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Spanish studio makes a bullfighting game we’d be OK with playing

Bullfighter Neon is like Pamplona on the Neo Geo

Bullet hell, meet bullfighting.

No one-liner better describes Bullfighter Neon, pitched to Kickstarter backers earlier this week by the Spanish indie studio Relevo. The 13-year-old company has specialized in homages to the sub-subgenre of “futuristic sports” seen in 1990s titles like Windjammers or Cyberball, and its latest effort emerged, appropriately enough, from a bull session a few years ago.

“At the time we were dealing with other projects,” Jon Cortazar, Relevo’s executive director, told Polygon. “But when we decided to start a new project, aiming for crowdfunding, Bullfighter Neon instantly came to our minds. It’s the kind of crazy idea, with a pinch of controversy, that could help to champion a Kickstarter.”

To be very clear: This isn’t literal bullfighting (or, rather, the video game depiction of it). Nor are Cortazar and his colleagues fans of it, even if there’s a strong cultural attachment to the blood sport in Spain. (Relevo is based in Bilbao, where the 14,781-seat Vista Alegre plaza has held bullfighting contests since 1882.)

Their concept involves a robot bull; moreover, the bull is not directly attacked. The goal instead is to evade and deflect its attacks (some of which can be redirected back onto the bull), until its battery conks out and the bull keels over. It’s more muleta (cloak) than it is espada.

“We set from the very beginning strong frontiers on accepting violence inside the game,” Cortazar said. “We designed a robot fight in which the robot has all the firepower and the armored bullfighter just has a light muleta to deal with the challenge. The only way to win is to deplete all its [the robo-toro’s] battery by using the neon muleta and doing passes while dodging and repelling its attacks.”

This is where the bullet hell comes in; players must memorize or at least pay strict attention to attack patterns as the bull rains death at the matador, for a change. Here are a couple of GIFs to illustrate the point:

animation showing a matador deflecting attacks spewed by a robot bull Image: Relevo
animation showing a robot bull’s back opening up and spitting out a phalanx of missiles as a matador dodges the incoming barrage Image: Relevo

Bullfighter Neon’s Kickstarter page says players can choose from six different matador characters to fight eight cyberbeasts, followed by two “extra final bosses.” Fights take place in four different arenas with environmental hazards; single-player and local co-op multiplayer are available. There’s also a story mode, which Cortazar likened to Street Fighter 2, “where you see the story of each character and a different ending depending on your selection.”

Bullfighter Neon, targeted for a launch by the end of the year on Steam, caught my eye for a couple of reasons. The first is the 16-bit style, the attract mode and flashing PRESS START BUTTON, and the matador’s knock-down animation all look like some truly weird thing the local hangout would take off an amusement vendor’s hands when I was a teenager.

The second is that I am a big believer in Hemingway’s holy trinity of sports — namely that, “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering.” (“All the rest are merely games,” he added.)

I’ve seen plenty of the latter two (if SSX or Shaun White Snowboarding count) and none of the former. (That is, until McWhertor brought Sega’s Bull Fight and this to my attention, proving that I should never call any video game the first to do something.)

With Bullfighter Neon, at last, my manly circle of sports video gaming is complete! Cortazar played along and offered his own Hemingway trilogy: his own game (of course), the original Gran Turismo on PlayStation, and 1080º Snowboarding on Nintendo 64.

Although, “I need to point out that our latest game was in fact a 48 KB snowboarding game created in assembler for a vintage platform, the MSX system,” Cortazar said.

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