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FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

Let's fight!Fighters Megamix didn’t create the crossover fighting game genre. Fighters Megamix didn’t create the 3-D fighter. No, what Fighter’s Megamix did was create the first fighting game where you could fight as a car.

In my book, that counts for a lot.

Fighters Megamix is one of many fighting games to grace the Sega Saturn. The intention of the advertising campaign surrounding Fighters Megamix is right there on the box: “The ultimate team-up – Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2”… which, uh, is apparently a line from Game Informer. Wow, really low standard for pull quotes back then. Regardless, Fighters Megamix, despite the seemingly “unlimited” mega moniker, is, superficially, Virtua Fighter + Fighting Vipers. This, frankly, could have been enough to sell a game back in the day, because, hey, VF and FV are pretty fun games on their own. This isn’t even a Vs. game situation where the rosters are randomly trimmed in the name of balance and hitting release dates: this is straight up the complete cast of Virtua Fighter 2 battling every last fighter in Fighting Vipers 2. Fun times will be had by all!

The cast of Virtua Fighter 2 is not that exciting, though. Maybe Sega was trying to be more realistic, maybe the God of Fighting Games (Punchilicus) had a cold that day, but, somehow, in a post-Street Fighter 2 world, we got a cast of characters that are roughly as generic as America’s Best Cola Flavored Sugar Drink. Give or take a metal woman or two, we’ve got Karate Man, Chinese Lady, Gentle Wrestler, Woman, Ninja, Other Woman, and, my personal favorite, Kid in a Life Preserver. But, when those doofs are next to the cast of Fighting Vipers, their “seriousness” actually seems to work. Fighting Vipers has got a teenage girl in homemade, plastic armor, a radical glam rocker who attacks with his guitar, and not one, but two whole characters based on an executive asking, “well, aren’t rollerblades popular?”. This seems to make the Virtua Fighter cast appear as the valid, “mature” alternative to playing as a character dressed like Serpentor. Virtua Fighters are boring in their own games, but when a Megamix starts happening, they kind of work out.

And it appears someone noticed that, and decided to turn the contrasting weirdness up to eleven.

What just happened?Like many fighting games of the mid-to-late 90’s, there are a few unlockable characters to earn through repeated playthroughs. The first characters you’re likely to unlock are URA Bahn, a variant on Fighting Vipers’ Ryu, and Kids Akira, also a variant, but this time on Virtua Fighter’s main character. Except, while URA Bahn is just Bahn’s color (costume) swap, Kids Akira is Akira as a “chibi”, large-headed, and, frankly, adorable variation on Akira straight out of Virtua Fighter Kids. Right off the bat, we’ve got what seems to be a shot across the bow of Virtua Fighter’s steadfast seriousness. And then there’s Kumachan, a bear with zero points of articulation, so he basically “fights” like he’s being manipulated by an unseen toddler that is attempting to wring some fun out of an inanimate action figure. Oh, but Kumachan appears to be wearing armor, if you break his costume, then you will find that beneath the outer Kumachan shell of a bear, there’s… another bear. It’s bears all the way down!

And it’s weirdness all the way down, too. Siba seems like the most mundane hidden character, but his existence is owed to being deliberately cut content from the original Virtua Fighter, so he’s basically a playable piece of trivia. Then there’s Janet from Virtua Cop, and, even though she doesn’t get a “kick ‘em square in the bean machine” finisher from Dynamite Cop, she’s obviously a million times more interesting than the entire Virtua Fighter cast. That brings us to Rent-A-Hero, who hails from a franchise that has never made it out of Japan, mainly because it seems to be a humongous parody of sentai shows. So, basically, he’s a Power Ranger with the noticeable handicap of being battery-powered, so… uh… don’t take him into any matches that might take longer than a minute. And that luminary is our last human hidden character.

This is beary confusingBut don’t worry, we’ve still got Bean the Dynamite and Bark the Polar Bear. If those sound like lame Sonic the Hedgehogoriginal characters”, it’s because they are: Bean (who is apparently a duck?) and Bark both hail from Sonic The Fighters. Remember that Sonic the Hedgehog fighting game? No? Well, it was on one of the Sonic collections, and it was apparently from the same studio as Fighters Megamix, so here are a few refugees. Note that no one thought to go the obvious route and include, ya know, Sonic the friggen Hedgehog (on a Sega system lacking a definitive Sonic game to boot), but here’s Bark the Polar Bear, and he’s wearing a Santa costume! Oh boy!

And, finally, we have Deku, a green bean in a sombrero. Deku is not to be confused with Amingo, a cactus in a sombrero that would eventually appear in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. These are two totally separate characters, and “two fighting game crossovers featuring a bizarre Mexican stereotype” is just the kind of coincidence that happens when companies make fighting games for a decade or so. It was bound to happen.

Oh, wait, Deku isn’t our final hidden character after all. Technically, there’s also Mr. Meat (a piece of videogame meat with inexplicable [and unattached] hands and feet), Palm Tree (who is a palm tree), and, finally, Hornet. Hornet is a car that walks like a man. Hornet must suck the blood of the living, lest Hornet return to a lowly life as a race car. Also, Hornet is as tall as a human right now, for some reason. Hornet fights about as well as you’d expect a car with absolutely zero martial arts training to fight, but, hey, how many games can you fight as a car? (No, not fight as cars, that’s something else entirely.)

VROOM!

Let’s face facts: Fighting Vipers is long forgotten, and Virtua Fighter, try as it might, has never achieved the acclaim or fame of even lesser fighting games. But, for one shining moment, both franchises combined into the most memorable fighting game on the Sega Saturn. No, it didn’t change the face of the genre or invent a whole new playstyle like some of its contemporaries, but it was a fun time… mostly because most of its hidden cast is the result of a fever dream. Marvel vs. Capcom or King of the Fighters might be fun games, but they don’t allow the player to pit a car against a bean. That’s a matchup you’ll only find on the Saturn.

Head for Saturn, little polar bear. Head for Saturn.

FGC #264 Fighters Megamix

  • System: Sega Saturn. This is unlikely to see a rerelease, as it is impossible to sort out the rights to Deku,
  • Number of players: Two car-people enter, only one vrooms away.
  • Land of the Rising Fun: There’s a snake-themed character with brown coloring named B.M. … Someone had to know what was going on there. It’s not just me with my mind in the gutter… right?
  • What?Sexual Dimorphism is a Scourge: Fighters Megamix creates an interesting twist on the typical arcade mode, and includes a number of “brackets” with distinct characters, like Muscle (for the “Zangief-esque” characters”) or Smart Guys (for the more tactical characters). There’s even a “Girls” tier exclusively for the female characters. That’s good! There are enough women in a fighting game that they can flesh out an entire tower of girl power, and that’s rare! What’s not so great is that your reward for battling through this mode is a credits sequence that contains more cheesecake than my dad’s birthday party. And, side note, that man really enjoys his cheesecake.
  • Also gross: Honey/Candy is sexualized to a fairly insane degree, and she’s supposed to be sixteen. Thanks, Sega!
  • Favorite Character: Gonna say it again, “Car that walks like a man.”
  • Did you know? The Dirty Fighters tournament involves a lot of characters that crouch and punch. I’m almost certain this means that the “dirty fighters” are all trying to punch my chosen hero where Virtua Fighter Kids come from. That’s dirty.
  • Would I play again: This is like the one Sega Saturn game I enjoy replaying. Good thing, too, considering I have to start a new save file every time I boot up the damn thing…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Scribblenauts Unmasked for WiiU! Typing time with Batman! Please look forward to it!

BEAR OVER

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

UPPER!Streets of Rage 2 might be the best beat ‘em up of all time. It’s certainly the best BEU on the 16-bit consoles, and, considering that was the heyday of the genre, it’s hard to believe it could be topped elsewhere. But why is it the best? The BEU genre is pretty straightforward, so how is this game any better than Final Fight or Double Dragon?

The answer is simple: Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t suck.

… Hm, I should probably elaborate on that.

The beat ‘em up genre, one way or another, started in the arcades. If you want to cite Kung-Fu Master or Double Dragon, either way, they both premiered in arcade cabinets well before they hit the home consoles. From there, it was a only a matter of time before we got Final Fight, and then, inevitably, the parade of licensed beat ‘em ups that offered no real innovations to the genre, but God in Heaven is it fun to hit random dudes with Bart Simpson’s skateboard. The beat ‘em up completely conquered the arcade scene roughly until Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat decided it was fighting games’ turn, but even today, you’re likely to see Turtles in Time or X-Men at a roller rink (assuming roller rinks are still a thing at all… sorry I’m not a twelve year old girl).

HIYA!So, for the beat ‘em up to maintain arcade dominance for so long, the genre must have been doing something right. But what was it? The licensed beat ‘em ups have an easy answer: do you need to hear anything more than the title “Alien vs. Predator” to waste a quarter or two on finding out what that’s all about? “Be The Punisher”? Yeah, I’ll take a chance on that. But even the less “established” beat ‘em ups offered some level of “role play” that you couldn’t really experience at home. When Mario still looked like a random collection of brown pixels, here were King Arthur and his two or three knights, traipsing across the countryside, occasionally riding amazingly obedient horses. Here are all your favorite Saturday morning and mythological heroes, all at the arcade, and all ready to be controlled for the low, low cost of a single Washington (and the silver kind to boot).

That’s enough to get 25¢ out of practically anybody that can grip a joystick, but why was the beat ‘em up so successful? Simple: OCD. Or maybe just sunk cost fallacy. In general, unless it’s your absolute first time and some damn foot soldier keeps you in an arm lock for too damn long, you can make it up to the first boss on any given beat ‘em up on one credit. And then that boss is going to trounce you. And, depending on the game, that boss is going to laugh at you while the timer ticks down. Want to add another quarter? You know you will. You’re not going to let Abobo get away with that, are you? Come on, you got through the whole stage on one quarter, you can spare another to make this doof go down.

And so begins the worst problem in beat ‘em ups: quarter-killer, damage-sponge bosses. Rocksteady of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, possibly one of the most fought level one bosses in any videogame, is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He has, what, three moves? A kick, a charge, and a gun for jump kickers. That’s it. He should last for maybe eight hits, because, come on, a mouser is more complicated than this guy. But, no, he lasts forever, because if he can’t take the punishment, he’s not going to require more quarters to defeat, and if he doesn’t fleece your poor pockets, then what’s the point in being an arcade game?

YummyIn other words, beat ‘em ups were kings of the arcade because they were fun… and they made their owners a lot of dough. I don’t think those fat cat arcade barons are moving to Maui, but Final Fight probably did pay for at least a few trips to Disney World.

Streets of Rage apparently started in the arcades, but, fun fact, I have never seen a SoR cabinet in my life (I’m pretty sure this is another case of Wikipedia lying to me). Regardless, SoR started off a little… janky, and, in my humble opinion, wasn’t very good. It’s one of those Metroid 1 situations: you know there’s something cool here, but there is a lot of cruft involved, and, by the time you’re finally used to everything, it’s over. Though I suppose I’ll preserve that kind of whining for when ROB chooses that particular game…

What we’re here for today is Streets of Rage 2, and it does one thing absolutely marvelously: it actually scales boss health to something reasonable. It even scales all enemy health to a practical level.

It’s the subtlest little change, but it means so much to the game. The first boss in Streets of Rage 2 does not, at any point, retreat and force you to fight some random thugs while he eats a hamburger. The fourth boss does not have seventeen lifebars. Heck, the second boss brought a damn jetpack to the fight, but his HP is scaled to account for the fact that he can’t be hit all the time. He barely has more life than Symbol Y! It’s like Streets of Rage 2 actually respects the player’s time, and accounts for “this boss has three main patterns, he doesn’t have to be fought for the next ten minutes”. The average Streets of Rage 2 boss goes down in about as much time as a Robot Master, and that’s phenomenal! I might finish this game before I run out of imaginary, arbitrarily assigned credits because this is a console game, dammit! Somebody finally acknowledged that simple fact!

THE ENDishAnd there are a lot of little things in Streets of Rage 2 that make it appear as if the designers actually wanted to see the player succeed, and not just empty their coin purses into an imaginary arcade console. Food distribution is less random and closer to the power-up distribution of Super Mario Bros. games, for instance. Yes, there’s still a big fill up of meat before every boss, but you’re a lot more likely to see a life granting apple at more conscientious points than in any other beat ‘em up. And the average mooks, like their big boss brothers, aren’t massive damage sponges, so you’re not stuck in the same six square feet of a random city until the timer runs out. And even some of the less fair baddies, like those Road Warrior rejects or that one dude with a knife knifing around, can be defeating easily by acknowledging that jump kicks exist. There is not a single situation where there’s an infinity trap on the screen, and you’re going to die a thousand deaths to some random laser while you’re trying to position your character around that damn blast radius. Oh, and the special moves are pretty rad, too.

So, yes, you put it all together, and Streets of Rage 2 is the best beat ‘em up out there. It’s a lot of little things and one big thing working in concert, but, when it all combines, it forms a Voltron that blazing swords the competition.

Other beat ‘em ups are quick to rely on their arcade roots and suck for it. Streets of Rage 2 doesn’t (suck).

FGC #254 Streets of Rage 2

  • System: Sega Genesis and arcade, though it has also seen rerelease on more systems than I’m going to list. The 3DS version is, as always, pretty damn rad.
  • Number of players: Oh, yeah, another reason people play beat ‘em ups is for the “easy” two player factor. Practically anyone can join in and be “helpful”, so whether it’s your videogame adverse mate or little brother, you can get a few extra punches in with a buddy.
  • WeeeeWhat’s in a name: The arcade machines glimpsed in Level 3 are for a game called “Bare Knuckle”. Ha! What nitwit would play a game called Bare Knuckle?
  • Favorite character: Normally Blaze would be my go-to, as I (almost) always favor the “faster” character in beat ‘em ups. But, in this case, I’m going to go with Skate. He’s faster than Blaze and he’s the only character with a proper dash attack. Considering the dash is my preferred attack in any BEU, that’s kind of deal sealer. Guess I do always go with the quickest choice.
  • Did you know? Let’s not talk about Blaze’s underwear. Let’s… just not.
  • Would I play again: Yes, which is always surprising for an “ancient” Genesis game. I just have to convince my friends that this is the beat ‘em up to play, and not The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, X-Men, Battletoads, Dungeons and Dragons, Final Fight, Knights of the Round…

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS! Get your leaves ready, it’s time to go fluttering with Mario! Please look forward to it!

DO NOT CLICK

FGC #234 House of the Dead Overkill

BangThere are two genres that I feel, for better or worse, never made it out of the arcade. There’s the beat ‘em up, which was responsible for sucking down more quarters than a laundromat back in the halcyon days when Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, and The X-Men were popular (What? They’re all still popular? You sure?). That genre, in a way, became the God of War-alike of today, but the simple left-to-right, beat up the same four dudes gameplay seems to be gone forever (or at least a “forever” that excuses the occasional River City Ransom remake). And, similarly, there is the “shooting gallery” game, which seemed to come earlier and last longer than its beat ‘em up contemporaries (I still remember you, Police 911 cabinet), but is currently woefully underrepresented on the home consoles. We might see the occasional Duck Hunt rerelease or crossbow training, but, by and large, the only time you see a decent shooting game is when a system is trying to demo some random peripheral, or, God help us all, during a console launch. Despite being one of those genres that practically defined gaming for some years (see Back to the Future for shooting through the generations), the noble shooting gallery game is now resigned to the ever-shrinking arcade scene and a tech demo or two.

And it’s easy to guess why that happened. There’s something visceral about holding a plastic gun in your hands and capping some ducks/criminals/zombies that is difficult to replicate on the home consoles. It’s fun an’ all to pretend, but you just don’t get that same heft from the Playstation Lollipop as you do when holding a proper Deer Hunter rifle. And then… what’s the point? It’s a point and click adventure. I’m using a mouse right now, and it’s not exactly thrilling to edit this article and click on my more overt mistakes. Ugh, I’m probably goint go give up from the boredom. I… guess I could pretend my typos are encroaching Cobra soldiers, but… meh. “Point and aim” needs that essential gun component to feel right, and, without it, the fun is gone.

So House of the Dead Overkill figured, hey, if we can’t get that authentic arcade gun experience, could we maybe find the fun somewhere else?

Get 'emHouse of the Dead Overkill is a House of the Dead game: your character is fairly anonymous during the gameplay, and “you” are basically a disembodied gun exploring various zombie-infested locales. Some House of the Dead games stick exclusively to the titular house, but other adventures eventually see other locations, like “generic swamp” or “generic building”. But that’s not important! What’s important is that zombies are bearing down on you at all times, and you’ve got to turn those zombies into a fine, bloody mist before they throw a seemingly unlimited number of axes into your face. By and large, this is very simple gameplay, with only the occasional boss to interrupt “keep shooting at everything”. And, for the record, those bosses are still the same “keep shooting at everything”, but now you aim exclusively at the head and a collection of random flying objects. It’s totally worth all your quarters to see the end of that one screeching mutant thingy!

And the challenge in House of the Dead is that, yes, it’s a shooting game. It’s not just about surviving, or gunning down the right zombies to guarantee a potential victim’s escape, or carefully pegging that one powerup on the bookshelf over there; no, it’s about the all-important score, and proving that you’re some kind of zombie sniper savant. What’s your accuracy percentage? How many headshots did you rack up? How long did it take you to complete each mission? It’s all about the score, baby, and if you’re just lumbering through the stages, well then, what’s the point? Gather up the points for that combo meter, and show off your fabulous goregasm tally with trophies of all sizes. Be the best zombie slayer you can be!

Except… well, I can’t be the only person that doesn’t really care about the score. For a number of action games, I’m kind of a “beat it” player, and I’m not in this to get the most achievements or points or whatever. I play videogames to relax, not to practice like a sport. Ugh, sports. Can I just be rewarded for, ya know, playing the game at my skill level?

House of the Dead Overkill answers this with, “Yeah. Sure.”

SCENE MISSING

House of the Dead Overkill eschews the tone of the previous House of the Dead games to be… funny. As ever with humor, it’s objective, and the game straight-up lampshades this during the finale (when it’s noted that this adventure has more hyper, toxic masculinity than a friggin’ Trump rally), but the majority of HoD:O is built to be, at least, amusing. G and Isaac Washington are hard-traveling heroes that can’t get along to save their lives (well, sorta), and their diametrically opposed hijinks fuel the adventure. Then there’s a villain that appears to be a version of Burt Reynolds that is unusually obsessed with Chinese food, a hooker with a heart of gold (and a motorcycle), and the fiendish mastermind that has an Oedipus complex that is literally suicidal. And the bosses, the crown of each level, are a delightful mix of grotesque and goofy, so right about when Kuato shows up to menace the protagonists at the circus, you won’t bat an eye. Oh, and I’m pretty sure I gunned down that woman from The Ring, too.

HA HAAnd, while I’d love to say that I played this game to improve my wiimote firearm abilities, this “funny” plot is absolutely the only reason I played past the first level. From the eponymous House of the Dead to a nightmare hospital to a hell carnival, this game grabbed me right from the get-go. It’s not about the score, it’s not about the shooting, it’s about seeing what crazy thing comes next, and what ridiculous, possibly exploitative creature is going to cap the next stage. Giant malevolent mantis? Yes! Bulbous, pulsating swamp creature? Why not! And then it’s all capped off with the mother of all monsters that literally births mutants for your rail gunning pleasure. It’s an appropriate ending for an outrageous game.

And here’s the moral for other videogames: learn from House of the Dead Overkill. Yes, humor is objective, and, yes, the “exploitation flick” motif of the game isn’t for everybody, but when you’re dealing with a genre that is already very limited in popularity, why not give people another reason to play your game? High score is fun, but how about something for us nerds that can ream thousands of words out of some space robot plot? Give your audience more, not less, and suddenly your generic shooter is something some nerd on the internet is fawning over almost a decade later.

Videogames can be more than their genre, and it only makes those games better.

FGC #234 House of the Dead Overkill

  • System: Nintendo Wii initially, and then eventually Playstation 3 (via the Move), and iphone/android (via your finger). Also, there’s the Windows version for…
  • Port-o-Call: Typing of the Dead returns! A “typing” version of House of the Dead Overkill exists for Windows platforms, so if you’re not so much for the aiming, go for the keyboard. Also, apparently the mobile version of this game was extremely limited and withdrawn from mobile stores due to massive suckage.
  • Number of players: The other reason to play a shooting game is to have fun with your friends, so two players. On the other hand, I can name like six other local multiplayer uses for my Wii.
  • YowchLevel Up: My one major complaint about this game is the whole upgrade system/extra guns. Conceptually, I like the idea of upgrading, and, practically, I enjoy purchasing the rail gun and basically turning the difficulty off… but isn’t that a problem? It seems like your firearm options are either way too overpowered or “will get you killed during every reload” weak. And I want to say the later stages are not balanced for the standard pistol at all. In other words, despite how much I love bringing an AK to a shambling fight, I’d rather the whole game be built around one kind of gun with set parameters, and not continually being Goldilocked into too hot or too cold.
  • Favorite stage: It made murder clowns a persistent problem, so I’m going to say that the third stage, Carny, gets my vote. It also has the best zombie set pieces, with a football field, (literal) shooting gallery, arcade (with After Burner!), and a ride through a funhouse. Which reminds me…
  • Skeleton Corner: This is one of the few games that earns the “skeletons” tag, but does not feature skeletons that are actively attacking the player. They’re just… hanging around. NOTE: I am aware that most people/monsters/zombies have skeletons, but that doesn’t count.
  • They’re not Zombies: Oh, right, they’re mutants. Thank you, G.
  • Dang bonesDid you know? Varla Guns and Candi Stryper, a new character, are both available as playable characters in their own adventure on the Playstation 3 version. They fight mutant zombie strippers and a lady minotaur named Meat Katie. On a side note, I’m not completely certain there can be a lady minotaur. Cowotaur?
  • Would I play again: I just might, particularly considering I’m not certain what I’m going to do with my (backwards compatible) WiiU in a few months. Might be fun to play through all the “good” Wii/WiiU games before they get locked away in the “oldies” bin.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Zero Mission for the Gameboy Advance. Good pick, ROB! Always happy to play a Metroid game. And this one has unexplained stripping! Please look forward to it!