Originally released for the NES in 1993, Mighty Final Fight is a home console spin-off of the original arcade classic, Final Fight. Interestingly, it came out a year after the technically superior home console port that appeared on the SNES and, furthermore, is quite a departure from the other games in the series in terms of style and presentation. While it may not have the technical chops of its 16-bit counterpart, it’s nevertheless visually impressive for a NES title, and worth looking into even if you’re already very familiar with the core franchise.

At first glance, Mighty Final Fight looks to be a fairly straightforward beat-em-up that does little to stand out from — what was at the time — an overcrowded genre. The game features only a single-player story mode, and tasks you with working your way through five stages. This may make it sound lacking in terms of longevity, but Mighty Final Fight’s insane difficulty level will either hold you up throughout your playthrough or put you off playing altogether: the tough challenge you’d expect from an coin-guzzling arcade machine has been carried over superbly, and any chance of breezing through this game on your first attempt is highly unlikely.

As a result, this benefits from the save state feature that comes with all 3DS digital re-releases. Similar to the arcade experience, Mighty Final Fight gives you a certain number of credits before it’s game over for good; thankfully, losing all your lives only sends you back to the start of the stage you’re currently on, rather than the beginning of the game. With that said, it’s easy to lose all your lives at an alarming rate.

The premise of the game perfectly sets up the tough-as-nails challenge with which you’re faced. A satire of the original Final Fight, things get underway quickly after one of the main character’s daughter has been kidnapped by a foe due to his sudden infatuation with her. It’s a somewhat light-hearted spin on the original tale, designed to work hand-in-hand with the game’s visual presentation, which eschews a gritty look and feel for the Japanese super deformed art style. Despite the characters possessing a more comical appearance, the game’s environments maintain the dystopian design of the original game.

From the start you’re able to choose one of three playable characters: Cody, Guy and Haggar. Each street brawler comes with their own fighting style and attributes to suit your preference. Cody is your ideal all-rounder, whereas Guy trades-in power for speed and Haggar does the opposite. Each fighter shares a similar moveset — which is inherently simple due to the limited number of buttons originally afforded by the NES controller — with the exception of Haggar who can grab enemies and jump into the air with them to deliver crushing wrestling-inspired attacks.

The controls may be limited, but some complexity has been worked into the combat mechanics via button commands. Pressing both A+B together unleashes a special move, and you’re also able to grab and throw opponents at the end of an attack combo or by simply pressing the D-Pad when right next to them (provided they’re not attacking you). Further depth comes in the form of an XP system — not something you’d expect to come across in an old-school beat-em-up — which enhances your attributes and provides additional moves as you progress. It’s a worthwhile inclusion that’s only slightly hindered by the fact that the extra moves are difficult to pull off; the button input seems to be very hit-and-miss, which is frustrating when you desperately need to halt an advancing enemy.

Nowhere is this more true than when fighting one of the end level bosses. These tough stalwarts initially seem very unfair until you realise that you need to approach them in a certain way. This typically involves waiting for them to perform a certain attack, dodge it and then get a hit in during what is a very brief opening. Early on this is fine, but as you reach the higher experience levels you’re also expected to start putting your expanded moveset to use to counter what are otherwise unavoidable attacks. In these instances, the gameplay experience would be that bit more enjoyable if the button input were more responsive.

Even the standard enemies put up a pretty tough fight. There are many different enemy types who each approach and attack you in their own ways, and knowing how to deal with them is the key to your survival. That’s because Mighty Final Fight — and the series in general — is unforgivably punishing when you make a mistake; giving the enemy an opening will often give them the freedom to deplete up to half of your health meter. You only ever face up to two enemies at any one time — likely a limitation of the original hardware — but the various combinations of enemy types ensures that each encounter is both challenging and potentially your last.

While the original tech limitations are apparent, Mighty Final Fight nevertheless looks great for a NES game and exudes top-notch production values. It’s colourful and detailed, with a lot of effort having gone into the latter. It’s possible to knock enemies — and be knocked by them — into chasms for instant KOs and even punch throwing knives out of the air with your bare fists. The softer art style and tone also makes the game far more endearing than the core series, especially when connecting a punch with an enemy results in their inflated eyeballs shooting out of their sockets in comedic cartoon fashion.

Conclusion

Mighty Final Fight is a rock-hard, old-school beat-em-up that will only really appeal to those who are up for a gruelling challenge. It may be dated both technically and in terms of gameplay, but there’s enough depth to the mechanics for this to still be entertaining today if you approach it with an open mind. We really can’t stress enough just how hard this game is; it borders on unfair at times, although that’s something that comes hand-in-hand with any true arcade experience. While it’s limited in terms of length and available game modes, the desire to keep playing it stems not from the amount of content, but rather the difficulty level and the need to overcome it.