Even taking into account Midas Interactive's generally unpredictable approach to localising Japanese curios, Spectral Vs. Generation seems a brave (or perhaps foolhardy) venture. An unflinchingly traditional 2D beat 'em up, its modest pool of fighters is drawn from Idea Factory's Generation of Chaos and Spectral Force series' (no, me neither) of PSP strategy-RPGs. It's as obscure a mix as you could hope to find, particularly as neither series had, at the time of SvG's release, surfaced outside of Japan.
If you're a fan of one-vs-one brawling on a budget though, it's actually a fairly solid investment. It is however denied any greater notoriety due to some antiquated presentation and avoidable niggles that stem from a dated design ethos. Being an animated beat 'em up, it's no surprise that it sticks closely to Streetfighter II's blueprint, with the controls, gameplay and general, bombastic arcade veneer all recognisable. There's nothing wildly original in terms of the character selection though there's a pleasantly diverse mix of styles; most battlers will be easy enough to pick for beat 'em up fans as control-wise they operate in a similar fashion, but each offers a different weapon and fighting style.
The ten in question are a fun bunch of oddities that include martial artist Ryuken (as if the Streetfighter connection wasn't bashing you in the face already); self-hating, ice-slinging demon Mayura; so-called Aristocrat of Darkness Jado (presumably because somebody in the biz already trademarked "Prince") and the not-at-all pretentiously named Holy God Earth. In lovably brief, "Engrish" fashion, we're encouraged to form our own opinions based on their "likes" which include alcohol, macaroni and "faces filled with despair", and the things that repel them including such detestable concepts as marriage, heroism and boredom.
...And so once you've undergone the character select screen's unique brand of lobotomy, you can get down to the uncomplicated matter of pummelling another weirdo unconscious. For better and for worse, it evokes comparisons with the original Guilty Gear; dated, bare-about-the-bones, but plays very well at its core. Gameplay is smooth and satisfying, with responsive controls and a healthy variety of moves per each protagonist. It's fluid, with combos and specials linking and feeling surprisingly intuitive where many such beat 'em up moves can feel very stop-start. Fortunately considering there's only ten characters, the balancing is accurately judged, except for a token gimp of a last boss who, even on the easiest skill setting, can prove trying as all of his moves are so excessively powerful.
For SvG, looking like a dedicated challenger to the late nineties beat 'em up hierarchy means its several years late for its own party, developed as it was for the PSP in 2006 and not seeing the light of day in Europe until 2008. The animation is low-end bar some of the more extravagant moves, whilst the backdrops and menu screens in particular are just very old looking. Rather worryingly, it's visuals comes off second best next to Capcom's PSP launch game DarkStalkers Chronicle, which itself was based on a series of PSOne games.
Unfortunately, it isn't just the visuals that drag Spectral Vs. Generation back into the last century, as it carries across a host of foibles seemingly long buried. For the most part its little irritations, such as the lack of an auto-load or auto-save function, and the game annoyingly asking you to name a save file from scratch every time you want to record your high-scores. Not that there's much data to keep mind you; each character has their own brief ending, but otherwise there are no unlockables of any kind. A run of 17 victories in Survival mode was greeted by nothing other than a Game Over screen - not even a high-score board. The developers weren't exactly going great guns to ensure long-term appeal.
Multiplayer with another PSP owner is fine and a pretty good means of passing the time provided you can find someone willing to play against you. The lack of modern beat 'em up traits such as branching stories, mission modes or even safer fare like a Team Battle, mean that beyond a few cracks at the Arcade mode, it's difficult to see what was intended to sustain the product beyond the first couple of days.
Spectral Vs. Generation was always going to have it tough and to be blunt, BlazBlue; DarkStalkers Chronicle; Guilty Gear XX and Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max all come before it in a run of animated beat 'em ups that are so very well catered for on the PSP. Despite this bleak assessment, the game is certainly not without merit, with a smart roster of characters and enjoyable, competitive gameplay. But beyond a solid foundation, it offers only a bare minimum of content, and inevitably gamers spoilt by more fleshed-out ventures will be perplexed by the lack of endeavour. Worth a look though.