Monday, May 2, 2016

The Abridged History of the Brawler, part 14

By 1997 Developers were shifting away from brawlers and arcade games altogether and focusing more on the home console market. Those that chose to support the arcade did so because they were either large publishers that depended on the support of all the markets or they were a new company trying to establish themselves in the industry. The latter was the case for IGS, the International Games System, a company founded in Taiwan in 1989.

IGS had set up an arcade board system called PGM, short for Polygames Master. It was similar to SNK and the Neo Geo in that the boards came on large cartridges and could be swapped out by arcade owners relatively easily. Up until that point the company had produced a new game once every few years, and often times following the tail-end of a trend. They had a few notable titles in their time but the first one of real merit was Oriental Legend.

Up until that point players had seen just about every theme, location and license that they could in the arcade brawler. The majority were set in the West even though the developers were clearly Japanese. As a proud Taiwanese company with roots in China IGS countered the trend by creating a cartoon-style brawler with characters based on classic Asian mythology. Specifically the epic Journey to the West poems.

The game was a good first attempt at the genre. Its large sprites, bright colors and animations made the title feel slightly dated. Granted, by this point most arcade players had been spoiled by the art and animation featured in the Capcom and Konami games. However IGS was smart in that their title featured characters, situations, levels and villains that could be easier for players in their target markets; Taiwan, China and Korea to recognize. Those countries would become economic powerhouses over the next decade and IGS was smart enough to give the young gamers living there something to play.

By comparison Capcom was simply going through the motions on their next and final arcade brawler. Battle Circuit was a fun diversion but also a grim reminder of state of sprite-based gaming. It was built on the CPS-II engine, just as the other notable Capcom brawlers. By 1997 the graphics engine appeared dated regardless of what designs, locations or characters the game was wrapped around.

Battle Circuit was an over-the-top brawler with designs that lampooned Western and Eastern tastes alike. All of the characters, good and evil, were well done. It would benefit game designers and artists to study the works featured in Battle Circuit. It was urban, it was sci-fi, it was horror and everywhere in between. Unfortunately it was also a dated experience. Capcom had milked every last drop out of the CPS-II and developing a brawler for the CPS-III would be out of the question as it would have been a more expensive and time consuming process given the advanced architecture of the hardware. The first decade of the brawler was good to players and the industry. The next decade would see the genre barely manage to survive. Please return for that part of the series.

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