Street Fighter II is by far one of the most influential video games in history, and all but singlehandedly launched an entire genre into the forefront of the general gamer consciousness. With SFII there came a new term, “fighting game,” and with it a whole host of companies eager to jump onto the bandwagon.
Among those games is a 1991/1992 (depending on where you live) Sega Genesis game called “Fighting Masters.” Now I had Fighting Masters as a kid, and I loved the hell out of the game, but even then I knew it wasn’t up to the level of Street Fighter II. Still, as I look back on it, I maintain fond memories of the whole thing.
These days, when we see a second-rate fighting game hit the market, be it professionally or as some sort of doujin soft, we can tell that the game makers understand the basic grammar of a fighting game. Or at least, they understand the grammar of the fighting game they’re trying to imitate. Doujin fighters all want to be Melty Blood or Guilty Gear, so they have super crazy air combos and fairly simplified button layouts. Games that want to be 3-D fighters follow suit with either Tekken or Soul Calibur. However, back in the early 90s, when Street Fighter II was just knocking players’ socks off in best 2-out-of-3 matches, companies clearly were unsure of just what a fighting game was supposed to be. This is how we got Fighting Masters.
Fighting Masters features 12 galactic warriors each representing their species in a furious tournament. Their goal? Well actually, that depends on the version of Fighting Masters you have. If it was the 1991 Japan release, it was a tournament to get the chance to defeat the dreaded demon alien Valgasu. If it was the 1992 US release, it was a tournament set up by some elders to save one species from being wiped out by a supernova (while the other 11 are out of luck). Keep in mind that you still end up fighting Valgasu anyway.
Another difference is that most of the characters had their names changed between versions. The humanoid grappler Larry became Dirk, the cyclops boxer Eyesight became Uppercut, and so on, in an effort to both un-Engrishize the text and provide names that kids in early 90s America would deem “totally radical.” The best one is arguably the horse man Equus, who was once known as Flamer, featured in the previous screenshot.
The gameplay itself is quite unique as far as fighting games go. It wasn’t trying to be a closed-off beat-em-up like, say, “Street Smart,” and its engine seems closer to that of a wrestling game. Every character has two different types of moves, striking and grappling, and your goal is to use your striking moves to stun the opponent long enough to walk up to him and perform a badass piledriver or overhead throw. In all but one case, when a character is knocked against the floor or the walls, they take additional damage. There is no blocking involved, and the game doesn’t even use one of the buttons on the 3-button Genesis controller. In the end, it makes the game awkward, and slower characters have a distinct disadvantage in that opponents can break out of stun much more easily before the slow character can reach them, but it’s still a unique system.
And that’s really the best thing about Fighting Masters. Much like how early manga was by necessity a test bed for all sorts of crazy and wild ideas, Fighting Masters tried to be a fighting game in its own unique way. In fact, I think that the engine itself has plenty of potential, and if only it was a little deeper and provided more options for the players and the characters, it could have its own cult following.
Anyway, enjoy the final boss of Fighting Masters as well as its ending. Valgasu is a very, very frustrating boss, and even though I beat him, you can tell that he can quickly turn the tables. Evident here is Valgasu’s dream of conquering the galaxy with his Mad Skillz on the court, worthy of Magic Johnson, Clyde Drexler, or the All-Star Monstars. Also of note is the text scroll upon Valgasu’s defeat, which provides some of that good old nostalgic video game Engrish that has sadly diminished ever since Japanese and American pop culture have begun to cross over.
Rating: SUPLEX 50T