Category Archives: Fighting

#86: Rise of the Robots

Format: Amiga 1200 Genre: Fighting Game Released: 1994 Developer: Mirage

‘Even if you don’t believe in Father Christmas, it might be worth writing to him to make sure he doesn’t bring you a copy of this’. Jonathan Davies, Rise of the Robots review, Amiga Power 45. In 1993 various video game magazines ran previews of a beat-’em up that seemed to be from the future. It looked stunning, with graphics that promised to be far superior to anything else out there. Not only that but the gameplay was going to break new ground too, with computer opponents that ‘learned’ as they fought you, adapting their fighting style to match yours. All in all Rise of the Robots, for that was the name of this legendary game, was going to be THE game of 1994. Unfortunately, as Jonathan Davies alludes to in the above quote, Rise of the Robots was shit.

Rise of the Robots was more than just a video game, it was an event. The previews of 1993 turned into a steady stream of hype throughout 1994. There was talk of tie-in books, comics, toys, cartoons and a film. It was to be released on practically every platform and giant cardboard robots were cropping up in video game shops across the country. Brian May was even going to write the soundtrack.

Brian May pictured with a relaxed GamesMaster

Being an impressionable 14 year-old I was extremely excited about Rise of the Robots. It looked simply amazing. I mean, you got to be a kung-fu robot! Just watch the video below for a taste of the building excitement. It ‘redefines the fighting genre and raises the ante on gamers with a futuristic motif proven in focus groups’. Focus groups like the motif, what more do you want?

Just after Christmas (the same Christmas I got UFO: Enemy Unknown), with a decent chunk of Christmas money jangling in our pockets, my brother and I went to Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street and, £40 later, we had picked up Rise of the Robots. I always remember how huge the box was. Well in fairness it had to be. On the Amiga 1200 Rise of the Robots came on 13 disks. That’s right, 13.

Rushing home we inserted the first disk and were confronted by a very impressive intro. ‘This is going to be great’ we thought. Then, after an hour or two, we both felt something was wrong. Could Rise of the Robots be… rubbish? Neither my brother or myself could believe it. In fact I remember assuming that we were playing it wrong, that it was our fault that you could beat every robot by doing a flying kick. That there was a way of turning round and jumping over the other fighter we just hadn’t worked out how. That you could pick a fighter who wasn’t the blue cyborg, you just had to complete it or something. How could all the hype be wrong?

It's the big Gorilla Robot! Can't wait to play through the game as him. Oh. You can't.

Rise of the Robots was crippled by its flashy visuals. So much computing power was devoted to having beautifully animated robots that there was nothing left for the rest of the game. I distinctly remember reading Jonathan Davies review and just feeling sad. Ok, at least now I knew it wasn’t my fault the game seemed to be poor. It was poor. But I felt swindled, the victim of a con.

IT'S RUBBISH!

An important lesson for any child to learn is that all that glitters is not gold. Sometimes that which glitters is simply that, a glittery thing. Not only that but rubbish stuff is often coated in glitter to try to distract you from the rubbish underneath. Rise of the Robots, covered in metaphorical glitter (plus fairy lights, shiny baubles and tin foil), taught me that lesson. So in that way, and in no other, Rise of the Robots made my life slightly better.

Ian

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under 1994, Amiga, Fighting, Mirage

#84: Spider-Man

Format: Playstation Genre: Action Adventure/Beat-em Up Released: 2000 Developer: Neversoft

‘Greetings True Believers! It’s me, the Sensational, Surprising, Staggering Stan Lee! During the 60s I (co)created loads of iconic Silver Age superheroes and villains – The Fantastic Four, X-Men, the Hulk, Thor, Daredevil, and many, many others. Then after the 60s I just made up loads of rubbish ones. Anyway, today my good pal Ian is here to talk about maybe my most fabulously famous creation, the Amazing Spider-Man! Over to you Ian’

Thanks Stan. Stewart Lee, in his excellent ‘How I Escaped My Certain Fate – The Life and Deaths of a Stand-Up Comedian’, mentions how much he loves Marvel comics and how Spider-Man’s code – ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ carries far more moral weight for him than the various commandments and declarations of the world’s major religions. Though I’m not massively into comics (I don’t really buy any titles regularly, just getting the occasional trade paperback) the Spider-Man love resonated with me. For me, Spider-Man is not only the best superhero created, but one of the greatest fictional characters of the 20th Century. Yes. Better than Batman.

Similar to Batman though, Spider-Man has not had the greatest vintage when it comes to video games. Back in the day both characters were often stuck in dull side scrolling beat-em ups, with only a token effort made use the unique abilities and powers of those characters. In fact Spider-Man the game and Batman: Arkham Asylum share a lot in common – they really reflect the spirits of their characters. Whereas Batman: Arkham Asylum was a game with a dark and twisted atmosphere, Spider-Man is joyous and fun, just like the title character normally is (between bouts of teenage angst of course). Both make full use of the universe the characters are in, using many of the supporting characters from their respective comics, films and animated TV shows. Both featured as many iconic villains as possible but used them all in a brilliant way. Both tapped into the ‘collecting’ urge of the average nerdy comic book fan by having various secret items to collect. And finally both are brilliant.

Not enough computing power to create the streets of New York? Don't worry, Dr Octopus has luckily released a yellow gas into the streets. Phew!

The game itself is great fun to play. I distinctly remember how exhilarating it was the first time you jump off a building, start to fall before shooting out a web and gracefully swinging over to the next building. Or the buzz you got as you realised what classic villain you were going to face now (I was stuck on flippin’ Mysterio for ages). Or indeed which classic hero was going to make a cameo appearance – everyone from Daredevil to the Punisher to Captain America pops by.

When I got Spider-Man I had lost interest in the character and comics in general (the ‘Clone Saga’ had just about finished me off I’m afraid) but the sheer joie de vivre of the game made me fall in love with Spidey again. The game feels like a comicbook, from Stan Lee’s typical verbose opening narration, to the bright colours of the levels, to Spider-Man’s sarky comments as he punches Rhino in the face. Not only that but the sheer number of various characters and comic book references crammed into the game reminded me why I had liked the comics in the first place. Plus I could look all knowledgable (and tragically geeky) in front of Lewis and our friend Paul as they played it and asked me who ‘such and such was’ or where the ‘Bag Head’ costume came from.

As usual Ol'Knuckle Head - J. Jonah Jameson has got himself into trouble and it's up to Spidey to save him. This time, from the Scorpion.

Sadly the game’s sequel, and the various Spider-Man (Spider-Men?) games that followed in its wake over the years failed to capitalise on the original’s innovations and they never matched the simple fun of that first game. It’s telling that the latest Spider-Man game – Shattered Dimensions – is still being compared to the 10 year-old Spider-Man. I still hope that a new game will come along and match the originals sense of fun and get the old spidey-sense tingling once again.

Oh, it also had a fantastic ending:

Ian

1 Comment

Filed under 2000, Action Adventure, Fighting, Neversoft, Playstation

#77: Bloody Roar: Primal Fury

Format: GameCube Genre: Fighting Released: 2002 Developer: Eighting

I have fond memories of this game, partly because of how I came to own it.

I was doing work experience at CVG at the time, where my responsibilities mostly centred around taking the odd screenshot and tidying up the games cupboard. Thankfully though, after I’d been there for a while the editors started letting me handle the more important stuff: like filing the competition entries and recategorising the photo library.

Whoo.

I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t exactly a thrilling job. And to make matters worse, I was actually losing money every month – I didn’t get paid for my time at CVG, and my part-time bar job wasn’t even covering my bills. But the prospect of actually writing for a games magazine kept me hanging around, and eventually my patience paid off. Sort of.

Mole versus elephant - wonder who's going to win this one?

The publisher decided that the magazine was going to be bundled with a free tips book every month, and they decided to give me the job of compiling it. Unfortunately though, this wasn’t a case of me playing through dozens of fantastic games and scribbling down my carefully considered directions on how to complete them. Instead, I was given the unenviable task of trawling through hundreds of pages of html code from a tips website owned by the publishing company, then painstakingly extracting all of the code artefacts and knocking it into something resembling English.

Again, whoo.

But on the plus side, I had my name in the front of a book AND a big ol’ cheque for 150 quid. My months of hard work had (almost) paid off.

The humiliation of being smacked around by a bunny. Fail.

So what to do with my new-found wealth? Did I use it to pay off my mounting debt? Or perhaps spend it on some more exciting and nourishing food than the baked beans and economy pasta I was subsisting off at the time?

Of course not. I spent it on a GameCube.

Several months previously, one of the first GameCubes to arrive in the UK had landed in the CVG office, and ever since then I’d been coveting it. I seethed with jealousy when the writers were each given a GameCube of their own FOR FREE (b*****ds!), and I drooled over news of the games that were in development: Metroid Prime, Zelda: The Wind Waker, the Resident Evil remake… Actually, I remember when the preview code for Resident Evil came in – it was one of the few games that stopped all work in the office (along with Ico).

As you'd expect, most rooftop battles end with one of the protagonists giving the pavement below a close inspection.

However, when the GameCube was finally released in the UK, the launch games weren’t exactly mind-blowing:  the lack of a Mario game was a big disappointment (Luigi’s Mansion didn’t quite cut it for me I’m afraid), Wave Race: Blue Storm was fun but not exactly innovative, and Super Monkey Ball got pretty dull after a while (with the exception of Monkey Golf, of course).

The one game that really stood out for me was Bloody Roar: Primal Fury. Not only did it look fantastic, it gave you the opportunity to turn into a mole and lay the smack down on an elephant. And those kinds of opportunities seldom come up.

The guy on the right turns into a chameleon - an unlikely fighting animal perhaps, but surprisingly effective.

So, once my cheque had cleared, I proudly marched down to Virgin Megastore and bought myself a GameCube with a copy of Bloody Roar, which was the only GC game I had for a loooooong time – mostly because I couldn’t afford to buy any more. But did I get bored of it? Nope. In fact, I still had Bloody Roar right up until the time I passed on my GameCube a couple of years ago, and I was still playing it even then.

I never did get a job at CVG. Eventually a writer position came up but, to my utter dismay, they gave it to the other work experience guy (who, to be fair, had loads more experience than me and actually remembered to bring his portfolio to the interview). But at least I had Bloody Roar.

Obviously, a job would have been better, but Bloody Roar was pretty good anyway.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.mariocube.nl; cover from http://www.mobygames.com )

Leave a comment

Filed under 2002, Eighting, Fighting, GameCube

#69: Dead or Alive 2

Format: Dreamcast Genre: Fighting Released: 2000 Developer: Team Ninja

I couldn’t think of a better game than Dead or Alive 2 to feature as post number 69. After all, this is the game that famously featured an option to adjust the bounciness of the female characters’ bosoms, so I think it’s deserving of a slightly saucy number in the 101 Video Games countdown.

Tch, “101 Video Games countdown”? I’m starting to sound like some withered old DJ cliché. Or Steve Priestley from Movies, Games & Videos (née Movies, Movies, Movies). Apparently he works for Magic FM now…

OK, I think I’ve drifted from the point a bit there. Right, let’s start again.

In many ways, Dead or Alive has become a cliché of itself. (See how I worked the whole cliché thing back into the post there? Yeah, I know, I’m good. Let’s see if I can keep it up…) When DoA2 was released, it was a revelation in terms of fighting mechanics and graphical finesse, but subsequent versions have failed to add much of note to the basic game, and the infamy of the Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball spin-off series has somewhat overshadowed the brilliance of the original games.

Yoga-inspired trust exercises featured heavily in Dead or Alive 2.

Dead or Alive Xtreme (and all of its subsequent incarnations) annoys me. It’s basically soft porn dressed up as a series of lacklustre minigames, and it’s exactly the type of game people point to when they argue that computer games are just the preserve of sex- and violence-obsessed adolescent boys. Imagine the scene: a respected university media lecturer is delivering an empassioned speech about how games like Heavy Rain are pushing the boundaries of the medium and exploring territories that could never be reached through film or literature.

Lecturer: “…and that’s why we can expect to see the videogame demographic continue to expand, with older gamers reaping the rewards of a more sophisticated approach to interactive narrative. Any questions? Yes Mackenzie?”

Student: “Professor, can you explain how the recently released Dead or Alive Paradise fits into this demographic? How can we relate something like Heavy Rain to a game in which the main aim is to achieve victory in a handful of simplistic and shallow minigames in order to unlock increasingly skimpy bikinis for a group of proportionally exaggerated fictional women?”

Lecturer: “…erm… Ah, well, you see, errr….. Any other questions?”

Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball - good, clean, wholesome, semi-nude fun.

Arguably, the Xtreme spin-off series is now more famous (infamous?) than the main series, and you can probably imagine what greeted me when I typed ‘Dead or Alive screenshots’ into a Google Image search – let’s just say that the screenshots presented here are by far the most tasteful I could find.

But get past the sauciness and you’ll find that Dead or Alive 2 is a technically brilliant and hugely entertaining brawler. The counter system was particularly fun – get the timing right and you could turn almost any attack back on your opponent, which made for some tense back and forth fights. Plus the animation and collision detection was spot on:  your punches,  kicks and counters connected exactly where they landed. This seems like an obvious point, but if you look at older 3D brawlers like Tekken, sometimes the punches seem to land in mid-air or the reaction doesn’t quite match up with the attack.

See? There are men in the game too! Although it was never quite explained why Zack was wearing a bra.

One of the game’s best features was the the multilevel stages. One stage was set in a church tower, but if you got your attacks lined up carefully you could punch your opponent through a window and jump down after them to carry on the fight below. Along with Power Stone, Dead or Alive 2 was one of the first fighting games in which the stages themselves had as much influence on the fight as the actual fighting, if that makes sense.

And there’s nothing quite as satisfying as knocking your best mate off a skyscraper, then leaping directly onto their head for the finishing blow. Metaphorically speaking of course.

There's nothing quite like punching your opponent out of a church window then jumping after him to deliver the final blow, that's what I always say.

Sadly, I was just as bad at Dead or Alive 2 as I am at most fighting games – although I love the genre, I’ve never quite managed to become an expert. (As evidenced by my recent foray into playing Soul Calibur IV online, in which I failed to win a single fight. Harrumph and, indeed, Grrr.) My gaming nadir occurred sometime in 2001 during a trip to Cowes in the Isle of Wight. A local pub had installed a PS2 with Dead or Alive 2 on a giant screen, so I stepped up to have a go against my friend Louise. Despite owning the game on the Dreamcast, I lost every single round, unable to defend against Louise’s cast-iron tactic of whacking all of the buttons very quickly. I retired defeated, mumbling some half-hearted excuse along the lines of “the button layout is different on the Dreamcast”. I never went to that pub again.

Yet despite the rancour surrounding this particular memory, I still regard Dead or Alive 2 as one of the finest fighting games ever released.

And the bouncy boobs are just an added bonus.

Lewis

(Screenshots from http://www.gamershell.com and http://uk.gamespot.com)

4 Comments

Filed under 2000, Dreamcast, Fighting, Team Ninja

Podcast 7: Batman: Arkham Asylum (#67)

Format: Xbox 360 Genre: Fighting/Stealth/Adventure Released: 2009 Developer: Rocksteady Studios

SCENE: WAYNE MANSIONS. BILLIONAIRE BRUCE WAYNE, THE SECRET IDENTITY OF THE BATMAN, SITS IN HIS LIBRARY, BROODING. HIS FAITHFUL MANSERVANT, ALFRED, HANDS HIM A RED TELEPHONE…

COMMISSIONER GORDON: ‘Batman?’

BATMAN: ‘Yes Commissioner Gordon?’

C. GORDON: ‘It’s the Riddler, he’s sent us a message. It’s addressed to you…’

BATMAN: ‘Read it to me Commissioner, this might be important’

C. GORDON: ‘Riddle me this Batman – What can everyone listen to yet no one does? On what do people laugh constantly despite what they say not being amusing? What lasts 25 minutes but seems to last forever?

BATMAN: Oh no… Commissioner, inform the Mayor… THE RIDDLER INTENDS TO STEAL THE 7th 101 VIDEO GAMES MADE MY LIFE SLIGHTLY BETTER PODCAST!’

C. GORDON: *GASP*

BATMAN: Robin, TO THE BATMOBILE!

Yes, after mentioning Batman in practically every podcast they’ve done, Lew and Ian finally devote an entire episode to the Dark Knight, in particular Batman: Arkham Asylum.

 

'I know I shouldn't say this, but you're my favourite enemy'.

 

Though Lewis and Ian being Lewis and Ian they couldn’t help but ramble, so you also get with this podcast discussions about football games, superhero games in general, the new Spider-Man game, Ian’s idea for a Judge Dredd game and the usual homoerotic undertones.

 

Special Scanning Eyesight Mode

 

As the Riddler alludes to above, it’s a long one, nearly 25 minutes. Though Lewis and Ian make no apologies – it’s Batman. It needs to be talked about…

Click above to listen directly through this site or click below to listen/download in your media player of choice:

Podcast 7 Batman Arkham Asylum

Ian & Lewis

 

You'd think the henchmen would have learned to look up when looking for Batman.

 

3 Comments

Filed under 2009, Adventure, Fighting, Podcast, Rocksteady Studios, Stealth, Xbox 360

#62: Bushido Blade

Format: Playstation Genre: Fighting Released: 1998 Developer: Light Weight

Playing Bushido Blade for the first time was a very frustrating experience indeed. Your first instinct, as with any fighting game, is just to rush at your opponent, whacking all the buttons in the hope they might fall over. Although this strategy is usually fairly successful in games like Soul Calibur, in Bushido Blade it will get you killed in about three seconds.

Bushido Blade isn’t like other fighting games. There’s no health bar, no time limit and being hit full force with a sword has roughly the same effect as it would in real life – i.e. you die immediately. If you’re lucky, your opponent might only give you a non-fatal wound to an arm or leg, but this is likely to mean that limb will become unuseable. One time, when I was playing against a friend, my character was reduced to shuffling around on the floor, all four limbs rendered useless – it was a bit like that bit with the Black Knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, only with samurais and fewer jokes (although with plenty of annoying sniggers emanating from my boastful opponent).

Chopping down the bamboo was fun. Must have been ghost bamboo though, because it disappeared as soon as it fell over.

Fights in Bushido Blade were cautious, strategic affairs – the fact that you could die so easily meant that the onus was on defence rather than attack, and you’d often find yourself stealthily circling your foe, waiting for them to make a move and leave themselves open to attack. Using the environment to your advantage was also key – the open 3D levels were enormous and offered huge scope for various ways of attacking. Luring a quick opponent onto a narrow wooden bridge was a often good way to gain an advantage for a slower character with a heavy weapon, and likewise the quicker characters performed better in the open. Like in Monty Python, running away was often the best strategy.

The player on the right is in a bit of trouble here. A critical blow to the legs means you're reduced to crawling around.

Graphically the game really wasn’t up to much – the character models and environments are bland and blocky, but as my mum always says, it’s what’s underneath that counts. Underneath, Bushido Blade is one of the most revolutionary and unique fighting games ever created, and it’s just crying out for a modern update.

Lewis

(Screenshots from www.eurogamer.net)

2 Comments

Filed under 1998, Fighting, Light Weight, Playstation

#59: Battletoads

Format: NES Genre: Fighting/Platform Released: 1991 Developer: Rare

Battletoads was one of my favourite games on the NES, second only to Super Mario Bros. 3, although I have to admit my recollections of how it actually played are hazy at best.

I read through a few internet reviews before I started writing this post, and almost all of them mentioned how incredibly difficult Battletoads was – something that I don’t remember at all. That either means I’m an amazingly skilled gamer or my memory isn’t up to much –  I’m guessing it’s the latter. Most reviewers bewailed the teeth-grinding difficulty of the hover bike bit on level three, and after watching a clip of the level on YouTube (see below), painful memories of thrown joypads and screamed curse words gradually began to float towards the murky surface of my brain pool. Obviously Battletoads caused so much trauma to my poor teenaged brain that the delicate organ has suppressed all memories associated with it.

Punching out the robots let you use their legs as a weapon.

There's nothing more satisfying than beating up cartoon enemies with bits of other cartoon enemies.

Battletoads was obviously a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the mania surrounding the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time, and I seem to remember a whole crop of these rip-offs emerging during the nineties (anyone remember Street Sharks?). I never really ‘got’ the Turtles though – even as a ten-year-old I thought they were one of the stupidest ideas I’d ever seen, and my position hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Having said that, the Turtles video games were generally pretty good (my favourite was the original Game Boy one) – but Battletoads was in a league of its own.

"It's too orangey for crows." Not sure how the Kia Ora crows ended up in Battletoads.

"It's too orangey for crows." There was no explanation as to why the Kia Ora crows made an appearance, nor what they had against anthropomorphic toads.

One of Battletoads‘ best features was its sense of humour – something that its po-faced beat ’em up cousin Double Dragon lacked. All the cartoon violence staples were there – the character’s foot turned into a giant comedy boot to give enemies a final kick off the screen, and some enemies could be pounded into the ground, leaving only their heads showing. It was like watching Tom & Jerry but with ‘attitood’.

Comedy-violence fans rejoice! The first appearance of the Big Boot.

These comedy-violence tropes were just one example of the imagination that really set this game apart, but the variety of gameplay styles was another. The second level saw the gameplay change completely as you abseiled down some sort of multicoloured mine shaft, and then of course it all changed again on the third level with the introduction of the infamous hover bikes. My favourite bit was probably the end of level one, which saw you face off against a giant robot boss, but from the robot’s point of view – a fantastic idea that I don’t think has been used since (please correct me if I’m wrong). Skip to the end of the video below to see what I mean.

Oh, and did I mention that Battletoads looked utterly amazing at a time when most 8-bit games made do with monochromatic backgrounds and barely functional animation? No? Well consider it mentioned.

The insanely hard hover bike bit on level three – one mistake and you were sent back to the beginning.

Lewis

7 Comments

Filed under 1991, Fighting, NES, Platform, Rare