It was so easy to be a generic fighting game in the 1990s. All you needed was a title!
Eternal Champions almost had what it took to be a great fighting game. This 16-bit Genesis cart had a unique art style, memorable characters, a fantastically compelling storyline and bucket loads of blood. There was only one thing holding Eternal Champions back from greatness -- it was a lousy fighting game.
Released at a time when every company needed their own fighting game, Eternal Champions was Sega's attempt to cash in on the sudden success of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. Unfortunately, Sega didn't know the first thing about making a 2D fighting game and it showed. The action was sloppy, the moves were often hard to pull off and the balance was a nightmare. Despite not being up to par, Sega went ahead and pushed their mediocre
This moderately attractive Eternal Champions cosplayer is ready to fight ... I think!
fighting game with a big budget ad campaign that kept the name in the media for months.
Eventually Sega released a follow-up of sorts, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side for the Sega CD. While the innovation was praised by critics, fans still couldn't get behind the messy gameplay and horrible animations. Sega ended up keeping Eternal Champions a 16-bit franchise, despite announcing a Sega Saturn game that would later be cancelled.
Looking back at it now, Eternal Champions was way ahead of its time. Oh sure, the game failed to compete as a competent fighting game, but it offered a surprising amount of original ideas that, giving to the right people, could be the base of an incredible experience. It's time for somebody to make the case for Eternal Champions, a game demanding a next generation face lift. Let me mount the argument for this forgotten Sega misfire.
An Incredible Set-Up
This is a game that manages to combine a little bit of everything into what should have been the greatest fighter of all time. Here we have an omnificent force speeding through time saving some of the best fighters of all time right as they
are about to meet their maker. Told through an exciting (though rudimentary) cinema, we see each character saved from death at the last second. This force then tells these characters to fight in order to stay alive, creating a fight club that spans tens of thousands of years.
Forget the whole tournament fighting angle, the story conceit means that you could have just about any type of pugilist added to the roster without feeling out of place. As it stands, there's a caveman, female assassin, futuristic cyborg, Russian acrobat, a witch, private eye, vampire, pirate and more. With a few sequels I'm sure we would have seen a medieval knight, 1970s punk, Blackwater merc, Civil War soldier and fat games journalist. This is a gimmick I wouldn't mind seeing mined, even if it's not for a Mortal Kombat clone.
Over the last fifteen years, we've been trained to expect hidden characters in fighting games. Ever since Tekken made
it a fundamental part of the story progression, gamers have looked forward to doing whatever it takes to earn new fighters and outfits. But that wasn't always the case. In 1993 the idea of unlocking characters was completely unheard of. Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side changed all that.
Instead of settling for the game's already impressive roster of characters, Eternal Champions CD encouraged fans to go out and find eleven unique characters. Best of all, once you unlocked each fighter, the game would store it in the Sega CD's internal memory for future play sessions. This is the type of thing we take for granted now, but Eternal Champions was one of the first to make it a big deal.
An Incredible Set-Up
Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is more than just a violent punch-a-thon; it's also a political satire. Mixed in amongst the cat burglar, acupuncturist, gambler and Greek God is a U.S. Senator.
Using deceit and lies the senator can deliver a wide variety of underhanded moves. He can also abuse and misuse the political powers that were given to him. The most dangerous weapon he has is a total lack of morals. According to the game, his life would have ended abruptly after suffering a heart attack. Thankfully the Eternal Champion is able to not only travel throughout time rounding people up like cattle, but he also knows a thing or two about reverse a heart attack.
Silly plotting aside, the Senator character was a direct response to the United States government's inquiry of Mortal Kombat, Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers. Here we have the developers pointing out the hypocrisy of most politicians, effectively turning a standard fighting game into their own soapbox. His powers included throwing lots of red tape, banning violence, stabbing people with voter pins and literally shaking his opponent free of their money. This is no throwaway bonus character; a lot of time went into making this former politician memorable character. Perhaps too memorable, because the Senator easily overshadows the rest of the Eternal Champions cast.
While Eternal Champions wasn't against stunt casting (see our above discussion about the Senator), it sometimes veered into the absurd. Challenge from the Dark Side certainly had its share of serious characters, but it also had a few novelty characters that were there just for laughs. Apparently the tournament didn't have a pet policy,
because five different animals show up to compete. Crispy the chicken stands only a foot off the ground, but he knows "Egg Fu" and is ready to rumble. The other animals include Hooter the Owl (who died in the Salem witch trials), Slither the snake (who died defending a bar), Yappy the dog (who was run over by a car) and Zuni the monkey (who died in an elephant stampede).
I'm not saying we need to start adding cats and dogs to The King of Fighters XIII, but I'm not opposed to seeing a fighting game embrace the novelty character. As you can imagine, these five animals had limited moves and weren't big in serious competitions. They were there to make you laugh, to make for an interesting battle between all of the serious matches. It's always fun to see a caveman fighting a chicken, that's just good comedy. Today's fighting games are afraid to think outside of the box, which may be why it's time for Sega to resurrect Eternal Champions.