Martial Masters Article

Martial Masters 2001
IGS (International Games Systems) is not a company you hear about every day, but they
are one of the best game developers from China. The company is mostly known for their
arcade games and the Poly Game Master hardware, or PGM. The PGM was an amazing
piece of hardware meant to outdo SNK’s Neo Geo, boasting more and better sprites per
screen. Obviously, it is nowhere near as well-known as SNK’s classic arcade hardware,
and was a little late for that, debuting in 1997 when 3D graphics were new, but the PGM
was still very powerful for its time.
Martial Masters is one of the best and most well known games on the PGM. It is a 2D
fighter with lots of characters, all of which are very well animated. The graphics are on
par with Street Fighter III or Garou: Mark of The Wolves, which were released only a
few years ago. The backgrounds are very detailed too, though not nearly as impressive as
that of Darkstalkers or Samurai Shodown. Unfortunately, the sound isn’t so good, being
mostly screechy and grating.
Besides looking fantastic, Martial Masters has a surprisingly deep fighting system. All
characters have an ungodly number of special moves and combos, most of which can be
canceled mid animation. There are super moves too, but the super bar can be used for
other things too. One such move is called Wake Up, a move that all characters have. It
knocks an opponent back and consumes a little bit of the super bar. It can act as a combo
breaker too. Another is the Shadow Attack, which is performed by doing a quarter circle
forward (or backward) and pressing B and C at the same time. Doing this makes a
shadow of your character appear and fight independently. It only consumes half a bar and
will sometimes do more damage than a super move.
The story involves the end of China’s Qing Dynasty in the later 1800s and is heavily
based on the Once Upon A Time In China movie series. The story involves the fanatical
cult, The White Lotus Sect, trying to take control of China during an unstable time. Once
in control, The Lotus Master will set out to destroy all western nations so that China can
become the true ruler of the world. Entire continents will be wiped out and millions will
die if Lotus Master’s plans succeed.
Only about half the characters have anything to do with the plot. The rest of them have
their own storylines that do not go anywhere. Most characters have names based on their
fighting style, so no one has particularly interesting names.
CharactersMaster Huang- The main protagonist of Martial Masters. Master Huang’s brother,
Dragon, was kidnapped by The White Lotus Sect for defying their word and believing
that it was wrong to kill entire continents of people. The White Lotus Sect soon labeled
Dragon and Master Huang as demons for even thinking that this was wrong. Master
Huang soon started his journey to rescue his brother, take down The Lotus Master and
avert a worldwide disaster.
Drunken Master- Reika’s grandfather and easily one of the goofiest characters in the
game. Drunken Master a strong resemblance to Chin from King of Fighters, as his
fighting style relies on weird and unpredictable movement. Like most characters in
Martial Masters, he is very well animated. Drunken Master’s movements capture how a
drunk old man moves perfectly and has to be one of the most fluid and detailed characters
in the game. He also has moves where he attacks with his wine jug, just like Chin.
Crane- A shy and introverted lady that also plans on rescuing Dragon. Crane does not
talk a lot, but has a secret fondness for Master Huang. Her fighting style is ridiculous, as
she flaps her arms like wings when she’s standing. Even so, Crane strikes extremely fast
and can hit very hard if you know how to use her right, despite her silly arm flapping.
Ghost Kick- Ghost Kick used to be a very rich man, until he lost everything to gambling.
After that, he started work for a rickshaw business and invented his own fighting style,
ghost kick. Ghost Kick is very fast and rarely punches, sometimes kicking even if you
used a punch attack.
Tiger- The son of a Christian missionary that learned to fight tiger style from locals. The
White Lotus Sect declared him dangerous for being a westerner in China and a master of
Tiger style. Tiger fights mostly with powerful punches, but he is not above clawing at his
opponents as an actual tiger would.
Reika- Drunken Master’s granddaughter and a very projectile heavy character. The
White Lotus Sect slaughtered her town, except she got away and is surprisingly happy for
a character that had almost her entire family killed in front of her. Reika has the unique
ability to throw fireballs, something that most characters are unable to do in Martial
Masters. She can be a real pain to fight, especially because she is also small, fast, and is
capable for hitting surprisingly hard for a little girl.
Scorpion- A very rich man with an unusual fighting style. Scorpion moves by crawling
around on the ground with one leg up in the air, looking like a scorpion’s tail. He also has
a thing for prostitutes, something which Red Snake, his arranged marriage, does not like.
He is based on the villain from the Kung Fu movie Operation Scorpio.
Red Snake- Heiress to one of the richest families in Canton, Red Snake has an arranged
marriage with Scorpion, something she is not very happy about. She has a tendency to act
on impulse and has a rebellious streak, something Scorpion finds unbearable.
Monkey Boy- A boy that lives in a cave full of monkeys that calls himself Monkey Boy.
He is Reika’s rival, but otherwise, has almost no story relevance, whatsoever. Even so, he
is a pretty cool character and has some very easy combos. Monkey Boy has a few strange
moves, including one where he tosses fruit like a fireball. He also crawls on the ground
instead of walking, making him a hard target to hit sometimes.
Monk- A huge and powerful monk from an unnamed monastery. Monk is actually a
minor antihero, fighting with an unusual amount of anger and fury for a monk. In his
back-story, Monk challenged Master Huang once when he was young and lost
spectacularly. Later on, he challenged Master Huang again, this time far stronger and
more skilled, and still lost. He’s still looking to challenge Master Huang, determined to
win at least once against him. Monk is very brutal and about twice the size of most other
characters. Surprisingly, despite being enormous, Monk is not a grapple character.
Instead he has really big attacks that are usually slow.
Lotus Master- A hulking, clawed, demon-like character. Lotus Master is the head of The
White Lotus Sect. He can make gold lotus flowers appear out of nowhere and disappear.
They act very similar to Geonitz’s Yonokaze (tornado) from SNK’s King of Fighters,
only much less obnoxious. Mastering these lotus attacks and knowing when, where, and
which energy flower to use is key to victory, as Lotus Master is not particularly fast.
Saojin- A hidden character, accessed by leaving the machine on for a month(!) and
waiting for people to pay 99 credits to unlock her. Luckily, this enormous requirement is
negated if you are playing on an emulator. Saojin is fascinated by western culture and has
learned a lot of skills from studying it, notably photography. She trains under Master
Huang and secretly plans to help him out in his fight against The White Lotus Sect.
Unfortunately, she is not very strong, or good at fighting for that matter. Saojin is a
comedic relief character, as she gets tired after using special attacks, flails her arms
wildly, and has a super move where she calls in her friends to beat the opponent up and
takes a picture.
True Lotus Master- True Lotus Master, misspelled in the game as “Ture Lotus Master”
is the final boss and a secret character. Despite having a nearly identical sprite to Lotus
Master, he has almost none of the same moves. He can make huge pillars of fire, shoot
storms of small lotus projectiles, and slash with his very big claws. Like most bosses of
fighting games, he’s pretty cheap, but can be dealt with if you know what you’re doing.
Part of what makes Martial Masters so fun is that every character has a very high number
of moves. Since each character has two super moves, two shadow moves, and always has
more than five special moves, there ends up being a lot of depth in each character. That’s
not even getting into combos, as there are so many different ways to put combos together
that you may end up accidentally discovering one.
With every character having so much depth, so many moves, and so many possibilities,
Martial Master ends up feeling very different from most other fighting games. Every
character, even Saojin, the “joke slot”, is very strong and easy to learn. This also means
that none of the characters are weak or worthless in combat. The character roster ends up
seeming a lot richer than most other fighting games. It helps that IGS put a lot of work
into play testing and balanced everything until it felt just right.
Even though playing against your friends is where most people will get their enjoyment
from Martial Masters, single player mode was far from ignored. The AI is very crafty and
cheats substantially less than most other fighting games. Working your way up to True
Lotus Master feels like an accomplishment, much like taking down other well designed
fighting game bosses. When you finally get to the end and beat the game, IGS gives you
a secret password you can use on their website. This password gets you onto an online
leader board and records your score on the web site. IGS also did this with many of its
other PGM games, including on their infamous Bee Storm: Dodonpachi II. Sadly, these
online scoreboards are not used anymore, but were a pretty cool idea before consoles got
in on the worldwide scoreboards.
Martial Masters was mostly overlooked when it came out. It saw a release in China,
Japan, Europe, and The United States, but failed to get very much attention and never
received a port to any console. Part of this may have to do with its 2D sprite graphics,
which while very detailed, looked antiquated and archaic at the time when more popular
fighting games with 3D graphics such as Dead of Alive 2 or Tekken Tag Tournament
were more popular. It is still a very good game and should not be nearly as forgotten as it
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