From Spiritonin, creator of Adult Swim's Death Vegas, comes Capoeira Fighter 3, a 2D fighting game with a free online demo and full-fledged downloadable version. Featuring more than two dozen playable characters and a refined, logical system of combos, it's one of the rare fighting games that captures the nostalgia from the genre's heyday while updating everything to fit in with a new generation of gamers.
As the name might suggest, this is a fighting game based on Capoeira, a Brazilian martial art with roots that many believe extend to Africa. Capoeira is known for its acrobatic movements not entirely unlike American break dancing as well as for its deeply rhythmic nature. Unlike any form of dancing, Capoeira employs arcing kicks, sweeps, body throws, and other techniques designed to hurt an opponent.
This sets the stage for a game that takes me back to my junior high school days. Back then I had a lunch time ritual. As soon as the bell rang I would cross the street to the pizza parlor to buy an order of breadsticks, and then I would cross again to the tiny little baseball card shop where a coin-op Street Fighter 2 machine stood calling to so many of us throughout the morning. Packing in like sardines, we could not help but be mesmerized by this new revolution in video games. How many violent games seemed uninspired because you only got, at best, three moves? How great would it be if we could pound each other to a pulp on screen? And now here it was, a game that cut to the core of gaming, providing boss battle after boss battle and sending us into a frenzy that would spawn countless clones over the years, some good, some absolutely terrible.
Street Fighter 2 wasn't the first fighting game, but it started a revolution that spawned countless clones before eventually fading to the 3D scene. But for those lucky enough to have stumbled upon this gem we can at least relive that magic in Capoeira Fighter 3. At your disposal are 29 characters and more modes than you could shake a berimbau at. Select your favorite fighter and team up to tackle the arcade story mode, or fly solo among a plethora of survival matches. Unlock new characters and revive that old feeling you got when your quarter clinked home and you were mere seconds away from martial art gaming bliss.
Analysis: Capoeira Fighter 3 has so much going for it it's next to impossible to choose a good place to start. Both graphics and gameplay are absolutely top notch, and none of this should come as a surprise to those who have enjoyed Death Vegas. This game is a feast for the eyes, the fingers, and all those little synapses in between.
Visually, Capoeira Fighter 3 is most like the Street Fighter Alpha series. The portraits of all the characters are done in a very richly detailed anime style. Once you have selected your character, you are treated to beautiful painted backdrops and what may at first glance seem to be some of the most gorgeously-animated sprites you have seen in a while. But take another look: those aren't sprites, the characters are actually cel-shaded polygons. To be honest, I was shocked to discover this. The game looks like a cartoon with the very best production quality, and stays silky smooth in animation throughout.
Then there's the gameplay itself. It may seem like overkill to have so many characters using the same fighting style, but Spiritonin manages to create diversity and balance even within this limited range. Each practitioner of capoeira employs different moves and techniques and adheres to subtly different styles. Height and weight are taken into account as well with the larger characters moving slower but hitting harder while the smaller characters move like buzzsaws across the screen.
To further differentiate one character from the other (as though this wasn't already enough), offense and stamina are quantified and vary from one to the next. A character with high stamina (that is, they can employ longer combos and use more attacks without getting tired rendering them unable to chain together combos or use the special dodge technique) is likely to not have a high offense stat and vice versa.
A problem that such diversification tends to run into is poor balance, but again Capoeira Fighter 3 passes with flying colors. Each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and this tends to level the playing field quite nicely. This attention to balance even extends itself to how this game makes itself accessible to players of all levels of expertise. This is a game where you could go in mashing buttons and come out performing halfway decently. On the other hand, taking the time to learn the intricacies of any individual character will reward the discriminating fighter connoisseur to no end.
And if you should happen to get bored with capoeira as the principle fighting style, there is plenty of unlockable variety to be had (some of it mixed in with a sense of humor). As you build up credits, you will be able to unlock characters that employ Karate, Jeet Kun Do, Shaolin Kung Fu, Wrestling, and more. Fans of the first Karate Kid movie will especially enjoy their first introduction to Johnny Zappa, I should think.
It is important to not just rate Capoeira Fighter 3 as its own standalone game but also to look at it as an entry into an old and well-established genre. In this context, while it may be an homage to the fighters of old, in many ways it exceeds the playability of those titles it intends to pay its respects to. This is because both the move and combo system allows for a surprising amount of depth.
The strength and speed of strikes, for instance, are not governed by hitting the "weak kick" or "strong kick" buttons, but based upon which direction you are pressing at the time you are launching the attack. This creates a far more organic means of selecting strike speed and power because it just feels more natural that holding back while you kick should hit harder than standing still. Furthermore, I don't think I've seen a combo system this well executed in any of the fighters I've played. Momentum is not merely taken into account, but the lynchpin of the entire system.
Here in Capoeira Fighter 3, you can build your own combos simply by understanding the way the body works, by recognizing that if you are moving counterclockwise, the next logical strike should come in a clockwise direction (or counterclockwise as well if you are in the process of spinning). By grasping the way momentum governs the game, it's quite possible to ring up combinations in excess of 20 hits with neither memorization nor luck.
After such a long review, it would seem that we've stumbled across a perfect game, but Capoeira Fighter 3 does have one drawback. The sound department could definitely use a little sprucing up. The sound effects in the fighting fall a little flat and lack the oomph one desires when a foot collides at high speed with someone's cheek bone. And the music, while it is mostly traditional Capoeira music, can get somewhat repetitive. It pains me to say this, but after playing for a while, I began to crave stock gaming techno.
Both Street Fighter and Tekken are recognized in this game by Spiritonin, a fan paying his respects. Indeed, Capoeira Fighter 3 looks like Street Fighter and plays a little more like Tekken. But in truth the game goes far beyond either game and even beyond a simple homage to the golden age of fighting games. It is a love letter to both those lauded titles and also to the crowds of people that packed tight around them, quarters jingling excitedly in hand, waiting for our chance to turn into, for just a little while, unrivaled masters of martial arts.
You can play a free version of Capoeira Fighter 3 in your browser window, download a Windows-only demo, or grab the full-featured version for the same platform.
Mac OS X:
Download not available.
Play the online demo.