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Martial Masters (Arcade) artwork

Martial Masters (Arcade) review


"Martial Masters is, quite possibly, the greatest 2-D fighter you’ll never play."



It will never be in some game mag’s top ten. You’ll never hear about a tournament being held for it. It may never be mentioned in the same breath as Guilty Gear or Marvel vs. Capcom or King of Fighters.

But believe me when I say this: Martial Masters is, quite possibly, the greatest 2-D fighter you’ll never play.

!TRUTH!

Now, Martial Masters doesn’t’ have any revolutionary modes; no tag-team, no transformations. It doesn’t have any flashy effects, no Shinku Hadoukens, no flaming dragon punches, not 50-Hit Ultra Combos of Unyielding Doom. It doesn’t have you playing dress up or looking for hidden cutscenes, it doesn’t force you to memorize button combinations, it’s not the sort of game you have to spend weeks at to master. Some characters require patience to master, some are good for button mashing, and the former can always beat the latter. No gimmicks. No tricks.

Martial Masters only has two things going for it: The world itself and the characters that fight in it. That’s all it needs.

!TESTIFY!

The backgrounds flow like moving art. Reeds sway in the forest, wafting in the breeze, leaves fall and the sun leaks through the canopy, vibrant shades of white and green dashing over the battlefield. The marketplace, filled to the brim with people in their morning rush, part ways and look on as you trade blows, hanging on every punch thrown and every kick blocked, so close, so vibrant, so animated that it almost seems like you could bring the fight to them with a stray strike. A river runs through a cave, fighters train on the temple grounds, a horde of monkeys look on with jeering eyes; you can almost get so distracted by the world that you lose track of the fight.

Almost. The backgrounds may be gorgeous, but the characters themselves are nothing short of mesmerizing.

!DANCE FOR ME!

Watch Red Snake dance, see her curve and flow, see her pose, see her muscles tense and bulge and squirm, practically slithering across the field; wearing the dress of a belly dancer and fitting the role, the moves, and the style to perfection.

Gaze on the monstrous man-mountain named Monk, a living juggernaut. Huge, imposing, a terrifying foe to face; his every motion carries great weight. He punches and his whole body moves in tandem. Legs, torso, head; it all shifts in a grand, dynamic display of raw power. He controls like a power character, he moves like a power character.

And then, the Drunk Master. His attacks, his taunts, his every animation plays out in fine form. Even standing still, his entire body runs the full gamut, transferring from move to move to move with realistic fluidity, borderline hypnotic. When properly used, he flies around the screen. No choppiness. No missed frames. Sometimes it doesn’t even look like anyone’s playing him, like he’s just going through one continuous animation all on his lonesome. He’s the most ornate, most intricate, most amazing character I have ever fought as. 2-D. 3-D. Whatever.

Monkey Boy leaps and laughs, slapping his opponent around with random strikes and taunting all the way. Scorpion follow his namesake with insane fervor, crawling along on two hands and one leg, striking out with his fourth limb held high and a devious smile. Every character has naunces, styles, distinct ways they need to be played for maximum effect, but they all benefit from keen playing. Yes, you've got the beginner's fighters, the obligatory well-rounded characters. But they're nothing compared to the advanced ones, the kinds that take patience and study and lots of quarters. From the many forms of Huang to the grace of Crane to the overbearing power of the Lotus Master, Martial Masters has many such characters to go around.

It's all about the detail. All about developing your characters, learning their intricacies, knowing what they can and can't do. But, unlike a lot other fighters with a learning curve, it's also about enjoying the process.

!BREAK IT DOWN!

Arcades are on the verge of extinction, at least where I live. Nearest one’s about twenty miles away, and they dare replace this game, this masterpiece, with a Dance Dance Revolution machine.

Like replacing the Mona Lisa with macaroni art. Shameful.

But the memories stay strong; you forget a game like this. It’s a gem. It’s that dinky little cabinet they tuck in the corner, the one nobody plays but everyone should play. It deserves the respect it will never be given.

Rating: 9/10

lasthero's avatar
Staff review by Zack Little (June 28, 2006)

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