Virtually Overlooked: Ultraman

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JC Fletcher
October 19th, 2007
In this article: bandai, fighting, snes, ultraman
Virtually Overlooked: Ultraman

Welcome to our weekly feature, Virtually Overlooked, wherein we talk about games that aren't on the Virtual Console yet, but should be. Call it a retro-speculative.

The success of Street Fighter II had an instantaneous effect on the game industry, not only driving production of me-too fighting games, but also providing a template for any fighting game to follow; every 2D one-on-one fighting game since then has stuck closely to this design, distinguishing itself in how it differs from the Street Fighter II formula.

Pre-Street Fighter II fighting games lacked this template for fighter success, and thus exhibited more variation in design. In a way, this makes the few pre-SFII fighters more interesting. Unfortunately, most of these games do have one feature in common: they aren't very good. Ultraman for the SNES fits in this category, but we can't help but like it.

In 1991, before the Internet made everything in the world common knowledge, the Ultraman character and world seemed extraordinarily exotic. Crammed in among the SNES launch games, Bandai's fighter was released in the U.S. to tie in with the Ultraman: Towards the Future TV show that premiered at the same time (which was actually pretty hard to find, and disappeared very quickly.) While the show was part of an endlessly long series in Japan, to an American kid, the idea of a show about a huge guy wrestling Godzilla-style monsters was irresistible and novel, and in fact remains so to this day. Love of the franchise doesn't quite make us love the game, but it at least made us play it more than once.

Ultraman featured one-on-one fights between Ultraman and famous monsters from the series, in deserts and cityscapes. As Ultraman (you could only play as Ultraman, and only in single player) you could punch, kick, jump (with a button) or fire your special attack. Special attacks required a meter to be filled up, which happens over time. In keeping with the conventions of the show, enemies can only be defeated by the Specium Ray, the most powerful attack, which requires a full power meter. And that only works when the enemy's life is completely depleted; of course, health regenerates, meaning that if you don't have a full power meter at exactly the moment your opponent is ready for it, the fight continues.

Among pre-SFII fighters, Ultraman is okay. It's more playable than the first Street Fighter, anyway. It definitely doesn't deserve all the hate it gets, although we remember feeling disappointed by what we thought was going to be a showcase title for the SNES. The Ultraman-series monsters are interesting, and we at least get an authentic guy-in-rubber-suit feel from the graphics. Some extremely early Mode 7 effects are highlighted in the presentation. The controls are pretty unresponsive, but, like Castlevania, you learn to compensate for the delay. The best part of the game, which would unfortunately be negated by a Virtual Console release, is that it can be acquired quite cheaply. It's worth checking out in some way if you're into huge fighting dudes.
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