Favorite 2D Fighting Games
By Damien Wilkens and Kellen Scrivens
29 January 2009 — Welcome once again to Multitap. With Street Fighter IV hitting consoles next month, it's only fair that we take a look back at the long and storied history of the 2D fighter, a genre that has always appealed to the more obsessive, detail-oriented player. Joining me this month is an Earth-2.net veteran and go-to guy for all your anime needs: Kellen Scrivens.
Kellen: Thank you, Dubs. I've enjoyed 2D fighters ever since I was four, which is when I first laid eyes on Mortal Kombat. My first choice is:
Kellen's #5: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Okay, so this may not be the incredibly deep, nuanced game that you will see in many of the other games we list today, but what it lacks in precision it makes up for with pure fun. This is the closest thing there is to a video game All-Star Game; you have many of the greatest mascots of all-time fighting each other, allowing us to finally live our Mario v Sonic dreams! The blend of classic music in addition to some amazing new tracks really adds to the game, as does the ability to obliterating everybody with a final Smash Attack. As mentioned, this is not the greatest fighting game out there, but it is likely the easiest to get a group of novices to play; it has real pick-up-and-play appeal, as opposed to many other fighters which require you to know every combo to stand a chance of winning.
Favorite Character: Sonic — catch me if you can, bitches!
Damien: There are some people out there that don't consider Super Smash Bros. to be a real fighter. These are the people that don't get the appeal of such a game. They say that it's more like a competitive platformer than a legit fighting game, that the items are cheap or that there's no real depth to the system. My name is Damien, and I am one of those people. While I don't begrudge anyone that enjoys the series, I truly do not get it.
Favorite Character: When I play it, Ness.
Damien's #5: Garou: Mark of the Wolves
The ninth and final game in the criminally underrated Fatal Fury series, Mark of the Wolves was a strong reason why the series should have continued. It was the most balanced, responsive and technically perfected game in the franchise. And it was the best Neo Geo game ever made.
Mark of the Wolves, in many ways, was the Street Fighter III of the SNK universe. It took everything you'd known up to that point and tossed it in the gutter. You had just one returning character (Terry), with the rest of the cast full of unfamiliar faces. It also radically changed the Fatal Fury engine to make way for new ideas — most notably, the TOP system. This was a feature where you set one-third of your life bar to be your TOP. When you get to that point in battle, you flash white, allowing you to hit harder and gradually regain health. If that weren't enough, it introduced Breaking (a sort of special canceling) and Just Defending (a variation on parrying that's actually better in some ways).
And despite being made in the late 1990s, it's still gorgeous. This was the point where SNK really got the hang of smooth animations, making even the idle stances are a thing of beauty. They finally took that stupid hat off of Terry's head and gave him some hair to fly about. This game was the precursor to the sort of visual excellence that we would later see in the Guilty Gear series, and the influences are there if you look hard enough.
Also, there's a character named Khushnood Butt. Seriously.
Favorite Character: Freeman, an English serial killer who is stupidly fast and names his moves after heavy metal bands. He looks like he'd be right at home in Guilty Gear. Mark of the Wolves was his first and only appearance in any of the Fatal Fury or King of Fighters games, and I'm at a complete loss to explain why. Everyone says he's bottom tier, but I call shenanigans.
Kellen: I can't say I've ever actually played this one, but I will say the graphics are gorgeous. And considering the pedigree of SNK, I'm willing to bet the game is as good as you say it is.
Favorite Character: Terry Bogard, because I always take Terry Bogard.
Kellen's #4: Art of Fighting
The year was 1992 and there were two kings of the arcade: Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat. Other companies attempted to ride the trend, and while Art of Fighting may have borrowed a few things from the other two, it contributed a lot to the world of fighting games. It was one of the first to introduce desperation moves, and it had the absolute best graphics of any fighting game of the time. It also introduced one of my favorite features; as fighters would close in on each other, the camera would zoom in on the action, making the most of the screen, showing off the beautifully detailed graphics. My only gripe was the nature of the character selection; in the single-player mode, you can only choose from the two main heroes (Ryo and Robert). While this makes sense due to the storyline, it's still worth noting as a minor annoyance. Art of Fighting is definitely a game all the Wii owners should grab via the Virtual Console.
Favorite Character: Ryo, because I already know how to play as Ryu and Ken.
Damien: The main thing I remember about this game was how huge the characters were on the screen. As said, Ryo is a transparent rip-off of Ryu and Ken and the desperation moves often required the dexterity of a fighter pilot, but Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury set the stage for the SNK greatness that was to come.
Favorite Character: Mr. Big. Why? Cause he's Mr. Big, that's why.
Damien's #4: Guilty Gear X2 #Reload
I'm fully convinced that Guilty Gear is what would happen if I was put in charge of making a fighting game. It's insane, bloody and each battle begins with "Heaven or Hell? LET'S ROCK!"
During a period when no one else was producing 2D fighters, Arc System Works put together a series that was fun, full of personality and surprisingly deep. It's a game made for the most hardcore fighting purists, full of concepts and strategies that even took me a while to fully grasp. Perhaps most impressive is that the developers are quick to respond to player input, and it's not uncommon for upgraded versions to fix each and every problem from the previous installment. As it stands now, there are three updated versions of this game that still haven't been released in the West, and each one of them has made tremendous strides in balancing gameplay.
This game also features what is bar none the best animation for a 2D fighter ever. The presentation alone is miles ahead of what you see anywhere else. The heavy metal soundtrack is fantastic, and the way the characters respond is sheer perfection. X2 #Reload is the rare fighter that's just as fun to watch as it is to play.
Favorite Character: Tie between Eddie and Zappa. Eddie is the better character, but Zappa is a zombie that fights you backwards. How can you not love that?
Kellen: Despite never really having a Guilty Gear game to embrace, whenever I play one I love it and this is no exception. I absolutely love the rock themes and it plays awesome.
Favorite Character: Axl Ro... I mean Axl Low, because I'm a GNR mark.
Kellen's #3: Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
We now move to the Capcom portion of Multitap. Yes, Capcom, the developer known for making some of the most scientific and balanced fighting games ever. This is not one of those games; this game is about over-the-top attacks and finding creative ways to take down your opponents. You have 56 characters to choose from, creating a three-man team. (I don't want to think how many possible combinations that creates.) The gameplay is outright fun; the crazy attacks can be chained together in amazing ways by calling upon your dormant characters for assists or super attacks at any time. Where most games replace characters over time, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 brought back every former character from the various Capcom Vs. games, including two Wolverines — both of whom can be on your team at the same time. A skilled fighter can control the action to a point of art, and the game can have some of the most exciting matches ever. On the other hand, it has the greatest handicap of all; a Dan / Roll / Servebot team means a world-class player can be on even footing with a dimwitted monkey.
Favorite Team: Ryu, Cyclops and Iron Man. Very few things make me as happy as watching all three of them beam the crap out of an opponent.
Damien: Like Kellen said, this one is not deep. The characters were stupidly unbalanced, the Magic Series combo system meant that everyone had essentially the same air combos and you could do a triple-team Super Combo with the press of two buttons. No, not deep, but undeniably fun.
Favorite Team: Rogue, Cyclops and War Machine. Using Capcom characters in this game is basically like asking to get your ass kicked.
Damien's #3: X-Men vs. Street Fighter
X-Men vs. Street Fighter was a game of many firsts. It was the very first in the tremendously popular Vs. series, and the first to introduce the tag team concept to fighters — allowing for longer battles, and a need for larger character rosters in future installments. It also was the first step in dumbing down the gameplay. Fireballs got larger, things blew up, characters taunted more and it didn't really require that much effort on the part of the player. This, along with the license, opened up the genre to players that may never have tried a fighter beforehand.
It didn't have the biggest roster or even the most balanced gameplay, but this game dominated my teenage years. Playing it caused me to go through three Saturn controllers. (As an aside, it should be noted that outside of an arcade stick, the Sega Saturn controller is the greatest controller every made for 2D fighting games.) While not the most impressive game by today's standards, this was one of the largest of its kind at the time, and required a RAM cart just to run on the 2D-centric Saturn hardware. (As another aside, the PlayStation version doesn't count here, since it was a neutered release. You couldn't even tag, which defeated the whole purpose, really.)
Favorite Team: Sabretooth and Ken. Sabretooth, in particular, proved to be a much better fighting game character than he had any right to be.
Kellen: It's definitely right there with Marvel vs. Capcom 2 in my book, but it's easier to learn and the shallower roster makes it easy to sample all the possibilities.
Favorite Team: Wolverine and Akuma, because they are both overpowered and incite hilarious reactions from people calling you cheap. Sometime I also swap in Juggernaut — bitch!
Kellen's #2: Street Fighter Alpha 3
What is there not to love about this game? All of the original 16 characters from Super Street Fighter II are here. Add other Capcom favorites like Guy, Cody, Rolento and Sodom from Final Fight and all the other previous Alpha fighters, and you have a great, deep roster. There is the "-ism" system which allows you to fight in three different styles, each of which affects your strength, defense, what moves you have, how they're executed, costumes and even special abilities. The game also has great balance for players of different skill levels; those who have mastered it can dominate, while it's easy enough to learn that a rookie can start putting up a fight with just a little bit of practice.
Favorite Character: Evil Ryu (A-Mode) or Ken (V-Mode). Evil Ryu has four devastating Super Moves as well as Akuma's slide transport, and Ken's Hurricane Kick can be exploited during an Original Combo in the corner.
Damien: Street Fighter Alpha Anthology for the PS2 actually has Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper as a hidden feature, but it's disheartening that there was never a standard console release that felt as complete as the PSP version. As for the game itself, I was never a huge proponent of the Alpha series, but 3 certainly got the most play from me out of all of them.
Favorite Character: Guy (A-Mode) and Akuma (V-Mode). Both are among the most dangerous in the game.
Damien's #2 Capcom vs. SNK 2
Capcom vs. SNK 2 is not a game you jump into. It's the anti-Marvel vs. Capcom 2. If you try to button mash against even a semi-decent player, you're going to get slaughtered pretty quickly. Not to mention all of the various systems and subsystems, which were bound to confuse rookies. You had to determine team ratios, decide between one of six grooves and not to mention keeping track of groove points. Oh, then there was remembering whether or not you could use dash, tactical recovery, etc. It's a casual gamer's nightmare, and for that I love it! It does what fighters were designed to do: rewards you for your effort.
The thing about Capcom vs. SNK 2 is that the possibilities were seemingly endless. Never before were you given so many options to customize your character to a specific style. Hell, in the console versions, you could even edit the sprites themselves. It took a lot of commitment, but when you were able to find the right combination of characters and the groove that complimented your style, it was a thing of pure beauty.
Still played in tournaments to this day, Capcom vs. SNK 2 was really the point in which the versus concept was nearly perfected. With particular grooves attached, characters actually felt like they were from different games, and makes me ever so pine for a Capcom vs. SNK 3 — even if it keeps the horrible soundtrack from this one.
Favorite Team: Balrog, Sagat and Ken, all P Groove. Not the best competitive team, but one of the easiest to use.
Kellen: Another game that I haven't been able to have as much time on as I'd want. What I've played, though, has been good. That said, any game with Rugal in it scares me.
Favorite Team: Ryu, Ken and Akuma. I do enjoy using the Shotokan fighters.
Kellen's #1: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
All right, in March 1991 Capcom created the greatest fighting game of its time. In April 1992 they let you play as the bosses and let you do clone matches. That December they sped it up. In October of 93 they gave you a graphics update and four new characters. And in April 1994 they added Akuma, tech-throwing and Super Combos. To this day, the final product is still considered to be among the greatest fighting games of all-time.
Not content with the game as it was, in 2007 Capcom released Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. While there were a few tweaks made to the gameplay, it's mostly the same classic game we all fell in love with. What makes this one special are the visuals, but you need a 1080p TV to appreciate them. Everything has been redrawn, including the background sprites. It's a common occurrence for me to be distracted by the backgrounds while playing; formerly static blobs of color are now highly detailed anime characters. The characters themselves look spectacular, and the projectile attacks explode perfectly upon impact. For $15 there is no reason to pass up this work of art.
Favorite Character: Guile, because his Flash Kick is so dangerous.
Damien: The most important thing to note about this game is that it was made by a top-level Street Fighter II player. As such, the graphics weren't the only thing tweaked; 18 years later, hardcore gamers are relearning this game, and they couldn't be happier about it.
Favorite Character: Dee Jay. Stop laughing. I'll murder you with Dee Jay, and then dance over your body afterwards.
Damien's #1 Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Everyone taunted Capcom in the mid 90s for their nonstop iterations of Street Fighter II. The demand for something different, something with the number three in the title was reaching a fever pitch. And in 1997, Capcom gave us more than we bargained for.
You want different? Fine. You get Ken and Ryu. That's it. Everyone else was new. Oh, and all of those fireballs that you loved throwing around for the past six years? We have this new thing, it's called a parry, and it's going to render that crap useless. Become a more complete player or get left behind, kids. That cheap bullshit isn't going to work anymore. Street Fighter III knocked everyone on their asses, and it took a while before we realized that it was just the game we wanted.
As with any Capcom fighter, it eventually got some upgrades, and 3rd Strike was the charm in this case. Capcom eventually buckled and gave us back Chun-Li, and introduced Red Parries, which took the parry system to a new level. Gone were the days of spamming fireballs and jump ins. This game made you forget all of the old rules, and forced you to learn the new ones.
Using the CPSIII board, 3rd Strike is the best-looking sprite-based game that Capcom has ever released. The animations are still a thing of beauty, and the impacts are felt in every frame. And let's not even get into the sheer balls it took for them to put in an acid jazz soundtrack. Nothing says fisticuffs like soft saxophone music.
Without question, it is the greatest 2D fighter ever made, and I honestly have my doubts that Street Fighter IV will be able to top it.
Favorite Character: About a year ago I stopped using Ken and took up the task of learning Dudley. It became a completely different game from that point forward. Dudley is that character that can shut down pretty much anyone in the game if you approach the match correctly. He has speed, unpredictability and the absolute best wake up game in existence. Honorable mention goes to Q, who is so weird that I guarantee we'll never see him again.
Kellen: HD Remix looks better than 3rd Strike to me.
Favorite Character: I still use Ken, because, well, Ken's my guy.
Damien: Sorry, but 3rd Strike had better looking animations. I just needed to say that.
No matter which #1 you go with, it will be hard to argue against either one. It's quite amazing the longevity of the genre, considering the emphasis on 3D graphics this generation. What's perhaps most astounding is that there are still 2D fighters being released, such as Battle Fantasia and the beautiful Arcana Heart. As long as there are rabid fans like us to drive the need for such games, I have a feeling that we'll all stay fighting in the streets for quite a long time to come.