Novarama’s not new to the concept of augmented reality: the Spanish studio’s been layering polygonal worlds on top of our bed sheets for years now with the Invizimals series, but Reality Fighters is a change of direction for the studio. The developer’s kicked out the cute creatures and laborious combat from its Pokémon-inspired series, and replaced them with deadly ballerinas and disco divas. Reality Fighters is about as kitsch as the PlayStation Vita’s likely to get, but while the title is desperately shallow, it’s also an enjoyable novelty while it lasts.
Video games and humour often go together about as well as chalk and cheese, but Reality Fighters is a legitimate laugh out loud experience. At the heart of the brawler is a robust character creation suite that’s rich enough to realise your teenage dreams. Admit it, the thought of becoming a break dancing cyborg equipped with a rubber chicken kept you up at night during your formative years. Well now you can.
Using either the PlayStation Vita’s front or rear cameras, Reality Fighters is able to (rather convincingly) super-impose your mug shot onto a customisable polygonal character. From our extensive tests, the results are nothing short of staggering, with the game doing an impressive job of detecting your facial features and building them into the character design. There’s no need to spend time fiddling with knobs or sliders; it detects everything it needs from a single photograph. We’re not sure what kind of witchcraft Novarama employed to make it work, but we’d love to see the feature return in as many games as possible.
Once you’ve taken a snap, you can kit your newly created double in as much (or as little) clobber as you like. Outfits lean in the more whimsical direction, with accessories such as bunny ears and eye patches being the typical type of goods on offer. As you play the game you’ll earn stars, which act as the game’s main currency system for unlocking further costumes and goods. Some outfits are locked to the PlayStation Vita’s Near application, so you’ll need to make frequent use of the location-based social network service in order to pick up hidden goods when you’re out and about.
The most important part of the character creation suite comes down to your fighting style. There are 15 types in Reality Fighters – each demonstrated by a unique personality encountered within the main single player campaign. While you’ll only have access to a few of the fighting styles at the start of the game, earning stars will allow you to gradually unlock the rest.
The fighting styles are influenced by a wide range of quirky activities. There are expected types such as boxing, kung-fu and wrestling, but the game is at its best when it gets really wacky. For example, the disco diva type sees you jive-talking your way to victory, while the ballerina has access to moves such as the nutcracker — we don’t think we even need to explain what that means. You can apply any of these styles to your custom character, and it will influence the type of moves you can perform.
As in any other fighting game, using the face buttons allows you to perform a range of kicks and punches, while combining them with (forgiving) quarter-circle and half-circle motions executes a range of specials. The moves are uniquely tied to the character you’re playing as; for example, the zombie type can perform a lot of shuffling and bite attacks, while the superhero can teleport and fly. There’s no greater combo system or juggling mechanics; Reality Fighters is very much a 'for dummies' approach to beat ‘em ups, but it’s not afraid to admit it.
As a result the brawling can feel distinctly unambitious at times, but considering the learning curve of alternative fighting games, it’s refreshing to play something a little simpler. The game’s unlikely to win over veterans of the genre by any stretch, but casual combatants should find enough variety to keep them engaged.
While most fighting titles make do with a selection of animated backdrops, Reality Fighters uses augmented reality. This means that you can pit your custom crop of quirky characters against each other anywhere, although you will need some light to ensure the technology works effectively. Using one of PlayStation Vita’s bundled AR cards, you can layer participants on your desk, bed or even toilet seat. As the tracking card provides a reference point for Vita, you can move freely around the action without breaking the action. Zooming in on characters, facing them from the side, or even looking down on the action is one of Reality Fighters’ chief novelties, and while the illusion loses its sheen after a couple of hours, it’s still one of the game’s greatest assets.
The augmented reality is at its most impressive when the characters perform their specials. Like Street Fighter – and most other fighting games – successfully landing a strike on your opponent will help to fill a charge meter. Once this meter turns orange, you can perform a super move or finisher. These often change the surface you’re playing upon, with the zombie character tossing foes into a crypt that convincingly rises out of the ground, or the boxer pummelling enemies into the corner of a super-imposed boxing ring. These moments never really lose their appeal, purely because they are so technically impressive. Novarama’s still the king of good augmented reality, and it shows in Reality Fighters.
Of course, you don’t have to play the game with a marker card if you don’t want to. The developer’s also included a series of real world locations for you to fight upon, with high-resolution photography bringing the scenery to life. While it’s not possible to fully explore the action in this mode, you can still pan the camera using the PlayStation Vita’s surprisingly accurate gyro sensor. In fact this quickly becomes a key part of the gameplay, as you’ll need to manually move the system in order to keep track of the characters. This can lead to some fairly uncomfortable playing positions, but the mechanic is effective overall.
The biggest problem with Reality Fighters is that there’s just not enough to do. The single player campaign is agonisingly short, with Mr Miyagi anchoring a sequence of fights that are over far too quickly. The dialogue’s great if you’ve got a silly sense of humour, but there’s very little reason to revisit it — and Reality Fighters doesn’t have a whole lot else to hold your attention.
There’s a survival mode, a handful of time trial missions and a training mode, but that’s about it. Unless you’ve got a stream of friends and family to wow with the game’s augmented reality features, you’re going to be done with the title very quickly. A half-hearted multiplayer mode is on offer to round out proceedings, but with the functionality kept to a minimum, it’s unlikely to impress even the game’s staunchest of admirers.
That leaves Reality Fighters feeling disappointingly thin. It’s a shame, because it’s not hard to see how the developer could have enhanced the game's longevity; a Mortal Kombat-esque challenge tower, or a more developed multiplayer feature set, could have given the title the legs to last beyond its initial novelty, but there’s nothing of that calibre on offer.
Reality Fighters is the very definition of a launch title: a new concept borne out of a boardroom's desire to showcase PS Vita's potential. While the game’s underlying technology is impressive, there’s just not enough content to keep you coming back. If you’re a casual fan of fighters and you’re looking for something silly to show off your PS Vita then Reality Fighters is a fun fleeting distraction, but don’t expect anything deeper from the title.