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December 12 2018

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  Matrimelee - ©Playmore/Noise Factory/Atlus 2003 (Page 3)


Gameplay:

So far I've talked a lot about the crazy sense of humour present in this game, and I've told you about the great character lineup, but as with all games, Matrimelee's worth boils down to one thing: its gameplay. As this game is made by the same people that bought us Rage of the Dragons, the main question on everyones lips is whether it is better than that game or not. Overall, my answer would be a definite.... YES!

While RotD is generally considered to be a fun game, it did fail badly in many respects. The gameplay was very simple compared to a lot of other games, and while that may appeal to some people, it did mean that it didn't have enough depth to keep hardcore fighting game fans happy for a decent length of time. It also had some very cheap aspects, due in part to the C+D dial a combo system (where you had to enter a few set button presses for a combo) and perhaps even the tag feature. Another questionable part of the game was the breakable wall feature - a lot of stages had walls that you could bash your opponent into and use them to juggle them in the air for a while with a big combo (until they broke after a few hits).

Neither the C+D combo system or the breakable walls are present in Matrimelee, and it is a one on one fighter (no tag team). There is also a much greater amount of variety in the gameplay, as well as a slightly higher character count. While Matrimelee still might not be the deepest fighting game you will ever play, it strikes a nice balance between "too complex and "too simple". Hardcore fighting game players will still probably get bored with the game after a while, but for most people it is easy to pick up and play, and very enjoyable. It is a very combo friendly game too, and with a little practice, anyone should be able to string some decent combos together. Many of the combos are relatively simple, although there are a few more advanced combos that take a hell of a lot of practice to master. Not being a grand master at 2D fighters myself, I do kinda like this approach, but I can understand why some more advanced players might tire of it after a while.

As I mentioned at the start of this review, the power meter works differently to a lot of other fighting games. It is actually a little bit similar to the one found in Samurai Shodown, that actually gives something of an advantage to the person that is losing. Matrimelee actually punishes people that are either dominating a fight too much, or that are "turtling" or constantly blocking. If you are the one getting hit, or if all your moves are being blocked, your "stress meter" will charge up very quickly. Whenever your bar fills up your character also pauses for a second and lets out a huge energy blast.



While this blast barely does any damage to you at all if you get hit by it, it will knock you over and give your opponent a little bit of breathing space. When I first started playing the game I found this very annoying as it seemed to mess up the flow of the game, but after a while I adjusted to it. It just means that you need to keep an eye on your opponents stress meter and make sure you get out of the way whenever they charge up. I know a few people that find this annoying, but to me it didn't make too much difference once I was used to it.


Graphics:

The graphics in this game are something of a mixed bag, but unlike Noise Factory's last effort (RotD), Matrimelee is certainly a lot more consistent, and overall just way better looking. First off, while Rage of the Dragons had a couple of great backgrounds and a bunch of spectacularly average ones, pretty much all of Matrimelee's backgrounds are very nicely done. Chinnen's forest stage is particularly awesome, while the computer store where Buntaro/Shintaro fight and the Karaoke bar where Saizo and Kanji reside are great as well. Then we have the arena stages. My first thought on these were that they DEFINITELY looked a whole lot better than the arena stage in Noise's last effort (Kang/Jones stage), as there was a lot more going on in the background. While the animation may be a tad choppy in certain areas, they still manage to look quite good.

The one problem with the arena stages however is that they are over-used. 10 of the normal characters fight in the arena, as does the final boss, Princess Sissy. Thankfully though, the stage changes depending on what character you are fighting against (as shown on the 2nd page of this review). For instance, if you are fighting Ume or Tane you will get the "Subarasiki Intaanetuto" background. This stage features a woman in the background singing a song about the wonders of the Internet. If you fight against Keith or Olof though, you will get the "Debu" background, which features a death metal band playing some heavy music. While re-using the background like this may sound very cheap and repetetive, it is not as bad as you might think... in fact each different arena stage manages to have a cool atmosphere of its own. It probably would have been better if at least a couple more of the characters had their own individual backgrounds, but it is still fine the way it is.

Speaking of the singers that are in the background, one of the neatest little touches is the fact that they are more or less synced in with the music that is being played. For instance, one arena stage has a guy in the background that breaks some boards that pop up out of the floor, and he does this in time with the lyrics in the song. Pretty much all the singers in the background are synced in with the lyrics/music in each song in some way, and this is a VERY nice and original touch... I don't think I've ever seen anything like this in a fighting game before, so props to Noise Factory for doing it!

The only backgrounds that don't fare quite so well are the backstage areas where you fight the RotD characters. There are three of them and they are all practically identical aside from some minor changes, and they all look a little bit drab and boring, and maybe not as well drawn as the others. It's funny really - the majority of backgrounds in Rage of the Dragons were actually quite uninspiring too; and nothing has changed with their respective backgrounds in this game either. I don't want to make out that they are aweful because they aren't - they are just very boring compared to the rest of the stages in the game... thankfully these stages have some nice music on them, which does help a bit (see below).

I've already said that the graphics in Matrimelee are a bit of a mixed bag; well, this mainly applies to the character sprites. Overall, the animation is actually quite good, with a few places where it really excels, but unfortunately a few of the characters look a little ropier than others. A good example would be Keiths standing animation, which is pretty smooth compared to Chinnen's, which only has a few frames. I don't want to take anything away from the games graphics though, as the majority of it is more than adequate, but it is a shame that a few characters where slightly short changed. Most of it is fairly consistent though, and nothing stands out as bad as say... Kim's animation in KOF 2002, which is extremely well done and looks out of place compared to the rest of the cast in that game. Also, all characters have 4 different costume colours that you can choose from, compared to the two that you usually get in many games.



Something that I have to give special mention to are the special effects for when you perform a super move and the effect for when you finish someone with one of those moves. In fact, these effects are some of the flashiest and most pleasing on the eye that I have ever seen in a 2D fighter. Admittedly you stop noticing them after you have seen them a few times, but the first time I played the game my intitial reaction was something along the lines of "Whoa, that's cool!".

Another very impressive part of the game is the presentation and artwork. As you have seen on the couple of previous pages of this review, all the character portraits are exceptionally well drawn and some of the best I have seen in a while. It's a shame that they don't use this same artwork in the character endings though; all the endings are drawn by a different artist and done in a "super-deformed" style. There's nothing particularly wrong with them (apart from being a bit short), but it would have been better if they used the same style as the rest of the game.

I also like the explosion effect on the pre-fight screen too, as it looks very cool. Most characters also have different things to say before and after a fight as well, depending on who their opponent is. Some of these are very funny indeed and prove that the spirit of "SNK Engrish" is still alive and kicking! After a fight, the losers face always get covered in graffiti, which is very funny:



Finally, I may as well compare Matrimelee's graphics to Mark of the Wolves as well, seeing as everyone inevitably compares EVERY Neo Geo fighting game to that one. I'd say that Matrimelee's graphics are maybe a grade or two lower than MotW in terms of animation etc, but the personality that the characters in Matrimelee have more than makes up for it in my opinion. As far as backgrounds go, the ones in MotW are probably a little better too (and there is more variety), but again, the personality of the backgrounds and the general craziness of the game gives Matrimelee a style of its own. Overall I am very happy with the way it looks, and it's not too hard to look past the few flaws. If you ask me, Matrimelee is certainly a lot more impressive graphically than the cut and paste King of Fighter's games we have seen in the past few years.


Sound Effects & Music:

I've already said a lot about how great the music in this game is, so I will start off by talking a little about the sound effects and voice acting. The sound effects are suitable if nothing spectacular, and are pretty much the same ones that were used in RotD. They do their job well, and you do get a satisfying feeling from them when layeth the smack down on someone with a big combo. The voice acting is really cool too and all the voices fit the characters perfectly. I did notice that they've made some minor changes to Lynn compared with RotD though... her voice sounds a little deeper and more mature now. I actually like it, but I've heard one or two people say that they hate the new voice.

Anyway, going back to the music again, MANY of the tracks in the game feature full lyrics! This has been done a couple of times before in Neo Geo games (eg Arina's stage in Waku Waku 7), but never to the same level as this game! They actually sound pretty darn good too and it is quite an accomplishment to get this many songs on a cart, although they are in mono unfortunately. To give you an idea of the quality, I've made a few short MP3 samples of some of the best tracks in the game. It was hard to pick which ones to put up as so many of them are cool as hell, but I managed to choose a few of my favourites. These were ripped from the game, but if you like them I would highly recommend buying the soundtrack CD, as they are much higher quality than on the Neo Geo itself!

Here are the samples anyway, right click if you wish to save them to your HD:

Chinnens music - 32 Seconds, 314k, MP3 Format
Lynn's stage - 30 Seconds, 296k, MP3 Format
Board Breaking Guy - 25 Seconds, 246k, MP3 Format
Debu - 31 Seconds, 308k, MP3 Format

While the Matrimelee soundtrack is REALLY great and probably one of the most varied ever on the Neo Geo, there is one negative aspect that I have to point out; there are unfortunately a few glitches here and there. The main song that is affected is the internet song, as that is a little bit distorted/garbled in places, like it was just recorded badly. This is probably down to bad quality testing on Noises part... but surely someone in testing must have noticed this glitch??? You can't hear it much while you are fighting, but if you pause the game and listen closely you can hear it. One or two tracks are affected by this glitch, but to a much lesser extent than the Internet song. It doesn't make any difference to the game play and as I said you can barely hear it while fighting, but it does show sloppiness on Noise Factory's part. The same thing actually happened with the post fight music in RotD too - listen to that and you can hear some distortion. I really wish they would fix things like this before releasing a game.

Another negative aspect that *DOES* affect the game badly though is the change to the soundtrack if you play the game on a US system. In fact, if you are playing the game on a US home cart system without a debug bios you are going to be screwed over very badly. In US mode, all of the tracks with lyrics are removed and replaced by the songs normally used for just the RotD characters, and one other track. While those tracks are quite good, it totally sucks to play through the game with just them. They even changed the music during the end credits to a really lame and annoying one (the normal one is a remix of all the songs in the game). I'm not 100% sure why they decided to do it, but whichever way you look at it, it was incredibly stupid and a terrible way to treat people with US machines. The only time I've seen something as bad as this happen on a Neo Geo game was with the Magical Drop series... try playing those games in Japanese mode and you will see a massive difference compared to the US version, believe me.

If you are an MVS user though you may have an easy way to get past this problem. If your board has a European bios, you can simply go to the soft dip setting and change the "Country" option to "USA" (it is set to "OTHERS" by default). Changing to this option means that you will get English language and all the Japanese songs. If you have a USA bios however, you are still screwed as the country option will not be there... your only solution will be to install a Uni-bios into your MVS, which will let you change regions at the push of a button. This is basically the only way you can fix the problem. A quick note though - if you pause the game by using the Uni-bios cheat menu, this occasionally causes the music to stop playing. Just thought I'd mention this, as it is not a bug in the game, just a small issue with the Uni-bios. It doesn't happen unless you pause during a fight though, so it doesn't affect normal gameplay at all.

Despite a few negative aspects, the soundtrack in Matrimelee still manages to be super cool, and probably one of the most varied and interesting I've heard in a Neo Geo game... if not any game. I get the feeling that it won't be to many peoples tastes and probably leave many people scratching their head and saying "What the hell???", but if you can open your mind and appreciate it for what it is, it is GREAT! With the games that Noise Factory has worked on so far, they have proven that they have some of the best composers in the business as far as I am concerned.


Go to page 4 of the review! (Overall Ratings)

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