Quick, think of an iconic early Nineties fighting game for the Super Nintendo!
No doubt, Battle Blaze was the first game to leap to mind. Assuming, that is, that you’ve never heard of Street Fighter II… or Mortal Kombat… or Killer Instinct… or Clay Fighter… or Ballz 3D…
Battle Blaze is an arcade port developed in Aicom and Electronics Applications, which had its American release in early 1994. The story is basically Mortal Kombat by way of Ator the Invincible – in the land of Virg, a tournament is set to determine who will become the new king of the realms (the underappreciated government form known as the Gladiatocracy). The tournament’s integrity is quickly threatened by Autarch, a demon with designs for world domination (and a kicking red and purple color scheme), who decides to rig the affair by possessing each of the six combatants. Only the mightiest among them, Durill, succeeds in fighting off his demonic assailant… then promptly drops dead, leaving his son Kerrel to take seek vengeance and take up his father’s sword fighting-based political career.
There are two play styles available in Battle Blaze – “The Hero,” which is essentially story-mode, and “The Battle,” which doubles as an exhibition mode and a multiplayer option. In “The Hero,” you’re stuck playing as Kerrel, a Kevin Sorbo-looking bohunk with a huge honking broadsword. Despite his chiselled physique and impressive armaments, Kerrel is actually rather underwhelming as playable character, arguably the worst character on the game’s roster. If you ever want to see the game’s final boss (or more than one background) though, you better get used to him. Part one of “The Hero” sees you battling through the tournament’s other champions: Adrick, a doppleganger of Fire Emblem’s Marth, but with oversized shoulder pads and scrawny chicken legs; Teysa, the knife-wielding token female character; Lord Gustoff, a half-orc with the mannerisms of Hulk Hogan; and the unfortunately named Shnouzer the Wolfman. Once you’ve laid waste to your rivals, it’s on to Autarch himself, who can turn his arms into spikes like the T-1000, and hits like a damned truck.
“The Battle” lets you fight through a five-opponent gauntlet, and offers both solo and two-player modes. This time around, Autarch is replaced by the missing sixth entrant in the tournament, Kerrel’s twin brother Lang… but since no one could be arsed to design another character, Lang is just Kerrel with a pallet swap, and the exact same move set.
As you would expect for a port of a 1992 arcade game, Battle Blaze’s combat is incredibly simple by SNES standards, employing the use of just two buttons (plus the D-Pad). Y lets you attack, B lets you jump, or, when ducking, to sweep the leg, Daniel-San. Combined with a basic block you throw up when retreating, the system allows for streamlined, tactical combat – or that’s the theory, anyway. In practice, attempting to fight strategically just got me my ass handed to me by the surprisingly brutal enemy AI. After suffering several humiliating defeats, I fell back on the lessons I learned from fighting Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat 9 – pick a move, and spam the bejesus out of it. I’ve always said, If you can’t fight fair, you might as well cheat like a motherfucker.
Oh, bite me.
In this case, I figured out pretty quickly that by using Teysa’s low-damaging sweep attack to repeatedly kick at my opponent’s ankles, I could stun-lock most of them and chip away at their health, bit by bit. My devious strategy let me breeze through four straight opponents… and then I ran up against Gustoff, whose superior strength (and well-executed belly-to-belly suplexes) broke through my otherwise impenetrable wall of shin-kicking.
Despite its many shortcomings, Battle Blaze was briefly entertaining. The graphics are decent for an early Nineties game, and the music is actually quite good (though in “The Battle”, instead of cycling through the playlist, you’re stuck listening to the same track over and over). There’s just not that much to do – each character has about four moves to learn, and since each mode features just five fights from beginning to end, you’d have to imagine that most players would grow bored quickly. If it weren’t for the demonic overtones and inordinately challenging difficulty, this could have almost been marketed as a very basic introductory fighting game for players new to the genre. As it stands, Battle Blaze was doomed from the outset – length production delays meant that by the time it saw the light of day on American consoles, Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat had already come and gone, transforming the entire 2D fighting genre, and leaving Battle Blaze dead in the water.
Final Score – 6/10