I’ve had a real strong desire for things that can be played with the arrow keys and a few buttons lately. So let’s combine those two passions by looking back at one of the most beloved PC indies from the early ’90s — Sango Fighter.
There’s something marginally fascinating about how the annals of fighting games have skipped over Sango Fighter. Perhaps it’s because most lists, rankings and what not tend to consider games in a competitive context, something many fighters released on PC never aspired to.
Sure, there might have been competitive multiplayer for One Must Fall: 2097. Hell, I’m sure someone at some stage tried to get some LAN action going with Rise of the Robots. But the genre was never big on the platform, so it’s understandable to a certain degree.
It’s a shame, because the efforts of the Taiwanese developers, Panda Entertainment, deserved more love. The team was obviously inspired by Street Fighter — you can spot the Ryu and Zangief knock-offs in about half a second flat — but they mixed in a heavy dose of ancient Chinese military history, much like some of the historical dramas screening across Taipei and Chinese television today.
The basic idea is simple. The Han dynasty is being ravaged by a civil war with Cao Cao attempting to subjugate the south of China to go with his united efforts in the north. As the player in the story mode, you get one of five “tiger generals”. Each fight is usually the scene of a great battle — think Dynasty Warriors — where you have to work through a lackey first before taking on the stage boss.
Each of the bosses had particular strengths and weaknesses, encouraging players to counter-pick and use their special moves to suit the occasion. It’s a fun twist and a reminder of a time when developers were more interested in playing around with the single-player content for fighting games.
What was just as fascinating was the legal drama behind the scenes, however. The core of Sango Fighter was allegedly built on the same engine that powered Super Fighter, another Street Fighter-inspired Taiwanese fighter from developers C&E.
That’s what C&E claimed in their lawsuit, at any rate, although former Panda developer Jon Cheng said Panda’s general manager willingly stopped sales of Sango Fighter in Taiwan. “It seems Panda’s general manager wished for us to concentrate on our next game with a clear head, without having to worry about a lengthy legal battle,” Jon told Abandoned Times.
A North American group, Super Fighter Team, eventually rescued Sango Fighter and the sequel from the wilderness. In the middle of 2009, the original was re-released as freeware, with an updated version featuring improved controller support and better compatibility for modern systems made available a couple of years later.
You can also play Sango Fighter online through the Internet Archive, although replaying the Taiwanese classic today can be fraught with complications. The control scheme is based around a numpad-style setup, with three separate inputs for crouching. Two of those allow the player to block, although you can’t block attacks while standing.
It’s not the worst offender amongst retro fighting games — that turd crown goes to Battle Beast. It’s not helped by the sluggishness playing back the game today. But for a title from 1993 running through DOSBox it’s far more playable than, say, Rise of the Robots or Savage Warriors.
If you want to give the original or sequel a whirl, the best option is to head over to the official website where you can read more about the history of the game, features added after its freeware release and other re-releases from Super Fighter Team (like Legend of WuKong).
What do you remember about Sango Fighter — and what other fighting games from that era caught your eye?
This post has been updated since its original publication.