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An Epic Timeline Of The Greatest Fighting Videogames

We look back on decades' worth of button-mashing mayhem!
by Karen Mae De Vera | Feb 25, 2018
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Fighting game fans have a lot to look forward to this year.

For starters (first blood!), there’s the Evo-ready Dragon Ball FighterZ that was recently released at the beginning of 2018. Plus, upcoming brawlers like Fighting EX Layer, which is the spiritual successor of the Street Fighter EX series, SNK Heroines, starring your favorite waifus from the franchise, and Soul Calibur VI, a prequel taking place between the events of Soul Edge and Soul Calibur. And that’s not even counting the other sequels from other beloved fighting game series like King of Fighters, BlazBlue, and Street Fighter.

We’ve basically been spoiled rotten with the amount of fighting games regularly released for our violent consumption. But as we’re busy executing sweeps, throws, projectile attacks, and the like, have we ever stopped and wondered how it all began? Let’s scroll through the influential games of the past which helped fighting games evolve into the genre we know and love.

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1. Heavyweight Champ (1976)

Although it could also be identified more as a sports title than a fighter, this Sega boxing game featured the earliest depiction of hand-to-hand combat. The black-and-white pixel boxers duking it out onscreen would be the first of many brawlers to come (although most will lean heavily on the martial arts theme).

2. Karateka (1984)

From the developer who would later on create the Prince of Persia series, comes a martial arts themed beat-’em-up sidescroller. In Karateka, the main character goes from one dojo to another, fighting off the bad guys. Compared to the previous game, the combat move set is now more varied, as the main player can do kicks and punches.

3. Yier Ar Kung-Fu (1985)

The combat mechanics established in this arcade game are the precursor for the modern fighters of today. Yier Ar Kung-Fu had more than one playable character, each with its own unique fighting style. This was the first game to feature different locations per character and a life bar, which depleted until it reached K.O. You’ll see in this game, the basis for most fighting games out there.

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4. Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991)

The game has eight different characters from all over the world (including Chun-li reppin’ the ladies), each with their own unique move sets, special attack, and even a detailed backstory. You also had to go up against non-playable boss characters like the infamous M. Bison. And more importantly, there’s nothing more satisfying as a fighting gamer than the first time you successfully pull off the intricate combo for the hadouken.

5. Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (1991)

This was SNK’s answer to Capcom’s successful fighting game series. Fatal Fury was notable for allowing characters to shift from the foreground and into the background of a battle arena. But let’s be honest, you probably remember Fatal Fury best for introducing Mai Shiranui and her iconic outfit into the fanboy consciousness. 

6. Mortal Kombat (1992)

Midway Games throws its own fighting game title into the ring. The photorealistic characters were a stark contrast from the animated sprites of its Japanese counterpart. Mortal Kombat was one of the first games to assign a special button for the block function as opposed to merely holding down the back directional button. More importantly, it left parents and moral guardians shookt with its severed heads and spine-ripping Fatalities. (If you were a kid in the ’90s though, you probably found it frickin’ awesome.) The copious amounts of gratuitous blood and gore more than make up for the egregious spelling of “combat” in the title.

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7. Virtua Fighter (1993)

The 3D characters might look ridic by today’s standards, but it was quite a feat to be the first game to feature fully polygonal characters in the early ’90s. The combat style did away with flashy moves (no matter how hard you train, you can never hadouken IRL) was grounded on real-life martial arts. This game is one of the first instances were getting thrown out of the ring results in an insta-K.O.

8. Samurai Shodown (1993)

The SNK fighter is set in the Edo era of Japan with some of the characters loosely based on historical figures such as Hanzo Hattori (not to be confused with the one from Overwatch). Samurai Shodown’s weapons-based combat would later on be adopted by the likes of the Soul Calibur series. The game was also the first to utilize the Rage Meter mechanic (A.K.A. when a character receives enough damage that it fills up the “POW” meter that increases their attack power).

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9. Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (1994)

Capcom released a non-Street Fighter game with mostly horror-themed characters (even the Red Riding Hood character is scary). The game introduced air blocking, super moves, and chain combos. Darkstalkers received more recognition later on thanks to Morrigan and Felicia’s prominent appearances in the Marvel Vs. Capcom games.

10. The King of Fighters '94 (1994)

Who knew that a crossover game combining all the SNK characters from Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Ikari Warriors, and Psycho Soldier, would grow into one of the biggest brawling franchises around? KOF is known for having an overwhelming buttload of playable characters. (Good luck choosing just three for your team!)

11. Killer Instinct Gold (1996)

Nintendo was being left behind in the fighting game craze and so they tasked the help of Midway Games and Rare to create the Killer Instinct series. The first game had beautiful pre-rendered backdrops and highly detailed character sprites. This game was heavy in chained attacks and introduced the Combo Breaker move to counter it. (The last game was released in 2013, so we hope the series gets a much-needed revival!)

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12. Dead or Alive (1996)

Once upon a time, the DoA games were a bit of a sausage fest. The female fighters became the breakout characters though thanks to a li’l mechanic called “jiggle physics.” These, uh, bouncy women got so popular that they ended up having an all-gal pal volleyball spinoff called Dead or Alive: Xtreme. Blatant polygonal fanservice aside, the fast-paced 3D fighter pioneered the reversal system, which provided specific counters per attack.


13. Tekken 3 (1997)

Tekken 3 was best known for introducing gamers to the sidestep mechanic, which allowed for 3D movement. Compared to Street Fighter, which made use of clockwise and counterclockwise directional movements, the Tekken series requires much more deliberate button mashing. It’s a highly technical game that takes quite awhile to learn but well worth it. Also, this Tekken game reminds us of Paul Phoenix’s one-hit kill cheap shot and Forest Law’s.

14. Bushido Blade (1997)

If there was ever a heavily strategy-driven, nerve-wracking game, it’s got to be Bushido Blade. The one-hit kill feature presents the most realistic depiction of weapons-based combat. After all, if someone shoved a sword right through you, it’s not like you’re gonna jump back up again, right? While the graphics are subpar, the stages offer more freedom of movement as you can run away from your opponent if you were cowardly enough to do so. As the title implies, the Bushido Code promotes honorable dueling and discourages cheap shots from the back.

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15. Rival Schools: United by Fate (1997)

Rival Schools was the fun and quirky answer to all the serious brawlers out in the market. The fighters come from different high schools and fit some sort of anime student stereotype. (Even the teachers get in on the brawling!) The attacks consist of volleyball spikes, camera flashes, and even swimming moves (whut). There are also special Team Up Attacks that are just oddly unique (Example: Your partner can pop up to slap your butt to boost your abilities.) The OG Japanese version of the game even included a custom character mode and dating sim. Basically, Rival Schools is what the anime My Hero Academy should play like if it were given a video game adaptation.

16. Guilty Gear (1998)

Arc System Works dishes out a fighting game that takes it to the skies by focusing on air dashes and air attacks. These mid-air battles are smooth, fast-paced and will remind you of your favorite shounen anime. Character combos are stylishly executed and are all about the #aesthetic. Aside from kicking and punching, these fighters also slash and dust (a powerful uppercut move which sets up an air combo).

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17. Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (1998)

The old Marvel vs. Capcom games have a sense of nostalgia as they were locally prevalent in many mall arcades in the ’90s. (Admit it, some of you probably made a bet with your baon while playing this game.) MVC was the epic East meets West crossover that we never knew we needed in our lives. Imagine: a tag-team consisting of your favorite comic book superhero and Street Fighter. The Duo Team Attack allows both of your characters to fight at once for a limited time—it’s an attack so powerful that it deals major chip damage even while blocking.

18. Bloody Roar 2: Bringer of the New Age (1999)

This is the fighting game series that took the term, Beast Mode literally. Although there wasn’t much innovation in terms of gameplay mechanics, it was hella fun transforming your character into their creature forms (in-game term: Zoanthropes). The move set is easy enough to learn and makes for a good gateway game for noobs. And how could you not want to turn into a wolf or tiger and just claw the fuck out of each other? (Awesome!)

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19. Super Smash Bros. (1999)

Little did this N64 fighting game know that it would be the bringer of doom to friendships everywhere (just like the Mario Kart series). Super Smash Bros. includes all your favorite Nintendo characters battling it out using slapsticky, family-friendly cartoon violence and using quirky power-ups. The series later on has 4-8 players at a time. The gameplay may be PG but you best believe that the salty gamers are probably shouting R-rated profanities at the screen.

20. Tatsunoko Fight (2000)

The 3D weapons-based fighter had an immersive environment, an overarching plot that got you invested, the fluid movement, motion captured combat, and old world characters from all over the world. Players can also utilize the wall to execute devastating attacks. Local gamers would also remember the Filipino fighter Talim (who appeared way ahead of Tekken’s Josie Rizal by more than a decade) and her move set labeled in gratuitous Tagalog (See: Twin Fang Sahig, Tagga Na Kamay, and Sipa Windmill).

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21. Soul Calibur 2 (2002)

Anime sci-fi superheroes butt heads with the Capcom fighters for an epic clash of otaku proportions. The over-the-top graphics and battle visuals make this crossover game very entertaining. The unique techniques introduced in the game are the Mega Crash which works like a Combo Breaker. The game also introduced the idea of switching with your tag-team partner while performing a mid-air combo.

22. BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger (2008)

It’s already an Arc System Work trademark by now to have such fast-paced action on the screen that your eyes can barely keep up with all the movement. The artwork is crazy good that you wouldn’t mind just watching the animated 2D sprites being idle. The combat system, which includes basic moves and more advanced techniques, is accessible to both newbies and fighting game vets. It’s the kind of game that you would wanna play to low-key show off your flashy moves.

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23. Skullgirls (2012)

The 2010s saw the boom of indie brawlers and one of the most popular one of the decade was Skullgirls. The visually stunning Dark Deco backgrounds, dreary backstories, and high-resolution sprites (each drawn in a unique style fitting their move list and personality) give the game an edgier vibe.

24. Street Fighter X Tekken (2012)

SFXT was the mashup that fighting game fans were dying to see. In this game, the Tekken characters’ combat is adjusted in order to suit the Street Fighter mechanics. Where else can you pair up Jin and Ryu or make Chinese fighters Xiaoyu and Chun-li interact with each other? The game also introduces the Gems System which lets you tweak your player’s attributes, making Mirror Matches even more challenging. We’re still waiting with bated for the completion of Tekken X Street Fighter, which will place SF characters in the Tekken setting. (If it ever happens, anyway!)

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25. Injustice: Gods Among Us (2013)

In the last few years, DC has come into its own in the fighting game circuit thus, giving the Marvel Vs. series some fair competition. Developers Netherrealm Studios didn’t go the lazy route and rely on the popularity of the DC franchise to just phone it in. Even without the big-name superheroes or if the player was a non-DC fan, the mechanics would still work well on its own. Each stage is a greatly interactive environment where you can smash your opponent into a new area. Pre-ass kicking taunts were also tailor-made depending on which character you’re facing up against. There are also cutscenes to emphasize the power of your character attacks. It’s a game that was created with both the DC fans and fighting game fans in mind.


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