Review by xenodolf
"A Final Fight clone that, despite having a somewhat interesting developmental history, is rather unremarkable in game-play."
Riot Zone here on the Wii's Virtual Console is a port of a Turbo Duo beat 'em up that also goes by the name Crest of the Wolf. It was originally released back in 1993 as one of only about a dozen brawlers that were featured on the Turbo Duo / PC Engine Super CD. I bought a copy of it for its original console a few years ago but never got around to actually buying the console due to my pressing need to obtain rare and expensive Super Famicom and import PS1 beat 'em ups. While I was aware of its unsavory Gamefaqs reviews for both the Turbo and Arcade version (we'll get to that in a second), I felt the need to build a Wii beat 'em up library to justify my purchase of the console - even if the download cost me two dollars more than a normal TG-16 purchase ($8 as opposed to $6). Back to its historical roots - Riot Zone was originally an arcade title called Riot City that was a mutual project between West One and Sega. West One wanted to port it without forking over lots of dough to Sega so it stripped the game of its title and protagonists, tweaked the level designs some, and gave it a different looking cast - while keeping a similar feel and mechanics. Now that you're fully informed let's get to the actual review..
Unlike Riot City's plot, Riot Zone focuses almost entirely on the usual "evil gangs kidnapped my girl" storyline. Two detectives, Hawk (an obvious nod to Cody from Final Fight and Axel from Streets of Rage) and Tony (who was modified from a Black b-boy to a Native American punk who has the typical mohawk and matching sets of questionably-masculine stars on his head) are seeing to destroy the major gang in their district. Their police chief is a total hack who owes the gang money because of his gambling debts and tries to shield the gang's criminal enterprise from his justice-seeking cops. As in every cop movie every made where this has happened, Hawk throws down his badge and gun onto the chief's desk and storms out to take them on his own. Seeing as they have kidnapped Hawk's girlfriend as well to keep him from interfering with their plans - Tony joins up with his partner to stop the gang and rescue the hostage. Pretty typical plot that also features its share of spelling typos and Japanese-to-English grammar errors.
Riot City, debuted in 1991 on arcade hardware - featured above average quality visuals. Riot Zone was released in 1993, on the Turbo Duo's CD-based hardware but looks graphically inferior in every regard. While some of Riot City's level designs are intact in Riot Zone, they aren't as sharp looking and the enemy designs are both less interesting and fuzzier looking. The bad guys feature the usual suspects - punks, rowdy females, ninjas, fat dudes, monk-styled martial artists, and a couple of questionable insertions. You have this "Bruiser" family that is a complete knock-off of the Andore clan from Final Fight - complete with the Andre the Giant's caveman-esque wrestling outfit (who inspired the Andore lineage). Only these Brusier dudes (who go by Bruiser, Cruiser, Crusier Jr) don't have anywhere near the muscle-mass of the Andores and instead of a face styled after Andre the Giant... they look more like Jeff Goldblum with bad teeth. There's also a bunch of elderly men you beat up in the game, and I'm not talking about older karate masters, but rather some Asian looking grandfather type with a small cane who somehow meets the gang's fighting skill criteria. The bosses fare a bit better; with a samurai, a female whip-fighter, a sumo wrestler, a generic fighter who claims to have mastered every fighting style there is, a tag-team acrobatic duo, and an interesting sadist who has needles poking out of his body that he tries to insert into you. As I mentioned earlier - a lot of the stages have bland and hazy backgrounds (too many generic walls and construction-themed level) and even the some of the more busy levels, like a casino parlor, look less graphically robust than what I saw in Ninja Gaiden (which is 3 years older than Riot City and 5 years older than Riot Zone). The animation is pretty limited too, with nearly every attack being only a single frame (although it is worth mentioning the Black character that the punk Native American was edited to become kept the loose "krump" style strut when he walks). Overall: while I wouldn't say the game looks bad for a 1993 title, it is quite uninspired and looks worse than some SNES titles from the same year.
Being programmed onto a CD instead of a cartridge or a cabinet board means that a game's tunes will flow out much more smoothly - and that actually happens here. The problem is that the soundtrack (mostly upbeat generic 80s rock) isn't that amazing, with only two of the tracks out of about five being worth a listen. The sound effects are about average in quality and don't really stand out. The bottom line is that the sound department could use a bit of work but I've heard much worse in my days reviewing beat 'em ups.
The game is pretty simple as far as the controlling mechanics go, and nothing is out of order. There is no lagging, input delay, slowdown, or non-responsive effects. As in my review of Ninja Gaiden, I used the Gamecube controller to play this (without incident, I may add).
I see the term "Final Fight clone" being tosses around a lot on the Internet, and most of the time the person using it simply thinks that Final Fight is the basis and foundation of all beat 'em ups. That is usually not the case, although there are a few brawlers that tried so dearly to be molded in the same fashion as Capcom's legendary scrolling-fighter. The game features the same style of icons, health-bars, and enemy portraits as Final Fight - and some of the characters (protagonist and antagonist) are clearly derived from the battle of Metro City. Not everything that could have been copied, for the benefit of Riot Zone, was however. The game has no co-op or versus mode to speak of - which is a crying shame in the year of 1993. Didn't West One see the negative feedback the SNES port of Final Fight had when it was reduced to a single-player campaign? Also missing from the mix are bonus stages (like punching apart a car or kicking aside burning barrels) and more importantly, the use of any kind of weapon. Having the chance to pick up a knife or bat is a nice incentive, as using the same set of punches and kicks over and over can get quite old. Each stage has three sub-sections, which is nice to keep the scenery fresh - but by the fourth stage there are no new enemies to battle aside from the bosses. Some of these levels go on for too long as well, as I started getting that glazed-over look in my eyes more than once playing the game for the first time. Compared to other 1993 beat 'em up, the array of moves is rather limited (punch, jump-kick, vertical kick, throw, and desperation attack) and not having any weapon pick-ups or mounts means you'll soon get bored of what you're dolling out to the enemy masses. The enemies themselves pose a minor threat in most cases - as most of their attacks can be avoided if you're paying attention, and nearly all of them can be lured into a static spamming of punches. The only decent opponents are the shawl-wearing monks and the shirtless martial artists, who of course are inspired by Bill Bull and Hollywood from Final Fight and use charging attacks and sliding kicks respectively. Most of the bosses aren't much more aggressive than the cannon fodder and don't inspire much interest. I found it interesting that the sumo battle was about as much of a rip-off of the battle against Sodom in Final Fight as they could legally have in a game, although I did like the face off against the needle-riddled Lance who pulled off Blanka-ish rolling cannonball attacks. The best boss fight, however, is actually the first one that is composed of a two-section battle. Mr. Lee and Miss Chan are an acrobatic duo who actually work together (ie. Chan runs off Lee's back to dive onto you, Lee distracts you while Chan tries to sneak in attacks). You fight Lee fight first, and after a certain amount of damage he retreats and brings his partner into the battle for what I have to admire as a good boss fight. Its too bad Riot Zone hit the climatic point so early, as the entertainment from the rest of the game never comes close to matching that again. While I have played worse games both on the TG-16 and in the year of 1993, it just seems like wasted potential that a game that was re-worked from a better arcade origin ended up feeling so lackluster.
Replay value 2/10
Not a whole lot going on here to bring you back for an immediate second helping, as I was getting bored playing it through even the first time. The two characters aren't so different that you'll have a major alternate experience going at it again with the one you didn't use, and the lack of co-op left me feeling a bit lonely.
The Wii's VC library of beat 'em ups remains rather limited, especially concerning games that aren't easy to find out in the wild. The Duo wasn't exactly drowning in brawlers back when a game like this was hot off the presses, and I do appreciate it being given at least the opportunity to present itself along all other beat 'em ups on here, good and bad. I bought this game simply because the $8 price tag was worth not having to buy a TG-16, the Turbo Duo add-on, and finding enough space next to my PS2, 360, and Wii to play it. With the average price for a beat 'em up on the VC hovering around $7.50 (500 points for the NES ones and Altered Beast arcade at a staggering 1000 points) you might think you could do better spending that $8 something more fulfilling (like a SNES game). While I'm somewhat inclined to agree, I'm hoping my purchase will help persuade Hudsonsoft to release more TG-16/Duo beat 'em ups onto the VC (like The Ninja Warriors!). To all other beat 'em up fans looking for my opinion as whether or not to buy this: get the better brawlers (like The Combatribes, Alien Storm, River City Ransom) first, and if you still have enough money and memory left over, make the decision to buy this unremarkable beat 'em up at that time.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 02/23/10, Updated 05/03/10
Game Release: Riot Zone (US, 01/14/08)
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