Last week saw the XBLA release of three of SEGA’s classic fighting games, all of which were originally created by their legendary AM2 team. Being a bit of a veteran when it comes to gaming of this nature, I’ll be looking at each one in turn, a virtual lament to an era of classic gaming, now overtaken by fast-paced first-person shooters and realistic football games. Last but by no means least, Sonic The Fighters
And so we come to the last of SEGA’s fighting game releases. Sonic The Fighters has an interesting history. Rumour has it that the developer of Fighting Vipers had incorporated SEGA’s biggest franchise character, Sonic The Hedgehog, into Fighting Vipers as a character you could unlock only with a code hack. This was seen by AM2 head Yu Suzuki and a Sonic fighting game was commissioned and completed in 1996. So, Sonic The Fighters and Fighting Vipers are inextricably linked, which may explain a lot.
I didn’t play this in the arcades, so I can only really review the quality of the game I’ve played here. As with the other SEGA fighting game releases, the opening menus are functional. There are more Arcade options with this, which mainly deal with the way the character barriers are dealt with in the game itself. These barriers act as a shield to defend you from the attacks of your opponent, but can be broken by a specific set of attacks. You can change the number of barriers you start with and the regeneration behaviour of those barriers within each round.
The graphics are large, blocky and cutesy renditions of the usual Sonic characters. They are 3D polygon based, almost Crash Bandicoot in their appearance. I have to say, this one will appeal to the kids. The whole feel is of slapstick, with huge hands performing face slaps and big, clumsy kicks launching you or your opponent across the arena. Your task is to collect eight Chaos Emeralds to power the Lunar Fox and launch to meet and beat Metal Sonic and Dr. Robotnik. The fighting controls are based on Fighting Vipers, with punch, kick and guard functions well translated onto the Xbox controller. This is familiar and makes sense, but a little variety wouldn’t have gone amiss.
There are some nice graphical touches, with the loss of rings as your energy is depleted and the stars that comically circle you after you’ve been knocked down but it all feels just a little too sluggish. Sometimes it’s like fighting through Marmite. Persevere with this though and you’ll get to the first ‘Boss’ the hench-bot, Metal Sonic. This is where, for me, the difficulty ramp lifts a little too high. It was all plain sailing up until this point, I’d obtained all but one of the achievements too, and then I was suddenly, soundly thrashed by this weaker of the two Boss bouts. The achievements themselves are relatively straightforward to obtain and well explained, but again, there doesn’t seem to be enough of them.
The audio in the game reflects the characters well, with Sonic whizzing away while spinning and various thumps and clangs during the fighting sequences. The rings falling are quite noisy though, so you may want to turn the volume down slightly for this one.
Overall, Sonic The Fighters is probably the most disappointing of the three games. It feels like a rush-job, not in the port but in the original itself, which is a massively missed opportunity as the franchise could have benefitted from a fighting string to its collective bow. Maybe SEGA should have taken this opportunity to update Sonic The Fighters, but then, to those who played this and liked it originally, would that have felt like sacrilege? I guess we won’t know anytime soon.