It does feel like we’re getting a new fighting game renaissance now. Ever since Street Fighter IV was released over a decade ago, we’ve been getting a whole lot more fighting games coming out of the woodwork. Mortal Kombat successfully rebooted with the 2009 release. Tekken and the King of Fighters have felt a resurgence in popularity. We got the launch of possible new franchises with Dragon Ball FighterZ and GranBlue Fantasy. We even have new games such as DNF Fighter and Project L coming down the pike.
This does take me back to the original fighting game boom of the ’90s when a myriad of fighting games came out in the hopes of mimicking what Street Fighter II managed to accomplish, which is make Capcom tons of money. Some of them were successful and a lot… not so much. The sad thing is that some of the not so good fighting games, games like the choppy Time Killers and the incredibly slow Shaq Fu, are still known to this day because of how bad they are. Well, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the lesser known fighting games that were actually good but just fizzled out in popularity.
#1 Rival Schools/Project Justice
Let’s just get this out of the way early, okay?
I have said a whole lot about Capcom’s Rival Schools/Project Justice games. I even wrote an entire piece imploring Capcom to remaster the entire series. But it does bear repeating that both Rival Schools and its sequel, Project Justice, deserves a lot more than just to be a couple of really good fighting games forgotten in time.
The games play like a weird mishmash of the Vs. series and the King of Fighters games. You basically control one of either a duo or trio of characters (depending on the game) and you try to knock out your opponent. You can string your normal attacks together, perform special moves and super combos and launch your opponents into the air with a hard attack. But the best thing about Rival Schools and Project Justice are the Team Up Attacks wherein you can call in a partner to perform a specialized move that’s wholly dependent to the character.
Both Rival Schools and Project Justice were incredibly fun fighting games and the characters all had a lot of personality to them. The games also had a very satisfying single player experience as you don’t just go through stages but there’s a story to be followed and you can even take different routes depending if you won or lost the match. One of the game’s characters, Akira, did make an appearance in Street Fighter V as a playable character so the franchise isn’t dead quite yet. I still hope Capcom makes, not only a remaster of the old games, but a sequel as well.
#2 Power Stone
Since we’re talking about franchises Capcom left by the wayside, let’s talk about Power Stone!
Capcom’s Power Stone series is not your typical fighter. You’re goal is still the same: beat your opponent senseless until they’re knocked out. However, you better throw out everything you know about traditional fighters because that’s not what Power Stone is like. You can use the various weapons strewn across the level, which can feel a little unfair if you’re on the receiving end of a gatling gun barrage. You can even force opponents into stage hazards to damage them.
However, the central gimmick of Power Stone are the gems. If you manage to collect all three gems in the stage, you’re character will power up and get a totally new moveset that makes them overpowered. So you’re essentially trying to beat down your opponent while also searching the stage for the gems but you know your opponent is doing the same. Power Stone isn’t really known for its deep gameplay mechanics but it is known for being a whole lot of fun.
#3 The Last Blade
Yes, apparently SNK made more than one weapon based fighter.
During the initial fighting game boom of the ’90s, Capcom may have reigned supreme thanks to the Street Fighter franchise. But there was another company, SNK, that became a very strong rival not only because of the number of fighters they made for their NEO GEO system, but because most of the fighting games they did make were really, really good. This was the team that made Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown and the King of Fighters series. While most of their fighters were solid and garnered a following, not many became really mainstream successes. One of these excellent fighters is The Last Blade franchise.
On the surface, The Last Blade games comes across like SNK’s other weapon based fighter, Samurai Shodown. There are a lot of similarities, after all, from the use of the feudal Japan setting, mystical swordmanship techniques and even fighters based on historical figures. There are things that makes The Last Blade stand out, though. There’s the option to give your character more Power to their attacks or more Speed to increase the number of combos they can perform. Characters can also deflect an opponent’s attack at the right moment, leaving them briefly open for a devastating attack or combo.
While both The Last Blade and The Last Blade 2 were solid games, they never did reach the heights of popularity of other SNK fighters of the time, which is a shame really.
#4 King of the Monsters
I mean, who doesn’t want to take control of a kaiju and battle it out with other giant monsters?
Like Capcom’s Power Stone, SNK’s King of the Monsters isn’t exactly your straightforward fighting game. In fact, it plays much more like a wrestling game, to be frank. However, aren’t wrestling games a whole lot like fighting games, anyway? And, like wrestling, there’s a whole lot of enjoyment to be had with King of the Monsters.
While the game does play like a wrestling game, there are a few things that makes it unique. First, you’re playing as a giant kaiju! It’s just incredibly cathartic to destroy a city as a giant lizard or ape while duking it out with another monster. There are also environmental hazards, like tanks and planes shooting at both of you. You can even use the aforementioned tanks and planes as weapons against your opponent by bashing their head open with them. It may simply be a reskin of a wrestling game, but King of the Monsters was still special because, like wrestling, it was just mindless fun.
#5 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters
Not every entry has to come from Capcom or SNK!
With the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting peak popularity in the ’90s because of the cartoon series, it was only a matter of time for them to get their very own fighting game! And what a fighting game it was! While it never hit the arcades as it was only available on the Super Nintendo and SEGA Genesis, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighter was still a solid fighter.
I would even say Konami, the company that developed and published Tournament Fighters took a big risk as they didn’t include a lot of the characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon but from the Archie Comics series! The game didn’t have fan favorites like Bebop and Rock Steady but they did include Wingnut, War and Karai. I actually wanted to see a sequel to this game but it never materialized, which is a shame.
BONUS: World Heroes 2 (Deathmatch Mode)
Because your ordinary fighting game stages can get a little stale.
The World Heroes fighting games series does feel like it *ahem* “borrows heavily” from the Street Fighter games. But developer ADK did try to a twist to the traditional fighting game with the Deathmatch mechanics with World Heroes 2. In a Deathmatch, both characters share the same life meter and your goal is get the meter to fill to your side. But, even if you do so, your opponent can still get up if they mash the buttons fast enough, regaining some of the meter!
That’s fun in itself but what makes Deathmatch even better are the various stage hazards involved. Some may be mundane like a slippery floor or a severely protracted level. Others can be a little more harsh, like spiked walls and land mines you have to avoid! The Deathmatch may feel gimmicky but it’s a really neat gimmick that can throw a wrench if you’re used to standard fighters.
What are the other forgotten fighting games you loved? Let me know in the comments section below!