On Friday evening, you return to your house with your roommates and a few additional people from the pub. The popular 1990s TV show The Word has just ended with a lively performance by a rising grunge band, and now it’s time to play video games.
During the time when the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn were popular, there was no option for online multiplayer. If you wanted to play against other people, you would do so in person, either in your living room with friends or at a pub. The game had to be easy to access, competitive, and able to accommodate two to four players at once. It also needed to have short rounds, as everyone was eager to play. This usually led to two choices: a soccer simulation or a fighting game.
In the mid-1990s, fighting games and driving sims were the most popular genres on consoles. During this time, major hardware manufacturers and arcade companies were determined to dominate the emerging market for real-time 3D games. These games featured polygonal characters and environments, a significant shift from the traditional 2D worlds of sprites and backgrounds. The fighting genre was an ideal platform to showcase these advancements, with its large character models and impressive 3D graphics and animations. Additionally, the relatively static arenas meant that less storage space was needed for environmental data. The genre also had a devoted following, thanks to beloved classics like Yie Ar Kung-Fu and Karate Champ from the 1980s, as well as popular hits from the early 1990s such as Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. It was a perfect match.
In 1995, the PlayStation featured Tekken while the Sega Saturn had Virtua Fighter. Another popular game at the time was Battle Arena Toshinden by Tamsoft, known for its advanced graphics, unique characters, and impressive special moves. Tekken 2 was released in August of that same year and sold over 5 million copies, solidifying the genre’s significance with its cinematic cutscenes and cool fighters. In the following year, the N64 joined in with Killer Instinct Gold, while Sega released Fighting Vipers and Last Bronx. Meanwhile, Capcom was busy expanding the genre with titles like Street Fighter Alpha 2, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (with a horror theme), Star Gladiator (a 3D weapons-based sci-fi game), and the beloved crossover game, X-Men vs Street Fighter. Even Squaresoft, known for the Final Fantasy series, ventured into the fighting game scene with Tobal No 1 – a futuristic fighter that became a hit in Japan, possibly due to its inclusion of a playable demo for Final Fantasy VII.
The success of fighting games in both arcade and home console markets led to a platform for experimentation. In 1997, Bushido Blade received high praise and remains a popular choice with its authentic samurai simulation, where one strike can result in a pixelated bloodbath. In my household, we were fans of Bloody Roar, a game by Hudson featuring werewolf characters who could transform into vicious beasts. Another notable game was Capcom’s Rival Schools: United by Fate, a school-based one-on-one fighter with a unique storyline. An IGN reviewer dubbed it the “Beverly Hills 90210 of fighting games”. This game not only influenced the name of the American emo band, Rival Schools, but also their debut album, United By Fate, further highlighting the connection between gaming and music for a new generation of fans.
There were frequent innovations in the genre each week. The addition of tag-team fighting in games like Marvel vs Capcom and Kizuna Encounter became a popular trend in wrestling simulation games during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some games combined elements of brawlers and fighting games, like Capcom’s Power Stone and Sega’s Spike-Out (which was only released for consoles in 2005). The marketing for games also reflected the “lads mag” mentality of the time, with titles like Dead or Alive focusing on the appearance of female characters rather than just gameplay mechanics.
Fighting games have always been popular, even as people turned to online first-person shooters like Call of Duty or abandoned social play for newer narrative adventure titles like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, and Grand Theft Auto. However, games like Tekken, Street Fighter, Soulcalibur, and Guilty Gear have remained supported by a fiercely competitive community. It’s exciting to see the renewed interest in these games with the release of Street Fighter 6, Mortal Kombat 1, and Tekken 8. Hopefully, this will also spark a passion for the older titles that we used to play until the early hours of the morning on Friday nights after “The Word” ended. The Street Fighter series is definitely worth playing, while Tekken 3 is considered a classic by many. Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution is both visually stunning and challenging. For those looking for a more niche experience, there are also cult favorites like Art of Fighting and Fatal Fury from SNK or the wild and intricate world of Guilty Gear from Arc System Works.
The vivid colors, intense sounds, dynamic characters, and thrilling combat…the admiration received for executing a flawless special move and sending your opponent’s character soaring into space. The sense of camaraderie in the arena. Going online to scour the GameFaqs website for user-generated lists of character moves and combos. Making your first investment in a Hori fighting stick, while leaving your friends with subpar third-party controllers to use. The 1990s marked a pivotal decade for the gaming industry, as it matured, diversified, and attracted new audiences, reaching out to wider cultural influences – it was the catalyst for the modern gaming landscape. And leading the charge, for a brief and exhilarating period, was the fighting game genre.