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Soulcalibur 6’s biggest innovation is a slow motion game of rock-paper-scissors

How to teach new players complicated ideas with style

Bandai Namco

Fighting games rely on their speed for much of their excitement. The snap of a kick, the defender swaying to dodge and the counter-punch are commands issued at the speed of button presses and acted out onscreen in a fraction of a second.

But that speed can also overwhelm new players, making them panic and mash buttons. Strategy goes out the window when someone can’t visually process the fight as it’s happening. This is a problem that Soulcalibur 6 tackles with a particularly cool new addition to the series.

Helping players see what’s happening

One of Soulcalibur 6’s cleverest tricks is to offer a move that slows the action to a crawl for two purposes; to display the beauty of the game’s animations and to show beginners the fundamentals of combat.

The new move in Soulcalibur 6 is called the Reversal Edge. It allows players to absorb enemy attacks and then strike back, and it’s as easy as tapping a shoulder button. Think of it like a panic button to get the opponent off your back; you even have a good chance of doing it by accident if your hand seizes up in panic.

Both players will known exactly what happened if it’s triggered, however, and there’s plenty of time to react once a Reversal Edge has begun. Time slows to a crawl and the fighters go to a ready stance. Players must then decide between the main three attack buttons in what is effectively a rock-paper-scissors duel.

The wide horizontal attack slices opponents who try to dodge to the side. The fast and powerful vertical attack cuts down the horizontal attack before it can reach its mark, and the dodging kick slips safely around the vertical attack and strikes. The winner of this exchange does some damage — and perhaps opens their opponent up for a combo — before the fight resumes as normal.

The second “tiebreaker” round of Reversal Edge.

Ties are settled by raising the possible damage stakes and repeating the duel. This is when the “I think you think I’m going to…” head games shift into high gear. The game gives the attacker the win if the player’s tie again, rewarding aggression.

A manual dodge (double-tap up or down) followed by a kick — an everyday move in Soulcalibur and equivalent to pressing kick during Reversal Edge

The cleverness of Reversal Edge is that it serves multiple purposes, and handles them all well. It looks cool, with swirling blue and red flames. It also adds some texture to the defense by adding an easier, but riskier, alternative to the more demanding Guard Impact.

Reversal Edge is not an over-simplification of a standard fighting game move, nor is it empty window dressing. In fact, it mirrors the relationship between most of the other moves in the game. It teaches you how to spot relationships between attacks and movement, even before you think you’re ready for such a complicated topic.

Very confident players can choose to dodge in Reversal Edge, leaving the opponent completely open.

Ducking underneath a high barrage with a low dash and countering. Most characters have similar “low profile” moves that pass under high slashes.

Reversal Edge teaches by showing, even before players dig deep enough to reach the game’s abundant tutorials. It’s very helpful to actually see a fighter duck underneath a high slash or slip to the side of a vertical slice, especially when it happens at slow speed, in great detail and consistent with simple rules.

Recognizing a Reversal Edge on sight and immediately moving to the side for a counterattack.

Reversal Edge is a high-risk, high-reward choice available to everyone. The move is slow and easy to see coming, so seasoned players with sharper eyes have plenty of ways to deal with it and punish its overuse. To effectively mix Reversal Edge into one’s play at a high level is, in fact, a challenge. But having this kind of tool available to beginning and mid-level players, even if they outgrow it as they learn, is still a win.

It’s really hard for games as old as the Soulcalibur, Tekken, and Street Fighter series to make play more accessible without stripping away the elements that give the games their appeal in the first place. Is it Street Fighter with fewer than six buttons? Is it Tekken without shuffles and side-steps? This challenge can make it seem like the only way to evolve these series is to add to them, which can increase the complexity and make each game harder for newer players to learn.

Reversal Edge is such a smart mechanic because it manages to walk that tightrope, adding an option that focuses intensely on elements that often overlooked by starting players but are essential on their journey to learn the game. It does this in a way that makes the game more inviting, not less.

Soulcalibur 6 takes an element that takes some skill, but feels amazing — crossing swords in the heat of battle — and gives a little bit of that feeling to every player in a way that prepares them for more advanced ideas. That’s worth celebrating.

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