Has it really been almost two years since I covered a game with Jaleco’s name on it? It’s definitely time to remedy that - I have missed diving into the library of the Masters of Mediocrity, a videogame developer more middle-of-the-road than a zebra crossing. Today’s offering is the 1993 SNES game Tuff E Nuff, and it’s a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone. I haven’t actually played it yet, but I saw some screenshots and it was developed by Jaleco so if Tuff E Nuff isn’t a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone I’ll eat my hat, your hat, an Abraham Lincoln stovepipe stuffed full of baseball caps, whatever hats you like.
Tuff E Nuff is a hell of title, huh? It’s edgy, it’s hip, it’s street, or at least that’s what I assume the people in charge of localising the game thought. It’s a title that reminds me of 90’s glam metal band Enuff Z’Nuff, and I suppose it’s possible that the name crept into the localiser’s mind while listening to “Fly High Michelle.” Enuff Z’Nuff have their own genuine videogame connection, of course: Guilty Gear character Chip Zanuff is named after the band’s bassist.
In Japan, Tuff E Nuff is known by the grammatically wonky but far more poetic title of Dead Dance, and I’m as surprised as you are that Dead Dance isn’t the name of a nineties glam metal band.
Jaleco have slapped the standard Mad Max / Fist of the North Star story onto Tuff E Nuff: World War Three, only the strong survive, shoulderpads come back in a big way, roving gangs of psychopaths, the usual. They’re described as “crazy times,” which I’m convinced is a reference to "Tough Boy", the opening theme for the second series of Fist of the North Star. Out of this chaos emerges some kind of punch king, who conquers the world – and then for some reason holds a fighting tournament.
The “remaining four great states” send their champions to the tournament in the hopes of defeating “JADE” the fighting king and restoring peace to the land. Given how hard Tuff E Nuff is leaning on Fist of the North Star for inspiration my guess is that Jade will be a very large man with short blonde hair like Fist of the North Star villain Raoh. If he isn’t, you can add another eatin’ hat to my plate.
The three gameplay modes are story, two-player and basic versus CPU battles, and I’ll be playing through story mode. I think it’s supposed to be an ironic name, because if you’ve watched the game’s intro that’s all the story you’re getting. Arcade mode might be a better name, but even arcade modes in fighting games usually have some kind of ending.
Right from the off you can spot a flaw with Tuff E Nuff – there are only four playable characters. You’ve got generic post-apocalyptic punchman Syoh, the equally generic Zazi, Kotono the lady ninja and hulking wrestler Vortz. We’ll meet them all in time, but I’ll be playing through the game as Syoh so let’s get to it.
First up is a battle against Zazi, which is being held in a sports arena that just about survived the apocalypse. Zazi’s weapons are his bare fists, and so are Syoh’s so this should be an evenly-matched fight.
Extremely evenly matched, because Syoh and Zazi are the exact same bloody character with slightly different sprites. Tuff E Nuff’s cast of characters just shrank from four to three, and the tiny character roster is a real mark against the game. Imagine if the SNES version of Street Fighter II was released and the only playable characters were Ryu, Ken, Chun Li and Zangief.
Gameplay-wise, TEN is very much what you’d expect. You’ve got four attack buttons for light and heavy punches and kicks, you hold back to block, special moves are executed with d-pad manoeuvres plus a button, so if you’ve ever played a fighting game of the era you’ll have no trouble getting a handle on TEN’s gameplay.
As for those special moves, would you be shocked to learn that Syoh and Zazi fight a lot like Ryu and Ken? They’ve both got the traditional fireball and a rising punch that calls to mind the towering form of a dragon. The fireball is executed in the usual way, while the dragon punch is away, down forward and punch – I had trouble getting the dragon punch to come out a few times, but that might be because I’m so used to doing dragon punches the Street Fighter way. On the whole, though, the controls feel more than adequate for the job at hand. They’re fairly crisp, characters move as you’d expect and I could launch a fireball about nine out of ten times I tried. This is very important, because I’d guess that about eighty percent of the damage I inflicted while playing TEN was chip damage from blocked fireballs.
Syoh and Zazi have one other special move and it’s their most interesting by far. It’s a defensive upwards swipe that protects from frontal attacks and is performed by holding the d-pad towards your opponent for a moment and then pressing back and punch. This feels like a very usual command for a fighting game move to me, but its addition gives Syoh’s fighting style that extra tool it sorely needed to avoid becoming extremely simplistic. It’s great for turning attack into defensive attack in an instant and catching your opponent off-guard when they try to jump up and plant their foot in your nasal cavity.
Above you can see I used this move to land the final blow on Zazi, and you can also see that TEN offers players an instant replay of the fight’s last few moments, which is a nice touch in a game that otherwise feels a bit bare-bones.
Kotono is your next opponent, and she’s got all the graceful ninjas skills you’d expect, like speedy dashing attacks and the power to throw sharp bits of metal at your face. Definitely very ninja-ish, even if she does appear to be wearing hiking socks and lederhosen shorts, as though she’s going to throw down her kunai at the end of the fight and start up the oompah music.
The end of the fight came a lot quicker than I would have liked, because Kotono kept kicking my ass. Considering she’s the second opponent you face you’d think you’d get something of an easier ride but no, she careens around the screen like a squirrel with amphetamines stuffed in its cheeks and even Syoh’s defensive special move was having trouble stopping Kotono in her tracks.
Once I eventually managed to scrape a win against Kotono it was onwards to a bout against Vortz, the massive wrestler. Like most fighting game wrestlers, Vortz is all about getting up close and putting his techniques of bone origami into practise, so it’s a bloody good job the command for Syoh’s fireball is fairly responsive.
The most interesting thing about Vortz is that he’s from The Netherlands. You don’t get many Dutch fighting game characters, do you? Or Dutch videogame characters in general, I suppose. The intro said that the fighters were from the four remaining great states, so The Netherlands' international cachet must have really spiked after the bombs fell. Perhaps the atomic war boiled away the oceans – traditionally The Netherlands' bitterest foe – and they expanded from there.
After the repeated application of off-brand hadokens, Vortz was felled and Syoh emerged victorious. So we’re off to battle the fighting king now, right? Wrong! There are a bunch more CPU-only characters to fight before we get to the final boss, starting with a man called Beans.
Beans’ weapons is “American sack.” I have no idea what that entails. I’m just praying that he doesn’t have elephantiasis of the testicles and he’s making the most of it by painting the star-spangled banner across his ballbag.
Oh thank god. Beans is just your typical post-apocalyptic shoulderpads-n-mohawk thug, although he’s definitely on the more flamboyant end of that particular spectrum. Most wasteland warriors go for studs or spikes on their shoulderpads, but not Beans; he seems to have a curled-up sheepdog puppy on each arm.
With a fighting style you could confidently describe as “crap,” Beans only has two special moves. There’s a strange flying kick that’s easily countered by using Syoh’s special defensive punch, and a flurry of very short-range punches. This makes that fight against Beans far easier than the last three battles, and it really does feel like Beans should have been your very first opponent, a useless fighter for you to practise on before moving on to opponents who don’t look like they stopped off for a game of American Football on their way to the disco. Oh, wait, is that what “American sack” is supposed to mean? Sack is a thing in American football, right?
Next up is Libyan soldier Dolf. His weapons are listed as rocket launcher and bowie knife. Nice and fair, then. In his defence, Dolf mostly uses the rocket launcher to clonk you over the head and when he does fire it the rocket travels so slowly that it’s easy to avoid, undercutting the very concept of rockets. It’s another simple fight, because the range of Dolf’s attacks are far shorter than you’d think they’d be and I often snuck in the odd hit by virtue of Syoh’s legs being that little bit longer. Dolf also like to jump a lot, and here’s my number one top tip for playing Tuff E Nuff: learn what your best anti-air move is, because the enemies love jumping towards you. In Syoh’s case it’s either his defensive special or his standing hard kick. To reiterate, find your best anti-air and learn it, embrace it, treat it like a lover.
Speaking of Syoh’s special moves, you can see above that they’re better than they were before. His defensive special now covers Syoh in a sparkling curtain of what my top scientists have dubbed “murder energy,” and as a result it does seem to offer more protective coverage. What happens is that ever time you win a fight, one of you special moves gets a bit better and a lot flashier, with dragon-headed fireballs and pillars of energy making an appearance as you pummel your way through the story mode. I’m not sure whether they improved attacks do more damage – if they do it’s not by much, I don’t think – but they’ve got bigger hitboxes and they look a lot cooler, which is far more important.
Here’s Rei, a shrine maiden type who rather undersells her fighting prowess by listing her weapon as “iron shoes.” This is technically correct. Rei is indeed wearing iron shoes, much to the irritation of whoever lives below her in the battle tower. However, Rei can also create small black holes and shoot fire along the floor. I probably would have lead with that on my personal profile, Rei. Maybe the box on the form was too small to fit “wizard with the power to control space and time who wears iron shoes.”
Again, this is another relatively easy fight, thanks to Rei’s reliance on predictable and easy-to-block projectiles. My theory is that the developers spent a lot more time working on the playable characters, giving them more balanced special moves and such, which is why they’re harder to beat than the middle section of the fighting tournament.
At least Rei’s stage looks nice, what with the rolling mist and the candlelight. TEN looks rather nice overall, in my opinion. Nothing that’s likely to blow you away and a few of the animations look a bit stiff, but it’s certainly not ugly and there are a few especially nice touches, like Dolf riding into battle by clinging onto one of the missiles in the background of his stage.
After Rei is the masked wrestler Gajet. Gajet is Vortz, except a different colour and with a Phanto from Super Mario Bros. 2 stuck to his face. His weapon is “great strength,” which is all well and good but my weapon is, as previously established, murder energy. Bye, Gajet. At least you made me hum the Inspector Gadget theme while we were fighting.
Then everything fell apart when I had to fight Sirou the slicin’ samurai. The difficulty level swings up wildly here, most thanks to Sirou’s big sword and his even bigger hitboxes: one swipe from his mighty blade covers half the bloody screen. Sirou’s fast, he’s ruthless and you know what? He’s quite good fun to fight against. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the intention all along, but all the previous fights and the upgrading of Syoh’s special moves seem to have built to a fight where I felt quite evenly matched, a fight where the outcome was dependant on my skill and reflexes. The resulting battle was an exciting slugfest of clashing blows and fireballs that look like dragons carved from marshmallow, topped off with the realisation that there are still two fights to go and I’m probably going to get my arse handed to me. Okay then, who’s next?
It’s K’s, and he’s got weapon arm. Aren’t all weapons “arms”? I guess he’s probably got a robot hand or something.
Oh yeah, those are definitely weapon arms. A whole lot of weapon arm. Enough weapon arm that you’d think K’s would have trouble maintaining his balance, although on the flip side he’s never going to have trouble getting the Christmas decorations out of the loft, is he? Another day, another German fighting game character with cyborg arms.
As you might expect, much of K’s’s (good lord) fighting style involves poking at you with his robotic orang-utan arms or using the rocket boosters concealed within to get close enough for yet more poking, but he’s also got a projectile move that launches electricity which covers the screen from top to bottom so you can’t jump over it and frankly that is the height of rudeness.
At last, it’s the final battle against Jade. Turns out he’s a big guy in armour with spiky blonde hair and a “fighting aura,” so yeah, he’s Raoh. That’s one less hat for me to eat, I suppose.
Then I got into the fight, and Jade proceeded to use his fighting aura to carve me a wide variety of interesting new orifices. I could not get near him, although of course a good part of that is down to me being bad at videogames. Jade doesn’t feel like he’s quite in “SNK Boss” territory, but he’s still a right pain in the arse to fight.
Jade does look cool, though. Many of his attacks represent his fighting aura with this red flash effect that illuminates his sprite as he fights, and it does make him seem very powerful. Powerful enough for me to have to turn to the Game Genie for an infinite health code if I wanted to beat him in a reasonable amount of time, although I reckon I would have gotten there in the end if I’d put in a bunch more practise. TEN does generously offer you passwords if you lose a fight, so you can come back and practise to your heart’s content – it’s just that my heart was more than content with getting battered by Jade ten or fifteen times rather than the fifty it would have probably taken me to beat him fair and square.
With the fighting king disposed of, it’s time to see how Syoh will celebrate his victory. Will be become corrupted by the power of marshmallow dragon fists and embark upon a tyrannical rule? Will he become an inspiration to the downtrodden and hopeless? Will he open a chip shop in a Middlesbrough suburb? Only the game’s ending can provide us with those answers.
Or, you know, no fucking answers at all. This is all you get if you complete the game on normal, and even beating the hard difficulty just shows some developer credits and a few screenshots. Great, you’re tuff e nuff, now piss off. Thanks for that, Jaleco.
The problem is that I’m playing the US / EU version of the game. The original Japanese version actually does have a story mode that doesn’t makes a mockery of the word “story.” The Japanese version has proper endings for each of the playable characters and the fighters even talk to each other between fights, but all of that was excised for the overseas releases for reasons I can’t ascertain. I hate to put these things down to laziness on the developer’s part but come on, pretty much anything would have been better that the shallow excuse for an ending you get in this version of the game.
Another feature present in the Japanese game was that the fighter’s faces become progressively more bloodied as they take damage, although the exclusion of that gimmick is more easily explained with Western developers being squeamish about a game where women can have their faces graphically rearranged.
There’s one saving grace for Tuff E Nuff that I should share with you all: via the magic of cheat codes, you can play as the boss characters in two-player and versus CPU modes! That’s right, if you wanted to take Beans out for a spin in the hope of unravelling the mysteries of his American sack, that option is available to you. The boss characters have all their special moves intact and thus they’re completely unbalanced, but they’re all there and that makes it even more baffling that they’re not available in the versus modes without using a cheat code.
Let’s go back to the very beginning of this article and oh hey, look, your hats shall remain unconsumed. Tuff E Nuff is, in fact, a fairly decent Street Fighter II clone. Maybe even a little bit more than fairly decent. It’s got plenty of fighting action, it mostly controls well, the graphics are nice and the characters are a pretty engaging bunch of pugilistic weirdos. However, it’s held back from greatness in part by being too beholden to the fighting games that came before it, but also because of things like the tiny roster of playable characters, the weird difficulty curve and the poor localisation. There is a translation of the Japanese version out there, though, so if you do want to play Tuff E Nuff / Dead Dance, that’s probably the version to seek out, and it’s proof that when Jaleco really pushed themselves they could reach the heady heights of, ooh, a seven out of ten.
Oh, and I can’t leave without mentioning Tuff E Nuff’s famously terrible US cover art. The story goes that when UK games magazine CVG were covering the game, they didn’t have any official art to use so they drew their own – and Jaleco liked it so much they asked if they could use it for the game’s actual cover, despite the Japanese version already having a perfectly good cover illustration. Absolutely baffling, I’m sure you’ll agree, and the screaming face of this Liefeldian monstrosity probably traumatised hundreds of kids across the Western hemisphere. Is it supposed to be Jade? It must be, right? It’s just that I don’t remember Jade having one gigantic tooth in his upper jaw, like a triceratops’ beak. Then there’s the tagline “master the moves to master me,” and hey, buddy, I don’t want to master you. No judgement, I’m just not into that kind of relationship. Now please close your mouth.
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