Like a dozen other arcade games from Konami, there's several different versions of Crime Fighters. If nothing else defined arcade Konami games, it was making changes to them for different regions. Unlike most of their other games however, it's not the differences found between the Japanese and World versions you need to watch out for- there are changes that we'll get to later- but instead you need to pay attention to the differences between the two and four-player versions. We'll be covering those changes in-depth at the end, but this means our review is based on the Japanese two-player version, better known as the least terrible version. And yet we still gave it 1 star out of 5. That's a sign, right?

If you're clever, you've already clocked that I've given Crime Fighters a score of just one star.

I didn't do this lightly, mind you. On paper this game sounds like a typical average scrolling brawler, even something I'd be into!

Unfortunately, Crime Fighters was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Specifically, Konami's early entry in the scrolling brawler genre (albeit not their first- The Adventures of Bayou Billy / Mad City on the NES / Famicom came out about 6 months beforehand) was released in April 1989, just half a year before Capcom's massive Final Fight, which blew away both Crime Fighters and all the other scrolling brawler misfits of the time, including Ninja Gaiden / Shadow Warriors and P.O.W. - Prisoners of War (the only exception to this rule is apparently Golden Axe, natch). The strange years between Double Dragon and Final Fight have already been discussed on Gaming Hell at length with games like P.O.W. and Dynamite Düx, but Crime Fighters was one of the later games released during this period (although you could easily be fooled in thinking it came earlier) and boy, is it rough... And this is coming from someone who likes Renegade. As the designated Crime Fighter of your town (with up to either two or four players total depending on the version) you have to hit the streets in order to rescue the ladies- not just one damsel in distress here, but just like Avengers there's a whole bevy, a big bunch of beautiful babes, kidnapped by the local crime boss and your job is to set them free!

Oh, and clean up the streets while you're at it. If you want, like. No rush.

As with several of these scrolling brawler misfits from the same period, Crime Fighters borrows liberally from the Double Dragon playbook (it even uses blocks of health rather than a meter) albeit with smaller sprites and a more limited move-set. The version we're playing for this review has three buttons- Punch (which also uses weapons), Kick (also used for knocking enemies while they're down, an essential skill) and Back-Kick (this attacks behind you, like Renegade, and leads to a useful combo string)- and jumping is done by pressing Punch and Kick together (with either a knee or flying leg kick attack to go with it). Aside from throws and grabs (which seem to work when they feel like it- throws happen after punch combos, grabs after kick combos) that's your whole moveset. The attacks on downed opponents (which also includes using a gun on them if you can hold onto it long enough) are the sole feather in this game's cap, moves-wise, and it helps that they're inherently satisfying. Fortunately, the limited move-set is softened by a decent array of weapons (knives, lead pipes, guns and certain environmental traps) and they're plentiful- specific enemy types (like the bandanna punks who look like they've walked off the set of The Warriors) will always drop specific weapons, so there's little shortage of them. That sounds great until you realise they drop so often because one hit and they disappear forever. Once you get your hands on a knife you'd better hang onto it like your life depends on it, because it does.

Sounds pretty much like your common brawler, doesn't it? However, the Crime Fighters experience is, to indulge in a little hyperbole if I may, excruciating. Even by the slow-mo standards set by Double Dragon (seriously go and play that game now and see if you can hear the hardware screeching for mercy when the slowdown kicks in) Crime Fighters is one hell of a slow game- your character plods along at his own lethargic pace (not good when trying to out-manoeuvre enemies) and the pacing on each stage is awful. The second you meet a crowd of more than two enemies, unless you have a weapon it's going to be a long drawn-out affair, with your sorry ass kissing the floor more often than not. You will be beaten black and blue by this game! Your Crime Fighter's punches have crap range, his kicks are slow to come out, his back-kick is awkward to do in a pinch, and the collision detection (ha!) is in the computer's favour almost all the time- try and land a jump kick, and you'll usually sail into your opponent who gets out unscathed as they give you the business end of their fists or their pipe [Ooh, matron - Ed]. Even worse, you get almost no invincibility when getting up, so you can find yourself knocked straight back down with no recourse. It doesn't help that the fighting is as loose as anything- it never feels like you're actually hitting anyone (except when you're kicking 'em while they're down, now that feels like something) and this is only made worse by the collision detection. Admittedly, this is something that Konami brawlers would honestly struggle to address even with plenty of iterations on the formula, but that's a story for another day. The boss battles are the worst offenders for this lack of oomph, as you can't even knock them down- you can only stun them, so no attack you make on them feels safe at all, you'll get clobbered as soon as you land a punch. There's absolutely no satisfaction here, just constant frustration as you fumble your way through each brawl, desperately trying to get knocked down as few times as possible.

These flaws make the game a real drag at times, and more importantly, suck the fun out of beating dudes up. This is something that a few other games at the time had problems with (I couldn't get on with Ninja Gaiden / Shadow Warriors for similar reasons) but Crime Fighters suffers from it the most. People often criticise other brawlers for being drawn-out slogs (this isn't entirely unwarranted in a few cases- pacing is a delicate balancing act in the genre) but those people should play Crime Fighters to see what that kind of thing really feels like. It is the ultimate brawler slog, with every group of thugs taking an eternity to defeat and while the game takes about an hour and a half to beat the first loop, it felt like forever. That's too long for a brawler anyway! It might be easy to say it's no fun because it's so difficult (did I not mention that? You are going to die!) but the problem is, unlike legitimately difficult games like Splatterhouse, it feels like there's no proper strategy for success against the groups of enemies. There are some strategies- making sure never to scroll too many enemies on-screen at once, holding onto weapons for dear life, and indeed the only time it really feels like a proper brawler is when you have a weapon to hand (the knife makes the right sound effects)- but they're still no guarantee, and weapons get knocked away so quickly and mercilessly in this game that it becomes a real struggle. The loose controls and the feeling of helplessness against big gangs (crowd control attacks? Forget it, you don't have any!) make the game, dare I say it, not fun. I can usually enjoy even the most average of brawlers (hello, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon!) but Crime Fighters has to be the dullest arcade brawler I've made it to the end of.

The thing is... I really wanted to like it.

Much like Tomoyo Fighter Perfect (which was at least half-decent to begin with) I want to like Crime Fighters because there's a handful of elements embedded here that are the kind of thing I love in other scrolling brawlers... Albeit not enough to save it. The graphics aren't quite of Final Fight calibre but the city it's set in looks like an absolute dump, with crazy, colourful graffiti splattered all over the place. There's some nice touches of humour, like the 'ARE YOU COVERED?' insurance billboard with a half-naked woman on it that can fall down and squish anyone unlucky to be passing by, steamrollers that flatten your poor Crime Fighter Looney Tunes-style, the animation where enemies clutch their groin after a short sharp thwack to the goolies (the same can happen to you!) and the final 'boss' who pulls out a machine gun if you grab the keys to the cell holding the babes before knocking him out. The enemies themselves range from the standard (plenty of green mohawk dudes) to the strange (the greaser dudes constantly adjusting their hair) to the flat-out plagiarised (Jason Vorhees and Freddy Kreuger are all bosses, and one guy does the pose from the poster for Platoon when he carks it). To top it all off, the soundtrack is chock full of the standard (i.e. LOUD) Konami arcade sounds that I adore, with the Stage 1 and boss fight tunes being real highlights.

When these kind of elements find their way into any other scrolling brawler, I'm all over it like a disgusting fist-fighting rash. I think it's pretty obvious that I like my video games to be over-the-top and ridiculous, as that's when I feel they're at their strongest (see also: The Outfoxies, the entire Contra series, etc.) and so all this great stuff in Crime Fighters makes me want to like it so much. It's damn-near charming! Unfortunately, it's not nearly good enough for that. It's a laborious slog, a badly-paced brawler where every you just hope the next gang of dudes you fight is the last for this stage, and it's just boring. Even among the scrolling brawler misfits of the time, it's easily the dullest (I'd much rather be playing P.O.W.), and it's pretty telling that, at points, I had to pause and do something more constructive (read a book, practise my knitting, etc.) for a while before going back to it- had this been in a real arcade, I would've just walked away from the machine, and that's rare. While the game's sequel, Vendetta, is a massive improvement in every way, Crime Fighters is the poster child, the ultimate example of this weird little era in gaming where the scrolling brawler was still trying to find its feet... And that's not a compliment.

I think it's only fitting to end this look at Crime Fighters with this.

The boss rush after the credits.

You have to fight the eight standard bosses, all at once, before the game loops again.

All I'll say here is, I don't normally fully give up on a game before I get a proper game over, but...

For being worse than P.O.W. - Prisoners of War, Crime Fighters is awarded...

In a sentence, Crime Fighters is...
Unlucky. And pretty terrible.

And now, it's that time, folks!

First, you may have noticed there's been no mention of any home port here.

That's because, like many Konami arcade brawlers that weren't Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there wasn't one! Until...

2021. Yes, a whole thirty-two years after its initial release, Crime Fighters got a home port for Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 courtesy of Hamster and their Arcade Archives series of arcade reissues. This comes with the standard suite of options now expected for these releases- four versions of the game (Japanese and International versions of the two-player and four-player versions), a Hi Score Mode (get the highest score on one single credit) and a Caravan Mode (you have only five minutes of gameplay to get the highest score possible) with online leaderboards for all modes, plus a few basic visual options and filters, dip-switches, a manual and so on. These releases tend to be bare-bones, but I'd take their competent emulation over something catastrophically broken, and testing this one it seems fine (the music may sound a little faster than the sound rips on YouTube or in MAME, but it is confirmed to be accurate on actual boards. So if you want to play Crime Fighters at home for, uh, some reason, there you are, go wild.

OK, here's the big one! Version differences. Let's get down to it, shall we?

First, the differences between the four-player and two-player versions, and oh boy are there a lot.

Most of these differences can be found in the ever-useful MAME history.dat and arcade-history, but here they are in a convenient table:

Two-Player Version Four-Player Version
Health is shown as blocks, like Double Dragon Health is shown as a number, like Gauntlet
Your health only decreases when you're hit In addition to decreasing when hit, your health steadily decreases over time
A credit counter is shown on-screen at all times No credit counter is shown in-game
You cannot insert additional coins to increase your health Inserting additional coins during gameplay increases your health
You have a set number of lives (default is two per credit) You have no extra lives- once your health number reaches zero you must continue
Three buttons - Punch, Kick, Back-Kick Two buttons - Punch and Kick. The back-kick is used when you press Kick while enemies are behind you
The back-kick has its own combo that will knock down after several hits The back-kick knocks down after a single hit
Guns have infinite ammo, do minimal damage, knock down after several hits and disappear when knocked out your hand Guns have limited ammo, do massive damage, knock down after one hit and can be grabbed again when knocked out of your hand
The game has a time limit, when it runs out you lose a life The game has no timer beyond the steadily-decreasing health
You only play the boss rush in the first loop, you can't do it on the second loop You can play the boss rush in both the first and second loops
Player 2 is black with red trousers. Player 2 is white with yellow trousers. Player 4 is black with red trousers.
- The game's difficulty has been increased- the default Normal setting is harder with more resilient enemies

Just like XEXEX, the changes made to the four-player version make the game far more, ahem, 'arcade operator friendly', and by that I mean they want you to sink a lot of coins into this machine. Unlike XEXEX, the changes to Crime Fighters make a bad game even worse. I may have been ragging on a bit about this game being a bit of a slog normally, but the four-player version drags things out even more (you really notice the hike in difficulty quick) and makes your death far more, shall we say, inevitable. If you're going to play this thing at all, please make it the two-player version, for the sake of your health. Don't think having three buddies will make things any easier!

Next, the differences between the Japanese and International (US / World in MAME) versions. There's just a few little edits here and there...

From left to right, here's what's changed...
* From Stage 2 onwards in the Japanese version, you'll be attacked by leather-clad enemies, pictured above, who will try and grab you when they get close- they're excised from all other versions of the game (the exact same thing happened to a similar enemy in Vendetta / Crime Fighters 2).
* Also in Stage 2, there's several adverts in the train that are animated. While the adverts weren't removed, one of them- the one shown above with a women's lovingly-crafted posterior, is only animated in the Japanese version. Presumably pulling her swimsuit tight was considered a touch too risqué for the rest of the world.
* In Stage 6, the dating service ad with the lips will only lick you in the Japanese version.

Additionally, one credit is worth 110 HP in the International 4 Player version, 200 in the Japanese 4-Player version.

Yep, this is how it always ends. Dead in the train station, surrounded by punks.

What other bad brawlers could we do? Burning Fight? Nah, maybe not.