The Rumble Fish is Sammy's upcoming 2D fighter scheduled for release on its Atomiswave arcade platform. During its beta test in Tokyo, the game's development seemed close to completion, aside from a few characters who were missing from the selection screen.
The first thing that becomes obvious when checking out The Rumble Fish is its distinct character animation. By observing the game's still images--as seen in its ads or in magazines--The Rumble Fish looks no different from a traditional 2D-style game. However, when you see it in motion, the game's animation looks too smooth to be completely drawn by hand. In rendering the characters, the developers of The Rumble Fish used a technique whereby they drew the character's arms, legs, torso, and other different body parts separately and then joined them together to create a complete body. By doing this, the body parts can be rotated and moved around to create amazingly smooth animations in real time. This also reduces the workload on the animators since the parts can be recycled into a number of different animation frames and patterns. In fact, the technique seems to be very similar to animations created in Macromedia Flash. The games engine also allows a body part to be swapped with a different graphic to give characters different looks during battle, like when the fighter's clothes get ripped or when the fighter's shades get thrown. This concept was already introduced by SNK in their Art of Fighting series, but in The Rumble Fish, the characters keep their damaged look throughout the entire game.
While the new rendering technique (introduced by Sammy developer Dimps) brings a fresh look to the graphics, it also has its weak side. Experienced 2D fighting game players who attended the beta test admitted that character movements in The Rumble Fish seemed a bit eerie. The number of animation frames in The Rumble Fish is definitely higher than in traditional 2D fighters, but because the game recycles the body parts, the characters tend to move like paper dolls--the kind with clipper hinges that connect the joints to make the arms and legs move left and right. This neutral pose, as seen while the game is waiting for controller input, is a good example of this because it consists of just one animation sequence where the characters arms and legs move back and forth. It's not a major flaw, since it's less apparent when the characters are in action, so a few minutes with the game should acclimate players.
The roster of characters in The Rumble Fish has its share of standards, like the main karate-style fighter and a street fighter who's wearing a short jacket. It also has its unique characters, like a wrestler-type who looks like an oversized Dennis Rodman, a little boy who looks like a character from the anime Naruto, and a short-skirted female fighter in a nurse's outfit.
System-wise, The Rumble Fish plays like a mixture of traditional 2D fighting games. The control is similar to SNK's King of Fighters series, where two buttons are used for punches of different strengths, and two buttons are used for kicks. There is also an additional button used for dodging, which can be combined with a controller direction to sway toward the opponent while avoiding his or her attacks. Chain combos--combination attacks that can be executed by consecutively tapping the normal attack buttons--are a fundamental part of fighting in The Rumble Fish. The game allows combination attacks in the air as well, although opponents can try to recover their positions and can avoid additional damage.
The Rumble Fish adopts the use of two power meter bars that can be used to execute three different supermoves and a few other attacks. One of the bars is call the offensive meter, and it fills up by attacking the opponent. The offensive meter can be used to carry out a superattack that's convenient in pressuring the opponent, or it can be used to perform a guard-breaker attack that leaves the opponent completely defenseless for about two seconds. The other meter is called the defensive meter, and it fills up while guarding the opponent's attacks. The bar can be used to execute a supermove that comes in handy for defending or countering an attack, or it can be used for evading from a guard position. The player can also try to fill up both the offensive and defensive meters, which allows for the execution of a devastating superattack.
While The Rumble Fish still seems to require some game balance adjustment, it looks to be a promising new fighting game. It introduces a new graphical style, but its actual gameplay is relatively standard for a 2D fighting game. The completed product is scheduled to hit the arcades of Japan in the middle of March.