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Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) artwork

Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) review

"Below the belt"

Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) image

About a year ago, fellow HG critic Gary Hartley hatched a sinister scheme.

"I'll convince my fellow staff members to review Sega 32X games," he said, most likely while holding a glass of wine, looking over a city from his super villain fortress and cackling. His plot may sound like a benign task, but I know it's actually an attempt to trick me into playing horrible retro games.

To wit: Brutal: Above the Claw, a 2D versus-style fighter starring a lineup of anthropomorphic animals trained in the martial arts. Initially, I thought it would be a simple title to cover because its apparent target audience was children. "It's Street Fighter vs. Looney Tunes," I said to myself, "I can handle that." Little did I know, I was about to get a run for my money...

The introductory screens were welcoming, at least. The character Psycho Kitty popped up next to the Sega logo and seamlessly danced to a funky ditty that smacked of the early '90s. Eventually, the title dropped into view and a raspy voice said "BROOOO-TUUUUULLLL". A 13-year-old version of myself would have gasped in amazement at the cutting-edge technology on display. The animation even remained smooth on the battlefield, allowing for swift combat without twitchy movement. I only wish Above the Claw played as fluidly as it looks.

Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) image

Even on its most lenient difficulty setting, Above the Claw was unforgiving. After I initiated the campaign and settled on a critter, a status screen informed me that I was bereft of special moves. I could earn them back, but that would require toppling several foes per maneuver. I cracked my knuckles in response to the challenge and prepared to bully the move set back into my possession. My first opponent was Pantha, a robed panther who's part of a demonic cult. Without character-specific strikes, I had to rely on only rudimentary blows. Unfortunately, my flurry of well-timed punches and kicks dished out a negligible amount of damage whenever they connected, which was rarely. Pantha's modus operandi was to clam up in the corner and block 98% of all thwacks, only dropping his impregnable defenses to spam devastating fireballs or throw attacks.

It didn't help that the game's control response left me vulnerable more often than not. Often I aimed to leap forward, only to instead jump straight upward. Advancing after crouching was also an issue, since it took Above the Claw some time to register that I was pressing a directional button other than Down.

Despite my efforts, I couldn't fell Pantha. Frustrated and desperate, I decided to jack up the difficulty setting to see if that altered his procedure. Now Pantha bounced about the arena, giving me a sporting chance. However, countering and out-maneuvering him, as I would in most 2D fighters, turned out to be foolhardy. I soon adopted a handy strategy that involved cornering him and repeatedly executing a sweep kick. Hey, turnabout is fair play! I then advanced to Psycho Kitty's domain, where I performed the same cheap tactics until I emerged victorious. The only difference between the two confrontations is that Kitty enjoyed jumping for no apparent reason instead of constantly blocking.

Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) image

From start to finish, Above the Claw's campaign is not so much a collection of action-packed scuffles as it is a constant struggle against faulty AI routines and sluggish control response. Sure, the game rewards your efforts by tossing you a special move occasionally, but I have two complaints with this system. For one thing, you work your butt off for lousy maneuvers. Defeating the first three adversaries earns you a taunt. Yeah, that's right: your hard work nets you naught but useless name-calling skills. Secondly, I have to question if temporarily removing special moves was a wise concept in the first place. Without specials, any versus-style fighting game produced after 1991 is just a banal action title.

If you decide the campaign isn't for you, there's always "Battle" mode. This one pits you against the computer or another player in a turn-based strategy game, wherein you select three fighters to serve as your party. From there, you mosey along various routes and locations and engage targets in matches until you've defeated them all (or vice versa). In other words, you once again struggle against the aforementioned drawbacks, only this time in the form of a watered down strategy experience. If by some chance Battle mode has piqued your interest, then allow me to destroy it for you: there's only one map included in this package.

Brutal: Above the Claw (Sega 32X) image

Ultimately, I recommend avoiding Brutal: Above the Claw. Its sluggish control response, paired with wonky AI and a crushing difficulty rating, render it a heavily flawed and frustrating affair. I suppose that's to be expected, though. Scores of fighting games popped up in the '90s and loads of them were either mediocre or terrible, with many of them now faded into obscurity. Above the Claw's status as one of the lesser known versus-style products should have told me straight off that avoidance was the best policy.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 23, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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