Sega's AM2 heyday yielded some ground-breaking titles, and with it's latest trio of Arcade releases Sega is allowing us to revisit the hard-hitting Virtua Fighters 2, the oft raunchy Fighting Vipers and the plain bizarre Sonic the Fighters. If nothing else, you can't acuse of Sega of lacking variety in their fighting games!
Let's start off with the obvious heavyweight, Virtua Fighter 2. This is one of Sega's genuine classics, and as such it has the core elements nailed down tightly; responsive controls, balanced move-set and fluid animation. While it looks dated, it plays impressively for its age. Fights are fast and brutal, with some combos removing half a life-bar, making it the perfect coin-eating arcade game.
Virtua Fighter 2 is the only game of the three to have pedigree - its predecessor was a straight-forward, intuitive rush, and the sequel shares these genes. Every fighter is based on a style of combat instead of an archetype, and this purity of vision has helped it to age gracefully. You can clearly see the roots of the latest Virtua Fighter game here, and it's lovely. The usual three-attack button layout is still used, ring-outs are plentiful due to confined spaces and no walls, and the variety of fighters is just enough to keep it interesting.
In contrast, Fighting Vipers takes that purity of vision and throws in a ton of wacky Sega characters that seemed to be their trademark of the era. In the vein of PowerStone, Crazy Taxi or even Jet Set Radio, Fighting Vipers is all about style and having fun. To this end the roster is far more interesting than Virtua Fighter, with armoured pugilists facing off in closed arenas. The flashy style instantly makes Fighting Vipers the most eye-catching release of the set, and the fact that you can break off armour will certainly please the fanboys when it comes to the two rather well-endowed lady fighters.
The actual mechanics aren't half bad either. The walls and juggles certainly separated the game from its contemporaries of the time, and the armour mechanic actually serves a practical purpose - once broken it won't come back even for a fresh round, and you're twce as vulnerable without it.
Where Fighting Vipers struggles is with depth; there just isn't any. The game can be easily beaten in arcade mode, the achievements can be picked up in under ten minutes - coupled with the dated look of the graphics, the initial shine soon wanes and you'll be longing for the non-nonsense thrills of Virtua Fighter again. It's still an interesting curio, with it's wacky and bizarre leanings providing short-term amusement, but it won't be winning any awards for longevity.
Finally, Sonic the Fighters. This was, bizarrely, the one that caught my attention. Y'know, because it's Sonic. In a fighter.
Sadly, this really is the runt of the litter, with an aesthetic that looks distinctly off-kilter, a bizarre choice of roster and a distinctly ugly aesthetic that only a mother-company could love. Utilising the Fighting Vipers engine (see how I've cleverly ordered these reviews?) it makes the transition sans intelligent camera, and what you end up with is a confusing 45 degree angle that makes it 10x harder to actually hit anything. Your combos consist of hitting the same button multiple times.
Also curious is the roster. Four classics (Sonic, Amy, Knuckles, Tails) and four non-entities is absolutely criminal given the massive population of Sonic's universe. It's easy, it's dull and frankly it's ruining my childhood and I want it to stop. It wasn't considered any good in its day, and it certainly isn't worth your time now.
Overall then, it's a very mixed package. Purists will lap up Virtua Fighter, casual fans will take to Fighting Vipers and masochists will lap up Sonic, so there's a little something for everyone. It can be a pleasure to revisit the past, but nowhere in recent memory has a trio of games from one publisher demonstrated what a mixed bag this can be!
Virtua Fighter 2: 7/10
Fighting Vipers: 6/10
Sonic the Fighters: Seriously?