First up, big thanks to Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell HokutoNoShock for playing Vendetta with us in the past via Fightcade. No shots from those sessions 'cause we can't get at the replays, but that's fine. Also, shoutout to MURPHAGATOR who is, to put it lightly, a pretty good Vendetta player and we learned a lot from watching his many videos on the game. That's where some of the things like knowing what attacks do the most damage comes from, so without this videos this page would not be possible! Maybe you should just watch them instead of reading our gumf. Ahem. Finally, as this is a Konami arcade game, that means regional differences! Luckily, there's not nearly as many as usual, which means we've got free range to review whatever version we like. In the name of keeping things clear, this review is based on the World two-player version (Ver. W in MAME) but has a few screenshots from the World four-player version (Ver. T in MAME) thrown in for variety.
This is Crime Fighters 2? Seriously?
I mean, I can sort-of see it, but gosh, the disparity in quality between these two is something else.
I suppose we'd better establish some context, then. Exactly two years passed between the release of Crime Fighters (07/89) and Vendetta (07/91) if the dates from アーケードTVゲームリスト 国内•海外編 (1971-2005) (ISBN: 978-4990251215) are accurate, which means that the strange inbetween years for scrolling brawlers, those ones after Double Dragon but before Final Fight, had come to a close. With Capcom setting up a firm foundation for the rest of the world to rip off mercilessly for the next decade, Konami stood alone. To an extent. Up to the release of Vendetta, their arcade brawler output was Crime Fighters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with The Simpsons a month after Vendetta (and X-Men, Metamorphic Force, Turtles in Time and Violent Storm in the future) and while they would obviously iterate on the Crime Fighters formula, the foundations of Crime Fighters remains in them, especially compared to the myriad Final Fight clones cropping up at the time- smaller sprites, a slightly looser sense of combat, no common enemy healthbars / names- as well as other elements that would define Konami brawlers such as emphasis on context-sensitive attacks and four-player support. It's probably fair to say that TMNT would codify most of these elements and make them staples of Konami's brawlers but the Crime Fighters DNA is still there in spirit, though some of these games fare better than others (I am willing to go to bat for The Simpsons but I do not even remotely enjoy X-Men, I will be taking no further questions at this time). In any case, Crime Fighters is definitely a game that had some good elements (mostly the presentation and sense of humour) but needed a lot of work in basically every other department.
This brings us to Vendetta (Crime Fighters 2 in Japan) and yes, Konami definitely put the work in.
The Dead End Gang of Dead End City want to expand their turf, with only the Cobras standing in their way...
They kidnap Cutie Kate, protégé of Cobras member Hawk, to lure them out and see them off once and for all.
Only the four remaining members of the Cobras (decked out in jeans and a bright shirt of their choice) can save her now!
So they enter Dead End City for a do-or-die rescue mission. Those members are:
BLOOD Ex-Prize Fighter
Based on Mike Tyson
HAWK Former Professional Wrestler
Based on Hulk Hogan
BOOMER Martial Arts
Based on Jean Claude Van Damme
SLEDGE Ex-Military Convict
Based on Mr. T
So what's changed between Crime Fighters and Vendetta? A lot. A whole heck of a lot. To start with the very basics, the two-button Punch and Kick setup from the US version of Crime Fighters returns, with two different power attacks- a stationary one and a leaping one that moves you forward- available by pressing both buttons at once, as well as context-sensitive throws for both buttons and attacks on downed foes (yes, you can kick 'em in the gut while they're on the floor) and a last-ditch kick when you're knocked down to get enemies off you. My main issue here is the same one with most Konami brawlers in that the context-sensitive stuff feels far more wishy-washy and loose than I like for my brawling. In particular here, each character has a second Punch throw which is often more powerful than their normal ones (Boomer's noogie-hold and Hawk's headbutt come to mind here) but the spacing needed is pretty specific and difficult to pull off in my experience. Players at a higher skill level are of course more than capable of doing that as you'll see in one-credit clear videos, but it feels a little too fiddly for my tastes. Other than that though, these mechanics work pretty well, and while there's no true crowd-control attack, as you'll find out you don't really need it.
There's also a nice bit of variety between the characters- walk speed and attack strength are mostly universal but their attacks are all unique between them with different effective ranges, attack animations (which can make a big difference- Blood has very short range with a knife but other characters use it properly and get more distance out of it) and wind-up times (Sledge has a very quick pursuit attack but Hawk's is much slower). They're not as dramatic as the kind of differences you see between the cast of Final Fight, but there's definitely room for you to pick a favourite or pick one to never ever play as. Since there's four of them, this means that of course there is support for up to four players depending on the version used and the cabinet setup, and the game rebalances the difficulty to account for it, so it's a race to get to the set of controls for your favourite character, good luck with that. One nice thing here is that while you might make fun of the Cobras' gang wear if you will, the brightly-coloured t-shirts make it way easier to differentiate who's playing as who in the chaos of multiplayer compared to Ninja Turtles!
What makes Vendetta stand out among other brawlers of the time- and to this day, really- is its pacing and the general feel of combat. There's no specific timer beyond more enemies spawning in if you wait around too long (and that takes a while- wait even longer and Molotov cocktails will start raining from the sky) and only near the end will you encounter enemies in groups of more than three at a time. This is basically the complete opposite of Crime Fighters which delighted in throwing groups of four or more enemies at you constantly, and while it sounds tame compared to the likes of Final Fight, there's a reason Vendetta keeps the amount of enemies low- they are all legitimate threats. Even the lowest-level jacket punks, if they get a combo in on you, will tear into your tiny little health bar and easily kill you. Tougher enemies such as the leather coat-clad flasher who throws Molotov cocktails around and the big Road Warrior types who can rush and throw you are even more threatening to your fragile life meter. So, making your credit last longer than a minute involves fighting strategically, keeping your distance and taking opportunities to attack when they present themselves. The enemy variety helps with this too as you want to approach each one a little differently and prioritise which ones you get rid of first (you always want shotgun punks gone as soon as possible). It's a bit slower than the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it feels way more satisfying as a result especially if you happen to be playing alone. A lot of games like this lean on having pals to play with, but Vendetta caters to the lone wolf too.
It helps that it's rarely unfair- for the most part when you're killed it's because you weren't patient enough or tried to rush in too quickly. There are exceptions of course, with some definite ambushes designed to catch new players off-guard such as when the Road Warriors rush on-screen with a huge log to knock you over or plant-pots that drop from off-screen with not much time to react, but there is nothing as over-the-top as what TMNT's under-the-hood elements do to stop you from playing for long. Even the bosses are more reasonable than you'd expect as unlike, say, The Combatribes, you can still use most of your moves on them with only some being unable to be grabbed (they are, however, immune to moves that do the maximum amount of damage like Hawk's headbutt) and they can be dealt with after some practice (with some nasty tricks, of course- you need to give Missing Link as wide a berth as you can and there's a cruel moment where the final boss Faust grabs a machine gun and unless you know how to stop him, you're basically losing a life). Overall though, I feel that the enemies and their fearsome health-stripping strength make the game feel unique from other brawlers, but it just skirts that line nicely between fair and unfair, making it feel very satisfying.
What really compliments this design choice is the focus on weaponry and environmental elements scattered across the game's six stages. Similar to The Punisher, weapons and items are constantly being dropped with appearances mostly consistent across play sessions but with a slight randomisation element (in Stage 1 you may or may not see a chain, for instance). There's perhaps not as many different items as in The Punisher but each one has its use- the nail-bat slams enemies against the wall to get them out of your way, the chain can attack enemies on the ground and one of my very favourites, the trashcan usually hides a black cat that scampers out after they're thrown, and any Road Warriors on-screen will get terrified because they're scared of cats, stunning them and letting you get the drop on 'em! Especially important are the brick and bottle as they do the maximum amount of damage and kill most enemies in one hit, and the shotgun that can hit multiple enemies at once. Food items are fairly common too, and you'll need them if you've slipped up at some point. As you spend more time with the game you realise how important these weapons are, as while you're hardly defenceless without one they can make things much easier when used properly, and the frequency with which you get them keeps the fighting varied and fun. The environmental hazards are usually pretty comical too- you can knock streetlamps down for a quick KO of an enemy, you can knock enemies off a bridge as they cling on for dear life and parts of a sign that reads C R I M E try to crush both you and enemies alike at one point.
The final element of the game design that makes it work pretty well is the briskness of it all. There's only six stages and while the length varies a bit- Stage 3 is by far the longest and most involved, whereas Stage 4 is only a few screens long if that- they're densely packed with weapons and small groups of enemies. This makes it less daunting than other brawlers to learn which enemies appear where and what weapons and health drops you'll most likely have to help you out, so you can really get stuck in with learning the most efficient ways to get through the game while losing as few lives as possible. It's a short, sharp game and this makes it quite fun to replay and get better at- in fact, when played at a high level you can beat the game in under 20 minutes if you know how to despawn enemies as shown by several runsby Murphagator. The main downside here is the final stage, as it takes the one cue from Crime Fighters it probably shouldn't have- after you rescue Kate, you get a fake-out ending and are told that your nemeses have been 'mysteriously revived', leading to a boss rush! Yay. Fortunately it's not as rough as the Crime Fighters one as you only fight them two at a time, but it's a pretty deflating way to end the game honestly, and if it wasn't there I might be more inclined to learn to beat the game on one credit. Oh well, can't win 'em all.
The last thing to talk about is the presentation, and it's absolutely a highlight if you're into this particular style- if there's two words for Vendetta's presentation, that word is 'lightly sleazy', like an '80s straight-to-VHS action flick doing its best impression of The Warriors. It is 100% committed to it from the second you select a character and see the "COBRAS, WE KIDNAPPED A CHICK" screen and has an opening area with burning oil drums and "PUNKS RULE" scrawled on the walls. While games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage certainly have an air of cities being overtaken by the criminal element, Vendetta takes it even further, you wouldn't even want to pass through this city let alone live in it, and I kinda like that. Run-down buildings, graffiti daubed on any available surface like "SLIME BALLS RULE OK" and "NO GO AREA FOR PIGS", jacketed thugs puking when they've taken one too many punches to the gut, wild character designs like the Rude Bros. and Faust, it's so charmingly trashy. I say 'lightly sleazy' because while it can skew crass at points for some like that opening scene and the puking, I think it just about toes the line (and one element in particular that crosses that line was omitted from international releases, more on that later) and for the most part keeps the game vibrant, colourful and jovial while at the same time giving that sense of a run-down, dangerous city. The soundtrack definitely helps set the tone, as excellent as any other Konami soundtrack of the period and composed by Michiru Yamane of later Castlevania fame, and the general sound design is great with plenty of chunky, painful-sounding impact effects and voices. The way bosses taunt you is especially great, with Buzzsaw Bravado opening with "OKAY COBRAS... LET'S RUMBLE!" and the final stage opening with "YOU AIN'T LEAVIN' THIS TOWN ALIVE!". That's how you complete a game's presentation, good voiceclips.
To wrap things up, I will freely admit I'm not a big fan of Konami's scrolling brawler design ethos- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men especially, The Simpsons is my personal choice of their licensed stuff so it gets a pass- but Vendetta is probably my favourite in that particular style. It's a real shame it's not nearly as well-known as all those other ones- given the double-whammy of not being based on a hot intellectual property and not having a home port for thirty years- because I think it's significantly better in a lot of ways. It has an identity of its own with its vicious but mostly-fair enemies and clever use of weapons strewn throughout each stage, excellent presentation and theming across the board with plenty of visually-interesting enemy types to go with it and the moment-to-moment fisticuffs feels so much more satisfying and engaging than most of their other brawler output with only their later efforts, specifically Metamorphic Force and Violent Storm, really being on the same level. While not perfect- it still has some of that loose feel that other Konami brawlers exhibit that can be pretty divisive and having that boss rush right at the end really concludes things on a sour note- this is still a Konami brawler that doesn't need to rely on a familiar license to be worth talking about, it's just a solid game and one that deserves a little more respect than perhaps it's had.
For demonstrating one of the most drastic increases in quality between sequels in recorded history, Vendetta is awarded...
In a sentence, Vendetta is... A pretty great beatdown in Konami Town.
A quick and dirty extra, here's most of the boss voice clips from Vendetta for your enjoyment.
I say most because one- "You're looking at a modern art masterpiece, homeboy!" cuts short during the game's sound test.
Since there isn't a way to mute the in-game music, I'll have to find another solution to grab that one, but for now, enjoy!
Because this is a Konami arcade game, there's revisional and regional differences, but fortunately not as many as usual.
For a start, there's the differences between the two-player and four-player versions of the game. As with other Konami brawlers, character selection is locked to player positions in the four-player version (Blood is P1, Hawk is P2, Boomer is P3 and Sledge is P4) while you're free to select whoever you like in the two-player version. The four-player version also allows you to insert additional credits both before you start and during gameplay to add to your stock of lives (although the counter only goes up to 99, it can go beyond that if you keep inserting coins and if it has an upper-limit it's very high indeed- if you've ever seen a Vendetta cab at a convention, someone has absolutely clogged each character with way too many extra lives) whereas the two-player version gives you one set of lives per session and nothing else. Finally, while it might look like the health bar is longer in the two-player version, this is purely visual- every bar of health in the four-player version is represented by two bars in the two-player version, so as an example grabbing a bottle of milk gives you one bar of health back in the four-player version and two in the two-player version.
As for regional differences, the Japanese version is called Crime Fighters 2 while every other part of the globe gets to call it Vendetta (the graffiti on the title screen was shuffled around to account for the name change, with the blood splatter from the Crime Fighters 2 version being removed too). The other big difference is the removal of two enemy types who both only appear once in the game- the 'leather daddy' enemy with stereotyped mannerisms (think Ash from Streets of Rage 3) who appears in the first area of Stage 3 and a dog different from the ones in Stage 4 who attempts to hump your leg (and your downed body) in the first area of Stage 5. Both of these enemies were removed from all versions of the game outside of Asia (meaning the Asia revision titled Vendetta retains them) with the leather daddy enemies being replaced with chain punks (which actually makes this area a little easier- the removed enemies had the ability to attack the lampposts and thus waste the lightbulbs that you might need to attack stronger enemies) and the dog being replaced with a normal, leg-biting dog.
Just like the first Crime Fighters, Vendetta was left in the arcade for a long, long time with no contemporary home ports.
Why? Who knows. Personally, I'd speculate that Konami were not particularly interested in porting games to any home system if they weren't a guaranteed mega-hit. Looking at the games they did bring home in that time period and that holds true- Turtles in Time, Lethal Enforcers and Gradius III (and maybe Sunset Riders) were almost guaranteed to sell well, whereas games like Vendetta, XEXEX or Metamorphhic Force might struggle a bit more in the home market with no established brand behind them, especially if compromises had to be made to get them on home consoles. Pure speculation on my part of course, but it's certainly possible.
However, thirty years later in 2021 Vendetta finally came home courtesy of Hamster and their Arcade Archives line of rereleases for the Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. 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. As ever, the Arcade Archives rereleases are fairly barebones but welcome just for having decently-emulated versions of games otherwise unavailable, and like Crime Fighters this is better than what MAME was offering at the time this video recorded from an original board confirms that MAME played the music too slowly- the Arcade Archives version plays it at the correct speed (although MAME has fixed this since the Arcade Archives release). No online support is a real shame (if you really want to you can kludge two-player with Share Play on PS4 if you can survive the input lag) but aside from that it's great that Vendetta finally got the respectful home version it deserves.
One interesting thing about this rerelease is that no version included has the enemies that were cut from the Japanese release- even the two versions of Crime Fighters 2, with Japanese text included, omit them. It's possible that these were just versions of the games previously undumped (for a long time there actually wasn't a dumped four-player version of Crime Fighters 2, so it's entirely possible a revision like this may have slipped through the cracks) or versions Konami had prepared for such a rerelease (the Arcade Archives version of Sunset Riders had some similar edits to dated offensive content but UPL's Vandyke did not, so perhaps Konami is just more careful). Whatever the case may be, it's not a huge loss honestly.
Surprisingly, this is the first Konami game on this site to reach 4 stars. They are mostly 50/50 in these parts.
I should try and raise their batting average and pick some of their good games for a change...