Released: 1996 / Game Gear (JP, NA, EU), Master System (Brazil)
Extreme down-ports don’t get much more fascinating than Virtua Fighter Animation. A 2D fighter based on the anime based on the game that essential started the 3D fighting genre, VFA definitely creeps into Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game territory.
Containing what is probably the largest amount of story ever in a Virtua Fighter game, VFA tells a tale of an ambitious man named Liu who wants to marry Pai Chan so that he can become the head of the Koenkan (Lau Chan’s martial arts technique / school / organization). Instead of proposing like a normal gentleman, Liu kidnaps Pai, tries to brainwash her, and creates a robot skilled at martial arts to fight anyone who tries to stop him (Dural). After overcoming the various misunderstandings that cause the Virtua Fighters to fight each other, they team up to go after Liu.
While the Virtua Fighter series is known for the impressive way that each character plays completely different, that is not really the case in VFA. Each character has only a handful of moves; most of my matches were won by simply mixing up low punches and high kicks (though it’s nice to see that double-tap directional and ground attacks are in the game, both of which are rare (maybe even non-existent?) in 8-bit fighters).
The combat isn’t the only thing that is simple about Virtua Fighter Animation. Although the static images in the cutscenes look excellent, the actual in-game graphics are quite plain; the characters don’t even have discernible faces, making them all look a bit like The Question. There is an option to play in “Realtime” mode, which sort of scales the character sprites, depending on the distance between them. If characters are far apart, the sprites are pretty tiny, but when close up, the characters are giant, pixel-y monsters, which is equal parts hideous and charming.The game is fairly easy, with no difficulty selection and, in a baffling decision, no 2-player mode, which certainly limits the replay value. The Master System version (only released in Brazil), is even more limited, having no sprite-scaling (this version uses only the panned-out camera with the small characters) and no block button. Despite the fact that the block button in the Game Gear version is almost useless (it is, by default, mapped to the start button, and not really worth giving up easy access to the punch and kick buttons for), the omission of it in the Master System port feels significant, as the 3-button control scheme is part of what makes Virtua Fighter the game that it is. Virtua Fighter Animation is a strange title to critique. On one hand, it is a beyond bare-bones down-port that only tangentially resembles its namesake. On the other, it feels like an ambitious and bold “…and you said it couldn’t be done”-style release that tells a goofy but fun story involving the Virtua Fighter cast. VFA may not be worth the time of hardcore tournament-level Virtua Fighter players, but for those who are curious about the series’ history, it is certainly worth checking out.
Game Gear cover image taken from Sega Retro.