Beat ’em ups have become synonymous with low quality, an easy-out genre for developers making movie and TV tie-in games. Slap a familiar face onto a generic brawler and it’s like printing money if you can sucker enough unaware gamers. Capcom’s Final Fight 2, the 1993 sequel to the first Final Fight, is not one of those titles. A 2D side-scroller, Final Fight 2 is what happens when you put some thought into making a beat ’em up. It’s no Chrono Trigger, but if you give the game a chance, you’re in for big characters, great graphics, and solid core gameplay that makes pummeling gang bangers a joy.
To be totally honest, I can understand why many people aren’t big fans of beat ’em ups. Generally, the action is redundant regardless of how many moves and techniques you throw into the mix. Move right, hit punch and/or kick, and repeat for a few hours. As a kid, I was raised on these games, playing everything from Power Rangers to The Tick and loving every repetitive moment. Hey, when you’re five just about any game is cool, but I can honestly say that my game-schooling has fostered a respect for this genre.
Humans live for familiarity, for routine. Pressing the “A” button a couple hundred times is digital comfort food if you get all the intangibles right. It’s what makes the genre of brawlers, as abused as it has been over the years, so enduring. No complex rules or controls, no higher ambitions other than to give you the gratification of performing an enjoyable routine to kill some time after work. FF2 succeeds on a number of levels to make it a brawler worth your time.
First, the graphics. FF2′s visuals are SNES sprites at their best. Huge characters fill the foreground, with color saturating the backgrounds in showy, detailed renditions of streets, warehouses, and docks. Look hard enough and you’ll even see Street Fighter mainstays like Guile and Chun Li watching the action. Of course, the graphics wouldn’t be half as impressive if the animations couldn’t keep up, and thankfully they do. Watching Mike Haggar, the main character of the series, piledrive and slam enemies around the screen is both electric and hilarious. The action onscreen is never dull and sucks you into the moment.
In terms of gameplay, FF2 is a delightful synthesis of button mashing and tactical combat. The characters (there are three to choose from; Haggar, Maki, and Carlos) each have an excellent set of moves that allow for a variety of ways to pummel your enemies. The worst brawlers limit the player to simple punches and kicks, but FF2 doesn’t dumb down the experience. Different combinations of moves and attacks allow for a nice flow of combat that makes you feel like you’re thinking a bit as opposed to just going through the motions. I’m partial to brawlers where it takes a multitude of hits to bring down an opponent; a barrage as opposed to a single punch. It’s what makes the combat feel more involved and satisfying, because you’re stringing together a couple attacks that finally break the guy you’re beating on. FF2 is the embodiment of that sort of fighting. The graphics and excellent combat system make FF2 a fine specimen of the beat ’em up genre.
Perhaps the best part of FF2 is that you can tackle the game with a friend. While you and a buddy certainly won’t be talking about the story after you’re done (yeah, it’s no BioShock), you will be remembering how epic it was tearing through swaths of street thugs together. Some of the best brawler’s are co-ops, with titles like the arcade Simpsons and X-Men games readily coming to mind. FF2 is ridiculously over the top in a good way and something about sharing the experience just magnifies the whole thing. Alone or not, FF2satisfies. I’d also like to take a quick second to point out that many of the familiar characters from various Capcom fighting games have their origins in this series. Cody, Guy, Haggar, and Maki have all showed up in different games, but got their starts here. Respect!
The game is available on Wii’s Virtual Console service, which you can still access via the Wii U. I’d snag it before it gets pulled from the service for no reason, like a handful of titles have had happen, tragically. Final Fight 2 might not have an eloquent narrative, but it is masterful in executing all the trappings of the beat ’em up genre that make it unique and special. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoyed Double Dragon: Neon, Shank, or for those who like watching the cheesy action flicks of the early 90’s. Don’t think Haggar is just some random heavyweight fighter Capcom chose to throw into Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3; go enjoy the series that made him famous.
One more thing; back in the day, Blockbuster got a few games that were exclusive to their stores. One of them was Final Fight: Guy, a version of the first game featuring Guy as the protagonist! Pretty cool, eh?
Final Fight 2 is available on the SNES. It is also available via download for the Wii Virtual Console.