Review #1 by John T. Carr III
As a maker of Fighting Games, Atlus Corp. reminds me of a saying a history teacher of mine had: "Pioneers get the arrows. Settlers get the land." Consider: Power Instinct, better known as Gokutetsuji Ichizoku in Japan, which to my knowledge had a limited run in the States and on the Super NES, is not only one of the more venerated beat-‘em-ups in Japan (the fourth and most recent version, Groove On Fight, can still be found in some game centers, I’m told), but introduced, in no particular order, the concepts of transforming characters, tag-team play, the survival mode, trash-talk tailored to the actual characters fighting, character height affecting attacks, etc. Most Americans remember it only as a gag fighter, its innovations attributed more to King of Fighters, Tekken, and later Street Fighter incarnations. I mention this in regards to Heaven’s Gate, another Atlus arcade fighter port to the Playstation (the first being the moderately successful Power Instinct 2), because while it is a decent enough game in and of itself, it pales (albeit slightly) when compared to its peers. And I consider its peers to be those machines that were out at the same time of its arcade release: Street fighter EX, Toshinden 2, Psychic Force, Tekken 2, and slightly later, Fighter’s Impact.
Graphics: What you would expect of a 30-fps game at that time: a tad blocky, with some Gouraud shading and polygon smoothing for the female characters mostly. The backgrounds range from the uninspired to the intriguing (the underwater elevator is my favorite). But the polys move smoothly for all that.
Music: again, not bad, but nothing to write home about. You can play the disc on your CD player and hear all the tracks, though, and to me that’s a plus.
Gameplay: Not unlike Toshinden 3 in that you have enclosed spaces and a ceiling (the outside wall you can turn off at the option screen, allowing for ring-outs). The controls are responsive enough, although some of the specials are hard to pull off and dodging is a bit, well, dodgy to execute. That fact that, given which side (Heaven or Hell) your character is on, you’ll face a different boss (Geezer or Unknown), along with victories unlocking both secret characters (Power Instinct’s Kurara being one) and attacks gives the game some replay value. The AI in single-player and Tough-Guy mode can be incredibly cheap at times, but not excessively so.
All-in-all I’d call Heaven’s Gate a solid fighter, not a great one. Fighting freaks and casual fighters will pick it up and enjoy it, and there are enough Easter Eggs to hunt for to give it some decent replay value. Those who are satisfied with nothing less than Tekken 2 will be disappointed, but then again, I don’t think making a Tekken 2 clone was Atlus’ intention. They went for a solid game with decent mechanics, leaving multiple final bosses as the one original touch. A touch duplicated by Arika when Street Fighter EX + Alpha hit the market.
Pioneers get the arrows; settlers get the land.