It's hard to remember it now, but at the beginning of the 16-bit era the buzz seemed to be all about arcade ports. The Genesis had games like Super Thunder Blade and Altered Beast, and the Turbo had this, the port of Vigilante. While not as memorable as some of Sega's games, NEC hoped that this 2D brawler would convince enough people to come over and give the TurboGrafx-16 a chance. Unfortunately Vigilante wasn't a very good game then, and it certainly isn't very good now.
For all its action, Vigilante is hardly a strong example of good programming. The control is stiff, the enemies are relentless to a fault, the level design is flat, and once you've gone through it once you will never want to come back ... this game is just awful. And what's worse, this game is just as good as it was in the arcades. I feel bad for all those people who decided to pay twenty-five cents to play this in the arcade, but I feel even worse for those who spent $50 to own it.
For what it's worth Vigilante on the TurboGrafx-16 is as close to arcade perfect as you will ever see. The characters are pretty large and the backgrounds are full of detail, but the animation is boring and there are a lot of repeating backgrounds. Still, you can't be too critical of these things; this is the same kind of problem the original arcade version had to deal with. The game plays surprisingly fast, all the levels and bosses are accounted for, and the story and cut scenes - in which your girlfriend, Maria, is kidnapped and transported around town -- are all in the right places.
It's certainly not the translation that lets us down, it's Vigilante itself that is a disappointment. The goal of this game is to beat up anybody that is rushing towards you, all while attempting to walk all the way from one side of the level to the other without dying. If you do this you will be rewarded with a boss fight, don't do this and you're stuck trying the level over again from the start.
Since you're constantly fighting you would think that the developers would have spent time getting it right, but the combat is fatally flawed and leaves the game in dire straits. With only punches and kicks at your disposal, you don't have much to help you fend off the dozens of angry gang members. You can pick up a weapon, but even that barely has any range and doesn't help as much as you would imagine. Thanks to the ineffective combat you are often left open to cheap shots, making this one of the most frustrating fighting experiences you can have. Chances are if you hate the way it feels when you first start, you're never going to appreciate what they're trying to do.