Whatever Happened To...Stories from the Back O' The Arcade
Vigilante - Irem - 1988
(If you like this, you might also like: Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Strider and The Ninja Warriors.)
"The law failed, but the vigilante prevailed!"
Now if that isn't a fitting social commentary that is as true today as it was in 1988, I'll beat up my landlord. This is the cheesy rhyme used to congratulate the fearless vigilante with enough money to make it to the end of Irem's superlative update to their dreadful Kung Fu game of four years previous.
"The police cannot stop the street gangs..." is the set up line for a few quid's worth of carnage, "take the law into your own hands!" After such eloquent counsel, who could refuse?
"Madonna has been kidnapped." I wouldn't like to say if it's that Madonna, but judging by her blonde ringlets and "school girl" gingham get-up, I'd say it probably isn't (unless she's dressed like that as part of a role-playing fetish, in which case, way-hey!). A gang known as the Skinheads have snatched a kung fu warrior's (material) girlfriend for no obvious reason other than incurring his expert wrath. The antagonists of this violent street theatre are that most prevalent of beat 'em up misanthropes, the punks.
Graphics are crisp, cartoony and unambiguous, with detailed backdrops and sparse but artistic sprites, while the music is a bass driven metronome that thumps along in harmony with fists and feet. Sound effects worthy of any Hong Kong movie are expertly used, allowing the player to feel every bone crunching assault. Not exactly replete with moves, the player is awarded naught but a solid punch and a throat mashing kick, both of which can be used while jumping or crouching. Robust nunchaku can also be found audaciously abandoned on the pavement for your miscreant thrashing pleasures.
Enemies are fairly standard across the five modish levels, many of whom are likewise armed with rudimentary weaponry available now from B&Q. Iron bars and chains are unexpectedly (but effectively, as any inner city police officer will tell you) whipped across our hero's kneecaps, while others push combat knives in his ribs or take careful aim before busting a cap in his dome.
I will not pretend there is any brain to this two dimensional "kick and punch-a-thon;" it is just one of those games that unerringly succeeds through its basic simplicity and raw, shameless entertainment value.
Although Vigilante may lie rotting and ignored at the bottom of the retro gaming canal while we "ooo" and "ahhh" over beautifully restored Galaxian cabinets, it is exactly this kind of bare bones, well-groomed gamer's game that kept the industry alive during the insipid 1980s. In the true spirit of this perfection in video game brutality, if you don't agree, I'll see you on the street!
Spanner has written articles for several publications, including Retro Gamer. He is a self-proclaimed horror junkie, with a deep appreciation for all things Romero.