For years I have made fun of the Sega Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2. I laughed about how ill-suited the 16-bit console was to recreate the full 3D polygonal arcade experience. Considering the Genesis could hardly handle Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, I would say it's a safe bet that Sega's old school console just wasn't built to handle something as sophisticated as Virtua Fighter. Virtua Fighter belongs on the Sega 32X or Sega Saturn; the Genesis has to be the worst place to put your brand new 3D fighting game.
Well, it looks like I owe the Sega Genesis an apology, because I now realize that it is actually the second worst place to port Virtua Fighter. What could be worse than a 16-bit console with only 512 on-screen colors recreating Virtua Fighter? How about an 8-bit portable game system that can only display 32 on-screen colors? That's right, Virtua Fighter was ported to the Sega Game Gear ... and boy is it a train wreck.
Actually, to call this game a port would be misleading. Instead this is a brand new Virtua Fighter game based on the short-lived Virtua Fighter animated series. This game was, believe it or not, released on the U.S. in 1996, a full six years after the Game Gear debuted (and at least three years after everybody stopped caring about the system). Unfortunately I'm not reviewing the American version; perhaps it would have made more sense.
Given my genuine hatred for the 2D mess of a Genesis game I was already bracing myself for the worst. I was expecting a game as busted as Mortal Kombat Advance, yet with tiny Virtua Fighter characters and horrible animation. Well, I was right about the tiny Virtua Fighter characters, but I was pleasantly surprised that this game wasn't the garbage I was expecting. Instead it's a mediocre 2D fighting game that slightly resembles the original Virtua Fighter. It's definitely not good, but it's certainly not the worst fighting game you can play on the Game Gear.
The nice thing about Virtua Fighter Mini is that it tries something brand new. Instead of just giving you a boring arcade mode where you go from person to person beating people up, Virtua Fighter Mini offers you a story that ties all of the characters together. Of course, since I was playing through the Japanese version and I don't speak Japanese, I didn't understand a second of the story. But that didn't take away from the nicely drawn cut-scenes and the novel approach to telling a fighting game story. What I could understand was that I had to play this story mode in order to unlock the seven characters.
Virtua Fighter Mini features most of the cast of the original Virtua Fighter arcade game, which includes Pai, Akira, Wolf, Jacky and Sarah. But don't get too excited Virtua Fighter fans, because these characters have very little in common with their arcade counterparts. The truth is, this game barely feels like a Virtua Fighter game. Instead it feels like somebody made a sluggish fighting game and slapped the Virtua Fighter name on the box.
You control this Game Gear game similar to the arcade original. You have a punch and kick button, as well as the block button (which is mapped to the Game Gear's start button). Herein lies the problem, pushing the start button to block is extremely uncomfortable. What's worse, the Game Gear's start button doesn't always register that you're pushing it, so half the time you aren't actually blocking. The start button was made to pause the game, not be used as an extra button in your lame fighting game. And don't even get me started on how you can't pause the game.
But the biggest problem isn't the block button, but rather the terrible fighting engine that is powering this Virtua Fighter game. While it looks like the fighters are fairly well balanced and have a lot of cool moves, pulling off any of those moves can be a real pain in the neck when using the Game Gear's D-pad. I spent quite awhile working on combos and special moves, but at the end of the day I found that button mashing was just as effective as taking the time to practice the proper techniques.
Then there's the issue with the graphics, which are either really small or really broken. The game gives you the option of playing the game pushed back or up close and personal. Without a doubt the best way to play is in tinyvision, but if you're daring you can try one of the other modes. Unfortunately all this does is make the glitchy, sluggish and slow. All it will take is one round of this and you'll be moving back to the default settings.
The graphics themselves aren't spectacular, but they get the job done. There isn't much detail given to the various characters, if it wasn't for the fact that they all wear different colored outfits you would never be able to tell them apart. The backgrounds are also bad, especially since they don't seem to be based on any of the levels seen in the arcade game. Or maybe they are and I'm just not able to see it. Either way, this game is ugly and the backgrounds suck.
The truth is, there really isn't much of a reason to buy Virtua Fighter Mini. There are certainly better fighting games on the market. Then again, there are a lot of really bad fighters on the Game Gear and this is certainly not one of the worst, so I say that this is about as average as you can get. There is absolutely nothing spectacular about this game ... well, outside of the fact that somebody at Sega thought it was a good idea to take such a sophisticated series and translate it to the unsophisticated Game Gear.
(Editor's Note: Due to errors and inaccurate information this review has been updated and corrected. We apologize for any inconvenience you may have encountered with the original review text.)