Thursday, February 11, 2021

Violent Storm: One of the Best Video Games Ever Made

We're about due for another dive into the past with one of these posts, so what better time than now? Let us talk about some classic video games. Posts around this place have been a bit heavier than usual, so let us lighten this puppy up. And we're going to lighten it up with one of the goofiest video games you can imagine.

The subject I have chosen is a game I have mentioned briefly one or two times before at Wasteland & Sky, but which has recently been getting noticed by bigger figures in the retro scene and new gamers everyday. This would be the 1993 Beat 'Em Up, Violent Storm, created by Konami. This was Konami's last entry in the genre, alongside Metamorphic Force (which is a game I might also talk about at some point), and is not very well known. Nonetheless, they went out with the strongest possible game they could. Violent Storm is one of the best games ever made.

And that's why this post exists.

Though for the longest time, Violent Storm was mocked by irony-bros and very online people as being too cartoony and stupid with "bad" music, it has recently turned around in appreciation due to the long-awaited wane of '00s bitter and angry internet culture. People now appreciate the game for what it is instead of mocking it for the era it came from.

I chose to talk about this game because of two reasons. The first is that Konami will probably never re-release it--they rarely ever re-release any of their classic arcade games from the late '80s and early '90s. The second is that it epitomizes everything the genre does right and when it was at its absolute peak, and easily shows how Beat 'Em Ups managed to captivate audiences for near a decade back in the day. The genre showed the art of simplicity in concept and how it could be blown up into an entire genre that still engrosses to this day. Keeping it simple allows more flexibility than you would think. Violent Storm is the perfect game to epitomize what the genre does best.

The reason it has shown new appreciation is due to the game finally getting a clear-headed approach. This is due to the death of irony poisoning in game criticism. Now we can discuss what Violent Storm mechanically right, and how its aesthetics are actually not bad, but indicative of the time, bring bright and attractive. Now that we're finally done laughing at a better cultural time period than the present we can see just what appeal was.

Violent Storm is the peak of a genre that had been more or less solidified by 1984 with games such as Kung-Fu Master or Konami's own Shaolin Road.

The Golden Age of the genre (Picture made by me)

Violent Storm came out right as the peak of the genre was starting to wane. By 1995, Beat 'Em Ups would more or less vanish from popular consciousness aside from one or two console releases in the years to come. Due to the advent of the one on one fighter, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, most arcades changed their focus towards them. The focus remained on the burgeoning fighting game long into the death of the arcade scene. As a consequence, Beat 'Em Ups were looked on as lesser for many years, hitting a low with IGN's review of Double Dragon Neon in 2012 lamenting "quarter munching" difficulty and stating that games such as this should no longer be made.

But that is getting ahead of myself.

Let us begin talking about the subject of the post. Violent Storm was put out at the tail end of August 1993 on the 30th. It was the 21st most successful arcade board of the year in Japan and, as previously mentioned, was Konami's last real entry in the genre. The game sort of came and went, not really getting much notice.

It was also the unofficial third entry in their Crime Fighters arcade series following Crime Fighters from 1989 and Vendetta in 1991. These were all made by the same team, and showed drastic improvements with each entry. Each game was based on a Cannon Films-style action movie plot with Konami's typical brand of cartoony, slapstick humor and buoyant music to brighten the crisp gameplay. As a consequence, this unofficial trilogy is fairly unique, even today.

Most Konami Beat 'Em Ups were based on licenses such as The Simpsons, X-Men, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but these were completely original games that carried much of that flavor over in new ways. By 1993 they had the genre mastered. Violent Storm is the peak of everything Konami learned in the genre since they started near a decade prior.

For instance, let us start with the story, such as it is. You don't play these games for the story, but it is important to note how they threw wrinkles in the framework in unexpected ways. It's a jambalaya of well worn ideas, mixed extremely well.

"In the 1990s, World War III has at last ended. The people are left to pick up the pieces and rebuild their civilizations. However, vicious gangs that prey on these defenseless citizens are obstructing the reconstruction.

"The main protagonists are Boris, Wade and Kyle, vigilantes who protect the fearful and helpless. Their largest problem is the corrupt, incorrigible, ruthless and lethal gang known as The Geld Gang. They have commissioned every type of person imaginable: purple-haired, leather-clad, chain-wielding, lead-pipe swinging, masked, martial artists, orange-mohawked, and men who use manhole covers as shields.

"One day, when the trio is patrolling the streets, alert, ready and able to help those in need, they see a woman named Sheena (a friend of theirs) waving at them as she walks across the street from a supermarket with groceries. A moment later, Lord Geld's right-hand man, Red Freddy, snatches her away on his motorcycle. Now, the three braves must save Sheena from the grips of Lord Geld."

Someone clearly likes Fist of the North Star, Mad Max, Cyborg, and Double Dragon, but the twist they took on the topic is what makes it memorable. It takes all those things and adds just enough of a spin to make it different. What makes Violent Storm work so well is where this all goes after said setting and setup is out of the way. They crank it to 11.

While most decided to make such an aesthetic look grim and depressing, Violent Storm decided to do the opposite. They created a strange look that helps the game to stand out from the crowd, inspired from many of the other games in the genre they had made up to this point. As a consequence, Violent Storm doesn't really look or sound anything like the above properties.

The advances in arcade boards and technology also allowed for big, bolder sprites than ever before, as well as improved sound. This game is a 2D powerhouse. What you get is almost an entire world of difference from what was happening in Kung Fu Master nearly a decade earlier, and well beyond what the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were capable of. Konami pulled out all the stops. This is how far the Beat 'Em Up genre came in such a short period of time.



The bright palette contrasts with the violent subject matter and adds to the comedic tone without undermining the action. Every character is big, intimidating, and larger than life, and yet their reactions when they get hit are taken to the extreme which both adds to the threat and comedy at the same time. Violent Storm does double duty as a straight Beat 'Em Up and a loving parody at the same time, and both work tremendously well to creating an exciting tone.

However, as hinted at above, Konami also adds in a wrinkle with the aesthetic and setting, which is a sort of post-apocalyptic utopian vibe. You'll see crumbling buildings, creaking trains, dirty punks, and dirty streets outside ruined buildings and museums, and yet you'll also see sealed-bubble cities, beautiful forests, clean water, and happy people dressed in ancient Greek attire. It's a strange setting, but since it isn't elaborated on, it works. This is showing and not telling taken to the extreme, and that's what sells the tone. It also adds to the wide variety of locations you'll be battling through as well as some of the bizarre enemies that will show up to take you on. You won't see anything else in the genre that quite looks like this game does.

Given that you are playing a game as a post-apocalyptic gang, the sights you see along the way to rescuing your girl are quite in contrast with what you might expect. This isn't Double Dragon or Final Fight. It's a bright and busy world, yet filled with a lot of danger that will catch you off guard. And isn't that how it should be in a video game such as this?

As you also might have gathered from the clip at the top of the post, the music is also quite buoyant and loud. Of course many people will take note of the cheesiness, which is very much a good thing, and sort of write it all off as a lark, but that is dismissing much of the appeal. The music works because it knows how to shift with the atmosphere. It never stays in the same gear too long. always changing when the game demands it.

There are tracks that are bright cheery pop songs such as the above, but there are also darker atmospheric tracks for abandoned museums and underground facilities. Most tellingly of all, however, is the presence of rockabilly piano tracks, and surf songs that riff on Konami's own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games. These add a punch of energy, levity, and aesthetic that gives much to the tone of the game. You're always left wondering just what is coming next, and everything works towards that.

Art-style aside, there isn't really any other game that sounds like Violent Storm does.

Then there is the gameplay. This is what puts the game over the top, as it should for any video game.

Konami Beat 'Em Ups have always been the most simple in the genre to get into, and Violent Storm doesn't buck the trend. However, in this game they decided to take the old standby Final Fight formula of one button to attack and the second to jump, and add a host of tweaks to it. Violent Storm is a game that is easy to get into but satisfying to master, much like home entries in the genre such as Streets of Rage 2 or Double Dragon Advance. And, unlike those two, Violent Storm manages this feat with only two buttons.

Depending on the direction you push the joystick, you can block attacks, strike enemies behind you, or angle your own moves in a way to break enemy defenses or strike faster or harder. Subtle directional movements of the stick can also add additional attacks to your arsenal while you hit the attack button. You can also change how you input your presses of the attack or jump button to change the movements you make. In other words, instead of one button being responsible for one move you are afforded an entire move-set depending on how willing you are to dive into what the game offers you. Or you can just mash the attack button. Whatever you'd prefer.

Another advantage is that the game directly tackles what is unavoidably one of the biggest issues with the genre: repetition. No matter how good a Beat 'Em Up is, the largest challenge is getting around the fact that you are beating up more or less the same waves of enemies over and over again for stages at a time. So many entries in the genre fail at offering the variety so sorely needed. This is what makes level design so very important.

In Violent Storm you are always doing or seeing something new. The first stage, as always, introduces the basics, but every level after that throws in a new wrinkle to keep things fresh. Just like the music and changing aesthetic, each stage switches things up in very subtle ways. Stage 2 is on a train that allows you to throw enemies off, light bulbs to shatter, and piglets that turn into weaponized footballs when you pick them up(!), and stage 3 goes from a street brawl with a kicking rap theme into a dance club with some of the craziest music you can imagine, not to mention weaponized potted plants and breaking furniture. In the midst of this are plenty of weapons, enemy patterns, and bosses, as well as varying enemy strengths, that all must be approached differently. The game keeps the flow moving, and keeps you thinking. It also ends at the exact right moment it should.

There are seven stages, each taking somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes to beat, lending the game the perfect length for the genre being around 45 minutes to an hour. This is assuming, of course, that you fly through the levels with ease.

The difficulty isn't really as quarter muncher as you might think. By this point, and with other games such as Sunset Riders and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Konami had mastered their arcade design in a way where they didn't need to suck your quarters to keep you playing. They simply made the game tough enough that you just needed to understand the gameplay loop and get rewarded with having fun simply doing well. It's a hard game, but it isn't close to overbearing. This is arcade difficulty done right.

If you didn't know better you would have to suspect Violent Storm was made by someone who knew the genre inside out, and they very clearly did. As said before, this was made in 1993, when the genre was more or less mastered. Konami had this down to a science.

See for yourself:


As you also might have noticed, this is a three player game. Konami was always good at allowing a party atmosphere into their arcade games, and Violent Storm is no exception. Get together with a bunch of buddies and the lunacy of Violent Storm gets just that much better. The arcades were the peak of co-op gaming, followed by couch co-op with friends, but nothing quite beat making new friends and bonding  over great games like this. It's an experience lost with the death of the arcade. Nonetheless, this remains a shining example of a lost era. It doesn't get much better than this.

Unfortunately, Violent Storm has never been ported to anything since its original 1993 arcade release date. As mentioned, Konami never releases compilations or re-releases of their late '80s and early '90s arcade classics, for some reason, leaving gems like this forgotten outside of those in the emulation scene. Unless you find a cabinet of this one (which is very unlikely) there are precious few ways to get your hands on it legally.

Regardless of all that, you should very much play it. They don't make them like Violent Storm anymore.

In an age of $70 AAA games that last for maybe one playthrough before they are forgotten, the arcade age seems like an entirely different world now, and it is. Back in the day the length in games didn't come from artificial length depending on linear progression through a story: it came through mastering gameplay loops and replay value which leaned on fun factor. This is why classic games have stood the test of time like they have and why AAA will not, and such a thing just isn't admitted in the current broken industry. But you know it's true.

We are coming to the seventh anniversary of when the game journalists declared Gamers Were Over, and, as you can tell, that turned out to be patently false. They get everything wrong, just as they passed over great games such as this. They have no idea what they are doing or what made their own industry so successful to begin with. This is why they are dying out.

As the old industry falls apart under its weight from years of going in the wrong direction, it is more important than ever to realize what made the medium so big and so good to begin with. In other words, industry guards are not to be trusted. Be wary when this crowd reviews classic games. They aren't looking at it from the right angle, and they deliberately undersell them. Keep that in mind in the unlikely event that Violent Storm is ever released. Guarantee that nothing I mentioned in this post will be brought up by them.

Nonetheless, none of that matters. What does matter is that Violent Storm is one of the best games ever made, and one that everyone should play. It epitomizes the best in the genre, and the best gaming has to offer. Its gameplay, aesthetic, and structure, are all perfectly crafted to form the ultimate example of what one expects from a video game.

Seek it out and play it. Few games are so fun as Violent Storm is, and few ever will be. It epitomizes what makes a Beat 'Em Up great.

And that is what makes it one of the best games of all time.

For more Beat 'Em Up inspired action, check out Grey Cat Blues! Where mudmen from hell run rampant on the shadow planet!


  1. Fun!

    Do you have any takes on how good Double Dragon Neon actually was? I found its soundtrack for free on the composer Jake Kaufman's Bandcamp and thought it was mostly a lot of fun. Somewhat similar to the light-hearted but intense sound of Violent Storm, to be honest.

    Granted, I was never too much into most arcade games due to the quarter-eating aspect, but I can appreciate the ones re-released for "plug and play" or computer use.

    1. Double Dragon Neon was pretty good. It's a bit stiff at first and difficult, but once you get into it the game is pretty fun. It also has an upgrade system so the game never gets too difficult. WayForward is one of the best makers of modern 2D and old-style games.

      Arcade games aren't for everyone, but most of them do have dipswitch settings that are best put on a lower setting. I find most of the challenging ones are much more balanced and fair like that.