The second of three of SEGA’s Model 2 arcade beat-‘em-ups released in the 90’s that have recently found a home on modern console digital distribution services, Fighting Vipers is perhaps one of SEGA’s least popular intellectual properties (IP). Not in terms of fandom, but in that of wider acknowledgement, as while the videogame has a strong cult following it pales in comparison to the recently released Virtua Fighter 2 when it comes to mainstream awareness. That however, is more of a strength than a weakness, as it allows Fighting Vipers to be a much less traditional beat-‘em-up affair.
Undoubtedly an innovative title at the time of its initial release, there are many mechanics that are seen in a variety of titles today that we have Fighting Vipers to thank for. The swiftness of the combat is remarkable for the time at which it was released, featuring stemmed three and four hit combos which are now the mainstay of all beat-‘em-ups and the armour damage that has become a great source of experimentation for the Soul Calibur series. Interactive arenas (although limited) charge moves and throw counters are all present here years before any other beat-‘em-up took them on board, proving that back in 1995 SEGA were definitely a leader in the field.
This new rendition of Fighting Vipers obviously brings all of this content with it, and the fact that the fighting system so closely resembles Virtua Fighter 2 will surely make the stepping stones draw closer together for many gamers. But Fighting Vipers still remains unique; an experiment where so very much of the videogame proved to be beneficial to the genre and yet the publisher remained unconvinced of its potential. A sequel was released a few years after the original title but never made its way to Europe, so thankfully it would seem that a SEGA without hardware to push is a SEGA that is ready to acknowledge what they did right. Or at least spin a quick buck on what the core videogames audience has the most respect for.
With characters clearly based on celebrities of the time – with Axel Rose and Grace Jones homage’s in particular being glaringly obvious – Fighting Vipers’ cast is most certainly edging towards the eccentric while avoiding outright fantasy cliché. The visual quality benefits from the high-definition (HD) upgrade in the same fashion as Virtua Fighter 2 (as does the sound) though the blemishes are somewhat easier to notice due to the much fast pace of the videogame.
Available on Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network now, Fighting Vipers is a very welcome addition to the beat-‘em-up catalogue on modern hardware. It laid the foundations for many mechanics adopted by a wide variety of different franchises since – some with noticeable renovation, some wholesale – and has earned the right to be given another opportunity to shine. The question of whether SEGA will ever reinvest in the franchise, making a brand new title for a new generation, remains unlikely, but the fact that the publisher has seen fit to give gamers one more opportunity to experience this buried gem should not be taken for granted.