Tournament of Legends Preview: Two-Fisted CombatS

You've seen the ancient gods fight in video games before. You may have seen them use giant hammers. But have you seen a fighting game on Wii that allows for two-handed combat, shot from an unusual camera angle?

Tournament of Legends is the next Wii game from High Voltage Software, makers of last year's Wii first-person shooter The Conduit. Two developers from High Voltage were in New York City earlier this week to show the press how their game plays and how it differs from both its earlier incarnation and the many other fighting games out there. The developers mentioned enough ideas that a reporter might need to stand there stoically, taking it all in — before using a minotaur's giant hammers to pound the developer's gladiator to defeat.

The game's set-up involves the departure of the god Jupiter from the world and the scrum that erupts among other mythological beings left behind. Players can enter the fray by fighting as a minotaur, a Medusa-type character, a gladiator or others. The game is colorful and fantastical, a far cry from the bloody grit of its previously-shown incarnation, when it was called Gladiator A.D.

You play the game with two hands, Nunchuk in the left and Wii Remote in the right. A shake of the left hand triggers a character's left-hand strike. Vertical and horizontal swings of the Remote result in different right-arm attacks. Combat involves weapons, armor and magic. The weapons are held in either or both hands. In my case, that meant my minotaur held a hammer in each, and the swing of my left hand or right hand was essentially the swing of one hammer or the other. The armor is comprised of a helmet, a chest piece and protection on each arm. All of it can be damaged or broken off. Magic enchantments are chosen before a fight — I chose to be able to make my hammers slow the enemy down on contact. They're triggered with a button press and cost some of the player's magic energy that is accrued during battle. Characters also have specific special moves. My minotaur could cause a tree to spike out of the ground beneath the enemy. The gladiator I was fighting could send a lion (or was it a tiger?) after me.

Combat is divided into timed rounds. Between rounds, players can shake the Wii controls and twirl the analog stick on the Nunchuk to repair their armor.

Tournament of Legends Preview: Two-Fisted CombatS

The two-handed fighting feels unusual but satisfying, liberating one's hands from being bolted to a single controller and offering more of the feel one gets from swinging freely while playing Wii Sports boxing. But while playing Wii Sports boxing can become a mess of perpetual motion, the variety of actions at your disposal in Tournament of Legends calms the elbows and lets you flick more strategically.

One of the unusual things about the game is the camera angle. The developers have taken the traditional sideways view of a one-on-one 3D fighting game and shifted it to the side by 30 or 45 degrees. That puts more of the back of one character to the screen, bringing them to the foreground, while pushing the other character to the distance, more chest-facing. The High Voltage guys said they did this to help the players better associate the characters' left and right arms with their own.

The game's unusual camera angle would seem to make a fair player vs. player fight unfair. It could imbalance the combat and favor the player whose character gets to stand more in the foreground, back more to the camera, arms on the real left and right. The High Voltage solution is a sudden shift in camera angles. If the background player lands a special power strike, the camera shifts and puts the background character toward the front and the foreground character toward the back. A colored ring emanating from the feet of each character helps the players determine how far away the two characters are standing. As soon as the rings overlap, you're in striking distance.

The High Voltage developers were proud of their weapons system, which they say owes some inspiration to PlayStation fighting series Bushido Blade. I hadn't played that series, but understand that Tournament of Legends will allow players to not just choose their weapons before battle but obtain weapons from their vanquished enemies. Characters are offered in three size classes. Defeating an enemy in the same class gets you their weapon. Defeating any enemy get you their weapon enchantment, one of which can be brought into battle.

The game begins with six characters unlocked. Two are made available later. The single-player campaign, High Voltage's developers told me, involves a fight through the ranks: bookending character-specific cutscenes, a fight against all the other characters, a fight against against your doppelganger and a boss battle. That's an altogether simpler affair than the quest-based campaign mixed with morality system that High Voltage promised for the Gladiator version of the game when Kotaku checked it out in June.

Tournament of Legends appears to be designed, like many fighting games, mainly to be enjoyed as a multiplayer experience. It is strictly offline, the better to support the accuracy of controls and the shared experience they developers told me they want to provide. The game will not support MotionPlus despite earlier reports that it would. The High Voltage guys told me that's because it didn't make sense to offer more precise motion control for the right hand, while leaving the player's left hand with the default motion sensitivity of the Nunchuk.

There won't be any Conduit reference in this new High Voltage game, but the developers are bringing over some of that title's talking points. If you don't like the breakdown of the game's controls reported in this post, High Voltage will allow you to change them, mapping other buttons or motions as you see fit. The game also will push the graphical capabilities of the Wii, improving, the studio says, on what it accomplished with The Conduit.

Tournament of Legends is set for release in May.