Retro Respawn – Final Fight and the Coin-Op Beat-Em-Up in the Modern Age

Final Fight is a darn entertaining slice of 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up action. I think anyone who has played it will likely agree as it combines hearty combat with interesting level design and fun set-pieces. Whether it be the bonus level where you have to smash someone’s car to pieces until they come out to find it and drop to their knees with tears in their eyes, or the ghoulish continue screen that emotionally blackmails you into using another credit lest your player get blown to smithereens, Final Fight is not only fun to play, but it also has fun with what it is and is very much in on the joke. That all being said, in a world where genuine arcades are few and far between outside of specialist ones like Arcade Club in Bury, where does a game like Final Fight even stand anymore?

Capcom may have put a lot of time and effort into ensuring that Final Fight was fun to play, but that was never the core reason for its existence. Final Fight and other arcade games like it existed as a way to make money. They existed as a way to tantalise you into sticking coins into an arcade cabinet so that you could keep playing on. In some less than scrupulous establishments, the owners could even jack up the difficulty if they wished, thus making it even harder to get past the next row of street thugs or Andre the Giant-like heavies. Final Fight may have been seen by us as a game first and foremost, but to those that mattered, it could easily be used as a way to exploit us and fleece us of our pocket-money or weekly/monthly wage depending on whether we were old enough to work yet.

That isn’t to denounce Final Fight as a game itself as it was one of many great games from its era, but the fact remains that Capcom and arcade owners didn’t want to see you reach the end without putting your hand in your pocket, and the game was ultimately designed with that goal in mind. The home console versions were released with different aims in mind, of course, but the arcade version of the game was definitely a creation of its time, and that makes going back to it outside of an arcade environment somewhat tricky. For example, when a game is designed to punish you with no more game once your pennies run out, with that punishment being a core part of its original design, how does removing the need to pump it full of coinage affect it?

Being able to keep spamming a button to refresh your credit count immediately removes a lot of the jeopardy from the event as all of a sudden you don’t have to worry about your game of Final Fight coming to an early end. You can keep continuing to your heart’s content. This isn’t just something that affects Final Fight, of course. All games from this genre suddenly become completely different prospects once you don’t actually need to worry about dying anymore. I must confess that during my recent playthrough for this feature, I was hardly playing the game with much caution or trepidation because I simply didn’t have to. I knew that no matter how many times Guy, Cody or Haggar bit the dust, a “new guy” was just one push of a button away and played accordingly.

Whereas I might have been careful around certain hazards or fought with a tactical plan in some situations had I known that too many deaths would mean the end of the game, when I most recently played Final Fight, I leapt in with reckless abandon. In difficult situations, I just keep ploughing through with complete disregard for my health bar. There was no real strategy to speak of, I just kept going until the game ended, and when it did end, I was left with kind of an empty feeling. This isn’t just because I played it at home either. Arcades themselves are so rare these days that a lot of them, such as the excellent Arcade Club in Bury, charge you a flat fee just to get in, and then most of the cabinets are free to play once you’re inside.

This doesn’t mean this genre doesn’t “work” anymore by any means as Final Fight can still be a lot of fun, but psychologically, the whole premise definitely feels different when you don’t have to constantly worry about your money running out and the game ending. Some might argue that not having to worry about credits is a good thing, that such a model is bordering on being manipulative and makes the game less fun because you constantly have to worry about something beyond just the game itself. And let’s be honest, you don’t have to be a lazy charlatan like me and could always give yourself a self-imposed limit of lives before you reset.

The difference, of course, would be that it would be just that, self-imposed and within the boundaries that you would personally feel comfortable with. Maybe that’s to be appreciated? Regardless of where you fall in the debate, Final Fight remains a seminal release that continues to be highly regarded to this day. The world it lives in may have changed from when it first came out, but as far as beat-em-ups go, it’s still a real left hook to the chops of boredom!

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