The scrolling beat em up has been a staple type of game for arcades for decades. Renamed a few times to brawlers and such to distinguishing itself from the standard beat em up with the likes of Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter etc, the Brawling games ushered in most noticeably by Double Dragon, popularised with other titles such as Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, Alien Storm, to name but a few. Further games developed based upon franchises would push the systems to go from 2 players taking on untold armies to 4 players with games like Teenage Mutant Ninja (or Hero, depending on your censor) Turtles, The Simpsons, Bucky O Hare (guns... ok...), Dungeons and Dragons games, X-Men to name a few. (bonus points for Simpsons having a model where 4 players could all sit on individual seats while watching a HUGE TV modelled on the Simpsons actual TV)
Some of the games had the brawl focus just on a 2D plane, such as Bad Dudes vs Dragonninja and 2 Crude Dudes (what a day...) while others had that pseudo 3D movement but didn’t adjust the size/shading of the sprites to show just where in the planes the characters really stood, making hitting bosses and enemies a little more awkward. Most of the 4player games were fairly rudimental in having an attack button, jump button and hitting both usually did a special move that did bonus damage and in some cases, cost some health to do it. Simpsons, TMNT and a few others didn’t but when you want to get people to pay up, you dropped life for it like in Final Fight.
Brief history lesson aside, I’m talking today about Violent Storm as one of the latter sprite based brawlers made by Konami (having already made Simpsons, Bucky O Hare and TMNT, so you know they’ve got a thing going on there for this kind of malarkey) which was rather more advanced than games like Final Fight (and with 4 years to improve, you’d damn well hope so too). A short comparison aside, Final Fight revolutionised brawling as much as Double Dragon made it break through as a genre. Final Fight had multiple chars to choose from with various characteristics, your fast light hitter, steady all rounder and the big slow powerhouse. Fast and light could jump off walls and generally killed everything anyway, all rounder was for those that didn’t get the fast one quickly enough and the big slow powerhouse was for those that thought it could tank the game and beat up people with slow hits. NO... IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. Throw in the usual attack and jump, double button special and throws, and you’ve the mechanics for the fight. A few items to pick up for points and weapons to hit people and the game is there save for a few colourful enemies and bosses.
Violent Storm takes all of this and goes overboard.
The controls initially are the same, hit, jump and both for a special. However, back and hit does a back attack, down and hit does a low attack that sweeps enemies or hits them while they are down (not a common feature in these games), down and jump did a charging attack while jumping, direction and attack mixed up the types of flying attack and a few chars could also jump while grappling for bonus optional attacks. Try pile driving a bad guy through several others from the other side of the screen for extra chuckles.
The “Story” is simple and lifted straight from Final Fight; a girl is kidnapped by someone for someone else, go beat up most of a city. I’d personally go straight for the asshole that stole her and prevent them dying with repeated daily beatings then healing them back up a little for more. Might be why nobody tries to steal from me... But I digress. So your 3 characters (and in some arcades ALL 3 at the same time) punch, kick, sweep, pile drive, throw, uppercut, charge, barge, roll and generally make a nuisance of yourselves, through several levels with some of the most insane bosses and enemies to grace a brawling game at the time.
Digitised sound effects and music with actual lyrics, voice samples and such add to the experience and the taunts from the bosses themselves are golden (Mr Julius being the best example as a statue turned real, body builder mocking you with quotes such as “Beauty’s Power” after flooring everyone while wearing just a loin cloth in a casually off-camp manner). A ninja-turtles wannabe best described as a bald git with metal bowls on his chest and back, a muscle bound geek wearing what looks like most of the Aliens Power Loader on his arms and back and a green skinned skinny Blanka-lookalike form a hilarious part of the boss ensemble. While the sack-headded fat man (Biggyman? No.) Large neanderthal wrestler and the hunchback train conductor, are rather more run-of-the-mill for mention. The last boss makes for an amusing send up.
Picture this, you’ve fought your way through countless enemies (unless you’ve a pen and paper handy), battered bosses that taunt and mock you most of the time (anyone met a polite boss? There’s likely a few out there but someone saying “terribly sorry” in a Hugh Grant voice while kicking your teeth out would make my day now), smashed your way through the big-bad final level and beat up the very guy that stole the girl in the first place, only to meet the “Oops, here’s another boss” boss. A small, high-pitched voice, squeaky kid, who immediately displays magical powers and then transforms from brat to Brick Shit House at 9ft tall and casts spells like it’s going out of fashion on Labour Day.
I’ve seen that WAY too often in games but even here, it’s still funny to watch. What’s not funny, however is that bosses have far too much of an invulnerability phase after being knocked down (except the first boss, who is just a tough standard fight) and can combo bigger moves that need to be special’d out of or suffer a large slap of damage to the old HP bar. There’s better ways of being cheap and in this game, boss life bars seem to vary as the health goes down, getting tougher to specific attacks just to eke out a few more moments of life damage and coin gulping for the machine.
The biggest downside to this though, is that there’s a lot of game to get through just for the few moments of humour that it does have, given the huge fights from level one onwards with some enemies becoming rather more difficult as the game progresses such as the fat chump things that can be thrown with difficulty to the Legion of Doom wrestler piss-take enemies that seem to take priority in their attacks whenever they so choose to do so and just batter your health at a mere whim.
The game suffers from having a lot to show but it will take quite the determined mind to see it all and only the hardcore are going to a) play that far or b) afford it (without emulators at least). The game though is not without its charm however, just a little too late to the game to be noticed and recognised for the advancements it had back in the day. Or for those that want to just blitz through it, slap in infinite coins and just keep spamming the special move, but that style could be used for almost any brawling game that doesn’t limit continues or reset you when the characters die to the start of the level.
There’s enough variety in the game to keep enthusiasts exploring and investigating through the fight mechanics and the game’s engine, but much like Dungeons and Dragons games, it’s only going to appeal to those that will take the time to play to those depths, and even then, there’s not that deep a pool to explore for Violent Storm.
It does however remain a favourite of mine within the genre because of its quirky humour and over the top setup with specific bosses and as such, makes it all the memorable for me. But truth be told, it’s still the same brawling game as Final Fight with a more complicated paint job over it.