Today's game brings together the great arcade tastes of fighting and riding into one easily-digestible serving of action-packed fun: it's Taito's 1992 coin-op Riding Fight! It isn't called Fighting Ride, although frankly that's also a perfectly good title for this one. So, what kind of game is Riding Fight?
I see, it's a front view speed action game. Well, it's nice to have clarification. I have to be honest, that just makes it sound like a racing game, although the inclusion of the word "fight" in the title means it's unlikely I'll just be driving around a track. I figured the fight in question is unlikely to be the fight for the chequered flag, especially once I'd let the attract mode run for a while and seen the biographies of Riding Fight's two heroes. They definitely strike me as the fighting sort.
First up is London lad Burn Bowie. He's fast, he's strong and if that picture on the right is anything to go by he spends his spare time creating wireframe computer models of medieval gauntlets. Well, you've got to have a hobby, don't you? Burn's other hobby is rugby. He's so good at rugby that it's his special ability, so let's hope that Riding Fight has a section where I need to kick bad guys between two upright posts. I was a little confused about what the "visual power" stat referred to, at first assuming it was something to do with how good Burn's eyesight is, but I eventually figured it out - his visual power is how cool he looks. Visual power is measured in units called Norms, where one average person in casual clothes equals one Norm. I weigh in at around 0.7 Norms, thanks to a bad haircut and slouching posture, while Bang is 3.8 times cooler than the common man.
With a visual power rating of 2.0, Burn's partner Keith Jager is not quite as cool. Perhaps people can sense that his name is Keith, and that lowers his score. To any Keiths out there, I'm only kidding, It's a perfectly fine name. Keith's special ability his hunting, which is appropriate given that Jager is German for "hunter." That said, I think Keith's name might come from the combination of Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, which works especially well if you assume Burn Bowie is named after David Bowie (4.9 Norms of visual power) for a British rock theme.
Burn and Keith are bounty hunters, two men ready and willing to take on the advanced crime of the cybernetic future in exchange for cold, hard cash. They might not look like taut, coiled springs ready to leap into action as they lounge around their penthouse apartment, but years of experience and a devotion to spiked shoulderpads not seen since the Legion of Doom disbanded means that when a sucker is coming, they're ready. Ready to beat up a sucker, I guess.
So Riding Fight isn't a game about flying a helicopter, then? I thought it might be, what with the first stage starting with a helicopter ride, but the helicopter is immediately destroyed by a ground-to-air missile. Not to worry, though, it's already served its one and only purpose - getting Burn into punching range of the criminals, and as our hero leaps from the burning wreckage the game begins.
Now I know what a front view speed action game is - it's a combination of a beat-em-up and a sprite-scaling racing game. Burn constantly moves "into" the screen on his Marty McFly-approved hoverboard in the same way as countless other arcade racing games where the sprites are scaled according to how far away they are in order to create a sense of movement. Then there's the fighting, which is straight out of something like Streets of Rage with the unusual exception that you can attack in any of the eight joystick directions instead of just throwing punches to the left and right like in most beat-em-ups. The fighting system consists of the usual punch combos, jumping kicks (in this case, jumping up and smashing your hoverboard into the enemy's face) and throws, so it's all very familiar. You might think the addition of the racing game elements would complicate things, but honestly they only add spectacle, not change the gameplay - there are a few sections where you have to avoid obstacles in the road, but mostly Riding Fight goes heavy on the "fight" side of the equation.
You can even pick up weapons dropped by enemies in time-honoured beat-em-up fashion, although because of the constant scrolling you do kind of have to catch them in mid-air rather than picking them up off the ground. That's fine by me, though. Punching a punk while we're both travelling at 200 kilometres per hour and catching the baseball bat he was carrying before it hits the floor is cool, and it's nice to be cool, or so I hear. Not as nice as it is to have a baseball bat, mind you, and when the opportunity to grab a weapon comes up you should make the effort to take it because all of them - baseball bats, scimitars, medieval polearms - are vastly more powerful than your regular attacks.
The auto-scrolling also means that playing it safe is a much more valid strategy than usual: each section of road is a set length, and if you haven't eliminated all the bad guys before the next stretch then they all realise the folly of their pursuit and disappear, handing the baton of criminal responsibility over to their brethren further down the road. Biding your time and throwing enemies into each other to keep them busy is a good way to preserve your health, even if it does feel a touch contrary to the lunatic fist-throwing ethos of Riding Fight.
Also from taken from the beat-em-up handbook is the wide-radius emergency attack, in this case a very neon spinning kick. Unusually for the genre, this special move doesn't take your health when you use it. Instead, you have a power bar that fills up as you pummel thugs - think of it as the Street-Justice-O-Meter - and once there's enough juice in there you can perform the kick. Fill it all the way up and you can even launch a big ball of screen-clearing plasma death, but that's a fairly rare sight because you'll usually be in need of a spinning kick before you bar can max out. In this case I needed my spinning kick to knock away these goons that are leaping at Burn from the back of a lorry. You'll notice they don't have hoverboards of their own. You'd think that simply jumping from a truck hurtling down the cyber-highway would be enough to defeat them without any assistance from Burn, and it is enough to defeat them, if you move out of their way and let them hit the road. I just felt like kicking them on the way past.
This must be the sucker coming, then. His name is Reckless Crusher, and he's wanted for the crimes of stealing a tank and not crushing with due care and attention. He should be manacled or punished, because apparently being manacled is not a punishment. Hopefully beating the shit out of him will count as a punishment.
Okay, I may have come into this fight with rather more bravado than was justified. Reckless Crusher is twelve feet tall and carries an oversized chainsaw in each hand, but at least I don't have to fight the tank he stole. That's because Burn destroyed it by kicking his hoverboard at it. I think I've done the military a favour there, it would have been real embarrassing for them if they'd rolled out a new tank that could be demolished by a single well-placed hoverboard strike.
Anyway, Reckless Crusher isn't as intimidating as he looks, mostly because he's dumber than a sack of rocks. You can stand behind him, punch him in the back a few times and jump away before he retaliates at almost zero risk to Burn's personal safety.
Eventually I knocked his chainsaws away, which lead to complacency and a powerful bear-hug that took a lot of my health. I'll make sure to tell everyone nearby that it was definitely a brutal, bone-crushing grip, too. Based solely on this image you'd be forgiven for thinking that Crusher is gently cradling Burn like a mother with her newborn child, but no, it is one hundred percent a fight to the death. Reckless Crusher's death, eventually, and with his non-manacle-related punishment stage one is complete.
Ah yes, what a gravy day it is. The gravy sun is shining, the gravy birds are singing and Burn and Keith have pocketed a fat stack of gravy for bringing down Reckless Crusher. I like that they're using the money to buy a replacement helicopter, that's a nice bit of continuity.
Next up for our heroes: a coup in the Middle East. They're going to break it quickly. They don't have much choice, Riding Fight is a very quick game, both in the speed of the action and the overall brevity of the game's five stages. I'm not sure who Hula is, mind you. It could be their little robot sidekick, or possibly an unseen informant that gives Keith and Burn their instructions. The Charlie to their Angels, if you will.
They should have called this game Surfin' Scimitar Saracens. Burn's getting involved in the politics of a Middle Eastern country, but don't worry, he's only in it for the money. The action may be taking place on the open sea now, but it's the same as it was before, clobbering anyone nearby as the path scrolls rapidly beneath you. It's quite the fun little ride, too, and while the beat-em-up gameplay doesn't quite match up to the quality of its high-end rivals - it can be a bit confusing, with a veil of fuzziness that affects both the accuracy of the gameplay and the occasionally messy graphics - the charmingly over-the-top and often grammatically challenged presentation is more than enough to paper over the cracks.
A choice of routes? How delightful! I think I'll go to the left (because I'm already over that side of the screen).
Hmm. It seems I have chosen poorly. Not to worry, Burn's hoverboard is more than tough enough to swat away these missiles - these curiously bullet-like missiles - with a single jumping attack, knocking them aside to explode harmlessly nearby. Harmlessly for me, I mean. Eventually they destroy that hovercraft and I assume there's a human piloting it. It is not a gravy day for the hovercraft pilot.
The other route isn't any more exciting, by the way. Just more basic soldiers to either defeat with your fists, to defeat with their own swords for added irony or to ignore until enough time has passed that the next set of enemies is spawned.
Here's Colonel Abdullah. What's his crime? Oh, it's holocaust. Jesus Christ, that's quite a step up from stealing a tank. Colonel Abdullah should be punished, manacled and then brought to trial for war crimes where further punishment can be meted out.
Abdullah calls Burn a "little price-winner". I have no goddamn clue what that is supposed to mean. From context I know it's derogatory, and I understood his previous insult of "you imperialistic leech!" even if it was misspelled as "leach," but "little price-winner" has left me stumped. I thought maybe price-winner was some archaic, Shakespearean insult that a developer at Taito happened to pluck out of some ancient tome, but I couldn't find any evidence of that. I think this one will just have to go down as a mystery. Maybe he meant "prize-winner"? No, I've got to stop thinking about this and get on with the fighting.
It is not dissimilar from the previous fight, although the Colonel is much more keen on jumping around the arena and making it very difficult for me to get a decent screenshot of him. As before, and as with so many other beat-em-up bosses, the key to victory is not getting too greedy - get your hits in while you can, but don't overstay your welcome, because Abdullah can and will suddenly decide that he's going to hit you with a flying kick.
They weren't kidding about going on vacation, huh? Burn's sunglasses are more appropriate than ever, but I don't think those women being flexed at by Keith are especially impressed. The one in the red bikini just looks worried for him, so maybe it's for the best that we can only see his back. Lord only know what horrendous cybernetic enhancements he has going on around the front.
Stage three sees our heroes jetting off to Japan, where according to the pre-stage intro "an incident occurred." Good intel on that one, guys. Nice and specific. You'll be thoroughly prepared once the boss shows up, I'm sure, but first it's FOOD TIME. TIME for FOOD, because the first two stages were hungry work, but in this hectic modern world who has TIME to stop for FOOD? Well never, fear, because Burn doesn't need to stop! Some kindly soul / insane person has littered the highways of Cyber-Neo-Tokyo.exe with metal containers, containers packed with delicious, revitalising hot dogs!
Hot Dogs: Nature's Fuel™. Eat delicious Hot Dogs during your next FOOD TIME. For maximum freshness, please ensure your metallic Hot Dog storage cylinders are tightly sealed and stored away from major metropolitan roadways.
I love the cyberpunk stylings of a futuristic city at night, as I'm sure may of you do too, but it's a little disappointing that I'm only on Riding Fight's third stage and they're already reusing most of the enemies. These two are new, though, a tag team of overweight wrestlers who are so, erm, husky that they need extra-large hoverboards. They can be a real pain if they manage to get on either side of you and get into a rhythm of repeated belly-flops, but that's what Burn's throw move is for. You have another option, too: if you press jump and attack together, Burn throws out a mighty uppercut, and it's extremely satisfying to uppercut these guys back to where they came from when they try to jump on you.
After a while, the electric metropolis gives way to a peaceful glade of cherry trees and an encounter with the latest boss. Her name is Shidzuki, and she's been stealing Japanese treasures. They must be some treasures, because she's got a bigger bounty on her head than the man who organised a holocaust.
Shidzuki has two specialities: magic, and not getting punched. More than at any other point in the game the riding aspect of Riding Fight comes to the fore as Burn swerves and leaps around the many obstacles that Shidzuka throws his way. Sometimes it's glowing balls of energy, sometimes it's walls of fire, and sometimes she dips into the hoary old videogame cliché of summoning identical clones, all of which makes for a fight that challenges both your riding ability and your patience. To make things works, Shidzuka can't be comboed, teleporting to safety after each single hit. This means the fight quickly devolves into the player chasing the boss down to slowly chip away at her health one attack at a time, making it possibly the game's least enjoyable section. I got there in the end, though. No-one can escape the justice of Burn Bowie forever. He's wearing spiked shoulderpads, for pity's sake.
I think you'd have a stronger argument if you weren't the one who knocked her down, Burn.
The next mission begins with the announcement that a "young miistress (sic) of an important man" has been kidnapped and whisked away to the South Pole. I'm going to assume that by "young miistress" they actually mean "daughter," because you'd think an important man would want to keep his mistresses secret and Burn and Keith don't give me the impression that they're huge on confidentiality.
All right, ice knights! Ice knights with big axes that I can take for myself, carving through the enemy hordes while struggling in vain to come up with puns and witty one-liners that include references to both ice and axes. The best I could come up with was "just axe-ept it, I'm as cool as ice!" which is the major stumbling block preventing me from becoming a radical action hero.
Oh no, this poor penguin is trapped on a floating block of frozen urine! Not to worry, I set him free by smashing face-first into the pissberg, sending my penguiny friend up, up and away into the crisp Antarctic sky. He'll be fine up there. He's a bird. Birds can fly, c'mon.
Those knights have guns. Why didn't you bring a gun, Burn? Not every problem can be solved with sunglasses and an attitude you probably describe as "fresh" and "wicked," you know. Okay, so every problem in this game can be solved that way, but how is hoverboarding going to help when you're doing your taxes or planning a household budget, huh? You can't kickflip away from fiscal responsibility!
The boss is Battleship Boyd. Why is he called Battleship? Is it because he's increasingly redundant in the modern era of warfare? Is Battleship is favourite board game? I hope you're not expecting answers to those questions, because you've got the same amount of information about him as I do. All I know is that he takes the rough-and-tumble of international terrorism seriously enough to wear a headguard at all times, even if it does make him look a bit like he fell face-first into a pile of extremely tacky Valentine's Day underwear.
He's also an ice hockey player. Makes sense to me: if ice hockey isn't violent enough for you, international terrorism would be the next logical rung on the ladder.
There's not much to say about Battleship Boyd that isn't already expressed by phrase "terrorist ice hockey player." He can create small icebergs to launch at Burn, but there is no word on whether or not he's responsible for the yellow icebergs. I jump-kicked him a lot, because it helps to dodge his attacks and the wide surface area of the hoverboard makes it more likely that you'll hit him. Poor old Boyd isn't much of a challenge, but at least he died doing what he loved: fighting people while wearing ice skates.
It's a secret base hidden deep beneath the polar ice cap, Burn. Stage five follows on straight from the end of the previous one, and even Burn and Keith begin to suspect they may be in over their heads. The first part of the stage isn't much to write home about, with some now-familiar battles against the same troops you've fought before, but it is merely a prelude for the upcoming series of end-of-game bosses, starting with this one.
As guardians for your secret villainous lair go, the huge mechanical dragon is a good choice. It was good enough for Dr. Wily, anyway, although he went for the less threatening cartoon look while this thing is all about sharp angles, extending claws and flamethrowers. It's really keen on flamethrowers. Sadly, this is the battle where Riding Fight falls into the usual arcade trap of being annoyingly difficult. Overall Riding Fight is still much more merciful than many of its peers, but in this instance the boss is constantly attacking and without giving much warning about where those attacks are coming from, making it a chore to defeat as you rely on attrition and credit-dumping rather than skill. Once more the jumping hoverboard smash shines as a combat strategy: it doesn't do a whole lot of damage, but it does help when you're trying to jump over the flamethrower blasts.
The arch-villain of Riding Fight is revealed- the international terrorist leader known only as Professor. It was nice of Taito to include this minigame in Riding Fight. The "what could the Professor possibly be a professor of?" minigame, I mean. Can you be a Professor of Unfortunate Haircuts? Actually, with that hair and his unnerving grin the Professor looks like the Beavis from a dystopian cyber-future, perhaps an aged version of the other Cyber-Beavis I've written about before.
The Professor is impressed that Burn made it this far. I was amazed he didn't also say "we're not so different, you and I," but fair play to him, he wasn't so predictably evil that he told me all the workings of his diabolical plan. This may be because he doesn't have a plan, or at least not a plan that extends beyond "kidnap a girl." Maybe he was lonely in his vast underground fortress and he just needed some company. I can't imagine the robot dragon is much for conversation. Anyway, he might not have a plan but what he does have is a large supply of eyeballs wedged in floating patties of hamburger meat, so any theories about the Professor being misguided or misunderstood can be discarded. That's not something a person would have lying about unless they're properly evil.
The meaty eyeball friends all gather together in a sickening mockery of man. It's neat. It's also really well animated, with some extremely smooth motions, although I have to wonder whether I was supposed to find this boss sort of adorable as it stumbles around the arena like a baby giraffe taking its first steps. It's hardly surprising that its movements are hesitant, it has eyeballs for feet. Pros: you can always see where you're stepping. Cons: you're stepping on your eyeball. This battle was a welcome relief after the previous boss, and as a stand-up fist-fight it plays more to the strengths of Riding Fight's combat engine, so I'm going to say that the eyeball monster is the best thing about the final stage.
It's a shame, then, that the game's final boss goes right back to the same awkward, muddled style of fighting found in the robot dragon battle. He's an awkward, muddled-looking chap, too, although I can't fault his commitment to skulls. I count at least five, although now I see the boss - whose name is the incomprehensible P.Dil.Digess, by the way - has a lower jaw sticking out of his groin. Five and a half skulls, then. The others are for fightin', but that's his lovin' skull.
As final battles go it is not the most dramatic encounter I've ever been involved in. In fact, it's so similar to the robot dragon fight as to be pointless. I've done this before, and P.Dil.Digess doesn't have anything new and surprising to show me beyond his many skulls. Burn does his jump-kicking thing, supplemented by a few special attacks that I managed to scrounge up, and the boss' health bar was slowly whittled away. It was about as exciting as actual whittling, but also not hugely irritating or unpleasant, again like actual whittling.
Hold on, so is Hula the kidnapped girl, or is Burn talking to himself? The girl's expression points to the latter explanation, because she looks terribly confused about just what is going on. You and me both, love. I'm still struggling with what the Professor was up to and how he managed to turn into two different monsters, so let's just stick to the certainties, shall we? Burn has saved the day and the kidnapped girl, blasting across the Antarctic waters as he tells the mysterious Hula that this is only a daily experience. We get it, Burn. You're a cool guy.
She seems to think so too, and Riding Fight ends with the marriage of Burn and Unnamed Kidnap Victim. Keith also appears to be in a relationship with Shidzuka. She stole the national treasures of Japan, but Keith stole her heart. Rock song plays, credits roll, and Riding Fight is over.
I'm glad it's over. Not because it wasn't fun - I enjoyed playing it very much - but because it was already beginning to feel a tiny bit repetitive and I doubt an extra stage or two would have added anything of value to the game. It's a compact package, one that's just the right length for this kind of action, and as such I'd definitely recommend you give it a go. The two gameplay styles don't quite mesh perfectly, but they're enjoyable none-the-less, and a lot of the game's flaws are compensated for by its presentation. There's some wonderfully hammy voice acting and Burn and Keith are endearingly x-treme. They may be two crude dudes (but not, y'know, the Two Crude Dudes) but they're so much fun it's impossible not to warm to them. The game being fun was just a bonus.