Fighting games have been something of a niche since the turn of the millennium, but in recent years, the genre has experienced a strong resurgence, thanks in part to games like the Street Fighter IV series, Marvel vs Capcom 3, and the Killer Instinct reboot; fighting games are becoming relevant again. Streaming services like Twitch have seen a huge rise in the popularity of fighting game tournaments, bringing with it more awareness of the fighting game community than ever before. Soon to be released titles like Tekken 7, Mortal Kombat X and Super Smash Bros 4 (as well as the constant milking of Street Fighter IV) are all proof that fighting games are a force to be reckoned with once again, but the genre is often dominated by just a few big name franchises. To that end, let’s take a trip through gaming history and take a look at some of the best and most obscure fighting games that time forgot, and for laughs, throw in a few that probably should stay forgotten.
Capcom vs Tatsunoko
Capcom’s crossover franchises have seen the likes of Ryu and Megaman taking on the cast of Marvel, Tekken, as well as the universally lauded Capcom vs SNK series, but few will remember the lesser known but highly rated Capcom vs Tatsunoko (Tatsunoko being an anime production company from Japan). One of the few proper fighting games on the Wii, the game is often described as a slightly slower paced and more user-friendly Marvel vs Capcom, but still retains the ability to pull off crazy 100+ hit combos. The game received positive reviews and was even on the Evo line-up for a couple of years, but mainstream interest in the game dropped off quickly, and sales for Western audiences were poor. Many cite the game’s release on the Wii as a potential stumbling block, as well as a largely unknown cast to non-Japanese audiences.
Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style
A great game for kids! Not. Wu-Tang is an ultra-violent 3D fighter released on the original PlayStation that took many by surprise with its unique combat system that lets up to four players duel at once. It also differed from other fighting games by including “lives” which are lost when the players health bar reaches zero. But what really makes the game stand out is the story and setting, which centre around real-life rap group Wu-Tang Clan, as well as providing a host of original music from them. Chinese mythology and urban rap culture are seamlessly blended together in a way that makes for an experience similar in style to the popular anime Samurai Champloo. A surprisingly decent story, fantastic tracks from Wu-Tang, and buckets of blood, Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style may not be the greatest or most technical fighter ever made, but it’s certainly one worth looking into if your a fan of fighting games.
Alright, I’ll admit it. Primal Rage kind of sucks. It’s brainless, slow and clunky…but it’s monsters fighting dinosaurs! Who doesn’t want to see a giant fire-breathing T-Rex kick the crap out of King Kong? Released in the mid-90s, initially on 16-bit consoles, the game was ported over onto pretty much every console at the time, including the PC, Saturn, 3DO, Game Gear, Jaguar CD and 32X. The game is Mortal Kombat meets Rampage, even featuring Mortal Kombat-style fatalities. And like MK, it sparked considerable controversy due to its violence level, with players even able to devour the various humans that run around the stage. But at its core, Primal Rage is a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and one that isn’t deep and complex like a Street Fighter title, and because of this, it’s one of the most ridiculously fun button mashers for casuals and fighting game fans alike.
Powerstone and its sequel are generally considered to be among the best games on the Sega Dreamcast, but many consider this to be the very reason why so few people remember it, and why even fewer got the chance to actually play them. Capcom had flirted with 3D combat in the Street Fighter EX series, but Powerstone took a different approach, allowing four players to be on screen simultaneously whilst giving them an arsenal of fun weapons to tinker with. Purists may consider it more of a party fighting game akin to Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. series, but there’s no denying how much fun can be had with the outrageous and chaotic gameplay. Many feel the failure of the Dreamcast, as well as the game being released around the same time as Soul Calibur and Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, led to it never quite hitting the heights of Capcom’s other flagship series.
Bloody Roar is a 3D fighting game franchise by Hudson Soft, and despite having no less than four entries in the series, very few people have heard of it. The original was released in 1998 for the PlayStation, and whilst Tekken and Soul Calibur stole the 3D fighter limelight, Bloody Roar offered a similar experience but allowed you to transform into outrageously awesome monsters whenever you filled your beast gauge. What is at first glance a pretty plain looking fighting game turns into a deathmatch between Alice the killer rabbit and Great the giant gorilla. Its cheesy and absurd cast made for one of the most bizarre fighting games out there, one which unfortunately slipped through many gamers’ radars due to the success of other titles like Tekken.
One of the earliest pioneers of 3D weapon based fighting games, Last Bronx was a hugely popular arcade and Sega Saturn title in Japan, but sadly, it didn’t achieve mainstream success anywhere else. Developed by Sega AM3, Last Bronx attempted to distinguish itself from the traditional martial arts themes of its rivals Battle Arena Toshinden, Soul Blade, and Virtua Fighter, by taking the game to the mean streets of Tokyo. It boasted some of the best visuals ever seen in a fighter at the time, with effects such as 3D backgrounds, real time shadows, animated cutscenes, and weapon tracer effects, as well as innovative mechanics like throw and guard-cancelling features that remain a mainstay in the genre to this day. Sadly, due to the failure of the Sega Saturn, as well as the a host of budgeting and marketing issues, Last Bronx failed to compete with its rivals on the Sony PlayStation and faded into obscurity, never to be seen again.
Think Street Fighter but chibi-fied. Pocket Fighter (also known as Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix) is Capcom’s kid-friendly spin-off, featuring characters from across all of their fighting franchises. Pocket Fighter reduced the 2D battles from a six button layout to just four, and instead of insane looking special moves and super combos, players could pick up coloured gems that would scatter from pummeled opponents to boost and buff in ways such as making fireballs more damaging, or increasing movement speed. You could also collect orbs that can be thrown to freeze opponents or poison them. Despite being a method to dumb down and be more ‘kid-friendly’, it actually made for a fun and somewhat tactical alternative to the beat-em up norm, and as such, it’s a title I would personally love to see Capcom doing a HD remake of.
Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi
A game I’m ashamed to admit I actually paid money for, SW: MoTK commits the heinous double-crime of being a truly terrible fighting game as well as slandering the name of Star Wars (though sadly, there many games that have done this). The concept of battling Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Boba Fett in one-on-one combat is a wet dream-inducing idea for any Star Wars fan, but sadly SW: MoTK is just a nightmare. It was slow, unresponsive and cumbersome, and looked visually dated even when it was released in 1997. Frustrations like terrible balancing, and lightsabers depicted as capable of slicing off limbs and cutting through any material that felt more like baseball bats resulted in the game deservedly bombing commercially as well as with critics. I still think the idea of a Star Wars fighting game is a great one, but sadly for Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi, the force is not strong with this one.
Clay Fighter 63 1/3
A game that is so bad, it’s almost good (but mostly bad), the Clay Fighter series is often remembered as a Street Fighter parody for the SNES and N64 that will often have you throwing your controller down in frustration for all the wrong reasons. Whilst earlier entries in the series fared okay review-wise, Clay Fighter 63 1/3 is generally regarded as one of the worst fighting games ever made. The game uses stop motion animation and claymation which sets it apart from other fighters to produce a unique effect. Sadly, terrible animation, graphics and presentation, as well as awful frame-rates on the N64 (a no-no for fighting games) meant a pretty abysmal experience for players. It’s a shame, really, because a cast of really zany and over the top characters, a cool Killer Instinct-like combo system, and a catchy soundtrack almost make Clay Fighter 63 1/3 a decent game. It’s certainly better than some of the other bad fighting games on this list, but that’s not really saying much now, is it?
Rise of the Robots
Straight up, Rise of the Robots could easily be considered the worst game of all time, let alone the worst fighting game. Released in 1994, the game generated considerable hype before release, boasting state of the art graphics that used CGI cutscenes and pre-rendered CGI sprites rather than the pixel art or digitised sprites used by its contemporaries at the time. Sadly, the game became notorious in the industry for a myriad of crippling gameplay problems. Not only did it have the least complex fighting engine ever made, it was universally panned for having an excruciating difficulty level (Enemies that could kill you in one hit? What?). There are hardly any moves or combos besides a punch and a kick, and the frame rate was so horrid, it made the slow and repetitive gameplay even worse. Game Informer declared this bland and disappointing fighter the worst game of 1994, a feat made even more lamentable when you consider that was the year Shaq Fu was released. Speaking of which…
Ah, Shaq Fu. A game that has carved itself into gaming history, and probably not in the way Shaquille O’Neal intended. The game stars Big Shaq himself, wandering into a dojo on his way to a basketball game, stumbling into another dimension where he must rescue a young boy from an evil mummy along with a host of other terrible characters. The biggest issues with the game were its random difficulty spikes, buggy hitbox detection, and just being generally totally ass to play. It’s an odd story because Shaq Fu has sort of become a piece of cult video game history for being such a dud. Indeed, the game was so universally vilified it spawned a website, Shaqfu.com, that is dedicated to liberating the game from existence by finding and destroying any copies of the game. Funnily enough, a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year has resulted in an unlikely sequel being made two decades later.
Bikini Karate Babes
This is a game that was supposedly created in order to “poke fun at the state of fighting games of the day”, i.e. a response to fighting games featuring women characters with increasingly revealing clothing while male characters appeared in full body armor. Whatever the reason, Bikini Karate Babes is a game so bad, being caught masturbating to it would actually be less embarrassing than being caught playing it. It features a roster of what I can only imagine are budding young actresses eager for their break (this wasn’t it), all clad in bikinis and played by real actresses. Even ignoring the insulting premise, it offers dismal AI and awful controls. The game scored a whopping 1.5/10 by IGN on its release in 2002, but despite the negative press, developers Creative Edge Studio have stated that Bikini Karate Babes has been a “solid seller”, even spawning a sequel in 2011. Yep… people have actually paid money for this.
And there you have it. Have we missed out any of your favourite or worst fighting games? Let us know in the comments section below!