The ground-breaking premise.... evil gangs, led by the mysterious "Mr. Big", are taking over the city and commiting heinous crimes, and you (and up to 2 friends) are the only one that can stop them! Such an original storyline that's never been done before! So let's put the sarcasm aside and meet the peeps that are defending da 'hood!
These are the four characters you can pick from at the start, and you're given the opportunity to switch characters between levels. After beating a boss, they'll jump on the bandwagon and join your side, making them selectable too. Sure, that's not a bad idea, but it had already been done before in the Neo-Geo game Ninja Combat, and we all know how good THAT was, right?
Along the way you also have to enter gyms to "spar" against your buddies in a best-of-3 match. This is a futile attempt to make it a "real" fighting game... but considering this was released after Street Fighter II, who would honestly want to challenge their friends in this? If you're playing solo, you have to win a best-of-3 match against a CPU opponent to be able to progress to the next stage (oops, I mean next WAVE). You're given the option of fighting the CPU again instead of making progress to the next area, but why would you want to? All the "fun" is in the side-scrolling stages.
Like this. Remember how in Pit Fighter you could pick up boxes, barrels, motorcycles (!), etc, and toss them at your opponent? From the very first screen, you're given the option to.... pick up a homeless person and toss him around. Seriously. The guy is pretty oblivious to everything going around him and apparently doesn't mind being used as a fatal weapon. Dis the game all you want, you've got to at least give it credit for letting you use a random bum as a weapon. Plus you can do what I like to do and toss him on to the top of the taxi on that stage and then leave him there. It looked like a more comfortable place to sit than the sidewalk, anyway.
Things get even weirder when this guy shows up in the subway level. Just a random flasher in a trenchcoat, who's there... why? He obviously doesn't seem to show any preference in flashing male or female characters, it's all gravy! So guess what... he can be used as a weapon too. And after he hits the ground, he gets back up and goes back to walking around and flashing people. Isn't it just great how people will let you toss them around without showing any semblance of a grudge?
....well, not so fast there. On the first level there's a hooker just standing there on the street, who unfortunately you can't pick up and toss around. You can attack her, though.
...But that's not a good idea. Smacking the hooker causes her to attack back with her purse and do quite a bit of damage. Yes, you can toss homeless people around all you want, but hitting a hooker... that's just WRONG, man. There are other characters that will countersmack you too, like an old lady walking with a kid, or a waitress... any coincidence that all the characters you can't get away with hurting are female, while the male characters can be thrown around with gleeful abandon?
Anyways, difficulty wise, the game is just another token muncher... the regular levels aren't too hard, and then you reach the bosses that take so much damage you'll most likely have to spend a credit or two just to beat them. Skill won't get you much farther than a button masher when it comes to a game like this. Although the best advice I can give for the bosses is to save your "magic moves" for them.... yeah, magic moves. They had to try to make it like a real fighting game and add in special moves, ya know... although I'll be damned if I can figure out the exact motion to do it. I believe the instruction insert on the arcade cabinet says to "wiggle the joystick back and forth and press a button", or something along those lines... yeah, that's real helpful there, Atari. More button mashing!
But the last level is where the game reaches its pinnacle... it's hilarious, sad, and bizarre all at the same time. After the three main gangs are beaten and their leaders converted to your side, it's off to the final battle with Mr. Big at... an abandoned boardwalk. Er, okay. All the enemies from the previous stages are recycled until you reach the area for the final battle... a fun house? Uh huh. There you're confronted by the same female enemies from earlier in the game, but now they have new weapons and are harder to kill. Beat them up, and....
(ehh, I guess I'll do spoilers)
Mr. Big is a WOMAN! GASP! (although I guess you could sorta tell from those "threats" preceding every level... it was either a woman or a really faggy guy). And female last bosses in beat-em-ups are a very rare thing, the only other games I know of that have had one are Double Dragon 3 (well, it was Cleopatra... what?) and Combatribes (or not... BECAUSE CYBORGS AIN'T LADIES!). So Atari does at least get some originality points. I guess.
This in particular amuses me greatly - she is somehow able to lift a person off the ground with one hand (in this case, Chief, for maximum hilarity), and then smack them around with the other. How in the world is that possible? Video game logic never ceases to amaze me. She's also incredibly mean, and won't hesitate to repeatedly smash somebody's face into the ground if they've been knocked down. Maybe she does deserve to be the big boss after all.
But hey, if you can stand up to this ridiculousness and use enough continues to beat this cheap bitch, you'll be a hero and treated to a very shitty ending. Come on Atari, you made us play all the way through for THAT? Then again, they did put a little more effort into it than the "You are the champion" thing on Pit Fighter... I guess anyone dumb enough to play their games for "endings" deserves to get shafted like that.