Video games are, in some ways, wish fulfillment. One particular type of wish fulfillment is that of the politician who, instead of using things such as “laws” and “procedures” to reduce crime, takes to the streets to piledrive and suplex thugs into behaving. It’s amazing how many movies feature a premise that’s little more than “one guy beats up a bunch of other guys”, and there’s no shortage of video games with a similar plotline. This is one of those games.
Released in 1989 by Capcom, Final Fight is the story of MIKE HAGGAR (It’s necessary to write his name in ALL CAPS because he is just that MANLY), Mayor of Metro City. MIKE HAGGAR is cracking down on crime, so to try get him back in line like the previous mayor, the nefarious Mad Gear gang kidnap his daughter, Jessica. HAGGAR doesn’t take this lying down; instead, he recruits two people, Cody, Jessica’s boyfriend, and his training partner Guy, a mysterious martial arts master. Together, the three take to the streets to pound the forces of Mad Gear and save Jessica.
Final Fight’s gameplay is simple: Beat up lots of people. You’ll start in the Slums of Metro City, making your way across the city, winding up Uptown in the penthouse of Belger, the leader of the Mad Gears. Along the way, you’ll meet such characters as a samurai wannabe, a corrupt cop, and a grenade (Or “granade” as the game calls them) lover, plus waves upon waves of Mad Gear flunkies. To clear Metro City’s mean streets, you can pick either HAGGAR, Cody, or Guy. HAGGAR is the biggest and strongest of the three, with an array of wrestling moves well-suited to clearing out large groups. Cody is the “Mario” of the group, with a nice balance of speed and power. He can also stab with knives, whereas the other characters simply throw them. Guy is the quickest of the three, with an off-the-wall attack that the other two characters don’t have. Each of the three characters plays a bit differently, and adapting to their movesets and weaknesses to find the character that’s right for you is part of the fun.
Interspersed between the stages are bonus levels, where you bust up the car of some low-level Mad Gear member, or break sheets of glass in the industrial area for points. Collecting enough points, to a certain limit, earns you extra lives. Depending on how fairly you want to play the game (Or how rich you are), you may or may not need these extra lives. Final Fight is, of course, an arcade game, which means it’s design to get you pumping quarters into it (Aided by its continue screen), sometimes not using fair methods to do so. In particular, some of the larger enemies will grab you and throw you, ignoring the fact that you’re punching them in the face in the process. When this happens, sometimes you just shake your head and go “because arcade game.” Still, knowing that, it is possible to beat the game in a single credit if you develop the right strategies.
Final Fight was not the first beat-em-up/brawler/whatever you want to call its type. Kung Fu Master and My Hero are two of the earliest examples, while Double Dragon was the first popular entry that resembled what the beat-em-up would come to be known as, with scrolling on a vertical plane and weapons to pick up to aid your combat. Final Fight is an important evolutionary step, though. For one, the three characters are unique, and as a whole codified the strong-balanced-fast character archetypes that would be seen in many later beat-em-ups, including Capcom’s own Knights of the Round. The characters in general are huge and detailed as well, and the screen swarms with them later on, when nearly 10 enemies at a time will occupy the screen. And while this is one of those placeholder plots when you break it down–all three Final Fight predecessors mentioned above also have “save the damsel-in-distress” as the main objective in some form–let’s face it, it’s a ton of fun to play as a mayor who personally cracks down on crime.
Due to its arcadey nature, Final Fight isn’t a long game. If you have the money to do so–or are playing one of the console re-releases–you can get through it in about 45 minutes, if that.
While there are aspects of Final Fight that haven’t aged well–the at-times cheap difficulty–and while the passage of time had led to other beat-em-ups that improved on its formula–Streets of Rage 2 is generally regarded as the next evolution, and the SNES-only sequel Final Fight 3 featured 4 characters, each specializing in a particular type of move–it’s still a classic beat-em-up that any fan of the genre should play. It was ported to numerous consoles with varying degrees of faith to the arcade original. Of these, the two closest to “arcade-perfect” that came out in the US were the version on Capcom Classics Collection Volume 1 for Playstation 2 and XBox, and the version that’s part of Final Fight Double Impact for XBox 360 and Playstation 3. Either of those versions gets you other games with them (A bunch of Capcom games in the case of the former; Magic Sword in the latter instance), so they’re bargains either way.