Fighting Game Mysteries – The Laptop Arcade Player

Outside of my regular column, I have decided to spend one evening writing about one of the most cursed fighting game discoveries of 2021 — the Laptop Arcade Player, a portable arcade machine sold on Amazon and Ali Express for 150USD and advertised as having 100+ games… among which, what seemed to be two completely original, unknown, fighting games – Rupture Void and Fighting Master Ultimate. Buckle up your belt and join GuileWinQuote, Ninjinister, MrMKL, and me in this dive into the deep unknown of  this not-at-all-cheap, obnoxious, obscure machine and the amazing discoveries that were made in the process!

Breaking news

November has been a weird month, this year, with lots of fighting game related news —  Street Fighter V ending on a high note, Bandai Namco removing Denuvo from Tekken 7, Project L finally showing some footage out of the blue, and DNF Duels unexpectedly coming back from the phantom zone. All high profiles events, worth of praise and interest, but nothing compared to what an unaware Twitter user would unearth.

It started on the bird app

Everything began at the tail end of October. A Twitter user who goes by the handle of @taizou_hori, posted a tweet about a rather peculiar portable arcade console he had found on Ali Express.

The tweet contained information about the so-called “Laptop Arcade Player”, an unassuming, anonymous 100-games-in-one Chinese portable arcade machine with nothing out of the ordinary… except the fact that it featured one beat’em up and two fighting games nobody seemed to know anything about.

The first fighting game was called Rupture Void, had even a solid, flashy trailer, and seemed to share characters with the beat’em up, Fury Fight. Both games were strongly advertised on the promotional material and took up the bulk of the pictures in the online stores, on top of being featured as decals on the machine itself.

Despite searching the internet for this game, nobody seemed to have any real information on it. Until, two days later, thanks to some of their contacts, the same Twitter user managed to find out the name of the developer and the original Chinese name of Rupture Void. Still, no additional info could be found around, especially concerning the gameplay, and using Google reverse image search on the character portraits in the hope of finding something made more harm than good.

It really seemed that the developers 游侠江湖 (Youxia Jianghu, here’s a link to their website) made a bona fide effort to create a new, original IP with several original characters just for this wretched 100-games-in-one machine, only not to advertise it in any meaningful way in the Western part of the Internet.

The second fighting game, Fighting Master Ultimate, didn’t receive the same care, like at all. Early footage of it showed many similarities with Street Fighter IV, including ripping the same voice announcer clips and having animations suspiciously similar to Sakura’s  — and, oh, boy, this isn’t even scratching the tip of the iceberg.

So, we have a Chinese arcade machine, with two possibly original, unknown fighting games with no information available, an elusive developer and an even more elusive publisher. Everything could have ended like this, in a simple bout of curiosity. Except…

Laptop Arcade Amazon Listing, with Red Sheep from Rupture Void featured

In case this listing is lost to time, here’s a screenshot of the Amazon Laptop Arcade page, featuring key art of Red Sheep from Rupture Void and a screenshot from the game in the background.

Impulse buying and shipping to the US

Except a certain Steven W. Hunt, a.k.a. Ninjinister, a.k.a. the dub director of the Battle High series, first voice actor for the immortal Alperen in the mobile prequel to Dual Souls, and on-and-off writer for Fightabase (yes, he did all of this and even more) actually bought the device and had it shipped to the US.

First thing he did, was booting up the microscopic “console” — the screen is literally smaller than an Xbox pad — and try out Rupture Void. He then gathered his findings and published them in the form of a short, unlisted YouTube video, showcasing one of the characters, Big Rogen, a giant, obese clown with mechanical claws, a machinegun and a chainsaw.

The physical controls of the machine were — in his words — horrible and barely usable, but the game showed some potential. Behind the spline-y animations, there were carefully crafted original character designs and some creativity in terms of move sets.

Ninjinister would then go on to write a short page on Fighter’s Library Wiki, listing all the known details about the game.

This first attack on the Laptop Arcade Player was carried out successfully, but there was something behind Rupture Void that needed further research. The second hit to the impenetrable fortress was dealt by another niche game connoisseur, MrMKL, who, after a conflicted decision — I mean, 150$ are still 150$, no matter how you sugarcoat it — found a coupon and bought the machine on Ali Express with a decent discount.

He then decided to go one step further: Stream the games live on Twitch, using a convoluted setup that was necessary due to the technical specifications of the device.

An accursed stream in three parts

In a titanic effort to shed some light on this mystery, live, MrMKL found out that the Laptop Arcade was — in fact — a tablet with a very stripped down version of Android, with touch controls disabled and no way to access its settings. The machine had only controls for one player, consisting in a very bad quality plastic lever, as already reported by Ninjinister, and very sticky, click-y buttons. There were no video ports of sorts, only a micro-USB C for loading the console and an audio jack. In order to capture the video, he had to mount his Canon camera on a tripod and point it at the microscopic display.

The resulting setup was rather intricate, but the quality was good enough for the goal.

During the stream (which I witnessed live), he then went through the three main games we all were interested in: Fury Fight, Rupture Void and Fighting Master Ultimate.

Fury Fight

Fury Fight presented itself as a somewhat solid side-scrolling beat’em up, featuring three playable characters — Red Sheep, a tall, slender lady who uses mostly kicks a là Chun Li and has a demon form; Arado, a fairly ordinary looking black guy in a hoodie, and Hawk Eye, a police man who is good at punching. The enemy and general character designs were actually above average, and the game seemed to even have a story behind. The animation were as weird as those seen in the Rupture Void trailer, but Fury Fight looked like somewhat competently made, despite an almost-soft-lock in the first ten minutes of gameplay.

MrMKL's setup while playing Fury Fight on stream.

Fury Fight, a very realistic, down-to-Earth beat’em up with… huh, cyborg dolls and astronaut bears. Have we by chance fallen into an episode of Knights of Sidonia? Also, please, notice the setup that poor MrMKL had to endure to play this game. It doesn’t seem comfortable at all. A truly heroic sacrifice for science. Screenshot courtesy of MrMKL’s video-on-demand on Twitch.

Rupture Void

This was probably the most pleasant surprise. Rupture Void was — in all effects — a truly original IP that shared world and characters with Fury Fight. Aside from the three protagonists, there were six additional playable characters that might have been bosses in Fury Fight (one should complete a playthrough of it to confirm this, but the controls of the machine are so painfully inadequate that it sounds like a horrible chore). Those are: the aforementioned killer clown Big Rogen; Nomad, a blond soldier with a knife and sunglasses; Number 6, a punk who uses his motorcycle during his special moves; Dr. Merissa, a woman with a mechanical scorpion tail that has also access to some degree of cryokinesis; Sakura & Aoi, two ghost sisters referred to as “phantom butterflies from mist” in the official website and seem to be Hawk Eye’s elder sisters, if one goes by the win quotes unearthed by Ninjinister.

The character selection screen of Rupture Void, showing Arado and Red Sheep.

Here’s the character selection screen of Rupture Void. This screenshot was acquired by GuileWinQuote, after understanding how to connect to the machine with an USB cable.

By fiddling with it, MrMKL found out how the game works, and listed his findings in a direct message he sent me. In his own words [emphasis mine]:

Rupture Void is actually almost good. It makes the bad parts feel even worse.

It’s fairly standard as far as fighting games go: three normal attacks, only light and mediums have crouching versions. [Cancel routes go as] basic magic series > specials > supers.

It starts falling apart with the aerial play. The floaty jumps/insanely huge super jumps are a pain to use.

Air attacks are mostly garbage and you only have one air action. Everything juggles, but recovery techs can be done so soon that extended combos are ridiculously difficult.

Combined with the horrendous joystick and super hard AI, it gets very frustrating.

Other quirks not mentioned in his short review: the back dash covers almost the entire screen, time outs happen more often than it might be expected, there are no grabs and supers can be performed with one button — which is a godsend on such a small machine.

A screenshot of MrMKL's Twitch stream when playing Rupture Void's arcade mode

MrMKL went through most characters on stream and attempted (in vain) to clear arcade run with Number 6, Hawk Eye and Big Rogen in this order. The AI difficulty could not be scaled down and was extremely painful to see him struggle with it.

One peculiar aspect of Rupture Void, though, was that the game had a versus mode, right on the menu. A versus mode for a game which is shipped only with a single player console seems… quite unusual, right?

Well, another fighting game expert, GuileWinQuote decided that it was time for action and ordered the Laptop Arcade too, bringing the grand total of known buyers of this contraption to three.  You can make your back of the envelope calculations, but this means that this curious train-wreck brought in the wallets of the seller no less than 350$, after taking into account discounts and coupons.

GuileWinQuite’s sacrifice was however instrumental to learn more about some additional quirks of this platform.

Another challenger enters the fray!

First off: MrMKL didn’t clear arcade mode on stream due to the frustratingly high AI difficulty, so GuileWinQuote and Ninjinister went independently through it in order to find out more about the game. During the stream, we assumed that the game HAD to have a final boss, due to the strategic placement of the character portraits, but we couldn’t confirm or deny it. First GuileWinQuote and then Ninjinister independently confirmed this: by exploiting the AI, they both managed to reach and face the boss, simply named The Professor, Professor Unluck or Professor Enrique… who turns out to be Arado’s father. The mystery deepens: this game has lore.

The final boss, the Professor, in all his magnificent power. Yes, Rupture Void HAS a legit final boss at the end of its arcade run.

GuileWinQuote was the first to report about Rupture Void’s final boss, the Professor. You can say everything about this game, but not that they cared about their character designs. Rupture Void is so near to be good it almost hurts.

It turns out that the Professor is no pushover, has a fairly interesting cinematic super and is, in general, a respectable unplayable final boss. However, this magnificence is soured by the fact that there isn’t either a proper arcade ending for each character (just a generically ominous “you win… for now”) and no ending credits. That hurt badly: Credits were the secret weapon we wanted to exploit to find out more about the development team, but unfortunately there aren’t any. To our detriment, we were once more back to square one.

Ninjinister went a step further and analyzed the win quotes, in both Rupture Void and Fury Fight, finding out some additional lore tips here and there, as the two games share a narrative universe. We owe him the discovery of Arado’s relationship with the professor and a couple minor fragments of trivia that seem to show that this game has actually had some real effort put into it.

However, this story has a happy ending for MrMKL too. Two days after his stream, he booted up the game again and recorded a full arcade run of it, including his match against Professor. Now, you can see this game in all its glory in this YouTube video with physical camera feed!

Thanks to this amazing contribution, we can now (probably?) infer that Dr. Merissa was Hawk Eye’s (presumed dead?) mother, or was created by using her body, and that Sakura & Aoi are really his (dead?) elder sisters. It would be interesting to gather more information on the underlying lore, but it seems very hard without contacting the developers or playing all arcade routes and clearing Fury Fight, as Ninjinister has confirmed that the story of the two games is connected. But, you know, at least now we have access to a video detailing all the characters’ super moves!

A ghastly versus mode

As I mentioned before, during his stream, MrMKL stumbled upon something curious: this game has a versus mode, despite not having any way to play against someone else on the same machine. He wanted to try out if a second controller, plugged into the only micro USB-C port, might have done the trick, but missed the necessary adapter.

When GuileWinQuote was shipped his Laptop Arcade, one of the first things he did was plugging a wired PS5 controller into it, hoping to get a lucky shot. Surprisingly, the hypothesis bore its fruits, as versus mode could legitimately be played by two human players, with player 1 having to deal with the cursed hardware and player 2 being free to use the more comfortable wired pad.

GuileWinQuote showing his Rupture Void versus setup with a PlayStation pad wired to the Laptop Arcade

Don’t try this at home: it will cost more than 150$ and one among you or your friend will have to use this accursed arcade controls to play against each other.

Suspicious asset rips

While MrMKL was playing it, people in the chat realized that some of the sound effects seemed ripped straight from Guilty Gear Xrd, including the jump, guard and clash sounds. We weren’t able to confirm this, but it seems like a weird contradiction: Why would a studio that took the effort of creating a new IP and building a semi-competent, original game around it, with loads of original assets and inspired character designs, would steal audio files from another, more blazoned game in the same genre?

Layers of mysteries upon mysteries upon mysteries.

Fighting Master Ultimate

Now, I have spent most of this article talking about Rupture Void. “When is Fighting Master Ultimate coming?” you might rightfully ask. Well, I kept the best for last, because there is a lot to say about this.

While Rupture Void has some (many?) saving graces — original IP, original graphics, fresh designs, flashy presentation, fleshed out move sets, Fighting Master Ultimate fails on EVERY possible quality indicator and lands directly into the bargain bin game category — except, if possible, even lower.

Let me put it straight for you, Fighting Master Ultimate is one of the most egregious bootleg knock-offs I have seen in the past 20 years.

For starters, a trained eye in modern fighting games could immediately see what’s wrong with it, just by watching this video in @taizou_hori’s Tweet: The character portrayed has a 1:1 copy of Sakura’s move set from Street Fighter V, with evidently ripped animations. If this wasn’t enough, the announcer in the match is straight up ripped from Street Fighter 4. To complete this shocking picture, the character’s voice seems to be that of Chun Li, which adds further to the confusion.

Intrigued by this apparent Street Fighter 4.5 knock-off, MrMKL started playing the game on stream.

And oh, boy, that was an experience.

Contrary to Rupture Void, Fighting Master Ultimate has no evident versus mode (unless this was what Fight mode was for), which makes it somehow possible that it was produced exactly for this single player machine. There are six characters, with very generic designs, which are totally-not-inspired by their Street Fighter counterparts: Q.S. a.k.a. “old Ryu”; Pochi a.k.a. “goatie Sagat”; Taylor, a generic punk; Nick, an even more generic luchador, Lily, a sort of female boxer; Etude, our “Sakura wannabe”.

Fighting Masters Ultimate selection screen. Courtesy of GuileWinQuote.

This game was a fever dream for all of us in the stream chat. We couldn’t believe the level of knock-off this was. We simply couldn’t. Screenshot courtesy of GuileWinQuote.

The ultimate knock-off fighter

It turns out that not only Etude is a 1:1 ripoff of Sakura: Pochi has literally Sagat’s moveset, Q.S. has Ryu’s, Taylor is Balrog/Boxer with Street Fighter 4 Adon’s voice clips, Lily is just Lucia from Street Fighter V and Nick is a scrawny, beardless Zangief. Every single animation was extracted from SFV and repacked into this game, without any shame.

The move sets aren’t even remixes, or mix-and-match collections: they are straight up the same. This is even more egregious with Nick, that hasn’t the same physical prowess as Zangief, thus making his win animation extremely, weirdly jarring.

If this sounds bad enough, trust me, there’s more.

Copying the homework and doing it wrong

When MrMKL tried to perform Nick’s super in training mode, we were greeted by Zangief’s familiar triple German suplex without any camera effect and with janky interactions that completely nullified the move’s weight and impact.

The clip is impossible to describe — I will just give you a link to a clip from the stream, so that you can judge it by yourself. What’s even more jarring is that the so called story mode opens with renders from Street Fighter IV and V that were probably doctored with Photoshop or a similar software. And has no ending or credits. Seriously.

A clearly doctored image of Zangief passed as an "original character"

Subtlety was never this developer’s strong point, methinks.

The bottom of the barrel

You might think that, at least, this “game” has to play somewhat decently. Well, you wouldn’t be more wrong. Fighting Master Ultimate is a dumpster fire, even from a technical point of view. The game stutters without any apparent reasons, causing it to display visible frame drops. The special inputs are easy on paper, but, due to some accursed bug, the console records every direction input twice, making many specials impossible to perform. Also, there is no way to remap the inputs, which assign the kick buttons to the top row and the punch buttons to the bottom one, contrary to every known convention in the genre.

In short, Fighting Master Ultimate is a cheap, unoptimized, unapologetic knock-off which doesn’t do anything right and even manages to swap the names of its own characters in the move lists accessed in the pause menu. This ain’t it, chief. This ain’t it.

Delving into the unknown high seas

Before the curtain falls, a public service announcement: GuileWinQuote is currently trying to dump the .apks of these games from this locked-up Android tablet and run it on a more comfortable platform. At the moment, the extracted .apk seems to work only on the original device: Once copied to another phone or Android emulator, it simply refuses to boot up and crashes after the splash screen. If there is any of you with the technical knowledge necessary to get access to the files and — most importantly — run it on real hardware, please reach out for him!

Summary of a unique, dreadful experience

Thanks to the sacrifice of around 350USD, several hours of our lives and hand issues incoming for those who have been unlucky enough to touch this machine, we have unearthed and collected information on two games for which there was nothing around, effectively planting our flag on the kusoge Moon. But all fever dreams come to an end, and it’s time for me to wrap this article up, leaving us with one, last question:

Was it worth it?

Ponder the answer carefully before replying, though. And, first, give us some time to leave this (digital) room… but inconspicuously. Through the window.

Update 27.11.2021

After this article was published, I have been given more information by several sources, which have been collected in this appendix for ease of retrieval:

  • The Laptop Arcade Player is available for around 100USD on Amazon, at a different link. No idea why there are two different versions of the same machine with different prices around, though. Here’s the link unearthed by Twitter user @xyberknight [source];
  • Ninjinister has played through Fury Fight and confirmed that all the remaining playable characters in Rupture Void are indeed bosses from the beat’em up game – except Nomad, who is a common enemy. Fury Fight also includes a doppelgänger called Null that acts as the “mirror match character” and mimics the main characters (Arado, Red Sheep, Hawk Eye) [source];
  • Ninjinister has also found out that Dr. Merissa’s voice lines in Fury Fight (but not in Rupture Void) are ripped from Fire Emblem Heroes. More precisely they used the lines Kira Buckland recorded for Eirika [source];
  • The developers of Fury Fight/Rupture Void seem to plan to release the two games together, in the same package — at least according to this press kit, found by Twitter user @mistydemeo [source], who also found out that apparently Fury Fight is already available in early access for mobile phones in China [source].

 

Update 09.12.2021

GuileWinQuote’s appeal was successful! Thanks to Twitter user @RenzoLaParca, the APKs of Rupture Void and Fighting Master Ultimate were dumped out of the Laptop Arcade Player, allowing us to finally get a better look at the games! This marks the end of our journey into this strange, weird Chinese arcade machine, with probably the best ending we could hope to get!

Kusoge preservation: ACHIEVED!

Special thanks to Ninjinister, MrMKL, and GuileWinQuote for their honorable sacrifice in playing this accursed thing, for providing me with excellent resources, videos, streams, and screenshots for this article. Special thanks to The Community Lab Discord server too, as it proved instrumental for information sharing and solidifying our common investigation. The author of this article isn’t affiliated in any way with the producers of this “console” and would gladly suggest you to keep your money for something worthwhile. Spending 150$ in pizza might be a better investment than buying this thing. 

If you are interested in more coverage about indie fighting games, you can find me on Twitter at @AndreaDProjects

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