Konami’s Final Fight-esque Game Violent Storm is Everything Good (and Bad) About Arcade Beat’em Ups

I have been playing a lot of Beat’em ups lately. Like… a lot of beat’em ups. There’s a sense of nostalgia for me, as well as getting an opportunity to finally play (and complete) some of these games I’ve never had a chance to fully enjoy. Thanks to emulation and a nifty little Steam Deck option, I’ve been able to play some of these games I never thought I’d be able to enjoy. A couple weeks back we sent in-depth on Konami’s pseudo-sequel to X-Men in the anthropomorphic Metamorphic Force. Today we’re looking at another game developed on the same hardware, which also happens to be another game that is still exclusive to the arcades: Violent Storm.

Though it runs on the same hardware as Metamorphic Force (the Mystic Warriors-based hardware — Don’t worry, we’ll get to that one), Violent Storm couldn’t be any more different in terms of visuals. Take one look at it and you’d be forgiven if you thought it was part of Capcom’s Final Fight series. The resemblance is striking: large character and enemy sprites, a sort of pastel, cartoony color on the characters and backgrounds, and even the dystopian city full of thugs. There are some genre staples that pop up too, like the yellow enemy health bar that appears whenever you hit an opponent, and while they aren’t directly inspired by Final Fight, it’s hard to shake them as another nod to the classic series. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery however, as Violent Storm still looks fantastic, even playing it some 30 years after initial release. For a game in 1993 arcades it might look a bit dated (Mortal Kombat II and even Konami’s own Mystic Warriors were out at the same time), but with a retro-eye the game honestly looks solid.

If I think about what makes Konami’s beat’em ups unique, I think it’s the licenses. But if I REALLY think what makes them special, I think the fast action and Saturday morning cartoon art style is what does it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, and even their own property with Metamorphic Force all feel like you’re playing an awesome TV show in the arcade! Violent Storm doesn’t give that vibe. To not beat a dead horse I will hesitate to compare to Final Fight any more in this review, but it does have a sense of “traditional” beat’em up look and feel. The simple gameplay with only three characters is a start. And then the very limited weapon pick-ups in the game, followed-by an emphasis on getting items strictly for a high score, make the game seem like it was perhaps destined for home console release too, but never quite made it. None of these things are bad. They are just things I do not personally prefer to have in my beat’em ups, and things I kind of thought we’d have moved on from, given they are genre norms for over 5 years at the time of release.

Being grounded in the familiar does have some benefits though. Major benefits, actually. By 1993, the genre had already seen basically every single heavy hitter you can think of. That means the fighting, pacing, and aforementioned visuals can all be on point. You get to pick one of three fighters, and they each play every so slightly different. I preferred the middle ground of Wade, able to move and deal damage at a decent pace. But there’s also Boris, a muscular totally not Mike Haggar (oh shoot, I did it again!) big guy, and rounding out the group is Kyle, who is the weakest but moves and attacks fastest. It’s subtle how they play comparatively, but I did like the small touches like Kyle not being able to throw the bigger enemies, but Boris being able to do so. It gave each combatant a sense of self, and I liked that. On top of this each of their special moves feels nice to use too: at the expense of a bit of health, you can really clear your front and back with Wade for example. If you’ve played any other well received beat’em ups in the past, you can find a lot of common ground here in Violent Storm.

What doesn’t feel all that nice is the game’s absolute BS boss fights. They’re awesome and varied, which is cool. The cage match wrestler, the living statue narcissist guy, and the “totally not a Ninja Turtles ripoff” Sledge all offer unique fights. But wow do they eat up quarters. They have hit and move patterns just like any other game would, but they hit incredibly hard and in really cheap ways if you don’t know what to look out for. The invulnerability they get when standing isn’t really visually indicated, so a lot of frustration comes when you think you can hit them but get knocked down for a huge chunk of damage instead. If I weren’t playing on free play I would have legit coughed up at least $5 in quarters, assuming each play is 25 cents. Pairing that feeling with the aforementioned sameness and/or lameness the game has with other arcade titles, and I can imagine people might not stay around all that long to play.

I’ve had to ask quite a lot recently why some of these games have been left in the arcades. With Metamorphic Force I presumed the dying of the arcades meant Konami simply wasn’t investing any more money is those games, and was instead focusing on home console releases instead. The last beat’em up I can think they released for both arcades and home consoles might have been 1992’s SNES release of Turtles in Time. Even at that point I think arcades were faltering, and while Street Fighter 2 would revitalize them for a bit, the damage of home consoles was done. Perhaps that’s why we also didn’t get a port of Violent Storm. Despite it looking so close to a beefed up Super Nintendo game, the game is currently as of this writing still an arcade exclusive gem (though inklings of an Arcade Archives digital release have been rumored for some time).

When a discussion breaks out on the greatest arcade games of all time, especially if it’s a co-op game, at some point someone’s throwing out a Konami beat’em up. I do not think Violent Storm will ever live up to the pedigree set forth by the likes of The Simpson’s or X-Men, but I think if given the chance to be played and seen by more gamers it would at least have a passing comment or two in the conversation. The game is good. Really good, if I’m being honest. But in an era so often left behind and no longer discussed, being good isn’t good enough. If you happen across a Violent Storm cabinet in your ventures into wild arcades, give it a shot: you’ll find a lot to love. And don’t worry: that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cabinet will be waiting for you when you’re done.


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– Jason J

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