There have been countless one-on-one fighting games over the years, but only a small number of them have managed to distinguish themselves. That's because, while fighting games don't have to be complicated, the great ones all manage to get the controls, character designs, moves, and balance just right. Kakuto Chojin, a new fighting game for the Xbox, unfortunately doesn't succeed on any of these levels. The fact that Kakuto Chojin was originally displayed as a technical demonstration of the Xbox's graphical capabilities clearly comes across while playing the game, because, while the game offers some impressive production values, it ultimately seems shallow and incomplete, and it won't hold anyone's attention for long.
Kakuto Chojin was originally revealed as a technical demo of the Xbox's graphical powers...
Why the main single-player mode of Kakuto Chojin is billed as "story mode" rather than "arcade mode" is anyone's guess. In reality, there's no story to speak of. As one of 12 fighters (there's one unlockable character on top of that), you'll fight your way through a dozen stages against all the others, apparently because there's some tournament and you're in it. At the end, you get a brief textual epilogue for your fighter, and then the credits roll. Kakuto Chojin certainly doesn't have many frills. Besides the story mode, there's a practice mode and a survival mode, as well as several different multiplayer modes, one of which actually allows as many as four players to duke it out simultaneously and sounds more exciting than it is.
Fighting games of course are all about the core gameplay and not about the frills. And it's the action in the ring that's the biggest problem with Kakuto Chojin. In short, the game's fighting system is far too simplistic. Each character's set of moves is so limited that you'll find yourself using the same maneuvers over and over, match after match. The game basically plays like Tekken, the very first installment of Namco's 3D fighting series, which dates back to 1994--only Kakuto Chojin has a much smaller move list and fewer characters. At any rate, the fighters all can execute high, middle, and low attacks, one or two unblockable moves, a couple of throws, and maybe a reversal. Damage is dealt by hitting the opponent where he or she isn't blocking or better yet by knocking the opponent into the air and juggling him or her with successive hits before he or she hits the pavement. Unlike in Tekken, fighters can also move freely about the game's enclosed 3D arenas, though there isn't much reason to do so. The game's one attempt at innovation is in how it allows you to trigger a temporary speed boost every so often, which lets you perform a few different types of moves while it's in effect, but it mostly just allows you to string together more hits more quickly. It's not a bad idea, but it doesn't make up for the game's lack of variety.
...and unfortunately, that's pretty obvious from the game itself.
Simply put, the lack of moves kills this game. While games such as Virtua Fighter 4, Tekken 4, and Dead or Alive 3 offer many dozens or even more than a hundred different moves per character, Kakuto Chojin's fighters have just a fraction of that amount. The gameplay thus becomes a simple matter of rock-paper-scissors. Hit him low if he's blocking high, hit him in the middle if he's blocking low, or if he's blocking everything, throw him. While this is the underlying system behind every successful 3D fighting game to date, the difference is that those games offer much more variety, much more depth, and much more subtlety. In Kakuto Chojin, you can easily win matches just by picking one of the faster characters, finding a cheap and easy canned combination of punches and kicks, and performing it repeatedly. Even the computer at its higher difficulty settings can't really defend against a good round of button mashing. Most of the game's moves are quite damaging (and you can't tone the damage down in the options), so most rounds just boil down to a few back-and-forth exchanges of blows.
Strangely enough, Kakuto Chojin offers two somewhat different move sets for each fighter, one of which becomes available after you finish the story mode with each respective character. The second version of each fighter looks identical to the first but tends to have faster, more-damaging moves and longer canned combos at his or her disposal. Perhaps by incorporating both move sets for each character into one, the designers could have given Kakuto Chojin some more depth and variety. But because all the moves are easily executed, either using just the buttons or using the buttons along with simple directional movements, it's unlikely that this would have saved the game or even been possible. One of the big problems with Kakuto Chojin's gameplay is that, despite how different all the fighters look, they basically all control in just the same fashion. Good fighting games reflect the differences in each of their characters' fighting styles in the controls and the timing required to perform their moves.