The art on the loading screen is nice, at any rate. It's also oddly familiar. I'm not saying that the artist ripped it off from a movie poster or something, but I'm also not saying I'd be surprised if they did. It's got a certain Jean-Claude van Damme-iness to it, like if the guy could speak he'd have a inexplicable Belgian accent. Good work on the lettering of the title, too. It'd be a great logo for an energy drink made from crisp mountain water and bovine hormones.
So much for the decent graphics. I've done enough childminding that I can confirm that this screen is the same colour as infant diahorrea. Was that your plan, Zeppelin Games? Lure people in with the relatively competent loading screen art and then bam, right into a world of colours that share their hue with the bodily fluids of a very ill person, knowing full well that the player won't quit the game because they've just waited twenty minutes for the bloody thing to load from tape and by God they're going to play something? Well, it worked. I'm going to play Fist Fighter, although I might do so with my eyes closed.
This title screen includes various common fighting game variables, so you can change the number of rounds and the difficulty if you're into that kind of thing. You can also select your character here, from the five available in the game. I'm going to show them to you now.
At top we have Jay-Cee, a tour guide from the UK because sure, why not? Even tour guides like to strip down to their underwear and punch people from time to time, even if it;' only people who have wandered away from the group or are trying to chip off a piece of the T. Rex skeleton as a souvenir. Hang on, Jay-Cee? JC? As in... Jean-Claude van Damme? My god, I think I was onto something with the loading art. His special move is the Skittle Roll, which is as pathetic to look at as it sounds, and I think he's the closest Fist Fighter gets to a main character.
Second is Merrick, the Brazillian freak with the deformed head who can shoot bolts of psychic energy with his very mind, a technique that's a damn sight more impressive than the primary-school gymnastics Jay-Cee has to offer. Merrick is presumably named after Joseph Merrick, better known as the Elephant Man.
Below him is Gino, the Italian stereotype whose portait looks like character artwork from a bootleg version of Grand Theft Auto. He's a pizza dude, because he's Italian. I don't know if "pizza dude" means he's a pizza delivery man or someone who's just, like, really into pizza but, again, he's Italian so it's probably the latter. His speciality is "knife". I'm suprised it's not "pizza cutter," if I'm honest.
Last and quite possibly least there's Lee Chung, a Nepalese man with a Chinese name who uses a Japanese martial art because hey, it's all Asia, right? I don't have anything else to say about Lee Chung. I was going to make a Wang Chung joke, but nothing came to mind. Nobody Have Fun Tonight? Nah, I'm not going to force it.
Time to get into the action, and I decided to pick Gino because that's where my cursor had stopped. Having access to a knife seemed like it might be quite useful, too.
All right, here we go - Gino vs. Merrick fighting it out in what is apparently Egypt but could equally be one of those Star Wars sets in Tunisia they left to fall into ruin. We've got a timer, yellow health bars and one on one combat, I reckon I can figure this out.
Nope, I couldn't figure it out. I was trying to get away from Merrick, but all I seemed to be doing was accdentally performing an unnecessarily complex spinning kick. When I wasn't pirouettting around like my shoes were filled with ball-bearings, I was throwing punches with microscopic range that Merrick countered by being four inches away (where I couldn't reach him) and battering me with his mind-bullets. Notice I said he was named after the Elephant Man and based on him, because I don't think the Elephant Man had psychokinetic powers. Maybe in the movie, it was directed by David Lynch.
After handing me a humiliating "perfect" defeat, Merrick slips into some ugly misogyny by implying that I'm a girl and am therefore not good at fighting. I think you'll find that I'm bad at fighting because I don't have a bloody clue what's going on and it had nothing to do with my gender, thank you very much. Gino responds to this cruel barb with a bit of flirting. Did I mention he's Italian?
After consulting the instruction manual, I leapt back into the fray, this time taking control of Lee Chung. Jay-Cee is his opponent in a contest of karate versus the noble martial art of rolling around like a great big tit and wearing ankle socks while you do it.
Okay, so I should probably talk about the gameplay, I suppose. One of the big hurdles of getting a game of this type to work on the C64 is overcoming the limitations of the single-button controller, and Fist Fighter does this through the usual method of having different actions performed by the joystick when the fire button is pushed down and when it isn't. The obvious solution in this case would be for the joystick to move your fighter when the fire button isn't being pressed and for it to make them attack when you hold fire while pressing different directions, but the author of this game thought that would be too straightforward and so mashed the movement and punching controls together into one big mess.
For example, just pressing diagonally up-right on the joystick makes you punch at your enemy's head. Holding fire and pressing up-right unleashes a high kick. The sharper-witted amongst you may have noticed that this leaves no provision for jumping towards your enemy, a staple movement in every fighting game (no matter how many times you get shoryukened while doing it). Instead, to jump towards your opponent you have to press up to jump straight up and them move the stick sideways while airborne to sort of... slide around in the air. You've got quite a lot of control while you're up there, too, giving what little aerial combat there is an unpleasantly floaty feel.
Still, armed with the manual, I managed get enough of a handle on what I was doing to cause Jay-Cee some harm. The leg sweep was quite effective at first, but after a while Jay-Cee would see it coming and hop backwards away from it. I tried again and again to kick my rival in the foot, but he just keep prancing backwards until he was up against the right-hand side of the screen, where he just jumped over my kicks instead of away from them. I kicked, he jumped, ad infinitum. Then I noticed I had more health than Jay-Cee, and that I'd left the fight timer option set to "on". Surely the computer wouldn't be stupid enough to simply jump over and over again until the time ran out and I won by virute of having more health?
That is, in fact, exactly what happened. The AI really is that bad, but as I'm more of a scholar than a warrior I'm going to claim this one as a victory for intellect over brawn. I thought my way to victory. Because "thought" sounds like "fought," you see. It does when I say it, at least, but then again my enuciation is terrible.
To the victor go the spoils, and in this case I'm the victor and the spoils are a scene of some juvenile bickering. "Muuum, Jay-Cee tried to beat me up and then he said my face needs improving, tell him!" It's no "you must defeat my Dragon Punch to stand a chance" but these After-Match Abuse sections are the only part of Fist Fighter likely to raise even the smallest of smiles.
Now I just have to beat the other fighters to clear the standard Arcade mode that every one-v-one fighter is based around, right?
Ha ha, no. No no no. Fist Fighter doesn't go in for anything as fancy as letting the player fight their way through a series of bouts before being crowned the champion. You just pick two fighters, have a match and then return to the menu screen to do it all again or, as an acceptable alternative, feed your Fist Fighter casette into the nearest paper shredder or garbage disposal unit.
I'm not quite finished with this one yet, though, not when there's a whole world of poor design choices to enjoy.
One of Fist Fighter's more egregious gameplay flaws is that the characters are very reluctant to get up off the floor. If you're knocked down by an attack - something that happens a lot considering every move that isn't a basic punch to the head knocks you down - your fighter spends a good four or five seconds struggling to their feet while the characters' positions are reset to be a screen's width apart. Four or five seconds may not sound like a long time, but in a fighting game it might as well be three weeks. I have won entire rounds in Street Fighter II in four or five seconds. Waiting for your character to get the hell up ends up constituting about sixty percent of Fist Fighter's playing time, turning a game that was already slow and very stop-start into a cheerless death-march through a tar pit.
Otis' trash-talking could use some work, although I'm fond Gino's response because I can't tell if he's being sarcastic or if it's a pathetic attempt to stave off further beatings. He's polite about it, at least.
Then there are the special moves. Every fighter has one, activated by holding the fire button and pressing down-left on the joystick... or rather, by holding fire, moving the stick and then letting go of the fire button. I think that's how they work, anyway; getting them to come out consistently was a skill I never quite got down.
Pictured above is Jay-Cee's "Skittle Roll," where he curls up into a ball and slowly rolls into his opponent's ankles. Took a lot of martial arts training to master that one, did it? I have to imagine Blanka is standing just off screen and slowly shaking his head in disgust. The other fighter's specials aren't much better, and each of them have huge flaws that render them almost useless against the computer. The skittle roll can be avoided by jumping into it, because it only damages you if both feet are firmly planted on the floor when it connects. Otis' super punch admittedly does a lot of damage if it lands, but as it has a range that's best measured in microns that's a moot point. Lee Chung's whirlwind kick is a couple of the spinning kicks that every fighter can do, only in a row and with a much longer start-up period.
Merrick and Gino both have projectiles, which are by far the most useful special moves but which are still hardly stellar. You can see Merrick's psychic blast in the screenshot above, it's the pink thing that looks like the ghost of a horsehoe crab, an aquatic spirit seeking vengeance for all its brothers and sister who died thanks to humans harvesting their blood. You can also see that Jay-Cee has easily ducked underneath it: the problems with the projectiles is that they have a huge start-up delay, giving you opponent plenty of time to not get hit by them. I can cut Merrick some slack on this, because there music be some effort involved in channelling the essense of your mind into a tangible thing and then launching it out of your face, but Gino has no excuse.
Gino throws a knife, right? Simple, nice and straightforward. Except before he throws it, he stands there for a couple of seconds while he tries to fish the bloody thing out of his pocket. What, have you got your house keys / breath mints / mobile phone / Pizza Lover's Club membership card in there too, getting in the way? If you're going to use a knife in a fight, get it out before the fight starts, don't waste my time and yours by rummaging around in your pocket like someone scrambling for their bus fare while the driver tuts at them.
Too right you weren't concentrating, you were too busy enjoying your little pocket spelunking expedition. Even when I did manage to throw a knife at Jay-Cee, he simply rolled underneath it. Also, I had forgotten Jay-Cee was supposed to be British until I read his dialogue here. Not only is he British, but he's from the Victorian era, apparently.
I am glad the background of the America stage says DINER on it in big yellow letters, because otherwise I would have assumed I was fighting in front of a crashed UFO made from old jukeboxes. No, wait, that sounds much better than brawling outside a greasy spoon. Nuts.
Speaking of nuts, a lot of the fighting in this game devolves into the computer trying to punch you in the testicles. I suppose that kind of thing will happen with an all-male cast.
Look, man, this giant psychic freak just kicked the crap out of you, do you really think this is the time to be dissing his fighting abilities? The very fighting abilities he has used to rearrange you face, not that you can really tell with these graphics? Or maybe Jay-Cee is genuinely interested in Merrick's 10th-Dan black belt granny. Why isn't she in this game? She couldn't possibly have been less interesting than these chumps.
That's pretty much it for Fist Fighter, the worst fighting game I've ever played that isn't Rise of the Robots: a cynical Street Fighter clone which, in addition to the problems already discussed, has poor hit detection, a small pool of boring and basically identical characters, ugly graphics and wildly varying levels of AI competence. Actually, one thing I can give Fist Fighter credit for is that increasing the difficulty level does make your opponent a bit smarter, mostly noticeable in the way they try for longer, more damaging combos instead of just knocking you down over and over again.
However, the After-Match Abuse segements provide the only real glimmer of enjoyment that can be extracted from Fist Fighter, so I'm going to finish off this article with a couple of my favourites.
A+ punnage from Gino, good work. Because he's Italian! Ah ha ha, they like pizza. Then he's once again accused of being feminine. I sure wish the programmers had bothered to show some of Gino's womanly grace in the actual game, it might have made him a more interesting character to play as.
And finally, my favourite of them all: Otis threatens to kill Lee Chung, and Lee Chung simply accepts this with weary resignation. He yearns for the tender embrace of death. Man, that is grim. Well, see you all next time!
P.S. Don't play this game.