Mystical Fighter (KID Corp./Taito, 1991)
A review of the underrated 1991 Genesis beat 'em up, flush with kabuki magic and martial arts mayhem!
The beat ’em up was (and to some extent, still is) an extremely popular game format. The concept may sound repetitive on its nose – that is to say, you mostly just walk forward and beat the shit out of people – but it’s been done in so many ways, with so many embellishments and extra touches, that it hardly gets old if you’re a fan. Like a lot of us, I was primarily exposed to this genre through either arcade ports or original titles for the Mega Drive/Genesis. Now, as I’ve discussed in some previous articles, we definitely didn’t get the bulk of Japan’s weird stuff then, but we did get some gnarly-ass console games… one of them being Mystical Fighter.
This weird but fantastic entry into the Genesis beat ’em up library was called Demon King Renjishi in Japan, hitting shelves in October of ’91. Very soon after, it was released for American audiences as Mystical Fighter. Its developer, KID Corporation (defunct as of 2006), is also known for developing Burai Fighter and Low G Man. Taito published the game, lending its name to the wide distribution and classy packaging.
Aforementioned classy packaging. JP (left) and USA (Right). Click to enlarge.
The plot of Mystical Fighter is based loosely on Japanese myth, and I do mean loosely. An evil “Lord Kabuki” is all set to conquer the kingdom after kicking the asses of White Lion (not the band) and Red Lion (I also promise this has nothing to do with Voltron). A mystical seal on Mt. Fuji is broken, setting the two warriors loose again to take a second shot at stopping Lord Kabuki… and the players control one or both of them as they try. The US manual’s translated version of the plot is below:
The first thing one notices as the game kicks off is that, while a little stereotyped-sounding, the music is awesome. It’s got a serious beat, and it’s not just some innocuous background loop. The ol’ YM1612 is put to beautiful use, something which this Segaphile will finally admit does not always happen. The graphics are also very fitting for the theme, evoking the dark and ephemeral world you’re supposed to be traveling through to stop the evil lord. The contrast your two characters – who look pretty damn kabuki themselves – also plays a well-conceived role in establishing the tone. It’s suitably heroic, even if understated. Normally I save an appraisal of these elements for closer to the end of a game article, but I wanted to put them right out front because I find them particularly impressive in Mystical Fighter.
This isn’t to say that the action is lacking. This game has every bit of the jaw-breaking, shit-kicking intensity that Streets of Rage or Golden Axe have. I’m sure there are folks who would disagree with me, but just look at the moves you can do! I’m not knocking Streets of Rage, but Axel cannot grab someone by their lapels and full-on hurl them entirely across the screen in a horizontal line. Mystical Fighter is its own animal, and it’s one with a mean temper. The sound effects that go along with your crazy leaps and attacks only add to the feeling of overall mayhem.
There is a mechanic similar to that in Golden Axe, however, where you pick up scrolls (as opposed to potions) to save up for devastating magical spells. The more you pack up, the better the effect. You get to use those moves on an army of sumo guys, ogres, undead samurai, ninjas, and some bosses that are literally out of this world. The enemies may look like fat guys in bathrobes and clones of E. Honda, but don’t be fooled… everyone and everything you encounter is dangerous enough to take seriously.
I did find that some of the boss fights are pretty easy though, once you figure out the fairly predictable patterns. The big dog (lion? I don’t know) thing at the end of one of the first levels stands out as a good example of this. Just punch it in the face and get out of the way. Keep doing that and you’re golden.
My attention span is admittedly horrid, so I haven’t beaten this game, but I do plan to revisit it. I give Mystical Fighter 8/10; it’s better (in my opinion) than other reviewers give it credit for, it’s got its own incredible flavor to it, and it promises high-flying fun.