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Burning Fists

Genre: Fighting Developer: J2 Games/Sega of Japan Publisher: Good Deal Games Players: 1-2 Released: 2006

Not many games share such an interesting and somewhat exciting tale behind their development as Burning Fists does. As the story goes, this 2D fighter started his existence under the name Force Striker, and was either exclusively produced for or even developed in-house by Sega of Japan. For whatever reason, however, the game was shelved late in development. Fast forward more than 10 years: In 2005, two discs of the game, purportedly containing an early alpha and a late beta build, surfaced on eBay. The seller claimed that he received both disc directly from an employee of Sega of Japan back in 1995, and was now selling the game to the highest bidder. A collector eventually won said auction, paying about $1500  for the CDs. These discs were later sold for an undisclosed sum to Good Deal Games, a company specializing in unearthing and eventually releasing games for discontinued platforms. According to Michael Thomasson of GDG some of the FMVs weren’t functioning, the AI was wonky, the game had a broken menu system and it was missing the final boss – otherwise, it “was about 80% complete.” So, with the help from J2 Games, they set out fixing the content and touched up AI, menus and gameplay. And so, roughly ten years after the lifespan of the SEGA CD had officially ended, Burning Fists/Force Striker finally saw the light of day in 2006 and was released to the unsuspecting masses. So, after going through that many hands and being stuck in limbo for that many years, what can be expected from the eventual final result?

Burning Fists/Force Striker is a classic beat-’em-up in the style of the Street Fighter or the Fatal Fury games. You can choose one of eight available fighters, each one with his or her own fighting style, certain strengths and weaknesses, and their own set of special moves that are pulled off in the usual manner (quarter-circle forward + kick, or hit punch repeatedly). You have to defeat every single of your opponents and prove you’re the toughest of the bunch to beat the game. In a slight twist to the usual formula, you have to win three instead of the usual two rounds in order to advance. So far, so ordinary,  but after starting the game I realized that playing it wouldn’t quite be the usual procedure.

I’d best describe what it was like to play the game for the first time. I went to the character selection screen and found the usual assortment of character types: There was the Japanese martial artist complete with Gi,  a Chinese-looking female circus artist, a female wrestler in gaudy clothing , a Russian boxer (who, for some reason, has blue skin)… nothing too far out of the ordinary. However, some guys do stand out a bit from the masses. For instance, there is some native wearing a mask (and who is the only one wearing an actual weapon, a spear, during gameplay), the aforementioned blue-skinned Russian, and a green Viking (who appropriately, or in unoriginal fashion, however you may look at it – called Loki). I picked Gotchev, the Boxer, and was then told to pick my first opponent, which is a bit unusual. So this game doesn’t have fixed stages for each character. In a nice touch, I got to see stats and diagrams showing off both characters strengths and weaknesses (Gotchev is strong and durable, but relatively slow and can hardly jump at all, while Shi San Mei may be weak but fast, and she practically leaps out of the screen). A nice touch,  but I only got to see those that one time. Afterwards, stages and opponents both get randomly assigned after each fight. What then, was the point of showing me these stats after picking my first adversary? Well, it was nice to look at, but eventually just a pointless feature. As I would later find out, the characters don’t really feel all that different in gameplay.

So I start the game, and try a few button presses: A and B are weak but fast and strong but slow punch respectively, while X and Y usually are reserved for the kicks – except for Gotchev, who gets two stronger but even slower punches instead (similar to Street Fighter II’s boxer character Balrog in that regard). Pressing up makes you jump, and if you’re close to your enemy you can throw him… nothing special, except that Z and C both are reserved for blocking, which you don’t do automatically by backing up. I advance towards my opponent, constantly mashing a single button – and defeat him effortlessly. The same in the next round. And the next round. By the end of the game, I defeated every single enemy, hardly taking any damage and not losing a single round, doing nothing else but repeatedly pressing the B button.

Huh, I thought. Well that was unimpressive. But then again, I did have the game set to the lowest out of ten difficulty settings, so maybe that was to be expected. So I raise difficulty to about medium (four), pick the same character, start the game anew and defeat every single character by repeatedly pressing the B button. After that I switched things up a bit. I put the difficulty at its highest level, chose another character (Masamume, the Japanese martial artist)  and again proceeded to beat every single character by repeatedly pressing a single button (the Y button in that case). At least this time the opponent managed to get in a few hits, but whether this was because of the higher difficulty setting or because I chose a different fighter, I don’t know. Within 30-40 minutes after first play, I had already beaten the game three times, and I was rather bored the whole time.

The gameplay itself feels like the game was still an early beta version and not an almost complete one. While some fighters have a rather prolonged taunting animation before the round starts others can already move. It’s not quite enough to already get in a cheap hit, but it comes close and can be quite an advantage. Worse, whenever an opponent gets knocked down (be it because of being hit or being thrown), he gets stuck in a short animation where he gets back on his feet again, which is just long enough to get close to him and pull off another throw before he gets out of this animation lock. With some characters it’s therefore easy to just keep supplexing the adversary without ever running the danger of being hit. This also puts a major damper on the fun factor in two-player matches: The fighter who gets knocked to the floor first has practically already lost.

Everywhere you look the game feels unfinished. Some of the backgrounds are really nice and have little gimmicks to them (like the Daytona stage where the huge drag racer in the back takes off upon victory), and some character models look quite good, while others look plain goofy at best. Some stages just are bland and lifeless, a far cry from the beautifully detailed backdrops of Eternal Champions or the colorful settings of Street Fighter II. During fights, you keep hearing the same three or four pieces of background music over and over again, regardless of stage (no, stages don’t have their own musical theme). There is a single, crudely rendered, 3D animation at the very end that is lacking any sort of texture and virtually any color. Upon beating each of the seven fighters, the final boss makes an appearance, but you never get to fight him! He just stands there, making menacing faces while some guy is narrating in Japanese, and then the end sequence starts to roll, while both background music and Japanese narration get stuck in a loop! In my eyes the most glaring oversight is that when you choose Denmark as the fighting stage, you end up in a factory the game declares is in “U.S.A. – Seattle”! Why? The Denmark stage was obviously intended for the Viking-styled Loki as scenery, but somehow it is completely missing, yet still selectable. How did they screw this one up? There are also a rather large number of minor errors still in the game. For example, Gotchev has a very botched up winning message, there are a number of “Engrish” words and phrases (“Your trick is sharp as a noted blade”???), the Hong Kong stage is represented by the British Union Jack etc. – that are far too numerous to be listed here in their entirety.

Honestly, Burning Fists is a joke. Not only is the enemy AI laughable, the gameplay is broken, the difficulty setting doesn’t work, videos and some animations are barely finished, and the final boss can’t be fought . Calling this one a “rich and highly playable fighter” (as Good Deal Games proclaims on their website) is like calling a turd a highly exquisite dessert. It feels more like a beta version or an extended demo than a full game. I appreciate the effort Good Deal Games and J2 went through in order to get this game into a playable state. However, it isn’t as such completed, but reeks of being unfinished. I can only guess, but it appears to me like all that was done to the beta discs the team had to work from was clearing away potential dead ends and eventual crashes and tying loose ends together. Aside from that, no additional programming (as well as art or music) was done that would have been required to finish the game up. It may still be a laudable effort, but the end result doesn’t reward the 30 bucks it costs to acquire a copy. There are enough beat-’em-ups or even homebrew fighters and pirate brawlers out there in the wild for the Genesis, that give off a better rounded, more complete vibe than Burning Fists does at any time.

SCORE: 3 out of 10

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