Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Eternal Champions: A Fate Worse Than Death

The popularity of fighting games in the 90's has more than a few pitfalls. As primitive as the early Street Fighter games were and as much as I don't like Mortal Kombat, I have to admit they became the basis of 2D fighters because they got the core of the game right. Most of the games that tried to capitalize on their popularity superficially recreated the games they aspired towards, but messed up the formula. Eternal Champions  was Sega's attempt to make a 2D fighter, and it is definitely one of those games that doesn't really understand what makes fighters good.

There are very few things that seem original in Eternal Champions. The concept of bringing together an incongruous cast of fighters from different times is a lot like World Heroes, but thankfully without the actual historic figures. The use of a meter to limit the frequency of special move use is a lot like Art of Fighting. And of course the ability to murder your opponent was obviously included in reaction to the immense popularity of Mortal Kombat in the US. But it wasn't all stolen ideas.

I don't think that's what time zone actually means.
Thankfully the game did not use digitized sprites like Midway or pre-rendered 3D like Rare would use later. It's somewhat surprising that American developers went the route of actually drawing sprites, though the choice to use designs that would fit in well with the popular comic books of the time makes a lot of sense. It also has weird training modes where you need to punch floating things and dodge lasers, which are unique, but quite useless. It seems that a lot of time went into developing the characters and their stories, which would have been a good investment of time had the game been popular enough to warrant the multimedia tie-ins they wanted. Alas, Eternal Champions wasn't as huge of a success as Sega wanted, and the series was killed in favor of Virtua Fighter.

I consider this a smart move because Eternal Champions just wasn't any fun to play. It just feels bad. The hits don't cause a satisfying reaction, special moves are awkward, fatalities are nearly impossible to do thanks to the insanely specific positioning required, and it has that thrown-together-without-any-forethought feeling that all bad fighters have. The later released Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side for the Sega CD was a refinement of the game, but I can't imagine that it was actually good.

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