Sunday, September 29, 2013

Slaughter of the 'Bots - One Must Fall 2097 vs. Rise of the Robots

One Must Fall 2097 Title Screen
Rise of the Robots SVGA Title Screen
Rise of the Robots VGA Title Screen
In 1991, Street Fighter II was released in the arcades to great acclaim.  Ports of the game to home consoles and computers and clones like Mortal Kombat soon followed.  Virtually any property or idea could be used in a fighting game, including dinosaurs (Primal Rage), The Simpsons, or even Nintendo's characters (Super Smash Bros.).  In 1994, two different companies released a robot fighting game for the IBM PC Compatible platform.  The first was One Must Fall 2097 (OMF), developed by Diversions Entertainment and released around October, 1994 by Epic Megagames.  The second was Rise of the Robots (RotR), developed by Mirage Studios also released around the same time by Time-Warner Interactive.  In this article, we will compare these two DOS fighting games in every area.  As you will soon read, this comparison will turn out to be grossly unfair to one game.

Graphics

OMF Main Menu
OMF uses the standard 320x200x256 VGA color mode and originally came on five floppy disks.  Later releases were on CD.  RotR was released in separate 320x200x256 VGA and 640x400 SVGA boxes.  The SVGA retail version took up fourteen disks.  The VGA version, which was released only in Europe, still took up ten,  The VGA version has more animated cutscenes than the SVGA version. RotR was also released on CD with more animated scenes than either disk version, but no extra gameplay or music.  The screenshots for OMF and RotR VGA in this post have been pixel-doubled to 640x400 while the screenshots from RotR SVGA are in their native 640x400 resolution.  Neither game featured scrolling backgrounds.  Unlike RotR's static backgrounds, there is animation in OMF's backgrounds and hazards (spikes, fireballs, electrified walls, strafing aircraft) that can harm either opponent.

OMF takes its inspiration from Japanese anime.  Realism is not particularly prized.  This approach was uncommon during the mid-90s, when DOS games were generally striving for better realism.  RotR shows a more Western sci-fi influence, where realistic shapes and models are used.  Robot animation seems a bit choppier with RotR than with OMF.

Both games run very well on a mid-range 486, even RotR in its SVGA version.

RotR Main Menu SVGA
RotR Main Menu VGA
Sound and Music

OMF Combat Screen
Both games have entirely digitized sound tracks.  OMF officially supports the Sound Blaster, Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16, Pro Audio Spectrum cards and the Gravis Ultrasound with 512K or more of RAM. The Ultrasound is the best choice by far for the game, the audio output quality with this card is always at its best.  The Sound Blaster 16 and the Pro Audio Spectrum 16 require a Pentium sound quality approaching that of the Ultrasound.  Even at the maximum quality settings, the music and sound effects as output by a Sound Blaster 16 or Pro Audio Spectrum 16 still sound a bit muffled and noisy compared to the output of the Ultrasound.

RotR only officially supports Sound Blaster cards.  It does not allow the user to determine the type of card, original, Pro, 16, in the setup program.

RotR Combat Screen SVGA
RotR Combat Screen VGA
The music for OMF was done by C.C. Catch (real name Kenny Chou) of the demoscene group Renaissance.  It is well-known that the demoscene took to the Gravis Ultrasound and thrived with it, and this music is well-representative of the music found in demos.  Each of the five arenas has its own music.

The "music" for RotR was done by Brian May, the guitarist of the band Queen, however in the DOS versions it consists of 15 seconds of guitar riffs, even with the CD version.  May's music is only heard during the title sequence.  The rest is ambient audio, even in the fight scenes.  The 3DO version has his soundtrack in addition to the Mirage soundtrack.

Control

Both games support the use of the keyboard or joystick.  Gravis gamepads, which are digital, are highly recommended.  Only the first two buttons on a joystick are supported.  Gemini of Ancient DOS Games indicates a preference for the keyboard because it is easier to pull off special moves.

Both games use the Up, Up-Left and Up-Right joystick positions to jump.  OMF uses one button for "punching" and one button for "kicking".  RotR uses one button for attacking and one button for blocking.  In both games blocking can be done by holding the directional away from the attacker.  In RotR, blocking an attack will still result in damage being taken, OMF only allows special attacks to take away health if successfully blocked.

RotR requires you to hold down the button to determine the strength of the attack, then push a direction to initiate an attack.  This is very strange for a fighting game.  Ordinary fighting games give an instant response to a button push.  If you press the punch button, your fighter punches.  The strength of the attack is usually determined by the button pressed.  In RotR, if you want to make an attack any more powerful, you must hold down the button until the power meter is at the level sought, then release the button to make the attack.  Needless to say this scheme throws timing completely off and makes jump attacks much more difficult to pull off than they should be.

OMF has a much more fluid control scheme like Street Fighter II.  It uses the combination of direction with the punch and kick buttons to determine the type and strength of the attack.  The push of a button, even without a direction, will still result in an attack.

Another oddity for RotR is that you cannot jump over your opponent and will always face the same direction.

With a special move list, I was able to perform special moves for the Jaguar robot reasonably well with OMF, but could not execute the special moves for RotR's Cyborg at all.

Robots

OMF Pilot Select
OMF in its one or two player games requires you to select a pilot for each robot, and there are ten pilots, each with their own back story and motivations.  The pilot determine the strength, speed and endurance of the robot selected.  When pilots fight against each other they taunt each other before the fight, and each pilot has his or her own ending.  There are ten robots ordinarily available, each with their own handling characteristics and three to four special moves.  Thus 100 combinations are available.  There are also special finishing moves like the fatalities of Mortal Kombat.  In the Tournament Play, you get to customize your own pilot character and your robot.  You can earn money by victories to buy upgrades for both and can eventually purchase new robots.  This is as about as close to a Role Playing Game as a fighting game got at this time.

OMF Robot Select
RotR has one main robot, the Cyborg which you can use in the story mode.  Five more robots are available for practice and in the two player fighting mode, but one player must control the Cyborg.  Each robot has one or two special moves.

RotR Enemy Robot Introduction SVGA (Originally Animated)
RotR Enemy Robot Introduction VGA (Originally Animated)
Releases and Ports

OMF was strictly a DOS game.  RotR was released for a wide variety of platforms, including the IBM PC Compatibles, the 3DO, Commodore Amiga (separate 32-color and 256-color disk releases), Amiga CD32, Phillips CD-i, Sega Game Gear, Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.  The Super Nintendo version has more animation and music than the PC floppy versions, although it weighs in at only 4MB compared to the 29.7MB install of the SVGA PC floppy version.

Difficulty Levels

OMF Combat Aftermath
OMF has many difficulty levels, some of which are hidden.  The readily available difficulty levels are punching bag, rookie, veteran, world class and champion.  There are also the hidden difficulty settings of deadly and ultimate.  The lowest difficulty is for practicing moves, and the rookie difficulty is manageable once you know the regular and basic special moves.  The higher difficulty levels above veteran require real commitment to the game.  I was able to win on the veteran difficulty level (the lowest level of difficulty where you can face the final pilot and win the game) after a few hours of playing the game with the basic Jaguar robot.

RotR Combat Aftermath SVGA (you will see this screen a lot if you play this game)
RotR Combat Aftermath VGA (you will see this screen a lot if you play this game)
RotR has beginner, easy, medium and hard difficulties.  Don't be fooled, the beginner level is very difficult. The true final robot is only accessible after beating the hard difficulty twice.  The robots you will face in the game have tremendously unfair advantages.  Almost all of them seem to move faster and have attacks with a much better reach than the Cyborg and more powerful to boot.  They do not seem to be hampered by the control scheme inflicted on the player.

Special Features

OMF supports remote multiplayer as of version 2.0 through a null-modem serial link, a modem or over an IPX network.  It also will let you record your gameplay and play it back later.  There are a number of secrets, codes, robots and settings.  There is a hyper mode that makes for faster gameplay and more intense special moves.

RotR has a few special codes, but generally what you see is what you get.

Assessment

One Must Fall 2097 was one of the best fighting games for DOS.  I would say this is as controversial an opinion as "Abraham Lincoln was one of the greatest Presidents of the United States."  This is not saying too much, as most fighting games released for the PC before Street Fighter II have not aged well at all and most of the games released after Street Fighter II are ports of arcade machines of varying quality.  Still, given the limitations of the controllers available to OMF, it still manages to be a game of surprising depth and yet easy to pick up and play today.  The robots have varying abilities and while the balance is not necessarily perfect, all have their interesting points.  Moreover, it is surprising today to learn that this game was realized mainly by four people (according to the credits).  It is a testament to the talent and dedication of a few individuals who wanted to make a fun and enjoyable fighting game and succeeded tremendously.

As for Rise of the Robots, virtually every negative comment I have heard about the game prior to my own investigation of it is justified.  "Style over substance" and "graphics over gameplay" are two accusations that are entirely supported.  Interestingly, RotR had over a dozen people working on it and a budget large enough to port it to eight very different platforms.  It seems that whatever resources were left over after modeling the robots in 3D Studio Max was spent on ports.  However, all those resources resulted in a game that was about as complex as the original Street Fighter arcade game.  The moves are so simple, the too-few robots have very similar moves and there are only limited match ups available.  The music, sound effects, animation and moves are too limited to keep anyone playing for long.  Unless you are playing in the two player mode, your one robot will fight the same five robots in the same order over and over again until you get sick of the game.  The game quickly becomes boring and between the awful control scheme and the cheap computer opponents there is no reason why I would want to play this game ever again after this blog entry.  The PC version feels especially rushed, the console versions are more playable.

One Must Fall 2097 is freeware and deserves a spot on every DOS gamer's hard drive.  Virtually every version of it, 1.0, 1.1, 2.0 and 2.1 can be found at RGB Classic Games : http://www.classicdosgames.com/.  Ancient DOS Games' review of the game is an excellent point to start the new player with acquainting himself or herself with the game modes and play :  http://www.pixelships.com/adg/ep0019.html

Rise of the Robots deserves only to sit on a collector's shelf.

2 comments:

aybe said...

Good review! OMF was a great game. Of the few fighting games for PC there was FX FIGHTER and Sango Fighter which were good too. (though they are not robots fighting) memories!!! :D:D:D

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