Friday, May 14, 2010

Clueless Gaijin Gaming: Savage Reign

It's high time for me to take a brief break from the PC Engine, and look at one of the first import games I ever played:  Savage Reign for the Neo-Geo CD, published by SNK in 1995.

SNK produced a lot of fighting games for the Neo-Geo arcade system, including the enduring King of Fighters and Fatal Fury series.  Many of those titles were ported to other systems, which usually couldn't compete with the 2-D power and speed of the Neo-Geo arcade and home hardware.  But the Neo-Geo was an expensive console with pricey cartridges, so the various ports, however approximate, did much to popularize the SNK lineup.  The later CD-based iteration of the console was cheaper, but suffered from loading time problems, with frequent appearances of this sort of thing:

Savage Reign was an exception all around.  It was not a good candidate for porting to the 16-bit console generation, due to its heavy reliance on scaling -- each stage has two vertical levels, and the whole view shifts in and out dramatically.  Because each character has a ranged weapon, hand-to-hand combat is very different from distance fighting.  The SNES had a background scaling mode, but couldn't scale sprites, the Genesis couldn't hardware-scale at all, and the gameplay style ensured that the usual solution of putting the whole game in a fixed scale would not really have been workable:

The game was also never released for the American version of the Neo-Geo CD, although its SNK arcade system heritage means that the game will recognize an American system and run in English (though the digitized voice-overs remain in Japanese.)  I decided to play in Japanese anyway, in keeping with the theme of these import gaming posts, but here's the alternate title screen:

The main menu offers a "DEMO GAME" selection, which replicates the arcade attract mode, and the Options screen provides four supported languages: English, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese.  It seems the loading screen hints and strange jokes added for this CD release -- like "WHY'S CAROL BLOND? D-Y-E. GET IT?" -- are only available in English or Japanese, and much of the text is always rendered in English.

One reason Savage Reign wasn't big in the US may be that the lineup of ten fighters is unconventional, to say the least.  Beefy Hayate is the game's main hero and is fairly conventional in design, but fights with a boomerang in a style the game calls Fuun-Ken.  Eagle wears a chest-baring jacket and US flag drag, and fights with a battle axe.  Gozu is a beefy ninja with steel spikes jutting from his wrist, and Mezu is a similar character.  Then things get strange -- Carol is a ball-throwing cheerleader in a short skirt, Nicola a shield-wielding techno-boy, Joker an insane rollerblading clown who wears an armored codpiece, Chung a club-wielding retiree in shades and a backwards baseball cap, Gordon a crazed hairy-chested ex-police officer, and Shishioh a boxer who wears a mask, gloves and midriff-revealing armor.  Some pairings inevitably evoke a certain comic-book homoeroticism:

I don't think any of these characters showed up in other Neo-Geo fighter series, but they definitely have personality -- here, Carol makes sure her top hasn't slipped following a successful bout against Nicola:

There are also detailed victory portraits -- Joker's is downright creepy, making me somewhat relieved that I don't read Japanese, lest he be threatening those dear to me:

Savage Reign is a decent, fast-paced fighting game, with the arcade-quality graphics and audio we've come to expect from the Neo-Geo, and it was successful enough in Japan to merit a sequel, Kizuna Encounter.  The split-level environments and ranged weaponry sometimes makes it feel more like a platform shooter than a classic one-on-one fighter, and its bizarre characters lend it a distinctly Japanese feel.  I found the differences refreshing, and can recommend this one for anyone looking for a different style of retro arcade fighter.

Savage Reign for the Neo-Geo CD is worth playing, and may be available for purchase via this affiliate link.

1 comment:

  1. Hayate was featured as a hidden character in King of Fighters XI and King Leo and his super alterego are a playable and boss character in Neogeo Battle Colosseum...