Remind you of anyone? Street Fighter IV Zangief's alternative costume is Haggar's Final Fight outfit.
Final Fight: Double Impact's release on XBLA and PSN this week is well timed. As hype for Super Street Fighter IV reaches fever pitch, interest in the classic two-player co-op side-scrolling beat-em-up has never been higher. Super's packed with Final Fight fan service. It's got two characters from Final Fight: Cody and Guy (whose target combo is an exact replica of his main combo from Final Fight), and a Metro City stage. That arena, set among the steel beams of a half-built skyscraper, even has a giant statue of Mayor Mike Haggar holding the city's name aloft in the background. This is most definitely awesome.
The two franchises have always shared a special bond. Indeed Final Fight was originally intended as a sequel to the first Street Fighter (thankfully someone realised the two games were nothing like each other and decided against it). It's clear to see just how influential Final Fight was on Street Fighter II. Soviet wrestler Zangief is a clear evolution of Final Fight's professional wrestler turned politician Haggar: he's got grapple moves, a piledriver (although it doesn't spin) and even a Spinning Lariat.
So it feels odd to come back to Final Fight after playing a new Street Fighter game. Odd, but still hugely exciting. Final Fight, after all, is considered by many to be the greatest beat-em-up of all time.
But, if I'm being honest, I didn't expect it to stand the test of time. I knew it would be hard (it's a Capcom game), and I knew it would look great in a 16-bit retro way, but I wasn't convinced about the gameplay. Having played it to death, I am delighted to report that those concerns have been well and truly piledrivered into oblivion.
It really is quite astonishing just how well Final Fight plays. It only uses two buttons: jump and attack, but wrings so much out of them that you wonder whether Street Fighter is needlessly bloated. Say you're using Haggar. Move him next to an enemy and he will grab them. From there, you can jump and press the attack button for a piledriver, or you could go for a few headbutts, then hold down on the directional pad and finish with a backdrop. Another example: all that's required to do Guy's combo is to mash the attack button, but if you hold down, he'll throw his enemy over his shoulder, knocking down anyone foolish enough to creep up behind him. The fighting system's got an impressive amount of depth, and, ergo, takes some genuine skill to master it. And, crucially, all three playable characters feel different: Haggar with his stamina and strength, Guy with his speed, and Cody with his quickfire stabs. Final Fight plays like a dream, one with pixel perfect collision detection.
And Capcom's good work on the port does the ever young gameplay proud. The commitment to "retro" is impressive: this is a port of the original arcade release, not the SNES port. So transvestites Poison and Roxy make the cut, as do all the original colour palettes, stages, bosses, blood, and the "Oh! My god!!!", rather than the "Oh! My car!!!" voice over from the cars mashing bonus stage. The menu screen is a crumbling room with an arcade machine set against a brick wall, complete with dust and grime and "Have you seen Jessica?" missing persons poster. You can play in the "Arcade Monitor" view, which makes it look like the game is running on an old-school arcade monitor, with phosphor glow and scanlines, and you can even play in the original's aspect ratio via the "Cabinet Mode", which simulates playing on a CRT monitor mounted on an arcade machine. This view, described as "the connoisseur's choice", displays mankey control instructions on the left and right of the screen. In short, Double Impact is a port designed to wash over the player like a tidal wave of nostalgia.
And the force with which it does so is quite remarkable. The wonderfully designed enemies, the eye-catching, colourful backgrounds and the bone crunching attacks rekindled memories in me I thought were locked away forever. The fight against the samurai sword-wielding Sodom at the end of the Subway stage perhaps gave me the most pleasure. As one of my all time favourite video game characters, it was a thrill to fight the huge mentalist once again. Then of course there are the names of all the Mad Gear goons and their references to the pop culture of the time: Slash, arms dealer Damnd, corrupt cop Edi E., the stabby Holly Wood, and of course Wong Who.
Even better though was seeing the original incarnations of so many characters that would later turn up in Street Fighter games. I've already mentioned Sodom, but what about Rolento, and of course Andore, who would later become Hugo and make an appearance in Street Fighter III? If you're a lover of all things Capcom, really, Final Fight is an essential purchase.