Back in the 90s, if you wanted to smash some pixel skulls in you were never really short of options. The beat-'em-up genre (and by extension; fighting games) as a whole went from the already popular level of, well; popularity, from the 80s – to a whole new zenith for the final decade of the 20th century. It was good times, folk. Good times! Unless you're one of those boring sods with your wordy 976.4 hours RPG-only, then its probably better clicking off the page now...
Released in 1992 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Combatribes is a title from the genre masters (and forefathers) that are Technos of Japan. It hit home consoles a couple years after the arcade original, gaining only a mild reception from the press; despite some tasty marketing upon release.
Gameplay is, by my honest judgement; of a typically high Technos standing. You can instantly make obvious comparisons to Renegade right off the bat in terms of layout (as in the stages themselves) and style (as in, how it actually plays). Each character control in the manner expected (strong man, fast one, balanced) and the movesets are hardly the largest nor the most complex, yet may still take a little getting used to in comparison to the more successful Capcom/Konami efforts that have retained popularity.
Graphically speaking, the Combatribes may not be what some would be expecting going in. As you should be able to notice via the screeshots on this here page, its very cartoony with everyone being a little top heavy, rather than the more obvious look of faux-realism or striking anime-style that you may find with other beat-em-ups. There's some nice little effects here and there, but it doesn't go Mode 7 overload, which is certainly to my tastes. It's all rather vibrant, with big bold colours splattered all over the place, which only adds to its near candy-ish appeal. And yes, candy-ish appeal is now a thing (deal with it). The key sprites are all obvious, so it with everything being so eye-catching, nothing merges murkily into the backgrounds.
In terms of the music, it's as you'd expect. It's hardly Streets of Rage 2, but there's still some memorable tunes to be heard. The OST was released alongside Double Dragon 3 in Japan, if you're one of those types of collectors who go nuts for that sort of thing. Besides that, there's not much to say. It fits, its there…and, well...Yeah. Not bad, not great. Average to good. Settled.
I actually first properly played the Super Nintendo edition as part of Rattlecat's 'Go One Louder' campaign that was the 53 Game Challenge. It was a random grab and one I didn't regret. After all, the SNES was never my go to console back in the day, I was all about dat SEGA, innit. Combatribes however is something I know for a fact kid me would have gone nuts for (that said, many SNES games I discovered through emulation in the early 00's I have similar thoughts for), thus this review wont be particularly jaded at all. Especially not as much as some of the leading gaming mags of the time, at least.
As was the case with most typical brawlers, Combatribes really brings nothing particularly fresh or innovative to the table – but lets be honest, neither did the majority of Konami's equivalents that seem to get a pass simply by the fact they're playable licensed games (hello, Turtles) – but what it does, it does in a well refined fashion that is ultimately fun and keeps attention (for its relatively short duration). This is Technos, kids. You should know what you're in for!
The story line (as told through cut sequences) basically surrounds an evil organisation named Ground Zero, which are all about causing havoc and destruction (natch). You take control of one of three cyborg bruisers (Bullova, Beserker and Blitz) for supreme justice by way of smacking baddies in the chops. The Ground Zero mob have seemingly fallen under the hand of a woman cyborg by the name of Martha, of whom was previously part of the Combatribes team. It's all rather simplistic, but that works in its favour. No one wants a Metal Gear Solid when you just want to roundhouse some mothers.
Of course, the Combatribes is an arcade game first and foremost, as with many video games that got their start as cabinets there exist changes and the ol' evil that is censorship. The SNES version of the game cuts out the more bloody elements, of course; also removing the standard Japanese love of whacking random Nazism into the work. Apparently, the Wii Virtual Console re-release is further censored, with the bad guys no longer working for Ground Zero. But seeing as this is all set in a futuristic New York, that's sort of more understandable than the standard random changes we often get in the West. The levels have also been cut in more of the sense that they're shorter and further simplified to nestle happily into a wee cartridge. Besides the obvious not so arcade perfect changes, it actually plays strikingly similar.
Extras brought to the mix in the SNES version includes the added cinematic cut-scenes that progress the plot, mentioned earlier. What will mainly be of interest is the addition of a 1v1 fighting sub-game. It's a bit awkward, particularly the combos and doesn't translate as well as it could have, but it's there and worth a little look see. You'll notice between rounds in the main game you get passwords flash on screen. The sub-game is where these come to play, as they unlock additional characters outside of the main three. Neat, huh?
Overall, as I've essentially indicated to this point; Combatribes is a perfect choice if you're burnt out on Batman Returns and Turtles In Time. Plus, as far as the SNES goes? I'd take this over that utterly pathetic Final Fight port that plagued a generation who weren't cool enough to invest in a Mega-CD unit. Give it a shot, you'll have fun. It aint Bubsy, so what's the worst that can happen!? You get stuck on stage one. That's probably the worst that can happen. Answers for self-created rhetorical questions. It's what Olly023 does.
Verdict:- If I was to tell you that The Combatribes on SNES was an absolute game-changer...I'd be fibbin'!
However, what Combatribes is is a cracking little beat-em-up that's well worth your time (perhaps not money, depending on where you pick it up). There's more to the SNES than a cruddy Final Fight port or Turtles In Time and this is the proof.
It's no Knights of the Round, but give it a shot and if you like the genre, specifically if you like the Technos way; this'll keep you entertained as you smash your foes.
Second Opinion:- A mostly mild arcade port from the beat-em-up masters over at Technos of Japan, but The Combatribes isn't their most noteworthy option available in the grand scheme of retrogaming.
That said, worth a look as cyborgs are cool and Transbot likes to kick butt. Decent time killer, not much more, though.
Transbot Scores:- 6 out of 10