Evolution of Fighting Games

Posted by Shazy on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Though it enjoyed its heyday in the 1990s, the fighting game genre has been around a lot longer than you might think. With a new combatant stepping into the ring in this week's highly-anticipated crossover Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, we decided to brush up on Dragon Punches by revisiting some of history's toughest video games.

HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP (1976) -- Among Sega's earliest releases, this old-school, black and white coin-op game featured two boxing gloves -- one for each player -- which could be used to punch high or low. As rare as it is rudimentary, it's arguably the very first hand-to-hand fighting game.
KARATE CHAMP (1984) -- If fighting gaming has a Pong, this is it. Unlike other fighters of its time (like Jordan Mechner's awesome Karateka), Data East's two-player game put the emphasis squarely on the moves, giving players a unique dual-joystick control scheme from which to launch an impressive array of punches, kicks, and jumps.
YIE AR KUNG FU (1985) -- You might not known this Konami fighter by name, but play it for a few minutes and you'll sense its deep influence immediately. Players helped bare-knuckled star Oolong brawl through 11 weapon-wielding enemies by studying their moves and learning how best to counter -- the blueprint of the fighting game genre moving forward.
STREET FIGHTER (1987) -- The modern fighter was born with Capcom's Street Fighter. While it never enjoyed the widespread popularity of its future kin, it introduced now-ubiquitous concepts like six-button control and the ability to "Hadouken!" a fireball. Fun fact: one arcade variant included pressure-sensitive pads that could determine the strength and speed of attacks based on how hard they were hit. Needless to say, those machines didn’t last long.
STREET FIGHTER II (1991) -- The first game started the fire, but the sequel turned it into a raging inferno. The biggest difference? The cast. While the original starred martial artists Ken and Ryu, Street Fighter II featured eight playable characters covering an assortment of styles and regions. It was such a smash, it warranted a good five tweaked iterations ("Champion," "Hyper," Turbo", etc.) and countless ports.
MORTAL KOMBAT (1992) -- Midway decided to turn the heat up even further by pushing the taste envelope with this gruesome goodie. Its over-the-top violence took center stage, enraging moral crusaders to the point that it essentially birthed the ESRB ratings system. Often imitated but never duplicated, the series is still going strong, with a reboot due out later this year.
VIRTUA FIGHTER (1993) -- Polygons! Prior to this Sega smash, they didn’t really belong in fighting games. But that all changed once this 3D combatant stepped into the ring, revolutionizing the genre with a robust fighting engine and a groundbreaking visual style.
TEKKEN (1994) -- Namco took Sega's basic 3D premise and ran with it, bumping up the gameplay speed and covering a wider variety of fighting styles. It also introduced a new control style in which each attack button corresponded to a specific limb. The formula proved a big hit: the Tekken franchise has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide.
SOUL CALIBUR (1998) -- You need the right tool for the job, and often, that tool is a giant sword. Or nunchucks. Or perhaps a battle axe. Namco gave the fighting genre a weapon infusion with the stellar Soul Blade series, highlighted by the epic Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast. How epic? A dozen years after its release, it's still the highest-rated fighter ever.
SUPER SMASH BROS. (1999) -- You don’t typically equate Nintendo with all-out brawling, but that's exactly what gamers got in the blockbuster Super Smash Bros. on the N64. Pitting mascot against mascot on multi-tiered levels, its easy-to-learn-but-hard-to-master controls made it an instant hit. Its two sequels did just as well -- the Wii's Super Smash Bros. Brawl is consistently among the most played games on the system.
MARVEL VS CAPCOM 2 (2000) -- Forget that "2" -- this is actually the fourth entry in Capcom's fantastic comic/game crossover. Thanks to its massive character list (56 in all), it's considered by genre fans to be one of the coolest 2D fighting games ever.
STREET FIGHTER IV (2009) -- While plenty of terrific fighting games emerged during the first ten years of the 2000s, none recaptured the genre's genius like this long-awaited great. Coupling gorgeous graphics with newly simplified -- but no less deep -- gameplay, it's ushered in a new era of video game fighting.
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