Street Fighter II and, later, Mortal Kombat, kicked off a craze that was perhaps the swansong of the arcade industry in many parts of the world. The arcade fighting game was an experience unlike any before. It pitted player against player in a novel way, and games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat each offered their own style of fighting and presentation.
Street Fighter II was a Japanese anime given fighting game form and had deep gameplay with a massive charismatic roster of characters and a presentation that was top notch and quintessential early 1990s arcade. Mortal Kombat embraced flash and style, sporting bleeding-edge “real” people as the characters, a cool storyline, accessible gameplay, and over-the-top fatalities that made it both controversial and taboo (read: desirable).
Eternal Champions for the Sega Mega Drive was born of this era and tries to combine the best of each school of fighting game thought. And, while not appreciated when initially released, Eternal Champions is perhaps one of the best lesser known fighters to be born out of this fad.
It’s hard to stress how many fighting games were developed during this period. Everybody wanted to cash in on the craze and Sega was no different. Initially planned as an epic trilogy of sorts, Eternal Champions spawned two fighting games, one on the Mega Drive and the other on the CD Mega Drive, as well as some spin off games.
The graphics at the time pushed the Mega Drive and offered great detail for a 16-bit fighter. While not as polished as Street Fighter II, it was, nonetheless, more involved than Mortal Kombat. It was tough to pick up and figure out immediately, but mastery yielded a kind of fun that was akin to the mainline fighting games.
Not only that, it had a really deep story. Super deep, to be exact. In a little bit of overkill, every player character has a detailed background outlining their motivations and place within world history. Similarly, their endings have as much detail and exposition. Text walls are somewhat jarring in a fighting game, but when you see how lovingly crafted everything is you can’t help but admire the heart.
Like Mortal Kombat, Eternal Champions features fatalities that can be just as gross and gruesome, especially when you consider EC was developed primarily for the Sega Mega Drive, a family console. While the Mega Drive was known for more adult fare, a lot of its customer base were families with children and Eternal Champions would be a polarizing creation from Sega.
The graphics are awesome with large sprites and detailed backgrounds. The animations are not as good as Street Fighter II but most players won’t notice this. Criticized at the time for its difficulty and relatively inaccessible gameplay, both of these still hold true but tastes are different today.
Loaded with special moves and rewarding mastery, the game should be get more love – especially in eSports fighting game tournaments. If you love challenging, even frustrating, fighting games, you need to try Eternal Champions. For a truly multimedia experience, try the enhanced pseudo-sequel for the CD-based add on for the Mega Drive.