Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not a spectacular game, but it is a game that I continue to play to this day for its varied cast of characters, its humor, and its presentation. This is one of the better titles ever released for the Sega CD, and considering that this game can still be found for a relatively cheap price, it’s one that any Sega CD owner should consider for his collection.

Enticed by the success of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s, many other developers began working on their own one-on-one fighting games, hoping to claim a share in this highly popular genre. Many of the games turned out to be either shameless clones (anyone remember the lawsuit brought against Data East by Capcom for Fighter’s History?) or just so poorly constructed as to be virtually unplayable, but some—such as many of the SNK fighters—found acceptance and continue to be popular to this day. Sega was not exempt from taking a shot at the 2-D one-on-one fighting genre, and in 1993, the company released Eternal Champions for the Sega Genesis console. I had been eagerly anticipating this game, hoping that this Genesis exclusive (take that, SNES!) would match the greatness of Street Fighter II. When the game was finally released, I rented it, ready to immerse myself in a little Sega-only fighting bliss.

Alas, Street Fighter II this was not . . .

It wasn’t that Eternal Champions was a horrible game. It got some things right. It had cool character designs. It had overkills (fatalities triggered by defeating your enemy in a certain spot on each level). It even had a decent story. The problem was, I didn’t enjoy playing it, and to this day, I’m not entirely sure why. I even tried it on GameTap in preparation of doing this review, and I’m still not certain what the problem is. I think it may be that there is a steep learning curve to the game. It seems that to do well in the game, you need to know all of your character’s moves and the appropriate time to use them against each enemy. Unlike Street Fighter II, in which I could develop a certain fighting style and modify it slightly as needed for each new opponent, it just seemed like each different character in Eternal Champions required an entirely different approach. Perhaps I didn’t have the patience. Maybe it just wasn’t fun.

Considering that I was less than enthusiastic about the Genesis cart, I’m not sure what attracted me to the Sega CD version. Perhaps I had read reviews stating that it fixed some of the flaws of the Genesis version. Maybe I discovered that it had new characters, hidden characters, FMV sequences, and now boasted four different kinds of fatalities. Whatever the reason, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side became my first purchased title for the Sega CD (I already had the craptacular pack-in Sewer Shark). To this day, I have not regretted that purchase.

I can’t play the Genesis cart long enough to detail the differences, but to me, the Sega CD version just seems much more playable. One of the improvements I noted with CftDS, though, is that moves appear to be easier to execute. From the short time I played Eternal Champions on GameTap, I noticed how much more difficulty I was having pulling off the moves, and when I didn’t perform the moves, I left myself wide open for attack. Also, even though you still need to know which moves to use against which character, it doesn’t seem to be as bothersome as in the original, where it seemed like sometimes I couldn’t find success, no matter what I tried.

Another welcome change with CftDS is the option to choose between three levels of difficulty: Novice, Warrior, or Champion. Even on Novice level, though, the game can be challenging, as the computer opponent doesn’t just roll over and let you beat him senseless. In fact, I was a little surprised at times at just how difficult the computer opponent can be on this level, as even on Novice, you will find your character a victim of multi-hit combo attacks and you’ll have many—if not most—of your projectile attacks being reflected back at you.

The Genesis version had an interesting cast of characters, and they all made the transition to the Sega CD, along with a few new combatants and several unlockable characters. What I like so much about the Eternal Champions characters is that they are visually interesting, and even though they rely on many stock characters, the developers put their own spin on them. For example, Xavier is presented as a warlock, but he is actually a man of science, and Midknight is a vampire as a result of a genetically engineered virus. The hidden characters add an accupuncturist who practices the drunken monkey style of fighting, a soldier, another warlock, a senator, and five animal characters. I have seen some complain about the not-so-serious characters, but the animals can actually have an advantage due to their small size, and the Senator . . . well, the Senator is just awesome. There is something really satisfying about throwing a ban at your opponent so he cannot attack or wrapping him up in red tape. And then, there is the classic “I am not a crook” that accompanies your teleport . . .

A final feature I will comment on are the FMVs that help to flesh out the story. While fighting games typically have rather skimpy stories that really add nothing to the game, the FMVs really added a lot to this game. For one, they used CGI sequences, which was not common at the time. Even though the video quality is very poor by today’s standards, I remember being wowed by the lengthy intro in which we get to see all the combatants (save for the locked ones) get saved from their deaths by the Eternal Champion as he explains the contest. We are also introduced to the Dark Champion, a second boss character created for CftDS (as if fighting just the Eternal wasn’t difficult enough). All of this makes it seem more as if there is a purpose for being in the contest, which enhances the experience.

Even with the improvements over the Genesis cart, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not a spectacular game, but it is a game that I continue to play to this day for its varied cast of characters, its humor, and its presentation. This is one of the better titles ever released for the Sega CD, and considering that this game can still be found for a relatively cheap price, it’s one that any Sega CD owner should consider for his collection.

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