Canon Spike is a series of Articles examining undisputed classic Video Games that everyone should play and games underrated and unappreciated in their time that we deem worthy of reevaluation.
Few gaming genres get less respect than the Beat ‘Em Up. A product of late 80’s quarter munching, style over substance Arcade dominance, it never really translated well to home systems, except in rare instances where original games folded in RPG elements, like the NES classic River City Ransom or early Xbox Live phenomenon Castle Crashers. Many feel the form has evolved into the modern “character action” game, such as Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, God of War and Bayonetta. Those games are popular with both fans and the press but your typical “2D Brawler” is still seen as the black sheep of most game collections and release calendars. Even when something as highly regarded as Konami’s The Simpsons or X-Men finally makes its way to home consoles after a lifetime of anticipation, all reviewers can talk about is how shallow the games are and how you can beat them in half an hour. Kids today don’t appreciate anything.
1989’s Final Fight was originally envisioned as a sequel to Capcom’s original, unloved, 1987 Street Fighter, even going so far as to be previewed at Japanese trade shows with the title Street Fighter ’89. Arcade Operators cried foul when they discovered that the game had nothing to do with Street Fighter and was a “belt scroller” similar to Technos’ then wildly popular Double Dragon, so another title was chosen.
Damnd if you do…
We are taken to Metro City, “a well known crime capital”, where newly elected Mayor and former Wrestling Champion Mike Haggar has just received word that his daughter Jessica has been kidnapped by the villainous Mad Gear gang, as retaliation for the hardnosed stance he has taken on crime since he entered office. Their demands: Jessica will be returned safely if Haggar agrees to look the other way in regard to the gang’s illegal activities. Of course Mike refuses to stand for that, he recruits Jessica’s boyfriend and street fighter, Cody, and her childhood friend and only somewhat ridiculous American ninja, Guy, to go walk from left to right and pound everything between them and Jessica’s nefarious captors.
Up to 2 players choose from the 3 social justice warriors and take to the streets. Haggar is slow but strong and relies on wrestling maneuvers such as suplexes, pile drivers and his patented “spinning lariat” (he taught it to Zangief, after all), Guy is fast but weak, bouncing off the edge of the screen employing dive kicks and Vega-style izuna drops. Cody is the middle man, a meat and potatoes puncher with average strength and speed. 6 Rounds take players from the slums to the subways, through downtown nightclubs, underground wrestling cages and factories, to the swanky penthouse of the Mad Gears’ surprisingly white collar leader, Belger. Bosses fought along the way include giant Rastafarian Damnd, gum chewing crooked cop Edi. E, and future Street Fighters Sodom and Rolento, with Hugo progenitor Andore and his manager Poison appearing as regular enemies, alongside a cavalcade of street trash with familiar 80’s names like Axl and Slash.
Belger first approaches in a wheelchair, a seemingly unconscious Jessica creepily adorns his lap. “You wouldn’t hit a disabled person, would you?” yes you would because he’s just pretending, so it’s perfectly okay. After avoiding shots from his crossbow, taking out a few more henchmen and giving him the beating he’s asking you for, Belger inexplicably flies through a huge plate glass window and down to the ground below with a thud. Perhaps the developers were inspired by Die Hard, Tim Burton’s Batman, or any other number of entertainments where a particularly nasty villain meets his end through defenestration. Many future games will adopt this trope as a means to their villains’ end, particularly SNK’s Fatal Fury/King of Fighters’ Geese Howard, who seems to spend more time getting thrown out of windows than he does actually fighting.
Final Fight hit arcades like a nuclear bomb, Players had never seen such graphical fidelity in the burgeoning genre before. Double Dragon’s Lee brothers looked like funny little dwarves compared to Capcom’s enormous bad asses, and the bass thump of the game’s acclaimed soundtrack, along with the brutal effects of the various weapon attacks, stood head and shoulders above most arcade sound design. Final Fight wasn’t the first, but it was the best, and it remained a high water mark for the genre until Capcom’s own Street Fighter II set the arcade scene ablaze and one-on-one fighters became the new hot trend, basically killing Beat ‘Em Ups in the process.
Ports, sequels and “homages” were soon to follow. An SNES version was released soon after that systems’ launch and was very popular despite critical outcry that the game had been significantly downgraded, removing the 2 Player mode, Guy as a playable character and the Factory stage where you fight Rolento, in adition to changing several presumably “offensive” character names (Damnd became Thrasher, Sodom became Katana) and changing the scantily clad female characters of Poison and Roxy to males named Billy and Sid, even though Capcom maintains that Poison was always intended to be transgendered (they’re forward thinking that way). A later port swapped Cody for Guy and added some extra enemies and power ups but was still censored and shortened.
Sega, not to be deterred by the SNES’ then-exclusive, released their own Brawler in the form of 1991’s Streets of Rage, a great Genesis game in its own right, but also a clone of Final Fight right down to the identical appearance of certain enemy characters. Sega then licensed the game from Capcom and released their own near-arcade perfect version of FF for the Sega CD in 1993, adding animation and voice acting to the game’s cut scenes and an awesome arranged soundtrack. Many straight up rip offs of Capcom’s game appeared as well, both in arcades and at home, lacking Streets of Rage’s polish, including SNES duds Brawl Brothers and Rival Turf. Capcom themselves released 2 SNES sequels, adhering to the law of diminishing returns, each was less critically and commercially successful that its predecessor.
Capcom kept the series alive in the 32 bit era by adding Guy and Sodom as playable characters to 1995’s Street Fighter Alpha, Rolento to its sequel Street Fighter Alpha 2 and finally Cody (now in prison for fighting too much) to 1998’s Street Fighter Alpha 3. FF characters and settings also appeared in many of the games’ backgrounds. Capcom can’t seem to keep the main series’ name out of the mud though, 1999’s misguided 3D Sega Saturn fighter Final Fight Revenge and 2006’s even more misguided gritty PS2 actioner Final Fight Streetwise were panned by critics and shunned by fans. People still love this game though, as evidenced by the almost universal praise surrounding 2001 GBA port Final Fight One and 2010’s HD/Online XBL/PSN package Final Fight Double Impact.
Final Fight continues to live on through its characters’ guest appearances in Capcom’s other games, with Haggar’s popular stint in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Rolento and Street Fighter III favorites Hugo and Poison joining Guy and Cody in the recently updated Ultra Street Fighter IV. We’d love to see a full update to the series, maybe if Capcom handed the reins to a developer like Ninja Theory we’d get a game on par with their criminally underrated DmC. Something akin to Wayforward’s Double Dragon Neon could be a good direction to go in as well. Until then we’ll keep our knives, bats and pipes close at hand, and hope that we haven’t truly fought the Final Fight.