Greg Wilcox' "Did YOU Know?" will be your ticket to all that has been hidden from you in the vast universe of video gaming. Whether it be titles released in distant lands, gems that were snubbed by attempts to bring it to the public eye, or simply games your mother told you you couldn't play, Greg is on the case to shine a big bright spotlight on all of the dark corners of gaming.
Games Practically Guaranteed to Make You a Bit Punchy
Being that this is set to run in February, a month full of sweet Valentine hearts fluttering in the chocolate and rose scented wintry breeze, this particular feature is going to be all about fighting games. Actually, this decision wasn't much of a clever gimmick at all, ladies and gents. My apartment is being renovated quite heavily, and access to my collection has been somewhat limited to the first box of stuff I grabbed from storage, which happened to be most of the games mentioned below. So, some of your own favorites (and a few of mine I couldn't remember the names or other interesting info for) may have been overlooked, but I think you'll find this a somewhat entertaining read. I mixed in a few beat-'em ups with the standard fighters, as there are a number of them worth picking up should you feel the urge.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with fighting games in that while I don't particularly find myself to be anything resembling skilled at most of them, I can appreciate the more unusual titles listed here for what they bring to what would otherwise be a tired genre. Of course, you'll see all sorts of influences for yourself if you choose to discover more and more of the truly bizarre brawlers out there as some games even manage to incorporate bits of other genres. Starting off with a more straightforward 3D fighter like Culture Brain's Virtual Hiryu no Ken for the PS One, which manages to borrow a few bits from both Sega's Virtua Fighter and Namco's Tekken series while retaining that certain Culture Brain game vibe 100% of the time. For a 1997 release it's a pretty polished game, but like the majority of fighters listed here, you'll want a good quality arcade stick over the stock PS One pad.
Atlus' 1996 PS One release Heaven's Gate manages to incorporate flashy, colorful visuals, a small cast of interestingly derivative characters and some cool play modes onto that shiny black disc. It's quite a bit of fun to blow through over a rainy weekend, especially if you like faster paced one on one action. Despite some glitchiness, developer Racdym did a solid job working on the PS one hardware. Another Atlus released fighter, Gouketuji Ichizoku 2: Chottodake Saikyou Densetsu falls flat on its 2D face when stacked up against the arcade original. Despite the usual fantastic cover art and some pretty hilarious character designs, the game suffers from a pretty sloppy port that makes the small fortune this usually goes for a major crime. There are plenty of comical visual moments and the gameplay is decent, but some of the backgrounds are awful and lifeless, and the game isn't exactly hard to beat, even on the toughest setting.
For some hardcore fighting devotees, PS One games like the above, Samurai Spirits III, Marvel Super Heroes and a few others helped give the console a bad reputation in terms of its ability to handle 2D games. But even the much loved Sega Saturn had its share of questionable fighters. Then again, I'd say that most of those gamers who shelled out major (or minor) bucks for FIST, Pretty Fighter X, Ninku: Tuyokinayaturanodaigekitotu!, and Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon Super S: Various Emotion probably won't be embarrassed to admit it one bit. I've recently come to the conclusion that when you buy a mediocre game, you're somehow tasked with defending your purchase by either getting so good at the game that you can beat just about anyone who makes fun of your purchase, or you can just harumph at your detractors and say with a huff: "it's just for my collection". Of course, most of these tend to be anime-based games, but we'll get to that a few paragraphs down.
There are a few fighters that get revered status for their rarity, but aren't exactly fantastic to play through more than once or twice. I remember selling off my near mint Saturn Sonic Council for exactly what I paid for it, then finding out it was worth almost three times as much not too long thereafter. At the time of the deal, I wasn't too thrilled with the gameplay and somewhat bland visuals, so I didn't miss it all that much. But now I know why the guy who bought if from me was so happy. Another Saturn fighter, Groove On Fight, has more lovely cover and interior art, but as a game it lacks something called depth. That doesn't stop some collectors from going into fits whenever one a copy of the game becomes available. On the beat 'em up front, Capcom's Dungeons and Dragons Collection is a huge want for a number of reasons, but the game has a number of issues that make you wish the game cost a hell of a lot less these days. At least it's better than the company's Final Fight Revenge, one of the last games released for the Japanese Saturn.
Even though there are plenty of top-flight 2D fighters on the Saturn, my own tastes run toward the weird stuff like EA'sRabbit, and Sunsoft's Waku Waku 7, two games with absolutely kooky character art and somewhat goofy gameplay. The PS One has plenty of games along those lines in both 2D and 3D forms, and a few that blend both styles in unique ways. The 18th game for the system, Polygram's Twin Goddesses has a pair of digitized, costumed female fighters going up against stylized anime characters and one boss, a pleather and chain clad dominatrix type that should send some of the more hard up otaku out there reaching for their wallets. The game itself isn't all that good (like most launch titles, you'll play through once and stick it on the shelf), but as a novelty item, it's worth hunting down. 1995's Gokuu Densetsu- Magic Beast Warriors fares much better, as the costumes and settings are superior, the humor is spot on, and the gameplay at least carries what's here well enough for the game to become a party staple. For the ultimate in goofy multiplayer madness, Treasure's uber-rare and frighteningly expensive Rakugaki Showtime makes for a cool time once you get the play mechanics down. Think Konami's Poiter's Point (or Poy Poy for you gaijin out there) meets Parappa the Rapper (sort of), and you'll get the general idea.
A few other wild takes on the genre include Konami's wonderfully silly Lightning Legend for the PS One, one of those games that's guaranteed to bring up a chuckle once you wrap your mitts around a controller and dive in for a bit, and Right Stuff's PC-Engine classic Flash Hiders, one of those expensive 2D titles with a bit of a following. Another bizarre one for the PC-E is Ane-san, an fighter with a few beefy ladies to play as and gameplay that reminds me of the slogan for those old Irish Spring commercials; "Manly, yes...but ladies like it too". Probably the best fighter on NEC's system is Far East of Eden Kabukiden, which also happens to be one of those games that requires a bit of expense to play properly. You'll need a PC-Engine Duo and an Arcade Card or similar setup to run it, but the flashy, colorful graphics and fast-paced gameplay are definitely worth whatever you'll pay for it. If you're looking for a not so hot semi-expensive game, Games Express' Strip Fighter II should keep you entertained in that way that less than high quality games with half naked anime gals do.
Some games are hilarious because they try a wee bit too hard to be different and fail miserably, but can be fun as you fuss with the controls and watch them implode. With its experimental, blocky graphics and arcane control layouts, Taki's PS One game, Battle Master is pretty much unplayable unless you go through the trouble of translating the manual. Then it's still unplayable, but at least you'll have learned some handy Japanese for future usage. There's also the infamous Goiken Muyo: Anarchy in the Nippon, a Sega Saturn import that looks sort of like Virtua Fighter and sort of plays like Rise of the Robots. Oddly enough, there was actually a PS One sequel made that probably caused some Anarchy in Akibahara when unsuspecting gamers snapped it up. Then there's Intarus' 3DO import, Twinkle Knights, which uses card battle fighting mechanics and cast of live action naked ladies to throw unsuspecting gamers off its scent trail of sheer ineptitude. Amazingly enough, it took three companies to bring you this perfumed clinker and if you've heard me blab about this one elsewhere, it'll ONLY run on a Japanese 3DO or a dev system if you've got one. If you're that hard up to see pixelated nudity, you may as well pay less for some of those Vivid 3DO titles that keep popping up (or is that out?) on ebay.
Speaking of the 3DO, you'll find a few interesting anime based fighters, Yu Yu Hakusho and Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon that should appeal to fans of those particular series. Then again, you can say that about all anime fighters, as the overall quality of fighting games based on series like Ranma 1/2, Ruro ni Kenshin, InuYasha, and other shows is mixed at best. Fans defend these games to the death, but some titles seem created to test the limits of anyone's patience. Tomy's Grappler Baki Tournament for the PlayStation 2 is an absolutely stiff-looking and frustrating gaming experience that's not only a pain to play, it's packed to the gills with so much blatant homoerotic posturing from its all-male cast that you'll either find yourself laughing hysterically or covering your eyes at what's on screen, depending on your level of comfort with such stuff. I'd say I was about 99% irritated by the clunky gameplay and 1% offended when one of the "grapplers" flipped the bird my way on the character select screen as if to dare me to try to bust my poor fingers again as I tried to get one of these guys to do what I wanted when I pressed a button.
Not all anime fighters are so annoying, however. I'm quite fond of Banpresto's Zeiram Zone, a spin off of sorts from the slightly ancient Iria: Zeiram series. It's a 3D beat 'em up that's not great, but quite quirky and throws a bit of cinematic flair at you throughout its five or six stages. For some oddball reason, there's no memory card feature, so you'll need to blow through the game in one sitting. Oddly enough, you get a code afterward that forces you to replay the game to see what it does, only your fingers will be so cramped up after the last two stages that you'll want to dropkick your console. Bandai's Dragon Ball Z cash cow has seen a few dozen games from straight up fighters to card-battle strategy/RPG hybrids, and they range from great to painful to play unless you're the most hypnotized fanatic of anything DBZ. Having done a brief history of the games some years ago for a certain magazine makes me not want to feel like I'm repeating myself, but if you have a US PlayStation 2 and are DBZ curious, definitely pick up Atari's spectacular Dragon Ball Z Budokai 3, one of those knockout games that may even convert non-fans to yelling and screaming button smashers.
A few cool 3D fighters on the PS One manage to make decent efforts to do something different. Taito's Fighter's Impact has you pick a fighter and one of a number of different styles and sub styles to customize the game to your liking. Too bad there are only a handful of stereotypical fighting game cliche characters to choose from, though. Banpresto's Gengi Tougi: Shadow Struggle has a unique arena mode where you shop for moves with points you earn during battles. The game is a bit chunky to look at and play, but quite colorful overall, and seems to have done well enough for the company to put out a better looking and playing sequel, Critical Blow. If you don't take it too seriously, Jaleco's Slam Dragon can be a bit of fun to blow through, as its rendered characters sort of give it a slight Killer Instinct feel with a dash of Tekken thrown in for good measure. I'd mention a few mech fighters, but I'm saving those up for a future feature on mech games, folks.
If you like even more advanced hybrids, Polygon Magic, a developer whose first fighter, Vs. was pounded by critics, actually did a goofy sequel I gave a mention to in my very first column, Slap Happy Rhythm Busters. The follow up is a better game in that the developer combined a rhythm game in with a more refined fighting engine, which makes for a very weird acquired taste. The company also did a great little game called Lord of Fist, a 1-4 player fighter with a solid RPG mode, six real fighting styles motion captured by professional martial artists, and an 8-player option, a first for the console. Apparently, THQ had the rights to publish this game with some changes in the US as Shao Lin, but the game disappeared off the map sometime around 2000. Hunex' Blue Breaker Burst is a solid, if not spectacular game for RPG and 3D fighting fans alike, and Tam Soft's ABaLABURN is a nice colorful RPG/beat 'em up that's a good time, despite a few sparse backgrounds. If you want a unique single player game that combines fighting and RPG mechanics, Westone's Wolkenkratzer may be up your alley, provided you can read Japanese. The very unusual control scheme will frustrate the button mashers, and the game is pretty unforgiving on those who make the slightest mistake while climbing that creepy, monster filled tower.
Probably the best fighting/RPG melange is Squaresoft's Tobal 2, just for the 215 characters you'll unlock should you complete both Arcade and Quest Mode in the game. Dream Factory programmed a boatload of cool features into the game, such as the ability to edit your character's color from head to toe, play around with replays and even grow and shrink characters during matches. It's also one of the few PS One fighters to run at 60 frames per second, which makes for some wickedly fast gameplay. Sure, it's not as heavily technical as Virtua Fighter 4, and a good deal of the extra characters play like the main 10 or so in the game, but there's something exuberant about introducing someone who's never seen the game before or has only heard of it to the goodness that lies within. As I said waaaay at the top of this piece, I couldn't include every single game I wanted to talk about here (believe me, there are a ton I could blab on and on about), but I'll definitely pick up the subject at a later date. Preferably when workmen aren't bashing and drilling around me. Until next time, keep on playing 'til the power goes out!
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