Monday, May 9, 2016

The Abridged History of the Brawler, part 17

The Crystal of Kings was developed by Brezza Soft in 2001. Like other independent publishers they were filling a niche by providing traditional gaming experiences with updated graphics technology. In this case it was a western fantasy brawler with CGI sprites, similar to the techniques used by Unico in Age of Heroes.

The sprites built from CGI data seemed detached from the environments, as if they floated just above the ground, the same went for players and the monstrous opponents that they faced.

The Crystal of Kings, like many arcade games from the early part of the decade was lackluster. It was an example of an indy studio filling a void in a genre that used to dominate the arcade scene but whose founders had left for different markets.

Square was one of those studios trying to reinterpret the brawler for home consoles. They had been slowly building up to the genre, first through the 3D fighting game Tobal No. 1 (from 1996) on the original Playstation and then with Ehrgeiz (from 1998) in the arcade. Both of the games were well done, Tobal did well enough to warrant a sequel and was one of the better early 3D fighting experiences especially on the consoles.

The result of those two games inspired in the release of The Bouncer. It was the first brawler developed for the Playstation 2 in 2001. The game was set in 3D with the visual style familiar to long-time fans of the Final Fantasy publisher. On top of being a brawler the game also touted a VS mode on top of a Final Fantasy-style plot.

The game failed to grab and critical or commercial success. It lacked the control and nuances of earlier console hits, including River City Ransom and Streets of Rage. It didn’t have the memorable designs of Akira “Dr. Slump” Toroyama the artist behind Tobal nor the hard-hitting designs from a studio like Capcom. The main characters were simply too pretty to be believable as tough guys.

At this point Sega had been steadily improving the nuances in their arcade brawler and tried to make the experience more accessible. They released a third title in the SpikeOut series called Spikers Battle in 2001. It was and modified 3D brawler that incorporated more fighting game mechanics and the concept of rounds instead of levels from Slash Out. It still supported multiple teammates going into battle and thus maintained its brawling roots.

The engine had come a long way from that early build my brothers and I had tried in Irvine a few years prior. The graphics had improved, as did the control and animation. Unfortunately I only saw one example of this game in arcades, largely ignored in a sea of ticket redemption games. Sega's best modern arcade brawler would be a footnote in history, ignored as it was a relic from a long-forgotten era. All of the advances that Sega had made in taking the genre into 3D, all of the lessons they could have taught other developers were lost with this title. The console had become the new consciousness for the gamer. If studios wanted to keep the genre alive they would have to cater to them as SquareSoft had done. The next great brawling title for the arcades would not appear until two years after Spikers Battle. It would take three years for the next console experiment to arrive. We shall look at these games in the next blog.

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