Last Battle Review (Sega Genesis, 1989)
Despite being a successful console the Sega Genesis did not have a great launch line-up. When something terrible like Altered Beast is one of your big headlining titles you know there’s a problem. The system later got into it’s groove and has one of the best libraries of any console, but those early days look really rough. One of these day 1 games I rarely hear about these days is the Last Battle. It’s interesting because it was a localized version of a Fist of the North Star title, but because of the issues with that it was reworked into an original IP. The end result is the Last Battle as we know it today. Beat ’em ups were just catching on in the market at the time. So how does this one fare? Keep reading to find out!
The Last Battle really tries it’s best to tell a story. Honestly with how awkward the translation is I couldn’t care less. The opening text scroll speaks of a war three years ago where three warriors banded together against an evil empire. They were victorious, but the three most evil of the empire’s soldiers escaped and have since been scheming to come back into power. After fierce battles the only remaining of these is Gaarok, and he just so happens to be the most powerful. You play as a warrior named Aarzak armed with the secret fighting style of Jet-kwon-do. There’s a fair amount of text with new twists and turns, but honestly the plot is so convoluted I lost my place several times within it. All you need to know is there are bad guys, and you have to punch and kick your way through the lot of them.
Because this was an early beat ’em up game there are some issues right out the door. First of all you can only move left or right. This is pretty limiting especially when later releases like Final Fight and Streets of Rage allowed you to walk in all directions. As you walk enemies come on-screen to attack, but after doing so they run off. This means if you’re overwhelmed then dodging is a viable strategy, and most of the time you’ll be dealing with multiple foes at once. There’s really no AI to speak of; the enemies move in set paths and rarely have any real strategy behind them. What’s more is the fact that most of them take only one hit to destroy. You only need reflexes to be successful here because the attack patterns are all so similar.
Gameplay is entirely too basic. There’s only so much you can do with the strictly side scrolling design, but that doesn’t mean the Last Battle deserves any slack. You can only walk, duck, jump, punch and kick. There’s very little difference between the two attacks and a slight change in range is just about it. You can also kick midair, but for some unfathomable reason the main character aims his leg straight up. It makes little sense, and makes dealing with aerial foes and hazards a real chore. Furthermore the jumping mechanics leave a lot to be desired. You move so slowly through the air that the few times platforming is required will really test your patience. This kind of thing would ruin any good beat ’em up, and the Last Battle was already not playing with a full deck to start with.
There are a few things that set the Last Battle apart from the pack however. As I mentioned earlier you can simply dodge an enemy’s attack and many of them will just run away. You’re discouraged from doing so because for each you defeat your power bar is charged a little. When it reaches certain levels your character becomes more muscular and his attacks are faster and more powerful. While this doesn’t help a lot in the standard stages there are boss encounters where it gives you an advantage. Furthermore, most stages have a timer that counts down as you play. When it reaches zero you don’t lose a life, and instead the main character’s health begins to drain. I actually like this mechanic and wish more retro games used something like this.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the game however is the map. This not only shows your progress through the game, but also allows you to choose your own path. You can bypass some stages entirely which is really neat and forward thinking. What makes this more interesting is that there are three basic level types. The first is as I described earlier with a linear path to the end and a constant supply of incoming enemies. Next up you have maze-like areas with multiple paths and doors you can go through. Generally I liked these even less than the standard ones because they take longer and are often slightly confusing. They also feature more environmental hazards which are not very fun to contend with. Finally, the third type of level is a simple boss encounter. Unfortunately these aren’t very well done.
These encounters are one-on-one fights with few differences to the main gameplay. You can see your opponent’s life bar (and it’s always huge) and have to drain it to zero to continue. The AI is mind numbingly bad here. Just watch how they attack, and then step in afterwards and punch, then jump away before they can strike again. Your power meter is missing during these encounters so there’s no way to power-up. You can only fight them in the form you’re currently in. The developers should have added something, anything, to make these more interesting. They are worse than the normal stages. I was really disappointed with how simple these are because the Last Battle needed to shine somewhere, but this sure isn’t it.
The Last Battle is also a pretty ugly game. Get ready for lots of browns and greys because that’s almost the entire color palette right there. The developers banked the entire visual appeal on the parallax scrolling you see in the background. Normally something like this is interesting, but here it’s mostly dirt you see moving in the background. They shoehorned the parallax scrolling feature in here a bit too hard in my opinion. The characters and enemies also lack a lot of detail. Their animations are sometimes laughably bad. On the plus side everything does move very smoothly so it’s not like the Last Battle is unplayable or anything. The soundtrack however is bad. The Sega Genesis sound chip was horrible, and they didn’t put it to any good use here. At least it’s lacking the trademark robot farts and screeching, but the soundtrack is very boring.
Usually I’m a huge fan of this genre, and I can look past minor issues relatively easy. Unfortunately the Last Battle is just a mess through and through. Other developers were able to make much better similar games in the same era. It suffers from many of the same issues as Altered Beast, and it’s only slightly better. It’s like making a good beat ’em up title was Sega’s blind spot during this time because they just couldn’t seem to get it right. I’m usually a little more forgiving for launch games but this one is just bad. There’s almost no saving grace to it aside from the fact that it’s playable. The question then boils down to ‘you could, but should you?’ The answer is no. Leave the Last Battle in the past where it belongs.
* This article was originally published here