IGS’s PGM arcade hardware is probably best known for its side-scrolling beat ‘em ups, and quite rightly too as they’re genuinely some of the best in the genre. You’d think though that there’d be more than three versus beat ‘em ups for the system then wouldn’t you? Well, you’d be wrong but luckily 2001’s Martial Masters more than makes up for the PGM’s lack of quantity with fantastic quality.
Known in its native China as Xing Yi Quan (形意拳) and in Japan as Shin I Ken (シンイーケン), the game plays using both a one-on-one style (single player vs CPU) and a King of Fighters style three-versus-three match setup (two player). The plot’s actually based on a real world event - the White Lotus Rebellion that started in 1794. Continuing with the historical inspiration it might also be interesting to learn that the main character takes the name of 19th century folk hero Wong Fei Hung and “Xing Yi Quan” itself is a real martial art.
There are twelve playable characters in total (one hidden), covering a range of flamboyant Chinese fighting styles not usually touched upon in similar games and this, coupled with some simply wonderful animation, gives the game a unique and fresh feel even though it’s twelve years old at this point.
Fighters control much as anyone would expect a good beat ‘em up to play – the four buttons are split into weak/strong punches and kicks and then there’s a block gauge, super meters, back dashes, jump-in attacks, throws and all the rest. The three-against-three two player matches allow the use of the same character multiple times, meaning fights can either play out classic King of Fighters style or as a more typical versus match, the choice is entirely down to player preference.
There are only two real problems here – first of all as with all of IGS’s first party arcade games there’s no home port of any kind, meaning the only way to legally play this title at home is to purchase the arcade game and a PGM motherboard. The second issue I must draw attention to is the English language names. The English names are all either completely different or are mangled direct translations of the original Chinese names. It’s not going to ruin the game for anyone but it is a shame; the best way I can describe is it to imagine picking “Joe East” (Joe Higashi) or “Retreat Yagami” (Iori Yagami") in The King of Fighters – it doesn’t effect how it plays, but it is completely unnecessary and ill-fitting.
As with much of the PGM’s library this is a top quality game that deserves serious attention – and one that will reward those who do so with fun, fast and fluid fights against either the computer or a friend.
Despite the quality on display here Martial Masters was a one-off with no sequels or spinoffs of any kind on this hardware or later motherboards in the PGM line.
Martial Masters (Arcade) Gameplay
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