SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny on the PSP would probably lead anyone familiar with this series to think it's simply a port of SoulCalibur IV. After all, the characters and the fighting arenas look almost exactly the same.

But it turns out this new title sports its own characters, its own action and its own strengths and weaknesses.

What's the Dif?
One of the biggest differences between the two games is in what's missing. For one thing Broken Destiny doesn't have a Story mode. That means SoulCalibur IV's convoluted, supernatural storyline and soul-eating blades are only given a brief nod this time around (though from time to time we still hear a character say something like, "I thirst for souls," or "Curse you to h---!")

Replacing Story mode is something called Gauntlet mode—essentially an elongated tutorial. If you stick with the 30-chapter journey, it slowly teaches you a variety of special moves, along with the basics of how to attack and defend. Making your way through this mode illustrates how detailed and finessed the game's combat options really are. These sophisticated mechanics are intuitive and easy to use, especially for a handheld game.

Another adjustment is the removal of an Arcade mode that would normally allow you to battle through the ranks of opponents, culminating in a big boss battle. Instead gamers get a Trials mode with three kinds of challenges (Trial of Attack, Trial of Defend and Endless Trials) that awards points and score multipliers based on skillful battling. Finally, an individual player can link up wirelessly with a pal who has his own PSP and get a bit more of that old-school, one-on-one arcade play.

Old Faces and New
As far as the character lineup is concerned, most of the cast from past games is back for more action. There are 28 highly skilled weapons artists on tap, including old-guard SoulCalibur characters such as Cervantes the pirate and the snake-sword wielding dominatrix, Ivy.

Each of these (and other) characters have preferred weapons, ranging from hidden knives to samurai katanas to speedy nunchakus to gigantic axes. And, as always, each brawler comes equipped with his or her own specific fighting style and signature moves.

Two newcomers are worth noting, however. The first is a top hat-clad oddity called Dampierre who relies on prancing maneuverability and quick slashes from blades hidden up his sleeves. The second addition seems far more compatible in the SoulCalibur universe: Kratos the fiery, heavily tattooed protagonist from the God of War franchise, whose razor-sharp Chains of Olympus blades make him a formidable opponent.

The More Things Change ...
Of course, now we're getting to the ways Broken Destiny most resembles its predecessors. And let's face it, fierce battling is the heart of this game. There's no blood and guts to be seen, but the bashing, hacking, crushing blades and bludgeons leave no doubt that these implements would result in deadly melees in the real world. The fact that there's no spurting gore after gigantic blades get jammed into someone's jugular doesn't make the act any less savage.

And the PSP's tiny screen didn't at all deter SoulCalibur's creators from spending quite a bit of time developing crystal clear visuals of buxom, scantily clad female warriors. If anything, this latest release pushes sexually suggestive imagery further than previous titles through the use of sheer, skintight outfits, near nudity and tops that seem to always be on the verge of giving up and letting go—not to mention the game's incredibly realistic physics when it comes to the leaping female form.

This sexualized envelope-pushing occasionally includes men as well. One muscular male opponent, for example, shows up to fight in little more than boots and what amounts to a g-string. And the printed narration tells us that his attack is "laced with a lust for blood, as well as a lust of a different kind."

So when you weigh the heft of the sword that is SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny, examining its craftsmanship, you find that it most certainly has two edges: The first consists of finely honed, sharp, detailed gameplay. The second is jagged, pockmarked and violently sexualized. And you can't play with one without getting cut by the other.

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Crude or Profane Language

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Namco Bandai


On Video

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Bob Hoose

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