Fighting Vipers - Sega Ages 2500
After the graphically battered but playable Sega Ages edition of VF2, comes yet another Model-2 fighting classic. Fighting Vipers gets the Kikizo treatment.
Ah yes, Fighting Vipers. One of my all-time favorite 3D fighting games finally got recognized and underwent the Sega Ages remake treatment. At one time that would have been a great thing to hear, but given how the majority of the Sega Ages 2500 series remakes have turned out thus far, I have to admit that I was a little worried. I'm glad to see that many of those concerns were finally laid to rest and Sega Ages 2500: Fighting Vipers turned out better than expected both visually and on the gameplay front.
The original Fighting Vipers made its debut in arcades back in 1995 -- with an excellent Saturn port following in 1996 - and was Sega's next foray into the competitive 3D fighting arena. Produced by Yu Suzuki and developed by Sega's famed AM2 division, Fighting Vipers utilized a similar 3-button layout, albeit somewhat different fighting system than was used in AM2's premiere fighting series, Virtua Fighter. While both games utilized a pretty cool combo system, Fighting Vipers featured faster-paced gameplay and implemented a pretty nice juggling system, as well as other elements not found in VF2 such as light-sourcing effects and interactive arenas that made the game's style of arena fighting just a little more exciting at times.
As far as fighting game stories go, Fighting Viper's story is about as bare bones as you can get really. Basically, the armor cladded youths in the city of Armston have taken up what's become the popular sport of one-on-one street fighting while decked out in armor and some funky gear. With the growing popularity of the sport the mayor decides to get in on the action by hosting a tournament where the city's best fighters can do battle against each other. Not much to the story really but who cares, fighting games never live or die by their story but by how solid their fighting engines are and I'm happy to report that Fighting Vipers, while an old game, still holds up fairly well.
With the graphical issues that plagued Sega Ages Virtua Fighter 2, one of the concerns we initially had was whether Fighting Vipers would fall into the same boat - or would the developers put forth the effort needed to retain the arcade version's pristine visual quality?
The good news is that for the most part the visuals appear to be VERY similar to the arcade original this time around. Utilizing improved texture compression technology has allowed the developers to retain much of the game's vivid colors scheme on both the characters and backgrounds, a sharp contrast to the washed out colors found in Sega Ages VF2. However, FV's backgrounds and characters still lack the shine of their Model 2 counterparts.
But despite that, many fans are going to appreciate finally having what appears to be a near-arcade perfect port at home. All of the geometry from the arcade version - much of which were cut out in the Saturn version - has made the trip in tact.
The backgrounds are varied and pretty active at times with airplanes taking off over the arenas, helicopter fly-bys, soda trucks driving around at night, and a few other cool sights, many of which were missing in the Saturn version. The lighting sourcing effects are here as well - and there are animated shadows -- both of which are the most prevalent on Honey's graffitied arena walls. Also, like in SA: VF2 there's a selectable 57.5 and 60 fps option for arcade purists and 60-fps-freaks alike - both of which ran pretty smoothly without any stuttering.
Players can choose from a selection of 8 of the city's young fighters - with the final boss becoming a playable character after completing the game - and each fighter is decked out in armor, with some oddball fashion sense and their own unique fighting moves. There's Grace - the foxy rollerblader, Honey - the stereotypically cutesy female fighter, Picky - the skater, Raxel - the rocker, Tokio, Jane, Sanman, and also Bahn, who seems to have an Akira complex at times but just isn't as cool a fighter as Virtua Fighter's stun palm of doomer.
Unfortunately, conspicuous by his absence this time around is one Pepsi-man, who originally made his presence known in the Saturn version of Fighting Vipers as part of the Pepsi promotion that was happening in Japan back then. Pepsi-man was ultra cool, leaping into action whenever a fighter was losing badly - interjecting himself into a match and quenching the thirst of his opponents with fists of fury. I found it a little odd that the game still has a few other Pepsi adverts, but no sign of Pepsi-man anywhere, and no Pepsi-Man in SA: Fighting Vipers makes Joe a very sad man as I would have loved to receive an ass-kickin' by a higher-res version of the walking soda can.
Anyways, as far as game modes go, the game features standard arcade, 2P versus, and an all-new Ranking mode. The gameplay is of your standard 3D fighting fare in that players can block and perform a variety of punch, kick combos, as well as throws by utilizing different button combinations and directional presses to unleash the variety of moves in each fighter's arsenal. The battles take place within the confines of interactive arena walls that players can use to set up combos and such, bouncing their opponents against the cage walls and nailing them with impact blows that'll send them crashing through the walls, collapsing the structures as they go flying out into the backgrounds - one firm favorite aspect of the game.
Fighting Vipers plays a little similar to Virtua Fighter 2 in some respects but at the same time does a number of things differently. As mentioned before, the fighters are all decked out in armor which serves to limit the amount of damage inflicted upon them from an opponent's attacks. Alongside a standard life meter each fighter has an armor meter that indicates the status of their armor during each match. As the fights wear on you can weaken as well as knock another fighter's armor off - with instant replay shots shown immediately after impact - leaving them exposed to the full brunt of your attacks as each hit inflicts more damage to them than before. Along with the inclusion of armor in Fighting Vipers, other differences in comparison to the VF series include the ability to recover in mid-air after being thrown or sent flying from an attack, and also use the arena walls during a mid-air recovery to rally back. At the same time, these mid-air recoveries can be double-edged swords, leaving you completely vulnerable to combo flurries at the hands of a capable opponent.
Fighting Vipers has always been a fast paced and TOUGH game with a low tolerance for button mashers and Sega Ages: Fighting Vipers no doubt carries on that tradition. In keeping with that, the AI opponents can be quite brutal at times and will eat you alive if your fight plan isn't up to snuff. Effective combat in Fighting Vipers is heavily based on utilizing combos as well as counter-striking. Counter-striking can be pretty effective and usually consists of a quick tap of the directional pad and the press of a button to unleash one of the special flashing moves in your fighter's arsenal that, when timed right, will usually cause your fighter to block an attack and then fire back with a move that'll send your opponents flying. A well-timed critical hit can smash a fighter's armor early on in a match and makes for a great way to end each fight as your opponents are left half-dressed with the arena walls crumbling under the impact.
For the most part the game contains a solid variety of sounds produced not only by each fighter's attack moves, but also their exploding armor, as well as the chain-linked fences and other arena wall types getting rattled as fighters are repeatedly knocked into them. Environmental sounds are also present and well done with the sounds of planes taking off, soda trucks driving by late at night and whatever other activities are taking place in the background.
The music selection of Fighting Vipers is pretty decent as well, sporting predominantly rock styled BGM tracks, that, while are nothing to shout about, fit the action well. Having owned the Fighting Vipers soundtrack for ages now, I knew what to expect which is why it's so disappointing that there arent any' remixed or arranged tracks here like there were in Sega Ages: Virtua Fighter 2.
All in all, while Sega Ages 2500: Fighting Vipers is a budget title, it contains a level of fun that's been lost in a lot of higher priced heavy hitters. But still, compared to other versions of the game, the PS2 incarnation is the weakest and is a little on the disappointing side (big surprise there). While the game looks 'almost' as good and plays just as well as the arcade version, this is pretty much a straightforward port with no real additions made -- and like Sega Ages 2500: Virtua Fighter 2, the Saturn version of Fighting Vipers remains your best bet. While the Saturn version sports a significant decrease in poly count and isn't as close to being arcade perfect as the PS2 remake, there were just a lot more additions made to the Saturn version to really help it stand out. A portrait mode, an intuitive training mode, additional play modes, additional moves, secret characters, and alternate costumes for the fighters, all put the Saturn version of Fighting Vipers way ahead of the pack.
When it comes down to it it's basically the Saturn version vs. the PS2 version vs. the original arcade version - and in the end the Saturn smokes them all in areas not graphically related. Otherwise, Sega Ages 2500: Fighting Vipers is currently the closest to an arcade perfect version of the game that you'll get.