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Retro Review: Fighting Vipers

After the success of Virtua Fighter 2, SEGA was looking to make another fighting series to capitalize on the engine they had built for Virtua Fighter. Knowing that there were changes they could make to a second fighting series, SEGA AM2 started working on a game that would be fought in arenas with no ring outs. The idea being the close combat would be exciting for players to bounce opponents off the walls. Thus, Fighting Vipers was born for arcades in 1995. The true version of the game to many, though, is the SEGA Saturn port that came in 1996. The port was praised for being close to arcade perfect, barring some graphical downgrades while adding in extras for home players. But almost 25 years later, does Fighting Vipers still hold up compared to modern fighting games? Using my Series X to play the 360 re-release that dropped in 2012, I decided to find out.

Step in the ring.

The first element I can say still holds up is the barrier mechanics. Fighting in close arenas with armor still feels exhilarating and unique in the modern-day. It’s very easy to get trapped or to trap your opponent in a way that feels fun and exciting to pull off. Not many fighters have that enclosed space element that works in a 3D arena. So it is cool to see that be a factor in why Fighting Vipers still stands out from even most modern fighting games.

The armor mechanics feel like they stand on their own in the fighting game space for one simple reason. They can be broken through repeated hits, and it is very satisfying to pull this off on an opponent. For the time when it was released, it was also very impressive that the Saturn could do this. Development to make sure it was possible was apparently a nightmare for Sega AM2. They decided the only way it could be done was to not develop the game in the Saturn’s high-resolution mode. The gambit paid off though as the effect looks and feels gratifying in every way when properly pulled off. Especially because there’s no frame rate dip and you are thrown right back into the fight. If you break your opponent’s armor, it’s your opportunity to pounce. If it’s your armor broken, then you only have a small window to start strategizing on how to defend yourself. The way the mechanic is utilized still feels exhilarating to this day.

The diversity in character selection in Fighting Vipers I do feel deserves some praise. While yes, I am aware of the SEGA community’s love of Candy, it is nice to see a game have multiple female characters to choose from. Plus, not many fighters can say that they have a black female fighter, but Fighting Vipers was one of the first to do it! The first game to have a female black fighter weirdly enough was Shaq-Fu, but being the first good fighting game with one is a huge accomplishment. For the rest of the fighters, the designs go from basic to downright funny if you know the references. No one who has ever watched Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure can look at Bahn and not immediately think his design was taken straight from Jotaro Kujo.

The game has a solid balance between each fighter, so no fighter is overpowered. Any matchup between two fighters seems fair. Some fighters do better in speed and not so much in power like Candy, Grace, or Picky. Others tend to pack more punch with the sacrifice of speed like Sandman, Bahn, and Jane. Depending on your preference, this becomes crucial in your strategy in the ring as both play styles can also play heavily into the armor-breaking mechanic. Speed can allow for more hits on the armor to weaken it over time. Power can let one big punch break a piece off at a moment’s notice. Both styles are incredibly fun to learn and master as the game goes on.

Really? Another tournament?

If there is criticisms to lay on Fighting Vipers, it’s that it doesn’t do a whole lot to change up the button inputs for moves. It takes a lot of the same button command and combo groundwork as games like Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter. It might seem like a weird criticism since it’s a staple of the genre, but I do know fighting game fans who have never been able to master this style of input for combos. Thankfully, we are now in a time where there are easier fighting games to master combo-wise like Mortal Kombat, Injustice, and Super Smash Bros that have blown up in popularity for those players. But I felt it should at least be mentioned that Vipers falls into the former category for people trying it for the first time.

The story and music also don’t do a lot to stand out. Generic stories is a complaint of a lot of older fighting games, and it sticks to Fighting Vipers too. All the fighters gather for a tournament organized by a villain with sinister undertones that are never explained. I’m sure that sounds familiar to some of you. The music isn’t bad by any stretch, just not really memorable. David Leytze came up with a great opening theme (that also uses a hilarious sound bite from a commercial some of you might catch), but the stage themes are nothing to add to any playlist on your music app.

Fighting Vipers – 360/Series X or Saturn?

I feel obligated to bring up the version differences between the two most common ways fans play Fighting Vipers. My review consisted of playing the Xbox 360 port released in 2012. This port is near identical to the arcade version of the game and plays excellently with an Xbox controller. It also looks fantastic on the Series X with the HDR enhancements the system gives to every backward compatible 360 game you can download on the system. Unfortunately, the 360 port doesn’t come with any of the Saturn bonuses that came with that version.

If you are lucky enough to find a Saturn copy of the game, there are a ton of bonuses added to the home version. For starters, it has a practice mode that is very helpful in learning combos to master your skills versus opponents. They also added in a playback mode. This allowed you to save fights so you could study your moves in replays to hone your skills. Both these additions are nice touches to make the Saturn version feel more worth having.

Honestly, I would love to see SEGA maybe take a crack at this series again with all the advancements we’ve made in fighting games and technology. I think the core idea of how the battles work is still something that hasn’t been fully tapped in the genre. Plus, pull what Mortal Kombat 9 did story-wise and lean into the ridiculousness of the world. Have a fun tongue-in-cheek campaign with the barrier and armor fight style, and you got yourselves a sequel baby! But for now, we just have Fighting Vipers 2. It only came out in Europe and Japan on the Dreamcast and I have not heard good things about it. Maybe I should find out for myself down the road.

All and all, Fighting Vipers is not only an interesting look back at the Saturn era of SEGA fighting games, but a solid fighting game that still stands on its own. The barrier and armor mechanics working in tandem lead to tense and exciting fights that never felt boring. It makes sense why many Saturn fans consider it one of the must-have games of the console. But if you don’t have a Saturn, you can pick it up on Xbox Series X or PS3 for $5. That’s a bargain 100% if you like to take a step back into late 90’s nostalgia! Who knows? Maybe one day Candy, Bahn, and Grace can return to lace up the gloves again. I’ll be ready and giddy if SEGA decides to.

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