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Retro Respawn – Virtua Fighter 32X

I’ve been watching quite a lot of Baki the Grappler recently (and if you’ve never seen it and like violent anime, then you need to check the recent series uploaded to Netflix), so I decided I’d cover a fighting game this week, and seeing as I’ve never covered a 32X game here on Gaming Respawn, this week we’ll be taking a look at the port of Virtua Fighter for that piece of hardware.

The 32X was an add-on made for the SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis that you would plug into the top of your existing console and thus unlock the ability to play a whole new catalog of games made just for the special hardware. Theories for why this was released when plans were already in place for SEGA’s fifth gen console in the form of the Saturn are numerous (and you can click HERE to watch a great video from Adam Koralik where he discusses some of them), but one thing the 32X had going for it was that it would see a release of SEGA’s popular arcade bruiser Virtua Fighter.

I’ve looked at the second and third editions of Virtua Fighter before on the site, and I always try to stress just how revolutionary the original Virtua Fighter was when it came to gaming in the third dimension. Seeing fighters doing battle in glorious 3D like that blew my mind when I first saw it, even though it will look primitive to a modern eye. Realising that the 32X would be capable of having a decent stab at providing a reasonable port of the game, SEGA decided to roll the dice and port it over in hope of juicing sales of the hardware.

And it should be pointed out that the 32X does a more than admirable job of recreating the arcade experience. The graphics and sound aren’t arcade perfect, of course, with the fighters’ hands getting reduced to being little more than grotesque stubs, and the sound being far from CD quality. However, considering this was coming out on what was essentially fourth generation hardware, the results are mightily impressive, and it does make you ponder about what the 32X could have been truly capable of if its lifespan hadn’t been prematurely shortened.

The game operates in full 3D and plays authentically when matched up to its arcade counterpart with the three-button system of block, punch and kick. This doesn’t mean the move list is limited though as all of the characters in the game have their fair share of swift counters and crunching throws to dole out on their hapless rivals. Professional Wrestler Wolf Hawkfield delivers not only vertical and German suplexes, for instance, but also happily mows opponents down with a brutal Stan Hansen-like lariat.

Coming out on a console also provides extra modes and menu options that you wouldn’t find in the arcade version of Virtua Fighter. These include the option to amend the time limit, decide how big each fighter’s health bar is and also the size of the fighting arena itself. Seeing as you can win by knocking a rival out of the ring, reducing the ring to its smallest size almost turns the game into an ad-hoc version of sumo wrestling, which can provide plenty of laughs and yelps of frustration in multiplayer mode.

As well as the standard arcade and versus modes are “Ranking Mode”, which sees you try to win as many fights as you can in as flashy a way as possible to earn points and get up the leaderboard. There’s also a “Tournament Mode”, which does exactly what it says on the tin as eight players can select a fighter and do battle in a single elimination tournament. If you’re lucky enough to have eight friends who fancy a scuffle, then this is an excellent mode to indulge in.

The additional modes are hardly groundbreaking, but they do extend both the single and multiplayer experiences, which combined with the impressive graphics and enjoyable gameplay, make Virtua Fighter on the 32X a more than worthy port of the arcade classic.

One thing that shocked me about the game was how difficult I found it. It’s not unusual for a Virtua Fighter game to present a hearty challenge to the player, but even I was put back by just how remorseless Virtua Fighter was when it came to the latter stages. This is not a game where button mashing is going to get you that far. You need to pay attention to what your opponent is doing and time your attacks and blocks perfectly, especially as you don’t get a “free block” as you do in other fighting games, like Tekken or Street Fighter.

I was okay in the first few fights, but I hit major roadblocks at both Kage and Pai as I just couldn’t seem to get past them. Bare in mind these are the fourth and fifth fights in the game, respectively, as well. I was getting clobbered time after time, and it got pretty disheartening after a while. Thankfully, I stuck it out and was eventually able to get past Pai, at which point things seemingly got less difficult (either that or I was sufficiently battle hardened at that stage and was more equipped to deal with the challenge of Wolf, Lau and Akira).

I still got utterly battered by Dural in the final “bonus” bout, of course, but that’s par for the course with me. I think the only game I’ve ever managed to defeat Dural in was Virtua Fighter 4, but I don’t feel too bad about that as even getting to her often tends to feel like an achievement. It’s annoying that you only get one go at her before seeing the game over screen, but that’s part of the point.

The fact I even made it to her at all was a minor miracle after getting walloped so many times prior to the big bout as I almost gave up at points. However, this highlights that although Virtua Fighter is unforgiving, if you stick at it, you can eventually tackle it enough to make it to the end if you take the time to improve.

The 32X’s game library isn’t exactly a treasure trove of hidden delights, but it does have a very creditable port of Virtua Fighter to hang its hat on, which is better than nothing at least. Is it worth going out of your way to buy a 32X to play it? No, the Saturn version is perfectly sufficient, and it’s not only easier to get a Saturn, but there’s also a much bigger library of games on the Saturn as opposed to the 32X if you want to build up a collection.

I hope you enjoyed today’s journey down memory lane. I’ll hopefully see you all again next week!

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