Amiga owners didn’t have too much to shout out about when it came to beat-em-ups, and the less said about the Street Fighter II port the better.
A few contenders had made a case for themselves, such as Team17’s Body Blows and TerraMarque’s Elfmania, but in 1994 a new challenger arrived from developer NAPS Team and publisher Gremlin Interactive. Emerging from the darkness with a roster of 16 playable characters, Shadow Fighter was looking to deliver more than a swift kick to the shins.
Jumping into the options screen, the player is greeted by a good number of expected game modes such as Championship, Training, Single and Vs. Battle. In-game fight modifiers such as stunning and round time can be tweaked as well as a blood setting, but don’t go expecting Mortal Kombat levels of brutality.
The most interesting option is the rather innocuous looking difficulty settings. Selecting Easy Mode will only give you access to six fighters, with Normal granting you an additional six and Hard unlocking the full roster. It’s an interesting gameplay choice for the Championship campaign but all characters can be chosen in other modes.
Firing this up, our would-be champions are a varied and colourful bunch from around the globe and are realised with some great, detailed sprite work from Fabio Capone. While some fall into the familiar Ryu or Blanka-esque style fighter, there is some uniqueness with the Manga-styled Toshio, Danish basketballer Slamdunk and the strong look of the moustachioed/ponytail combo of German cop, Jurgen, standing out from the crowd. The game is certainly not unabashed about its influences and injects its own little flavour into the character design.
They move around the stage convincingly, demonstrating a keen technical prowess with very little sign of slow down or sprite flicker. The combat arenas are again familiar but extremely well done. The stage side-scrolling is smooth with an average of 64 layers of parallax giving them depth, showing a great all-round level of brilliance while utilising a large colour palette.
There is very little difference graphically between the OCS/ECS and AGA versions, with an increased amount of shades being the most obvious along with some souped up sonics on the CD32. Playing the AGA version is by far the best way to play with the bright and bold graphics looking at home on any console at the time.
When giving your friends or the CPU a good doing over, it always helps if there’s a great soundtrack to dish out the pain to. Punches and kicks land with a meaty thud and digitised screams and yelps are used sparingly, never dipping into the annoyance or repetition of a sweaty female tennis rally. Completion of special moves are rewarded with an appropriate whoosh as you set your opponent on fire or send them crashing to the floor.
While the music in Shadow Fighter is compositionally very strong, some of the tracks are a bit hit and miss. The more synth and techno heavy songs seem to fit well, instilling even more feverishness into the action. But on the flipside, some of the more traditional sounding tunes feel a little weary and can sit in stark contrast to the previously heard theme. This can make the game feel tonally disjointed although all of the audio work has inherently strong production values.
The bane of many arcade beat-em-ups on the Amiga is how to translate a six-button control scheme into one. It’s an arduous task and something many fail at. Thankfully, Shadow Fighter gets it right, making the best use of limited inputs. It’s testament to the controls that even the CD32 version retains the one-button control scheme, despite the advantages of the pad set-up, minus the flimsy D-Pad of course.
With around 25 moves per character, there’s certainly a lot to master with your basic attacks needing a direction and button press to perform. Pulling off special moves will be a recognisable affair for those familiar with the Street Fighter series, with quarter circles towards or backwards coupled with the fire button initiating most of the beat downs. You will need to be very precise to complete these moves though as there is very little margin for error and those starting with a diagonal direction can be frustratingly tricky to pull off.
There’s also enough variation between how each character plays. Experimentation will soon have you picking a favourite based on play style, whether that be the hulking Kury or the teleporting Khrome. Most players will settle for an all-rounder like Salvador or Toni but with 16 characters on offer, it’s good to have the option and depth to mix things up. The training puppet, Puppaz, and the reigning champ, Shadow Fighter, can also be unlocked via cheats.
The AI is very competent, and for the most part fair, with very little spamming. Tournament mode is extremely tough and with only three continues will prove a challenge to even the most hardened brawler.
Two-player mode yields the required fun as you face off against a friend or foe, with the whole roster of characters to choose from. As with any fighting game, this is where most of the longevity lies but those seeking the character endings will enjoy the toughness of the Tournament.
Check out the video below for the full review with added trivia about the game, including inspiration and cut content! Special thanks to Fabio Capone.
Shadow Fighter was always going to be up against it when taking on the flagship console conversions, but NAPS Team and Gremlin did a remarkable job in creating an accomplished and well-balanced tournament fighter for the Amiga. It’s refined graphics and fluid controls means button-mashers and black belts alike can find a great deal to enjoy. Along with the Mortal Kombat II conversion, the tail end of 1994 into 1995 finally gave Amiga owners a quick one-two.