Round 1…..FIGHT!

James Matson risks genital scarring Dragon Punches to check out some of the best – and worst – fighting games on the Commodore Amiga.

The Amiga is not well known for its range of fighting games. That honor – at least during the Amiga heyday – belonged to the Arcade cabinets and consoles of the world.  If you wanted to play Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat, you’d play them at the arcade or, failing that, at home on excellent SNES or Megadrive ports.

The Amiga fighting genre was not however, barren soil. A little hunting around can turn up some utterly fantastic (and abysmally shithouse) fighting titles, so in true Retro Domination style and with joystick in hand, we thrashed out a few rounds with games from the Amiga fighting stable and returned victorious to give you the low down on the champions, and the flops.

Shadow Fighter

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In a genre that consisted mainly of ports to the Amiga platform, Shadow Fighter is refreshing in that it’s an original Amiga release, with its own unique range of fighters, moves and locations.

Featuring a large roster of available fighters, you can lock fists with your opponent as anyone from a renegade Samurai to a street cop. The roster is varied, but suffers at least one dud fighter in the bunch, pro Basketball player ‘ Slam-dunk’. Crap to look at and crap to fight with, Slam-dunk is a strange concept executed poorly. No-one wants to go toe-to-toe in a fighting game as a basketball player.

If you do, then you should seriously consider Shaq-Fu.

(And yes, if you’re wondering whether Slam-dunk uses a basketball in his fighting technique, he does.  It’s a concept that could probably be pulled off somewhere, by some game – but unfortunately not this one)

On the plus side, the remaining fighters are fun to play with (or against), but fighting the CPU is let down by erratic AI that often results in the computer either spamming a single move the entire bout, or simply jumping to the edge of the screen and staying there.

It’s a shame really, because with better AI Shadow Fighter could be an engrossing experience. The location backgrounds are bursting at the seams with animated life (trains whizzing past in the subway level as an example), and multiple layers of parallax give a great sense of depth to each fight area.  The character sprites are well drawn and make good use of the Amiga’s enhanced AGA chipset (for 256 colours on-screen) but probably lack the finesse of more popular franchises like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.

Shadow Fighter is the game that strains its neck to nudge into our ‘good’ pile, but just misses out thanks to some game play effecting niggles. In today’s world, we reckon those issues would be patched into oblivion but sadly, for shadow fighter, that day will never come.

Verdict: Flop.

 

Mortal Kombat

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From the title music right through to the character sprites, we reckon Mortal Kombat is as close to a successful port to the Amiga as any game can get.  It’s easy to be a detail critic when you’re dealing with a franchise as massive as MK, but even when we wear our cynical hats (yes, we have cynical hats here at RD. They’re shaped like a Fez) we can’t do much to fault Mortal Kombat on the Amiga.

Greeted by the trademark morbid MK theme, players can very quickly throw themselves into a good old fashioned tournament to bring glory to Earthrealm. All the characters from the arcade version are represented as are all the locations (albeit with some revisions to the look and feel) so it’s quick and comfortable to get stuck into the fighting on the Amiga version if you’ve played MK on any other platform.

When the fighting gets underway, a couple of things are immediately apparent. In the Amiga port, the backgrounds have suffered. Gone is any hint of parallax, everything is so flat you may as well be fighting against a curtain. The character sprites – while faithfully animated – suffer some distinct ‘greying’ thanks to the reduced colour palette of the non AGA Amigas Mortal Kombat was released for.

None of that is a killer blow to Mortal Kombat however, because the essence of the fighting remains largely the same. The scrolling is smooth, the moves execute much as you’d expect them to and in a massive boon to the Amiga version the gore is there! That’s right, the blood flows freely in the Amiga release unlike the censored SNES port, and all the spine-ripping fatalities are present and accounted for.  The gore being present combined with several graphical similarities leads us to believe the Amiga version may be a port from the Megadrive game.

Mortal Kombat on the Amiga has lost a little shine, but the essence of the game – everything that makes it fun to harpoon someone and yell ‘GET OVER HERE’ – is all accounted for and represented nicely.  A top title given the limitations of the OCS/ECS Amiga, and a great port.

Verdict: Champion! 

 

Elfmania

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Fighting games – by and large – succeed on the basis of a strong roster of fighters, fluid and exciting combat, and overall graphical eye candy.  It’s a sad indictment then, to declare Elfmania a failure on nearly all of these fronts.

Things look promising early on. Elfmania like Shadow Fighter represents an original Amiga title as opposed to a port, and the concept of a fighting game involving elves beating the shit out of each other has a certain irresistible charm.  Like Lord of The Rings meets Fight Club.

Upon picking a fighter and loading a match, you’re greeted by a decent pop soundtrack backed by seriously lush graphics. We’re talking gob-smacking background art packed with vibrancy and a colour palette that you could be forgiven for thinking was drawing from the Amiga AGA chipset (It’s not, Elfmania is a non-AGA title).

The moment you start the first round however, the illusion of a great game created by the sights and sounds evaporates.  The fighters lurch awkwardly back and forth, staggering into punches and kicks with lacking animation.  Characters possess the weird trait of being able to change direction mid-air while jumping too, a mechanism which just doesn’t sit right in a fighting game. With each blow you land on your opponent, coins fly out of them which you can collect for points during the match – a neat touch – but totally lost among the shitty fighting.   There are a couple of other little innovations snuck into Elfmania, but all far too little to save it.

The final nail in the coffin is the fact that the fighters just aren’t interesting. You don’t form attachments to them.  They don’t look particularly impressive or – well – tough.  There’s just no real reason to want to play as them.

Elfmania is a cesspool of banality wrapped up in some pretty sights and sweet sounds. Our only theory for Developer Terramarque to have made such a disappointing title is a hiring policy that was totally pro-Orc.

Verdict: Flop.

 

Street Fighter 2

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Just the name evokes total genre domination. Street Fighter isn’t a part of the fighting game stable, it’s the main horse.

With its memorable characters, iconic locations, instantly recognizable combos and a franchise legacy that continues on even today, there’s almost no way to put a dent in Street Fighter 2.

Until you fire up the hat full of arseholes that is the Amiga port.

Street Fighter 2 has seen some pretty epic ports from the arcade in its time. Without even thinking, you’d easily rattle off the SNES, Megadrive and PC Engine as staying very true to the original, but the Amiga version suffers from every angle.  The roster, moves, locations and music all made it onto the Amiga but somewhere along that journey they got traumatized to a shadow of their former selves.

The graphics are the first casualty, gone are the parallax floors and layered backgrounds of the arcade version along with most of the incidental animation that gave Street Fighter 2 environments their charm.  The fighters are washed out and greyish, victims of the original Amiga’s 32 colour palette being stretched to the limit to accommodate the varied uniforms and skin tones of the fighters.  That wouldn’t be so bad – any Amiga gamer familiar with ports from the arcades was pretty forgiving of a reduction in colours – but along with less colour, the sprites are far smaller in size and lack a great number of animation frames, leading to unimpressive fights with jerky movement.

It’s a sad state of affairs to see such a quintessential fighting game brought low by the Amiga. You might want us to be more forgiving considering the technical limitations of the platform, but when you’ve seen other titles on the Amiga do far more with those same limitations, you know you’re just dealing with a poor, poor port.  If you’re in the mood for a really special home port of a Street Fighter game, do yourself a favour and track down a 3DO and a copy of Street Fighter 2 Turbo. It’s absolute bliss (despite the sucky controller).

Verdict: Flop.

 

Dangerous Streets

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Brain damage is a terrible affliction.  It can cause comas, narcolepsy, personality changes and – at its absolute worst – games like Dangerous Streets.

We’ve been categorizing the less stellar games here as flops, but Dangerous Streets is in a crazy, messed up league all of its own.  Our descent into madness begins at the character select screen. Garish fighter portraits are matched with uninspiring character descriptions. Expert Palmist? Lorry Driver? How developer Micromania thought these might be the extraordinary fighting champions you’d want to play at is beyond us.

But that’s just the beginning. At this point, you still have hope. Maybe it’s just a great fighting game with a shitty choice in characters? Maybe the developer was having an off day? Maybe it’s all an in-joke? While the first round loads you begin to build up a glimmer of faith.

Just a little.

Then you get into the first fight and everything goes horribly, crazily wrong.  The fighters – even when standing still – heave and lurch with some of the worst sprite animation ever seen on any platform. Movement is equally as bad, jerky and totally unresponsive. Fights take on the appearance of two drunken bums (both in the throes of a particularly violent epileptic fit) trying desperately to settle an argument over the last few drops of cask wine.  Awful backgrounds, awful moves, awful characters and shitty music all work together to make Dangerous Streets not just a bad game, but actually a frightening experience to play.  You may not come back to your Amiga for a little while after a round of this game.

The kicker? Commodore chose in their infinite wisdom to make this the headline game in a bundle pack to help sell the Amiga CD32. No wonder they went bust.

Verdict: A bigger flop than a dead bunnies ears.  A dead bunny with erectile dysfunction. 

 

Fightin’ Spirit

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A late addition to the Amiga fighting genre having been published in 1996, Fightin’ Spirit is an unashamed clone of SNK styling and characters but manages to be big and bold enough to be super game in its own right.  Everything about Fightin’ Spirit manages to excite.

The title music is a pumping 80s style rock track with digitized vocals and makes a perfect accompaniment to the flashy arcade style intro and character select screen. The roster is a wonderland of stereotypes and clones (old bald wise Chinese man, Raiden lookalike, too-cool-for-school sunglasses wearer etc.) but each is drawn so well and infused with unmistakable Fatal Fury styling that you just don’t care.

Did we mention you can play as a Tiger as well? No? Well, you can play as a freaking Tiger. If that hasn’t already sold the game for you, then you’re playing hard to get.

The fights themselves are everything you could ever want from the genre. Massive character sprites move with a speed and fluidity usually reserved for console or arcade fighters, hurling showy special moves at each other and generating all kinds of awesome audio throughout.   At every point you could be forgiven for thinking this was a magical port of an arcade title that somehow transferred to the humble 32-bit Amiga CD32 without any graphical or gameplay loss.

While a clone at heart, Fightin Spirit manages to capture the essence of the SNK line of fighters while definitely being its own game.  This game stands above other Amiga fighters, looks down on them, and pummels them into the ground.  Get it. Play it.

Verdict: Champion of champions. 

 

Body Blows

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Developer Team 17 was synonymous with quality when it came to Amiga releases, there was very little the group could do that wasn’t considered cream of the crop gaming (Alien Breed, Superfrog, Worms et al)

It’s no surprise then, that when they turned their attention to a fighting title on the Amiga, they came up with a winner. Body Blows is another original Amiga release, but unlike others listed here manages to be a success story. The overall look and feel of the game is more ‘western’ than a title like Fightin’ Spirit, but Team 17 makes it work, and despite not being quite as snazzy as some of the more popular fighter franchises, it’s still solid art direction and makes the fighters enjoyable to play and the locations fun to fight in.  Audio too is well catered for, with some great digitised shouts and screams as fighters launch special moves or get thoroughly trounced by an opponent.

There’s a flatness to the backgrounds that’s a little disappointing – no layers and no incidental animation – but hopefully you’ll be too fixated on not getting your head knocked off to notice too much.

The action is fast, the controls easy to pick up and characters like the aptly named ‘Ninja’ with his invisibility power are great fun to play.  Unfortunately, mixed among the more original character concepts are a couple of rip-offs like the Nik/Dan Ryu/Ken clones.

Body Blows proved to be enough of a hit to spawn a sequel in Body Blows Galactic (easily as fun as the original) and Ultimate Body Blows which combined the rosters and locations of the first two games.

Verdict: Champion!

 

Conclusion:

So, we’ve come out of all that with a distinct winner in Fightin’ Spirit, and a terribly freakish loser in Dangerous Streets, with all kinds of games in-between. We’ve missed plenty of titles (IK+, Full Contact, Capital Punishment to name a few) but we figure we can’t spoil all the surprises.

Hopefully looking through this list has inspired you to dust off that Amiga 500, 600 or 1200 you might have in a corner, or install an emulator like WinUAE and start fighting your way round by round through the best, worst and craziest fighting games on the world’s greatest home computer. Yes, we just said that to rile up the Atari fans.