The 90’s is hailed by gaming fans as a revolutionary period in the world of fighting games. It was the “baby boomers” era, for it gave birth to tons of games and franchises that are still popular today such as Tekken, Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, Marvel vs. Capcom and Virtua Fighter. As a fighting game fan, I’ve played my fair share of new school and old school fighting games, and in this article, we’ll take you on an animated walk down memory lane. Since there have been hundreds of successful fighting games during this decade, we’ll be counting at most one game per series to ensure representation of as many franchises as possible. So without further ado, let’s jump straight into these top 10 fighting games from the 1990’s!
- Killer Instinct (1994)
- Bloody Roar 2 (1999)
- Dead or Alive 2 (1999)
- Virtua Fighter 2 (1994)
- The King of Fighters ‘98 (1998)
- Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (1998)
- Soulcalibur (1998)
- Mortal Kombat II (1993)
- Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)
Having borrowed the controls from Street Fighter and adopting fatalities, an exotic character list, plus a setting similar to that of Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct became an instant classic with its automatic and prolific attacking combinations along with combo breakers – the bread and butter of its gameplay, thus creating the experience of an addictive and fun beat down. In addition, instead of using the typical best-of-three-rounds system, characters start the fight with two full life bars, which was rather new to the fighting game genre back then, (although this might be familiar to those who played a Dragon Ball Z: Budokai game). Sadly, the series could not repeat its success with Killer Instinct 2 and Killer Instinct Gold, and the series became defunct until the 2013 reboot.
With its last entry being released in 2003, the Bloody Roar franchise has been off the radar for a long time now. However, the terms “underrated” and “underappreciated” would be way more suitable than “forgettable” for this forgotten series. The first Bloody Roar is still a super fun classic to pick up, for it launched a series unique for equipping characters with a ‘Beast Mode’, granting characters multiple abilities such as health recovery, a wider range of fighting moves and increased power. However, it suffered from a not-so-memorable cast such that half of its characters never returned for sequels. Bloody Roar 2, on the other hand, edges out Bloody Roar in the 90’s category due to improved graphics, a much better cast and the addition of a ‘beast drive’, or special move, for each character.
When it comes to attractive girls kicking butt, it doesn’t get any better than the Dead or Alive series. Revolving around the disgraced female ninja, Kasumi, Dead or Alive 2 implements a 3-button configuration through which the player could punch, kick or throw, with three categories of offence; throws, holds, and strikes. Other defining features of the game included a ‘stun’ system, in which a stunned character couldn’t attack or guard and could be re-stunned depending on the type of attack used by the attacker; multi-tiered stages, which allowed players to knock their opponent off the ledge into a new area of the stage; and character interaction cutscenes (sounds like something from Tekken 5 right?).
Virtua Fighter was the first ever 3D fighting game as well as the first to rely heavily on realistic techniques. Virtua Fighter 2, however, outperformed its predecessor, with breakthrough graphics, an expanded character roster with the addition of characters such as Lion Rafale and Shun Di. It also had an even more expanded moveset for each character helping to accurately represent various fighting styles, and unique gameplay features such as giving players ‘infinite health’. The game was so great that even the series head developer Yu Suzuki said in an interview that Virtua Fighter 2 was his favourite out of all the games he developed.
Developed by SNK, The King of Fighters ‘94 kickstarted the popular KOF series that is known for employing a team battle system instead of the conventional 1v1 system. It united characters from preceding series’ like The Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury also developed by SNK. The commercial success of ‘94 led to the yearly production of KOF sequels, but some teams and characters just came and went. The King of Fighters ‘98, however, was the first KOF in line not to feature a plot, allowing the series to bring back every character and team that ever existed before. Aside from regular 3v3 gameplay, KOF ‘98 gave players the option to choose between ‘Advanced’ and ‘Extra’ playing styles, and it’s the first game to offer players a handicap in their favour when they’d lose. These handicaps include making the characters more powerful, reducing the opponent’s health by ⅔ and lowering the difficulty level. Regarded as one of the best KOF games, KOF ‘98 was reincarnated as KOF ‘98: Ultimate Match, 10 years later.
When Western media and Eastern media join forces, you get Marvel vs. Capcom. Having evolved from X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom kicked the character roster up a notch by finally including characters from other Capcom games. Implementing a tag team system, MvC boasts an exhilarating, over-the-top gameplay experience that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. With the ability to perform air combos and air blocks, allowing members of the same team to gang up on an opposing character and even collaborate to perform ultra awesome finishing moves, what more could you bargain for?
When it comes to the realm of weapons-heavy combat, there’s no other series that comes close to the innovative Soulcalibur. Developed closely with the Tekken team and released on the Sega Dreamcast console, Soulcalibur is set in the 16th century and centers around a legendary sword called the ‘Soul Edge’ which is in possession of the main villain, ‘Nightmare’. Soulcalibur was immediately hailed as one of Dreamcast’s best games as well as one of the best fighting games of all time. Such immense success allowed the game to be re-released on the XBox 360, Android and iOS platforms and produce a line of sequels. Some of these featured the iconic anti-hero Spawn, (who was played in the movie version by Michael Jai White), and certain Tekken characters like Yoshimitsu and Heihachi Mishima.
The first Mortal Kombat game took the fighting game world by storm with strong bloody violence and its trademark fatalities, which also sparked controversy over the issue of violent video games, but that’s another story.
Mortal Kombat set the foundation for characters that would all eventually become the staple of the game, but the character list was small, and the characters themselves were bland at the time. The gameplay was also a little too simple. Mortal Kombat 2 answered these shortcomings and was a huge upgrade over the first. A lot of modifications were added to the standard attacks, recovery time for attacks was reduced to make it easier to perform combos and the gameplay’s twice as fast.
A whole new set of interesting characters including Kung Lao, Jax, Baraka and Shao Kahn were added to the MK universe alongside the original characters, who were also upgraded with better-looking costumes and new moves. All these characters were so popular that they earned themselves spots in subsequent games, with many even returning for the most recent Mortal Kombat X.
Furthermore, while the original Mortal Kombat only had a ‘Pit Stage Fatality’, Mortal Kombat 2 capitalized on that by adding more stage fatalities as well as new types of finishers from ‘Wild Animality’ to the more humorous and not-so-violent ‘Babality’ and ‘Friendship’. Overall, MKII was a much more vivid and colourful experience for MK fans. Mortal Kombat Trilogy may have retained all of these features, but overall it didn’t make much of a difference or impact compared to Mortal Kombat II, so this spot goes to MKII.
Street Fighter 2’s influence is profound. It is an OG and game changer in the fighting game genre, and set the standard for what a successful fighting game should be like. It introduced many concepts that are common in the vast majority of today’s fighting games such as multiplayer mode and combo mechanisms. In addition, whereas the original Street Fighter only allowed gamers to play as either Ryu or Ken, Street Fighter 2 greatly expanded the roster of playable characters to include Chun-Li, Bison, Dhalsim, Zangief, E. Honda, Blanka and Guile, many of whom became the faces of the Street Fighter series and more importantly, the fighting game genre itself.
This trailblazing success, has seen Street Fighter 2 stand the test of time spawning a huge list of remakes such as Hyper and Turbo Street Fighter 2, Super Street Fighter 2 and the more recent Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix and Ultra Street Fighter 2, not to mention also leading to the live action, albeit horrendous, film “Street Fighter” starring JCVD. Besides that, Street Fighter 2 has found its way into pop culture, having its characters featured in the Jackie Chan film “City Hunter” and the game itself referenced in songs by artists like Nicki Minaj, Lupe Fiasco, Ice Cube, Kanye West and Jay-Z.
…and in at #1 is…
Tekken 3 (1998)
The Tekken series has been an all-time favourite, and because of that, first place goes to Tekken 3. Tekken emphasizes realistic moves and accurate representation of a wide scope of martial arts styles, like Virtua Fighter, and implements a four-button-configuration that corresponds to each limb of the character.
Comparable to all fighting game sequels on this list, Tekken 3 is a huge improvement over its predecessors in many ways. Gameplay-wise, sidestepping is easier, characters could recover from attacks and knockdowns faster, and characters jump more realistically and not fly uncontrollably in thin air as was the case with previous games. Such changes were passed on to later games and set the newer Tekken games apart from the older ones.
In addition, because Tekken 3 is canonically set almost 20 years after Tekken 2, it boasted a huge set of popular new and iconic characters, such as Hwoarang, Eddy Gordo, Ling Xiaoyu and new protagonist Jin Kazama, the illegitimate son of original protagonist Kazuya Mishima, who was presumed to be dead at the time. Tekken 3 also introduced the beat ‘em up minigame Tekken Force, which returned in Tekken 4 and was succeeded by Devil Within in Tekken 5 and Scenario Campaign in Tekken 6.
And there we have it folks, 10 FUntastic fighting games from the 90’s featuring some iconic must-play heavyweights. Of course, there are other great fighting games from the 90’s like Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting (and we may do another list). So, which titles from this era did you thrill to play, and which others would you like to give a special shout out to? Let us know below, join in the conversation on Facebook, share this with your gaming pals and follow us on Twitter. (Check out our other FU-cade material to kick your amusement level-up a notch!)