It's the new future and a nearby planet is about to supernova and take out dozens of sentient life forms. Thankfully a powerful race has pledged to protection, but they can only accommodate one. The twelve groups decide to compete in a battle royale to determine who will survive. It's humans vs. alien, alien vs. alien and everybody vs. a big red planet in Fighting Masters for the Sega Genesis.
All things considered, that's a perfectly acceptable way to start a fighting game. Not only does it quickly get the ball rolling, but it adds a lot of urgency to each fight. Unfortunately Fighting Masters' compelling story isn't enough to make up for the horrible gameplay, mediocre graphics and clunky mechanics.
First released in 1991 in Japan, Fighting Masters hit home consoles just in time for the introduction of Street Fighter II. Capcom's fighting game drew a line in the sand that separated itself from every fighting game that came before it. As a result, Treco's Fighting Masters was made immediately obsolete. Good concept or not, this fighter didn't stand a chance.
For starters, Fighting Masters features a jump button. It's been a long time since I've played a fighting game with a jump button. What's more, you only have one attack button. That one move can be altered by crouching, jumping and holding up, but it's pretty limited compared to another fighting game released that year. To make matters worse, the 12 characters don't have specific special moves like fireballs and spinning bird kicks. The idea is to just jump around and punch and kick until somebody runs out of health. There's no technique to be found.
The characters aren't particularly interesting, either. The human character is the daring Dirk, a 57 foot tall wrestler that weighs in at 2,200 pounds. I guess it's true; they do grow them big in Texas. Other characters include Mastodon (a literal elephant man), Equus (half man, half horse), Grinder (a spazzy robot), Phoenix (a bird man), Zygrunt (a lobster fighter), Xenon (a dragon) and DIO (a fighting plant). The character designs are cool, even if the names are predictable.
Two player matches can be a lot of fun, especially when you're not comparing it to Street Fighter II. The fights don't last very long, since players take damage for hitting the walls and ground. It's fun to throw the opponent around the room, even if there aren't any traditional special moves to speak of. Ultimately the lack of depth will keep Fighting Masters from being a main staple at parties.
The graphics are nothing to speak of outside of a few neat graphical flourishes. The way the game conveys damage is by turning the character into static. Also, the game winning hit is nothing short of apocalyptic. Outside of that, the character models are small and the backgrounds lack detail.
Fighting Masters came out at the wrong time. Had this been a launch game on the Sega Genesis it would have been a classic, but it can't survive in a post-Street Fighter II world. Good ideas aside, this game feels just as dated as Adventure on the Atari 2600.