Genre: Fighting Developer: Syrox Development Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1995
If you were a youngster in the U.S. back in the early 1990s, then you were probably caught up in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers craze that was sweeping the nation at the time. Released by Saban Entertainment, the Power Rangers had kids glued to their televisions week after week and their parents buying up action figures, video games and any other licensed merchandise in droves. Looking to expand upon their success, Saban put forth another show similar in style called V.R. Troopers which dealt with the exploits of teen heroes Ryan Steel, Kaitlin Star and J.B. Reese as they battled against the virtual reality villain Grimlord and his attempts to conquer the Earth. Ryan, Kaitlin and J.B. were just ordinary teens until they transformed into their V.R. Troopers battle suits which endowed them with enhanced fighting capabilities and advanced weaponry to kick the butts ofGrimlord’s minions every week. Assisting them in each show was the mysterious Professor Hart who developed the virtual reality technology that gave the teens their abilities, and Jeb the talking dog. Unfortunately, V.R. Troopers never caught fire like the Power Rangers did and was ultimately cancelled after just two seasons which ran from 1994 to 1996.
In 1995 Syrox Developments Ltd in the United Kingdom released two fighting genre games based on the V.R. Troopers license for Sega, one for the Genesis and the other for the Game Gear. Players took control of the three principle characters as they fought to escape a fiendish plan devised by Grimlord which traps the trio inside a virtual reality arcade game where their only way out is to fight through an array of their nemesis’ evil doers. Sounds like a hokey setup, right? Sure, but this is a fighting game where we don’t need too many reasons to bash somebody’s skull in.
V.R. Troopers on the Genesis is a barebones fighting game at its core that’s devoid of blood, gore, and excessive violence. All three main characters have a comparable set of punches, kicks and throws with only three special moves per character to make them stand apart from one another. Even though you select one of the three Troopers to start playing the game, you aren’t limited to just that character for the duration of the play through. Prior to the start of the each match you can choose from all three troopers to go up against your current opponent. The game follows the standard fighting genre rules with the winner of two rounds advancing to the next opponent in line. If you’d like, the matches can be extended to the best of five rounds or sudden death mode in the options menu. Between bouts is a bonus round called Battle Grid where you’ll fend off pairs of cannon fodder Skugs in a timed survival mode. Losing to the Skugs in Battle Grid means you’ll be using one of three continues the game gives you to have another crack at it.
Despite being a part of the television show, the execution of Battle Grid looks like it was tacked on at the last minute to pad the game’s length. You can forget about using your special attacks here as they won’t work, leaving you with only your standard set of moves. There’s a health meter for the Skugs at the top right of the screen, but it never depletes as you defeat each pair of them. You might also encounter an extremely annoying glitch if you become stuck in close quarters between two Skugs. The little punks will mercilessly beat on you from both sides until your health meter is gone and only large amounts of button mashing can free yourself, if you’re lucky. The best advice is to move to one corner of the screen and perform jump punches or kicks to keep the Skugs back and run out the clock at the same time. At least the Battle Grid theme music is enjoyable as the timer runs down.
As with any fighting game there’s a line of enemies you must demolish to get to the final boss and eventually win, or escape from Grimlord’s virtual reality trap, in this case. To that end, he’s put together diverse, albeit uninteresting cast of characters to stop you. There’s the sword-wielding and instantly-teleporting Decimator, the mechanical ape Kongbot who must be Mecha King Kong’s little brother, the walking artillery piece Tankotron, the vile Darkheart who sports a cloaking device, and the magic wielding Magician whose magical abilities are more in line with Bullwinkle the Moose’s attempts to pull a rabbit out of his hat than David Copperfield. One of the Magician’s spells turns both you and him into two random characters in an attempt to confuse the player. Most of the time, you’ll get the better end of the bargain when you’re transformed into Decimator or Kongbot and then you can put the smackdown on him.
Once you’ve fought your way through these guys you’ll then go up against three evil clones of Ryan, Kaitlin, and J.B. before the final confrontation with the powerful Kamelion, who pulls a page from Shang Tsung’s playbook to transform himself into any of your previous adversaries. Once he’s been beaten, which isn’t all that difficult, you’re treated to a very short ending and development team credit sequence before returning to the main menu. On the game’s default moderate difficulty setting and with some practice with each of the three characters, you can expect to finish it in about 25-30 minutes. At least five of these minutes or more will be spent doing the stupid jump punch or kick trick just to run out the clock in Battle Grid.
V.R. Troopers supports both the three and six button control pads with an unusual twist on the control scheme. On moderate difficulty and above you’re limited to the A, B, and C buttons for throws, punches, and kicks. The special moves for each character require a short combination to execute and are easily done with just three buttons. If you drop the difficulty to the kids or easy settings, the X, Y and Z buttons on the six button pad now function as a one button combo for each of the three special moves. For example, if you wanted to blast somebody with J.B.’s Laser Lance, ordinarily you’d have to press forward on the D-Pad and the B button, but on the lower difficulty you just press the X button and spam fire away.
The controls are responsive for the most part although moving and jumping with the Troopers feels like trying to perform acrobatics with the Incredible Hulk. The overall game play is pretty bland to be completely honest and you’ll end up using the same combos repeatedly due to the dim witted A.I. falling for them almost every time. However, if you want a real challenge, raise the difficulty to manic which drastically increases the amount of damage an enemy can dish out and take and then see how far you can get. The main menu allows you to play the story game which is the standard one player fight to the top setup. You can bash your friends in the Vs. Battle mode which allows players to select from every character in the game or go the practice route and beat on the A.I. in the CPU duel option.
On the graphical end V.R. Troopers visuals are good but not great by any means. All characters lack detail although the game does make good use of the Genesis’ color palette, at least in the backgrounds which feature some nice scrolling effects but display few animations to really make them stand out. Character animations can be stiff and lethargic and overall lack the fluidness of those found in Mortal Kombat 2 and Street Fighter 2.
V.R. Troopers’ soundtrack is reminiscent of the show’s hyper action pace and while most of the score isn’t memorable, a few tracks do stand out like the Battle Grid theme and the stage music for the Ziktor Skyline and the Forest levels. Sound effects are okay for the most part, such as some of the hit and weapon effects, but the rest could’ve used some improvement. On the voice front there’s a limited selection of grainy samples for upper cuts and special moves to be heard which aren’t that great either. If you take a spin through the sound effects in the Options menu you’ll find several extra voices that were either cut or never implemented in the final version the game.
In the final analysis I can’t recommend V.R. Troopers to anyone who’s a veteran fan of fighting games on the Genesis. It’s lacking in so many areas that you’ll end up playing it once and never again. That being said, if you wanted to introduce young kids today to the 16-bit era fighting scene in a game that doesn’t feature complex controls or dump buckets of blood and guts on the screen, V.R. Troopers could be a viable option. It’s easy to learn and I’m sure they wouldn’t take notice of the game’s flaws that stick out like a sore thumb to older and more experienced fighting fans.
SCORE: 4 out of 10