While Sega officially dropped support of the Genesis around 1996-97 in Taiwan and Korea a number of unlicensed games continued being released. Some, like Star Odyssey and Pier Solar would see an “official” release. Most of these titles were simply reskinned versions of other popular releases but occasionally an original release would rise from their ranks. In this case I use the term original release loosely as Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan is pretty blatant with where it takes its materials from. Yet in spite of that this is a pretty damn good beat em up and one of the better unlicensed titles out there.
To say that Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan rips off elements from many other games is being polite. The standard genre trope of well rounder, weak but fast female, and slow but strong tank apply to all three characters. The game shamelessly takes not only gameplay mechanics but sprites from Capcom’s Knights of the Round and Sega’s Golden Axe. Even Streets of Rage isn’t safe. This isn’t an uncommon practice among bootleg games but this takes it to another level entirely. From Golden Axe you have a similar magic system although instead of potions you collect the spells themselves, up to a max of five. You even assume the same pose when casting a spell! The ability to cut food and gold into smaller chunks worth more is taken from Capcom’s brawler.
It doesn’t end there either. Those familiar with the previously mentioned titles will notice that several enemies here are simply redrawn sprites from those games down to the animation. I noticed Big Ben and Electra from Streets of Rage as well as Lancelot from KOTR. One of the bosses is actually a redrawn Zangief with some of the same moves if you can believe it! Most of the sound effects come straight from Streets of Rage 2 down to the death cries. Even though it merely repurposed many of its assets the gameplay is still pretty solid overall. All of the elements when combined create a better than average brawler is far better than many official releases.
The major problem is that Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan is very repetitive. Compared to even the most basic brawlers your arsenal of moves is incredibly limited. Aside from a dashing attack your only other option is an upward thrust attack that is hard to perform consistently. For god’s sake you can’t even throw enemies! That means you will perform the same four hit combo over and over and the levels are quite long. There are a decent number of enemy types but it isn’t long before you run into palette swaps. At least magic is plentiful enough that you shouldn’t fear spamming it to make things go faster. With a few more combat options this could have been really special.
The challenge is only moderate and rather easy despite the large number of enemy waves on the default setting. The game is very generous with food and even solo the amount is doubled in case a buddy tags along. Standard enemies can be cheap with their attacks but still only inflict little damage. Even the bosses aren’t as cheap as other beat em ups. Extra lives are awarded pretty frequently at every 50,000 points and chances are you won’t even need to use any continues to see the end.
Speaking of which, don’t expect any sort of ending as the game just abruptly ends if you play on normal. There is no climactic battle against an enemy leader, just a lame battle against two previous bosses. Weak. It is only when played on the hard setting that you’ll actually see all of the game’s content. Here two more stages are added for a total of seven as well as the true final boss and ending. The game actually poses a decent challenge in this mode which makes the trip somewhat worthwhile in the end.
The graphics are actually some of the best on the system. The color palette is incredibly vivid and the artwork is simply beautiful. The backgrounds are incredibly detailed with some stages featuring changes in times of day. The spell effects are similarly detailed and no matter how many enemies crowd the screen there is never any slowdown. They didn’t do a good job of editing the sprites as the animation is sub par which is surprising.
Considering the lack of quality inherit in most bootleg productions Shui Hu Feng Yun Zhuan turned out far better than anyone could have imagined, stolen assets and all. While it is a bit repetitive it is still fun while it lasts. Super Fighter Team officially localized the game as Water Margin – the Tale of Clouds and Wind. If you are interested support them and buy the game officially from their website.