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Fighting Vipers features a similar style of gameplay to Sega-AM2's more renowned Virtua Fighter series, specifically Virtua Fighter 2, using simply a Guard, Punch and Kick attack buttons with a focus on combo moves (the Saturn version using its three extra buttons for three smaller combos).
The game is set apart with two unique features. Most notably, each of the 9 characters featured in the game sports armor of some kind or another that can be broken off by opponents leaving characters much more vulnerable and able to take much more damage. A human shaped meter in the top corners of the screen monitors the damage to your armor. Secondly walls surround each arena, caging the combatants in, allowing for attacks in conjunction with them (bouncing off etc.), and if the correct combination is hit at the round's finale, characters can punch their opponent straight through the walls.
When ported, Fighting Vipers offered other modes besides Arcade and Vs. Playback Mode and Training Mode both of which are now used widely in the genre, by games such as Tekken and Soul Calibur. Players could save their matches and play them again in Playback Mode, while Training Mode talked you through the moves of each character one-by-one.
Grace: the game's major 'sex symbol' Grace is an attractive 19 year old African-American born in Armstone City whose armor is themed after the protective gear for In-Line Skating, including the skates themselves. Grace is making her living as a fashion model, though she once dreamed of becoming a professional figure skater, her lover and coach betrayed her, leaving her disillusioned.
Bahn: despite only being a 17 year old High School Student from Nishino Machi, Bahn is a powerful and imposing fighter in a long coat and hat, who has come overseas to find and fight his father, whom he has never met and abandoned him and his mother when they were small, he has declared himself 'Gengis Bahn III'.
Raxel: the narcissistic lead singer and guitarist for a hair metal band called 'Death Crunch' with KISS-styled armor (pretty much looking like Ace Frehley's outfit) and carrying a red Gibson Flying-V electric guitar, Raxel is the son of an Armstone City councilman, a drop out who left home after a fight with said father, Raxel has simply entered the tournament to heighten his own profile and become further famous.
- Note: Raxel's name is strikingly similar to Guns N' Roses' frontman Axl Rose. There is no official confirmation however that he is in any way based on him, as he doesn't really look like Rose, but more like ex-Skid Row singer Sebastian Bach or Poison's vocalist Bret Michaels.
Tokio: a 16 year old pretty boy rebelling against a strict kabuki actor's household, Tokio is a former leader of a street gang called 'Black Thunder' but left after feeling responsible for another gangmember's death. He has entered the tournament for a challenge and for thrills.
Sanman: a mysterious fat oriental-looking man about whom nothing is known, other than his birthday (3 March) and an obsession with the number 3, hence the name for which he goes (san in the Japanese for "three"). Sanman drives a large customised scooter.
Jane: a butch and muscled 18 year old part-time construction worker, Jane trained her whole life to join the Navy, but did not make it past training. She was discharged after repeatedly losing control of herself during fights and injuring fellow seamen. Jane now wants to test just how tough she is, hence entering the Fighting Vipers tournament. Due to all these flagrant traits, Jane is believed to be a tomboy until further notice.
Honey: a petite 16 year old Fashion Student with a pleasant nature, Honey designed her trademark plastic fairy suit herself, and has entered the tournament to promote her original fashion line. Honey became, by far, the most popular of the characters, and remains so, particularly in Japan, with, for instance, people regularly dressing as her (Cosplay) for Video Game conventions. In the US version and the PAL Version, this character is known as "Candy", but dresses like Honey the Cat, a scrapped character in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, due to a lot of glitches.
Picky: a 14 year old stereotypical skateboarder Picky's armour is styled after protective gear for skateboarders, he carries his skateboard on his back, and hits opponents with it. Picky began skateboarding to impress his first love, but later on he left her for Honey.
Mahler: the ninth character, not selectable, and unlockable in the Sega Saturn port, Mahler is a mysterious 20 year old with a grudge against the Mayor of Armstone City (who has organised the tournament) wearing poisonous armor resembling a snake. He isn't officially registered as a member of the tournament.
B.M.: the boss of the game and is a powered up version of Mahler. Both Mahler and B.M.'s names may have been inspired by musician Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who was known in America as the "Black Mahler".
Kumachan:, a 10 year old smiling bear with an orange hat that is unlockable. In the Old Armstone Town, there is, at the bottom of the stage, a giant statue of Kumachan with a green scarf.
Sequels and re-releases
A sequel, Fighting Vipers 2 was released, introducing new characters (Emi, a computer geek who fights with a self-developed mecha armor, and Charlie, a BMX rider - also some bonus ones, like Del Sol, a Mexican wrestler with a Sun mask, and Kuhn, a Dural exact copycat) and was ported to the Dreamcast but only in Japan and Europe.
All of the Fighting Vipers characters were used in Sega-AM2's Fighters Megamix for the Sega Saturn. Fighting Vipers was also re-released for the PlayStation 2 as part of the Sega Ages line. A PAL version was planned, but never released.
Sonic the Fighters
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Fighting Vipers has a direct link with Sega's famous blue mascot Sonic the Hedgehog via the less known Sonic title Sonic the Fighters (a.k.a. Sonic Championship). The story behind Sonic the Fighters is that a bored Sega-AM2 programmer working on Fighting Vipers decided to put in Sonic the Hedgehog in the game for amusement (through hacking both Sonic and Tails are playable). After winning the approval of Sega-AM2 head Yu Suzuki and Sonic Team head Yuji Naka, Sega-AM2 commissioned a Sonic fighting game that became Sonic the Fighters. Sonic the Fighters plays very similar to Fighting Vipers, minus the armor feature and with the addition of the depleting Barrier System (limiting how much you may block an opponent's attacks). An early screenshot even shows the game using the character select screen of Fighting Vipers (or possibly Tails and Sonic in Fighting Vipers).
Hidden within the data of the arcade version of Sonic the Fighters is an additional character named Honey, a yellow cat wearing Candy's red plastic fairy costume, even the name being a nod to this character. Through hacking of the arcade version rom, she is fully playable, has multiple face expressions, and Knuckles' moveset. Honey's model was removed from the Sonic the Fighters port on Sonic Gems Collection. However, her data is still there, though it is scrambled.