By 1989, Konami had come upon major success with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade machine, a good-looking, fast-paced brawler based on the then-hit animated series. More importantly for the rest of Konami's beat-em-ups, however, it introduced a certain style that they'd follow with time and time again, including the ability to have four players at once. Crime Fighters is one of Konami's other brawlers from that year to have four player support, although in terms of gameplay, it's quite a bit different from TMNT. For one thing, it's actually pretty boring. But, we get ahead of ourselves.
The plot involves kidnapped women. Plural, in this case, as some guy the game only refers to as "a fat toad" has kidnapped a bunch of ladies while his thugs do vaguely defined bad things. Obviously, that just won't do. Your heroes are unnamed and are almost completely identical in terms of not only looks, but moves as well, with the only thing really changing between them being the color of their pants, hair, and skin. Unlike Bayou Billy and S.P.Y., Crime Fighters isn't nearly as ambitious, so it's nothing but a beat-em-up all the way through. Compared to the more frantic pace of something like Turtles, it's a much slower, more methodical game, one that feels a lot closer to something like Double Dragon, than anything.
You have one button for punching and one for kicking, and by pressing both buttons together, you can perform stronger attacks like flying knees and roundhouse kicks. You can also grab enemies by hitting them a few times, leading into a few other moves like kneeing them in the face, or rarely, hitting them in the privates, complete with a "ding!". That may be the best part of the entire game. To Crime Fighters' credit, there is a certain brutality to it that you'd expect from a game about beating people up, even more so than most beat-em-ups. There's a lot of weapon combat, and in something of a rarity for this kind of genre, you'll even pick up the occasional handgun. You can also kick enemies while they're knocked down to inflict some extra damage, which makes dealing with some of the crowds the game sends at you a little easier.
Unfortunately, simply put, the game is just no good. From the start, the hit detection always feels somewhat suspect, meaning that there will be times that a kick you thought hit somebody will harmlessly pass right through them. The enemies, however, never seem to have a hard time hitting you, meaning that finding out who will actually get the first hit in between you and your average mook seems to be a matter of luck. It's even worse if you're surrounded by multiple enemies, as they'll try to gang up on you and force you into a state where they can knock you down again and again, slowly whittling away your health. Clearing out just one screen of enemies can be a slog. When you factor in eight whole stages of this mess, the experience is nothing short of unbearable.
The bosses aren't much easier, since they can basically hit you from even further away than the standard mooks, not to mention they get much more health. Even if the collision detection worked, and the difficulty wasn't completely stacked against you, it'd be dull at best, something that can ruin a beat-em-up even before you've picked up your first pipe. About the only thing that makes the game somewhat interesting is its somewhat goofy sense of humor. There's a few points in the game where things can fall upon your character, leaving them cartoonishly squished for a few moments. And then there's the ending, if you can stomach the game for long enough. It's short, but it has a line so goofy that it's hard not to end up laughing at it, at least a little.
The game, at the very least, looks better than it actually plays, although it's nowhere near the style oozed by something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Given the sorts of graphical feats being seen in the arcades in 1989, it looks heavily outdated even for the era. Most of the sprites are pretty small, although the game does offer a pretty wide variety of different enemies. There are a few cute touches here and there, like the way the mooks clad in leather jackets are constantly fixing their hair as they move around the screen. The backgrounds are also reasonably well-drawn, with a lot of pictures of scantily clad women, for whatever reason.
There are two distinct versions of the game, depending on if you're playing a two player or four player version of the game. If you're playing the four player version, each player has a numerical indicator of hit points, which slowly tick down over time. If you have the two player version, however, the game uses a more traditional health bar and lives system. It doesn't make too much difference, either way, but it's an interesting change.
Overall, Crime Fighters is a dull, dull brawler that'll bore even the biggest fans of the genre before they even finish the first stage. Compared to games like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that were redefining the genre, Crime Fighters feels more like a game from at least three years before either of those games. There's pretty much nothing interesting or redeeming about it, aside from the fact that it thankfully got a much improved sequel.
After how much of a trainwreck the original Crime Fighters was, you'd think Konami would have the sense to stay as far, far away from the property as they possibly could. As it turns out, they didn't, but the good news is they learned enough from the original game's mistakes. So much so that Crime Fighters 2, or Vendetta, as it's known outside of Japan, is a massive improvement in every conceivable way, and is actually a pretty fine beat-em-up. Mostly since it takes the whole street brawling theme that made Crime Fighters somewhat interesting, and vastly tightens the game underneath into something that won't make you want to toss the cabinet into a car compactor.
Somewhere in the slum of Dead End City, (Seriously, just like Crime City, with a name like that, you're asking for trouble) the Dead End Gang captures Kate, the "protégé" of one of the members of a rival gang, the Cobras. Unfortunately for the Dead End Gang, the Cobras includes guys who look suspiciously like Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, and Jean Claude Van Damme, and those aren't guys you want to be kidnapping random ladies from. And so the four heroes venture into Dead End City on a quest to beat up literally everybody and get Kate back.
The general basics haven't changed much since the original game. You and up to three other players (Or just one other player, if you're playing the Japanese version) continually move forward, beating the crap out of random people. Thankfully, each player is no longer the same guy in different pants, with each character using their own, unique animations. Aside from their animations, however, the characters themselves don't vary all that much in terms of how they play. It's forgivable, however, since the moveset is pretty decently large. The controls generally work the same way as the original game, as well, with a punch button, a kick button, and stronger attacks performed by pressing both buttons together. There are a couple of other additions as well, like being able to kick while you're prone to push back advancing enemies.
It's difficult to not say that Vendetta is basically Crime Fighters, but good, because the two games share so many ideas and mechanics. The difference is that while Crime Fighters was a sluggish, unfair game that was dull at the best of times, Vendetta is a lot of fun to play because it uses the few bright spots Crime Fighters had. The pace is a little slower than something like Final Fight, but there's never any point where you'll be stuck on the same screen because you literally can't make your hits connect with enemies. Most enemies are also generally a lot quicker to die, so you'll spend more time brutalizing foes than you will getting surrounded and wailed on by a bunch of mooks.
Don't think just because the mechanics have been tightened up that the game will be any easier on you, though. The game's surprisingly quick to drain your credits, even more so than the original Crime Fighters. Most enemies can take out a third of your health with a single hit, and certain enemies can kill you with a single combo. This can be somewhat forgiven, since that's just the nature of the genre, but there are times when it can make certain sections a bit of a slog. If the enemies didn't do so much damage, it'd actually pretty reasonable, so that makes the somewhat harsh difficulty all the more annoying. Oddly enough, however, it's usually the bosses that are easier to fight, since their attacks have a bit more of a telegraph to them than most of the enemies.
What really makes Vendetta unique, especially from its prequel, is just how often the environment comes into play. Much of these are beat-em-up staples like knives and bats, but you'll also encounter some particularly cool stuff like a pump-action shotgun. A lot of things in the environment can be picked up and chucked towards enemies, too, from crates to flaming barrels that roll over everything in their way. In fact, weapons are surprisingly common, so much so that there aren't many screens where somebody won't be wielding one you can disarm and pick up for yourself.
There are also a few points where you can use something in the environment to lay some extra hurt on your enemies. Take the dock on the first stage, where sometimes enemies will fall off and cling to the edge. Take this time to pound on them and they'll fall right in. Or, you can hit the streetlights on the third stage and have the bulbs fall onto the enemies below. It really gives the game the whole "brutal street fight" feel, which sets the game apart from a lot of games like it.
The game also generally does a very good job of keeping itself interesting, far more than the original game ever could. There's hardly ever any point where the game feels like it's taking too long to finish, and it does a pretty good job of introducing things like new enemies. The game also has a somewhat unique sense of humor, too, something which didn't show through as much in the original Crime Fighters. There's a surprising amount of nad-punching, for example, which is always good for a laugh.
Overall, Vendetta is a massive improvement over its prequel, and if you're a fan of the slower, more methodical beat-em-up, it's a great game. It can get frustrating at points, but never as much as Crime Fighters, and it's got a very unique feel that makes it worth checking out. Sadly, it never received any kind of home release, so MAME may be your best option.
The Japanese release, known as Crime Fighters 2, has a couple of differences. For one thing, you're limited to two players, although you can choose your character freely upon starting a game or continuing. More noteworthy, however, are the leather daddies that only appear in Crime Fighters 2's Stage 3. These rather... unfortunate fellows will attempt to grab you and dry hump your character to death, and will go as far as to mount them and continue humping them as they die. As you'd expect, it's a pretty unfortunate depiction, and one that's better off removed.