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by Sotenga - July 22, 2015

Prime Time Fighter / Top Ranking Stars (トップランキングスターズ) - Arcade (1993)

American Arcade Flyer

Japanese Arcade Flyer

Taito deserves a bit of credit for taking a second crack at a failed venture. All Final Blow did was prove that it did indeed blow, and it may as well been Taito's final boxing game despite being their first. But things certainly change over time, such as new programming staff coming in, evolution of graphical hardware, and an actual conscious awareness of mistakes that can be avoided for a possible second try. Five years after Final Blow, Taito came out with another boxing game that wisely had nothing to do with its distant ancestor except for the fact that dudes punch each other. Whaddya know, it turns out Taito CAN make a competent boxing game, one that's actually fast-paced, looks great, is actually fun, and has badly-translated English! Released in Japan as the slightly vague Top Ranking Stars, the American title was dubbed Prime Time Fighter, so you know that dudes are having a boxing contest and not a dancing or pop song contest.

Prime Time Fighter

Running on Taito's F3 board (the same as RayForce and Darius Gaiden), the graphics are bright and the characters are big without looking like marionettes. The six contestants have considerably more personality than final blow and have different body types. Apparently, this is the Taito Mixed Weight Championship League or something of the sort. The fighters are Japanese Shouichi Kanou, American Michael Eldorado (great name), Thai Tamshing Vaortao, Russian Bruce Hasimikov, Canadian Aldebaran Nipper (really great name), and Brazilian Storm Viper. Unlike Final Blow, there's legitimate difference in how the fighters play. For example, Michael's a burly brawler whose punches are a bit short range but really count if he can get in close, while Aldebaran is a bit less powerful but has longer reach and does best when outfighting.

You have three punch strengths, where light punches do no damage but simply mess your opponent up and help gauge your range. Medium punches are your go-to chippers, and heavy punches are slow but rewarding if they connect. Holding onto any given punch button causes your character to block, which you can do even while moving around, and releasing delivers the punch. This factor adds a nice ounce of strategy, where learning how to counterpunch can be what makes or breaks a fight. Still, you can perform the conventional hold-back-to-block method of most other fighters if this proves too complex. You can perform jabs, body blows, hooks, and uppercuts depending on what position you're holding the joystick in, but the real meat of your arsenal depends on what character you select.

Since Street Fighter II was all the rage in the first half of the nineties, any game that looked like a fighter was obliged to include special moves, and Prime Time Fighter may as well be close enough to a fighting game even if you can't jump twenty feet into the air at will. Thus, each boxer has two special punches with specific motions, one bound to the medium punch and the other for the heavy, but both doing roughly the same amount of damage. Both specials are similar but have different properties, and some specials are easier to pull off than others, but regardless of who you pick, special punches hurt like all hell. It's tough to resist just spamming specials since they do a fair deal of damage even if blocked, though wise opponents can punish you for reckless tactics.

There are two life bars at the top of the screen, a solid red one and a tri-colored one below it. The solid one is your conventional life meter, and the match ends if one fighter loses that entirely. Alongside, the tri-colored bar causes fighters to fall if any one of its segments is drained. This can be called the "knockdown meter," where a character is downed but not out if the green or yellow sub-bar is depleted. By conventional button mashing and joystick wiggling, a knocked down fighter can get back up and even regains a little bit of their normal lifebar after rising, but the fight's over if the red knockdown bar goes bye-bye and the third KO is declared. Which bar depletes first mostly depends on if you concentrate mostly on head shots (for the life gauge) or body shots (for the knockdown gauge), and special punches tend to give both a fair drain. If the time runs out, the knockdown gauges reset entirely but only a little bit of life is restored. Either gauge drains relatively fast, so it's unlikely you'll go a full three rounds and have a win by decision unless both fighters play ridiculously defensive.

Prime Time Fighter is surer of its systems than Final Blow, and it even has a bit of incentive for solo combatants. In the one-player circuit, after you beat all other five opponents, one of them selected at random challenges you to a rematch, though they aren't much tougher than when you originally fought them. Beat them again and you’re "treated" to a boss fight against King Shanaoh (which is also spelled Shyana, inconsistently enough), a kabuki-themed boxer who walked right out of SNK-land. Shanaoh is as brutally cheap as they come with punches as strong as diamond and fast as lightrays, and he can also somehow no-sell your attempts at hitting him making victory a random struggle. Still, if you're blessed or persistent enough to beat him, you get challenged to the true finale against former champ Richard Hymer. He's much more normal looking than Shanaoh and doesn't seem so bad at first, but that gets shot to hell the instant he pulls out his special where he encases himself in an energy globe and delivers the most devastating punch in the game. It's hard to say whether Hymer is worse than Shanaoh, but neither fight is very pleasant and you deserve respect if you defeat both of them.

Prime Time Fighter has a lot going for it: The bright graphics, the fast action pace, decent character designs with weird names, and a fine soundtrack by good old Zuntata. There aren't too many tunes, but what's there fits like a glove, pun fully intended. The bosses are cheap jerks, but as with any one-on-one test of skill, you'll want to play with two and see who's better at blocking or (more likely) spamming specials until one of you falls down. It's not only a fun game, but such a vast improvement over Taito's previous boxing attempt that it's hard to believe these both came from the same company. And yet, Prime Time Fighter never got any home ports whereas its craptacular precursor had several. Not everything's fair, but even if you have to emulate Prime Time Fighter, give it a play and prove you're a "toughness" like Tamshing Vaortao.

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Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)

Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)

Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)

Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)

Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)

Prime Time Fighter (Arcade)


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<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Final Blow /
James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing

Page 2:
Prime Time Fighter /
Top Ranking Stars

Discuss on the Forums!

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