Screenshot [Arcade Obscurities is a bi-weekly column by Solvalou.com's Arttu Ylärakkola, probing some of the most interesting and obscure arcade games yet to be covered in the geek gaming press, thanks to Arttu's JAMMA board collection, and our insatiable quest for knowledge. This fifth column looks at Sega's obscure 1993 3D-'ish' fighting game Dark Edge.]

Back in the day, Sega was known for its powerful arcade hardware. What this meant in the late '80s and early '90s was that the hardware was good at sprite scaling and rotation. When Sega released Rad Mobile in 1990, its state-of-the-art pseudo-3D graphics were powered by the new System 32 hardware. While driving games come and go, there's one obscurity on System 32 that never was seen outside Japan: a fighting game called Dark Edge.

The game's background from the official flyer: "In the 25th Century, the human beings are allowed to live in the unified world controlled by the ultra-large computer. Those tough people who got out of their control now seem to be battling for the sake of their ambitions and desires. Even that battling, however, is controlled and the super-fighter is destined to fall a victim to an assassin sent by the ultra-large computer. Down the assassin and destroy the computer. Regain the future of the human beings, and fight for your aspirations."

The "out of control" heroes "fighting for their aspirations" are:

ScreenshotM.E.K. (Mechanical Enforced Kommando)
"A European mercenary soldier wounded in the war underwent a cyborg operation and is determined to have revenge on the Boss who sent him to the battlefield."

Genie
"A female martial artists who wears the Gymnastic Battle Suit that enhances her agility. She attacks the enemy by taking advantage of an unguarded moment."

Blood the bio-monster
"This monster man born as a result of generic mutation has the weapons of elastic nails and sharp fins. He displays primitive instincs as a fighter as he discharges poisonous liquid."

Yeager the sonic breaker
"A former German fighter pilot who became a cyborg in order to be the super-fighter. His special ability: High speed flight."

Thud the Samurai
"An American who has the Samurai spirit can use two swords skillfully. He believes in the spiritual power and controls the thunder."

Goliath with power suit
"A laborer wearing the power suit converted from construction equipment. He moves slow, but his attack is extremely powerful."

ScreenshotWhat all the above means is that Dark Edge is more or less your typical one-on-one fighting game. Like in almost every other modern fighter, players have multiple punch and kick buttons at their disposal, as well as various projectile attacks. Defeat one opponent and fight a more skilled one. In additon to standard characters, the game contains two bosses, plus Space Harrier-like bonus stages.

What makes Dark Edge special is that it is probably the world's first modern 3D fighting game. What is even more special is that it implements its "realistic 3-D battle action as seen in the SFX movies" (like it says in its flyer) by using 2D sprite scaling! As far as pseudo 3D-graphics go, Dark Edge is very impressive: System 32's sprite pushing power is used extensively.

In addition to two big fighters, the environments have lots and lots of eye candy: snow with footprints, reflective water, billowing sand, spinners flying in around in a Blade Runner - themed level and so on...all this while simultaneously keeping the frame rate high - while animation is very choppy, the graphics move very fluidly. While there have been other sprite-scaled 3D fighters, none of them has been as ambitious or well-implemented as Dark Edge.

ScreenshotUnfortunately, the amount of sprite-pushing power can not overcome the fact that using 2D graphics requires lots of memory: since all the fighters are pre-drawn, there is only a limited number of angles from which the combatants can be displayed. Also, the graphics tend to get very blocky when the camera zooms in. While in a "normal" polygonal fighting game low-quality textures or low-poly models would not affect playability, Dark Edge proves that making 3D fighting game with sprites is not a very good idea: the gameplay, while not a total mess, feels very imprecise and random.

In addition to technical issues, there are also some basic problems that exist probably due to the newness of the 3D fighting concept: the camera does not rotate around the players, meaning that very often you end up exactly behind or front of your opponent, and playability flies out the window when in a versus fighting game, you can see only one character.

Polygon-powered Virtua Fighter, with a rotating camera, was released couple of months after Dark Edge, and all we know very well what happened. While not being a very good game, Dark Edge still holds the admirable title of being the world's first true 3D one-on-one fighting game. In addition to that, I've always had a soft spot for sprite-based 3D games, and Dark Edge is no exception: "PlayStation-generation" types will probably think that those games look terrible, but they're just wrong. :)