Virtua Fighter – Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X Review

Retro Resolution Retro Review

System: Sega Megadrive / Genesis 32X
Developer: Sega
AM2 (arcade, 32X)
Year: Model 1 hardware (arcade original) 1993
Year: 32X 1995


The classic Simpson’s episode Treehouse of Horror VI sees Homer unexpectedly breaking through the 2D confines of his world to appear in the three spatial dimensions of ours, the juxtaposition highlighting the hitherto unnoticed confining nature of the previous reality; Homer’s revelatory sensation is one mirrored by first-time players of Sega’s iconic Virtua Fighter.

Often hailed as a breakthrough for the genre, the Model-1 powered 1993 arcade title dragged the one-on-one fighting game kicking and screaming into the third dimension, eschewing sprites for fully animated quadratic-surfaced mannequin fighters. Whilst rendered entirely in 3D, the action still ensues entirely upon a horizontal plane, much to the title’s credit.  As Bruce Lee once said:

‘Do not deny the classical approach simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there’

The polygonal nature of the game enables a true paradigm shift in gameplay. Unhindered by pre-drawn animation frames Virtua Fighter’s smoothly realistic movement conveys the satisfying solidity of its fighters, and the bone-crushing weight of their attacks,  whilst allowing a previously unobtainable fluidity and depth of gameplay. The resultant experience appears a different beast entirely from those iconic 2D brawlers Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat.

Virtua Fighter - Sega 32X

Bereft of fireballs and fatalities alike, Virtua Fighter’s strength lays not in what pugilistic purists may bemoan as gimmicks, but in a repertoire of over 700 moves derived from a variety of traditional martial arts, including boxing and wrestling;  training is the key to success as much in the Virtua world as the real.

Sonically the 32X puts up a magnificent fight (pun intended), driving the admittedly weak sound hardware to the limits, reproducing in (semi) hi-fidelity the majority of the samples present in the coin-op parent. Unfortunately, in contrast the weak, truncated FM synthesised tunes are little more than an imitation of the wonderful score present in both the arcade and Saturn versions.

‘Do not concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory’ B.L.

By the time of the 32X port even the once cutting-edge arcade graphics had been comprehensively overtaken; the Sega mushroom’s lower polygon count further necessitated a reduction in finesse, presenting somewhat simplified character models amongst stages demoted from majestic theatres of combat to simplistic areas. Despite these necessary sacrifices everything that makes the coin-op so special remains, incredibly, intact.

‘Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.’ B.L.

With Virtua Fighter the 32X appears in many aspects to effortlessly out-perform the mighty oak that was the Saturn, eliminating loading times, and almost abolishing the more powerful system’s maddening flicker. Even today AM2’s port stands proud as an impressive achievement which remains utterly addictive through retention of the arcade progenitor’s core gameplay.

Author’s note: a version of this review previously appeared in an issue of Retro Gamer magazine, for which I am both flattered and grateful.

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