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Custom Core / 26th of August 2016

Disclaimer: The following game is still in Early Access, as such, the game’s assets are subject to changes which may leave this review at the date of writing obsolete.

Combat Core, upon seeing its Steam page, worried me. A spiritual successor to a Capcom owned intellectual property given financial backing through Kickstarter? The nightmares of pizza explosions and other flaws better covered by my fellow critic James Paton concerning Mighty No. 9 kicked in rather quickly suffice it to say. That said, I had just come off from a recent “got paid” high and saw a Power Stone like game on Steam at a discount and thus, my journey began…


Combat Core is a 3D 4-player party fighting game with players beating themselves up with both unarmed combat and a myriad of weapons scattered across the arenas, each with their own features that can leave you dead, and an orb that fuels the core metre to allow players the ability to launch a powerful attack (unless they chose the normal core with its Saikyo power of taunting). The comparison to Power Stone is too obvious though Combat Core’s tweaks, particularly to the prior mentioned orbs that replace Power Stone’s err...power stones, are where the game stands out in its arcade mode. Rather than trying to hold three stones to transform into a temporary super form, unlocking your super powered attacks (which ended the form prematurely in the first Power Stone game and significantly drained the Power Stone form duration in its subsequent sequel), you have to collect many of these orbs that litter the stage from the very beginning to fill your core metre which, once full, can give you two charges of your “Core attack”, charges that without which, will throw you into vulnerable state upon trying to trigger the Core Attack. The spirit of Power Stone is definitely there (the character design for Bruizer looking like a wardrobe changed Edward Falcon from Capcom’s eforts should tell as much) but the mind games of play are tweaked. Matches don’t devolve into cat and mouse chases as the cat has no time limit on their core attack to chase while the mouse has no reason to run as core attacks are far from completely invincible adding the fact any attack can snatch you some core power, which can make the evil Mega Man arcade boss (SFRX has all the core abilities and is called “Super Fighting Robot X”, its so obviously a Mega Man reference) slightly more bearable than Valgus in Power Stone...once you learn all the core attacks and their corresponding colours.
Speaking of cores and colours, a big selling point for this game was its customisation, allowing players to alter the appearance, stats and attacks of characters and even the cores (although the latter is currently locked). The character editor doesn’t allow extensive editing to its main eight player roster (they are the characters with proper character art and descriptions on the Arcade screen) and provides eight template characters for players to edit with, along with tens of empty character slots (character editor sports ninety-nine character slots should one count the originals and the templates) that sadly becomes more a curse than a blessing when it comes to roster navigation especially as character select uses a “one at a time” scroll menu over the more conventional for fighting games “grid of portraits”. The character editor is a novel idea albeit one that is currently rather limited with only eight or so choices at most for attacks (said attacks lacking explanation on how they work beyond an animation sequence, don’t act surprised when you select the “counter attack” strong move like I did unknowingly) and clothing options are even worse with as many as four options at times! The body alterations seem to be rather extensive (when they were not fixed like the voices, only one per gender) however whether that is in fact extensive or an illusion brought about by the awkward menu controls is in dispute.

Yes, the game’s menus suffer from a rather tight control stick deadzone, it’s thankfully not as tight as Capcom vs SNK 2 EO on the GameCube but it is getting there. This is sadly not helped by the lack of movement rebinding, so should you wish to use the d-pad function on your fightstick to play this game and it comes out with reversed controls (this actually happened with my Razer Atrox for Xbox 360) then you are either stuck with it, or you’re going to have to get another controller. This is particularly saddening because the “tap to set” control rebinding is a good setup for Combat Core.
Beyond that, Combat Core’s game modes are rather basic staples to fighting games, Arcade, Versus, Online and Training (although the “Practice” mode in question is behind the “Local Vs.” screen rather than the seemingly more logical “How to Play” option). Excluding team battle options, this really leaves Combat Core very lacking in the “party” aspect that say, Smash Bros., manages to capture. Before any Melee enthusiasts or competitive Smash Bros. players take umbrage, I am not saying Smash Bros. cannot be played competitively, what I am saying is that the game has the option to be All Items - 200 Coins – Poke Floats just as much as it can be No Items – 4 Stock – Final Destination. Combat Core sadly seems to be in an awkward state where it wants to be a party game with compulsory items that can be easily picked up by accident and hinder your combos (least when the enemy wasn’t just parrying everything and grabbing you, THANK YOU VERY MUCH EMBER!) and stage hazards that will juggle you to death if you don’t realise that being knocked to the ground is not a state of invulnerability like other fighters (thank you landmine panels of stage three), yet it also wants to be seen as competitive with its hit-boxes being visible during Practice by default and its awards from the Evolution Championship Series (EVO). Some more party novelties and options to remove them could really help this game in the long run is what I am trying to say.

The VR aspect of the game, much like its soundtrack, I don’t know what to tell you about it beyond “it’s there I guess”. I sadly do not own an Oculus or a Vive or any VR headset beyond one of those smartphone mounted ones. Trying to test the VR setting without a headset only showed me the same game so I sadly cannot even trick the game to giving me a peak to see how valuable a VR fighter is. The music is also there but, I cannot say it’s really all that memorable to me, I get that the “beep boop ba doop” of all these techno songs are to play into the cyberpunk aesthetic of the game but it just doesn’t invoke anything and seems to exist to make the currently “work in progress” appear less like the crippling vacuums of glitchy despair that they are (there are multiple occasions where I or a bot got trapped in perpetual “falling” animation on the wall nearest the screen for some bizarre reason).
The game is a definite “Early Access” instalment though honestly a rather well done one. For every niggle I had with things such as the progressively slowed down and unskippable “Continue” countdown (this isn’t the arcade, I am quite sure I don’t want to continue once you reached “6” and I’m not scampering for a coin!) there were elements such as the ability to make held weak attacks trigger the strong and core attacks or a visual timer after unpausing to stop complaints of “hey, I wasn’t ready!” following after a pause. As much as I have picked on its faults and will no doubt continue to do so (why are the tutorials a bunch of gifs and not a proper tutorial with moments to try it yourself?) I do wish the developers the best of luck as they are no doubt onto a winner here. For anyone that found something novel about the game in this review which has swayed your interest towards owning it at some point, I recommend sooner rather than later when the new features hike up the price tag.
Greg Baxter
 
 
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