Savage Reign (MVS)
by Dan Elektro
Brilliant. Gorgeous. Poetic. Touching. Savage Reign is none of these. Whereas fighting games like The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, and Last Blade drink deeply from the SNK fountain, Savage Reign gargles.
Fuun-ken. Read it again, and say it out loud. "Fuuuuuuuun-kennnnnn." It's an original melding of traditional martial arts and--now, try not to snicker--the boomerang. That's the core of Savage Reign's "story," as Hayate, master of Fuun-ken, takes on King Lion. Why? Don't know. But he does, and he somehow ropes eight other folks into beating the hell out of each other in the process. Among the ten total combatants are Gordon, the portly policeman who must have seen Street Fighter and said, "Zangief looks HOT!"; Mezu and Gozu, matching masked men who must have seen Mortal
Kombat and said, "Palette-swapped ninjas are COOL!"; Eagle, the wanna-be American Gladiator with the tacky star-spangled outfit to match (Eagle...American...get it? GET IT?); Joker, the clown prince of absolutely nothing; and Carol, the game's token female and pink-ball-packing rhythmic gymnast. Read it again, and say it out loud. "Rhythmic gymnast." Yes, in a fighting game. Since these other characters apparently lack the skill and discipline it takes to wield a boomerang in battle, each carries their own trinket of destruction--the Discus of Death, the Cane of Flames, and so
on. And when they meet in such melodramatic arenas as the Dock of Darkness and the Palace of Fun...look out! It's corny, it's cheesy, and that's it's main appeal. Did I mention that Carol pulls a never-ending supply of gymnastic balls out of her hairdo?
Gameplay & Control: 7/10
Savage Reign borrows the two-line fighting concept from Fatal Fury, but attempts to add a twist: The fighters don't just step out of the way, but leap to higher ground with a bad blur effect. This is slightly cool, particularly in the street fight, where characters hang from a bamboo scaffold between rooftops, but coming a full five years after Fatal Fury, the concept of switching and attacking between planes is nothing new. Some backgrounds, like the amusement park, are interactive; stay too long on the go-kart track in the rear plane and a car will come to knock you down. I found pulling off weapon attacks a bit tricky, but at least the button layout is familiar, similar to Real Bout Fatal Fury's.
The backgrounds are a weird combination of high detail and low resolution. Some are slightly animated--similar in style to what Capcom was doing at the time--but they definitely don't shine. The characters lack, well, character, and the camera zooming effects as players hop between planes isn't distracting but doesn't really help either.
Cheesy games deserve cheesy music. Savage Reign is amply rewarded with forgettable tunes that try to be high-octane rockers yet fail. The announcer sounds a bit like Gary Owens, from the old TV show Laugh-In. It's not him,
but man, that would be appropriate. Unfortunately, the characters don't speak their wonderfully goofy text taunts.
Replay Value: 4/10
You can only take so much of this for so long. The novelty wears off fast, and when it does, so does most of the yearning to play. There are combos and special moves to master, of course, but it's not a question of mechanics--it's a question of desire.
Savage Reign is to your MVS collection what Street Fighter: The Movie is to your DVD collection. It's bad, and you know it's bad, but you keep it anyway, if only to show to friends when they come over so it can be communally bad--you can all share in the silliness. It's not a horrible game--if you've got fighting skills, you'll be able to show them here--and it's certainly good for a laugh now and then. Even though SNK should have known better by 1995, if you can celebrate its goofiness, Savage Reign is worth holding onto. But if you're less amused by aso-bad-it's-good-well-okay- you're-right-it-is-kinda-bad-after-all
fighter, you could pick up a game with much deeper and broader appeal--one of the first two Samurai Shodowns, or even a loose cart of Last Blade--for about the same price of a Savage Reign. Of course, neither Nakoruru nor Yuki wields a pink rhythmic gymnastics ball...