Two Great Trends That Trend Great Together

As the popularity of the versus fighting grew in the early to mid 90s, it didn’t take long for developers and publishers to see the appeal in coupling the genre with licensed properties to capitalize on two trends simultaneously.  A wave of licensed fighters shared shelf space with the Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats, some more successfully than others.  Let’s take a look at a few such examples.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters

In 1989 Konami took arcades by storm when it released the belt-scrolling beat em up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (called Turtles II The Arcade Game for the NES home port) and subsequently followed this trend up with Turtles III: The Manhattan Project on NES but most notably in the highly successful Turtles in Time on the SNES and The Hyperstone Heist on the Genesis.

Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the reptilian quartet worked amazingly well in the Double Dragon style play dynamic, when the time for a new Turtles title for the home consoles happened to coincide with the Street Fighter II / Mortal Kombat craze of the early 90s, Konami knew what had to be done.

Released September of 1993 for the SNES and Genesis (with an NES port to follow in February 1994), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters was a one-on-one fighting games with Konami’s touch of quality (if that doesn’t mean much to you, think similar to Capcom in terms of control responsiveness, system-optimized art, animation and sound).

To compensate for the fact that there are, in essence, only four primary Turtle characters, Konami dug through the franchise’s rich comic book history to devise a playable roster of memorable and uniquely powered combatants (ten strong on the SNES and eight on the Genesis). The highly simplified NES incarnation includes only six in 2-player mode/ four in story mode. It also has the distinction of being the final game Konami would release for the 8-bit Nintendo hardware. Codes were also available to unlock the boss characters for playability in the SNES version.

Interestingly, Tournament Fighter was not a single game ported to three systems but rather three completely unique games developed simultaneously in-house by different teams. How this ended up in execution is very much as one may have surmised: The SNES version being the most complete, best controlling and best looking, the NES version representing the most simplified, scaled back incarnation and the Sega Genesis title falling firmly between the two.

While graphical and controller input changes between hardware platforms are to be expected, Konami went as far as to offer up slightly different stories for each of the Tournament Fighter incarnations to justify differences in the rosters.

Like one would expect, the TMNT Tournament Fighters trio represented a bright, cartoony and not overly violent take on the popular one-on-one fighting game trend. Absent here were any form of finishing move, making the series most similar in terms of inspiration to Capcom’s Street Fighter II with slightly less fluid control and depth. Still, in terms of licensed properties, Konami, especially the SNES version, did both the franchise and genre justice.

 

Justice League Task Force

Imagine combining one of the most consistently popular subjects (iconic comic book characters) with one of the hottest trends in pop-culture (one-on-one fighting games). It was a formula that simply could not miss. At least, that’s what Sunsoft and Acclaim were telling themselves when creating June of 1995’s Justice League Task Force for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.

Acclaim would publish this one, Sunsoft develop it and the actual trench work came from Blizzard Entertainment for the SNES and Condor for the Genesis. The games are similar on both platforms though there are some graphical and interface differences as expected.

The game is standard one-on-one tournament fighting fair, boasting playable incarnations of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, The Flash, and Aquaman. However, unlike TMNT Tournament Fighters, there is no real good vs.evil matchup potential here as all of the battling takes place between heroes.

While the notion of matching up some heavy hitters like Batman versus Superman (years before Zack Snyder would destroy the concept) in some Street Fighter II style competition was worth the price of admission alone, the actual experience is nowhere near as fluid and memorable as the titles that inspired it.

For better or worse, the premise of Task Force is that the six heroes mentioned above have to square off against one another and battle for supremacy. It would have been a comic book nerd’s dream if the good guy roster were cut in half to reserve the rest for Legion of Doom members. How great would it be to square off Superman with a Kano-like Lex Luther or play as Mr. Freeze with a move set like MK’s Sub Zero? If done correctly, this one could have had serious arcade appeal as well.

It should be noted that after taking out your fellow Leagers, there are a few boss characters to battle (AKA bad guys) – the ultimate baddie here being Darkseid. It would have been a great touch if Sunsoft would have insisted upon an unlock code to make the bosses playable characters in the grand tradition of Street Fighter II Champion Edition. It has some novel appeal
As it stands, however, Justice League Task Force never rises above mediocrity on either 16-bit but about the greatest thing that can be said for Justice League Task Force is that it proved comic book superheroes and one-on-one fighting games blend surprisingly well. It would be a concept revisited, more successfully, many times since.

 

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition

The logic here, not unlike that of most of the licensed titles in question, makes perfect sense. Take a property that is piping hot and blend it with a video game genre that is also all the rage. More often than not, the results felt a little cash-grabby but, as amazingly, MMPR: The Fighting Edition is a decent one-on-one despite (or some might say because of) the license.

The game was released for the SNES, developed by Natsume and published by Bandai in 1995. Now interestingly a Sega Genesis one-on-one fighting game was published by Sega that was known simply as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers in November of 1994. Further confusing things is that the name Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was used to describe five different games across a variety of platforms. This becomes especially confusing because there was also a SNES game from Bandai called simply Mighty Morphin Power Rangers but it wasn’t the one-on-one like it was on Sega Genesis but rather a side-scrolling beat ’em up. That, of course, is why the game we are discussing here would be known as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition.

Confused yet? Don’t be. The bottom line is that The Fighting Edition is essentially giant robot one-on-one clobbering. The Sega version alternates between fighting as the Rangers themselves and the Zords.

The Super Nintendo game uses four attack buttons while the Genesis just two while the Genesis version boasts a roster of 12 playable characters and the SNES 8 (9 with an unlockable). Neither game features finishing moves of any kind. Combination attacks exist in both – with the Super Nintendo cart making use of a special attack meter during bouts to unleash more potent offensive moves.

Strangely the Genesis game uses single-round matches while the SNES sticks with the more common 2 out of 3 wins advances formula.

Both games did an excellent job with the audio – capturing the theme song and the vibe of the show with their 16-bit chiptunes.

Surprisingly both games control fairly well and offer decent challenges. The SNES version gets the edge, though, in terms of depth, with deeper move sets and charge meters that allow for “Super Moves”.

 

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls

This title represents the video game equivalent of life coming full circle. The original developers of Street Fighter claimed to have been largely influenced by the popularity of the belt-scrolling beat em up Double Dragon when working on Street Fighter II. SFII would then go on to influence the arcade (and home console industry) so much that Double Dragon would evolve to mimic it instead. Unfortunately, though, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls would become known as a dark spot upon the Double Dragon legacy as a whole.

Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls is a one-on-one fighting game developed by Leland Interactive Media and published by Tradewest for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis in 1994.

Unlike previous games in the series, which were side-scrolling beat ’em ups, Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls is based on the Double Dragon animated series. The 12-character roster boasts several special moves, as well as finishing moves called “Overkills” where the losing character has their own unique death animation when defeated by a certain type of basic attack. That may not sound too unique on paper but think about that – finishers were accomplished just by getting the last hit in on an opponent with a certain standard attack (say a medium punch, for example). As such, most finishing moves can be discovered entirely by accident.

Players have the choice of weak, medium, or strong punches and kicks to dispatch their opponents. Special moves are activated by holding down one direction, and then quickly shifting directions in conjunction with a button.

While certainly playable, Double Dragon V quickly sank into obscurity within the fabled franchise; not simply because it was different from the others but also because the gameplay was generally considered bland and uninspired.

Taking a page from the Mortal Kombat book of conduct, the Sega Genesis version of the game contained blood while the SNES version did not (Shaq-Fu also tried this same approach).

The game does, however, mark the end of the franchise’s linear use of numbers in the title. The system began to falter when the 4th entry to the franchise was released as a SNES exclusive (called Super Double Dragon) only to have V return to multiple platforms (both 16-bit consoles in 1994 then to Jaguar in 1995) with both a different game play style and with characters not of the gaming universe that preceded it.

While it remains the only foray of the entire franchise to be dedicated to the animated series characters, it was not the only time things would work on a one-on-one tournament fighting system. The following year another fighting game, this one actually produced by Technōs, simply titled Double Dragon, was released for the Neo-Geo arcade and home console in 1995. This was a testament to the popularity of the genre by the mid 1990s and, unlike V, the Neo Geo game is generally considered a worthy entry to the series as a whole.

These days The Shadow Falls serves as a reminder to a time when the one-on-one truly ruled the world and aside from some appeal to Double Dragon franchise (and console library) completionists, has largely fallen into obscurity.

 

VR Troopers

Created by Syrox Developments and published by Sega, the second Saban teenage fighting team property got a one-on-one fighting game on Sega Genesis and Game Gear in November of 1995.

In this one players choose from any one of the three VR Troopers to face off against the evil leader Grimlord’s mutants and cyborgs and eventually Grimlord himself.

It offered typical one-on-one match-ups interlaced with cut scenes furthering a story mode that played out like one of the episodes of the show.

While combo moves were present, the game was largely chided for being overly simplistic and generic. With minuscule sprites, a shallow fighting mechanic and a soundtrack that was tinny and grating, VR Troopers would likely have been an average, to below average fighter a few years earlier. For the very tail-end of 1995, when the 32-bit generation was in full swing and Street Fighter Alpha tearing it up in the arcades, this 16-bit relic was immediately lost in the shuffle upon release.

A release for the Super Nintendo was also planned but ultimately got cancelled.

 

 

 

 

 


Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Universal Pictures released a 1993 film called Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, which served as a semi-fictionalized account of the life and times of the legendary Hong Kong/American actor. As was virtually mandated when releasing a video game at the time, the material was used to inspire a one-on-one tournament cart of the same name.

Developed and published by Virgin Interactive – with distribution from console port Mortal Kombat beneficiaries Acclaim, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story arrived to Sega platforms in early 1994. It would be ported to the SNES and Jaguar shortly thereafter. A 3DO version was also in development but ultimately shelved – likely due to waning interest in the console.

While there is a story told in the game incarnation via cutscenes, some of which were taken directly from the film, the truth of the matter is they serve merely to setup the forthcoming bout with very little attention paid to logic or coherence.

In action the game follows typical one-on-one best 2 out of 3 falls format, uses digitized character models and straightforward button inputted (rather than combination) special attacks. Unique here were the concept of a chi meter which could be charged up by landing attacks successfully, which made for more powerful special moves. Additionally unique was the concept of fighting to earn a continue. If a player burned through his or her three continues during the tournament, beating The Phantom (the personification of Bruce’s fear who takes the form of an armored Japanese Samurai) in a match allows them to continue (though he was made nearly invincible). The Phantom Samurai appears again as the game’s final boss.

Unique at the time, the game was designed to support up to three players simultaneously, playing through the game cooperatively, or against each other in a battle mode on the 16-bit consoles (using the requisite multitap adapters of course).

Each character was given an unprecedented 100 frames of sprite animation. Even still, though, the game failed to win over critics and gamers alike, chided for being overly simplistic, having only a single playable character, stiff controls and lackluster graphics.

Interestingly, initial development of the game was to use the source material to inspire belt scroller beat ’em up project similar to Streets of Rage 2 before instead opting in developing a fighting title that was more in the lines of Capcom’s Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (surely due in no small part to the enthusiasm for the genre at the time).

 

 

 

Ranma 1/2 : Hard Battle

Just how big was the fighting game scene in the early 1990s? Properties that were relatively unknown in the United States even got official releases. Ranma 1/2 : Hard Battle arrived to North America in November of 1993 based on a Japanese manga/ anime of the same name that had virtually no presence here in the States at the time.

Ranma ½ tells of the truly peculiar tale of teenage boy martial artist Ranma Saotome who, as a result of a fall into an enchanted hot spring during a training journey, is cursed to become a girl whenever splashed with cold water, while hot water changes him back into a boy. His father Genma happened to fall into the spring of a drowned panda and became equally afflicted – only he takes on the form of a panda bear when splashed with cold water. How these guys shower is really anybody’s guess.

The setup is, of course, one of comedy so adapting it to a versus fighting game may not sound as natural as say a 2D platformer but somehow the gameplay works.  Developed by Atelier Double and released by DTMC, the game offers three modes of play: standard one-player tournament mode, a two-player competitive mode, and a two-player five-character team challenge mode. It boasts a nice roster of 12 characters (assuming you can overlook characters with names like Happy, ShamPoo and Pantyhose).

The bigger gimmick at play harkens back to the source material by offering characters in their natural as well as cursed forms: a male and female Ranma, a giant panda Genma, a human and bull form Pantyhose etc.).

The play control is unique in that rather than the usual series of directional movements capped off with an attack button, most special moves here are of the charge variety (holding the left, right, or down arrow in conjunction with an attack button for a few seconds and then releasing the attack button). The longer the button is held the stronger the attack.

In action the gameplay is slower and more user-friendly than the leaders of the pack at the time but its cheery nature, clean visuals and cast of characters that was nothing if not unique, Ranma ½: Hard Battle managed to carve out a place all its own in the flooded fighting game segment.

Jason Russell Jason Russell (17 Posts)

Jason Russell has been working in video game journalism since the early 1990s before the internet existed, the term "fanzine" had meaning and sailors still debated as to whether or not the earth was flat. The first time. More recently he has been the guy responsible for Thunderbolt Games' Under the Radar column as well as scribes for Game Skinny on a plethora of video game topics. He's somehow managed to author nine novels, writes and runs the blog CG Movie Review in his spare time. And sometimes, when the planets align and the caffeine has fully left his system, it's rumored he sleeps.