Tag Archives: arcade

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

AND YOU HAVE MY AXEAnd now we’re going to talk about the slimy underbelly of the concept of games preservation: The Legends.

…. And why they suck.

Golden Axe is an interesting series. It started in 1989 as a medieval arcade beat ‘em up. Golden Axe was a pretty fun experience, but it also had the misfortune of being released the same year as the vastly more popular Final Fight. Golden Axe wasn’t exactly a bad game by comparison, but chicken riding and the occasional magic spell somehow didn’t catch the public’s interest in the face of a malevolent version of Animal from The Muppets. When Golden Axe hit the Genesis, it was just a year until we saw Streets of Rage, a vastly and obviously more popular title of the same genre. And then its sequel, Golden Axe 2, had the significant handicap of being released on the same system during the same year as Streets of Rage 2. Decades later, people are still talking about the tight design of Streets of Rage 2. No one is talking about Golden Axe 2.

But Golden Axe 2 wasn’t terrible. In fact, Golden Axe 2 holds a special place in my heart, as, back in the day, my beat ‘em up-addicted neighbor and myself (am I trying to imply that I don’t have a beat ‘em up addiction after writing about four of ‘em over the course of the last month or so?) played Golden Axe 2 solid for nearly an entire year (which is like twelve billion centuries in kid time). GA2 was a two player beat ‘em up that featured a dwarf and murder skeletons, so it obviously had something going on. And, while we barely ever made it to the finale (damn limited credits), we played that title over and over again, because it was just the right kind of mindless fun that is perfect when you’re a kid. You can ride a beast! You can run really fast and headbutt a soldier with a pointy hat! Murder skeletons! That’s some good stuff!

But my holy grail? That was a creature I only ever saw once, hiding in some smoky arcade while crossing the country on vacation. Once, lurking there in the darkness, I saw Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder.

SKELETONS!Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was released right around the same time as Golden Axe 2. Presumably, it was a divergent title that utilized the full capability of an arcade machine while leaving Golden Axe 2 to wallow in the muck of the Sega Genesis. GA:TRoDA featured branching paths for levels, vertically scrolling areas, and big, impressive sprites. It was a game that had infinitely branching possibilities, and four distinct playable characters that could halt the revenge of Death Adder simultaneously. It was the platonic ideal of Golden Axe. I might have only gotten to play the game for a credit before being pulled back to I-95, but I knew that Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder was the future of the amazing Golden Axe franchise.

But GA:TRoDA never made its way to home consoles. It was never released for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD, or even the Dreamcast. It was not emulated to any Sega collections. It was not released on any Virtual Consoles. It was simply lost to history, a shining relic of the Golden Axe franchise that would one day ask us all to become beast riders. GA:TRoDA fell between the cracks of time, and, in my mind, became a legend of a game that we would always pine for with an unrequited longing.

So I decided to give Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder a spin for this theme week of forgotten games. And you know what? It kind of sucks!

ROCK OUTThere was exactly one thing I remembered perfectly about Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder: there’s a centaur. She’s a horse-lady, she’s got an American Gladiator bopper, and she can switch to regular human legs when she needs to ride a fire-breathing mantis (… what?). However, my memory failed to remember that Dora the Centaur is also joined by Stern the Barbarian (who apparently did not star in any other Golden Axe games despite looking exactly like the other barbarians), Trix the Elf (who is clearly some weird amalgamation of breakfast cereal mascots), and Goah the Giant, who is at best Goah the Maybe Would be Good at Basketball, but is rode around by Gilius Thunderhead, dwarven hero of the previous Golden Axe titles. And that’s a pretty eclectic group! Too bad they all… just play like Golden Axe characters. There are apparently some two-player shenanigans that are available with pairing up, but that’s not going to do any good in single player or in an arcade where it is impossible to shout over the rolling noise of much more popular machines. And, whether your fighters have any interesting moves or not is rather secondary to the glut of absolutely boring opponents that are available. I played this game a whole hour before writing this article, and… I’m having trouble remember exactly what I fought. There were some malevolent trees, and an army of the mask guy from World Heroes… and… uh… I think there was an ogre or two in there? Certainly a number of useless soldiers, but they are available in practically any medieval brawler. Murder skeletons are a given, but they’re on the home consoles, too. And the final boss, the titular Death Adder wielding the Golden Axe atop a castle that appears to be a giant statue of himself, is pretty memorable. Everything else? Not so much.

You'll never get me lucky charmsYet, I spent decades thinking this title, never released on home consoles, was some kind of solid gold Golden Axe gold standard (of gold). It was the beat ‘em up to end all beat ‘em ups, and we were cruelly denied such a glittering jewel, forever stuck with the likes of Golden Axe III (originally only released in the West on the Sega Channel because it sucked so bad) or The Last Action Hero. These were games that were sorely lacking in centaurs! And, while I wondered about the joys an arcade cabinet of The Revenge of Death Adder could bring me, the beat ‘em up genre withered and died on the vine. I would never see such delight ever again.

And then, years later I played the damn game, and it was boring and rote.

And then I played Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, and, apparently, that was the game I was thinking of all along.

I thought there were shops in Golden Axe! Sorry!

Anyway, someone please make every videogame ever readily accessible, or this is going to keep happening. Please and thank you.

I really don’t want to take a chance on playing arcade Willow now…

FGC #432 Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

  • System: Arcade only, dammit.
  • Number of players: Four! I want to say that other Golden Axes had a maximum of three… but probably just two. Four is important! That’s how many turtles there are!
  • Get 'em!It’s a kind of magic: This is the only Golden Axe title where a magic spell can summon a helpful item, and not just universally attack the screen. Trix the Elf can summon a tree that grants life giving, magically delicious fruit for the party. This adds an interesting “magic equals life” wrinkle to the gameplay… but most of the time you just reflexively hit the magic button when you’re surrounded, and wind up with a lousy bush instead of a mighty dragon. Good effort, Trix.
  • Favorite Character: Did I mention there was a centaur? Dora has all the power of a woman and a horse. And she seems to have really useful magic, too. There is literally no competition among the men here.
  • An End: Gilius Thunderhead leaps from his giant mount and dies delivering the final blow to Death Adder. This is apparently canon for future sequels, and the fighting game, Golden Axe: The Duel, makes reference to this fact. So, see, all those Saturn owners needed a home port to understand the complicated plot of Golden Axe!
  • Did you know? The hero of Golden Axe: Beast Rider is Tyris Flare, the same Valkyrie that appeared in Golden Axe I and Golden Axe II. Even though she doesn’t appear in this game, I’m noting this now because I am absolutely never reviewing Golden Axe: Beast Riders.
  • Would I play again: There are different routes and characters, so every playthrough is different. But not different enough! I can only fight so many murder skeletons, so I’ll pass on another play of this forgotten title.

What’s next? One last non-random choice: Let’s talk about a “forgotten” game that recently came back to us in a marvelous little collection. Please look forward to it!

BANG

FGC #428 Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

'dem scoutsDragon Ball Z has seen a new videogame every seven seconds since the controller was invented. Sailor Moon hasn’t seen a legitimate console title since the Playstation 1.

And can we please admit that Sailor Moon is just Dragon Ball Z for girls?

No, wait, you know what? That’s bullshit, and I regret even typing such a thing. If my backspace key hadn’t been cursed by a particularly cantankerous and evidently magical Eskimo woman, I would delete that entire sentence. Sailor Moon is not Dragon Ball Z for girls. Yes, it seemed to rise to prominence around the same general time; yes, it seemed to work in parallel in that “6 am Japanimation” timeslot for a lot of impressionable youths; and, yes, Sailor Moon certainly seems to be the “girls fight stuff” counter to Dragon Ball Z’s “boys fight stuff” premise. There are a lot of similarities between the two franchises, and probably some sort of muscular chests vs. bare thighs ratio chart could be composed by someone with a degree in graphic artistry. But the important difference between Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z? Sailor Moon had a plot.

Wait, no. My bad, again. Sailor Moon’s plot was just as dumb and superfluous as “Goku must beat Vegeta for raisens”. Collecting the seven shards of the Millennium Crystal is just as ridiculous as collecting the seven dragon balls, and, ultimately, both situations end with characters switching sides and a boss fight or two. But there is an important difference between the OG Sailor Moon animated series and the oft-remastered Dragon Ball Z: Sailor Moon had a different monster every episode. Every single one! Or thereabouts! Sometimes they just fought a general or the final boss! But that means that, more or less, for 200 episodes of Sailor Moon, there are 200 random moon monsters running around!

And that is awesome fodder for a video game bestiary!

In the name of high fashion!Dragon Ball Z lends itself naturally to a fighting game. You’ve got Goku and his posse, four or five “prime” villains, a little bit of crossover between the two (Vegeta have an “M” on his forehead this week?), and maybe you can throw in a henchman or two because everyone seems to love the Ginyu Force. There! Done! You’ve got the perfect fighting game roster, and you even picked up a few weirdos like Piccolo so you can have a stretchy guy. The end. You’ve got an eclectic cast and all you need is some kind of excuse for everyone to pummel each other (I don’t know, maybe a robot has a case of the munchies?). But, as anyone that has ever played the Dragon Ball “spin-off” titles will attest, the DBZ setup doesn’t exactly lend itself to the typical videogame format. DBZ has very few “goombas” or “mets” running around, and you can only spend so many levels battling those stupid vegetable monsters from planet Vegeta (oh, I just got that). Maybe your DBZ RPG has to add a panda with a gun or something, but, ultimately, the limited number of DBZ “mooks” makes anything but a fighting game for DBZ rather pointless.

And, while the franchise had at least one very good SNES fighting game, Sailor Moon, has literal hordes of minion monsters for its other digital outings. Usagi fought a different marginally-human-shaped creature every week, so that allows for not only a full bestiary brimming with elemental and animalistic options for opponents, it also naturally lends itself to situations where a monster is promoted or demoted according to battle-party readiness, so, yes, Final Fantasy, you have an excellent excuse to recolor various sprites and claim Imp is actually General Imp and totally a secret boss right now. And that means you can do anything with Sailor Moon! Usagi can fight hordes of monsters with four-seven allies (and maybe that damn bubblegum chibi-creature), and, frankly, you can fit that kind of full cast into any genre of videogame. Want the Sailor Scouts to live in a shoot ‘em up? Sure! Beat ‘em up? Why not! JRPG? Why, you’ve got a battle party right there! And more random monsters than you could shake a crescent moon wand at! Everybody wins!

I have to acknowledge itAnd, given Sailor Moon seemed to be at the height of its popularity roughly around the era of the SNES, we did see a number of variations on what could be done with the Sailor Scouts. Well, “we” is kind of a misnomer: Japan saw a lot of Sailor Moon games, and Western countries got a random smattering of whatever was available and easily translated. The United States of Dumberica was clearly not worthy of the Sailor Moon JRPG… which is probably just as well, as it seems to rely heavily on one-person parties, and that is exactly zero fun in your average JRPG. And Europe saw a random beat ‘em up or two. But, if you were really lucky, you might have been in one of the approximately 0.0002 arcades in the world that contained the Sailor Moon arcade game, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon.

Superficially, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is another arcade beat ‘em up from an era chock full of ‘em. You have your choice of five Sailor Scouts, they all have special attacks that boil down to “this defeats enemies”, and those enemies are hordes of the same opponents over and over again in slightly different configurations. It’s a beat ‘em up. You’ve been through this all before.

WeeeeeBut, assuming you are a student of beat ‘em ups from the 90’s (which I, a beatemupologist, clearly am), you will notice some significant variations from the norm. For one thing, this is (probably? Prove me wrong!) the only beat ‘em up out there with a completely female cast. Yes, it’s a “side-effect” of the source material, but that means there are no Haggars or other heavies to find on the character select screen. Thus, there are no characters that are based exclusively on piledriver-timing, and everything moves at a much zippier pace than you’d find in your typical accommodate-for the-guy-that-uses-throws beat ‘em up. But don’t let that make you think that each Sailor Scout is just a recolor with a slightly different elemental attack! Every Scout has their own unique animations and movements, and you can really feel how Amy maybe has to put in a little more effort than Sailor Jump Kicks for Days… errr.. Jupiter. This is a Sailor Moon game that feels like a Sailor Moon game, and that’s more than I could ever say for Spider-Man’s outing.

But somehow more miraculous than all of that is the title’s bestiary. While the average beat ‘em up might have a memorable boss or two (that might even wind up in a Street Fighter title for years), the generic guys of a beat ‘em up are traditionally as forgettable and indistinguishable as a flock of seagulls (or A Flock of Seagulls). Inevitably, you’ve got a skinny nerd, a fat guy, some tall dude that is a makeshift leader, the female of the species, a demoted boss from the first level, and some kind of heavy that is used sparsely in early levels, but shows up in droves toward the end. And that’s it! Maybe there’s a robot somewhere in there? That’s about the best you can hope for. Sailor Moon, meanwhile, employs:

  • ACT NOW!An Amazonian monster woman with gnarly teeth
  • Some demon imp creature that will haunt my nightmares
  • A water nymph
  • A creepy walking marionette
  • An inordinately creepy walking doll
  • A ninja
  • The living embodiment of the Gemini Zodiac Sign with electricity powers
  • A dick with a tennis racket and flaming tennis balls

And those are just the normal enemies! We haven’t even gotten to the boss with axes for hands! Or the gargoyle that decides to fly up Tokyo Tower for no apparent reason!

But, as with the other titles from this batch of FGC entries, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is remembered by a whole six people, and is only available to modern audiences through illicit methods. This is a beat ‘em up that puts the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its army of identical foot robots to shame, and it’s forever lost to the annals of history because some people believe “girl anime” doesn’t translate to videogame bucks. And, despite the rebirth of Sailor Moon Crystal right alongside Dragon Ball Super, we’re still going to see a million DBZ rehash titles before we get so much as a Sailor Moon mobile gatcha.

Sorry, Usagi, sometimes the forces of the Negaverse win.

FGC #428 Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon

  • SAILOR V GAME!System: Arcade. Any Sailor Moon beat ‘em ups for any other systems will not be acknowledged.
  • Number of players: It’s a 2-P, but it looks like 4-P was intended at some point. Which brings us to…
  • Cutting Room Floor: It seems obvious that this title was somehow rushed to the arcades, and a few random features and tidbits were dropped. For one thing, the game doesn’t have an ending, despite the fact that there appears to be text for such hidden in the code. Additionally, an entire level sees the Scouts fight their way to Nephrite’s cabin, and then the boss of Nephrite’s cabin is… A reused boss from two levels earlier. And Sailor V sprites lay hiding in the rom, too. We could have had an official, real-life Sailor V title!
  • For the fans nerds: If you’re a dedicated Sailor Moon super fan, and demand to know the timeframe for this adventure, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon is basically a retelling of the Negaverse/1st Season of Sailor Moon, though with all the Inner-Senshi available from the start. Luckily, the entire cast doesn’t completely die in this version (assuming you don’t run out of quarters).
  • Favorite Sailor Scout: Sailor Mars, no questions. … Come to think of it, I have pretty much based my entire dating history going back to high school on… Oh Lord, I’m not going to finish this sentence for the sake of my own sanity.
  • Favorite Scene in any piece of media, ever: Yes, it is preserved.

    Meow!

    The noble Hercules is here for us all.

  • Goggle Bob Fact: The first Playstation game I ever played was… a Sailor Moon game. The Japanese Playstation 1 was available initially for rent at our local videogame rental spot, so I rented an entire Playstation and only one game… the Sailor Moon fighting game that is, incidentally, pretty terrible. And that’s why I didn’t purchase a Playstation 1 until the release of Mega Man 8.
  • Did you know? The author of Sailor Moon married the author of Yu Yu Hakusho. Speaking of underrepresented franchises that would be ripe for some modern videogames…
  • Would I play again: Probably! If I had a way to play this game with some Sailor Moon superfans, I would be all over it. As it is, it’s just a fun, completely impossible to play videogame.

What’s next? With God as my witness, I will not allow a theme “week” to go by without a Mega Man game. Please look forward to it!

Moon Magic

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

Spidey!Spider-Man: The Video Game is important precisely because it is forgettable.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is an arcade title that never made its way to consoles. It’s part beat ‘em up, part 2-D platformer, and all general Sega lunacy. Released a year after Spider-Man vs. the Kingpin, this title sees Spider-Man gain a few amazing friends, fight almost the exact same roster of villains, and eventually save the day/planet through the very Spider-Man solution of “punch everything ever”. Webs are used exclusively as concussive projectiles, a swinging kick is the most Spidey-esque move available, and I’m pretty sure ol’ Webhead kills Dr. Curt Connors. Twice. It’s a Spider-Man game, but it’s so loosely a Spider-Man product, it may as well be a malfunctioning Malibu Stacy doll.

But, hey, it was a fun time for 1992.

Spider-Man: The Video Game is not Final Fight. In fact, SM:TVG was released a solid three years after Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade game). We had also seen Streets of Rage a year prior. The Simpsons (the arcade game) was released a year earlier, too. X-Men (the arcade game) was released the same year. In short, SM:TVG was not only already one of many Spider-Man videogames, but it was also yet another beat ‘em up in an already crowded beat ‘em up market. What did it do to set itself apart from the pack? Well, unfortunately, not much: Once a level, the perspective changes to a 2-D plane, and features almost Contra-esque run ‘n shoot action. Unfortunately, this was at a time when 2-D was starting to become passé, so lil’ dorky dudes shooting grappling hooks at a ridiculously scaled Venom sprite wasn’t going to impress anyone when Blanka’s screams were already beckoning from elsewhere in the arcade. So, yes, when a beat ‘em up needed every advantage it could find to be the next Double Dragon and not a Double Dragon 3, SM:TVG decided to go in possibly the worst direction. At least it didn’t include a boss on the second level that is virtually impossible due to a severe lack of available aerial attacks…

GOBLIN!

Oh. Oh dang.

But wait! Spider-Man: The Video Game is still fun! It’s a lot of fun! Or… at least I remember it being a fun. Maybe I just need to play it again? Sure! That sounds like a great idea! I’ll just pop it right in my…

Oh, right. SM:TVG was only available in arcades, and it sure as heck isn’t in any arcades anymore… Assuming you can find an arcade at all… This is going to get difficult.

But it does bring us to a prime reason videogame preservation is important: Videogame popularity is wildly capricious and ephemeral.

Get 'emThe beat ‘em up genre featured some of the biggest names of the time. Many people were first exposed to The X-Men not through a comic book, but through an arcade game (and we’re still trying to figure out why Dazzler isn’t more popular…). Mike Haggar was just a mayor who rarely wore a shirt, but the humble beat ‘em up made him a mainstay of gaming for generations. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The Simpsons? They were already everywhere, so it made sense they’d be gobbling up your quarters, too. When the beat ‘em up genre ruled the arcade, it well and truly owned gaming itself, and the consoles of the time were desperate to catch up to their coin-op brethren. It was cool to be a beat ‘em up, and everything that was cool wound up walking left-to-right and pummeling every random punk in their path.

But popularity ebbs and flows. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons are still a “thing” (The Simpsons is currently entering its ∞th season), but they’re nowhere near the popularity they experienced in the late 80’s/early 90’s. In the meanwhile, The X-Men became the hottest super-hero franchise on the silver screen… and then fell to the wayside the minute that Spider-Man conquered the multiplex. And now Spider-Man is riding high again, but is nowhere near the popularity of some of his contemporaries in The Avengers. Oh Lord! Hawk Guy might be the most popular character in Spider-Man: The Video Game! What horrible future has our misdeeds wrought!?

THWANGAnd if you’re saying that Spider-Man: The Video Game (featuring Clint Barton) would do well today because of the popularity of its attached property: congratulations! You’re right! And if we had The Avengers palling around on the big screen back in 1992, then this mediocre beat ‘em up would likely be just as popular as the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons. And that would carry it forward to the future: some company (I guess Disney Interactive? Or… Capcom? Nintendo is publishing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? Maybe them?) would find it profitable enough to hit Sega up for its old code, and we’d see this arcade title ported to a virtual console or two. Or maybe it would have already happened, and we’d be able to buy it on Xbox Live because it was a promotion for Spider-Man: That One Where The Lizard Looks Like a Ninja Turtle. Or maybe it would have been enough of an arcade hit that it got ported to the Sega Genesis. Or Sega Saturn. Or Sega Dreamcast. Or Game Gear? I’m really not picky.

But, in its moment, Spider-Man wasn’t all that popular. We were still two years away from the massive popularity of the Spider-Man animated series, and the Spidey fans of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends were a decade past caring about videogames. Tobey Maguire may as well have been an eternity from popularizing battling a Green Goblin or two. While it seems hard to believe in the age of Avengers Endgame, there was a time when Spider-Man was just some random comic book character, and his masked mug was never going to grab more quarters than Michelangelo traveling through time.

And so history forgot Spider-Man: The Video Game. It is now impossible to play a videogame featuring Spider-Man and Hawkeye battling The Kingpin and Doctor Doom. There may be other similar experiences out there, but this one is lost forever. And all because Spider-Man wasn’t the hottest property available that month, but still a popular enough franchise to require licensing. It’s gone forever simply because of a quirk of timing.

This seems dangerousSpider-Man: The Video Game isn’t the best Spider-Man game out there. It didn’t define the genre, it didn’t show us all what it meant to be Spider-Man, and it suffered from the unfortunate handicap of including Namor. But it was a fun game, and future generations deserve an opportunity to play it.

Videogame preservation is important not only for the best and most unique games, but also the unexceptional titles. It might not be the most exciting game in the world, but what kid doesn’t want to play a Spider-Man game?

FGC #426 Spider-Man: The Video Game

  • System: Arcade exclusively. That’s the problem!
  • Number of players: Four! And it was one of those arcade cabinets where you’re not tied to a character according to which joystick you grab, so us lefties aren’t stuck with Leonardo just because we wanted some elbow room.
  • Favorite Character: I very much want to say that Black Cat is my favorite character, as she is one of my favorite, overlooked Marvel heroines… but she kind of sucks in this game. A grappling hook swing special attack? Lame. But Namor, who can shoot friggen lightning bolts from his hands and toss random baddies far into the air? That’s the stuff. Imperious Rex, baby!
  • Other Influences: Namor walking around nearly naked with the abs of Hercules? His sprite reminds me of another Sega title.
  • Battle!The Spider that Walks like a Man: Spider-Man is an interesting character to animate, because his comic origins don’t really grant him an animated “walk”, but given his speed and super-powers, you could go in a lot of different directions with how a man blessed by a radioactive Spider God might wander around the place. Somehow, this led to Spider-Man of this title possessing a walking animation that makes Peter Parker appear to be… bored. And kind of slouchy? Look, what’s important is that Spider-Man really needs to visit a chiropractor.
  • So Close: Black Cat’s catchphrase for the game seems to be, “Jackpot!” You might have been thinking of a different lady in Spider-Man’s life, Sega…
  • Last known photo: I last saw this arcade cabinet at a festival in 2012. That is a lot more recent than I would expect, but I assume it was just a matter of some random carnival barker getting a deal on a game with a recognizable name. And one of the joysticks didn’t work. Lame.
  • Did you know? Scorpion and Venom appear as a sort of tandem boss in the first level. In the comics, years later, Mac Gargan (aka Scorpion) would eventually obtain the Venom symbiote as part of the Dark Reign event. Also: I am a gigantic nerd.
  • Would I play again: This is a fun beat ‘em up, and the 2-D sections are an excellent change of pace from the usual beat ‘em up “same three guys” gameplay. It’s just a shame I technically can’t play the game anymore…

What’s next? Spider-Man is always popular, but what happens when a game is released in one region, and then never leaves because its hero is… a penguin? With a weight problem? Our next lost forever title is Yume Penguin Monogatari. Please look forward to it!

So iconic

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

CAAAAAPTAIN COOOOOOOMANDO!Captain Commando is a Capcom beat ‘em up title unleashed upon the arcades in 1991 (two years after Final Fight, the same year as Streets of Rage). It was one of Capcom’s earliest beat ‘em up titles, and one of the most creative, non-licensed punch mans games you could find at the arcade.

Battle Circuit is another original, future-based beat ‘em up from Capcom. It was released for arcades in 1997, and was the last Capcom beat ‘em up to receive that honor. In a way, through no fault of its own, it is a title that signifies the end of an era.

But who needs to read another epitaph? Let’s find out what Capcom actually learned over six years!

Characters are Key

Okay, let’s start with the basics: a beat ‘em up lives or dies by its characters. This is why Konami made an estimated seventeen hundred trillion infinity dollars (adjusted for inflation) by slapping the Ninja Turtles and Simpsons into beat ‘em ups. Lisa Simpson battling kabuki warriors with a jump rope? That shouldn’t be a phrase that recalls one of the most played arcade machines of the 90’s, but here we are. And, what’s more, the minute you marry good gameplay to memorable characters, you have a game that is never going away. There are still Turtles in Time arcade cabinets out there! I saw one at the non-Wii based bowling alley! Which is apparently still a thing, too!

Captain Commando really shot for the moon right out of the gate (those metaphors work well together, right?). The titular Captain Commando was the (quickly abandoned) mascot of Capcom in the 80’s, and, incidentally, a cyborg thunder-tossing cop from the future. That makes him, like, a double Thor. Then we’ve got “a ninja”, which, okay, it was the 90’s, that had to happen. But! Our other choices are a mummy alien knife master and a genius baby that rides his own private robot. Score! If you can’t find a favorite character from that group, you are reading the wrong blog. Go see what is happening on some recipe site, you squares!

High number of cyclopsesNow, it would be understandable to expect that Battle Circuit could not top the concept of “genius baby” or “alien mummy”, but could I offer you a cup of carnivorous plant monster from space? How about a yellow catwoman flamenco dancer (she probably hates Mondays)? Plastic Man with ice powers? The cyborg hero that is clearly a descendant of Captain Commando is nice and all, but wouldn’t you rather play as a little girl and her pet pink ostrich that may or may not be a pirate (I cannot think of any other reason for an ostrich to have an eye patch, okay?)? Oh, and the little girl is, naturally, named Pola (sic) Abdul. She uses a flaming bow and arrow. She will deliver us all from evil.

Bad Guys are Key (too!)

Captain Commando came hot on the heels of Final Fight, so it seems only natural that its Metro City streets (yes, it is canon that Captain Commando takes place in the far future of Haggar’s fair city) are descendants of the same three or four guys that menaced Cody and Guy. In a way, it’s kind of cute that some families clearly never got over the ideals of the Mad Gear Gang, and passed on fond genetic memories of suffering mayorally mandated piledrivers. Unfortunately, give or take the occasional boss that is inexplicably equipped with a harpoon gun, Captain Commando is generic dudes for days. That’s a pretty boring future! Like the actual future! Heck, Scumocide’s second in command, (First) Blood, is just Rambo in cargo pants. That’s not 20XX! That’s not even the 90’s!

Battle Circuit at least makes “the same three guys” a little more interesting. Bosses are amazing, and the various robotic creations of a certain recurring mad scientist reminds one a little bit of the venerable Dr. Wily. Wait, I’m sorry, is that a giant skull I see on the floor of Dr. Saturn’s lair? Yeah, these guys went to the same robotics academy. And a mad scientist naturally means the mooks of the world are going to be fun, like floppy lizards and… Wait a minute. Is that…

NO!  ROB!

I’m beating up R.O.B.? Wow, okay, Battle Circuit just shot to the top of the charts.

Show me your Moves!

Captain Commando is a traditional beat ‘em up, and, despite their natural variety (a baby is not a mummy), each of the characters is interchangeable from a moveset perspective. Okay, technically their special moves show a touch of diversity, but, give or take a baby missile, all the usual bases are covered here. Jump kick, dashing punch, grab n’ smack: all the old standbys are represented. Why mess with the classics?

Well, maybe because you could be shooting freaking lasers out of your chest.

This is just plain funWithout resorting to fighting game-esque unreasonable controller motions, Battle Circuit grants each of its bounty hunters fun and exciting moves that add quite a bit to the gameplay. Want to shoot a magic missile all over the place? Just charge up with the attack button, and release your mega buster. Or maybe you’d like to be Yellow the Cat Lady, and perform an amazing dive kick. Or how about you fish out Ice Man rock blasts with Captain Silver? And if you’re not whipping enemies around with Unknown Green’s plant arms, then why are you even alive? A piledriver is nice, but it’s nothing compared to the repertoire on display with this fighting force.

Oh, and if you’re confused about any of the inputs for these moves, they’re all clearly on display during the “upgrade your moves” screen at the end of each level.

And, uh, you can upgrade your moves. That’s pretty important. Probably deserves its own section…

Upgrade your Moves!

BABY!Captain Commando might have one leg up over its descendant: you can ride a robot. You can also score a missile launcher. Captain Commando is basically Golden Axe in a few weird respects, as riding creatures and nabbing interesting (and temporary) weapons is the name of the game (wait, did variable weapons happen in Golden Axe? Meh, I need to be awake to write this article, so I’ll skip replaying that one). Beat ‘em ups do get pretty monotonous pretty quick, so making a dash for that heavy artillery is a great way to spice things up (and send a few Scumocide henchmen to the great, flashing beyond).

The weapons and ridealongs are missing from Battle Circuit, but there are more than a few powerups scattered about. A special “battle download” capsule will temporarily boost your hunter’s stats, and, continuing the pattern of these distinct characters actually being distinct, each battle download works differently for each fighter. And, if we’re being honest, it probably is a lot more fun to suddenly leap around at double speed, or soak hits like it’s nothing, than ride a mech for a whole fifteen seconds.

And, for a little more longevity, any money or “points” found around the area can be exchanged for permanent powerups that enhance things like your beam weapons or special moves. Or you can expand your health! That can be a bit of a wallet-saver in a quarter killer, so maybe make a beeline for that upgrade. Regardless of how you’d like to cash-in, this simple upgrade system makes literally every object on the screen important, regardless of whether or not said object is currently punching you in the face. That’s no small feat for a genre that litters nondescript boxes and barrels all over the place like Jimmy’s Shipping and Crab Shack ™ was going out of business. And speaking of pickups…

Soup’s on!

SMACK 'EM GOODIn Captain Commando, when you find random food on the ground, it restores your health, and that’s that.

In Battle Circuit, when someone collects a meal, it restores health, and it makes an incredibly satisfying crunching/eating noise.

Battle Circuit is truly the culmination of all beat ‘em ups.

FGC #422 Captain Commando & Battle Circuit

  • System: Captain Commando was an arcade title first, and then a Super Nintendo title second. Very second. They dropped the mechs! That was the best part! No matter, even if ROB technically chose the Super Nintendo version for this article, the recently released Capcom Beat ‘em Up Bundle for Switch and PS4 contains both Captain Commando and Battle Circuit (in America for the first time!). Also, there was a Playstation (1) version of Captain Commando. I wonder how that turned out.
  • Number of players: Four? Let’s count all of the commandos, and a solid 80% of Team Battle Circuit. There are certainly enough “insert coin” messages flashing on the screen…
  • Captain Commando Memories: Somehow, I never saw the Captain Commando cabinet in an actual arcade. However, it did appear in a number of random hotel lobbies across I-95, so I did play the game for whole minutes at a time during family vacations. This is likely why I was excited about the Super Nintendo release, a feeling that was… misplaced.
  • Favorite Character: Baby Commando and Unknown the Hideous Plant Monster from Space should team up and, I don’t know, probably beat some dudes up.
  • Dance through the danger: Okay!
    Dance for me!

    Don’t mind if I do!
  • An End: Battle Circuit also has multiple endings! If you choose to fight the Master Control Program Shiva, you will face an incredibly brutal boss that is probably responsible for more deaths than the entire rest of the game combined. Meanwhile, if you choose to simply shatter the disc that contains Shiva… the game just ends. No bad ending, no “you did something wrong”, just a cute little ending that doesn’t require five bucks to access. That… is an odd choice.
  • Did you know? Yellow Iris/Beast inspired an alternate costume for Felicia in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This is an incredibly odd choice, as the fighting game that would probably most appeal to Americans (“There’s that Iron Man guy! From the movies!”) included paid DLC that honored a beat ‘em up that was never released in America in any capacity. Still, it’s nice to see someone remembers Battle Circuit other than Namco X Capcom.
  • Would I play again: Heck, why not? Either game is pretty alright, though Battle Circuit certainly has more replayability. Unfortunately, Captain Commando also tugs at my heartstrings, so it’s likely to see play again, too. Don’t make me choose between the past and the even-more-past!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Smash Bros! For no particular reason! Yep! Total coincidence! And there won’t be an extra-special guest artist for the article or anything! Nuh-uh! And this is almost entirely a lie! Which part isn’t? Well, guess you can find out next week. Please look forward to it!

What is even happening?