It's really heating up down here in the battle of the beat 'em ups. The best looking contender 'Pretty Boy' Rise Of The Robots was knocked out in the first round with duff playability, but the remaining two combatants, the son of last years' champion Mortal 'No Hype ... honestly' Kombat 2 and Shadow Italian Stallion' Fighter, a relatively unknown outsider from the land of pasta and parma ham are still in the running. Blood is everywhere, joysticks have been broken and the referee has been beaten up by a German cop and had his spine ripped out by a man with a mask. Oh it's terrible ...
A month or so ago Gremlin Interactive announced that they had signed up the fighting game of the year, and few believed them. Come on, how can you have the fighting game of the year and not tell anyone about it until it's almost on the shelves? If it's that good they'd want to hype it up a little. But the reason for this lack of hype is simple. Gremlin didn't know they were going to release it themselves until roughly November of last year. And they weren't telling fibs either - it is good.
The game has been designed and programmed by an Italian team consisting of programmer Domenico Barba, graphic artist Fabio Capone and Fabio Cicciarello, the man responsible for its music and sound effects. They started work on it at the beginning of 1994, and it was some feat getting it all ready for release by Christmas.
Looking at the screenshots you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an update of Body Blows, the scaling of the sprites and graphic backgrounds are similar, but the game itself is different, in as much as any beat 'em up could be 'different'. Not for Shadow Fighter the beautiful rendered graphics of Rise or the realistic sprites of Mortal Kombat, these are pure cartoon fighters, but the level of animation is good and the separately scrolling backgrounds are smooth, if a tad colourless. That said, you can fight in 16 different countries, so you're never short of variety in the background stakes. There are three options available in the main menu as far as fighting is concerned: single player vs computer in championship mode, training which involves a single player vs the practice dummy Pupazz, one player single battle against the computer or human vs human. In the championship fight you can select one of six lower level characters and then battle your way past the other 15, while in any of the other three modes you can pick whichever character you like and fight against any other - except for the Shadow Fighter himself, who is reserved only for those who deserve to fight him.
The first thing you'll notice on Shadow Fighter's box is the 2000AD inspired artwork, the second is the flash in the corner which claims there's 'an amazing 17 different fighters'. Jolly good, no fibs here either: there are 17 fighters and they are all amazingly different. The range of characters goes far beyond the standard Streetfighter-inspired Ken and Ryu to include a fighting basketball player, a cop, a magic carpet riding Pakistani guru and a shape altering blob of T1000 type metal, not dissimilar in idea (but visually nothing like) the Supervisor in Rise Of The Robots.
Each character has a wide variety of standard blocking and hitting moves and up to five special moves. These range from the form morphing antics of Khrome, the flowing metal man to the rather Blanka like moves of Kury, the Tibetan monster. Special moves are carried out in the traditional joystick back-forward-fire style combination of sequential movements and it is essential that they are learned Each fighter will have one or two which are really easy to carry off and some of these enable long range attacks. None of the moves will take all of your opponent's power away but a well timed combination will finish him or her off pronto.
Although the manual claims are up to five special moves it doesn't tell you how to do all of them, and in the process of finding out you may find some other moves which look pretty special. Suffice to say that trying all possible joystick combinations will reap plentiful rewards.
I loved Shadow Fighter from the moment I first played it. The players' moves are fluid and the special moves aren't too difficult to discover and master. The game doesn't have as much hype surrounding it as Mortal Kombat 2 and it looks more old fashioned in terms of its graphics, but it scores well on playability and on the number of fighters you get to play. If MK2 hadn't been such a stunning conversion then Shadow Fighter would have walked all over it. As it stands we're divided over the two. In terms of the Amiga. Shadow Fighter is without doubt the best indigenous beat 'em up on it, but Ed Laurence who reviewed MK2 for us is a console fanatic too and has got caught up in the sense of excitement that has generated - so there's no doubt that beat em up purists will agree with him.
For my money though, and hype aside, if you were a Body Blows fan then Shadow Fighter has got enough characters and impact to keep you playing for a long time - and Gremlin have promised an expansion that will include eight more fighters early next year.
A hard beat 'em up game, where you can choose from many characters, bring up a huge amount of secrets, and enjoy the feeling of a real AGA based fighter game. Buy the way, it is not so brutal, there are many special moves, but all without violance.
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