I would like to start this review with a letter I wrote to Team17 some years ago (not really, but let’s imagine I did):
My name is DarkwyndPT (not my real name, obviously) and I’m a big fan of your work, especially the Worms series. Me and my friends have spent countless hours playing these games, killing each other’s virtual worms. I also enjoy the Alien Breed series, despite not being my cup of tea.
So when I’ve heard you decided to release an original fighting game just for computers, I was ecstatic. Buying a console is too expensive where I live and I’m tired to beg my rich friends to let me win every now and then at Street Fighter II. It’s not my fault I always get the shitty controller or that Miguel’s mom likes me best! Where was I? Oh yes! The Amiga version looked awesome and couldn’t wait to buy the DOS version. Last night, I played it for the first time and my experience with it prompted me to write this letter just to ask you a simple question: WTF?!
And years later, that question remains unanswered. So, which game made me swear worse than a drunken sailor suffering from Coprolalia? One of the few original fighting games released exclusively for computers, Body Blows.
Body Blows is a fighting game made by Team17 and originally released in 1993 for the Commodore Amiga and DOS. A year later, an enhanced AGA edition was re-released for the Amiga.
But before looking at the game, let’s look at the cover, shall we?
As you can see, the cover features the four main characters posing. Both the lettering and the art style are okay, but I wish it had more of a background instead of just black.
Well, it’s time to boot this sucker:
As you can see, the game starts by showing small profiles of all the characters involved, including Max, the first boss of the game, and then you get to the main menu. I wish I could tell you more about the game’s story, but there is none. The only thing that the manual and the profiles tell you is that Max is an evil underground boss with some dark secret and the rest of the characters are trying to topple him. It doesn’t even tell us if it’s a tournament or if they’re just kicking each other’s asses. Although if it’s the latter, it’s an original concept for a fighting game at the time, because back then it was always a fighting tournament.
In the main menu, you have several options available. If you’re playing on your own, you can either choose the 1-player mode or the arcade mode. In 1-player mode, you can choose any of the ten characters to play (except for Max) and face down the others, but you won’t get any ending whatsoever, not even a congratulatory screen. However, you can also play in arcade mode, which is the game’s story mode, but you can only choose between the four main characters featured in the cover: Nik, his brother Dan, Junior the boxer and Loray the monk.
However, if you are playing with friends, you can either choose the 2-player mode where you can face another friend in a simple duel or the tournament mode, where four to eight players can duke it out in duels and eliminate each other until there’s only one winner at the end. But it’s bad enough that I had to suffer through this on my own. I wasn’t going to put another human being through this, so I never played the 2-player or the tournament modes.
All the characters correspond to the typical fighting stereotypes, for example, Nik and Dan are the “Ryu” and “Ken” of this game (although Nik’s cap and winning pose is very reminiscent of a character from another fighting franchise). But you also get some interesting character designs: like Mike, a businessman and Kossak (very original name, but not as original as Ninja!), a character that mixes speed and strength. But the rest of the designs are very uninspired and some of the names are weird and silly (like a ninja named Ninja).
But it’s the control scheme that sets this game apart from the rest, meaning it’s crap! Like other fighting games, you have your eight directional arrows (in both the keyboard and joystick) but just one button to attack. That’s right, just one button to both punch and kick the opponent! How do you use different attacks then? By combining your attack button with any of the directions, for example, to block, you press the attack button and back (either left or right), instead of just the direction like other fighting games. But it makes it a lot easier to pull off some of the special moves (any diagonal + attack). Even with the stiff controls on the keyboard (I couldn’t configure the joystick).
The moves’ list is more or less identical between all the characters (Nik and Dan seem to get an extra special move, though) which consists of the typical punches and kicks and at least two special moves that do a little more damage and a charge move in which you need to press and hold the attack button until it fills the charge meter and then your character will perform that attack. The charge attack is usually a projectile but it can also be another type of attack (for example, Dug causes a small earthquake that damages any other character on the ground and Ninja turns invisible). And although the charge attack is the most powerful one in any character’s arsenal, it’s also the hardest to pull off. First, the AI always charges the meter faster than you, which means that it can use it more often than you and second, the character always does a short animation before attacking and during that animation, they’re wide open for any attack and any damage suffered during this animation, cancels the charge attack. So, I recommend sticking to the other special attacks and only use the charge attack when you’re absolutely sure you can pull it off.
But the controls aren’t the only problem with this game. Oh no, we have a lot more to discuss. The sprites are big but they’re ugly and the animation is awful. There are even some animation frames missing. The hit detection is hit and miss, with some attacks not connecting at all. The majority of the backgrounds are well detailed but static. The sound effects are also awful, with inaudible characters’ sound bytes. The techno soundtrack is actually cool, but it starts to get a bit grating after an hour or so. But for me, the game’s biggest problem is the balance.
This game is incredibly unbalanced. First, the AI is very unfair, even with the arcade skill off (easy mode), with the AI filling the charge meter a lot faster than we can. And second, the stronger characters; like Dug, Kossak and the bosses can’t be knocked back by the special attacks, which makes Dug automatically the strongest character because of this along with the fact that his charge attack has a wide range (as long the opponent isn’t airborne). For players with little to no experience in fighting games, I recommend choosing Dug (with mirror march off, so you can’t face him) because of this same reason. And Max, the first boss, suffers from SNK boss syndrome, being equally as unbalanced as Dug. The final boss has a rather pathetic weakness, if you can find it, though.
The vast majority of these problems were solved in the enhanced edition, but unfortunately it was only released for the Amiga. And us, the DOS players, got stuck with the messy original release. But however, this game had an enormous success, but only due to the lack of quality fighting games for the PC at the time. As bad as Body Blows is, it was better than the trash we had back in the day, like the original DOS ports of Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. We had to wait a bit more for a good PC fighting game.
Body Blows is just one of the several games that try to copy Street Fighter II’s formula and believe it or not, it stood out among several PC fighting games released at the time (mainly because the others were worse!). But I don’t recommend it, because it aged horribly and it was quickly surpassed by better fighting games, including the sequels, but those are reviews for another day. Also, if you’re interested in trying out this horror for yourself, then click here to play it in your browser.
So, what’s your favorite fighting game on the PC? Tell me by commenting below, in our Facebook page or on our Twitter feed. Next time, we’re going to follow what I hope it’s a new tradition here in Retro Freak Reviews. Until then, keep on playing and fighting.