Gaming in the ’90s – Fighting Game Obscura
Remember Grunge Rock? Of course. Remember when you had to press ‘record’ and ‘play’ when X-Files came on? Hell yes. Remember Cosmic Carnage? Uh…come again?
Before fighting games became the giants they are today, the genre was going through its high school phase two decades ago. It was a time of expressing anger, dealing with sexual urges, a need to fit in (with the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat cliques), and plenty of soul searching accompanied by a cry for attention. Like anyone going through puberty, fighting games went through a lot of experimenting, and no matter if the choices were outlandish, it’s a collection of efforts that can be described as either genuine or choices made under the influence of substance abuse.
The following is but a fraction of such obscure fighters and before you even ask, yes, they really happened.
Many of my fellow ‘90s kids may remember articles and rumors circulating about a fighting game that dropped the gauntlet to challenge Mortal Kombat. This was Data East’s Tattoo Assassins.
The game caused quite an uproar as it not only followed MK’s use of digitized graphics, but was advertised as having 2196 finishing moves, including violent Fatalities, Animalities, taking your opponent’s clothes off, or defecating a plethora of ungodly things at the loser. The characters were an odd bunch, a number being obvious ripoffs of MK characters, and one character being a parody of Nancy Kerrigan. The developers also brought onboard Bob Gale, screenwriter for Back to the Future, as to why, I still have no idea but his involvement was the reason why the DeLorean was used as a finisher in the game.
Tattoo Assassins might as well be remembered as the most controversial game that never happened. The game was so awful, it was said that the testers at Data East wanted out of the project. Internal strife, and realizing that the game didn’t stand a chance against Primal Rage and Killer Instinct led to the project being scrapped, despite gaming mags printing some of the movelists. Nearly two dozen prototype cabinets were made for the AMOA Show of 1994 but were destroyed. Two cabinets, however, were spared and held in the PAPA headquarters, until a flood occurred that rendered them useless. I guess even the Powers That Be agreed that this game should never see the light of day. However, prior to the flood, a rom dump was performed and the game can be experienced today through emulators.
Way of the Warrior
Like Spider-Man, MK has seen its days of clones, this little number being one of them. Developed for the 3D0, while Way of the Warrior may not be an example of a great game, it goes to show what can be accomplished under a tight budget.
In 1993, Naughty Dog went bankrupt and barely had enough to finish the game. Developers enlisted the help of friends to portray the characters. Though a blue screen was out of the question, the developers glued a yellow sheet to the wall of their apartment and used the complex’s hallway to shoot the cinematics. This was more than enough to have the neighbors assume that the crew was filming a porno, no joke. With the aid of pillow cases, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys and cheap knick knacks, the developers were able to create the character costumes. The game also featured a soundtrack from White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1.
Sure, it sounds and looks like the result of a bad trip, but all things happen for a reason. Once completed, it was presented to Universal Interactive Studios’ Mark Cerny, who approved of the product, leading to the signing of Naughty Dog to create the first three Crash Bandicoot games.
Time Killers, Eternal Champions, and Timeslaughter
Sometimes when you look deep into a fad, you’ll find another fad. Albeit short-lived, amongst the menagerie of ultra-violent fighters, there was a mayfly trend of time traveling.
Time Killers started the movement, however, instead of Fatalities, the game utilized Death Moves which could be done at anytime to end a match almost immediately by pressing all the buttons. This was also the method needed to defeat the last boss, the Grim Reaper, who was immune to defeat by the standard best out of the three victory.
Eternal Champions is perhaps the most memorable of these games as it even garnered a sequel. Those who followed the game may remember that it forced players to purchase the six button controller for the Sega Genesis in order to play it. The faithful argue to this day that the game is more violent than the early MK games due to the manner of the OverKills and Sudden Deaths. Luckily, gamers can relive the game today through the Virtual Console.
Timeslaughter is perhaps the most obscure fighting game ever. Released for the PC, with its own shareware, the game featured laughable graphics, awful voice acting, and goofy gameplay. But there’s a particular charm to this title. Maybe it’s the fact that it swore, or perhaps it featured a crazed Scotsman who turned his opponent’s insides into a bagpipe as a Fatality, or maybe it was the intro. Who knows. By the way, the developers are currently working on a sequel. Yay…
Remember the Jaguar? Sure you do. But you probably don’t remember Ultra Vortek. Yet another MK clone, the game featured the standard variables to the equation such as Fatalities (called Annihilations) and Stage Fatalities. Plus, it also allowed you to turn opponents into steaming piles of poo. The game showcased an illustrious cast of mutants, superhumans, and cyborgs set in a post-apocalyptic future where the remaining inhabitants of Earth must do battle with a giant demon called the Guardian in order to decide the fate of the planet. No really, stories like that sold in the ‘90s.
At one point, the game almost went vaporware with constant delays that pushed the game’s release to well over a year after it’s due date. To this day, no explanation has been given as to why, and nobody cares.
Set in a world of sword, sorcery, and steroids, Weaponlord was released for the SNES and later for the Sega Genesis, with the latter version considered the fastest of the two. Despite being released in 1995, the game featured elements that were ahead of its time such as parrying, downed attacks, tearing up your enemies’ clothing and hair, guard deflect, weapon breaks, a surprisingly decent story, and multiple endings.
Instead of Fatalities, the game featured Death Combos where you had to string together a series of moves for hacking, slicing, and eviscerating your opponent’s body parts. The timing and execution for these required a lot of practice, much to the dismay of button mashers. Along with the game’s involving mechanics, the title received criticism for being overly complicated for beginners.
Due to the fierce competition of the fighting game market at the time, Weaponlord unfortunately did not earn the fame it deserved, but still holds a small, but dedicated following who also debate the game being more violent than MK for its Death Combos.
Fighter’s History Dynamite
From the same developers who…didn’t get to bring you Tattoo Assassins. Released for the Neo Geo consoles, and later for Sega Saturn and the Wii in Japan only, FHD was a 2D fighter featuring surprisingly solid gameplay which has earned a competitive cult following in Japan, one that continues to thrive today.
Interesting trivia, because the original Fighter’s History exhibited obvious influences from Street Fighter II, Capcom actually attempted to sue Data East for copyright infringement. The court, however, dismissed the case as Fighter’s History used elements that had already become the staples of the genre.
Looking at this title, you’d probably guess that the game was released sometime in the early 2000’s, however the game was released in 1998. Because the game was only released in Japanese arcades, it’s obscurity is without question.
The game featured all the usual elements of a 2D fighter, but with a well forged damage scaling system that makes it competition worthy. Like FHD, some Japanese gamers continue to hold Breaker’s Revenge tournaments, while some Westerners continue to hope for an overseas release.
Avengers in Galactic Storm
Know now that Marvel vs. Capcom 1 was not the first to feature assists. Once again, we have Data East to thank for this now lost gem.
Based on Marvel’s Operation: Galactic Storm comic book story arc, you chose amongst Captain America, Black Knight, Crystal, Thunderstrike, Dr. Minerva, Korath, Shatterax, or Supremor. Your choice of assist characters included Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man, or Vision.
Unfortunately, the game only saw an arcade release in 1995, allowing Capcom and SNK to steal the credit for pioneering helpers.
Final Fight Revenge
Developed by Capcom USA, Final Fight Revenge was originally released in arcades on the obscure Sega ST-V hardware in 1999, before its Japanese release on the Saturn.
Whether you spent the time getting a working emulator and rom, or spent the highway robbery amount of money to obtain a Saturn copy, it’s still considered a huge waste either way. Despite the interesting cast, horrible doesn’t even begin to describe the gameplay: balance was none existent, supers were silly, unreliable, or just plain stupid, and because you could always pick up weapons from the ground, especially GUNS, competitive play was out of the question. Thankfully, Capcom has learned never to entrust its US branch with anymore original fighting game projects ever again.
Developed and released in the arcades of Taiwan in 1999, by IGS, Martial Masters is a very good example of a game that garners love at first sight while also making you wonder why you’ve never heard of it. It is the tragic varsity superstar of the fighting game universe – packing plenty of potential but not given enough opportunity to test its mettle in the big leagues.
Donning a mystical take on the Boxer Rebellion, the game’s graphics and animation are as gorgeous as Street Fighter III: Third Strike, with a number of the cast based on actual Chinese folk heroes. The game featured a lush combat system that also included EX moves, Flash Attacks that knock back aggressive opponents, supers, and a Shadow Attack system that dictated advanced juggles. Plus, the game spoke Mandarin.
Unfortunately, the game was never given a home port. By the time Japan and North America received their few MM cabinets, it was the dawn of the 21st century, and Capcom and Namco were already running the show.
A very special thanks to Matt of ‘Two Best Friends Play’ for his video review of Final Fight Revenge.