X-Fighter logo CD32

X-Fighter is not as good as Shadow Fighter. Or Mortal Kombat II. That is fighting talk that is. Steve Bradley goes 10 rounds with a new beat-em-up.

Now here is an odd fellow. My pugnacious foe is somewhat stand-offish. I move forward, ready to kick the blighter in the midriff. Still he refuses to move. 'I am in here', I bravely suggest to myself, inching forward, ready for the kill until, blow me, if I am not on the end of a one-hit combination, losing the match in the process. 'Oh fiddlesticks', I cry in anguish as my ribs cave into my chest.

Eight groups of fighters here, split into teams of four - 32 battlers in all. Each member of the team has the same set of manoeuvres, the idea presumably being that you get to learn a team's characteristics and then take on other teams. Or something. Thais, Jets, Bouncers, Greasers, Ninjas, Mercs, Hunters, Minions of Death - thems are your gangs a-la Guys And Dolls, only I do not remember Marlon Brando having a machete. So basically you get eight different fighters.

Swords, cables, chains, enormous fists, flashing bolts - all the usual gadgets are included.

The recent resurgence of the Amiga beat-em-you has seen the cart conversion of Mortal Kombat II and Gremlin's quirky Shadow Fighter take centre stage while Rise of the Robots fell dismally at the first hurdle.

Scantily clad
X-Fighter positions itself between the camps, a Street Fighter clone without the slick graphics, a flickery-screened, yet reasonably playable number. The backdrops are extremely dull and very poorly animated. You are scrapping on a pavement by the docks, barrels littering the background, though as you would expect, a scantily-clad woman sits atop the bonnet of a red Ferrari. At least I think it was a Ferrari.

Or perhaps you are in a good yard with an HGV- perched calmy behind. Whatever, they are well below the standard of say, Elfmania, as the jerky scrolling, which for a CD32 game is unforgivable. Do not show this game to your mates with SSFII on a SNES. They will rip you to shreds.

And the plainsome visuals lead the pad basher to feel less empathy with the characters than with the more rounded Mortal Kombat II and colourful Shadow Fighter. Each team has super combo moves which can involve up to six directional taps before boshing the fire button - not particularly easy to pull off in the heat of battle, but then this complaint can be levelled at most beat-em-ups. The standard manoeuvres are easy to learn with practice - a tap, tap and a tap.

Swords, cables, chains, enormous fists, flashing bolts. All the ususal gadgets are included and in some bouts you can simply bash a long chain into your hapless opponent from a safe distance, winning the bout at a canter.

But despite X-Fighter's shoddy appearance, the gameplay is just about good enough to overcome presentation. If only it was not against the far slicker Shadow Fighter, if only it was smoother and had parallax scrolling.

X-Fighter logo CD32

So he's given up then, has he?

I am unsure how to approach this review of X-Fighter. So, instead: hospital dramas on television. Casualty is a deservedly popular programme. At its heart are the staff of Holby General: overworked, underpaid, government-oppressed characters whom we have come to love. Then there's blood. Did you manage to keep your eyes on the screen during that tracheotomy? Or were you compelled to look away? If you were looking for a way to divide the world into two groups of people, this would be the one.

But Casualty is only shown during the colder seasons. For the rest of the year American substitutes must suffice. Let us examine these:

ER: A feeble programme. Every week identical-looking doctors and nurses rush around identical-looking corridors performing identical-looking procedures on identical-looking patients while exciting music plays. For an hour.

Chicago Hope: A fantastic programme. Within minutes of the first episode starting we were intimately involved with a group of carefully-defined characters who've continued to evolve as the series has progressed. Only one or two 'incidents' occur each week, but each is thoroughly pursued and not let go of until all avenues have been explored.

When it says "Previously in Chicago Hope..." at the beginning, you're shown things you need to know. When ER does it, it's just trying to sound like LA Law.

But wait. What ER so sorely lacks, and Chicago Hope could probably do with a few of, is accidents. You don't watch Casualty for the doctors and nurses, or for the blood. You watch it so see how long it'll take before the joyriders crash, or the girl gets her leg caught in the threshing machine, or the animal rights activist gets bitten by the virus-carrying monkey. The best episodes throw you off the scent by showing an adulterous husband having his way with his mistress in a car parked on the edge of a cliff with his foot bashing repeatedly against the handbrake, and then having his wife half beaten to death by an intruder attack back at his house.

Why haven't Americans realised this? Why do they insist on fobbing us off with the aftermath, showing everything through the eyes of the doctors? Why have an ambulance man saying "He's a biker who drove into the side of a car and broke his neck", when they could actually show the motorcyclist cartwheeling through the air? The basic ingredients are in place in ER and Chicago Hope; but they're not taken to their logical conclusion. Its heart is there, but...

Hang on. Basic ingredients in place... identical-looking doctors and nurses... sorely lacks... nothing interesting...

Only one or two

Got it. Netted it and popped it into a jam jar while its guard was down. X-Fighter is a game that decides it's going to be a beat-'em-up and spends ages researching exactly what makes beat-'em-ups tick. It realises the importance of balance - balance between the various characters, and balance between close-up and range attacks.

It's got reasonably-easy-to-access special moves, heaps of different characters, well-engineered artificial intelligence for the computer players making it a challenging one-player game, and characters a bit like the ones in Street Fighter 2. You could write all these things in a list and say: "Yes, that's what makes a good beat-'em-up." But X-Fighter isn't any fun at all.

It looks terrible, as you'll already have noticed. Normally, this wouldn't worry us at AMIGA POWER, the magazine whose two favourite games are Sensible Soccer and Gravity Force 2. But good graphics are absolutely essential in a beat-'em-up, if only so you can tell the difference between characters.

There's another thing - being able to tell the difference between characters in X-Fighter, but THEY ALL LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME. They're all your generic raised-on-the-streets-of-Detroit tough guys and ninjas, and I can't remember any of their names.

They all perform a selection of moves from a general pool of fireballs, flying kicks, throws and beatings-with-sticks, and they nearly all use an identical list of joystick waggles to access these.

There's no point in trying to get proficient with one particular character, because when you return to the game after lunch you'll have completely forgotten which one he was. (Was it the one with the headband? Of the one with the headband?)

There's no music, which is okay by us, but in its absence are only the most basic sound effects - embarrassing, awful ones. The collision detection is shoddy. The animation is rudimentary. It won't pause. There's no scoring system, even though combos perform a central role. The backgrounds are the most tedious, generic junk yards, street corners and oriental-looking places.

But, mysteriously deep underneath grotty graphics, while you're playing it, X-Fighter feels oddly like a 'proper' beat-'em-up to play, evidence that's it's been written by someone who knows a thing or two about Street Fighter 2. To win, you have to do things that you'd do in a 'proper' beat-'em-up. If you're good at 'proper' beat-'em-up, you'll be good at X-Fighter.

In a way, X-Fighter is the bit that was missing from Elfmania and Rise of the Robots. It's the beating heart of a beat-'em-up, crudely removed with a contaminated scalpel, tossed into a bin liner and left for Holby Refuse Department to collect on Wednesday morning.


Experience has proved that beat-'em-ups featuring non-human characters (animals, robots etc) are doomed to failure. But even so, that's no excuse for everyone having been raised on the streets of Detroit and being aged 22. Here are som Original Beat-'em-Up Suggestions which I donate, without obligation, to the nation.

With the cold war over, there must be a large number of secret agents roaming the streets. Let us therefore gather them together in a tournament, where they can face each other using the weapons of their trade: dart-firing biros, magnetic watches, Walther PPKs and, in a nod towards some of the more traditional beat-'em-ups, the 'Ghetto Blaster'.

(The Beat-'Em-Up of Gentlemen).
This one's set in the mid-1800s, and the characters all wear top hats and white gloves. (Everyone except young Master WIlliam the barrow boy, that is, who hurls apples and potatoes at his opponents. And the female characters, who all automatically win fights by default). Fighting involves epees and duelling pistols, and follows strict rules. Until this inevitably gets boring, that is, whereupon the combatants roll up their sleeves and box.

Bouts take place against a backdrop of circuit boards, between young men with wispy moustaches and loafers. Special moves include the Floppy Disk Flip, the Silicon Chip Suplex, the Joystick-shaped Fireball and the Guru Meditation Death Move. One of the characters is called 'Megabite'. (Ingest BB pellets, trator. Gaaaaah... - Ed) Aaarghh.

X-Fighter logo CD32

Price: £25.99   Publisher: Thalion   0121 449 4464

A decent beat 'em up upon thine CD32? Sure thou jest! But no, for tis true...

When the CD32 appeared I rejoiced for a number of reasons. Obviously I had rather hoped that it would become the most popular machine in the world... but it didn't happen. Though this was most probably due to that crap advert featuring 'Professor Silly Old Sod' ranting about "so many colours" etc. It takes more than that to keep us down at happy old CU Towers, and the CD32 still offered Amiga users the chance to sample games the likes of which we'd never seen before (er... in theory, that is).

Of course, the reality of the situation was that all w'd get were old A1200 products with the odd bit of ray-tracing and it seemed as though no-one was ever likely to take advantage of the CD32's six button joypad.

Well, we still await the say when someone produces a beat 'em up that makes most of these buttons, but at least now there's a decent fighting game that helps itself to a generous portion of the CD media.

X-Fighter is an interesting product in a number of ways. Firstly, it's from Thalion - a company hardly famous for anything other than RPGs and Flight Sims. Secondly, it's the first time out for the solo programmer. And lastly, the game's bloody weird from start to finish!

The first thing that hits you about X-Fighter is the unattractive graphics (hmm, not too good so far). Next up comes the complete lack of music and the rather limited sound effects that crunch and heave in the background (hmm, still not looking groovy). Then you play the thing, and... HORRAH! The eagle has landed!

Yes indeed, if there's one thing that saves this game, it's the sheer playability and 'feel' of the thing. The characters (of which there are 32 - yes 32!) move in a quirky yet responsive way, and with Mortal Kombat-like special moves, it won't be too long before you've picked out your favourite fighter and are beating your way to the top.

Bunch of fives
I've already told you that there are 32 characters to choose from (which goes some way towards explaining why the game has been put out on CD only, rather than a billion floppies), but I haven't mentioned that they are grouped into eight separate teams. These teams range from standard groups such as martial artists and Ninjas, to less usual gangs such as bouncers and greasers (chain-wielding leather-clad nutters).

Though it's disappointing to see only a single fire button used, this does mean that you can plug a joystick in for two player japes, and the moves ar about as easy to pull off as humanly possible. There are also a number of options for two-player games, including tag teams (with multiple characters from any group making up your overall tournament 'team') and 'see-saw' bouts.

Here, the standard power bars are replaced by one huge bar that moves back and forth in a 'tug-o-war' kinda way as the two contestants battle it out. This makes for longer matches, and works especially well when used by two players of similar skill. Unfortunately, this option isn't available for the single player. Damn it.

Combos ahoy
Another interesting feature with X-Fighter is that there's no limit to the number of combinations that you can perform. Boot your opponent in the air, punch him on the way up, jump up and kick him again, land and punch him back up as he comes down, etc, etc. Yep, you can keep this up for as long as your control is spot on, and being awarded 15 hit combos isn't unusual once you get the feel for your character's movements and abilities - especially with the Super Combos. 'What Super Combos?' I hear you ask. Aha...

If you've managed to hit your opponent a certain number of times in rapid succession, the words 'Super Available' appear by your power bar. It's then up to you to pull off a Mortal Kombat-esque movement (such as down, left, down, right, fire) to initiate a sort of auto-pilot attack, where your player goes into a set-piece sequence of moves. Needless to say, should you manage to time and position your player correctly, this does a fair bit of damage.

So there you are. Yes, it looks a bit arse and yes, it sounds a bit arse too, but scratch beneath the poor presentation and you'll find a responsive and addictive beat 'em up. Step up CD32 users - your time has come!