While I wrote last month’s massive history of fighting games (and if you haven’t read that, please do click over and spend the next four hours of your life doing so), I played just about every single arcade and home game based around the idea of people punching each other.
Many of those games were consigned to the dustbin of history for good reason. If you want to compete with the Street Fighters and Tekkens of the world, you need to bring your A game. But in the archives, I found more than a few really interesting, unique titles and series that deserve a fighting chance.
In this article, I’ll tell you the eleven fighting game franchises that deserve an extra credit and continue. Some are famous, others are obscure as hell, but they all kick ass.
This is probably the biggest insult fighting fans have suffered over the last decade. While some of the supernatural stars from Capcom’s fantasy fighting game have shown up in the Vs. series, we haven’t seen a new Darkstalkers game since 1997. In typical Capcom fashion, they’ve dribbled out HD re-releases on modern platforms, but we want to see what a brand new take on Morrigan, Demitri, and our personal favorite, Lord Raptor. Darkstalkers was notable for pushing Capcom’s sprite artistry as far as they could, with incredibly innovative animations for attacks. Throw in a flexible chain combo system, the ability to hit opponents on the ground and the series rightfully became a cult hit.
After some difficult times, SNK have bounced back hard with a new installment in the King of Fighters series. Hopefully, it’s making them enough money that they’ll consider restarting some of their other franchises. We’d love to see a new Last Blade game – building off of the success of Samurai Showdown, the pair of titles released in the late 1990s featured a parrying function that, if used with split-second timing, left opponents vulnerable, as well as two different fighting styles per character. Fans praised the rich gameplay system that accommodated different types of players as well as the detailed animation.
One of the most interesting subgenres in the fighting world are games where the environment is as much a threat as the other players. Namco’s 1994 one-off The Outfoxies might be the Platonic ideal of this. Each player takes control of an assassin, ranging from the standard to the bizarre, and tries to snuff the others in a variety of insane stages. A moving train, a sinking cruise ship and a chaotic circus collapse around your fighters as you jockey for position and weapons. This game plays perfectly, and really just needs a modern coat of paint to become a fixture in the tournament scene.
Probably the most modern franchise on this list, the Def Jam games fused Japanese developer Aki’s mastery of the grappling arts with urban hip-hop culture to create something truly unique. The best game in the series, Def Jam: Fight for NY, let you choose from a handful of distinct fighting styles and go up against rap legends like Snoop Dogg and Busta Rhymes. The series kind of took a detour into rhythm game territory, but a gritty reboot that remembered what made it great and let you bust the faces of today’s top rappers could be a sweet thing indeed.
Rival Schools: United By Fate
For a while there it seemed like Capcom was jus throwing everything at the wall and seeing what stuck, as they released dozens of different fighting franchises over the course of a decade. One that has stuck in the imagination of fans is the Rival Schools series, which debuted in 1997. A simplified four-button control system and a super meter that went up to nine levels made for some flashy action, and counters and cancels made things even more interesting. The cast of characters boasted some fun personalities, too. Capcom’s given lip service to the franchise a few times, but a full-fledged sequel sounds like a pretty good idea in the 2K17.
The Fallen Angels
One of the biggest surprises for me, while I was playing through 90s arcade games, was The Fallen Angels, the second brawler released by Japanese company Psikyo. That company was best known for shooters, but they experimented first with 1994’s Battle K-Road, which was a little more realistic (except for the fact that it had the Terminator in it). The Fallen Angels was directed by former SNK designer Mitsuo Kodama, and it definitely has a King of Fighters feel, but with less flair. Set in a post-earthquake Japan cast into anarchy, the graphics were drab with lots of grays and browns. The character animation is incredibly beautiful and fluid, with some of the best sprite work of the era. The game was never completely finished, but we’d love to see a developer pick up the ball and run with it.
Atari’s ventures into the fighting game world weren’t always well-received, and to be fair Primal Rage was never a game that boasted massively deep strategy. But there was something about the conflict between giant apes and dinosaurs on a meteor-ravaged Earth that was deeply satisfying. Whether it was the gory Mortal Kombat-influenced finishers or the ability to eat poor hapless humans to get some health back, it was just good fun. Atari’s intellectual property has been scattered to the winds, but we’re sure some enterprising developer could snatch it up and make a monster fighting game for the ages.
For a while, literally, every company had to have their own fighting franchise to compete. Sega’s Eternal Champions, released in 1993, was one of the only games of its era to be developed without the arcades in mind. It’s a deeply weird game that definitely tried a little too hard to step away from the norm, but it had a bunch of interesting features. The ability to reflect projectiles added a new layer of complexity to fireball wars, and having a meter that limited use of specials (and could be drained by your opponent taunting) was an attempt to add more strategy to bouts. Sega’s kind of on the ropes after a bunch of lousy Sonic games, so why not go outside of their comfort zone and bring this one back?
We could probably do an entire piece just on forgotten Capcom franchises, but self-control is vital for fighting game success. If you lived through the Dreamcast era, though, you know that Power Stone was the best. Sort of a counter to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros, this free-roaming arena fighter let you interact with a bevy of environmental traps and features as you scrambled to collect three gems that would morph you into a seriously badass alternate form. With four players, this game was wonderfully chaotic and fast-paced, with solid balance and a difficulty curve that was forgiving to beginners but still supported strategic play.
The Neo-Geo was the system of choice for also-ran fighting games in the 1990s, with dozens of titles to choose from. One of the most successful series on the platform was World Heroes, which took the Street Fighter formula and amped up the goofiness. In addition to your standard karate men and ninja warriors, you had a cyborg Nazi with extending limbs, a mad Russian monk, a witch doctor, a hulking football player and several other oddballs. The game was derivative, but it was also really fun, with an easy to understand special move system and charming backgrounds. We could see it as a kusoge budget title with some tournament appeal.
When you think fighting games, Square Enix is certainly not a company that lands high on the list. But in 1997, they released one of the coolest and most idiosyncratic titles in the genre. Bushido Blade was a free-roaming 3D weapons fighter that tossed out life bars, time limits, and all that other stuff in exchange for an elegant and merciless ballet of steel. One well-placed strike could end a match in an instant, and others could cripple limbs. Also, ignoring the code of honor and attacking while your opponent’s back was turned or throwing sand in their eyes had game-changing repercussions. This was one of the best fighting games of the PS1 era, and a sequel that stuck to all of its bold decisions would be really sweet.