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Image Fight (Arcade) artwork

Image Fight (Arcade) review


"Used to be a time when shooters graced the arcades, and companies like Irem sat at the top of their craft, producing one solid space-faring saga after another. You don’t have to look beyond their beloved R-Type series to see what I mean. That was a franchise built out of love, yet conveyed with loathing. Methodical, precise, difficult – the series still conjures memories of challenging episodes and unmitigated ardor. But perhaps you’d be surprised to learn that Irem didn’t limit itself to just one grueling shooter franchise. Turns out that there was another. And people have always hated it."



Part 1: The Tradition


Used to be a time when shooters graced the arcades, and companies like Irem sat at the top of their craft, producing one solid space-faring saga after another. You don’t have to look beyond their beloved R-Type series to see what I mean. That was a franchise built out of love, yet conveyed with loathing. Methodical, precise, difficult – the series still conjures memories of challenging episodes and unmitigated ardor. But perhaps you’d be surprised to learn that Irem didn’t limit itself to just one grueling shooter franchise. Turns out that there was another. And people have always hated it.

Image Fight was released into the arcades in 1988, merely one year after R-Type first saw release. Where the latter already had established itself, and would continue to cement its legacy for years well into the future, this new kid on the block was already trying to distance itself from the success of its older brother. Image Fight wouldn’t submit to the slow and methodical precision required for R-Type. Irem wanted this new game to be faster, more frantic, and far more furious. It would be the bizarro R-Type that would establish Irem over the likes of Konami and Compile. It would be glorious.

Things didn’t turn out quite the way Irem had anticipated.

By no means is Image Fight a bad game, it just has its fair share of detractors. You don’t even have to look outside of this site’s archives to find scathing reviews for a game little understood. Interesting that within the span of one generation, Image Fight went from being the presumed Yin to R-Type’s Yang to a forgotten relic cast into the doghouse by those few who remember it.

It’s surprising, because Image Fight looks fantastic. Of the same old boring alien fleets tasked with invading earth, at least this one is creative enough to throw a variety of foes your way. Requisite blue reconnaissance fighters give way to screen-covering mega battleships outfitted with turrets, and those make way for inviting eye monsters outfitted with ensnaring horns. Like keeping the fight close to the enemy? Try outwitting an eye monster as its ambush envelopes your ship.

The OF-1 is a notorious machine. Remembered well enough to warrant a spot in R-Type Final’s ship collection as the OF-1 Daedalus, and undoubtedly a primitive benchmark for Treasure’s state-of-the-art Radiant Silvergun starfighter, this baby was capable of immense firepower. It could fire up to three options, a frontal weapon, and change between four varying gears of speed. If there were any ship capable of destroying an entire fleet of menacing eye monsters and steel vessels, this would be the one.

Problems start to mount, though, thanks to cocky piloting and the ship’s inexplicably large hitbox. Want to gracefully navigate on the searing edge of a fireball or laser beam? I wouldn’t recommend it. The OF-1 has a bloated backside already, and its hull explodes at the faintest hint of friction. The alien fleet is also cunning, probably more so than you are, as they strive to attack from every side of the screen. One hit is enough to put the OF-1 out of commission, but imagine the game’s audacity when it requests you restart from a set checkpoint! Like mastering entire corridors over the course of a game? You had better, as you’ll restart from previously conquered areas time after time.

That’s not even the worst part, as many would say. While the OF-1 can fire up to three options – and it can even use the two straddling its sides as projectiles – it is potentially devastating to pick up the wrong kind. Blue options will shoot straight ahead, which is nice, but are totally useless when the enemy is attacking from behind. Only the rotating red ones will get the job done no matter what you’re going up against. Too bad you lose them as soon as you die. Try breaking out of a harrowing gauntlet of turrets and fighters with nothing but your ship’s tiny default gun. Expect to die a lot. And then to die some more.

With all of these detriments, it’s easy to say that Image Fight is unfairly challenging. While there are nearly half a dozen different frontal weapons to choose from, you can only use one at a time, and there is no way to change it unless it gets blasted off of your ship’s nose. The nerve of these designers! And damn them for implementing nearly impossible penalty zones for maladroit gamers who aren’t good enough to fill the kill quota. If you think the regular game is tough, try escaping the equivalent of shooter hell. Crisscrossing lasers, never-ending plasma, and enough steel to make a fully operational Death Star, once you go in, you never come back.

Guess what, though? All that talk of shortfalls in ship design and ferocious enemy fleets is only propaganda meant to scare you away. With practice – and only a little is required – Image Fight goes from being nearly impossible to becoming improbably easy. With enough skill, you can destroy the first boss before it ever appears on screen! How many shooters let you do that? Think it’s just poor design? You can outwit all of the bosses if you know how to exploit their weaknesses. And you can plow through their mortal guardians if you fly smart and always carry three red options. Bash away at the fire button, and watch with a certain sense of satisfaction as the denizens once deemed unbeatable now explode into fiery blasts of shrapnel. Regardless of skill level, you’ll always begin at the last checkpoint you entered. That means no more unwelcome starts from the very beginning, unless you lose hope or run out of quarters. Play well enough and you’ll never even worry about seeing the penalty zone.

Surely, this will disappoint masochists.

Irem must have really wanted to deceive inexperienced players by implementing high barriers to entry. Probably that’s why most people have decried the frustrating restarts at the wake of battleship silhouettes. Probably that’s why R-Type went on to live in the memories of many, but Image Fight had trouble getting a nod as a fair game. Give it some time. Not a whole lot, mind you. If you cannot get significantly better after an hour, then you probably shouldn’t even be playing shooters in the first place. But if you find the horrors of the OF-1 and its dangerous enemy fleet giving way to confidence and ability, congratulate yourself. You’re more skilled, patient, and determined than 99% of the gaming populace.

Part 2: The Tragedy
Part 3: The Triumph

Rating: 7/10

Felix_Arabia's avatar
Staff review by Felix Arabia (February 08, 2009)

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Image Fight (NES) artwork
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Image Fight on the NES is absolutely horrible. Or at least that’s what you’re going to believe. This review won’t convince you otherwise. It’s not that my writing won’t move you to think the opposite, but the screenshots will strive to keep you in the dark. The pictures tell the real story, not the words. P...
Image Fight (TurboGrafx-16) artwork
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More than two years after its initial release, Image Fight stood defiant on the PC Engine as one of the finest shooters the system had to offer. It had graced the arcades, sold its soul to the devil to appear on the NES, and even graced the likes of a couple of obscure Japanese computers. But now it was on the...

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zigfried posted February 09, 2009:

Dammit, I was going to do a three-part review!

Of course, I'm not the type to be dissuaded so easily, so I'll stick to my original plans anyway. Congratulations on beating me to it ;)

//Zig
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Suskie posted February 09, 2009:

Very interesting and original approach, Felix, and I think you pulled it off quite nicely. Just out of curiosity, if you ever wanted to sub this for a competition, would you be allowed to enter all three "parts"?
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Felix_Arabia posted February 09, 2009:

Thanks, guys. I feel that this three-part review is a pretty risky idea. Hopefully it stimulates our creative juices rather than implore us to stick solely to the tried and true methods of reviewing. Zig, I think you should write a five part review.

And, well, I don't think placing something like this in a typical contest would work very well. Thankfully, I never had that intention.
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Suskie posted February 09, 2009:

I didn't think you did, I was just curious as to how that would work.
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JANUS2 posted February 10, 2009:

Yeah, this was very interesting and you handled the three part review concept well.

It was crying out for a fourth part on Image Fight II, though!
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Felix_Arabia posted February 10, 2009:

Part 4 will be a summer blockbuster release. I need time to get all the ads and trailers posted so GREAT HYPE can arise.
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zigfried posted February 12, 2009:

OPERATION DEEP STRIKER?

That would rock. Make sure you've got a focus window for that one. And a website promoting its release.

//Zig

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