Hit 'em High
If there's one thing I love about the Dreamcast it's the over-abundance of atypical Japanese beat 'em ups that make no real sense. Playing them almost makes you feel like you're part of some bizarre cult; the cult of the obscure fighter, perhaps, and there are a lot to play. Some of them even make it to the West. The PowerStone series did a sterling job, for instance, and now Sega are having another crack, with AM2's Fighting Vipers 2. The original Fighting Vipers was quite a typical Sega fighter. Enclosed arenas, cutesy models and refreshing gameplay. All right so it was mildly obscure, but after the success of Virtua Fighter 3 it deserved a rehash. The game, Fighting Vipers 2, developed by arcade heroes AM2 hit Japanese arcades in 1997. It flopped, big style. When it turned up in Western arcades nobody even raised an eyebrow in its direction. Despite proving something of a non-starter for AM2 (which is quite rare), FV2 was duly converted to the Dreamcast and released to Japan, where it did tolerably well. Well enough even, to spawn a translation for the West. Unfortunately, it hasn't been worth the wait.
Hit 'em Low
For starters, the game makes you feel like you are controlling a Power Ranger. The flamboyant uniforms that your "Vipers" are decked out in just make no sense. The Vipers, by the way are an obscure group of kids who have formed a gang and find themselves hunted by the infamous (and stupidly named) "BM". Who just so happens to be a raving lunatic. BM has erected an modern-day Alcatraz to keep the Vipers in, but he has to catch them first. The single player game features 11 forgettable character, each of which boasts two layers of armour for protection. The controls are similar to Virtua Fighter 3, with one button for blocking, one for punches and one for kicks. It plays rather like the original Fighting Vipers, with a couple of additions, like the ability to use all three buttons in conjunction to initiate a parry or mid-air block. The armour has a major part to play - as you pummel your opponent, gradually you drain his armour until he is so weak that you can use a Power Move to finish him off. Generally these Power Moves are souped up versions of your usual repertoire of kicks and punches, and before you perform one your character flashes for a second or so (during which time your opponent can opt to parry or take it like a man).
The combat zones are flat, like Virtua Fighters', but are also fenced off, either by coils of barb wire, walls or similar. If you execute a Power Move, you can often drive your opponent through the enclosure in a dramatic conclusion to the bout. Rather annoyingly, aside from Power Moves, fighters can also execute Super Kos, which is described as the ultimate conclusion, but is actually pretty daft. It gives the person on their last legs one chance to win the match, by performing an absurd multi-dimensional and often physics-defying knockout blow. For instance, one employs a tactical nuclear missile. Need I say more? The translation is also a little dodgy here. For instance, the text gives no hint as to why you plunge your enemy into a city that then explodes around them. Is this funny? Is it for the benefit of Anime fans? Is it a programming in-joke?
Ultimately, Fighting Vipers 2 is a good game, but it's all been done before. Dead or Alive 2 and Soul Calibur take it to the cleaners on plenty of counts, and that's before we mention things like the shoddy backgrounds and bugs. Yes, bugs. I won't bore you with examples, but it's mostly scripting errors. Things like Super KOs not coming off correctly and just sitting their in limbo. Visually the game is rather sub-standard too. The backgrounds are pretty hideous at times - after playing Capcom's latest ultra hi-res fighters with their superb texturing, this just looks shoddy. The character designs are far too childish too. Power Rangers for heaven's sake. They wear thin very quickly. In terms of longevity, the game hasn't got a chance in hell of keeping up with Dead or Alive 2 or Soul Calibur, again. Beyond the single player mode (which itself does little to hold your interest) there is nothing really. Survival Mode is at best blasé and at worst a waste of time, Training is very one-dimensional and as for the secret characters and such - they aren't worth searching for. As we hinted in our preview (which was based on an imported copy), it's not enough that Fighting Vipers 2 be translated, it needs to be spruced up as well, and this just hasn't happened. As it is, at least the Japanese version's incomprehensible gibberish gives it some character. Fighting Vipers 2 for the West is a dismal swansong for AM2 and their Dreamcast contributions. Lets hope they pull something amazing out of the bag in the next few months to make up for this. Needless to say, don't waste your money on FV2.