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Video Game / The Combatribes

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Berserker in the middle, with Blitz (left) and Bullova in the background.
—From the print advertisement for the SNES version.

Originally released for the arcades in 1990, The Combatribes was Technos Japan Corp.'s attempt to create another popular Beat 'em Up franchise following the success of their Kunio-kun (Renegade, River City Ransom) and Double Dragon games. It was developed by most of the same staff members who worked on the arcade version of the first Double Dragon and while it did not have the same widespread popularity as its predecessors, it did inspire a console port for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System released in 1992. The player chooses from one of the titular "Combatribes", a group of three former military men with superhuman strength who have come to New York City to rid the city of its various street gangs and criminal mobs.

The most distinguishing feature of Combatribes is the unique variety of moves available for each character. In addition to the standard repertoire of punches, kicks and running attacks, our heroes can also push away enemies, pick up and throw them, kick or jump over a fallen foe, bash their heads to the ground, or even swing one around by his feet. The player can even pick up two enemies from opposite directions and bash their heads together. There are also large objects the player can pick up and toss, such as parked motorcycles and go-karts, as well as pinball machines. Because of the lack health items and special moves, the game is also notoriously difficulty compared to other beat-'em-ups, as health recovery is only offered between stages.

The SNES version is a relatively faithful conversion, missing a few enemy characters, the throwable objects and a few areas. However, it does add cut-scenes between stages and boss fights that fleshes out the almost non-existent plot of the arcade version, as an optional versus mode that allows player to control any character from the main game.

The Combatribes provides example of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Martha Splatterhead in the arcade version was just a final boss that shows up at the last minute with no explanation of who she is, other than she's implied to be a female bodyguard who betrays her employer. The Combatribes defeat her without mercy and leave her lifeless body in the docks. In the SNES version, she and Swastika are revealed to be former allies of the Combatribes who went rogue after they were turned into cyborgs against their will. When the Combatribes eventually confront her, she chooses to die fighting rather than return to the military with them. She thanks the Combatribes after her defeat and the heroes decide to leave, carrying her body.
  • Adapted Out: The man in the suit is ditched completely in the SNES version in favor of making Martha Splatterhead herself the leader of the Ground Zero organization.
  • Book Ends: The SNES version starts and ends with a shot of NYC's Twin Towers.
  • Boss Rush: The final stage in the arcade version has the player fighting the previous gangs and leaders before the final boss fight. This is moved to the penultimate stage (just before the Slaughter Troops) in the SNES version.
  • Bowdlerise: In the Super Famicom version, the defeated bosses are shown with bruised and bloodied faces at the end of each stage. In the SNES version, the blood was either recolored to resemble sweat and tears, or even removed.
  • Bridal Carry: Berserker carries Martha in this manner at the end of the SNES version.
  • The Cameo: The dancing cats in the second stage have Kunio's face in the SNES port.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Trash uses a sledgehammer and, unlike other bosses, doesn't drop it at low life.
  • Clean Dub Name
    • Swastika, the cyborg leader of the Slaughter Troops, was renamed Master Blaster in the SNES port (abbreviated M. Blaster in-game). His lackeys, the Executioners, became the Enforcers.
    • The main gang itself was changed from "Ground Zero" to "Guilty Zero" in the Virtual Console re-release (having an organization with such a name taking over New York City would've been considered insensitive after 9/11).
  • Co-Op Multiplayer: The arcade version allowed up to three players, but the SNES port is limited to only two.
  • Combat Stilettos: Martha has them and is somehow one of the fastest characters.
  • Covers Always Lie: The promotional art for the arcade version has the colors of Bullova and Blitz switched.
  • Cyborg: In the SNES version, the Combatribes are stated to be cyborgs. The arcade version doesn't mention that, but there are no other explanations for why all three of them are inhumanly strong and tall. In both versions of the game, Martha Splatterhead also has Psycho Electro powers, while Swastika/Master Blaster has an implant chest cannon and jet pack (both of which retract into his body when not in use).
  • Dual Boss: In the arcade version, Splatterhead will create duplicates of herself to match the number of players if there's more than one person.
  • Expy: Swastika/Master Blaster is yet another loving tribute to Brocken Jr in video game form.
  • Fire-Breathing Weapon: Salamander wields a torch he blows into a long-range fire attack.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Played with: the Act 1 restaurant's "Steak & Brew Burger" name in the arcade version was changed to "Steak & Shake" in the SNES version, despite the fact that "brew" also resembles coffee, which was kept intact in both versions.
  • Graceful Loser: In the SNES version, Martha Splatterhead thanks the Combatribes for defeating her, as she no longer had control of her actions, and now that horror is over.
  • Head Swap: The three player characters. In the arcade version, there are also head-swapped variants of the Little Fish and Enforcer enemies who were cut out from the SNES port.
  • Human Hammer-Throw: The player characters could grab a downed enemy by the ankles, spin them around, then let them fly (hopefully) into some of their enemies.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Gring Terror (one of the mooks in the second stage) resembles The Joker. Even more in the ad comic, where he wears a purple suit and everything. Whereas in the game he just wears a purple and white ringmaster's outfit.
  • Letter Motif: The three main guys all had names that start with the letter "B".
  • Lightning Bruiser: Martha, somewhat literally — she is both very fast and powerful and fights with electricity. In Versus mode, this is still true, but she has less life than average, which is odd for a final boss.
  • Meaningful Name: Little Fish, the biker mook from the first stage, whose name is a literal translation of zako (the Japanese word for "mook").
  • Mirror Match: The Vs. Mode in the SNES version allows two players to use the same character.
  • Mooks: The arcade version featured a pair of generic unarmed mooks that appear in almost every stage (one in a t-shirt and another type in a tank top), as well as armed grunts that are stage-specific. The generic mooks were removed from the SNES port, which uses the Hate Squads (the wrench-wielding skinhead members of the Stadium Barbarians) as generic enemies instead.
  • Nintendo Hard: Try beating the arcade version in one credit (especially with the health recovery turned off).
  • Non-Action Big Bad: The arcade version has the Combatribes pursuing a tall blond-haired man in a business suit who is implied to be the crime boss in charge of all the street gangs that our heroes face throughout the game. However, as soon as the Combatribes have the crime boss cornered, his female bodyguard, Martha Splatterhead, will break out from his limo and put a hole through his chest, commencing the true final battle.
  • Portmantitle: "Combat" and "Tribes"
  • Power Floats: Martha's hair is constantly flapping about from a Super Saiyan esque battle aura.
  • Psycho Electro: Martha is stated to be one in the SNES version, as the transformation into a cyborg made her criminally mad.
  • Reformulated Game: While the SNES port is a bit stripped down from the arcade version, it does add cut-scenes between stages and boss fights that provide a reason for all the carnage the heroes are causing.
  • The Savage Indian: The Combatribes encounter a tomahawk-wielding Indigenous guy named Wind Walker at a baseball field.
  • Sequel Hook: In the arcade version, the three Combatribes disappear after defeating Martha Splatterhead, with no one knowing where they went... but it is stated that if the shadow of violence again falls on New York City, the Combatribes will return. Averted in the SNES version, where the Combatribes simply disappear after beating Martha and are explicitly never seen again.
  • Shock and Awe: Martha's attacks are ordinary punches and kicks backed with large electric arcs, being a cyborg. According to the SNES version, the Combatribes and Martha were turned into cyborgs, but the players don't have any electric-based attacks (except in Versus mode).
  • Shout-Out:
    • Martha Splatterhead, the name of the final boss, comes from the zombie mascot of a punk band The Accused.
    • Act 3 has advertisements for Block Out, a game that was ported to the arcade by Technos.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Martha is the sole female character in the game.
  • SNK Boss:
  • Super-Strength: While the Combatribes differ in their exact balance of speed and power, all three of them can hurl motorcycles and pinball machines with little effort.
  • Theme Naming:
    • Berserker: Named after a tribe of Nordic warriors.
    • Bullova: Named after a Native American battle axe.
    • Blitz: Short for "blitzkrieg".
  • Timed Mission: The arcade version has time limits for each stage.
  • Token Minority: Bullova is the only black guy out of the trio.
  • Turns Red: An inversion with some of the bosses, who lose their weapons after losing enough life and resort to melee attacks they didn't use before.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Players can attack each other. In the SNES version, this can be turned off.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Oh so many brutal attacks you could perform on the mooks in this game. You could grab two of them and collide their heads together, swing them from their legs onto each other, jump and stomp on their backs, kick them while they're down, and then drive their heads into the pavement repeatedly. The arcade game has some very satisfying bloodspurts to accompany that last one.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Since Martha went rogue against Bullova, Blitz and Berserker and became a cyborg, Berserker takes her down with the page quote when she asks, "You wouldn't hit a lady, would you?"
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: Berserker was renamed Berzerker in the SNES port.