When Sega originally published Eternal Champions for the Sega Genesis back in 1993, much attention was paid to the large characters and their over-the-top killing blows. Unfortunately, once people began to look beyond those details, many came to discover that Sega's foray into the 2D fighting genre was really defined by its clunky combat system and choppy animation.
Just like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, the main idea behind Eternal Champions is that you pick one of the 10 available characters and duke it out with human or computer opponents in one-on-one matches. The characters are large and intricately detailed, as are the different movie-themed backgrounds. If you're into old monster movies or comic books, you'll appreciate the character designs. There's a cyborg, a merman, and some sort of caveman. Midknight is a vampire clad in biker gear that literally loses his flesh when he loses. And then there's Larcen, a weird hybrid of a 1920's burglar, a gumshoe detective, and Batman.
Each character has a healthy selection of basic punches and kicks, as well as a repertoire of Street Fighter II-style special moves that can usually be performed by pressing multiple buttons simultaneously, or by charging in one direction for two seconds and then pressing in the opposite direction along with one of the attack buttons. Special attacks can't be abused in Eternal Champions because you have to wait for your inner-strength meter to refill every time you perform two or three in quick succession. However, the meter does refill rather quickly. At the end of the match, if you're standing in just the right spot and hit your opponent with a heavy attack, he or she will be thrown into the background and obliterated by an overkill scene. These overkills are too outlandish to be taken seriously, although there's no denying the shock value of seeing someone burned in a bonfire or cut to ribbons by an industrial fan.
Between the inner-strength meter and the charge-based nature of the characters' special attacks, you can't spam fireballs in Eternal Champions like you could in Street Fighter II and expect to get very far. Eternal Champions places more emphasis on making contact with standard attacks and chaining them together for devastating combinations. That's fine, except that the attacks are sluggish and don't really chain together all that well. The timing required to land a jump kick or counter is tough to judge, and the window for transitioning from one move to the next is ridiculously short. It doesn't help matters that the CPU can read and react to your button presses the instant you make them. For those reasons, you'll find yourself relying on weak punches to keep opponents at bay and a few well-placed heavy attacks to do the dirty work. Good fighting games make you feel like you can bust out a variety of combos at any moment. With Eternal Champions, you feel as if you're being held back every step of the way.
The game is further hamstrung by its lackluster audio-visual aspects. Apart from a few nifty voice samples, the audio consists mainly of cheesy midi tunes and wooden sound effects. Furthermore, the main thing you'll take away from the graphics is how choppy the animation is. Sure, the large characters are nice, but that magic wears off quickly when you see that every attack plays out jumpier than a child's flip book. As it is, so much of the space on the cartridge was taken up just to display the characters onscreen that little room was left over to make the knock-back reactions and special attacks look good. Doling out the same ho-hum projectiles and watching the characters flinch the same way no matter how they're hit gets old fast.
Should you decide to play Eternal Champions on your Wii, you're going to want to do so using the Classic Controller. The layout (four face buttons and two shoulder buttons) isn't optimal for a fighting game, but it sure beats pressing the plus button every time you want to toggle between punches and kicks. In any case, comfort-related controller issues are the least of this game's problems.
A couple of years after Eternal Champions came out for the Genesis, Sega released a sequel for its Sega CD unit called Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side. It offered twice as many characters and added three new types of finishing moves. More importantly, it fixed the timing and sluggishness of the characters' attacks and made it possible to actually chain attacks together into combinations with reliable frequency. If you really want a fighting game for your Virtual Console collection, download Street Fighter II Turbo instead, or hold out for the off chance that Sega will one day make the Sega CD sequel available on the service. Whatever you do, stay away from the Sega Genesis version of Eternal Champions. It may be playable, but it sure isn't fun.