With the boom of the 3D era in 1996, some of our old favorite genres took a backseat to this changing of the guard. Or in some cases, they became an endangered species. One of those was the beat ‘em up genre. From the glorious late ’80s to early-mid ’90s, beat ‘em ups ruled the arcade (and home console) scene. From classics such as Final Fight, Double Dragon, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage just to name a few, they were a staple of many childhoods. But they went by the wayside when 3D gaming ushered in the next generation. Enter Sega’s Die Hard Arcade. It was a 3D interpretation of the classic beat ‘em ups of yore. A Saturn port was released a year later in March of 1997. It’s not the best game in the world but damn if it isn’t wacky fun.
30 YEARS OF KICKING TERRORIST ASS
Today (July 15, 2018) marks the 30 year anniversary of Die Hard. Released in theaters on July 15, 1988, Die Hard carved its way into our hearts and memories. The film followed the exploits of one, John McClane. A one man wrecking crew, he attempts to save his separated wife and countless hostages from the vile clutches of some East German terrorists. Taking place over the course of one wild night (Christmas Eve) and one highly memorable location (the fictionally named Nakatomi Plaza), Die Hard was an action movie for the ages. It launched Bruce Willis into superstardom and had one critic call it “a perfect action movie in every detail, the kind of movie that makes your summer memorable.”
The film worked on so many levels. One of its biggest reasons was the pinpoint portrayal of villainous mastermind, Hans Gruber (arguably one of the best movie villains of all time, right up there with the likes of Darth Vader himself). Played by Alan Rickman, Hans Gruber was masterfully memorable for his accent and wicked ways.
Die Hard was filmed at Fox Plaza in Los Angeles. Completed in 1987, Fox Plaza is 35 stories tall (493 feet) and served as the film’s memorable backdrop. Made on a budget of 28 million, Die Hard went on to gross that number five times over for a whopping 128.1 million. There are currently five Die Hard films with a sixth one on the way. Willis will reprise the role of McClane but a younger version is being cast for the earlier portions of the film which will depict McClane as a rookie cop in the ’70s. Happy 30 years, Die Hard!
My girlfriend and I caught Skyscraper in theaters last night. I’m a big Rock fan but this one just didn’t do it for me. Maybe I was subconsciously comparing it too much to Die Hard, but it had none of the charm and memorable characters.
Die Hard Arcade was conceived by AM1’s Makoto Uchida. Uchida worked on numerous well known Sega titles such as Altered Beast and Golden Axe. A big fan of the original Die Hard film, Uchida had the idea of creating a 3D beat ‘em up with Die Hard as his main inspiration.
THE STORY GOES…
Wolf Hongo and his cronies have invaded a skyscraper in Los Angeles. They want the vast riches in the vault and have also kidnapped the president’s daughter. It’s up to you (and your partner) to stop Wolf.
Die Hard Arcade doesn’t take itself seriously as seen here. The president’s daughter manages to elude the bad guys at some point and they cannot find her despite her being right under their nose.
DEEP SCAN CAMEO
Deep Scan is a 1979 arcade game from Sega. Play it to earn extra continues.
“WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!”
The action starts out hot and heavy on this little rooftop ledge.
Many weapons are in play, including brooms!
There’s also the ever reliable handgun.
The blocky graphics add to the charm of the game. It’s a little rough around the edges, literally, but that’s just all part of the charm.
Quick time events, if handled right, allow you to recover some lost health. If you fail however, you’ll need to clear that area of any bad guys that linger. You have to pay attention to which button they ask you to press, like a Simon Says. It’s pretty neat and was later used in Shenmue on the Dreamcast.
Next, make your way to this elevator lobby where you can beat up the bad guys with everything from a missile launcher to a grandfather clock! This game is ridiculous and I can’t help but love how insane it is.
The bum in the green hat actually falls into the blue dumpster during a cutscene prior to McClane arriving on the scene. As stated earlier, Die Hard Arcade doesn’t take itself seriously and has a ton of black humor.
Watch out for the water spray, which can juggle you for damage. It can also hurt the enemies. Pick up the fire axe and hack away. There are also exploding barrels that you can heave their way.
The next scene is unforgettable. One of the bad guys is relieving himself as you approach ready to maim. Stuff like this is what makes video games so great.
Yes, John McClane is suplexing a naked man in a diaper. Some descriptions defy logic.
Anti-tank rifles, clubs, guns and more can be used here. Or just kick their ass the good old fashioned way. Toilet paper rolls roll around. This section is by far my favorite part of the game and I wish it were longer.
Use robot arms lying around to send these bastards back to the trash heap.
“Come on, hand over the club. We all know how this ends.”
This big, beefy, masked mauler is one tough son of a gun. It’s a good thing you can shoot his ass and throw chairs at him, then. I love the whale swimming in the aquarium tank in the background.
THE SEQUEL: DYNAMITE COP
A sequel, Dynamite Deka 2 or Dynamite Cop in North America, came out in 1999. It was released in the arcade and on the Sega Dreamcast. It takes place on a boat and similar to the first game, has something of a cult following behind it.
DYNAMITE DEKA EX: ASIAN DYNAMITE
8 years later, a revised version of the second game was released in arcades in Japan only. It was an odd release to say the least. By then the beat ‘em up genre was even more obscure than it had been in the early 2000s. The game was never ported to home consoles nor did it ever officially leave Japan.
RE-RELEASE ON THE PLAYSTATION 2
In 2006, Dynamite Deka was re-released in Japan for the PlayStation 2 under the Sega Ages 2500 budget line. It featured revamped graphics.
Die Hard Arcade was even made into a manga by the name of Burning 2020.
It’s pretty incredible how Japan latches on to random entities and makes a “thing” out of them.
GameTZ (or Game Trading Zone) was a website where gamers can share their wanted and available list of games. You can browse other users’ listings and message them to strike up trades. I joined on March 21, 2001 — I was still a few months away from graduating high school. It was a crazy fun time… it was like the Wild West of the internet back in those days. People were more willing to trade before the site became a shell of itself in the years to come. My third deal there was trading my copy of Resident Evil (PlayStation 1) and $6 for Virtua Cop 2 and Die Hard Arcade (Saturn). At that time, I had just gotten back into all things Sega Saturn and I vividly remember the day Virtua Cop 2 and Die Hard Arcade arrived in the mail. Later that night, my brother and I binged on both games and it was the best arcade experience at home I had had in the longest time. It sent me on a tailspin of endless Saturn love as I would explore the system’s library further in-depth and uncover the most obscure of obscure games. Great memories!
There were truly some funky deals I made on GameTZ. Maybe a story for another day. But I can’t resist sharing a few right now. I once got Street Fighter Collection in exchange for Golden Axe: The Duel and an obscure Wolfgang Krauser collectible that I got in the mail circa 1994 via TAKARA. But perhaps my funniest trade was getting High Velocity (an obscure racing game for the Saturn) for my Predator 2 VHS copy. Ah, GameTZ, how I loved thee once upon a moon.
Die Hard Arcade is a blast. It never takes itself too seriously, it’s violent as hell and it’s stupid fun with a friend by your side. My brother and I loved playing this game and although it’s short at around 20 minutes or so, we kept coming back to it over the years. It’s a true testament to how fun and over the top the game is. We didn’t care that the graphics were a little blocky or that the story wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen a thousand times before: a good beat ‘em up should be fun and Die Hard Arcade most certainly is.
There’s actually something charming about the blocky visuals. It was in the early days of 3D where polygons were mostly blocky. Developers were still finding their way with the new style of graphics; it was a sign of the times. But the best thing about this game is teaming up with a buddy to kick terrorist ass in the most amusing of ways. Whether you’re chucking a grandfather clock at the bad guys or beating them upside the head with a broom, Die Hard Arcade is a memorable foray into the realm of the 3D beat ‘em up. It’s campy, over the top and balls to the walls nutty. It’s not a perfect game, but for what it is, it’s perfect (if that makes sense). Now excuse me while I find my copy of this game and dust off the ol’ Saturn one more time…
Super Mad Champ is a motorcycle racing game with a dash of Road Rash, and then some. It’s a rather obscure game that I managed to acquire back in 2006 (the year I bought and originally wrote about many of these obscure Super Famicom imports). It’s not anything special but it does have a few features that are memorable and make it fun to dabble with here and there.
THE MAD CHAMPS
You get to pick from one of five thrill seekers. They’re a typical bunch but sometimes I wouldn’t have it any other way.
1. Good looking hero
2. Token female
3. The “cool” rebel
4. The “tough” guy
5. The punk
You earn more money with each race won as well as the number of opponents you knock off their bikes. You can use the money to buy a new bike (of which there are 12). You can tune them up as well. But don’t be fooled that this is some sort of sim-heavy racer. It’s an arcade-like racer through and through.
Two modes exist.
1. Grand Prix (3 cups with a password system)
2. Time Attack
Total of 18 tracks. Unfortunately, it is one player only.
TRICKS AND TRAPS
Press down to pop a wheelie. Try popping one right as you land after a big jump. If not, you’ll lose some momentum after landing. Every precious nanosecond counts!
During take offs, the computer is smart to always pops a wheelie as to not lose momentum upon landing.
Sometimes there’s a dip in the road. Other times a platform lays in the way. React accordingly to these obstacles and hazards.
DASH OF ROAD RASH
Fend off the competition with a well placed kick. Press the left shoulder button to kick to the left side, and the right shoulder button to extend the right leg. Two hits will do the trick.
SCROLL PLAYING GAMES
Scrolling is often what makes or breaks a game of this nature. In this case, I feared the worst coming from a smaller company, Givro (who developed the terrible Sega Genesis brawler Fighting Masters and most notably E.V.O.: The Search for Eden). I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how well Super Mad Champ scrolls. The lack of slowdown is a major plus as well. Not a bad job where many others have failed. The little details are pretty cool too, like the blades of grass that kick up when you powerslide on them.
Track variety is another important component of what makes a quality racing game, and Super Mad Champ has their bases fairly covered. There’s a decent amount of variety as you can see.
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
Up to this point you might be thinking “OK, it’s got some Road Rash I’ll grant you that. But I don’t see anything worth writing home about.” And my response… well, let me just show you some key pictures…
Whenever you get off your bike, whether by choice or force, this guy appears ready to fight. Both players have an energy bar and can block. It’s no Street Fighter II of course but it’s a fun novelty. You can only punch and jump kick, but this basic style works for this sort of game. Wait, actually, there is one more move you can do…
Yup, you can even steal the opposition’s motorcycle. Brilliant.
Few things are better than throwing bikes around. Just keep in mind that they too have an energy bar. The lower a motorcycle’s energy, the less velocity it can travel at. And should its health ever reach zero, well, KABOOM!
Looking for an easy way to upgrade your ride? Here’s my simple hijacking guide. Step 1: Come to a full stop, get off and wait.
Step 2: Give the next rider a good fist sandwich and then say hello to your new ride. Bada bing, bada boom.
Timed right, you can even knock off passing riders.
STREET FIGHTER II ROOTS
No fancy Hadoken motions here. Those moves above merely cap off punch combos (rapidly pressing Y). When you’re off your bike you have two options: fight or flight. You have to weigh your pros and cons. Fight too long and you’ll never get back in the race. If you don’t finish #1 or #2 (out of 5) you have to repeat the course. So it’s advisable to fight temptation. But should you engage in the occasional scuffle, make it quick and go. But if you just want to fool around? It’s fun to finish ‘em off.
The only other piece of info on the web I could find on this game (back in late 2006) states the following:
For those who are fans of the Kunio-kun series like I am, might be aware that at some point Technos planned on releasing Kunio Bike Racing game using the same engine from Kunio-tachi no Banka. What few people may know however, was that Kunio-tachi no Banka was actually developed by outside company called Almanic. Almanic was comprised of former Technos staff members, including Kunio-kun and Double Dragon director and producer, Yoshihisa Kishimoto. Almanic did a bunch of other stuff, but their best known work was Wonder Project J and its N64 sequel.
Anyway, Almanic was contracted by Technos to do Kunio-tachi no Banka (the true sequel to the very first Kunio-kun game), in addition to the bike racing game. While Technos ditched the bike racing, Almanic decided to released it anyway through another company and thus, it became Super Mad Champ (without Kunio’s presence in the game).
Mad Champ, as mentioned earlier, was developed on the Kunio-tachi no Banka-engine, meaning that both games, share a similar look. As a matter of fact, you can even get off your bike and fight against a rival biker (and steal his bike while you’re at it). The rest of the game plays like a typical bike racing simulator, in which you race in three different types of grand prix and customize your bike (and buy a new one when you can). It’s quite a fun little game.
Credit “Johnny Undaunted” (3/26/04)
Super Mad Champ (gotta love its campy title) was one of those obscure oddities I couldn’t wait to play back in 2006. I wondered if it was obscure because it was so bad or if maybe it was some sort of hidden gem. Turns out it’s neither but somewhere in the middle. The racing, being the meat of the game, is solid enough and the extracurricular activities make it that much more fun and memorable. It’s not going to light your world on fire but when you’re in the mood for an arcade-like racer on your SNES with a little silliness and black humor thrown in the mix, Super Mad Champ gets the job done. All in all, a fun little quirky racing game it is.
We all have those special games that aren’t necessarily great but that we cherish for one reason or another. The memories forged with that game through the years stands the test of time. For me, The Combatribes is that game. The North American SNES port turned 25 years old this month. I have so many nostalgic memories of The Combatribes. I rented it 7 times spanning a period of 6 years at 5 different rental stores. Just last weekend, I beat the game for the first time in 20 years when a friend and I took to the means streets of the Big Apple. It’s still as fun today as I remember it being 25 years ago. In many ways, The Combatribes is a relic from a bygone era. A reminder of when things were simpler. They just don’t make games like this anymore. It’ll always have a special place in my gaming heart.
FLASHBACK TO DECEMBER 1992
It’s been well documented on here that Power Moves was the first import I ever rented. One Saturday in late 1992, I happened to discover a brand new rental store. GAME HUNTER. It was the stuff legends were made of. Nothing but video games. Plastered from wall to wall. Best of all, they had a section devoted entirely to imports. Back in late ’92, this was absolutely mind-blowing.
The following week, January 1993, my dad took me back to Game Hunter. This time my brother accompanied me along, something he rarely did back in those days. But I had hyped up Game Hunter so much that he wanted to see it first hand. It was on that fateful day that we came across The Combatribes. The back of the box sold me with its big colorful sprites and Double Dragon-esque atmosphere. We played it to death that weekend and loved it!
The North American version of The Combatribes landed three months later. I remember seeing it at a mom and pop store named Video Mart. Man, I loved Video Mart. It was the epitome of mom and pop shops. It was stationed in a small lot next to Target. Right across the street you could see the much bigger Hollywood Video. In fact, that picture above is my actual childhood Hollywood Video store. That means right next to that Target sign is Video Mart (sadly not pictured). Anyway, I rented The Combatribes for a second time and my brother and I still loved it.
As the years went on, I rented Combatribes five more times. Back in those days, my brother shipped me out each weekend to rent his game of choice. Half of those Combatribes rentals were on account of my brother’s request. I had a freebie the other half and somehow I always came back to it. It was my comfort food. My mac and cheese, my burger, my pizza. The Combatribes was my special little game. It never failed to put a smile on my face. After all, it’s impossible to swing a thug by his heels, taking out his delinquent buddies in the process, and NOT grin.
Honestly, I don’t know why we never bought the game, seeing as how we rented it so much. But I do remember the last time I rented The Combatribes. It was the summer of 1997. I was feeling nostalgic on this particular Saturday night as an insatiable urge to visit my old stomping grounds overtook me and refused to let go. I guess my dad was in a similar mood because that night he and I made the trek back to our old home town. For what turned out to be the last time, we entered the hallowed halls of Video Mart. The store owner has known me since I was six when I first came trampling through Video Mart in 1989. That was the infamous night where Uncle Jimmy allowed me to rent John Carpenter’s Halloween, but that’s another story for another day.
The store owner dropped everything he was doing when he saw me walking through his door once more. He looked like he just saw a ghost. And for all intents and purposes, to him perhaps I was. My family moved in early 1996 and it’d been a year and a half since I last visited. He asked me where I’d been. It was like catching up with a long lost uncle you hadn’t seen in ages. Ah, the Video Mart man. And suddenly, all was right again in my innocent young world.
He used to hold a lot of video tapes for me back in the early-mid ’90s. Many nights he’d make a house call. Whether it was for the latest WWF extravaganza or a horror movie, I could count on him to supply me with what I needed. For some reason, I vividly remember a house call he made in 1994. “Hi Steve, Leprechaun 2 just came back in. It’s here on hold waiting for you.” It’s so strange that I remember that phone call conversation to this day, nearly 25 years later.
As I stood there that night, I could hear his accent ringing in my head again. Of course, he was speaking to me in the flesh then and there, y’see.
“Wow! Where have you been?”
Before I could answer, DING DING. I glanced over my shoulder and saw my dad stepping in the small dimly lit store. The two of them greeted as though they were long lost friends. We caught up for a while before I made my way to the corner where all the wrestling and horror tapes sat. Right beside that was a small wooden shelf adorned by about two dozen SNES boxes. It was July 1997 and he was still only renting out SNES games. No PlayStation, no Nintendo 64 or even Saturn. God Bless Video Mart. A flood of memories swept over me like a star streaking through the night sky as I gazed at the 24 or so SNES boxes. My eyes caught sight of The Combatribes. Oh my gosh… this was the same copy I rented over four years ago back in 1993. Sentimental value overtook me as I figured I would give it one last hurrah.
My brother couldn’t believe I came home that night with The Combatribes in tow. After all, it was ’97 and we had pretty much made the jump over to the PlayStation and N64. But for that one magical weekend, we turned back the clock. We beat the game three times before my dad and I headed back the very next night to return it. The Video Mart man greeted me with a huge grin and wished me the best of luck in high school. He also told me to please come back and visit. I said I would…
But sadly I never did.
High school happened. Life happened.
When I finally stopped by again in the late ’90s, Video Mart was gone. It was a sad day for me, and it made me wish that I’d visited earlier and kept my word. It’s a sad ending but I’ll never forget all the memories Video Mart gave me. Wherever that family may be today, I hope that life is treating them well.
NO COMBATRIBES DIATRIBE HERE
This marks my third and final review for The Combatribes. I submitted my first review of it to some random gaming site back in 1999. I wrote my second review for The Combatribes on March 30, 2007. Today — March 30, 2018 — marks 11 years since I wrote that review. This is as much a review as it is a loving look back on my nostalgic memories of the game.
My buddy Jeffrey Wittenhagen recently published a massive Super Nintendo book summarizing all 700+ North American SNES games. Several retro gamers contributed to the project; I was honored and lucky to be one of them. I wrote about nine game, including EarthBound and The Combatribes.
BEST ADVERTISING EVER
Oh definitely not! Look at poor Bullova there looking like f*cking Teen Wolf! They even switched his colors with Blitz’s. Speaking of Blitz, he looks like a Native American zombie! His in-game model does not look like that at all. The arcade version didn’t have such a hot ad but the SNES version definitely did.
Now if that isn’t the best SNES ad ever, I don’t know what is! 25 years later and I still remember it word for word. That closing remark is downright Schwarzeneggerian – “CYBORGS AIN’T LADIES!!” That’s just f*cking gold.
I liked the two in-game shots they chose, too. The blurbs were vintage early ’90s. I remember wanting to “blast the blazin’ Slash Skaters under the strobe lights of the Lexington Disco.” There was even a 1-on-1 VS. mode that tried to capitalize on the whole Street Fighter II rage. The mode wasn’t really good but hey, home bonuses!
THE STORY GOES…
I love how New York City is deemed “the center of all evil in the United States.” Good one, Technos…
I’m not sure why they changed the spelling of his name from Berserker in the arcade to Berzerker (maybe they were trying to go for that “cool” early ’90s ‘tude thing), but as you might guess, Berk is the all-around fighter of the group. He’s got decent power and speed. His swing has two revolutions.
Ah, Bullova. He was my guy from DAY ONE. The powerhouse of the group, Bullova can sustain the most damage of the trio. Slower than a snail but stronger than an ox, his swing sees a whopping four revolutions.
Not surprisingly, Blitz (as in Blitzkrieg) is the fastest of the group, but also the weakest. He incurs the most damage of the three but he’s quick enough to evade the carnage in some cases. Because he’s the weakest, his swing only gets one revolution. Poor guy.
And there’s the arcade shot. Not sure why they changed the height and weight, but the arcade version is super questionable. Berserker is 7 foot tall but only 176 pounds? Who is he — Manute Bol?!
THE MOVES OF DOOM
What resonated with me so much 25 years ago was all the killer moves you could do to inflict pain and punishment on the bad guys. My favorite one was the giant swing. Grab a thug by his heels and spin him round, knocking out anyone caught in his path of whirling destruction. It was brilliant and made me think, “Why hasn’t a beat ‘em up done this before?!”
SAVING THE BIG APPLE
Bullova, meet the Motorcycle Nuclear Warheads. Warheads, meet Bullova’s fist.
Bullova, ever the well-rounded Samaritan and not one to discriminate, shows off his lethal kicks as well.
Warheads are led by a fat slob that goes by the name of Fats. How appropriate! Before the big battle, he tells you he’ll give you a taste of his “lumber.” Hmm, just another typical night in the Big Apple, eh? Shouldn’t have wore that lipstick, Bullova…
Swinging a bad guy makes you invincible for the duration of your swing. It comes in real handy! I love Fats’ lumber — wait whoa! That didn’t come out right. But look at the amazing amount of detail on that sucker. I guess that’s what 12 MEGS of hot arcade action will get ‘cha back in good old 1993. Keep whacking his lumber [Er… -Ed.] and eventually Fats will lose his meal ticket.
Whatever you do, don’t try to throw Fats. He’s too big and will shove you hard to the canvas. Great attention to detail by Technos!
Speaking of attention to detail, look at the pain etched on Fats’ face as Bullova sends his fat ass flying to the ground. The SNES version added in some basic cutscenes between levels where the defeated boss offers some tips to our victorious heroes.
Making your way to Coney Island, you’re greeted by the Demon Clowns. The clowns are agile and somersault to safety if you attempt to throw them. Some even come drifting down from the sky on balloons. Gotta love that! But yeah, if you see Pennywise and the Joker, you’re not alone.
Technos with some major balls. First the Joker and now Karnov! Salamander is a big bad dude who carries a torch. He breathes fire and would be a hell of a smash hit at your local summer barbecue.
Remember Karnov from the arcade and later the NES? Damn, Technos…
Salamander will lose his torch after enough damage is inflicted. Watch out for his tricky leg kick when he’s down on the ground.
Bullova defeats Karnov, I mean, Salamander, and the dude squeals. I hope you like disco, because that’s where we’re headed!
LEXINGTON KING, HERE WE COME! Greet the Slash Skate Screamers with a meaty fist to the face. Swing them round and round over the flashing disco lights. Make it a night they’ll never forget… or remember…
Appropriately named Trash, this guy is a handful. He always takes me a continue or two to beat.
Swinging the skaters offers you temporary protection. After a long and grueling war, Trash clues you in to the next turf. Who’s up for a little baseball?
Nothing completes a quality beat ‘em up quite like a bad guy with a Mohawk. But don’t get caught up admiring it for long, unless you like being stabbed!
Throwing a bad guy into his buddies never fails to satisfy. The same can be said for a well placed uppercut that sends a bald mofo sailing in the air.
Windwalker carries a vicious Tomahawk, and he isn’t afraid to use it.
Bullova fights valiantly, but Windwalker’s Tomahawk proves to be too much.
Bodyslamming bald bastards may be a riot but it can leave you wide open for a vicious shoulder tackle. Luckily, Bullova gets the last laugh. Is there anything better in a beat ‘em up than clearing a stage with barely any health remaining?!
Windwalker is oddly admirable. Before the fight he promises to reveal everything you need to know should you be successful in defeating him, which he claims no one has done before. After losing to our heroes, Windwalker honors his word. See? There’s a decent soul underneath all that war paint and savagery.
Ground Zero Headquarters is at 1991 GZ Avenue, eh? How creative. Speaking of creative (or not), The Combatribes does what many beat ‘em ups from that era did… a boss rush on the final stage! Normally, I’m not a fan of the boss rush, but it’s actually not too bad here thanks to the fact that your health bar is refilled after each boss.
Shouldn’t you have learned your lesson last time, Fats? [I could ask you the same, Bullova… -Ed.]. Touche!
Elevator scenes are a classic staple in beat ‘em ups, but for me The Combatribes by far did it best! Double noggin knocker FTW!
There’s just too much subtle black humor in this game. I love it!
Karnov, I mean, Salamander… is back for more. He’s not so hot without his torch. Sorry…
Beware Trash’s gimpy leg attack. But if you position yourself correctly, you can safely squash the punk bastard!
Windwalker, I thought we were good, yo?! Nevermind, I take back what I said about you earlier being honorable and decent. DIIIIIIE!!!!! Hey, one of us has to, and it ain’t gonna be me! I got better things to do tonight than die.
Finally we make it to the top floor. You’re greeted by gun-toting enforcers. Lucky you! Fortunately, their long bodies are great for swinging and taking out their buddies.
Unfortunately, they’ll snipe yo ass if you let them.
Swinging protects you from even bullets. Whew! No time to admire the gorgeous night view — Bullova is too busy serving knuckle sandwiches!
Before you can exit to the rooftop, M. Bison, I mean, M. Blaster comes after you like the friggin’ T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Enforcers prove to be real pesky. If they’re not busy nailing you with the butt of their rifles, they be sniping yo ass!
Bullova is so strong that simply running into bad guys will knock them over! No punch required, although it certainly adds to the fun. But just when you think you got things in order, M. Blaster reveals a f*cking gun from his chest. Who does he think he is — MechaGodzilla?!
There’s no loyalty left in this world. Martha Splatterhead, we comin’ for you!
Martha is a bitch. It takes me at least two continues to beat her, if not three or four. On an interesting side note, the name Martha Splatterhead was taken from an ’80s punk band, The Accüsed, who had a zombie mascot by the same moniker. Technos with the shout out!
Splatterhead is lightning quick. She’s got that M. Bison psycho power shit going for her. You feel quite lucky when you do manage to get your licks in.
Technos back in those days had an affinity for making the final blow happen in slow mo. It makes delivering that last attack so damn satisfying.
Martha reveals she can’t control herself and that you were the only one who could put an end to her terrible reign. It’s actually quite sad. I even felt a little sympathetic for her. She was a cyborg programmed for evil. She couldn’t help herself, even if she wanted to. I always felt this made her stand out from the typical “I want to rule the world!” type of final boss we would see in similar games from that era.
There’s a strange mix of melancholy and triumph in the closing shots. Martha Splatterhead was once a part of The Combatribes unit, but went rogue. Still, there will always be that inexplicable bond shared between the four of them. Thus, the boys set out to give Martha a proper burial. It’s interesting to note that in the arcade, Martha Splatterhead has no backstory and she shows up at the end as the true big bad with no explanation. I like how the SNES home port humanized her. Well, as much as one can humanize a cyborg, anyhow!
STREET FIGHTER II — NOT REALLY
Remember the home port of Double Dragon on the NES? It contained a special home bonus: a 1-on-1 fighting game mode. It was very basic though but hey, it’s hard to complain about anything that is a bonus.
Technos does it again! At the end of each stage, a password is given. This password isn’t to skip stages, though. It’s used rather to unlock the bad guys in the 1-on-1 mode. Select from one of three stages. The first two stages contains hazards similar to the Death Matches from World Heroes. The third stage takes place in a single plane field.
Insert the code of 9207 and it gives you access to all 16 fighters! Now before you get too excited — no SNES fighting game gave you 16 characters until 1994’s Super Street Fighter II — it is pretty limited in terms of moves and overall fluid control. Still, it’s a notable home bonus and certainly a novelty that’s worth checking out at least once if not a few times. It’s definitely better than the Double Dragon one.
Curious to see who would win between Fats and Salamander? Wonder no more! This mode answers all your burning questions. I love the animation of Fats “running.”
There’s a subtle sense of black humor to this game, as seen here. Fats may appear to be safe but in actuality he’s quite screwed.
Hilarious! My brother and I used to just dick around on this mode back in the day. Like I said, it’s mostly a novelty but it can kill 10 minutes or so.
Fascinated to try one of the low-tier bums? You can! It’s interesting to note that their health starts out lower than the bosses and protagonists, and rightfully so. These fighters are pretty much useless but it quells the morbid curiosity.
Bullova channeling his inner HADOKEN! This special move is exclusive to this mode. Nice to see Technos put some effort into it.
Surrounding hazard will harm you if touched. This probably looks ho-hum now but back in early 1993 it was rather memorable and impressive.
Martha Splatterhead or M. Blaster? You can finally settle that score once and for all…
ARCADE VS. SNES COMPARISON
It’s interesting to note, concerning the differences in stage two, that a picture was used for the SNES port in the February 1993 issue of EGM that depicted said scaffold. Whether this was a beta shot of the actual SNES port or not, we’ll never know.
On controller 2, hold X, A, and L and reset the game. Release the buttons when the title screen appears. 10 Credits
On controller 2, hold L , R and Select and reset the game. Release the buttons when the title screen appears. 30 Credits
On controller 2, hold X + Y on it, and reset the game. Release the buttons when the title screen appears. 5 Round Match in VS. Mode
Hold L, R, and Up on controller 2 then reset the game. Double your life
On controller 2, hold A + B on it, and reset the game. Release the buttons when the title screen appears. One Round Match in VS. Mode
On controller 2, hold A+B+L+R and reset the game. Release the buttons when the title screen appears. Super Difficulty Level
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The critics were not too kind to The Combatribes. GameFan gave it ratings of 48, 56, 69and 69%. Super Play rated it 57%. But among retro gamers on the internet it seems to have a decent fan following. It’s definitely not for everyone, but I enjoyed it a lot 25 years ago and I still do to this day.
As you can tell from this extensive rundown of my history with The Combatribes, it has a special place in my gaming heart. While it isn’t the smoothest playing beat ‘em up on the SNES (that honor goes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time), it’s an absolute blast playing this with a like-minded friend. In my experience, more fun than most other 2-player SNES beat ‘em ups. In fact, it’s a completely different experience (and animal) when playing with a buddy in tow. Double the swinging and double the smashing makes a bonafide difference. There are some beat ‘em ups that I can have fun playing alone but The Combatribes was designed for two players in mind. Yes, it’s a little clunky and rough around the edges, but there’s so much brutality and subtle black humor that I can’t help but love it. Jumping on a goon’s back before smashing his face in the canvas, or swinging him by his heels to takes out any compadres within arm’s length… this is the epitome of what it feels like to be a brooding badass! The visuals were very good for its time. Colors are bright and bold, and I swear it isn’t TOO far off from the 1990 arcade original. Even today, there’s a certain charm to the graphics. Animation is a bit suspect occasionally but the character sprites and backgrounds are all high in quality. The music can be catchy and the sound effects are rather convincing. Every crunch and smack sounds satisfying.
But as I mentioned, the gameplay has its share of blemishes. For all that it does uniquely (the giant swing being perhaps most notable), there’s a lot of genre staples sadly missing. This includes no weapons, no health refills, no jump option and a lack of throws and combos. But these are small gripes I can put up with. One flaw that many others have stated over the years is the length of the stages, or rather, the lack thereof. Each stage is more like a short area or zone. The levels don’t stretch on and on as most other beat ‘em ups do. But I rationalized this as kid as it being a legitimate turf war. Since Martha Splatterhead controls the gangs of New York, they each own a little slice of the Big Apple. They’re not rulers of entire countries. Instead, they own a very small turf. And it’s your job to invade it and take it back. In a weird way, this added a sense of “realism” to the game for me. Er, nevermind the fact that you’re playing as cyborgs beating up hordes of clones!
The small nature of the stages also added to the atmosphere. It sort of has that quaint “small town feel” going for it. Also, due to the short length of the five stages, the game can be beaten in around half an hour or so. It’s quick to pick up and play. Some beat ‘em ups can go on for 45 minutes or even close to an hour. The Combatribes is over before it wears out its welcome. Look, I understand this game isn’t for everyone, and my general sentiments about this game may be a bit baffling to some. But it’s a game I’ve cherished for 25 years now, and it’ll always be one of my personal pet favorites in spite of the fact that it’s not necessarily great. Hey, we all have those games we connect with that resonates with us that not everyone will get. The Combatribes will forever have a special place in my heart. It’s a relic from the halcyon days of gaming. It hearkens me back to an era where saving the Big Apple with a buddy made for the perfect Saturday night. And if you’re not down with that, WE GOT THREE WORDS FOR YA!!!
Double Dragon. Man, the series brings back a lot of fond memories for me. It originated in the arcades in 1987 and received a Nintendo port in June 1988. The NES game was where many of us were first exposed to the exploits of the Shadow Warriors and the Lee Brothers. It’s hard to believe the NES version is almost 30 years old. Let’s kick off Double Dragon week here on RVGFanatic with the classic (well, mostly, anyhow) NES trilogy.
Who could forget this intro?
Remember the little music here?
Make them pay for their sins.
Remember climbing the ladders?
Or stealing Linda’s whip?
Love the city in the backdrop.
Abobo is an all-time iconic NES villain.
They weren’t levels.
They weren’t stages.
They were missions!
Ever been hit by a cardboard box?
They’re more vicious than they look!
You really felt like you were on a mission.
Scaling this tower was some epic shit.
Seriously made you feel like Bruce Lee.
Speaking of Bruce Lee…
Don’t think these are friendly woods.
Take his knife and throw it back at him!
This was so atmospheric
Batting practice, anyone?
Abobo twins busting out was so epic.
This part always did me in.
As did this, if I made it this far.
Watch those sticks of dynamite…
The Incredible Abobo.
That moon is straight up Konami!
How ominous looking…
OH BLOODY HELL!
Come here often?
I’ve got better things to do tonight than die!
Ah, the 2-player mode we didn’t want.
A novelty act that didn’t last long.
Well, at least you could use Abobo.
How about 2 players in the real mode?
Double Dragon II: The Revenge was everything we wanted in a Double Dragon game and more. Now you could play co-op with a buddy and take out the bad guys together. I have so many fond memories of playing this game with my uncle and brother switching off back in January 1990 when it first came out to North American shores. We played the crap out of this game and it was one of our absolute favorites.
I remember thinking this was a bit spooky.
Let’s just say Marian is in trouble…
Look, it’s Williams with a new makeover.
Yup, must have been the ’90s.
I used to call these guys “Leaf Men”
Never gets old stealing their weapons.
Remember throwing them off the ledge?
Reminded me of WWF’s Demolition!
Here comes the Ax. Here comes the Smasher. The Demolition — walking disaster. Pain and destruction is our middle name!
“GET TO DA CHOPPA!”
Such an awesome moment.
Not the best position to be in…
This was even worse.
I called these guys “Ninja Scarecrows”
I loved these little cutscenes.
“Neon-filled night” — beautiful phrase.
I called these guys “Paintbrush Men”
Watch out for the opening chopper door!
Hell of a mustache on this guy.
“This is the way to certain death.”
Another great action movie line.
Gotta have a forest stage.
Wouldn’t be Double Dragon without one.
This part claimed so many lives…
What lies up ahead?
Only one way to find out…
So fun setting these guys on fire.
It’s Chin from the first Double Dragon!
Oh man, that early ’90s fashion though.
We meet again, Arnold. “I’LL BE BACK!” Yeah, we’ll see about that.
“There is evil in the air.”
It’s cheesy but that’s the charm.
Disappearing platforms, yay…
“Paint THIS, bitch!”
Concentrate, young Jedi.
Send my regards to Mr. Fuji!
*devious Mr. Fuji crackle*
Just a cog in the machine…
Back again? You weren’t lying, Arnold.
“Damnit, we just wiped this floor clean!”
Your greatest enemy is yourself…
This guy kicked my ass hard.
Remember using the Game Genie on him?
Yeah, you weren’t alone. Game Genie FTW.
Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones came out in the US February 1991. To put it simply, my brother and I felt it was a grand disappointment. It didn’t really feel like a Double Dragon game. Certainly there was a lot of potential there but we felt it was never realized. It was hard as hell, too. I don’t mind a difficult game, but when it feels damn near impossible to get past the second level or so, something is not right. I know some people might enjoy this game and that’s fine if you do. I just never did. Nevertheless, let’s take a quick look.
Ah, the infamous Bimmy blunder.
This was a sign of things to come.
Creepy intro, though.
Points for that.
I dunno, old lady, you look a bit shady…
Ah what the hell. Let’s go.
He nails the homeless man impersonation.
I never liked the aesthetic.
Double Dragon II looked way better.
This is the boss? How disappointing.
At least they still have a forest stage.
Nice to see the Great Wall of China, too.
Chin, you’ve really let yourself go…
It’s a little depressing
Wait, you can use Chin?!
That’s not jumping the shark at all…
Beat Ranzou and he becomes an ally.
Props for branching out, I guess.
But some things don’t need branching out.
He’s certainly no Abobo.
Best looking part of the game.
So let’s end it on a high note
Double Dragon is a classic franchise that I feel has been overlooked and somewhat forgotten over the years. For me growing up with the NES in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the brand of Double Dragon in my mind was right up there with the likes of Mario, Punch-Out!!, Mega Man, Metroid, Castlevania and Contra. It saddens me that it kind of faded away from the spotlight but hey, we’ll always have the memories. On a side note, we did receive Double Dragon IV for PS4 and Steam on January 30, 2017. So the Lee Brothers aren’t officially dead yet.
The NES trilogy was a mixed bag. The first one was great for its time. The visuals and sound were both excellent. I also kind of liked that you learn more moves as you gain experience. It makes sense being the first game that the Lee Brothers would slowly learn more moves as they go along. The only thing missing a 2-player co-op mode in the regular game mode. The second one is the best. Now you get 2-player co-op and the Lee Brothers know every trick in the book from the very beginning, so there’s no limitations or holding back from jump street. It’s an action-packed game that’s great fun with two. My only complaint? A little bit too much platforming for my liking. I don’t mind a bit of platforming in my beat ‘em ups as long as the control is on point. I can’t say that about Double Dragon II — I’ve lost many a life trying to complete all the damn jumps in that game. As for the third game in the series, I never liked it. It felt outdated and didn’t even feel like Double Dragon, names aside. Guess you can’t win ‘em all. See ya next time for the Lee Brothers’ SNES debut!
The Super Nintendo in the early-mid ’90s was where all your old 8-bit favorites went on to become immortalized. Taking everything that made the 8-bit classics so great and adding some 16-bit horsepower to the mix often times made for an even better game. Sadly though, not all 16-bit sequels lived up to the hype. And in some cases, they even fell way short. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind the clock back to the summer of 1991…
LEAN, MEAN AND GREEN
When the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon hit airwaves back in 1987, it sparked a revolution. It wasn’t long before we saw other similar mutant animal factions sprout up overnight like a bad pimple [I see what you did there -Ed.] on prom night. The first time I laid eyes on the Battletoads box at Evergeeen Video one hot June afternoon in 1991, I was hooked. Instead of beating up foot soldiers, you took on mutant rats. Instead of playing as turtles, you played as some badass toads. The game immediately grabbed my attention. No sooner then did I take it to the counter for the old man to rent.
Double Dragon II was our jam. My uncle bought us a copy and we played it to death. Back then there was nothing like kicking in skulls and cleaning up the streets with a buddy in tow. As far as my 7-year-old self was concerned, nothing could top that. A jump kick here. An uppercut there. I was a pig in mud.
Double Dragon II was the pinnacle of NES beat ‘em ups. So my brother and I were excited to try out Battletoads especially coming off the heels of the very disappointing Double Dragon III sequel (February 1991).
It didn’t match the sheer awesomeness of Double Dragon II, but we definitely had our fair share of fun with Battletoads. One has to give it some credit for being different. At its heart you have another beat ‘em up, but it did a few quirky things here and there that has stood out in my mind even 25 years later. Whoa, speaking of which, I just realized NES Battletoads turned 25 two months ago. Cue the obligatory “Damn do I feel old now” comment.
Just look at this enemy. Very unconventional looking. Not only that but you can break its legs, take one and beat bad guys with said leg. It’s utterly ridiculous, but all part of that weird, unique Battletoads charm.
Unfortunately, Battletoads is also known for its gross difficulty, particularly that infamous air bike section. You know the one I’m talking about. Even to this day, it’s still referred to as one of the hardest sections a video game has ever seen. But hey, maybe in the 16-bit sequel they’ll reduce the difficulty, or get rid of it altogether, right? Right…
Things start out well enough. Unfortunately you can’t pick the toad you want to use. Player 1 always uses Pimple while Player 2 uses Rash. Zitz was captured in the game intro. Kind of a downer you couldn’t just select from any three, but whatever. It’s fun seeing Pimple transform his fist into a stone hammer the very first time.
As well as this. It starts out being quite comical, and satisfying. That is until more than one enemy shows up, and the time it takes to produce such exaggerated animations begin to cost you. Enemies can easily score cheap hits because of these overblown moves, and they’re no longer as fun to watch the 10th time. Which proves to me sometimes you just can’t beat good old fashioned efficiency and practicality. These are fun gimmicks, indeed, but not very effective ones in the long run.
I do like though how the run option requires no double tapping. Just hold left or right for a little bit and your toad starts sprinting. Very handy for sections such as these.
I love the exploding volcanoes in the backdrop of this stage. And all the excessive lava flowing around everywhere. It sets a pretty nice tone.
Ah, here’s something more practical for ya. Surrounded by enemies? Smash both of them away at the same time. Very efficient, and satisfying.
Shades of Golden Axe if you ask me! Try to knock these bozos off that little cliff there. Always a great feeling when you manage to pull it off.
Not a big fan of level design like this. You know, where certain sections of the landscape give way and you have to be in the clear or else lose a life. Always felt cheap to me and particularly unnecessary in a beat ‘em up. There’s just no place for it.
Love Pimple’s reaction there. The game definitely has a sense of humor to it, and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if the game was more sensible rather than annoyingly cheap and difficult, which later on it does become.
Speaking of annoying, be careful not to be squashed. If you are, you turn into a quivering pancake, and your sprite will wobble around the screen. Thankfully you can control it but you do run the risk of waddling right off the cliff and thus lose a life if you’re not careful. It just adds another point to the annoyance meter for me.
The final blow ends in a Michael Bay slow motion explosion. Quite dramatic and lovely. It’s a shame this first level is really the only true “beat ‘em up” level in the entire game. Yes, sad but true. This caught me off guard the first time. Stages 2-6 are all gimmicky bullshit that involves rides of one kind or another, and really take away from the enjoyment of the game. Honestly felt like I was duped. A classic case of bait and switch if I ever saw one before.
And so it begins. Your descent into gimmicky rides galore. At first it was like “OK, cool, they’re switching it up for stage 2 for some needed variety.” But then you realize these gimmicky scrolling stages never stop, much to the detriment of the overall game enjoyment.
Another glaring flaw is when playing with two players, should any one of the players die, the game resets to the beginning of the stage. How is that fair? How is that a good idea? Answer: it’s not fair, and it’s not a good idea. It practically makes it unplayable with two because of that. Sigh, there’s just so much that they got wrong with this one.
This part was just BS, too. At first it’s manageable, but soon the screen speeds up and you essentially have no chance in hell but to experience a completely cheap death that relies mostly on luck. The screen scrolls way too fast and your sprite is way too big, leaving you little room to react as well as little wiggle room. A terrible combination that isn’t fun but rather incompetently designed. Stuff like this really detracts from the game.
The bonus stages are OK, though. I like riding across the reflective surface there. It’s got a cool look to it. And it’s fun trying to collect as many of the good pins as you can while avoiding the bad ones. I just wish there were more regular beat ‘em up levels.
The infamous air bike section is back. And it’s as hard as ever. I’m sorry but this just isn’t fun. It’s way too hard for its own good. I don’t mind a legitimately stiff challenge as long as it’s reasonably fair and well thought out. This is not. It’s just borderline over the top ridiculous.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Battletoads in Battlemaniacs received some amazing reviews when it came out over 23 years ago. EGM gave it scores of 9, 8, 8and 8. GameFan rated it 94, 96, 99and 99%. Wow. GameFan was notorious for handing out high scores like free condiments, and this is a pretty prime example of such. Two 99 scores for a game with its fair share of flaws — who knows what they were smoking back in the summer of ’93? Finally, Super Play Magazine scored it 80%.
Earlier this summer I finally sat down to play Battletoads in Battlemaniacs for really the first time. Sure, I’m certain I had played it here and there for five minutes back in the early-mid ’90s, but I don’t recall ever thoroughly playing it. Needless to say, being a fan of the NES original, I came into this with lofty expectations. Imagine my shock when this turned out to be one of the most disappointing Super Nintendo games I have ever played. It’s not the worst game. But in terms of disappointing? Sadly I have to say it ranks up there. After a decent first stage of good ol’ beat ‘em up action, the game decides for some absurd reason to turn into a scrolling gimmicky ride. I just want to move from left to right and punch anything that comes in my way.
I can appreciate a game with a tough challenge. But when it crosses the line like it does here, it just feels wrong. This game simply didn’t sit well with me outside of its visuals and music. Honestly, this game reminds me of a sleazy bait and switch. I came in expecting NES Battletoads on steroids. And it starts out decently enough. But as soon as that bloody second level hits, the game takes off its mask and says, “HA! TRICKED YA! THANKS FOR THE FIFTY BUCKS, BITCHES!” I’ve played a ton of SNES games in the past quarter century. There are some bad games in that lot, for sure, but Battletoads in Battlemaniacs was the last game I expected to be this disappointing. Not sure if I would have liked it more back in 1993 (perhaps it’s aged very poorly), but this game is frustrating and broken. Not my idea of a good time or a game anywhere near deserving of a 99% or a 9 out of 10 score. If you like it, more power to ya. But this goes down as one of the most botched NES to SNES efforts I have ever seen. Oh well. Can’t win ‘em all. At least Battletoads & Double Dragon was somewhat playable and enjoyable…