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Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side – Sega CD

Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side – Sega CD

eternal-champions-challenge-from-the-dark-sidePlatform: Sega CD

Developer: Sega Interactive Development Division

Publisher: SegaProject Obscure

Release Date (NA): February 1995

Genre: Fighting

Rating: 7.5/10

Reviewed by Action Zero

Would you rather pull someone’s spine out of their chest or kick them into the sea to be eaten alive by the sharks? When it comes to gratuitous and over-the-top video game death, there aren’t many games that pushed the envelope harder than Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side for the Sega CD. The sequel to the original Eternal Champions, it included more characters, more gameplay options, and definitely more blood. How come you’ve never heard of this game before? That’s an interesting question, and the best way to answer it is with more blood… I mean, to look at the history of the game itself. This game wasn’t created merely by accident, and it didn’t simply fade into obscurity, either. Come with me as I tell you of this fascinating and extremely brutal game.

Sure, we'll fight in front of this man-sized spinning fan. Safety first, right?

“Sure, we’ll fight in front of this man-sized spinning fan. Safety first, right?”

When Mortal Kombat was released by Midway in 1992, it took the world by storm. No one had really seen this level of graphic violence in a video game before, but there were digitized sprites of real people fighting to the death, spilling blood, throwing fireballs, and pulling off gruesome Fatalities if their players were skilled (or lucky) enough to pull it off. Their success led to many imitators trying to cash in on the hot new scene, not the least of which was Sega, who made Eternal Champions for the Genesis in 1993. On the surface, it followed the formula pretty closely, giving the characters a range of special moves and including a stage fatality in each area should the final blow land the opponent in a certain zone. With a clever premise, memorable characters, and a catchy soundtrack, it promised to be something more than just a simple Mortal Kombat clone, and in 1995, the series reached the Sega CD and spread its bloodstained, viscera-caked wings.

Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side took everything that made the original game fun and simply improved upon it. The simple and catchy tunes from the Genesis version are replaced with more contemporary house mix and metal tracks to build the player’s adrenaline up. The graphics are more richly detailed than the cartridge could ever manage, leading to more vivid characters and environments. And with better graphics came the blood and gore that the original game promised but never really delivered on in a big way. The original Eternal Champions had its own finishers, but most of these have little blood involved if at all, due to the limitations of the medium. In the Genesis version, you can watch as your opponent is eaten by a T-Rex, but in the Sega CD version, you can see the blood splash from its jaws and the pieces drip from its mouth as your enemy meets his fate as dinosaur chow. And not only were the old finishing moves improved, there were three other kinds of finishers given to the characters and the environments themselves, all of them upping the ante in terms of sudden and vicious ways to die. Take into account a character roster twice the size of its predecessor and new fighting arenas for ALL of the new characters, and you can be sure that Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side has a lot of blood to spill.

Usually, a hot ninja assassin fighting a cyborg kickboxer means that everyone wins. But this isn't your usual game...

A hot ninja assassin fighting a cyborg kickboxer means that everyone wins…usually.

Story

So I bet you’re wondering why the fighters in this competition are so hellbent on killing each other in such horrifying ways? This is where the plot of the games comes in: Eternal Champions introduces the premise that the world is on the edge of disaster because several people through time have been killed before they could impact history for the better. Using most of his power, this seemingly benevolent being, known as the Eternal Champion, pulls these figures out of history just before death and pits them against each other to win the right to face him, with the ultimate prize being the knowledge that they need to escape their shortened fates and change the world. Suddenly, kicking someone into a bladed fan doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side takes this mentality to the next level in the form of the Dark Eternal Champion. He personifies the brutality that the Sega CD version brings, throwing his own competitors into the competition, making the fights much more chaotic and deadly, and refusing to let anyone win the tournament unless they can best him in battle. To win this one, you’ll need to be just as brutal as him, but thankfully you have many more ways to do that.

Shadow's gonna wake up feeling this one...

Shadow’s gonna wake up feeling this one…

Graphic (Content, That Is)

The Sega CD gave the designers of Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side a lot more freedom in what they could put into the game, but I’ve already discussed the blood and how the game goes out of its way to bring it. What I haven’t mentioned yet was how the game goes about it. The original Mortal Kombat had character-specific fatalities and stage fatalities, giving players options when it came time for their opponent’s execution. The original Eternal Champions only has a single stage fatality in every character’s level, called an Overkill, and they rely simply on dealing the finishing blow against your opponent in a certain zone, knocking them toward a certain background element. They’re easy to pull off, but don’t offer much in the way of variety. It’s either knock your opponent into the neon sign or miss your chance.

Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side adds three new styles of finishers: the Sudden Death, the Vendetta, and the Cinekill. These are just as brutal as the Overkills, often being even more visceral than the original game’s fatalities. Sudden Deaths are a second Overkill, but with more of a Final Destination feel to it, almost literally coming out of nowhere to kill your opponent. Vendettas are essentially Mortal Kombat-style Fatalities, unleashed by completing a certain combo while your opponent is dazed, giving you a chance to kill them outright and get their blood on your hands. Cinekills are special, only made possible by the nature of the Sega CD. If you beat your opponent to within an inch of his life without getting touched yourself, you’ll hear an audio cue, and then all you have to do is make your enemy dizzy. The Dark Eternal Champion will then appear and take your opponent away to kill them himself, showing off his sick sense of honor (and humor) in a glorious FMV cinematic. (Well, for the Sega CD, anyways.)

While I would love to share a few of these grisly spectacles with you, these elements are essentially the biggest selling point of the game, so if there’s something I’m going to keep mum about, it’ll be that. Well, not to mention I’m probably showing off a few in the captions. Fun stuff, huh?

Being stepped on by an implied Godzilla is actually one of the game's cleaner deaths.

Being stepped on by an implied Godzilla is actually one of the game’s cleaner deaths.

Gameplay

Beneath all of the blood and guts is actually a pretty nice fighting game when all’s said and done. Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side doesn’t go out of its way to change the mechanics it established in the previous title, and it doesn’t have to. All of the characters have their own weight and power, each of them with their own diversity of special moves. The single-player contest has you fighting the other combatants one by one until you reach the Eternal Champion and his Dark brother. Nothing too out of the ordinary on the surface, and honestly I think that’s just fine. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when all you want to do is get the players finding all of those complicated finishing moves you put into the game.

I will say that the game’s difficulty can be a bit unforgiving at times. It could be just because the most I played of the game was when I was a kid (and admittedly probably shouldn’t have), and I’m sure you can alter the difficulty level in-game, but I ended up seeing most of the finishing moves being used on myself, not the other way around. Of course, this may also be due to the game’s controls. I thought that I was just generally bad at the game in my youth, but in doing some research for this article, I found that many people complained of clunky handling and the game having the occasional problem of not reading the special move combos when they’re put into the controller. Given that this makes a good explanation for how bad I was at the game in my youth, I’m willing to concede that perhaps it wasn’t the easiest game to pick up and play at the time. At the same time, though, I beat the original Mortal Kombat through spamming jump kicks and MK3 with repeated crotch shots, so I suppose I shouldn’t judge TOO harshly.

When it comes down to multiplayer options, the game surprises by giving you the chance to arrange just about any organized competition under the sun. Want to play a tournament? You’ve got it. Round robin? They’ve got that too. If it involves brackets leading up to a final confrontation, someone with a lot of time on their hands has already programmed the game to facilitate your needs. You can set the winning number of rounds, the opponents in every slot, and whether they’re human or computer opponents. If you wanted to and had enough friends who were interested, you could definitely have a serious contest going on where eventually one of your friends rises to the top and have it be tracked by the game itself. Not many games had this sort of attention put into the multiplayer beyond letting you and one other friend have a best two-out-of-three scrap that results in sweaty controllers and sore losers.

And if all of what I’ve told you isn’t enough to pique your curiosity, the truth is that Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side is rife with secrets. Over half of the new characters in the sequel aren’t even available to you once you enter the game; they’re secret characters and have to be unlocked through careful experimentation and a lot of luck. The only allusion to this expanded cast is a cryptic comment in the intro cutscene by the Dark Eternal Champion about how he has hidden some warriors away to prevent the contest from being truly fulfilled. While I won’t tell you what secrets lie on the edges of the character roster, I will say that there’s more than just four! Get to digging!

eccd_characters

Pictured: The starting lineup. Also, half of the game’s actual roster. Happy hunting!

Music and Sound Effects

I’ve glossed over the soundtrack before, but to go into detail, the music in Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side is both a step forward and a step back. One of the biggest positives is that the game tracks are actual music played with real instruments, rather than the composition of tones and sounds that makes up what we might affectionately call “chiptunes” today. This leads to unique and character-driven themes that gives each of the game’s arenas a mood all its own. Some characters have heavy metal riffs and wild guitar solos, others have a decidedly up-tempo house mix vibe, both genres that are good at getting your blood pumping. And still others are more atmospheric than you would expect. For example, any other game would probably give Dawson, lawman of the wild west, the traditional kind of spaghetti western theme that prefaces a high-noon shootout. But his actual theme is a coming-and-going mechanical drone separated by gaps of wandering electronica, which is the best I can do to describe what’s really happening. It gives his stage a sullen and brooding backdrop, made all the more dramatic by the fact that his stage is on an open train car traveling through a series of natural caves. Sometimes the soundtrack hits how you feel a character should be right on the nose, and sometimes it plays with your expectations a bit, and I like that.

Unfortunately, if you’ve heard the music from the original Eternal Champions, you might notice something off about it: It’s bloody awesome! The main theme gets me pumped in a way very few old-school tracks can even touch, and even without the layer of nostalgia clouding my judgment, just listen to the cartridge-level “fretwork” that dances over the backbeat. It’s a definite call to action tune and pretty hard to top. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty intense as well, each character’s theme a work of chiptune art even if they don’t have a solo segment that kicks you right in the face whenever you hear it. My issue with this difference is that if the music was that good on the cartridge, why not make remastered versions of the original tracks? This can probably be explained as the developers wanting to maintain a darker and grittier image for the new game and the old tracks might have sounded too uplifting. I can understand that and I’m not counting off points for the soundtrack choices, both games have pretty great tunes and your mileage may vary. I just would be giving this an 8.5 if they had seen their way to remaking the original game’s soundtrack and offering tracks from that as perhaps another secret to find.

As for the sound effects, not much has changed between games. It’s another case of letting something that works keep working. Vicious punches, sharp kicks, the thwip-thwip of Xavier’s staff spinning in one of his special moves, Shadow’s smoke bomb noise, all of that is as it was before. The only sound effects I believe were added were likely on account of all of the new characters and finishers. Their quality is just as good as the existing sounds, and it’s hard to tell which ones were made for the last game and which ones were crafted for this one. If that’s a noteworthy accomplishment, it’s got recognition from me. Of course, some of the characters added into the sequel were ones dismissed from the original title, so maybe there’s a behind-the-scenes reason they sound so similar…

Neither of them want to see the gun show, Samson. Sit down and chew a circus peanut.

Neither of them want to see the gun show, Samson. Sit down and chew a circus peanut.

Conclusion

Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side is an above-average fighting game that brings a lot to the table, if not in actual lasting conventions that changed the genre, then to demonstrating how far a good game could go on a powerful new medium. With excellent 2D graphics, a powerful soundtrack, great gameplay, and a whole multitude of new ways to kill your opponents, this sleeper hit fought fire with fire and blood with guts, giving Mortal Kombat a run for its money during its short time in the spotlight. The Eternal Champions series was originally expected to continue onto the Sega Saturn, where it would finish off the trilogy with the definitely-titled Eternal Champions:The Final Chapter. It even had a comic series and spin-off games that were produced for it. What happened? Sega of Japan wanted Virtua Fighter to be the Sega Saturn’s big hit series and decided the American bloodbath series would steal too much attention away. With the company having its roots in Japan, the American heads were forced to wash their hands of the whole project so that blocky fighters with blocky personalities could throw blocky punches on a blocky console without being blocked themselves. Funny how a game about giving people a second chance at their rightful destiny had its own destiny ripped away from it by executive mandate.

You thought I was kidding about that one? You poor soul.

All Sega of America had to do to save the series was show Japan this. Threat terminated.

Maybe I’m being needlessly bitter. After all, I don’t think that even an Eternal Champions title would make me any more interested in picking up the Sega Saturn. But at the end of the day, I loved the series for the ways it stood out from the crowd of Mortal Kombat lookalikes, and since the Sega CD sequel is the game that did the most to stand on its own as an independent title, it’s my opinion that Eternal Champions: Challenge From the Dark Side is the superior game. I would recommend it to anyone with a lust for blood and a strong constitution. It’s only available for the Sega CD, but if you can find a rom for it and play it on an emulator, that would likely be the most reliable way to give it a play. Six-button controllers are recommended for this outlet for your less-than-sociable desires. And as a parting note, I would like you to know that even though I played this game when I was still a child myself, I wouldn’t recommend you let your kids make that same mistake. Just because you catch a knife once doesn’t mean that you should try catching it again, after all. Game responsibly and use your best judgment.

Nerd Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Written by Action Zero

Action Zero spends his time relaxing in his Stratocaster-pink Starjammer, listening to New Retro Wave tracks and planning to get back in touch with the Hell Riders of the Milky Way for some beers and an intergalactic drag race or two. Played by Reb Brown in the historical documentary “Space Mutiny”.

 
 

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4 Comments

  1. Super interesting to find out that they pretty much killed EC to make room for Virtua Fighter. If only they knew how things would turn out, I’m sure they’d like to have two popular fighting franchises in their fold right now.

     
    • Yeah, it had a lot of potential to be something of its own. Hopefully Sega will consider dusting off that old idea and putting it back out for a new audience. It’s not like it has to compete with Virtua Fighter any more…

       
  2. Nice review! Welcome to the fold 🙂

     
  3. This was actually one of the few games I was glad to find for the Sega CD. I played the hell out of the original for the Genesis when I was younger. It was one of the few non-Mortal Kombat fighting games I got into. (Street Fighter was ok, but I got lost with all that Alpha 0 shit and 10 years of “SF 3” releases.) Sounds like I really need to give the sequel a spin.

     

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