Of Mice and Terminators

It’s a good job there’s absolutely no scope for lewd innuendo with the title of this one. This is a family friendly site after all, and I’d hate for it to descend into the gutter.

Body Blows is an old-school 2D beat-em-up developed and published by Team 17 and released in 1992. It was available for all flavours of Amiga, and – making it another of the Wakefield-based developer’s almost-exclusive titles – also for DOS.

If you lived in a 1-button Amiga bubble, had never experienced Street Fighter II in the arcades or on the SNES, and swallowed all the wish-fulfilling hyperbole oozing from the pages of the world’s Amiga magazines, you most likely would have enjoyed Body Blows. I ticked all of the above boxes as a wee sproglet and really got a kick out of it in human verses human mode… some punches and special moves too.

Looking back now I have to wonder if I’d received one too many blows to the head myself.

Team 17 had clearly spotted that the Amiga port of Street Fighter II is a shadow of its former self, and thought we deserved better. In a round-table discussion, probably over a few pints in the local boozer it was decided the best strategy to set about filling the gap in the market would be to shamelessly nick all of Capcom’s most innovative ideas, wrap them in a new skin and give it a title so suggestive Dominic Diamond would think all his Christmases had arrived at once. ‘Derivative’ would be putting it politely.

Most of Body Blow’s character line-up have a direct counterpart in Street Fighter II. Boston-based, street-thug brother’s Dan and Nik are the epitome of 90s cool and are virtually identical in terms of move-set and agility, taking their ‘inspiration’ from Ken and Ryu.

Maria, the token female character – a super-agile dancer from Barcelona – is essentially a westernised Chun Li. Our fat guy, Dug – the obese pro wrestler from Vegas – is much like E-Honda. Kossak – a built-like-a-tank Russian kickboxer – is the equivalent of Zangief. Vaguely spiritual, Buddhist monk, Lo Ray, finds his soul mate in Dhalsim. The list goes on.

Mike is an original creation, though ironically is the most dull of the lot in that he’s a shirt and tie wearing Wall Street exec who actually apologises for defeating his opponents. He must have experienced a similar upbringing to myself. My Mummy always taught me that if I’m to annihilate someone, it’s imperative to remain polite and respectful. Good manners cost nothing after all.

Max – a svelte yet potent powerhouse with a mysterious, deep, dark secret that was only ever alluded to in the magazines at the time – is the most remarkable character. He’s the final opponent and must be defeated twice to complete the game. The first time you kick his botty, he sheds his apparently-human skin revealing his true form; a T-800 style Terminator exoskeleton, only his is a model T-17 (of no significance I wouldn’t have thought). If all this is a pop culture homage of some kind, it’s extremely subtle. Oh yes, spoilers behind! I almost forgot.

While it’s a blatant counterfeit, unlike a ‘Fony’ TV, Body Blows is not without merit. Danny Burke’s 32 colour graphics are lavishly rendered and convincingly animated, and the techno-house dance tune title music composed by Alister Brimble packs a punch worthy of a pixelated prize fighter. As with the rest of Team 17’s back catalogue, the total package exudes an aura of quality and scrupulous attention to detail.

Notice how much more fine detail there is in the crowd in the DOS version. You can spot the Grim Reaper, Noah, a – probably bordering on racist – Chinaman.

Undoubtedly where the game comes apart at the seams is with its immensely restricted control mechanism. Not only is it hamstrung by the use of a single fire button, all the moves – specials included – are ridiculously easy to pull off, and the process fully expounded in the game’s manual.

Each character’s piece de resistance is executed merely by holding down the fire button for a few seconds, while their secondary special moves are triggered through pressing the fire button and pushing the joystick in a specific direction.

You won’t find any of the convoluted, rolling arc d-pad machinations that made Street Fighter II so infuriating to play, yet also so satisfying once you finally got a handle on them. Similarly, in this diluted clone there are no throws in evidence. 

In a single afternoon you would have dabbled with every selectable character and tried out all the moves to establish who your ‘default’ was going to be. We all had our trusty favourite. Mine was ‘Ninja’ who is a Ninja, and says “Nin-jaaaaaah” more often than an excitable witness at an all-Ninja ID parade.

With your personal ultimate warrior identified and their killer manoeuvre mastered, you can button-mash your way to victory in arcade mode in under an hour, leaving nothing left to achieve or discover. So then what? Trade it in for something with more longevity maybe? How about Amstrad’s GX4000 games console? This actually sold for less than a copy of Body Blows at one point believe it or not.

Scratch that – the game will last you a fair while, but for all the wrong reasons; there is a glut of disk swapping to endure, and it takes an eternity to load each bout. So long in fact that you’ll wonder if your computer has crashed and be reaching for the reset button.

Some versions of Body Blows couldn’t be installed to a hard drive by design (Team 17’s token effort at preventing piracy) so that really didn’t help its cause.

At least what they should have done is given you the option to play a mini game within the loading screen to keep you amused while you wait. Something with just sufficient depth to plug the gap, like Final Fantasy perhaps.

Body Blows was followed up by a sequel of sorts in 1993 that some argued was more of a data disk add-on.

Body Blows ‘Galactic’ takes the fight to an interplanetary level, where the action takes place across six disparate worlds each with their own theme tune.

It stars Danny (the namesake of the game’s designer, Daniel J. Burke) and Junior (named after programmer, Junior McMillian) from the original game, plus 10 new weird and wonderful combatants.

The best of the new arrivals for novelty value if nothing else has to be the dinosaur ridden by a green imp-like creature, surprisingly enough known as ‘Dino’.

One of its signature moves is to use its rider as a projectile, launching it into an opponent and then reeling him back in to resume control of the beast.

Curiously if you look closely you can see that the imp’s feet and chin are pink making it appear that the rest of his green body is actually a costume of some sort. Max isn’t the only one with a secret identity! It’s undeniably up there amongst the universe’s Big Questions.

‘Lazer’ is sure to get the spelling patrol’s hackles up. ‘Laser’ is an acronym for “light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation”; you can’t just go interchanging letters whenever you feel like it! If he’s also shooting ‘lazer triangles’, how can they possibly function as a weapon if they’re not spelt correctly? Surely they’d break up in protest before they connected with an opponent, thus rendering them totally ineffectual. It’s how these things work, you can’t argue with physics.

Also worthy of note is the feminist warrior from the planet Feminion, Azona, whose main weapon is a hoverboard straight out of Back to the Future! Someone should tweet Marty McFly to let him know she’s managed to get it working over water. Besides them exploding while you sleep, decimating your entire house and its occupants, this was always the principle flaw of the beleaguered hoverboard.

The Galactic edition adds an eight player tournament mode, and the enhanced A1200 flavour also features a turbo mode, 256 colour palette, and enhanced backdrops and music. Unfortunately the extra bells and whistles make for a slower game than the original.

It’s a real hodgepodge of pros and cons in the graphics department. Impressively, some backgrounds now support full parallax scrolling with objects in the foreground showcasing transparency effects.

On the other hand, all the characters still cast an identical oval-shaped shadow, and some of the sprites populating the backgrounds remain unnaturally static. On ‘Feminion’ for example, the warriors’ supposedly wind-swept hair is rigid as though set in stone. 

Analogously, a glaringly conspicuous example in the first game is the man standing in front of the exit sign at the boxing arena. He’s completely motionless like a deer caught in the headlights. I wonder if he nipped out to buy popcorn and witnessed something he’ll never be able to get out of his head. Perhaps he caught the imp in a dress rehearsal prior to fitting his costume, and is now scarred for life?

In 1994 a third title in the series was released for the CD32 and DOS. Ultimate Body Blows is an amalgamation of the settings and combatants from the first two games, driven by the menu and game-play interface of the first. The CD32 release makes full use of the extra joypad buttons available and features 16 tracks of music. As in ‘Galactic’, this AGA version is blessed with a 256 colour palette and enhanced audio.

You can still buy the DOS version at Good Old Games. It runs in all recent versions of Windows through DOSBox emulation.

While the digitised speech in all three games isn’t quite “awise fwom your gwave” bad, it’s extremely cheesy and unimaginative, and at worst, entirely unfathomable. Part of the problem – with the floppy-based editions at least – is that to fit on the game’s three disks, the speech has had to be compressed, resulting in an inevitable loss in quality and clarity.

That said, trying to decipher what the combatants are wittering on about in their post-battle taunts, or when punctuating their technique with auditory cues, does add an extra dimension to the game-play.

Is Inferno asking his defeated opponents if they’ve “had enouuuuugh?”, or is he ordering cheese puffs?

Yitu’s celebratory routine is dripping with melted cheddar, though at least is perfectly clear: he kneels down, sticks both thumbs up and while breaking the fourth wall to look at the camera, smugly congratulates himself with the line, “special technique”.

In the first game, Junior would ask, “how do you like that?” after pummelling an opponent into the mat. In the Galactic sequel this was switched with something that sounds a lot like, “I own you boy”, though could even be, “do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight”.

Kai-Ti touches her temples to focus her mind when summoning weaponized energy orbs. Always eager to please, she helpfully narrates: “finger press!”

Between limp “raaars”, is Dino channelling Guile with his “sonic boom” announcement? Maybe he’s complaining that Fred Flintstone doesn’t walk him often enough. It’s anyone’s guess really.

On firing a dragon head projectile, Lo Ray seems to be declaring “hudhah vader”, while “huhah baby face” resonates as a post-bout triumphant taunt. Quite possibly he’s only just broken his vow of silence, and articulating intelligible words is proving to be a bit of a trial.

Some fighters – Kossak for example – just phone it in. He concludes a successful round with nothing but a deep, reverberating belly-laugh. Maybe he only speaks Russian, and Team 17 don’t.

Playing Body Blows again today I found myself gravitating towards nit-picking over trivial details like why the boardwalk on the pier doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the screen, rather than enjoying the action, and perhaps that succinctly sums up its lasting appeal… or lack thereof.

Similarly, if you’re watching a movie and find yourself noticing that the level of liquid in drinking glasses switches from almost empty to almost full, and back again between scenes, you’re probably not getting much from the experience.

Of all the many genres the Amiga catered for, perhaps the beat-em-up has aged the least gracefully. What once passed for edge-of-the-seat game-play when we were 11 years old and fired up with kinship rivalry and pubescent testosterone, is now looking decidedly creaky.

Attempting to reconnect with it after all these years has left me cold, and wondering if passively watching a video on YouTube, keeping the rose-tinted glasses firmly in place would have been a better approach to take.

Die-hard beat-em-up aficionados will hate its primitive controls and play mechanics, while casual gamers who remember it more fondly for the good-natured banter it generated amongst immature friends will have since moved on and find it equally lacking as a one player experience.

Regrettably, the pegs where depth and strategy should hang are glaringly void. This and Body Blow’s poor controls, and derivative, bland themes and stereotyped combatants relegate it to little more than an anachronistic curio better left in a gaming history museum.

One thought on “Of Mice and Terminators

  • March 22, 2016 at 7:44 pm
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    Gotta agree with your assessment. I'm a big fighting game fan, and this was a noble effort, but the controls were murder.

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