Pal Griph messaged me last night to ask if I could identify a particular arcade “beat ‘em up” title from the 1990s. While I have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of that videogame genre, the sheer number of similarly-named side-scrolling quarter-munchers released during that era sometimes makes it hard to match names to individual games.
As a result, I was forced to fire up my ancient version of the MAME emulator and browse my favorites folder to obtain the answer for Griph’s query. (It turned out to be Knuckle Bash, in case you were wondering — a Taoplan effort in which an Elvis impersonator attempts to preserve the integrity of pro wrestling by fighting a catalogue of gay stereotypes.) Since I’d already dusted off my USB joypad, I also took a little time to reacquaint myself with some other semi-forgotten treasures from my emulation enthusiast days, like this one…
…Violent Storm, Konami’s 1993 answer to Capcom’s genre-defining Final Fight.
The game, like so many others of its time, is set in an archetypical post-apocalyptic dystopia. The lovely Sheena has been captured by a psychopathic warlord…
…forcing the street fightin’ team of Wade, Boris, and Kyle to punch, kick, and throw their way through an army of thugs to retrieve their property cherished “companion.”
Violent Storm makes no effort to mask its status as a Final Fight clone, which can be seen in everything from the city map that chronicles the player’s progress…
…to heavy metal-inspired enemy names…
…to destructable trash barrels containing health-restoring foodstuffs (mmmmm…garbage food) and bonus point treasures.
Unlike other games that swiped Capcom’s beat ‘em up formula on the cheap, however, the folks behind Violent Storm did take the time to toss in various tweaks and improvements. Not only does the game sport superior graphics and animations than its precdecessor, but it also plays better, too. Little touches like the addition of a sliding kick and backwards elbow thrust (handy for when enemies surround the player) added some welcome depth to the usual button-mashing combo routines, but the most significant improvement was the streamlining of the games overall flow.
My love of Final Fight is second to no one’s (though possibly tied with this guy’s), yet the game can be punishingly tedious — a deliberate design decision calculated to wage a war of attition on an player’s stash of quarters. Beating the game — even when using an emulator with save states and unlimited virtual “credits” — is a massive and tiring endeavor. The action and level progression in Violent Storm, on the other hand, moves at a relatively brisk pace without sacrificing the player’s sense of being challenged. It’s still a quarter-muncher, but a quarter-muncher clever enough to conceal its genre economics behind a satisfying visceral experience.
The game’s other major innovation — and the real reason I have spent 500 words discussing an old arcade game most of you have never heard of, much less played – lies in its use of actual “songs” with vocals as background music in place of the usual (and perfectly acceptable) chiptunes. I put “songs” in quotes because the tracks in question bear the same relationship to the genuine article as viruses bear to cellular lifeforms.
The background theme for the first stage, titled “Who’ll Be the Hero” is a disconcerting slice of j-rock that sounds like Up With People covering Bob Seger’s theme to Beverly Hills Cop II, and has enough unironic “ooooh WOWs” and “c’mon EVERBODYs” to make even the most mercenary Scando-pop maven cringe.
Bizarrely inane? Sure, but still within predictable parameters for the venue in question. The background music for the third level, however….
…well, it exists in a universe all its own. I’ll leave it to you to find the words, because some things need to be experienced.
Recommended listening: Konami Kukeiha Club – Feel My Power (from Konami Amusement Sounds ’94, 1994)