Game Boy Guru – Pit-Fighter (1992)

Image shamelessly stolen from GamesDBase.
3 buff dudes and a lady in dominatrix gear. Nothing can

go wrong with this scenario, right? Nothing at all…

Since the inception of the modern fighting game with Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in 1991, scores of video game developers have attempted to jump on the head-to-head fighting game bandwagon at least once.  SNK had Fatal Fury, Midway had Mortal Kombat, Data East had Fighter’s History, and even Capcom rivals Konami had the little known Martial Champion.  Prior to the fighting game craze, however, companies were still trying to figure out a way to make a fighting game that wasn’t just walking left to right, mindlessly punching enemies in the face, but focused more on actual human interaction.  Atari threw their hat in the ring (sorry, pun intended) with 1990’s Pit-Fighter, originally released in the arcade.  The game was received well enough to receive a whole cadre of home conversions, including a port for Nintendo’s own Game Boy.

Unlike some games, at least the logo is the same here
as it is on the box. That’s about all that’s good about it.

It makes a weird kind of sense that someone would port a game like Pit-Fighter to the Game Boy, and yet it makes no sense whatsoever.  It makes financial sense, because if you liked the arcade game, you might want a home console or portable version, right?  So why not port the game to anything and everything with enough power to give some facsimile of the game?  Where that logic ends, however, is with the realization that the Game Boy just didn’t have the power to approximate a game like Pit-Fighter with enough technical success to make it anything more than a curiosity.  Rather, it’s more of an abomination.

Buzz is one of the 3 fighters you can choose from. Not
much to look at, he’s your standard beefcake wrestler.

Forget the fact that several development teams, including some of Nintendo’s own, had been able to make the Game Boy do some pretty amazing things by 1992.  Logically, you don’t take a 3-player, open arena based head-to-head fighting game with beat-em-up mechanics and environment interactivity onto a handheld system that is barely as powerful as its home console hardware predecessor.  I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting at the Atari Games/Tengen offices when they decided to port the game to the Nintendo Game Boy.  That must have been an interesting discussion.

I could totally see this happening at the Atari Games/Tengen offices, given how much focus
there was on pure profit during those times, especially with arcade ports to consoles.

Nevertheless, like any game company wanting to eek every cent of possible profit from their intellectual properties, Atari Games decided to port Pit-Fighter to every possible console they could to maximize the game’s earning potential.  They probably knew that console ports ofStreet Fighter II were going to dwarf any earning potential they had soon, so it had to release fast and on as many platforms as they could muster in order to capitalize on the arcade original’s marginal popularity.  Indeed, the SNES port of Street Fighter II, followed later by the Sega Genesis release of Street Fighter II: Championship Edition took the console world by storm, and most other fighting game franchises were left in the dust.  No one can fault Atari for wanting to bleed the proverbial turnip dry, given the fervor fans had for one on one fighting games by 1992, and wanting to get in on a piece of that action, monetarily speaking.  Sadly, the Game Boy conversion (that term used very loosely) of Pit-Fighter, leaves a LOT to be desired.

Don’t talk to me like that, you meanie!

Here’s the basic setup, for the uninitiated.  Pit-Fighter is a head-to-head fighting game that, at least in the arcade original, would “pit” (pun intended) up to 3 fighters against one another in mortal combat (I can’t help myself).  Each area is an arena in a sort of 2.5D view, and you can move up, down, left and right, and all over the place.  You have the ability to punch, kick, and jump (with both buttons simultaneously), and depending on your proximity to another fighter, and the combination of your movements and button presses, you can do other things like throws, or slamming/kicking your opponent when they’re on the ground to deal extra damage.  After you win a round, you’re granted temporary use of a special attack, which you can execute by sort of “swiping” over the two attack buttons in rapid succession, executing the attack.  It’s a tad clumsy, but it works well enough, and that usually deals more damage than anything else, so it’s important to use that as frequently as possible.  Each fighter’s health is represented by a counter that slowly whittles away as you or your opponent take damage.  Once the counter reaches zero, it’s game over.  No continues, no second chances, just death.

Looks like Buzz won himself a match! I hope that $1850 is enough
to pay his medical bills after the next subsequent beat down!

In the original arcade game, you had nice extras like the 3 player melee, weapons you could pick up off the ground, Double Dragon-style, and crowd interaction.  If you got to close to the crowd, the audience could attack you or push you back into the fight, and you take damage.  This was a strategy you could use to your advantage, by backing your opponent into a literal corner, then a combination of allowing the onlookers to pummel them, and unleashing your own fatal fury upon them (sorry, I can’t stop).  In the Game Boy version, the 3-player mode is removed, for obvious reasons, and sadly, there are no weapons available to assist you.  You have to rely solely on your own art of fighting (it’s getting bad) to see you through each match.  Unfortunately, there’s no health regeneration between levels, and no health pickups or bonuses, so the best and only strategy you can hope for is to get through each level with little or no health lost, so you can make it to the final fight (that was low hanging fruit) with as much energy as you can.

$11K for a single low-level fight? I picked the wrong profession…

Graphically, the game does as good a job as you could expect the monochrome handheld to do.  The arcade game was a touch herky jerky, and Nintendo’s venerable handheld doesn’t handle the scrolling very well so it jerks and stutters a fair amount.  The crowds have exactly 2 frames of animation which go back and forth at varying intervals, so it gives the illusion that there’s more going on than there really is, but as you’ll be focusing on your opponent, you may not even notice.  The character animations are copied from the original, though obviously scaled down for this format, and are equally as awkward as the source material.  The strange thing is, on the original DMG hardware, the game looks fine.  With different palettes, however, the graphics have a weird effect where your character sprite, or other elements, may disappear into the background because of the blending.  This is evident with the Super Game Boy and Game Boy Player, as well as with the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.

In terms of audio, it’s a mixed bag.  The game has relatively impressive voice samples, taken straight from the arcade game, that are present here.  However, for anyone who played the original, they would notice the rather limited number of samples available here.  Speech samples are a small handful of grunts, a laugh, and a couple yells.  It’s reduced to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3 of the original voice samples, and despite being somewhat impressive coming out of the Game Boy hardware, are still far less than what the original game allowed for.  There are also punch and kick noises, which sound like you might expect them to, sort of a “whiff” sound.  Unfortunately, only one music track from the arcade game is converted, and because the original wasn’t exactly a bastion of great melody, since that’s all that’s left available from the 4 sound channels on the hardware, it grates quickly because it’s just not that well composed.

“You’re the best around,
nothing’s gonna ever keep ya down!”

The other curious thing about the audio is what happens when you playPit-Fighter on a Game Boy Advance, GBA SP, or Game Boy Player add-on.  You get this curious effect where, interspersed with the sound and music, you hear this high-pitched whistle or ringing effect.  It rings somewhat intermittently as the game is played, but the occurrence of it is near-constant.  As if the game’s sound didn’t already border on annoying, this happens, and puts the whole experience over the top.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, and while I don’t yet know the reason for this anomaly, I recorded a video documenting it, along with the odd video problem I mentioned earlier, regarding character sprites blending into the background:

Episode 001 in my new Game Boy Oddities series.

At the end of the day, Pit-Fighter remains only marginally playable.  The original game wasn’t known for tight control, and the Game Boy port fares no better.  The game’s “moves” aren’t easy to pull off, and some of the maneuvers, like the rolling that Buzz can do when he gets up from being knocked down, I was never able to accomplish.  The graphics are problematic because of the choice to merely copy the arcade, rather than retool for the hardware, and the impressive speech samples aren’t enough to save the game’s audio from being anything more than mediocre at best.  The game offers no continues, unlike the arcade original, and because there are no power-ups (like the “power pill” which offered temporary invincibility in the original), health restores, or breathing room, the randomness of the enemy characters just adds to the punishing difficulty.  With some practice, I was able to kind of make it to the 3rd fight on most every attempt, but the game also lacks the “Grudge Match” option, where you fight a clone of yourself to try and score 3 knockdowns.  With all that’s missing from this port, all that the development team failed to tighten, and the obvious fact that this just wasn’t a stellar game to begin with, and you’re left with a Game Boy title that made neither Tengen, nor TH-Q, into world heroes (please, someone stop me!).  I paid exactly $4 for this, and that’s probably the most I would encourage anyone to pay.  Not that I’m encouraging anyone to pay for this game.  No, I would tell you to stay away, because it’s just not a good game, it’s not a fun game, and it’s not worth your time.  Pass this one up unless you’re a Pit-Fighter die-hard (should such a creature exist), or an avid collector like me, who masochistically has to have every title, no matter how wretched.

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About GameBoyGuru

I am the Game Boy Guru. I am attempting to collect, play, and review every licensed North American Game Boy game release. Yes, I realize I'll be doing this until I die. I also enjoy other retro/modern gaming, and collecting games and gaming items. I'm also a music lover (metal!) and collector of CD's and vinyl albums.

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