In days of old, when nights were cold and consoles weren't invented, the only place to get your gaming fix was at the local arcade. We were enthralled by the little blobby aliens moving from side to side in Space Invaders, we thought that the vector graphics in the Star Wars arcade game were the pinnacle of technology, and we believed that the animation of Dragon's Lair were the canine's cahoonas.
They were simple times and we were simple folk, lapping up whatever the game manufacturers could offer us, translation errors notwithstanding.
But those simple times couldn't last and the decline set in with the advent of consoles in people's homes. I'm not talking about the brief, but ultimately disastrous, dalliance with consoles in the early 1980's here – I'm talking about the time when consoles became really serious business when consoles from Sega and Nintendo landed a decade later.
Arcade games were simple affairs, eschewing story for gameplay. You paid your money, shot things on the screen, used your three lives and paid more money to carry on. Early console games followed the same three-life model, but it soon became obvious that this model didn't really suit console gaming in the home. After all, the whole point of the three-life thing was to generate money, something which was missing in gaming at home.
So, console games started to converge from the old arcade model: storylines were introduced, gameplay became more complex, and lives were replaced with checkpoints. Once consoles started to use CDs and DVDs to store data, games became more complex and the divorce from arcade games was complete.
Some games still hark back to their arcade roots however, embracing their heritage and placing gameplay over story. Mario is probably the best known example, but fighting games as a genre have generally retained their arcade roots too.
One of the best known arcade fighter is the Soul Calibur series, which originated in the arcades with Soul Edge in 1996, and has gone on to grace most of the major consoles since then. The latest iteration of the game, the ingeniously-titled Soul Calibur IV, sees the light of day on Xbox 360 and PS3, and so we thought we'd take a look at both versions to see whether the magic is still there.
The story of Soulcalibur hasn't really changed that much over the years. The story is set at the end of the sixteenth century, and it's all about the battle between two swords: the evil, demonically possessed Soul Edge; and SoulCalibur, the holy sword created to combat the evil of Soul Edge.
And that's all the story you need, really.
Sure, each of the characters in the game has their own backstory, but they're either really incomprehensible – in the way that only Japanese stories can be – or they sound as though they've been written by a fourteen year-old who's overdosed on too much Tolkien.
Add the appearance of Darth Vader and Yoda into the mix, complete with stories about feelings in the force and rifts into alternative universes, and you realise that Soul Calibur IV doesn't need or even have an ounce of proper storyline.
It's a fighting game. It's got Darth Vader, Yoda and lots of ...erm... well-endowed young ladies. With crazy physics and no underwires.