Vigilante (Arcade) review
"Somewhere in between things got goofy. Somehow between the two titans, the earth and the heavens, there were noxious fumes in the atmosphere. Some time in 1988, there was Vigilante."
Vigilante has often been imitated. It has never quite been duplicated.
Thank God for that.
There are three incredibly influential beat ‘em ups from the 1980s, released in three consecutive years. The first was 1987’s Double Dragon, the granddaddy that laid the groundwork for everything the genre came to be known as. The last was 1989’s Final Fight, the style-exuding bar-setting masterstroke by which all others came to be judged.
Somewhere in between things got goofy though. Somehow between the two titans, the earth and the heavens, there were noxious fumes in the atmosphere. Some time in 1988, there was Vigilante.
Vigilante is a very bad game. In fact, it is the foremost example of a bad beat ‘em up that can be found, a lopsided column of sticks and mud between two gleaming towers. It is the town drunk in the stocks, on display for all to see what sorts of buffoonery in this genre will not be tolerated. Name any bad beat ‘em up. Its missing chromosomes are due to mating with this mess.
“The police cannot stop the street gangs…” begins the story. “As a vigilante you must defend your people’s turf!!!” And this is a well-enough start, as seemingly every hero worth his salt has vigilante as prior work experience on his resume. But we need oppressors and a source of conflict, and here the game reaches for the stars. “THE SKINHEADS…” and oh dear, where is this going… “...HAVE TAKEN MADONNA…” you’ve got to be kidding me… “HOSTAGE.”
The Skinheads have taken Madonna hostage.
The Skinheads have taken Madonna hostage.
The Skinheads... have taken Madonna… hostage.
Console versions of Vigilante play Madonna off as simply the name of your girlfriend. I’m not buying it. The arcade game mentions nothing of that sort. In my mind, this really is the mind numbing retelling of a wet dream a designer had about saving the 80’s Material Girl. And hell, why wouldn’t the Skinheads be responsible. Forget the fact these “Skinheads” employ just one fucking bald guy. One. And he’s not carbon-copied fifty times; you fight him… once.
“Take the law into your own hands.”
And so begins one nameless man’s two-dimensional trek chasing a van through the city on foot...
Vigilante is a beat ‘em up literally lacking depth; walk left or right, but no other option is available to you, no strategy to stroll into the foreground or background to dodge or counter. Fighting-wise there are five attacks; separate buttons to punch and kick, and directional combinations to jump kick, low kick, or low (re: dick) punch. Occasionally nun-chucks will be found lying on the ground, and with them in tow the adventure becomes easier; they provide a combination of the quickness of your punch with the distance of your kick. Otherwise, the only other neat tactic is to string together jump kicks, permitting you to plow an opponent approaching from the right in the chest with your foot, and before you ever touch the ground, bounce off him and similarly down another attacker from the left.
This maneuver has a less than ten percent success rate, so don’t get your hopes up.
When I see brick walls tagged with menacing graffiti like “JAZZ BAND” in Mug Smashers, I blame Vigilante. Outside a pub called “GOOD! FRIENDS” hazel-haired musclemen (remember, these are the SKINHEADS) in white tank tops and green slacks march toward you without hesitation. Their goal is not to throw a punch, or a kick, or a clothesline, but merely to walk up to you and grasp you, to lock their hands upon you. This tactic not only renders you immobile, allowing their other compatriots free shots, but also continuously drains your lifebar.
Their compatriots include a red mohawked brawler, a blonde knife-fighter, an old grizzled black man whipping a metal chain, and other nondescript men – all with hair! – firing guns and swinging clubs. These are the foes that will take more than a punch to eliminate, some four or five. And the greatest difficulty in Vigilante is finding ways to keep them at bay. When two club wielders sandwich you and a man with a gun is shooting at you all while a steady stream of draining drones charge headlong out of the “PIPI ROOM”, and your only options are to punch, kick or duck, you start to wonder whether a girl only like a virgin is really worth it.
Probably not, but continue on anyway for a bit. Dispatch the greasy bulky pirate in street clothes before the storefronts of the first stage, pinning him against the very van Madonna is held captive in via a flurry of kicks, and the wagon chase continues.
“THE VAN IS CARRYING MADONNA TO THEIR TURF… THE JUNKYARD.”
The Junkyard? What the hell kind of gang is this?
Old shanties and rundown Model-T’s litter this Hooverville the Skinheads call home; stacks of worn tires compose the entirety of the foreground. The headmasters of this stage are a pair of bozos that only have one attack… which consists of them backing away, and backing away, and backing away a little more, before unleashing an Olympic quality long jump with one foot aimed squarely at your chin. Imagine the fun of simultaneously fighting two opponents in a constant state of backtrack! Be careful; you can easily give chase through half the level just trying to punch them in the face.
Flawed boss battles are a theme. The head honchos of stages three and four are essentially exactly the same aside from hairstyle (remember: SKINHEADS) and introduction. In stage three, a fat shirtless brute with a Mohawk wields a mace… until one single punch shatters the weapon and you're fighting essentially the same goon you fought in stage one. In stage four, the lone bald man of the game -- finally! -- begins the battle by raining dynamite, only to hop down from his perch and reveal to be the same minor nuisance boss battle again.
The fifth and final stage begins as such:
“NOW THEY ARE ON YOUR TURF… THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SAVE MADONNA.”
Forget the fact you literally touched the doors to the van driving your dame around as early as the first stage. Forget the fact your “turf” is the steel scaffolding of a soon-to-be skyscraper. Forget the fact the Skinheads – again, I must – have one freaking bald guy. One!
You fought your way all through the town -- the storefronts, the junkyard, the bridge, the downtown -- only to end up on your turf. This was the destination of the van all along. This criminal mastermind’s evil plan was to kidnap Madonna and hold her… at your place? At the top of a... construction site? What the hell is this, Donkey Kong?
Vigilante is bad. It is terrible. Its fighting system is elementary and flawed, repetitive and strategic in the dumbest of ways (standing still ducking and punching should not be your primary beat ‘em up tactic). It’s goofy and disjoint; its plotline is as simple as saving your girlfriend from a gang, and somehow they messed that up. Several times. And yet, somehow, Vigilante remains an especially relevant game to the genre.
Because however close to Vigilante your beat ‘em up is, that’s how far it is from being anywhere near good. It’s a milestone in that it makes every mistake. And that deserves recognition.
Staff review by Winston Wolf (March 11, 2011)
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