Guest appearances have long been considered the lifeblood of Namco's SoulCalibur series.
Case in point: a cheeky cameo from the Legend of Zelda's Link resulted in SoulCalibur II becoming the only multi-platform game to ever sell more on GameCube than it did on PS2 or Xbox.
More recently with SoulCalibur IV, the decision to (initially) lock Star Wars alumni Yoda and Darth Vader onto a single format each split the fanbase down the middle as if they'd been bisected with the Soul Edge blade itself.
SoulCalibur V's guest spot offers no such controversies but just as much feverish expectation. With his love of all things pointy and metal, Assassin's Creed's Ezio Auditore is a perfect fit for the SoulCalibur universe. So in he bounds...
Although he's a little on the slow side, Ezio has a nice spread of short-range stabby and long-range crossbow attacks, and he's got a nifty dive-and-roll attack which helps counterpunch his sluggish pace. A swanky repertoire to be sure, but the prince of parkour saves his best for last.
Fill the Critical Gauge bar (the Capcom-esque meter which replaces the old Soul Gauge system) and the opportunity arises for Ezio to get medieval on his opponent's ass with a Critical Edge strike. Critical Strikes consume 100% of the Critical Gauge and trigger a character-specific ultra attack, which wrecks absolute havoc on the opponent's health bar.
In Ezio's case, he begins his Critical Edge - dubbed 'Full Synchronisation' - by hurling a smoke bomb at his opposite number and launching a quick strike. If he connects, he goes on to chain together a barrage of devastating overhead slashes, crowned with a crossbow headshot. Get in!
If you don't fancy blowing all your hard-earned Critical Gauge in one fell swoop, there are other options available to you. Brave Edge attacks add offensive gloss to your existing moves and are a snip at an asking price of just 50% of your gauge.
On the other hand, players who are taking a licking might prefer to spend 25% of their gauge on a Guard Impact - which enables you to block low, middle and high blows for a few animation frames. A lifesaver, if activated at the right time.
The Critical Gauge fills every time you connect with a move or absorb punishment (and the loser of each round gets a fresh injection of gauge - equivalent to about 10% - before the next one starts). It's such a small change to the formula but it makes a huge change to the way the fights flow.
After getting to grips with the new system we found ourselves playing a hesitant game - we weren't about to go wading in blindly while our opponent had enough gauge in reserve to knock our teeth out with a Brave Edge strike. The new 'quick step' move reflects the fresh ebb and flow of the battle - it's now about dancing around your rival and making sure that when you do strike, you do so decisively. The crossbow is optional.
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