Fight For Life
by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
Life is Hell. You are one of the millions of countless souls who have been condemned to spend eternity in the pits of Purgatory, suffering a thousand torments a thousand times over. But now, in pursuit of new amusements, Satan has decided to hold a contest. A number of fighters are selected, and the first one to defeat the others and overthrow Satan's Son will be rewarded with release from Hell and rebirth into a new life. As one of the chosen, you are now in for the fight of your afterlife...
This minor supernatural twist on the overused "world's best fighters' tournament" cliche is the premise of Fight For Life, the newest video game for the Atari Jaguar. In the 3D tradition of Virtua Fighter, you pit your polygon character against seven opponents and Damion for salvation of your eternal soul. You start off with a handful of basic attacks and some special moves, while more can be earned by stealing them from defeated opponents. A password feature allows characters to be saved for future use, and two players can compete against each other for spiritual superiority.
Like many of Atari's Jaguar titles, Fight For Life tries to take a popular video game concept and build on it with new ideas. Unfortunately, also like many of Atari's titles, Fight For Life is only somewhat successful, and the ideas are often obscured by various flaws. Devoted fans of fighting games will be the ones most disappointed; Fight For Life is slower-paced and simpler than its contemporaries, failing to deliver the rapid, immersive action that many players will expect.
This is not to say that Fight For Life isn't fun. Rather, it's a different kind of fun, a more leisurely title with a quirky style for more casual players. The game's "feel" is closest to Mortal Kombat -- the emphasis is on the flashy special attacks, and watching for an opening to use a well-timed shin kick or a head slam. While regular kicks and punches are at a minimum, there are a fair number of movement controls like sidestepping, tumbling, and reverse hops. The game has 40 special moves all together, and by fighting the computer in tournament mode, you can custom-build a character with up to 19 of them.
Unfortunately, a lot of small defects hamper the game and keep the player distanced from the action. For example, attacks cannot be blocked -- rather, pressing the A button causes your character to try and dodge an attack. The controls become unresponsive at random times, and the lack of a game clock allows rounds to continue almost indefinitely. The rotating camera is also distracting; it tries to keep Player 1 on the screen's left side, which can be disorienting when the fighters jump over each other. The computer AI is only moderately difficult and is susceptible to simple combinations. Without any difficulty settings or more advanced options, the replay value is crippled.
The only thing that really saves Fight For Life from total obscurity is its ability to customize fighters for two-player games. In the one-player tournament mode, passwords are given after new moves are added, making it easy to build a library of characters. With thousands of combinations possible, players can spend hours pitting their characters against their friends'. This is an idea that adds a lot of appeal to the fighting game genre; pity that Fight For Life's game engine is not adequate to fully showcase this concept.
Like the game itself, the graphics in Fight For Life reach for some very ambitious goals, but ultimately fall short. The fast frame rate provides smooth animation and swooping views, the heavily-textured fighters have some remarkable moves, and the game's choice of colors and textures are reasonable to look at. But it isn't perfect, as numerous visual glitches are scattered throughout the game. For instance, because the characters use fewer polygons than those in other games, they look blockier by comparison. And while their moves can be rather elaborate, some have missing frames or modeling errors. Finally, there's a user-controlled replay camera that allows you to review the current round; while it's fun to review your last three-hit combo, it also makes it easier to see the warts in the graphics engine.
The sounds are little more than utilitarian. Actual sound effects consist primarily of basic thuds and punches, punctuated by a combination of basic grunts and cries to character-specific maxims and catchprases. The overall effect is passable; they don't grate on your ears, but they also don't really whip you into a frenzy, either. Finally, a number of musical scores play throughout the game, with some generic heavy-metal grunge tunes for each character. They range from the slightly catchy to the easily forgotten, but there's nothing that will give your CD collection anything to worry about.
Fight For Life doesn't have a chance in Hell of displacing Tekken or Virtua Fighter 2 from the hearts of fighting-game fanatics. However, as a more casual game for more casual players, it is a somewhat entertaining diversion. While the graphics, sound, and game options are barely above adequate, the ability to custom-build fighters and pit them against other players saves this cartridge from total condemnation.