Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or so they say. But what about an imitation of an imitation? There’s no question that Final Fight more or less established the modern take beat em up genre with everyone keen to cash in on its success. Sega’s Streets of Rage was one of the better takes on the brawler but wasn’t the only one. That same year they released Riot City in the arcade and while it wasn’t exactly a trend setter it was a decent game.
While beat em ups were all the rage on the Genesis and especially the SNES the Turbo Grafx-16 was left out. When Riot City was ported to the Turbo CD (under the name Riot Zone) it was heavily changed to resemble Final Fight and Streets of Rage even more. And while normally that would be a good thing as it would mean the game has a solid foundation it comes up lacking in every category and is simply dull.
Why all the back story? Riot Zone was a game I highly anticipated. Once upon a time I was a massive Turbo fan boy as it was the only platform I had and so any major release was noteworthy. Watching as games like Final Fight and Rival Turf were released on rival platforms in decent numbers was hard so when a quick clip of RZ popped up at the end of the Lords of Thunder promo tape (that takes me back!) I was intrigued. While it would be many years before I would ultimately play the game even at release I would have been let down. There are simply far better games to spend your money on than to bother with a mediocre beat em up.
Police officers Hawk and Tony are dismayed when their police chief denies their warrant to enter the DragonZone. Like the loose cannon he apparently is Hawk quits the force along with Tony to enter the Dragon Zone alone. Why you might ask? Because “gasp” his girlfriend Candy has been kidnapped! At least the bad guys didn’t send him a provocative video as proof.
It can’t be emphasized enough just how closely Riot Zone resembles Final Fight. Hawk might as well be a palette swap of Cody or Axl and some of the generic enemies skew closely to FF’s roster. The level transitions show which part of the city you are now entering in a similar fashion as well. Christ even the boss’s death animations are nearly the same as they thrash around a bit before dropping dead. Speaking of bosses Shauna is clearly based on Poison minus the daisy dukes. They were really were that brazen.
Now if only the game played just as well. Right away there are problems as Button I attacks and Button II is to jump. That’s the equivalent of switching button A & B on the NES which should be a god damn sin in the Bible. And there’s no multiplayer at all. Releasing a beat em up without a coop mode is just…wrong. Combat is incredibly boring even beyond the standards of the genre at the time. Admittedly most brawlers during the 16-bit era were lacking in terms of moves however Riot Zone takes it to another level. You are armed with a simple multi hit combo, a jump kick, and a throw and that is all. The repetition sets in long before the end of the first level and doesn’t get any better either. There aren’t even any destroyable boxes or weapons to break up the monotony; whose bright idea was that?
Although there are only five stages each becomes progressively longer with an ungodly amount of bad guys to defeat at every turn. The list of enemies isn’t particularly large but to the game’s credit at least one or two new thugs are introduced on every level. Unfortunately you’ll end up fighting said enemy at least 20-30 times before level’s end. While it might sound like the game would be difficult as a result Riot Zone is actually pretty easy. Continues are limited however extra lives are awarded at a decent clip and chances are aside from the overly cheap bosses everyone will beat the game with the default 3 credits.
The game’s presentation is completely uneven and at times looks as though it were unfinished. The backgrounds are comprised of many locations that lean too closely to Final Fight’s locales yet even though they are derivative they are still impressive at times. Any time the game decides to go for something original they come off flat, drab, and half assed. Like many Turbo Grafx games the sprites are incredibly large although the animation is lacking. The game’s soundtrack is in red book audio although aside from the first level theme the rest of the music is forgettable.
Providing a beat em up in the same vein as Final Fight for Duo starved owners was a noble idea too bad the game itself is completely boring. Fans of the genre are better served sampling the offerings on other platforms.