I still remember the first issue of Sega Saturn Magazine I ever purchased. It was the Feb 1997 edition, emblazoned with incredible cover art of Akira Yuki, and the title ‘Fighters Megamix’ in the corner. A new fighting game from AM2 was just about the most incredible thing that a Sega fan could ask for in ’97 (and in my opinion, it still is), and this was the first sighting of something that would become a very special game in Sega’s history.
Some backstory first: Virtua Fighter 2 (VF2) was the killer app for Sega Saturn, it was a breakthrough game at the arcades and at home, with a phenomenal port from the coding geniuses at AM2. Fighting Vipers (FV) was AM2’s radically different fighting game, providing a different experience with an over the top flair. It was the ‘Marvel’ to Virtua Fighters ‘Street Fighter’.
The idea of a crossover between these two titans of the Sega world was incredibly tantalising, and AM2, as ever, did not disappoint.
The first thing that has to be addressed about this game is its staggeringly large roster. The game was originally conceived by the developers as a celebration of AM2’s glittering fighting game achievements, in fact a working title for the game was ‘Fighting Festival’.
Not only did they include the entire cast of VF2 and FV, but the game also included a number of bizarre and wonderful unlockable characters, all celebrating AM2’s catalogue of games, not only their fighting ones.
Characters were included from all walks of AM2 franchises, Janet from Virtua Cop, Rent-a-Hero, and perhaps most famously, Hornet from Daytona USA. If you know how to trigger it, there is even an Afterburner cameo, where the original sprite of the fighter jet will scream overhead at the start of a round.
Before getting into the secret characters, a very special mention has to be made of the VF cast in Fighters Megamix. At the time of Fighters Megamix’s release in December 1996, VF2 had been on the Saturn for some time. Virtua Fighter 3, meanwhile had released only a few months earlier into arcades. One of the biggest draws for Fighters Megamix to Virtua Fighter fans was the fact that the entire Virtua Fighter cast had most of their movelist taken directly from the arcade-exclusive VF3! This was the first time anyone could practice and try out VF3 moves in the comfort of their home. This also heaped fuel on the raging fires of rumours that VF3 was secretly in development for Sega Saturn (something that sadly, never eventuated).
More than just a novelty, there were some genuinely cool additions to the roster that could be unlocked by finishing the games several ‘trial’ single player modes.
Most notable from a VF fan’s perspective were the additions of Siba and Janet;
Siba, for those who don’t know, was the original main character of Virtua Fighter during it’s formative days in development and pre-release. He even was featured in some very early arcade cabinet art alongside the rest of the cast (many having their pre-release names). He was eventually replaced as the face of the game by Akira Yuki, and to this day Fighter’s Megamix is the only game where you can play as Siba. He has a very limited moveset in Fighters Megamix, but is notable for having a ‘low poly’ alternative costume (as he would have looked in VF1), and for the use of his sword as an unblockable attack. This is the only time a weapon has been used by the Virtua Fighter cast in any game. I still hold out hope that he’ll return in a future VF title (minus his sword), as I think he’s got a great design.
It's worth noting that recently, Siba was unlocked through some hacking as a playable character in VF1. Check out the video here to see the original (albeit in a very rough form) Siba;
Secondly was Janet ‘Hubcabs’ Marshall from the incredible genre defining light gun game, Virtua Cop 2. What could have been a very limited character cameo from an unrelated game turned out to be one of the best additions to the cast. As previously mentioned, Fighters Megamix featured movelists heavily taken from VF3. The issue with this is the two new characters, Aoi and Taka Arashi did not exist in VF2 or Fighters Megamix yet. As an extra special treat to the fans, Janet used Aoi’s VF3 move-set, making her one of the most well rounded cast members in the game and a chance to preview a character that had never been available before. More than this, Janet took advantage of the FV ‘armour’ system, and fitting with her character, her police body armour could be broken off like other FV character’s armour! Last and certainly not least, being from the Virtua Cop series, Janet had one brand new move that wasn’t taken from VF3; the use of her police-issue handgun! Janet could fire her pistol up to three times in quick succession (all shots being high, unblockable and linear) before having to reload. And this is the best bit, because on the third shot, you would get the Virtua Cop announcer yell out ‘RELOAD’ just like in the arcade game. A small touch that went a long, long way for Sega fans.
Of course, the most talked about secret character was Hornet. Almost every conversation about Fighters Megamix results in someone referring to it as ‘the fighting game where you can use a car’.
Literally the car from the immortal arcade classic Daytona USA, Hornet was a fantastically fun addition to the game. Fighting on his rear tires, with his front tires acting as fists, the car had a very limited move set… or so it seemed. Again, utilising the armour system from FV, by losing the ‘armour’ on the car (in this case, it’s body panelling), the car gained it’s ‘true’ move-set! Using the high impact style of Bahn from FV, the car could now use a full range of kung fu and brawling strikes, perhaps most devastatingly, a full body-check! Perhaps the best part about this was that he came with his own walled stage in the middle of the 777 Speedway from Daytona USA, complete with the ‘Rolling Start’ theme from the track, including the classic Mitsuyoshi vocals!
STAGES & MUSIC
While stages seem relatively minor to most fighting games, Fighters Megamix has some vert note-worthy features when it comes to this department. Not only is it another way for the game to include some call-outs to AM2 and their history, but they actually had an important impact on the gameplay.
First and foremost – there are no Ring-Outs in Fighters Megamix. Owing to the over the top style of fighting lifted from FV, the game now features walled stages (which also meant the new & various wall-throws from VF3 could be incorporated) and ‘endless’ stages.
Walled stages had been a feature of FV in the past, but it was all new to the VF community, introducing the now staple wall combos to the game. A bit of an odd addition, never seen before in either Virtua Fighter or Fighters Megamix, were the ‘endless’ stages. The most notable of these was another inclusion from VF3, the Desert Stage (now serving, quite fittingly, as Siba’s stage). In a cool twist, all the stages from VF2 were transformed into ‘endless stages’, where two combatants would be fighting without the ring or any walls. The one exception to this rule: Wolf’s VF2 stage retained the ‘cage’ from the arcade version, but more than just an aesthetic feature it now was a fully functional walled stage.
It’s worth noting some of the special unlockable stages that were included as well. Sarah’s VF1 stage (a spectacular neon lit rooftop on a sky scraper) returned as a walled stage (with destroyable neon signs) complete with the VF1 theme song. Jeffry’s VF3 theme song returned as the default ‘Training Stage’ music, and even a stage or two from Sonic: The Fighters made its way along. The name entry screen music was taken directly from Outrun!
A quick note about the soundtrack; Seeing as I’ve heaped praise on the game for including tracks from their other games, it’s only right that I point out the excellent original music in Fighters Megamix.
At the end of each single player ‘Trail’ the player would be rewarded with CG portraits of characters from the game, as well as an original track for each play through. These tracks, composed by the legendary Takenobu Mitsuyoshi (a legend of the industry, and composer for Daytona USA & Virtua Fighter 2 amongst others) are worthy of being praised with AM2’s finest, from the impending, brooding ‘Boss’ soundtrack, to the upbeat and celebrative ‘Secret’ track, each time the game was completed felt like a celebration as you awaited some new music from Sega’s vault.
Going into the release of this game, the primary concern for Sega Saturn Magazine was ‘Is this going to be the VF2 killer?’. VF2 was the highest rated game in the magazine’s history, and widely regarded as one of, if not the best game available on the Sega Saturn. Could AM2 perform a near -miracle and best their own game?
Fighters Megamix had a lot going for it, the entire roster of two combined games, brand new stage types and the addition of VF3 move lists. The thing is, even when you put the game into ‘Virtua Fighter Mode’, the game just didn’t play quite like the VF we know and love. The game was still more over the top than the main-stay fighter, and was more in line with FV, while still being its own beast (the game was ranked #5 in Sega Saturn Magazine's 'Top 50 Saturn Games' at the time of their Feb 1998 issue. Virtua Fighter 2 was #1.)
The game had some very unique features by combining the two fighting styles. Notably, the armour system extended as we saw earlier to Janet’s body armour and Hornet’s Chassis, but most interestingly, it also applied to Shun’s gourd, and Siba’s sword! Yes, under the right circumstances, you could actually destroy Shun’s drinking gourd and stop him from gaining further drinks!
The general consensus on the game was that it just wasn’t as polished or overall as quality a fighting game as VF2. It didn’t even use the Saturn’s ‘high-res’ mode (something that was very jarring for myself going from VF2 to Fighters Megamix the first time. The game looks considerably less crisp and lacking in detail compared to AM2’s earlier efforts.).
The game though, still shines very brightly on its own merits. It is very much a unique title in Sega’s fighting game line-up, which means it deserves a place on any Saturn owner’s shelf right next to their copies of VF2 and FV. Fighters Megamix was never intended a replacement for Virtua Fighter, and the best way to describe it comes back to its original concept; a celebration of AM2 and a ‘fighting festival’. The game is truly a joy to play, unlocking increasingly strange characters, playing gloriously ridiculous matches with friends and using (and abusing) the game’s unique mechanics that neither Virtua Fighter nor FV can provide.