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Star Gladiator

While Capcom was crucial in nurturing the 2D fighter through the 90s, as technology advanced the company saw an opportunity to try something new. Polygonal visuals were becoming easier to do and much more robust than early software to work with this sort of thing. With the launch of the PlayStation, these visuals were made available to the masses at an affordable price. So, it only made sense for Capcom to take a kick at the can and create a new fighting game that took advantage of this new hardware. It experimented with taking the genre out of the flat 2D perspective it had been popularized in and into the exciting new world of 3D visuals. Their first attempt at this was Star Gladiator, a sci-fi themed fighter.

As the name suggests, the game is set in the distant future with a number of space faring species cruising the cosmos. At some point, Earth becomes threatened by some of these creatures, so a scientist there (Dr. Bilstein) starts working on a super weapon called Plasma Sword, which is activated by an untapped power in humans. He’s able to get the technology up and running, but it soon comes out that he was performing very questionable experiments on humans in order to get it off the ground. This results in the doctor being arrested, then imprisoned on the Planet Zeta. Of course, he’s not at all happy about this, and a few years later Earth territories are being attacked by an insurgent army that he’s raised as the doctor attempts to conquer his home world.

This is where players come in, selecting one of the nine playable characters, then proceeding to slash and bash their way through a gauntlet of opponents before facing off with Bilstein himself. A small number of characters are humans, while the majority of the character roster are beings from other worlds. There’s a robot, a dinosaur, a bird person, some guy with a huge brain, and a being that looks an awful lot like a wookie.

When fighting begins, players will quickly notice that the various moves are a mixture of button-tapped strings akin to games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken, as well as moves that require use of the direction pad, punctuated by a button tap at the end a la Street Fighter. Given how a lot of other fighting games tend to stick to one camp or the other, Capcom’s decision to straddle both of these with Star Gladiator makes for some interesting combat that is a little different from other fighting games out there. Also, given that this is a 3D polygonal game, characters have a little more room to move around during a fight. It’s nothing too terribly over the top, but it is possible to side step in order to dodge attacks.

With that, players must march through ten battles including a final showdown with Bilstein. The game isn’t really all that hard. The usual win conditions apply: getting the other person’s health to zero, having more hit points when time runs out, or getting a ring out. Each character has their own quirks, but a few rounds of practice should be enough to beat most of them. Most of the game is fairly smooth sailing without having to worry about obnoxious difficulty spikes. The closest one will get to something like that is Bilstein himself, who is a lot more aggressive and hits a lot harder compared to the other characters in the game.

Obviously, this is an old PS1 game, so the visuals are quite dated. Nonetheless, the character designs mentioned earlier are well-done and vary widely. The backdrops to the various stages are generally quite nice and still look pretty good today. Meanwhile, animation is smooth, and there’s a nice fluidity to the characters as they perform their attacks. So, despite Star Gladiator’s age, the game’s visuals still have their charms.

It was an exciting time as home consoles made the leap into the realm of polygonal visuals. A lot of experimentation happened with varying degrees of success. Star Gladiator is one more example of this, as Capcom was figuring out what it could do with these sort of games after years of Street Fighter and the like. While 3D fighters like Tekken are still remembered today, Star Gladiator isn’t exactly a game that gets brought up. It’s still worth spending time with, though. It has interesting characters, fun combat, and offers a glimpse into the early days of Capcom 3D fighters.

- IroIro
April 10, 2019

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Genre: Fighting
Platform: PlayStation
Released: 1996

Star Gladiator Image 1
Star Gladiator cover art

Star Gladiator Image 2
Hayato vs Jun

Star Gladiator Image 3
Bilstein vs Vector

Star Gladiator Image 4
Gamof vs. June