Soul Calibur IV hits the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 with gorgeous new graphics, more detailed create-a-character options, and the same sword-clashing fights featured in the past four games.

Speaking as a moderate fan of the series, I was hoping that Soul Calibur IV would reignite my passion for this well-respected fighter. What I got was more of the same, only prettier and more polished. Soul Calibur IV is undeniably the best version of an already great fighter, but outside of the Star Wars guest characters, there's little here that will surprise and delight newcomers or veterans.

Souls and swords

In this fighting game, two players clash with exotic medieval weapons. You can win by slashing your opponent to ribbons, or by knocking him out of the ring. The chief difference between Soul Calibur IV and fighters like Tekken 5 is the presence of a Guard button, which you must hold in order to fend off enemy attacks. By tapping away or forward while guarding, you can deflect your enemy's weapon and open them up for a rapid counterattack. During these moments, Soul Calibur IV is at its best: the matches are fast, fierce, and very enjoyable.

Outside of the core fighting experience, though, Soul Calibur IV brings little new to the table. Single-player types can play the new Tower of Lost Souls mode, which is a welcome way to extend the life of the single-player game. In this mode, you fight a series of increasingly difficult opponents as you climb the tower, unlocking gold (spent on character customisations) and new items as you progress.

Character creation is another high point: you can imbue your fighters with magical garments, or create a completely original character using color selection tools and a huge number of outfit options. Online, I encountered a player who had customized his fighter to look like The Joker from The Dark Knight. And YouTube videos are already demonstrating fan-made Supermen, Solid Snakes, and Links.

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