21/03/2015

JACK THE RIPPER

The year is 1888, and on the dark and foggy streets of London Jack the Ripper goes about his murderous business without a clue that in a century hence his macabre deeds will end up as background fluff or character inspiration in a whole bunch of videogames. The more I think about it, the weirder it gets - one of the world's most infamous killers, plucked from the pages of history and given a mohawk by a Japanese designer who needs a new character for their fighting game, or transplanted into a murky cyberpunk future. I can't help but wonder what Saucy Jack's reaction to this would have been. Murder, probably. Anyway, here are just a few examples of Jack the Ripper's videogame appearances, starting with a VGJunk favourite.

Shadow Man

I've talked about my love for Acclaim's 1999 voodoo adventure Shadow Man before, a game that's sometimes awkward to actually play but which has such a great sense of mood and atmosphere that I'll let it off - I've described it as the game with the biggest gulf between how much I enjoy it and how good it actually is, and part of that enjoyment comes from Shadow Man's very Cockney and wonderfully hammy take on Jack the Ripper.


This version of the Ripper is an architect by trade and a part-time dabbler in the terrifying mysteries of the human soul, mysteries he tries to unravel by cutting open prostitutes. He doesn't have much success, at least not on the soul mysteries front - he does okay with the prostitute murders - until the biblical demon and Shadow Man's main antagonist Legion shows up. Legion explains only certain "dark" souls have the power that Jack seeks, and then invites Jack to come and work for him on his project to build the Asylum: "a cathedral to pain," a sort of Salvation Army shelter for the most depraved scum humanity can offer. This impromptu job interview goes something like this:
"Jack, you're an architect, come and help me build a Giant Hell Church."
"Sure! Where are you going to build the Giant Hell Church?"
"The land of the dead."
"So... I'll need to be dead, then?"
"Yes."
"Cool, I'll be there in two ticks."


Jack does not take a lot of convincing. He may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he has the sharpest knife in the drawer, and Legion gets his architect. I've gotta say, that's real convenient for Legion - how often do you find someone who's both an architect and a sadistic, unhinged killer willing to sacrifice their life for the promise of infernal powers? Now he has to wait for a mass-murdering construction crew, a satanic plumber, a psychopathic building inspector to sign off on the project. No wonder Asylum took one hundred years to build.


Jack reappears later as a boss. Self-disembowelment and a trip to Deadside somehow gave him the ability to climb on the the ceiling like a goddamn xenomorph, but mostly he's really into stabbing people with knives. As I watched him flouncing around in the cutscene, it dawned on me that Jack was really starting to remind me of someone. Then it hit me: the overwrought language, the East End accent, the open-chested shirt... he's Russell Brand. There you go, conclusive proof that Russell Brand is the modern reincarnation of Jack the Ripper. I'm just glad Jack didn't call them his knifey-wifeys.

Master of Darkness

Sega's Master System definitely-not-Castlevania-em-up Master of Darkness now, and in a game about spooky goings-on in Victorian London an appearance by Jack the Ripper is more thematically appropriate than in many of the games I'll be mentioning today. That doesn't explain why Master of Darkness' Ripper greets the player with a piratical "arr!," however.


"You wish to hinder me?" asks Jack, and as his plan is to stab me to death I think I'll have to say yes, I do wish to hinder him. It'd be weird if I just let him stab me to death, right?
His purple suit makes him look a little bit like the Joker, but otherwise this Jack is of a fairly standard type. He's wearing a suit, he's got a big knife. You know, the usual. I think the pirate voice was merely an effort to throw the police off his scent. The Ripper will never be caught if the police are wasting their time looking for Blackbeard.
He's not a very threatening Ripper, either. Any boss that can be defeated by standing on the same spot and wildly swinging your axe about like Conan trying to swat a mosquito is unlikely to engender heart-stopping terror, especially when he's so bouncy. I think he might have been conflated with Spring-Heeled Jack, a different character from Victorian folklore whose party piece was jumping out at servant girls and frightening them.


After you defeat him, it's implied that this Jack the Ripper was actually a waxwork dummy animated through strange magics. I'm sure Madame Tussauds are working hard to recreate these incantations, the punters will be pouring in if they can manage to get Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse up and singing again.

Waxworks

Speaking of waxworks, here's, erm, Waxworks, Horrorsoft's computer graphic adventure. It tells the story of one man's trials as he attempts to remove an ancient curse on his family by travelling back in time via haunted waxworks, including a trip to Whitechapel at the time of the Ripper murders.


That's a heck of a swoon there, lady. It's nice that you're getting into the spirit of things.
So, the player arrives in Victorian London, but unfortunately they arrive right next to the still-warm body of Jack's latest victim, making the local constabulary understandably keen to have a few words with you. Sadly those words are "you're Jack the Ripper" and "here, tell me if this noose feels tight," so the traditional adventure game experience of moving between locations, collecting items and solving puzzles is made more difficult and honestly kinda frustrating by your constant need to avoid the Old Bill. It's the 1880s, they're not much interested in things like evidence and fair trials.
If you manage to avoid both the law and the roaming mob looking to dish out the kind of justice that bears their name, there are still plenty of puzzles to solve, including feeding a dog offal laced with tranquillizers and liberating some tea from a locked warehouse. That last one is the most British adventure game quest I've ever heard of, but once it's done you can face off against Jack the Ripper himself.


Who would have thought that a doctor's bag could make such an effective shield? The big twist here is that Jack the Ripper is actually your brother - the curse I mentioned earlier is that every time twins are born into this family, one will be good and the other will be evil. I thought that was just how twins worked naturally? It's also pretty lame, as gypsy curses go. For starters, how often are twins born into a family, and how does one of them being evil punish said family for their ancient ill-treatment of the curse-inflicting gypsy? Seems to me the only people suffering under this curse are the working girls of Whitechapel. Okay, so trying to kill his own brother is probably not much fun for the player character but have some perspective - at least he gets to stay alive, or at least he will if I ever figure out how to get past Jack's impenetrable doctor's bag defence.

World Heroes

In ADK's World Heroes series, a time-travelled scientist called Doc Brown somehow avoids Universal Pictures' lawyers long enough to reach into the past and gather various historical figures together for the noble goal of watching them beat each other up. Jack the Ripper is one of those historical figures... sort of.


That's quite the makeover. The best thing about this animation is that if you look closely you'll see that Jack not only shreds his Victorian clothes but also shaves off his moustache in a stunning display of precision claw manipulation.
Clearly what happened here is that upon being dragged into the modern age, Jack spent his time catching up on the entirety of cinema until he reached the Eighties and discovered the man he was meant to be - a cross between a Mad Max villain and Freddy Krueger.


He gets really into the whole 80's street punk persona, too, and nothing demonstrates this more fully than seeing him lick the blades of his claws. Punks love licking sharp things. Knives, claws, the lids off tin cans, if it's metal and you can cut things with it then chances are some mohawked thug has slobbered all over it. Videogame hospitals must be full to bursting with vicious young men in sleeveless jackets who are suffering from lacerated tongues and tetanus. I could almost understand it if he was licking blood off his claws, but those claws are clean. Of course they're clean, he keeps licking them.


The World Heroes version of Jack really likes blood, by the way. I know, it's a real shocker, but I thought I should mention it just in case you were still harbouring suspicions that he was a loveable Edward Scissorhands type (he isn't).

MediEvil 2

Another Jack the Ripper with Slicing Claw Action appears the in the Playstation game MediEvil 2, where once again he is wearing clothes that show off his chest. That's three bare-chested Jack's so far, it's bordering on becoming a theme.


This Jack is also green and somewhat snake-like, pictured above menacing a mummy. The mummy is called Kiya, and she's the love interest of Sir Daniel Fortesque, the skeletal knight who is MediEvil's main character. It's very tense and all as Jack looms over his helpless victim, (and the top hat gives him an extra fifteen percent or so in looming capability,) but the MediEvil games are jolly, cartoony romps so I'm sure Sir Dan will be along any second to save the day.


Yikes. Well, he is Jack the Ripper, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, and it all works out anyway because Sir Dan goes back in time and stops this from happening. If nothing else, all these games are providing good explanations for why the Ripper killings suddenly stopped, be it via skeletal knight interventions, abductions through the space-time continuum or simple axe murder. These explanations are no more far-fetched than some of the real-world theories put forward about Jack the Ripper, if I'm honest. After all, someone once wrote a book claiming that Lewis Carroll was the Ripper and that Alice in Wonderland is full of clues about his dark deeds, which falls somewhere between "the murders were an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by the Royal Family" and "Jack was an exceptionally clumsy vampire" on the wacko-meter.

Power Stone

Capcom's Power Stone series is also a colourful cartoon adventure enlivened by the inclusion of a terrifying serial killer because sure, why not? It certainly perks things up a little. I'm waiting for Jeffrey Dahmer to move into my Animal Crossing town, that ought to make things more interesting. Anyway, this is Power Stone's Jack, and he looks like he wants a hug.


A pointy hug, a hug with knives, but a hug none-the-less. That's the body language of a man desperate for human contact, but his commitment to knives is as strong as any of these Rippers and thus he is destined to suffer a life full of loneliness. Presumably he is swathed in bandages because he keeps trying for unsolicited hugs without putting his knives down, which leads to him getting beaten up a lot.


This ending sequence suggest that his name is actually Jack the Slayer, but I don't think it means of the vampire variety and his sinister stalking of young women of darkened streets means I feel comfortable about including him in this list of Rippers. I'm still not going to give him a hug, though. Not until he puts on some trousers.

Shin Megami Tensei

The Pokemon­-with-demons-em-ups of the Shin Megami Tensei series also get their own take on Jack the Ripper, and as in Power Stone he looks more lonely than anything else.


"Why do they always run away from my barber's shop?" cries Jack Ripper as he chases after his fleeing customers with a cut-throat razor in his hand, the scent of shaving foam heavy in the air. It's because of your hideous face, Jack Ripper. You look like a carved pumpkin that's been left on the porch until mid-December. I don't care how dapper your clothes are, you should not be working in an profession like hairdressing where there are lots of mirrors around.


Jack Ripper's most prominent role - if anything on the Virtual Boy can be considered "prominent" - was as a playable character in the game Jack Bros., released for Nintendo's ill-fated console and thus almost completely forgotten. It's a Gauntlet-style monster-maze game, and Jack Ripper's power is that he's really good at stabbing things, so Atlus stayed fairly true to the source material in that regard. In the US version of Jack Bros., Jack Ripper was renamed Jack Skelton. I assume that this is because even in the free and liberated year of 1995, Nintendo of America did not feel comfortable about having a character named after a real-world murderer in one of their games.

Duke Nukem: Zero Hour

Okay, so here's the lamest Jack on the list, appearing the Nintendo 64 game Duke Nukem: Zero Hour.


At least he buttoned his shirt up. A mere mid-boss, this version of Jack seems even less intelligent than the others, and that is some stiff competition. Here he's just standing in front of Duke Nukem, trying to stab him to death while Duke pours round after round of semi-automatic fire into him. Then he dies, with no fanfare. The whole thing feels like kind of a waste.


Nearby, there's a recreation of the Goulston Street graffiti, with the word "juwes" replaced by "Dukes". It's an interesting if not particularly well-thought-out reference, which makes it rather fitting for a Duke Nukem game. Zing!

Ripper

Finally for today we have Ripper, an FMV adventure game released for the PC in 1996. I have to confess, I've never played Ripper, so I read about it for a while only to discover that it's set in the future year of 2040 and it involves the kind of virtual reality that The Lawnmower Man briefly made popular. Would you like to see the Ripper's blood-curdling cyber-visage? No, you wouldn't, but here it is anyway.


He doesn't look comfortable in there, does he? Well, he's got plenty of company because Ripper stars some actors that you've actually heard of and none of them look comfortable either. Yes, it's quite the cast. Christopher Walken giving the performance of his career! Sorry, that should read "worst performance of his career!" Paul Giamatti, the very physical incarnation of the phrase "slovenly bachelor uncle"! Burgess Meredith, in what I really hope was not his final role! Here, check out the trailer, it's... something, chrome-skinned genderless VR humanoids and all.



Naturally I was curious about exactly what the hell was going on in this game, so I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. Unfortunately I didn't learn much. My eyes just kept sliding off the page, as though my brain was refusing to accept the existence of a cyberpunk Jack the Ripper adventure starring Christopher Walken. The few bits that I did pick up include the startling revelation that everyone involved in this spate of futuristic Ripper murders all once belonged to the same group of online gamers who played a Jack the Ripper-themed adventure together. So the basic plot could be described as "extreme online gaming guild bust-up," then? Also, the connection is made between the killer and Jack the Ripper due to their matching MOs, but it is later discovered that the murderer kills by hacking people's brains and forcing their body's internal pressure to rise until they burst. Okay, so, I am in no way a medical professional but I'm sure I could tell the difference between a corpse that has been slashed with a knife and one that fucking exploded. Explosions? Not Jack the Ripper's MO. He's a ripper. He rips. There's a clue in the name. He's not called Jack the Popper.
From what I've heard, Ripper is a pretty bad game, but it does have a gimmick where one of four characters can turn out to be the Cyber-Ripper. One of those characters is played by, you guessed it, Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken once played a virtual reality Jack the Ripper who kills the people on the 2040 equivalent of his Steam friends list. Nope, that's finished me off, it's time to wrap this one up.


On reflection, it becomes clear that Jack the Ripper is a perfect candidate for inclusion in a videogame. He provides a soupcon of real-world interest and he needs no introduction or explanation beyond "hey look, it's Jack the Ripper", but his crimes took place so long ago that his appearance is unlikely to cause offence, and because no-one knows who he was you don't have to worry about any living relatives demanding his removal. The mystery surrounding him allows writers plenty of space to work in weird theories and motives, and he comes with knife-fighting almost pre-defined as a combat style if you want to make your protagonist fight against him. The only thing you should really stay away from is making Jack the Ripper the hero of your game, but no-one would be daft enough to consider that, right?

17/03/2015

BLOODY AFTERNOON (AMIGA)

As an English person - and particularly as a Yorkshireman - I find I'm unable to hear the word "bloody" as anything other than a mild swearword used mostly to express frustration or contempt. If someone directed me to the site of a bloody demonic massacre I would, if only for a moment, assume that they meant the demons had mildly inconvenienced them in some way. Alan Partridge's misinterpretation of the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" hits me a little too close to home. With this in mind, it's a shame that today's game - a 1989 Amiga skull-snipe-em-up by Avesoft - is called Bloody Afternoon, because my mind wants it to be about someone who hates the part of the day after lunch and I know that's not what's going on.


Oh no, someone's grandma has been captured by a green dog-pig hybrid monster that was once in the Navy, if that anchor tattoo on its hand is anything to go by! The captive granny is trying to render the monster's gun inoperable by leaking blood all over the barrel in a noble but ultimately futile gesture of defiance. Dog-pig looks more like a pig on the left but more like a dog on the right, where it is being viewed through the scope of a wonky rifle. At first I thought it looked more like a dog on the right because of the colours - a brown dog is not something outside the realms of possibility - but then again pigs aren't generally green and the left-hand view definitely looks more piggish. Well, at least the mystery of where Dr. Seuss got that green ham from has been cleared up.


My old good friends have been kidnapped by Evil Rock Bird, and I must save them. My old bad friends can go screw themselves. The Evil Rock Bird is welcome to them, he can have the pleasure of dealing with them never chipping in money for the pizzas but always eating, like, three slices anyway. If I remember my biology lessons, and I'm fairly certain I do, Evil Rock Bird is part of the same evolutionary line that contains the Rock Lobster. The tip of this branch on the tree of life is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who funnily enough seems to be turning into an actual rock as the years go by.


If you like your computer games to be more simple than the plot of a Where's Wally book but with a damn sight more skeletons, then Bloody Afternoon is the title for you. It's a shooting gallery, and a very basic one at that: monsters pop up, hesitate for a few moments as though the enormity of taking a human life is suddenly weighing heavily upon them, and then try to shoot you. Your task is to shoot them first, by moving your mouse pointer over them and clicking the button. That's it. I managed to shoot that one on the left. You can tell, because his head has exploded like a bottle of ketchup being trampled by an invisible elephant. Hang on, his head was full of gore and such... these aren't real skeletons at all! They're flesh-and-blood creatures who have made the (admittedly excellent) decision to wear skull masks. I feel cheated.


Sometimes these non-skeletons pop up right in front of you. This accomplishes two things: it makes them a bigger target and therefore easier to shoot, and it makes you wonder how the hell a skull-faced monster wearing bright purple robes and carrying a machine gun managed to sneak up to within a couple of feet of the player before jumping up and shouting "surprise!" I assume he shouts "surprise!" anyway. I can't think of any reason why he wouldn't. They're a fun-loving bunch, the non-skeletons: why, just look at the one in the centre-right window. I shot him to death and he's just laughing it off!


Once the game decides you've shot / clicked on enough of Evil Rock Bird's troops, a small wooden board with a picture of a bomb on it pops up. Shoot that and the castle's door explodes, because this fortress is apparently based on the boardgame Crossbows and Catapults. It's not a good security system.


Blah blah very carefully shoot the prisoners blah blah. Look, I'm a busy man, I don't have time to read all that. I skimmed it, I got the gist, it'll be fine.


Here are the prisoners, then, resplendent in their purple jumpsuits. The similarity between the clothes of the prisoners and their ghoulish guards will form the main bulk of my defence during my upcoming court case. The charges against me? I shot a lot of prisoners. My very existence is a repudiation of the Geneva Convention. The problem was that saving the prisoners in Bloody Afternoon requires a certain amount of delicacy - aiming your weapon using the mouse cursor allows for a fairly high degree of accuracy, and so to compensate the developers made the targets you need to shoot really, really small. You can see that the prisoner on the right is holding the padlock to their chains directly over their centre mass instead of, I dunno, at least holding it off to one side or something. You can also detect the faint hint of a scowl on his pixellated features, as though he's almost challenging the player to miss by a margin of mere pixels and accidentally shoot him in the neck. Again, "he looked like he wanted me to shoot him" will be part of my legal defence, although obviously not a very good part.


The most challenging test of my precision shooting skills came from these instances, where a green ghost popped up holding a prisoner in a headlock. This is a manoeuvre that benefits no-one involved: either the monster gets shot and the prisoner goes free, or I accidentally shoot the prisoner and the Evil Rock Bird's forces have one less hostage. It should go without saying that taking advice from a Keanu Reeves film is always a bad idea, but shooting the hostage is definitely not a viable option here. My only explanation is that the villains are trying to demoralise our hero into giving up by making him shoot his friends. That plan would only work if he wasn't a callous merchant of death with no regard for human life, so for once a villain's plot is undone by overestimating the hero rather than underestimating him.
Hitting the monster without harming the hostage is a difficult task, made harder by the player's weapon being a machine gun that fires constantly as you hold down the mouse button. Spraying and praying is not the way to go here no matter how tempting it is to unleash a torrential downpour of hot lead death, but I'll give Bloody Afternoon credit for gradually introducing the the need for accurate shooting - the skeletons with the grey shirts are wearing body armour and can only be killed by shooting them in the skull, so even on the first stage you're taught that you can't just spray bullets around like water out of a poorly-maintained log flume.


"Keep the ghosts busy. Distract them with a song and dance routine, ghosts love Broadway numbers. You can also try the classic "what's that behind you?" routine: ghosts will often fall for it, as their recent death and transformation into an ectoplasmic state has left them understandably nervous. Failing that, just shoot them. That keeps most things busy."


More of the same for the next stage. The distinctly non-ghostly skull appear in the windows, and you have to keep them busy. The one on the top right is definitely going to be busy, picking up the shattered fragments of his head could take all afternoon. All Bloody Afternoon, even, and at a stroke the title of the game suddenly makes sense.
The main additions to this screen are the small semi-circular windows and the prisoners crawling to freedom below the castle. Don't worry, the prisoners are perfectly safe down there, although I think they might all be paralysed from the waist down because they drag themselves through the tunnel using only their arms. It's heartbreaking to watch, it really is, which is why once they're out of the castle I have to leave them to their own devices. I just couldn't bear to watch them hauling themselves to safety without the use of their legs. Don't worry, I'm sure they'll be fine. They can't be shot, at any rate. I know, I tried. Strictly in the interests of knowledge, of course. I wasn't trying to hurry them along or anything.


You can shoot the semi-circular windows, though, and you'd better be paying close attention to them because these sneaky monsters - represented only by a pair of glowing red eyes and the menacing barrel of their gun - will appear in them frequently. Their size makes them by far the most dangerous enemy in the game, because their hitbox is tiny and their lack of a body makes it very difficult to spot them before they start shooting you.


All the prisoners have now escaped, but our mission is not over. The headquarters of this vile legion must be destroyed, and as I'm the only man who still has the use of his lower extremities then I guess I'm the man for the job. Look out The Rock Bird, I'm coming for you.


The skull troops have been replaced by orcs for the moment. I guess they had the bloody afternoon off.
The orc hordes aren't really much different than the skeleton men, and the glowing-eyed monsters are out in force, so the gameplay is not much changed from what's gone before aside from not having to worry about shooting hostages. The thing that really stood out for me what that the orcs look vastly less intimidating when they're in the distance than they do up-close. The far-away orcs are the kind of almost-cuddly lunkheads you'd see as minions in a pre-teen kid's cartoon about a streetwise youth who is sucked into a magical fantasy world, but once they get right up in your face they become grotesque, their faces strangely featureless apart from their pin-prick eyes and disturbing smile. They're not nice to look at, but as the trade-off is that they're easier to kill when they get up close I suppose it all works out okay.


In a shocking twist, the Evil Rock Bird was here all along! Striking fear into the hearts of absolutely no-one, Evil Rock Bird comes to life once you've killed enough orcs and promptly does fuck all beyond opening his beak, allowing you to shoot him to death. Is there a word stronger than "anticlimactic"? Because I could do with one do describe this "fight." I haven't been this underwhelmed with a boss battle since... nope, sorry, this is the most underwhelming encounter with an evil mastermind I've ever experienced. Iggy Koopa put up more of a fight than this guy.


Bloody Afternoon is not quite over yet, however. Before you can escape, you have to shoot a gate, oh, two hundred or so times. Thank god I have a fully automatic weapon, I'm not sure my mouse could take that many clicks otherwise.


Yep, that's definitely a gate. Big ol' metal gate. Looks like it could take two hundred bullets to knock down, sure. I've got infinite ammo, this shouldn't be a problem... but it is, because this final stage is (not surprisingly) the hardest of the lot. Enemies appear more quickly and in greater numbers than ever before and then can wipe away your health extremely rapidly if you don't deal with them, which of course means you don't have much spare time to shoot the gate. Maybe if you'd tried this hard earlier in the game, lads, then Evil Rock Bird wouldn't now be Evil Rock Gravel and you'd still have all those prisoners
As I did have quite a lot of health going into this stage and because my gun fires quite quickly, I thought I'd try ignoring the enemies and focussing on knocking down the gate.


It did not go very well. Nice Game Over screen, though, and it was sweet of the bad guys to take the time to give me a proper burial.


Through a combination of perseverance, luck and holding down the fire button and dragging it across the gate as I switched my aim between targets, I just about managed to destroy the gate. I also did serious damage to my score in the process - every time you fire a bullet that doesn't kill something, your score goes down by a point. It's a nice little mechanic that further promotes the need for accuracy, and because shooting (ha ha) for the high-score table is all Bloody Afternoon has to offer on the replayability front it's nice to have that extra flourish to keep things semi-interesting.


Huh, it turns out I was Rambo all along. It makes about as much sense as anything else in this game, and as John Rambo gazes wistfully on the carnage he has wrought, I accept Bloody Afternoon's congratulations - sorry, Gongratulations - and reflect on what was a fairly enjoyable way to spend an hour or so. Sure, the game's about as deep as a pixie's bathwater, but is that such a bad thing? Not every game has to be an epic adventure, and while Bloody Afternoon never gets more complex than clicking on things really fast like a meth addict filling in an online survey it's enjoyable while it lasts and certainly doesn't overstay its welcome. I experienced a reasonable facsimile of fun while I was playing it, anyway, and as this Bloody Afternoon fades into a Take a Bath and Get Cleaned Up Evening I am left to reflect that with my shooting, it's a miracle any hostages were freed at all.

11/03/2015

RIDING FIGHT (ARCADE)

Today's game brings together the great arcade tastes of fighting and riding into one easily-digestible serving of action-packed fun: it's Taito's 1992 coin-op Riding Fight! It isn't called Fighting Ride, although frankly that's also a perfectly good title for this one. So, what kind of game is Riding Fight?


I see, it's a front view speed action game. Well, it's nice to have clarification. I have to be honest, that just makes it sound like a racing game, although the inclusion of the word "fight" in the title means it's unlikely I'll just be driving around a track. I figured the fight in question is unlikely to be the fight for the chequered flag, especially once I'd let the attract mode run for a while and seen the biographies of Riding Fight's two heroes. They definitely strike me as the fighting sort.


First up is London lad Burn Bowie. He's fast, he's strong and if that picture on the right is anything to go by he spends his spare time creating wireframe computer models of medieval gauntlets. Well, you've got to have a hobby, don't you? Burn's other hobby is rugby. He's so good at rugby that it's his special ability, so let's hope that Riding Fight has a section where I need to kick bad guys between two upright posts. I was a little confused about what the "visual power" stat referred to, at first assuming it was something to do with how good Burn's eyesight is, but I eventually figured it out - his visual power is how cool he looks. Visual power is measured in units called Norms, where one average person in casual clothes equals one Norm. I weigh in at around 0.7 Norms, thanks to a bad haircut and slouching posture, while Bang is 3.8 times cooler than the common man.


With a visual power rating of 2.0, Burn's partner Keith Jager is not quite as cool. Perhaps people can sense that his name is Keith, and that lowers his score. To any Keiths out there, I'm only kidding, It's a perfectly fine name. Keith's special ability his hunting, which is appropriate given that Jager is German for "hunter." That said, I think Keith's name might come from the combination of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, which works especially well if you assume Burn Bowie is named after David Bowie (4.9 Norms of visual power) for a British rock theme.


Burn and Keith are bounty hunters, two men ready and willing to take on the advanced crime of the cybernetic future in exchange for cold, hard cash. They might not look like taut, coiled springs ready to leap into action as they lounge around their penthouse apartment, but years of experience and a devotion to spiked shoulderpads not seen since the Legion of Doom disbanded means that when a sucker is coming, they're ready. Ready to beat up a sucker, I guess.


So Riding Fight isn't a game about flying a helicopter, then? I thought it might be, what with the first stage starting with a helicopter ride, but the helicopter is immediately destroyed by a ground-to-air missile. Not to worry, though, it's already served its one and only purpose - getting Burn into punching range of the criminals, and as our hero leaps from the burning wreckage the game begins.


Now I know what a front view speed action game is - it's a combination of a beat-em-up and a sprite-scaling racing game. Burn constantly moves "into" the screen on his Marty McFly-approved hoverboard in the same way as countless other arcade racing games where the sprites are scaled according to how far away they are in order to create a sense of movement. Then there's the fighting, which is straight out of something like Streets of Rage with the unusual exception that you can attack in any of the eight joystick directions instead of just throwing punches to the left and right like in most beat-em-ups. The fighting system consists of the usual punch combos, jumping kicks (in this case, jumping up and smashing your hoverboard into the enemy's face) and throws, so it's all very familiar. You might think the addition of the racing game elements would complicate things, but honestly they only add spectacle, not change the gameplay - there are a few sections where you have to avoid obstacles in the road, but mostly Riding Fight goes heavy on the "fight" side of the equation.


You can even pick up weapons dropped by enemies in time-honoured beat-em-up fashion, although because of the constant scrolling you do kind of have to catch them in mid-air rather than picking them up off the ground. That's fine by me, though. Punching a punk while we're both travelling at 200 kilometres per hour and catching the baseball bat he was carrying before it hits the floor is cool, and it's nice to be cool, or so I hear. Not as nice as it is to have a baseball bat, mind you, and when the opportunity to grab a weapon comes up you should make the effort to take it because all of them - baseball bats, scimitars, medieval polearms - are vastly more powerful than your regular attacks.
The auto-scrolling also means that playing it safe is a much more valid strategy than usual: each section of road is a set length, and if you haven't eliminated all the bad guys before the next stretch then they all realise the folly of their pursuit and disappear, handing the baton of criminal responsibility over to their brethren further down the road. Biding your time and throwing enemies into each other to keep them busy is a good way to preserve your health, even if it does feel a touch contrary to the lunatic fist-throwing ethos of Riding Fight.


Also from taken from the beat-em-up handbook is the wide-radius emergency attack, in this case a very neon spinning kick. Unusually for the genre, this special move doesn't take your health when you use it. Instead, you have a power bar that fills up as you pummel thugs - think of it as the Street-Justice-O-Meter - and once there's enough juice in there you can perform the kick. Fill it all the way up and you can even launch a big ball of screen-clearing plasma death, but that's a fairly rare sight because you'll usually be in need of a spinning kick before you bar can max out. In this case I needed my spinning kick to knock away these goons that are leaping at Burn from the back of a lorry. You'll notice they don't have hoverboards of their own. You'd think that simply jumping from a truck hurtling down the cyber-highway would be enough to defeat them without any assistance from Burn, and it is enough to defeat them, if you move out of their way and let them hit the road. I just felt like kicking them on the way past.


This must be the sucker coming, then. His name is Reckless Crusher, and he's wanted for the crimes of stealing a tank and not crushing with due care and attention. He should be manacled or punished, because apparently being manacled is not a punishment. Hopefully beating the shit out of him will count as a punishment.


Okay, I may have come into this fight with rather more bravado than was justified. Reckless Crusher is twelve feet tall and carries an oversized chainsaw in each hand, but at least I don't have to fight the tank he stole. That's because Burn destroyed it by kicking his hoverboard at it. I think I've done the military a favour there, it would have been real embarrassing for them if they'd rolled out a new tank that could be demolished by a single well-placed hoverboard strike.
Anyway, Reckless Crusher isn't as intimidating as he looks, mostly because he's dumber than a sack of rocks. You can stand behind him, punch him in the back a few times and jump away before he retaliates at almost zero risk to Burn's personal safety.


Eventually I knocked his chainsaws away, which lead to complacency and a powerful bear-hug that took a lot of my health. I'll make sure to tell everyone nearby that it was definitely a brutal, bone-crushing grip, too. Based solely on this image you'd be forgiven for thinking that Crusher is gently cradling Burn like a mother with her newborn child, but no, it is one hundred percent a fight to the death. Reckless Crusher's death, eventually, and with his non-manacle-related punishment stage one is complete.


Ah yes, what a gravy day it is. The gravy sun is shining, the gravy birds are singing and Burn and Keith have pocketed a fat stack of gravy for bringing down Reckless Crusher. I like that they're using the money to buy a replacement helicopter, that's a nice bit of continuity.


Next up for our heroes: a coup in the Middle East. They're going to break it quickly. They don't have much choice, Riding Fight is a very quick game, both in the speed of the action and the overall brevity of the game's five stages. I'm not sure who Hula is, mind you. It could be their little robot sidekick, or possibly an unseen informant that gives Keith and Burn their instructions. The Charlie to their Angels, if you will.


They should have called this game Surfin' Scimitar Saracens. Burn's getting involved in the politics of a Middle Eastern country, but don't worry, he's only in it for the money. The action may be taking place on the open sea now, but it's the same as it was before, clobbering anyone nearby as the path scrolls rapidly beneath you. It's quite the fun little ride, too, and while the beat-em-up gameplay doesn't quite match up to the quality of its high-end rivals - it can be a bit confusing, with a veil of fuzziness that affects both the accuracy of the gameplay and the occasionally messy graphics - the charmingly over-the-top and often grammatically challenged presentation is more than enough to paper over the cracks.


A choice of routes? How delightful! I think I'll go to the left (because I'm already over that side of the screen).


Hmm. It seems I have chosen poorly. Not to worry, Burn's hoverboard is more than tough enough to swat away these missiles - these curiously bullet-like missiles - with a single jumping attack, knocking them aside to explode harmlessly nearby. Harmlessly for me, I mean. Eventually they destroy that hovercraft and I assume there's a human piloting it. It is not a gravy day for the hovercraft pilot.
The other route isn't any more exciting, by the way. Just more basic soldiers to either defeat with your fists, to defeat with their own swords for added irony or to ignore until enough time has passed that the next set of enemies is spawned.


Here's Colonel Abdullah. What's his crime? Oh, it's holocaust. Jesus Christ, that's quite a step up from stealing a tank. Colonel Abdullah should be punished, manacled and then brought to trial for war crimes where further punishment can be meted out.


Abdullah calls Burn a "little price-winner". I have no goddamn clue what that is supposed to mean. From context I know it's derogatory, and I understood his previous insult of "you imperialistic leech!" even if it was misspelled as "leach," but "little price-winner" has left me stumped. I thought maybe price-winner was some archaic, Shakespearean insult that a developer at Taito happened to pluck out of some ancient tome, but I couldn't find any evidence of that. I think this one will just have to go down as a mystery. Maybe he meant "prize-winner"? No, I've got to stop thinking about this and get on with the fighting.


It is not dissimilar from the previous fight, although the Colonel is much more keen on jumping around the arena and making it very difficult for me to get a decent screenshot of him. As before, and as with so many other beat-em-up bosses, the key to victory is not getting too greedy - get your hits in while you can, but don't overstay your welcome, because Abdullah can and will suddenly decide that he's going to hit you with a flying kick.


They weren't kidding about going on vacation, huh? Burn's sunglasses are more appropriate than ever, but I don't think those women being flexed at by Keith are especially impressed. The one in the red bikini just looks worried for him, so maybe it's for the best that we can only see his back. Lord only know what horrendous cybernetic enhancements he has going on around the front.


Stage three sees our heroes jetting off to Japan, where according to the pre-stage intro "an incident occurred." Good intel on that one, guys. Nice and specific. You'll be thoroughly prepared once the boss shows up, I'm sure, but first it's FOOD TIME. TIME for FOOD, because the first two stages were hungry work, but in this hectic modern world who has TIME to stop for FOOD? Well never, fear, because Burn doesn't need to stop! Some kindly soul / insane person has littered the highways of Cyber-Neo-Tokyo.exe with metal containers, containers packed with delicious, revitalising hot dogs!


Hot Dogs: Nature's Fuel™. Eat delicious Hot Dogs during your next FOOD TIME. For maximum freshness, please ensure your metallic Hot Dog storage cylinders are tightly sealed and stored away from major metropolitan roadways.


I love the cyberpunk stylings of a futuristic city at night, as I'm sure may of you do too, but it's a little disappointing that I'm only on Riding Fight's third stage and they're already reusing most of the enemies. These two are new, though, a tag team of overweight wrestlers who are so, erm, husky that they need extra-large hoverboards. They can be a real pain if they manage to get on either side of you and get into a rhythm of repeated belly-flops, but that's what Burn's throw move is for. You have another option, too: if you press jump and attack together, Burn throws out a mighty uppercut, and it's extremely satisfying to uppercut these guys back to where they came from when they try to jump on you.


After a while, the electric metropolis gives way to a peaceful glade of cherry trees and an encounter with the latest boss. Her name is Shidzuki, and she's been stealing Japanese treasures. They must be some treasures, because she's got a bigger bounty on her head than the man who organised a holocaust.


Shidzuki has two specialities: magic, and not getting punched. More than at any other point in the game the riding aspect of Riding Fight comes to the fore as Burn swerves and leaps around the many obstacles that Shidzuka throws his way. Sometimes it's glowing balls of energy, sometimes it's walls of fire, and sometimes she dips into the hoary old videogame cliché of summoning identical clones, all of which makes for a fight that challenges both your riding ability and your patience. To make things works, Shidzuka can't be comboed, teleporting to safety after each single hit. This means the fight quickly devolves into the player chasing the boss down to slowly chip away at her health one attack at a time, making it possibly the game's least enjoyable section. I got there in the end, though. No-one can escape the justice of Burn Bowie forever. He's wearing spiked shoulderpads, for pity's sake.


I think you'd have a stronger argument if you weren't the one who knocked her down, Burn.


The next mission begins with the announcement that a "young miistress (sic) of an important man" has been kidnapped and whisked away to the South Pole. I'm going to assume that by "young miistress" they actually mean "daughter," because you'd think an important man would want to keep his mistresses secret and Burn and Keith don't give me the impression that they're huge on confidentiality.


All right, ice knights! Ice knights with big axes that I can take for myself, carving through the enemy hordes while struggling in vain to come up with puns and witty one-liners that include references to both ice and axes. The best I could come up with was "just axe-ept it, I'm as cool as ice!" which is the major stumbling block preventing me from becoming a radical action hero.


Oh no, this poor penguin is trapped on a floating block of frozen urine! Not to worry, I set him free by smashing face-first into the pissberg, sending my penguiny friend up, up and away into the crisp Antarctic sky. He'll be fine up there. He's a bird. Birds can fly, c'mon.


Those knights have guns. Why didn't you bring a gun, Burn? Not every problem can be solved with sunglasses and an attitude you probably describe as "fresh" and "wicked," you know. Okay, so every problem in this game can be solved that way, but how is hoverboarding going to help when you're doing your taxes or planning a household budget, huh? You can't kickflip away from fiscal responsibility!


The boss is Battleship Boyd. Why is he called Battleship? Is it because he's increasingly redundant in the modern era of warfare? Is Battleship is favourite board game? I hope you're not expecting answers to those questions, because you've got the same amount of information about him as I do. All I know is that he takes the rough-and-tumble of international terrorism seriously enough to wear a headguard at all times, even if it does make him look a bit like he fell face-first into a pile of extremely tacky Valentine's Day underwear.


He's also an ice hockey player. Makes sense to me: if ice hockey isn't violent enough for you, international terrorism would be the next logical rung on the ladder.
There's not much to say about Battleship Boyd that isn't already expressed by phrase "terrorist ice hockey player." He can create small icebergs to launch at Burn, but there is no word on whether or not he's responsible for the yellow icebergs. I jump-kicked him a lot, because it helps to dodge his attacks and the wide surface area of the hoverboard makes it more likely that you'll hit him. Poor old Boyd isn't much of a challenge, but at least he died doing what he loved: fighting people while wearing ice skates.


It's a secret base hidden deep beneath the polar ice cap, Burn. Stage five follows on straight from the end of the previous one, and even Burn and Keith begin to suspect they may be in over their heads. The first part of the stage isn't much to write home about, with some now-familiar battles against the same troops you've fought before, but it is merely a prelude for the upcoming series of end-of-game bosses, starting with this one.


As guardians for your secret villainous lair go, the huge mechanical dragon is a good choice. It was good enough for Dr. Wily, anyway, although he went for the less threatening cartoon look while this thing is all about sharp angles, extending claws and flamethrowers. It's really keen on flamethrowers. Sadly, this is the battle where Riding Fight falls into the usual arcade trap of being annoyingly difficult. Overall Riding Fight is still much more merciful than many of its peers, but in this instance the boss is constantly attacking and without giving much warning about where those attacks are coming from, making it a chore to defeat as you rely on attrition and credit-dumping rather than skill. Once more the jumping hoverboard smash shines as a combat strategy: it doesn't do a whole lot of damage, but it does help when you're trying to jump over the flamethrower blasts.


The arch-villain of Riding Fight is revealed-  the international terrorist leader known only as Professor. It was nice of Taito to include this minigame in Riding Fight. The "what could the Professor possibly be a professor of?" minigame, I mean. Can you be a Professor of Unfortunate Haircuts? Actually, with that hair and his unnerving grin the Professor looks like the Beavis from a dystopian cyber-future, perhaps an aged version of the other Cyber-Beavis I've written about before.


The Professor is impressed that Burn made it this far. I was amazed he didn't also say "we're not so different, you and I," but fair play to him, he wasn't so predictably evil that he told me all the workings of his diabolical plan. This may be because he doesn't have a plan, or at least not a plan that extends beyond "kidnap a girl." Maybe he was lonely in his vast underground fortress and he just needed some company. I can't imagine the robot dragon is much for conversation. Anyway, he might not have a plan but what he does have is a large supply of eyeballs wedged in floating patties of hamburger meat, so any theories about the Professor being misguided or misunderstood can be discarded. That's not something a person would have lying about unless they're properly evil.


The meaty eyeball friends all gather together in a sickening mockery of man. It's neat. It's also really well animated, with some extremely smooth motions, although I have to wonder whether I was supposed to find this boss sort of adorable as it stumbles around the arena like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. It's hardly surprising that its movements are hesitant, it has eyeballs for feet. Pros: you can always see where you're stepping. Cons: you're stepping on your eyeball. This battle was a welcome relief after the previous boss, and as a stand-up fist-fight it plays more to the strengths of Riding Fight's combat engine, so I'm going to say that the eyeball monster is the best thing about the final stage.


It's a shame, then, that the game's final boss goes right back to the same awkward, muddled style of fighting found in the robot dragon battle. He's an awkward, muddled-looking chap, too, although I can't fault his commitment to skulls. I count at least five, although now I see the boss - whose name is the incomprehensible P.Dil.Digess, by the way - has a lower jaw sticking out of his groin. Five and a half skulls, then. The others are for fightin', but that's his lovin' skull.
As final battles go it is not the most dramatic encounter I've ever been involved in. In fact, it's so similar to the robot dragon fight as to be pointless. I've done this before, and P.Dil.Digess doesn't have anything new and surprising to show me beyond his many skulls. Burn does his jump-kicking thing, supplemented by a few special attacks that I managed to scrounge up, and the boss' health bar was slowly whittled away. It was about as exciting as actual whittling, but also not hugely irritating or unpleasant, again like actual whittling.


Hold on, so is Hula the kidnapped girl, or is Burn talking to himself? The girl's expression points to the latter explanation, because she looks terribly confused about just what is going on. You and me both, love. I'm still struggling with what the Professor was up to and how he managed to turn into two different monsters, so let's just stick to the certainties, shall we? Burn has saved the day and the kidnapped girl, blasting across the Antarctic waters as he tells the mysterious Hula that this is only a daily experience. We get it, Burn. You're a cool guy.


She seems to think so too, and Riding Fight ends with the marriage of Burn and Unnamed Kidnap Victim. Keith also appears to be in a relationship with Shidzuka. She stole the national treasures of Japan, but Keith stole her heart. Rock song plays, credits roll, and Riding Fight is over.
I'm glad it's over. Not because it wasn't fun - I enjoyed playing it very much - but because it was already beginning to feel a tiny bit repetitive and I doubt an extra stage or two would have added anything of value to the game. It's a compact package, one that's just the right length for this kind of action, and as such I'd definitely recommend you give it a go. The two gameplay styles don't quite mesh perfectly, but they're enjoyable none-the-less, and a lot of the game's flaws are compensated for by its presentation. There's some wonderfully hammy voice acting and Burn and Keith are endearingly ­x-treme. They may be two crude dudes (but not, y'know, the Two Crude Dudes) but they're so much fun it's impossible not to warm to them. The game being fun was just a bonus.

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