25/08/2011

FIGHTERS OF THE WORLD: SPAIN

Previously on "Fighters of the World":

Hola, and welcome to another installment of Fighters of the World! This time, I'll be looking at beat-em-up characters from sunny Spain. And yes, there are some beside Vega.

Vega, Street Fighter II

And where else could I start except with Spain's most famous fighting export, Vega himself? Or Balrog, if you prefer, or even Claw. I must admit that Vega fared rather well in Capcom's overseas name-change merry-go-round, because he sure doesn't look like he should be named after some hulking demon.
With Vega, we can jump straight into the main stereotype that game developers base their Spanish characters around, and that's matadors. If your national sport involves being chased by a large, angry animal that wants to perforate you with its horns, you have to expect developers to run with it. It's like us British and tea, except tea doesn't revolve around cruelty to animals. Vega's outfit and backstory both point to a past as a matador, but it might have worked out very differently. Here's an early design for Vega:

He was almost some kind of masked Crusader with a sword. It's a good job they changed him, it probably would have been difficult to climb fences in those armoured boots. Actually, I think this early Vega looks a lot like Lancelot from Capcom's side-scrolling Arthurian beat-em-up Knights of the Round, which was released mere months before Street Fighter II.

A bit of cross-pollination in the Capcom offices, perhaps? In the end, Vega's "knight" look didn't come to pass and we ended up with a matador who is also a ninja, two jobs which I'm sure share a lot of common skills. Vega's most notable feature, apart from his claw, is his beauty and the extreme narcissism that comes with it.

That's probably true - you're not going to stay handsome if you keep losing battles, at least. Handsome Spanish gentlemen will also become a theme, and on that note I'd like to mention that there are very few female Spanish fighters. I'm not sure why, other than the lack of female matadors.

Laurence Blood, Fatal Fury

Unlike Vega's flirtation with the matador look, SNK's Laurence Blood goes all-out with the theme. He's a matador, he dresses like a matador, he fights like a matador, (as well as having moves supposedly inspired by a martial art called zipota,) and he's pretty good at flamenco guitar, too.

He's also a villain, but with a name like "Mr. Blood" you probably figured that out. Nominative determinism can really mess up a guy's life - just ask Victor von Doom.

Gerelt, Star Gladiator

Even in space, the Spanish can't escape the matador stereotype. What's he doing up there, fighting astro-bulls? Dancing the cosmo-flamenco while drinking star-sangria? As Capcom's Star Gladiator was a weapon-based beat-em-up, Geralt is given a plasma rapier. Now, this is perhaps a sign of a Zorro influence, or it could be that Japanese games developers lump continental Europe into one whole and the insidious influence of the rapier-wielding French is seeping in.

Geralt also bears something of a resemblance to another Spanish (or Egyptian, or Scottish) swordfighter: Ramirez from the Highlander series.

Don Flamenco - Punch-Out!!

As I discussed in the Russian edition of FotW, Nintendo's Punch-Out!! is less a boxing game and more a pixellated catalogue of as many ethnic clich├ęs as possible. Don Flamenco fills the Spanish slot in this zoo of stereotypes admirably, flouncing into the ring to "Carmen" and carrying a rose. There's a bit of an overlap with the French here, and while the Gallic fighters are still the kings of the rose, there are quite a few Spanish fighter associated with it as well, especially Vega.

Look at that guy - there's no way he's only 23 years old. He looks like someone put Adam Sandler's head in a vice and crushed it. Anyway, when the latest Punch-Out!!, the Wii version, was being developed Nintendo took the opportunity to make Don Flamenco even more stereotypical by depicting him as a narcissistic bullfighter. So much for increased cultural sensitivity. He's also (unsurprisingly) a flamenco dancer, which leads me nicely onto our next fighter.

Nick, Power Moves / Power Athlete

Appearing in Kaneko's dire SNES brawler, Nick here doesn't look like a typical videogame Spaniard. If anything, he looks like a bandit from an RPG. He fights in his own unique way, not acting like a matador or throwing roses at you or anything, so it's a pat on the back for Kaneko and they way they've avoided the obvious stereotypes...

...until he wins a fight and starts playing the castanets. You just couldn't let it go, could you Kaneko?

Miguel, Tekken

Introduced in Tekken 6, Miguel wears his Spanish heritage on his flouncy sleeve. His is a standard "consumed by revenge" story, but that is not the outfit of a man consumed by revenge. Consumed by a desire to dance, perhaps, but it looks like revenge was pretty far from his mind when he was getting dressed that morning.

Joker, Savage Reign

Appearing in SNK's Savage Reign series, Joker is at last a Spanish fighter free of stereotypes, except the stereotype that all clowns are violent psychopaths. I'd say that Joker was a one-off, except...

Joker, Jang Pung 3

Jang Pung 3 is an interesting game in its own right. In 1993, a Korean company called Open released Jang Pung II, a truly dreadful pirate copy of Street Fighter II, for the various Sega consoles. Then in 1994 they performed something of a miracle with the actually rather good (by 8-bit standards) sequel, Jang Pung 3. As well as featuring a brand-new cast of characters, it also has one of videogaming's greatest plots, about Nazis building a robot dinosaur in Leipzig.

One of these new characters was Spanish, specifically from Valencia. He's called Joker, and he's a clown. What are the chances? JP3 came out a year before Savage Reign, but the odds on SNK having copied an obscure Korean Master System game seem very slim indeed. So I have to wonder, are jesters seen as a Spanish thing in the Far East? I could understand it if they were Italian, what with the commedia dell'arte and all, or even French and mime-like. In the end, I fear it comes down to that most boring of explanations - simple coincidence.

Cervantes, Soul Calibur

And finally, a goddamn pirate. Cervantes is almost like a glimpse of what stereotypical Spanish characters could have been, were it not for all that bullfighting and flamencoing, because what else does Spanish history have to offer if not piracy? The Spanish Main, pieces of eight, it's all waiting right there to be plundered. By a pirate. An undead pirate with a gun in his sword.

And that's it for this installment of "Fighters of the World". Will it return? Well, that depends if I can find another country that has more than two fighters in it. I'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel soon enough!

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