Vipers is like the step-brother of Virtua Fighter. Though the two shared parents, FV was the neglected and less popular sibling, never really gaining the same status as its big brother. I remember, shortly after the Saturn was discontinued, seeing the game on sale for $1 at Toys 'R' Us. There were about 30 to 40 copies of the game amongst the stacks of discounted Sega merchandise. At the time, I felt a dollar was too much, especially since Fighter's Megamix had already taken care of my Vipers fix. But, was I right?
In the mid-90s, fighters were at their peak of popularity in the arcade. With the success of Virtua Fighter 2, Sega wanted to bring as many quarters as possible, so their famed AM2 development team went to work on a new brawler: Fighting Vipers. Vipers would keep the same simple 3-button layout as Virtua Fighter, but add a few new twists of its own.
This time, the characters come carrying weapons designed to inflict blunt-force trauma, like skateboards and guitars. To help counter these new smashing devices, every Viper has armor, with separate sections for the upper and lower body. The armor status is displayed by the character's names in the upper left and upper right corners of the screen. As the armor takes more damage, the display will go from green to yellow. Once it's yellow, armor can be spectacularly blown off with an armor-breaking move.
Each character has a special attack designed specifically to blow the armor off of their opponent. Usually it's the last attack in a string of combos or a move that takes a moment to execute, making players have to figure out when it's safe or when a good time to use the move will be. Nail an opponent with the move and their upper or lower armor flies off, and an instant replay will show the action. With less armor, opponents are more susceptible to damage, but can move quicker to make up for it.
Nail an opponent with an armor breaker as the last hit of a match, and they 'll be sent flying through the walls that now surround each stage. All locations are enclosed and the Vipers will take advantage of that, using throws to punish opponents who get to close to the wall. No ring outs here, as walls can also be used in combos, bouncing enemies into and off the wall for even more damage.
When a character has been launched in the air, either through an attack or taking damage while jumping, they're now able to recover mid-flight. This'll let them land on the ground without taking any damage, but it does allow the opponent more time to potential juggle an attack - another trade-off and another spin on the Virtua formula.
Overall, the action has been sped up. Everything moves faster in general, and recovery time in particular has been increased from Virtua Fighter. In doing so, the game seems to lose some of the strategy and timing that was integral to the VF series. Of course, there have always been players that mash buttons and hope for the best, but Vipers seems to cater more to this style of play. That's not to say time and strategy aren't important, just perhaps less so than in its big brother.
The new characters match with the game setting as everyone is decked out in "extreme" wear. There's the Guns N Roses-influenced Raxel beating people with a Flying V; the schoolgirl Candy (Honey) strapped with a PVC skirt and top; Jane, a very butch and strong female - as well as an assortment of other X-game wannabes and weirdoes: rollerbladers, skateboarders, an evil dude, and the unfortunately named "B. M." Just like Virtua Fighter, characters have different sizes and abilities, usually with the big guys (and girls, here) being slow and powerful and the smaller ones being weaker and faster.
But there's one important character I haven't mentioned yet: Pepsi Man. Said cola guy was used to advertise Pepsi products in Japan, appearing when help was needed and giving folks a Pepsi in order to save the day. In Fighting Vipers, he does something similar. Occasionally, when an opponent beats you, instead of having to insert another credit, Pepsi Man will appear in the Pepsi challenge. Kick his ass and you get to continue your game for free. The bad news: Since Pepsi Man was only used in Japan, that means he's only available in the Japanese version of the game. It's a cheap import, though, since there were plenty of copies of Fighting Vipers to go around.
Graphically, the game trades in the Saturn's VF2 high-res look for a lower resolutioned Gouraud-shaded one. Personally, I prefer the higher resolutions, but we do see real-time lighting pop up in this game. Basically, it looks like most other Saturn games.
The Saturn conversion does add a couple of nice new features. In addition to the arcade and versus modes, there's also team battle, where a group of characters is placed against another group. A training mode is available from the start to practice different moves and get their timing down. As a bonus, there's extra settings for a big-head and sped-up "hyper" mode. It's all topped off with a few secret characters, including previously mentioned Big Mauler and the walking, stuffed bear Kuma-chan.
All in all, Vipers is a solid game, but it doesn't have a whole lot of holding value. It's not that I don't like the game, it's just everything FV does has already been done better by Virtua Fighter 2. And for those who like the Vipers characters and feel, Fighter's Megamix has that covered, and then some.