In the early '90s, if you were in the business of making arcade games, then chances are you would be looking at developing one-on-one fighters. Capcom's Street Fighter II started a trend that would influence practically every other coin-op maker at that period in time and a flood of imitators followed, including Fatal Fury, Mortal Kombat, Fighter's History and many, many more.
Konami was no different. Having enjoyed a run of arcade successes that included the likes of TMNT, The Simpsons and Contra, the Japanese developer wasn't blind to the popularity of competitive brawlers, and in 1992, it began work on its own take on the concept – but one which would have gone toe-to-toe with Mortal Kombat, rather than Street Fighter II.
Speaking to former Konami staffer Masaaki Kukino (Haunted Castle, Silent Scope), Untold History of Japanese Game Developers author and Time Extension contributor John Szczepaniak has uncovered details relating to this intriguing fighting game.
According to Kukino, it was one of many projects which got canned during his time with the firm:
There were so many projects that had to be stopped. Or we had to shift our direction, to do something else. I have lots of experiences like that. Let me explain the most impressive or most memorable project that was terminated - for me personally. We were thinking about a fighting game, around 1992, and we had already formed a team to work on the project. Inside the team we were planning the game, and we were making progress. But that title was very innovative for the time. It had really breakthrough ideas in terms of art style, and also the [mechanical] game system, and we found the idea really interesting. So we wanted to do it. The reason why we could not proceed on that project was that it required really high manpower, and it was so time-consuming. Also, the capacity required for the hardware was too high. So those challenges were not something we were able to overcome. That's why we had to terminate it. The entire team had to shift its focus on to something else, which was this basketball game Run and Gun. We worked on this instead.
Street Fighter II was the obvious candidate as a source of inspiration, but Kukino reveals that Konami had its eye on a different title, and this informed the early design work on the game:
Rather than Street Fighter which had sporting rivals, probably another title which is closer to the one I worked on is Mortal Kombat. In the sense that the characters are more like monsters, abnormal characters. So in that sense it was closer to Mortal Kombat. My job was planning, basically the director. Also art direction. So I was working on the title completely.
I'd say there were 8 characters. Those characters were really extraordinary - for example, I took some characters from horror movies. Like Medusa, whose hair is made of snakes, and also a Centaur, which is part human and part horse. Also, do you know Kannon? The bodhisattva? [Also known as Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, a being of enlightenment.]
And all of these creatures are supposed to be robots. In order to feel satisfied when destroying those monsters, part of the Centaur, and Medusa, and the Buddhist deity of mercy... Parts of them would fall off, after one hit, or two hits. We were trying to do that using 2D images, not even 3D. So the manpower required to create and program that was really beyond imagination. It happened more than 20 years ago, so would have been difficult at the time.
As for the name of this title, Kukino sadly admits that his memory fails him. It certainly doesn't seem to be related to Kumite, another cancelled Konami fighting game.
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