The Best Undiscovered 2D Fighting Games

2d-fighters-gems
Presented by Ack
Note: Hope you enjoy our first genre-specific installment of our Hidden Gems series

In 1991, a storm swept over the international arcade scene.  Street Fighter II swept the world, invigorating the arcade scene, determine the future of the ongoing home console war, and bringing a small genre fully into the public eye.  Much like Doom’s effect on the First Person Shooter, Street Fighter 2 was followed by a legion of knock offs and clones, some mere travesties, and some with innovative and original ideas that would go on to further define the 2D VS. Fighter genre.

The titles on this list are just a few of the games that would be spawned from Capcom’s fighting masterpiece.  They showcase many different styles and sub-genres of the 2D fighter, while also showcasing different art styles, controls, and techniques within the genre.  It’s highly likely that fighting fans will find at least one title on this list worth checking out, and though this list is forty titles long, it is by no means definitive.  In some cases other titles have been referenced, or series mentioned; these are also worth exploring for the fighter fan who wants to find something new to play, or those just interested in what the genre has to offer.  And there are many quality games beyond that.  If there’s a title you feel readers should know about that you don’t see on this list, please mention it in the comments section, or join the forums to discuss it.

A few points of note: first, you will notice the list is composed of arcade and console releases.  Fighters for handhelds were not included, primarily because they rightfully deserve their own topic.  PC-only fighters were also not included; there are quality fighters for the PC, both professional and fan-made(Arm Joe comes to mind), but PC gaming has never been the focus of this site.

Second, the list is in rough chronological order based on years of release, so all games released in 1995 or 1997 are together, though not in any order.  The games here are also all post-SFII, since the majority of fighting games were released in the wake of Street Fighter II’s success.

Joy Mecha Fight

joymechafightFamicom
Also known as Joy Mech Fight, this robot fighting game for the Famicom is one of the most colorful for the console, and also features one of the largest casts of any fighting game: while it starts with only 8, there are actually 36 playable characters in all, though some are clones of the original 8.  Because large single sprites were difficult to program on the Famicom hardware, characters are actually composed of multiple smaller sprites, enabling smoother movement.  And control is superbly handled with only two buttons, including directional rolls, pressing a direction and an attack, or even by pressing the attack button as a previous attack hits, which can result in extra damage for some moves.  It’s such a shame this was only released in Japan.
Check for Joy Mecha Fight on eBay

Godzilla: Battle Legends

godzillaTurbo Duo
Known as simply Godzilla in the west, this little gem features a multitude of famous enemies and selectable opponents between stages.  There are even multiple incarnations of Mechagodzilla and King Ghidorah.  While single player story mode only allows the player to use Godzilla against a horde of enemy monsters, the game does feature multiple final bosses, depending on the final score, and Godzilla’s appearance changes to reflect the era in which he fought that villain.  Battle Anguirus, and Godzilla appears in his 1955 version from Godzilla Raids Again, while fighting Mecha-King Ghidorah will change his appearance to reflect how he looked in 1991 for Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah.  Most characters can also be used in multiplayer, though Biollante unfortunately doesn’t make the jump.
Check for Godzilla: Battle Legends on eBay

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters

tmnt-fightersNES, SNES, Genesis/Megadrive
This entry actually represents three different games with the same title on the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis.  Each game comes complete with unique rosters beyond the four turtles, story modes, and multiplayer, though game modes vary from there.  The NES title has the distinction of being the last NES game released in the US and PAL territories.  Each version was built around the console it’s meant for, so the NES is a two-button fighter, the Genesis is a two-button fighter with a third taunt button, and the SNES version uses the four face buttons.  It’s also one of the earliest titles to use a gauge for super attacks.
Check for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters on Amazon
Check for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters on eBay

Monster Maulers

monster-maulersArcade
Also known as Kyukyoku Sentai Dadandarn, this arcade-only fighting game by Konami is actually a series of boss rushes, where one or two players must fight against large monsters in various locales.  You play as the “Ultimate Task Force,” who must face off against a bizarre horde of mutants, aliens, and even dragons to save the earth.  Unable to win on your own?  Team up with a buddy to unleash devastating combined super moves!  There’s even an alternate ending in the game.  Not bad for a title that never made it to the home consoles.
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Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen

yu-yu-hakushoMegadrive
This fighting game, based on the popular Yu Yu Hakusho manga series, was developed by Treasure and released only in Japan and Brazil, where it is known as Yu Yu Hakusho: Sunset Fighters.  Incorporating multi-plane arenas similar to Fatal Fury and allowing four players to brawl at the same time, Treasure created a game that is heavy on mobility and defense while also frantic and action-packed.  Projectile moves were even balanced well, and can be charged and stored to be released in the middle of an intense combo.  The game’s even built to handle either the 3-button or 6-button controller well, so players can be viable with either.  This is definitely a title the rest of the world missed out on.
Check for Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen on eBay

Asuka 120% BURNING Fest.

asuka-120-burning-festFM Towns, Sharp X68000, PC Engine, Saturn, PlayStation
This entry actually represents a series of ports and updates with titles such as Asuka 120% BURNING Fest. Excellent, Asuka 120% BURNING Fest. Special, and Asuka 120% BURNING Fest. Final.  Most of these releases are for the NTSC-J PlayStation and Sega Saturn, though the original were FM Towns and Sharp X68000 games.  In this pretty girl fighter, various school clubs at the Ryōran Private School for Women are duking it out for funding in a martial arts tournament.  The series was also developed mostly by a two man group known as Fill-in-Cafe, who would later go on to become Treasure employees.
Check for Asuka 120% BURNING Fest. on eBay

Kaiser Knuckle

kaiser-knuckleArcade
It’s Taito’s very own Street Fighter clone, down to the six-button control style.  To help differentiate itself, Kaiser Knuckle would include Desperation Moves, and the ability to break through the walls of the stage.  And there are even more powerful basic attacks beyond the standard Heavy Punch and Kick, up to a total of five levels.  And to further add to the fun, certain stages included special zones to power up different characters abilities, which could be accessed by using a Crush Attack.  Outside of Japan, Kaiser Knuckle is known as Global Champion, where it received a few minor cosmetic changes.
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Aggressors of Dark Kombat

agressors-of-dark-kombatNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo CD
Developed by ADK for SNK’s Neo-Geo, Aggressors of Dark Kombat was a three button fighter which featured many elements similar to a beat ’em up.  Instead of a flat plane, characters are able to walk around the field, and buttons are used to jump, punch, and kick(heavy attacks can be performed by holding the button down).  Health bars are long, and health can be regained by beating the stew out of your opponent.  Weapons will also sometimes be thrown into the fray, adding further beat ’em up elements, and grappling takes heavy precedence.  It’s definitely a unique take on fighting games and very different from ADK’s earlier fighting game series, World Heroes
Check for Aggressors of Dark Kombat on eBay.

Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness

cyberbotsArcade, Saturn, PlayStation
A spinoff of Capcom’s beat ’em up Armored Warriors, this mech-based fighting game allows for some interesting choices.  Players must first select a pilot, ranging from Jin Saotome(known more in the West for his appearances in the Capcom Vs. series) to a pair of renegade preteens named Bao and Mao.  Players must then select a class of mech and the variant they wish to use, which will drastically affect fighting styles, mobility, survivability, and special moves.  Though commands are similar to Street Fighter, Cyberbots is a four button fighter, one of which is directly related to mobility.  Players can also rip the arms off the enemy, effectively disarming them(pun intended).  Add absolutely gorgeous gameplay and graphics, and some creative mech designs, and you’ve got a title well worth playing.
Check for Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness on eBay

WeaponLord

weaponlordSNES, Genesis/Megadrive
This is one of the most complex 2D fighters ever created, as well as one of the most brutal and gory.  Despite its limited character roster of six, WeaponLord featured a parry system, deflections, disarms, knock downs, weapon-to-weapon struggles, weapon breaking, destructible clothing and armor, a “fatality combo” system, 10 or more special moves per character, multiple endings, and some of the least forgiving AI in any game.  This last fact, combined with a late release date and no arcade release, caused WeaponLord to be passed over.  If you’re into complex 2D weapon fighters, this is definitely one 16-bit powerhouse to check out.
Check for WeaponLord on Amazon
Check for WeaponLord on eBay

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition

power-rangers-fightingSNES
While it may be difficult to consider playing a game with Power Rangers all over it, this actually turns out to be a solid game once you get past that.  Control is smooth, characters are well animated, and there’s a unique special move system utilizing a timing mechanism.  Execute one while the power gauge is full, and you’ll be bumped up to the next level, until you finally unleash an uber-powered version.  And wandering around the battlefield in giant megazords or as a massive monster is a lot of fun.  It’s not surprising, considering this game uses the same engine as another title on our list where giant robots duke it out.  The only complaints I have about it are the lack of stages(half the character roster defaults to the same stage, and it’s not a very attractive one), and the limited music selection.  Does every other musical track really need to be the Power Rangers theme?
Check for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition on Amazon
Check for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition on eBay

Battle Tycoon: Flash Hiders SFX

battle-tycoonSuper Famicom
The pseudo-sequel/remake of Battle Tycoon on the PC Engine, this game dropped the cinematic sequences of the original, and swapped out four cast members, but added an “Advance” mode where players can travel between different cities, fighting opponents and using money earned from fighting and betting to upgrade equipment.  Characters tend to gravitate between large cyborgs, long-range mages, and up-close werebeasts and swordsmen.  Opponents will sometimes be much more powerful or much weaker than the player, adding a nice touch of realism, though the game is largely balanced.  It’s also interesting to note that both this and its PC Engine predecessor feature guard cancels, offensive dashes, and defensive hops.  Some characters can also slide or triangle jump off stages.
Check for Battle Tycoon: Flash Hiders SFX on eBay

Dragoon Might

dragoon-mightArcade
This weapons-based 2D fighter from Konami is a bizarre mix, including the six-button style of Street Fighter with a team-based mode similar to King of Fighters.  To add to the mix, characters can reach up and grab parts of the stage to evade attacks, then swing off them for extra mobility.  The game also added Bomber moves, super moves that are dangerous to use because they drain a small portion of your health as well.  And Super Bombers can only be used when the player is close to death while the power gauge is full.  Time it wrong, and the resulting health drain may kill you instead.  Characters can also be disarmed, reducing fighting ability.  If you’ve ever wanted a mix between Street Fighter, King of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown, this just might be the title you’re looking for.
Check for Dragoon Might on eBay

Galaxy Fight

galaxy-fightNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo CD, Saturn, PlayStation, PlayStation 2
Sunsoft’s first fighting game release would include several features found in later games, including the same engine for Waku Waku 7 and the first appearance of Bonus-Kun.  The game uses a four-button control scheme, though one of these is a taunt, meaning it’s technically a three-button game.  In Galaxy Fight, players move from planet to planet in the galaxy, fighting it out in various locales.  These stages loop infinitely, so characters can not be forced into walls, and the camera will zoom out if they become too far apart.  Battles can sometimes turn into running fights, but it makes for a nice change of pace.  And while pressing two attack buttons can generate new moves, there’s nothing in the way of super moves, so expect to have to beat down your opponent.
Check for Galaxy Fight on Amazon
Check for Galaxy Fight on eBay

Metamoqester

metamoqesterArcade
Known as Oni – The Ninja Master in Japan, and based on the Oni series of RPGs by Pandora Box, this fighting game from Banpresto(who happened to publish the Oni RPGs) is very similar to Monster Maulers.  Once again, players must pick one of three characters to face off against massive monster boss after monster boss.  And once again, two players can team up to beat these monsters down all over the world.  But this time characters are capable of turning into monsters for special and super moves.  Characters also have unique endings in this game, though they’re little more than a couple of anime-styled stills.
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Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty

outlaws-of-the-lost-dynastyArcade, Saturn, PlayStation
Technically this game has three names: Suiko Enbu in Japan, Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty for the US arcade release, and Dark Legend for the console ports.  Released by Data East as their second fighting franchise after Fighter’s History, this title was based heavily on the Chinese classic Water Margin(known as Suikoden in Japan, the basis for Konami’s RPG series).  This six-button weapon-based fighter features the ability to break weapons or throw them away willingly to fight unarmed, which is less powerful but faster and easier to combo from.  Add to it a juggle system that was relatively unique for the time, and it’s not a bad game.  Just remember, the NTSC-J Saturn port is considered the worst: it might be better to look up the enhanced Saturn version, Suiko Enbu Fuun Saiki, which allowed players to use the final boss and also featured two characters from Fighter’s History.
Check for Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty (Dark Legend) on Amazon
Check for Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty (Dark Legend) on eBay

Gundam Wing: Endless Duel

gundam-wingSuper Famicom
If you were wondering what title I was referenced in Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition, this is it.  It is extremely unfortunate this never made it outside of Japan, because it’s one of the best fighters on the Super Famicom.  Players take control of various Mobile Suits from the popular Mobile Suit Gundam Wing anime series.  Endless Duel featured the ability to boost twice, air block, and hover for a limited time, and some Suits are capable of air throws and aerial super moves.  To accommodate this, stages scroll both horizontally and vertically.  Players must also rely on building high energy levels via blocking and attacking to use special moves or fire their machine guns.  The game features music from the anime, and also included a “Trial Mode,” a survival mode where the player must continually fight more difficult opponents while gaining only a little health back each round.  The game tallies up the number of successive wins to 99.
Check for Gundam Wing: Endless Duel on eBay

Waku Waku 7

waku-waku-7Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, Saturn, PlayStation 2
Sunsoft’s second fighting game, following Galaxy Fight, goes in a much wackier direction.  The game feels like a parody of anime and definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously(the game’s plot even follows players trying to find the seven Waku Waku balls to earn a wish).  Despite using the same engine as Galaxy Fight and a four-button control scheme, Waku Waku 7 is also far different from its predecessor.  Stages no longer loop infinitely.  Instead of three attacks and a taunt, combat is now done with two punch and two kick attacks, similar to King of Fighters.  Players can also knock their opponents back into walls, then run over and smack them on the rebound for extra damage or hit them on the ground, and there are now super moves, called Harahara moves, which must be charged for a few seconds and are unblockable while the background flashes a warning.  Definitely a great game.
Check for Waku Waku 7 on eBay

The Eye of Typhoon

eye-of-typhoon3DO, PC
This one certainly falls under the Hidden part of Hidden Gem.  Originally slated for a release on the Neo-Geo MVS, The Eye of Typhoon never made it past the prototype stage for SNK’s machine, and wound up only being released for the 3DO and PC in South Korea.  It’s a spiritual successor to the first Korean game released on the Neo-Geo, Fight Fever, which is usually considered a terrible fighting game.  The Eye of Typhoon features both single play, where players get to select their opponent, and a 2 on 2 team mode.  Stages are large, and zoom in and out, depending on how close the players are.  Character designs are interesting, and players are treated to a scene of them standing over their downed opponent when they win.  While the 3DO version handles the camera zoom better and AI, the PC version does a much smoother job of handling gameplay…though this is likely because there’s less animation overall.  While it’s not a great game, it is competent, and its rarity will likely pique the interest of serious 3DO collectors.
Check for The Eye of Typhoon on eBay

Touki Densho Angel Eyes

touki-densho-angel-eyesArcade, PlayStation, PlayStation 3, PSP
While Tecmo’s 3D fighting series Dead Or Alive is known by far more in the west, the original was developed around the same time as this little gem.  In Touki Densho, eight girls are fighting to prove themselves worthy to receive the essence of an angel(the PlayStation version also included 8 more characters, though they were just altered versions of the original 8).  The game features an odd mix of 2D and 3D character designs, but gameplay is entirely 2D.  It’s a four-button fighter, with vertical scrolling stages and a lot of emphasis on movement, including super dashes and the ability to halt in mid-air or the middle of a dash, only to immediately dash again.  Touki Densho features a story mode, arcade mode, training, and two-player multiplayer.  And the combo capabilities in this game are absolutely awesome.
Check for Touki Densho Angel Eyes on eBay

Kizuna Encounter

kazuna-encounterNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, PlayStation 2
The sequel to SNK’s Savage Reign, Kizuna Encounter scrapped the multi-plane fighting arena of its predecessor and instead featured a two-character tag-team.  But instead of well-known team-based fighters, like the Capcom Vs. series or King of Fighters, switching cannot be done on the fly; you must stand in a small, designated spot of the stage if you want to switch, and if only one character runs out of health, it’s game over.  While it’s technically a four-button fighter, one of these buttons is used for tagging, so only three buttons are used for attacks, though more powerful attacks can be committed by pressing forward and tapping an attack button.  The game also features moves by pressing two buttons at once, or two buttons and a direction, adding to the furious gameplay.  It should also be noted that the European AES release is considered extremely rare, and has been valued up to $10,000.
Check for Kizuna Encounter on eBay

Ninja Master’s Haou Ninpou-ko

ninja-masters-haou-ninpou-kNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo CD, PlayStation 2
Another offering by ADK, this weapons-based fighter set in feudal Japan was quickly overshadowed by such heavyweights as the Samurai Shodown series.  It was also ADK’s last fighting game.  And while Ninja Master’s features weapons-based fighting, it doesn’t rely solely on that; characters can choose to sheath their weapons at any time to fight unarmed, which leads to variations in play style and how certain special moves work.  Disarms are also possible, forcing a player to only use their hand-to-hand style.  The art style is amazing, with gorgeous character drawings after fights and some amazing stage details that change based on time of day and what round is currently being fought.  However, Ninja Master’s combo system is the biggest downside.  In a style often referred to as dial-a-combo, players can rapidly press attack buttons to add hits, which leads to button-mashing being rewarded.  Still, it’s worth looking into, if only for that awesome Attract Mode.
Check for Ninja Master’s Haou Ninpou-ko on eBay

Red Earth

red-earthArcade
Known as Warzard in Japan, this RPG-influenced fighting game takes a page from Monster Maulers and Metamoqester’s book: you pick a character from a small roster of four, then duke it out against massive boss monsters.  But Red Earth went above and beyond its predecessors, dropping co-op for a competitive two-player mode, and then adding an experience and equipment system.  Defeat a monster, and you’ll gain experience, which will go towards your character leveling, up to a max of 32.  With each level your character may gain health, their stats will increase, and their moves lists will expand.  Gain better weapons and armor, and your character will deal more damage or take more hits.  There’s even a corresponding element system.  Factor in multiple endings, based on such conditions as the number of used continues, and a password system so players can keep their character’s progress while allowing them to start over, and this is an impressive title.  Not bad for the first Capcom CPS3 arcade game!  Unfortunately it flopped, and Red Earth was never ported to a home console.
Check for Red Earth on eBay

Rabbit

rabbitArcade, Saturn
An obscure Japan-only game from EA’s Japanese branch, Rabbit features a four-button combat system, and pressing certain buttons together can summon your animal spirit(which was mapped to a fifth button for the home release).  While the game features dodges, recovery rolls, ground hits, deflections, dashes, and hops, the animal spirit is the real focus here.  By dealing and receiving damage, the player’s power bar builds up at the bottom.  Once filled, the player can summon their animal spirit and use it to execute special or super moves.  Defeat a character in arcade, and you’ll take their animal spirit, allowing you to summon and use them.  So if the player started with the rabbit and gained the snake in the first match, he could use both’s moves in the second match.  This encourages players to learn all of the animal spirits, and gives them options.  In Versus mode, both players have access to all of these animal spirits.  It’s an interesting concept, despite the game being a bit cutesy.
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Groove On Fight

groove-on-fightArcade, Saturn
The third game in the Power Instinct series from Atlus dropped the majority of the original cast and much of the lighthearted nature for a darker game, though the humor is still there.  Groove On Fight  is a tag-team title, where players pick two characters to go up against two others, though with a couple of twists: defeated players stay on the battlefield and can actually be used as weapons, and the Saturn port becomes a four-player game through use of the multitap.  The controls have also been tweaked into a six-button fighter, including a dash and overhead attack button.  And the character concepts include a cosplayer, cyborg police, gimp, and even a mad scientist.
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The Killing Blade

killing-bladeArcade
Set during the Yuan Dynasty in feudal China, The Killing Blade is another tag-team weapons-based fighter,  manufactured by IGS.  The Killing Blade is a four-button fighter that borrows heavily from several other games, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing: for instance, characters can enter a “Raged Mode” or pull off special combos when their power bars are full, similar to Samurai Shodown IV.  Characters can also tag out by spending half their power bar, and similar to Kizuna Encounter, the match ends when one character is defeated.  To prevent this, characters have two health bars, and when one is drained the stage background will change to reflect this sudden tension.  Additional moves are also made available by pressing two buttons at once, such as dodging or using a mid-attack that can harm players who are turtling.  And characters who stand still for a little while will even auto-taunt.  Just be wary, there are some poorly emulated versions of this game, where enemies will regularly one hit K.O., and animation gets absurdly choppy.  Also, an updated version that allowed the selection of three characters was released by IGS, called The Killing Blade Plus.
Check for The Killing Blade on eBay

The Last Blade

last-bladeNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo CD, PlayStation, PlayStation 2
Known in Japan as Bakumatsu Roman: Gekka no Kenshi, and The Last Soldier in Korea, this 2D weapons-fighter from SNK is set during the Bakumatsu era, when the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate was about to end.  Combat is handled via four buttons, one of which is used for repelling oncoming strikes to allow an opening.  Characters can be played in either “Speed” or “Power” mode, which will affect the way they’re played: a speed character uses weak attacks but combos easily and can combo into special and super moves, while in power mode they will do more damage per hit but won’t be able to combo as much.  But power mode also gives players access to Super Desperation Moves.  The game is gorgeous, and the audio work is spot on.
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The Last Blade 2

last-blade-2Neo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES, Neo-Geo CD, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2
Released a year after its predecessor, SNK added three new characters, retooled the two play modes, and added a new one, the EX mode.  While the EX mode is a mix of both speed and power, Power now allows players to Super Cancel into super moves, while Speed now gives access to specific chain combos.  All the returning characters were tweaked a least a little, and some feature entirely new moves.  This does not necessarily mean game balance, however.  In several cases certain characters just overpower others.  Fans of the title claim this is a more realistic strength: in the real world, some fighters are better than others.  The American Dreamcast port is the weakest, as bloodshed and kills were censored, and the Hanafuda card game found in the Japanese version was removed.
Check for The Last Blade 2 on Amazon
Check for The Last Blade 2 on eBay

Asura Blade: Sword of Dynasty

asura-bladeArcade
Released by Fuuki, this is a weapons-based fighter set in a fantasy world which combines futuristic elements with medieval style.  It’s a three-button fighter with an emphasis on knocking players away and comboing into them as they bounce off the walls or floor.  There’s also a push back attack, so you can knock away overly-aggressive foes.  The combo system is similar to Fatal Fury, where moves are chained into bigger moves, and then into specials.  And as per many weapons fighters, weapons can be thrown away for additional techniques, adding to the player’s arsenal.  The game was followed shortly after by a sequel, Asura Buster: Eternal Warriors.  They were Fuuki’s only fighting games.
Check for Asura Blade: Sword of Dynasty on eBay

Sokkou Seitokai: Sonic Council

sonic-councilSaturn
Released by Banpresto, this six-button 2D fighter is heavily anime-themed, and features many moves that by the time of its release had become standard.  Air blocks, ground recoveries and rolls, dashes, dash cancels, back steps…mobility is the name of the game here, folks.  And to further emphasis the need to get out of the way, specials and super moves set off shock waves, adding a visual flair that adds to the personality.  Players can even attack while dashing, changing the properties of their attacks, and combos can be performed from both standing attacks and dashing attacks.  Players can also build up to 10 power bars to unleash supers, allowing for some quick action that can be absolutely frantic.
Check for Sokkou Seitokai: Sonic Council on eBay

Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure

jojoArcade, PlayStation, Dreamcast
Developed by Capcom and based on the manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, this game was originally known as Jojo’s Venture when it was first released in US arcades.  It’s a four-button fighter, three of which serve as attacks while the remaining is the Stand button.  A little odd, considering it’s Capcom, but they handle the change well.  Characters can perform advancing guards, dodges, and guard cancels, but the Stand mode is the most interesting part of the game…beyond Hirohiko Araki’s character designs, that is.  Your Stand is your power, and fighting with a stand will grant you special abilities and bonuses.  Stands can also be summoned in the middle of combat to help defend you and fight off your opponent or attack in tandem with you, and certain characters can even use their Stand for rush combos, or can control their stand to fight as another character.  Watch out though, because if your Stand takes too much damage you’ll be Stand Crushed, and your character will be stunned for a while.  This game also has some absurdly awesome super moves.
Check for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on Amazon
Check for Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure on eBay

Gundam Battle Assault

gundam-battle-assaultPlayStation
This fighter from Bandai is set in the Gundam universe, similar to Gundam Wing: Endless Duel.  In Japan the game was known as Gundam: Battle Master 2, though it incorporated some significant changes from the first Battle Master to help it adhere more to the 2D fighter crowd(the first included unblockable projectiles, no vitality bar, and breakable armor.  It felt more like a mech game with elements of a VS fighter).  Gundam Battle Assault is a slower paced fighting game than some may be used to…but then again, you are piloting massive war machines in space.  And the game does an excellent job of keeping that feel.  Players have three health bars, a boost meter, and an ammunition counter.  And while projectile attacks are blockable, melee attacks can only be blocked by a certain type of shield, which drains health to use but is still better than taking an attack to the face.  And for Gundam Wing fans, the American version replaced one suit with Wing Zero and changed the storyline.
Check for Gundam Battle Assault on Amazon
Check for Gundam Battle Assault on eBay

Astra Superstars

astra-superstartsArcade, Saturn
Sunsoft’s third fighting game is an aerial beat down with some similarities with its predecessor Waku Waku 7 in terms of visual style and certain gameplay mechanics, though Bonus-kun was removed for a blue stick figure named Test-kun.  Opponents can be battered around in mid-air in this six-button fighter, where special attacks are few and basic attacks can be built into devastating combos that knock your opponent about like a ping pong ball.  Super moves are also easy to pull off, and while you can guard, you can also easily be guard crushed, so dodging is a must.  You can even use dialog options before a fight to make an opponent more or less difficult.  Just be advised that this game can run you an absurd amount of money.  But then again it’s a unique title, in a style I’ve only seen in very few places…in fact, I think the only place I’ve seen it is in Cho Aniki: Bakuretsu Ranto Hen.  If you don’t know what that is, you probably shouldn’t look it up.
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Rakuga Kids

rakuga-kidsNintendo 64
Didn’t expect to see a 64 game here, did you?  Konami’s little-known gem would see a release in Japan and Europe, but the United States would be left sorely lacking one of the best fighters for Nintendo’s third major console.  The game is a six-button fighter, with an additional Magic button.  The Magic button is used for super attacks, by pressing it in tandem with a direction.  There are three types: Attack, Defense, and Counterattack.  Each causes some amount of damage, and the Defense and Counterattack Magic attacks will knock the opponent away.  All characters are capable of double-jumping, and each character has unique skills.  While chaining combos together isn’t easy in the game, certain characters are far better at it than others.  And the visual style is great: characters are flat 2D doodles, similar in appearance to games like PaRappa the Rapper and Rakugaki Showtime.  If you enjoy their unique art styles, you may want to give Rakuga Kids a chance.
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Power Instinct Matrimelee

power-instinct-martimeleeNeo-Geo MVS, Neo-Geo AES
After obtaining the rights to the Power Instinct series from Atlus, developer Noise Factory released this title for the Neo-Geo MVS.  Dropping the tag-team aspects of Groove On Fight, and most of the roster, Matrimelee harkened back to Power Instinct 2, with a little bit of Noise Factory’s previous fighting game, Rage of the Dragons, thrown in for good measure.  This time the spat’s over who will get to marry a princess, and it’s anything goes in this wacky and over-the-top fighting game.  The game also emphasizes balance, so taking hits and having your attacks blocked raises your stress meter in this game, as opposed to getting in successful hits in most games.  So the worst you’re being beaten, the more power you gain, which can then be used to knock your opponent away and hit them with a super.  Counters are also a big deal in Matrimelee and do some solid damage. 
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Martial Masters

martial-mastersArcade
This arcade exclusive from IGS was only on the PolyGame Master platform and features some killer sprite art and animation that rivaled the likes of Street Fighter III: Third Strike, but has a bit of an SNK-like flair to it. Character and clothing movements are very smooth and life-like and you can tell that IGS paid great attention to detail.   Martial Masters pace is a bit slow (much like The Last Blade), the music is a tad dull, and the controls aren’t the most responsive ever, but otherwise, this game is hard to ignore.

Martial Masters has a 4-button setup and a respectable lineup of 12 characters, mostly modeled after classic Hong Kong martial arts flicks.  The moves and controls will be rather easy to figure out for most Capcom and SNK fans, but there are enough extra little features such as Pressure Moves, Roll Recovery, Flash Attacks, and Shadow Attacks to keep hardcore fans interested.

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Melty Blood: Act Cadenza

melty-blood-acArcade, PlayStation 2
Starting as a PC game and then becoming popular enough to warrant an arcade and then a PlayStation 2 release, the Melty Blood series is an odd duck.  Released only in Japan, it became considerably popular in Japanese arcades with the release of Melty Blood: Act Cadenza, despite being a game some have considered “mediocre.”  Act Cadenza uses five buttons: three attacks, one for shield, and one quick action button, which makes it easier to perform certain moves by being pressed in the place of more complex commands(for instance, a throw is performed by hitting forward, weak attack, and shield, or by hitting forward and quick action).  The game also has an extremely dark, magical edge to it, where characters enter Heat, Max, and Blood Heat modes to unleash massive Arc Drive attacks on each other.  There were several changes between versions, including additional characters.  A PC release, known as Melty Blood: Act Cadenza Ver. B, also includes a two-player tag-team mode.
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The Rumble Fish

rumble-fishArcade, PlayStation 2
Not just a book by S.E. Hinton and a film by Francis Ford Coppola, or the B. splendens, this Japan-only fighting game released by Dimps utilizes an interesting and unique visual style, where 2D characters give off the allusion of 3D while fighting on 3D backgrounds.  The game utilizes an interesting new power gauge, split into Offensive and Defensive.  Hit someone, and your Offensive gauge increases.  Get hit, and your Defensive gauge increases.  Both feature their own super moves.  Max out both, and they become the Critical Gauge, giving the player access to their most powerful super moves.  A sequel, The Rumble Fish 2, was also released in arcades, and two characters from it were added to The Rumble Fish roster when it was ported to PlayStation 2.
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Hokuto No Ken

hokuto-no-ken Arcade, PlayStation 2
Known in the West as Fist of the North Star, this popular manga and anime series was turned into a 2D fighter for the arcade by Arc System Works, makers of Guilty Gear.  This four-button fighter(five if you count the Boost button) utilizes a super move system based off the Big Dipper.  Use a special or super move, and you remove one of the seven stars.  Run out, and your opponent can Fatal KO you in a single move, which can be mixed into a combo, so use your power conservatively.  Another meter, the Aura, is used primarily for counters, while a third meter, the Boost meter, is used for cancels and quick forward propulsion.  And if you’re a fan of Fist of the North Star, you’ll definitely enjoy this game.  Too bad it’s Japan-only.  I’d recommend it to you, but you are already dead.
Check for Hokuto No Ken on eBay

Arcana Heart

arcana-heartArcade, PlayStation 2
Another all-female fighter, this title from Examu features both selectable characters and their arcana, giving them different moves and abilities.  The game’s a four-button fighter, with three attack buttons and a “Special” button used for certain homing and arcana techniques.  The game also uses a Homing Meter, which is used for guard cancels, homing commands, and homing cancels.  Clashing is also important, and projectiles can be destroyed or even reflected back by punching them.  While the original arcade release was a bit unbalanced, a patch known as Arcana Heart FULL! was released to tweak characters.  Both versions of characters are available in the PlayStation 2 release, though FULL! is required in most tournaments.
Check for Arcana Heart on Amazon
Check for Arcana Heart on eBay

Samurai Shodown Anthology

ss-anthologyPlayStation 2, PSP, Wii
Ok, so most fighting game fans have heard of Samurai Shodown.  It’s one of SNK’s most well-known fighting game series, and has helped to shape 2D weapons fighters considerably.  Samurai Shodown Anthology received a mention on this list because it was repeatedly delayed in the US, and because it saw a very quiet and limited release.  Samurai Shodown Anthology includes Samurai Shodown, II, III, IV, V, and VI in one package.  They’re not all perfect, as Samurai Shodown V does not include any of the translated text or endings found in the Xbox release, and V Special is not included, but it’s still six Samurai Shodown games in one package.
Check for Samurai Shodown Anthology on Amazon
Check for Samurai Shodown Anthology on eBay

Note: Special thanks to our friends at Hardcore Gaming 101, KLOV, and Arcade History for screenshots used in this piece.


75 Comments

d says:

First!
Wow, that was awesome, prices of these games will surely go up after this article.
Rabbit on Saturn is a bad port. When characters are close together and zoomed in, they are heavily pixelated. They probably took the zoomed out sprites for the Saturn port and simply scaled them. Shame.

That and you forgot Sengoku Basara X (currently best buy version is out: mad cheap), which after Hokuto No Ken are my favorites and I´ve owned some of the more obscure Saturn and PS fighters in this list. Great read.

Lacky says:

Great list! Really great idea and great work ! But I would also add World Heroes Perfect to the list.

Luke says:

You forgot Tuff E Nuff for the SNES.

racketboy says:

Thanks for the comments, guys!
Personally, I’ve never played the arcade version of Rabbit, but I did enjoy the Saturn version a bit still.

And yeah, I guess Sengoku Basara X is in the same class as Hokuto No Ken — I guess it’s hard to know what got more exposure. But it could probably be added here (and I guess The Last Blade series probably got more exposure too).

The World Heroes series is fairly well-known, and while I wasn’t a fan of the earlier games, Perfect is pretty decent and didn’t get that much attention.

Tuff E Nuff is enjoyable, I guess. But we have to draw the line somewhere 🙂

Keep the suggestions coming though — I like hearing them!

Mike says:

A lot of these are a little too obscure for me, but the most underrated 2D fighter I’ve ever played was Eternal Champions for the Sega CD. It was basically like Mortal Kombat but a much more legit fighting game skill-wise. Had a billion finishing moves like MK as well but they were so ridiculous they were awesome (sharks appearing out of nowhere to eat someone, etc.).

Ujn Hunter says:

Nice list! I agree that Sengoku Basara X should be on this list. Man I’m such a fighting game nerd, I’ve played most of these games… heh.

elvis says:

Great list, Ack. Well done.

Pingfa says:

Wow!
I didn’t know about most of these games.
Great article.

Yu Yu Hakusho, Weaponlord, Gundam Wing and Last Blade are all awesome.
I also second Eternal Champions for the Sega CD. It has a rather broken combat system but a lot to make up for it.
I liked all the DBZ fighting games for SNES and Genesis – Super Butouden 1-3, Buyuu Retsuden and particularly Hyper Dimension.

Personally I didn’t like Joy Mecha Fight last time I played it. I found it incredibly easy due to it being incredibly broken in singleplayer. Maybe it’s better in multiplayer, though.

J T says:

Nice work Ack! This is a big list with a lot of unknowns.

I’d like to add Time Killers as another choice title that has sort of been forgotten as time has gone by.

[img]http://someonestolemydomain.com/files/timekillers.jpg[/img]

Ack says:

Wow, glad you guys like it so much.

A couple of things I’ll say on it:

1) Actually, Sengoku Basara X was on the list originally, but it ended up getting trimmed when I was doing final edits. I didn’t feel the bit I’d written for it was good enough. It is definitely better than Devil Kings, which was a horrendous port of a Dynasty Warriors-esque take on the same anime. I would definitely recommend it and I apologize to all you guys for taking it out.

2) I actually don’t like Tuff E Nuff.

3) I’m a huge fan of the World Heroes series, but I wanted something more obscure, and as far as ADK’s work goes, I find more people know the WH series than their later games.

And keep naming fighters, guys! There’s lots of titles out there that I know I didn’t get to, so if you think of one, talk about it!

From out of Nowhere says:

Excellent read, but I noticed a typo with TMNT Tournament Fighters:

“The NES title has the distinction of being the last NES game released in the US and PAL territories.”

Think you meant to say that it was the last NES game Konami published in the US and PAL territories. 🙂

I have to give a second nod to “Eternal Champions” for the Sega CD. Also on the Genesis, but the Sega CD port is superior.

I love this list! I have alot of Games to hunt down now, Thank you so much for this super great read.

sevin0seven says:

I think Daraku Tenshi – The Fallen Angels should be included in this list. It’s very rare.

alexgizh says:

Great list!

I’m aware you had to cut-off many games, but I feel I have to mention just a few games at least in this comments section:

Alien Challenge – IGS’s first foray into 2d fighters, a spiritual ancestor to Killing Blade and Martial Masters

Fighter’s History / Karnov’s Revenge – I see you mentioned it in the review for Suiko Enbu, but I feel we should mention that it was the first game of the genre that it’s publisher was sued by Capcom for blatantly copying SF2.

Martial Champion – Konami’s first 2d fighter. Huge sprites, an interesting selection of fighters.

Daniel says:

as you guys promides, I just need now the handlheld article!

noiseredux says:

great list. Great idea. Hit me up when this is being worked on: “Fighters for handhelds were not included, primarily because they rightfully deserve their own topic,” as I’d love to at least be part of the brain-storming.

Franco says:

Savage Reign is a good one also.

Josh Dollins says:

Played a bunch of these and quite a few of them are well worth your time and money

DannyBoy says:

Yes, some nice stuff here with some gems like Red Earth, Martial Masters, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure amongst others but also some real duds like Outlaws of the Lost Dynasty and The Killing Blade which in my opinion are deservedly ‘hidden’.

Very nice list, i didn’t know a lot of these games so i’m gonna seek them out. A couple of things i wanna mention though.

– If you’re gonna put a link to eBay on every game you better check if the game is even available for sale, a lot of this games are Arcade only so no matchs on eBay.

– I’ll add to the list Dragon Ball Z: Hyper Dimension.

I hope to see more genre specific lists like this, good work!.

Kevman says:

Aw man, you forgot Jackie Chan in Fists of Fire

Lee says:

Great list, I really love 2D fighting games. However, you forgot a few great ones…Sengoku Basara X, Rage of the Dragons, and Daemon Bride should have all made your list. Good list anyway thought.

Anthony says:

nice list. are Metamoqester and Monster Maulers even considered 2d fighting games?

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