Surely nobody back in 1993, the same year Phantasy Star IV debuted in Japan and Starfox‘s Super FX powered polygons were busy wowing people everywhere, hoped the NES would receive it’s own version of Capcom’s Final Fight – a late ’80s game that by then had already been ported to the SNES (twice), appeared on various home computers ranging from the mighty Amiga to the even mightier X68000, and thanks to its late release ended up competing with the Mega CD version of itself: the one with new and exclusive extras, the one that was already sitting on shop shelves and had everyone’s attention thanks to its voice acting, multiplayer, and general optical media shininess.
And they made it cute too. The grimy street-based beat ’em up where beer is a health pickup and metal pipes are improvised weapons.
Mighty Final Fight was years late, running on outdated hardware, and cute. Cute.
Things aren’t looking good for Mighty Final Fight, but fortunately for us nobody responsible for creating or signing off this compact 8-bit beat ’em up seemed to care about the commercially dubious timing of its release. This was a game too caught up in competently taking one very good idea to completion – pick an arcade classic, pull it apart, and then rebuild it into something that better suited Nintendo’s popular console – to worry about what was happening in the wider world of gaming or what anyone might think of its cartoony cast.
All three playable characters (I feel the need to point out that’s one more than any SNES version of the game ever had…) and everything around them were redrawn from scratch to better suit the target hardware’s limitations, this sharp break away from giant sprites, fine pixel art, and smooth animation used as an excuse to fully embrace a comical cartoonish excess. Haggar now sports an anvil-like chin to rival Popeye’s, Guy is mostly pointy feet and blurred punches, and Cody’s boggle-eyed expression when he takes a heavy hit could be straight out of any classic Looney Tunes adventure.
The game also devotes precious time and ROM space to the little flourishes that you only miss when they’re gone. Each stage’s background layer is packed with unique detail and numerous scene changes purely for variety’s sake. Enemies don’t just pour in from the sides of the screen when the game needs to give you something to hit – they may be seen lazily leaning against a wall or sitting on a park bench before joining the fray. These opponents also bring some unique behaviours with them – a ranged attack, the ability to block, raw speed – and their lengthy health bars mean these quirks must be learned and reacted to, rather than casually punched to oblivion. It’s fun to interact with the game just to see what’s coming up next or how the latest opponent will react when you try to clobber them with a well-timed kick.
Just as much care and attention had been lavished on the battle system, with all three characters noticeably different in a way that goes beyond simple adjustments to the amount of damage they deal and receive. Guy does move faster than anyone else, but more interesting than that is the way his opening flurry of punches allow him to find openings in many enemy attacks the others are too slow to exploit. Haggar is so strong he can not only grab his opponents but also carry them short distances – all the better to throw them at whoever else is on the screen, turning Mad Gear members into musclebound weapons. Cody is still either slower than Guy and weaker than Haggar, or stronger than Guy and faster than Haggar, depending on whether your Cody-glass is half empty or half full, but either way he’s been gifted a fireball-esque energy wave that with some careful timing can knock enemies down before most of them can even reach him.
Cody can only perform that special move after he’s gathered enough EXP to reach a certain level though, and the same can be said for the other two and their unique attacks as well. This system works the way anyone who’s ever played an RPG would expect it to: defeating enemies awards EXP, and once those points reach a fixed number the character levels up and becomes more powerful. Adding a slight twist to Mighty Final Fight’s system is the way the game decides how much EXP you get from each enemy – how you finish them off determines how much you get, regardless of their size or strength. It’s a straightforward idea that produces a direct link between conscious effort and increased power, with risker moves naturally offering greater rewards. It’s worth stressing that it’s the finisher alone that determines the amount of EXP received: the game doesn’t care how you damage an enemy. Thanks to this deft touch every move to retain its tactical utility, and players have no reason to brainlessly spam one punch or kick all game long for EXP-earning efficiency’s sake.
It’s worth trying to squeeze as much value out of as many enemies as possible, as gaining a level instantly refills health bar to max, helping to soften the game’s challenges. Only got three continues to use up and bosses hit hard (and falling into a pit instantly kills you, turning one innocuous section of holes in the ground into something of a gauntlet of death)? But as you become more familiar with it reveals itself to be fair. Certain ways to attack that deal a lot of damage. Enemies have clear wind-ups before big moves. A life-sapping run through a stage can swiftly become a smooth experience with just a little practise.
Mighty Final Fight is very different to the game it’s based on – and it’s all the better for it. Complaints and comparisons about the number of enemies fought at any one time or the locations these scraps take place in are meaningless, because it’s so clearly not trying to mimic the CPS1 classic in any substantial way. Having said that it’s not immune to criticism either: it’s not quite as wild as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game‘s “Wow, this is on the NES?!” port – the one with multiplayer, more levels, and an impressive quantity of animated backgrounds and interactive and/or hazardous scenery released roughly three years earlier – but “only” being an enjoyable and solidly built experience – one I’d honestly pick over any of Final Fight’s other port – in the face of the extraordinary is hardly the biggest crime in Metro City.