I've got a thing for side scrolling beat'em ups. It's a strange story because, living in a small and remote southern-european town, the first game of this kind I laid my eyes on was Final Fight. Yep, no Double Dragon, no Renegade, no River city ransom before it.
At the time I was about 14 years old and to play Final fight I had to ride my bike through 5Km of woodland to a small pub in a nearby town. But guess what, I was happy to do it. It was part of the charm. It helped build the hype for the moment I slid my coin in the arcade slot (yes, 1 coin; that's all I had for every gaming session) and the magic begun.
The subway level. Defintely my favourite!
There were other arcade games in that pub. I remember Taito's Rastan and Toki were there at the same time, but they didn't appeal me like Final fight did. Why? Here's why.
Simple and immediate gameplay. Maybe even too simple, you could argue. Because, let's be honest, it doesn't take a genius to learn the very basic moves of the game. After a couple of minutes of playtime you already knew everything you needed. I even know people that completed it several times using only Haggar's piledriver move. Where's the fun in that, you ask? Beats me, but there is definitely fun in repetitive gameplay (as Diablo and the likes clearly demonstrate). Maybe having to do the same thing over and over again is reassuring on a subconscious level. I don't know.
Every single enemy in the game had charisma, even the weakest and lowest cannon fodder. He was instantly recognizable. Poison, Andore, Bill Bull, Hollywood. I can even remember their names 30 years later. That doesn't happen very often. That's some serious art-direction, if you ask me.
The greatest bonus level ever
The 3 playable characters looked, felt and played very different, even if they basically had the same and very small set of moves (with the exception of haggar's piledriver, I suppose). Guy's flying kick felt different from Cody's. A punch from Haggar and one from Guy were an entire different story.
It felt good to hit opponents. I don't know how to describe it, but there's a special moment after you press the punch button, a moment defined by the multimedia feedback the game throws at you. It can feel smooth and satisfying, then you have a great beat'em up. Or it can be clunky and awkward, then you have a mediocre beat'em up. Needless to say which category Final fight fell into. Maybe it has to do with collision detection. Maybe I'm just making things up, I don't know.
A wrestler mayor with suspenders. Do I need to say more? Do I need to explain how ahead of its times that was? Arnold was still facing alien nukes in the jungle bare-chested at the time. After 30 year, Haggar is still one of the most recognizable gaming icons.
I may also add that Final Fight is the only arcade game that I played all the way to the end. That's because I basically suck at playing videogames: no skill whatsoever. Hey, you don't need to be good at something to actually like it.
But it could also be because I had really very little money to waste on videogames at the time. So to finish Final fight I had to save coins for weeks, hoping that meanwhile the pub owner didn't decide that Final fight wasn't gathering enough coins anymore and moved on to another game.
Looks like trouble
I also remember the disappointment when I played the C64 conversion years later. I could barely recognize the main characters. It felt completely different. No, that was not the Final fight I knew and loved.
Now let's talk about the sequels. Final fight 2 and 3, developed for the SNES. There's probably no need to clarify that I never had the money to buy a SNES, so I was able to play them only in recent years. But play them I did, and all through to the end. I really liked them both. They play exactly the same as the first arcade game. That smooth feeling when you hit opponents is still there.
Well, maybe the new playable characters (with the exception on Lucy) weren't that appealing. And the enemies weren't as charismatic. But hey, I was ok with that. And even if the sequels are probably technically superior, the first arcade game will always be the best in my memory. Call me a nostalgic.
After playing Final fight, I was in love with beat'em ups. Double dragon, Golden Axe, River City Ransom, Streets of rage, Dynasty warriors, Sengoku Denshō, Cadillacs and dinosaurs, you name it. I played them all. But very few felt as good as Final fight did.
So expect some juicy post on the subject. Soon.