Hi! I got tired of not writing this, and the summer marathon is probably coming up, so let's get it. As usual, this batch of games was the most incomprehensible one yet, because some of them were actually pretty good. That's the mixup. I guess it was a Christmas miracle that some decent games were added to the garbage, or I probably would have died in real life.
Catch up here if you arrived late.
#11: Tough Guy (DOS)
A wonderful start to the second half of the marathon. Setting this up was a gigantic pain in the ass, and none of it was worth it.
Tough Guy has a two-button meter charge that also heals you while you hold it, which does nothing but prolong matches and irritate me. Fortunately, it requires a same-frame input and almost never works. The AI doesn't consider this a real restriction, so it's happy to microwalk at you while mashing this move, spamming some of the most irritating voice lines I've ever heard in an Advent Calendar game. This happens exactly zero seconds into the first round of the first match, making it completely impossible to miss, but apparently the developers thought it was perfectly fine. It sets the tone for the whole experience.
This is the type of game where four jabs combo into each other, no matter how large the gap is between them. The type of game where blocked air normals send you back into the air, until you take the hit or pushback kicks in. The type of game where the pause screen's "exit" option causes you to lose the round, because that was the only way the programmers could figure out how to get you back to the main menu.
Jerky framerate, unresponsive controls, rigid movement, the works. No one should play this. I try not to accuse game developers of neglect or laziness, since the entire process is horribly complicated and always requires compromise, but...come the fuck on. I cannot imagine how this was allowed to happen.
Unfortunately, I'm stuck imagining, since concrete information on this game (or its developer) is tough to come by. I'm not even sure if it was ever released at all. Super Fighter Team, the US publisher that currently holds the rights, inexplicably lists it as "in development", while every download link I could find listed it as abandonware.
Panda Entertainment, a Taiwanese studio also responsible for the Sango Fighter games, is (according to Wikipedia) famous for three things:
- Stealing the Super Fighter engine from C&E Incorporated, a developer best known for unlicensed R-18 NES mahjong
- Subsequently getting sued into space by C&E, legally barred from selling Sango Fighter while several different companies nonchalantly sold bootlegs of it anyway
- Repeatedly making Hitler a playable character?
TTTTTsd: Outside of that one boss, this game's character designs and presentation are great! Then you actually try and play it. Maybe I'll rip these sprites one day and salvage this.
Abbock: The thing I'll remember most about this game is the idle animations that seem to have as many frames of animation as the rest of the fighter's moveset combined
#12: Zatch Bell: Mamodo Battles (GCN)
"Licensed Anime Fuckheap Bonanza" is a time-honored Advent Calendar sub-tradition that everyone except me apparently finds hilarious. I don't understand how it can be fun to watch me stumble through distilled culture shock, brow furrowed in dismay and confusion, speaking only in vain attempts to tie the incomprehensible Japanese color smear on-screen to anything I've picked up through cultural osmosis. There's something that feels deeply malicious and personal about the whole thing.
Then again, every year I subject everyone to hours of trying and failing to learn infinites in games I've never played before, so I probably deserve it. Anyway, Zatch Bell: Mamodo Battles fucking sucks.
Everything's minus. A lot of stuff is minus on hit. Some stuff is outright unsafe on hit, thanks to an absurdly lenient airtech window and move properties that may as well have been assigned at random. Eighting's mastery of Good Feedback (because of course Eighting is responsible for this, how could it be anyone else) is helpless in the face of obnoxious character designs with huge, jank-inducing size differences. My guess is that it could be called a success—the way the systems awkwardly crash into each other turns even basic interactions into a godless scramble, and looking at the visual design of Zatch Bell itself, I assume that's pretty faithful to the source material.
Fortunately, like Kenichi from earlier in the marathon, there's an interesting subgame to be found regarding a top tier with a hopkick. This time, it puts you into a 50/50 on hit—either you use your retaliatory airtech or you don't, and a correct read or reaction earns the attacker another hopkick and the exact same situation. EVO side tournament 2020. Somebody start a character Discord.
Keeg: I can respect boiling 8ing's 3D fighters down to their simplest form, which is "hopkick".
Abbock: There are some licensed properties that even 8ing can't turn into a decent fighting game. But they can turn it into a meter management and/or upkick simulator.
#13: Dark Edge (Arcade)
My reactions to Dark Edge were, in order, "Oh no," "Wait, this is amazing," and "Oh no." Typically, when I play a game on the Advent Calendar, these are separated by about half an hour. For Dark Edge, I went through the entire spectrum and back again in less than fifteen seconds.
It's really, really hard for me to hate games that fail solely because they're too goddamn ambitious. Using sprite scaling to emulate 3D? Cool, that's been done before and it works pretty well if you do it right. Using sprite scaling to emulate 3D, in a genre where precise spacing and snap estimation of distance is critical, on hardware too weak and inflexible to maintain proper scale, with basically zero frame of reference for 3D camera systems? Uhhhhhhhh.
Nobody needs to look at this for longer than 5 seconds to realize that it's almost completely unplayable, but Dark Edge earns special mention for deciding to use back-to-block and special move motions RELATIVE TO THE FUCKING CAMERA. By the time you figure out whether the game wants up or up-forward as your defensive input, then resolve the extreme migrane that results from even having to think about it in the first place, you're already getting hit. Extra bonus points if it was a crossup, which are all completely unreadable because distance estimation is beyond impossible (and your opponent's body is probably literally covering your character). SEGA, Mortal Kombat came out a year ago. Button block is not new technology.
An archived GameSpot article lists Dark Edge as "SEGA's first true 3-D fighting game", which makes me question the meaning of every word in that sentence. I guess the Space Harrier bonus stage is pretty cool.
TTTTTsd: "3D without any depth perception at all sounds like a great idea! Ship it!" Fun fact: SEGA would make Virtua Fighter one year later.
Keeg: Huh, so Sega really did make a Super Scaler game that I couldn't love. Impressive.
Abbock: I knew nothing about this game going in other than that it seemed ambitious and looked nutty and barely playable. Turns out I was right, and was mostly bored. However, the minigame, miniboss, and final boss all in a row kinda made it worth it. Really cool game, all things considered.
Sleepmode: Alright, Sega, you get points for trying to make a fighting game out of Space Harrier. It looked cool until looking at it made me need to lie down.
#14: Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (PS1)
Much like this misshapen chunk of black plastic sadness, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style really shouldn't exist in the first place.
Paradox Entertainment's previous project, the unreleased Thrill Kill, aimed to dethrone Mortal Kombat with double the violence and a side of titties, cramming four 3D players into the same arena for twice the senseless gore. What started development as (ostensibly) a sports game became an excuse to court a moral panic, with publisher Virgin Interactive encouraging the developers to push the envelope, relying on controversy to get eyes on the game. Electronic Arts acquired Virgin Interactive shortly before Thrill Kill's release; staring down an AO rating, they preemptively sidestepped the controversy and canned the project weeks before release, calling it "senselessly violent". To be fair, they were right.
Paradox was left with a game that, despite being technically impressive, had no chance of ever hitting store shelves. Under a new publisher, Activision, they would spend the next year adapting the game into Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style, keeping as many assets as they could. The BSDM gear was gone, along with the most gratuitous dismemberment—and the game would ship censored by default, with a code in the manual required to unlock any graphic violence that remained.
In retrospect, "ultraviolent fighting game" is just about the most normal thing you could do in the late 90s—everyone wanted a piece of Mortal Kombat's explosive success—so I guess it's no surprise that Shaolin Style turned out so disarmingly normal.
It's servicable, honestly. Stable framerate, responsive controls, movelist bloated with more dial-in combos than I care to learn. The three and four-player brawls are a cute novelty, but target switching is clumsy despite the generally decent performance. Heads get chopped off and hearts get stabbed in finishers we've seen a million times before...the license seems like the biggest oddity, and like every goddamn licensed game that crosses my desk during these marathons, I know absolutely fuck-all about it. I think the pack-in controller left more of an impression than the game itself.
I've played worse games, but at least I can remember the shitty ones.
TTTTTsd: This comment is about the Wu Tang controller. It's incredible. I know everyone else agrees. AJ please put the controller in the article
Abbock: Paradoxically, I think it's very interesting that this game isn't interesting. Seriously, you make a goddamn licensed fighting game featuring the Wu Tang Clan and it's.... fairly standard and is more or less playable as a fighting game? That's a miracle.
#14B: Ehrgeiz: God Bless The Ring (PS1)
Ehrgeiz is a gift I'm truly grateful for, if only for how easily I could have missed it. Apparently this is considered entry-level stuff, something that even my casual viewers had heard about in passing, so no one had bothered to list it on the Calendar—it occupied the same mental space as Shaq Fu, another well-traveled tale of Weird Vidya Shit. If I hadn't pursued an off-hand mention in a GameFAQs guide, I might never have found it at all.
I'm not even sure how to categorize this, honestly. It's not a traditional fighter of any form, it's not an arena fighter...its closest parallel might be wrestling games, but with wackass stage design, drum and bass, and Final Fantasy 7 characters in an inexplicable guest appearance. Watch the intro and tell me this isn't compelling.
Ehrgeiz sports some of the most surprising and baffling sound design I've ever seen on the Calendar, which earns it a spot close to my heart right away. There are throwable items, grapple sequences, destructible stages, and the whole thing has an impressive feeling of weight to it. The hyperactive camera dampens my excitement somewhat, along with the annoying vertical stages and the possibly questionable character balance—but it's worth an hour or two of your time, ideally with your speakers turned all the way up.
But hey, chances are you already knew about this one—and if you didn't, I'd prefer to leave the rest a surprise. Don't just keep scrolling, or open a new tab and poke around on YouTube—if you're even remotely interested, get a fucking ISO, right this second, and play it. I'm serious. Call it the gift that keeps on giving.
Keeg: GOD BLESS THE RING
Sleepmode: GOD BLESS THE RING
Abbock: What the fuck AJ how did you of all people not know about Ehrgeiz
#15: Fate Axis: The Fragment (PC)
Abbock: When you think about how long this game has been in development, it's quite admirable, that someone would spend this much time bringing a passion project dream game to life. Then you see that after all this time it's still effectively a prototype with no bells and whistles and has the gameplay of a middle schooler's Spectral vs Generation fanfiction in playable form. It's just such a bummer.
#16: Alien Challenge (Arcade)
IGS is a pretty prolific developer, credited with over 70 games and over 150 "games" during their nearly 30-year run—and they're still going strong, pumping out almost exclusively garbage at breathtaking speeds. In a way, it's validating to play something like Alien Challenge, which feels like a bootleg of a bootleg, and discover that it was one of their very first releases.
Every character in Alien Challenge seems designed to make input-reading horseshit as effective as possible. Fullscreen disjoint and nonsensical invulnerability is everywhere. The roster is built out of awful boss characters, but without that feeling of irreverent elation you get from picking Ivan Ooze and DPing out of hitstun. Everything is always happening. It's exhausting and it's fucking stupid.
I have never seen shittier collision or sprite alignment in an arcade release, ever. Fast and slow moves are programmed by changing the speed of the entire game, not by frame count. Every PCM sample is a direct challenge to the authority of God. Terrible hitboxes, inhuman AI, nauseating sound design and all-around awful game feel—Alien Challenge is more useful as a collection of reaction images than an actual fighting game. It never gets any better.
Sleepmode: As an aspiring Japanese translation/interpreting type person, how this game's English localisation team got from 千面人 (man with a thousand faces) to "Stevareno" is beyond me. Clearly I've got a lot to learn.
TTTTTsd: When I learned that the Clown's boingy-head DP thing beat everything I finally managed to defeat AJ decisively. This game is awful by the way, if you couldn't tell
Keeg: We have located Wyler's hammer.
#17: Hinokakera (PC)
One look at developer Reddish Region's website should tell most of you everything you need to know. This is a doujin game, it has more versions than it probably has any right to, and it is old. Like, it is fucking old; the original version, subtitled the Fragments of Innocent Sinner, was released in late 2003 and supported Windows 98, with the most recent update (Chaotic Eclipse) hitting the market on New Year's Eve 2010. Like you'd expect from a 3D fighter that's nearly old enough to vote, it feels dated in places, but I came away from it smiling.
This ain't one of your new-fangled open world fighting games. Hinokakera crosses its arms and demands that you learn how it works, no matter how many meters it throws on-screen. Long-reaching weapons and powerful projectiles are everywhere, but moving forward with air blocking is straightforward enough, and there are no corners to get trapped in. The combo system finds a nice balance between the "find the magic juggle move" hunt, the sort of thing that infests older doujin games, and the no-rules do-what-you-want bullshit that ruined Fate Axis. It looks overwhelmingly good considering the game's 16-year tenure, with snappy hit effects and animations that feel outright extravagant next to its contemporaries. Move lists are much bigger than I expected, with meter mechanics opening up some creative options for combos or pressure, and the soundtrack isn't half bad either. Hell, there's even some great character variety, with the cast hitting every note from "Pure And Honest Fundamentals" to "double overhead airdash cancel horseshit" and making some interesting stops along the way.
After the rest of this list, you might be bracing for the part where I explain the game's fatal flaw or head-up-ass central mechanic, but it doesn't really have one. That bottom-most meter might count, with overflow above 100 shared between both players, but it doesn't seem to come up that often in standard play. Honestly, Hinokakera's inclusion on this list feels like a mistake. I mean, seriously. Name one bad game where you can play as a maid and mid-combo weapon-switch from twin machine guns to a 15-foot greatsword that's also a railgun.
Yeah. I thought so. Play this game.
Sleepmode: This is still easily the most doujin ass fighting game I've ever played. Surprisingly well put together, considering what that description might imply.
TTTTTsd: This game's cool. My friend Kamekaze showed it to me ages ago and I thought it was cool then, but now we have Gun-maid and other characters and shit. It is also ABSOLUTELY a doujin game with all 50 versions of it being online.
Keeg: The rating for this one was sealed as soon as AJ figured out how to pull out the giant sword as the maid. The fact that it's actually pretty neat only sweetened the pot.
Abbock: It's quite an amazing feeling when you and over a dozen people all have the simultaneous thought of "How had I never heard of this game? This is awesome!"
#18: Sonic Battle Lost Ending NEO (PC)
So, this one might be a little personal, but some of you are gonna know what I'm talking about. I know some of you were kids at some point. I know you fucked around with Game Maker 6, or Construct, or some other weird fuckin' Totally-Not-Programming game creation kit. I know you made some jank shit with a bunch of stock sprites or shit you got off Spriters Resource. All the music was from Newgrounds or VGMusic.com. It may have taken you several weeks to figure out how to implement rudimentary collision detection—and for the edge cases you couldn't handle, well, fuck it. It's what it is.
Sonic Battle Lost Ending NEO is one of those.
Jump over your enemy, and the movement controls start jittering and reversing as if you were executing desk's SOCD pad-only mixup. The title screen seems to imply that there's a story mode, but after a single fight with no AI, you're shunted straight into the ending credits. The combo counter insists that everything is a combo, no matter how long the gaps are, and despite this there's at least one single-move infinite. Every "new" asset is a bad sprite edit of a Sonic Battle sprite, with the exception of Silver's comically shitty walk cycle, which I think is all original. Shadow, naturally, has a few guns.
Lost Ending NEO is a burning building, and I am incredibly happy that the Internet allows it to exist. I'm also incredibly happy that all of the things I created in my Game Maker days, which were like it except worse, are not archived in 800 different places for 20-something Internet assholes to make fun of.
Oh, and it's Fighter Maker, so the overjuiced sound effects and laptop-microphone voices cause permanent hearing damage. Surprise!
Keeg: I've wondered on and off for a while whether you could make a traditional fighter with Sonic Battle sprites, and the conclusion I reached is that, even if you filled out some animations with Sonic Advance sprites, you'd still come up short on normals, and the Advance/Battle sprite style is too smoothly animated for amateurs to easily add to on their own.
That's unrelated to this game, by the way, which is a complete and utter steaming pile of finely aged dog shit drenched in nuclear waste and buried in a tire fire. Just thinking out loud, is all.
Sleepmode: [poorly compressed GBA Sonic voice] SAA HAJIMEYOUZE
Oh, and if anyone can get the game's password system to work, hit me up—we tried for at least 20 minutes and couldn't get anywhere.
#19: Slap Happy Rhythm Busters (PS1)
I guess this was the week for unexpectedly decent 3D fighters, geez. How the fuck am I supposed to write an article if I keep enjoying my time with video games?
Slap Happy Rhythm Busters surprised me. When a developer randomly decides that they're totally capable of making a fighting game, despite having zero experience in the genre, the result is almost always a tire fire, visible for miles as a column of black, smoking failure. But somehow, Polygon Magic (who you're most likely to know for console ports of arcade games) pulled off something impressive.
The base mechanics aren't really anything to write home about, though the cast has decent variety. Light-medium-heavy chains, special cancels, a handful of launchers, you know the drill (though seeing a game on this list execute any of that successfully is kind of noteworthy on its own). The big gimmick is the universal finisher, which initiates a rhythm game with a character-specific track. More notes hit = more damage dealt, but the defending opponent can press a button to flip individual notes around, making this the first rhythm game in history where you can eat a mixup. The fact that the finisher sucks, or that it takes a maxed-out meter to execute, is kind of a formality; you go for it every single time, no matter how bad it might actually be. That's the rule.
I can see myself returning to this for casuals or labwork sometime. There's something delicious about the Jet Set Radio meets Dance Dance Revolution aesthetic, and the promise of more broken bullshit is always tempting.
Abbock: The only good game Polygon Magic ever made. See my Rudeboy.
#20: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Jougai Rantou?! Shuyaku Soudatsuden! (SNES)
It had tripping before Brawl had tripping. I think gasoline fumes were involved. This is weird to explain.
If this game's movement was any more insane, it would be Sailor Moon in Fists of Fire. Lightspeed dashes and universal dash cancels turn the entire cast into high-powered monsters, and I can't decide whether it's barely playable despite the universal guard-cancel specials or because of them.
Yeah, universal guard-cancel specials. Block a fireball and guard-cancel fireball. Block a jab and guard-cancel command throw. No resources required, just good reactions and Old Game Execution. Plus you have 1 pixel extra throw range if you're facing right, sweeps hit well behind your body, and the Interesting™ proportions of the main cast lead to some hilariously oppressive normals. Everything you think sucks is probably really good, and everything that looks really good probably isn't good enough.
You kind of have to watch this to really understand how dumb it looks. EVO 2018's Top 4 is a good starting point—yes, this game was played at EVO, because we live in a wonderful world and anything is possible if you believe in dreams. Except for escaping the Neptune infinite. That's super impossible.
I get that there's something interesting about games that are played in entirely undesigned ways—when glitches or design oversights totally take over the game, and high-level play ends up constructed around them. But Sailor Moon S's core framework is a little bit too normal for the type of shit it allows—if you're late to the party, if you weren't pushing the limits of the game years ago, the exploration and creativity is gone, the puzzle-box game reduced to its component parts. What's left is a bunch of incredibly linear, highly oppressive characters with weird and nonsensical execution requirements. I've been down this road before.
Anyway, this is unrelated to anything of any importance, but it would not be hard to turn the character select theme into a trap beat.
Sleepmode: Believe me, I understand why people like this game, I really do. Given my reputation, I should have no reason to dislike it.
I kind of don’t, but I still think it’s wack so uh
Keeg: I still think about the time someone who runs tournaments for this game dove into my mentions on Twitter to tell me that Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire sucked. You still threw your hat in the ring with the wrong kusoge, by the way, because this thing does not live up to the hype.
Zari0t: I really don't understand why people like this game. I just don't. I'm all for exceedingly dumb shit in my kusoge, but Sailor Moon S might be where I draw the line. And I'm the OMK advocate. That's saying something.
Up next on the Kusoge Advent Calendar 2018: The end of the world. (TBA)
R D G V for movement? Look down at your keyboard right now, place your fingers, and tell me why somebody thought that was a good idea ↩︎
Ecologists refer to this as "the bootleg cycle" ↩︎
Astute Eighting afficionados will catch plenty of reused animations here. ↩︎
Check out THAT fucking link anchor ↩︎
I find this kind of endearing. Good try. ↩︎
Listen, it's...complicated. I think any developer that decides "We're going to create the most flexible and creative combo system of all time" is destined to create something like Fate Axis. This was doomed from the very beginning, and the deafening volume of the inexcusably frequent character screeches isn't helping anything.
Fate Axis, in a nutshell, decided that YRC slowdown was a good mechanic to replace bursts; you spend meter to slow down the flow of time for your opponent, which you can activate during combos to go fully open world, or activate during hitstun (!!!) to simply fall out of any juggle and counterattack. Mechanically, this is on the same level as the Retroversus Corner Escape. What the fuck. Who asked for this.
This particular flavor of brain poison has seeped into every mechanic in the game. Even without the Stupid Install, combos aren't limited by progressive gravity or any identifiable hitstun decay—just pushback and a generous OTG limit. Any normal can be chained into any other normal, including itself (?!?!?!), any number of times, and specials can be chained back into normals for a small expenditure of meter, like French Bread's Reverse Beat system viewed through a broken kaleidoscope.
There's a fundamental misunderstanding at play here: the idea that a combo system with no limitations is inherently more compelling than a combo system with strict limitations. From where I'm standing, the opposite is true; when you can do anything you want (and for Fate Axis, that's as literal as it gets), there's no reason to stray from the most obvious shit you can find, especially when combo escapes are frequent and easy. Every character's combo theory blurs together into an indistinct blob of "buttons, launch, buttons", and almost any reason you might have to experiment is gone—why bother, when the result of your hours of labwork is equivalent to putting down your stick, flipping it so that the buttons face the ground, and sitting on it?
Also, the game looks like shit, there's only two stages, and the MIDI soundtrack is somehow out-of-tune. How.↩︎
Video poker does not count, redemption bullshit does not count, fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you ↩︎