Genre: Fighting Developer: AM2 Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 2 Released: 1997
Published in the USA on May 13, 1997 for the Sega Saturn, Fighters Megamix combined the characters, stages, and gameplay from the Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers games. Incredibly, SEGA also included a generous number of fun bonus characters and many moves from Virtua Fighter 3, including the awesome side-step escape move. The 3D escape to the side of your opponent may seem like a common fighting-game staple now, but it was a fresh new concept back in 1997 and personally, I find it hard to adjust to its omission when I go back to Virtua Fighter 2 or Last Bronx, which have no side-step.
Fighters Megamix was an outstanding effort by SEGA’s AM2 team back in 1997, and the game is still impressive today in its performance, scope and playability. Going back to replay FMM recently, I was pleasantly surprised to find the years have been kind to this game. The gameplay and presentation on show here are of very high quality, and both single and multiplayer modes are still a lot of fun. The load times are negligible. The fighting action is fast, fluid, and easy to control. There are many easy-to-perform instant combos, yet there is also a satisfying challenge in mastering the more advanced strings of moves. This yields a depth of gameplay strategies, for which the Virtua Fighter series has always been known. For example, consider Sanman‘s two half-circle style of throws. If you are accurate enough, you can follow-up with a knock-down move. One of his throws works if the fallen character’s feet are closest to you, and a different throw can be performed if the fallen opponent’s head is closest to you. If you do the latter move correctly, Sanman throws the opponent around like a rag doll, and you get that much closer to winning the round. It’s embarrassingly satisfying to do this. Maybe I like it so much because it reminds me of the “Hulk vs Loki” scene from the 2012 film Marvel’s Avengers. I wonder if Joss Whedon, the director of that film, was a Sanman player?
Getting back on topic, when playing the single-player mode on normal difficulty, FMM seems a bit less technical and a bit more accessible than a pure VF game. Some of the running slides and dodging throws and subsequent stomps will usually erode your opponent’s health significantly, but if you have mad VF skills and the game starts to seem easy or shallow, just bump up the difficulty to hard or extra hard and you’ll find the game’s AI will take more advantage of combos, becoming noticeably tougher to defeat. Thankfully, the AI never seems quite as ruthlessly intelligent as the merciless AI found in Saturn’s Virtua Fighter 2! I think many gamers will actually find that a good thing.
The main single-player gameplay offers nine paths labeled as Course A through Course I, with character themes such as the “Virtua Fighters,” the “Girls,” and the “Dirty Fighters.” Each path has six characters to fight and then a “?” surprise boss which you will unlock after you win the round. Speaking of unlocking, lots of cool stuff gets revealed as you make progress, including art, new paths, new options, and the hidden characters. My favorite secret characters are Siba, an Arabian with a sword and moves borrowed from other VF fighters character who was cut from the original VF game. Also, there’s Janet from Virtua Cop 2, who was given the Virtua Fighter 3 character Aoi’s moves. along with an actual HANDGUN attack. Lastly, who can resist playing as the Daytona USA Hornet car in the fighting ring? Although the Hornet’s move set is limited, you can pull off a certain move to throw off all its “armor” (actually its body paneling, revealing its engine and inner parts), and this frees up new moves. My least favorite secret characters are the Virtua Fighter Kids, Akira and Sarah; their tiny arms and legs have no reach! There are 12 unlockable characters in all, although a few are not serious fighters and could be viewed more as novelty characters (Mr. Meat and AM2 Palm Tree, I’m looking at you!). The bottom line is that Fighters Megamix offers a nice amount of comical variety applied to a modified VF fighting style, so if it sounds cool to pull off a pile driver on a giant green duck, or to throw an old drunken Chinese man like a bowling ball, then seek out the treasure that is Fighters Megamix!
You are given the option to fight in either Virtua Fighter mode or Fighting Vipers mode. Personally, I usually pick the flashier, armor-breaking and more combo-driven Vipers mode, since it distinguishes itself from VF2. Playing in this mode, you can use flashing power moves to more easily knock off the top or bottom armor of the Vipers characters, revealing their bare arms and legs and undergarments, but more importantly making them much more vulnerable to your attacks. The Vipers‘ rings are surrounded by fences and walls. In contrast, The Virtua stages are flat, infinite planes with distant background images and no ring outs, which works but makes these stages a bit simplistic. Frankly, I love the inclusion of the cages! If you finish a P-P-P combo near a wall, the Vipers characters will incorporate a wall move, either smashing or grinding the opponent’s head against the wall. Characters can quickly scale a wall and jump off to surprise their opponent or do a throw move and hurl another fighter right into a wall head-first. If you connect with a Vipers Mode “flashing move” as your final hit, you’ll pull off an extremely satisfying explosive attack, smashing your opponent through a wall as its segments crumble to the ground! Armor-breaking attacks also trigger a triple replay!
SEGA added even more fun content to this festival of fighting by giving us several additional modes of gameplay. I specifically want to mention the Survival Mode and the helpful Training Mode. I’ve had a great time learning the moves of each character in Training Mode, then playing Survival Mode testing the newly learned moves and trying to beat my highest score. Doing well enough in the three survival modes helps to unlock some “Extra Options.” Team Battle Mode allows you to pick up to eight fighters, choosing whether you’ll recover life each round or not, and then battle CPU or opponents chosen by the second player. The fast loading time of FMM is appreciated between rounds! Finally, Vs. Mode is for two-players, each picking one character at a time.
Graphically, Fighters Megamix seems to run at 60 FPS (or close to it) most of the time but uses a lower resolution than SEGA’s other Saturn fighting games like Virtua Fighter 2 and Last Bronx, and it seems like the characters have fewer polygons. A lower resolution is a trade-off that SEGA AM2 made to handle the processing demands of extra effects and the 3D in-game elements. At times, you’ll notice some blocky ugliness in limbs and faces in the static win poses, and when accompanied by the end-match loud guitar riffs, you might just chuckle a bit at the awesome cheesiness of it all. In motion, however, the 3D models perform well; SEGA’s character animation is superb as usual, and the game is colorful and attractive. The Saturn is pulling off impressive 32-bit graphical effects such as light sourcing, Gouraud shading, hit sparks, 3D interactive walls, high-resolution backgrounds, and exploding armor, all at a fast frame rate. If you compare FMM with many other early 3D titles from the ’90s, the graphical quality is even more impressive, despite some polygon dropout and dropped frames now and then. Fighters Megamix positively represents the SEGA Saturn and SEGA’s heritage of high quality arcade-action games.
There are three minor foibles of FMM that irk me, so I’ll share them. First of all, it takes too long to unlock some things. For what you get in secret characters Mr. Meat and the AM2 Palm Tree (funny novelty characters with simplistic moves), it takes too much time to unlock them. You will never see these characters if you don’t keep your save file counting the number of games played and hours taken. I hope your Saturn’s CR2032 battery doesn’t die in the meantime! The second issue I have is that after each round, the stage’s music resets to the beginning again. Why doesn’t the track just keep playing into round two, so we can hear the full wonderful track? And finally, my third issue concerns the armor breaking in the single-player mode. It takes so long to break an opponent’s armor that by the time I’ve done it, the character is often practically defeated at that point anyway.
As a VF and SEGA fan, I feel that Fighters Megamix for the SEGA Saturn deserves a rating of 10 out of 10. There is a technical brilliance and a knowing intuition of what constitutes enjoyable gaming that AM2 demonstrated with this game, not to mention the generosity seen in the delivered amount of content and variety. If you like SEGA characters and SEGA’s Virtua style of 3D fighting gameplay, there is a lot to love and enjoy here. It’s a mystery why SEGA hasn’t done a newer version of this game for modern consoles.
SCORE: 10 out of 10