List #1: A Ranking of Videogame Movies

  • Reading time:13 mins read

A while back I had a gig producing content for a social network that later took an unfortunate turn. Before all of this stuff disappears, I’m going to repost as much of that writing as I can.

We begin with a kind of stupid entry, dealing with videogames adapted into feature films. The idea is that people would vote these items up and down, producing a sort of ranked list. As it turns out, I drew up this list at about the same time as the list feature stopped to work and the site ceased to promote it — so not a single person voted. Oh well! Here it is in semi-alphabetical order.

Adapting a game to cinema is never an easy task. Videogames and film are different kinds of art, that serve to explore different things in different ways. Videogames are all about banging your head against the rules of the environment to get a sense of how a world works. Film is all about telling a story using a stream of imagery over time. In film, there is no way to actively explore rules and in videogames a story generally exists at best to lend context to what the player is doing.

So, most game-to-film adaptations stink. It is up to you, dear readers, to vote up the best of the bunch and to vote down the worst. Some of these are probably worth seeing! We’ll find out which, presently.

Alone in the Dark

This series has had a bad time of it lately. The first three games were groundbreaking; Shinji Mikami substantially cloned the games in creating his Resident Evil series. Then the properties started to shift hands. Whenever a new up-and-coming studio wants to try a few cool techniques, they seem to buy into the Alone in the Dark license. The results are always interesting on an experimental level but somewhere between horrible and disappointing when it comes to actual game design. The concept has also strayed pretty far from the original games. Our friend Uwe Boll seized on the property for cheap, as people tend to, and spat this out. He managed to nab Christian Slater as Edward Carnby. This was before Boll’s reputation became public knowledge.


The second of many Uwe Boll films to clutter this list. Uwe Boll is a strange character; a charlatan who deliberately makes the quickest, worst movies possible so that he can cash in on Germany’s national film funding and various forms of insurance. It’s like he saw Mel Brooks’ The Producers as a set of step-by-step instructions.

The Bloodrayne games were exploitative trash following in the wake of Tomb Raider; they only really existed to cash in on the existing development climate. So, hey. Uwe Boll comes up to you with a small wad of cash, you take it. Result: another Uwe Boll movie.

DOA: Dead or Alive

The games started off as hacks of Virtua Fighter that added ridiculous breast physics and somewhat more visceral back-and-forth combat. They later developed into a consciously exploitative and yet still technically respectable series that can just about get away with its T&A action on the basis of its solid game design. Aside from the boobs there’s still little reason to play the games over any other first-tier 3D fighter, but whatever.

What I wonder is why so, so many game movies are based on games from such inappropriate genres. How many fighting games do we have on this list? Granted, the DOA characters do have convoluted backgrounds — but really, is there a story here?


Andrzej Bartkowiak was cinematographer on plenty of respectable films, from Falling Down to Speed to U.S. Marshals. As a director… hmm.

Well, it’s got Eomer from Lord of the Rings in it. And Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Later, the same dude would go on to direct Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. Some career he’s building up, here.

Double Dragon

Man, remember when these games were big? Technos took the gaming world by storm, first by creating the first versus fighter (Karate Champ), then by creating the first side-scrolling brawler (Renegade), then by refining the latter model into a two-player masterpiece full of advanced moves, interactive and varied terrain, weapons that you can pick up and carry, distinctive enemies, and some of the rockingest theme music ever. The story was simple: Billy Lee’s girlfriend gets kidnapped by street punks, so he and his brother Jimmy set out to rescue her with their fists. The movie… it’s something about a magical medallion that gives a couple of middle-class kids the power to beat up mutants. Not sure where this came from.

Far Cry

I didn’t even know that this movie existed. The games are technically very advanced and ambitious first-person shooters that mostly take place in natural environments and have very stiff, stilted-feeling design. Uwe Boll apparently leapt in and grabbed the film rights before the game was even released. Joke’s on him; the series has actually become pretty successful. But conversely, Joke’s on Crytek and Ubisoft, because — well, Uwe Boll.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

This movie nearly bankrupted Square, and put founder and FF series director Hironobu Sakaguchi in the doghouse, leading the way to his departure from Square soon thereafter.

See, as great as Final Fantasy VII was in many other respects, the thing that everyone talked about at the time was its pre-rendered CG cutscenes. For the next game, Sakaguchi decided to play to the crowd and made the cutscenes practically the whole point. From there, the logical next step was to just remove the game part completely. Thus, we have this weirdly neutered film. In place of the wacky fantasy of the original games, we have a clumsy and frankly boring sci-fi story calculated to appeal to American mainstream audiences — a goal undermined by the uncanny valley of mostly-realistic CG actors.


Basically these are action games with minor adventure and large third-person shooter components. You play as a hitman who largely has to find his weapons in the field, often through offing people along the way. So there’s a strategic element and a stealth element, and they have that free-form sandbox thing that was so popular in the early noughts. The movie… well, Roger Ebert liked it: “Hitman stands right on the threshold between video games and art. On the wrong side of the threshold, but still, give it credit.”

House of the Dead

House of the Dead is based on Sega WOW’s arcade shooting gallery series, and features a cameo from Sega of America’s then-president. By all accounts it is one of the more confusing things devoted to film, explained by the involvement of Uwe Boll. By the time the movie was released (to universal scorn), he had moved on.

In the Name of the King

Have you ever played Dungeon Siege? It’s a generic hack-and-slash RPG based closely on the BioWare/Black Isle design popularized by games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Generic enough and unlikely enough to make perfect Uwe Boll fodder. Yes, this movie is somehow an adaptation of the game. By all accounts it comes off like a pathetic Lord of the Rings clone — which puts it on a level with most fantasy fiction of the last 50 years or so.

The King of Fighters

Of all the fighting games that you could turn into a movie, The King of Fighters perhaps makes the most sense. KOF is basically a serial martial arts drama that has been going on since 1994, with yearly updates up through KOF2003 and then occasional chapters in the years since. The series features dozens upon dozens of characters, each with complex backgrounds and intertwined stories. The games themselves trace all manner of alliance, betrayal, and epic goings-on. You could create a long-running Smallville-type TV series out of this material with little effort. And yet this movie borrows only loosely from the games, then makes little sense of its own. Who is this supposed to appeal to? Why bother?

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

The title says it all; by this point the game series had become a joke, and all that anyone remembered about it was its protagonist — who always looked uncannily like Angelina Jolie, so hey. There were two movies with Jolie, and as of early 2011 the series is now being “rebooted”. As with Silent Hill and Resident Evil, at least this movie more or less works cinematically, as a Mummy-level Indiana Jones knock-off.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Supposed to be a little better than the first movie. Roger Ebert actually got a kick out of this one.

Max Payne

Marky Mark stars as Remedy’s satirically gritty New York sourpuss. In the game, Max is an ex-cop seeking revenge while under tremendous physical and emotional pain — pain that leads him to hallucinations and that he tries to, well, remedy with medication. In the movie, he’s being chased by literal demons and monsters.


The dude who directed the movie, John Moore, was also behind the 2006 remake of The Omen. The people who made the game, in a long tradition, have aired their grievances and distanced themselves from his work.

Mortal Kombat

The game is ridiculous trash, that cashed in on the success of Street Fighter by filling its sprite banks with bad photographs of bad actors posing badly. Its lasting impact on the industry is mostly the establishment of the ESRB rating board, the concept of finishing moves in fighting games and elsewhere, and an endless string of hidden characters such as Akuma/Gouki in the later Street Fighter games.

The movie realizes that the game is ridiculous, and builds on all the most memorably ridiculous parts to construct a joyously stupid yet technically proficient martial arts movie. In some ways, the movie gets across the spirit of the game better than the game ever did.


As with Ewe Boll’s other films, the Postal license must have come cheap. The movie came out in 2007; the original game — which also was exploitative trash masquerading as satire — was released a decade earlier. A sequel was released in 2003, that tried to cash in on the Grand Theft Auto/sandbox design mania, but by 2007 the games had pretty much faded from everyone’s thoughts. With good reason. All the better makings for a deliberate flop.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Donnie Darko plays an Arab in this adaptation of a remake of a remake of Jordan Mechner’s 1989 classic tale of bloody deaths, leaps of faith, and little brothers in pajamas. As with the Tomb Raider movies, it’s sort of trying to be the Brendan Fraser remake of The Mummy.

Resident Evil

Pure trash, plus Milla Jovovich. Still, it basically works as a movie — and worked well enough to span at least four sequels. It’s probably a good idea to focus on Jovovich’s original character rather than the game’s original protagonists.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse

The second RE movie, which introduces Jill Valentine and is largely based on the third game. Worth mentioning that writer Paul W.S. Anderson, aside from writing and producing all the films in this series, also directed the first and fourth RE films plus the first Mortal Kombat film; and produced DOA: Dead or Alive. The dude’s almost like a higher-rent Uwe Boll. Oh, he’s also married to Milla Jovovich; they met on the set of the first movie. So this is also a family franchise.

The movie was received much less well than the first one — which itself received mixed reviews at best.

Resident Evil: Extinction

Third movie in the series. Milla Jovovich continues in the lead role. Here the story branches away from the game series completely. Although we meet several familiar characters from Capcom’s games, the plot and setting are all new. If game game is influenced by anything, it’s probably Code Veronica, what with the addition of Claire and Wesker, and a few setpieces from the game.

Although critically panned, this one earned the studio a hell of a lot of money.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Fourth movie in the series; now it’s in 3D and IMAX. Based loosely on RE5 — including the introduction, finally, of Chris Redfield. Again with the critical derision contrasted with box office success. Apparently it’s the “most successful production in Canadian feature film history.” It’s unclear if that’s in dollars or professional satisfaction.

Silent Hill

A pretty decent adaptation of a less than totally obvious game, clearly produced by people who loved them some Konami. The film is more or less an adaptation of the first game, with elements of the second, and most of the context removed. If Pyramid Head is the projection of James Sunderland’s subconscious violence toward women, why is he in the movie? Although Silent Hill has always had a sort of feminine quality to it, there’s a reason why the first game is about a hapless, and obviously kind of broke, single father rather than a happily married upper middle-class mother. Regardless, the movie works on its own terms up until the last fifteen minutes or so. Not sure what they were trying to accomplish there.

Street Fighter

The movie that killed Raul Julia. Why does it focus on Guile, when the game is all about Ryu and Ken? Because Guile is an American, and the film was made for Universal. So if Guile is American, why is he played by Jean-Claude Van Damme? Well…

Super Mario Bros.

Less an adaptation; more an acid trip experienced against a backdrop of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films. There may be some kind of surreal brilliance in this tale of subterranean fungus and human-shaped dragons, if you take it strictly on its own logic and merits. As a representation of Miyamoto’s game, though, it’s more like that weird 1980s cover art that was often more disturbing than the actual game content.


Another fighting game — albeit another one with deep, convoluted backstories for all its characters. Why adapt this instead of, say, Shenmue?

The guy behind the Tekken games, Katsuhiro Harada, wonders the same thing. “That Hollywood movie is terrible. We were not able to supervise that movie; it was a cruel contract. I’m not interested in that movie.”

Wing Commander

I’m not all that up on the Origin System games; from what I gather, they were huge because they were basically Star Wars games in all but name during that long period when Lucasarts avoided milking its film licenses and instead focused on games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island. The movie is a genial if somewhat generic sci-fi flick with that guy from Hackers. It’s totally watchable, if somewhat unrelated to the source material.

This Week’s Releases (April 10-14, 2006)

  • Reading time:11 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Week thirty-five of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation. Two of the sections are expanded into full articles, posted later in the week.

Game of the Week:

Tomb Raider: Legend
Crystal Dynamics/Eidos Interactive
Xbox/Xbox 360/PlayStation 2/PC

Something that people keep bringing up, yet probably don’t bring up enough, is that the first Tomb Raider was a damned good game. And what it seems Crystal Dynamics has done is go back to the framework of Tomb Raider 2 and to break it down, analytically. What they chose to do is bring the focus back to exploration – in part by introducing some new gizmos, in part by making the environments more fun to navigate. Reviews nitpick a few fair issues; still, the overall response seems to be a huge sigh of relief. Maybe it’s not the best game in the world, or all it ever could be. Still – it’s not terrible! The theme that keeps coming up is one of nostalgia – that, for the first time, someone has managed to recapture what makes Tomb Raider interesting. And that sentiment is itself interesting.

This Week’s Releases (Aug 22-26, 2005)

  • Reading time:21 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Week seven of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation

Today (Monday, August 22nd)

Advance Wars: Dual Strike (DS)
Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the Wars series. This is, what, the fourth Wars game announced in the West, after the two GBA iterations and the endlessly-delayed and frequently-renamed GameCube iteration. And it looks every bit as good as previous games. I understand it’s to make some decent use of the touchscreen with a real-time mode where you move things around with the stylus. Good and well; this is something the DS should excel at. I’m surprised we haven’t seen more strategy games and RPGs for the system.

The name, though – why is it still Advance Wars? The answer is the same as why Retro’s second Metroid game is called Metroid Prime 2, instead of just “Metroid: Echoes” and why Metal Gear Ghost Babel became simply “Metal Gear Solid”; it’s an issue of branding. The assumption, from a Western marketing perspective, is that you need “brand unity”. If you’ve got a successful product, you need to cash in on its name as far as you can. So if you’ve got a new cereal, you’re better off introducing it as, say, Cinna-Crunch Pebbles and putting Fred Flintsone in it, rather then letting it fend for itself, on its own merits.

The thing about the Wars series – well. It’s been around for a long time. Going on twenty years, actually. It began on the Famicom as Famicom Wars, then moved to the Super Famicom and Gameboy as Super Famicom Wars and Gameboy Wars. Thus we have Advance Wars. And since the GBA games were the first we were introduced to over here, every future game in the series must have the word “Advance” in it.

Well, to be fair, we’re to receive the GameCube one (called, inexplicably, “Famicom Wars”) as (even more inexplicably) “Battalion Wars”. I guess that complicates the theory right there. And the Western title for the DS game is no less arbitrary than the Japanese one (again, simply “Famicom Wars DS”). That doesn’t make this trend any less irritating.

SNK: The Future is… Coming

  • Reading time:7 mins read

by Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

I don’t know if this report even went live on the site. If so, it’s buried in the infrastructure. If not, well, that sort of thing happens at Insert Credit HQ. Either way, it’s here now.

Although my Wednesday plans called me to ask Akira Yamaoka stupid questions, on Wendesday Brandon called me to accompany him in asking SNK slightly less stupid questions.

We walked a dozen blocks, to a hotel decorated like a Roman bath. The door to the room was ajar; inside milled PR representative Michael Meyers, ensuring all was in place. On the enormous television to the right, the Xbox port of KOF: Maximum Impact; on the reasonable television head, the PS2 port of Metal Slug 4. On the coffee table to the left, a stack of DVD cases, the spine lettering on their temporary sleeves unified in all save size. Amongst these sleeves were The King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout and Samurai Shodown V, and the new and unfortunate cover for Maximum Impact; to my recollection, all the sleeves were emblazoned with the Xbox logo.

While Brandon was drawn to Metal Slug, I asked of Michael Meyers questions that Brandon and I would again ask each subsequent person who entered the room.

On the Building of a Roster

  • Reading time:9 mins read

Some analysis.

The following characters have been in every KOF:

    (Kyo), Benimaru

    Terry, Joe

    Ryo, Robert

    Ralf, Clark


    Yuri, Mai, (King)

    Kim, Chang

The following characters have been in every KOF since they were introduced:





    K’, Maxima, Whip


    Ash, Duo Lon, Shen Woo







Characters in parentheses qualify with some
qualifications. Characters in italics are new as of KOF2003, so their
appearance in the list is in many cases incidental though acurate.

This list is descriptive, not prescriptive. Nevertheless, on a
statistical basis, it is instructive to see how many characters, and
which characters, the main series has as-yet been unable to do without.
Note that several of these same characters have been absent in spinoff
games, like the EX series, and several have yet to appear in crossover
games like the CvS series or BattleColiseum. Or even in Max Impact —
although I’ll get to that. This is, however, a study of the main series
and its common fabric to this point. So at the moment we can overlook
those cases.

There are fourteen key characters (including Kyo and King) who have
always been present, and an additional eight (counting Shingo yet
ignoring Kusanagi and the 2003 cast) who joined late yet have remained
in the series ever since. This makes a total of twenty-two central
characters (by virtue of persistance more than focus).

Let’s take a look at these twenty-two.

    Kyo, Benimaru

    Terry, Joe, Mary

    Ryo, Robert, Yuri

    Leona, Ralf, Clark

    King, Mai, Athena

    Kim, Chang

    K’, Maxima, Whip



Some observations. This includes every major team
leader: Kyo, Terry, Ryo, Athena, Leona/Ralf/Clark (hard to separate
them), Kim, King/Mai, Iori, K’. These are the teams which have
persisted, and made up the series so far.

The other characters, who are not leaders in their own right —
Benimaru, Joe, Mary, Robert, Yuri, Chang, Maxima, Whip, Shingo — fall
into a couple of groups. Benimaru, Joe, Robert, and Maxima fall into
the sidekick category. In most cases they exist to support the hero
characters. You notice in each of those four cases, the sidekick is a
companion or counterpart to a KOF protagonist, of some era or another:
Kyo, Terry, Ryo, and K’. I don’t imagine Joe or Robert bothering with
the competition if Terry or Ryo didn’t go, and likewise if Maxima
weren’t around to give him some grounding, K’ would never show. The
sidekicks also help to flesh out the main characters, by giving them
someone to bounce off of.

Mary, Yuri, and Whip serve a similar function; Yuri and Whip are
sisters of protagonists, while Mary is Terry’s girl. In the first two
cases, the roles and psychology of Ryo and K’ are further augmented by
the presence of family. Whip gives K’ that last reason to bother, while
Yuri helps to cement Ryo’s identity as more than just a hotheaded bozo
in an orange gi. He someone to take care of and bicker with. Ryo would
be less full of a character without his sister. Mary strikes me as less
important, though I like her well enough. I even have a two-inch
plastic figure of her. As Andy does, she makes Terry somewhat less of a
“lone wolf”. It’s not as bad as Andy, though, as she isn’t distracting
in the same way. Terry doesn’t need someone riding his ass to keep
competetive, as Kyo does; likewise, Andy strikes me as someone who
would really prefer to do his own thing rather than sit in Terry’s
shadow. I’m surprised he stuck around as long as he did. Mary — she’s
harmless, even if SNK doesn’t really know what to do with her (as
evidenced by how she bounces from team to team). She’s really just
there because she’s an interesting and iconic character.

While we’re here, I suggest that Robert is even less important. He’s
basically a clone of Ryo, for one. For another, Ryo doesn’t need him as
much as he needs Yuri. Yuri is family, and as such has an inner route
to Ryo’s personality; Robert is just a fellow student of Takuma. Ryo
never relies on him; neither does Yuri. He’s there to fill space.

Chang and Shingo. Well. Each of them is a special case. Shingo, in his
weird way, has become the main character of KOF since he showed up. Or
maybe the player’s avatar. The everyman, against whom to contrast all
of the other characters. He helps to give perspective to the whole
experience. In contrast, Chang is there because he’s always been there
and because the game needs a “big” character. And because SNK hasn’t
figured out anything better to do with Kim’s team. That said, I find
the new dynamic in 2003 kind of interesting; with Choi gone, Chang
becomes something of a sidekick to Kim and Jhun. Almost a Joe-like
role. He’s got more of an identity now. This could go somewhere.

So. Now, for the hell of it, let’s take a look at the Max Impact roster (minus the new characters):

    Terry, Rock

    Kyo, Iori

    Ryo, Yuri

    Ralf, Clark




    K’, Maxima


That’s interesting. It hits every team leader in the
above list, except Kim and King. Kim is, of course, replaced in this
game with a bisexual female doppelganger named Chae Lim. So he’s here
in spirit, if replaced with a much more inviting body. That just leaves
out King, who, you note, was absent in the arcade version of 2002
anyway (even if she was replaced as soon as it hit the consoles). So
although in some senses she should be an A-list, it’s not without
precedent that she’d be out.

Outside of the primary characters, however, note that only Yuri and
Maxima make the cut, leaving out Benimaru, Joe, Mary, Robert, Chang,
Whip, and Shingo. Note however that Yuri and Maxima are the only two
supporting characters who serve an important role in defining their
respective primary counterparts. I’ve already talked about Mary and
Robert. Joe is welcome and helpful, though if you need to lose him, it
won’t hurt Terry. If you’re paring things down, K’ probably doesn’t
need two emotional crutches; Maxima will do. Benimaru, he serving as a
replacement for Kyo on several occasions, is the only one who really
feels weird to omit. Kyo’s been alone too much lately to really need
him, though; without Shingo to guide (and Shingo is an easy loss, love
him though I do), Benimaru is left to float. He’s not immediately
important in the way that Yuri or Maxima are — so he goes.

In their place, we get Rock and Seth. Rock is there for mass
appeal, because SNK wants Max Impact to sell and everyone loves Rock.
Seth is there so the game has a black character (for similar reasons),
and to include one random bit of “color” from the more recent games.
Just so the roster doesn’t feel entirely obvious or, well, old.

In other words, Rock and Seth aside, the Max Impact roster pretty much
pares down KOF to the bare minimum before you start making unacceptable
compomise (like having one Ikari Warrior, say). At least, again, from a descriptive standpoint.

Assuming SNK intends to add a bunch of characters back into the
follow-up to Max Impact, who didn’t make the cut, who will they be?
Statistics say (and this in no way accounts for random deviation) they
wll largely be samples from the following list:









Most of these characters, I note, actually should work
better in 3D than the primary ones. Just think about a 3D Whip, for
instance. Or Benimaru’s whirly-kick. Or heck, just Chang in general.
Joe and Mary are from a sort-of 3D background anyway. Most of these
characters are close-range, which suits the format just fine.

Although Robert feels in some respects superfluous, think about the
costume possibilities. He already has three outfits. And control-wise,
he’s gone through so many changes that another alteration for a unique
close-range style won’t seem all that weird.

The only ones who seem like maybe-stretches are King and Shingo.
And recall they’re the ones in parentheses; they both got ditched once,
when Eolith couldn’t find a way to make them fit.

Shingo, I can almost see making it just because he’s Shingo. Just to throw the fans a bone.

King feels, to me, the hardest to adapt to a 3D fighting style. She
just relies so much on her distance game. Still, I’d love to see SNK
try with her; she would add variety to the roster. And again, there’s
the costume thing.

Note now that the above list of additions comes to 6-8 characters:
roughly half of Max Impact’s roster of returning characters. Let’s say
the next game raises the roster size by one-half, for a total of 30
characters. That’s a nice average size for even a main-series KOF.
Assuming SNK implements teams (which it feels like they wanted to in
Max Impact; they just didn’t have enough characters to warrant it),
that makes ten teams. Hey, that’s healthy as hell. It should satisfy
anyone, and make the game feel a lot more legitimate.

Assuming that — and it is an arbitrary assumption on my part,
based mostly on past experience, what it looks like they wanted to do
with the first game, and what seems reasonable to me — the proportion
of old characters in the above list of possible additions is just about
exactly the same as the number of old characters in the original game:
7:10. So — and again, I’m just saying this wildly — should SNK add
all of the above characters, and then get Falcoon to design two new
characters for the game, it will be entirely consistent with the design choices they made in the original Max Impact.

What does that mean? Nothing, really. I just find it really interesting, on a theoretical level.

Fighting against type

  • Reading time:3 mins read

Guilty Gear really does do something different from Capcom’s or SNK’s games. When I play a non-SNK 2D fighter, I’m usually a little confused at how few moves the characters have, and how simple they are to pull off. Aside from the number of moves, though, Capcom’s games tend to feel roughly similar to SNK’s. They’re harder, meaner, they don’t take any nonsenses; otherwise, there’s a lot of common ground.

Guilty Gear, though — uh. Well, I hadn’t really spent a lot of time with the games themselves, until today. The most I had done was jump in, hit a bunch of buttons, study the animation and say, yes, that’s interesting. Now I’m trying to get into the game’s head. And. It’s weird. Each character’s movelist is maybe a dozen lines long at most. Most of those are command moves (forward+punch, say). You might have a quarter-circle or two. Or, rarely, a half-circle or a dragon punch motion. Most characters have the exact same motion for a DM-style move, and the exact same fatality. (That’s qcfx2+hs.) And that’s it, really. There are hardly any moves in the game. And yet, somehow the attacks tend to be more obscure than usual.

It’s hard to wrap the brain around in a few hours. I can’t tell whether or not it’s being different just to be different. The system does seem to work. It almost reminds me of Smash Bros., though. Maybe a slightly more erudite take on it. Suddenly Isuka makes more sense to me.

On the other end of the fence, there’s KOF2000. I hadn’t played a 2D KOF for a while. Going back to it after Max Impact, it’s almost like that same feeling; like I’m switching to a Capcom game. Everything feels so simplistic, by comparison. Max Impact requires so much more to play that I almost feel like I’m on cruise control with the main series. I don’t have to pay attention to the sidestepping, or the stylish moves, or safe falls (so much). The game moves so much more slowly; I have so much more time to react. I have so much less on my mind.

I’m more and more convinced SNK hit on something close to great with Max Impact. On the one hand, it’s more appealing to the casual eye than SNK’s 2D games — and if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s a lot easier to jump into and have fun with than the main series. At the same time, it’s also one of the most complex fighting games I’ve played. If you want to play it well, it’s going to occupy every bit of mental processing you’ve got.

The only problem is that it doesn’t go far enough in either direction. It’s not Soul Calibur, and it’s not Virtua Fighter 4. If it’s appealing, it’s not appealing enough to woo people who don’t already give a damn. Maybe it’s a good entry-level SNK game, for the SNK-curious. If it’s complex and challenging to play, it doesn’t have the intricacy and balance it needs for experts to take it seriously as a competitive platform. What it is is a sketch. It hints at the game SNK can make. That maybe they will make, someday, that will bridge some gap, plug some hole, tap some market that no one else has paid attention to. The game which will make them a household name.

It’s almost the most important game SNK’s made. Not quite. It does point in that game’s direction, though.