With one Model 2 game already under the Sega Ages 2500 Series’ belt, the only question was when, not if, other games from that evergreen era of coin-munching spectacle—variations of that particular arcade hardware the power behind evergreen hits like Sega Rally, Daytona USA, Virtua Cop 2, The House of the Dead and plenty more—would turn up on the PlayStation 2. Fighting Vipers had the honour of being the first (and happily not the last) example of this porting trend; the grittier, cooler, rock-infused alternative to the refined elegance of AM2’s groundbreaking Virtua Fighter series.
This rough style is most obviously seen in the fighters’ surroundings, almost every industrial wall spray painted with charmingly PG-rated graffiti, but it’s most keenly felt in the fighting itself. Armstone City style combat is rough and improvised, a brawl more than a bout: largely gone are the controlled twist-kicks and nimble cartwheels of Akira and friends, replaced instead with slaps, beatdowns, and rough shoulder barges. Here you’re going to be too busy getting hit in the face with a skateboard, thrown face-first into the stage’s barrier, or punched straight through a concrete wall to spend any time thinking about the type of martial arts your opponent’s using or admiring their skilled footwork.
These people are here to win, and through their actions you get the impression they don’t really care how they do it.
This… let’s call it a “practical” approach to fighting, is no doubt also responsible for the all-new armour system too. Wearing some sort of protection just makes sense if you’re hoping to win a one-on-one fight inside an inescapable wire cage, and equally understandable is the need to smash your opponent’s gear right off their body, exposing the softer and squishier parts underneath. It’s a brilliant idea that easily serves multiple purposes on several levels; the quick cuts whenever a break’s triggered bring a little drama, and from a tactical point of view shattering someone’s protective gear creates an instinctive urge to pile on the pressure—with care, as the person on the receiving end gains a small attack boost in the process (which is is the reason why you can break off your own armour too, goading the other fighter into attacking while hopefully making the most of your new offensive edge).
As gritty as Fighting Vipers may be, it’s careful to never be actively grim. The cast are brightly coloured and a little bit silly in their own unique ways—Grace fights on roller blades, Raxel brings an electric guitar to a fist fight, Bahn’s stage has a giant smiling bear in the background—and there’s no reason why a powerful KO into the ropes found in some stages would boing somebody way off into the void other than because it’s the most hilarious outcome possible.
So it’s a good game—as if that was ever in doubt—but best of all this is a great port too.
The basic menu on the title screen makes it easy to get straight to the good stuff in seconds, whether that’s a true arcade experience, versus play against a local friend, or a solo ranked game. That is all you get though: there’s no practice mode to spend any time with (although you can bring up your character’s full move list at any time if you pause the game, and the same information is also present in the manual), and there are no galleries to view or similar goodies to unlock, but that’s kind of the point of this port, isn’t it? The aim here is to bring the arcade version of Fighting Vipers home, rather than to create a home-centred equivalent of the arcade game, Fighting Vipers. Does that completely excuse the almost complete lack of extras? In terms of raw currency-paid-vs-features-present, maybe not. But then again, if we really do want painstakingly arcade accurate ports, is it fair to complain when they have (mostly) painstakingly arcade accurate features?
What extras it does have are mostly concerned with tweaking the Fighting Vipers experience to suit your own preferences. There’s the option to select either 57.5 or 60 FPS refresh rates in the options menu, and just like Virtua Fighter 2 the more unusual refresh rate is the arcade accurate one, although it is again a well-intended approximation (inserting two repeat frames, according to the manual) due to various technical reasons that don’t really matter if you just want to have a fun time bopping people as Jane, Sanman, and the rest. Complementing this are three different screen size settings: original (shown in all the screenshots here), original slightly expanded to touch the sides of the screen, and full 4:3. Unfortunately Fighting Vipers uses a lot of mesh effects and overlays that look conspicuously distorted when viewed in anything other than the original screen mode, but at least the option’s there if you’d rather play without the black borders, or this admittedly small detail doesn’t bother you as much as it bothers me. There’s a random option tucked away in there too, keeping the stages themselves in the traditional order but switching around the characters around at, well, random (from my testing it still saves B.M. for last though, so you don’t have to worry about running into a scary boss battle three matches in).
A few small secrets are tucked away in there too; the most significant being the usual Mahler unlock (clear arcade mode once with anyone—it’s OK to use continues and the random setting), and a bonus “Kids” mode hinted at in the manual. To activate this hold left on 1Ps pad, right on 2Ps pad, and then press start on 1P’s pad during the attract sequence. If you’ve done it right everyone will have big heads, chunky hands, and enormous feet when you start playing. It doesn’t look all that great because they (understandably) just wrapped the standard adult textures over inflated body parts, but it’s a silly little addition that’s worth activating for a quick go at least once.
As far as visual flourishes go, this port retains all of the 3D stage details the Saturn version (the only other home release available at the time) lacked—overhead pipes, various 3D background details outside the ring, etc.—although the textures are, as they were in the Sega Ages 2500 version of Virtua Fighter 2, not quite as sharp as they appear to be in the real thing. On balance though, considering the target hardware in question and the scope/budget of the Sega Ages 2500 series(something that can probably be summed up as “Yep, we’re still here!”), I feel this is a small fact to be noted and then politely put to one side.
This is one of those Sega Ages 2500 entries that doesn’t look like much on the surface—it’s Fighting Vipers on the PlayStation 2—but is still very much appreciated, its presence helping to secure the console’s position as the convenient one-stop shop for a wide range of authentic arcade experiences, and to this day is still (sadly) the most technically accomplished physical release the game’s ever had. As a game Fighting Vipers is simple enough to be worth playing just for the fun of it, while still possessing more than enough depth to sink some serious time into, and it’s rough ‘n’ ready attitude couldn’t be more gleefully Sega if it tried. For once the breathless arcade copy promising
ULTRA REALISM HYPER SPEED EXCITMENT
isn’t all that far off the mark.
[Ko-fi supporters read this last week—and it’s only thanks to them that this article exists at all!]