Virtua Fighter

You cannot mention groundbreaking video games without bringing up Sega’s Virtua Fighter.

Arcade goers were wowed by the first video game to fully feature 3-D polygonal graphics back in 1993. The game was considered one of the top arcade cabinets of the year and generated high review scores from a variety of critics.

So, imagine everyone’s surprise when this title landed on the Genesis add-on 32X and could be played at home!

Yes, the Sega Saturn was on the way – and even out in some markets already with a graphically superior, but glitchy version of the same game. However, before the next generation officially landed we were receiving near-perfect arcade ports at home via Sega’s 32X, which promised “32-bit” processing when doubling down on the previous 16-bit era of consoles was smart marketing to show an advancement in technology.

Virtua Fighter was one of the arcade-to-home 32-bit translations for Sega’s Genesis accessory. The game was the first of its kind to introduce a fully 3-D fighting arena and featured a multitude of characters, each with their own special features.

As with the 2-D fighting landscape, each fight was the best of three rounds where a player obtains a win via knocking an opponent out (i.e. depleting their life bar) or having more health than their opponent when the timer reaches zero.

Forcing your opponent out of the ring was another key to victory in the new 3-D landscape too.

Unlike a lot of its counterparts at the time, Virtua Fighter didn’t go with a violence motif. It was instead centered around the gameplay, with the central storyline revolving around a “world’s best fighter” style tournament (albeit with a criminal undertone making their presence known as the antagonist).

Regardless, the main historical reference of this game was taking a three-dimensional title with (then) state-of-the-art graphics from the arcade to a nearly identical experience at home. While arcade ports such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II, and NBA Jam were already being done on the Genesis and Super Nintendo, there were stark contrasts between those ports and their “big brother” in the arcade.

Virtua Fighter, however, felt more complete and gave us a glimpse at the future of gaming, despite being on the sparsely supported (and gimmicky) 32X add-on.

WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game

What do you get when you take Midway’s trend of digitizing Mortal Kombat actors and NBA Jam players with the sports entertainment goliath then known as the WWF?

You get Vince McMahon saying “boomshakalaka”!

And no, that isn’t a joke!

Back in the 90’s it was still a somewhat guarded secret that the WWF’s head announcer was also the owner of the company. So naturally, when Midway created a WWF arcade game, Vince’s voice was added to it.

As was the case with several series around this time, the Sega 32X ports were among the best of the bunch, as Midway fully supported the add-on to the Genesis. The added hardware power allowed for the full roster, much of the voice details and more to be fully ported from the arcade version, making for a more definitive port than what was a stripped-down Super Nintendo sibling.

The gameplay itself could be a love/hate relationship.

Make no mistake, this was an arcade game. It’s also pro wrestling, which can be called a rehearsed male soap opera at times, but this title took it over the top.

For example, when Bret “The Hitman” Hart got slammed to the canvas, cartoonish hearts spill out of his body.

The Undertaker goes full “dead man” gimmick with ghoulish apparitions and overtones.

Bam Bam Bigelow has flames as part of his repertoire and so on.

It makes for an appealing visual style but also takes away from what could’ve been a more serious wrestling game in the vein of the excellent WWF WrestleFest (or it’s lesser known cousin, WWF Superstars).

Instead we get a more “arcade” style button masher complete with cheap AI tactics.

And while I’m on my rant, why isn’t there entrance music with the wrestlers until after you win a match? That seems a bit backwards and is one small detail that really derails from this being higher on my list of favorite wrestling games.

In fact, there was no sequel made to this game to my knowledge either – maybe it wasn’t the commercial success they had hoped? Maybe it was just too wacky? Or maybe wrestling was entering a down period in the early 90’s and people lost interest?

Either way, if you’re a wrestling fan who also loved the Midway style of games during this same era, you will likely enjoy this game. If you’re a wrestling purist looking for strategy, this isn’t it.

If compared with an NFL game, WWF WrestleMania is more like NFL Blitz than John Madden Football.

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

One of my favorite all-time arcade games is NBA Jam. When it first released, it gave you the thrill of a rookie Shaquille O’Neal breaking glass backboards along with actual NBA players in a fantasy 2-on-2 setting.

The series jumped to the forefront with an announcer who parodied the NBA’s popular play-by-play guy at the time Marv Albert, using one-liners such as “He’s on fire!”, “Is it the shoes?”, and “Boom-shaka-laka” all becoming commonplace in pop culture.

Getting the game on a home console was like Christmas every day, where you no longer had to pump quarters into the arcade to play each, um, quarter. Like Mortal Kombat, which was also developed by Midway, the translation to home was produced by Acclaim – and it came nearly complete with the same digitized faces/actors that made both series memorable mainstays in the 90’s.

Unfortunately, the home versions (and later arcade revisions) snubbed some of the more popular players from NBA Jam’s rosters. Due to licensing with other game titles, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and the aforementioned Shaq were absent.

While I wanted to review the plain jane NBA Jam, I learned my lesson from the Mortal Kombat series to just jump right into the best of the bunch – that also happens to be the successor to the first title, NBA Jam “Tournament Edition” or “T.E.” for short.

T.E. brought new innovations to the series, including expanded rosters (you could switch your two players between a mix of three total per team – and could “sub” between quarters too). A tournament mode kept things at a competitive balance for the most hardcore players while “hot spots” and other additions made T.E. the pinnacle of the original NBA Jam games, much in the same way Mortal Kombat peaked with MK2.

The best of the 16-bit era games was actually a 32-bit port, to the mostly unsupported and largely abandoned Sega 32X. The top-heavy add-on was still cartridge based, but had built upon the superior Super Nintendo translation in every way to make the most arcade-worthy port of the T.E. games (until Sony’s PlayStation landed, that is).

Yet, the 32X is worth mentioning here as there are few games that were released for it and T.E. could’ve been a killer app if not for overwhelming their own market by flooding it with Jam available for nearly every console imaginable (including the Game Boy and Atari’s Jaguar!)

But without the CD loading waits (read: long waits) of the PSX, T.E. best lives on with Sega’s 32X as the definitive cartridge console version of its era. It’s well worth revisiting if you have the time, if only to walk down memory lane and play with some of the game’s many hidden characters!