Reality Fighters features the floating, disembodied head of Mr Miyagi. The Mr Miyagi from The Karate Kid. He narrates and guides you through the game's story mode. It's awesome. For that alone, you should probably just stop reading right now and put a pre-order in. For those of you left, however, let's crack on.
Reality Fighters is a fighting game for the Vita, designed to show off the handheld's numerous features, not least of which the augmented reality trickery that allows you to battle it out in the environment that surrounds you. It makes great use of both cameras, the motion sensors, online functionality and social connectivity, while chucking a whole load of customisation options in there too. But is it any good as a fighter?
There are four main modes in Reality Fighters. Time Attack sees you fighting AI enemies against the clock, Survival Mode gives you one energy bar and sees how long you can last, and Quick Fight lets you go up against either AI foes or online chums. I spent my brief time with the game in Story Mode.
One of my first tasks was to create a character, a process that allows you to use the camera to map your face. Once you've taken the picture you have to place a guiding frame over your eyes and mouth. It's partially to assist the game in identifying your face properly, but it's also – according to the devs – a way to stop loads of willy-faced characters popping up online. It's totally gonna happen anyway.
Once you've provided all of this information, Reality Fighters then slaps your face onto your character. In a fashion. It's a bit like you've been in a terrible fire, your face got all melted and the surgeons have did a great job of putting you back together – but everything still looks a bit wrong.
There's plenty more customisation options beyond that. You have control over everything from your body shape to sound effects (you can even record your own taunts), weapons and hundreds of thousands of costume variations. This last one is particularly playful. It's not just different coloured trousers, there's all kinds of stuff in there. Fancy dressing up as a giant lobster? Reality Fighters has you covered. And you can even share your creation on Facebook.
None of this has any impact on the fighting itself though, as far as I could see. Your choice of fighting styles does, however. There are about 15 different styles to choose from; straight-up stuff like Kung Fu, Capoeira and Boxing, to “zany” things like Disco and Zombie. Within this, each style has around 12-14 unique special moves that can be pulled off either with the D-Pad, the analogue stick, or if you can't be arsed - with a shortcut drag and tap of the screen.
Though the game is essentially 3D – we'll get into the AR stuff in a sec – the fights take place along a 2D plane. It controls a little like Street Fighter, with plenty of half and quarter-cycle special moves and backwards movements prepping you for a block. It all feels responsive enough, with the D-pad unsurprisingly being the preferred method of control.
Despite the raft of options and moves though, I'm sceptical whether Reality Fighters can stand toe-to-toe with the best. Not that it really matters. Reality Fighters isn't aimed at the hardcore fighting market. Don't expect this to be taking centre stage at Evo 2012. It's a novelty fighter with some really rather remarkable augmented reality technology. That's the main draw here, by a long chalk. Well, that and Mr Miyagi anyway.
There are two different ways you can create your AR fighting arenas. The first and easiest is to place an AR card on a nearby surface. This allows the Vita to do its black magic and place your fighters within that environment. So most of the time you are going to have disproportionately small characters battling it out around mugs of tea, or mags, or whatever it is you happen to have scattered across your coffee table.
It's fantastic. It may just be a novelty, but it's genuinely novel, something you'll want to show your friends and family. Pull off some of the special moves and you can even watch your character burrow through the ground only to pop up on the other side. As a kind of enhanced tech-demo, it's really quite impressive.
It's a little awkward to use, however. Once you have placed your AR card and the Vita has calculated whatever it is that it has to calculate, you are effectively using the handheld as a camera. What this means is that if you move it, then the characters don't follow you, they just slip out of frame. So you have to keep it almost perfectly still. This is easier said than done, though. You'll be surprised just how much you fidget about without realising.
The alternative is to use Reality Fighter's other AR option. This approach allows you to take a series of pictures that build a sweeping, panoramic view of a particular location, then lock them into place as a static environment populated by scaled characters. So, should it take your fancy, you can go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, take pictures of Paris below, then use that environment to scrap Godzilla-style with huge characters over the city. There aren't many games that allow you to do that.
As a showpiece bit of software, Reality Fighters is mightily impressive. Despite the slightly muddled facial modelling built into the character creator, this is cutting edge stuff. But as an actual game? I'm not so convinced. We'll see how Reality Fighters fares when it hits as part of the Vita's launch line-up in February 2012.