Welcome to December’s Video Game Rewind, the monthly column where we take a comprehensive look at games that have launched this calendar month throughout the annals of time. We head back to the past in five year increments, stopping in one or two places to gape at a few singular curiosities in a mite more detail.
With December being the month in which we traditionally stick up a tree and get together with friends and family to worship the mass power of consumerism, there are plenty of releases to cover as we venture down through the years. Let’s go!
Infinity Blade (iOS)
Super Mario All Stars 25th Anniversary Edition (Nintendo Wii)
Super Mario Strikers (Nintendo GameCube)
Prince Of Persia: The Two Thrones (PC, PlayStation 2)
Prince Of Persia: Revelations (PlayStation Portable)
Back To The Future: The Game – Episode I: It’s About Time (PC)
Dead Or Alive 4 (Xbox 360)
American McGee’s Alice (PC)
Grandia II (Sega Dreamcast)
Dead Or Alive 2 (PlayStation 2)
Kingdom Hearts II – Japanese release (PlayStation 2)
Lego Racers (Game Boy Colour)
Virtua Fighter 2 – Japanese release (Sega Saturn)
Dragon Quest VI – Japanese release (SNES)
Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors Dreams (PlayStation 1)
Sega Rally Championship (Sega Saturn)
The Terminator: Future Shock (PC)
Samurai Showdown III: Blades Of Blood (Neo Geo)
Head On Soccer (Atari Jaguar)
Ridge Racer Revolution (PlayStation 1)
1990: Final Fight – Japanese release (SNES)
Also released in 1990:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (NES)
Shadow Dancer: Secret Of Shinobi – Japanese release (Sega Genesis/Megadrive)
ActRaiser – Japanese release (NES)
Pilotwings – Japanese release (SNES)
Gradius III – Japanese release (SNES)
Bubble Bobble – Japanese release (Game Boy)
Techno World Cup Soccer – Japanese release (NES)
Wonder Boy – Japanese release (Sega Game Gear)
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (NES)
Hard Drivin’ – United States/Japanese release (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)
Final Fight first appeared in arcades twenty-six years ago: released amidst a glut of similar side-scrolling beat ’em ups, the Capcom brawler (in which the three heroes, Haggar, Guy and Cody sought to rescue the latter’s girlfriend from the clutches of the Mad Gear gang) was a standout performer – sure, it may have featured the same huge sprites and wacky character roster utilised by a slew of similar titles… but Final Fight had something that other two-player scrolling beat ‘em ups of the era (such as Two Crude Dudes and Vendetta) were missing: Final Fight had pedigree.
Originally conceived as a sequel to the largely forgotten Street Fighter, (and you can read about that game’s descent into anonymity here) Final Fight represented a stark shift in direction for the fledgling series. Tentatively titled as Street Fighter ’89, developers were influenced by the success of Technos’ Double Dragon series and looked to create something similar. In many ways, Final Fight can be seen as something of a companion piece to the Street Fighter mythos; all three of the game’s playable characters went on to feature in Capcom’s iconic fighting series in one way or another – and the development team behind Final Fight went on to create Street Fighter II, the series’ most unforgettable iteration, still seen by most as the genre’s defining moment to this very day.
The Super Nintendo version first saw the light of day a quarter of a century ago to this very month. Playing very much like its arcade counterpart, the console’s technical limitations did mean that the two-player co-operative function was removed, along with the option to use Guy as a playable character. That made sense in my book. The other two characters’ motives were clear: Haggar (the Mayor of Metro City and a former street fighter) was trying to rescue his daughter, Jessica. She also happened to be Cody’s girl which explained his involvement – but Guy? He always kind of hung around like a bad smell; unlike the other two he also eschewed street clothes in favour of attention-seeking, bright-red, full martial arts garb; he always seemed to be trying a bit too hard to impress everyone.
Also missing from the SNES UK port were several elements presumably deemed unsavoury by the family-friendly Nintendo. Along with some mild blasphemy and blood censorship, the most notable omissions were the handcuff-clad, muscle-bound transsexual characters that could be found throughout the original version. Other UK-based game publishers seemed not to mind and both ‘Roxy’ and ‘Poison’ could be found on home computer versions of the game.
Within a couple of years, the double-whammy of 3D gaming and the sudden decline of coin-op arcades meant that the side scrolling beat ’em up genre would be largely gone, unable to harness the improbable longevity of its tournament-style cousin. Although titles like God Of War and Devil May Cry would re-establish the genre in newfound ways, Final Fight‘s third instalment marked one of the um, final arcade releases for the genre’s golden age.
Happily, the game’s legacy lives on, perhaps most notably in the form of the shared universe that Final Fight sparked into creation. Long before the advent of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, characters from Final Fight began to pop up in other Capcom franchises, a fairly novel occurrence in video games at the time. Haggar appeared in the pro-wrestling-themed Saturday Night Slam Masters series whilst Cody and Guy eventually debuted in the Street Fighter saga. Speaking of Marvel, their video game universe would eventually collide with Capcom’s in the Marvel Vs. Capcom series, during which Haggar became President of the U.S.A. with none other than Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man as his Veep.
Imagine those two as a political pairing? All repulsor rays and spinning clotheslines? It’d certainly make politics interesting again. Okay, so maybe Haggar hasn’t mastered Obama’s flair-filled rhetoric yet but he throws a better piledriver. Besides, Stark can do the talking, his press conferences always go down well; at least when he’s not eating whoppers and confessing to being a super hero.
G-LOC: Air Battle – Japanese release (Sega Game Gear)
G-LOC: Air Battle (an acronym for G-Force Induced Loss Of Consciousness) launched twenty-five years ago this December on Sega’s full colour portable system. A spiritual successor of sorts to the popular After Burner series, G-LOC gained renown during its initial arcade appearances for the revolutionary R360 cabinet in which the game was housed; a deluxe system that allowed the cabinet to move along several axes of movement, the R360’s design meant that you could essentially ape the gravity-defying manoeuvres of a jet-fighter.
Sega World, which inhabited the local Strikers bowling alley near to me, had one of these beasts and I still remember the gravity-defying feats that you could pull to this very day. Want to fly upside down and flip a Russian Mig pilot the bird, just like Maverick in Top Gun? No problem – as long as you don’t mind looking like a demented idiot and being laughed at by a bunch of nine year olds trying on bowling shoes. Man, I loved Sega World. The R360. Eight way Daytona USA. Virtua Racer, Virtua Fighter – that place was my childhood’s equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Speaking of prodigious yet eccentric weirdos who occupied fantastical realms beyond imagination, none other than Michael Jackson himself had a G -LOC R360 in his Neverland arcade (you can spot it in the mirror in the image below). If you’ve never taken the virtual tour of Jacko’s realm of video game nirvana I strongly urge you to google it – if you’re of a similar vintage to me, then it’ll be like all of your inner-eleven year old’s dreams are finally coming true.
Surprisingly, the Game Gear port of G-LOC didn’t allow you to fly upside down. In fact, the conversion onto Sega’s powerful little handheld resulted in a markedly different game, but still an entertaining one nonetheless, even if it was lacking somewhat in the graphics stakes. The portable version even allowed you to upgrade your jet between missions, a feature unavailable in the arcade original.
Give the game a spin and you’ll be impressed by its pace. 3D environments rocket past you in a pretty good approximation of what Top Gun’s Maverick famously labelled as ‘the need for speed’ whilst enemy AI obligingly drift into your crosshairs for a well-timed missile. G-LOC never had an official sequel but the After Burner series spawned a third title which appeared in arcades a year after G-LOC before finally making its way to consoles in Europe by way of Sega’s Mega CD in mid-1993.
Quickly returning to the subject of video game shared universes for a moment, After Burner II saw Sega get in on the act too with a cheeky series of cutscenes that ran between stages. As your aircraft landed to refuel, vehicles from Sega’s wider stable of arcade titles could be glimpsed, such as the iconic Ferrari Testarossa from OutRun and the racing bike from Hang On. To most people in the world, those fleetingly delicious cameos would barely register on their excitement scales. To me, it was the coolest thing to come out of the nineties since Reebok Pumps.
Binary Land – Japanese release (NES)
Bomber Man – Japanese release (NES)
1942 – Japanese release (NES)
That’s all for this month retro fans. We’ll see you next month for some more Video Game Rewind.