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Old 09-18-2011, 04:11 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Retronauts: The Bro-riffic Final Fight

A few days ago, a female friend asked me, "Sure it's a pretty good beat 'em up, but what makes Final Fight so special, anyway?" Chances are, any gamer who is 1) male, and 2) spent most of his puberty in the late 1980s would respond with "What the hell kind of dumb question is that?" And I would respond by reminding them that not every player packs a Y chromosome, and that anyone who spent most of her time in an arcade playing Tetris or Bubble Bobble may not understand the allure of Capcom's brawler. It's been over twenty years, guys... I think it's time to let the ladies in on our secret.

The first reason we love Final Fight is that it looked miles better than any other '80s arcade game. It was hardly the first side scrolling beat 'em up on the market, having been beaten to the punch by Renegade and Double Dragon. However, while Technos was content with small, squishy street thugs battling against lightly detailed backdrops, Capcom pushed its 16-bit CPS hardware to the limit with the gritty back alleys of a city long past its glory days and heroes so hugely gigantic they could eat Billy and Jimmy for breakfast, and still have room for Kunio (fine, Mr. K...) as a light snack.

This was a big deal in 1989, when arcade games were all about presentation. Sure, there was still room for clever ideas and addictive gameplay, but the first impression made by the attract mode was what sealed the deal for cash-strapped gamers pinching their quarters. Think back to the time you spent in a late 1980s arcade. Chances are, most of the memories you had were of smashing the attack button while drinking in the scenery and enjoying the carnage. Even a supremely mindless beat 'em up like Altered Beast could be a hit (and even a system pack-in!) if the graphics were dazzling enough. Final Fight was the final word in late 1980s visuals, which is why it it was hugely popular then and remains a cult hit today.

Sure, you could argue that there have been better beat 'em ups since Final Fight. Streets of Rage 2 has triple the technique and more imaginative set pieces, and later Neo-Geo titles like Sengoku 3 have crisper control and more fluid animation. However, no game in the genre have ever been this manly. Final Fight rides the line between the macho and homoerotic, and the astonishing and absurd with the same panache as that other male-centric pursuit, professional wrestling.

The game just drips with testosterone, from the steroid-pumped mayor with his arms permanently locked into a grapple to such unlikely villains as a renegade G.I. Joe action figure and an army of Andre of Giants. There's a lead pipe or a forty ounce beer hidden in every stack of tires. You could be jumped by Axl Rose or Sid Vicious at any moment. In the final confrontation (spoiler alert), you knock the shadowy leader of the Mad Gears gang out the plate glass window of a fifty story skyscraper. It may seem ridiculous to us now, and to female gamers then, but I dare you to find any fourteen year old boy who wasn't whispering "Awesome..." under his breath every five minutes while he was playing this.

The only problem with a game that toes the edge of manliness is that the sequels are destined to fall off. You just can't get more macho than Final Fight without looking completely ridiculous, which is why the (thankfully) Japanese exclusive Final Fight Revenge felt more like a parody than a spin-off, and why the equally ill-advised Final Fight Streetwise seemed like it was trying too hard to drag the formula into the 21st century. (First rule of Fight Club? Don't rip off Fight Club for your cutscenes. Those references were way passe even in 2006.)

Your best bet is to forget the remakes and indulge in the guilty pleasures of the original with Capcom Classics Collection, or the Final Fight Double Impact two-fer released for Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. And ladies... you're welcome to join us, but you might want to crush a beer can on your forehead and scratch yourself first to get into the right mindset.

(No, you can't play Mighty Final Fight. That's cheating!)
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