Released at a time when Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were both selling like hotcakes, Eternal Champions may have had players thinking it was an exploitative cash-in to make Sega a quick buck. This could not be further from the truth.
Eternal Champions may share many of the same features of Capcom’s and Midway’s fighters, but it does everything it can to distance itself from these titles and carve out a niche of its own. For one thing, the plot is actually quite good. Each of the characters is a combat expert of his (or her) time period, and they’ve all been saved from the brink of death by the mysterious ‘Eternal Champion’ to participate in good old brawling tournament. The reward is to return to their era and escape death, having proved themselves worthy to defend the interests of the human race against malevolent forces.
Ok, so it’s not likely to win any awards, but I always thought it was a cool plot!
The upshot of this zany story is that all the fighters have different appearances and combat styles. There’s a caveman who relies on brute strength, a wizard that can cast spells and a 1920’s cat burglar equipped with all kinds of concealed weaponry. It’s an eclectic mix to say the least, but it grants the game a wonderful sense of variety that is often missing from 2D fighters. All of these characters have distinct fighting styles too, so you feel compelled to explore them all fully.
Visually the game has that trademark ‘grainy’ look that many Megadrive/Genesis titles suffered from. I’m not a big fan of it, but it at least looks colourful and textured. The animation is fantastic and the arenas are incredibly detailed. It’s down to personal taste but I would say Street Fighter II looks ever so slightly better. Although the sprites in Eternal Champions are certainly more developed and detailed, the art style isn’t always as visually pleasing as in Capcom’s seminal classic.
Sadly, time has not been so kind to Eternal Champions when it comes to gameplay. As with most fighting games from this period, everything feels slow. Capcom gave Street Fighter II a boost with the ‘Turbo’ upgrade, but Sega’s game remains slow and plodding. Although it’s nowhere near as problematic as with the VC release of the original Street Fighter II, you can’t help but wish for an injection of pace. Also, if you’re a fan of King of Fighters and Street Fighter Zero, you’ll miss the advancements those two series brought to the genre. Such is progress.
All in all, Eternal Champions is still a worthwhile purchase if you like your 2D fighters. And, as a Western-developed title it feels subtly different most other games in a genre dominated by Japanese developers.