29/09/2011

VENDETTA

A while ago, I wrote about Konami's accurately-named 1989 brawler Crime Fighters, a decent enough little slugfest for the time, if a little rough around the edges. What do you mean, that was over a year ago? Ah, I was so young, so naive; I thought the joys of hitting a street punk with a lead pipe would never fade. And I was right, they didn't. Thankfully in 1991 Konami attempted to sate my bloodlust by releasing a sequel called Crime Fighters 2, or as it was known in the West - Vendetta.

What kind of vandal writes "crime" on a wall? Either do your tag, draw some crude genitalia or leave that poor wall alone. Actually, it might be some kind of ironic artistic thing, because graffiti is, like, a crime, man, so this "crime" I wrote is, like, an actual crime. Deep.
The title screen serves its purpose nicely, though: even if you had no idea what Vendetta was about, in the world of 90s videogames graffiti only ever means that you're about to knock a thug's teeth down his throat. And when I say "you", I actually mean the game's protagonists (my noodly arms can barely push an envelope through a letterbox, let alone knock a guy's teeth out). Let's meet them now!

First up is Blood: Cobras member, former boxer, sunglasses aficionado. I'm going to classify him as the leader, purely because he occupies the "1P" slot on the four-player cabinet. Oh, and he's wearing red which automatically makes him the leader - have you never seen Power Rangers?

Second in command is Hulk Hogan, currently running with a street gang under the alias Hawk. He's winking at me. I... I don't like it, it's making me uncomfortable.

Boomer! My good buddy Boomer. He is Martial Arts. He doesn't practise martial arts, he isn't a martial arts teacher - he simply is Martial Arts. Unlike his smirking comrades, at least Boomer is taking this seriously, unless his grimace is down to him being forced to wear the yellow shirt which frankly does nothing for his skin-tone.

Finally there's Sledge, who between his haircut and his designation as an ex-military convict is giving off a strong Mr. T vibe. It seems a little cruel to define him solely by his status as an ex-con. I'm sure he's got other things going on in his life, too. Now I think about it, three of the four characters are listed as ex-somethings. Is the Cobras gang, in actuality, some kind of retirement facility? You guys have got to stop living in the past, move on with you lives... but no time for this motivational speech now, the plot is starting! Would you care to take a guess as to what bold and exciting new direction the story will take?

A chick, specifically Hawk's "protégé" Kate, has been kidnapped by the villainous Mad Gear Dead End Gang. You see, despite the fact that this is Crime Fighters 2 our heroes are part of a (presumably) criminal gang called the Cobras, and the Dead End Gang wants to settle the turf war once and for all by luring the Cobras into a trap. So, it's Crime Fighters in the sense that crime is fighting amongst itself, then?

Has the "kidnap your enemies’ most beloved female" plot ever worked? Kidnapping Mike Haggar's daughter is a dumbass move, but in Vendetta we have two gangs, one of which has a total membership of five. The Dead End gang (approximate membership? I'd say about 5,000) cannot defeat these five people, so they resort to the standard kidnapping plot in the hopes that this will help them defeat these five guys who keep kicking their asses. I can already tell it's not going to end well for the Dead Enders.

Here we are on (where else) the mean streets. Vendetta is unsurprisingly similar to Crime Fighters, which is to say it's a belt-scrolling beat-em-up with a couple of slightly unusual differences. The first thing I always do when I visit a new place for the first time, be it in a videogame or in real life, is perform some kind of jumping attack. While this kind of behaviour might get you kicked out of your local Pizza Hut, (they don't like footprints all over the sneeze guards,) it's damn near essential in most beat-em-ups... except Vendetta, because you can't jump. Nope, the standard attack button / jump button control scheme is replaced with a punch button and a kick button, which means you can't leap around like a demented kangaroo. There is a jumping attack of sorts, performed by pressing both buttons together, but it's more like a long-range attack than anything. Sounds disappointing I know, but the kick button redeems itself once you realise that Vendetta lets you pummel guys while they're on the floor.

Standing over a downed opponent will allow you to unleash a barrage of blows (or in Hawk's case, a very appropriate elbow drop). Sometimes you can even use it to know down enemies who are clinging onto the edge of the stage for dear life, sending them to whatever fatal doom waits below. Probably sharks or something, I dunno.

Other than that, Vendetta is firmly fixed in standard beat-em-up territory. It's somewhat reminiscent of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, what with the health bar represented by vertical lines and the score system being "one bad guy downed = one point". You know, that doesn't seem a very fair system to me. Killing a boss, even the final boss, is worth the same amount of points as kicking an ordinary street punk into the sea? It's just going to lead to arguments, accusations of people not pulling their weight and tensions within the Cobra gang. What are they, Communists? Bosses should be worth ten points, easy.

And speaking of bosses, here's the first freak who was granted a lieutenant's position in the Dead End Gang due to a pituitary condition that made him twice the size of an average street punk. He's called Buzzsaw Bravado, because he gets his bravado from the buzzsaw he carries around. He seems a happy enough guy even though his name does sound like a terrible emo-pop band, so maybe carrying a powertool around everywhere I go will help me overcome my crippling social anxiety. I'd have to change my name to Anglegrinder Assurance or Sandblaster Swagger or something. Deed poll, here I come.
For all his bravado, Buzzsaw isn't that tough - this is mostly because you can brutally kick/punch/elbow drop the everloving shit out of him any time he falls over. This will become a common theme throughout Vendetta, so if you're the kind of sociopath that enjoys that sort of thing then boy are you in for a treat.

That's the formula set for the rest of the game then - no great surprise, but at least Vendetta has been nicely handled. It's certainly a big step up from Crime Fighters, despite only being two years older: the graphics are much, much better, character controls are slick and responsive (aside from their occasional reluctance to perform their jumping attack) and the difficulty level is much more balanced. There's almost none of Crime Fighters' tendency for bosses to catch you in a loop where they hit you over and over, for one thing.

Stage two is a standard industrial area full of chain-wielding punks and overweight luchador-KKK guys who need to stop trying so hard. I know you just want to stand out from all the other jeans-and-a-sleeveless-jacket thugs, man, but this isn't the way to go about it. You look like a WCW wrestler from the nineties. A bad one. Like, Disco Inferno bad.

Joe Ohsugi is the mid-boss, a vision in a black muscle vest and neon pink jeans. He's some kind of ninja, apparently. You might think that's a terrible outfit for someone in his profession, but think of it this way: if you saw someone dressed like that, would you believe they were a ninja? That's old Joe, always thinking. Too much thinking and not enough fighting, actually: as you can see from that picture it's his goons that are the real test.

Stage two's real boss is a rather less cerebral opponent: Missing Link, a feral brawler with a haircut straight out of The Muppets. I should be worried about fighting him, but I'm more concerned with the cryptic "Slime Balls rule OK" graffiti in the background. Are the Slime Balls another gang? Or is it a message of solidarity, one man's tribute to all the slimeballs in all the gangs that make this city such a hive of scum and villainy? I hope it's the latter.

Stage three next, and it's onto a set of slightly nicer-looking streets at twilight. Why, there are even some Rob Halford impersonators wandering around! They seem like friendly enough fellows...

Yep, very friendly. The strangest thing isn't so much that Mr. Leather here is humping you, it's the fact that it causes you damage. What the hell is he packing down there? Please, don't answer that. While my exposure to Japanese notions of homosexuality are limited to say the least (mostly videogames, natch), gay men seem to be depicted as one of three types: muscle-bound body-builders, androgynous pretty boys or leather-clad Hard Gay types like my new buddy here.
Unsurprisingly, these guys were removed from the Western releases...

...but you can still punch a large-breasted, catsuit-wearing dominatrix right in the face, so I guess whoever made the censorship decisions on this one had their priorities in order. Konami must be on a quest to turn you into a misogynist, because beating the dominatrixes gives you a whip, the best weapon in the game.

After a brief battle through a casino you'll reach the bosses of stage three, the nattily-dressed Rude Bros. Their names make a lot of sense, if you think "attempting to stab people to death" falls into the same category as "rude". Under this new system, Macho Man Randy Savage becomes "Mr. Man Randy Uncouth", Jack the Ripper will be renamed "Jack the Brusque" and Vendetta itself will be retitled to Polite Disagreement.
You might have noticed that the smaller Rude looks a lot like the Flea Man enemies from the Castlevania series, and indeed he fights in very similar manner. Like an irritating bouncing twat, I mean. Big Rude is less effective: all he can really do is look on while his much faster and more effective brother does all the work.

A very short stage here, just a brisk walk down by the docks followed by a boss fight with Kruel Kurt the anchor-wielding psychopath. Kruel Kurt is, once again, a terrible name for a boss. He sounds like Garbage Pail Kid. In fact, he looks a bit like Garbage Pail Kid, so I guess that settles that. The best way to beat him is to wait for him to attack and move out of the way - Kurt'll get his anchor stuck in the deck so you can punch him while he tried to work it free.

It's time for the final stage already. Vendetta is not a very long game, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of interesting surprises waiting for me in the final area!

No! Bad dog, get down! You can actually die from being humped to death in this game, you know. It'd make the death certificate more interesting, at least. "Cause of Death: Doberman Cock". I guess the real crime we're fighting here is the crime of not getting your pets spayed or neutered.

This screenshot really shows off my favourite thing about Vendetta: the level of detail. Konami's arcade games of this period are known for their excellent presentation and this is no exception. It's got good music and sound effects, the backgrounds are full of detail and there are a host of small touches that add to the overall flavour of the game. For instance, you can pick up a bucket as a weapon and if you manage to throw it onto an enemy it wedges on their head and they stumble around blindly. Cement bags don't just do damage when thrown, but throw up a cloud of dust that makes the enemies cough, letting you get a free hit in. When a big enemy picks you up, you can hammer attack to kick them in the gut, and sometimes your combos will strike your foe right in the ballsack, complete with a little "ding" sound effect and a special animation of them clutching their ruined gonads. It all adds up to turn Vendetta from a generic brawler to something that's definitely worth playing.

And here's Faust, the final boss and imminent recipient of a flaming barrel to the head. Surprisingly he's not that tough, with nowhere near the levels of bullshit that you find with the later bosses in Crime Fighters. Well, until he's nearly dead, that is: then he grabs a machine gun and fires sprays of bullets that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to avoid. Mostly, I'm in awe of his hair. Look at that mane! No wonder he's the boss.

With some perseverance, Faust will fall and the Cobras rescue Kate and become the undisputed criminal rulers of Dead End City. Now, let's all go home and enjoy a nice...

... wait, what? Yes, much like its prequel Vendetta has an extra stage at the end. It's a simple boss rush, because apparently these clowns didn't learn their lesson first time around.

Oh Kurt, will you never learn? You don't go toe-to-toe with Hulk Hogan, especially when he's got a whip. Once you've pummeled your way through the bosses for a second time, the game is finally over and you can all live in peace and tranquility. Until the inevitable arguments about the unfair scoring system flare up, at least.

All in all then, Vendetta is definitely recommended at least for its charm if not it's wildly innovative gameplay. Good music, nice graphics, a sense of humour and the ability to kick guys in the nuts? How can you go wrong with that? Oh, and a note to Castlevania fans: Listed in the credits under "Sound Design" is one M. Yamane - presumably this is Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane, which would explain why Vendetta sounds good.
So, if you like scrolling brawlers and you haven't played it give Vendetta a go - just, you know, watch out for penises.
BONUS!
The US arcade flyer once again went down the route of using actual human meat-shapes to promote the game.

There's a lot to like about this flyer. Not the girl's mad-eyed, probably narcotically-altered stare, though. That shit'll keep me awake at night. That's not good, but the fact it looks like the gang members all stopped in the middle of battle to pose of for a cheesy family photo certainly is good. I don't know what the deal is with the punk on the left is, though. Menacing or sulty: you decide. No, wait, I have a third option - embarrased. Yeah, I'm going with "embarrased". And lurking in the background is a biker who has made a brief stop before continuing to a bar where Arnold Schwarzenegger will ask his for his clothes, his boots and his motorcycle.
Also, crates. That is all.

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