Fighters Megamix (1997, Sega AM2 for Sega Saturn)

Question: Is Fighters Megamix the definitive Sega Saturn fighting game? Does it surpass the mighty Virtua Fighter 2? Let the debates begin.

Fighters Megamix is a perfect summary of everything I love about Sega: a bright and bold visual design, accessible gameplay that contains boundless depths, and a sense of humor that shows they never take themselves so seriously. They were always the renegades, the upstarts, the punks who crashed the party and spiked the punch. They were the risk-takers and casino gamblers whose debts eventually came to bury them alive. But what a wild crazy ride. Start another match, I’ll order pizza.

Most Saturn fans are very familiar with this game, which became a fan favorite among casual and diehard players alike and enjoys cult status to this day. It was only released on one other platform, the doomed Game.com handheld, and has never reappeared on any future console. Whenever Sega asks the fans which of their classic titles should be revived, my first answer is nearly always, “Megamix. Bring back Megamix.”

Fighters Megamix is a superb mashup of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers that quickly morphs into a grand celebration of Sega AM2’s greatest hits. Players begin by playing the characters from the two major series, and as they progress, the bonus characters are revealed and quickly crash the party, each one zanier and more ridiculous than the last, each one more fun and exciting. Have you ever been to one of those college house parties that ends with the cops busting up the place? You can barely find your way to the door, your ears are ringing from the house band making noise, you’re hoping you don’t get nabbed by the fuzz…all in all, a great time is had by all. This videogame has that same sense of electricity and fun.

In what other fighting game can you play as a race car, or a balloon animal, or a giant Mexican jumping bean in a mariachi outfit (and a bird under his hat)? Where else can you find a giant cartoon duck who throws bombs, or a comic book superhero who runs on batteries, or an arabian warrior with a sword? Where else can you play as a giant chunk of meat with cartoon hands and feet, or a giant palm tree? Who else would be crazy enough to do something like that? Nobody, that’s who.

Does it matter at all that most of these bonus characters are “joke” characters, never to be taken seriously or played with any more seriousness than mashing buttons? Does it matter that this roster of 34 fighters is massively unbalanced, where any skilled Akira or Jacky player will just wipe the floor with everybody else? Does it matter that the Daytona car only has, like, four moves (and only one that’s useful)? Of course it doesn’t matter. You and your friends are having fun. You’re also probably very drunk, so it’s not like you can remember any complex moves, anyway. Sega is looking after you by not taxing your brain. This allows more room for beer, pizza and nachos in between bouts.

The bonus characters all hail from Sega AM2 hits, including Virtua Fighter Kids, Virtua Cop 2, Sonic the Fighters, Dynamite Dux, Rent-a-Hero and Daytona USA. This shows an impressive willingness to reach deep into the catalog. They even include a characters named Siba who was originally planned for the original Virtua Fighter but was cut from the roster at the last minute, as well as three originals. You can easily imagine who would appear in future installments, such as Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Alex Kidd or NiGHTS, and you’re left dumbstruck that Sega never followed through. Perhaps if the Dreamcast was given more time, such a sequel would have arrived. What’s holding them back today?

For more serious players, the Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers cast is where you’ll spend the bulk of your time, as you settle the debate over which is the better fighting game. You can select “Virtua” and “Vipers” modes in the options menu, which enables the midair recoveries, breakable armor and power moves that can shatter the walls. I can switch back and forth, depending on my mood and who I want to play, and I am impressed at how smoothly everyone can adapt to the subtle differences between the two series.

Of course, the Virtua cast is equipped with nearly all the moves from Virtua Fighter 3, which was tearing up the arcades (in Japan, at least). Virtua Fighter 2 is praised as a masterwork of martial arts videogames, and rightly so, but there’s no question that VF3 has the stronger maneuvers, attacks and defenses. Throws and reversals are standardized with Guard+Punch and Punch+Kick, respectively. Most basic attacks now include additional “canned” combos including double kicks. An evade button allows for more tactical freedom. Of course, Megamix doesn’t quite equal the action and intensity of Virtua Fighter 3, but it captures the core of the experience, and freed from the elevated 3D stage designs (replaced with endless flat planes, ala Namco’s Tekken), it becomes more accessible. If only the series were more popular and better understood in the States, perhaps this home version could have translated into greater success for its arcade cousin. But it was not to be.

Fighters Megamix is a visual marvel for Sega Saturn, using a more advanced version of the graphics engine used for Fighting Vipers. The fighters and arenas are presented in standard “240” resolution, but also includes extensive use of gouraud shading and realtime light sourcing. This allows for some highly impressive visuals, especially on sunset stages where fighters are illuminated in light and shadow. I like how Saturn renders lighting effects as seen in titles like Megamix, Burning Rangers, Quake and Baroque. The speed remains relentlessly furious, blazing at 60 frames per second with only a few hiccups on one or two stages (the US version was released after the Japanese version, and be slightly more refined).

Yes, it is true that the fighters sport a lower polygon count than in Virtua Fighter 2, which also ran in “480 high resolution” mode, and this difference becomes more noticeable on modern HDTV displays (as always, everything looks better on CRT), and as with Fighting Vipers, it appears this compromise was needed in order to enable the lighting and shading effects, which was a key battleground of the Fifth Generation. Sega needed to prove that they could compete against Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64, and this is reflected in the Megamix design. Personally, I would have preferred the clean, high-rez look that Sega is best known for (as seen in VF2), but as we old people like to say, that was the style at the time. It was the onion on our belts.

As we used to say in the ’90s: whatever. Once you hold a controller in your hands, Megamix is pure bliss and a blazing tornado of fun. The complex, tactical gameplay is far deeper and more involving than any of its rivals and will keep you engaged more or less forever. It’s highly satisfying to hear every crunch and crack as the punches, kicks and throws connect, and there’s no substitute for a well-timed throw (Jeffry has one nasty throw where he scrapes his opponent’s face against the cage). The music is suitably funky and bouncy, closer to Vipers trash-rock style than Virtua, and all of the bonus characters include music from their respective titles. It goes without saying that your first bars of the Daytona theme will leave you cheering.

Why should anybody care about Sega Saturn in the year 2018? Because Fighters Megamix is there, that’s why. God Bless Sega.

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