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Retro Renegade: Bloody Roar (Beastorizer)

The gloves are off and the claws are out as we venture into the arena of anthropomorphic beast battle action – and things are guaranteed to get hairy!

While your average fighting game – at the very basic core – pits fighters one on one to knock the tar out of each other until either fighter scores the big K.O. (Knock Out!), it’s down to the handling of the simpler elements to produce that little extra distinctiveness to stand out amongst the crowd.

‘Distinctive’ is Bloody Roar’s middle name; recognisable for its truly pronounced piece of gimmickry.

Published by Hudson Soft with development by Raizing (Now Eighting/8ing) in 1997, Bloody Roar first appeared under the name ‘Beastorizer’ in the arcades, before gaining its more commonly known title by the time it was ported to the PlayStation 1. For its originality, it was fairly well-received by gamers – though not as technically strong as forerunners of the genre, like Tekken for example, it still presented a solid gameplay presentation with a fresh twist – the beast transformation; such an element changes the dynamics of your average one on one fight.

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In a contained arena, you choose one of eight playable characters with their own individual beast personas to face off against one of the other ferocious fighters.

The controls are pretty straightforward: a button each is assigned for punch and kick respectively, and then you have the important ‘beast’ button – pressing this button while in human form (under the right conditions) will transform your character into their anthropomorphic animal alter-ego. After this, the beast button will join the punch and kick to provide another attack action in your arsenal. Then there is the ‘Rave’ button – and no, it doesn’t suddenly thrust you into a dance-off (though this I would like to see!); rather, you get a substantial beast form power up, which makes your character stronger, faster and cuts out the pauses between moves and combos. Obviously, there is a catch to having this enhancement – it only lasts for a period of time before you end up forced back into human form. Character’s can also perform throw moves when pressing the punch and kick button together. The types available are: – A front standing throw, a front low throw against a crouching opponent, a back throw from behind, and – for a small number of characters – an airborne throw when intercepting a character off the ground.

On the defensive side, characters can block incoming attacks whether standing or crouching, as well as being able to sidestep out of the way of a strike – from which you have the opportunity to gain the upper hand. It’s always good to remember that balancing out a good attack pattern with clever defensive tactics can easily win you the fight. It’s not all about button mashing, you know!

Importantly, you should take into account as you engage in battle the two bars at the top of the screen – these are your heath bar and the beast bar.

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Your health bar decreases with the damage you take from an opponent’s strikes, though there is a portion of the depleting bar that shows up semitransparent alongside your remaining health. While in human form, this is an irrelevant factor to the bar, but once you transform over to beast form, this semitransparent area will start to fill up as long as you’re not taking damage, restoring health to your character.

The beast bar is utilised for transforming into the powerful animal form – though, this is only when it’s full. Refilling this smaller bar occurs when you successfully execute attacks, take damage or even minutely while you’re idling. The beast bar will deplete alongside your health bar when taking damaged while transformed – when the beast bar empties, your character transforms back into human form.

Now, let us get into the back-story of the Bloody Roar universe: –

There exists in the world beings known as Zoanthropes, who live in secret alongside your average human. They are gifted (or even cursed) with an evolutionary ability to transform into anthropomorphic fighting beasts. A company by the name of Tyron has come to learn of the Zoanthropes and their intrigue over their unique capability turns into a dark desire to utilise this power for themselves. They see the beast transformation as the perfect application for military utilisation, and begin to conduct illicit experiments on kidnapped individuals, particularly young children – either converting humans into Zoanthropes, or further manipulating the genetics of born Zoanthropes for the purpose of augmenting them into more powerful creations. The events of the game indicate a growing awareness of unsavoury activities by the company, and in response, a number of Zoanthropes from far and wide are drawn into action against them.

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The eight playable characters, all with their own goals and agendas, are the following: –

Yugo the Wolf. A Japanese teenager searching for his missing father, Yuji. All clues point him towards Tyron. He has a distinctive cross-shaped scar on his face.
Long the Tiger. A young Chinese martial artist and former assassin. He has turned his back on the dark underworld lifestyle, though is now a target for his act of betrayal.
Gado the Lion. A one-eyed, French veteran mercenary and friend of Yugo’s father, Yuji. He, too, seeks to find out why his friend has gone missing.
Alice the Rabbit. A cute, blue-haired Japanese-American teen kidnapped by Tyron and converted into a Zoanthrope; though she was able to escape thanks to a little girl, Uriko, distracting her pursuers. She fights now to rescue Uriko from Tyron’s hold.
Fox the, uh, Fox. Real name Hans – An androgynous, narcissistic psychopath with a lust for blood. He works in association with Tyron. (In the English version of the game, he is indentified as a female character – probably based on his very effeminate styled design.)
Mitsuko the Boar. A hulking Japanese woman – though an imposing figure, she is a doting mother to her daughter, Uriko. After her precious daughter is kidnapped, she is in hot pursuit to rescue her.
Bakuryu the Mole. An aged ninja who desires to be the strongest in the world. He has allowed himself to be subjected to experimentation to achieve this. He works as a Tyron operative.
Greg the Gorilla. An American ringmaster of a failing circus. After seeing Yugo transform, he is adamant on having him as his star attraction. (He doesn’t actually know he can transform himself!)

Another important character – though non-playable – is Uriko, a little girl manipulated by Tyron and appears as the game’s final boss. Fear not, you don’t have to inflict a guilty beat down on a little kid. In fact, she is quite happy to power up and morph into a voluptuous, green-haired fighting goddess of suitable age for a fight. Though be careful, after you give her so much of a beating, she dramatically transforms herself into her devastating beast form: The Chimera. You know you’re in trouble when protective walls drop down around you with the words ‘Emergency Measure’ on them. A fair challenge, the Chimera form is a drooling powerhouse who can rip you a part in seconds if you’re not careful.

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Bloody Roar presents itself overall as a very meaty package – there are plenty of modes to undertake for different types of challenges. You have the main arcade mode where you play through to unlock and view all of the main characters ending movies. Then there is practice mode, which does what says on the tin – and always good for you to train up to master those hard to do moves! There is also time attack mode to achieve the quickest play-through time, and survival mode, where you have to last as long as you can against opponents who increase in difficulty the further you progress. And if you just want to spar off against your friends like any fighting game, versus mode will fully suffice for violence without real fisticuffs. Well, unless one of you is a sore loser and beats the other one to a pulp with the controller.

There are a few unlockable items, mostly gameplay tweaks (and relatively forgettable in themselves), which are really there just for either preference or a little bit of fun – if fun to you is giving your characters oversized arms (just to name a feature). You can also unlock a school girl outfit for Alice – because every fighting game needs at least one girl prancing around in a sailor styled outfit with short skirt… Whatever floats your boat, right? The unlockable content is sadly a little thin on the ground – it would have probably been more beneficial to have had unlockable characters to boost the meagre roster.

What I do think is a nice addition is the inclusion of an art gallery, which includes a great selection of concept artwork, in the midst of which a few unused character designs can be viewed – it’s always great to see what types of characters they were considering when first laying out the game.

One particular area of discussion is the music used for the stages; I like the fact that you do get the choice to change between the arcade tracks or the console version character themes. All the tracks make heavy use of electric guitars, creating metal-influenced pieces. For the type and style of music, they work well to accompany the stages, but really, there isn’t that much differentiation to set each riff-entranced track apart from another – they will mostly float over your head in an unmemorable way. It can be somewhat of a required taste as well – especially for me as this type of music is particularly hit and miss.

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When it comes down to appraising Bloody Roar overall, it has a lot going for it as an exceptionally user-friendly set up for the average player to just pick up and get stuck into with great ease. As previously mentioned, there are plenty of challenging modes to undertake and its gimmick plays well into a fresh take on the fighting concept and keeps battles fairly varied. The in-game graphics are particularly solid; though the character designs themselves are not all that grandiose, but if anything, the use of bright colours at least make them stand out. On the other hand, the arena locations are relatively forgettable by design, though there is enough variation between them so they don’t become samey. And then we have the CGI opening sequence and ending screens which are actually quite hideous for the time period – waxy, clunky and particularly bland animations. Not that they don’t have a little bit of entertainment value – particularly one ending scene that has a character melting into a big pile of snot; a very RoboCop moment!

It’s not what Bloody Roar does big that makes it such a fun little gem of a title, rather just the little things – silly little extra unlockable items, being able to view a few artwork concepts, and even something as miniscule as being able to change the avatars on the character select screen from anime style to CGI alternatives. If anything, Bloody Roar centres itself mostly on individuality, and while it might not be as fancy with its graphics and its fight system as the likes of Tekken, its focus is a simple and straightforward fast-paced brawl. Personally, the beast transformation aspect is such a fun and enticing idea – I love the idea of a spunky teenage girl turning into a big fighting rabbit and laying a beat down on an opponent – like a distant relative of the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

While Bloody Roar and its sequels never gained the full attention they deserved, it cemented itself as a cult gaming experience with a few loyal and dedicated followers to wax lyrical about what it brought to the genre, and how it particularly shone brightly during its 90’s heyday. Undeniably it wasn’t as polished or as technical as other fighting games, but it certainly fought hard to create a fun driven experience that you could expend all that pent up rage. So whether you’re a furry fan or just someone who wants a game with a little bit of flair, Bloody Roar is the kind of game you can sink your teeth into.

Images are © Konami/Hudson Soft/CARAMEL MAMA (Naochika Morishita)

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