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Hacks & Homebrews: Top Fighter 2000-MK VIII

If there’s something you can count on this world, it’s bootlegs. They’ve been around since the first multi-game consoles, and come doomsday they’ll still be making their way into shady Taiwanese warez markets. Here at Sega-16 we’ve resolved to document the unlicensed games that fall into our domain, and today’s feature is the third in the ‘Hacks and Homebrews’ series. So far we’ve covered a Mario-deficient Mario game and a gaggle of amateur demos. Today comes another round of hacking goodness, one that goes by the eyebrow-raising name of Top Fighter 2000: MK VIII.

I did a little research, and from what I can tell this game was actually released in cartridge form. As is common with bootlegs, very few were ever pressed and those that were…well, let’s just say that they aren’t popping up on eBay all the time. So what we’re mostly looking at in the case of Top Fighter is as a download – which you can find at the bottom of this page. I played it in Kega Fusion 3.51, but it works in the latest version of Gens as well. Feel free to give it a whirl after you read the article; just don’t get your hopes up on finding a copy.

The first thing you’ll say to yourself upon booting up the ROM is “what have we here?” At least I did, but then again I said it in a Lando Calrissian voice, too. Whatever your reaction may be, staring out of your computer monitor will be two vaguely familiar faces. Upon closer inspection those faces will be none other than Mohammed Ali and Michael Jordan. At first I couldn’t believe it, but then the demo mode began to play. Here we’re treated to a surreal sequence in which Mohammed Ali dances like a butterfly and stings what appears to be Antoine Walker like a bee. After that we see Jordan doing a slam dunk. But that’s not the best part – the grand final is when profile shots of the two sportsmen slide onscreen and suddenly we see the actual character sprites for the fighting engine.

I’d been expecting Jordan to be either Shaq from Shaq Fu or himself from the SNES title Chaos in the Windy City. I guess I didn’t give these bootleggers enough credit. Now, I haven’t played every fighting game out there, but it seems to me that these are brand new sprites! The art quality is surprising for this sort of production, as is the rather fluid animation. To make things even more overwhelming, the rest of the roster scrolls across screen shortly after. Cyclops, Geese, Ryu, Goku, Kyo, Ryo…the gang’s all here, guys.

Albeit with a few misspellings.

Michael Jordan has become simply “Jodan” – something I find incredibly funny; Geese has been truncated as well and is now “Gees”; Cyclops has been shorted to “Cycl”. My momentary illusions of having found the perfect bootleg have been dispelled, but there’s still a lot of interesting stuff to consider: a neat opening, snazzy title screen, some options to choose from, a two player mode, and an intriguing roster of well-animated characters. But don’t get too carried away, because we haven’t gotten to the actual gameplay yet.

Fighting is conducted in a sort of dumbed-down version of the standard Street Fighter II setup, using only two buttons and a maximum of six standard combat moves. Each fighter then has a handful of special moves that use the predictable QCF, QCB, and DP combinations – familiar ground for anyone who’s played a few rounds of any sort of versus fighter. Combos are very much a possibility for those inclined to mess around with them, from what I can tell. An interesting addition is a desperation move power meter, a feature absent from almost all of the official Genesis fighters.

It’s clear that this is not an early effort – I’d place it sometime around ’98. (Or maybe even 2000 like the title screen claims.) For one thing, Ryu’s sprite is not of the Street Fighter II variety. It’s actually a modified Alpha sprite set, and I must say that it’s a beautiful change of pace to see the new artwork on our beloved Genesis. And speaking of artwork, things only get better after the title screen. The backgrounds are vivid, although mostly static, and the characters are popping with color. Kyo looks washed out; a notable exception to a generally vibrant presentation. Kudos to you bootleg coders and artists, wherever you are. Ya done good. As did the guys handling the sound – the narrator sounds just as good as professional entries. The audio could have used a little more variety, but the fighters actually call out their attacks and the sampling is crisp – crisper than Eternal Champions, at any rate. The music is not as good, not because of any technical problem but because the melodies simply aren’t memorable. Considering how much plagiarism is going on with the rest of the game, it’s interesting that the music isn’t copied as well.

But to summarize on the presentation… man, I can’t believe I’m saying this… Top Fighter is probably the flashiest fighter on the Sega Genesis. It sounds crazy, but play the game and you’ll see what I mean. The special moves are all inspired by Street Fighter Alpha and a generation of over-the-top versus fighters not yet conceived during the official life span of the Genesis. These Asian hackers, influenced by games that the design teams of the Genesis’ era didn’t have access to, have put together a fighting experience with much more pizzazz than anything Sega could crank out at the time. The fireball attacks are most explosive than the Hadokens in Super Street Fighter II; some of the special moves have a ‘shadowing’ effect not implemented in any other official fighter.

What sort of messes all of this up is how simplistic the engine is. Like I said earlier, fighting takes place with only two buttons. There are no dizzies, combo meters, victory quotes, storylines, blood splashes, or any of the other little details we’ve grown used to in our 2D fighters. Top Fighter looks great, sounds good, plays well, but unfortunately just isn’t that deep.

I’ve looked through a lot of bootlegs over the past week, trying to find something interesting enough to merit an article. Top Fighter caught my eye to begin with and has continued to hold my attention admirably. It does a lot of things right. It has its faults as well, but even big-budget games have those. I don’t know about you, but I’d buy this one if I ever found the cart. As it is, let’s just all download it for free and get a kick out of the best bootleg you’re probably ever going to play.

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