Saturday Crapshoot: Supreme Warrior
Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, the classic controversy magnet Night Trap went to Kickstarter for a reboot, and hey, speaking of rubbish FMV games that should stay in the past... .
Yes, I'm not really sure what it is about Night Trap that's so far persuaded a few hundred donors to stump up over $20,000 for a remake of a game that wasn't even that interesting when it came out, but I guess there's no accounting for nostalgia. It's certainly the most talked about of the Digital Pictures games, which also included Double Switch, which was similar to Night Trap, Corpse Killer, an existential journey into pointlessness, Kids On Site, in which FMV games met heavy machinery without any of the CDs ending up in an industrial woodchopper for some reason, and a previous Crap Shoot subject, Game Over, which took FMV sequences from most of them and stitched them into a, cough, actual movie.
Most of them didn't end up on PC. But this martial arts one did. Gosh. Weren't we lucky?
Supreme Warrior is one of those tales that makes you look back at the ancients who crafted things like magic masks that would give whoever possessed them complete control over a) the world and b) karate chops and ask, guys, what the hell were you thinking? There is simply no reason to make something like that, even if it's always somewhat notable that whoever did is somehow not in fact the reigning overlord of all that exists. Such artefacts are nothing but villain-bait, and in this case, that villain is a somewhat crazy guy who swaps clothes with Batman villain Two-Face, and goes by the somewhat awkward name "Fang Tu". Without of course, ever lowering himself to this conversation:
"And now I shall destroy your village and all you love!"
He's also one of those villains who, despite having magical powers, would much rather use his fists to settle all problems and not, instead, defeat incoming challengers by ray-beaming them from the other side of the arena. Maybe that's because as of yet he only has half of the mask that provides total world domination, and is slowly warming up by merely being the kung-fu overlord of Australia, Belgium, a decent chunk of the Atlantic Ocean, a large chunk of Russia, and Guam.
Anyway, things kick off much as you'd expect if you've ever seen a bad kung-fu movie, up to and including the words "Richard Norton" appearing in the opening titles. Supreme Warrior filmed its action on location, on a number of actual sets, and does at least look pretty good behind the crappy video encoding. The story takes place in a village somewhere in 16th century China, with Fang Tu showing up with his three elemental warlords - "Don't Talk To Us About Big Trouble In Little China", "Seriously, This Is Totally Different" and "Jerry". Against him stands an elderly martial arts master and his beautiful daughter, Yu Ching, who actually put on a pretty good fight of it all things considered, before losing on the grounds that otherwise there would be no game. Well, moreso, anyway.
"He who controls the full mask... controls the world!" declares Fang Tu. "He who only has half can only do Phantom of the Opera cosplay! Let me make the music of the niiiiiiiight!"
Again, not really. If only. Instead, he demands the other half of the mask that he thinks the old master has, declaring that if he doesn't get it, everyone in the village's heart will be ripped out and put on a stake, presumably as a really awesome kebab. Then he just wanders off. With the sound of a head-hitting desk though, at this point the old master notices you and happily declares, as if skipping a whole page of script, "We've been waiting for you! I assume you brought the other half of the mask!"
The villains are ten steps away. There is literally no way they would not have heard that, with Fang Tu spinning on his heels, running over, going "Yoink!" and ending the game with the "waah-waaaah" horn of idiocy. But no. Luckily, nobody is paying attention, and so the old man declares that only you - yes, you! - can save the day. Though the reasoning is quite tenuous.
"One problem. No, two problem. I am too old to fight," says the old master, despite having put up a pretty decent showing against an army only a few seconds ago. "And Yu Ching, my best fighter, is too injured." By which he means she has a tiny, tiny little boo-boo that she's even now dealing with by wrapping up in a bandage, and will cause her no problem whatsoever as she acts as guide and second for the entire game. Her expression at this comment however makes it very, very clear that she hears what it really means: "Yu Ching, my best fighter, is a girl." You can see it in the absolute death glare she shoots the camera as she acquiesces, and introduces the menu where you choose your first opponent.
(Note: This footage is from the Mega CD version because of some framerate issues in DOSBox. It looks better, but doesn't run as well. So, imagine it slightly less blocky.)
Before you can set out though, it's probably a good idea to do some training. Or it would be, if that was even possible. But this is Supreme Warrior, and so instead of that 'learn to play' nonsense, all you have are a few videos where they express the details. I have never felt more sorry for a pair of martial artists than the two assigned Moron Duty for this - all that training and exertion and study leading up to being immortalised on camera being told that if you want to 'punch' someone, you need to move 'close enough' to 'punch them'. I'm not exaggerating. Just watch these poor guys, especially in the third part...
And that's literally all you need to know about martial arts! Want to kick someone? Kick them in the face. Are they protecting their face? Then it's probably a good idea to kick them somewhere else. With honour!
When the actual game begins though, all of that meditative style and control and precision goes right out of the window. Supreme Warrior is one of those 'stuff happening on an FMV' games that early CD train wrecks absolutely loved; in this case, sprites of your fists of fury and feet of slightly different fury lashing out at an opponent, with the basic game being about timing the right attack for the right thing - to be blocking when a punch comes in, to be punching the right side of the face when the right side of the face can be punching, and downing whole boxes of motion sickness tablets to compensate for the camera bouncing around here there and everywhere as your opponent dodges and dives and turns the entire thing into a chaotic slap-fight punctuated with cutting insults like "Your mother kisses toads!"
The timing required is ludicrously precise, and rounds go on forever. Somewhat oddly, it's not enough to simply beat down the three Warlords - Earth, Wind and Fire, before they decided to give up martial arts and record Boogie Wonderland. First, you have to defeat their bodyguards. I'm not entirely sure why the three most powerful fighters short of Fang Tu need a couple of bodyguards each, but they do, a wide mix from traditional kung-fu types to action girls both Asian and American and a couple of odder ones, like an almost shamanic Fire Warlord with dreadlocks; many with a bit of a love for face-paint and quick edits that try and hide the chaotic filming as everyone zips around the arena. Say what you want about Fang Tu, he's an equal opportunities kind of employer!
The action is also relatively smooth, using punches as an excuse to cut to an insert shot and then return to the main fight, and with each fighter having a decent number of recorded moves to watch out for and deploy your most powerful tricks and cock-punches against. Though mostly, due to the length of the battles, you end up doing the Open Palm move known as "No, Not In The Face!"
Failure means being knocked to the ground and insulted, both by the enemy combatant and the old master, whose declarations of things like "Do it RIGHT!" should really be met by the angry response "Do it YOURSELF!" The Warlords though are pretty reasonable people who don't have any interest in Fatalities or even finishing the battle. Earth especially would rather just hang out in the pub and share hair tips with his equally pretty, long-haired blonde bodyguard. When you beat them, they also politely give up, acknowledge defeat with a variant of "I won't bother you again" and share their super-technique, like the Buddha Fist - a handy upgrade on what's probably a start point of just having Buddha-fingers.
Well, it's certainly a bit more in-depth than Mad Dog McCree! But it shouldn't be much of a surprise that this style never really did take off, unless I suppose you count a couple of games like Choose An Enemy when side-on views allowed for a few extra elements, like tactical depth, character differentiation, fun, and the CD not screaming like a demented science project and begging to be known why it was born, why it was cursed to exist. The same idea was used elsewhere though, for boxing, for basketball, for boxing (Prize Fighter, aka "Raging Bullshit") and not C&C Music Factory, but I'm going to link it anyway because dear Christ almighty, it is a thing that must be witnessed...
Even so, this remains the most awkward thing to come out of any of them. Ah, Game Over...
Supreme Warrior gets close though, a game made at a time when the initial enthusiasm of 'we can put movies on CD' had dampened after people actually, well, played them. The dark days of early 3D games was still ahead, but that was different. Even early on it was clear that at some point, they would be the future, while anything reliant on simply spooling FMVs was inherently a stop-gap between 16-bit and whatever came next - one that still led to some great games, like Tex Murphy and Gabriel Knight 2, but was never going to truly do for the home what the likes of Dragon's Lair did for the arcades. They were games born with an expiration date, impressive but empty for the time, and most fondly remembered because they cost so goddamn much that you had only two real choices if you bought one - Stockholm Syndrome, or bitter, bitter tears. Certainly, I'm not expecting a Kickstarter for this one.
Heh. I love that in the ending, our hero ray-beams the villain. Smart! But that whole "Experience the power of the mask! You are the master... until someone better comes along!" thing? I call bullshit. I was promised ultimate power! Ultimate!Power! And all I get is "Yeah, well, you're okay, I guess..."
Sigh. I haven't been this disillusioned since Street Fighter II didn't let me fight a single street.