There was a time when Technos ruled the beat-'em-up genre of fighting games during the 8-bit era with their Double Dragon and River City Ransom titles, but sadly the 16-bit generation wasn't as kind to the company. Once Capcom's Final Fight hit the scene, there was little room left for any other beat-'em-up, not even a port of their popular The Combatribes arcade game for the Super Nintendo. In fact, Capcom's brawler releases on the Super Nintendo system quickly became the new standard by which all beat 'em up titles were judged and The Combatribes just didn't measure up.
The Combatribes plays pretty much like any other beat-'em-up you've played over the years with little to no originality in terms of what its gameplay system has to offer. You've still got a host of kicks and punches at your disposal that require little more than button mashing. There will even be times when you can pick up an enemy from the ground and whirl them around for laughs, but it's something that seems to happen more by luck than by any type of planned gameplay skill.
Unlike many other genre efforts, you don't really get to scroll along an area — you're only given a small area off to the right you can walk to and then you have to turn around and return to where you started the level to take on the boss fight. If it sounds pointless, that's because for the most part it is. Another annoyance is the fact that your character no longer has access to any types of weapons that were available in the arcade version. While this might not sound like much of a hindrance, you'll quickly find out otherwise when you see that all of the bosses still have their weapons, making for some very cheap AI and overly difficult boss fights.
If you don't want to take on the game's one- or two-player story mode, you can even play the game in a one-on-one match that resembles a more traditional fighting game, minus the large variety of executable moves. It's a nice addition, but doesn't add a lot to the overall package considering it's still basically more of the same, just with fewer enemies to take out.
The control scheme of The Combatribes is simple, but it's often so unresponsive that it makes playing the game more of a lesson in futility than any type of enjoyment. Tack on some unfair boss difficulty and very little in the way of strategy and you have a gameplay system that tends to feel more tedious than anything else. Beat-'em-ups have long been known for their dumbed-down fighting mechanics, but The Combatribes reaches new lows in terms of variety and play control system.
Visually The Combatribes is a mixed bag. While the characters themselves have a nice look to them and animate quite well, the backdrops in most of the game's areas tend to look quite drab. It doesn't help that the playing areas themselves are so small in size that you won't get a chance to see much in the way of variety as you play through each stage of the game. The presentation is decent, but certainly not on par with some of the more detailed 16-bit offerings from Capcom.
If there's one area of The Combatribes that has some charm and personality, it's the score. The musical tracks in the game are all quite catchy and they all feature a very distinct sound. It's clear from playing that far more emphasis was placed on the audio package than any other facet of the game. Even the sound effects are very well done. About the only downside to such a solid audio presentation is that you'll wonder why the developers didn't put more effort into the other areas of the game.
Unless you're a huge fan of the beat 'em up genre, you'd probably be better off passing on this mediocre offering. Given that Capcom's much better Final Fight titles are already available on the Virtual Console, you'd be better off going with one of those than this below-average arcade port. The Combatribes might have enjoyed some success in arcades at one time, but it's really showing its age and its glaring flaws can simply no longer be overlooked.