by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
There's no real need to present a backstory to this game, so let's skip it. Ultra Vortek for the Atari Jaguar is a one-on-one fighting game, joining the crowded genre popularized by Street Fighter II. Seven humans, robots, and mutants battle each other and a demonic Guardian for the Ultra Vortek, the ultimate power of the world. Along with the standard collection of kicks and punches, each character has a set of special moves to pound opponents with. There's blood and gore, four levels of difficulty, and "annihilation" finishes for specific characters and backgrounds. The one-player game consists of eleven battles, while a challenge mode allows two players to fight each other.
What makes for a good fighting game? Opinions differ, but the most popular games offer a balance between reflexes and strategy, where a cautious and crafty player can consistently win over an opponent who jabs the buttons rapidly. In that regard, Ultra Vortek is certainly a good fighting game. Its design encourages careful use of the characters and prevents "cheap" tricks. There are no throws, and combos and juggling are all but impossible; mastery comes from using the right moves at the right time. On the other hand, those who prefer the faster pace of more recent titles may find Ultra Vortek too slow for their tastes.
Ultra Vortek's fighting mechanism is largely inspired by Midway's Mortal Kombat series. Controls are responsive, with the three controller buttons providing two punches and a kick. This is barely adequate, though the addition of short jumps and a backward hop helps. Most of the actual fighting is done with the characters' special moves; they consist of either charge attacks, or short sequences in the "down, right, punch" style. Each fighter has four to eight moves available, and they're wonderfully easy to perform.
The one-player game offers four difficulty levels, and most players won't sweat a lot on the "Normal" level. "Hard" and "Killer," on the other hand, are more appropriate for fighting game veterans. There, the computer is much smarter, and usually cannot be easily beaten (a notable exception is Grok's Groundpounder, which the AI consistently fails to avoid). The jumps in difficulty are somewhat large and might discourage some players; more gradual increases would have been welcome.
The seven characters have widely varying fighting styles but remain fairly balanced; there's none of the "same moves, different looks" feeling found in some fighting games. Unfortunately, the two-player game is nothing but a bout that's devoid of options. Handicapping, multiple-player matchups, even a setting for the number of rounds to win a fight are nonexistent. Ultra Vortek works if you just want to pound a friend, but comes short if you're looking for additional features.
The graphics and sound in Ultra Vortek are among the best on the Jaguar to date. Fighters are richly detailed and smoothly animated, with digitized actors, stop-motion models and rendered characters seamlessly integrated. The animated battlefields are gothically gorgeous, and include subtle touches like mirrored reflections and accumulated pools of blood and oil. There are only two rough spots in this otherwise fine presentation: first, the playfield scrolling is a little jumpy; and second, a few effects look simple when held against the other visuals. These are only minor quibbles, though, and do not detract from the game at all.
Sounds and music are a delight. The diverse sound effects include punches, lasers, roaring jets, and earthquakes, and are done with the proper degrees of bone-jarring brutality. Digitized voices and screams are equally enjoyable, but more catchphrases during fights would have added to the excitement. Finally, the game features a terrific selection of music. A restrained mix of heavy metal and hard rock, the tunes are consistently enjoyable and fit the game to a T.
Ultra Vortek doesn't bring anything new or innovative to the overloaded fighting game genre. Instead, it offers a solid title that's easy to play but difficult to beat. There are beautiful graphics and great sounds, though the small number of game options is a drawback. It won't surpass the latest arcade fighter games, but fans who prefer cautious strategy to chaotic button-jamming should step up to the challenge of the Vortek.