In this installment, three obscure beat 'em ups battle to be crowned The King of Obscure Fighters. 

Welcome to the first edition of MAME: Full Access.  In this feature, three unknown arcade games with a common bond are rescued from obscurity... only to be pitted against one another in a fierce battle to determine the best of the bunch.  Only one of these titles can be the winner.  The rest are cast back into the endless sea that is the MAME software library, to be discovered only by those with a complete collection of ROMs and a complete lack of a social life (man, does THAT hit a little too close to home!).

In the premiere edition of MAME: Full Access, you've got a front row seat for a battle between three tournament fighters you may have missed.  All of these titles were inspired by the Street Fighter craze of the early 1990's, but only one will be left standing at the end of this brutal bout.  After the smoke clears and the winner is congratulated, you'll receive a prize of your own... handy tips to help you get the most out of your MAME experience.  So stay glued to the edge of your seats, folks!  This is gonna be a fight to remember!

Vs. Fighter
1-2 Players
Released in 1998

What do Chinese food, lite beer, and Asura Blade: Sword of Dynasty have in common?  They all taste great, but are less filling than most of their competitors.  This tournament fighter, by under-the-radar Japanese developer Fuuki, has all the outrageous style of a Darkstalkers or Guilty Gear game, but very little of that satisfying depth that keeps you coming back for a second helping.  You're left with just three attack buttons in contrast to the usual six you'll find in a traditional Capcom fighting game, and the high damage ratios ensure that each round ends almost as quickly as it started.

Let me tell you though... few of the fighting games you'll find in MAME's vast selection will dazzle you like this one.  Asura Blade takes place in a fantasy world filled with dank dungeons, floating islands, and desolate battlefields with the remains of long-dead soldiers scattered throughout them.  It's like what would happen if a Conan the Barbarian film and Guilty Gear X locked swords in a battle to the death.  Speaking of Guilty Gear, Asura Blade's cast of characters have the same cleanly drawn, cartoony look as the stars of the long-running Sammy series.  The artwork isn't up to the high standards of the later Guilty Gear games, but it's a definite improvement over the first release on the Playstation, and it's crisper and cleaner than what you'll find in the average 2D fighting game from the 1990's.  Crisper and cleaner, hmm?  I guess that makes two things Asura Blade has in common with lite beer...

The stars of Asura Blade may look great, but the game's character design could have been more imaginative.  Nearly every one of the heroes and villains will remind you of a warrior from another game, whether it's Taros, the medievel robot who you'll swear is an even less streamlined early prototype of Darkstalkers' Mayan mech Phobos, or Zam-B, a hunchback with a massive metal glove who probably wears an iron mask to disguise even more similarities to Gen-An Shiranui from the Samurai Shodown series.  There are a few memorable characters, like the deceptively cute master of the undead Alice, and the gun-toting, hot-blooded boss Curfew, but none of them measure up to the unforgettable stars of Darkstalkers and its sequels.

Then there's the gameplay.  This is where Asura Blade's similarities to low-calorie brews really become obvious.  It's an experience that's fun while it lasts, but won't stick with you due to its watered down flavor.  You only get three buttons, a sharp contrast to most arcade fighting games which offer four or even six.  Each of the attacks you can perform vary in strength and speed, but the kinds of attacks assigned to each button is anyone's guess... you could get a kick, and punch, or even a weapon swing depending on the character and the strength of the button pressed.  This ambiguity doesn't affect the gameplay as much as it had in the later Fatal Fury games, because special moves can be performed with any of the three buttons, but it does leave you with fewer attacks to perform.  Of course, the resulting lack of depth might not even be an issue for most players... since Asura Blade moves at such a fast clip, and because attacks do so much damage, you'll barely have time to blink before each round is over.

Asura Blade: Sword of Dynasty is a great tournament fighter, but only for players looking for an adrenaline rush.  Anyone craving the complexity of the best games in the genre will be left hungry an hour after they've had their fill of Asura Blade.


"It may lack depth, but Asura Blade's got as much style as any of the big boys."

QUICK SHOT:  Special moves can be enhanced by pressing all three buttons when you perform them, rather than just one.  Remember, this will cost you a portion of the energy in your super meter.

Vs. Fighter
1-2 Players
Released in 1994

If Asura Blade borrows most heavily from the Guilty Gear series, and Dragoon Might takes most of its ideas from Samurai Shodown and its sequels, then Dan-Ku-Ga is most definitely a clone of Capcom's early Street Fighter II games.  It's got the same bright, even garish, colors; the same muscular if somewhat generic characters; and the same six button control scheme, with three strengths of punches and kicks.  Even the gameplay is the same, without the advancements introduced in the Street Fighter Alpha series.

However, there are two features in this unreleased special edition of Taito's Kaiser Knuckle that help ease the pain of its predictable design.  The first is a "Crush" meter which falls somewhere between the super meter in Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, and the rage gauge introduced in the first Samurai Shodown.  Find yourself on the receiving end of too much punishment and your Crush meter will rise and eventually top off, allowing you to perform an enhanced special move that does more damage than usual and fills the screen with crackling bolts of electricity if it connects (electricity... eeee-lectricity!).

The best part of Dan-Ku-Ga, however, is the insane amount of property damage you can do while battling your opponent.  Throw him to the ground and large chunks of the floor erupt from the point of impact, leaving an ugly tear in the carpet with wood paneling peeking out from the hole you've made.  You can also use your unwitting foe as a wrecking ball to demolish nearby walls, making each stage up to three times larger than when you first began.  This gives this otherwise ordinary fighting game more variety and impact than the early Street Fighter games, where the most you were going to break (aside from your enemy's nose, or the luxury car in the bonus stage) was a rusty oil barrel or a tiny Japanese sign.

Despite the fact that you can literally bring down the house in most of the game's highly interactive stages, there's nothing groundbreaking about the rest of Dan-Ku-Ga.  The characters are pretty typical, ranging from an all-American bruiser with a carefree attitude to a sexy Asian girl sporting a traditional Eastern wardrobe.  The gameplay is tired as well... there's very little to distinguish it from Street Fighter II, aside from the Crush meter which actually robs players of strategic opportunities.  You can't really decide WHEN to enhance your special moves while fighting your opponent; it just happens.  Moreover, they do so little additional damage that they barely have an impact on the gameplay.  Finally, there's the soundtrack... it's typical Zuntata, but not Zuntata at its best.  You'll hear lots of piano-heavy instrumentals that tend to run together and don't really strengthen the atmosphere of the diverse locations you'll visit throughout the tournament.

Sure, Dan-Ku-Ga is marginally improved over Taito's previous game Kaiser Knuckle.  There are a couple more characters, a few new play options, and a nerdy ringside physician who checks to see if your fallen opponent is still conscious (or alive... but geez, I'd hate to think I hit him THAT hard!).  Nevertheless, a marginally improved update of an average fighting game just isn't good enough when MAME gives you so many other great titles to choose from, including Street Fighter Alpha 2, NightWarriors: Darkstalker's Revenge, and The King of Fighters '99.


"A solid fighter that improves upon its predecessor, Kaiser Knuckle... but not by much."

QUICK SHOT:  Dan-Ku-Ga was never officially released, either in the United States or its native Japan.  The game is so similar to Kaiser Knuckle that Taito probably didn't see a point in bringing out this minor upgrade.

Vs. Fighter
1-2 Players
Released in 1995

Dragoon Magic is going to seem awfully familiar to fans of the Neo-Geo game system... it borrows a little from the obscure Neo-Geo fighter Savage Reign and a whole lot more from SNK's popular Samurai Shodown series.  So it's not original, but at the very least, you've got to give Konami credit for taking the time to make Dragoon Might a whole lot better than their last arcade fighting game, the lackluster Martial Champions.

In your quest to piece together an ancient artifact, you'll battle weapon-wielding warriors in best of three matches (or three on three team fights) that are more than slightly reminescent of Samurai Shodown.  The damage adds up quickly as you trade blows, but there's limited combo potential... you'll be lucky to string together more than three hits with standard kicks and weapon strikes.  Like in Samurai Shodown, there are objects in the background like hanging chains and icicles that can be cut down with a swipe of your sword.  However, these objects serve a second purpose... press all three kick buttons and you'll swing from the nearest post or tree branch, letting you briefly escape your opponent.  There's also a special "bomber" move, best saved for emergencies... smash all three punch buttons and you'll perform an especially powerful attack that drains your energy slightly but does a lot MORE damage to an unblocking opponent.  The bomber moves are in no way preferable to Samurai Shodown's rage attacks, but at least they're one of the few features in Dragoon Might not lifted straight from that series.

Dragoon Magic's gameplay closely mirrors Samurai Shodown, but the setting has been updated, with more contemporary backgrounds and characters.  Along with the usual comical monks and cocky young swordsmen, you get a beefy Australian brute with an enormous Bowie knife and the tonfa-wielding, kinkily-dressed blonde bombshell Layla.  Only a few of the fighters really stand out... my personal favorites are Suiko, a wacky Japanese priest who looks like he snuck out of an episode of Lupin the Third, and the disciplined martial artist Kodama, who's got one of the best moves in the game.  Make the mistake of striking him while he's in a counter stance and he flips you behind his back while stripping you of your weapon in a single graceful motion.

Finally, there are the audiovisuals.  Here's where the student really outperforms the master... although the soundtrack is below Konami's usually excellent standards, the graphics look better than in any of the Neo-Geo Samurai Shodown games.  The characters are sharply drawn and beautifully shaded, and the more subtle color scheme sands away most of the rough pixelization you'd expect from SNK's fighting games.  The backgrounds are a mixed bag... while there are animated characters in some, the rest feel very lifeless and empty, and none of them are especially imaginative.

Dragoon Magic doesn't try to hide its similarities to Samurai Shodown, but at the same time, it doesn't go out of its way to disguise its roots with awkward new play mechanics, like Konami's last fighting game Martial Champions.  If you've burned through all five Samurai Shodown games on the Neo-Geo and would like to see the formula done with a distinctive Konami flair, you owe it to yourself to give Dragoon Magic a shot.


"A big improvement over Konami's last fighting game Martial Champions."

QUICK SHOT:  Repeatedly striking a blocking opponent will disarm them, making them more vulnerable until they retrieve their weapon.


...Asura Blade: Sword of Dynasty.  Sure, it's got less depth than either of its competitors, but it works harder to make a strong first impression.  Dragoon Might is crippled by its lack of originality, and the low resolution graphics and lethargic gameplay in Dan-Ku-Ga make it hard to appreciate the game over a decade after it was created.  However, Asura Blade doesn't suffer from the issues that dragged down its two rivals.  Its frantic pace and dynamic visuals offer the kind of adrenaline rush you just won't find in either Dragoon Might or Dan-Ku-Ga.  It's not a game you'll want to play for hours, but Asura Blade is one hell of a blast in small doses.


Although the subject is clearly up for debate, the best fighting game controller of all time is, in my humble opinion, the second model of the stock Sega Saturn joypad (model MK-80116).  This was packed with the Sega Saturn at launch in Japan, and debuted later in the United States in 1996, after the bulky American controller was poorly received (and rightfully so) by players. 

You may be wondering how this information will be of any use to you, the MAME player.  There are adapters which allow you to use the Sega Saturn controller with your computer... of the ones available, I personally recommend the 3 in 1 PC Joy Box.  Simply plug it into a USB port on your computer, wait for the adapter's internal drivers to install, then test it under the Control Panel (on a Windows PC, click on the Start bar, go to Settings, then Control Panel, then Gaming Options). 

The PC Joy Box has ports for Saturn, Playstation, and Dreamcast joypads, and I've found that it works extremely well in MAME, with a level of precision that rivals using the controllers on the actual systems.  You'll find the 3 in 1 PC Joy Box available for about twenty dollars on Jandaman's import accessories site (