Let me first express my undying love for Sega. They do something that very few companies these days are willing to do: They create. They innovate. Whatever is out there, Sega will almost certainly bring it to a new level, and if there's an unheard-of idea lingering in the back of a programmer's head, they bring it to the forefront as soon as said programmer opens his mouth to express it. While I mourn the death of the mighty Dreamcast-which was the machine that brought video games back from the brink of total mediocrity-I also applaud Sega's decision to become a third-party company that supplies games for every system. Now everyone can enjoy the masterworks that are Sega games.
Unfortunatly, creativity and innovation are two-way streets, and for every brilliant experiment that Sega gets right, there are several experiments that are beyond bad. I mean horrible. Stanky. Games that make me break into tears, falling onto my knees and crying in an overdramatic fashion, Why, God, why did You have to make me a video game nut? Is this Your sick idea of a joke!?"
I really hate it when I have to lay the verbal smack down on my favorite video game system, but there are times when duty calls and I must taint the mighty reputation of this magnificent 16-bit work of art. Eternal Champions reeks. Yeah, I'm sure everyone knows about my vehement hatred of fighting games by now, but I do place my venom-soaked printer off to the side when I have to review something from a neutral point of view. See (shameless self-promotion) my Samurai Showdown review. I liked that game. I thought it was good. So, all vehement hatred aside, Eternal Champions sucks. Reeks. Blows. It's the worst fighting game I've ever played. Now let's find out why.
First, as always, I must give out the props. The story of the Eternal Champions is quite interesting. There's this handfull of comic book superhero and supervillian wannabes from different time periods who apparently posess the talent to make the world change for the better. But here they are, innocently in their time periods when, oops, they dropped dead. Okay, well, that isn't quite right. They all got murdered by enemies. But the fact remains that they're all dead, and being dead would put a serious hinderance on one's world-changing abilities. So into the fray wanders this glowing hooded guy called the Eternal Champion who's been around since the beginning of time to see it all happen. And the Ultimate Champ offers all these folks a once in a lifetime (or is it a once in an eternity?) deal. He's gonna make these innocent souls beat the living crap out of each other in a contest. Whoever whups the most rear while getting whupped the least gets to fight Champ. He wins, the Eternal Champion sends the person back to his time period to suddenly wake up to hit his killer with a stunning blow, thus surviving and going on to change the world. Quite a pleasant change from the usual scenario where a really evil guy brings together a martial arts tournament at his place for no reason so the good guy can walk right in and tear him a new one.
The amount of options seen in Eternal Champions has yet to be topped. Maybe Virtua Fighter 4 tops it, but I wouldn't know since I haven't played it yet. Anyway, in one-player mode, there are so many practice options you'll be playing for days before you hit them all. Sega seems to have a thing for orbs. You can practice by hitting bouncing or stationary orbs. You can adjust the level at which the orbs sit. If you choose the bouncing orbs, you hit them until you get hit, upon which you'll recieve a ranking. Once you think you're ready to move up a step, you then get to choose holograms of the game's characters. You then set its level of intelligence from 1 (easier than taking candy from a baby) to 9 (harder than... Maybe I'll keep this metaphor to myself). You and the computer hologram then get to go a few practice rounds.
The two player mode isn't quite as good as that. It would be sweet if you could control the orbs and confuse your poor victim... Er, friend. I meant friend. But in two player mode, you do have the ability to choose the obstacle room, loaded up with any obstacles you choose. And there are lots of them. There are bullets, teleporters and buzzsaws that move along the ground. It's a shame that there isn't more variety in the backgrounds. The programmers could have ran wild with some of the game backgrounds.
Now, back to my references about single player practice: You practice. You practice good. Because the programmers chose not to include a difficulty mode selection, and the cheating AI is likely to rip your limbs right off and beat you in the head with them. All the computer-controlled characters seem to move extra fast and hit extra hard. I've owned this game for years, but I never got past a single computer opponent in tournament mode without cheating. And even if you manage to swallow your pride enough to attach a Game Genie, that's no guarantee either. I got to the third opponent with the Game Genie, and that was playing as the Eternal Champion. Then I lost and learned that the game doesn't leave you a continue supply, it just sets you back not one but two stages in the tournament. And the only reason I know that two opponent tidbit is because I read it in a strategy book somewhere along the line. Bottom line, the game is merciless and you can't win unless you're God Himself.
Part of the gameplay problem is that Sega forgot to include something that any good fighting game can't possibly exist without: The combo. Even Mortal Kombat 3 had combos! But Eternal Champions... Go right ahead, try a combination, any combination, I won't look. Your opponent will be able to block everything that comes after that first hit. The lack of combos nullifies the use of any kind of strategy pretty much altogether, since the only uses for the light and medium kick buttons is to perform special moves. Just pound the hard keys and don't worry about rebuttal if you miss since the attack is there and back more than fast enough.
Matter of fact, pounding the hard button is about the only thing you'll want to do do win. Inner strength looks like a good idea on paper, but unless you turn it off at the option screen, you get too little of it to make any good use of your special moves, and it doesn't regenerate nearly fast enough. Add that to the AI that's always taunting you and it makes for a combination that will bring the words game over to your living room screen that much faster. And it's funny that the computer never seems to run out of inner strength, despite the fact that it's always using special moves. Maybe the game should supply you with the Powerade it drinks. But even all the Powerade in the world wouldn't be able to speed the game up to the level it really needs.
Nor would all the Powerade in the world save it from its truly horrifying lack of originality. I've mentioned the comic book superhero and supervillian wannabes. When I said that, I meant it: See Blade, the Wesley Snipes lookalike crime buster from the future. See Shadow, whose ninjutsu techniques in a modern setting bring flashes of Catwoman and the cancelled Fox show Dark Angel real quickly. See Xavier, who looks like the X-men professor who bears his name under that cloak of his. See Slash, a caveman whose appearance holds more than a passing resemblance to a certain guitarist from Guns'n'Roses. See Midknight, Jetta and Trident, all characters who look like they were taken straight from the comics. If there's one good thing about the lack of originality, it's that the martial arts styles are also ripped off, ripped off as in real. Every character adheres to a different style. Shadow uses Ninjutsu. Larcen decimates his opponents with Praying Mantis Kung-fu. Even caveman Slash uses an ancient style simply called Pain.
And finally, like in Samurai Showdown, you can activate fatalities if you happen to be standing in the right place while finishing your opponents. And, like in Samurai Showdown, they're tame. Sure the other guy flies into the fan, but no blood. Eaten by Slash's pet Tyranosaur, no blood. Although you get blood in Trident's background when the tentacles drown the other guy and when Larcen's enemy gets gunned down in a drive-by. Strange.
At least Sega was smart enough to make the characters look interesting. Every character has a totally unique look that accents both the character's background and time period, and the are no palette swaps. The animation is very sweet, and all the characters are as complete as you could want them to be. And the backgrounds are works of art-Larcen fights out in front of a movie house with flickering lights and a teller, Xavier in front of the stake he was burned at. And Trident's background is my personal favorite, as he fights in an underwater arena in front of his underwater continant, Atlantis. Eternal Champions makes great use of the spectrum that the Genesis can show.
Unfortunatly, some of the backgrounds are also very bland. The house with the fan, the circus and especially the obstacle room all leave something to be desired. And the bottom of the screen flickers. Not enough to disrupt your game, but more than enough to distract you.
Speaking of distract, the music is annoying. Although it fits in with every area, Sega could have composed something much more memorable and action packed. And there are no sounds, save the hitting and special move sound. Genesis was capable of more guys, I keep saying it, and we've all heard it.
The control is right, but a little too right-every move is there and back again before you know it, so if you miss a hard attack, there will probably be no punishment. And every special move works like it's supposed to, although many special move requires nothing more than pressing two or three buttons at the same time. Although this would be a complaint about most other fighting games, I'm cool with it in Eternal Champions because you still need every advantage you can get over the computer. Except for the speed, of course. The speed could have stood to be upped a bit, especially against the extra fast computer.
And so you have it. Why Eternal Champions sucks, in a nutshell. A game with less than eternal life, one might say. And you could squeeze some fun out of the cartridge by proving that to Sega. A good way to do that would be to go to Sega headquarters and use all the Eternal Champions carts you can buy as clay pigeons. Just to warn them.