Co-founded by Sid Meier in 1982, MicroProse Software, Inc. was a stalwart of innovation throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. They pioneered the strategy and simulation genres, kick-starting franchises such as Civilisation and XCOM, producing quality titles that have stood the test of time.
Sadly, many years of financial hardship and corporate rebranding have certainly taken their toll; these days the developer is exhibiting all the symptoms of an aged prize fighter still trying to punch above their weight. Which is kind of how their latest release has manifested itself.
Girl Fight, developed in conjunction with Kung Fu Factory, is a perfect example of the creative slump the studio seems to have fallen into. This 3D arcade-style fighting game features an all-female cast of eight long-legged beauties that make the protagonists of Dead or Alive seem demure and conservative by comparison.
The premise for Girl Fight is simple enough: the girls have been kidnapped by a shadowy organisation known as The Foundation, which has somehow plugged them into a mainframe and is forcing them to face off in a variety of virtual arenas, in the skimpiest attire possible to maintain any semblance of dignity. Whoever can rise through the ranks and defeat Chrome, the digital construct running the mainframe, will win their freedom.
Waif thin, scantily clad females have long been a mainstay of fighting games. Popularised by early titles such as Tekken and Dead or Alive, they have become par for the course over the years, with more and more emphasis placed on their appeal to male gamers; their objectification has become a marketing tool with which to ensnare a captive audience.
Visually, Girl Fight is a great looking game; just not for the reasons the developer intended. The cell-shaded graphics of the highly detailed models are very impressive - they no doubt spent a lot of time making them anatomically spectacular. These women are the epitome of tough chic, each with their own particular fighting style and fashion sense.
The animated arenas are also impressive, but beyond the steady frame rate and pumping soundtrack, the gameplay is as shallow as its main characters. Watching buxom babes beat seven bells out of each other only provides minimal distraction from the Girl Fight’s wider shortcomings.
It’s clear that MicroProse had a very specific remit during development - they seem to have placed a high emphasis on “jiggle physics” above all else. But in reality, times have changed, audiences have matured and moved on. Now, more than ever, women represent a large section of the gaming public and studios can no longer rely on the old stereotypes.
This game oozes misogyny. From the highly sexualised loading screens, to the way game has been marketed, right through to the rewards for completion (unlocking naked pictures of the fighters), it’s hard to see who the developer’s core demographic is. Just who were they aiming this game at? Hardcore fighting fans or pubescent teenagers? I suspect even my 13 year old self would not have been fooled by such cheap ploys.
The simplified controls also do little to engage. There is no real skill required to progress through the stages and instead you find yourself mindlessly button-mashing your way to victory. Grabs, counters and punch-kick combos are easy to build up, although there is some sense of satisfaction when you pull off a tricky move and thereby earn some in-game currency to spend on upgrades in the menus.
Another immediate drawback is the inability to test out the game’s characters from the outset. You must play as each character in a pre-set order, meaning you have to grind through the game seven times before you can establish who the most efficient fighter is.
One novel, yet underutilised, feature is the psionic fighting abilities which are unlocked as you progress. Activated using the left/right triggers, they provide powerful buffs such as steal skin or the ability to drain your opponent’s health. However, due to the way the game is balanced, it’s possible to complete an entire play through without any need to use them.
As well as the arcade and versus mode there’s also an online component, although whenever I tried to access this option the arenas were eerily quiet. I tried on several occasions to host a match, only to log off 20 minutes later when nobody showed up.
Girl fight is a difficult game to recommend. It’s clear to see where the developers were drawing their inspiration, however they have succeeded only in creating a game which emulates the bigger budget titles on a very basic level. Whilst it functions as expected for a fighting game, it does so without any of the charm of the more established franchises, relying heavily on a graphical sheen which does not stand up to scrutiny and does little to hide a multitude of sins.