Hissatsu Buraiken: run and gun without the gun

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One of the best things about Capcom’s golden age in arcades is how willing the company was to experiment with variations on various formulae. Hissatsu Buraiken, also known as Avengers, is a great example of this.

Hissatsu Buraiken (as we shall refer to it hereafter, as that’s what Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium calls it) was first released to arcades in Japan in late 1986 and made it to the worldwide stage in 1987, putting it in the same year as some real classics including 1943: The Battle of Midway, the first Mega Man and the original Street Fighter. It was directed by Takashi Nishiyama, who had previously worked on Irem’s Moon Patrol and Kung-Fu Master prior to joining Capcom.

Being the creator of the game commonly regarded as the origin point of the beat ’em up genre, it’s unsurprising that Nishiyama’s post-Kung-Fu Master work continued to build on the concept of punching dudes in the face. Indeed, his first game for Capcom, Trojan, was in many respects a spiritual successor to Kung-Fu Master, and its NES port featured Capcom’s first ever one-on-one fighting mode. And even Street Fighter was a game built with the intention of building on the concept of Kung-Fu Master’s boss fights.

Hissatsu Buraiken

Hissatsu Buraiken fits right in with Nishiyama’s other work in that it’s essentially a top-down take on Kung-Fu Master. Taking on the role of Ryu (no relation) and/or Ko, it’s up to one or two players to fight their way through Paradise City (where, I’m told, the grass is green and the girls are pretty) and banish the evil Geshita, rescuing some lovely maidens along the way.

Each stage in Hissatsu Buraiken unfolds in two main phases. The first involves working your way through the stage itself, fending off goons who appear from predefined locations or simply avoiding them. The end point of the first phase normally features a Commando-style enemy swarm before you are able to proceed, and successfully clearing this allows you to move on to the second part of the level: the boss fight.

Both phases operate fairly similarly to Kung-Fu Master in mechanical terms. Ryu and Ko can punch and kick, with the punch being faster but having shorter range than the kick, and most enemies can be dispatched with a single impact. The vast majority of enemies you encounter, particularly in the early stages, are simple grunts who attempt to swarm you and grab you, though the further you progress the more different types of enemies you’ll have to contend with.

Hissatsu Buraiken

The main danger in Hissatsu Buraiken comes from enemies who are able to make use of ranged attacks, because they are also often very good at staying out of reach. For example, in the first stage, you’ll occasionally encounter bomb-throwing dudes who back away from you at a fair old clip when you try and approach them; while you can score yourself some nice points if you do manage to take them out, more often than not — particularly while you’re learning the game — it’s probably best to simply try and avoid their attacks until they wander off.

You’re not completely forced to depend on your fists and feet, however; dustbins scattered around the levels contain various power-ups ranging from simple point bonuses to temporary upgrades to your speed and strength. There are also occasional weapons, including nunchaku that increase your range, kunai that can be flung from a distance, and grenades that can hit an area’s worth of foes — but don’t depend on these as they appear relatively rarely!

The boss fights are, honestly, probably the lowlight of Hissatsu Buraiken because they’re a little clumsily implemented, much like the boss encounters in Kung-Fu Master. They’re heavily pattern-based, depending on you avoiding attacks and striking rapidly during openings, but the complete lack of hitstun or any sense of impact makes them unsatisfying and, at times, difficult to determine whether or not you’re actually dealing any damage. This is a particular problem on the second boss, who does the obligatory “split into multiple parts, only one of which is real” thing; the feedback the game gives you is not really sufficient to help you track down the true foe.

Hissatsu Buraiken

In many cases, you can sort of “brute force” the boss encounters by just standing there and hammering the punch button as quickly as possible, but this is dependent on starting the encounter with a full energy bar and preferably a full stock of lives. Doing them “properly” is extremely difficult — not in a “get good” sense, but in a “this seems massively unbalanced compared to the rest of the game” kind of sense.

To make matters worse, while you respawn immediately upon losing a life in Hissatsu Buraiken, choosing to continue after a Game Over resets you back to a checkpoint, meaning that you can’t simply credit-feed your way through the game without successfully overcoming the more significant challenges in your path. This is doubly tricky, because the beginning of a boss fight is inevitably not a checkpoint, meaning you’ll have to battle your way through the run-up to the boss fight (and the enemy swarm at the end) before you’re able to have another crack at the powerful enemy.

Hissatsu Buraiken

Hissatsu Buraiken is worth persevering with, though, because aside from its cumbersome boss fights, it’s an enjoyable game and an interesting twist on both the beat ’em up and top-down run and gun formulae. It’s presented well, has some catchy music and is a decent amount of fun in two-player — just don’t take it too seriously, particularly while you’re getting to grips with it, and there’s fun to be had for sure.

Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium is available now for Nintendo SwitchPlayStation 4/5Xbox hoojimaflips and PC via Steam.

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Pete Davison
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