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Darkstalkers

By the mid-90s SNK’s fighting game factory was running at full capacity, with a series to cover a variety of niches. Curiously Capcom did not follow suit and were content to pump out further iterations of Street Fighter. But it was only a matter of time and when they did finally pursue a new IP Darkstalkers was the result. Both visually and gameplay wise Darkstalkers was years ahead of its time and it would take the then new 32-bit consoles to contain its awesomeness. In a strange twist Capcom did not do the honors themselves; Psygnosis, probably Sony’s most important partner in those early years handled the port. Though far from perfect this version of the game is solid and only had the misfortune of coming a few months after the stellar Saturn port of its superior sequel.

Darkstalkers was about the point I realized that no way in hell a decent home port would be possible on my Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Now the later Street Fighter Alpha 2, flaws aside, would prove me wrong to an extent but I’m sure no one saw that one coming. As I was only fourteen and knew nothing about memory and animation frames you only needed to see the game in motion to know that it was on a different level than the Street Fighter ports Capcom were cranking out. The PlayStation would be the recipient of the first game and while it isn’t arcade perfect it was close enough to suffice back then.

The cast of Darkstalkers has as much personality as Capcom’s other game and in fact I would go so far as to say even more so. Now granted these are essentially all of the most popular B-movie tropes in one package but you have to give Capcom’s artists credit, they put their own spin on each and own that shit. The werewolf, mummy, vampire, creature from the lagoon, zombie, and Frankenstein are all represented with a few new ones added to fill out the roster. Their personalities are embodied in their animations; Demitri’s arrogant swagger, Bishamon’s murderous rage, even Victor’s exaggerated physiology, it says a lot more about their character than being a racial stereotype ever could. It’s a good thing the cast is so memorable as the story is the usual tournament garbage.

At is core the game is built on the back of Street Fighter as it uses the same six button setup and combo system. However there are a slew of gameplay techniques introduced here that would find their way into subsequent Capcom games. The always controversial air blocking made its debut here as well as dashing and a super gauge. The super meter works differently than you would expect; while every character does have a unique super move it can only be executed within a brief window while the gauge ticks down. Otherwise the meter will only perform an EX version of your normal special moves. I’m not a fan of this setup as It is very restrictive in that you have no choice but to use it as soon as possible lest it go to waste. Chain combos are also present but seem out of place; the combo system is already perfect as is I don’t see why it was necessary. Generally speaking this is much faster paced than even Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo and combined with its cartoony art style has a unique feel all its own.

For whatever reason Psygnosis made the AI ridiculously aggressive and punishing, probably to cover up the fact that as a package the game is feature light. On the default setting the computer is ruthless and will use every opportunity to punish the slightest misstep. Considering the game’s speed and exaggerated animations it’s easy to lose track of just what the hell is going on. While its manageable with long hours of practice there really isn’t any incentive to own the game if you don’t have friends over. You only have an arcade mode and vs mode to tide you over with no bonus content to unlock and in light of other fighting games like Tekken 2 it is extremely lacking.

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You can’t talk about Darkstalkers without lavishing praise on the visuals. At the time of its release no other game exhibiting the level of detail put forth in this game’s animation. In fact even today if you study the game you’ll realize just how far ahead of the curve Capcom were back in 1994. They were so far ahead that Morrigan sprite was trotted out up until 2012! Since the cast are not human the artists use plenty of squash and stretch animations to really exaggerate special moves or even simple movements. But at the same time everything remains anatomically correct down to the smallest detail. The game’s backgrounds are gorgeously rendered and accentuate the onscreen action rather than fight for your attention.

The PlayStation port is very well done but like nearly all 2d fighting game conversions it suffers from a loss in animation frames. It isn’t nearly as bad as later games such as X-Men vs. Street Fighter but to those with a trained eye it is noticeable. There are also annoying load times between matches and rounds; a feature that plagued many 32-bit conversions. It was a tough pill to swallow for those of us that grew up on a steady diet of cartridge games with instant access.

All in all this is a solid conversion of a classic game, especially one not handled by Capcom themselves. For a first effort this is really good and would only get better with subsequent releases. At this point though you are probably better off checking out Darkstalkers Resurrection.

7-out-of-10-1

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Kidou Butoden G-Gundam

I have mixed feelings about the various Mobile Suit Gundam series but the one thing I can say for sure is that I hate Gundam Seed. And that I kind of like G-Gundam. G-Gundam absolutely embraces its stupidity and whether I actually like it or not I can at least respect that. The entire premise behind this particular edition of the series was definitely inspired by the fighting game craze (namely Street Fighter) so of course a game would accompany it. Yet despite its foundations Kidou Butoden G-Gundam is only a slightly above average fighting game and one that cannot hold your attention for long. This should have turned out so much better.

In the world of G-Gundam there is no war. Instead a tournament is held every four years called the Gundam Fight in which each nation sends there representative Gundam to compete for sovereignty over all countries until the next tournament. Clearly this setup was inspired by a certain series about fighting in the streets and plays out just like an animated version of that game, complete with over the top attacks and ridiculously stereotyped mechs from each country.

The very concept of G-Gundam is practically made for a fighting game so the fact that it turned out so tepid is disappointing. Part of what makes this so average isn’t that it borrows so much from Street Fighter but that it doesn’t execute on those elements as well. From its imprecise recognition of button inputs to its small roster this really should have turned out better. What content is present is decent but you’ll quickly end up going back to far superior fighting games in short order.

The roster is small but manages to include the most of the popular characters from the show. The characters are mostly substitutes for your favorite Street Fighter personalities, with the Dragon Gundam functioning as your Dhalsim stand-in and the Bolt Gundam playing like a slightly faster Zangief. You’ll be surprised to learn that main hero Domon does not in fact play like Ryu. However! The game has that niche covered with God Gundam, his alternate which fulfills that role. With that in mind Gundam Maxter and the Master Gundam are the Ken to its Ryu. The rest of the cast are more unique with the fast moving and awesome Gundam Spiegel being my favorite. I just wish there were more of them.

The roster is my largest issue with the game. There’s no getting around the fact that nearly all of the Mobile Suits representing the various countries are offensive and borderline racist, taking numerous stereotypes to the extreme. Gundam Maxter of the US is an amalgamation of various sports equipment and that’s a tame example, don’t get me started on the Tequila and Zebra Gundam. That being said they would have made excellent fodder for an expanded roster. Unfortunately the game has a paltry list of 10 with 4 of those being clones of each other. I realize clones save time and resources but this is a bit extreme. Christ there were well over 50 Gundams in the show they could have tossed in, how cheap can you be?

Despite the surface similarities to Capcom’s classic the fighting engine here doesn’t quite come together. Hit detection is all over the place with moves that clearly should not connect registering a hit while others have insane priority. Because your moves don’t flow together combos are nearly non-existent; you’ll be lucky to pull off a two-in-one at most. Many of the special moves look pretty cool but suffer from such short range that they are next to useless. The timing of your button inputs has to be near perfect for certain special moves to execute as well. Because of all these flaws the game plays more like a brawler which is ultimately unsatisfying.

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In terms of presentation the game is in line with other similar games released in 1994. The Mobile Suits are larger than your average fighting game sprite with some decent animation. The show produced all manner of flashy special moves for each mech that have been faithfully recreated here. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed and go through a day time cycle with each round. Had the game been released a year before it would have been more impressive; by late 1994 the stellar ports of Super Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat 2 were on the market, making this less notable in comparison.

Overall G-Gundam is decent for what it is but the fact that there isn’t as much content and that the SNES has so many better fighting games makes it a less than attractive proposition. The broken fighting engine means there isn’t much depth to the game and you’ll be done with it in just a few hours, if that. There are far too many better options to bother.

6-out-of-10-1

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Cyberbots

With the advent of the Saturn and PlayStation in the mid-90s the chances of seeing home ports of all the big budget arcade games increased dramatically. While the 3d games like Tekken and Ridge Racer were exciting I looked forward to the 2d stuff more, specifically Capcom and SNK’s fighting games.   I was still too young to know the ins and outs of game development but knew games like Darkstalkers and King of Fighters were too much for my SNES and Genesis. Cyberbots would also join that list and while I had only seen it in magazines I desperately wanted to play it. It would be many years before I finally picked up the import and in the end I was left disappointed. This is a decent game but I expected more.

Cyberbots is a spinoff from Armored Warriors, a little known beat em up that is absolutely gorgeous. Both games were not popular which is probably why the home ports never came to the US. I would imagine that for most their only familiarity with the series comes from Jin Saotomi’s appearances in Marvel vs. Capcom. I remember anticipating the game’s release and was disappointed when it never manifested. However playing it years after the fact shows that I didn’t miss much. While I like the game the bare bones package means it has a short shelf life.

There’s a colorful cast of characters but you don’t simply pick a fighter and jump in here. Once you’ve chosen a character you also select a mech which determines your special moves. The 12 mechs are divided into four categories: Reptos for high speed, Fordy for high mobility, Guldin for high attack output, and Blodia as your well rounder. While this does create some homogenization mechs in the same group still have different arms and legs that vary their attacks. Your choice of character determines how the story plays out although it is lost on those of us who don’t speak Japanese.

As in most Capcom fighting games special moves are executed using quarter circle motions allowing most fighting game fans to jump right in. Although button inputs are shared the game uses a simplified button setup with two attack buttons, a dash, and a weapon button to fire projectiles. Ammo is infinite but you have to wait for the gauge to recharge which balances it out. Obviously the dash button is a gap closer but it will also modify some of your special moves. Depending on the mech you can air dash multiple times and even hover! As an added bonus you can even rip your opponent’s limbs off to further cripple them although it’s random as to when this occurs.

There is definitely a lot of familiar aspects within the game but this is still its own beast. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these aren’t the speediest combatants and the game has a slower, lumbering pace appropriate for giant robots. You won’t be executing long strings of attacks and in fact most multi hit combos are more a result of a special move hitting multiple times rather than your ability to link attacks. The simple button setup makes this easier to pick up and play and while there is some depth you’ll have to dig for it.

As a port of the arcade game Capcom have done an exceptional job. However as an all-around package Cyberbots is as dry as they come. You get two modes, arcade and versus and that’s it. There are no extensive customization options and aside from Zero Akuma + the three bosses there are no other unlockables. The bar had been raised in terms of what was expected from a fighting game conversion not just by Namco with the Tekken games but also by Capcom themselves with the various Street Fighter Alpha ports. Seeing the lackluster job they’ve done here is surprising as a result and hurts the game’s longevity. They really should have added more content such as a practice mode or even an art gallery. As is if you don’t have a consistent group of friends the game will lose its appeal quickly.

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Even in this day and age of high resolution 2d fighting games such as Blaz Blue Cyberbots is still ridiculously pretty. Since these are giant mechs the sprites are huge with a ridiculous attention to detail paid to all of their individual parts. The animation is extremely fluid and the game never slows down no matter how many large pyrotechnic blasts are being unleashed. It’s similar to Darkstalkers in that regard but even more impressive in my opinion. The backgrounds are beautiful with levels of detail stretching off into the distance, to the point where it’s almost distracting. This version uses SNK’s RAM cartridge for faster load times and smoother animation but even without the conversion is solid.

Considering the game never achieved much popularity in US arcades the home ports are more than likely most gamer’s exposure to it. While Capcom has done a bang up job of cramming all of the insanity of the arcade game to the Saturn the lack of content also means this is a lacking choice compared to the bustling fighting game library for the system. It’s good for what it is but not much more.

6-out-of-10-1

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Fatal Fury 2

I think we can all agree that some of the first Neo Geo to SNES and Genesis ports were pretty dire. Fatal Fury suffered heavily in the transition from SNK’s beast of a console, to the point where I’m sure many wondered if faithful conversions of some of the biggest arcade games of the time were possible. Then Street Fighter 2 happened and showed that with larger cartridges (ROM not physical carts) you could produce ports that not only looked and sounded the part but felt the same in terms of gameplay. Takara’s second round of 16-bit conversions were far better and worthy of attention starting with Fatal Fury 2.

With Geese Howard dead a new shadowy benefactor has stepped up to sponsor the King of Fighters tournament except this time it has been taken worldwide. No one knows who the organizer of this year’s tournament is but he has been slowly working his way through the participants of the first tournament in search of Geese Howard’s killer……

Fatal Fury 2 takes many cues from Street Fighter 2 whether it was intentional or not. The heroic trio of Terry and Andy Bogard and Joe Higashi are joined by five new fighters from around the globe, bringing the roster to an even eight. In addition the game has four bosses who aren’t selectable without a cheat code. Sound familiar? You can’t blame them for following in Capcom’s footsteps of course and in my opinion moving beyond the confines of Southtown has done wonders for the game’s roster.

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While certain characters do fall into the standard fighting game tropes such as Big Bear (your typical strong but slow big man) and Cheng Sinzan (Blanka stand in) the rest of the cast has a feel all their own. Kim Kaphwan and Mai Shiranui both made their videogame debuts here and for anyone who has perused some version of King of Fighters their move sets are fully intact. As the lone female of the cast Mai plays nothing like Chun Li aside from her speed. Kim Kaphwan is my favorite of the new crew. His attacks all focus on kicks which were highly original at the time. Jubei Yamada is a grappling expert who heavily focuses on his various throwing moves.

While I’ve made many comparisons to Street Fighter 2 Fatal Fury has a number of elements that are uniquely its own. The two plane system has returned but seen a number of tweaks to make it a more active part of gameplay. Rather than randomly switching you can manually switch planes by pressing light punch + kick or hitting an opponent with a heavy attack. You can launch an attack while changing lanes as well and it’s hilarious when both combatants knock each other in the midst of a shift. Some battlegrounds have destructible elements or even hazards you can use to your advantage. The running bulls in Laurence Blood’s arena and the gears of Billy Kane’s clocktower are examples. I’ll admit that the dual plane system is not my cup of tea (and only got worse in Fatal Fury 3) but I will give SNK credit for making it an attractive option to use during a match. There are desperation moves that you can unleash when at 25% health or lower but seriously once you see the necessary controller inputs you’ll think someone at SNK lost their god damn mind.

The overall gameplay has been sped up but the game noticeably lags behind Street Fighter 2 Turbo in speed. A dash has been added for quick escapes or to put pressure on players who like to turtle up. For those that unfortunately bought or rented the 16-bit ports of the first game you can rest easy; the special moves are easy to pull off thanks to the improved recognition of your button input. This isn’t the most combo heavy fighting game in the world but now at least you can string together 2 in 1’s and three hit combos at will. The AI is a tough opponent and even on the easiest setting puts up a fight but let’s be honest you buy fighting games for the multiplayer (at least back then).

Comparing the two 16-bit ports reveals some stark differences between the two. The SNES version has a larger color palette but can look a bit washed out on certain stages such Chen Sinzan’s floating barge. The Genesis version seems to be running at a lower resolution than normal which is instantly noticeable. The low resolution means that most of the backgrounds have suffered a loss in detail; Fatal Fury 2 was a beautiful game in the arcade and to see its stunning backdrops reduced to this was sad.

The music also has its share of quirks. The SNES version has better music overall but is missing many of the arcade’s voices. The music in the Genesis version is terrible but it has nearly all of the voice samples although they suffer from the usual Genesis defects in that regard. As bad as the music is in the Sega version it at least doesn’t sound muffled like its Nintendo counterpart. It kind of sucks that the sound of both games lags behind its Neo Geo counterpart; the game has a fantastic OST and I loved to just watch the brief demos if I happened to be in the store that had the arcade cab just to hear the music.

Defects aside both ports are solid conversions of the arcade original and made an otherwise super expensive game available to cash strapped gamers at the time.  Solid game but far from the cream of the crop in terms of fighting games on the SNES.

7-out-of-10-1

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Power Stone

It is interesting to look back on Capcom’s history with 3d fighting games. Where they more or less invented and perfected the modern interpretation of 2d fighters their 3d efforts, at least in the beginning, were less than thrilling. While some were solid efforts like Street Fighter Ex others like Star Gladiator, Tech Romancer, and Rival Schools suffered from numerous issues that prevented them from gaining mass appeal. Meanwhile Virtua Fighter and Tekken were the kings on the block. It was when they threw out all the rules that they themselves had established that Capcom would find success. Power Stone is the end result and alongside Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, and NFL 2K it was one of the brightest stars in the Dreamcast launch lineup.

Although Power Stone was released in the arcade it was the Dreamcast release that brought the series to everyone’s attention. The games focus on all out brawling much like Super Smash Brothers made it more accessible than the insanely technical Virtua Fighter. Midway’s Bio Freaks tried the same approach but failed spectacularly; it suffered from a very obvious lack of enthusiasm as the arcade release was cancelled and the console ports created to salvage it. With Capcom’s deft touch behind it Power Stone emerged as something truly original in the genre and although it suffers from a lack of post-game content it is still enjoyable in the time you’ll spend with it.

Forget about all of your preconceived ideas of fighting games as Power Stone does away with almost all of it. The round structure remains but that is all. The game is set up more like a brawler in an arena rather than a traditional beat em up. The controls are kept simple with a jump button, a grab and one attack. There are no special moves or button commands to learn as most moves are simple double taps or three hit combos. Hell there isn’t even a block. Using the environment is a key factor of any battle, one that successfully manages to make up for the loss of common fighting game tropes. Each stage is littered with all manner of crates and other objects to bludgeon your opponents as well as weapons that last a brief duration. Nearly everything can be picked up and tossed and the characters will dynamically adjust to their surroundings, automatically swinging on poles or tossing aside smaller objects. Each battleground is the perfect size, large enough that you can gain some distance from your opponent but also small enough that you can’t stray too far.

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It encourages frequent engagement, not just to beat the clock but also to gather the game’s namesake. The Power Stones, once collected will change your chosen fighter into a super hero version of themselves with increased power and two power fusion attacks. While the fusion attacks are potentially incredibly destructive they also exhaust your power meter immediately, scattering the gems around the playing field. For the most part once you’ve gained the Power Stones you can change the momentum of a battle in an instant. It does basically cause each match to devolve into a mad dash to gather the stones and in concert with the game’s simplified setup it isn’t as deep as a traditional fighting game. That being said what depth there is comes from the game’s colorful cast.

The selection of fighters run the gamut from slow and powerful to fast but weak. There are outliers in the cast such as Jack, who is just plain…..weird. Stronger characters such as Gunrock and Galuda can rip telephone poles out of the ground to use as weapons as well as knock the power stones off rival opponents in a few hits. The more nimble characters make up for their lacking strength with more powerful and exotic power fusion attacks. In spite of this the game is heavily imbalanced. The previously mentioned Gunrock is vastly overpowered and fairly mobile to boot with a hard to dodge super move. Not all power fusion attacks are created equal, with some being impossible to dodge and others proving useless.

The one area that Power Stone comes up short is in its longevity. While multiplayer is always fun the selection of characters is still a bit limited compared to other games on the market such as the King of Fighters or Capcom’s own Marvel vs. Capcom. There are precious few reasons to bother with the single player mode aside from unlocking the three bosses and extra options such as new items and more power stones per battle that can be toggled on or off. The lacking extras hits extra hard as Soul Calibur was also available launch day and redefined what should be expected of an arcade port. The game is still fun with what it offers but it does have a limited shelf life.

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Visually Power Stone was a god damn revelation coming off of the small environments and low frame rates of the 32-bit generation. The game runs at a perfect 60 fps with animation that is buttery smooth. It rarely drops even under the most strenuous circumstances when massive super moves are flying left and right. Capcom’s interesting character designs have been brought to life through the power of the Dreamcast hardware and while the models are a bit blocky they still exhibit a ton of personality. Each arena is of medium size with plenty of detail, full of lighting effects and shadowing. Even the soundtrack is generally excellent; this was a first class production all around.

As a stab at something new Power Stone succeeds wonderfully. But as a well-rounded package it is a bit lacking. If you have a consistent group of friends to play with than the game is more than worth it however if you are the type who would probably spend more time in single player the thrills are short lived.

8-out-of-101

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Battle Arena Toshinden: URA

Toshinden URA what? It sure as hell isn’t a good fighting game. The jokes can practically write themselves. Battle Arena Toshinden managed to fool thousands with its arcade quality graphics but it didn’t take long before everyone realized the gameplay was shallower than a kiddie pool. By the time Toshinden 2 came around better 3d fighters such as Tekken 2, Virtua Fighter 2, and Soul Edge had shown us just how great a polygonal fighting game could be. The only thing it had going for it was its incredible graphics to which it wasn’t anything special at that point. The Saturn edition was supposed to be a special version of the game tailored specifically to the system but somewhere along the way someone cheaped out and we wound up with one of the worst games in an already bad franchise.

While the URA in the title gives off the impression that this is a wholly original title the game is mostly based off of Toshinden 2 and in its own strange way is a direct sequel to Toshinden Remix for Saturn. This mostly equates to a slightly different roster of final bosses and a changed story however the gameplay additions of the 2nd installment have been brought over. Not that it makes much of a difference as there is no depth to the combat and everything simply doesn’t flow properly.

The principle cast of the original is joined by three newcomers. Ron Ron is a teenage police scientist (I don’t buy it in the slightest) who even back then was pandering to a specific audience. Her attacks are some of the most appallingly animated in the game and are easy to dodge making her useless. Ripper looks cool but suffers from a long buildup in his special attacks. Tracy plays identically as she did in part 2 and by default is one of the better characters in the game. Sadly Chaos did not make the cut. The end game bosses are unique to this version and while that should be cause for celebration they are weak. Replicant is a robotic version of Sho while Wolf has some of the coolest special attacks in the game but his movement takes some getting used to.

At least some effort was made to correct the flaws of the original as the game is somewhat competent. The gameplay additions from Toshinden 2 such as dash in moves, taunts, and an overdrive meter have been brought over. The 3d dodge no longer grants temporary invincibility so its use has to be more strategic. Most of the returning cast have been given one or two new special moves or had subtle changes to their existing repertoire. The more powerful attacks have a slight charge time adding an element of risk and reward in their use. You’ll also have to be wary of your proximity to the edges of the ring since some moves cover a wide distance. Unlike the first game it is possible to execute simple combos and two-in-ones although it never really feels satisfying and more like a happy accident than a work of skill. Unfortunately you’ll never need to even bother trying these advanced tactics as the AI is some of the dumbest I’ve ever encountered in a fighting game.

I had always been curious as to just how accurate the magazine claims were that they could beat the game using nothing but the same special move over and over. Sure enough mapping a given character’s projectile attack to your button of choice and spamming it will result in victory with little effort. At most you’ll have to take an occasional swipe if your opponent gets too close. I used this “strategy” with six characters and it never failed. The AI is so dumb I have seen it run out of the ring for no apparent reason numerous times. The only reason to run through the single player mode is to unlock all the characters for multiplayer and even then some are so completely unbalanced (Vermillion) that it simply isn’t fun. A fighting game that fails to be entertaining even in multiplayer is basically worthless.

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There were lofty promises made about the game’s graphics as it was supposedly going to use the same high resolution mode as Virtua Fighter 2 with full 3d backgrounds. The only thing high resolution here are the 2d backgrounds and the front end menus. The game is a far cry from 60 frames per second; it’s more like 30 with frequent drops and the game has some seriously choppy animation. Toshinden Remix proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Saturn hardware was weaker than the PlayStation with its reduced polygon counts and missing special effects. That drab look continues here as projectiles and special moves lack real time lighting and transparency and look incredibly ugly; most attacks devolve into an ugly mess of pixelated blobs..

The one area that this series has excelled in, character design and art can’t even be appreciated as the character select screen is ruined by hideous, low resolution pixelated renders that barely resemble each fighter. There’s a decent amount of FMV but even by Saturn standards it is insanely grainy and looks low quality; honestly they shouldn’t have even bothered. At the very least the character models are solid but that doesn’t make up for the rest of the lacking visual presentation.

This series has always had outstanding music and that track record continues here. Most of the music is borrowed from prior installments of the series but remixed to great effect. The only oddity is that the music restarts every round so at most you’ll only hear 15-20 seconds of each theme unless you pop the disc in a CD player.

There is nothing here worth exploring as there are far better fighting games on the Saturn. I wouldn’t even recommend this game to Toshinden fans if they even exist.

5-out-of-101

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Bushido Blade

When gaming fully embraced 3d with the dawning of the 32-bit platforms nearly every genre went through a renaissance period of seemingly infinite possibilities now that their 2d boundaries had been shattered. Platformers, first person shooters, and racing games saw the most benefit and while games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter showed some of the benefits of 3d they were still fought on a 2d plane. Bushido Blade would be the game that fully explored what three dimensional graphics could bring to the genre and is one of the most innovative games of all time. While round around the edges its premise is still able to shine through and it is still one of the better games in the PlayStation library.

The order of assassins known as Kage has fallen on hard times. Once an honorable group that followed the ways of Bushido it has fallen into despair under the rule of its new leader Hanzaki. One day a member of Kage decides to leave with their secrets which is strictly forbidden and is hunted down by his fellow assassins before they can leave the compound.

The game’s six assassins have a choice between eight weapons, all differing in size, weight, and power.   These range from the short and fast rapier, mid-sized saber, to the heavier broadsword and sledgehammer. How effective each weapon is depends on the character; naturally the taller and more muscular protagonists can wield the Naginata and broadsword more gracefully than a small fry like Tatsumi. It’s fun to play around with combinations and to make the odd matchups work but in the end everyone has at least two weapons that they are most effective with.

There are a wide range of special moves available to each weapon and that depth goes even further depending on your stance. You can switch between three stances at any time from high, middle and low. Certain stances work better against particular weapons, enabling you to parry blows better and attack vital spots easier. Identifying this and adjusting accordingly is part of what makes the game so visceral. You won’t have much use for it in single player but in multiplayer and Slash mode it’s crucial.

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Throw all of your preconceived ideas about what a fighting game entails as Bushido Blade uses none of it. There are no life bars, no time limit or even anything resembling a round structure. Every match boils down to two armed combatants on a battleground and that’s it. Like in real life a match in Bushido Blade can last well over twenty minutes or end within the first few seconds of combat. A battle is decided once a decisive blow to the head or torso is delivered. The tension that this creates is palpable and one of the game’s greatest assets since it is possible to come back from behind even if your body has been cut up into a useless mess. Think of it as both fighters having only a sliver of health in the final moments of a round in a traditional fighting game. That is Bushido Blade all the time.

As you slash at your opponent well placed strikes will disable parts of their body, rendering them useless. It is incredibly satisfying to cut their legs and watch as they hobble over to you to fleetingly try to wrest victory from seeming defeat. But strangely enough it isn’t possible to incapacitate their sword arm and leave them defenseless.

The Bushido in the title isn’t just a cool word. Following the code of bushido is the only way to see each character’s FMV ending, which means you can’t attack while your opponent is down, don’t attack while they are running away, don’t use dirty tactics such as throwing dirt or other items when down, and most importantly, don’t attack while your enemy is speaking. It sounds restrictive but is really easy to follow aside from sadists who want to dismember a corpse on the ground.

Aside from the story mode and multiplayer there is a first person mode, which, while innovative was too much for me to wrap my brain around. Good idea in theory but not very fun in practice. Slash mode pits you against 100 random assassins, all of them wielding different weapons and stances. It is a perfect way to learn the nuances of the game’s mechanics as long as you can stay alive long enough to face off against its varied opponents since there is no way to recover.

Despite how fun the game is it the lack of content compared to other titles in the genre can’t be ignored. There are only 6 characters initially and while it is fun to play around with different weapon combinations most will stumble upon the ones that work for each fighter and stick with that. The story mode can be breezed through in under 10 minutes with each character and there is only one more unlockable but that requires surviving 100 opponents in Slash mode, no small task. Multiplayer is where you’ll get the most out of the game but the lack of characters and weapons gives the game an even shorter life than your average fighting game.

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It is admirable what developer Lightweight were able to achieve with the PlayStation hardware but this is a game that definitely would have benefited from more powerful hardware. The character design is well done but the character models aren’t the greatest even by early 3d standards with plenty of clipping, misshapen bodies and weird animation. The entire compound is available to fight in at any time but there is a loading pause when moving to a new area. When compared to Soul Blade it is lacking but considering the game’s scope the developers should be commended for managing to bring all of the game’s disparate elements together into a package that works.

The brilliance of the game’s concept and execution can’t be denied. Bushido Blade was a breath of fresh air in the fighting category and one that is still fun today. The lack of core content hurts its longevity but that does little to diminish the game’s impact. It’s also a sight better than the absolute crap that followed after unfortunately.

8-out-of-101

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Fatal Fury (SNES)

I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that the vast majority of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s did not have the money to buy a Neo Geo.  At $600 you would have to hold your parents at gunpoint if they even had the cash to spare.  So the only way to experience that high quality arcade gaming at its finest would be to plunk down all of your spare change in a coin op or hope for 16-bit ports.  Takara would make a name for themselves by publishing ports of the best Neo Geo fighting games to the SNES and Genesis.  On average they were generally pretty good to excellent considering the gap in hardware but in spite of their track record they did not get off to a good start.  The SNES version of Fatal Fury is an absolutely dreadful game that robs the Geo original of all its charm, leaving a pale copy in its stead.

Allegedly Fatal Fury began development before Street Fighter 2 so there’s always been a what if scenario about the impact the game would have had if it were released first.  I don’t doubt that Fatal Fury would have been more popular but the fighting engine in SF2 was so much more advanced than every fighting game that the outcome would still have been the same.  Though it lacked the combos of that game Fatal Fury still had a colorful cast of characters with interesting special moves, great graphics, and a multi plane system that was at the least unique.

Remove pretty much all of those and you’re left with this pathetic SNES version.  From the bad controls to the missing features something went terribly wrong here.  The SNES Fatal Fury is the same game in name only and should be avoided at all costs.

The single player mode only allows you to choose between Andy, Terry, and Joe Higashi which makes sense as the rest of the cast are hired by Geese to stop you.  The heroic trio are the most versatile of the cast in terms of move set so it isn’t a loss in that regard.  You can choose your starting opponent of four who once defeated lead to the four bosses; if the formula sounds familiar that’s because it mirrors Street Fighter 2.

The home version loses a lot of what made the arcade game fun.  During single player Geese Howard kept track of your progress in cut scenes but here you only get a lame framed image with a brief quote.  The arm wrestling minigame between matches has been replaced by a tire beating game which once again is similar to the barrel busting game in Street Fighter 2.  It isn’t all bad however, all 8 boss characters are selectable in multiplayer but only for player 2; whoever thought limiting player 1 to the same three characters needs to be shot.

Neo Geo arcade cabinets only had four buttons so the control scheme is kept simple.  Just a punch, kick, and throw button.  Combos don’t exist in the game so battles feel more like brawls.  In the arcade the game operated on a dual plane system; certain attacks will knock your opponent into the background and if they jumped to the back attacking would let you follow.  That has been removed in this version removing some of the game’s unique flavor.  Being able to maneuver around your opponent added a light strategic element to combat and bouncing them off background objects was just plain sadistic fun that is nowhere to be found in this version.

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You have NO idea how hard that was to pull off.  None.

The controls are sluggish and simply aren’t responsive.  There’s a delay whenever a button is pressed that becomes frustrating to deal with in short order.  The hit detection is also suspect; I’ve seen many a direct blow go completely unregistered.  Executing special moves just flat out doesn’t work.  I’ve been playing Street Fighter for over 20 years now, I know my way around a quarter circle motion and the recognition of your input is spotty at best.  With a computer AI that is aggressive as a hornet you’ll be kissing the pavement in record time every round.  This is almost as bad as Eternal Champions.

It would be foolish to expect the SNES to match the Neo Geo game but it at least compares favorably.  The sprites have only seen a slight reduction and the color palette is nearly the same.  Some background detail has either been reduced or removed but otherwise they’ve nailed the arcade game’s look.  The music and sound effects on the other hand are absolutely butchered.  The sound effects are heavily muted and actually cut out completely over the screeching music.  Fatal Fury had a pretty good soundtrack so hearing it mangled like this is a shame; the SNES can do far better than this.

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I don’t know if it was a lack of budget or simply time constraints but Takara’s stab at Fatal Fury turned out pretty poor.  The few unique elements the game had in the arcade being removed has left this just a generic fighting game with poor controls which is the kiss of death in this genre.

4-out-of-101

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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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World Heroes 2

Being a Neo Geo fan in the early to mid-90s was a painful proposition for those of us that were only teenagers at the time.  You’d love the games in the arcade but to actually own a Neo Geo back then you had to be an adult with a job, rich, or pull a knife on your parents.  Which is where Takara comes into the picture.  Takara made a name for themselves during the 16-bit era by publishing ports of SNK’s most popular games to the SNES and Genesis and to fighting game fans were practically a God send.  Unlike the dire port of the original World Heroes the second game turned out much better and is a more than competent version of the arcade hit.

World Heroes 2 was part of SNK’s 100 mega shock line of games released during the summer of 1993 which also included Fatal Fury 2, Art of Fighting, and Samurai Shodown.  To those of us who were not technically inclined (ie probably 90% of the gaming audience at the time) it meant nothing but seeing the quality of the graphics and sound in those games it was obvious where all of the memory went.

Seeing as how Neo Geo games were such technical showpieces is it possible for the SNES to create a perfect port?  Hell no, you’d have to be high or stupid to think otherwise.  It does however do an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the arcade game, all in a (at the time) $50-60 package.

With a new tournament comes new contestants and 6 new additions join the cast, bringing the total roster to 14 minus the bosses.  Just like the first game the new characters are all based on real life figures or fictional characters.  Ryoko Izumo is loosely based on Olympic Judo champion Ryoko Tani. Erick was inspired by famed explorer Erik the Red.  Those who thought SNK lost the pot with the sports themed USA team in King of Fighters 94 actually got their start with Johnny Maximum, a sadistic version of Joe Mantana.  Shura closely resembles Adon and has a slightly familiar fighting style and is based on Muay Thai fighter Nai Khanom Tom  Mudman…fuck it I think they included him because he looks cool.  My personal favorite is Captain Kidd, of the pirate with the same name.  How can you not love a pirate who attacks by throwing a ghostly pirate ship at you?

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Along with the new cast comes a few refinements to the game’s fighting engine.  Projectiles can be reflected to help deal with fireball spamming.  Counter throws can be used in a pinch although I doubt most will be able to pull them off at will repeatedly.  This makes the game much more playable.  Nearly all of the returning fighters have gained new moves, some special and some alterations to their basic punches and kicks to differentiate them from each other.  For the home port you can opt to stick with arcade controls or the much better setup that makes full use of the SNES controller, giving light and heavy attacks their own button as well as throws.  Movement has been sped up; those that played the SNES version of the first game will remember that it moved at a sloven pace.  You can turn the speed up a notch higher although it didn’t seem to make much of a difference to my eyes.

Fighting against the computer can become repetitive since you’ll always face the six newbies first followed by a random four from the original cast.  This was still a few years before developers wised up and added all sorts of additional content to spruce up a game’s single player so the only extras to look forward to are playing as the bosses Neo Geegus and Dio.

What does spruce up the staid fighting is the game’s Death Match mode.  This mode is very much in the style of a wrestling match and a welcome departure from the typical 3-round shenanigans.  The normal life bar is replaced by one bar that seesaws back and forth depending on who is inflicting damage.  If the bar reaches the opponent’s end they have to slam the buttons to try and stand up before the ref finishes his ten count.  The Death Match in the title refers to the environmental hazards unique to each stage such as buzz saws, land mines, random lightning strikes, or even something as simple as a smaller fighting cage that forces confrontation.  It’s a welcome change of pace; against the computer the randomness can make a match swing either way.  Against friends they can take a while as momentum swings back and forth but that’s what makes it so fun.

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When compared to the arcade game the SNES port has seen a some downgrades.  The color palette isn’t as vibrant and the sprites are noticeably smaller. The backgrounds have also had a lot of background elements removed, most likely due to the lower resolution.  It’s a more than faithful adaptation but compared to the PC Engine CD port (which does have the advantage of requiring the arcade card) it pales in comparison.

At the end of the day World Heroes is only a third tier fighting game among SNK’s stable of properties and is solid at best, lacking the standout features that would really make it stand out.  The SNES port is a very good version that manages to erase the shameful memories of the first game but doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Super Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat 2.

7-out-of-10-1

 

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Gundam the Battle Master


In Japan Gundam is an institution.  Bandai has set up an entire cottage industry of goods based around the franchise that caters to all needs and hobbies including manga, anime, model kits and of course games.  There have been hundreds of Gundam games spanning the last 3 decades however the US has seen a little more than a handful of these titles.  Truth be told we’re not missing much in a good 80% of these cases however there has been the occasional gem, usually when Bandai teams up with a respectable developer like Namco or Capcom.  The Gundam Battle Master Series finally saw a release in the US in the waning years of the PlayStation and were interesting takes on the fighting genre.  They are far from perfect but do a suitable job of capturing the feel of what a robot fighting game should be.

What America would eventually receive is actually the second game in the series as the first was too old.  Gundam Wing took the US by storm as the first in the series officially released here and so Gundam the Battle Master 2 was retooled to appeal to that fan base.  The changes are fairly insignificant; the Zeon’s Hamma Hamma suit is replaced by Heero Yuy’s Wing Gundam which has taken center stage in the game’s marketing.  The mobile suit pilots have been changed to feature a well-rounded cast from most of the more popular Gundam series, which is nice bit of fan service for those who can appreciate it.

The game’s plot focuses on Heero’s quest to destroy all mobile suits and end war on Earth which kind of makes him out to be an asshole in a few cases.  The cast is mostly comprised of characters from the Universal Century timeline with many a fan favorite such as Char Aznable, Judau Ashta, and Haman Karn.  This does create plot confusion at points as the characters will refer to Newtypes and the Zeon, which do not exist in the Gundam Wing universe.  But that’s all nerd wankery.  In the game’s single player mode you have to play as Heero but are free to pilot any mobile suit while multiplayer has no such restrictions.

This is not a straightforward Street Fighter clone like the Super Famicom’s Endless Wing; instead the game cobbles together features from a variety of games to become its own beast.  The traditional 3-round structure is absent; instead battles follow the Killer Instinct model.  You are equipped with three life bars which causes an overheat when one is depleted and the fight continues right after.

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The game uses a Children of the Atom style two screen high playing field.  One to take advantage of each suit’s super jump/temporary flight capabilities but second because the mechs are huge! The mobile suits come in all shapes and sizes from the  gigantic beyond screen filling Big Zam to the smaller (and annoying) Acguy.   I can’t think of any other 2d fighting game with sprites this huge and trust me they are a sight to behold.

The size of the combatants does come at the expense of the game’s speed.  All mobile suits are slow and clunky in their movements, which I guess is realistic but not as satisfying in motion.  To combat this you can fly using your thrusters for brief periods as long as you have boost which the larger playing field accommodates.  You can also execute a forward dash for quick step rushdowns.

Due to the game’s slower pace you won’t be executing 6 or 7 hit combos.  In most cases nailing a 2 in one or 3-hit combo is less common.  The fighting engine is more about using your defensive options when necessary and moving in for the attack once your opponent is exposed and less about spamming fireballs and special moves.  Many of the game’s systems are set up to avoid this as a matter of fact.  Projectiles are limited by ammunition and are largely unblockable.  However you can sidestep like in the King of Fighters.  Melee weapons like the beam saber can only be dodged or blocked using your temporary barrier but these drain precious health.  In essence once you’ve practiced a bit it’s an effective if not thrilling system.  Imagine Capcom’s versus series with giant robots and slowed down from its breakneck pace.

For many the game’s slow speed is a deal breaker as you’ll want to approach it like any traditional hand drawn fighting game.  While I’ve grown to appreciate the game on its own merits the sluggish pace won’t win any fans.  As hard as it is to believe this is a more technical brawler where you pick and choose your hits like Virtua Fighter (except not as punishing).  It also suffers from a lack of content.  The likes of Namco had spoiled gamers with the excessive amount of additional modes and content added to their home ports and so Gundam’s story and versus mode seem weak in comparison.  This was a game from almost 3 years prior however and sold for $10 so it at least had that working in its favor.

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Gundam the Battle Master is a phenomenal looking game even in 2013 due to its animation and art.  Segmented sprites were used heavily in the 16-bit era, most notably by Treasure.  It didn’t work for humans because the animation style was robotic; look at Earnest Evans to see how that worked out.  However for giant robots it’s perfect.  Animating each individual part of the Mobile Suits separately allowed the developers to bypass the PlayStation’s RAM limits for smooth animation and larger than normal sprites.  The Big Zam is so large it doesn’t fit can’t fit on the screen while the smaller Gundams are nearly the size of the screen.  It’s heavily pixelated at times but the tradeoff is worth it for this level of 2d splendor.

At the end of the day this is a solid brawler that lacks the depth of the standard bearers of the genre.  Its far better than the vast majority of Gundam games that have ever been released and is entertaining enough to last a few hours while you gawk at the visuals.  Serious fighting fans however should look elsewhere.

7-out-of-10

 

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Art of Fighting

At the time of SNK’s fighting game renaissance Art of Fighting was one of its most unique series and next to World Heroes less popular.  As the next game to follow Fatal Fury and to also back in Street Fighter 2’s light it had its fans but its gameplay systems were probably a bit too far out of the norm for most to take a shine to.  Takara, who had started making a name for themself publishing the 16-bit conversions of SNK’s games turned out a pretty damn good SNES port which was surprising considering the technical gap between platforms.

Yuri Sakazaki has been kidnapped leading her older brother Ryo and his best friend Robert Garcia to hit the mean streets of Southtown in search of clues to her whereabouts.  Their search will eventually have them run afoul of the local mafia of Southtown as they uncover the mastermind behind the plot.

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Art of Fighting stood out in the arcade for a number of reasons but the most important would be because of its scaling effect and large characters.  These were some of the largest fighting game sprites at the time, literally occupying ¾ of the screen when in close.  They’re so huge in fact that the game has to zoom out to keep everything in perspective.  In the arcade it was an eye catching effect, one that would later be used in Samurai Shodown as well.  Surprisingly the SNES port keeps the effect by slightly reducing the size of the characters but it’s all there although it isn’t as smooth as the arcade.  The fact that they were even able to squeeze the game relatively intact for the SNES was a god damn miracle in and of itself.

The game’s single player mode is limited by the fact that you can only play as Ryo or Robert which makes sense.  It’s not much of a choice when it comes down to it as they both play identically and even share the same moves.  The game tries to offer flimsy reasons as to why you have to kick in the teeth of each member of the cast but let’s be real, no one cares.  I wouldn’t exactly call it an extensive story mode but there were cut scenes in between matches that this port lacks although the inane pre fight dialogue has been kept.

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While the single player is constrained to two choices multiplayer gives access to the entire roster plus the two bosses via code.  The variety is appreciated but I’ll be honest, this is one of the most generic casts of pugilists assembled.  Ryo and Robert fulfill the Ken and Ryu archetype.  Lee Pai Long is a Chinese version of Vega, John Crawley might as well be the love child of Arnie and Guile, and Mickey is your Balrong stand in. You know the cast wouldn’t look out of place in Double Dragon, especially Jack.  Thankfully the game brought some interesting ideas to the table to help cover up its lack of interesting characters.

In terms of gameplay AoF is not your ordinary 2d fighting game.  While all characters have special moves they’re governed by a spirit gauge that depletes when they are used.  Spirit slowly refills as a match goes on and can be replenished manually but this leaves you open to attack.  A well placed taunt will deplete your opponent’s spirit as well although the same applies to you.  Managing spirit adds an extra tactical element to the proceedings since you’re more likely to save your special moves than spam them uncontrollably.

The spirit gauge could have slowed the gameplay but Art of Fighting added a few mechanics that have since become standardized within the genre.  Dashing helps to keep the pressure up on players who try to turtle while back dashes enable quick escapes.  Wall jumping allowed you to close the gap relatively quickly and when you’re life bar dips too low desperation moves were enabled although I will say you’re a better man than me if you can pull them off.  I have my gripes with the controls; strong attacks are enabled by pressing the throw button after using punch or kick.  This limitation made sense as Neo Geo cabinets only had four buttons and here the last is used for taunting.  The SNES controller has six; they could just as easily included the option like World Heroes to map them separately.  Hell I don’t even know why there needs to be a throw button; every sensible fighting game enables them once you’ve gotten in close.

This is not a combo heavy game and in fact stringing together more than two hits in succession is an accomplishment.  Most hits result in a knockdown and in fact attacks inflict so much damage that a single three hit combo would probably end the match.  The damage from attacks in general seems off, a problem SNK had with many of their other arcade games.  Combine that with the vicious AI and you have one tough nut to crack.  Art of Fighting has the early symptoms of SNK boss syndrome as Mr. Karate is insanely cheap and will chain multiple Zanretsukens if you are knocked down at any time.

This SNES port is a more than respectable version of a solid game.  It has its fair share of gameplay innovations and frustrations but in the end Art of Fighting is still a decent game today.

7-out-of-10

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Golden Axe: the Duel

Sure why not?  Everyone else was doing it.  Golden Axe: the Duel is another in the long line of franchises that ditched their original genre and took to the streets to settle their differences.  After the dismal Golden Axe 3 I suppose anything is an improvement.  The Duel is a decent Street Fighter that simply isn’t good enough.  Around the time of its release SNK were firing on all cylinders with the King of Fighters series and their other fighting game franchises, Capcom had unleashed Street Fighter Alpha, and I haven’t even mentioned the 3d fighting games that were emerging.  Sega could easily have ported Revenge of Death Adder to the Saturn rather than creating this decent but derivative fighting game.  Ultimately that is the Duel’s biggest flaw; it tries to cram in so many features from other games that it doesn’t have an identity of its own.

Years have passed since Death Adder threatened the world during his reign of terror.  But just as soon as the memories of those times have passed a magical axe is discovered, sparking a new war for its power.  With the promise that this new Golden Axe can grant anything its owner desires 10 combatants step up to see who will ultimately possess the weapon and have their heart’s desire granted.

Thematically and stylistically the Duel resembles Samurai Shodown on more than one front.  It features the same scaling technique when fighters are further apart, it’s primarily a weapons based fighter, and some of the roster wouldn’t look out of place in SNK’s slasher, most notably Green and Jamm.  I don’t fault Sega from patterning the game after such a bonafide classic.  Samurai Shodown practically revolutionized the genre with its weapons based combat and slightly historical roster.  The similarities end there however.

Although you don’t get to choose any of the familiar Golden Axe heroes their descendants have picked up the slack.  Kain Blade takes after Stern Blade and is analogous to Ryu and Ken.  Milan Flare is a lot like Chun Li and the rest of the cast falls into some of the same tropes.  Having said that there are a few that have a unique play style such as Keel and Zoma with their magic. There are a few that are call backs to some of the popular enemies from the series; Panchos resembles the hulking twin bosses in the first stage of the original Golden Axe and Death Adder is…Death Adder.  It’s not as though the series had a long line of memorable characters to draw from so in that respect I think Sega did a good job of creating a cast that fits within the Golden Axe universe.

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With the same familiar six button setup if you’ve played nearly any fighting game over the last decade or two you can jump right in.   Although the controls are responsive the combat doesn’t have the necessary “flow” that you would expect from a top tier title.  Stringing together a series of well-timed blows to form combos feels more like an accident than natural result of the combat system.  The game’s slow speed is the culprit in my opinion.  The original arcade release came in late 1994, still a year or two away from the manic Vs. series.  But even taking that into consideration you have to remember the 16-bit renditions of Street Fighter 2 Turbo and Super Street Fighter offered various speed settings and accommodated gamers of all stripes.  The few speed settings available do little to make combat feel fluid with the game still maintaining the same lethargic pace.  The computer’s AI can be cheap at times but nothing that will result in controller throwing rage.

The game’s sole original feature is a nod to the series roots.  The sneaky little elves that would steal your items between levels make an appearance throughout each match.  By kicking them they drop potions or meat to restore life. Collecting five potions allows you to power up and dole out massive damage and activate your super move.  The elves are a constant presence so that either you or the computer can take advantage of this feature with regularity.  A well-timed power boost can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat but the same applies to the AI.

Despite this The Duel is amazingly light on options.  There’s only the standard arcade mode and a versus mode to beat up on your friends.  Even in 1996 this was spartan.  Tekken 2 was released the same year with a ton of extra characters, an extended practice section and numerous versus modes.  With no hidden characters, artwork or any other unlockables the game is only interesting for an hour or two before you’ve seen all it has to offer.

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The game’s content (or lack of) is disappointing but the visuals aren’t.  These are some of the largest 2d sprites from that era and each are exquisitely animated.  The backgrounds are excellently drawn and feature some minor bits of fan service for those looking closely.  The special effects when performing super moves are the game’s graphical highlight.  What isn’t are the ugly pixelated closeups when the game decides to zoom in to better capture the action.

Golden Axe the Duel was originally released in the arcade like Return of Death Adder so there was the possibility of a perfect conversion of that gem.  Why Sega chose to convert this ho hum fighting game that lacked the features and graphics of its competition at the time (Street Fighter Alpha & King of Fighter’s ’95) we’ll never know but it stings knowing there was a far superior game begging for a home port.

5-out-of-101

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King of Fighters ’95

When you think about the King of Fighters was such a great idea I’m surprised no one else had attempted before.  The idea of an inter-company crossover is the stuff of fan boy dreams when you get right down to it, that’s why Super Smash Brothers is so popular.  Applying that to a fighting game was downright genius; I honestly thought Capcom would have done it first rather than SNK.  The King of Fighters ’94 was an awesome but flawed game that resonated with fans and lead to the far superior 1995 installment, the game that I believe truly put the series on the map.

Rugal Bernstein, organizer of the prior tournament, has apparently survived the events of the first tournament and sent invitations for the latest King of Fighters.  While standalone the events of KoF 95 would be retconned into the Orochi Saga not that this fact is important to 90% of fighting game fans.  What matters the most is that the game is back and better than ever.  Both the Saturn and Playstation versions of Kof ’95 were released closed to each other in Japan however it would be SCEA who would secure the exclusive US rights along with Samurai Shodown III.  Normally this would be a good thing but in this respect we got hosed out of the superior conversion.

At the time King of Fighters had the largest roster available in the genre at 24 characters.  Consisting of pugilists from 4 prior SNK games (Psycho Soldier, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and Ikari Warriors, yes really)every team from ’94 returns with the exception of the terrible, stereotypical Sports  squad.  Taking their place is the new rival team consisting of the too cool for school Iori Yagami, fan favorite Eiji Kisaragi, and uh, Billy Kane.   The team is a great addition and makes the series feel “complete”; the rivalry between Kyo and Iori would be one of the main forms of conflict for the duration of the series.

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With such a large roster pretty much all of the bases are covered in terms of fighting style.  All of the returning characters such as Terry Bogard, Joe Higashi, and the Art of Fighting crew play identically to their respective series while the newer combatants fall into familiar niches.  The King of Fighters has many subtle elements that help distinguish it from Street Fighter such as the evasive dodging and manually charging your super meter outside of taking damage.  The rigid team structure has been loosened up with the addition of team edit, allowing you to create your own three man squad.  This was the most glaring omission from the first game and possibly the most requested feature.  The freedom to mix and match to create custom teams allows gamers of all stripes to settle on a group composition to their liking without being saddled by one or two characters they simply have no affinity for.

New to the series are desperation moves which become active when you are left with 25% health.  If you can pull off the ridiculous button combination you’ll be granted an extremely cheap attack that will more than likely win the match if it connects.  The level of damage from attacks in general is exceptionally higher than normal and something that was becoming an issue in many of SNK’s fighters.  A quick 3 hit combo can drain up to 60% of your life making each round a relatively quick affair.  I suppose the fact that you have 3 party members does soften the blow a bit but it does mean you have less time to really enjoy the combat system.

It does also mean you’ll have to deal with this port’s biggest flaw: the load times.  In between every round are 5-6 second load times as well as the end of each match.  Considering you can decimate an opponent in as little as 10-15 seconds you’ll be staring at that loading screen quite often and it really breaks the flow of combat.  Even Capcom managed to keep the loading to a minimum with their port of Street of Fighter Alpha, meaning they could have done better.  Unfortunately outside of owning a Neo Geo or importing the stellar Saturn version this was the only option available at the time.  I remember hoping and praying for an SNES port (back when I knew nothing of RAM limitations and animation frames) so this was the next best thing.  I don’t know that anyone would have the patience to sit through an extended session with this port when there are superior options available.

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There were some sacrifices made to fit the game within the PlayStation’s confines.  The animation has taken a step down and is noticeable to arcade aficionados.   The backgrounds however are identical.  This series lacks the clean look of the Street Fighter Alpha series with its pixelated sprite art but it’s strangely appealing.  The arranged soundtrack is fantastic and one of my all-time favorite fighting game OSTs off all time.  The music spans a wide range of genres from hard rock and jazz to the more classical.

At the time of its release this port was a more than solid rendition of a classic quarter muncher.  These days it’s been surpassed by numerous arcade perfect ports on the various digital download services.  There aren’t enough extra features available to overcome the gap in quality, leaving this a relic of its time.

6-out-of-10-1

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World Heroes

At some point SNK fell completely head over heels with fighting games.  Seriously, if fighting games were your favorite genre you needed a Neo Geo, as much as 50-60% of its library is comprised of just that.  Had the Neo Geo been reasonably priced (you think the PS3 was bad?   Try $600 dollars back in 1989 when the majority of the gaming audience was still barely teenagers) I don’t doubt for a second that it would have made a bigger splash in the market simply based on how insane the fighting game craze became in the 90s.  With so many of these games being cranked out of their factory SNK had to be pretty creative in making each one stand out and one of their better attempts came in the form of World Heroes.

While World Heroes borrows a lot from Street Fighter it at least has an original premise.  A scientist named Doc Brown has created a time machine and organizes a tournament of the 8 greatest fighters in history to see who was the strongest of all time.  How’s that for a plot?  Yeah I know, there are plenty more interesting things you can do with a time machine but as far as fighting games are concerned World Heroes at least tried to be different.

Most of the 8 fighters are based on or associated real world and fictional characters.  Hanzo and Fuma are based on real ninjas who were at odds with one another and play a similar role in the game.  Rasputin is based on Grigori Rasputin, an alleged mystic from the 19th century; it is this aspect of the character that is drawn upon for his video game counterpart.  Janne is inspired by Joan of Arc.  Muscle Power…….is Hulk Hogan.  Any of you kids not familiar with Hulk Hogan and his real American phase go look it up on YouTube.  Kim Dragon is the stereotypical Bruce Lee clone nearly every fighting game has to includ as a prerequisite.

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While the characters were actually interesting individuals based on their historical back stories gameplay wise each is virtual carbon copy of someone on the Street Fighter roster.  Dragon is quick on his feet and has similar moves to Fei Long, although he was created first.  Muscle Power has similar special moves to Zangief and Hanzo and Fuma fulfill the Ryu/Ken roles to a tee.  Brocken is a mix of Blanka, M.Bison, and Dhalsim.  The few who don’t follow a well-worn mold such as Janne and Rasputin present a bit of a challenge to utilize efficiently since their move priorities are different.

World Heroes control scheme was simplified in many ways.  There is only one punch and kick button, with a third for throws.  The buttons were pressure sensitive to give you control over when you launch a weak or strong attack.  Personally I found it stupid as the Neo Geo arcade units had 4 buttons, leaving one button useless.  Many special moves are simple back, forward + A or B combinations, taking advantage of the simple controls.  For the most part though if you’ve played Street Fighter or any similar game you can jump right in with the skills you’ve honed.

Although World Heroes is derivative it does have one unique feature: Death Match.  Choosing Death Match will replace the typical fighting arenas in each country with a wrestling ring filled with different hazards you have to avoid while facing your opponent.  As a bonus you can force your enemy into these same hazards for extra damage.   These take many forms, from simple oil puddles that cause you to slide, to spiked walls or electrified ropes.  It was an interesting addition and one that made 2-player versus matches even more fun.

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The SNES version is simply put terrible.  While it mimics the looks of the MVS unit pretty well it’s missing some of the voice samples as well as some background detail.  It wasn’t exactly a stunner compared to Art of Fighting or Fatal Fury 2 but World Heroes was easy on the eyes and ears, and sadly the SNES port loses some of that.  But the biggest flaw is the game’s lethargic pace.  The entire game seems as though it’s moving through molasses and it throws off the “feel” of the game.  I also found the special move prompts to have spotty recognition; for a genre that lives or dies by its responsiveness this is the kiss of death.

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The Genesis rendition, licensed and reprogrammed by Sega, wins by virtue of the fact that it ‘s closer the arcade game’s speed.  Everything feels right and the game moves at a brisk pace.  As a bonus, for those that have a six button controller the game will automatically switch the controls so that light and hard attacks have their own individual buttons.  You could also do this in the Nintendo version but it was nice to see the six button pad supported.  Sadly the Genesis version is even worse than the SNES game when it comes to production values.  I will give Sega credit for trying but the 64 color limit really hurts the graphics.  Nearly all of the voice acting from the arcade is missing and don’t get me started on the sound effects and music.  Special Champion Edition sounds like a symphony compared to this.

So there you have it.  Both ports suffer from their share of problems and although there is a clear victor it doesn’t mean much.  World Heroes was only slightly above average to begin with; take two ports that both don’t even match that subpar standard and you have a bad game that shouldn’t be bothered with.

5-out-of-101

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Battle Arena Toshinden

I wonder just how many remember the insane hype among the press for Battle Arena Toshinden.  If you were to base your impressions of the game off what the press at the time had to say Toshinden is one of the greatest games of all time, receiving many near perfect scores.  So in the end did it live up to the lofty expectations fostered by over eager journalists dazzled by its graphics?  Hell no!  I don’t know what the reviewers were smoking but it took less than half an hour to realize Toshinden was crap.

An organization known only as the Secret Society is hosting the Battle Arena Toshinden, a legendary tournament known only to those familiar with the underground.  8 fighters have stepped up to participate with their own reasons for doing so.  Family, honor, glory, everything is on the line as they compete to see who will win.

I made it sound a lot more interesting than it deserves.  Battle Arena Toshinden caused quite a stir when it initially debuted at the very first E3 in 1995.  Up until that point the only 3D fighting game widely known to everyone was Virtua Fighter, and Toshinden virtually obliterated it in terms of presentation.  With the PlayStation as Sony’s first foray into the console wars the buzz generated by Toshinden quickly turned it into a killer app for the system.  The infatuation was short lived however as gamers quickly realized that Battle Arena Toshinden was all flash and very little substance and it stands as one of the most overrated games of all time.

In creating Toshinden Tamsoft clearly drew inspiration from the best.  The 8 fighters fit into a number of niches; Eiji and Kayin are the Ryu and Ken of the game, sharing the same moves and history as rivals.  Ellis is a clear match up for Chun Li, physical weak but makes up for it in speed.  Mondo and his extending spear call to mind Dhalsim.  While they cover most of the bases the rest of the cast don’t fit into any mold and are actually original in their design.  While Run-Go fits the slow strong man profile his special moves make him surprisingly agile.  The elderly Fo employs magic in his attacks and is unpredictable in his movements.  And what fighting game can be called complete without fan service?  Sofia fills that role as an ex KGB agent looking for her lost memory.  Surprisingly Sofia became something of a PlayStation mascot early on but was quickly dropped in favor of Crash Bandicoot.

While Toshinden had a good base to start with in its characters it fighting engine or lack thereof falls completely flat.  There is no sense of weight to the characters so attacks send your opponents flying or out of reach to follow up, severely limiting the combo possibilities.  Like Virtua Fighter jumps are extremely floaty.  A simple combo of a light slash, light slash followed by a Rekuzan for Eiji is a chore to perform and feels slow rather than fast and fluid.

While the fights are mostly constricted to a 2d plane the camera frequently rotates for a cinematic view of the action and will screw up your timing.  Certain special moves, such as Sofia’s Aurora Revolution or Fo’s Mystic Sphere also seem to throw your character off in random directions rather than always facing your opponent.  These issues reduce Toshinden to a button masher and the brain dead AI doesn’t exactly force you to adapt or try to learn deeper strategies.

While the combat is a flop Toshinden did introduce one important innovation to the fighting genre, the side step.  The ability to sidestep or roll to avoid attacks and to attack from behind cannot be stressed enough, especially for 3d fighters.  This move would be iterated upon by many developers, most famously by Namco with the 8-Way run.

One area BAT does not disappoint is its presentation.  In 1995 Virtua Fighter’s flat shaded polygons were still considered a revolutionary step in the fighting genre.  Toshinden seemed to come from another planet in comparison. Toshinden featured fully texture mapped and light sourced character models which were perfect at hiding the PlayStation’s weaknesses.  There are a ton of special effects thrown around, such as the transparency on Ellis’s performing pants or the warping tiles in Gaia’s background.  One minor detail that was mind blowing at the time was the TV screens broadcasting a live version of the current match in Kayin’s stage; quaint by today’s standards but in 1995 was incredible.  The soundtrack is also very good with tunes that match each fighter’s stage and country of origin.

It’s too bad the game becomes boring so fast.  It’s pretty telling that my friends and I played the one level demo of Ridge Racer more than Toshinden at the PS One’s release but Tamsoft were simply ill equipped to back Toshinden’s revolutionary graphics with suitable gameplay.  Much better fighting games were released for the PlayStation shortly after its launch and everyone quickly came to their senses and realized the game was simply no good.  In the end there’s nothing here that warrants closer inspection.


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Super Smash Brothers

Nintendo has always excelled at taking genre’s they are not comfortable with and putting their own unique spin on them.  The Mario Kart series was born from this as an example.  So when word came of a fighting game starring their most iconic characters the gaming world lost their shit.  You could say it was a dream of many growing up and although everyone assumed it would be a straight Street Fighter rip off what we got instead is wholly original and a big love letter to the fans.

To more or less quell fears that Nintendo’s mascots had suddenly gone homicidal the game is presented as a series of toys that have come to life to fight amongst each other.  It’s a simple premise and it works wonderfully well as a means to bring so many disparate franchises for one brawl to end them all.  What is more interesting however is Super Smash genesis.  Begun as a series of tests with Nintendo characters in a new fighting engine it was billed as not commercially viable and wasn’t scheduled for release worldwide.  Can you believe that?  Cooler heads prevailed and we were graced with one of the most original fighting games created and a riotous party game that is still enjoyable to this day.

As the first game in the series the biggest all stars in Nintendo’s library of intellectual properties come to the fighting arena as well as some lesser known properties.  That means Link is rubbing shoulders with the Mario Brothers, Samus can chill in space with Fox and crew, and Kirby can show the Pokemon crew whose boss.  They even snuck in a few dark horses like Ness from Earthbound and Captain Falcon from F-Zero.  All told 12 playable heroes represent a wide spectrum of gaming worlds, more than enough to provide enough diversity in items and mechanics to last a long time.  The important thing is they grabbed the characters everyone wanted to see; imagine the shit storm if they left out Yoshi or Link!

Throw any preconceived notions of the fighting system; you’ve never played anything like this.  The object of the game is to knock your opponents out of the ring.  Sounds simple right?  It can be if you know what you’re doing.  Rather than a static life bar that depletes over time you have a percentage meter that increases as you take damage.  As it gets higher you fly farther from taking hits; by 250% simple impacts can cause an automatic KO.  There’s no limit to how high you can go either but by 300% you’re pretty much fucked.  It’s a highly original system that works hand in hand with the move sets of each character

The concept of special moves doesn’t really exist in Smash Brothers.  All characters more or less have the same basic moves, a projectile(s), a shield, and a multi-hit attack.  However the range and power behind these attacks make all the difference.  The Mario Brothers are not only well rounded but extremely powerful.  Jigglypuff and Ness require more thought behind their attacks but are equally effective in the hands of a “master” (that doesn’t sound right).  A gaggle of items from each gaming universe are randomly dropped and can both help and hinder you at the same time.  Some are offensive, like Fire Flowers (so powerful!) while others restore health.  They drop frequently enough that it keeps every battle interesting.

The backdrops serve as more than window dressing.  The layout of each stage can present many opportunities to screw over friends by trapping them behind obstacles and unable to climb back in the ring. A lot of thought went into each one and many are interactive, such as the rising lava on Zebes or the random wind in Dream Land.  And they look pretty by N64 standards as well.  Even the classic tunes are well done.  It’s one big fanboy nerdgasm and knows it and that’s why it works so well.

As accomplished as the play mechanics are the single player mode is lacking.  They do a good job of varying the fights , such as the battle against a giant Donkey Kong or Metal Mario however these gimmick fights are few and exactly the same every time.  The Bonus stages are excellent but once again there aren’t too many.  There are few unlockables to keep you coming back so it’s a good thing the multiplayer saves the game.  Plug in 4 controllers and watch the hours fly by.  The multiplayer is what this game was made for and it shows.  The sequels would go into fan overload with a ton of trophies and extras but at the very least this was a good start.

While it pales in comparison to its sequels Super Smash Brothers laid the foundation for later games and is still fun with a group of friends.  There’s a reason these games are best sellers when released and it ain’t just nostalgia.sellers when released and it ain’t just nostalgia.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Tournament Fighters (NES)

This was a bit of an odd duck.  I can see what Konami were going for and as a last hurrah for the NES it works.  But the NES simply lacks the horsepower necessary to do a fighting game justice, leaving this 8-bit version in a weird place.  It’s decent for what it is but anyone who was serious about fighting games had long since moved on to the more advanced platforms.  I was still stuck with an NES at the time and even I wanted nothing to do with this version of the game.  Remember the versus mode in games like Flying Warriors and Karate Champ?  That stuff soured me on 8-bit fighting games forever.

The Shredder is back in town so the Turtles decide to hold a contest to see who is worthy to face him in battle.  I just made it seem way more honorable than it really is.  Along for the ride are Casey Jones and Hothead, yet another Archie Comic’s creation.  They really liked dipping in that well it seems.  Konami made an admirable attempt at shoehorning typical fighting game conventions into an 8-bit box and they somewhat succeed.  However the various shortcuts necessary drag down the experience.

With a patry 7 characters the roster isn’t large so Konami wisely decided to only include the most popular choices.  Shredder, Casey Jones, and Hothead rub shoulders with the brothers and sort of function as boss characters since they are so damn overpowered.  Personally I would have included Splinter over Hothead but the bosses do bring some much needed variety.  You’ll appreciate their presence because the 4 Turtles are near identical.

Disappointingly all four Turtles are nearly the same leaving their signature weapons as their only distinguishing characteristic.  To have a large “volume” of moves in the game the 4 Turtles have identical move sets with only 1 unique to each of them.  Casey and Hothead do not suffer from this thankfully and are so bad ass that you’ll prefer them.  Blasphemy I know.  The button prompts are kept simple and are easy to pull off.  The fighting engine however is nonexistent; don’t bother trying to string together combos or any other advanced techniques.  This feels more like a beat em up and is heavy on the button mashing.  Like I said before, I’m amazed they were able to squeeze this much onto the humble confines of an NES cart.

And that also applies to the graphics.  With just 2 combatants on screen the fighters are larger than prior games and animate extremely well.  The special moves are about as flashy as possible on the NES all things considered.  The backgrounds also feature at least one layer of parallax scrolling as well which shows just how far Konami were able to push the NES.  However technical limitations do rear their ugly head whenever the more exotic special moves are performed in the form of flicker and slowdown.  As a whole though it is quite impressive.

When viewed through an 8-bit lens this is quite an achievement.  Unfortunately by the end of 1993 few still bothered with the NES, and with the likes of Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat and nearly every Neo Geo fighting game ported to the 16-bit platforms the writing was on the wall if you needed a fighting game fix.  This was a valiant effort but ultimately a waste of time.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Tournament Fighters (SNES)


When you think about it, of all the obscure licenses that were turned into fighting games in the mid 90s the Ninja Turtles made the most sense.  Between the two comic book series and the cartoon there are a wealth of characters to throw down with.  While the Sega was a valiant attempt the SNES version was obviously created by a separate team and the gulf in quality is apparent.  This version is a viable alternative to the many versions of Street Fighter and resides in the upper echelon of SNES fighting games.

A tournament has been organized and the Turtles mobilize to stop their nemesis, the Shredder.  You don’t need any other reason to kick some ass so here we go.  Released around the same time as Street Fighter 2 Turbo Tournament Fighters is able to match Capcom’s classic in terms of features and modes and while the fighting engine isn’t as robust there are enough characters with varying play styles to keep you occupied for many hours.

10 Combatants make up the active roster with the 2 bosses hidden.  Of course the 4 brothers are present and accounted for and ready to kick some ass.  They never really specify whether the Shredder in this game is a cyborg or the original but considering Karai is the head of the Foot Clan in this game I’m going with the former (bow down to my knowledge of Turtles continuity).  And you know what, it doesn’t matter, he looks like the god damn Shredder and that should be enough for everyone.  The lone original fighter in the roster, Aska, looks similar to April O’Neil however the comparisons end there.  She has some sweet moves and an amazing battleground.

The rest of the roster is composed of lesser known aliens from the cartoon and the Archie comic.  Chrome Dome was featured in an episode of the cartoon but let’s be honest, no one remembers him.  War, Armaggon, and Wingnut all came from the Archie comic so unless you were seriously into all things green they might as well be original creations.  I don’t really have an issue with the rosters of these games but I do wonder why Konami were so adamant against using the more popular characters such as Bebop, Rocksteady, or even Leatherhead.  And what’s with the obsession with the Archie characters anyway?  I’ll stop before going off on a tangent.

Inject Street Fighter into the Ninja Turtles franchise and you have a good facsimile of this game. From the command prompts to some of the special moves it’s exact.   Although it is derivative the most important fact is it all flows.  Some deep combos are possible and with 10 characters plus 2 hidden there’s a wealth of content to explore.   The balance is slightly skewed in favor of the Turtles seeing as they have 3 special moves to everyone else’s two but not so much that the other characters are unplayable.  Before Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo this was one of the first fighting games to introduce super moves and as the name suggests they can change the outcome of a match in a heartbeat.  Some characters like Shredder fill up that meter faster than others but it’s counterbalanced by the lack of power behind their super moves.

Speaking of balance, compared to the rabid AI of the Sega version the computer here is dumb, easily susceptible to repeated patterns.  Although the lack of challenge might mean you’ll blow through the single player there is a story mode in addition to the generic tournament to plow through.  Plus you can always increase the AI level, the speed of the game and versus mode.  It’s a well rounded package overall.  Not bad for an original stab at the genre.

Whereas the Genesis game is dark and dreary the Super NES game is bursting with life.  This could easily have passed for an arcade game back in 1993.  The backgrounds are full of spectators with numerous cameos, ridiculous detail, and fabulous animation.  The super moves are suitably flashy which offset the flat backgrounds.  The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal; this is Konami at their prime.  A common “complaint” if you want to call it that is that the game is too bright and cheery; so what?  The graphics are amazing and don’t need to be dark for the sake of it.  Play the assy Genesis version if you need angst with your Turtles.

Tournament Fighters stands the test of time as a worthy fighting game in the SNES library.  It’s a worthwhile alternative to the Street Fighter games and honestly I prefer it to Mortal Kombat.  But I’ve never been the biggest fan of the MK games so take that as you will.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Tournament Fighters (Genesis)

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting!  At least in the mid 90s they were.  From big publishers to small, everyone wanted a piece of the fighting game pie.  While some like SNK were able to make an entire cottage industry out of it (seriously, if you like fighting games the Neo Geo is an all you can eat buffet) most were simply ill equipped to make a decent stab at the genre.  In 1993 Konami chose to use their Ninja Turtles license to create 3 wildly different games for 3 platforms, which brings us to this Genesis version.  How does it fare?

Evil clones of the Ninja Turtles have kidnapped Splinter and taken him to Dimension X.  With no other choice the brothers set off in pursuit and bring April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Ray Fillet, and Sisyphus along as backup.  Based on the original Mirage comic book this version is darker in tone and as such truer to the franchise’s original incarnation.  While the attempt at differentiating this version is successful it fails in the most important aspect a fighting game needs: controls.  There’s a wealth of options to explore but if the game isn’t fun to play all of it is useless.

The 4 Turtles bring their signature weapons to the party and as expected utilize them in their special moves.  This ain’t your daddy’s April O’Neil however.  Able to kick butt with the best of them erase any thoughts of the useless damsel in distress from the cartoon.  Casey Jones…….I don’t need to say anything about.  It’s a dude with a hockey mask and sports equipment kicking ass, it speaks for itself.

You’re probably wondering who the hell are Ray Fillet and Sisyphus at this point.  In addition to the Mirage comic there was a second series published by Archie Comics, a series that first adapted the cartoon episodes but later created its own continuity.  More serious than the cartoon but not as adult as the Mirage series it introduced a large range of characters that were later added to the cartoon series and some of the games.  Regardless they do bring something different to the table although I’m sure most would have preferred some of the more popular characters instead like Bebop and Rocksteady.  8 characters is a small roster for a fighting game in 1993 but unfortunately the game has bigger problems than that.

Let’s start with the controls.  The six button controller had not seen release yet so gamers were stuck with the default 3 button pads.  3 buttons is adequate but not ideal for a fighting game however the 3rd button for whatever reason is used to taunt.  This wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that stronger attacks are performed by awkwardly pressing forward and attack at the same time.  Further frustration comes from the imprecise button commands.  Special moves are performed with a variety of inputs, from Street Fighter style half circle motions to Mortal Kombat’s simplified Forward, Back, Forward and such which is fine but executing most moves is an exercise in frustration.  Forget about creating any kind of combo’s as well; nearly all hits result in a knockdown or grant a second of invulnerability.  It feels more like a beat em up than a fighting game engine.

It’s a damn shame that the moves are so imprecise because you’ll need every edge possible to beat the vicious computer AI.  Make a mistake and you’ll surely pay for it due to the overly high damage ratios.  And it doesn’t let up either.  I highly doubt anyone will have the patience to complete the single player mode because it’s so unbalanced.  For anyone who has played Eternal Champions, this is one the same level.  If the controls were adequate at least you’d stand a fighting chance but that just isn’t the case.  There’s a wealth of modes and options to explore but when the core of the game is so broken only the staunchest gamers will stick with it.

By staying closer to its comic book roots the Genesis version of Tournament Fighter is suitably dark and meshes with the console’s strengths pretty well.  Each planet of Dimension X is distinct, with exquisite background detail.  The animation is almost to the same level but there are some weird pauses in between frames.  While the soundtrack isn’t memorable the voices are clearer than normal for a Genesis game.

Too bad the fighting engine is broken because otherwise this version of Tournament Fighters has some of the best production values for a Genesis fighting game.  The SNES version is the way to go if you want to experience Turtle fighting action.