Insert Disk collects Groove On Fight for the Sega Saturn.
Today’s retro game review is Groove On Fight for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic is a rather overlooked fighting game from Atlus. The Sega Saturn had many first class 2D fighting game series in the way of King Of Fighters, Street Fighter, Marvel and Darkstalkers. However, Groove On Fight might just be that hidden gem you are looking for.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. It’s time to jump back in time to a 1997 release to see how the year 2015 would look. It’s a rather special little title for you today in the way of Groove On Fight for the Sega Saturn.
By 2007 the Sega Saturn had become a 2D fighting superpower in the Japan. It’s speciality in processing multiple sprites as well as coming with all that neat arcade stick gear made the Sega Saturn shine as the console for serious gamers to play at home. If you had Japanese hardware that is. The Marvel titles, the Capcom blockbusters and SNK line up simply made it the place to release your fighting game. For those that have followed the channel for any amount of time you’ll be aware of my love of the genre.
So, when I had the chance to pick up Groove On Fight recently I was very excited indeed. It’s certainly not on the cheap end for collectors these days.
With Capcom, SNK and Marvel fighters taking the glory of the age there were a few games that simply got bundled out of the lime light. In my opinion, Groove On Fight was one of these. Now, before we get in to this it’s worth stating that these days the price of the game has skyrocketed. Partially due to the economy and import prices, partially due to the resurgence of Sega’s popularity and due to the fact that this was a Japanese Sega Saturn exclusive. Throw in to this that the game was developed by Atlus. Perhaps not best known for their fighting games, I’ve always associated them more with adventure and strategy games. There is however an amount of pedigree here. Groove On Fight is actually the third instalment of the Power Instinct series. Or Gōketsuji Ichizoku (豪血寺一族, “Gōketsuji Family” in its native form.
Perhaps best known is the original Power Instinct for the SNES. It was very much another “me too” Street Fighter clone of the day with a few extras to distinguish itself. In the West, a highly forgotten title for many gamers. I certainly here very few mainstream gamers talking about this series these days.
Anyway, Groove on Fight. Let’s get stuck in. To begin with it’s worth knowing that there are two major Saturn releases of the game. One with the 4mb RAM cartridge, one without. I went for the cheaper option because lets face it I’ve got enough Saturn RAM to support a modern day PC’s needs by now. Also the RAM cartridge edition is now going for silly money online.
You will need that 4mb expansion though to get the best out of the game. Extra frames of animation will add to the smoothness and detail of the fights overall. Out of the box select from 11 playable characters. Each with their own backstory and styling. Groove On Fight is very much a tag team fighter so be sure to select 2 complementary fighters if you can. The character designs here are nothing short of magnificent. You’ve got everything from your traditional martial artists, gothic style sprites, police from the future, cute fighters and witches. Truly, you couldn’t ask for a more diverse roster. Within a minute of booting the disc up the polished tone of the game has been set.
What’s more the characters actually feel very different to play with. The usual payoffs between strength speed and specials are very much alive here. This really is a setup that will appeal to many hard-core fighting fans. It feels instantly familiar yet unique at the same time. So, without spending too long on the fight system it’s worth knowing that this is a typical 6-button setup of strong and weak kicks and punches with the addition of taunts via the left shoulder. The right shoulder will tag your partner in. This is the first element of the game that really starts to build up the need for strategy. Unlike KOF, whilst your team mate is resting they will slowly regain health. So, if you are able to field a more nimble character to drain time and avoid attacks your potentially stronger partner will be recovering. Conversely, if you see the opponent using this tactic, it’s time to move in and apply some pressure.
Next up is the special bar or stress bar as it’s sometimes known. This will fill not only as you defend but also as you land attacks. Overall this makes for an interesting mechanic as it encourages faster more aggressive battles in my opinion. Both of your characters will share this bar so think carefully about which player to tag in and deliver the special for maximum effect. Each fight the game grants you a level 1 special which makes for an intense start to the battle. Here I used my special attack as my opening gambit with Remi. In this case it connected and instantly the opponent was on the back foot. And how about those specials. Here, Remi delivers an organ tune that summons the grim reaper. Quite a special indeed. Or how about Popura and the man eating plant. Yes, there’s certainly a lot going on here if you put in some time learning the ropes.
Don’t fancy a special, well how about just simply picking up a fallen fighter and throw them at your opponent. Yes, it happens. In addition to the specials there’s also the ability to grapple when in close for some decent damage. Then as a kicker how about unblockable moves. Yes, they will wind up slower than Yoshimitsu’s sword impale but will crush your opponent.
The various fighting mechanics alone in Groove On Fight make it one of depth and strategy. It will take some time to appreciate all of the possibilities that can unfold in a fight. The main mode that you will play is obviously the arcade and I have to say it’s all quite standard fare but very well presented. The character designs are excellent and entertaining.
The game even held my attention in the story department despite my less than perfect Japanese language skills. You end up fighting Oume and Otane from the original game. Then it’s you vs. Rudolph Gartheimer.
Then up against the games big bad guy Bristol Weller. Then, wait, your partner turns on you Double Dragon style. I never saw it coming. But then Bristol Devil emerges from Bristol Weller, what the hell is going on?!
So, then he turns your former partner in to a zombie form I guess. Then on to fight Bristol Devil himself. Then, Solis arrives to save the day and we’re off to Vienna for the music recital. Somehow the game really does manage to pack in a really well thought out and entertaining ending. Each end game battle slowly ratcheting up the jeopardy and perhaps one of the better ending scenarios I’ve seen in a fighting game.
You can always then watch the credits roll. Or continue beating them up. It’s your choice.But of course that’s just one of the endings. It could all turn out very differently depending on the character set you choose. As you complete the arcade game with each character you unlock bonus content including development concepts and art for the game. Sketches, alternative plans and general drawing are all on show here. It’s always great to see content like this as it really adds to the story of game collecting overall. I particularly found the early cover concepts an interesting process to see. It’s clear that some of these elements did make their way in to the final physical piece.
In terms of what I’ll call the basic edition you’ll get a well printed manual with all the relevant background, special moves and techniques. A rather well put together piece overall. For the price I would have enjoyed a pull out poster or even a wall chart move list but that’s perhaps just my wishful thinking and always being hungry for more collectables. There is of course the 4mb RAM edition that packs in the extra cartridge at a hefty price premium. The game comes in the larger cardboard sleeve. Overall though there’s not really any extra content so this one is perhaps for those who have quite a bit of extra cash to spend. I was more than happy with the standard release.
So, what we have here is a game with great sprite design. A thumping techno and orchestral soundtrack. Good fight design with a really interesting cast, special moves, tag mechanics, unblockable strikes, throws and grapples. Yes, it’s fair to say that this game is a winner. If you enjoy 2D Saturn Fighters and like what you see here, you are going to take some great enjoyment from this one.
So, on the surface of things you’re probably thinking. I need this game in my collection and you’re probably right. It’s got all the fun of the genre and definitely worth a playthough. The 6-button configuration in particular makes this game an instant winner. But, as you might have guessed it wasn’t a huge hit (otherwise we would all own this one already). Yes, back in 1997 there were simply bigger fish to fry if you collected Japanese fighters on the Sega Saturn. As to whether you should buy this title for your collection now is a very different question to whether the game is good or not.
Here’s the issue. Groove on Fight is trapped in the no man’s land of gaming, the dead zone if you will. This is best illustrated with four of the games closest mainstream rival series of the day. SNK’s KOF, Capcom’s Dark Stalkers, Street Fighter and Marvel series. There were dozens of other fighters but personally these best represent the main rivals of the day. In graphical style I’d have to say that this one is perhaps most similar to the mid-90’s KOF games. If anything KOF just about has the edge in graphical quality but it is close. Before you all go hating on this here’s why. KOF XX tends to have slightly more interesting backdrops in my opinion and the sprite designs also in at least on a par. There’s just more going on in KOF most of the time, particularly in background animation. Of course this is just a personal opinion. Selecting from the shelf in 1997 the latest SNK releases would no doubt have been a clear draw over the unknown Atlas title for many gamers as it was a known quantity. In terms of pick up and play fun, well the Street Fighter Collection surely has to take the prize. Overall more content, instant beat ’em up gratification and lots of depth. For mainstream gamers it’s likely that most would opt for the known quantity of a good haduuken. This doesn’t take away anything from Groove On Fight but for most on a limited budget, rightly or wrongly I believe most gamers of the day would go with Street Fighter option (even though we all have at least 6 copies already).
Then there’s the various other Capcom 2D fighters competing for your attention. If you need know franchises the Marvel line-up is the clear draw for collectors over the relatively unknown lineage of the Power Instinct series. Even at the time, the chance to get your hands on Marvel Vs. Capcom on the 32-bit powerhouse would have cast Groove On Fight in to the background. Similarly I’d also say there’s a fair amount of similarity between Groove On Fight and the Darkstalkers series. At their time of release they were both slightly alternative to the mainstream fighters, there’s the cute characters, the over the top moves sets and specials and of course the dark atmosphere. The games share more than a few similarities. Yet, I’d have to say that Darkstalkers is a bit more excessive. It’s wall to wall exaggerated moves. It really knows what it wants to be and follows through on this throughout the game. You’re left in no doubt what type of game this is, it’s Capcom’s branch of gaming that indulged in over the top family friendly horror.
In Groove On Fight, sure Remi and Popura have some pretty weird and fun animations. Others like Larry though could have been lifted straight out of a more clear cut fighter such as Garou Mark Of The Wolves. At times the over the top moves seem to be a bit of a whispered message. Groove On Fight is neither all out crazy animation such as Darkstalkers, yet nor is it completely on the more grounded and technical side such as a KOF title. This makes the choice all the more difficult for collectors when it comes to collecting Groove on fight, who exactly is the game’s audience?
So, you see Groove on Fight is a game that does a lot of things very well. If it existed in isolation we would all be saying. Wow, the animations are great, the music is superb, the plot engaging and the fight mechanics really add to the genre.
Instead Groove On Fight was born in to an era where there was always a bigger fish stealing its thunder. The things that make it great are the very same things that the better known games took chunks out of it for, piece by piece. What you end up with is a truly unusual situation of having a game that really is excellent in its own right. Yet, never excels in any single area enough to beat off all of the fierce competition of the day.
Simply put, we were spoilt for choice when it came to the Sega Saturn’s Japanese library of fighting games. As such Groove On Fight just seemed to become a title that never really hit the big time back in its day.
Throw in the hefty price tag and the lack of a Western audience and you have an island of a game.
Gosh this episode has gone depressing quickly. So, you’re probably now thinking. Actually, I could just get one of the KOF games and the Street Fighter Collection for the same money and be happy as a Sega Saturn collector. But you’d be wrong. Groove On Fight does offer up a sneaky bonus feature. 4 player action. Granted, not at the same time but you and 3 friends can team up in the same battle via the multitap. Tag a friend in and play together. Stick that up your pipe and smoke it Capcom. In all seriousness though. I obviously did think it was worth shelling out the cash for this one despite already sitting on a pile of Sega Saturn Fighters.
Groove On Fight is different enough to warrant playing and the quality of the build can’t be denied. It feels different to its competitors yet familiar and could be just the game you’re looking for if you’ve mastered the more popular 2D fighters on the Sega Saturn. It may be a bit of a niche game these days and the price point being the games real enemy for collectors. But if you’re either a Sega Saturn fighter enthusiast or a collector of one of the more obscure Atlas titles then Groove on Fight should hit the sweet spot for you.
Groove On Fight is a game that dared to compete with the establishment and does hold its own in terms of quality. It always will be the outsider at the party but in my mind that is perhaps what remains so special and appealing about this game. Until next time, happy gaming.