18/07/2011

RANMA 1/2: CHUNAI GEKITOU HEN / STREET COMBAT

Back in the mists of time, particularly the 8- and 16-bit eras of videogaming, games were often developed in Japan and then brought over to our Western shores. I'm sure you're all aware of this. I'm sure you're all equally aware that sometimes, these Japanese games were changed to make them more viable in the western market, the most obvious example of this being Doki Doki Panic's transformation from obscure Japanese platformer into the western Super Mario Bros. 2 (although that might not quite be the whole story in that case). One reason for these changes is licensing costs; there's no point paying for the rights to use characters from Magical Anime Girl Fight-chan in a western release if no-one outside Japan has ever heard of her. Sometimes games were changed to give them a feel or a style that the publisher believed would play better in the overseas market, and sometimes it seems that they were changed with the sole aim of removing the Japanese-ness from them - the example that springs to mind is the completely unnecessary caucasian makeover received by the desk clerk during the change from Nobuo Serizawa's Birdie Try to MecaRobot Golf (and you can check that out here).
Today I'll be looking at a game that took a full-force hit from the intercontinental makeover sledgehammer - Ranma 1/2: Chunai Gekitou Hen (Ranma 1/2: Neighbourhood Combat Chapter)...

...which graced western shores as Street Combat.

For those of you who aren't anime fans, Ranma 1/2 is an action/comedy series created by Rumiko Takahashi in 1987. It stars the titular Ranma, a young martial artist who kung-fus his way through many adventures, all while dealing with a strange curse: whenever he gets splashed with cold water, he turns into a girl. As you can probably tell, it's pretty typically Japanese.

In 1992, a company called NCS created Ranma 1/2: CGH. As it's based on a manga full of weirdoes doing kung-fu at each other, you won't be surprised to learn it's a Street Fighter II clone. A pretty terrible Street Fighter II clone, it must be said, with sub-par graphics, a small character roster and no way to play as anyone other than Ranma in the story mode, clunky controls and dreadful, glacially slow gameplay. Definitely one to be avoided, and it would have been no great loss had it never made its way out of Japan. Sadly, this was at the height of Street Fighter II's popularity, so Irem decided that it wanted to ride the wave that Capcom's masterpiece had created and hacked Ranma 1/2: CGH into Street Combat. It ended up being a little strange.

The gameplay is the same between both versions, although Street Combat does seem to run a little slower. All that has really changed are the character sprites and their portraits, but what grand and sweeping changes they are. Let's take a look, starting with Ranma him/herself.

There's boy Ranma at the top and girl Ranma below. Fairly standard martial-arts types, with braided ponytails and qipaos. So, what could Irem change them into for Street Combat? A basic monk-type character? A Ryu clone in a tattered gi?

Nope, what you get is Steve, an armour-clad blonde superhero who looks like a cybernetic Beavis. Girl Ranma is replaced by an armourless variant of Steve, who looks far more generic in his jeans and vest ensemble. Steve, especially when armoured, possesses the strange quality of looking like the Japanese idea of a western comic-book hero (like Sonic Blast Man), which I suppose he is.

Settle down, Cyber-Beavis. Of course, Steve/Ranma has to have some opponents to pummel, and frankly I don't know which set are the strangest.

This is your first opponent in Ranma 1/2, Genma. He's Ranma's dad, and he also suffers from a strange curse; in his case he occasionally turns into a panda. You know, as you do. Still, when you're fighting him he looks normal enough in his karate suit. You could easily just give him a head-swap or a different-coloured outfit...

... Or you could, you know, turn him into a neon-hued version of Tekken's Heihachi. This is Tyrone, and his shades look like they have some dark and distant planet instead of lenses. I'm thankful they block his eyes from my sight, because god knows what horrors lurk beneath that tinted glass.

This is Kodachi, beautiful gymnast and someone who is relatively normal for a Ranma 1/2 character. Her weapons are gymnastic batons, not giant maracas, although that would be no less weird.

Her counterpart is Dozo, world's most serious (and therefore least terrifying) clown. The first time I saw Dozo's profile picture, I actually laughed out loud, so good work on Irem's part there. On a more worrying note, Dozo appears to have a rather pronounced package. In the batch region, I mean. Perhaps he stores his spare clubs in there.

After Dozo, you get to play a minigame where you have to punch a tiny old man as many times as possible within the time limit. The Ranma version sees you attacking Happosai (although his name is given as "Happy" at the top of the screen), a lecherous old pervert whose main goal in life is to steal as much lingerie as possible. In fact, when you hit him knickers and bras fly out of his bag, so in this case at least it's easy to see why he was altered: that sort of thing just didn’t fly outside of Japan back then.

His Street Combat replacement is a dwarf, his design presumably influenced by the name "Happy" and its association with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Well, six dwarfs now. Happy's dead, kids. I punched him off the back of this truck. Yes, as you can see the bonus stage also gets a new background, presumably because the Ranma version features other cast members from the manga sitting in the audience.

Next is Kuno, a master swordsman who hates boy Ranma but is in love with girl Ranma. As you can imagine, all kinds of hilarity ensures, not to mention a rude awakening for Kuno the first time they share a hot shower. So, he fights with a sword - that'll be easy enough to translate into a more western-friendly character. I mean, there are many different kinds of warriors who fight with swords!

However, American G.I.s are not amongst them. This is G.I. Jim. He is a soldier, and he fights with a sword, which if I remember my history correctly is how America managed to single-handedly win the Second World War. Ah, I can see the old film footage now, grainy black-and-white images of men storming Omaha Beach wielding nothing but claymores. Stirring stuff. G.I. Jim has double the oddness factor, because as the background wasn't changed you end up fighting him in some kind of Japanese Zen garden.

Kuno's father, Prinicpal Kuno, is a much more relaxed fellow. He's the High School (of course it has a high school, it's a manga) principal who has an obsession with Hawaii and who fights on a skateboard. His replacement?

A Germanic-looking battle-droid Helmut (please note the subtlety). On a skate hoverboard. If you haven't already given up trying to see the connections between the Ranma 1/2 characters and their Street Combat counterparts, now is the time to do it. These two share zero common ground, apart from the fact you wouldn't want to run into either of them in a dark alley. His stage background is also slightly modified; Principal Kuno's version has various neon lights and fun-time party things in it which have been removed, presumably because death-dealing Nazi cyborgs don't like having a fun time.

This is Shampoo. Her curse? Aside from being named after a hair-care product, she sometimes turns into a cat. Well, someone has to.

At least counterpart is vaguely similar, being a female ninja called Lita. At least, I think she's female: going by her profile portrait, she could easily by a male member of a visual kei band.

And finally there's Ryoga, Ranma's main rival. He turns into a pig, which I gotta say is pretty fucking far down the list of "awesome things to transform into". A shape-shifting master warrior might sound interesting, and in many games it would be. Not in Street Combat, though. Oh no: Irem had much grander plans.

Meet C.J., final boss and aficionado of tight-fitting pink catsuits. I assume he has some sort of connection to Steve, but as Street Combat offers you no story it's down to me to come up with one. Let's see: Steve and C.J. used to work together as a carnival sideshow, acting out battles in their ludicrous costumes for the pennies that the crowds would throw. Then one day C.J. snapped. Unable to contain his jealousy over the crowds apparent preference for Steve (as well as his bitchin' mullet), C.J. broke free of their cage, murdered Steve's parents and escaped into the woods. To this day, C.J. wears the painted skulls of Steve's mother and father on his shoulders. Steve sets out to defeat C.J., fighting the other carnival freaks sent to bring him back along the way, until his fateful duel with C.J. Insert "thunder" sound effect here and wrap it up, because that's the best plot ever.

So there you have it - a crappy beat-em-up with a Ranma 1/2 license becomes a crappy beat-em-up about the biggest group of freaks and weirdoes outside of a Realdoll convention. Honestly, I think the worst change is the ending: in the Ranma version, you get some nice pictures, and a credits sequence where chibi versions of the characters run around in the background.

Street Combat, you get a shot of Steve proclaiming that he's the champion set on a migraine-inducing flashing background, a shot of some dude handing you a trophy, and that's it.

While Ranma 1/2: Chunai Gekitou Hen / Street Combat might be a terrible game, it's certainly a fascinating look at the way the strange "Japanese pretending to be American" prism sometimes worked. And remember: any time you feel like you're getting screwed over by a games company not releasing a game or altering content, just think about how bad it used to be.

1 comment:

  1. I had the mis-fortune of playing both games as I was a fan of the Ranma manga back then & was curious what the western version will be like. So I have played both intensively. The original is bearable as I love the characters so I can overlook the game's flaws - namely you can only use the other characters other than Ranma in vs mode only. The western version just highlight how bad the game is! This brings back memories! Great article!

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