Genre: Beat-‘Em-up Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1989
Thanks to some strict licensing policies used by Nintendo, Sega wasn’t able to get many third party companies to develop titles for the Master System. There was still a need for arcade conversions, since the company couldn’t produce enough original games on its own to satisfy its software needs, so licensing became a useful option. Sega optioned several arcade hits from different publishers and reprogrammed them itself for release on its 8-bit console. Irem, a prolific maker of coin-op games, licensed a pair of great titles, the shooter classic R-Type, and the side-scrolling beat-’em-up, Vigilante.
Anyone familiar with Irem’s earlier brawler, Kung-Fu Master, will instantly see the similarities between the two. Vigilante could be considered a spiritual sequel to that game, as it shares the same premise and style of play. Once more, a martial artist hero must save his lady love (changed from Madonna to Maria) from a gang of thugs. I’ve always wondered what why so many unsavory types in video games felt it was worth their time to abduct women for no reason. The only connection between the hero and the gang (renamed “Rogues” from the arcade’s “Skinheads”) in Vigilante was a turf dispute; it wasn’t even personal. The Rogues took over the town and the hero was simply in the way. I suppose that such trivialities like plot aren’t required in this sort of game since the object is to focus on beating up as many people as possible. That’s probably enough.
The gameplay was equally simple. Punching and kicking were basically all the moves available, so the Master System’s two buttons were sufficient. One could pick up items like nunchuks that were much more powerful than standard attacks, but these could be lost after taking too many hits. I must note the main character’s animation. For someone with so few moves, he looked great. He even looked good when he died! I do wish the gameplay had been as smooth. The hit detection seemed a bit delayed, making punches and kicks sometimes frustrating to execute correctly. It took some time to get used to but it thankfully wasn’t game breaking.
Over the game’s five stages, players whomped a seemingly never-ending stream of similar enemies as they made their way towards the boss. These areas were varied in design, taking players through the kinds of locales one might expect when fighting a turf war. Junkyards, storefronts, and construction sites were some of the wonderful places where one could lay waste to scores of bad guys. The Master System kept all of the coin-op stages but toned down some of the detail. Moreover, the character sprites were smaller, but overall, Vigilante looked very good and retained all the style of its source material. Thankfully, all the character types were there – basic thugs, knife fighters, shooters, and all the bosses. The graphical downgrade wasn’t a problem; such a thing was common at the time. The Master System port was colorful and clean, carrying over the look of the arcade game mostly intact.
The sound was a different issue, though. Vigilante had a great soundtrack, and the Master System’s tinny sound didn’t really do it justice. That’s not to call it bad, but it wasn’t quite as good. Thankfully, the game supported the console’s FM sound feature, despite not being released in Japan. I think Vigilante was a quick port, and Sega of America didn’t bother to remove the feature because it wasn’t used in North America games anyway. It’s a real shame, too. The music was so much better with it. The FM sound gave it depth and a richness that brought it a lot closer to the original product. I recommend that if possible, anyone playing it today should definitely activate it; it makes a world of difference.
In all, Vigilante was a solid port worthy of a place in anyone’s Master System library, and it’s still fun today. Its five stages provide more gameplay than one would think, and the game is perfect for those looking for a quick play. It’s definitely better with the FM sound feature, but I recommend it either way. We might get old but beating up thugs never does!
SCORE: 8 out of 10