Konami was hitting its beat ’em up stride by the time 1991 turned on the arcade scene. In that year, the game developer brought out two iconic adaptations — The Simpsons and the sequel to their 1989 TMNT hit, Turtles in Time. But they also brought out another sequel, this one to Crime Fighters which also came out ’89. In Japan, the sequel was called Crime Fighters 2. In the West, it would be called by a much punchier name — Vendetta.
Like many of Konami’s arcade games, Vendetta ran on a piece of hardware culled from the spaghetti approach that they and many others were used to doing. At the time, it was normal for someone like Konami or Taito to build hardware specific for one or two games before moving on. Standardization wasn’t quite a byword in the arcade scene when it came to the metal the games ran on. Arcade owners, if they wanted a new game, often had to buy a new cabinet or gut an existing, compatible cabinet to wire in the necessary boards.
The specific one Vendetta ran on, according to the mega-archive of arcade boards over at System 16, was also the same hardware that powered The Simpsons in the same year albeit with a chip or two difference. Even so, if you wanted to repurpose a cabinet, you still had to replace the board along with all of the grunt work needed to make it look like a Simpsons cab. This wasn’t like Capcom’s CPS-1 where, outside of modding the cab, all you had to do was replace the ROM cartridge to switch games.
Vendetta went in with bigger sprites, more sound effects and voice samples, pumped music, and plenty of action in the follow-up to Crime Fighters. Like its predecessor, it featured four-player simultaneous play (characters were determined by which joystick they chose to play on the cabinet), eight-way ‘sticks for 3D movement, side-scrolling stages filled with a nice menagerie of bad guys, and tons of breakables.
Interface tweaks included getting rid of the giant block health gauges from the first game and going in with the TMNT inspired thin block gauges instead. Additional coins didn’t buy health the way that they would in Gauntlet, or additional “credits” on continuing. Instead, they went directly into the lives the player had stacked next to the health gauge. And if all those ran out, that’s where having a few extra coins on tap still helped out.
The story was an urban blight tale that players have already heard from Final Fight — a girl is kidnapped as the damsel in distress and it’s up to her friends, the Cobras, to rescue her from the urban blight hellhole the bad guys live in. The teaser screen and intro break the struggle down even further into a battle between the Cobras (who are probably like some kind of vigilante neighborhood watch good guys) and their enemies, the Dead-End Gang led by Faust who leers over the city as the game starts. “Kute Kate”, the girl who is kidnapped, is the protege of one of the Cobras, Hulk Hogan lookalike Hawk.
The action takes place across five stages with a unique bonus stage at the end. Each stage ends with a big boss fight, though the second stage also has a mid-level one to change things up a bit. There were no “bonus points” stages racing across highways or water…or involved smashing up cars and barrels. This was a straight fist and foot fight from start to finish.
Each of the four characters had different fighting styles and were apparently based on real-life counterparts. Blood (Ex-Prize Fighter and who was supposed to be Mike Tyson), in the red shirt, had good range with his punches and kicks along with speed. Hawk (Hulk Hogan’s missing twin as a former professional wrestler) had decent range on his attacks, but his ground attack elbow drops were devastating to bosses in peeling away a block of health every time he pulled one off. Boomer (who fills in for Van Damme as the martial artist) was a fast martial artists without any real weaknesses. Last but not least, Sledge (the Mr. T lookalike as the Ex-military convict) had fast ground attacks and was decent all around. Everyone’s biggest differences lay in their special moves (like Hawk’s forward flying body splash) along with grab and ground attack styles.
There was also no jumping in the game. The buttons were configured around punches and kicks instead. Hitting both at the same time initiated a character’s special which was usually leaping attack of some kind.
Now, the game added a few fun things that I wished more titles took advantage of. Enemies knocked on the ground could be pummeled. If two or more players were in co-op, one player could grab an enemy and let a friend pummel them that way. Thrown objects like barrels could repeatedly batter an enemy as it rolled over them instead of being a one-time damage thing.
Enemies were also subject to friendly fire. Missed molotovs and dynamite throws primed to blow could end up nailing each other instead if players timed it just right. In addition to having a decent variety of bad guys ranging from punchy thugs to shotgun wielding trenchcoats, enemies also had an interesting range of reactions to certain attacks from throwing up to being surprised after dynamite blows up in their face. Drops also included a nice selection of deadly weapons such as spiked bats to that shotgun mentioned before that can insta-kill most of the enemies in the game before wearing out.
There was also a strong effort by Konami to inject story into the game. The attract mode gave players the low down on the rivalry between the Cobras and the Dead End Gang. Short, text cuts both before and after each stage gave reactions of that had been beat down and introduced who would be next on the chopping block. It was a dramatic change from their previous efforts.
The ending even gave players something unique — a bonus stage with a boss rush. After finishing off Faust, the bosses “mysteriously” revive themselves players face off against them two at a time. Even with reduced health bars, fighting through this gauntlet of pain could be brutal, but it also gave players another chance to appreciate the fun design work put into each boss from the guy with the concrete saw to a modern cave man called the Missing Link. After finally finishing the game, players could keep going as it looped back to the start for another run.
Vendetta was a big improvement over Crime Fighters and a lot more fun. The action felt like a grab bag of punches, throws, smashed bodies, and crazy bosses with hot dog and turkey health power ups thrown in to keep things going.
There was a great variety of enemies from a leather-clad dominatrix to a flasher that launched explosives after opening his coat to keep things interesting (though apparently one character who dry humps the player and other stage props was left out of the worldwide release beyond Japan). Though the sprites for the heroes weren’t as dynamic as those in a Capcom game which attempted to give everyone an extremely unique look, they worked against the stained blight that made up the city in the background.
Unfortunately, like many beat ’em ups, Vendetta never escaped the arcades to anything else. Not even the Genesis or the Super Nintendo would get a piece of the action, though Konami introduced other beat ’em ups to the consoles such as the enhanced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade ports to the NES and SNES along with their movie tie-in, Batman Returns (SNES only). However, at least as of this article, Vendetta remains orphaned from the current generation like so many of its peers, still waiting the day when Konami might decide to include it in a beat ’em up collection celebrating some of its best years in the arcade.