Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4

While fighting game players wait patiently for Guilty Gear Xrd -Rev 2- to drop, Arc System Works was nice enough to give us this little budget title to hold us over. Chaos Code  -New Sign of Catastrophe- is a sequel to the original Chaos Code, which was released back in 2013.

Made by independent Taiwanese developer FK Digital, Chaos Code was praised for its interesting character design, but eventually tossed aside due to its depressing lack of content. Its original release didn’t even include an online mode, which was unforgivable in 2013. This new release, however, has gotten a bit of help from ASW’s core team, and it shows. The amount of content has ballooned considerably, and the features that were missing the first time around have not only been included, but have been expanded and refined in excess of the fighting game norm. They’ve all come together to make this iteration of Chaos Code far more worth your time, especially if you missed the original.

Customize the Chaos

Chaos Code is an interesting fusion between The King of Fighters and anime-inspired air-dash fighters. Like the KOF series, Chaos Code operates on a four button system: weak punch, weak kick, strong punch, and strong kick. However, these attacks all chain into each other, and then into command normals, specials, and supers, like most anime fighters.  Characters can use EX moves by spending half a meter, super moves by spending one stock of meter, and special DESTRUCTION CHAOS moves by spending full three stocks of meter.

There are lots of nifty extra mechanics to play around with in the Chaos Code system. Characters can jump, high jump, double jump, air-dash, and instant air dash. They have access to a KOF-style roll and an anime-style ground tech. If your opponent is blocking, you can either throw them or spend a meter to execute an attack with guard crush properties. If you are blocking, you can spend half a meter to use a third strike style parry, which you can follow up with an attack of your choosing. Finally, you have access to a “rapid cancel” sort of move that can be used for free but only during a super, and an “exceed chaos” mode that allows you to have infinite access to meter for a limited period of time but locks out your meter afterward.

The rest of the mechanics are, surprisingly, up to you! When you choose a character, you get to customize them by choosing two extra special or super moves, and whether or not your character runs or dashes. Running is fast and opens up combo opportunities, while dashing is slightly invincible, making it the more defensive option.

This customization process is Chaos Code’s biggest draw. Personalizing your character makes every matchup feel unique. It also opens up the roster to several different playstyles. Let’s say you are a fan of grappler-type characters. Well, now you aren’t restricted to only one or two characters in the roster, because the vast majority of the cast has an optional command grab that you can choose. Similarly, rush down characters might be interested in choosing zoning tools like projectiles to cover their approach. This system also makes the counter-pick meta very interesting as you no longer have to choose a different character to counter your opponent, just a different set of moves.

One thing that holds the otherwise enjoyable Chaos Code system mechanics back is the oddly strict buffer. Controls feel very stiff, far more so than any other fighting game currently on the market. Inputs have to be spot on to get read, unlike most other games that let you over or undershoot your quarter circles a bit. In addition, there is no shortage of crazy KOF-style motions in this game, forcing you to do finger gymnastics just to get out supers. It’s really over-complicated for an otherwise simple four button fighter. The combination of stiff controls and strict motion inputs creates a significant barrier of entry for new players, which is a shame since they are probably the top market that is looking for budget fighting games like this one.

Chaos Code -No Sign of Tutorial-

-New Sign of Catastrophe- has a much bigger suite of game modes than the original Chaos Code. You’ll see the standard Arcade, VS., Practice, and Online modes here, along with Survival, Score Attack, and Mission modes. Mission mode is easily the most unique, putting you into special scenarios that you need to solve like a puzzle. For example, certain enemies won’t be damaged by kicks, and some can only be damaged by combos past a certain length. It’s a fun way to pass the time if you can’t find anyone to fight with.

Notably absent, however, is any sort of tutorial mode. There is a quick How to Play demonstration, but it doesn’t do a very good job of teaching you the game’s intricacies. Most fighting games have in-depth tutorials these days and omitting one altogether feels sloppy, especially since so many other problems in the original Chaos Code were fixed in this sequel.

The final mode is a Character Customization mode that lets you design your own personalized color palettes for your characters. Frankly, every fighting game that uses sprite art should include this function. It’s something so few fighting games do and it brings so much joy to so many players. Yes, it has no effect on gameplay, but it does allow me to play as the Incredible Hulk in a chef’s hat, and that is priceless.

And it’s the character design, both custom and built-in, that is the biggest draw of Chaos Code. The characters here are interesting at worst and hilarious at best. Aside from the aforementioned chef who has a variety of throws featuring human-sized woks and bun steamers, there is an Evangelion-themed ninja, a magical girl based on Cthulhu, a cyborg maid, a brawler who looks like a sort of low-rent Japanese Owen Wilson, a shirtless man who summons zombies, and no end whatsoever to the amount of blatant cheesecakey fanservice. Frankly, the cast is one of the most creative that any fighting game roster has featured in recent days, and it really sets Chaos Code apart from the rest of the crowd.

Overall, Chaos Code is a fun game. It won’t be seeing play at Evo or any other major tournament anytime soon, and it certainly won’t be the best fighting game to come out this year. But it’s going to be a while before Injustice 2 and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite come out, and Chaos Code is a perfect game to hold you over until then. At a budget price of just 20 dollars it makes for a fine impulse buy, especially if you catch it on sale or if you missed the first one.