Review by DeadTrees

"Pit-Fighter: The Sitcom"

By 1990, Atari Games had successfully completed its decade-long transition from "trendy money-making coolness" to "complete irrelevance." Pit-Fighter, which was a hit game that year (believe it or not!), seems to have been an aberration - some clear-sighted designer finally understood that hitting people = revenue.

And so it came to pass, two years later, Atari Games released a Final Fight clone with Pit-Fighter's visual style - sprites that were digitized, instead of drawn or rendered. Guardians of the 'Hood proved yet again that games with digitized sprites, if nothing else, are inherently funnier. It's one thing to have an artist animate a kung fu master who walks like a caveman and has a mullet thick enough to stop bullets...and a much funnier thing when there's an actual kung fu guy walking like a caveman with an actual mullet thick enough to stop bullets. And as with in Pit-Fighter, the sprites' physical alignment will frequently have little relation to what they're actually doing. You may be pile-driven in the air by a gang member who's two feet away from you. On the other hand, strangulation moves look significantly more disturbing when your hands are at your opponent's nipples. Or crotch.

The attract mode should give you some hint as to what's to come. In "Center City" (the BAD part of town, as the game helpfully tells us) we get some info on the characters you can play as, as they pose prettily in front of the Center City Gym ("Where you and your posse keep in shape"):

Conner: Your basic all-around character, whose bare-midriffed T-shirt shows off his rippling torso and lame-ass hairdo,

Chief: Your basic "big hulking guy" whose nipples are mercifully concealed by suspenders,

Javier: The generic boxer, and

Tanya: The "statuesque cat" who may or may not actually be female.

Another thing you'll learn quickly from the attract mode - the music and sound effects are a noxious brew of FM synthesis that would make John Chowning beg humanity for forgiveness. Imagine a symphony orchestra with instruments like "kazoo," "second kazoo," "broken alarm clock," and "inharmonic dinner bell", and you'll get the idea.

Anyway, the game starts with "Big Boss" (no, not that Big Boss, unless this game is some freaky Metal Gear spinoff I'm unaware of; with Hideo Kojima, you never know) declaring, "I'm taking over this crummy town!" Big Boss, by the way, looks like a post-op Joker. Atari was going for an "edgier" game than usual, which you'll quickly notice at the game's start when a gang member picks up a wino and throws him at you. Nothing like being hit by a face-full of bum ass to discover that this isn't Marble Madness. Shortly thereafter, assuming you've nothing better to do than proceed with the game, you'll encounter (gasp!) A HOOKER! Thankfully, Atari elected to send a strong anti-pimp-slapping message in this game, as attacking "innocent" civilians will result in an instant knockdown. (Did you know that bag ladies are skilled in kung fu? It's true!)

Once the first wave is over, you'll get to see your "coach" (whom I'll call "Coach" from now on). This short, balding fellow in a sweatsuit tells you "That's good for a start, let's work out at the gym." And by "work out," Coach of course means "beat each other senselessly."

Yes, friends, when Guardians of the 'Hood isn't trying to be a Final Fight clone, it's trying to be a Street Fighter clone. Every other level you and your posse will celebrate your victory over anarchic street violence with savage pit fights against each other in best-of-three-round fights, while Coach...referees, I guess. I mean, if throwing an exercise bike at your opponent isn't illegal, what is? Oh, and by the way, if you lose two out of three rounds, the game's over. Let me reiterate - these fights are against members of your own posse.

From here you can choose to repeat the round over again, or just get on with the damn game already. Now, not content with simply highlighting which option you're about to select, Atari decided to give you some visual feedback. Imagine a short, balding fellow (i.e., Coach) yelling "Hey, I know you!" to someone across the street and pointing at them, while simultaneously vacuuming the carpet with his other hand. That image "points" to whichever option you've chosen.

Would you pardon me, dear reader? I just laughed myself into a stupor again.

The next wave features the Dreads, a Jamaican gang whose members alternately say "Hey mon!" when punching you, and "Hey mon, back off!" while pile-driving you into the ground (and I want to mention that they are not racist or stereotypical in any way whatsoever). The second half of the wave is in an adult movie theater (you know, edgy?) where the French erotic thriller Chick With a Perm Turns to the Camera in an Endless Loop is playing. Once "Jay-Jay," the Dreads leader, is downed, he becomes a selectable character starting with the next wave. Needless to say, he and the other bosses do not retain their cheap-assed, quarter-sucking lifebar once they become playable.

Coach tells you "Good work. But you must get better! Use your MAGIC." Ah yes. In case the game's not silly enough yet, you can shoot sonic waves and fireballs at your enemies by wiggling the joystick and pressing the strong punch button. The button configuration (strong punch, weak punch, strong kick, weak kick, and block) is fairly complex, as these games go. Pressing the weak kick and block buttons at the same time will allow you to pick up barrels, tables, or passed-out winos to use as throwable weapons. Tapping up or diagonally up will jump; tapping left or right rolls left or right.

But anyway. Big Boss returns to taunt you pointlessly. "My Shavers will get you this time!" No, you won't be attacked by hordes of giant Norelcos and Brauns - this gang is comprised of "people who shave their heads." This wave is in a subway littered with ads for Pit-Fighter and other of Atari Games', uh, games. Perhaps advertising in economically depressed subways wasn't the best use of revenue. After beating down some mohawked female gang members, you'll encounter...a flasher. (Edgy!) Who blessedly spreads his overcoat away from you. I can safely say that this will be the only game in human history that lets you throw a flasher at a chick with a purple mohawk. Later in the wave, you'll take on "Boris," AKA one-half of Right Said Fred.

The next wave starts with an explosive being planted in front of a Chinatown shop by...Liu Kang?! Say it isn't so!

After fending off some Oriental stereotypes, you'll enter a strip club (edgy!), leading to what I think is a video game first - you'll be able to jump on stage and show off your moves! (And appreciate the art department's atrocious sense of scale. The on-stage dancer (with whom you can't interact with in any way) is at least a foot taller than anyone else in your "posse.") Then Liu Kang returns, and after only about $5 in quarters, he'll join your posse!

Finally, the game ends inside Big Boss' lair, at an "abandoned boardwalk," complete with painful "circus" music and recycled opponents, where we get a twist worthy of Brian DePalma! Big Boss is actually a dominatrix in lingerie and matching thigh-highs (edgy!), and is planning to use an army of Genome Soldiers to turn Center City into Outer Heaven! (Okay, that was only half-true.) And how does this gender-bent avatar of vice and social decay and all things evil in Central City taunt your gang as she beats you remorselessly with her riding crop?

"You jerk!" Although sometimes she'll point with her riding crop and laugh maniacally. Sometimes she'll even do that in your direction.

Congratulations! You've saved the 'hood. Your posse will be presented with a plaque of some sort - yes, even Liu Kang, the Chinatown Unabomber himself. Now your posse can sever each other's spines in peace.

What can I say? Based strictly on gameplay, graphics, and sound, this game deserves a negative rating, yet I laughed harder in an hour of playing this than in all the umpteen-hours suffering through Grand Theft Auto: Vice City combined. And yet I wonder, whatever happened to the actors in this game? Was the guy who played Chief able to transition from this breakout debut into, say, fecal porn? Did "Conner" get the funds for new torso implants? Was the uncredited actor/actress of Big Boss able to pay for his/her gender reassignment? For that matter, was Coach?

You can think about these things with digitized actors, is all I'm saying.

Reviewer's Rating:   1.5 - Bad

Originally Posted: 03/14/05

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