Despite its title, Bloody Roar 4 is actually the sixth in Hudson's series of 3D fighting games, which originally debuted way back in 1997. The most recent entries include this year's Bloody Roar Extreme for the Xbox and last year's Bloody Roar: Primal Fury for the GameCube, whereas Bloody Roar 4 brings it back home to a Sony platform. If you've played any Bloody Roar game from over the years, on any game system, then you'll basically know what to expect from this latest installment. It features the same sort of simple, fast-paced, good-looking action that's enabled this series to squeak by for all these years, but the addition of a few new fighters, a new mode, and some tweaks to the gameplay don't stop this from being a rather simple, shallow game.
Bloody Roar 4 is a simple, accessible fighting game that can make for a decent two-player diversion.
At a glance, the Bloody Roar games do nothing to distinguish themselves from better-known 3D fighting game series, like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Dead or Alive. This new game features 18 different characters, who mostly look like a bunch of hipsters who'd be more at home in a dance club than in a fighting arena. The vast majority of these characters return from previous Bloody Roars, and one thing both the old and new characters have in common is their ability to change forms. That's always been Bloody Roar's twist. In battle, characters can instantly shed their human skin (it actually all happens in a white flash) to become an anthropomorphic animal or some other creature. Werewolves, weretigers, werelions, wererabbits, werebeetles, wereiguanas, and more can be found in this game, and when the fighters are in their transformed state, they're capable of longer-ranged, more-damaging moves than usual. Strangely, the designers seem to have run out of animal ideas, as many of the newer Bloody Roar characters have demonic rather than animal forms. Nagi, the new female character depicted on the cover of the game, turns into sort of a succubus rather than, say, a Chihuahua.
OK, maybe all the viable giant-animal ideas have already been used up. But, really, that's part of the problem. Apart from the characters' transformation abilities, which they can use from the first moment of any match at the press of a button, the fighters in Bloody Roar 4 are capable of the sorts of things you'd expect to see in any off-the-wall fighting game. Fast, simple combos reward button mashing, as each fighter can easily string together punches and kicks for some pretty big damage. Some moves launch opponents into the air, and you may continue to juggle them on their way down with still more attacks. Strings of a half-dozen or more hits are common. Some countermoves and guard-crushing moves are available, respectively, for dealing with opponents who are too reckless or too defensive. But these are par for the course in the genre and are rarely worth the risk when the alternative is to keep churning out quick, easy, damaging combos. Mechanically, the game works well. The controls are responsive, and the action, for the most part, is fast and smooth. The average fighting-game player with any level of proficiency should be able to see through this game's limited strategies and moves list relatively quickly. As any long-running fighting game series tends to, Bloody Roar does have its own modest following, and these players should appreciate some of the nuanced changes to the gameplay, if for no other reason than that they're nuances.
Of course, Bloody Roar 4 does have some new features that distinguish it from its predecessors. Here are the obvious ones. Several new characters are available, including the previously mentioned Nagi. There's a lanky guy named Reiji who turns into a big crow. There's also Ryoho and his sidekick Mana. He's a burly monk, and she's his companion--a little girl who turns into a fox. You control Ryoho directly, and Mana has a few moves of her own to execute while in fox form. Bloody Roar 4 offers a standard selection of modes of play, but the main new addition is the strangely named "career mode," in which you can choose a character and work your way through a gridlike map. It's all completely abstract, and it's really no different than the arcade mode--though it does tack-on an experience point system. Each place on the map pits you up against another character (with most of these battles featuring just one round), and winning battles earns you DNA points, which can be used to equip your characters with certain new moves and abilities. Over the course of this career mode, you can develop a significantly overpowered character, but since the battles against the wimpy computer-controlled opponents are a total cakewalk from the outset, there isn't much incentive to build such a juggernaut. The career mode feels pretty underdeveloped, overall.