It's mid-April, and that can mean only one thing: the upcoming birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Second, when all British citizens are required to make pilgrimage to Buckingham Palace and offer up gifts as tribute. That's a week away yet, though, so for now I'll be celebrating VGJunk's sixth birthday! That's right, today's the sixth anniversary of the site, and long-time readers will know that I like to mark the occasion - and the fact that it's my actual birthday tomorrow - by writing about a game I genuinely enjoy. It's a treat for me, and what game could be more of a treat than Capcom's 1989 punk-pounder Final Fight?
A landmark title, a true classic, a game that defined a genre and a logo so powerful even a brick wall cannot contain it, that's Final Fight. Why is it called Final Fight when there will obviously be fights that follow it? I don't know, maybe Capcom just thought it sounded cool. Or the characters have been fighting all day and this is their final fight before bedtime.
Final Fight is set in Metro City, which is not a town you'd want to live in despite its beach-front location. Sure, property prices are low and there's a large park, but it's not worth the inconvenience of being ruled by violence and death. Violence and death aren't going to get the bins collected on time or have the potholes on the high street filled in, are they? Luckily for the residents of Metro City, one man with the determination, vision and biceps necessary to clean up the streets has just been elected.
Hello, Mike! Mike Haggar is a man that needs no introduction, but I'm going to give him one anyway. A former pro-wrestler and street fighting champion, Haggar has entered politics and been elected as mayor of Metro City in a rare example of a videogame plot that's become more believable over time. Maybe one day we'll get a Final Fight prequel, a Nobunaga's Ambition-style strategy game where you have to guide Haggar into office by managing his election campaign, but for now we'll just have to assume he was a single-issue candidate running on an "I will personally cripple every criminal in the city" ticket.
Also involved, and bringing the total number of playable characters up to three, are Cody and Guy. Cody is Jessica's boyfriend, and she's been his "sweet heart since child hood." If nothing else this shows that Cody has the vast reserves of bravery required to take on Mad Gear. He must do, if he's willing to date the daughter of Mike Haggar.
Guy, on the other hand, is vaguely defined as being Cody's and Jessica's friend, although his real reason for participating is basically "hi, I'm Guy, and I'm also here." Guy is a ninja, which is handy when you've got a gang to take down, and because there's not much call for ninjas in the modern world Final Fight gives him a good opportunity to keep his ninjitsu skills honed to a razor edge. The fact that he wears a bright orange and very conspicuous ninja suit means that Guy's fighting skills have to be kept sharp.
Here they are, then: the three amigos. Guy stares pensively into the distance, as ninjas are wont to do. Cody looks, and I don't want to be cruel here, like he'd fail an IQ test. Then there's Haggar, who was so desperate to get onto the streets that he only had time to put on one suspender. Fierce warriors all, although it's weird to think that I'm taller than both Cody and Guy. Not combined, obviously. In a move that may shock those of you that follow me on Twitter, I'm not going to start with Haggar. Instead Guy gets that honour, because I accidentally pressed start before moving the cursor.
The game begins in the slums of Metro City, where Mad Gear have erected a wall of oil drums with the intent of stopping people from entering their domain. That's right, Final Fight is so much the quintessential beat-em-up that the very first thing you hit in the game is an oil drum, and Guy sweeps them aside with a spinning kick before chasing after the very large man who has kidnapped Jessica. You know, I've played Final Fight hundreds of times but it's only just clicked with me that this section of the city is contained behind a huge barbed-wire fence. I wonder who built that fence? Haggar's mayoral predecessor? Or did Mad Gear themselves build it to keep people out? We may never know; if Mad Gear did build it then at least they should be able to find construction jobs once they've recovered from the beating they're about to get.
Now the action really begins, and it's the same action as most arcade beat-em-ups: one button each for attack and jump, repeated attacks result in a combo, there are throwing moves and pressing both buttons together results in a spinning attack that knocks down all the enemies around you at the cost of some of your health. Final Fight differs from other arcade games that use this combat system because it's the game that invented this combat system, or at the very least cemented it as the way beat-em-ups were designed for years to come. Renegade and Double Dragon may have preceded Final Fight and laid a lot of the genre's foundations, but Final Fight is the game that came onto the scene, smashed the competition aside and said "look, this is how it's done" via a combination of simple but engaging combat, smooth action and huge sprites packed with character.
Anyway, Guy is punching some thugs, which he is honour-bound to do as a member of an ancient ninja clan. It's working out okay at the moment, because the thugs keep walking into his fist. There's no intelligence test on the Mad Gear entry exam, it seems. Mind you, even if the bad guys were posing more of a challenge, Guy's got some unexpected tricks up his sleeve...
...like the ability to rotate each part of his body completely independently! How can you defend against Guy's attacks when you can't even be sure which way he's facing? That's right, you can't, which is why I managed to brush these punks aside with ease before heading down into a nearby underground passage.
The underground passage presents the first chance to use Final Fight's icon steel pipe, which is nice. Not for this street punk, mind you. Not during the late eighties, when the surgical methods needed to remove plumbing supplies from the human body are in their infancy. Guy is fairly adept at swinging the pipe around, which is probably down to his ninja training. Katanas, steel pipes, it's all just hitting people with bits of metal and that's a transferable skill.
The dilapidated streets of a large American city. A ninja called Guy momentarily pauses in his mission to destroy Mad Gear, a criminal gang who hate justice almost as much as they hate sleeves. A metal pipe and roasted joint of meat lay on the ground. I think this image might be the perfect encapsulation of the arcade beat-em-up genre.
Before long, you'll encounter the first boss: it's Damnd, the large man who we saw holding Jessica earlier, and also the guy who called Haggar with Mad Gear's demands in the intro. While all the other lieutenants of the Mad Gear empire are content to wait at the end of their assigned stage, it seems that poor old Damned is stuck with all the grunt work, but it doesn't seem to be getting him down - just look how cheerful he is! No wonder he looks so happy, he thought Mike Haggar was coming for him but Guy has turned up instead. Or maybe he's just heard that a neck donor has been found and he can have the operation soon.
Damnd isn't much of a challenge, despite his bulk, and all you need to do to beat him is stay out of his way until he's finished attacking and then walk up and grab him for a throwing attack. It's all very straightforward, but Damnd's real threat comes from his ability to call in an endless supply of cannon fodder enemies as reinforcements. Because Final Fight's difficulty level is almost entirely tied to how many enemies are on screen at the time, you'll probably take some damage if you let Dannd summon his posse. He gets their attention by jumping away to sit on a wall and whistling, during which time he can't be hit...
...even though I've clearly got my foot so thoroughly in his face that I should be able to feel his brain stem between my toes. Also, it's nice to see that Guy's bizarre physical abilities are not limited to twisting his torso at unnatural angles - he can also stretch his limbs as required. Ninjitsu and yoga have a lot in common, I guess.
After a while spent hitting Damnd between mopping up his reinforcements, the boss will fall and stage one is over. Unfortunately, Damnd must have handed Jessica over to another member of the gang between the start of the game and now, because she's nowhere to be seen, so I'd better get moving to stage two in the hopes I can save Jessica from a traumatic experience as the baton in the world's most evil relay race.
The subway is the setting for stage two, and I've switched to Cody, mostly so I can try to figure out just how tight a t-shirt has to be before it shows off the outline of each individual abdominal muscle. What, do you buy your shirts at Mothercare, Cody? That can't be comfortable.
While Final Fight sort of falls into the usual three-character system of a fast character, a strong character and one who's somewhere in the middle, there's not all that much difference between Guy and Cody. Guy's attacks are faster, but not by much and they both have a jumping, spinning kick attack. The biggest difference is that Cody's much more into stabbing people, and he's the only character who can use the knives that litter the stages repeatedly and at close range rather than throwing them at the enemies like Guy and Haggar do. What I'm saying is that Cody is almost certainly a dangerous psychopath.
As you can see, it doesn't take long for Final Fight to really start ramping up the amount of enemies on screen at once, and the key to not dying constantly is effective crowd management. Keeping as many thugs on the same side of the screen at once in very important, and to accomplish this you can use the jumping kick to knock enemies down where you want them, or grab and throw them to the other side of the screen. A move that I always used to overlook but have since come to appreciate is the "dropping" aerial attack: a normal jumping attack knocks enemies to the ground, but if you hold down on the stick while performing a jumping attack - in Cody's case, this makes him fall knees-first onto his target - you don't knock them down and you can follow up with a combo or a grab.
The other important thing to bear in mind when dealing with crowds is knowing what kind of attacks each enemy will do. The members of Mad Gear are split into a variety of distinct fighting styles, with each style usually having two or three colour variations or head swaps. For example, in the screenshot above Axl - the guy with the headband and the lapels large enough to double as an emergency hang-glider - is one of the enemy types that can block, so you know to get close when he's defending himself and throw him somewhere more convenient to you. The guy in red runs onto the screen and throws a petrol bomb... well, I was going to say "at Cody" but that's giving him too much credit. He just chucks it onto the screen and then runs away like someone releasing an angry wasp that they've trapped under a cup. So, you know you'll be fine as long as you don't stand on the same horizontal plane as Mr. Molotov. Thus, the appeal of Final Fight's gameplay comes from quickly puzzling out the best approach to each threat and reacting appropriately to keep said threat contained.
Deep within the subway system, Mad Gear have set up an illegal bloodsport arena, which is where you fight Sodom, the next boss. Before I talk about Sodom, though, I'd like to draw your attention to that incredibly half-arsed attempt to pad the turnbuckle. I don't think wrapping a duvet around a steel girder is going to fool the safety inspector, chaps.
Anyway, Sodom is a samurai. A sliding samurai, in fact, and the challenge of this fight comes from avoiding the dashing attack Sodom performs every time he gets up after being knocked down. Stay away from him, that's my advice. Try and get around to his sides, where the lack of peripheral vision allowed by his helmet makes it easier for you to hit him.
If Sodom looks familiar to you but you've never played Final Fight, that's probably because he was later introduced as a playable character in the Street Fighter Alpha series. They gave him the personality of a massive dork who really loves Japan, with all his win quotes being poorly-pronounced Japanese phrases. It's kinda wonderful, and I'm glad that this hulking, sword-wielding killer almost certainly has a shelf full of cutesy anime girl figurines back at his hideout. Of course, the Street Fighter connection is very strong in Final Fight - Guy and Cody both later became playable characters in Capcom's famous fightin' franchise, as well as a couple of other characters we'll be seeing later, and the game was famously touted as "Street Fighter '89" before the Final Fight name was chosen.
Also later appropriated by Street Fighter is the bonus round, in which you beat a car to death with your bare hands. Why? Why is Cody doing this? I notice the car's numberplate reads "JAPAN," so is Cody such a vehement supporter of the US automobile industry that he'll give any Toyota or Honda that crosses his path a sound thrashing?
Oh, I see, the car belongs to a Mad Gear member. That's all right then. The villain's plans to use the carpool lane have been triumphantly foiled! This guy's going to be late to the underground cage fight now, and it's all thanks to Cody.
Now we're into stage three, and the wait is finally over: here comes the Mayor of Justice himself, Mike Haggar! I'd love to tell you he's skydiving into the stage knowing full well that he's tough enough to not need a parachute, but this is just his jumping attack.
Why do I like Haggar as a character so much? I'm not entirely sure. Being the protagonist of an arcade beat-em-up, it's not as though he's given a lot of deep characterisation. I think one factor is the sheer absurdity of a government official ripping off his shirt and single-handedly pushing Metro City's intensive care units to bursting point, plus the fact that he's a little different from the usual young karate champ or ninja - "moustache dad" is not a character you see all that often. Plus, he's got the most fun set of moves, with a spinning clothesline as his special attack, the ability to suplex goons and the mighty jumping piledriver.
I know Metro City is a rough burg but you'd think the patrons of this bar would have at least some interest in two enormous slabs of muscle knocking seven shades out of each other in the middle of the room. That one guy behind the bar has just about managed to summon enough of a shit to look up from his newspaper, but no-one else seems to care. Maybe it's because Haggar and his opponent look like they're dancing rather than fighting, although I can assure you that they're not. The man in the red is Andore Jr., one of the many multi-coloured members of the Andore family you'll fight on your adventure. They're all based on Andre the Giant, or are possibly a series of failed clones of Andre the Giant, and the Andore in the pink clothes later became Hugo in Street Fighter III.
I was trying to walk through those doors, but another Andore Jr. picks Haggar up by the throat and carries him back the way he came. It's a little weird that Haggar doesn't fight back in any way. Is Haggar trying to play this off as being part of his master plan? If so, I'm not buying it.
Andore Jr. drops you into yet another underground fighting arena. Running unsanctioned bare-knuckle fights must be more lucrative than I thought, because Mad Gear don't seem to have any other revenue streams and paying bribes to mayors, building fences around the slums you've claimed as your turf and repairing your car after some vigilante beats it up can't come cheap.
The fight is against two members of the Andore clan, F. Andore and G. Andore. I've seen it suggested that they supposed to be Father Andore and Grandfather Andore, but I'm not sure I buy that given that they look exactly the same age. No, I think they're Francis and Greg Andore, brothers who wish they could escape the family traditions of deadly cage fights and set up their own accountancy firm. That's why they've left all these weapons scattered around but refuse to use them, they're hoping someone will do them enough damage that they don't have to fight any more. Well boys, it's your lucky day. Haggar's going to make your dreams come true.
After the cage match it's back onto the streets for a more free-form style of physical expression, and I'm having a great time. Supposedly Gandhi once said that happiness is when your thoughts, words and deeds are in harmony, but that's only because as a pacifist Gandhi never picked up a street punk and suplexed him into another street punk. Sorry, Mahatma, but you're really missing out here.
The boss of this stage is Edi. E, a corrupt police officer. You'd probably still have to fight him even if he wasn't corrupt, because Haggar has definitely committed enough crimes to warrant arrest but he'd not going to come quietly, is he? Edi is corrupt, though, which is why he doesn't hesitate to pull a gun on the mayor as soon as he sees him. Patience, and making sure you're never standing directly in front of him, is the trick to beating Edi. Let him come to you, maybe throw one or two of the regular enemies that wander into the fight at Edi just to keep him on his toes. One thing I like about Final Fight is that despite being patently ridiculous, it actually side-steps a lot of the logical flaws in this type of game. In other games you might wonder why the bosses fight you one-on-one, but here they've always got back-up that's more than willing to punch you in the back of the head if you stop paying attention. Why don't the heroes go to the police? Because the police are trying to kill them, lured over to Mad Gear's side by wild promises of extra buttons for the front of their shirts. Why not go straight to the gang's leader instead of walking across the city? Because it seems that Jessica is being passed from one boss to the next and the player is always a step behind. I wouldn't quite call it "world building," but it means you can spend less time thinking about inconsistencies and more time introducing punks to the wonders of plumbing supplies.
Oh, and one more thing about Edi E: before the fight begins, he spits out a wad of chewing gum. You can then pick up that chewing gum to restore some of your health. I think that is the most revolting thing I've ever done in a videogame, and I played the Splatterhouse reboot where one of the finishing moves involves shoving your fist up a monster's arsehole.
Stage four takes place in a steel works, which makes sense: having seen Haggar fight, Mad Gear have probably come to suspect that he may actually be a Terminator and they're planning to knock him into a vat of molten metal. The main feature of this section is a series of flame jets that spurt up through the floor, causing damage if you're standing on them. Normally I'd complain about this but the fire hurts enemies too, so sometimes you'll be merrily fighting punks when, as heart-warmingly as an unexpected letter from a distant lover, the charred body of a Mad Gear goon flies into your life.
Here's an image that begs a question - a terrible, shameful question - what do you think Haggar's crotch smells like? I'd guess "Old Spice and vengeance." I'd ask Poison, but I don't think she'll be in any fit state to answer questions .
This being a beat-em-up, there is also the mandatory "elevator ride where goons drop in as you travel" section, although in Final Fight's case it gets a little more credit because the enemies don't just fall in from the sky: you can see them sitting on the girders, waiting for the lift to pass while trying to recreate the pose from that famous picture of the construction workers. They're going to use their own version of the photo for the annual Mad Gear fundraising calendar, you see.
Waiting at the top is Rolento, the end of stage boss. A military man, Rolento's combat training allows him to hit people with sticks and roll around throwing grenades all over the place. Rolento was clearly not enlisted in any actual army. A a dangerous paramilitary force of acrobats, tumblers and assorted buffoons that hold allegiance to no nation, perhaps. That said, Rolento always manages to do a decent job of giving me a kicking, mostly because I always underestimate the range of his throws. Fragmentation grenades I can deal with, judo I am apparently ill-equipped to handle.
Rolento is yet another character that eventually made the transition to the Street Fighter series, which by reckoning brings the total up to six (Guy, Cody, Hugo / Andore, Sodom, Rolento and Poison). You might notice that Haggar seems to be a rather glaring omission from that list, and he was presumably not included because his moveset is basically identical to Zangief's. That made it all the more magical when he was included in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. You can spend your whole span of time on this Earth without ever knowing what you truly want out of life, but then you see Haggar hitting Doctor Doom with a metal pipe and suddenly everything becomes clear.
Once Rolento has been dishonourably discharged, another bonus round appears. This time you have to smash a bunch of glass panes, and this time I really can't think of a reason why Haggar would take time out of his busy schedule to do this. The car, sure, you're depriving a Mad Gear member of the joy of vehicle ownership, but why the glass? Are Mad Gear really just a construction company that do violent crimes as a side-project? Will this delay the building of their new headquarters? Whatever the case, Haggar is the best of the three characters for this bonus stage because his long, almost simian arms can smash multiple panes at once.
The next stage is the Bay Area, and as Final Fight stages go it's probably the weakest. It's still a four-out-of-five, don't get me wrong, and the combat is just as fun as ever, but there's nothing new introduced and there are possibly just a few too many enemies.
That said, look at this happy dog. I've changed my mind, this is the best stage.
So Metro City is New York, then? Because that appears to be the Statue of Liberty, unless Final Fight takes place in an alternate universe where the French went mad with the large bronze women and started handing them out to every major city in the US. The Statue of Friendliness, maybe. The Statue of General Tolerance. The Statue of Rich and Fruity Cabernet Sauvignon, if that wine glass in her hand is anything to go by.
Another reason that this is my least favourite stage is the boss, Abigail. He's just not very interesting, being yet another Andore palette-swap with a different head. His gimmick is that sometimes he gets really angry and runs at you. That's why he's red, he's not the result of an experiment to cross a pro wrestler with a tomato or anything. The problem (for Abigail, I mean) with his charging move is that it can be easily avoided through the expedient method of not standing right in front of him.
By the way, Abigail isn't called Abigail because he has cruel parents: he's named after the album of the same name by King Diamond, and his facepaint even resembles Kind Diamond's. A lot of the enemies in Final Fight are named after musicians or bands, and I wrote a bunch about that years ago, which is why I haven't really mentioned it in this article.
Now we're into the final stage, and while we're still on the city streets and still causing Metro City's chiropractors to rub their hands with glee the surroundings are a little less of a bleak urban hellscape than in the early stages. What this area also has it a lot of background signs that reference "NIN-NIN," that being the nickname of Final Fight's designer Akira Nishitani. It might seem a little vainglorious to slap your nickname on so much of the background, but if you've just created Final Fight and you're about to go on and make Street Fighter II then frankly you can do as you bloody well please.
Most of the final stage takes place in the opulent mansion of Mad Gear's leader, and unsurprisingly he has the style and refined taste of a Premiership footballer or Russian oil baron. I don't know if that wallpaper is supposed to be a rich golden colour, but it isn't. It's very green, with flecks of reddish-orange, as though the walls have been coated with stuffed olives. The giant strands of spaghetti that have been plastered to the walls only serve to continue the theme of food-based décor. As for the carpet, well, that's just a goddamn hideous carpet.
The rooftop gardens are much nicer, with swimming pools and palm trees, although you'll just have to take my word for it because every screenshot I took of this area is obscured by a tsunami of testosterone and sleeveless vests. It's like being trapped on the bouncy castle at the Bodybuilder's Association's family fun day.
Finally, after a long day of extreme violence (notice how the game started off in the daytime, passed through evening and night and now it's daytime again,) Haggar finds his daughter. She's in the clutches of Belger, Mad Gear's leader. Belger is a bald man in a wheelchair. Beating the crap out of someone in a wheelchair might seem a little beyond the pale, but not to worry - as well as being a champion street fighter and city mayor, Haggar also has the very power of the Lord coursing through his body. He simply has to lay his hands upon Belger and feel the holy energy of Jesus Christ fillin' this poor man with his righteous healing power, can I get an a-men!
HALLELUJAH! It is truly a miracle, the demons have left his body and now Belger can walk again! Now I don't feel so bad about suplexing him, but that's easier said than done because as well as somehow still having dozens of subordinates around to join in the fight - quite how they're not all dead or in traction by now is beyond me - Belger also has a rapid-fire crossbow that can quickly sap your health if he, let's say, unloads all his bolts into your back while you're busy fighting a stray Andore. Of course, if you're really feeling like a badass, you can use Haggar's spinning lariat to punch the crossbow bolts out of the air. If you aren't feeling like a badass then use the lariat to block the bolts, because I guarantee you'll feel like a badass afterwards.
Maybe it's because I've perhaps played Final Fight more than the average person, but Belger is not as difficult to defeat as you might expect. He can be dangerous, sure, but it's also not too hard to keep him under control. I think that's another thing I like about Final Fight: by arcade standards it definitely feels do-able. It's not easy, but neither does it feel like it was designed solely to suck quarter after quarter out of your pocket. So, I managed to knock out Belger relatively easily, and now Haggar can drag him to the police and see him punished for his many crimes.
Oh, right, the police are corrupt. In that case, just kick Belger out of a fortieth-story window, that'll work too. He's really got a death-grip on that crossbow, huh?
And so our story draws to a close as Haggar is reunited with his beloved daughter. Judging by that final line, I think his beloved daughter may have been replaced by a robot copy. This ending is making me wonder what happened to Mrs. Haggar, though. Maybe she was also a robot, an early prototype. Haggar later focussed all his efforts on building better mechanoids, growing out his facial hair, earning a doctorate in robotics and changing his name to Thomas Light.
The best part of the ending is that Cody tries to leave Jessica behind and pulls some macho lone-wolf nonsense, but Guy will not put up with that kind of bullshit and slaps Cody around until he stays and talks to Jessica. Good work, Guy. They teach relationship counselling at ninja school, do they?
Then Jessica leans in for a kiss, presumably just to shut Cody up. It's difficult not to read her "oh Cody..." line as anything other than weary contempt for his Batman-esque speech about being unable to rest until every ne'er-do-well has had their teeth knocked down their throat.
Final Fight, then. What else can you say? It's a wonderful game that still holds up very well today, and I would not hesitate to recommend you play it as soon as you can. If nothing else it's an important historical document, the linchpin of a whole genre, and it's easy to see why it was such a hit: slick controls, relentless and satisfyingly brutal action, the sense of vibrancy and scale that only the arcade experience could provide in 1989 and Mike Haggar, Videogaming's Best Dad. Do I have any complaints about Final Fight? Not any that aren't very minor nitpickings. It would have been nice if the difference between Guy and Cody was emphasised further, and stage five could do with something a little extra to spice it up, but that's about it. All in all, it's a game I dearly love and an excellent choice for this year's birthday article, although I'm amazed I didn't get around to it sooner. Unfortunately, Final Fight never received a real arcade sequel, so I can't cover that next year - but in many ways, Street Fighter II is Final Fight's true sequel. Now that's what you call a run of form.
Another VGJunk anniversary article comes to an end, and another year of the site begins. Thank you, as always, to everyone who reads VGJunk, to everyone who follows the Tumblr or Twitter and leaves messages and are generally just fun internet people to share the information super-highway with. I'm glad you seem to be enjoying VGJunk, and I'll be back later with more of this nonsense. There might be a little more of a delay than usual, mind you. Dark Souls III did just come out, after all.