"Fight Fever, Fight Fever, we know how to do it," as the Bee Gees never sang, or maybe they did - I've always had problems understanding the high-pitched warblings of the brothers Gibb. My ears are tuned to deeper sounds, like the great lolloping land-whale that I am. Anyway, that incredibly poor introduction sets me up to reveal today's game: it's Viccom's 1994 Neo Geo slugfest Fight Fever!
Fight Fever is a one-on-one fighting game from smack-bang in the middle of the post-Street Fighter II boom, which means I'm in for an easy ride today because everyone has played Street Fighter II and Fight Fever - as with so many fighting games of the time - sticks so firmly to the template laid out by Capcom's pugilistic masterpiece that I barely need describe it at all.
Of course, not everything is directly lifted from Street Fighter II, and the intro shows an old man sitting on a mountaintop while the phrase "You want? Taekwondo champ of the world?" scrolls vertically alongside him. Yes, Fight Fever can't even muster the ambition to try to find the world's greatest fighter or gain the ultimate power that lies within a man's fist, it's just a glorified taekwondo tournament. Taekwondo is something of a theme in this game, but I'll talk about that later. First, I think we should meet the eight playable characters, because what else determines how good a fighting game is but the warriors at your disposal? Apart from the gameplay, I mean.
Before I reveal them to you, have a think about the kinds of standard fighting game archetypes and try and guess which ones will be appearing in Fight Fever. It'll be fun (no it won't)!
Fighting Game Archetype: White-Gi-Wearing Karate Man.
Okay, so he uses taekwondo and not karate but he's the same old Ryu-a-like that appears in almost every fighting game, and his complete lack of personality and shoes of course means that he's the main character. Can he shoot balls of fiery life energy from his hands?
You bet your ass he can, and yet this remarkable power is not nearly enough to make him interesting and poor old Han takes the wooden spoon as Fight Fever's dullest character. The curse of the Main Character strikes again.
Fighting Game Archetype: Gymnastic Asian Woman.
Chun-Li dressed up in Vega's calf-length, two-tone trousers, Miyuki uses speed to help her to victory, or at least she would if Fight Fever wasn't such a slow game overall. She's still one of the more effective characters, thanks in part to her special move where she jumps onto her opponent's face and claws away at their eyes with a degree of grace and elegance usually reserved for Saturday-night scraps between two warring hen parties.
Fighting Game Archetype: none?
That's right, I don't think there are enough bartending German taekwondo masters out there for it to be, you know, a thing. Rophen Heimer is at least unique, then, but sadly he's just another taekwondo master and even his admittedly sweet Village People moustache can't change that. He's got a fireball and a flying kick, but then so does everyone else in this game. Each star on his outfit represents at time he beat someone up for getting karate and taekwondo mixed up, the studded leather wristbands are just a personal preference.
Fighting Game Archetype: American Athlete.
I could be wrong, but I think there's a pretty decent chance that Magic Dunker is American. He's definitely a basketball player, as indicated by his pre-fight animation where he dribbles a basketball, his special move that sees him throw a flaming basketball at his opponent and his other special move that turns him into a roaring tornado of pain.
Yeah, that one. You see that kind of thing all the time in the NBA, right?
Magic's probably my favourite character in the game - while he may look like the whole USA Team from King of Fighters '94 compressed into a single character, he stands out in Fight Fever's mediocre roster as being that little bit more interesting than the others.
Fighting Game Archetype: "Primitive" Brazilian.
His name's Golrio and he dances on the sand. Well, in the rainforest, because he's another Brazilian who lives outside the confines of "modern society," only leaving his jungle home on the promise of a good old-fashioned punch-up. Yeah, he's like Blanka. How much like Blanka? I made this comparison image to help you decide.
That's Golrio on the right, just to confirm. Like Blanka, most of his moves revolve around throwing himself at his opponent, but unlike Blanka's compact and forceful "roll into a ball" techniques, Golrio slides around on his belly like the whole world is his personal slip 'n' slide. Good work, Golrio, you've managed to be less dignified that the feral beast-man wearing cut-off denim shorts.
Also, the announcer clearly says "Glorio" when you select him. Which is his real name? Who knows, and indeed, who cares?
Fighting Game Archetype: Headswap of the Main Karate Man.
Kim Hoon is the Ken to Han Baedal's Ryu - they share most of a move set and a recoloured sprite, but Kim ended up being by far the more interesting of the two. He's sporting quite the mullet, which I'm sure was already more than enough to pique your interest, but there's also the fact that he's apparently Mexican despite being called Kim Hoon, his chosen fighting arena is in front of an Aztec temple bedecked by Vegas-style dancing girls and he has a unique special move where he spins through the air while stretched out, a move I can only assume was inspired by seeing some crash dummy footage taken from the testing of an especially unsafe car.
Well done, Viccom, you've fallen into the trap of making the rival more interesting than the main character. I couldn't give a stuff about Han Baedal, but I definitely want to learn more about Kim, like the number of his barber.
Fighting Game Archetype: Shaolin Warrior.
He's a master of Shaolin kung-fu, what else is there to say? Well, he can set his ponytail on fire at a moment's notice and hit people with it, which doesn't seem like a terribly Buddhist thing to do but what would I know? I'm about as spiritual as a tin of baked beans. Maybe setting your barnet on fire is the path to true enlightenment.
Anyway, Chintao. He likes kicking things and his stage is a parade ground where monks on horseback trot by to watch Chintao get his ass kicked by every passing basketball player / German bartender / masked soldier that he faces off against.
Fighting Game Archetype: Military Muscle Man.
This is Nick Commando, the masked soldier mentioned above. He's probably supposed to be called "Nick the Commando," unless Commando is his actual surname and his joining the armed forces was predestined through nominative determinism. Like all soldiers, Nick fights not with guns but with grenades and by headbutting people, which is probably why he wears his trademark mask. No, forget that, the mask is actually the Terror Mask from Splatterhouse and Nick is the latest recipient of its dark powers. C'mon, give me this one, I've got to spice up this cavalcade of chumps somehow.
A motley crew indeed, and one of the most uninspiring groups of professional face-punchers ever assembled, leaving Fight Fever with only its gameplay to fall back on. That is a shame, because Fight Fever isn't all that much fun to play.
Being a Neo Geo game, Fight Fever uses the standard SNK four-button control system, with heavy and light punches and kick. That's really all there is to the combat - no King of Fighters-style rolling or dodging here, just the basic punches and kicks plus whatever special moves your chosen character can perform.
The rather threadbare feeling of the game is further emphasised by the fact that there are only two game modes: the usual versus battles and the "fight everyone once plus a couple of bosses" whirlwind of mediocrity that is the tournament or "circuit" mode. Fights take the usual best-of-three-rounds approach. You've probably figured all this out already, but in case you were waiting for a big surprise, a shocking revelation that Fight Fever somehow goes above and beyond the SFII template, then I can tell you now that this is it. Fight Fever is average. No, it's beyond average, occupying it's own parallel dimension because being the "most average" would be a point of some interest and by God there'll be none of that in this game.
The gameplay is as basic and uninteresting as a Tesco Value sliced white loaf. Punch, kick and use your special moves, which are of course activated via the familiar quarter-circle and button techniques, and here we stumble upon on of Fight Fever's more noticeable failings: every character has the same special moves. They're not identical, in that they look different and have slightly variable hitboxes, but the main arsenal of each character consists of a projectile attack and a dashing body attack, such as a flying kick or Nick Commando's running headbutt.
Naturally, this means there's a tendency for the already-bland soup of characters to congeal into one homogeneous lump, where a battle between Golrio and Kim Hoon can only be followed by focussing on Kim's radical hairdo and Miyuki and Chintao would be basically the same character if Miyuki couldn't scratch people's eyes out. There's nothing wrong with fireballs or flying kicks or what have you, many a famous fighter has been built upon them, and the characters do have some other moves, but the majority of any Fight Fever battle revolves around those two moves.
This is probably why Magic Dunker ended up being my favourite character despite being dressed like Apollo Creed's brain-damaged younger brother - he just feels a bit different. Sure, his moves are a fireball and a flying kick but at least his fireball works in a way that isn't just "travels horizontally across the screen," and his attacks, animations and general American-ness remind me of Terry Bogard. Magic Dunker is a character with an SNK feel in a game that, for all my comparisons to Street Fighter II, is most similar to an early SNK fighter like Art of Fighting.
This is not surprising given that the developers Viccom had close ties with SNK, who apparently even trained some of Viccom's young programmers. How close were SNK and Viccom? Well, Viccom's chairman was called Kim Kaphwan and yes, he is the man whom the King of Fighters character is named after. So, pretty close. The fact that Viccom were a Korean company also left it's mark on the game, with a South Korean main character and the overall emphasis on taekwondo over the more common combat styles like karate and Psycho Power.
It's tough to explain just how Fight Fever has an SNK "feel," but I think it's partly a matter of size. The characters feel big and chunky and they're not especially fast, creating a game where each movement feels more deliberate and "solid" than the fighting games of other companies. For Fight Fever the effect is diminished somewhat - this isn't nearly as good as an actual SNK product, after all -but it's still there.
Hey look, a bonus round! Hammer the punch button as fast as possible and gain the strength required to karate (sorry, taekwondo) chop your way through this stack of roof tiles. Food, beer and a martial artist destroying DIY materials? Those people in the background must be having a whale of a time. During dessert, I hear he's going to kick his way through five hundred Euros worth of loft insulation.
Bonus round two has you destroying wooden boards held up at one of the four corners of the screen by your lovely assistants. I don't have anything sarcastic to say about this one, it's pretty decent fun. In fact, I think it might be better than the actual game.
After defeating the other seven fighters and a palette-swapped version of yourself, it's time to fight the boss.
Master TaekukFighting Game Archetype: Elderly Martial Arts Master.
Hardly a surprising boss, and indeed he's playable in versus mode, but Taekuk is at least unusual for being a fighting game champion who doesn't come across as an utter dick. He just wants a good, honest scrap to see if you're worthy to succeed him as the best taekwondo fighter in the world.
Mastering the deadly art of taekwondo allows you to completely dislocate every joint in the top half of your body, it seems. Look at Magic Dunker's face, he's got no clue what the hell is going on but he knows that's not something a human torso should be able to do.
Master Taekuk is easier to beat than I anticipated, and he seems particularly susceptible to aerial attacks. So does everyone in Fight Fever, if I'm honest - notice that the "fireball and flying kick" special moves that everyone has doesn't include much in the way of anti-air capabilities. Just jump at Taekuk and kick him in the head, because if you stay on the ground he'll just grab you with his extending Dhalsim arms. What, you thought all that dislocation was just for show? Guy's got arms like Stretch Armstrong.
Beat Master Taekuk and he'll deem you fit to be his successor. This is fine if you're playing as one of the taekwondo characters, but it rather falls apart if you complete the game as someone like Magic Dunker or, god forbid, Nick Commando. "Well, I've dedicated my entire life to this very specific form of kicking people's heads in, but now it is time for me to retire. But who could possibly replace me? Ah yes, the psychopath in the hockey mask who defeated me with hand grenades, he is the man to whom I shall entrust my legacy."
Congrats, you're the champ, take a well-earned vacation, maybe play a fighting game that's not as dull as a wet Thursday afternoon at the Milton Keynes Pen and Pen Lid Museum unless Fight Fever has soured you on the entire concept of digital violence. No one would blame you if it had. Also, that trophy clearly started life as a car's gearstick, it's just been painted gold and had an orange glued to the top.
But wait! In a shocking twist, your fighting days are still not over as you receive a mysterious letter
Oh, sorry, it's Karate Kenji, my mistake. Karate Kenji is the real final boss, and you know what else he is? He's Geese Howard. The big hakama trousers, the crossed-wrists pose, the familiar energy blasts of his special moves, it's all here... except Geese's legendary difficulty. Karate Kenji is not nearly as hard to beat as Geese, although then again what boss character is? So, Kenji took lessons from Geese but they haven't quite sunk in yet and just like Taekuk he's vulnerable to repeated jumping kicks to the head.
I blame his big puffy trousers. Look at those things, you're never going to reach the limits of human potential with what look like two inflated bin bags strapped to your legs. The fight against Karate Kenji is a tough one, don't get me wrong - he's far faster than every other character in the game and his moves, especially his shoulder charge, are hard to avoid even if you see them coming - but he never feels infallible and if you stick with it for a while you'll prevail and finally be the real, true champion.
As you can see, Kenji is also far more sporting and gracious in defeat than Geese Howard. Everyone in Fight Fever is just so friendly, and maybe that's one of the game's problems. There's no bite, no real villains, no conflict between the characters. To play a fighting game for the story is madness and gameplay rules all, I know that, but some rivalries and motivations beyond "I wanna be the best karate guy" go a long way towards getting the player invested. Having one Ryu in a game is fine. An entire cast of Ryus gets tedious very quickly.
You don't even get a unique ending for each character, just the same credits roll with a picture of each fighter going about their post-tournament lives. Nick Commando lands a part in a remake of An Officer and a Gentleman, Kim Hoon tries to fill the howling void inside himself by over-eating, Magic Dunker stages a sit-down protest in an attempt to stop building work taking place on his beloved South Downs. I'm not sure which of these are supposed to be Han and Chintao, which is odd considering that Han's supposed to be the main character and all.
It seems that Fight Fever is too well-constructed and playable to be a bad game, but then again it commits the ultimate gaming crime of being boring as hell. The gameplay was already stale in 1994, the characters have all the personality of a damp flannel and are about as original as one of Michael Bay's movie reboots and the presentation is disappointingly plain for a Neo Geo game - graphically, at least, because I kinda like the music. Nick Commando's theme is probably my favourite.
On the whole, I can't recommend you play Fight Fever, not when there are so many other early-Nineties one-on-one fighters out there with casts packed full of karate guys and indigenous Brazilians that aren't so... pallid. It's less of a Fight Fever and more a Fight Mild Infection. Play a decent fighting game and it'll clear right up.