October 8, 2007 12:12 AM |
[“Might Have Been” is a somewhat bi-weekly column by Todd Ciolek that explores the ways in which promising games, characters, and concepts failed. This week’s edition looks at Capcom's Battle Circuit, released for the arcade in 1997.]
Street Fighter II may go down as Capcom’s most enduring contribution to arcades, but there’s something to be said for Final Fight, or at least the games that built on Final Fight’s basic frame and were dubbed "beat-‘em-ups" for want of a better term. They were a varied pack of brawlers, what with the Arthurian staples of Knights of the Round and the medieval Chinese chaos of Tenchi wo Kurau and the customizable mecha of Armored Warriors and the perhaps inadvisable comic tie-in of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. Yet all of them held true to the Final Fight ideals of pounding rather stupid enemies, unleashing life-draining super moves, and gobbling food straight off the ground.
The line peaked somewhere around 1994’s Alien vs. Predator and 1996’s Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, but it didn’t end there. At Japan’s massive AOU ’97 arcade showcase, Capcom’s booth promoted three major games with towering character stands, showing Lilith and B.B. Hood from Darkstalkers 3, Yun and Elena from Street Fighter III, and, surprisingly, a cybernetic superhero and a big pink ostrich from a game called Battle Circuit. It was a small, short-lived thing, but it was also the last of its kind.
Captain Commando 2: The Age of LSD
A big pink ostrich, wearing eye patch and carrying a pigtailed girl, isn’t particularly out of place here. Seemingly based on the weirder elements of Capcom’s superhero-themed Captain Commando, Battle Circuit’s world is an anything-goes future of planet-jumping spaceships, cyborgs, aliens and tights-wearing defenders of justice, all rendered in with the inventive comic style that Capcom had pretty much perfected by the mid-‘90s.
The five selectable characters are a similarly unique bunch: the basic, balanced machine-man Cyber Blue, the elastic Captain Silver, the speedy catwoman (and fashion model) Yellow Iris and her pet fox-squirrel Fin, and the flamingo-colored ostrich, simply called Pink, and her handler, Pola. And then there’s Alien Green, a mass of eyeballs, fangs, and tentacles.
Spurred on by a cloyingly upbeat employer named Harry, the bounty hunters’ shared story is a simple war against a crime syndicate hunting for the all-powerful Shiva computer system. Unlike the branching, half-coherent narrative of Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons titles, Battle Circuit’s a step back to the straight runs of Final Fight, with simple dialogue, no diverging paths and only one real secret.
If Battle Circuit wasn’t as deep overall as its predecessors, its gameplay is at least the most complex of Capcom’s sluggish attempts to evolve the brawler, which often suffers from repetitive kick-and-punch moves. Battle Circuit, however, offers a wealth of attacks. Each character begins with a few techniques, only to steadily purchase new and better abilities (as well as extra lives and health-meter boosts) with enemy-dropped coins. Pulled off with fighting-game motions, the moves are all detailed, much like those in Treasure’s Guardian Heroes, and no two cast members are alike; Green has bodyslams and healing powers, Iris has aerial kicks and angry fox barrages, Blue has a solid variety of strikes, and even the big pink bird fights like a whirling Street Fighter II mainstay.
The enemies are nearly as inventive, with a boss lineup that includes a swaggering Elvis impersonator, a slobbering baboon and its trainer, twin samurai piloting one mech together, and the recurring Dr. Saturn, an inept scientist with a bulbous, cratered head and a bloblike green pet much sharper than its owner. Even the grunts are memorable; lizard soldiers scamper about in yipping packs, fat robots waddle into battle, and bike-riding women push the boundaries of arcade decorum by wearing nothing at all beneath their loose, open jackets. Perhaps that’s why Battle Circuit was never released in America.
And then the designers got bored and left
In its level design, Battle Circuit’s a balancing act that, sadly, falls apart by the end. It begins well, with lots of different scenery and even a shooting sub-stage patterned after Capcom’s also-neglected Armored Warriors. By the fifth level, though, the repetition of enemies exceeds even Capcom's typical habits, with at least one boss resurrected as a trio. The game’s apparent lead villain is terribly disappointing, a bloated, bearded, intergalactic King Vitaman who borrows all of the heroes’ power-up abilities and does little else.
At least he’s a red herring; a real end boss is in there, but only if you’ve gathered enough points, coins and special moves. After a drawn-out battle full of cheap hits and maddening attack patterns, he’s defeated, and the heroes trade lines about wanting more money from Harry (who, disappointingly, doesn’t transform into another end boss). So ends the game, and with it, Capcom's era of beat-‘em-ups.
Battle Circuit was quickly overwhelmed in an age when arcades were still huge and still controlled by the entente of fighters, driving games, and gun games. A Capcom’s last 2-D brawler, it mysteriously skipped a U.S. release, even though it was fully translated for Europe. But no matter where it landed, few arcades bothered to keep it around or stick it in a cabinet that could host its full four players. By the middle of 1997, Battle Circuit was a rarity even in Japanese arcades.
With Capcom slapping many older arcade games into new collections, Battle Circuit seems an ideal candidate, even if it doesn’t have the vast scope of Dungeons and Dragons, the pitch-perfect intensity of Alien vs. Predator or even the near-iconic Mayor Haggar of Final Fight. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Just spotted that GameTap has Battle Circuit playable on its subscription service - looks like the best (and only?) way to check it out legally.]
So Battle Circuit deserves more than a footnote in Capcom history. There’s a great sense of fun in its visual style, and considerable depth in its gameplay. Most importantly, though, it was an important step forward in a field that Capcom abandoned a bit too soon, and an enjoyable little beat-'em-up that came too late.
Categories: Column: Might Have Been