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Last Bronx

Last Bronx has an interesting premise. Mutants have invaded New York and filled the sewer system with a toxic substance called Gamma Green. The radioactivity of this goo is slowly turning everyone in the city into ravenous, flesh-eating zombies, and Mia Miyazaki – the last true decedent of the Wolf Fang ninja clan – is the only who can stop the spread. As Mia, you must fight your way through hordes of zombies, mutants, and evil radioactive ninjas until you reach the source of corruption in the Bronx area of New York. Here you must face the arch-mutant Greyvon and his legendary Demon Scythe in an epic battle for the salvation of the entire human race. Do you have what it takes to destroy Greyvon and restore order to the chaos… or will this be mankind’s final hour? Could this really be… the Last Bronx?

Just kidding.

Last Bronx is actually a weapons-based fighting game by Sega’s AM3 development studio. It’s called Last Bronx because a Japanese executive at Sega thought the two words sounded interesting together, and his English-speaking aide was too afraid of being fired or humiliated to interject. So here it is – a fighting game with absolutely no brawling in the Bronx, but plenty of bone-breaking battling in and around the Tokyo metropolitan area. And instead of mutants, radioactive ninjas and Demon Scythe’s, there are a bunch of tattooed, 80s-apparel wearing gang members – all of whom are apparently so dissatisfied with the country’s recession (according to the game’s alternate history) that they’ve resorted to wearing loud colors and whacking people with blunt objects.

*THOCK*

That’s the sound of some poor fighting game elitist being struck by the realization that not every great 3D fighting game for the Saturn had to have been developed by AM2. Sure, Yu Suzuki and crew created some mighty fine examples of the genre with Fighting Vipers, Fighters Megamix and the two Virtua Fighters, but give AM3 their due for coming virtually out of nowhere to deliver a peppy, Tekken-like brawler with fluid, responsive gameplay and a blazing-fast framerate. Don’t let the ridiculous story and nonsensical title fool you – Last Bronx is an important game in the Saturn’s long list of acclaimed beat-em-ups.

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AM3’s freshman entry into the one-on-one fighting game market doesn’t excel because of any one specific game-defining feature, such as destructive barriers, limb-specific damage, or mind-blowing breast physics, but instead succeeds due to its excellent amalgamation of traits swiped from other quality fighters on the market. The PKG (punch/kick/guard) three-button control scheme, for example, is taken straight from Virtua Fighter – as is the fluidity of the fighters’ movement and combos. But the floaty quality of AM2’s iconic brawler is gone, replaced with a Tekken-esque snappiness that keeps the game accessible for newcomers while still featuring the depth that hardcore fighting game enthusiasts all crave.

One for the Ages

In 2006, Last Bronx was released on the PS2 as part of the Japan-only, Sega Ages series. This port is arcade perfect, with higher resolution visuals and complex, real-time character shadows. The Saturn port is impressive in its own right, but if you are looking for the definitive version of the game (and willing to spend a bit more dough), pick it up for the PS2.

Last Bronx is also, as mentioned above, a weapons-based brawler, so each of the game’s eight pugilists carry a head-cracking weapon of choice. Nunchaku, tonfas, bō staffs, hammers, and even an unquestionably bad-ass coiling dragon staff (three-section staff) are all here, and each of the fighters wield their weapon of choice with the grace and style of a master. In fact, this fluidity and elegance of animation is largely due to the game’s pioneering use of motion capture in the development process. Unlike in Virtua Fighter, which was animated by hand, characters in Last Bronx never end up in weirdly contorted positions; if the motion capture actor couldn’t pull a maneuver off in real life, it didn’t make it into the game.

Graphically, the game looks sharp, even when scrutinized through a lens tinted by today’s visual standards. The fighters have noticeable texture seaming and the trademark intermittent flickering that accompany nearly all 3D Saturn games, but they are otherwise well-modeled (the blur trails left by weapons are especially sexy) and the action runs at a nearly unchecked 60 frame-per-second. This fluidity of framerate is helped along by the superb 2D backgrounds, most of which give the illusion of being 3D due to clever use of scaling and rotating effects. Clearly, AM3 had a good grasp on the Saturn’s 3D capabilities when designing Last Bronx (probably learned during their time developing Virtual-On), and the game stands as one of the most technologically sound polygonal fighters on the system.

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Agreeable visuals, fluid animation, and head-cracking, weapons-based brawling – sounds great so far right? Well, it is – but there are a few minor set-backs that tarnish the game’s overall quality. First, there are only eight fighters. In all fairness, that’s pretty standard for 3D fighting games at the time, but who wants to settle for standard? Games like Tekken and Fighters Megamix had upwards of 20 or more brawlers to choose from (including unlockables), and there’s no doubt that more selectable characters equals more variety, and more variety equals more fun. Also, Last Bronx is a bit lacking in game mode variety. Sure, it has the standard Survival, Arcade, VS, Time Attack modes that have become expected in the genre, but something akin to Soul Blades’ Edge Master Mode would have gone a long way in extending the game’s single-player lifespan. It should be noted, though, that the Japanese of version of Last Bronx does come on two discs, and features a healthy dose of training and tutorial modes, as well as narrations (done by each character’s Japanese voice actor) that help flesh out the fighters’ personalities and motives.

In the end, Last Bronx is a definite must-own title for all Saturn-owning, fighting game connoisseurs. The excellent motion-captured animation, strong visuals, and refined combat system all work together to create a classic brawling experience that should appeal to both newbies and veterans alike. Little touches like a strong soundtrack, nifty animated endings and stellar backgrounds – all of which are made more realistic due to the inclusion of dozens of real life Japanese corporate sponsors – are just the icing on the proverbial cake. If given the choice, though, snatch up the Japanese version for the bonus game modes, fold-out poster, RAM cartridge stickers and a miniature gashapon of Greyvon holding his spectral Demon Scythe.

Just kidding about that last one. *wink*

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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