One of the last arcade beat em ups that Capcom released in the wake of Final Fight, 1997’s Battle Circuit was obscure for many years until its availability in the Capcom Arcade Stadium collection. This is a shame, because of all the successors to that masterpiece, Battle Circuit is the best I’ve played.
The plot is simple: In a sci fi future, control one of five bounty hunters as they pursue a bunch of colorful villains. The quirkiness and silliness of the genre shows in both the heroes and villains. You can choose between Cyber Blue, a pretty normal anime hero, Captain Silver, a Plastic Man/Mr. Fantastic style stretch-armer, and three goofballs: Catgirl Yellow Iris, walking Venus Flytrap Alien Green, and the weirdest yet: Pink Ostrich, the titular bird with a girl riding on its back (it’s unclear who’s the brains). Similarly, the bosses are just as ridiculous. They start with a disco Elvis impersonator and go through such things as a woman and her giant mandril, an all-female biker gang, and a robot samurai riding some giant beast. The final boss can only be described as looking like an evil Santa Claus.
But what makes the game amazing beyond these characters and their beautiful sprites/animations is how it’s both easy and deep. Sure, it can be played like Final Fight. You can jump around, throw, and do sweep attacks that cost you health. But each character has a lot of moves, and they can be upgraded between levels if you’ve earned enough coins-which you get by landing lots of hits on enemies. Mastering each of these moves makes things a lot more fun. Especially as the characters have their styles, with Alien Green being the slow grappler a la Haggar and Yellow Iris being the rapid “Guy”. All can jump and power up with a special gauge, the effects of which range from gaining more power to recovering health to becoming very durable for a brief time.
There are a few snags. The first is that the characters are not exactly balanced compared to each other. Cyber Blue is the cheap easy mode character. Not only is he intuitive and strong, but his upgraded sweep attack damages everything on the screen. Bosses can be cheesed by just powering up (which increases his strength) and then spamming that move. Meanwhile, Pink Ostrich is very weak normally, only has a flight power of dubious use, and is hard to control. The others fall between those extremes. The worse one, I’d say, is that the segments between the bosses are kind of minimal and forgettable. There’s only a few enemy types and no real engaging set pieces. It’s not really bad, but it doesn’t have the spark the rest of the game does.
Also the third boss is a blander giant robot with very wonky hit detection that’s just frustrating and not fun. But hey, five out of six aren’t bad.
If you like any kind of beat em up, you deserve to check out Battle Circuit. It’s an amazing underappreciated game.