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Retro Corner: Virtua Fighter

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Retro games are a hot commodity. With the Xbox Live Arcade and Wii’s Virtual Console, it’s quickly becoming a prolific segment of the industry. Blogcritics is going to start looking at gaming’s generally under-appreciated past in a different way.

Teaming up with classic gaming database Digital Press, Blogcritics will be presenting some lost or under-appreciated classics in short reviews. Extras may include odd facts, the title’s impact on the industry, some personal retrospective, different ports the game may have received, and how well they hold up on today’s market. Our hope would be to introduce a new generation of gamers, or even those who recently purchased a game console for the first time to those games they missed and the legacy they left behind.

The Game
In terms of impact on the industry, Virtua Fighter stands alone in many regards. Helmed by Sega studio AM2 and led by legendary Yu Suzuki, Virtua Fighter astonished gamers with sharp 3-D graphics, amazing animation, and a keen eye for what makes the gaming industry so enjoyable. Its effects are still felt to this day in nearly every 3-D fighter you’ll play.

Released in an era where complex six button, 2-D fighting games were helping arcade owners recoup a portion of their struggling business, there was more to Virtua Fighter than its landmark graphics. Daring to avoid the norm and crafting the fighting engine around two attack buttons and another for blocking, Suzuki’s team brilliantly found depth in this minimal control scheme. Nearly all 3-D fighters since have borrowed this set up, and some even go so far as to copy specific combo movements.

It’s amazing to think that after 14 years, the series has remained this way. Little has been altered; truly proving how well this title came together. Technique became a matter of skill and timing, turning away from the Capcom standard of pressing the proper kick and punch button to continue a string of offensive blows. You learned Virtua Fighter on your own. All of the strategy guides in the world wouldn’t make you a better player. A more knowledgeable one, sure, but a true competitor? Not a chance.

The Present
Even when staring at the amazing textures of the recently released Virtua Fighter 5, there’s something about the flat shaded polygons of 1993 that has an indescribable visual appeal. The booming soundtrack is memorable, and if you called Sega for technical support during this period, you’d be listening to Jacky’s stage theme when on hold.

Still perfectly playable, the game can hold its own. The annoyingly floaty jumping is a tough hurdle to overcome, and while the technique is definitely a step back from modern 3-D fighters, there’s no way to deny that it still takes practice to master this classic. Many titles from the early 3-D era cannot stand out after this period of time. Virtua Fighter easily passes the modern day game play test.

Facts and notables
Released at launch for the Sega Saturn, the buggy graphics and game play were quickly fixed by a mail-in update, called Virtua Fighter Remix. This new version added textures to the characters, and was also an arcade release.

While the Saturn version suffered, Sega’s ill-fated 32X add-on became the surprising recipient of the best home port. While the character models were stripped down to their bare minimum, the steady frame rate an accurate response time pushed this port over the version on the higher-end hardware.

To promote the release of the 32X version, the company released a now rare promotional package containing a t-shirt and video showcasing the game play.

A Windows PC release was one of the first Sega games in a line up of console ports, including (amongst others) Comix Zone and Sonic the Hedgehog in distinctive white and blue packaging. As an early 3-D fighter, the game required a massive 8MB of RAM at minimum.

A Virtua Fighter arcade cabinet is on display at the Smithsonian Institute Museum.

Personal Reflection
Virtua Fighter was one of those games you remember where you were when you first laid eyes on it. For me, it was in a local gaming store called the Player’s Edge, long since bought out by Movie Gallery and then closed. The animation of the game simply floored me, far and above what could then only be considered choppy and unrealistic efforts of Street Fighter II.

It’s not something you look back on and laugh at yourself for believing it was the pinnacle of gaming. It was far too special, and it still is today. Akira became my character of choice, and while Jacky eventually superceded him over the years, that first 50 ¢ (likely the first time I paid that much for a single credit) is always remembered.

The game nearly led me to purchase a Saturn when it was released, though the overly high price tag led me to hold off. Instead, I found a 32X at Wal-Mart around a year later on clearance and of course, Virtua Fighter. That copy remains on my shelf, and while I’ve been through far more 32X consoles than any other in my collection, that first copy remains in a special place on my shelves, much like the game does is my gaming memories.

Images and review courtesy of Digital Press.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • http://www.gamersunitemagazine.com RCM

    “It’s amazing to think that after 14 years, the series has remained this way. Little has been altered”

    Ah, but you forget the “massive” overhaul Yu and co tried with VF3. An added button and elevated/different terrain gives this game a different feel when compared to the other titles. It’s the best entry in the series and the best fighting game ever.

    The original VF certainly hasn’t aged well. The series holds strong from VF2 on. All of the surviving 3D brawlers are rooted in the 32-bit era. Those being the Virtua, Tekken, Soul, and DOA series.

    Also, the US release of Saturn VF was “cleaned up” slightly when compared to the Japanese release. Also, while the Saturn version looks like it’s flat shaded, in reality they “fake” some of the graphics with textures. I prefer the Saturn version, I could tolerate the glitches (mostly in replays) back in 95 and the soundtrack and effects were perfectly replicated from Model 1. The 32X version is nice, but I’ll stick to Saturn.

    Oh yeah, VF Remix was free to folks who registered their Saturn’s for a limited time and came in a cardboard sleeve, as opposed to those clunky, fragile, plastic Sega CD cases.

    Not a bad VF article for noobs to the series

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com/ Ken Edwards

    Gotta say, I am loving VF 5. It should be online, there is no excuse. The die hards would bitch but the general players would have a blast playing it online.

    Losing the exclusive to the 360 is a big deal, a blow in the ever growing list of games that are going multi-platform.

    Great article Matt. Now I need to get my VF 5 review done.