|By Eric Kennedy||Tuesday, 28 Jul 2009|
When it comes to the classic beat’em-up Final Fight, the discerning gamer has many flavors to choose from. You can go for the slickness of the nearly arcade-perfect Sega CD version, with it’s arranged soundtrack and crisp graphics; or you can settle for the watered-down Super Nintendo cartridge, if you can stomach the removal of two-player cooperative mode, bland music, and censorship that makes Metro City somewhat dull. You can even get your fix on the NES with super-deformed graphics via Mighty Final Fight. Yet above them all stands Final Fight One for the Gameboy Advance. While it does suffer from the technical limitations of a portable system, there are several key improvements that trump those concerns.
First and foremost, it handles the best of any version. The Sega CD port is agonizingly slow, and even though the SNES improves upon that, FF One possesses responsive controls and fast-paced action that far outshines the others. This is critical to my enjoyment of the game, because while some of you might not remember how difficult it is, just getting past the second stage is nearly impossible without practice. Enemies swarm you from both sides of the screen, and stage bosses require patience in order to minimize the loss of lives. Final Fight is not a game that can be won through
attrition. The only way to counter the constant assault from hordes of enemies is with well-timed punches, quick reflexes, and meticulous crowd-control. FF One eases the sting of difficulty by giving you the tools to handle the job, while also moving the game along at a much more “zippy” pace.
With the game being as hard as it is, it’s tough to find the motivation to keep trying after multiple game over screens. It’s a little more palatable on the Sega CD, because you’re treated to a highly-enjoyable soundtrack and co-op play, but let’s face it: most of us would rather just pop the disc into a CD player, and two-player mode means twice as much ass for the Mad Gear gang to kick. The GameBoy Advance remake actually rewards you for coming back again and again. Every bad guy you pound gets you closer to the next unlockable secret, such as extra lives, rapid-fire punches, or even a stage select option if things get desperate. I found that as I played the game more and more, I was able to tailor the difficulty to what I thought was fair, without feeling like I was completely compromising the challenge level. Plus, being able to eventually play as Alpha Cody helps the game feel just a little more fresh and exciting.
While you might think that the lowly GBA sound chip couldn’t hold a candle to the SNES or (especially) the Sega CD, it actually acquits itself very well. The SNES version suffered from lackluster samples, and while the redbook audio of the Sega CD is a technical masterpiece, it doesn’t suit the nature of a beat’em up very well. FF One features a hard-driving, face-pounding soundtrack that instills you with the proper sense of aggression. Kudos to Sun-Tec for taking great care in retooling the music to better fit the faster pace of their port! They could have easily given us an uninspired copycat of the SNES arrangements, and it makes all the difference that they didn’t.
Version comparisons aside, you probably want to know how the game stands on it’s own merits. For Final Fight fans, this is an absolute no-brainer: it’s everything you love about the classic beat’em-up, with all the right adjustments. For those looking for a carefree, fun romp in ass-kicking land, well… given the steep difficulty of the game, you could probably find something more immediately gratifying, and with more varied action (I found myself using the same manuevers over and over again for most of the game). If you love a classic challenge, one that rewards you for honing your skills to a fine point, and using that fine point to rip the bad guys a new one, this is a worthy $10-$15 purchase. The weak of constitution and slow of reflex need not apply. You’ve been warned.