If you go looking into the more original releases of pirate cartridges for the Sega Genesis, one quickly realizes that one category seems to stand out more than others: The beat-’em-up! Whereas most (but definitely not all) platformers quickly reveal themselves to be hacks of pre-existing games, and most RPG’s seem to be too big of a challenge or too hard to come by on the pirate market (mostly because big amounts of untranslated texts make them difficult to play), the pirate beat-’em-up seems to be more easily accessible when it comes to programming as well as acquiring and actually playing the games.
Set Sail for the Pirate Port!
In the following paragraphs I want to detail the pirate beat-’em-ups I have come across so far, as well as give a short insight into how well they play. Keep in mind that I can only describe games that I was actually able to play – I am aware that there may be even more out there! If someone discovers a game that I may have missed, I will gladly include it in this list if I am able to play it either as a ROM or (preferably) on an actual cartridge.
Two of the following games I have only found as a cart, so I had to make screen shots by taking photographs off an flat screen TV; one game I’ve solely come across in ROM form. Where possible, I’ve played the game both on emulators as well as on a console to get a feel of the playability.One thing goes for all items: The controls have all been laid out fort three-button-pads. A shame, really, since some of these games could definitely be improved with controls spread over six buttons.
So then, let’s get started:
Dragonball: Final Bout
Let’s start with one of the games that’s apparently harder to come by, since I’ve only discovered it in cartridge form, and only in a small number of carts as well. Which is a shame, because Dragonball: Final Bout definitely belongs among the better games upon this list: The graphics are detailed, with big and colorful sprites and nice background. The game utilizes an interesting system for special moves: a small disc starts rotation once you start charging up your Saiyan power. The longer it charges, the more powerful the attack. However, I haven’t been able to figure out how exactly this charging progress works – only once I’ve been able to pull off more than than the most basic fireball, and even then I only did so by accident, unable to recreate the attack. Nevertheless, the game controls quite good, runs at a decent speed, and the animations are smooth. The soundtrack is more or less original, although it has been re-used from other pirate carts – one stage actually uses a remix of a theme found in the Aladdin II – game! Nevertheless, should you come across this game, definitely pick it up and give it a try – once someone figures out the Saiyan powers, it should make a very enjoyable experience, better than many actually licensed fighters that exist on the Genesis
The King of Fighters ’98
Even though some SNK fighters (Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown) found their way to the Genesis, and even though the series started in 1994, The King of Fighters never saw an official release for the 16-bit Sega console. For the ’98 installment of the series, some hackers remedied this and gave the game a rather unique spin!
When you start, you put together a team of three fighters out of a roster of nine characters (each available in a color-swapped variety as well, making it possible to put the same character in your team twice). What’s interesting is that among those available, you can also find Cammy, Ryu and Guile of Street Fighter fame – making this game sort of a prelude to official SNK vs. Capcom games! Other than in official KOF games, you can’t switch characters in-fight; the game plays more like the team play in Super Street Fighter, with a new character replacing a previously defeated one.
Other than with Dragonball, this game seems to have been a rather lazy effort: The sprites have all been ripped from other existing games, although the move set has been retained. The backgrounds aren’t original either and have been ripped from games like Power Rangers, with an occasional King of Fighters logo thrown in. Most stages have also only been drawn in one half with the other side added in by mirroring the first; this becomes painfully obvious in one stage where you find a banner with mirrored writing in the back! Also, the hackers spelled some of the characters wrong. I mean, come on, how can you not notice a mistake like “Treey” or “Canme” instead of “Terry” and “Cammy?”
The game also suffers some balancing issues. More importantly, since the character set is rather limited for a King of Fighters, you keep on fighting the same set of characters over and over again, until suddenly, without any indication of when and why, the game stops and you come to an ending screen. Overall, the game is nice to look at, but in the aftermath, I’d give it the pass. vs. mode is kind of fun, though.
Mortal Combat 5
Already shortly discussed in my Unofficial Ports feature, Mortal Combat 5 (spelling intended) is an effort to port the PSX game Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero to the Genesis. Sprites have been ripped out of previous Mortal Kombat games for the Genesis, which makes for a very limited number of opponents (mainly color-swapped versions of Kano, Sonya and Liu Kang). This games differs from the other games discussed in this feature insofar as it’s not a simple one-on-one versus fighter, but rather a brawler in the vein of Streets of Rage and such. The player as Sub-Zero is still able to pull off some of his special moves, though, which use energy from a special power bar.
The levels are a set of mazes with some deathtraps thrown in between. There also are health items strewn throughout the level which can be saved and accessed in the pause menu. In most of the levels, the objective is to find a special room or item, and afterwards to head for the exit. The game is very hard, at some points unfairly so. You may fall into an instant deathtrap simply by entering a room in a wrong way or at the wrong time, without any indication or warning beforehand. Also, most of the rooms look exactly the same, turning the levels into confusing and irritating mazes. The controls are also pretty stiff, although you get used to them after a while.
Still, it’s more enjoyable than many of the other fighters on this list, maybe because the traps and the mazes actually throw in some diversity into the usual brawl. It is hard, it is irritating, it most probably is incomplete as well, but the urge to go and try your hand at the game just one more time is definitely there. Is it worth picking up? Hard to say; personally, I find the game strangely attractive, and if you’re a Mortal Kombat fan, give this one a go! Everyone else might rather leave this one by the wayside.
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
This is easily the oddest of the bunch, and it is also a game I’ve only found on cartridge so far. Apparently being the hack of a medieval-themed Chinese beat-’em-up, this game took the characters and renamed them after typical Lord of the Rings characters. This leads to some rather odd choices: You got Aragorn and Legolas, but would you imagine Eowyn fighting with to daggers? Or Frodo laying the smackdown upon Aragorn? Also, when it comes to a fighting game version or Lord of the Rings, how come that we don’t see Gimli thrown in in some way? Clearly, naming the game Lord of the Rings: Return of the King was just a way to distribute the game to a wider audience. Another indication for this is that, again, the character of Legolas is spelled wrong.
Be it as it may, this game is still fun to play. Each character has a set of special moves that can be pulled off in typical “quarter-circle forward + punch” fashion as well as a special meter that, when filled, enables the player to pull off some extra powerful moves. The characters are big, and the graphics are nice, if maybe a bit washed out overall. The only real gripe I have with this game is that it doesn’t seem to have an ending; you keep fighting the same set of characters over and over again, without a real ending in sight. Still, it’s worth checking out, especially with the oddity factor of being a Lord of the Rings fighting game!
Soul Blade/Soul Edge
I find it hard to say much about this game. I have only found it floating around the web as a ROM – and one buggy as hell at that! When flashed to a cartridge or when started up in Kega Fusion, the game kept freezing. I only got it to work using GenS, and even then it didn’t run properly, constantly producing a number of very strange errors (opponent freezing in one place, characters turning into a mass of jumbled pixels, or hurting yourself by hitting any button!). Also, even if you’re able to control the characters, these controls hardly work at all. In short, the Genesis Soul Edge is totally unplayable!
Which is a real shame, because it looks very nice; the graphics are colorful, and the sprites are nicely drawn. Also, the ROM indicates that this would be a 32-bit game, which is pretty rare as far as pirates go. But the only version of the game I’ve found is buggy and incomplete, so unless someone can point out an actual working version of that game to me, I’ll strongly advise against getting this game. It will only drive you mad!
VR Fighter vs. Taken 2
Now here’s a real strange one. Apparently inspired by the actually existing licensed effort of porting the 3D beat-’em-up Virtua Fighter 2 (which makes for a pretty decent game, by the way), the interestingly named VR Fighter vs. Taken 2 proved to be more than just orthographically challenging to the pirates! This game randomly grabs characters out of the Virtua Fighter and Tekken franchises (and throws Candy from Fighting Vipers into the mix as well) and puts them up against each other. It includes voice samples that definitely have been taken from Virtua Fighter 2, which makes me wonder why they didn’t rip the sprites from that game as well. Instead, they seem to have been redrawn by the hackers themselves – at least the Virtua Fighter characters don’t resemble their licensed Sega counterparts, and I can find no other game where the Tekken characters look as they do here. This doesn’t help though, and since the new sprites look horrifying at times and ugly at best, the animation doesn’t fare much better. As for the gameplay, the controls are pretty stiff and unresponsive. Pulling of a jump kick is very hard to to, and timing an attack turns into a random challenge. This game is pretty irritating and ugly to look at, and should therefore be avoided. Try to uncover and pick up Sega’s official Virtua Fighter 2 for the Genesis instead!
Tekken 3 Special
Let’s stay a bit longer in the realm of 3D fighters ported to the Genesis. If you’ve read the previous paragraph, you may already know what to expect from this game. The only thing is that this one is much, much worse!
Even though the sprites are bigger and sport a slightly different look, they don’t look good. On the contrary, they are mostly blocky, with all kinds of strange shades running all over their bodies – it seems like the hackers took a picture of the side-view of the original 3D fighter, flattened down the image to 2D graphics and tuned down the graphics resolution. The result – pure and simply put – is ugly!
Controls-wise, Tekken 3 Special is a nigh-unplayable effort. The collision detection doesn’t quite work. Sometimes, instead of hitting the opponent, the characters simply pass through each other. Special moves are existent, but impossible to pull off, an issue the computer AI of course doesn’t have any problems with. However, at times the game suddenly becomes ridiculously easy. For instance, if you use a controller with a turbo button, you just need to press down punch and you’ll win the round with no effort at all! If you try to play this game in two-player mode, then good luck! It’s impossible to determine when you’ll actually hit your opponent and when not. Sometimes he seems out of reach, and you land a hit nevertheless. Other times you stand right before him, and nothing happens at all!
This one definitely is a no-go! Avoid!
Top Fighter 2000 MK VIII
In places where pirate games are sold, this game sometimes is also mistakenly labeled Mortal Kombat 8. However, even though it freely borrows characters from other beat-’em-up franchises (Street Fighter, Dragonball, Art of Fighting, X-Men etc…), about the only thing missing here is an actual character out of Mortal Kombat!
Top Fighter 2000 MK VIII has already been discussed on this page a while back, so I won’t go too much into detail here. This game has some great graphics, and even though the sprites have been ripped from other games, they are of top-notch quality. Ryu has never looked so good on the Genesis before! It’s a shame though that they only implemented a three-button control scheme into the game. With more complex controls, this might have been one of the best fighters for the Genesis overall! Definitely worth checking out!
Fight Like a Pirate!
There’s a ton of strange and even enjoyable fighters coming from hacks. If their developers took more time to work with the code, they might actually have some really memorable games.