Insert Disk collects Eternal Champions for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis.
Today’s retro game review is Eternal Champions for the Sega Mega Drive / Sega Genesis. This retro gaming classic is quickly becoming a forgotten memory. In an attempt to compete with the arcade giants of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat Sega released their in-house solution; Eternal Champions. Eternal Champions is very much a one off experience. Developed from the ground up it has its own distinctive game play and target audience. It’s not a well-loved retro game but an interesting one to collect for Sega fans.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. When you think 90’s 16-bit fighting games I’m sure that games such as Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat and Killer instinct quickly come to mind. With the growing popularity of well-developed fighting games came the rush to be the next big thing. Today we’re taking a look at Sega’s now rather forgotten attempt to get in on the action as we take a look back at Eternal Champions for the Sega Mega Drive and Sega Genesis.
To give some context Street Fighter 2 was all the craze in arcades by the early 90’s and by 1992 Mortal Kombat had demonstrated that violence levels could be upped a notch to tap in to the excitement of video game blood sport. With these 2 coin guzzling titles dominating the arcade it wasn’t long before the home releases began to generate the same buzz. During this 16-bit period the Sega Mega Drive and Genesis were locked in a battle against the Super Nintendo. For what it’s worth my view is that Midway’s Mortal Kombat worked better on the 16-bit Sega platforms whilst Capcom’s Street Fighter series undoubtedly played better on the Super Nintendo console. One issue here was that Midway and Capcom were the developers of these games. These studios were the creative force behind the games. Sega and Nintendo were just the last leg of the journey, they were the publishers.
It was around this time that alarm bells rang at both Sega and Nintendo HQ. What if the rival were to develop the killer application in house? The result could have a significant impact on the console war. In short that’s almost exactly what happened. By 1994 developer Rare had developed Killer Instinct for the Nintendo systems. Due to Rare’s exclusivity agreements with Nintendo it was as good as an in house solution. Killer Instinct went on to innovate with pre-rendered sprites a combo system, accompanying Killer Beats soundtrack and carved out its place in the market. A year prior Sega had shown their hand in the game we’re looking at today, Eternal Champions. If you’re a long-time Sega collector you’ll know all about it but for many Eternal Champions will just a be a footnote in history.
The game does have a rather inane back story. Each fighter must compete in a championship in the hopes of being resurrected by the Eternal Champion. The fighters themselves come from a variety of eras in time. You’ll be able to choose from 9 unique characters ranging from film noir detectives, sea monsters, assassins and Blade. I have to say that despite wide criticism of the line up from the Internet I personally believe that Sega did at least put some effort in here. No palate swap characters and a genuine attempt to make a varied cast. If I were to be very cynical though this is very much the setup of another game called Time Killers on the Sega Genesis. However, when it comes to 90’s fighters there’s only ever a limited number of ideas, at least this didn’t turn in to a Rise of the Robots situation.
Graphically I’m in 2 minds about Eternal champions. The character sprites are all very well drawn and have a distinct chunky feel to them. The backgrounds are also well detailed and do feature animation. Technically the graphics work well and do give the game a distinct aesthetic. I have to say that I do prefer other styles such as the cartoon feel of Street Fighter or more detailed King of Fighters style. Each to his own though. The sound of Eternal Champions is very much a low point. It’s generic to the point that the background music actually makes the game seem much duller than it really is. A few more upbeat tunes would have gone a long way in sorting this out.
Taking its lead from Mortal Kombat Eternal Champions does include fatalities. These are stage specific and the opponent has to be standing in a precise position at the time of the kill. The issue I have here is that fatalities and finishing moves need an impact to be worthwhile.In Mortal Kombat it’s a decisive bloody uppercut leading to impalement or a decapitation. It’s memorable and worth the effort. In Eternal Champions the fatalities feel like a whispered message, they just don’t have any impact. It’s possible that Sega didn’t want to court too much controversy with a self-developed game featuring explicit violence but I just can’t help feeling that this was a missed opportunity. During the 16-bit era Sega had already demonstrated that they were not afraid to publish titles of a much more violent theme. The only interpretation here is that Sega wanted to make a game that was more universally accepted and appealing to all age groups. Again, this just doesn’t work though from a branding perspective. Older gamers will move on to Mortal Kombat 2 and younger gamers will feel as if their games are being dumbed down. All in all Eternal Champions just doesn’t seem to not know quite who its audience is.
So the target audience may be a little ill-defined but how about the game play? I’ve been back and forth on this as I’m still yet to come to a definitive answer. The game utilises Sega’s 6-button controller which is perfect for fighting games. High and low punches and kicks of various strength are easy to execute. The special moves take a bit of practice but overall there’s nothing to dislike about the control method itself. Attacking and defending is only one half of the equation though. It’s the computer opponent that really throws Eternal Champions in to a very special place. If asked today, I can still win perfect rounds in the original Street Fighter 2 and also the 16-bit Mortal Kombat series. Why? Well, the games are somewhat predictable. Once you play for a while you realise that it’s very much a high stakes game of rock, paper, scissors. After a while you instinctively know what the computer will do. In Mortal Kombat it’s a case of when the opponent goes high then uppercut, if standing start then jump kick. You can practically read the code in the front end. It’s not skill I’m using, it’s just a case of learning the pre-programed behaviour routines. You can always trust a coder to suck the fun out of a game.
Eternal Champions though, it’s a tough one to crack the exploits. In essence, what I don’t like is the rather cheap programming tactics. In a nut shell the opponents are extremely risk averse. This inevitably makes them seem more skilful than they actually should be. Take this exchange for example, you can land in the region of a 40 hit manual combo before you are either countered or breakthrough the defence. This is incredibly unusual in a fighting game. Most fighting games will by default add in a small sub-routine to make an outcome either way rather than letting a player repeat a move until it works. This is just one example but all round Eternal Champions has some very quirky opponent behaviours. It’s difficult to convey in the video but give this one a try and you’ll see how the behaviour affects the game play. The opposite effect is true if you are in defence. The opponent can launch some very sophisticated combo chains and special moves. Just defending won’t be enough, you’ll need the correct counter move to survive.
All in all Eternal Champions does have an in depth fighting system, just don’t expect to feel comfortable with it straight away. To help the game does provide a practice modes as well as a Battle Room option. This allows you to configure additional traps and hazards. It’s a nice little feature and does help pad out the game play experience with some additional variety. If you’re looking to collect this one on the Sega Mega Drive or Genesis you will find a few variants. Most will come in the standard black plastic box with manual and standard cartridge. There are others with limited edition poster and various extra bits of paperwork but really nothing to go out of your way for. In the UK you can pick a complete edition up anywhere from £2-£8. For the US Genesis audience you should be looking around the $5 area. There was a Sega CD version of this game. A US NTSC edition will run around $10-$20 whereas a UK Pal edition can go for anywhere up to £40.
So is Eternal Champions worth collecting? Well, if you’re Sega collector it’s a yes. If nothing else it’s a novelty for Sega to step out and design their own 16-bit fighter. You’re certainly not going to be converted from the mainstream fighting games but I’ll wager that Eternal Champions will give you a challenge that you weren’t quite expecting. You will have to sink some time in to this title to get the best from it. This is actually quite refreshing on one hand but does push the game towards a very niche circle of gamers. As much as I admire Sega I have to say that Eternal Champions probably isn’t going to thrill you. There’s sparks of greatness in the game but unfortunately the end result is very much a second tier fighter.
It’s competent, reasonably priced and gets the job done. Somehow it just didn’t resonate with the gamers of the time. For those that know me I’m a very long-term Sega collector. However, on this occasion I feel that they missed the mark a little. Eternal Champions, it’s not bad, it’s not great it’s going to be one of those games that’s forgotten and buried under the stand-out fighters of the 16-bit era. If you do happen to have the opportunity to pick this one up though it’s still worth a second look for the curious Sega fan.