Review by Kakihara

"No love in these punches"

Side-scrolling beat-'em-ups! Hot damn. They give me a hard-on. There are few genres as simplistic, but you can't tell me being a righteous dude or babe and strutting down some filthy back alley, clobbering thugs and slashing faces, then going toe-to-toe with a hulking boss isn't one of video gaming's purest, greatest experiences. It's a ****ing manly thrill and a half. But as fantastic as the genre is, there are far more dirty peons in its kingdom than there are muscular kings. Jaleco's Rival Turf is one of those bums, a game so poor it fails at pretty much everything, only succeeding in leaving me placcid and generally feeling as if I've been molested.

Its plot is of the usual fight crime lords fare, but this time the US government is involved in cleaning up the streets - and so is the Mexican government. Nobody honestly believes the Mexican government can be useful for anything, of course, but that doesn't stop them from teaming their Oozie Nelson (who dresses like Final Fight's Edi E. turned male stripper) up with America's Jack Flak to fight scumbags. And it's extra personal for Flak, as this international gang even kidnapped his homely-looking girlfriend. Time to dish out da pain - for great justice!

So you and a friend / fellow sucker must unleash carnage throughout these six colorful stages, and you do so with the basic assortment of attacks found in any other beat-'em-up: punch combo, jump kicks and throws. Rival Turf does add a couple of unique moves, letting you run and wallop someone - with a clothesline or slide - or, after taking a beating, you can erupt with rage and start socking goons with great strength and invulnerability for a brief period. Unfortunately, the rage effect is every bit as goofy as it sounds, and not only does running and attacking look stilted, but its lagtime leaves you wide open for retailiation. You'll only ever utilize these techniques out of necessity, not because they're enjoyable to execute.

And it only gets worse. Running was most probably implemented in order to help speed the pace up some, as the game moves a tad slower than it should. It's not downright slow, to be fair, but next to a fast-paced behemoth like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, it does seem a bit sluggish. And this isn't helped either by the fact that these stages are ****ing long. Not only are there far too many sections in each level, each one greatly spaced out for no reason, but you barely take a step and a new batch of enemies arrive.

Beat-'em-ups are repetitive by nature, certainly, but Rival Turf just drags on and on and on; even by the first stage's midway point, whatever enthusiasm you had left will have been completely grinded down. There are no cool bonus rounds, no bikers to dodge, no rolling barrels to crack open, no cages to fight Andre the Giant clones in - no fun to be had at all. The enemies, which range from hilarious to excruciating in design, offer zero variety: skinny jackass kicks you, fatass slaps you, clown with the Arnold name clobbers you. Though these goofballs come in varying pathetic shapes and sizes (replete with palette swaps!), they all brawl alike, so you just ride punchpunchpunch through the freakin' endless waves of fruity thugs that confront you, completely removing what little strategy the genre normally provides.

Or you'll at least try to ride the punch combo through them, anyway. Though just by looking at Jack Flak and Oozie Nelson - one being stick-thin and Super Nintendo-friendly 'cool,' the other in dire need of the (NON-STRAIGHT) Eye for The Straight Guy cast's help - you'll realize how laughable they are, you'd at least expect them to sock it to the opposition. They can't. The hunched-over, nerdy enemies are swifter than you, stronger than you and are able to stick it to you before you can even reach them with a punch. And it's as if each hit they land knocks you on your ass; getting back up, which is kind of slow as well, will only ensure you another beatdown if they're within range.

Eventually, through sucking up all-too-short lifebars and credits, you'll make it to some joke boss. The earlier ones are insultingly simple to figure out, like the sultan who relies on his sword, even if that means walking into your fist to pick it back up, or the old black guy dressed up as a b-boy who can't stop hopping around. But the ones you'll take on in latter stages are juiced-up beyond what Flak or Nelson can ever hope to handle. Even with rage mode, you're going to die.

Jaleco just didn't get anything right here. There are even some potentially cool sections that could help break up the monotony, such as riding a bus and going up an elevator, but they simply go to waste. You're even able to pick up dynamite and grenades, but wouldn't you know it, they botch even that: both take forever to explode after chucking them, giving the bad guys ample time to get the hell out of the way. So much time, in fact, they enemies are able to move out and push you back into the explosion. Why is it I need to rescue Flak's ugly broad again?

What really gets my eyes rolling, though, is how serious Rival Turf takes itself: it thinks it's gritty and tough, but there are no badass characters, no manliness, no attitude, no semblance of anything cool anywhere in this game. There's plenty of pink and other bright colors to be found, however. Plenty of very clean streets, plenty of bright sea ports and jungles, plenty of 'safe' environments pretending to be hardcore. Plenty of cheerfully cheesy tunes to back them up, too. Even the characters are a bit small when compared to their beat-'em-up peers. (Don't want to be too in your face, after all.) Does anybody find sickly-thin guys in pink pants, timidly shuffling up and down the screen appealing? I've no idea why Jaleco just didn't go the extra mile and implement fat elves and smiling mushrooms while they were at it.

Basically, Rival Turf fails on every conceivable level. It's a debilitating mess, constantly beating the player over the head with a wildly unbalanced challenge and extreme redundancy. The faux attitude, complete with limited animation and grating music, just adds insult to injury. It's playable, if just barely, but there's still no point in trying this garbage, even for ****s and giggles.


Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 06/03/04, Updated 06/08/04


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