I’ve been championing EXCEED for a while as the best card-driven implementation of the two-dimensional fighting game. It’s fast, it’s punchy, and it prizes smarts over speed — which means I can play it at all, since I have the reflexes of a loris. Unfortunately, the roster for EXCEED’s first two seasons was as unknowable as it was unique, borrowing or inventing characters with plenty of pizzazz but no recognizability. What’s the difference between Nehtali and Kikurage? Here’s a hint: one is a character from EXCEED and the other is a mushroom that’s delicious in ramen.
But let’s try this again: what’s the difference between Ryu and M. Bison? Or Chun-Li and Zangief? None of them are mushrooms, I’ll tell you that. Even someone like me, who as a child was kept far away from arcade cabinets for fear of demonic contamination, can tell you with some degree of accuracy what everyone from Street Fighter is capable of. That’s the value of a solid license, draping a familiar framework around something new. A context. A reason to care.
That license is also why this is the best time to give EXCEED a shot, because this fighting system has never been stronger.
BattleCON is one of my favorite game systems. Ever. If I were to compile a Top Ten list — which I haven’t and probably won’t, so don’t ask — then Devastation of Indines would almost undoubtedly be right near the top. It’s incredible.
Perhaps for that reason, Exceed almost goes out of its way to look like a pretender to the throne. Or is that an usurper of the throne? Either way, D. Brad Talton Jr.’s other fighting-game simulator seems intended to sit quietly alongside its predecessor despite looking so similar that the cards might have been swapped at birth. Exceed bills itself as a lighter alternative to the cerebral brain-crunching and jaw-busting fun of BattleCON, right down to the fact that it ships in smaller, more affordable boxes. Whether it’s better, on the other hand, is the tougher call. So tough that I’ve had my hands on a review copy for about nine months and haven’t yet come out and said it.
Well, I’m saying it now: Exceed is better than BattleCON. And yet it isn’t something I feel I can wholeheartedly recommend. How’s that for a quandary?