One thing I find interesting about brawlers of the early 1990s is the very 1980s inspired grungy vigilante street justice tone still present in their art direction and settings. Popular exploitation cinema of the 80s celebrated violent punishment of crime amid urban decay. Games followed suit, frequently using oddly helpless women as plot catalysts and street gangs as fist fodder. But there was change in the wind; brawlers were moving toward science fiction and fantasy. So, Rival Turf was kind of a relic even in its time.
The heroes of Rival Turf are allegedly the baddest of good guys, with certainly the silliest of names: Jack Flak and Oozie Nelson. Their more mundane names in the original Japanese release, Rushing Beat, are Rick Norton and Douglas Bild. That version apparently even tries to convey a story with an introductory cutscene, though either version you choose translates to your basic setup: two men are tasked with defeating an army's worth of gangsters. A kidnapped sister might be involved. Or maybe she’s the main guy’s girlfriend? I don’t know. Look, this is a remarkably unremarkable brawler. Rival Turf is an uninspired also-ran attempting to capitalize on 1992’s fever for console beat-em-ups.
Combat is fine. Sometimes less than fine. But never better. Movement feels hampered by a distraction lack of frames in character animation. Enemies aren't especially fun to fight. After being knocked off-screen, your foes take their sweet time shuffling back into view. And there are very few fighting moves on either side of gameplay: enemies are listless dull punching bags and each of our heroes pulls off a tiny array of punches and kicks. And that speaks to an overall lack of variety and excitement in the game. There are only six regular enemies plus a single palette swap for each one. The bosses are slightly more interesting. One of them might be Vega. One seems to self-identify as a genie. The final boss is an angry karate man.
|If you're familiar with Rival Turf, this is likely the image you remember.|
The only interesting things Rival Turf can claim to do are adding a run button and including an optional Angry Mode which gives the player brief invincibility and higher damage output after receiving a beating. But it’s difficult to utilize the latter feature due to the sluggish, generally poorly paced combat. The lack of movement fluidity might not come across in footage of the game, but within seconds of play I was sick of the game's combat.
|I'm partial to the Super Famicom box art.|
It's a shame that I feel a need for flashy gimmicks in a game. But a lack of any interesting mechanical features, art direction, music, etc. leaves this SNES title almost entirely flat. It’s not a pain to sit through, but the early 90s had better brawlers on offer.
Also, I kept wanting to call this game Rival Schools. Which it most certainly isn't.
There's a video version of this post here. Please check it out.