In our PUNCH! KICK! GO!! series, we take a look at the history of the beat ’em up genre, one title at a time!
In part 1, Shaun Eddleston talks about 1989’s FINAL FIGHT…
Year of Release – 1989
Developer – Capcom
Publisher – Capcom
Platforms – Arcade, Super Nintendo
To kick off our new series, we’re starting with one of the most well known entries in the genre; Capcom’s classic brawler from 1989, Final Fight.
Taking many of it’s design and gameplay cues from the arcade version of 1988’s Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Final Fight simplifies its control scheme to just three buttons – one for attacking, one for moving around and one for jumping around. This basic moveset allows for players to string up combos just by mashing away at a single button, and throwing in some special moves that are triggered by an enemy’s distance away from you.
Interestingly, the game was supposed to be a sequel to the original Street Fighter, and was originally shown at various trade shows with the title “Street Fighter ’89“. The game even went as far to mention that one of the characters that players could choose from was actually a former street fighter themselves. This idea was ultimately dropped just before the game’s release though, as arcade operators weren’t satisfied with the product as a sequel because it was far too different from Street Fighter.
While the game was no longer a Street Fighter title, they are still set in the same timeline, meaning that many characters from both series make appearances in many of each other’s games, ranging from simple cameos in the backgrounds of the stages, to fully playable spots in the Street Fighter Alpha series onwards.
In Final Fight, players can choose from three unique fighters;
- Guy – A calm, reserved student of the martial art known as Bushin-ryu. Guy is similar to Street Fighter‘s main protagonist Ryu in several ways, which is even brought up canonically a few years later (but we’ll get into that in a future article!).
- Cody – Jessica’s boyfriend since childhood, and Guy’s best friend/rival. Cody’s fighting style is more direct and brutish than Guy’s, and he is adept at using knives in his attacks.
- Haggar – A former professional wrestler who is now the mayor of Metro City. He’s the most powerful character out of the playable roster, with some seriously impressive suplexes and piledrivers, and feels very much like a sort of prototype for Zangief in Street Fighter II.
Final Fight is set in Metro City, a sprawling metropolis where violent crime has taken over and ruled the streets for many years. Metro City’s reputation as the “crime capital of the world” sees its citizens fearing for their lives at the hands of the various gangs that roam the streets.
Armed with a vow to clean up crime and make the city safe again for the people that live there, Mayor Haggar receives a suspicious phone call that inform him that his daughter Jessica has been kidnapped. The callers reveal themselves as being from the Mad Gear gang, Metro City’s most powerful street gang, and tell Haggar that unless he complies with their demands (which will essentially let them do whatever they want in the city), they’ll harm Jessica.
Haggar wastes no time in meeting up with Guy and Cody, two of his closest associates, who both agree to aid him in saving Jessica and ending the reign of Mad Gear once and for all.
ROUND 1 – THE SLUMS
The first area you’ll brawl your way through is “The Slums”. Surrounded by derelict buildings and doorways that spawn more and more baddies as the level progresses, everything players need to get acquainted with the beat ’em up genre is introduced here.
Metal barrels that can either work in your favour (have fun smashing them open to gain items and weapons!) or can be used by enemies as dangerous weapons (get ready to jump!), various melee/projectile weapons and random pieces of food that miraculously replenish your health; it’s all here!
Many of the game’s standard Mad Gear Gang enemies are also introduced here too. Besides your standard beat ’em up underlings with names like Bred, Dug and Two P, Final Fight chucks in a few more fighters that have their own special abilities to stop our heroes in their tracks. El Gado is a huge fan of lobbing knives at you, Axl & Slash can block your attacks and the rotund Bill Bull/Wong Who can rush towards you at great speeds, knocking you to the ground and effectively ending any momentum that you were building up.
The stage’s boss, the Rastafarian thug known as Damnd, is a pretty simple “rinse-and-repeat” fight. Players must attack him until he retreats to whistle in waves of normal bad guys, and keep going until his life bar empties. It’s worth noting here that the character designs for these sub-bosses are brilliant for the time of the game’s release, and are a clear indication of the detail that would be going into future Capcom titles.
ROUND 2 – THE SUBWAY
Next up, players find themselves fighting their way through the Metro City subway system. This remarkably clean platform has smatterings of breakable phone booths, tougher baddies and unreadable graffiti sprayed all over the place.
The next section of the stage is set on a moving train. The further players progress here, more enemies are sat waiting patiently for their turn to try and beat you down . Having to fight against hordes of thugs on a moving train is one of the more intense moments in Final Fight, and remains one of my favourite parts of the game as a result.
Eventually, you’ll inexplicably find yourself in a wrestling ring, face to face with the stage’s boss character; Sodom, a crazed Japanophile that brandishes two samurai swords. Due to the longer reach on his sword attacks and fast movement, Sodom is a very noticeable step up in terms of difficulty when compared to Damnd. He’s also one of the most interesting character designs in the whole game, dressed like a mix between an American football player and a samurai warrior. Sodom returns as a fighter in the Street Fighter Alpha series.
ROUND 3 – THE WEST SIDE
Clearing the subway brings players to the next area; The West Side. The vibe here is noticeably seedier and grimier than the first two stages and has a larger focus on enemies throwing weapons at you.
Clearing the first outdoor area brings you inside a bar. Normally, one would expect the patrons of a dive bar in such a violent city to be more into the idea of a bar room brawl, but the background characters here look bored and uninterested in the action going on in front of them. It takes away from the enjoyment a little bit, but the next portion of the West Side is something to behold…
Just as you approach the exit of the bar, a large enemy known as Andore (that bears an obviously striking resemblance to the late, great Andre The Giant) picks you up by your head, then carries you into another wrestling ring. This time around, there’s a steel cage surrounding the ring, and you’re facing two Andore enemies in a handicap match. While the fight itself is nothing spectacular, the colourful and vibrant level design more than makes up for the disappointing bar fight.
Clear these quasi-bosses will lead you back into the Metro City streets, where you face the actual boss of the stage; a corrupt and cowardly police officer called Edi E. This boss fight is particularly infuriating, as Edi constantly resorts to using his gun to keep himself out of your attack range, and using a nightstick that thumps away massive chunks of your health gauge. Throw in some extra goons for good measure, and you’re stuck with a fight that would have eaten through so many coins in the arcade.
ROUND 4 – THE INDUSTRIAL AREA
Moments into the next area of Final Fight, you’re hit with one of the most annoying stage hazards in the whole game. This warehouse, for no real reason, has floors that will spurt out flames that knock you to the floor and eat away at your health bar. Yes, the graphic of your burning body hitting the deck is a nice touch (and one that would return in Street Fighter II), but when it’s piled up on top of getting beaten down by huge numbers of thugs, it does start to grate somewhat.
Further along the stage, more and more Holly Wood enemies start to appear. Just when you thought you were done with avoiding flames, these red-suited assholes constantly lob molotov cocktails at you, making what is already a particularly challenging experience feel slightly unfair.
The final part of the Industrial Area changes things up a bit. Instead of the belt-scrolling “go right” gameplay that we’re accustomed to, players are now on an open-air lift and facing waves of enemies that arrive at either side of you. The level’s boss, Rolento, is particularly fond of chucking explosives towards you, and makes for one of the most memorable boss fights in Final Fight. Rolento is another crossover character too, as he makes an appearance in the Street Fighter Alpha series as a playable fighter.
ROUND 5 – THE BAY AREA
For stage 5, players arrive at Metro City’s Bay Area. With the city’s skyline flickering away in the background, this is arguably the most visually impressive area in the entire game. The enemies here don’t stray too far away from what you’ve already encountered in the previous stages, but there’s definitely a higher concentration of Roxy and Poison here in all their questionable, backflipping glory.
Halfway through the stage, players must brawl through some dingy toilets that are heavily emblazoned with graffiti that consists simply of the word “SEXY”. It’s a confusing feature, and not having enemies burst out of the toilet stalls in a similar fashion to the doorways in the first stage of the game feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.
Remember when I mentioned that the Holly Wood characters are a set of “red-suited assholes” back in the Industrial Area? Well, they’re back here in full force. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, the ganging up from enemies in this stage is ridiculous, and, as you can see in the above image, things get a bit “busy”.
The big baddie of the Bay Area (and I mean, BIG) is Abigail; an eight-foot tall bruiser with a penchant for heavy metal facepaint and cars. Despite his imposing appearance, Abigail is fairly slow and it’s pretty easy to avoid his charging attacks. Abigail returns as a downloadable character in Street Fighter V, and is now the largest fighter in the series.
ROUND 6 – UPTOWN
Last of all, players arrive in Uptown Metro City. After a short run of beating up enemies in the sunlit streets of the city with various shop fronts on prominent display, your fighter heads to the top of a skyscraper in an elevator to do battle in a whole new area.
The rooftop gardens switches up the grimy grittiness of the Metro City streets with a vibrant, exotic set of palm trees, green grass and huge swimming pools. It does loop noticeably after a few minutes, but it’s one of the shorter sections of the game, so it doesn’t detract from the experience too much.
In the lead up to the final boss, players must battle through an almost endless hallway. With this being the last time that you’ll properly face the regular enemies, pretty much every single thug and miscreant that you’ve faced in the game so far (except the bosses) shows up here to give you one hell of a bad time.
Should you make it through the punishing gauntlet, the game’s final boss (and general “fake-wheelchair user” bastard) Belger is waiting for you. The first part of the fight sees him zip around the stage at full speed with the kidnapped Jessica over his shoulder. Avoiding him is pretty easy, due to his movement patterns being simple to figure out, but that’s where Belger’s other trick comes into play; firing at you with a crossbow!
Once he’s out of his chair, and you’ve managed to slowly whittle his health bar down while avoiding the barrage of crossbow bolts that are launched at you, Belger gets knocked out of the window and falls many, many floors to his horrible death. It’s no “Hans Gruber at the end of Die Hard” scene, but it’s pretty entertaining all the same.
The game’s ending sees Haggar reunited with his daughter, and both Guy and Cody slowly walking away back through the stage as the credits roll at the side of the screen. Guy then, for some reason, punches Cody to the floor then scarpers as Jessica catches up with Cody and begs him to stay. In true “but there’s going to be more sequels” fashion, Cody promises that his fight against evil is not over yet.
Sandwiched in between certain levels in Final Fight is the first appearance of what is now considered to be one of the most iconic fighting game bonus stages in gaming history; destroying a car. If you aren’t familiar with this stage, the concept here is simple. Players must destroy a car with their fists, feet or provided melee weapon before the timer at the top of the screen gets to zero.
Due to some slightly awkward positioning of the break points, alongside the simplistic button-bashing required to complete the task, this stage doesn’t feel anywhere near as satisfying as it does in later iterations, but it does have one redeeming factor; watching the car’s owner (a random thug from the Mad Gear gang) break down into tears because you just decimated his ride.
Another bonus stage appears in Final Fight nearer to the end of the game, and requires players to break a whole bunch of glass windows before the time runs out. It’s fun at first, but suffers from the same issues as the other bonus stage; the game’s perspective can make it slightly tricky to connect with the glass, ultimately making it a bit of a pain to actually complete.
Final Fight is far from a perfect beat ’em up, but if you’re looking for a stylishly simple, yet ultimately challenging brawler that you can finish relatively quickly, then the game is more than an ideal choice for you. Sure, it has a handful of shortcomings that are way more noticeable almost 30 years after its initial release (such as questionable hitboxes, unfair gang up beatdowns and generally slow movement across the board), but these are excusable in the long run.
If anything, Final Fight is a satisfying glimpse at what Capcom had in store for the monumental Street Fighter 2 release just a couple of years later, which pretty much makes it worth checking out by default!
Are you a fan of Final Fight?
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