When my worker drone handed this particular article to me, he kept muttering 'Never again... Never again...' while shivering profusely. After I injected him with the horse tranquiliser to calm him down (it's becoming a habit with him) I got the full story out of him- Saturn emulation these days is, to put it lightly, pretty shitty. As such, the screenshots he gave to me (which I've had to change into .jpegs, ugh) took hours to get when, normally, it'd only take about ten minutes. So, bear that in mind while you're reading this. He'll thank you for it. However, through the power of science, you can click nearly every picture here to get to see a better, bigger, less-looking-like-ass snapshot. So click, damn you. Click like your life depends on it... Because maybe it does.

Remember when Sega were totally awesome and in-your-face? I miss those days. Back when Sega were in the console market game, they were ballsy. They had what I like to call moxie. They said and did stuff no-one else had the guts to do. Genesis DOES what Nintendon't. BLAST PROCESSING. Welcome to the Next Level. Sony Sucks and Sega rules, period. More importantly, this was the Sega that brought the blue skies experience, and aggressively so (they still do that from time to time- I'm pretty sure Project DIVA counts as a blue skies game). This was the Sega that brought us the most relaxing driving game ever made, OutRun... The Sega that delivered the epic (that's using the word properly) adventure Shenmue... The Sega that re-wrote the book on fighting games with Virtua Fighter... Oh, wait, hold on a second! All of those games are from Sega AM2, the best Research and Development department in the world!

Yes, Sega AM2, the guys who brought you Daytona USA, Super Hang-On, After Burner II, Space Harrier, Virtua Cop, Rent-a-Hero... I don't think I really need to go on anymore. There are a few video game developers out there- some deserving, some perhaps less so- that I will gleefully champion at any opportunity (including but not limited to Taito and Data East) and Sega AM2 is top of that list. This is mostly because their area of expertise is in the arcade- that's the way I like my games- and games like GHOST Squad and OutRun exemplify that arcade spirit their games possess- I mean, this is the team that created Daytona USA. The most successful coin-op ever made. You don't get much better than that. Their games are almost always blue sky games, they are almost always well-designed and finely-honed, and they are almost always bloody fun to play. They're still supporting arcade-style gaming to this day with releases like Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown and After Burner Climax, and in a nutshell, if you see that little palm tree logo, you know you're in for a good time.

... OK, alright, I'm being a little over-the-top, but let me, just for a moment! Anyway, with all that said, there's one thing Sega AM2 need to do. They're pretty good for bringing back dead franchises here and there- in recent years, we've had revivals of Virtua Cop, After Burner, and of course, OutRun (helped by Sumo Digital for the home ports) but, of all their works, they've still yet to go back to one of my personal favourites, all the way from 1995. Since then, there's been one sequel, one two re-releases, and that's it. What game am I talking about? Well, hopefully you've figured it out by now. But if not...

Enter... The Vipers!
The Fighting Vipers!

According to the (abysmally translated) instruction manual...

Hyper-adrenal combatants in full-body armour, battling night and day in back alley rings - only such young urban warriors as these have earned the right to be called VIPERS...

Now, in Armstone City, the mayor has formally announced a fighting tournament on a grand scale, with the final bout to be held atop the staggering City Tower in the centre of town.

With City Tower as their ultimate goal, eight young VIPERS start down the path to victory, a path to which only one will see the end...

Erm, yes, there you go then. Hyper-adrenal combatants indeed!

Released in 1995 then given an excellent Saturn conversion in 1996 (the version our review is based on) Fighting Vipers is the slightly weird sibling of Virtua Fighter 2, and so it shouldn't be surprising that it shares the same fundamental principles- it's a one-on-one fighter with three buttons, Punch, Kick, and Guard, the uses of which should be obvious. Also like VF2, there aren't any fireballs or ridiculous super-powers here; they're entirely absent, as are Street Fighter-esque joystick motions for special moves- both VF2 and FV rely more on strings of button inputs to form combos and combining buttons (P+G for a grab, G+K for a strong kick, etc.). At the moment, this all seems pretty familiar, but before I go into the changes that FV makes to the VF formula, I really need to talk about the characters, as they're probably the defining trait of the game.

You see, what Fighting Vipers truly excels at is gloriously silly, over the top character design. The original cast of 8 characters (let's ignore the secret ones for a second) absolutely scream 'we're from the 90s!', complete with gaudy colour schemes, ridiculous armour, and the sorts of bells n' whistles that would make the cast of your average anime jealous. Despite this, all the characters seem to have this odd charm- you know they're over-the-top but you can't help but like them all the same. They're definitely more out-there and brash than the cast of VF (well, VF2 at least, with the possible exception of Jacky 'MY NAME IS JACKY BRYANT' Bryant). To demonstrate my point, there's an in-depth look at the cast below. If you can't be arsed with that, then click here hide the profiles and get on with the review (and click again to reveal it once more).

The first character on the select screen is also one of the more normal-looking. Grace wanted to be an ice-skating champion but was betrayed and she's now a fashion model according to the manual, and so she fights in rollerblades. I'm sure these two facts are connected somehow. Anyway, something that should be obvious from the fact that she's even wearing rollerblades in the first place is that her trademark attacks all involve her feet- she possesses some absolute vicious kicking combos, with the most notable being her 5-hit sweep combo, but she's also got a load of other variations on the theme. Her attacks are also incredibly fast, but not really that strong, though. She's not terribly interesting otherwise.

Despite not being listed first on the character select screen, Bahn is the Ryu of this game, the Akira, the Jago; whatever you want to call him, he's the typical wandering martial arts guy. Hilariously, the manual says that his self-given nickname is (wait for it) Genghis Bahn the 3rd. Ha ha ha! Anyway, being the token tough martial arts dude, he's strong with average speed, and he focuses on his punches. When used against the computer, he can also be a bit broken- holding forward and mashing P like no tomorrow will pretty much destroy the computer opponents on quite a few of the difficulty settings. Using it on a real-life opponent, however, is not advised, unless you want to take the violence out of the game and into the real world.

Raxel is very obviously Axl Rose an extremely original character design which is clearly not inspired by anyone famous in the least, and in particular, he certainly isn't based on a rock 'n roll band front-man who was popular during the 90s. This is because he's clearly based on the hair-metal bands of the 80s. Clearly. Joining in the scuffle for fame and glory, Raxel fancies himself the protégé of Pete Townshend of The Who, as he uses his guitar as a weapon for many of his moves. Needless to say, it's quite powerful, although using it too much makes it start to flash- if your enemy hits you hard enough, it'll be smashed into pieces. That's all Raxel's got going for him, aside from a few nasty sweep kicks and a spinning piledriver that would make Mike Haggar jealous.

Oh, wait, I'm sorry, did I call Grace the most normal-looking character in the game? I'm mistaken- that accolade goes to Tokio here, at least when it comes to character design. He's just a pretty boy with a kabuki actor for a dad who used to be in a gang called Black Thunder (ha ha ha are you serious) until he left, and that's literally all there is to him. He's here for the ladies, you see. Nice to see that AM2 made sure to include some eye-candy for the women too- he has a habit of taking his shirt off for the portrait pictures (he does it here and in Fighters Megamix) and, outside that, there's little to say. Oh, yeah, his speciality is his wide array of combos- starting with a single kick, he can do choose from a nice variety of fast-but-weak combo attacks. He's also one of the most popular characters, according to polls taken at the time. Odd.

Enter Sanman! Who is this strange dude? No-one knows, and he ain't talking. All we know is that he's obsessed with motorbikes and the number 3 for some strange reason (it's a pun, 'san' is Japanese for three, ohohoho). To quote the manual, 'Sanman lets his fists do the rest of the talking for him' so let's leave it at that. He's the 'tank' of the game, as his moves are slow, but he packs a mean punch, and he's got a wide variety of throws which can do some heavy damage, although the nastier ones require precise timing to pull off. Some may say he's not worth bothering with because he attacks so slowly, but he's got enough strength to make up for it, and even his standard throw is pretty powerful. Tied with Honey for the character I play best with. Amusingly enough, he shares a few moves with Honey, specifically her butt attack... Ahahahahaha!

Wh-wh-wh-what?! Heavens to Betsy, it's Private Vasquez from Aliens a female character in a fighting game that isn't of the fast-but-weak category, and isn't defined by her sex appeal! Could Fighting Vipers be a convention-breaking game in this regard? Well, not really, but Jane's still one of the more interesting characters of this colourful bunch, sporting some really heavy armour to fight in. She's joined the tournament because she was literally too tough for the navy, and she wants to prove her strength. Her immense power is proof enough, I would've thought... Obviously, she's in the slow-but-strong-attacks category, and as well as her vicious punch attacks, she's got a few multi-chain throws at her disposal, which usual centre around kicking her opponent in the goolies. Nice.

Ah. The requisite knicker-flashing schoolgirl character, the manual says she's 'usually quiet and shy, but when she puts on the rubber dress she made herself - watch out!' Yeah, quiet and shy, sure thing, Sega. Anyway, she's apparently here to advertise her fashion line. She's blatantly in this game for the perverts in the audience. Known as Candy in the UK/US versions (I've kept it as Honey to be consistent) she is completely ridiculous. Her gaudy, over-the-top red plastic costume has bloody fairy wings on it and she seems to think she's a cat. Hence the 'cat punch' speciality. Her other attacks include distracting the enemy by tickling them (?!), lunging at them with her butt, and crawling between their legs. Naturally, her attacks are fast but weak, but that goes without saying. Incidentally, she's the other character I'm good with, mostly because she's good at juggling and keeping the enemy on their toes. I don't play as her for, uh, other reasons, I promise.

The youngest Viper, Picky is also in the fast-but-weak camp, has an annoying voice, and is almost entirely insufferable. Unlike the rest of the cast who are genuinely charming (how can you not love Sanman?) he is the fist of crap 90s 'cool' punching you in square in the jaw repeatedly (unlike the other characters who are too cool for the 90s) and for some reason he just annoys me. Possibly because his AI is kinda vicious at times. Oh, sorry, I guess I should talk about him. Described as a 'skate rat' who only started skating to impress a girl called Kathryn, he's joined the tournament because it's cooler than skateboarding. Like the little cheater he is, he's brought a weapon with him- his skateboard. Using it too much makes it weak, just like Raxel's guitar, so the enemy can smash it. If you're smart, though, you won't use Picky- in my experience he's a difficult character to play as because he's so weak. Don't do it.

If the characters indicate something about this game, it's that it wants to be over-the-top, and there's a few wrinkles added to the VF formula for such a purpose. For one, each character wears armour, which you can knock off as the fight progresses- there's a little Armour Status picture next to each player's life bar, and when a part of it starts to flash (either the top of the bottom), you can destroy that part of the armour with the right attack. When they're without it, the Vipers are more vulnerable (and more likely to catch a cold) so they'll take a lot more damage. Furthermore, breaking the armour is accompanied by an awesome snapping sound effect and a quick mid-game replay from multiple angles. It sounds... Painful. Some might find this feature a bit worthless, but it adds more than you'd think to proceedings- those on the attack can focus their attacks on the top/bottom of their enemy, and those on the defense have to outright avoid attacks rather than simply block them, otherwise they'll be stripped of their armour and become very vulnerable. In particular, it's important to learn the properties of armour-smashing attacks- some of them will have priority over other attacks, so you can use them to get an enemy to lay off you.

There's also the fact that the Vipers participate in cage matches, something that would show up in later instalments of Virtua Fighter. Every arena in the game has walls, with no escape for either combatant. Needless to say, this means you can basically pin your enemy to the wall and smack them silly against it, but you can also use special throws that utilise the wall, jump off the wall to get out of the corner, and some characters can even climb up them to drop-kick their opponent. It adds a really nice claustrophobic feel to the game, something that wasn't really present in other games in the genre at the time, and again, adds another sliver of strategy to proceedings (mostly along the lines of 'get out of the corner/get your opponent there instead', facillitated by the fact that the right moves/jumping off the wall will get you out the corner). Also, using the right attack to finish your opponent off can either smash the wall entirely, or sling them on top of the wall to let 'em dangle, as a nice touch.

That's all well and good, but these changes are all window-dressing compared to the one big change from VF that hurts it. The first thing you'll notice is that the 'unique' moves for each character is quite noticeably reduced, and they all share a large pool of moves, such as rolling sawbutts and throws- the VF series prides itself on basing its characters fighting styles on real martial arts, and rightly so, but FV doesn't have any of that, meaning there's less places to draw moves from, I suppose, which leads to this problem. Each character does have their own 'feel', as it were, but they share a hell of a lot more. On the one hand, this means that the game has a fighting system that's easy to get to grips with and that, unlike VF, it's easier to apply what you learn playing as one character to another rather than essentially having to re-learn the game. On the other, the cast isn't as diverse as it could be in terms of play-styles, or at least not as diverse as VF. Probably because of this, the game isn't as revered as its sibling series, although if you look in the right places you'll still find some fans of the game. One feeling I got (mostly from reading reviews of Fighters Megamix) is that many feel FV is dumbed-down from VF. It totally is, of course, but I don't see it as a huge disadvantage, because if you're not in the fighting scene and don't have any high-level opponents to play against, Fighting Vipers is there for you- it's easy to learn, and not too hard to master either.

Besides, there's one area where FV definitely has the upper hand- it goes at a rate of knots. Elements such as its exaggerated physics that cause characters to get sent all the way across the arena and mid-air recovery (press P+K+G in mid-air to recover, which means you won't land on the floor in a crumpled heap) mean that the game is very fast-paced, more so than its closest cousin, VF2. This isn't poetry in motion or anything graceful- it's fast, flashy stuff where, more often than not, the fighters are literally bouncing off the walls. To put it into perspective, your character can be hit, sent flying, recover mid-air, then ricochet off the wall and slam into their opponent with their feet in the space of about three seconds. That's pretty fast. It's not uncontrollably fast like Street Fighter II Turbo on 8-star speed, but it certainly out-paces VF2, and feels more exciting to me, anyway- it means that you have to try and keep up with all the action that's going on, so it grabs your attention very quickly. Of course, this is compared to VF2, its closest relative- later VF games considerably faster (especially if you're trying to cancel a throw)- but considering when it was released, FV runs at light-speed. Its ridiculous speed is a testament to its over-the-top nature!

Unfortunately, Fighting Vipers didn't catch on in the same way that Virtua Fighter did. You could point at any number of factors here- the ridiculous character designs being a bit too much, the loose-and-wild, learn-everything-in-five-minutes feel compared to Virtua Fighter's orderly and technically-minded play style- but I always found myself more drawn to FV than VF. Perhaps I'm just simple-minded and like being able to learn the game's tricks quicker than VF (see also: King of the Monsters) but while there's no denying it's dumbed-down- no matter how much I'd like to sugar-coat it- it's much more approachable and so over-the-top that it's greatly entertaining. The limited movesets do damage it a bit, but its other good points- the goofy charm of the visuals, the tight game engine, the break-neck speed- make it definitely worth your time in seeking out and giving a chance.

For providing evidence that dumbing something down isn't necessarily a bad thing, Fighting Vipers is awarded...

In a sentence, Fighting Vipers is...
The excess of the 90s encapsulated in a single fighting game.

And now, it's that time, folks!

Let's talk prototype stuff for the arcade version! Just some small things, but of potential interest.

First, on AM2's long-gone Fighting Vipers 2 site, there was a post with two images of 'concept art' for Fighting Vipers under the title Armored Fighter. Sadly, only one of those images was saved by the Internet Wayback Machine, but one's better than none. There's not much to say, although it's neat that the core ideas of Fighting Vipers (armour breaking, caged fights) seem to be here in this image. Feel free to wildly speculate from here.

The other is something sent in by reader Jake, the Arcade Flyers Archive has an early flyer for Fighting Vipers with some interesting differences from the final game.

The most obvious is Tokio and Honey are missing from the character select screen- their spaces look like they read 'Now Printing' if you squint realy hard. There's also some name changes- Jane is called Domonique (a fairly well-known bit of trivia, especially since Honey's stage has 'R.I.P. Dominique' as graffiti) and while it's hard to see because of the tiny images, Grace seems to be mispelled Grage and Picky might be Licky? Even if those are just down to poor screenshots, the other big difference is that all characters have their name in a standard font both in-game and on the character select screen rather than the personalised ones. Finally, Jane/Dominique has a different, slightly angrier mugshot on the character select screen.

I'm just going to make a quick note here about the other home versions of Fighting Vipers.

First up, the import-only one. Released in 2005, Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 19 - Fighting Vipers is a Playstation 2 port of the original Model 2 arcade game, rather than the Saturn version. The perks of this version above its Saturn counterpart are mostly visual details cut from that port, including more detailed backgrounds (like 3D graphics for the stages and more graffiti on Honey's stage), less jaggy character models with additional shading, and armour parts that linger on each stage after being blown off. I've also heard some strategies don't work in the Saturn version, but will here. It also puts the original arcade attract mode back in, includes all the Pepsi ads, has move lists available from the Pause menu, has playable Mahler, and includes the hidden Ranking Mode from the arcade game (unlocked by holding all three buttons and pressing Start after inserting a credit) that evaluates your performance in 1-player mode on one coin- no continues! It also has, oddly enough, an adaptation of Kids Mode from the Saturn version, hidden away so well I had no idea it was in here (to activate it, hold Left on Controller 1 and Right on Controller 2 before selecting a mode- thanks to @TheZotmeister on the Twitters for that one).

However, unlike the later Sega Ages 2500 ports, that's your lot. Beyond Kids Mode, none of the extra content from the Saturn version is here (critically, no training mode) not many display options to tinker with, no artwork gallery, nothing fancy like that- even the Quartet/S.D.I. package, routinely mocked for being a rip-off, comes with more extras than this. This makes it a tough one to recommend to anyone other than a very dedicated Fighting Vipers fan (hello there), those who specifically want the arcade version, and collectors- this was the last Sega Ages 2500 game to come with a filofax card (intended to be put in a filofax binder that came with the special edition of Sega Ages 2500 Vol. 1 - Phantasy Star Generation I, an item so hard to find I had to ask around for a photo, courtesy of @Zerochan) which contains some very small character sketches and, we're assuming, some info on the game's development. One for the fanatics, then.

Speaking of, here's scans of the filofax thing that came with this version.

We need to get it translated. But please, enjoy.

The other port is for Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network! Seriously, 2012 was packed with totally rad Sega digital re-releaes, and amongst the Sega Vintage Collections and Dreamcast/Saturn ports was the Model 2 Collection, a series of individual downloadable releases including Virtua Fighter 2, Sonic the Fighters (available worldwide), Virtua Striker, Virtual On: Cyber Troopers (Japan-only, for reasons too baffling to ever know) and, naturally, Fighting Vipers. For 400 Microsoft Fun Bux (that should be, what, £3.49 on PSN?) you get the Model 2 original with Mahler and Ranking Mode (selected as you would in the arcade) present and correct, plus online battles and Kids Mode again (this time, hold LB+RB / L1+R1 when starting a game). Additionally, while you're on the main menu, you can select music tracks to listen to with the shoulder buttons (handy for when you're waiting in Online Battle mode).

Now, the version on the US and EU marketplaces are based on the USA/Export version, so Honey is Candy again and the Pepsi advertising has been removed, but the JP marketplaces have the Japanese version of the game, which means Pepsi for TV game and Honey as Honey- photos of the Pepsi ads provided by Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, @_Kimimi. It's missing the FPS-altering option from the PS2 port too, but it does let you alter the brightness, which is a plus as the PS2 version was quite dark. Finally, 'LET THE ACTION BEGIN' is spoken a bit too fast in this version, for some reason. As for online play, I'm the last person to ask about fighting game net-code, but from playing a few matches on the 360 version, all I can say is I've seen worse online play in a fighting game- there was some delay when playing against people in Japan, and obviously one-connection-bar matches stuttered a lot, but for the most part the matches I've played (including people from the UK and America) have been fairly smooth. If you're curious about Fighting Vipers but insist on having the Model 2 version, this is a very good way to give the game a try... But I'd still lean towards the Saturn port, especially since this is again missing a training mode. Hopefully they'll follow it up with Fighting Vipers 2 (says I, the eternal optimist).

Oh, and both of these ports need just 10 matches in a row in Versus Mode to destroy Honey's skirt.
Useful to know, that. [If you're a perv. - Ed]

Speaking of XBLA/PSN re-releases...

Sonic the Fighters on XBLA/PSN has some additional content in the form of extra characters, unplayable in the arcade release beyond hacking- you can play as Metal Sonic, Dr. Eggman and... Honey the Cat?! First discovered when people started tinkering around with the Sonic Gems Collection port of the game, Honey is, obviously, a cat-ified version of Honey from Fighting Vipers, hidden in the game code, apparently unfinished (her eyes are all wonky). Here's the X-Cult page on her, and here's some footage from the arcade version of her. She was fixed up for XBLA/PSN and added as a hidden character (press Start while the cursor is over Amy) which means she's not available in ranked online fights. Also, rather obviously, her moveset is totally different from FV (although she can still wail on people with her bottom, as is tradition for her). She's unique amongst the STF cast in that, while everyone else has a black-and-white clone, she has her 2P colours (blue clothes, blonde hair) in mirror matches (you'll remember her from Fighting Vipers' Saturn intro)

The two games share a bigger connection than just Honey, mind you. Sonic the Fighters reused Fighting Vipers' game engine (i.e. with more exagerrated physics than Virtua Fighter) and the popular story is that an AM2 programmer (apparently Masahiro Sugiyama) put Sonic & Tails in the arcade FV (which is true, they're in the code) as a joke. Yu Suzuki saw it and presented it to Yuji Naka, and he liked the idea, and that's how Sonic the Fighters (or, if you prefer it en Americain, Sonic Championship) came to be.

Of course, the main reason you're here is for our Fighting Vipers guide.

Produced with love, for you, this guide has all the portrait pictures, all the secret characters, all the Japan-only unlockables...

It's got almost everything you need to know about the hidden content in the Saturn port of Fighting Vipers. So read it. Whee!

And so ends our look at Fighting Vipers, one of the most ridiculous and lovable video games of the 90s.