Street Fighter II. Marvel vs Capcom 2. Garou: Mark of the Wolves. In the world of fighting games, it can be hard to stick out from the pack. If the players don’t take to you, you’re doomed to languish in obscurity. But some of these forgotten titles deserved better. In fact, many of these forgotten fighters downright rule, but never got the chance to shine. So, here’s a handy dandy list of wonderful fighting games that are truly underappreciated. In a better world, these games would have been bigger.
10. Asura Buster: Eternal Warriors
The sequel to 1998’s Asura Blade: Blade of Dynasty, this fantasy weapon based fighting game pitted characters with names like Goat and Alice! (yes, with an exclamation point) in battles for supremacy in a post-apocalyptic world. Asura Blade was a fast and frantic fighter that emphasized tactics, with guard breaks and roll recoveries being featured to help players get the leg up on their opponent. The game also featured a mechanic known as “Last Chance,” which brought a fighter back to life after being bested in combat and allowing them limited time to turn the fight in their favor.
Asura Blade wasn’t the most innovative game on the block, but what it did, it did well. Fights were a blur of blades and projectiles, and made sure the players would be on the edge of their seat the entire time. The roster of characters included the requisite ninja, a mysterious katana wielder, a spunky protagonist, the sexually ambiguous fighter, and so on and so forth. So while Asura Buster didn’t exactly blaze any trails, it managed to ape enough from other games to make itself fun.
Rakugakids had a fun concept, wonderfully designed characters, and managed to be a fun fighter on a system not known for it’s fighting games. Unfortunately, it never made it stateside, so it didn’t get the exposure it deserved. Rakugakids (“Rakuga” is Japanese for graffiti) was about a group of children discovering a magic box of crayons, two of which were stolen by the neighborhood bully. Eventually, the kids figure out that anything drawn by the crayons will come to life, which obviously leads the children to creating wacky characters to fight each other. Pretty standard stuff, really.
With out there characters like Marsa (a living chicken hat on top of a little girls head) and Beartank (a bear… that is also a tank), Rakugakids prided itself on being different. So different, in fact, that it was made for the N64, which has gained a reputation as being a terrible system for fighting games. Despite this, Rakugakids managed to be genuinely fun, and offered fast fights that played similarly to Capcom’s acclaimed Vs. series. Add a groovy surf rock soundtrack and wonderful animations on top of that and you have a game that deserves a play.
8. The Rumble Fish 2
With a nonsense name like The Rumble Fish, this game was doomed to failure. But underneath the stupid title lurked a fun 2D fighting game with stylish presentation and lightning fast gameplay. Long before Marvel vs Capcom 3 brought 3D graphics in a 2D fighting game to the spotlight, The Rumble Fish was blazing a trail by featuring detailed 3D characters constrained to a 2D plane. The game’s main draw was the Offense and Defense gauges, which allowed for offensive and defensive super moves, natch. This made for gameplay that relied upon using both bars tactically, keeping gamers on the edge of their seats. The roster was filled with well designed fighters such as Boyd, an old man in a Hawaiian shirt with a bird living under his straw hat, and Bazoo, an 8 foot freak who is used for sport by a shadowy conglomerate.
While the original The Rumble Fish was a great game, it’s sequel improved on it’s mechanics in every way. Unfortunately, while The Rumble Fish was ported to PS2, The Rumble Fish 2 stuck to the arcades, so it never got widespread exposure,which is a damn shame.
7. The Fallen Angels
Here’s a weird title. Released by Japanese arcade staple Psikyo in 1998, the game’s main draw was it’s emphasis on realism, or as close to realism as you can get in a 2D fighting game. The game featured no energy projectiles or flaming uppercuts; in fact, only three characters in the game had projectiles, and even then they were using pistols and missiles. This made for up close and personal fights, and a big emphasis on tactics. Unfortunately, the game didn’t get a wide release and eventually faded into obscurity. The Fallen Angels is so shrouded in mystery that fans believe the game was released before it was completely finished, with four partially finished characters being found in the games code. No one has been able to confirm the finished status of the game because no information on the creation of the game exists in any form.
While the game is next to impossible to find, for fighting game enthusiasts, it’s worth getting your hands on.
6. X-Men: Next Dimension
As a lifelong X-Men fan, I’m a little skewed in opinion about this game. It’s not the most polished 3D fighter there ever was, the gameplay is on the easy side. But damn if it’s isn’t fun. The next-gen sequel to the PS1 X-Men: Mutant Academy series, X-Men: Next Dimension was a 3D fighter that wore it’s inspirations on it’s sleeve. It had a chain combo system similar to Darkstalkers’, a parry system like the one found in Street Fighter III, and it had massive stages that fighters could knock their opponents into different sections of a la Dead or Alive 3. Throw these elements into a pot, add more X-Men than you could shake a stick at and, baby, you got a game going.
The game even featured a full fledged story mode, loosely based on the epic Zero Tolerance storyline. Fights book ended by cut scenes would present the sweeping story of the game, pitting the mutants against Bastion and his army of Sentinels. Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but at least it makes an honest effort to having a story. X-Men: Next Dimension isn’t the best fighting game for PS2, but it’s an overlooked gem. Fighting game fans and X-Men nuts should definitely give it a go.
5. Rage of the Dragons
The story of Rage of the Dragons is a strange one. Created by the Mexico based Evoga, Rage of the Dragons was originally intended to be the sequel to the similarly forgotten 1995 Double Dragon fighting game. However, Evoga was unable to secure the rights to Double Dragons, so the game was redesigned as a homage of the beloved series. Regardless of the source material, Rage of the Dragons is an excellent Neo-Geo fighter.
Like Marvel vs Capcom 2, Rage of the Dragon is based around tag team gameplay, with fighters jumping in and out of the skirmish. The gameplay isn’t groundbreaking, but what it does it does well. Rage of the Dragons also featured a unique juggle combo system called “First Impact.” When activated, the player would key in buttons as they appeared on the screen for a convenient dial-a-combo. The game also featured wonderful characters, with a Jim Kelly-esque martial artist, a Catholic priest, and a break dancing car mechanic being but a few of the fighters.
Rage of the Dragon’s has built up a cult following, but is next to impossible to find in America. Get your hands on a ROM and see what all the fuss is about.
4. Slap Happy Rhythm Busters
Yes, Slap Happy Rhythm Busters. God bless Japan. This bizarrely titled game was released in Japan for the Playstation, and sadly never found it’s way stateside. This is a goddamn shame because the game is positively bursting with personality. Slap Happy Rhythm Busters was cel shaded and vaguely inspired by the look of graffiti. Because of this, the roster is filled with colorful and crazy characters, such as a fighting trash collector, a punk taxi driver, and a cleaver wielding snowman. Slap Happy Rhythm Busters is essentially Jet Set Radio as a fighting game, and that is awesome.
What really sets Slap Happy Rhythm Busters apart from the crowd is the games use of rhythm elements. When a character has stored three super bars, they can utilize their “Beat” move, which is basically a super move that requires the player to push buttons in time to music, a la Dance Dance Revolution. With each successful button press, the move will increase in damage, allowing skilled players to bust out life bar draining attacks. It was an innovative idea, and while the move got tiresome after a while, it was fun to see something new in the fighting genre.
3. Battle Fantasia
It has long been a tradition in the gaming world to take a genre that doesn’t normally have RPG elements in it, jam some RPG elements in it, and call it a day. Battle Fantasia does just that by combining the vastly different fighting and RPG genres, but it does so in charming style. Set in a fantasy world inhabited by the likes of bunny wizards, pirates, dwarves, and gunslingers, Battle Fantasia sets itself apart from the competition with it’s interesting setting and fun characters. In true RPG form, every character has different HP and MP, with big characters having lots of HP but little in the way of MP, and vice versa.
The game is also a joy to look at, with wonderfully crafted 3D characters duking it out on a 2D plane. While it was developed by Arc System Works, Battle Fantasia isn’t as fast as games like Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. Instead, the game emphasizes parries and the “Heat Up” technique, which allows fighters to regain HP and buff their attacks, like using a potion in an RPG game. Battle Fantasia managed to slip under the radar, but it’s a fun, technical fighter that really deserves another look.
2. Martial Masters
No, not Eminem (jokes! VideoDunce has got ’em!). This Chinese developed fighting game was quietly released into arcades with no fanfare in 1999. The game slid under the radar and eventually faded into obscurity, but it deserved better. Martial Masters is an excellent fighter that plays similarly to Street Fighter III, and features some of the best character animations of the time. Seriously, we’re talking Garou levels of detail here, people. The game is a fluid fighter that puts a strong emphasis on crazy big combos, with just about every move being comboable. While the gameplay delivers, the characters are less than memorable. They are all well animated and full of awesome moves, but the developers gave them all incredibly generic names such as Tiger, Scorpion, Crane, and everyone’s favorite, Monk.
All jokes aside, Martial Master stands out as one of the best fighters of the 90’s arcade scene, and it is criminal that it didn’t get a wider release. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out.
1. Project Justice
Full disclosure, Videodunce readers: Project Justice is my favorite game of all time. So when I put it at the top of this list, I concede that I’m a little skewed in opinion. But how can I not be with a game as awesome as Project Justice? The sequel to the phenomenal Rival Schools: United By Fate, Project Justice pits teams of three composed of various anime character archetypes and high school stereotypes against each other in high flying, combo filled white knuckle brawls. Project Justice is the closest video games have ever gotten to being an honest-to-goodness playable anime; characters knock each other into the stratosphere while throwing giant energy projectiles and spiking opponents into the ground so hard it leaves a crater.
Where Project Justice really shines is it’s crazy characters. Synchronized swimmers, camera wielding journalists, hadouken throwing teachers, evil tennis playing little girls, giant boobed American stereotype cheerleaders; every character is wonderfully designed and absolutely ridiculous. Project Justice also features a great story mode, that allows players to follow the adventures of the various schools as they deal with the metal-clawed pretty boy Kurow and his Reverse Society, who seek to throw the schools of Japan into disarray.
Project Justice is one of the greatest fighting games ever made, and the fact that it hasn’t received a proper sequel is downright criminal. Sure, characters from the game have popped up in various Capcom Vs. games, but it’s not enough. Get your hands on this fantastic title and see why Capcom needs to get crackin’ on a sequel.