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Growl

Don’t be fooled by the key art depicting the game’s protagonist as some sort of Indiana Jones inspired bad ass. You won’t be raiding tombs and seeking treasure but instead taking out poachers and freeing captured animals. Basically the human equivalent of Sonic the Hedgehog. Lest you get hippy notions of peace and happiness and frolicking with animals the game is actually pretty brutal and gory and takes a very, uh, “strange” turn towards the end that No One will see coming. Gameplay wise this is a classic beat em up in the Final Fight mold although not as nuanced as that game; think of it like Bayou Billy if it didn’t suck. Growl was not a standout game in the arcade but was well designed and fun while it lasted. Taito’s Genesis port tries to capture what made the game so good but comes out flawed in the process.

There are four characters all with varying stats but let’s be honest, they don’t matter. It all comes down whether you want the cool looking dude with the pink shirt and sunglasses or the very obvious Indy rip off. Gameplay is pretty simple as the game only makes use of a simple three button setup, punch, jump, and special attack. There are a variety of attacks you can perform however there is no set button combinations to pull them off which is pretty frustrating. That is also leads into one of the game’s biggest flaws.

The largest flaw with this version of Growl is the slowed attack speed. Normally in most brawlers once you start your attack combination enemies cannot counterattack. Here though there is a delay between punches which leaves an opening to get smacked in the face. This makes regular attacks useless. It almost seems as though the game were designed with this in mind as there are always weapons present, to the point where you will rarely ever be without one. This isn’t like traditional brawlers where they disappear if you drop them too much; so long as you pick them up within 7 or 8 seconds you can keep the same weapon indefinitely.   The whip in particular is almost game breaking as it hits enemies both in front and behind simultaneously.

This is a far cry from the typical game in the genre as it isn’t afraid to fill the screen with as many as 12 bad guys at once. Granted they’ll go down after a few hits but it isn’t a sight you see too often. There are plenty of weapons to bludgeon the bastards with and you’ll be surprised to see how gory it gets as rocket launchers and bombs blow them up into chunks. As cool as it is thought Growl also blows its load far too soon. By the end of the first level you will have seen nearly all of the enemies you will face throughout the length of the game which gets repetitive fast. The large numbers distract from this a bit but rarely does the game vary up the combinations they appear in. Some of the arcade’s better set pieces have also been cut from the game which cuts down on the variety as well.

Despite the numerous enemies that attack all at once you’ll be surprised to find how easy the game is overall. Your life bar is comprised of four bars but you can take a large amount of punishment before it ever dips. Life restoring food isn’t common but it almost seems unnecessary since you’ll have to actively go out of your way to die. Although you only get one life per credit it’s entirely possible most will complete the game with the default 3 but you can increase it to 7 in the options menu which is overkill. With that in mind you’ll blow through the game in about twenty minutes and never feel the need to ever play it again.

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For its Sega debut Growl’s graphics were completely redrawn and unfortunately it is ugly in comparison. The sprites are about half the size of the arcade and completely lacking in detail. The beautiful backdrops fared even worse. You’ll visit many of the same locations however they are barely recognizable to their arcade big brother. About the only real noteworthy feature I can mention is that this version manages to retain the same amount of enemies on screen with no slowdown but considering how many nondescript the sprites are it would be shameful if they couldn’t manage that much at least. The music is completely unmemorable and nearly all of the voice clips have been removed as well. Honestly I shouldn’t be so surprised that this port turned out so bad; it was early enough in the system’s life that developers were not aware how hard they could push the system but it is still disappointing in the end.

With its lacking gameplay, repetitive enemies, and lack of multiplayer (a staple of the genre) there is no reason to bother with Growl considering there are far better brawlers available for the system. It’s a damn shame this port turned out so bad as it could have added some needed variety to the genre. Oh well.

6-out-of-10-1

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DJ Boy

What the hell happened here? How could Kaneko mess up a simple port of DJ boy so badly? Let’s be clear, I’m not holding up DJ boy as some paragon of the genre. It was simply an enjoyable brawler with a unique aesthetic and well within the Genesis’ capabilities. This sad home port loses most of the arcade games charm and is simply a bad game.

Donald J. Boy is well known in the streets and when he hears about the Rollergames, a street fighting/racing competition he decides to sign up. However the Dark Knight gang say uh uh and kidnap DJ boy’s girlfriend Maria. It’s the typical save the princess shlock we are accustomed to and a far cry from the coin op.

That plot is wildly different from the arcade and if you can believe it only slightly less dumb. In it Michael Jackson and DJ Boy are break dancing to Beat It when a couple of Prince fans steal their boom box. Apparently they were angry that everyone thinks Thriller is better than Purple Rain and said enough is enough. The chase then ensues.

Alright I made some of that up but the difference in “plot” is only one of the changes made to the game. I call this a port in the loosest sense of the word. The Genesis version of DJ Boy is more inspired by its coin op big brother and that wouldn’t be a problem if the game were actually good. But between the terrible level design and flat gameplay I wonder why they bothered. This should have turned out so much better.

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Mechanically this is a pretty simple brawler. Your offense is limited to simple punches and kicks with a jump kick and really weird double punch making up your roster of moves. Punches are drastically inferior to kicks due to limited reach. If you build up some speed and kick few enemies will ever be able to counterattack. It’s simple but what makes this so interesting is that it all takes place on roller skates. Skating around and building up momentum could have been an interesting mechanic but the limited move set means you’ll simply button mash all day. It also doesn’t help that the hit detection is suspect, rearing its head most often during boss battles. Where the standard enemies are brain dead idiots the bosses require a bit more finesse. Like your typical beat em up they have a life bar that dwarfs yours and can kill you in a few hits. Each will require a specific form of attack to take down making these probably the only engaging parts of the game.

New to this version is the shop in between levels where you can spend the coins dropped by defeated enemies. The store offers a variety of power-ups to spend your coins but outside of replenishing health and buying an extra life they are mostly useless. Supposedly you can increase the power of your attacks but I did not notice a significant difference.   Increasing your skating speed sounds useful but lining up attacks is already unwieldy due to momentum and the viewpoint. The game would have been better off if these items dropped during the levels instead of wasting your time.

There have been some changes to the game, mostly to tone down some of its more offensive elements. The first boss, Big Mama, was an offensive black stereotype nanny who farted constantly for no reason. Here her skin color has been lightened and she throws pies instead. The fire breathing homeless man (!) who undressed to reveal his Chippendale body is now fully exposed from the start. Some of the more….outlandish enemies that resembled flamboyant Village People have also been removed. But the largest and unfortunate change comes in the level design. While thematically similar they differ drastically and not for the better in my opinion. Stage 2’s Subway featured a large variety of enemies to battle but here has been reduced to a high speed run through the underground with an ill-advised segment that limits your view to a spotlight. The construction site of stage 4 is similar with none of the cool background interaction. There are good ideas in here buried under bad execution unfortunately.

If for some god forsaken reason you actually want to see this to its conclusion you’ll have your work cut for you. In the beginning when your life bar is do short it is pretty rough. As you progress however it gradually expands so that you can survive longer. But getting to that point is a hassle. The game is stingy with the burgers that refill health and the kids that drop them are easily missed. Worse than that however is the fact that there are no continues and you only have one life. It’s beyond stupid and will make you question if they wanted anyone to even play the game.

If you are brave (or stupid) enough to persevere and finish the game you will be treated to an overly dramatic and badly translated ending that is the perfect conclusion to a terrible game. I liked DJ Boy in the arcade and to see the game butchered so badly is just sad. This is among the worst Sega Genesis games I’ve ever played.

4-out-of-101

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Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems

I joined the 32-bit generation a little bit late and so had to make due with my Super Nintendo and Genesis until 1997. While I certainly had nothing to complain about as the later years for both consoles produced some true classics it did start to sting as the more advanced arcade games were no longer receiving 16-bit ports. Marvel Super Heroes was one of the last big arcade games I had the chance to play for a few years as arcades in my area around the country started disappearing. When I heard about Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems I thought it was a retitled port and Capcom was doing Nintendo a solid one last time. I certainly did not expect…this. I’m sure they meant well but War of the Games is not a worthwhile substitute for the awesome arcade game and inferior to the game it copies in every way.

The 6 Infinity Gems have fallen to Earth with Adam Warlock recruiting Earth’s heroes to find them before a nefarious entity combines them to rule the Universe. Supposedly the game is using the same story as the arcade game but in actuality it is an adaptation of the Infinity War storyline from 1992. In it Adam Warlock’s evil aspect the Magus unleashes an army of evil doppelgangers of Earth’s heroes to exact revenge on his better half and Thanos. It was a long convoluted mess that tried to recreate the magic of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline a year prior. At the very least the premise could have made for an interesting title if the designers were at all interested in putting more than the bare minimum effort to ship the game and is instead a question of what could have been.

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Make no mistake structurally this is essentially a re-skin of X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse. Your five playable characters this time are Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America. For those familiar with the arcade game each character plays very similarly in terms of their move set with easy to input commands. You select from five missions from a world map except this time around you have free reign to use any given hero on a particular stage rather than a stage tailored to their strengths and weaknesses. It really frees the game as there are definite favorites for each hot spot but the fun is in mixing and matching.

The Infinity Gems become usable items once you find them and each will grant a bonus that can seriously alter a character’s playing style. The bonuses range from the mundane such as a longer life bar and detecting invisible items and walls to the damn near mandatory such as a movement speed boost and double the attack power. Some gems seem like they were tailored toward a specific hero; the Incredible Hulk is painfully slow but with the Time Gem is twice as fast and can bulldoze nearly anything. Equipping Iron Man with the Space Gem and he can essentially fly. Regardless of how much you can narrow the system down like this it is still fun to play around with different combinations.

The Gem system adds some excitement to an otherwise boring action brawler. Despite sporting a robust set of powers and techniques there is precious little to use them on. Where Mutant Apocalypse had an equal mix of action and platforming the latter is the primary focus here. That wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t so basic. What little combat you’ll see is marred by repetitive enemies and brain dead AI. Get used to fighting Puck, Hawkeye, and the Vision as the game seems to push them out the most. The lacking enemy variety is made even worse by the fact that the story in the comic gave an excuse to have nearly the entire Marvel Universe show up in some form but Capcom cheaped out. Sucks too as the sprite work is generally well done.

The incredibly large sprites do come at the cost of interesting level design. For the most part each level is a straight line to the exit with only the occasional deviation to find a “hidden” item or such. The rare attempts at being creative such as long underwater segments are instead incredibly obnoxious due to your molasses like movement while submerged. Beyond the straightforward design is also the fact that the levels are also incredibly short. It’s pretty shocking that some locations such as the Asteroid Belt and the Amazon can be completed in seconds. That is mostly due to the fact that most levels are sparsely populated leaving your roster of attacks underserved. It gives off the impression that this was a project created as quickly and cheaply as possible as it bears none of the kinds of polish and depth you would expect from Capcom.

War of the Gems is not a bad game but I do wonder why it was created. By late 1996 16-bit was definitely on its last legs leaving the game with an incredibly low profile. What is here is decent but a definite step back from the game it is so closely patterned after. I don’t know that I would recommend seeking it out unless you are really hard up for another SNES action game.

6-out-of-10-1

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The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers

When you think of the Lord of the Rings you think of an epic adventure. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone from assuming that the games that would accompany the three Peter Jackson movies would probably be action RPGs but kudos to Electronic Arts for defying expectations and creating some of the best beat em ups released in years. From the nuanced combat to its slavish devotion to the source material I wish more licensed games were built with this much attention to detail. It’s a bit ugly now but this will still provide hours of entertainment.

Although the game is named the Two Towers it follows the plot of the first two films, albeit in a condensed form. Most of the key points of the two movies are touched upon and serve as excellent source material for the levels. It should be noted that EA only had the license for the films (Vivendi had the book license) and as such were limited in what they could use. While I can appreciate them using clips from the movie as framing devices it does come across disjointed as a whole. But let’s be honest, you’re not here for the plot.

Aside from the brief introduction in which you control Isildur the primary heroes are Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. While it is slightly disappointing that the other members of the Fellowship aren’t playable they do fight by your side in most of the levels. And besides, the trio are so fully fleshed out ability wise that the game would have seemed bloated anyway. The differences between the characters are significant and unfortunately Aragorn is too well rounded. Legolas is best with a bow as he attacks faster and is equipped with 60 arrows to start. However he is physically weak and will die in a few well-placed hits. Gimli is physically the strongest but outside of maybe one level is too slow to warrant constant use.

To start with you are armed with a fast attack, a heavy attack to break shields, and a few defensive moves to parry attacks or shove enemies out of the way. Each character can also perform a ranged attack of varying speed and strength. Knowing which attack to use when surrounded or when dealing with heavily armored attackers is key to keeping your combo strings going as you are graded on your performance. Like Devil May Cry your combos are awarded ranks with the best being perfect, which allows one hit kills for a brief time. Chaining attacks together without being hit is the fastest route to perfect status which not only helps clear the screen but awards the most points at the end to buy upgrades. Defense is also absolutely critical as a result; while the screen is never as crowded as in Dynasty Warriors it does get pretty busy. The smaller crowds do avoid the repetition inherit in those games as well.

The Two Towers avoids the flaw of a limited move set inherit in most brawlers by offering a substantial upgrade system after each level. There are a variety of techniques to learn, some requiring pretty complex button combinations and while you can pull up the menu at any time it isn’t necessary. One technique in particular, Isildur’s Swift Terror and its upgraded counterpart are so overpowered you don’t need to bother with anything else. That’s just my opinion of course but the depth is more than welcome in allowing some leeway in terms of how you want to play the game.

Over the course of the twelve missions the difficulty has a relatively nice curve. The initial few are easy and almost impossible to fail but once you reach Fanhorn Forest there is a sharp increase. The level structure is constantly shifting as well. Most levels follow a linear path but usually have a set objective to break from the monotony of killing the same goblins and Uruk-hai over and over. Some will task you with killing a set number of enemies, or even something as short as beating a few dire wargs and their leader. Only the last few stages drag on far too long but that is a small complaint.

There are a host of extras included as incentive to go back and replay stages to earn a better ranking. There are numerous interview with members of the cast as well as production artwork, and brief movie clips. Unfortunately the interviews range in quality as it is obvious which members of the crew have actually ever played a videogame in their lives. The true meat of the extras would be an additional playable character and a 20 floor tower that that will really test just how well you have mastered the battle system. There are also character specific missions that unlock once the game is completed, making a game that is already packed with content that much more fulfilling.

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Back in 2002 this was a pretty good looking game, like Dynasty Warriors if it had an actual budget. EA were able to seamlessly blend film footage and real time cutscenes together that was pretty impressive for the time. Despite the high number of polygonal models during battle there is rarely any slowdown. The character models are pretty ugly however, less so on the GameCube than PS2 where overall image quality is cleaner. The environments are incredibly detailed; because the camera is fixed most of the time the artists were able to deliver maximum visual impact. The soundtrack is largely the same as the movie which means it is stirring and epic.

The Two Towers remains one of my favorite beat em ups after all these years and outside of two-player coop I can’t think of anything it is missing. A decently long quest and a wealth of extras will keep you occupied for hours in what is one of the better licensed titles out there.

8-out-of-101

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Dynamite Cop

It’s no exaggeration to say that by the end of the 16-bit era the beat em up genre was a bit long in the tooth. At least on console. Even with that in mind it was a bit sad to see the genre all but disappear during the 32-bit days outside of a few really bad games. The sad thing is there many great arcade titles that were really moving the genre forward that would never see a home release. Dynamite Cop like its predecessor Die Hard Arcade nails the gameplay end but completely fumbles when it comes to creating a fulfilling experience. The game is over far too quick for me to recommend it even though I like the game.

With no license attached the game’s story is now completely bug fucking nuts. Antagonist Wolf Hongo has returned along with his group of “modern day pirates” and have stolen a cruise ship along with the President’s daughter. Except somehow she manages to escape and hides in a pink suitcase right behind the bastard with no one the wiser. It is your job as a member of a three man team to infiltrate the ship and save her.

The same great “battle” system from the first game returns and has been expanded a bit. With three characters comes a little variety although the differences between the three aren’t as pronounced as you would expect. It reeks of a missed opportunity but it also means that everyone starts on equal footing. The list of moves per character is staggering for the genre and almost overwhelming. New to this game are P-power-ups that boost your strength at max level and the ability to attack in every direction which is the only item missing from the first game and. It makes combat much more fluid; I likened these games to Virtua Fighter in a side scrolling environment and the comparison is apt.

Unlike most brawlers you don’t have the freedom to move around freely through the levels so much as the game guides you along the way. These aren’t really levels but more small arenas where you can use most objects lying around and even the environment itself as a weapon. There are no shortage of weapons to use to the point where you might rarely have to rely on your fists. It gets downright silly at times: you can beat people to death using giant fish or even a toilet plunger! Wolf Hongo’s men are just as wacky. These are some of the strangest collection of “pirates” I’ve ever seen and look more like a gang of circus freaks rather than cutthroat murderers. There’s a great deal of variety among the henchmen as well and you’ll rarely fight the same thug twice. The game moves at a brisk pace as it takes you from one set piece to the next and unfortunately that helps to highlight the game’s major flaw, its length.

As much as I love the core gameplay it still cannot hide the fact that this is an arcade game at heart, meaning it is incredibly short. A single run through the game can be completed in as little as 15-20 minutes which even by genre standards is low. Choosing a different entry point into the ship leads to an alternate route through the initial stage but that simply means you are going through the same rooms overall in a slightly different order. With infinite continues anyone will can beat the game and there aren’t enough extras like Zombie Revenge to make up for it. Sega were usually pretty good about expanding their home ports so it is apparent that this was not a priority release.

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Dynamite Cop was originally created using the Model 2 arcade board which by 1999 had long been surpassed by more powerful arcade boards. As a result the game is ugly compared to other Dreamcast releases and would look more at home on the Saturn. Character models are blocky and but the animation is smooth and the few explosions look laughably bad. The game does move at a brisk 60fps but let’s be honest; considering everything else that is the least it could do. The ship’s layout and the accompanying island base are varied in their layout, you’ll just wish there were more to the game. The music is epic and stirring and wouldn’t seem out of place in a low budget film; if they had kept the Die Hard license it would have fit perfectly.

As much as I like the Dynamite Cop series they always seemed just short of greatness. Combining the extended move system with a much lengthier quest would create one of the better brawlers in the genre, which the later Spikeout embodied. This would make a worthwhile downloadable title but as a full price release in 1999 it was a hard sell.

6-out-of-10-1

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Sengoku

Sengoku was one of those Neo Geo games I always wanted to play in the arcade but because it occupied a spot in a four slot MVS unit that had Samurai Shodown it almost never happened. The one or two times I finally did get to play it I found a pretty good brawler that didn’t set the genre on fire but offered a few nice features that set it apart. I looked forward to the SNES port by Data East but it mysteriously never came out. It was probably for the best as this mostly only shares the same name and theme as SNK’s quarter muncher and is not as good.

Centuries ago two samurai defeated a tyrannical warlord but not before he vows to return in the future. In the present day that time has come and the task falls Dan and Bill, descendants of the two samurai to stop this ancient invasion. The story may be the same but in terms of content the Super Nintendo version of Sengoku only shares a loose theme. That doesn’t mean the game couldn’t be good; to be fair Sengoku wasn’t exactly a notable Neo Geo release in the first place. But the developers could certainly have done a much better job creating an “original” title using its framework.

Is a bit odd to take note of but there are some significant changes made to the gameplay to bring it more in line with beat em up standards. The majority of enemies in the coin op died in a single hit which is why they didn’t bother with life bars. It also meant you couldn’t unleash the standard punch, punch, punch combos or even take advantage of some of your other techniques. That has been changed so that the game more closely resembles Final Fight. With tougher enemies the various weapons have a greater emphasis. Unlike your typical brawler weapons aren’t lost if you are hit and last a decent amount of time. Not only are they strong but the can be upgraded to unleash various devastating projectiles. These power-ups also work in concert with your various forms.

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Sengoku’s sole defining feature are its transformations. Due to the samurai invasion our protagonists can invoke the spirits of the past. You can assume the form of a samurai with a long range sword, a spry ninja or for some god forsaken reason a wolf/dog hybrid that is useless. Seriously, why would you want to nip at an opponent’s ankles and get kicked in the face repeatedly? In the arcade these transformation could be triggered at will so long as you collected the corresponding orb but here it is immediate. The transformation lasts a brief period and is almost game breaking considering how quickly you can mop the floor with bad guys. Despite the change the orbs drop frequently enough that you’ll spend a considerable amount of each stage in a different form.

The level setup is both different and strange. After clearing a few round of enemies you will be teleported to a rift where the ancient samurai forces come from. These are long successions of enemies usually capped off with a mini boss battle before you are teleported back. This happens a few times per level and while it is different it isn’t particularly notable. That is because it is boring; regardless of setting you are still fighting the same groups of thugs in different arrangements and numbers. If unique enemies existed in these spaces it would have gone a long way toward making the game stand out.

While I won’t go so far as to say the game is easy it isn’t nearly as brutal as some titles in the genre. Although the game throws waves of 3-4 enemies at once it rarely feels overwhelming. That is mainly because power-ups are doled out regularly and you won’t spend as much time without a weapon or transformation. Despite lasting a brief moment with a weapon in hand or any form aside from the stupid dog you’ll clear the screen in seconds. Scoring is pretty generous and you’ll gain at least one extra life per level. I was almost able to clear this on one credit without putting in a real effort.

That being said however no matter how easy I found it the game is heavily repetitive, more so than is usual for the genre. Enemy variety is limited per level and so you’ll fight the same 3 types in 4 waves at a time. They try to keep things fresh by introducing at least one new opponent per level but that simply means they are cycled in to the rotation along with 2 other clowns. Combine that with your limited move set and it becomes tiresome by the third level. This isn’t the longest game in the world at six levels but with the number of enemies thrown at you in rapid succession it certainly feels like it.

While I was disappointed to find that this isn’t a direct port of the arcade game I was also willing to accept it for what it is if it were good. Between the repetition and subpar graphics however this version of Sengoku is strictly average and not worth your time when there are better games in the genre to buy.

5-out-of-101

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The Adventures of Bayou Billy

The Adventures of Bayou Billy should have been a great game. And in fact it is in its original Japanese form as Mad City. But someone decided to screw with the game’s balance for…..reasons and ruined what should have been another feather in Konami’s cap. Bayou Billy is an aggravating game not just because it is insanely difficult but because above all the frustration you can see the awesome game underneath. However it isn’t worth pursuing unless you have a cheat device on hand or just buy the Japanese version.

“Bayou” Billy Lane’s girlfriend Annabelle has been kidnapped by Godfather Gordon and now he has to brave the numerous traps put in his path to reach Gordon’s and save his girl. Let’s not dance around it, Bayou Billy is Crocodile Dundee. And for those of you too young to know who that is look it up. Whether it was done to avoid buying the official license we’ll never know but I don’t blame Konami. The character of Crocodile Dundee and the film were ripe for a video game with numerous set pieces and kind of beat em up gameplay Konami would become famous for. But the increased difficulty for the international versions of the game ruin it.

For the vast majority of the game this is a beat em up in the style of Double Dragon. Billy is armed with a punch, kick, and a jump kick and that’s about it. Small range of moves aside once you encounter your first generic enemy the problems are immediately apparent. These bastards take far too many hits to go down, have an insanely fast recovery time and will counterattack before you can move. More than likely you won’t walk away from any encounter without losing some health and unfortunately they attack in groups of two or three. Defeated enemies drop life restoring chicken regularly but trust me, it doesn’t help. If you come across a weapon hold on to it for dear life, especially the whip. It isn’t just the side scrolling sections of the game that have been touched however.

While mostly a brawler Bayou Billy spans two other genres, driving and shooting. The driving portions puts you behind the wheel of Billy’s jeep as you race to the finish before time runs out. You have less time than in the Japanese version so you have to stay at full speed to reach the exit but that isn’t realistically possible. Unfortunately the slightest touch from anything causes the car to blow up, other cars, the posts in the road and the bombs constantly dropped by fighter jets. Once again, Mad City gave you a full life bar which made it manageable. Considering you only have a few continues they’ll disappear pretty fast.

Possibly the worst of all three styles are the shooter segments. Using the NES zapper the game more or less becomes Operation Wolf as you take out enemies while the screen scrolls. The odds are stacked against you from the get go: you only have fifty bullets with ammo drops being scarce. If you run out at any point you die. These levels are long with multiple stops that unleash a wave of enemies before you can move on. Every single shot has to count if you want to reach the end level bosses with enough ammo to last. I don’t get why they decided to reduce the starting bullet count from 150 to 50 but it was just flat out stupid.

It can’t be stated enough how ridiculously hard the game is but it wasn’t always like this. Konami raised the difficulty considerably in favor of the AI for no apparent reason and it hurts the game overall. I find it hilarious that there is a practice mode that has shorter versions of each play style as if that actually helps. If you play Mad City you’ll find a far more balanced game that is in line with Konami’s other NES titles which will allow you to appreciate the craftsmanship in the game.

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All of the game’s flaws are compounded by the fact that the rest of the package is still vintage Konami. The graphics are great; the sprites are large and well detailed and the backgrounds are spectacular. The game supposedly takes place in Louisiana but outside of the token swamps this could be anywhere. There is some sprite flickering at times but it is rare. Even the music is pretty catchy but the likelihood of anyone outside of those equipped with game genie’s bothering to see all of this stuff is small.

The Adventures of Bayou Billy is a rare misstep from Konami during a period where they were almost untouchable. Had the game came over in its original form we would all be singing its praises instead of tossing it in worst NES game of all time lists.

4-out-of-101

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Rollergames

For the longest time I ignored Rollergames. In my mind I associated it with that corny TV show from 1989 that my mom probably watched and assumed that the game would be more of the same tripe. Well to a certain extent it is. But! Leave it to Konami to take such a simple premise and make a pretty decent platformer out of it. Unlike the arcade game (which they also produced) that was true to the show Rollergames is a brawler/platformer but it doesn’t do either exceptionally well. The execution of its constituent parts is not good enough to make the game enjoyable over the long haul.

Rollergames is based on the TV show from 1989 which saw 6 teams of three competitors battle it out inside a figure 8 track. There was definitely some wrestling style face/heel action going on as the teams were split into the Western Alliance and the Eastern Empire with ongoing story lines played out over the season. That carries over to the game as the Eastern Empire (consisting of the Maniacs, Violators, and Bad Attitude, you know these are the bad guys) kidnap the Rollergames commissioner and for some god forsaken reason only the “good teams’ can save him. Not the cops, dudes on roller skates.

The three selectable teams have their differences but honestly they aren’t as pronounced during gameplay. With three teams you just know they’re going to hit all of the clichés. The T-Birds put you behind a big, slow, and powerful truck of a man, able to knock out most enemies with two combos. The Rockers don’t seem to occupy any one niche and is just…there. Hot Flash puts you in the skates of a leggy model who is equal parts fast and powerful and is my go to. Aside from their physical characteristics they each have a special move that is really hard to pull off consistently, to the point where I didn’t even bother. You aren’t locked in to any one choice as each level lets you switch it up, not that it was necessary.

Calling this a brawler is a bit disingenuous. The majority of enemies you’ll encounter, from the rollerblading Guile lookalikes to bats and hawks will go down in one hit. The end of each section will usually throw 5 or six bad guys in pairs that take a little more time to go down. These are usually followed up with a boss battle of some kind and are the only parts of the game where you’ll really notice the differences between characters.

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With less combat a large part of the focus is on platforming and that’s where the problems begin. Because you are gliding around on skates momentum plays a part in how far you move. The physics governing your speed and such are less than ideal however and with the viewpoint comes many frustrating deaths. Games like Konami’s own Ninja Turtles brawlers use the same viewpoint but wisely shy away from the type of precision platforming present here. In some ways it’s similar to Double Dragon with the added element of imprecise movement due to the skates on your feet. There’s some strong level design present that is vintage Konami but unfortunately you’ll have to deal with some jank to see it all.

It really shouldn’t come as any surprise then that Rollergames is incredibly difficult and not always for the right reasons. The game leans heavily on memorization like Battletoads and fortunately it isn’t as punishing as that title but it does come close. The forced scrolling levels are especially guilty of this as you’ll only have a second or two to either jump or move to the appropriate location or die. What should have been a welcome challenge of pace comes across as really cheap as a result.

Outside of that probably the main issue is the clock: because the clock ticks pretty fast it urges you to always stay on the move which unfortunately leads to many mistakes and cheap deaths. You can’t rush any of the platforming sections; at least not until you’ve learned the layouts which will take some time. The physics aren’t perfect and combined with the viewpoint and wonky momentum prepared to die a lot. These issues are pretty severe but not game breaking in my opinion. It’s just that these are the types of problems that really stick out when the rest of the game is so damn good.

Rollergames surprised me. I went into it not expecting much beyond a cheesy licensed cash-in and found a cool brawler instead. With just a few small tweaks this could have been really great instead of frustrating and I applaud Konami for trying something different but that still doesn’t mean it will be to everyone’s liking.

6-out-of-101

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Melfand Stories

Side scrolling beat em ups were at the height of their popularity in the early 90s with every console not named the Turbo Grafx-16 receiving their fair share. While the SNES had a solid lineup of brawlers some of its best were left behind in Japan such as Undercover Cops and Iron Commando. Melfand Stories is not as good as the previously mentioned games but certainly has its merits. Ascii could certainly have done worse than bringing this out worldwide but as it is no Japanese knowledge is required to enjoy this solid romp.

In the land of Melfand the King was kind and fair to all. However his subordinate Nomolwa decides he should rule instead and makes a bargain with the demon Beril to usurp the King. With this Nomolwa overthrows both the King and Queen and terror reigns. All hope of restoring peace lies with four warriors, each wanting to take down Nomolwa for their own reasons.

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Each hero has their specialty and falls neatly within established tropes. The young El is the typical well rounder, jack of all trades but master of none. Corse is physically the strongest and has the highest defense but is also the slowest. Lemin has the longest range with her fireballs but is also the weakest. Technically her magic is the most powerful but I would be hard pressed to note any differences between her spells and the rest of the crew. Nora is the most interesting. With her long whip and high jump if played correctly she is game breaking since you can use hit and run tactics against even the toughest bosses.

The game confines its action to a single plane which might seem strange as it goes against genre standards but largely works here. These aren’t so much levels as they are short vignettes that have a few enemies and a boss encounter before moving on to the next set piece. It certainly works to keep up the visual variety but doesn’t exactly make for a fulfilling experience. After almost every stage you have a choice between two levels, usually designated as easy or hard. It’s actually pretty cool and is incentive to play the game more than once.

Overall however the game is incredibly simple which is to its detriment. It has nothing to do with its single plane; the Ninja Warriors is similar and that game is awesome. In terms of attacks you are limited to a simple three hit combo, a defensive maneuver or shield, and magic. Even by beat em standards that is pathetic. To some degree it almost seems like the designers were aware of this as the game moves at a brisk pace, never lingering in one area too long before moving on to a new change of scenery. That is a point in the game’s favor but it also highlights its crucial flaw.

Like most brawlers Melfand Stories is short however like Star Fox has more than one path to its conclusion. There are nine levels in total but on any given run you’ll only see five. There are three paths to the end and in addition each character has their own individual ending. While it sounds like a lot of content a single play through of the game ranges from thirty to forty five minutes depending on whether you suck at videogames. Disappointing for sure but at least in this regard it fares better than most games in the genre.

This is a pretty easy game overall due largely in part to how short the levels are. Despite each stage being split into multiple smaller segments they are brief with only a few enemy encounters before facing a midlevel boss. Health power-ups as well as magic are also plentiful which I found odd; usually these are spaced out better. You only get one life and limited credits but it is easy to gain more through points. Since you respawn when continuing and can even change characters bum rushing a boss is a valid strategy. Having said that for some reason it “feels” just right although I do wish the levels were longer.

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Melfand Stories is a pretty attractive game for a title that has very little notoriety. The sprites are medium sized and stylized; not quite super deformed but also not chasing realism. The game’s vibrant color palette and world design is just incredibly charming. It’s definitely unique and an acquired taste. The levels run the typical fantasy tropes but even so are still unique even compared to something like King of Dragons. The one area that is lacking would be the animation; for such oddly proportioned sprites the animation can look robotic at times. But that is a minor point when viewed as a whole.

While it isn’t the greatest beat em up there’s still plenty to like about Melfand Stories. This really should have had a western release but even so you are only missing out on minor story bits here and there. Fans of brawlers and Super Famicom imports will find a solid game behind the simplicity of its gameplay.

7-out-of-10

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Pirates of Dark Water (SNES)

I have to say, as much as I loved side scrolling beat em ups by the mid-90s I was already growing tired of the genre. While we all praised Capcom and Final Fight for laying a foundation that the majority of games would follow we really were not prepared for the glut of crap to come. After Streets of Rage 2 middle of the road brawlers simply didn’t cut it anymore, a category that the SNES version of Pirates of Dark Water falls in. This could have and should have been better.

My first question is why a beat em up? The world and back story of Dark Water almost seems to lend itself to and adventure game, which we more or less received in the Sega game. Though flawed it captured many of the best elements of the show which I can’t say the same of this game. Outside of it’s the cast of characters you could just as easily have mistaken this for any of the innumerable brawlers on console or in the arcade as it does little with its license. The game plays relatively well but its pacing ruins it.

Ren, Ioz, and Tula fit comfortably into the established niches of well rounder, strong but slow big man, and fast but weak attacker. Unlike the vast majority of beat em ups Dark Water equips its heroes with a variety of moves. There are two separate attack buttons, a weak but fast melee attack that can be used to string together combos and a heavier attack with your weapon. Depending on when each button is hit during a flurry of blows you can execute a few different combos that will inflict high damage. Both buttons can also be used to modify your throws as well. You have the ability to block attacks and dash, which can be used to perform a lunging attack. It’s not Streets of Rage 3 level of depth but considering how lacking most similar titles were the combat is at least engaging.

Unfortunately the variety in your arsenal of attacks does not extend to the enemies you will face. Familiar henchmen from the show make appearances but for the most part you are going to face the same five or six enemies for the length of the entire game. To be fair this has always been a sticking point within the genre but at least most other brawlers hold a few enemies in reserve and slowly introduce new adversaries throughout the length of the game but here nearly the entire roster of Bloth’s men are introduced in the first stage.

This ultimately leads into the game’s most crucial flaw, its pacing. With so few different enemies to face the game tosses them out in waves, with as many as 7-8 in a row needing a swift end at your fists before you can move on. Tossing the tall and fat pirates (the game really isn’t very creative with its names) around gets really old fast, especially when you’ve just done precisely that not 5 minutes ago. It artificially lengthens the game when it wasn’t needed as this is already one of the longer fighters at 8 stages. The monotony is some of the worst I’ve experienced and if it weren’t for the fact that I rented the game and felt I needed to get my money’s worth I would never have bothered to finish it.

In spite of its issues the difficulty is median. The pirates possess decent AI and will block your attacks and strike at opportune moments. Health restoring fruit isn’t in abundance but does appear when needed as well as the occasional trap that you can lead enemies into. The bosses outside of one encounter are not the usual life sucking leeches typical of the genre and pose a fair challenge. If you can stand the repetition no one should have any trouble completing this on their first try.

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Unlike the darker Sega game the SNES installment sticks closer to the brighter palette of the show. Familiar locations from the cartoon make an appearance and its most popular villains comprise the bosses. Overall the game is fairly decent looking; while Sunsoft were one of the most technically proficient NES developers their 16-buit efforts were more standard and while this wasn’t entirely developed by them it falls in line with the rest of their output.

This is as standard a brawler as they come and is disappointing as it doesn’t make any use of its license to stand out. There are better titles in the genre to scoop up before you should ever consider playing this average game.

5-out-of-101

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Undercover Cops

For as much as I associate Irem with shooters and R-Type specifically they released many arcade gems that I so desperately hoped would receive home ports. Blade Master, Gunforce 2, and especially Undercover Cops were all games that I loved in the arcade and the prospect of a SNES or Genesis port for any of these games was exciting. It was a sad day when the US release of Undercover Cops was cancelled but ultimately it didn’t matter; it’s not like beat em ups have stories worthy of Shakespeare after all so the language barrier is moot. This is one of the best brawlers for the Super NES and still worth tracking down today.

In the year 2043 nuclear war has ravaged the planet with roaming gangs becoming the norm as law enforcement could not keep up. The government creates a special squad of undercover cops to deal with the rising level of crime except these cops are special. With their skills in martial arts and street fighting Matt, Zan, and Rosa are the best chance to restore order to the city.

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Although this is your standard beat em up this is not your typical Final Fight clone. While the protagonists neatly fit into their clichéd roles each is equipped with a larger than normal assortment of moves. In addition to the standard punch/kick combos there are numerous dashing attacks as well as throws and wrestling moves all accomplished using a simple three button setup. This has always been my biggest pet peeve regarding brawlers and the variety here keeps the game exciting from beginning to end. There aren’t too many weapons to pick up but the few available are pretty damn comical to see in action. Heaving a giant telephone pole out of the ground to use as a bludgeon is hilarious as it breaks down with every hit.

That last bit is part of what makes the game so charming. The game’s off beat sense of humor is one of its most endearing elements. We’ve all found it absurd that the heroes in these games eat freshly cooked chickens out of garbage cans but Undercover Cops goes one step further. You’re eating live pigs, chickens, snails, and even rats to regain health and must chase them down first. Pretty gross huh? Or how about the second level boss who midway through the fight bursts into tears at the beat down you’re delivering. Most of Rosa’s attacks are…..pretty provocative. Let’s just say the bad guys can probably die with a smile on their face and leave it at that.

If there is one crucial flaw the game suffers from it is pacing. After the initial outing each subsequent level is considerably longer and feels padded out by waves of enemies. While new antagonists are introduced on every stage the game does a fine job of making you sick of them by forcing you to fight them over and over in rapid succession. The game’s final two levels are a grueling gauntlet of every enemy you’ve ever faced one right after the other in groups of two –four. Not only is it incredibly cheap it’s also unfair; it’s almost as if the game is still designed around two players. Boss battles drag on the longest and there were even a few times where the clock almost ran out since your attack do so little damage. The pacing isn’t game breaking but I can definitely see many becoming frustrated by the end of the game.

Due to the lack of multiplayer the game becomes extremely after the first introductory level. There are some incredibly cheap enemies that are nearly impossible to defeat without taking damage. The bat wielding bastards are the bane of my life. Trying to conserve lives and continues for the game’s latter stages is hard as there are frequent instant death elements such as the compactor in stage one or the collapsing building in stage 2. The maximum five lives and continues evaporate pretty quickly and it will take some practice before you’ll see the end credits.

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Despite the gap in hardware the developers have done an excellent job of recreating the arcade game’s graphics on the SNES. Some background details have been omitted here and there and a few enemies have been slightly redesigned but that aside it is remarkably close with the main difference being the resolution. Undercover Cops was created by many of the same artists who would eventually go on to form Nazca and create Metal Slug and that insane attention to detail is present here. The sprites are huge and well animated with the game only slowing down under the most extreme circumstances. The only negative would be the extreme palette swapping among enemies toward the end. The soundtrack is similarly excellent and full of jazz and techno tunes which I totally did not expect.

While the game is ultimately a bit short chances are you won’t see the ending right away. If the game had 2-player coop it would have been close to classic but will have to settle for being just excellent.

8-out-of-101

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Batman Returns (NES)

 

With the onslaught of Batman Returns video games I found it surprising that they bothered to create an NES edition although looking back it should have been common sense. One of the biggest movies of the previous year would of course hit the biggest platform of the time (in terms of install base) even if it was in its twilight years. With Sunsoft resigning itself to an endless parade of Looney Tunes games Konami picked up the slack. If it weren’t for a few glaring flaws there is no question this would be the best brawler for the system however the solid foundation underneath still means it is worth your time.

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The game follows the plot of the movie pretty closely meaning you’ll have to take on the Red Triangle Circus gang as well as Catwoman before the finale against the Penguin. Like its SNES big brother this is a beat em up and in many ways seems like a shrunken version of that game. However there are enough differences that make the two games unique. The one area that I wish both games were identical is in their balance; the SNES game is perfect while this game is unfairly punishing. There is still plenty of fun to be had but I doubt most will have the fortitude to see it through to the end.

It would be natural to compare the game to Konami’s TMNT brawlers but in truth Batman is armed with a few more moves than the bros. Aside from the standard punch and jump kick he can also perform a sliding attack and the rare ability to block in a beat em up. Seriously why do so many of these games exclude this? Anyway in addition there’s the life draining spinning cap attack which looks really cool. The grappling hook sees little use unfortunately unlike the 16-bit versions of the game. A limited supply of batarangs are your only other offensive weapon which is uncommon for the genre.

In following the movie so closely the game is limited in a few ways. The Red Triangle gang comprise the entirety of the enemies you’ll face and there are only a few types. Even worse you only fight one type at a time, unlike every other brawler. Once you know how to deal with each enemy it becomes a matter of going through the motions. That’s not to say it is easy; these guys know when to back off, block attacks, and even wait for a cheap shot. But it does rob the game of the variety that comes from different matchups. There are two levels that put you in the seat of the batmobile and bat ski boat (that will never sound cool) for a change of pace. These levels almost feel like bonus rounds than a real challenge but you take what you can get.

Somewhere along the way it seems the game was never balanced. Although you are primarily attacked in groups of two most enemies take an absurd amount of time to die. Since you are dealing with waves of enemies it becomes incredibly repetitive, especially in the late stages of the game when you are dealing with 6 or seven waves before moving on. Boss battles are even crueler since they take even more damage and can dish it out as well. There are some like the circus strongman and the penguin’s….duck where it isn’t immediately apparent when they are vulnerable to hit without receiving damage as well.

What makes the game so difficult aside from these design decisions is the way it handles lives. Technically you only have one life. If you manage to find a heart or have full health and receive more (this will rarely happen) then you receive a “box”, which is basically an extra life. You can have a maximum of two and with hearts occasionally hidden in the environment it is possible to hit that point. But that would require a near perfect run which would take a miracle. There are passwords and unlimited continues to record progress but both throw you back at the beginning of each level. As grueling as each level is starting over is not an enticing prospect.

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Batman Returns certainly looks the business. Sunsoft’s Return of the Joker set a high bar with its borderline 16-bit graphics and Konami’s turn at bat nearly meets it. The sprites are larger than in most NES titles with very good animation for the time. I would imagine the fact that you’ll rarely fight more than two enemies at once is part of the reason but whatever. The system’s color limitations actually benefit the game as the darker atmosphere of the movie is really conveyed well here. You’ll recognize stylized versions of the film’s locations with a degree of detail not common for the NES. There are even cut scenes in between each stage that while brief move the story along. This was a top class production from top to bottom.

It’s just too bad that along the way the game wasn’t balanced properly. With a few adjustments this could easily have been the top beat em up for the system, even above games like River City Ransom and TMNT III. As it is I recommend it only if you have a high tolerance for frustration.

7-out-of-10

 

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Riot Zone

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or so they say. But what about an imitation of an imitation? There’s no question that Final Fight more or less established the modern take beat em up genre with everyone keen to cash in on its success. Sega’s Streets of Rage was one of the better takes on the brawler but wasn’t the only one. That same year they released Riot City in the arcade and while it wasn’t exactly a trend setter it was a decent game.

While beat em ups were all the rage on the Genesis and especially the SNES the Turbo Grafx-16 was left out. When Riot City was ported to the Turbo CD (under the name Riot Zone) it was heavily changed to resemble Final Fight and Streets of Rage even more. And while normally that would be a good thing as it would mean the game has a solid foundation it comes up lacking in every category and is simply dull.

Why all the back story? Riot Zone was a game I highly anticipated. Once upon a time I was a massive Turbo fan boy as it was the only platform I had and so any major release was noteworthy. Watching as games like Final Fight and Rival Turf were released on rival platforms in decent numbers was hard so when a quick clip of RZ popped up at the end of the Lords of Thunder promo tape (that takes me back!) I was intrigued. While it would be many years before I would ultimately play the game even at release I would have been let down. There are simply far better games to spend your money on than to bother with a mediocre beat em up.

Police officers Hawk and Tony are dismayed when their police chief denies their warrant to enter the DragonZone. Like the loose cannon he apparently is Hawk quits the force along with Tony to enter the Dragon Zone alone. Why you might ask? Because “gasp” his girlfriend Candy has been kidnapped! At least the bad guys didn’t send him a provocative video as proof.

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It can’t be emphasized enough just how closely Riot Zone resembles Final Fight. Hawk might as well be a palette swap of Cody or Axl and some of the generic enemies skew closely to FF’s roster. The level transitions show which part of the city you are now entering in a similar fashion as well. Christ even the boss’s death animations are nearly the same as they thrash around a bit before dropping dead. Speaking of bosses Shauna is clearly based on Poison minus the daisy dukes. They were really were that brazen.

Now if only the game played just as well. Right away there are problems as Button I attacks and Button II is to jump. That’s the equivalent of switching button A & B on the NES which should be a god damn sin in the Bible. And there’s no multiplayer at all. Releasing a beat em up without a coop mode is just…wrong. Combat is incredibly boring even beyond the standards of the genre at the time. Admittedly most brawlers during the 16-bit era were lacking in terms of moves however Riot Zone takes it to another level. You are armed with a simple multi hit combo, a jump kick, and a throw and that is all. The repetition sets in long before the end of the first level and doesn’t get any better either. There aren’t even any destroyable boxes or weapons to break up the monotony; whose bright idea was that?

Although there are only five stages each becomes progressively longer with an ungodly amount of bad guys to defeat at every turn. The list of enemies isn’t particularly large but to the game’s credit at least one or two new thugs are introduced on every level. Unfortunately you’ll end up fighting said enemy at least 20-30 times before level’s end. While it might sound like the game would be difficult as a result Riot Zone is actually pretty easy. Continues are limited however extra lives are awarded at a decent clip and chances are aside from the overly cheap bosses everyone will beat the game with the default 3 credits.

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The game’s presentation is completely uneven and at times looks as though it were unfinished. The backgrounds are comprised of many locations that lean too closely to Final Fight’s locales yet even though they are derivative they are still impressive at times. Any time the game decides to go for something original they come off flat, drab, and half assed. Like many Turbo Grafx games the sprites are incredibly large although the animation is lacking. The game’s soundtrack is in red book audio although aside from the first level theme the rest of the music is forgettable.

Providing a beat em up in the same vein as Final Fight for Duo starved owners was a noble idea too bad the game itself is completely boring. Fans of the genre are better served sampling the offerings on other platforms.

 

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the Peace Keepers

 

It’s funny, for as much as they are generic I still can’t help but like the Rival Turf/Rushing Beat series. While the first game was generic as all get out Brawl Brothers had a few features I genuinely liked and if it weren’t for the repetition and collision issues I would have rated it higher. The Peace Keepers is the best of the bunch, full of forward thinking ideas that most similar titles wouldn’t adapt until years later. However like Streets of Rage 3 unnecessary changes were made to the game that don’t completely ruin it but affect its quality.

Unlike most brawlers story plays heavily into the game’s proceedings and unfolds as you progress. In the year 2015 the world is still recovering from the economic wars of 2011. The DM Corporation used its vast resources to help the world get back on its feet, to the point where they have built up so much favor with the public that they essentially rule the world. Of course they aren’t as benevolent as they seem as their leader, Kulmbach Lawrencium has been conducting genetic experiments in secret. It is these experiments that bring the four protagonists together to bring them down.

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The four heroes all neatly fit into the standard niches; Flynn is the well rounder, Echo is weak but fast, Prokop is the slow (inhumanly slow) but strong man and Al is somewhere between the two. The fighting engine has been greatly expanded with each character possessing a variety of techniques to further distinguish them from each other. Echo can double jump and jump off enemy heads. Al can use his bazooka for a long range attack. Prokop can carry and choke opponents a few times before tossing them aside for extra damage. There are dashing attacks and oddly enough a separate button for taunting. The taunt button might seem useless however it leads to your termination attack, of which you only get two per life. If you are fast enough you even can reverse a hold or grab although the timing of this is very particular.

Beyond the improved combat mechanics the game’s best feature are its multiple paths. At the end of every level you are presented with two choices which lead to different levels and events. There are around 11 or 12 stages altogether and you won’t play through them all in one run, prompting a huge amount of replay value. The order is randomized as well. There are plenty of secrets to find if you look hard enough, including unlocking prior series regular Norton and a reprogrammed Orbot. In addition to hidden characters everyone has a good and bad ending with specific criteria that has to be met to receive them such as saving scientists or even playing the levels in a specific order. Replay value has always been the Achilles heel of the beat em up genre and the Peace Keepers does an excellent job of rectifying that.

When the game was brought overseas a sizable number of changes were made, none for the better. Aside from the story changes the game was made more difficult although that is a bit of a misnomer. The Japanese release gave you a more than generous 30 credits which was totally unnecessary. That was cut down to 12 and while it sounds like a big cut the reality is 12 is more than enough. You would have to do something really stupid like try to play through the entire game using Prokop to actually run out of credits.

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Where the series once looked contemporary and was able to keep up with its competition visually the Peace Keepers looks dated. Games like Final Fight 2, the Ninja Warriors, and especially Streets of Rage 3 were visually spectacular and looked better than many of the arcade games in the same genre at the time. To its credit the sprites are pretty large and animate smoothly but there are only a few enemy types that are recycled heavily throughout the game. Gone are the exquisitely drawn baseball stadiums and forests and in its place the Peace Keepers has mostly flat and lifeless backdrops with some ripped straight from Brawl Brothers. As part of the localization process the facial portraits throughout the game were redrawn in a more realistic style which doesn’t match the sprites at all; it’s pretty hilarious to see Echo as a child yet her portrait is a grown woman. And the game can’t decide whether Al is a black man or not.

I’d like to comment on the music however there isn’t any. That’s right, they’ve also completely removed all of the game’s music and it definitely hurts the game. The dead silence with the exception of the sound effects makes it seem as though the game is unfinished. It was a chore to completely play through the game without any mood setting music and I resorted to listening to my own just to avoid hearing the repetitive grunts and smacks. You have the option to switch to “BGM” mode but a sizable chunk of the game’s original music is missing with one of the worst songs reused for multiple stages. I don’t know what they were thinking with this change but it is stupid, no doubt about it.

I don’t want to give the impression that the game was some triple A title that was ran through the meat grinder but as the sum of its parts it was certainly better than this. The Peace Keepers is still relatively solid but what it lacks and has been changed hurts its overall quality. I would recommend the better beat em ups on the platform before settling on this.

7-out-of-10-1

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Die Hard Arcade

The 32-bit generation saw a renaissance within many genres as they moved to 3d, most specifically sports, racing, and 3d platformers. But it also many take a step back or disappear altogether. The scrolling shoot em up all but disappeared from America and the other mainstay of the 16-bit days, the beat em up was left on a milk carton. There were a few attempts to bring the genre to 3d but eh, the less said about those the better. Sega however that it could be done with Die Hard Arcade and aside from its far too short length should have been the model other games followed.

There’s a funny bit of history behind this game’s creation. In Japan it is known as Dynamite Deka but has no association with the movie. However one look at the box art and the main characters and it is blatantly obvious where they drew “inspiration”. Even the game’s plot of a terrorist who has taken over a skyscraper is the same. Well here they are trying to steal the contents of a vault and have kidnapped the President’s daughter as backup but that’s neither here nor there. Rather than being sued Sega of America teamed up with Fox to make this an officially licensed game like it should have been.

In terms of feel this plays less like a traditional beat em up and more like a side scrolling Virtua Fighter. The character movement bears it out as well as the floaty jumps which are identical. Thank Christ there’s no block button. One aspect which shouldn’t have been brought over is movement; you can only face left or right and you don’t walk so much as hop in spurts. It’s silly and does cause a few issues since you can’t lock onto a target; full 3d movement would have been better served. Luckily you can work around it.

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The Virtua Fighter connection (albeit tangentially) does come with some sweet perks. The game has a robust fighting engine, something that most beat em ups can’t claim. There’s a pretty large arsenal of moves depending on the buttons pressed once an opponent is grabbed or in the middle of a combo. In addition to martial artistry there are a ton of breakable objects that can be used as weapons as well as a never-ending stream of bad guys with all sorts of weaponry. I dare say you will rarely find a moment where you aren’t armed or surrounded by armaments waiting to be picked up.

The game was also ahead of its time with the incorporation of quick time events. These brief cut scenes usually challenge you to duck or pull a quick punch to avoid getting hit. Unlike modern day QTEs the penalty for failing is very small; you’ll either end up in a brief encounter or take small damage. While QTEs are on my shit list at least here they take place in between rooms rather than breaking up the action.

Unfortunately it’s all over far too fast. The game certainly lives up to the arcade in its title as it is way too short. Each of the five levels will only last a scant 5 minutes at best, meaning most will finish the game in a half hour with little incentive to go back and replay the game. By default you have a single life and 3 credits which can be tough to manage, especially as some of the cheaper enemies can catch you in a loop and drain your life bar in seconds. However you can play the optional deep scan minigame to win as many credits as you need. No matter how well executed the gameplay it can’t make up for the game’s brevity.

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Surprisingly this is still one of the better looking Saturn titles. While it exhibits the low polygon look of most game from that era DHA also ran at a higher resolution than most of those same games, giving it a sharper look. Character animation is incredibly smooth and the game runs at a rock solid frame rate. Of course most bouts take place in smaller arenas so it isn’t too taxing but considering most of that eras games ran at abysmal frame rates its much appreciated. The Saturn version’s music is redbook audio so unfortunately it constantly stops and starts with each new scene, not that it was all that memorable.

If Sega had included exclusive levels or a few extra gameplay modes like the later Zombie Revenge I would have no problem recommending the game. But with so little content it’s not worth a purchase. At least the Saturn version. In 2006 Die Hard Arcade was ported to the PlayStation 2 as part of the Sega Ages line. This version is less a port and more of a complete overhaul with completely new graphics and most importantly extra modes and costumes to entice you to play the game multiple times. While it was never released here like all of the Sega Ages games it is completely in English anyway and definitely worthy of a purchase.

6-out-of-10-1

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Streets of Rage 3

For many Streets of Rage 2 is a perfect beat em up, one that successfully expanded on the foundation laid down by Final Fight. It stole the crown from that venerable series to become the standard by which all future brawlers would be judged. And so anticipation ran high when Streets of Rage 3 was announced. With its predecessor to use as a base I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say many expected it become the standard for the genre.

Well Streets of Rage 3 is an amazing game however it falls short of the lofty bar set by its predecessor. This only applies to the localized version. A number of alterations were made to the game before its release in the US, none of them good. While some of the changes can be understood (the flamboyantly gay parody first boss was a bit much) the balance changes are a bit on the excessive side and make the game more of a slog than it should be.

A series of bombs have been planted throughout the city, all the workings of a mysterious mastermind. On top of the bombs the police chief has also been kidnapped with Axel being implicated in the act. Along with Dr. Zan the trio of Axel, Blaze, and Skate must rescue the police chief to clear Axel’s name and also save the city from destruction.

Far more story driven than every beat em up that came before it Streets of Rage has an elaborate story told through cutscenes after every level. Or I should say it did. The story is one of the biggest elements changed in localization for no inexplicable reason. In its Japanese release Mr. X along with his RoboCy corporation plan to start a global war using a new explosive called Rakushin. More backstory is given to Dr. Zan and there are more cut scenes detailing the plot. Most of these were removed for its US release leaving the game with little context for its story beats.

For the most part Axel, Blaze, and Skate are unchanged leaving Dr. Zan as the sole option for those looking for something new. As the replacement for Max and Adam he occupies the slow strongman role but is really unique in terms of his reach and use of electricity. As a cyborg he doesn’t run but actually slides along the ground and whatever weapon he picks up is turned into a ball of energy that will bowl foes over.

In terms of combat Streets of Rage 3 has quite possibly the deepest battle system within the beat em up genre. There have been all sorts of little tweaks that make the game faster and more diverse. All characters can now dash and perform a defensive roll upwards or downward. The roll in particular is especially helpful in avoiding damage or keeping pace with some of the faster enemies and bosses. Dashing modifies most of the moves performed with it, including weapons. Speaking of weapons, there are a few new attacks that can be performed depending on the weapon currently in hand, some of which inflict obscene amounts of damage. To offset this weapons have a separate life bar and will eventually break.

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The special moves unique to each hero have also seen their share of tweaks. The timer has been removed and in its place is a gauge that slowly fills up; once full you can perform a special move without the health penalty. In addition the more enemies killed without losing a life will grant a star (up to a maximum of three) which will allow you to perform an enhanced version of your special moves. It’s tough to pull off but highly rewarding if you can manage it.

The roster of enemies is largely the same unfortunately with few new additions. What has changed however is the enemy AI. The common fodder enemies are much smarter and will actually make a break for any available weapons and can even perform team up attacks. You’ll be shocked the first time you see one actually take the apple/chickens lying around for themselves which just ain’t right.

As you might have guessed the game is pretty tough and was made even more so by Sega of America. The default normal setting is significantly harder than Bare Knuckle III’s hard mode with attacks inflicting less damage all around. Unfortunately the rest of the game wasn’t balanced around this and it becomes a slog as enemies attack in groups of 6-7 in a row. Life restoring items aren’t plentiful so you’ll have to tough it out longer than expected. There are a few areas that mark the return of bottomless pits you can toss bad guys in for quick KOs but there are just as many traps and other stage hazards to contend with such as roaming subway trains and tripwires. There’s a hectic getaway sequence involving a bulldozer that stands out as pretty inspired.

There are multiple endings depending on your actions in stage 6. Here you have a non-linear building to explore and have to race against a clock to save the police chief. If you save him in time you fight the game’s true final boss in another timed battle. The cool thing is if you fail the game continues along an alternate path. While it is a nice addition the endings only slightly differ in content. In addition there are a few hidden characters to unlock for some added replay value.

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Streets of Rage 3 is an exceptionally beautiful game, one of the best for the Genesis. Technically it doesn’t seem any more advanced than part 2 however Sega’s artists have improved and as such manage to pack in a ton more detail. The sprites are about the same size but more detailed and better animated with more on screen than ever before. The one area it doesn’t surpass its seminal predecessor would be its backdrops. Due to the story taking place entirely in the city you won’t get to visit exotic locales around the world with the generic city streets, subways, and building exteriors having an air of familiarity to them.

While the graphics are better the music is most certainly not. It would have been a tall order for any composer to top the Streets of Rage 2 OST as it is one of the greatest of all time. The overall soundtrack ditches the slow melodies of before for a completely hard techno sound that is loud and abrasive; it might eventually grow on you but is simply not to my tastes.

There’s definitely plenty to love about Streets of Rage 3 but in the end it doesn’t manage to reach the same lofty height as its legendary predecessor. It’s easily the second best in the series but I would point anyone interested in the series to the second game first unless they have access to Bare Knuckle III, which is superior just by being balanced perfectly.

8-out-of-101

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Batman Returns (Genesis)

I freely admit to getting caught up in the hype leading to Batman Returns release in theaters.  For anyone that grew up reading comic books 1989’s Batman may as well have been the second coming of Christ.  It took certain liberties here and there but those were forgiven as we just wanted to see the Dark Knight on the big screen.  Batman Returns promised to be bigger and better and was certainly bigger.  But better?  That’s debatable.  The film has some glaring flaws which extends to this Sega Genesis tie in.  With a little more fine tuning the game could have been good but is far too cheap to be enjoyable for long.

The game follows the plot of the movie for the most part with the Penguin’s terrorizing Gotham after a failed bid at becoming its mayor with Catwoman inexplicably thrown into the mix.  The game picks up close to halfway into the movie’s events oddly enough with the short intro recapping all you need to know.  Or maybe it’s not so odd.  For a movie called Batman Returns he sure takes his sweet ass time showing up; it’s nearly 40 minutes into the film before you ever see the damn guy.

As a side-scroller Batman is armed with a few melee moves and I’ll tell you right now that the hand to hand combat sucks.  Luckily there are a variety of sub weapons in his utility belt that you can use instead for the most part.  Batarangs come in standard and heat seeking varieties, smoke bombs can stun enemies, and you can unleash a powerful flurry of bats.  Ammo for these is limited but refills are in ready supply almost as if they knew most would rely on them rather than standard fisticuffs.

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At 5 Acts with multiple sub levels each this is a pretty long adventure that uses many of the film’s locations as set pieces.  Most levels are pretty wide open and allow you to choose your own route to the end while making ample use of the grappling hook.  It’s a nice idea in theory but in practice the level design is flat out confusing with little direction.  It isn’t always obvious which background elements you can swing from or even stand on.  Many of the game’s pitfalls and such are obscured by the numerous foreground objects leading to many a cheap death.

If those don’t get you then the many leaps of faith needed to find the proper path will.  There’s a heavy emphasis placed on using the grappling hook to navigate the levels and its one of the most finicky mechanics I’ve ever had to deal with.  You can never reliably get it to work in a pinch but thankfully it’s use is mostly relegated to finding power-ups.

Batman moves with the grace of an elephant which is problematic as nearly every generic enemy is an Olympic athlete by comparison, able to dart around the screen at a pace you can only dream of.  Trying to deal with most foes with punches and kicks is futile as your reach is too short.  The bat wielding clowns of Act 2 are a prime example of this; they will always nail you and run away unless you use some projectile.  The game is riddled with these kinds of cheap hits as clowns rain down from the sky or from off screen.  The motorcycle riding thugs at the beginning of Act 2 are the epitome of this; they move too fast for you to react and the few that you could possibly dodge will actually shoot you immediately.  With the scarcity of health packs chances are you’ll die at least once or twice on each level before clearing it which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; having to repeat certain tasks before completion is one of the most enjoyable aspects of gaming.  But when it’s due to unnecessarily fair elements like the ones present here that it crosses the line.

While the game’s flaws are frustrating when all of its constituent elements come together it does work.  There are some cool moments during the length of the game such as winding your way down a crumbling tenement building or some of the game’s boss battles.  Admittedly you’ll fight Catwoman and the Penguin a few too many times for my liking but at least these encounters are memorable.  Learning their patterns and taking them out without a scratch is actually pretty fun.  There are only a few that are outright terrible such as the battle against the Circus strongman so at least they are few in number.

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Graphically there are elements that I like but the game does leave me with mixed feelings.  The game’s dark color palette captures the atmosphere of the movie pretty well and the sprites are decently animated.  There grainy look of the environments does get tiring as does the purple saturation of the entire game.  There’s a slap dash look to most of the stages with many random elements seemingly thrown together that makes navigation difficult.  At its best moments it is impressive, at its worst its confusing.

There’s a lot to like here buried under shoddy execution.  Had Sega spent more time play testing the game and ironing out its flaws this could have been an excellent title.  As is it reeks of a missed opportunity.

6-out-of-101

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Target: Renegade

Every genre has to start somewhere and in many cases it is fun to examine those early titles and break them down, seeing which parts would set the standard for all future titles that would follow.  The side scrolling platformer began with Pitfall and Super Mario Bros., two superlative games that are still fun to this day.  And then there’s Renegade.  As a game it laid down the foundation for future brawlers but was not very good.  Its sequel Target: Renegade does little to fix its faults and is a flawed game overall.

The game’s plot involves a Mr. Big kidnapping your brother and your mission to rescue him.  I suppose that explains the game’s lack of two-player coop.  Ignore the blatant Joe Lewis rip-off martial artist on the cover; your dude isn’t anywhere as cool and is essentially the predecessor to Billy and Jimmy Lee.  Despite its status as a sequel to Technos Renegade this was not developed in Japan.  As part of Ocean’s license to port Renegade to various computer formats they were allowed to create a sequel which goes a long way toward explaining the game’s myriad issues.  Target Renegade ignores nearly all of the features that made Renegade (sort of) a classic and is a regression in every way.

The controls aren’t the most responsive or intuitive.  Both buttons control punches and kicks and to execute a jump kick you must press up and kick at the exact same time.  To pick up items you’ll have to constantly press down to squat but it is so erratic in most cases the item you were trying to grab will disappear.  Speaking of moves you are armed with a basic punch, kick, a cumbersome jump kick, and a leg sweep.  That’s all.  This is a regression from even Renegade which let you attack enemies from both the front and the back simultaneously and grab them to perform throws.  The game’s limited repertoire of moves gets old fast.

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The game’s design highlights the absolute worst aspects of its control scheme.  The opening moments of the game charge you with drop kicking bikers off their choppers, a laborious task that won’t end before you’ve been run down a few times.  Not a good way to start the game.  I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention these bikers all look exactly like Bret the Hitman Hart.  Your flurry of punches and kicks do little to faze the enemies and they’ll frequently counterattack in the middle of your barrage, an element that crops up in nearly all of Technos’ future brawlers.  There aren’t many weapons available but at the very least they don’t disappear when dropped after a few times.  You’ll have to pick them up first, a job that shouldn’t be the hassle that it is here because of the controls.

Because you’re fighting options are so limited the difficulty is extremely high.  Groups of enemies come in packs of three or four and if they surround you it’s pretty much over.  It’s a tactic they are very keen to use and so requires you to be quick (well as fast as the game will allow) on your feet.  You only have one life and a generous life bar with the only means to replenish it by collecting hearts dropped by enemies.  I’ll tell you right now the game isn’t generous with these and the amount restored is so little it’s a damn slap in the face.  You’ll only get one continue during the course of the game which isn’t enough.

If you somehow manage to reach the end level bosses prepare for pain.  Anyone familiar with beat em ups knows its standard operating procedure to have each level end with some mook literally two times your size and deals ridiculous amounts of damage.  Even going by that metric Target: Renegade takes it a step too far.  Every boss takes 1/3 of your life with each attack.  That’s insane!  If you survive the game doesn’t even have the courtesy to refill your life bar which is just plain stupid.  As if the odds weren’t stacked against you to begin with.

It’s best to simply pretend Target: Renegade does not exist.  You’ll find no redeeming qualities here but instead a game that ignores what made its predecessor a hit and is instead a lesser product in every way.

5-out-of-101

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Sonic Blast Man

As much as I liked to peruse the selection of arcade titles on display at the mall in my youth there were still the deluxe cabinets that remained tantalizingly out of my grasp, be it due to lack of availability or because they were so expensive.  I remember seeing photos of the massive G-Loc cabinet that rotated to simulate the direction you were flying and the sit down version of Solvalou.  Usually these games were more expensive, to the tune of $1 and when you only have much in change Street Fighter is more appealing.

But they paled in comparison to Sonic Blast Man, which had a pad you punched to measure the strength of your hits.  I never got the chance to play it since it disappeared from arcades due to a lawsuit but years later the Fist of the North Star arcade game used a similar mechanic and I got my jollies from that.  Naturally they couldn’t port the game over to a home console as is so instead Taito made a side scrolling brawler that kept the cheesy premise and might have actually turned out even better for it.

There really isn’t much of a plot but what’s there is goofy as hell.  Sonic Blast Man is apparently a Hero of Justice (the game’s words, not mine) from another planet sent to protect Earth.  Mild mannered salary man by day, when evil strikes he morphs into Sonic Blast Man to save the day of which there is plenty of in this game.  The game’s intro tries to drive home this point but instead depicts Sonic Blast Man destroying an oncoming train with a 100 ton punch to save a woman tied to the tracks and completely glosses over the fact that he just killed hundreds to rescue one person.

Hokey premise and silly costume aside Sonic Blast Man’s powers make for an entertaining brawler.  As a superhero all of his attacks are accompanied by comic book style sound effects that really emphasize the impact of his hits.  Though it bears a strong resemblance to Final Fight in its initial level the rest of the game veers off into its own territory; not to say that its original but you have to admit it’s a bit strange to fight common thugs in a construction site and eventually fight aliens in outer space.

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The game’s fighting engine places a large emphasis on grappling attacks and crow control.  By grabbing an enemy you have a variety of different attacks at your disposal; a flurry of punches that looks cool but is pretty weak and a one handed throw.  If you daze them first with a few hits a few more options open up; you can unleash a burning uppercut that also sends a trail of fire in its wake, a power punch that sends enemies flying, and a behind the back throw.  If you can dizzy you’re opponent you can grab them and perform an even stronger whirlwind throw.  If things get too hectic you can perform a special attack that will knock everyone on their ass but leave you dizzy for a few seconds.  The most powerful move is the Dynamite Punch, a 100 megaton punch that is limited in its use.

Although the game is only five levels long there’s a great deal of variety for the most part.  Each new level takes place in a different locale with new enemies to match.  Having to adjust your fighting tactics to new adversaries each level is fun although you’ll only fight those enemies alone for the entire stage.  It gets old fighting the same three mutant variations in the sewers or robots in space, especially as the levels tend to drag on.  It’s in these instances that the depth of the combat relieves a bit of the boredom.

A bit of the arcade game’s heritage still exists in the game in the form of its bonus rounds.  These five bonus stages are in fact exactly the same as the original arcade game except here you’ll build up power by rotating the d-pad to build up power.  You get three chances to destroy some manner of obstruction which escalates from a simple street punk terrorizing a woman on the street to eventually destroying a meteor in outer space.  They’re interesting diversions but the impact is lost since you aren’t physically punching a pad.

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Graphically these are some of the largest sprites in side scrolling brawler from that period.  The sprites are so large in fact that you won’t see more than three enemies on screen at once.  The animation isn’t spectacular but is serviceable and the backgrounds are fairly simplistic aside from the odd Mode 7 effect here and there.  There is a bit of a trade off for those sprites though in the form of slowdown.  The slowdown is absolutely terrible in stages three and four and lasts almost the entire levels.  We’re talking early SNES level bad.

I had no expectations of Sonic Blast Man and came out pleasantly surprised.  With a few gameplay tweaks it could really have been something but as it is it’s a solid brawler on a console inundated with them and manages to stand out.

7-out-of-10-1

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Eternal Champions

When Street Fighter 2 was successfully ported to the SNES in 1992 it was a phenomenon that is rarely seen in the industry.  This was the hottest arcade game of the time, possibly ever, now available for the newest console on the market and more or less arcade perfect to our untrained eyes.  Needless to say Genesis owners had no choice but to swallow that L and look on in envy.  Sega of America were at their most aggressive at this point and actively shored up any holes in the Genesis’ library and so Eternal Champions was born.  As a show of just how capable the platform was it was excellent but as a competitive fighting game it falls far short.

The Eternal Champion has looked into the future and seen that humanity has destroyed itself.  With his powers he discovers that the source is the death of nine individuals who in some way would have affected the course of history.  However he only has the power to revive one of them and so stages a tournament to decide who will get another chance at life.

I can see Sega’s reasoning behind the creation of Eternal Champions.  Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat were tearing up the charts but at the time Capcom were still exclusively in Nintendo’s corner and no one knew if Mortal Kombat would be ported.  As one of the first console exclusive fighting games EC is a mélange of features and ideas from other games all in one package.  And while the game’s premise is sound it loses out when it comes to gameplay.

The concept of a tournament of the world’s best fighters isn’t new but the motivation behind it in this case is pretty damn cool.  The cast of characters is pulled from numerous points in time and have fully fleshed out bios detailing their history, circumstances regarding their death and fighting style.  The greatest attribute of the game is that none of its nine fighters fit comfortably into the standard Street Fighter tropes and stand on their own.  It’s daunting to have to learn something new but (could have been) rewarding to master.  Each practices a particular martial art, which sounds cool on paper but is implausible in reality.  Trident uses Capoeira but it wasn’t invented until centuries after his lifetime.

If you don’t have a six button controller don’t even bother.  The Street Fighter setup of three punches and kicks is employed and no one in their right mind wants to switch between the two using start.  Each fighter has a large arsenal of special moves that are governed by an Inner Strength meter represented by a yin/yang symbol.  Using special moves takes a small portion of inner strength that slowly replenishes with time.  Taunting can deplete your opponent’s meter, leaving them without their bag of tricks and is an important tactic for survival.

Which leads into the game’s first stumbling block.  Eschewing the standard quarter circle motions for moves the system uses a combination of Guile style charges and multiple button presses to activate moves that is frankly painful to execute.  The finger gymnastics required to pull off most special moves in the heat of combat flat out doesn’t work.  Hitting A+C or all three kicks or punches pretty much requires you to hold the controller in a weird ass way that isn’t comfortable at all.

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It sucks because the array of special moves is actually pretty creative.  There are your standard fireballs and throws but these are joined by unique abilities such as Xavier’s power to swap bodies temporarily, R.A.X’s turbine which dodges projectiles and can switch positions (effective for corner traps), or even Shadow’s, uh, shadow mode.  There are moves that will buff or straight up debuff your opponents, reverse their controls or even restore health.  Training in the game’s extensive practice mode can at least help you get the hang of the timing and execution of moves but you’ll still have to deal with the ruthless computer AI.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Eternal Champions has some of the most vicious AI I’ve ever experienced in a fighting game.  The computer is highly defensive, knows exactly how and when to counter your every move and aggressively taunts to deplete your inner strength at every opportunity.  It’s also bullshit that the computer can still execute their special moves regardless of inner strength.  Winning a single round against your first opponent let alone the entire match is a god damn cause for celebration.  The penalty for losing a single match of the tournament is pretty steep; you are sent back to face your two previous opponents; considering how hard it is to win even one match I doubt anyone would have the willpower to go through it again.

As bad as the regular opponents are it still pales in comparison to the Eternal Champion.  If by some miracle you make it that far (or cheat like I did back in the day) you are treated to one of the cheapest final boss fights in any fighting game in history, right up there with Ivan Ooze in SNES Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and King of Fighter’s ’94 Rugal.   This cheap bastard has infinite inner strength, which means he can taunt you forever and deplete your own.  He has not one, not two, but FIVE different forms that need to be beaten in a single round to win.  Your health is slightly restored in between each but you only have one shot at this; losing means you have to start over.  Considering the ending is a lame bit of text explaining what your chosen fighter did with their new lease on life I can see why they made it so hard.

It’s a god damn shame the game has no semblance of balance since it means you will more than likely never see some of its cooler features.  Fatalities exist in the form of Over kills, which are environmental kills unique to each stage.  Performing an overkill is far too stringent however; you need to be in an exact spot while performing the final hit of the final round with a non-existent margin for error.  They certainly look cool but their execution saps all the fun out of it.  Part of the reason fatalities are so fun in Mortal Kombat is the relative ease they can be performed as long as you know the button combination, a lesson EC sadly didn’t learn.

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The production values in Eternal Champions were pretty stellar for the time.  As one of the first 24-megabit cartridges the extra space was put to good use.  The sprites are larger than in most 16-bit fighting games and sport an extensive range of animations.  As a console exclusive the developers made excellent use of the Genesis’s limited color palette to highlight the most minor of details in the backgrounds.  The reflective glass on the dome of Trident’s stage, the fire illuminating the houses of Xavier’s village, even the erupting volcano of Slash’s prehistoric time, this was advanced stuff.  The sound wasn’t up to the standard however as the music is forgettable and the voices, yikes.  Sampled speech on the Genesis was almost always painful to hear.

There are some good ideas buried in Eternal Champions however the game’s difficulty means you’ll never get to see or experience them.  Some fun can be found in multiplayer but at that point you might as well play a better fighting game.  The sequel is what this should have been.

6-out-of-101

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The Ninja Warriors

By late 1994 fighting games were about to undergo another renaissance due to 3-d technology.  Sega’s Virtua Fighter would pave the way and would soon be followed by Namco’s Tekken and a slew of others.  But while fighting games would increase in popularity again the beat em up was on the wane.  A few stand out titles would still trickle out such as Capcom’s Aliens vs. Predator and Streets of Rage 3 but the writing was on the wall.  Taito’s Ninja Warriors was released into this market and probably would have made a bigger impact a year or two earlier when the genre was at its peak.  That does not take away from the fact that it is an excellent update to an otherwise tepid arcade game.

In the future the entire United States lives under the totalitarian rule of a dictator named Banglar.  It’s only hope lies in an underground resistance group that has hastily built android ninjas more suited to the task of killing Banglar.

The Ninja Warriors was an arcade game released by Taito in 1988 and counts as one of my biggest gaming regrets.  Not because I didn’t play it but because I wasted my limited funds on it.  While some see it as a classic of the 80s honestly aside from the triple screen monitor setup it had nothing else going for it as it was too simplistic and repetitive.  The SNES sequel/remake actually keeps the same general framework but gives the gameplay a massive shot in the arm, making it one of the better brawlers for the system.

The arcade’s two protagonists return and are joined by a third android.  The Blue ninja is renamed…..Ninja and is physically the strongest but slowest.  Kunoichi is the most balanced of the three, eschewing the trope of the female being the fastest but weakest.  New to the series is Kamaitaichi, an android whose robotic exterior is fully exposed.  As the fastest of the group he uses his long arms to make up for his lack of strength.

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There are stark differences between all three characters that will drastically alter how you approach the game.  The Ninja does not jump and instead performs a shoulder charge.  His dashing attack is instead a flying leg drop which covers less distance than the others.  His strength advantage is significant; enemies that can withstand multiple combos from the other two go down in two or three of his hits.   Kunoichi has the best crowd controlling throws and can spring board off enemy heads after landing a jump kick.  Kamaitaichi actually can’t grab opponents to perform throws and instead has a number of moves using his extendable arms and claws to keep them at bay.

There are far more fighting techniques available per character than in most brawlers and even when moves are performed in a similar manner the results are wildly different.  In addition to the multi-hit combo attack you have a variety of throws, a dash attack, an escape maneuver and can even block attacks.  The blaster meter constantly charges as long as you aren’t knocked down and once full you can use it as a screen clearing (most of the time) bomb.  However a small portion of it can be used to enhance your combos and attacks instead which is far more useful.  Expending the entire bar in one attack will usually clear the screen but you are then stuck waiting for it to refill completely when using only a sliver would have accomplished the same thing.

The game keeps the same single plane from the arcade which is in stark contrast with every other beat em up on the market.  It sounds limiting but actually places a heavier emphasis on crowd control since you can no longer circle around tougher opponents.  Most enemies will die in a single hit so they’ll usually attack in groups of 4-5 but interspersed in these groups are usually bigger robots and soldiers with projectiles.  It’s easy to lose control of the situation when dealer with the larger threat only to have the lame goons with the butter knives stab you five times in a row.  While the levels are a more or less straight line to the exit there are tons of background elements you can use to your advantage such as propeller blades and random bombing attacks that will also affect the enemies who will be more than happy to walk into them face first.

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As a whole the game is only moderately challenging but does begin to pick up in its latter half.  Your generously long life bar means nothing considering there is usually only one energy pack per level.  The bosses especially are a pain in the ass since they will block your attacks more frequently and usually have a never ending supply of fodder enemies to deal with.  There are unlimited continues so it’s only a matter of time until you’ve conquered the game’s eight stages but its one hell of a ride until the very end.

Considering its origins as a less than stellar arcade game this update turned out better than expected while also following the style of its predecessor.  The Ninja Warriors is one of the best SNES beat em ups and a fine way to spend an afternoon.

8-out-of-101

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Brawl Brothers

1993 proved to be a huge year for the side scrolling beat em up as the genre seemed to flourish both in the arcade and on home consoles. SNK’s Sengoku 2, Konami’s lesser known Gaiaopolis, and more importantly Capcom’s the Punisher and Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom were either kick ass games or brought some much needed innovation to the genre.  On the home front Final Fight saw an exclusive SNES sequel and Sega’s Streets of Rage 2 would be the top game in the eyes of fighting pugilists for quite some time.  Jaleco’s Rival Turf was an average game and so the sequel seeks to rectify that and is a marked improvement but comes up short in a few categories.

Hack and Slash, the titular Brawl Brothers in the title run a local self-defense gym in Bayside City with their three best pupils, Kazan, Wendy and Lord J.  It’s a bit silly that a ninja, wrestler, and Karate master are taking classes to learn how to protect themselves but whatever.  The mad scientist Dieter has unleashed his army of clones on Bayside City and captured three of the group, prompting the remaining duo to spring into action.

Jaleco’s three beat em ups (Rival Turf, Brawl Brothers and the Peacekeepers) are all part of one series of games known as Rushing Beat in Japan.  The games were all localized but aside from the two main protagonists all references and story beats that connect the games have been removed.  There’s no silly American names like Jack Flak and Oozie Nelson this time out at the very least although Hack and Slash is just as hammy.

You are able to choose two of the five characters at the start with the remaining three being captured per the game’s story.  These characters serve as the end level bosses, adding a random element to the game since it changes depending on how you’ve chosen.  It is a bit unfair that as bosses they sport techniques that you do not have access to but I have to admit it makes the battle against them more exciting.

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From a gameplay perspective Brawl Brothers is significantly improved over its predecessor.  While all five characters have the same basic array of punches, kicks, and throws there are techniques unique to all of them that make a large difference aside from their differences in strength and speed.  Kazan can triple jump and has a slide kick, Hack has a power uppercut akin to Axel’s Grand Upper, and Lord J has a larger arsenal of throws compared to everyone else.  Angry mode makes its return and is probably even more overpowered than before.  With the increased abundance of food it’s possible to activate it multiple times without dying if so inclined. In an odd twist it’s preferable to avoid all weapons aside from the shotgun as their reach and hit box is too finicky to deal with.

There are only four stages in the game however each is extremely long and comprised of multiple locations separate from one another.  The first level begins on a highway overpass before descending down into the sewers.  Stage 2 starts off in the jungle before leading to a mobile lift you can conveniently toss enemies off of.  The American version saw a few changes regarding the levels to make the game less linear.  The sewer has been changed to a maze of corridors that you have to navigate through to find the exit.  The abandoned gym leads to an elevator that will take you to a number of floors with items or enemies lying in wait before the finale.

There’s a diverse amount of scenery considering the brevity of the game including the boss battles.  Each boss has their own unique arena (sometimes literally) and some like Kazan’s have external factors to deal with such as the room rotating as you fight.  Once you’ve beaten one of the bosses they become playable on the following levels.

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Because there are only four levels and they are so long the repetition in the game becomes far more noticeable.  There’s very little enemy variety in the game and in fact by the end of the first stage you’ll have fought all of them aside from one new addition half way through the game.  Fighting the same three of four generic bad guys in groups of 4-5 continuously on every 15-20 minute stage gets tiring quickly.  I get the feeling even the designers realize this as there are multiple segments where you can toss them off screen for an instant kill.

Aside from fighting the same bastards over and over there are some quirks you’ll have to adjust to with the fighting system in place.  I don’t know if it’s a collision issue but there were far too many instances where I should have grabbed an enemy but instead walked through them repeatedly.  Trying to grab them from behind does not always work.  If you are knocked down its possible to become trapped as some enemies will repeatedly knock you over before getting up, resulting in a cheap death.  Some enemies (Butch and his variants in particular) seem to be able to grab and throw you at will which is frustrating to deal with in the second half of the game. As cheap as some of the enemies are they’re also extremely dumb and will often jump off a building or into a hole of their own volition which is hilarious to see in action.

Despite the game’s repetition and cheap tactics I doubt anyone will have trouble finishing the game, especially since you can always press start on controller two once you’ve exhausted all of your continues.  Brawl Brothers is an improvement over Rival Turf and had the potential to be more and falters in its execution.  It’s still a solid sequel but could have been an excellent game with more polish.

6-out-of-10-1

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Legend

Legend.  Its Legend-ary how little information there is about this game.  To the best of my recollection I can only remember one review at the time of the game’s release.  Even with the vast resources of the internet there are maybe 2 or 3 reviews and only a few youtube videos.  But why is that?  How is it that a game can fly so far under the radar?  I’ll tell you why, because it’s terrible.  There were many average brawlers released during the 16-bit era that at least got the fundamentals right.  Legend fails in that regard and as a result the rest of the game suffers as well.

Beldor the Maleficent reigned as a despot over the kingdom of Sellech for one thousand years. All was chaos and destruction. Many knights went on a final crusade to destroy Beldor but none returned. The people united, built energized heroes and imprisoned Beldor’s soul. Now, Clovis, corrupt son of the King of Sellech, wants to harness Beldor’s power and conquer the kingdom.

There was virtually no marketing for this release back in 1993 and I sure as hell never saw it in any store.  I remember the Gamepro review which gave it middling scores in control and fun factor but praised the graphics and sound.  It’s a fairly accurate assessment as Legend has good art but awful gameplay.  The original developers, Arcade Zone, would later go on to create a remake for the PlayStation that was only released in Europe.  THQ were going to publish the game as Knights of Carnage but dropped it supposedly due to its violence.  I’d like to believe someone actually played it and changed their mind.

Stylistically the game is similar to Golden Axe.  Both games feature the same mix of fantasy action with a dabble of magic set in a mystic world.  You have a limited number of moves to combat opponents with, such as a normal 3 hit sword combo and 3 variations of the jump kick.  It’s hard to believe but this is one of the few beat em ups that allows you block attacks which when you think about is absurd that most games in the genre don’t allow it.  The special attack is a ranged blow that saps a little bit of life.  Magic bags dropped by enemies or in barrels can be used for devastating magic attacks if things truly get hairy.

While the Golden Axe comparison might sound favorable in practice Legend is a broken mess.  The main culprit comes from your slow attack speed and movement in general.  I would kill for at least a throw or a dash, anything to at least speed up the game.  Pulling off a basic set of attacks on one enemy is a laborious process, one that the gang of enemies that will assault you all at once will take advantage of.  Your attacks are so slow in fact that I can almost guarantee every enemy will shrug it off and break your attack cycle.  This is alleviated somewhat by the rare lightning orbs that will increase your strength level but you shouldn’t have to start at such a disadvantage just so the game can show a pattern of character growth.

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Enemies always attack in groups of 3-6 and you can see how this can quickly become frustrating.  Even if you try to cheese your way out of it by drop kicking everything in sight eventually they’ll become wise to your scheme or you’ll get the timing wrong.  As bad as it is facing regular thugs the bosses are a god damn nightmare in comparison.   Just as an example, the first mini boss is a pole wielding bastard with insane reach.  Trying to attack him head on is futile as all of his attacks have priority over yours.  I can comfortably say that most will use up at least one continue getting past him.

The sad thing is you can tell the developers realized they had screwed up the game’s balance to some extent.  Enemies drop health restoring food at a steady clip and you’ll always have a decent supply of magic available.  Depending on the number of keys and vitality left at the end of each level you’ll have the opportunity to pick up reams of gold for points and extra lives.  It isn’t enough to make up for the rest of the game’s faults however.

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While I found the pace of the game sluggish I can’t help but admire its art.  The game makes extensive use of foreground objects that look nice but have a habit of obscuring the action.  They do tend to lean on the forest backdrop a bit too heavily; it’s recycled with slight color variations at least 5 times.  I get that it is supposed to connect each location on the world map but it’s a bit much.  Aside from that the world is expertly drawn and has a nice eastern European fantasy flair to it that is distinct from something like Capcom’s Knights of the Round.  It’s just a shame that few will have the patience to deal with the game’s issues to see it all.

Had they at least nailed the game’s fundamentals than maybe Legend could have been decent.  As it is the game is a broken mess that is better left to rot in obscurity.

5-out-of-101

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Two Crude Dudes

I think we can all agree that Bad Dudes was an average game overall.  Despite the game’s cheesy premise the game play was strictly average at best.  But we were able to overlook that for some gold old fashioned beat em up fun, at least for about 30 minutes.  Take away the cornball story and you’re left with Two Crude Dudes, a loose follow up that does little to bring the game play up to acceptable standards.

There are no ninjas kidnapping the President here. Taking a page out of Mad Max and Fist of the North Star nuclear weapons along with chemical warfare has ravaged the New York City, leaving it a home for mutants and the remnants of society.   An organization called Big Valley has plans to take over the city, leaving the President no choice but to rely on two crude mercenaries to clean up the mess.

As Crude Buster in the arcade the game never really took off like its predecessor.  As a home console port Two Crude Dudes is pretty comparable to the arcade machine but faced stiffer competition in the form of Streets of Rage.  While it had its frustrating moments the relative depth to its combat made Streets of Rage an enjoyable ride from start to end, not to mention the graphics and ridiculous soundtrack.  Two Crude Dudes has none of this, and is a shallow brawler that will leave you bored after the first few levels.

Two Crude Dudes commits the biggest sin of the brawler genre in that it has an extremely limited move set.  You’re armed with basic punches, kicks, a jump kick (if you can call it that) and can roll.  That jump kick is pretty lame in action as you’re overly beefy dude barely lifts off the ground.  Although restricted to a 2d plane you can still climb platforms and buildings provided you can tolerate the pathetic jump height.

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Perhaps the lone feature that stands out is the ability to pick up and throw nearly everything.  If you see it and it’s not bolted down chances are you can chuck it.  Sticks, boxes, poles, enemies, cars, even mobile transports are fair game.  Hell, if you’re playing coop you can throw each other!  It seems obvious that the designers realized this as the ground is littered with objects to bat around.  It takes a second to adjust to having a separate button for throwing but it comes in handy if you want to just kick the shit out of a punk without chucking your current item.

The game’s premise is silly and that is born out through the comic book style sound effects.  The protagonists as well don’t seem to take the situation seriously either, and will flex and wink at the drop of a dime.   But all the charm in the world can’t change the fact that the game is boring.  Most enemies are taken out with one or two hits and are so brain dead they’ll simple run straight into your fists.  The game is more than generous with continues and outside of the bosses there is no challenge to be found.

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Speaking of the bosses, in stark contrast to the generic mooks and mutants these bastards are a cantankerous bunch.  They have insane reach, especially the second and third boss.  One other facet I hate, after each hit they are temporarily invincible, either that or the collision detection sucks.  Regardless of the challenge posed I can guarantee that you’ll finish the game in an hour, no sweat.

I never thought highly of Bad Dudes and Two Crude Dudes does little to set it apart from that game quality wise.  There are better beat em ups on the Genesis to think about before bothering with this one.

6-out-of-10-1

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Guardian Heroes

By the mid-90s beat ‘em ups had run their course in terms of popularity.  The once popular side scrolling brawler could not bear the burden of mediocrity that had infected the genre on the 16-bit platforms.  Most of these games were content to implement the bare minimum in terms of play mechanics with no innovation and even the standard bearer at the time, Final Fight, suffered in the process.  Ironically Capcom’s own Dungeon & Dragons series was exactly what the genre needed.

Along came Treasure who in one fell swoop created one of the best brawlers of all time, Guardian Heroes.  And it was their first Saturn game!  Guardian Heroes took the best of every game that came before it, the RPG mechanics of River City Ransom, the branching paths in Final Fight 3, and combined it with a battle system with more depth than most fighting games to create a game that is more fun every time you play it.  It didn’t receive the popularity and sales it deserved due to the Saturn’s fortunes in the US but thanks to its recent rerelease on XBLA a new generation of gamers can experience greatness at its finest.

The spirits of Earth and Sky waged war long ago and in an effort to win the war the Sky spirits granted humans the use of magic.  The Earth spirits were defeated however in fear the Sky spirits imprisoned the new wizards along with them.  One of these wizards, Kanon manages to escape and take over the kingdom in secret to search for the legendary sword said to be able to end his reign.  Four warriors (Han, Ginjirou, Randy and Nicole) have found the legendary sword but before they can celebrate their success Serena, a former knight informs them that the knights of the kingdom are coming for it in force, enveloping them in the struggle between the Wizard kingdom and the true royal family.

Every character has their strengths and weaknesses but you have the opportunity to fix their flaws or enhance their strengths through leveling up.  You gain one point per level gained and at the end of each stage can assign points to strength, defense, agility, vitality, magic and luck.   The maximum level you can reach is 200 but that won’t happen in one session.  Technically you can completely ignore a character’s given niche, such as building up Randy’s strength rather than spell power but honestly that would be dumb.  Don’t put so much stock in my words however, the system is there for you to explore!

At first the sheer chaotic nature of the game’s combat will seem overwhelming.  In the opening moments of the game as many as 6-8 enemies will attack at once, a far cry from the days of two antagonists assailing you with one waiting their turn for an ass whipping.  Guardian Heroes uses a three plane system similar to some of the Fatal Fury 3 to help manage the ensuing chaos.  It takes a few minutes to adjust especially as the enemies will use it to their advantage and flank you.  It quickly becomes second nature to switch lanes and wait for them to follow or to take a breather.  Some of the most devastating spells in the game can only be avoided this way; if you’re unfortunate enough to face the likes of Kanon G. Grey you won’t survive unless you use this tactic.

Every character has an array of special moves with different priorities depending on whether you’ve used a weak or strong attack.  Special moves are executed using Street Fighter style commands and in fact the controls are near identical to a fighting game.  Han is powerful but slow with most of his attacks knocking back enemies and inflicting large slices of damage.  His overwhelming strength covers up his near lack of magic.  Ginjirou has average strength but excellent speed making him a combo powerhouse in concert with his selection of spells.  Randy is fun to use since you’ll focus almost exclusively on his spells which is in contrast to Nicole, whose magic is purely defensive.  It sounds lopsided in favor the melee combatants but using your Undead companion to shore up your weaknesses is key.  The only issue is finding a moment to bring up his command menu in the heat of battle.

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The single most important skill you’ll learn when playing Guardian Heroes is crowd control.  Most stages are only a few minutes long but in that time you’ll face upwards of 20-30 enemies total, sometimes as many as 10 at once.  Prioritizing the largest threat will go a long way towards staying alive and it doesn’t always pay to be a hero.  The undead hero is invincible so there’s no shame in hanging back and letting him do some of the work for you.  Just as you can string together a long series of combos and clear the screen in moments it’s possible to be the victim of a chain of juggling attacks that can wipe you out with no chance to retaliate which is unfair.  That’s perhaps the game’s only major flaw; it shows little restraint in regards to its insanity and can be hard to keep up with.  It sucks to waste your limited continues due to random string of cheap attacks; the large mechs and trolls will be the bane of your existence.

Those that master the battle system will be rewarded with a long quest by genre standards that takes close to two or three hours to complete the first time through.  The game has insane replay value through its multiple paths and endings.  There are thirty stages total but you’ll only see nine or ten each run.  After certain levels you are presented with three to five choices as to how to proceed with each one affecting the eventual outcome.  Depending on your choice of hero and the paths you take you’ll face one of five final bosses and receive one of seven endings.  To see everything will take at least 10 hours which is more than you can say about most brawlers in general.

Once you’ve exhausted all of the single player content the multiplayer mode offers a ton of variety as nearly every enemy you’ve come across in the Story mode becomes playable for up to six people.  Having said that it doesn’t resemble anything you would call balanced but for the number of options available it’s fun in a Super Smash Brothers manner.

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Guardian Heroes’ graphics have a unique look that no other game can match.  The graphics are heavily pixelated since all of the sprites need to scale from the distant background to the foreground.  It’s off putting at first but the level of detail poured into the animation and special attacks makes up for it. The spell effects become a problem when magic is used by more than two or three characters, engulfing the screen in pyrotechnics and making you lose sight of your character.  The character designs were done by the same artist as Gunstar Heroes with a few villains making a cameo.  The huge limbs/small joints combo is certainly weird but unique and gives the game its own visual identity.  The music uses a wider range of instruments than what was possible on the Genesis and is generally excellent.

What more is there to say about Guardian Heroes?  It takes the beat ‘em up genre and gives it a swift kick in the ass, showcasing more inventive play mechanics and ideas than the majority of these games combined.  Not only is it one of the best Saturn games of all time but one of the brightest stars in the genre next to Streets of Rage 2 and Double Dragon.

9-out-of-10

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Mighty Final Fight

As much as gamers loved Final Fight in the arcade we all somehow knew it wasn’t possible to stuff into an NES cartridge.  I was far from being aware of any technical details but accepted it as fact.  Maybe it was seeing all of the compromises Konami made with the TMNT arcade game, despite it being an awesome game for its time.  While the game would see a number of ports of varying quality on the 16-bit consoles Capcom still found the time to surprise gamers still fond of their favorite 8-bit console with Mighty Final Fight.

The Mad Gear gang has attacked Metro City and kidnapped Mayor Haggar’s daughter Jessica, not for ransom but so she can marry their leader Belgar.  What?  Arranged marriages don’t fly in the US so Haggar along with Cody and Guy set out to rescue her.

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As you can imagine by its premise this is not an entirely serious retelling of the arcade game’s story (such as it is).  That fact is also reinforced by the game’s presentation.  The game is presented in the super deformed format popular in Japan.  It actually fits pretty well, preserving the spirit of Metro City while providing an experience more appropriate for the NES’s limitations.  It does resemble River City Ransom or any of American Technos’s other NES games.  Despite their cute makeover you’ll recognize many of the Mad Gear gang’s most infamous crooks such as Andore, Two P, and Poison, who has made survived the transition unscathed.  Aside from some unavoidable flicker the developers have done a commendable job with this release.

Aside from retaining much of the arcade game’s look it also plays similarly and in some respects even better.  All 3 characters are available (take that lame SNES version!) although this is strictly a solo affair.  Guy is still fast but weak, Haggar is a powerhouse, and Cody occupies the middle ground between the two.  All of the moves from the arcade have been retained although that isn’t saying much; Final Fight was definitely a product of its time and is relatively simple compared to the games in the genre that would follow it.

These differences only scratch the surface however as the game has an added experience meter and leveling.  Experience is gained by defeating enemies with the amount changing depending on how you finish off the enemies.  While it’s tempting to throw the bad guys into the sink hole at the beginning of stage 4 you’ll only gain 1 experience point for it.  Trading convenience over style definitely has its downsides.  With each increase in level your strength increases and level 4 each fighter gains one new move.  It should be noted that Haggar begins at level 3 versus level 1 for the other 2, reflecting their differences in power.

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Mighty Final Fight has a solid foundation but does come up short upon further scrutiny.  The game is incredibly short at just 5 levels; the arcade game had 6 but they were all fairly long, especially the Bay area.  The brevity goes hand in hand with the game’s lack of challenge.  More than likely you’ll finish the game without using any continues if you’re not sloppy.  The game is also repetitive.  The game only has half the cast of enemies and by the end of the second level you’ve seen all of them.  It gets tiring fighting the same 3-4 enemies every level.  It even gets to the point where you’ll face off against the same bosses more than once. While I like the experience system it feels undercooked.  You’ll notice the enemies going down slightly faster as you level but the reward doesn’t feel tangible enough.  The new attack at level 4 is cool but it would have varied the gameplay tremendously if you gained a new move every level NES Double Dragon style, further encouraging you to maximize leveling up.

In spite of its flaws Mighty Final Fight is a strong 8-bit conversion of one of the most popular arcade games of all time.  Although it could have been so much more the fact that Capcom were able to squeeze the game within the NES’s limitations is commendable in its own right.

7-out-of-10

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Final Fight CD

After the disappointment of Final Fight’s SNES release it seemed as though gamers would have to stick to pumping an arcade unit with quarters if they wanted an unfettered experience.  The SNES version was a highly anticipated release and even in spite of its flaws most of us were able to overlook it because the alternative was to spend your allowance in the arcade.   That persisted until Sega released one of the best home ports of the time for the Sega CD.

Mayor Mike Haggar has barely been in office and already has to deal with a catastrophe. The Mad Gear gang who has plagued Metro City wants to do as they please with no retaliation, an arrangement the previous mayor agreed to.  Haggar won’t budge however the Mad Gear have kidnapped his daughter Jessica as a bargaining chip.  Now along with her boyfriend Cody and his best friend Guy Haggar plans to rescue Jessica and clean up the streets.

Capcom failed with the first version released close to the SNES launch but had an opportunity to fix their mistakes with Final Fight Guy.  Instead they simply replaced Cody and only released the game as a Blockbuster exclusive.  This Sega produced edition was the best port available, restoring all of the missing content and offering a few exclusives of its own.

Right off the bat you can select any of the three protagonists and have the option of 2-player coop.  That right there is cause for celebration.  Honestly I can’t fathom how Capcom thought it was alright to release the game without a 2-player option; half the fun of the arcade game was tackling the mean streets of Metro City with a buddy.  Now that all 3 characters are available in one game gamers of all stripes could pick their preferred play style; the slow but powerful blows of Haggar, the fast but light attack of Guy, or the middle man Cody.

Final Fight set the mold by which nearly every beat em up that followed would be judged.  Having said that the game is a bit simpler than most gamers remember; after all it was released in 1989 originally.  The limited move sets of each character are just interesting enough to keep you entertained all the way through to the end of the game.  Keen eyed gamers will notice that both Cody and Guy’s attack speed has been reduced.   The near infinite stream of punches they could produce prevented an enemy from breaking your combo and was extremely effective.   This change breaks that but doesn’t ruin the game in the process thankfully.

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Gameplay wise everything is near identical the arcade.  Poison and Roxy have been restored although their daisy dukes have been changed to hot pants.  Most importantly the Industrial level cut from the SNES version has been restored.  This fiery factory will more than likely sap most of your lives as you fight thugs among the moving trails of fire, all in preparation for your battle with Rolento at the end.  A new time attack mode has been added which challenges you to defeat enemies within a strict time limit.  If you really love Final Fight that much I suppose it’s a worthwhile addition but aside from the new background art is only a distraction.  More content is always a plus in my book and the inclusion of this level does make the game feel like a more complete package.

Final Fight was hard even in the arcade and that carries over to the home ports.  The arcade machine was notoriously skimpy when it came to lives; you only had two per quarter.  This version at least allows you to tweak a few parameters such as starting lives and how frequently you’ll receive extra lives based on score.  Even with these options working in your favor chances are it will take a few hours to see the end.  There were numerous points in the game that were clearly designed to rob you of your hard earned quarters in the arcade such as the sudden battle against four (4!) Andores.  These have been toned down somewhat but points like these make the two continues disappear real fast.  The pacing toward the end of the game is frankly terrible; the bay area and uptown drag on far too long.  The limited battle system shows its weakness as you fight a seemingly endless parade of the same enemies for almost 15-20 minutes per level.  I suppose Sega should be commended for recreating the arcade experience but I’ll be damned if I didn’t wish they would have condensed it somewhat.

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In terms of recreating the arcade game’s graphics Sega has done an admirable job.  The sprites and backgrounds look true to their coin op counterparts.  The color palette is darker which is unavoidable considering the Genesis and by extension Sega CD’s limits.  One area that has seen an upgrade is the sound.  The arranged soundtrack is fantastic and as an added bonus the intro and ending are fully voiced.

Until the recent Final Fight Double Impact for XBLA and PSN and the X68000 version this was the best home port of Final Fight available.  With its added features it’s also one of the best Sega CD games around and still worth playing today.

8-out-of-101

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Fighting Force

Coming of the success of Tomb Raider Core Design and Eidos could do no wrong.  Flush with Lara Croft money they began an aggressive marketing campaign for nearly all of their games supposedly based on “character” when in reality it was mostly tits and ass.  Badly shaped polygonal asses at that that; look up any of the old Deathtrap Dungeon ads to fleece your eyes.  With 3-d platformers under their belt they turned their eyes toward the side scrolling brawler, a genre that had yet to make the leap to 3d.  While Core were given the benefit of the doubt the final product sadly did not live up to expectations.

Dr. Zeng has devised a new drug and unleashed it on the streets, creating scores of new addicts in his bid for world domination.  Among the victims left in the wake of his drug spree are the family and friends of 4 individuals, Hawk Manson, Ben Smasher, Alana McKendricks, and Mace Daniels.

Originally conceived as a Streets of Rage sequel that deal fell through but work continued regardless.  A lot of promises were made prior to Fighting Force’s release.  There were grand plans to make the game a free roaming brawler, allowing you to wander around at your leisure with a deep fighting system in tow.  Somewhere along the way the enormity of their vision came crashing down, leaving us with a stripped down, repetitive beat em up with few redeeming qualities.

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While all 4 characters have their differences in practice they are more or less the same.  All characters share the same basic move set and specialize in a particular area, such as jumping attacks or grappling but it’s largely irrelevant due to the control scheme.  While the PlayStation controller has multiple buttons Core decided to shove multiple functions into one button.  Backhand attacks and grappling both share the same button, resulting in many instances where you’ll attack the wrong guy rather than execute a body slam or pile driver as planned.  Movement is sluggish at best which affects the flow of combat since it never quite “feels” right.

The lack of a targeting option is also a concern; I honestly can’t see why it wasn’t added since you’ll almost always face 3-5 enemies at once.  Flailing around hoping that your attacks will at least hit someone in the near vicinity is incredibly stupid in a game focused so heavily on combat.  This was an issue with far too many games in that console generation but is especially egregious in the beat em up genre.  No matter how comfortable you become with the controls combat will never seem fluid.

All of those claims of a massive move set for each character were apparently abandoned as you are more or less armed with a basic series of kicks, punches, a jump kick, slide, and a few throws and that’s it.  Any gamer who has played Final Fight and its ilk know that these games live and die by their combat system and the repetition inherit in the genre.  Fighting Force does nothing to fix those problems and quickly becomes boring as a result.

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The brain dead enemy AI doesn’t either.  Most “levels” if you can call them that consist of smaller arenas that task you with defeating all of the enemies before being whisked away to the next one.  The repetitive enemies all share the same basic beat em up tactic of boxing you in and letting loose. Fighting 5 or 6 enemies at once loses its luster when 3 of them hang back and wait their turn.  The camera doesn’t do the combat any favors since you can’t rotate it as you like.  The forced angles make avoiding attacks when a car or pole block your view frustrating.  Even worse, enemies with guns will frequently attack off camera, never a good idea.

The one bright spot would be the level of interactivity.  Despite their small size the environments are highly interactive and destructible.  Most objects can be smashed and used as a weapon, such as guard rails or objects on the ground.  It’s satisfying to destroy an ATM or van and use the hood as a projectile.  At the very least while you are confined to small areas it’s incredibly satisfying to use the environment to your advantage.  It offers a glimpse of what the game could have been had they tempered their ambition enough to bring their original vision to life.

The N64 port came two years after the PlayStation version and is more or less the same in terms of content.  The slowdown that plagued the two-player coop is gone and the lighting has been improved but otherwise the look of the games are similar.  Most importantly the long load times are a thing of the past which at least makes things speedier, not that it makes the game any better.

The potential was there but Core Design didn’t follow through.  Fighting Force had everything going for it in terms of press attention but that might have doomed it in the end.  Under close scrutiny Fighting Force fails to live up to the hype.

6-out-of-101

 

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the Punisher (Genesis)

I remember the Punisher arcade game as a bad ass beat em up that fully captured the essence of the character’s brutal war on crime.  It was one of the few arcade games I actually managed to finish before the inevitable home port, a feat that sticks out in my mind considering most coin ops were designed to drain your quarters.  Yeah, I was that naïve dude that honestly thought I could finish the Turtles arcade game or Final Fight with 3 quarters.  The Punisher would eventually find its way home on the Genesis but somewhere along the way a lot was lost in translation, leaving only a competent version of a once great game.

The Punisher has declared all-out war on the Kingpin and plans to decimate his criminal organization bit by bit before taking the big man out.  Nick Fury tags along for some inexplicable reason for some two-player action.

Released in 1993 the Punisher has a lot in common with Capcom’s other beat em ups of the time, most notably Final Fight and Warriors of Fate.  Running on the same CPS1 hardware it had a vibrant look that popped off the screen as well as stunning animation.  The Genesis port loses far too much in the porting process and it almost feels like a completely different game.   There were other added elements that I imagine were to make up for it but instead ruin the game’s balance.  While it isn’t a bad game necessarily it does take a back seat to the beasts of the genre.

As either Frank Castle or Nick Fury you have a large range of moves at your disposal.  Aside from the standard arsenal of punches and kicks the true highlight of the battle system comes from the large number of grappling moves you can execute.  From body slams, gut punches, to throws it’s satisfying to move in close and perform a wrestling move on an unsuspecting thug.  Neither character can actually dash but instead will perform a short hop or roll to build momentum and increase the power of the next attack.  Occasionally a group of thugs will pull out some heat and it’s in these rare moments that you are allowed to do the same.  Since you have unlimited ammo go to town on their asses!

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While it does its best to bring the arcade experience home some cuts had to be made and they do affect the game’s quality.  Most of the breakable background objects have either been removed or are just parts of the scenery now.  These breakable objects were usually the primary source of weapons but now that has shifted to obtaining them from fallen opponents.  I do miss the comedic aspect of destroying the car the enemies arrived in and seeing the driver burned to death.  A few enemies have also been removed and this is the worst cut of all.  In an effort to make the game longer the game throws more waves of enemies at you consistently.  Unfortunately it means you’ll kill 7-10 palette swapped bad guys in a row which becomes tedious quickly.  If they bothered to put up any kind of resistance maybe it could get interesting but in most cases they sit and wait for their turn to get an ass whopping.

In a page ripped straight out of 1991 this version of the game features some censorship like the SNES port of Final Fight before it.   The female ninjas have less revealing outfits, some of the blood is gone, and references to smoking have been removed.  The first boss Scully was shot and killed following his interrogation but is now simply thrown off screen.  In the grand scheme these are mostly minor but they do stick out considering Sega had long since created their own ratings system and made it available to every one of their licensees.

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In addition to the censorship the graphics have undergone a serious downgrade.   The game is significantly darker with less detail overall.  The color scheme used to replace the missing colors is very gaudy, giving certain levels a different “feel”.  All sprites have undergone a noticeable size reduction; in the arcade the sprites were relatively huge.  Certain enemies were redesigned and are plain ugly; the second boss Guardroid stands out in particular.  While it’s to be expected due to the system’s limited color palette it really is no excuse considering the vivid graphics of the Sonic games and Capcom’s own Super Street Fighter 2 released in the same year.

As a whole this is still a more than competent beat em up; unfortunately it has to swim in waters occupied by a few sharks, namely the Streets of Rage series.  Capcom did a decent job of porting the game but I feel could have done better, especially considering the work done on Super Street Fighter 2.

6-out-of-10-1

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Final Fight 3

1995 was an interesting transition year for the gaming industry.  The PlayStation, Saturn, and (supposedly) N64 were all set to be released in the fourth quarter meanwhile the SNES and Genesis were still trucking along.  That’s not even counting the 3DO, Jaguar, and CDi although all 3 were pretty much irrelevant by that point.  While many publishers would hold back their most popular franchises for their 32-bit debut Capcom brought out sequels in some of their most beloved franchises for the SNES for one last hurrah.  Final Fight 3 corrected many of the flaws apparent in the second installment and is simply a great beat em up with some cool features that add longevity to a genre that is usually built on all too brief campaigns.

With the Mad Gear gang completely eliminated Metro City has finally enjoyed some peace.  But it doesn’t last long as a new gang steps up to fill the void left in their absence.  The Skull Cross Gang are staging riots across the city forcing mayor Mike Haggar to step in personally along with returning martial artist Guy, police detective Lucia, and the mysterious Dean.

Although Final Fight 2 managed to capture the look of an expensive arcade unit pretty well it did nothing to advance the genre and came across as a rehash.  Final Fight 3 comes with a host of improvements that make kicking ass through Metro City enjoyable in the long run.  Aside from 2-player coop you have the option to do so with an AI controlled ally to simulate the experience if you’re a lonely nerd with no friends.  The AI is more than capable of taking care of itself and actually helpful if a little bit too aggressive in moving forward at all times.  It’s a welcome feature if going solo isn’t appealing or too hard.  While slowdown rears its head with too many enemies on screen it isn’t enough of a factor to completely ruin this cool feature.

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All 4 fighters are armed with a vast array of fighting techniques, more so than most beat em ups combined.  This has always been my biggest pet peeve with this genre, the fact the designers seemed content to arm you with a simple punch, punch, kick, combo, a jump kick, and a throw and called it a day.  In addition to the standard arsenal of punches and kicks each character can dash and is armed with a number of grappling techniques depending on your position.  You can also switch position while holding an enemy if its more advantageous.  Some techniques are even activated with Street Fighter style button combos, a nice nod to Capcom’s roots.  Most important of all the controls are responsive and intuitive, enabling you to toss bad guys around effortlessly.

Despite a scant six levels Final Fight 3 has a few incentives for replay value.  There are multiple endings determined by a few key factors: the difficulty setting, character used (the most interesting is Dean) and the path taken to get to the end.  That’s right; there are multiple routes through some of the levels that will lead to all new areas with different enemies and bosses.  It at least adds about an hour or so to what is normally a brief experience and a welcome gesture.

My complaints with the game are few but still worth noting.  There is still a glaring lack of variety in the enemy roster; be prepared to fight a never ending stream of Johnnies, Billies, and Fat Jacks.  They try to stagger it so every will present at least one new enemy but that still amounts to less than 10.  It’s pretty frustrating to fight 3 or 4 of the same guy at once repeatedly for the length of the game.  With the improved combat mechanics the game is also significantly easier than prior games.  I managed to finish the game on my first try without using any continues, a feat I never managed in either of the prior two games.  I guess that means the game is balanced but it could have at least put up something of a struggle to kick my ass.

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Graphically I found the second game superior in spite of part 3’s better animation.  The world setting allows for more interesting vistas to stare at while punching faces.  I get that the setting is once again Metro City but there are a few areas that are very clear call backs to the first game, Round 5’s factory and the Skull Cross Gang’s hideout in particular.  It might be a homage but it just seems repetitious in my eyes.

As one of the last pure entries in the series Final Fight 3 allowed the series to leave the 16-bit era on a high note.  While the new features weren’t revolutionary they spiced up a tired genre enough make for one of the most playable beat em ups for the SNES.

7-out-of-10-1

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Captain Commando

By now I suppose everyone is familiar with Captain Commando through his cameo appearances in the Marvel vs. Capcom series.  But I doubt many are familiar with his original arcade and console debut.  Captain Commando’s appearances have been so sparse he might as well have been a new character by 1999.  So in the face of the character’s new found popularity how does his exclusive adventure hold up?

The story is super hero cheese at its finest.  Captain Commando and his eclectic companions are the protectors of not just Earth but the rest of the galaxy.  Set in the Metro City of 2026 when a super powered gang of criminals under the leadership of a mad scientist run amok the Commando crew spring into action.

Captain Commando was released in 1991 not long after Final Fight.  The two games share a lot in common, from their use of Capcom’s CPS1 board, genre, and general gameplay.  While Final Fight was ported to the SNES in 1991 Captain Commando remained forgotten until 1995.  By that point the beat em up genre had been advanced by titles such as Streets of Rage 3 and the Peacekeepers.  Time was not kind to Captain Commando and its simple gameplay in the face of better games simply doesn’t hold up.

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The good Captain certainly had come a long way since his earlier appearances as a semi mascot for Capcom USA.  More than likely birthed from the pen that graced us with the Mega Man 1 box art his faced adorned the boxes and instruction manual of select games and was updated once before his arcade debut.  Captain Commando is decked out with an assortment of items that boost his attacks, from gauntlets that spew fire and generate electricity to boots that enhance his kicks.  If you’ve played any of the Marvel vs. Capcom games his powers are basically identical.  He is the default middle ground character for those too neurotic to take a chance with the rest of his weird posse.

While Captain Commando is a normal human equipped with numerous gadgets and enhancements his comrades are anything but normal.  Mack the Knife is an alien covered in bandages to protect him from harsh environments, granting him a mummy like appearance.  Baby Head is actually a genius infant who created a cybernetic suit to function as his body.  Ginzu the Ninja is the only relatively normal one of the bunch and is a practitioner of the same martial art as Guy from Final Fight.

On the surface the gameplay is exactly like Final Fight but there is a larger selection of moves available for each character.  Most of the standard attacks such as the different throws, and running attacks are shared but differ in their usage.  Ginzu’s dash attack can pierce through multiple enemies while Mack’s will perform two attacks on one enemy.  In fact each character is equipped with two dash attacks and in addition to their selection of throws will determine who you are most comfortable with.

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This is a bit longer than your typical brawler at nine levels but each level is in fact a series of multiple smaller vignettes before the boss.  Captain Commando does a good job of introducing new enemies with each level but can’t ultimately avoid palette swapping eventually.  The journey to the end will take you through a variety of locales such as an Aquarium, Circus, and museum.  Occasionally you’ll ride a rocket powered skateboard or other vehicle to break up the hand to hand action but it does little to alleviate the feeling that you’ve done this before.

And that’s its biggest problem.  Streets of Rage 3 saw release in 1994 and had a metric fuck ton of moves per character, branching paths through the game and also multiple endings as well.  Final Fight 3 would follow suit and add a deeper fighting system to its repertoire.  Waiting 4 years to port this game has shed light on its age, an issue that also affected the prior year’s King of Dragons.  In terms of gameplay the game is sound but after years of excellent and sub-par offerings the genre needed to evolve and Captain Commando’s late release showed why.

As a port the SNES version is basically the same but is censored, only 2-player cooperative and missing the mech suits you could steal.  Whether you have the patience to stomach a slightly above average beat em up in the face of better offerings is up to you.

6-out-of-10-1

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Zombie Revenge


In the mass exodus to 3d one genre that was oddly left behind was the side scrolling beat em up.  Once as prolific as the shmup outside of a few notable exceptions such as Guardian Heroes and Fighting Force no one seemed interested in exploring its conventions outside of Sega.  As they had done previously with Streets of Rage Sega took brawlers to new heights with Die Hard Arcade and used that expertise in the creation of Zombie Revenge.

The government has decided to bolster their army by using the dead using a system called U.D.S (Undead Soldier).  Unfortunately an unknown force throws that plan in disarray and within a year cities are over run by zombies.  Three AMS agents, Stick Breitling, Rikiya Busujima and Linda Rotta are sent to eliminate the leader of the zombie rebellion, known only as Zed.

Zombie Revenge is a spinoff of the House of the Dead series but outside of the AMS agency and zombies the two series have nothing in common.  With a large number of moves per character, an insane amount of weapons to smash heads with, and a number of original modes the only thing stopping Zombie Revenge from excellence is exactly what it was made to be: an arcade game.  As such it brings with it all that entails, cheap hits, insane damage ratios, and a short quest.  Had some of these flaws been worked out this would be a top tier game that I would recommend to everyone; as it is I can only do so with certain reservations.

Like most beat em ups each protagonist specializes in a different area, be it Lisa’s increased damage with guns or Busujima’s hand to hand expertise.  Stick is the stereotypical well rounder for those too neurotic to simply make a choice and stick with it.  Since you’ll always have a hand gun by default knowing when to go straight up melee or shoot it out is key to survival.  Your choice of character makes little difference in the game’s arcade mode but they each come into their own in the various Original modes added to the game.

The game’s combat mechanics are solid and extremely deep.  Aside from blocking and rolling there are a huge number of combo’s and throws you can perform on enemies depending on the situation.  Charge attacks are equal parts risk/reward While not up to the same level as Dynamite Cop the variety in moves is extremely welcome, especially considering most games in this genre are content to arm you with a punch, kick and a throw and call it a day.

But even deeper than the fighting system however is the number of weapons available in the game.  In many ways this almost feels like a precursor to Dead Rising as nearly anything that isn’t bolted down can be picked up and used as a bludgeon.  From axes, drills, flamethrowers, and even laser guns to the assortment of different firearms you might spend more time fighting from a distance than bothering to get your fists dirty.

At 6 episodes Zombie Revenge is only an hour or so long.  The game is short and does tend to be repetitive as each area is more or less the same, clear out the zombies and follow the glowing path to the next area, rinse and repeat.  Although each section is timed ideally unless you suck you should have enough time left over to smash objects or find hidden rooms with overpowered items.  Continues are limited unless you bother with the VMU minigames which actually do serve multiple purposes within Zombie Revenge’s framework.

The replay value though comes in the form of Original mode and battle mode.  The Original modes are three variations of the arcade mode designed to emphasize different aspects of the game.  Normal mode increases the amount of items dropped aside from the standard weapons, bullets, and antidotes.  In essence this is basically easy difficulty in everything but name.

Battle mode…..they certainly tried.  Any items picked up in any of the original modes can be used in this one on one brawl to see who can kick zombie ass the hardest.  The VMU minigames are used to train your character and boost their stats in five categories and surprisingly the games are fun.  But at the end of the day it’s obvious this wasn’t built for Street Fighter style gameplay.  You can only use the 3 heroes and one lucky combo can end a match in seconds.

My personal favorite is Gun Mode.  Here all guns inflict twice the normal damage while melee attacks are weakened.  To offset this you can only carry two clips rather than the standard five.  This essentially turns the game into a shooter, albeit one that forces you to carefully consider each shot.  Learning the intricacy of the game’s aiming (here’s a hint: only fire when the targeting circle turns red) and which enemies to prioritize is a key factor in whether you’ll live past the first episode.  Although bullets are dropped with reckless abandon the enemies attack in sufficient enough numbers that bad aim will leave you a sitting duck. On the other hand if you’re good enough you can even kill bosses in 3-4 shots.

Bare Knuckle Mode takes away your gun and pumps up the power of your fists and feet.  Weapon drops are also gone as well, meaning you’ll have to familiarize yourself with the numerous attacks to live.   Personally while I appreciate the game’s fighting engine I wasn’t enamored enough to want to play through the game using nothing but that.

Part of the reason being the shoddy collision detection and auto aim.  Zombie Revenge can’t seem to decide which enemy you are attacking in most cases and so whether it’s a gun or a fist your attacks will inevitably seem to hit air rather than the zombie in front of you.  The auto aiming in particular is frustrating as there are numerous cases where armed enemies need to be dealt with first but instead you’ll hit the guy behind them.  Although short this is not an easy game and cheap deaths don’t make it any easier.

If the hit detection were ironed out and a few more episodes added to the game this would be rank as one of the best beat em ups of all time.   The flaws are significant enough that only the most forgiving gamers will be able to overlook them and see the game’s potential.

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Alien vs. Predator

Robocop vs. Terminator.  Freddy vs. Jason.  These things go together like Chocolate and Peanut Butter.  All of these smashups not only seemed like good ideas but were also inevitable.  At the end of Predator 2 when an alien skull was counted among the Predator’s trophies fans knew; it was on.  So when the first slate of Alien vs. Predator products was announced it was only a matter of time until video games would get their just due.  Unfortunately this SNES game was completely unforgettable and fans would have to wait until the following year to see the license done justice.

On the planet Vega 4 workers uncover Alien eggs which quickly hatch.  The Aliens overrun the colonists but not before they send a distress signal to Earth.  But instead of the Earth forces the signal is picked up by Predators looking for their next kill.  Sensing worthy prey the Predator’s head to Vega 4 not to save the humans but for a worthy challenge.

The Alien vs. Predator franchise began in comic books but would soon encompass all media.  There would eventually be a slew of Alien vs. Predator games however this SNES installment would be the first.  Released by Activision in 1993 it is a side scrolling beat em up that pales in comparison to the superior game Capcom would unleash in the arcade the following year.  The SNES game is long forgotten, and rightfully so, as it is a strictly average brawler with no unique features or even engaging gameplay to keep you interested for the duration.

While the game has an assortment of issues it at least gets the look and “feel” of the Predators down.  Although you rely on your fists mostly the shoulder mounted cannon is available but needs to be charged first, leaving you vulnerable to attack.  The trademark Predator weapons such as the Smart disc and the Combi Stick are dropped by enemies.  These items are limited in use but dropped frequently enough that are only unarmed for short periods.  There’s a useless stealth item that turns you invisible but it’s not as if the enemies still can’t see you.  I suppose they felt the need to include it because of the movies but its implementation is worthless.

Unfortunately the reality of playing as a Predator is worse than the idea.  Your move set is extremely limited; there’s a standard punch, punch, kick combo, a throw and a slide kick and that’s it.  Even the original Double Dragon armed you with more than this.   Executing the basic combo for the length of the entire game becomes tedious quickly.

The monotony extends to the rest of the game as well.  You’ll face the same 4 enemies in every level and their attack patterns never change.  Your attacks inflict paltry amounts of damage and every enemy has a longer life bar than yours.  Pounding away on the same squat alien 20 times every level gets tired quickly.  The bosses are much bigger aliens loosely based on the host that spawned them, such as a shark, gorilla, and bat.  But the elation at facing something, anything, different will fade as you realize these fights are going to last nearly 10 minutes.

I’ve been a bit harsh on the game but it’s warranted.  There is so much they could have included to liven up the gameplay if the developers had done even a little research.  How about the retractable wrist blades?  Even the box art displays them!  I wouldn’t have minded using a ceremonial dagger or laser net to help kill the repetitive enemies quicker.  It boggles my mind that the developers did so little to liven up the game.

This is a by the numbers brawler that has no redeeming qualities.  When NES games in the same genre offers more depth than a game years removed something is seriously wrong.  It’s a god damn shame that Capcom’s arcade Alien vs. Predator game was never ported to any console and instead we are left with this shambling mess.


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Battletoads

Ah yes, the Battletoads.  Initially written off as a lame Ninja Turtles rip off based on the first advertisements any gamer who took the time to sample its greatness found that not only was that misconception far from the truth it might actually be a better game period.  Now legendary for its insane difficulty the question has always been is it actually worth putting up with?

On a routine mission escorting Princess Angelica to her home planet the Dark Queen abducts her along with Toad member Pimple.  Now Zitz and Rash have to mount a rescue mission on Planet Ragnarok, the Dark Queen’s turf.   There’s a certain sense of juvenile fun at play in Battletoads which is in stark contrast to ridiculous difficulty.  At its best moments Battletoads can stand with the best in the NES library.  However those moments are fleeting because you’ll have to endure some of the most torturous levels in gaming history to get there.  Whether you’ll enjoy the game or not depends on your how long you can endure frustration.

Battletoads has many features working in its favor beginning with the characters.  Both Zitz and Rash are able to transform their bodies into various weapons of destruction.  These take shape in the form of the finishing moves.  Ram horns, giant fists, and spiked boots; there are many that make every encounter worth it just to see what part of your body will change.  Even some of the vehicle levels like the bungee tunnel of level 2.  Accompanying these changes are a wide set of animations; I’m actually astounded at the sheer volume, something I didn’t think possible on the NES.

With 12 levels this could very easily have become boring as you go through the motions however Rare has built a roller coaster of set pieces.  There are very few side scrolling levels, half at most.  But even within these stages the objectives are varied.  The snake pit is a spike laden maze of adjourning rooms that will challenge you to stay alive long enough to reach the exit.  The Rat Race is precisely that; a race against a giant rat down the Dark Queen’s Tower to see who will blow the other up.  Because the gameplay switches every level you’ll never settle into a routine and become bored of its mechanics.

The rest see you pilot a vehicle of some sort as you dodge obstacles on the way to the finish.  These levels have you pilot speeder bikes, a surfboard, a mini-plane, and a cycle.  Your reflexes are put to the ultimate test as all manner of obstacles and timed jumps are thrown in your path.  While some of these are similar in theory in execution they are different enough that they each present new challenges and are fun for the most part.

For the most part.  I can appreciate a good challenge but there is such a thing as too hard and artificial difficulty shouldn’t play a part in it.  You are given 3 continues with no passwords or battery backup to complete the game, and as someone who spent a significant chunk of one summer working through this game I can tell you that this is bullshit.  Battletoads is a long game that requires far more trial and error than you’ve probably experienced in the past.  Extra lives are not in plentiful supply so those 3 continues dry up fast.  There are 4 Warp portals that will allow you to skip a level but not the most difficult ones unfortunately.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that 90% of gamers tapped out in the Turbo Tunnel, which is only the third level.  Anytime a vehicle level begins it more or less boils down to whether you can react fast enough.  But you are only given a second or two at best to do so and the margin for error is slim to none.  All of these levels are pretty long and by the end become so gobsmackingly fast that it’ll leave you a gibbering mess the first time you get that far.  With the exception of the first two stages you’ll need to memorize the massive layout of every other stage one by one if you even hope to reach the Dark Queen.  And the game is glitch.  The most infamous glitch that someone should have been fired for leaves player two unable to move on Level 11, meaning they’ll have to waste all of their lives just to let Player 1 hopefully finish in order to progress.

While Battletoads is unfairly hard and has many just complaints for that reason no one can complain about the graphics.  Next to Kirby’s Adventure this is one of the most technically proficient NES games conceived.  Almost every level features parallax scrolling backgrounds, some 2-3 levels deep.  The animation is insane for an 8-bit title with a lot of variation in the special moves.  But most importantly the game has a wonderful sense of visual design tying it all together and some great music.

Whether the tall challenge lain before you is worth it is entirely subjective.  As someone who was eventually able to overcome it I’d say yes but I am fully aware everyone has a different breaking point.  What I can say is that if you stick with it Battletoads will reward you with awesome gameplay with a wide assortment of play mechanics at every turn.  And if you beat it it definitely counts as a badge of honor.

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Final Fight 2

It’s an understatement to say that Capcom disappointed everyone with the SNES port of Final Fight.  The missing 2 player coop, levels, and character smacked of a rushed product.  And then they did it all over again with Final Fight Guy, which instead of adding him to the game removed Cody in his place.  The SNES version was a pretty big deal: Final Fight lit up arcades nationwide and the chance to play it without breaking the bank was a dream that they crushed.  So to make up for it we have Final Fight 2.

Final Fight 2 was released exclusively for the SNES in 1993.  Years have passed since the defeat of the Mad Gear gang but that doesn’t mean they are finished.  Under new leadership they have kidnapped Guy’s fiancée Rena and master Genryusai.  With both Cody and Guy gone new recruits Maki and Carlos pick up the slack.  With 3 characters and the missing coop restored it’s obvious Capcom set out to right the wrongs created with the first game but in doing so Final Fight 2, while enjoyable feels a bit like a retread.

Ditching the confines of Metro City the trio of characters set out on a transcontinental hunt for the Mad Gear boss, pounding faces around the world in the process.  Haggar is exactly the same, with his devastating array of wrestling moves.  Maki is a proper substitute for Guy, having trained under the same master.  Carlos is the most balanced of the 3, neither too fast nor too strong.  With new leadership comes new members and the Mad Gear gang are almost completely comprised of new enemies with their own attack patterns to learn.  But for those that grew attached to the original’s antagonists some familiar faces return, such as Rolento and the Andore family.

While it’s nice to have new characters to play around with the game could really have used some more depth to its combat.  The moveset is nearly identical to the original’s meaning you have a basic selection of punch, punch, kick combos, a few throws and a special attack and that’s it.  Spamming the same repetitive attacks gets old fast and in light of Sega’s Streets of Rage 2 and the brawlers flooding the arcade it sucked to see Final Fight, the pioneer of the genre fall behind.

The greatest strength of Final Fight 2 is that even thought it was made for the SNES it wouldn’t have looked out of place in the arcade.  The graphics maintain the same aesthetic as the original arcade game, with some of the largest sprites in a beat em up from that generation.  The trip around the world allows for more interesting scenery rather than the same old slums of Metro City.  Some of the new locales are very picturesque in their level of detail and if you keep an eye out you might spot some cameo appearances from other Capcom characters as well.  There’s little to no slowdown at all considering the amount of chaos on screen at times which is a far cry from early SNES efforts.  The music doesn’t rise to the same level as the graphics but isn’t offensive; that’s the best compliment I can give it.

Mechanically the game is sound and does a good job of replicating the arcade feel.  But therein lies the problem.  Final Fight 2 sticks so close to the tenets laid down by the first game that it doesn’t aspire to be anything greater.  In an era where games like Streets of Rage 2 raised the bar for the genre the limited selection of moves and repetitive enemies stick out like a sore thumb.  That isn’t to say the game is no good, far from it.  Final Fight practically pioneered the modern beat em up formula, and though its sequel sticks to the exact same principle that means it is still one of the better beat em ups on the console.

Go into it expecting more of the same action as Final Fight and you won’t be disappointed.  For those that had sampled more advanced games in the genre this is a mild disappointment but still worth playing for its solid action.

7-out-of-10

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Bad Dudes

It’s funny how our minds work.  Nostalgia can cloud our memories and we’ll remember something fondly when in actuality we never liked it to begin with.  In this particular instance I recall fond recollections of playing Bad Dudes in coop mode and loving every second of it.  The reality is anything but nice.

Bad Dudes was released for the NES in 1989.  A port of the arcade game Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja for the most part the NES version retains much of what made its forefather iconic, including the hilarious localization.  “The President has been kidnapped by Ninjas.  Are you a bad enough dude to rescue the President?”  Yes that is the extent of the plot.  This game bleeds the 80s, from the corny action movie plot to the presidential references.  Even the heroes catchphrase “I’m Bad!” is likely a reference to the Michael Jackson song of the same name.  The cheesiness is largely why the game is remembered but how does it hold up as a side scrolling beat em up?

As either Blade or Striker you’ll be fighting an endless assortment of ninjas on your way to save the president.  Seriously aside from dogs it’s all ninjas.  Like the Double Dragon games you have an assortment of moves such as punches, kicks, spin kicks, etc.  Unlike those games the moves are relatively easy to perform.  The most useful of these is the charge punch which blows through groups of enemies simultaneously and is quick enough to use in any situation.  The only weapons available are a sai or nunchakus, with health restoring cans of coca cola rare.  The fundamentals are there but the execution is shoddy.

Bad Dudes is riddled with issues.  The collision detection is off and trust me it’s incredibly frustrating to see your punches and kicks largely ignored.  This is a major issue as the enemies swarm you in groups of 2-4 at once.  The game is riddled with innumerable cheap hits that you cannot avoid.  In the arcade version most enemies died after one hit; here they can take multiple blows and more than likely will get a few cheap hits before you kill them or worse, leave you open for the multitudes of ninjas undoubtedly coming up behind you.  The bosses with 2 exceptions will drain your lives and to add insult, the game throws in a fucking boss rush before the last boss.

With limited continues and no extra lives unless you complete a level most will never see the end the legitimate way.  If you thought the Konami code was overkill with 30 lives you can cheat and get 63 lives with a simple code.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  I cheated to beat the game back in the late 80’s and if you want to see the end you’ll do the same.

W e all remember this game for its laughable 80s nostalgic touches.  Unfortunately it is not a good game.  At least the NES version, I never had the opportunity to sample the arcade game.  I wish I could say it lives up to the near meme status it has achieved but sadly it doesn’t. There are far better beat em ups out there, play those instead.

 

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Alien Storm

In the early years of the Genesis life Sega did not have it easy providing a steady stream of content.  Because of Nintendo’s strong arm tactics third party support was non-existent at first so in addition to their original home games Sega fell back on their arcade ports.  One such port was Alien Storm, which at first glance you would think is a run and gun like Contra but in actuality is a beat em up along the lines of Golden Axe.

Aliens have invaded Earth and the only thing that stands between them and world domination is the Alien Buster squad.  If you think about it, how can they be alien busters unless the planet is invaded on a regular basis?  Whatever.  In 1 or 2 player coop you take on the alien horde and save the planet.  Originally released in arcades in 1990 the Genesis version adds two more levels and another boss fight but in the end lives up to its arcade roots wholly, for better or worse.

At first glance things are deceptive.  All 3 characters are equipped with various weapons which would lead you to believe this is an action game along the lines of Contra.  However they are used for melee attacks, placing it in the same category as Streets of Rage or Golden Axe.  Each character has a variety of attacks using their unique weapons and are surprisingly nimble, able to dash, roll, and a combination of the two in a pinch which is uncharacteristic of the genre.  The only power-up in addition to extra health comes in the form of energy used to power your screen clearing special attack.  These are in somewhat of a steady supply so you can afford to use it often rather than being frugal.

Probably the greatest strength of Alien Strom would be its levels.  Each level takes you through a variety of gameplay set pieces, from the typical side scrolling to first person shooting sequences like Lethal Enforcers to run and gun sequences that finally allow you to use those guns to mow down enemies like you initially thought you would.  The shooting gallery areas allow you to go ape shit and destroy everything in the environment to find powerups and kill everything in sight.  Running and gunning down aliens is a blast as the pace is fast and is a brief but welcome change of pace.

Which points to the one big “flaw”; it’s short.  Sega tried to lengthen the game but with some (actually a lot) of perseverance you can finish the game in about 1 hour.  Most levels are only a few minutes in length even despite being broken down into multiple parts.  Since there are only 3 real boss battles they also tend to end abruptly.  The AI can be vicious, with massive amounts of enemies swarming you at once, which is probably why energy is so generous.  By the later stages you’ll probably spam your special attack repeatedly since the number of enemy waves becomes retarded.  I feel if they had worked on the two other parts of the game some more it would have become a stronger product as a whole, since one is too easy and the other is too hard.

It wasn’t anything special even during its initial release and it isn’t pretty but Alien Storm is still a good game that can be had dirt cheap so there isn’t really any reason to pass it up.

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Final Fight

It’s not a stretch to say that Final Fight did to the arcade beat em up what Street Fighter 2 did for fighting games.  It was electrifying.  There had been plenty of exemplary games prior to it but none that exhibited the level of production values and polish of Capcom’s classic.  So when it was announced for the SNES it was awaited with baited breath.  Unfortunately while it is a competent port for the most part there are glaring flaws that Capcom never fixed in its 2 releases of the game for the Super NES that bring the overall quality of the game down.

Former pro wrestler Mike Haggar is elected Mayor of Metro City (how the fuck does that happen).  It isn’t long after being sworn in that the Mad Gear gang, the dominant force in the city, kidnaps his daughter Jessica to keep him under their thumb.  With her boyfriend Cody and Guy along for the ride Haggar plans to stomp the Mad Gear out.  Originally released in 1989, the SNES port was a launch title for each region and would become infamous for its missing features and censoring.

As either Haggar and Cody or Haggar and Guy (more on that in a bit) you take to the streets and dismantle the Mad Gears, one bad guy at a time.  The journey to the Mad Gear’s base spans the entire city with 2 Bonus Rounds giving a brief respite from the action.  As has become standard for the genre, Haggar is the slow strong man, Guy the fast but weak ninja, and Cody the everyman, neither too fast nor strong.  There’s nothing revolutionary about the game play admittedly: you have a decent variety of moves and smash barrels and assorted objects to find extra health or weapons.  But it’s the execution that placed Final Fight above its contemporaries.

First the graphics.  Nothing else looked like Final Fight on release.  Featuring some of the largest sprites in a beat em up it looked phenomenal.   Although you are only visiting different parts of the city it does an exceptional job of conveying just how corrupted Metro City has become.  The cast of enemies as well have gone on to become iconic, with Poison, Sodom, Rolento, and Andore taking part in the later Street Fighter games.  And it’s well paced.  Despite the limited cast of enemies they are featured in such a way that nearly every level has 1 or 2 new ones to break the monotony.  And the bosses are some of the biggest ball busters in gaming history.

The SNES port to put it bluntly was butchered.  First of all there’s no multiplayer.  I’m not even a big multiplayer fan and I realize how retarded that is.  On top of that in the original release you only have a choice between Haggar and Cody.  This glaring oversight was somewhat fixed in Final Fight Guy; however Cody was removed in his place.  This made no sense; by the time they released FF Guy  Capcom had more than enough time to hear the fan outcry but still made a half assed rerelease.  The 4th level, the Industrial stage along with its boss Rolento was also cut.  These excisions could be explained by the game’s launch status but are still inexcusable.  A good portion of the game’s draw just isn’t there.

The changes don’t end there.  Due to Nintendo of America’s heavy handed policies all alcoholic references were removed, Poison and Roxy were replaced by generic thugs Billy and Sid, and any slight religious references were changed.  Bosses Sodom and Damned were renamed Katana and Thrasher and Christ, something as inoffensive as the bloke who cries “Oh my God!” after you smash his car were censored to “Oh my car!’

It’s a shame that so much was left out as otherwise the SNES version looks and plays the part.  But in this day and age where arcade perfect conversions are available along with other retro classics in cheap compilations there is no reason to revisit this travesty.

 

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Double Dragon 3 – the Rosetta Stone

This is truly, truly terrible.  Double Dragon 3 in all of its various incarnations is a bad game and somehow this Genesis port of the arcade game is the worst of all of them.  My mind is boggled at how any decent human being could release this in the state it’s in.  As much as I ragged on the NES game at least it was playable.  This POS is not.

Double Dragon 3 was released in the arcade in 1991 and ported to the Genesis in 1993.  Billy and Jimmy Lee are returning from training around the world when they meet a fortune teller who informs them that finding the 3 Rosetta stones will allow them to face a strong opponent.  The story is more or less the same as the NES game, if only the rest were the same but better.

Things are a bit different this time.  Almost all of the special moves introduced in Double Dragon 2 have been removed, leaving you with simple punches and kicks.  A few new ones replace the overpowered uppercut and flying knee, such as the running head butt and belly to back throw.  You start with 15 coins that have various uses.  As Billy or Jimmy you have one life.  You can use your coins to purchase new moves, extra health, and extra lives.  These extra lives take the form of different characters with their own move sets.  It isn’t advisable to spend all of your coins since they also function as continues.  The worldwide journey for the stones will take you to various locales with appropriate enemies to match.  You can’t say they didn’t’ try.

It all falls apart when it comes to combat.  The controls are unresponsive and executing special moves is random; you’ll never feel as though your actions are under your control.  But the main culprit is the hit detection.  Your hits have no real “impact” so to speak.  You’ll never be able to tell if you’re actually hitting an enemy or missing completely.  Even worse, no matter how fast (oh that’s rich) your flurry of punches or kicks you will always get hit.  Because of this every exchange will sap some health and that life bar drops fast.

In the arcade Double Dragon 3 was a notoriously greedy machine, forcing you to spend extra quarters for life and new moves.  The screwed up damage ratio was there to incentivize spending money and unfortunately it was kept for the home version.  Of course you’re not spending money but if you’ve bought this game you’ve already lost as it is.

Pathetic controls, bland level design and ugly graphics do not a good beat em up make.  It’s sad that every incarnation of Double Dragon 3 is not a good game.  Maybe the third installment is just cursed in general?  Who knows?  This home port would have been the perfect opportunity to fix the coin ops flaws but Acclaim (under their Flying Edge label) merely left it as is.  As a conversion its very good as a game its dreadful.


 

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Captain America & the Avengers

In the early 90s licensed beat em ups were all the rage in the arcade.  Capcom, Konami, and a host of other third parties spun gold out of such obscure licenses such as Buck O’ Hare and Asterix.  In 1991 Data East dropped the bombshell that was Captain America and the Avengers in the arcade and the world was never the same again.  Nah I’m just joking but the game was decent in its day with home ports to follow soon after.

The Red Skull has world conquest on his mind and brainwashes a veritable army of super villains to carry out his plans.  In response Captain America assembles a squad of 4 Avengers to take him down with the rest of the team held in reserve.  Personally I would have taken Thor instead of Hawkeye but what do I know, I’m not a superhero.  Originally a 4-player cabinet the home version strips that down to just two and while the game can still become chaotic at times it doesn’t hide the fact that it is a bit too basic to keep you entertained for very long.

Captain America and the Avengers was released for the Genesis and SNES in 1993 and I remember looking forward to the home conversions as this was the rare arcade game I actually managed to finish without breaking the bank.  My anticipation was misplaced however.  By the time the home ports arrived plenty of better brawlers had been released, leading me to realize that this game wasn’t anything special at all and that my pleasant memories from 2 years prior would have to suffice.

As one of 4 characters you fight the forces of the Red Skull in 5 levels of side scrolling action.  Captain America, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and the Vision all share the same basic move set with the only difference in their special attack which is extremely disappointing.  Even something as simple as different stats would have gone a long way toward adding some differentiation to the characters.  The ground is littered with objects that can be used to clobber your foes, from cans and park benches to vending machines.  Although the playable characters are limited to the above 4 a host of Avengers make cameo appearances to assist you.  Famous superheroes like Quicksilver and the Wasp to less popular characters like Wonder Man and the Sub Mariner are sure to bring a smile to a comic book fan’s face.

Sadly the gameplay is mediocre.  The game is highly repetitious; most beat em ups are but they at least keep things interesting by introducing new enemies.  Here you’ll fight the same set of generic robots and thugs in endless succession, only broken up by the smorgasbord of bosses and the lone attempt at variation, the brief shooter segments.   Even these segments fail to drudge up any excitement because they’re short and easy.

The only thing to look forward to are the bosses, which Data East has gone to town packing the game with. Chances are if they were even slightly popular they were included and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t cool to fight the likes of Crossbones, the Mandarin, Klaw, and such.  You’ll look forward to these fights for another reason as well: the piss poor localization.  I just don’t get it.  How do you screw up the at most 1 page of dialogue in the entire game?  Laughable exchanges such as this are common place:

Klaw      –                                              “DON’T DISTURB US ! ”

Captain America              –              “WHY SHOULD IT GO WELL ! ”

What the hell?  I could have done a better job with a Japanese to English dictionary!

There is no reason to bother with Captain America and the Avengers in this day and age.  How this was ported and far superior games such as Bucky O’ Hare, X-Men or Battletoads were left in the arcade I don’t know.  Of the two 16-bit ports the Genesis version is vastly superior.  The SNES version is missing the majority of the digitized speech, has busted controls, and is overall sluggish.  Were it not for the license this would be instantly forgettable.



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Golden Axe 2

Creating a sequel is a tricky proposition.  You want to retain the elements that fans loved and made the original popular while adding new components that bring them back.  Many times this tends to back fire and can kill a series.  It’s a balancing act that not too many developers get right.  But there is a way out!  If all else fails you can always rehash the first game, which is exactly what Sega did with Golden Axe 2

Golden Axe 2 was released in 1991 as a home console exclusive for the Genesis.  Dark Guld has risen and filled the void left by Death Adder, stealing the Golden Axe and terrorizing the people.  Tyris Flare, Gilius Thunderhead, and Axe Battler return to stop this evil menace.  Standard stuff but its not as if the plot needs to be Lord of the Rings caliber to give us an excuse to bludgeon skeletons over the head with pointy objects.

Although a direct sequel in name from the looks to the gameplay Golden Axe 2 is a carbon copy of the original game, for better and worse. Golden Axe was a solid brawler for its time but standards change and to release the next game in the series that is basically identical to its predecessor seems like a wasted opportunity.  There were so many interesting directions they could have taken the basic premise and in fact they actually did with the arcade sequel Revenge of Death Adder.  If the majority of their effort was poured into that game I guess you could view this as a consolation prize, in which case we got hosed.

If you are at all familiar with Golden Axe you can jump in immediately as there is very little different.  The same basic move set returns for all three characters with some slight additions; this is more about refinement than revolution.  You can now throw enemies in any direction and execute an attack that will nail all sides simultaneously.  The timing of your weapon combos has also been improved slightly, reducing the lag when executing the final hit that used to leave you open.  It doesn’t sound like much but each of these elements was kind of frustrating in the original.  They were at least aware of what annoyed gamers the most and fixed those flaws.

Magic has seen the largest overhaul.  Rather than having to spend all of your potions on one spell you can determine its power by holding down the button and charging it up.  This adds a strategic element to the game and one that can save your life during a challenging boss fight.  In addition to the way magic is used all three combatants have seen changes to their powers as well.  Gilius Thunderhead has lost his proficiency in lightning and now harnesses earth magic.  Axe Battler now sports wind magic while Tyris Flare keeps fire magic with new spell animations.  The cute little gnomes have been replaced with wizards who aren’t going to take any shit from you and will fight back.

golden_axe_2_jue_002 golden_axe_2_jue_065 golden_axe_2_jue_058 golden_axe_2_jue_044

But for the little effort they put forth it’s irrelevant.  Rehash is putting it lightly.  The six levels look eerily similar to the first game; for god’s sake there’s even another stage that takes place entirely on the back of a giant animal again.  The enemies are also exactly the same, with only palette swapped variations changing things up visually but least that’s a problem nearly every game in this genre suffers from.  While I might harp on the similarities between the two games Golden Axe 2 is visually superior.  There are many details added to the sprites and the backgrounds are sharper and visually much more interesting.  The soundtrack is also more menacing and dramatic.

You could make the case that Golden Axe was a good game and this is more of the same but in the three or so years since its release new games such as Final Fight raised expectations as to what to expect from this genre.  The same year Sega released Streets of Rage, a beat em up in the same genre that put this game to shame.  With releases like Revenge of Shinobi, Madden, and the bombshell, Sonic the Hedgehog there was far more choices available to Genesis owners, leaving little reason to bother with this retread.  That’s not to say it’s bad, just decidedly average.

I suppose diehard fans of the series will still find much to like in Golden Axe 2 but for the rest of us there are much better games on the system, let alone genre.  They really should have done more to distinguish the game but instead settled for mediocrity.  And things would get much worse for the series on the home front from this point on.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Hyperstone Heist

 

I never really thought about it but Sega owners back in the day must have been envious of Nintendo players when it came to Turtlemania.  Konami wasted no time exploiting that license in a wide range of products, exclusively for Nintendo.  This was a bitter pill to swallow, as the TMNT arcade games especially were stellar and were not ported to Sega consoles.  That drought would end in 1992.

TMNT: the Hyperstone Heist was released in the fall of 1992.  This was shortly after Turtles in Time had ended its arcade run and was ported to SNES.  April is reporting the news when suddenly everyone in attendance bears witness to the Statue of Liberty and the entire island of Manhattan disappear, the handiwork of Shredder.  Armed with the Hyperstones he challenges the Ninja Turtles to top him.

Although a somewhat original creation the gameplay is based heavily on Turtles in Time with some odd quirks.  All of the moves have been lifted wholesale with the exception of throwing enemies into the screen.  Dashing is now relegated to its own button which is a bit retarded compared to automatically sprinting after a few steps.  Body slamming enemies is noticeably more difficult to pull off, which is a bummer as the number of enemies can be a bit insane at times.  If you are at all familiar with any of the arcade games you can jump right in but it’s a shame that there were no original elements added to the game.

Look familiar?

That last tidbit extends to the rest of the game.   There are 5 levels divided into 3 sections each which seems shorter than Turtles in Time but ends up being about the same length.   The stages are longer to make up for the reduced number.  That would be well and good if not for the fact that 50-60% of the game is recycled material from previous games.  I mean literally exact.  Every level, with the exception of Shredder’s hideout are comprised of mostly recycled stages from Turtles in Time, resulting in disjointed transitions between segments.  For instance the second level begins with a surfing segment that moves onto a ghost ship taken from Turtles in Time, then ending in the caves from the Prehistoric level from that same game minus the dinosaurs.  Even the bosses with the exception of Tatsu fight exactly the same.  If they were just going to recycle so much content why not just simply port over the games they’re ripping from?  The game would have been much better served with new content to go along with the few original levels it has.

The game tries to mimic the aesthetic of Turtles in Time and largely succeeds. The only downgrades are the special effects and the reduced color palette.  The game is noticeably darker, and I think Konami were aware of that going in as the artwork in the cutscenes has a harder edge to it.  The music, sound effects, and voices on the other hand don’t fare as well.  You’ll notice a number of instruments missing in the recycled tracks but for the most part the tunes are recognizable.  The sound effects are horrible and very tinny, lacking the clarity of the SNES game.  The voices suffer the same way speech in most Genesis games did, that is to say very raspy, sounding like it was recorded underwater.

It’s disappointing that Konami didn’t create more new content to fully flesh out the game but strange segways aside it’s still good.  If you were a fan of the Ninja Turtles (honestly who isn’t?) this will float your boat.  You could certainly do worse, such as the Genesis version of Tournament Fighters.  Yikes.

7-out-of-10-1

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Rival Turf

 

Well what do we have here?  The Rival Turf trilogy of games overall were pretty decent.  While they didn’t reinvent the genre they still provided awesome beat em up action in the same vein as Final Fight or Streets of Rage.  The first in the series, however, is not a good game.   I mean Christ, look at that box art:

Are those really supposed to be the main characters?  They look nothing like them!  And unfortunately it’s all downhill from there.

Rival Turf was released by Jaleco in 1992.  A US localization of Rushing Beat, it is actually the first in a trilogy although all ties between the three games were removed in the trip overseas.  Jack Flak and Oozie Nelson (holy shit!) are officers of the police force tasked with cleaning up the streets of Los Angeles and then taking the fight to the gang’s base in South America.  While the premise isn’t original Rival Turf provides decent action but is let down by a host of problems that make the entire experience boring.

I really don’t want to know what’s going on in that third screenshot.

In 1 or 2 player coop you have your choice between the two officers.  Jack is fast and agile while Oozie is slow and powerful.  Extremely slow.  There is a decent selection of moves to pummel the opposition and strangely enough there are very few weapons throughout the entire game, so you’d better get used to those fists.  The sole original “feature” is the optional angry mode, which makes you temporarily invincible and able to deal massive damage when you take too much damage.  But that isn’t enough to overcome the biggest flaw: it’s boring.

To a degree repetition is inherit in most beat em ups but Rival Turf takes it to another level.  There are really only 6 or 7 unique enemies in the game and by the second level you’ve seen all of them.  What follows is a monotonous journey as you fight the same 3 principle enemies over and over and their tactics never change.  The game can be incredibly cheap at times, with enemy attacks taking far too much life and there are many instances where it is impossible to avoid taking hits.  Overall the challenge is inconsistent; the regular enemies are more of a threat than the bosses.  That inconsistency extends to the graphics.  The early stages in America are pretty well done, such as the Baseball stadium and the rooftop but once it switches to South America it becomes bland.  You would think the change in venue would afford the opportunity for exotic locales but nope, just standard run down villages and warehouses sadly.

This just isn’t worth it.  Final Fight 2 or 3 are much better, hell even the sequel, Brawl Brothers is a much better proposition.  I suppose you could find some fun in the game; I played through it on its release but I was twelve and you could have handed me almost anything and I would play it.  Derivative as hell and the game suffers for it ultimately.



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Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

If you look around the internet you’ll read various horror stories of Battletoads, the game that ruined childhoods across the globe.   With its technically proficient graphics and engaging gameplay it stood poised to be a phenomenon like the Ninja Turtles except for one fatal flaw: it was too fucking hard.  I can guarantee 90% of gamers never made it past the Turbo Tunnel, and that’s only the 3rd stage.  For its second go around Rare toned down the difficulty and level count, creating a still hard but doable game in the process.

Battletoads in Battlemaniacs was released by Tradewest in the summer of 1993.  The Toads are in Tibet visiting the Psicone Corporation, who are in the process of testing their new virtual reality system.  No sooner do they start when minions of the Dark Queen, in league with villain Silas Volkmire, steal Zitz and the Psicone CEO’s daughter.   Rash and Pimple follow through the virtual reality portal to rescue their friends.  A much more compact adventure awaits, and while Battlemaniacs can and will bust your balls it never reaches the heights of frustration of the original.

As either Rash or Pimple 6 levels of action await.  The choice is purely cosmetic, with the only difference being the look of their moves.  The trademark exaggerated effects are back and larger than life, with giant anvils, boots, and fists bashing the opposition.  That has always been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Battletoads games, seeing the ridiculous ways you can stomp enemies and Rare has made it visually pleasing to execute the attacks.   The other factor that works in the game’s favor is the variety.

With the exception of the 2 bonus levels no two stages are similar.  In fact the first level is the only pure side-scroller in the game.  The rest of the game is a roller coaster ride of play mechanics as you descend down the inside of a tree on hover pads, revisit the Turbo Tunnel, catch a ride on some snakes, avoid being sawed in half by a giant rat, and saving the best for last, race Scuzz to the bottom of the Dark Queen’s tower to avoid being blown up.  Some of these are remakes from the first game but they sure as hell didn’t look this good.  That is a bit disappointing but you’ll forget that as you work your way through the game.

While not as hard as the original Battlemaniacs will still kick your ass regularly.  For the most part the controls are tight but there are far too many instances of instant death, leaving most of the game down to trial and error.  That becomes repetitive and boring after awhile since the levels are long and continues are limited, meaning you’ll end up playing each stage way too many times.  It’s asking a lot for gamers to memorize these ridiculous maps:

Damn it Rare, we want to like these games but you make it so hard!


Rare did not slouch when it came to the production values of the series and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs is a powerhouse.  Huge sprites, outlandish effects, and a rocking soundtrack give the game an almost arcade “feel” to it.  The Toads and enemies exhibit a wide range of animations and its obvious the game doesn’t take itself too seriously.  This is definitely up there with the SNES’s finest in terms of visuals.

If only they could have spent less time on the visuals and more on the gameplay this could have been in the console’s top 20. All of the flaws make what would have been a nine out of ten more like an 8.  Don’t let that stop you however; if you can stomach some slight repetition than you’ll have the time of your life.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV – Turtles in Time

Ah Turtles in Time. It’s a bit of an understatement when I say I spent illegal amounts of time playing it back in the day. The original Turtles arcade game was awesome, and in my mind that meant this would be too. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have an arcade or mom and pop store close by that had it, so my only chance to play the game came whenever my middle school would have a field trip to the roller skating rink. I spent more time playing the arcade machine than trying to hold hands skating with girls. Is that sad or embarrassing? Nah, I was enjoying myself and in the end that’s all that matters. My limited funds meant I never finished the game, at least not until the glorious SNES version was released the following year.

Shredder and Krang have stolen the Statue of Liberty, causing the Turtles to spring into action. What should have been a simple retrieval turns into a time hopping trip home.  Released in the summer of 1992 the home port was everything you could dream of and then some.  Arcade ports were nothing new, going as far back as the Atari 2600 but the 16-bit systems were very much at the point where you could in a lot of cases make an exact 100% arcade port.  While that isn’t the case here Turtles in Time had many additions that made the game a fuller experience.

Turtles in Time is largely similar to the original game in terms of graphics and gameplay. All 4 turtles had minor differences in terms of speed, strength, and reach although not to the extent where it makes much of a difference like in the original NES game. The game comprises 10 levels in the home version with 2 considered bonus stages. The journey through the game at first comprises the standard levels you would expect to see in a turtles game, but after level 4 (the Technodrome), you are sent hurtling through time. This allows the game to take you through a variety of set pieces, and avoid what I feel is one of the major banes of the beat em up genre: lack of enemy variety.  To a large degree the enemies consist of different colored foot soldiers, but each type has different forms of attack which you’ll be keen to recognize.  Most of the time periods introduce specific enemies for that era or environmental hazards that add to each stage’s unique feel.

Bucking the other trend in beat em ups, you have a large arsenal of moves at your disposal, something a bit uncommon in the genre. The two biggest additions to the game are the ability to throw enemies into the screen and to body slam them left and right, excellent for fighting multiple enemies at a time. A lot of the moves come across as fluff, but through trial and error you’ll find certain moves are more effective against enemy types. The dash covers ground faster and can lead into combos. These moves make you think about what is best in a given situation and also serve as a gameplay variant. Throwing an enemy into the screen gives you 3 points, while body slamming only gives two but can clear the screen when timed right. Every 200 points nets an extra life so decisions, decisions.

Graphically, the game is fantastic. The SNES color palette is put to full use and mimics the arcade admirably. New to the home version is the option to choose different color palettes for the turtles as well as an additional boss fight against Shredder in the Technodrome. Frames of animation are missing here and there but not to the extent where you’ll notice. The animation is otherwise excellent, especially the Turtles.  Literally every stage has some new effect that will have you in stitches. The soundtrack is very catchy and stacks up against the arcade machine pretty well. Some of the voice samples as well as the title theme song are missing though.

What we have here is not only an excellent arcade port but just an excellent game.  Konami, along with Capcom, made excellent licensed games during that era, with Turtles in Time continuing that trend. Even to this day I still bust it out and do a quick play through, which is truly the mark of quality.


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Double Dragon III – the Sacred Stones

Man oh man where do I even begin?  The Double Dragon games have always been enjoyable beat em ups despite the problems each game had.  In some circles it is looked at as one of the classic franchises of the 80s.  Double Dragon 3 in all its forms was a wretched game, and while the NES version isn’t as bad as the arcade game that’s like saying a toilet plunger in the ass is better than a soldering iron.  You’re better off avoiding the game in all of its forms.

Bimmy and Jimmy.  That first screen should give you an idea how little they cared about this game.

Double Dragon 3: the Sacred Stones was released in 1990 for the NES and was an original effort separate from the money grubbing arcade game.  This would have been the perfect opportunity to trounce the insipid arcade game but somehow Technos created a game just as bad.  Loosely following the same plot as the arcade, Billy and Jimmy Lee are called to action once again as Marian has been kidnapped again.  A fortune teller named Hiruko tells them of the 3 Sacred Stones needed to rescue her, sending them on a worldwide hunt.  Double Dragon 3 introduces a few new elements to the series that would have made for an enjoyable thrill ride but ultimately fails in terms of execution.

If you are familiar with any prior game in the series you can hit the ground running.  Most of the moves from the second game have been carried over and now you have some sweet additions.  You can now dash which leads into a new move that allows you to flip and throw enemies.  The awkward reverse attack button has been removed thankfully but you still have to press both buttons to jump.  Although you don’t have a stock of lives, 2 of the bosses become playable characters once defeated and fulfill the same role.  These two characters have their own move sets that will help or hinder your progress.  The game is shorter than Double Dragon 2 at only five missions; you’ll thank god for its brevity since the gameplay is god awful.

To some degree all of the Double Dragon games have had difficult to perform moves; here you’ll almost never truly feel in control.  With the exception of the basic punches and kicks every other move seems to execute at random.  The “level” themselves don’t fare any better.  Nearly every mission consists of at most 2 screens with a never ending supply of the same 2-3 thugs before you move on. Attack priority has always been infuriating in this series and now it’s worse, with the standard enemies able to trap you in a stream of stuns with no escape.  Did anyone play test this before sending it out the door?

On the one hand the terrible platforming that ruined the last 3 levels of Double Dragon 2 has been relegated to the last mission but it still has no place in these games when combined with the awful controls.  About the only positive I can mention are the other controllable characters.  Much like TMNT, they each have their own life bar and can be switched out at will, and generally you’ll prefer to use them to the Lee brothers.  Classic gaming at its finest this is not.

In Closing

I don’t normally go into these reviews with the intention to rip some poor game a new ass.  But sometimes I have to call it like I see it.  In the pantheon of old games this isn’t fit to beg for table scraps.  Super Double Dragon redeemed the series and is a far better classic game.

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Double Dragon II – The Revenge

It was pretty common during the NES era for ports of arcade games to differ drastically from the source material due to the hardware’s constraints.  It wasn’t very often though that the home game was superior to the arcade but in the case of Double Dragon 2 it is very true.  In the arcade Double Dragon 2 was an all too brief affair.   For the home market it was expanded and given the length necessary to make experience whole.

Double Dragon was released in December 1989 in Japan with Acclaim releasing the US version the following month.  Following the same story as the arcade, Marion has been killed by the leader of the Shadow Warriors and brothers Billy & Jimmy Lee are on a mission of revenge.  The NES version actually has cut scenes that further the plot between levels and although brief are a welcome addition.  The 2 player coop missing from the first home port has been included this time, fixing one of Double Dragon’s biggest flaws.  That is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of enhancements over the arcade game.

Rather than the simple punch and kick buttons of the first game they are now directional which can be a bit confusing.  The arsenal of moves has been expanded considerably with all available from the start rather than the experience system the first game employed.  The only frustrating aspect of this would be the difficulty in pulling off the most devastating moves, such as the flying knee, uppercut, or hurricane kick but considering the damage they do its understandable.  What elevates this over the arcade would be the length: whereas the arcade game only had 4 stages, the home port has 9 altogether.

The stages are separated by difficulty, with all 9 only available on Supreme Master.  The levels shared with the arcade game are longer  and have new layouts.  The new stages take you on a roller coaster of set pieces, with some stages featuring environmental objects you can use to your advantage.  Mission 3 takes place on a helicopter, with the door opening every 20-30 seconds, giving you an opportunity to knock enemies out in one shot, including the boss.  Mission 4 is in an underwater base with a spiked ceiling that you can throw enemies into if you’re proficient at uppercutting.  You remain susceptible to all of these as well, making it equal parts risk and reward.

While most of the levels are excellent, some of the later stages highlight the game’s biggest weakness: the introduction of platforming.  Clearly this game wasn’t designed with it in mind and it shows.  The jumping controls are imprecise and the collision detection is spotty; sometimes you’ll clearly land on a platform but instead will fall through.  These sections are completely unfair and can drain all of your lives in a heartbeat.  It’s completely ridiculous that you can play the game perfectly then reach Mission 6 and all of that progress will mean nothing as you die repeatedly.  Oh yeah, the game’s biggest flaw: no continues, no passwords, no battery backup.  Unless you exploit the 2-player trick* you ain’t seeing the end of the game.  Which is a shame, as the ending is absolutely worth the struggle.

In some ways this is the love it or hate it game in the Double Dragon franchise.  The few problems the game has are pretty severe but I would argue the quality of the rest of the game makes up for it.  This is one of the best beat em ups on the NES, too bad it was followed up by Double Dragon 3.  Man fuck that game.

8-out-of-101

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Double Dragon

For anyone that has played a game by Technos Japan their style is unmistakable.  From the graphics and art style used to the sound programming you can instantly identify any game they’ve created just by using one of those criteria.  Most American’s first exposure to their works would start with the Double Dragon series, the classic beat em up series that spawned dozens of imitators.  But after all this time does this retro classic still hold up?

Double Dragon was released in arcades in 1987 by Taito.  A follow-up of sorts to Technos’ prior game Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (known to us as Renegade), it’s a simple tale of revenge.  Twins Billy & Jimmy Lee fight their way through the Black Warriors gang to rescue Love interest Marian.  The intro to the game is unintentionally funny as a group of about 6 or 7 dudes punch her in the stomach and take her away like a caveman.  That’s enough to make anyone want to beat someone’s ass.  It seems trite now but this was one of the first major beat em up games and would be the inspiration for a deluge of similar games, some good and some bad.  Because of the game’s popularity it was ported to nearly every format imaginable, but the NES version is the one that differs the most.

Like a large amount of conversions to the format Double Dragon was changed for the NES to better suit the console.  The basic framework of the game is the same but there are stark differences.  2-player coop is gone; instead you alternate turns when 1 player dies.  You will never fight more than 2 enemies at once, with both of them being the same.  Weapons disappear after the enemy you received it from dies as well.  Lastly, instead of starting with all of your fighting moves, you gain them 1 at a time through an experience system of sorts.  That last change is divisive: some hate that you start off gimped essentially and that some basic moves like a jump kick have to be earned.  Others welcome it as you have something to look forward to as you progress and gives you a tangible feeling of becoming more powerful.

Playing it again the same criticisms I had back in the day stand out.  The limited selection of enemies grows tiring fast.  By the end of stage 2 you’ve seen every enemy in the game, and aside from weapons their tactics never change.  Even the fact you only fight 2 opponents at once, both being clones of each other is annoying.  Thankfully the game is short so these don’t grate on your nerves too long.

What will is the platform jumping that was increased for the home version.  Plain and simple it just doesn’t work.  This game wasn’t built for that and it shows.  Gaps between jumps are far too wide at times leaving you to inch as close as possible before jumping.  Lining up with platforms is also a hassle; combined with the imprecise jumping controls you’ll hate it.  These parts all come toward the end of the game and will quickly sap your stock of lives, which is totally unfair.

My last complaint lies with the bosses.  They have insane range and all of their attacks have priority over yours, meaning it doesn’t matter if you are hitting with a flurry of punches or kicks, if they swing at you your attacks will stop.  Plus they do retarded amounts of damage, a trend that plagued nearly all beat em ups afterward.  It’s a cheap ass tactic to artificially increase the difficulty and I hate it.  Sadly this would be commonplace for all beat em ups.

If I were to recommend a version of Double Dragon to play I would say the arcade or master system version.  That version is a straight port and is amazing for the time.  While interesting, the NES version doesn’t stand the test of time and is too frustrating and generally not worth the hassle.  Not all old video games age gracefully and Double Dragon is one of the unfortunate victims of time.

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Games Under $20

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Streets of Rage 2

It isn’t very often that a sequel makes such a dramatic leap in quality over its predecessor.  Super Mario Brothers 3 stands as one of the greatest examples of such.  The original Streets of Rage was quite good for what it was: a first attempt at cloning a popular arcade game, in this case Final Fight.  Streets of Rage 2 not only matches Final Fight it exceeds it and stands as one of the shining examples of the genre.

Streets of Rage 2 was released in fall 1992.  After celebrating the one year anniversary of Mr. X’s defeat, Axel, Blaze, and Adam go their separate ways.  The following morning Axel is alerted by Adam’s younger brother Skate that he has been kidnapped, signaling the return of Mr. X.  Enlisting the aid of Skate and professional wrestler Max Thunder the four man crew is ready to kick some ass and take back the streets.  This is a dramatic leap over the first game; there isn’t a single element that has been given a new coat of paint.

The 4 characters are all rated in terms of power, technique, speed, jump and stamina and this time the differences are far more tangible.  Max is an absolute beast, draining enemy life bars in seconds while Skate is pathetically weak but makes up for it with speed and jumping ability.  This extends to the individual move sets of the characters as well.  Your repertoire of moves has been greatly expanded and this solves one of the biggest weaknesses of the genre.  In place of the police backup from the first game are 2 special moves unique to each character that will drain a little health.  Because everyone has a different move set it is definitely worth playing through the game again as the experience will be different.  It also helps that the game is fun as hell to boot.

The tempo of combat is really what sets Streets of Rage 2 a step above similar games.  All enemies have life bars now and are named.  It sounds like standard features for a game of this type but they also serve another purpose.  Each enemy has their own individual moves and behaviors that need to be taken into account.  When you see certain pairings you’ll know to prioritize the ones that need to be killed first.  You’ll sometimes find yourself surrounded by 4 to 5 enemies but it will never feel cheap as you have the skills and knowledge (hopefully) to assess the situation accordingly.  New enemies are introduced every level, keeping things fresh and giving you a new set of attack patterns to learn.  Even the bosses, a major point of contention in the original are all manageable and don’t rely on cheap tactics such as unfair amounts of damage or insane attack priority.  The journey feels like it was crafted piece by piece, with a careful eye towards avoiding unnecessary frustration.

The production values received the biggest overhaul.  All of the sprites have doubled in size and detail and the game doesn’t take place completely at night anymore.  You get a much wider color palette than the subdued blues and browns of the first game.  The variety in the levels is staggering: the third level alone starts out in a carnival, goes through an arcade, a ride on a pirate ship then ends in a fog filled cave, complete with mechanical demons to bash.  The soundtrack stands as one of the finest produced on the Genesis.  It’s heavy on the techno and dance but changes to be more melodic and somber when needed.

This is the best entry in the series and is the quintessential beat em up.  Even after almost 20 years the game is still fun to do a speed run through and without a doubt stands the test of time.  There is no higher recommendation than that.


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Streets of Rage

When Final Fight hit arcades it hit big.  The beat em up genre existed long before it but Final Fight dragged it kicking and screaming into the modern age.  Renegade may have started the genre and Double Dragon popularized it but Final Fight took the baton and ran with it.  Every publisher wanted a piece of that action and tried with varying degrees of success.  One of the biggest competitors came from Sega in the form of Streets of Rage.

Streets of Rage was released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis and follows the exploits of 3 ex-police officers: Adam, Axel, and Blaze.  A crime syndicate has begun taking over the city piece by piece starting with the government and spreading to the police force.  Its leader is shrouded in mystery making it that much harder to identify who is behind such an organized attack.  Disgusted with the lack of cooperation from their superiors our 3 heroes quit the force and take matters into their own hands.

Like all beat em ups you progress to the end of the stage fighting everything in your path from dominatrices, street punks, to even motorcycle gang members.  The first thing that stands out is your rather large arsenal of moves.  My first introduction to the game came from this ad in the magazines of the day:

It is something to be proud of: most games in this genre suffer from repetition as you repeat the same punch, punch, kick combo from stage 1 to the final boss.   As you can see that isn’t the case here.  You have your choice from any of the 3 characters with slight differences: Adam is slow but powerful, Axel is balanced but has the weakest jumping ability and Blaze is fast but weak.  These don’t really end up playing that big a factor as you progress through the 8 levels.  Temporary weapons can be found in crates and barrels or dropped from enemies.  When things get hectic you can call in assistance from a fellow officer who will set fire to everything on screen with a rocket launcher.  Somehow this doesn’t kill you too.  You only get 1 of these per life without finding a power-up and hilariously you can still call for help even on the elevator stage.  To break the repetition there are numerous environmental hazards such as bottomless pits or machinery that can be used to kill enemies quickly

Although it isn’t as detailed as Final Fight this was still a great looking game.  Something I didn’t pick up on in my initial run through the game: it takes place completely at night.  This works amazingly well in setting the mood if you think about it;  you sure as hell wouldn’t cause a ruckus like this during the daytime when your ex partners in arms would beat your ass too would you?  It also plays to the Genesis’s strengths, as the palette is intentionally limited.  The soundtrack to this day is still superb.  Yuzo Koshiro was reknowned for getting the most out of the Genesis sound chip and does not disappoint, with an eclectic range in the tracks.

What doesn’t hold up are some of the gameplay elements.  The lack of enemy variety is apparent after the first two levels as you’ll fight an endless parade of the same 2-3 enemies. This persists for a large portion of the game with new enemies being introduced slowly.  However in total there aren’t more any more then 7 or 8 of them with the exception of the bosses.  The bosses are some of the cheapest SOBs in the history of the genre, taking well over 60% of your life bar in 1-2 hits.  I guarantee you’ll be saving your special attack to spam on these bastards.  It’s a bit odd that with the exception of the bosses none of the enemies have lifebars or are even named.  Granted it doesn’t really matter in the long run, just strange.

It’s a decent length for a game of this type but time has not been kind to this game.  The far superior sequels make playing this game more of a curiosity than anything.  There is still fun to be had but if you must play one game in the series go for part 2.

7-out-of-10

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