Crows: The Battle Action for Sega Saturn (as it's called on the cover) was only released in Japan. It's a 2D scrolling beat-em-up that was released in 1997 and published by Athena. This game is extremely difficult to find (only 5,000 copies made), meaning it's definitely a collector's item. But is it worth all the trouble it would take to buy it?
Crows: The Battle Action's story is actually based off a fairly successful series of Japanese comics, so coming into this I was familiar with the characters and remembered seeing (but never reading) the comics. The author of these comics is Hiroshi Takahashi and as far as I know they are called Crows. As for the game's story, I assume it is similar to the comics. But since it's entirely in Japanese I couldn't make heads or tails of the nuance.
The graphics in Crows are very cartoonish and colorful, the sprites are of the super deformed variety, both heroes and villains, and the backgrounds are silly and animated, but rather bland (except for a few little jokes that perhaps only Japanese people would get). Overall the graphics are decent, but not on the same level as Capcom's 2D Saturn games and they look like they could have been done on the Super NES. The sprites are big and bright, the animation is okay, but again nothing amazing. Thankfully the game is smooth enough and doesn't suffer any slowdown.
Unfortunately the audio is also not outstanding, it's basically what you'd really expect from this type of game. The usual back ground music and sound effects are here, and while not adding anything to the game, they don't detract from it either. Crows has some speech, basically just the insults the characters shout to their rivals. Of course it's in Japanese, those of you who understand Japanese may notice that these insults use teen slang and are rather offensive, so don't use this game to steal some lines to chat up some Japanese girls.
As I mentioned earlier Crows is a 2D scrolling beat em up, so that explains the gameplay. Before you start the game you have to pick one of two characters (there are four but the other two have to be beaten up to be unlocked), once you have chosen your character you are presented with the combination builder menu, here you can make your own combos for your characters combo attack. It's not very in-depth, but it allows some nice variety and gives you the chance to customize your character. To do a combo attack in the game is very easy, you just press the shoulder button when you are close to an enemy; then batter them into a bloody pulp. The other moves available are punch, kick, jump and insult. These can also be used in combination; you also have the ability to throw when you are up close to someone, ala Final Fight or Streets of Rage.
As you scroll around the stages there are an assortment of weapons for you to pick up and use, these include the usual, such as knives, 2x4s, and so on. Not only that, but you can also throw a crate of beer bottles at your foes, how wicked that is?
The enemies in the game include other gang bangers and various Yakuza types, but also you will encounter policemen, drunk salary men and station attendants. These people can also be beaten, stabbed, bottled, and generally roughed up, too. These "gang bangers" have no respect for anyone.
As I said before you start off with only two characters selectable, but beating the two first level bosses with each of your boys allows you to play as these boss characters. Each of the four characters have stereotypical images the Japanese have of young street gangs, each one representing a different look and different fighting style, you've got your Karate style, Puroresu style, fisty cuffs-style etc. And yes of course there is a two-player mode, as you'd expect from a beat-em-up like this. The difficulty in Crows isn't very hard, but it's also not overly easy. It'll probably take you a few goes to finish it, but once you have gone through it you might not want to go back. Unfortunately the replay value is kind of low on this style of game, especially these days. Gaming has changed and this game feels like it has come straight from an early nineties arcade. It's a fun game, especially with two players and when you are smacking up the cops. All of the old school gamers who grew up with Double Dragon, Renegade and the like will most likely enjoy Crows, those who only came along in the 32 bit era will probably wonder what the big deal is.
Crows is a decent game with old school flavor. This game is also very difficult to find, so much so that most Saturn gamers don't know it exists, so collectors and old school gamers should keep an eye out for Crows, the rest of you might want to just pass this one by. And be forewarned when you do find it, it's not going to be cheap.