The arcade stand-up of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is probably Konami’s most well-known beat ’em up superstar , but they also mixed the side-scrolling fighting formula in with gangsters, M.I.A.s, and even run ‘n gun, Bucky O’Hare. Though their brawlers weren’t quite as diverse as Capcom’s incredible explosion of pugilistic power, they could still be as much fun.
Crime Fighters came out in 1989, the same year that TMNT did, pitting players against the fists, feet, and melee weapons of gang thugs through an urban collection of subway stations, side streets, and seedy alleyways. Four players could simultaneously jump into this vigilante’s paradise on a quest to find and free kidnapped women held by a literal “Mr. Big” type of bad guy.
Controls were simple – the joystick moved your chosen do-gooder around on screen who could punch and kick enemies. They could “jump”, but only when they did a flying roundhouse. If other players were with you, friendly fire ensured that accidental punches and kicks would connect. And like many other beat ’em ups, dropped weapons ranging from pipes to guns could be grabbed to even the odds Charles Bronson style. The game even let you keep a weapon you were armed with to the next level if it still worked.
Enemy troupes consisted of mohawk’ed thugs, leather jacket wearing cool dudes, switchblade armed muscle shirt wearing toughs, and the bosses ranging from mask-wearing, axe-wielding maniacs to the final bodyguard for the kingpin. Interestingly, a number of the bosses were takes on horror movie figures. The axe-wielder with the mask might remind players of Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, for example.
It wasn’t the prettiest arcade game. Konami’s own TMNT had much better presentation values with its cartoonish look, wide range of special effects, colorful stages, and expressive battle mechanics matched with solid controls. The tiny protagonists onscreen seemed to scale weirdly against some of the backdrop items, such as the subway train’s benches, and the basic fighting mechanics and workman-like battles onscreen didn’t feel as exciting as being a mutant Turtle. But the music was stamped with Konami’s usual arcade quality.
The game had two different endings depending on how the players did against the last boss who didn’t really have a matching “boss fight” aside from his bodyguard right before he made an appearance. Outside the cell with the kidnapped women, the limo with the boss arrives and the guy steps out throwing a key to the ground. As soon as the player picked it up, the bad guy let loose with a machine gun and you had to try and struggle over to knock it out of his hands and then beat him down. If you actually died during this part, the game had a bad ending ready to go before telling them to give it another go.
Finishing this part with the “good” ending finished things off with a group photo-op with the lovely ladies that you had rescued right before putting you into a special stage filled with all of the bosses. Getting through that started the game all over again from the start.
Crime Fighters would have a sequel in 1991 which sported far better visuals and a much larger variety of weapons to hit back with along with fighters that bore more than a passing resemblance to famous personalities ranging from Mr. T to Hulk Hogan. However, both games haven’t shown up in a Konami collection or as an unlockable special in any other Konami product, joining the countless other arcade titles that still linger in the distant past archived in the vault of its creator somewhere. At least, not yet.