One of the first side-scrolling beat-'em-ups was Irem's Kung Fu. In it, you, as a lone martial artist, had to make your way to the top floor of a five-story temple by dispatching successive waves of bad guys with only a limited repertoire of punches and kicks. It was the video game equivalent of Bruce Lee's Game of Death, and it was groundbreaking in 1984. Four years later, Irem produced a spiritual sequel to Kung Fu called Vigilante. Irem spruced up the graphics but didn't do much to flesh out the combat, which by then seemed archaic compared to the complex fisticuffs you could find in such games as Double Dragon and Final Fight. Considering how poorly received Vigilante was, it's rather surprising that Hudson has gone to the trouble of making the TurboGrafx-16 version available for the Wii's Virtual Console.
Vigilante is basically Kung Fu but with better graphics. The large goofy characters and the amount of detail evident in the static urban backdrops are in line with what other 16-bit games were doing at the time, but the gameplay is straight out of 1984. Movement is limited to a single horizontal plane while the bad guys stream out from both sides of the screen and attack single-mindedly. The hero's repertoire includes only a high and low punch, a high and low kick, and a jumping kick. Occasionally, you can pick up and use a set of nunchakus. Irem went to such lengths to duplicate the Kung Fu blueprint that Vigilante also contains just five short levels that take roughly 15 minutes to complete.
The catch to that 15-minute life span is that the game is ridiculously hard. Some enemies attack with knives, bats, or pistols, all of which chop away a third of your health meter with each hit taken. If you get too close to an enemy, he'll choke you and gradually take away your health that way. Enemies are constantly pouring from both sides of the screen in such sheer numbers that it's easy to become caught in a double team and watch your health fall to nothing in a matter of seconds. To make matters worse, the hit priority is biased in favor of enemies, and your attacks don't always deal out damage when they do connect. If a goon doesn't cancel your attack with a late punch, there's a chance your foot will just pass through him. Theoretically, you can finish the game in 15 minutes. The reality is that you'll need to invest hours of practice and experience quite a bit of luck before three continues and eight total lives are enough to carry you through to the final boss.
About the only positive thing that can be said about the game's availability for the Virtual Console is that the emulation is accurate. The paltry selection of sound effects, the 8-bit-quality music, and the mangled voice clips aren't side effects caused by the emulation. Irem simply didn't put much care into the audio. Likewise, the sluggish controls were a problem in the original TurboGrafx-16 game. Back in the day, some home versions of the game were edited to remove references to skinheads and the suggestion that the kidnap victim in the game was the pop superstar Madonna. The TurboGrafx-16 version retained those references, and they're still intact in the Virtual Console release.
Suffice it to say, you're probably not going to want to shell out 600 Wii points ($6) to play Vigilante. At least Kung Fu had originality going for it.
Editor’s note: GameSpot is currently investigating allegations pertaining to this review and will update the page accordingly once the investigation has concluded. -- Aug. 29, 2018, 9:30 AM PT
Update: GameSpot has completed its investigation of the claims against this review and has restored the original page to its former state. -- Aug. 30, 2018, 11:20 AM PT