While Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were locked in deadly battle for arcade supremacy other franchises came and went on the console market. TMNT Tournament Fighters, Clayfighter, and the dreaded Shaq-Fu all appeared to take advantage of the fighting game popularity.
One franchise stood out to me and, though it’s vanished into retro-obscurity, it is probably my favorite of the bunch.
Eternal Champions showed up as a Sega-only franchises on the Genesis and utilized the same aggressive marketing campaign that Sega used to fight Nintendo. I remember seeing the plastic clamshell box stalking around the residential hallways chasing down other fighting games throughout the house. Admittedly these kinds of ads are a turn off to me. I’d rather not compare one item to another, just let me know what’s good about the one you’re selling me. But Eternal Champions won me over. It combined the cartoon-style animations and unique character styles of Street Fighter with the brutality and violence of Mortal Kombat.
The premise was terrific. A group of warriors, all throughout time, each meets a premature demise . The Eternal Champion has offered them a chance to return to their respective time, moments before their deaths, and have the chance to prevent their deaths before they happened. I loved the premise, and when the Sega CD sequel offered more fighters and more options I jumped on that version too.
At the time reviewers, who are always an annoying snarky bunch I’ve found (and I still maintain it’s easier to write a bad review than a good one…recently reviewers don’t think it’s “cool” to like things they review), called it a Mortal Kombat rip-off, based solely on its bloodiness. But the gameplay and presentation was FAR closer to Street Fighter than Mortal Kombat.
The special moves, character movement, and attacks all resembled Street Fighter. I remember playing as a caveman named “Slash” (I was then and am still a GnR fan I had to play as Slash) and how incredibly hot the portrait of Shadow Yamoto looked in the game, so much so that I hated to beat her up. My favorites on the Genesis were RAX, the futuristic kickboxer and Midknight, the vampire. In the Sega CD sequel Challenge from the Darkside I added Chin Wo and Ramses III to my favorites list. They all used specific martial arts styles as well and, since I was deep into Tae Kwon Do at the time, I loved the variety.
The kills that were the most fun came from the environments. I remember the car in Larcen’s stage riddling you with bullets and getting sucked into the big fan on Blade’s. Dinosaurs ate you, you got electrocuted, and burned. The tricky part was getting your opponent into the right position to meet their destruction.
UN-like Mortal Kombat, it required the strategy and techniques of Street Fighter to defeat an enemy. Often killing your enemy was just an awesome bonus. The Challenge from the Darkside offered more kills, challenging, but terrific if you pulled them off, and often related to stories. Sometimes a new event happened you’d never seen before and, remember this is PRE-INTERNET, you had to figure out how that happened.
Added to this was the secret element. Eternal Champions was loaded with secret characters. From a Senator (taking potshots at political anti-game violence grandstanding) and my favorites, the animal characters, a chicken named Crispy, a monkey named Zuni , an owl (loved the owl) named Hooter, a snake named Slither, and a dog named Yappy. These were simple diversions from the regular game…but brought humor and replay value into the fighting game, which can be sorely missing in some of them.
Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Darkside, along with Sega Saturn’s X-Men: Children of the Atom, remain my favorite non-Street Fighter fighting games. It doesn’t suffer the same “Duke Nukem” effect I mentioned that impacts Mortal Kombat for me and is still loads of fun to play. I personally would like to see a return to the Eternal Champions franchise. Updated in the same way as Street Fighter IV, keeping true to 2D fighting roots but updating the graphics and gameplay. The premise, characters, and styling already exists. You’ve got a foundation, gaming industry, get to it!
So while Street Fighter reigns supreme in my fighting game memories…Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side holds a special place as the potentially the best fighting game no one remembers…and potentially a challenge to SF’s throne…
For a full look at my love for classic Sega check out my love letter to the Genesis-Saturn days!