AM2 continues their high quality digital remasters with a set based on SEGA’s revolutionary Model 2 arcade hardware. Yu Suzuki, the head of SEGA’s AM2 studio helped create the platform in the early 1990s using incredibly sophisticated military technology. This allowed for not just higher quality visuals through 3D models and textures, but more effective controls and artificial intelligence to a scale thought completely improbable for the time.
As iconic and important the hardware was to video games, each game released in this digital Model 2 collection has only ever seen improper ports due to the power of home platforms at the time being far below what the games required, such as the SEGA Saturn. This current set of releases features the legendary Virtua Fighter 2, the wacky Fighting Vipers and Sonic the Fighters, one of the most obscure Sonic the Hedgehog games of all time.
Virtua Fighter 2
Best known for it’s sophisticated gameplay and depth, Virtua Fighter 2 is only as complicated as the player makes it to be. Against friends every level and character is available from the outset, with extra modes and the boss Dural usable with codes found in the achievement/trophy list. Although every character has upwards of 60 moves each, every ability is understandable and visually obvious to even the least experienced players. Beyond that, almost every ability is versatile enough for any playstyle to find their comfort zone, making every character usable to everyone in some way.
Replay value for single player modes in Virtua Fighter 2 is high for those willing to learn the mechanics. New players will likely struggle with the difficulty curve, made harder by revolutionary (for the time) AI that learns the player’s combat patterns and specifically forces them to attempt new moves or different forms of combat. Each release in the series afterwards included this, but to a much smaller degree, making Virtua Fighter 2 the hardest in the series, but also the most rewarding. Challenging regardless of difficulty, the AI never cheats by reading the player’s inputs or pulls off impossible stunts, two things almost every fighting game does even today.
Beyond the deep and diverse gameplay lies equally wonderful sound and art direction. Several hugely different types of arenas are available and all include memorizing art and animated extras such as leaves twirling in the wind or fire burning in the distance. An excellent use of color helps many of these locations stand out as iconic in the genre, but the soundtrack improves that by making some areas feel even mystical at times. A ride on Shun Di’s river stage that passes under bridges, Sarah’s storming colosseum or Wolf’s frozen mountain ring will be unforgettable memories to every fan.
Virtua Fighter 2 is possibly one of SEGA’s most expertly crafted games of all time, is possibly the biggest improvement as a sequel to any game in the industry and was revolutionary in almost every regard. Perhaps a touch too difficult for newcomers, it should be held in high regard by all regardless.
Released in arcades one year after Virtua Fighter 2, Fighting Vipers shares many similarities with it’s predecessor while also paving new ground with its own unique gameplay systems. Like the Virtua Fighter series, Fighting Vipers makes use of a simple three button control set-up consisting of punch, kick, and guard to access a wide array of moves for each of the game’s eleven fighters. Each of the fighters are unique in both their fighting styles and general attributes, and overall the roster of fighters is well balanced for both casual and competitive play, with enough diversity in the roster to ensure that there’s a fighter for every taste and preferred style. Being a 1:1 port of the arcade version, the number of game modes may seem sparse compared to other fighting games at first, with only arcade and offline versus, and online battle being available. While the lack of a proper practice or training mode may be disheartening for new players, a surprising amount of fidelity can be found in these core modes, with several extra modes and features becoming available through the use of cheat codes. These include the whimsical Kids Mode, which transforms the fighters into super deformed versions of themselves, and Ranking Mode, which allows the player to compare their score in arcade to those of the developers.
What sets the game apart from the Virtua Fighter series — and indeed, most other fighting games — is it’s context sensitive guard/attack system and the inclusion of armor. Whilst defending, characters can make use of special attacks that can break through an attacking opponent’s moves when they glow white, and likewise the same can be utilized by the opponent, adding an extra layer of mind games to the combat. The meat and potatoes of Fighting Viper’s mechanics lies it’s unique armor system, which sees each fighter outfitted with a full set of armor, which is separated into distinct sections for the head, upper and lower torso, and both arms and legs. When repeated damage is done to any of these areas, the armor in that general section weakens and will eventually break if hit by an Armor Break attack, which is unique to each fighter. When this occurs, the fighter is left extremely vulnerable, as attacks to an unarmored opponent do significantly more damage. This system works well in tandem with the guard/attack system to make for a somewhat more slower paced and strategic fighting experience, as the player must consider which areas of the opponent to focus on and attack in order to achieve an Armor Break, while also considering the durability of their own armor and how to best defend themselves against their opponent’s own strategies. Another neat innovation is the inclusion of destructible walls featured in most stages in the game. Walls play a much larger role in Fighting Vipers than in most fighting games of the time, as each fighter can interact with walls in a variety of different ways, including bounding runs off of walls, wall jumps, and unique wall-based attacks, some of which can actually destroy a single wall, opening up the stage for a potential ring out.
The visuals and overall style of Fighting Vipers is as striking as it is completely absurd. The designs of the fighters are quite eclectic, and though they only ever speak a few lines before and after a match, their personality shines through the designs of their outfits and armor, such as flamboyant singer/guitarist Raxel’s KISS-inspired armor, or Jane’s full combat gear. A good deal personality can also be found in the animations and general action within the fights themselves, as some fighters use props relating to their character as imprompteau weapons. The real highlight of Fighting Viper’s presentation comes from the stages themselves, which showcase a level of inventiveness and quality that is seldom seen in the genre. The settings, though oftentimes very silly, are almost always interesting to look at, such as one stage that takes place right in the middle of an airplane runway, with planes taking off and landing right next to the action, or another that takes place in front of a large concrete wall that is being shone on by a floodlight, which casts each fighter’s shadows against the wall, which dynamically follow all of the character’s movements. The general look of the game is equally impressive, with great looking character models, sharp textures, and fantastic visual effects that show off the Model 2 hardware spectacularly. If any caveat can be made against the presentation, it’s the music — it’s largely dull and uninteresting from a compositional standpoint and poorly fits the characters and stages, though some of it is admittedly catchy.
Though it lacks the complexity and nuance of Virtua Fighter 2 on a gameplay level, Fighting Vipers is nevertheless a unique and very solid fighter that should not be overlooked by fans of the Virtua Fighter series or the genre as a whole.
Sonic the Fighters
Sonic the Fighters (sometimes titled Sonic Championship) is the last true arcade Sonic the Hedgehog game. Released to little fanfare due to it’s fairly shallow mechanics and few releases for various reasons and small amount of demand, it has become one of the most obscure games in the franchise. Conceptualized around Fighting Vipers‘ gameplay and designed to be easier for those less experienced to play, creating a unique fighter that is hard to directly compare to any other. Basic punch and kick controls are included, but a major focus on the gameplay is a depleting barrier system that blocks and reflects characters and objects, similar to shields from the early Sonic games. To keep the momentum of the gameplay up, an early version of Virtua Fighter 3’s side step is included, along with several of the character’s recognizable abilities, such as the Spin Dash.
Developed and released before the franchise’s shift in design with Sonic Adventure, Sonic the Fighters features much of what was lost in the transition to the modern franchise. Not simply limited to the abstract world art, but also found in the character’s personalities and sound effects. Knuckles in particular shines compared to his current variation. How all of this is lost in recent games is a mystery.
Sonic the Fighters had a release on the Sonic GEMS Collection on PlayStation 2 and GameCube (the later of which was the only one available in North America), but beyond the new addition of online play more playable characters were added. Dr Robotnik (or Robotnic as the game titles him) and Metal Sonic are now playable in unranked versus modes when pressing start over Bean or Sonic, respectively. Another solid addition is the inclusion of Honey the Cat, an anthropomorphic version of Honey/Candy from Fighting Vipers. Originally an easter egg only available to the designers, she is now fully playable.
Sonic the Fighters comes out as a strange hybrid that cannot at all be considered deep, but is decently fun when played with like-minded friends. This one can only be genuinely enjoyed by die-hard Sonic fans, and even then newer fans (from 2001 and up) will probably not appreciate it much.
Although these ports may be too minimalistic, many have waited nearly 20 years for these games to receive proper home releases. With newly added features, spotless online play and the surprisingly cheap asking prices of 5 USD each, it has been worth the wait. Fans of arcade games, competitive games or SEGA in general owe it to themselves to play these games.
Virtual-On and Virtua Striker will be made available early next year. This article will be updated reflecting that in the future.