Back in the late '80s and early '90s — when arcades were still the biggest draw for dedicated gamers — Capcom was the company to beat when it came to coin-op success. It produced a string of classics around this time, most of which saw conversions on the popular home consoles of the period. While Street Fighter II would arguably become the firm's most enduring arcade-to-console export, it was the game's unofficial prequel which set chins furiously wagging prior to the launch of the SNES.
Final Fight — which was originally conceived as Street Fighter '89 but had its name changed just before release — was the coin-op of the era. Featuring massive sprites, blissfully chaotic two-player action and three distinct characters to choose from, it simply guzzled coins and proved to be a lucrative success for both its creator and amusement arcade operators all over the globe. Given Capcom's close relationship with Nintendo — nurtured during the glory days of the NES — there was little surprise when Final Fight became a launch exclusive for Nintendo's 16-bit console. However, what fans got wasn't quite as comprehensive as they imagined.
The SNES conversion of Final Fight certainly looks the part; the massive sprites remain intact, as do the detailed backgrounds. Visually, it's hard to tell the difference between the domestic edition and the arcade original, unless you have them running side-by-side. Back in the early '90s, the game served as a positive indication of just how powerful the SNES was — but it also showed up the limitations of the home console cartridge format.
The list of elements missing from this conversion are legendary; the third character, Guy, is nowhere to be seen and wouldn't be reinstated until the release of Final Fight Guy, a version of the game which swapped out Cody for the red-suited ninja. A more painful omission is the lack of a two-player mode; in the arcades, playing with a friend was one of the big appeals of the original, and as a result the SNES version feels like a watered-down facsimile. Finally, the industrial level — with its iconic boss, Rolento — has been completely removed.
It's also worth mentioning that this is the North American version of the game, and as such features some spectacularly cack-handed censorship. Poison and Roxy — female enemies in the arcade and Japanese versions which were apparently passed off as transgender by designer Akira Yasuda when he was quizzed by a play-tester at Nintendo of America — are replaced by Billy and Sid, redrawn sprites which are clearly male but retain the same feminine animations. There are other alterations, such as pointless name changes.
While these elements clearly had some reasoning behind them back at the time of release, they have little point today — Poison has since been seen in several western-released Capcom titles, for example. It would have been nice to see Nintendo and Capcom work together to reinstate the characters in this version; instead, we're left with a port that feels like a relic from the past.
While Final Fight on the SNES isn't a perfect conversion, it should be remembered that in terms of pure gameplay it's still quite successful. Granted, there are less sprites on screen at any one time when compared to its arcade parent, but it gets the core gameplay right. Punches land with a satisfying thud and the act of hurling an foe into a crowd of his friends — sending them sprawling in every direction — never, ever gets old. The aforementioned presentation is wonderful, and the music is catchy and memorable.
Final Fight on the SNES is destined to go down in history as one of gaming's most notable disappointments; the joy of getting a domestic version of an arcade classic so soon after release was tempered by the realisation that it lacked the all-important co-op mode and was missing Guy, the fastest fighter of the original trio.
However, this conversion does at least carry over the core gameplay, and even by today's standards it looks and sounds fantastic. Nostalgia plays a massive part in retro gaming, and in Final Fight's case, that draw may be irresistible for many seasoned players. This was one of the games upon which the Super Nintendo's technical supremacy was built; while it's not the perfect port we all hoped for, it's still a fun way to spend an evening — even if you sadly can't invite a friend along for the ride.