Scrolling beat ‘em ups are simple games that provide a lot of fun as you (sometimes with the help of a friend) wander through a number of stages giving gangs of reprobates a good kicking, before facing off against a more powerful end of stage thug; rinse and repeat. Burning Fight comes courtesy of SNK and whilst Sengoku (another effort from the company) arrived in the same year and would attempt to shake up the formula a little, Burning Fight is a more straightforward affair.
Due to the basic nature of the genre and with no gameplay twist to speak of, the game has similarities to a number of titles. One game that obviously had an influence was Final Fight, not just with the similar name but with the choice of playable characters. Duke plays similarly to Cody from the Capcom title and has some visual similarities. Ryu (no, not that one) is a lot like Guy, costume and all. Billy is less Haggar-like but provides the slower, more powerful option. Burning Fight also differs from the Capcom classic in one big way: it’s not very good.
For its age it’s not a bad looking game, but it doesn’t stand out from similar titles of the time with both Final Fight and Sega’s Streets of Rage series impressing more. There are some good touches such as the way some gang members start in the background then scale up as they move into the foreground to fight, and there’s an effective sunset later in the game. Sometimes there’s quite a bit of detail in the surroundings, but other times the game looks very plain. Likewise the animation is functional but in some instances is quite stiff-looking and limited.
You are given two attack buttons (one for punch, one for kick) and this doesn’t lead to a wide array of moves; press punch in midair and it’ll do the same as if you had pressed kick. Should you find yourself in a tight spot pressing punch at the same time as the jump button will perform a special attack that should help you out although (as is tradition) this depletes a little of your energy bar. Duke has a rising uppercut, Billy a shoulder barge and Ryu of course has Guy’s special attack.
There’s a range of differently designed hooligans for you to battle, but they are largely dispatched in the same way: walk up and attack before they strike you. A number of them carry weapons (which you can also wield) but this seemingly just provides a bit of visual variety. Thugs can throw knives, but often don’t and outside of the gun-firing gangster the weapons don’t have a big effect on combat, leading to much dull and repetitive gameplay.
There are some crooks that do provide a different challenge however, such as those that charge at you and those riding motorbikes. Bosses also have different means of attacks that you must learn how best to deal with. Though requiring many more hits than the regular goons, bosses are dispatched quicker than in other games. They are, however, encountered more frequently, appearing at the end of each area rather than each stage.
The first boss in the game has an impressive entrance, rolling onto screen and pushing away the truck you’ve just smashed up. Likewise the second, a Hulk Hogan-like fella, marches onto screen and demolishes a fountain. After that they just appear, almost as if SNK realised people would probably be bored of the game by this point, so why bother? Similarly the Hulkster provides the basis for two further characters, but the other bosses are simply reused.
There are five stages in the game, with these (outside of the opener) having a number of different areas to work through. The Nintendo Life stopwatch clocked one playthrough at around 45 minutes, although it felt significantly longer, with the repetitive music not helping the samey gameplay. The game gets tougher as you progress and the number of enemies increases. As an ACA release you can add a credit at anytime to continue should you fall, but this is not advisable as you’ll then have to keep playing.
For those interested in moving up online leaderboards there are the usual one-credit Hi Score and Caravan modes. The latter could be considered a “Mercy Mode” as it ends after five minutes.
It's not the best looking or most original game, but this would be somewhat forgivable if it was at least fun to play. It isn't. There's very little variety in the way the gang members attack and in a scrolling beat 'em up that greatly reduces the enjoyment provided. Playthroughs can be tedious as a result and the biggest challenge becomes trying not to quit the game early. There's very little replay value in the game but you could always get a friend to join you for some two-player co-operative fighting so you can at least share the suffering. Burning Fight is one to avoid.