Sega Saturn 2D Fighters Library

While the Saturn might not have been able to keep up with the Sony Playstation in terms of 3D gameplay, Sega’s 32-bit powerhouse cleaned house with it’s 2D muscle (Check out our breakdown of PS1 Strengths and Weaknesses vs N64 and Sega Saturn). The 2D fighter genre is essentially the best demonstration of the Saturn’s 2D capabilities.

The Saturn’s raw power was shown off by the likes of Capcom classics such as Darkstalkers and Street Fighter Alpha 2, but when you combined the stock machine with the 1MB/4MB RAM expansion cartridge, you basically had some amazing arcade-accurate fighters such as X-Men vs. Street Fighter, Street Fighter Zero 3, and Vampire Hunter that the Playstation couldn’t even dream of touching.

The Sega Saturn is truly one of the best systems to own for fighting fans, but when you combine it with Sega’s next console, the Dreamcast, and its jaw-dropping fighter library, you will find yourself in brawler heaven. But for now, lets see what Sega’s 32-bit machine has to offer…

Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge & Vampire Savior

Night Warriors/Vampire Hunter: Darkstalkers Revenge: NA / EU / JP
Vampire Savior: JP

After Capcom re-ignited arcade fever with Street Fighter 2, they created an entirely new fighting franchise with a completely re-built engine. This new series went by “Vampire” in Japan, but is better known as Darkstalkers here in the US. It featured a number of diverse characters that are inspired by every vampire and monster movie you could imagine. The fighting is also fast, furious, easy to control, and loaded with both color and splashy visual effects.

It was the largest leap of gameplay and graphic innovation that Capcom ever made in fighting games since Street Fighter II. It featured very fluid animation, exotic normal and special moves, a variety of dashes, ex-moves, and more. It was also the first fighting game that allowed air blocking. It never became as popular in the US as it did in Japan, however.

Under the cosmetic surface, however, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the Darkstalkers games and the Street Fighter Alpha series. If you analyze the moves carefully, you will see that many of the characters are basically Street Fighter characters with new sprites. This doesn’t make Darkstalkers a bad game, but if you’re looking some something completely different from your traditional Capcom fighters, you may want to keep reading down this list.

However, if you do want to build up a solid 2D fighter library, you should not miss this series. The gameplay is tight and does include some tweaks to give it some variety. It’s also nice to have a completely different character style.

The original Darkstalkers game (subtitled, The Night Warrior) only had a home release on the PS1, the Saturn received a home port of the second installment, Nightwarrior: Darkstalkers’ Revenge. This installment was released in both North America and Japan (Japan, it was known as Vampire Hunter: Darkstalker’s Revenge).

The Japanese Saturn also received a port of the third installment of the series, known as Vampire Savior, that includes all the characters from the two revisions of the arcade installment. Vampire Savior ended up being a late Saturn release and utilized the 4MB RAM cart to boost up the animation quality and deliver a breath-taking 2D experience — far better than any home version of to that point.

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Street Fighter Alpha, Alpha 2, Zero 3

Street Fighter Alpha: NA / EU / JP
Street Fighter Alpha 2: NA / EU / JP
Street Fighter Zero 3: JP

After the success of the multiple incarnations of Street Fighter 2, Capcom had a hard time developing a proper follow-up. They finally took style and gameplay elements that worked for them in their new Darkstalkers franchise and combined it with a storyline that pre-dated Street Fighter 2.

The fighting system of Street Fighter Alpha is based on those of previous Street Fighter games, with a different super combo gauge from that of Super Turbo. The super combo gauge, similar to Darkstalkers, was divided into three levels. The amount of super combo gauge that was required to perform a super combo depended on the number of buttons pressed, and later on, the strength of the button.

The original Alpha game was greeted with mixed feelings for various reasons. Personally, I was initially thrown off because many of the characters I grew to love in Street Fighter 2 were missing. (Eventually as the series continued, more characters from Street Fighter II, Final Fight, and the original Street Fighter were re-introduced) Other fans were disappointed that Street Fighter Alpha did not feature nearly as fluid animation as Darkstalkers and it seemed rushed because of its low number of characters and stages.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 polished the animation a bit and included some slight story revisions. The Saturn version of Alpha 2 brought back every character from Alpha, including the hidden characters Dan, Akuma, and M. Bison. It also brought in Gen, Zangief, and Dhalsim from previous Street Fighter games, as well as Rolento from the Final Fight series. Sakura also made her first appearance in this game. The “Custom Combo” meter made its appearance here as well, enabling the character to execute a rush attack. Combined with quick button tapping and special moves you could string a very large combo together before the meter ran out. This would later be known as the V-Ism in Street Fighter Alpha (Zero) 3.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 came on the scene with updated graphics and a boost to the character roster. Nearly every character from Street Fighter 2 in addition to more Final Fight characters and some completely new fighters were brought to Alpha 3 as well. The Saturn port (released only in Japan, as one of the last games for the system) is notoriously hard to find but is often considered to be superior, surpassing even the Sega Dreamcast version. The Saturn version does, however, require a 4MB RAM cart to play. This helps increase the frames of animation for a more arcade-like experience.

Personally, I think Street Fighter Alpha 2 is the most solid game because of the more balanced gameplay, tighter controls, and, in my opinion, better stage backgrounds. Many others enjoy Alpha 3/Zero 3 because of the larger character roster. It all depends what you think is most important. However, the Alpha series as a whole remains one of the most solid fighting game series ever and its almost a required acquisition for anybody interested in fighting games.

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X-Men: Children of the Atom & Marvel Super Heroes

X-Men: Children of the Atom: NA / EU / JP
Marvel Super Heroes: NA / EU / JP

About the same time as the release of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Capcom partnered with Marvel Comics to develop X-Men: Children of the Atom, which was widely praised for its faithfulness in capturing the spirit of its namesake comics via colorful animation and voice actors from the X-Men animated series.

Unlike previous X-Men video games, Children of the Atom also allowed players to helm popular X-Men villains such as the menacing Sentinel (which I wish was in later Capcom fighters) and Silver Samurai. (It also featured SF’s Akuma as a hidden final boss). COTA also helped introduce many modern fighting concepts that are now commonplace.

Capcom followed up X-Men: Children of the Atom with Marvel Super Heroes. MSH is very similar to COTA, but modified the character roster to include other Marvel characters such as Spiderman and The Hulk. It didn’t get much larger, but instead kicked out some X-Men in order to diversify the roster a bit.

The quality of both games on the Saturn were quite good and destroy the Playstation ports in terms of animation and overall arcade accuracy. However, Marvel Super Heroes has a MUCH more noticeable load time than COTA.

Both COTA and MSH were precursors to the Marvel vs. Capcom series, with elements and characters from this game having been combined with Street Fighter Alpha to create X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel vs Street Fighter, which we will get to next…

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X-Men vs. Street Fighter & Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter

X-Men vs. Street Fighter: JP
Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter: JP

As mentioned above, these two “Vs” fighters were the result of combining the character sprites and moves from X-Men Children of the Atom, Marvel Super Heroes, and the Street Fighter Alpha series. Mix that in with inspiration from SNK’s King of Fighters series, and you have a dream match of the original Street Fighter gang versus the best of Marvel’s comic book world.

X-Men vs Street Fighter was the first entry into what we now know of as the Marvel vs. Capcom series. Compared the the later entries in the series, X-Men vs Street Fighter has a relatively limited character roster, but it makes up for it in overall quality. The controls for the game are very tight and it is an absolute joy to play. However, due to flawed beta testing, every character in X-Men vs Street Fighter has at least one infinite combo; ironically, it is nevertheless praised by some Street Fighter fans as being the most “fun” entry of the four Marvel vs. Capcom games for precisely this reason.

In an attempt to balance XMvSF “problems”, the game engine was altered for Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter, although it remained aesthetically the same. It also swapped out some of the characters for different fighters. Almost all of the X-Men characters other than Wolverine and Cyclops were removed and replaced with other Marvel characters such as Spiderman, captain America, and the Hulk. While I don’t mind these other Marvel characters, I enjoyed the X-Men characters more, so I tend to recommend X-Men vs Street Fighter more often. However, to MSHvSF’s credit, it does have a few cool hidden characters like “Dark” Sakura and Metal Zangief.

Teamed with the required 4MB RAM cart, these two games are some of the best examples of why the Saturn was superior for 2D games over the Sony Playstation. Between the Playstation’s poor sprite capabilities and its low system RAM, the PSOne versions had to make a number of sacrifices for the games to work such as cutting several frames of animation for each character and removing true tag-team gameplay. Basically, if you want an arcade-accurate experience for these fighters, you need to go with the Saturn.

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Street Fighter Collection & Capcom Generations 5

Street Fighter Collection: NA / EU / JP
Capcom Generations 5: JP

Try not to confuse this collection with the Capcom Generations 5 Street Fighter Collection. THIS Collection features two discs that contain Super Street Fighter 2 and Super Street Fighter 2X on disc one and Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold on disc two.

Both of the Street Fighter 2 variants were arcade perfect apart from the loading screens which don’t last very long. Other than the Dreamcast version of 2X, these are best home versions of Street Fighter 2.

Street Fighters Alpha 2 Gold is essentially an update of Alpha 2 (Zero 2 in Japan) that was released in Japanese arcades and known as Street Fighter Zero 2 ‘(Dash/Alpha). It added classic versions (which played like SF2) of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sagat, Dhalsim, Zangief and M. Bison and also brought in Cammy (who was wearing the same outfit and had the same moveset she had in X-Men vs. Street Fighter). Also, selecting Shin (True) Akuma (Gouki), Evil Ryu , and Sailer Sakura (Different Color pallet plus the addition of the Sakura Otoshi special move) was easier in that you only has to press the start button a certain amount of times.

If you’re looking for a nice compilation to get your collection started, the Street Fighter Collection is definitely looking into. Not only does it have two great versions of 2 of the greatest fighters of all time, but the box art is also great.

If you do want a slightly less exciting Street Fighter collection, you can checkout the Japan-only Capcom Generations 5: Street Fighter Collection which includes the first three incarnations of the genre standard, Street Fighter II. The original World Warriors, Champion Edition, and Turbo Hyper Fighting are all represented in this compilation. It is worth noting that Super Turbo does have some frame rate issues. If you want a more high-end port on a classic Sega console, you might want to opt for Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service in the Sega Dreamcast’s library

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Fatal Fury Series

Fatal Fury 3: JP
Real Bout: Fatal Fury: JP
Real Bout: Fatal Fury Special: JP

Fatal Fury (Garou Densetsu in Japan) was SNKs first major success in the 2D fighting genre, it introduced us to many of its most famous characters, such as Terry Bogard and Mai Shiranui and also brought the two-plane system in order to differentiate itself from the Street Fighter games. The two-plane system allowed characters to step between the plane and dodge attacks.

Once Fatal Fury 3 arrived, the game featured three planes in which to do battle. Fatal Fury 3 was one of the better installments of the early Fatal Fury games.

Real Bout: Fatal Fury follows up on the story of Fatal Fury and although the game shares mostly the same characters as FF3 (albeit with some new additions), the game play has been changed around in some areas with a few nice extras. In addition to some slight control changes, the characters don’t float in the air for as long when you jump. Also, there are “ring-outs”, where a character loses the round if the character is thrown into the edges of the fighting backdrop.

In Real Bout: Fatal Fury Special, the planes of movement have been changed again and are reduced from 3 back to 2. The ring outs have also been removed — instead of defeating your opponent with ringouts, they are only temporarily stunned.. Also some moves that were way too powerful in the previous version have been removed or tweaked.

Overall, these Fatal Fury games are good examples of old-school SNK fighters and between the three, you can easily see how SNK likes to experiment and tweak the gameplay in order to find what works best and keep the fighting fresh. Like other SNK games, both titles translated well to the Saturn and utilize the 1MB RAM cart.

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World Heroes Perfect

Created soon after the release of Street Fighter 2, the World Heroes series was released in the arcades and the Neo-Geo, many gamers (including myself) wrote off World Heroes as another a blatant Street Fighter ripoff. While some gamers did enjoy World Heroes, it had a number of characters that had extremely similar moves and abilities. While it still made for a decent game, it would have been nice to see some more originality.

Though it did have a few promising concepts, clunky controls and its “ripoff” reputation preceded it. Due to this, when the series was ready to take off into its own unique style of gameplay, people simply weren’t interested, and the series discontinued with World Heroes Perfect.

In World Heroes Perfect, every character has an ABC Special Move that can be activated by pressing the A, B, and C buttons at the same time. Moves vary by character, though they all require strategic use and are easy to activate, allowing for more tactical battles.

While World Heroes Perfect hasn’t aged wonderfully, it does have its positive elements and is worth a try if you are an old-school fighting fan.

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King of Fighters ’95, KOF ’96, and KOF ’97

While Capcom may have brought one-on-one fighting to the masses, SNK popularized the idea of team-based fighting with their King of Fighters series. KOF also introduced some interesting fighting elements such as “attack deflector” (dodging), “emergency escape” (rolling), running, short jumps, “super desperation moves”, and autoguarding attacks — each of which eventually got popularized by other fighting franchises.

Beginning in 1994, SNK released a new installment of the series every year (at least until recently). While the Saturn did not receive a port of King of Fighters ’94, it was fortunate enough to receive the next three games in the series.

The original King of Fighters game combined characters from two of its existing fighting game franchises (Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting) and reintroduced characters from games predating the Neo-Geo (such as Ikari Warriors and Psycho Soldier). This format obviously inspired the likes of Marvel vs. Capcom and even other SNK titles such as SNK vs Capcom and Neo-Geo Battle Coliseum.

As with most SNK fighting series, each installment of King of Fighter experimented with the fighting engine, tweaked the graphics, and made other slight adjustments to not only offer fans some variety, but try to achieve the “perfect” fighting game. Since I don’t consider myself an expert on the KOF series, here’s a simplified rundown of these episodes of the King of Fighters series contributed Wikipedia members from a decade ago:

The King of Fighters ’95 (Episode 2) Introduces the team edit feature which allows players to create their own 3-character team. Iori Yagami, Kyo Kusanagi’s mortal enemy, makes his first appearance… The Saturn port requires a memory expansion cartridge to run. It contains the ability to play as Saisyu and Omega Rugal using a code. ” King of Fighters ’95 actually requires its own custom ROM cartridge (different than the general Saturn RAM cartridges) which contains many of the sprites used on the game instead of bogging down the internal system memory with the chore.. Because of this, you will basically need to have original copy of the game to play it (unless you have a backup AND the original KOF ’95 ROM cart)

The King of Fighters ’96 (Episode 3) “The first edition to achieve KOF’s distinct look; its graphics and sound better resemble even KOF’s latest edition than they do those of KOF ’95. Chizuru Kagura appears for the first time. Leona Heidern replaces adopted fath er Heidern on the Ikari Warriors Team. Fan favorite Boss Team (Geese Howard, Wolfgang Krauser, and Mr. Big) makes its first and only appearance… It contains the ability to play as Chizuru and Goenitz using a code.” A 1MB RAM cart is required to play this Saturn version.

The King of Fighters ’97 (Episode 4) “Climax of the Orochi Saga. It still has the longest endgame battle sequence of all the KOF games. Shermie, Chris, and Yashiro Nanakase make their debut and form the Orochi Team. Shingo Yabuki, Orochi Iori, and Orochi Leona also make their debut…. [The Saturn version] contains a special art gallery feature as well as the ability to play as Orochi using a code.” A 1MB RAM cart is required to play this Saturn version.

If you are an old-school SNK fan, these are essentials for your collection. Even though they are a decade old, they really hold up to the current games pretty well.

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Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness

In another attempt to cash in on their ability to create great 2D fighters, Capcom developed another (short-lived) arcade franchise. with Cyberbots, Capcom maintained the overall control scheme, but successful branched off into a different “feel” for this game and brought some new ideas to the table.

While this fighter is centered about robots (The mecha in this game are a mix of the mecha parts used in the scrolling fighter Armored Warriors), it is highly superior to other robots fighters from the era such as Rise of the Robots and Zero Divide. Cyberbots oozes the best of Capcom’s style and features incredible moves with multi-hit combos, spectacular character design, and a comprehensible storyline associated with all the characters. The robots do all the fighting in this game, but the storyline is purely influenced by the pilots (you may recognize Jin Saotome from Marvel vs Capcom and Tech Romancer), human or otherwise.

Cyberbots is another import fighter which uses the 4MB RAM Cart, but it isn’t required. However, if you do use it, you will be treated to some smooth animation for both character movements and backgrounds. Either way, the game features colorful and large character sprites, impressive special attacks, and highly-detailed artwork.

There are a lot of choices in Cyberbots in terms of selecting your fighter. You begin the arcade mode by choosing a pilot, but Capcom allows you to choose the pilot and robot independently from each other. Most pilots can then choose a particular robot to use for battle, however a select few use only their own personal robot. There are multiple classes of robots and each has their strengths and weaknesses. This aspect helps adds some depth and strategy to the fighter.

Since you’re fighting with robots, the character’s combos and moves take some time to figure out. But once you get into it, it is a lot of fun. Cyberbots has a unique weapon system in which if you use a certain weapon or your booster jets too much, they can overheat and fall off (they can also be torn off by opponents). This limits the character to certain moves until they can pick up their weapon again.

Similar to the Armored Core series, different legs (which affect movement abilities), arms (which affect reach and melee capabilities) and weapons can be mixed and matched between the selectable robots.

Capcom also included Cyber Akuma as a hidden character for the Saturn version to round out an already impressive title. if you enjoy Capcom fighters and are looking for a somewhat hidden gem, Cyberbots it worth a try.

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Galaxy Fight

NA / EU / JP
Back in 1995, Sunsoft’s released this as their first side-viewed fighting game release (technically, Sunsoft also did a top-down fighting game on the Super Famicom, Sugoi Hebereke) in Galaxy Fighter.

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.

Galaxy Fight included several features found in their later games, including the same engine for Waku Waku 7 and the first appearance of Bonus-Kun (a punching bag come to life that parodies Street Fighter’s Ryu). The game uses a four-button control scheme, though one of these is a taunt, meaning it’s technically a three-button game.

It’s a bit surprising considering how obscure the game was, but Galaxy Fight actually did get a North American release on the Saturn. I didn’t actually realize that until a few years back, but apparently I wasn’t the only one — it’s only been climbing the Rare & Valuable Saturn list over just the last few years.

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Waku Waku 7

A year after Galaxy Fight, SunSoft released this wacky and insane 2D fighter for the Neo Geo that utilized the Galaxy Fight engine but used it differently. 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. It could be described as a Vampire Hunter-esque 2D fighter with wacky characters and over-the-top super moves.

One of the first things you will notice about Waku Waku 7 is that all the graphics are large, creative and extremely colorful (and this is reflected in the requirement of the 4MB RAM cart). Just as good as the graphics themselves, everything you want is there to convey the action as smoothly as can be imagined, very few corners have been cut here and I can’t fault the animation in any way.

Like any good game, Waku Waku 7 is easy to learn, and nearly impossible to master. With so many special moves, super moves, and other secret attacks -it will keep you busy and coming back for more. There may only be 7 characters to choose from but each of these is so unique you’ll come back for more again and again. There isn’t a weak character in the game and each one requires a very different style of play to be learnt, you won’t want to put this one down for a long time.

Waku Waku 7 is not very well-known game in the mainstream market, but it is truly a masterpiece and one of the best Neo-Geo games even and, consequently, one of the best Saturn fighters you could import.

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Astra Superstars

As a bit of a follow-up to Waku Waku 7, Sunsoft created a more anime-styled fighter with the same Darkstalkers-inspired gameplay. However, instead of designed for the aging Neo-Geo, Astra Superstars was developed for the STV arcade hardware, which brought it some great 2D capabilities and an easy port to the Saturn.

Astra Superstar also supports the 4MB RAM Cart which brings along some beautiful and smoothly-animated 2D characters, giant sprites, and incredible special effects.

Another thing that makes Astra Superstar a bit different is that the fighting all takes place in the air. Both characters are floating for the entire match. Also, in addition to pushing up on the joystick to jump up, you can also press down to jump down. This different dynamic forces veteran fighting fans to think differently when playing in order to fight effectively.

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.

Anyway, if you’re looking for something different to try, Astra Superstars is a good place to start.

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Sokkou Seitokai: Sonic Council

This gem was published by Banpresto (the company behind Super Robot Wars and a handful of other properties) and was said to be the first games to include extensive testing and input from top Japanese fighting game players.

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.

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.

Sonic Council also featured some fantastic character sprites and some larger artwork that felt very reminiscent of Treasure’s work. To round out the package, Sonic Council also include some famous anime seiyuu for character voices, including, Ai Orikasa (Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo, Mega Man, Ayame Fujieda from Sakura Taisen, etc)

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Grove On Fight (Power Instinct 3)

Atlus’s Power Instinct series originated on the Super Nintendo / Super Famicom used used quirky characters to stand out from the crowd in the first wave of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Fatal Fury mania. However, you can see some strong Capcom and SNK vibes in the art style.

The third game in the Power Instinct series from Atlus is a bit of a re-invention of the series (perhaps why the title is mostly marketed as “Groove On Fight”. This installment 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 (and can switch mid-battle, like in Marvel vs Capcom), though with a couple of twists: defeated players stay on the battlefield and can actually be used as weapons. 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.

This Saturn version also requires a 1MB RAM cart) to keep up with all the action. Unfortunately, there are still some dropped frames of animation and load times compared to the arcade original. Otherwise, this is a pretty solid gem you won’t easily find elsewhere.

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This gem is a curious case of EA’s Japanese branch, Aorn, putting out an arcade fighter and then bringing an exclusive home version for the Sega Saturn. 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.

From a visual standpoint, Rabbit also features plenty of zoom in and out effects like an SNK title of the era. Of course, the sprite artwork is also some of the most interesting on the system. Unfortunately, for this home port, the sprites look more heavily-pixelated when zoomed in. It seems they simply used the “zoomed out” sprites and simply scaled those on the Saturn version.

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Pocket Fighter

If you have played Super Puzzle Fighter 2X, you are probably familiar with the pint-sized sprites of everybody’s favorite Street Fighter and Darkstalkers characters. Pocket Fighters (aka Super Gem Fighters) takes those character sprites and actually uses them in a fighting game. While the result isn’t exactly a deep gameplay experience, you can’t help but have a bit of fun with the game. Personally, it’s one of my guilty pleasures on the Saturn and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well.

The game still uses the gems from Puzzle Fighter but this time they are used to make your special moves stronger. Unfortunately, the combos are also very dumbed down, consisting of simple button mashing. However each special move produces some comical animations and costume changes.

The RAM cart is not required, but it does increase the fluidity of the animation for the Saturn version. Again, this is not a very deep fighter in any regard, but it is a simple pleasure that most die-hard Street Fighter fans will get a kick out of.

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Asuka 120% Burning Fest Limited

The graphics are very nice: just what you’d expect of a 2D Saturn fighting game. The sprites are large and the animation is very smooth and blow away all three Playstation versions of the game away (including the latest “Final” game). The only quibble I have with the graphics is the fact that all the backgrounds are static; even the earlier PS1 incarnations had animated backgrounds. Still, the backgrounds are rather nicely drawn compared to the PSX games, where the backgrounds were a bit pale.

The control and gameplay is where this game really shines. The controls are much like any other fighting game — except that it’s only two buttons. Even with its simple controls, you can achieve a variety of attacks that can be chained together for combos of more than a dozen hits. Don’t think that this means repeatedly tapping a button. Instead these combos actually require a bit of skill. The veteran player knows how to cancel out projectiles with attacks, dash attack a character, and juggle the opponents. This really is a game that rewards those with skill, in spite of the series’ reputation as a combo happy fighter.

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Samurai Shodown III and IV

As SNK’s premier weapons-based fighter, Samurai Shodown has not only seen a growing fan following, but the franchise has also seen its share of gameplay changes.

With Samurai Shodown III (aka Samurai Spirits: Zankurou Musouken), SNK wiped the slate clean and start fresh in order to start of a bold new direction for the franchise. The most obvious difference between this game and the earlier games in the series is the notably darker aesthetic. All of the characters have been completely redrawn, and impressively so. The animation is surprisingly smooth for all characters.

Along with the aesthetic overhaul came significant changes in the gameplay. The most obvious was the addition of two selectable versions of each character. The Slash mode tended to be the closest in style and moves to the Samurai Shodown II version of the character. Bust mode, on the other hand, implied a rule breaking version of the character. This version typically differed considerably from its Slash counterpart in gameplay and the button layout was changed, mapping the first three of the four available buttons to weak, medium and strong slash attacks, respectively. The fourth button was used for kick attacks, presumably to de-emphasize kicks in favor of the sword strikes.

The pace of the game had shifted somewhat, as many basic attacks could now be cancelled into special moves, something which was extremely rare in the first two installments. Most of SS2’s movement options had been removed, in favor of the ability to dodge attacks in addition to some other defensive abilities. The amount of damage from attacks was also greatly increased. As a result of all of these factors, matches were either very quick (just a few hits could take care of an opponent) or drawn out because of defense.

Even though Samurai Shodown III has some bugs and balancing issues, it is usually seen as a broken-but-fun gaming experience. However, after Samurai Shodown III’s lackluster acceptance, SNK again went back to address SSIII’s complaints with Samurai Shodown IV (aka Samurai Spirits: Amakusa Kourin), and deliver a follow-up that would hopefully regain some of the magic that had made SS2 such a hit.

The most obvious change with Samurai Shodown IV is visual, with dramatically adjusted colors and larger sprites for the individual characters in order to make the game more cartoon-ish. Aerial blocking and some of III’s other new defensive abilities were removed completely from Shodown IV.

Overall, the game plays fairly similar to SSIII, but the feel is considerably different. Control has been loosened and more accurately modified, controller motions have been improved, overall damage has been reduced, the inner-frame has been added which brings visual affect realistically and one can no longer charge his/her own POW gauge. The biggest addition is probably the “CD Combo,” wherein a player can press the C and D buttons together, triggering a strike that can be followed up by a sequence of button taps.

Though the game is better balanced, the flow of it is still often regarded as lopsided for certain characters. Unfortunately, Samurai Shodown IV also has a few flaws in comparison to III such as missing frames of animation, lack of individual music themes for each character, and missing moves. To me, it’s a bit of a toss-up when it comes to whether Samurai Shodown III or IV is superior, but both games would be excellent additions to a Saturn collection. Both are excellent ports from the Neo-Geo and fully utilize the 1MB RAM cart.

Check for Samurai Shodown Series on eBay

Golden Axe: The Duel

NA / EU / JP
The original Golden Axe game was one of Sega’s most popular brawler series for the Genesis and in the arcades. Instead of keeping with the standard Golden Axe format for its new Saturn game, Sega turned Golden Axe into a one-on-one 2D fighter, resulting in Golden Axe: The Duel.

The Duel features characters who appear to be descendants of some of the characters in the original game. The highlight was the ability to play as Death Adder.

Golden Axe: The Duel was released for both the arcades and the Sega Saturn console. It had a poor reception in both markets; Golden Axe fans shirked from its Street Fighter-like combo moves, but fans of the more popular fighters didn’t think it had enough combos.

The Duel features a typical six-button setup and is a weapon-based fighter. Combined with the zooming effect, you might think to compare it with Samurai Shodown. However, Golden Axe: The Duel is must faster-paced than Samurai Shodown, so it’s more accurately be likened to “Street Fighter Alpha with Swords”.

As an extra gameplay gimmick, there are little thieves that run out into the battlefield. Hitting one of these thieves will cause them to drop magical potions (which help you charge you meter for special moves) and pieces of meat to help you heal.

The visuals are more vibrant than older Golden Axe titles and have a bit of a 90s Capcom fighter vibe. In the grand survey of Saturn fighters, it looks solid, but at the time of its release, it didn’t quite match up to the new Capcom Vs. fighters. It’s also worth mentioning that the CPU on single-player mode is downright annoying even on the easiest setting. Add that to Golden Axe fans wanting an actual side-scrolling brawler and you can understand the disappointment at the time.

Golden Axe: The Duel is not necessarily an essential purchase by any means, but is an interesting pickup for die-hard Golden Axe fan or fighting collectors. Because of its strong Sega heritage, it has become more of a collector piece and you’ll pay up for an original copy

Check for Golden Axe: The Duel on eBay

Mortal Kombat Series

Mortal Kombat II: NA / EU / JP
Ultimate Mortal Kombat III: NA / EU
Mortal Kombat Trilogy: NA / EU

As one of the main competitors to Street Fighter 2 in on both home consoles and the arcades, Mortal Kombat brought more realistic characters and lots of bloody action to the 2D fighting genre. Mortal Kombat 2 is usually regarded as the best in the series, as it took everything that worked on the original and enhanced it in a number of ways. Midway increased the resolution of their characters and stages and improved the character designs. The series’ story begins to flesh out in Mortal Kombat 2 as well. In addition to more of the trademarked Fatalities, MKII also introduced the Babality and Friendship finishers.

While the standard MK3 didn’t make it to the Saturn, the console was blessed with Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, which is simply an upgraded version of the original Mortal Kombat 3. In addition to MK3’s new “Run” feature, chain combos, and 2-on-2 Kombat and Endurance modes, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 also includes a number of additions such as more characters, Kombat zones, and miscellaneous other touches.

Midway took it one step further by releasing Mortal Kombat Trilogy in 1996 as the second update to Mortal Kombat 3. It features a similar basic gameplay system and the same story as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, but adds characters and stages restored from Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. Even for fans of the first two games that previously only had them on 16-bit consoles, Mortal Kombat Trilogy was a nice way to experience these elements in a more arcade-accurate fashion. New additions to Mortal Kombat Trilogy also included the “Aggressor” bar, and a new finishing move called Brutality, a long combination of attacks that ends with the opponent exploding.

Personally, I’m more of a Street Fighter/Capcom fan, but I know there are a number of you that enjoy the Mortal Kombat series tremendously. The Saturn will bring you a superior MK experience over most other consoles — as long as you don’t mind the longer load times compared to cartridges.

Check for Mortal Kombat Series on eBay

Primal Rage

NA / EU / JP

Riding on the popularity of Mortal Kombat, Midway created another fighter that had a similar style (and possibly used the same engine), but featured prehistoric creatures as the featured fighters.

Like MK, Primal Rage takes a bloody twist when you use the brutal finishing attacks known as Domination Moves. There are also a few nifty elements that gives Primal Rage some added character over some other fighters such as eating human beings in order to regain health and using cheap tactics to win the match. The combination system, however is rather lacking and requires good reflexes and timing in order to pull them all off smoothly.

The Saturn version is actually one of the best home versions you can get of this fighter, as it has the highest resolution sprites and does a solid job with visual effects and excellent audio.

Overall, you will find that Primal Rage is a fighting game that is built with simplicity in mind and little else going for it until you start getting into the intense battles and have a hard time getting the more difficult special attacks off.

Check for Primal Rage on eBay

Dragonball Z Shin Butoden

There’s been a handful of Dragonball Z games over the years — including some rather impressive modern fighters. However, Dragon Ball Z: Shin Butoden (loosely translated to “Dragon Ball Z: True Fighting Story”) often ranking very high as one of the best games featuring the manga and anime series. This installment was developed by TOSE and published by Bandai in 1995.

Dragonball Z Shin Butoden resists much of the gameplay of the Super Famicom and Sega Mega Drive installments while using using hand-drawn artwork from the animators of the anime as the character sprites (all of which were previously used in the PS1 installment, Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22) and backgrounds.

Similar to the Playstation’s Dragonball Z Ultimate Battle 22, Shin Butoden’s Story Mode is a “dream match” with numerous characters and environments from throughout the main Dragon Ball Z storyline (along with bonus characters from other Dragon Ball storylines).

Shin Butoden allows the characters to travel large distances from each other, utilizing a split screen that is triggered when players go far enough away from each other (instead of a zoom effect you might see in som SNK fighters). The split screens then scroll independently for each character until they resume closer combat. While apart, characters can still attack with projectiles, of course. This feels a bit counter-intuitive at first, but there is also a little mini map in the top center of the screen that shows the character’s overall position to each other on the landscape.

Characters also have the ability to fight on two different planes. By using the float/land button, characters are able to jump up into the sky and fight from a hovering position, or land and fight from the ground. Each character also has the ability to knock their opponent, or move themselves into the background.

To mix up the fighting game norms, players duke it out in single-round matches, but each character has up to three health bars of life. Each character also has a power meter than can be charged and used for energy attacks. Also, there is no time limit in matches — partially because of the distance characters can travel.

Dragonball Z Shin Butoden also features two bonus game modes: Group Match (tag-team fighting similar to the King of Fighters series) and Mr. Satan Mode (where players bet on fights, using items in an attempt to influence the results).

Check for Dragonball Z Shin Butoden on eBay

Fighters’ History Dynamite (Karnov’s Revenge)

This second installment in Data East’s Fighter’s History series (originally in the Arcade and SNES before this sequel originated on the Neo-Geo platforms). The series was also originally brought into court for being too similar to Capcom’s Street Fighter, but was eventually dismissed for prior art.

This sequel does improve on the original, by adding more speed, new mechanics, and adding the ability to play as bosses. There’s also some interesting elements like being able to knock off character’s clothing, rendering the opponent dizzy for a moment. Otherwise, there still isn’t a lot of depth to the game engine. The Sega Saturn port does offer additional control and soundtrack options.

But overall, there isn’t a lot of set this game apart. It’s an OK fighter, but nothing to write home about — especially when there’s so many other great fighters on the platform.

Check for Fighters’ History Dynamite on eBay

Dark Legend / Outlaws of Lost Dynasty/ Suiko Enbu – Fuuun Saiki

Dark Legend / Suiko Enbu (original release): NA / JP
Suiko Enbu: Fuun Saiki: JP

Data East eventually broadened their ambitions just a bit after Fighter’s History and tried their hand at a different fitting franchise. Their next series was originally released in the North American arcades as Outlaws of Lost Dynasty, but the home version were dubbed, “Dark Legend”. From both a gameplay and visuals standpoint, the game has some inspirations from both the Samurai Shodown and Street Fighter II games, but without the overall refinement that you’d see in Capcom or SNK’s best work.

Dark Legend uses a six-button layout, lets you double-tap the joystick to run and also has zooming effects. Like Samurai Shodown, Dark Legend features weapon-based combat, but adds an extra twist: if you block too many special attacks, your weapon’s durability is reduced to the point of breaking. Once your weapon is broken, you will be temporarily stunned and you will lose your weapon for the rest of the fight. However, as opposed to in Samurai Shodown (where players are much weaker without their weapons), Dark Legend’s fighters are quicker when fighting bare-fisted and can also produce combos easier. As you might expect, your attacks are less powerful without your weapons, but you won’t be out of luck.

Dark Legend also featured a decent juggling system that was rather groundbreaking during its release in 1995. It’s possible to working juggles into attack combos — a process that became a staple in more modern 2D fighters.

While Outlaws Of The Lost Dynasty was developed for Sega’s ST-V arcade system (which was based on the Saturn’s architecture), it was one of the earliest examples. As a result, the visuals won’t blow anyone away. The original Japanese Saturn port was pretty rough, featuring a lot of choppiness, sluggishness, and frame skipping. This is in addition to long load times, which weren’t uncommon on Saturn games. Many of these issues were resolved on the American Saturn (and PS1) ports. However, there was still some scaling issues in addition to some slowdown with larger characters.

A Japan-exclusive expansion/semi-sequel titled Suiko Enbu: Fuunsaiki was later released only for the Saturn in Japan. It attempted to further fine-tune the engine of the Saturn port (especially compared to the original Japanese release) and offers faster speed modes that help things feel like a smoother experience. Also, this version added a couple Fighters History characters, Makoto Mizoguchi and Liu Yungmie to the roster as a bonus.

After some incremental improvements Dark Legend, and especially Suiko Enbu: Fuunsaiki are worthy additions to a fighting library for those that have worked past the Capcom, SNK, and even Sunsoft libraries.

Check for Dark Legend on eBay
Check for Suiko Enbu: Fuunsaiki on eBay

Advanced V.G.

The” Variable Geo” series originated on the PC-9800 series of computers in Japan and the PC Engine in the early 90s. It was eventually brought to the Saturn and Playstation (before returning to modern PCs). The series is an all-women’s fighting game that has been iterated enough time that it is a rather solid fighter by the time it came to the Saturn and Playstation in the form of Advance V.G.

It’s worth nothing that these later installments play down the “fan service”, depending less on drawing in players with character designs and interaction and more on actual gameplay. The result is a solid game that plays a lot like what you’d expect from a 90s Capcom or SNK title.

Advanced V.G. features a four-button layout, with two kicks and punches. There’s also some special moves thrown in. Mechanically, the game is closest to something like Real Bout Fatal Fury. It definitely has some nods to SNK’s work thrown in. The visuals aren’t too bad either. If you like a fast and dynamic ground game, high damage combos and 90s anime girls, this game just might be for you.

Check for Advanced V.G. on eBay

Other Not-So-Great Fighters:

  • Street Fighter: The Movie / Street Fighter Real Battle on Film (NA / EU / JP) – Wanting to capitalize on both the possible buzz around the Street Fighter live-action movie (that didn’t end up being a commercial success) and the visual style of Mortal Kombat (using digitized frames from real actors) minus the blood, Street Fighter: The Movie (The Game) was an interesting collaboration project that just didn’t go well. Due to sloppy controls and may other oddities, many would argue the movie has held up better over time than this game-based-on-a-movie-based-on-a-game. For an in-depth and interesting read, I would recommend checking out Polygon’s Street Fighter: The Movie: The game: An oral history. In the end, Street Fighter: The Movie isn’t recommended for a serious play, but is an interesting curiosity to try out or add to a big collection. But just don’t make it a top priority. (eBay)
  • Seifuku Densetsu: Pretty Fighter X (JP) – It’s not a bad game, but its a fairly generic all-girl fighter. You get six buttons with 3 levels of punches and kicks. Each character has a set of special moves, but no super moves. It can be fun for a few minutes if you’re bored, but it’s hard to recommend. Even if you’re in a mood for an all-girl fighter, you’re better off with Advanced V.G., mentioned above. (eBay)
  • Rise of the Robots 2: Resurrection (NA / EU / JP) – The graphics of the original looked cool in the 16-bit era, but the gameplay is almost non-existent. Not sure why they even bothered with a sequel. (eBay)
  • Battle Monsters (NA / EU / JP) – I didn’t even know this one existed for many years, even though it also has a North American release. It also relied on digitized human actors as the characters, Mortal Combat-inspired blood, but was plagued by choppy animation and pixelization. It tried to do some interesting things, but just was not executed well. (eBay)

Other Related Saturn Releases

  • Street Fighter II: The Interactive Movie (JP) – This one isn’t primarily a fighting game, but is more like an interactive FMV game (similar to games we played on the Sega CD and 3DO) that is based on original animated film. However, there is a final battle that plays very similar to Super Street Fighter II Turbo. (eBay)

Street Fighter Collection (North American Saturn) by retrothunder on IG

Real Bout (Fatal Fury) Special (Japan) by by pablo_0151 on IG

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Tahir says:

I loved Street Fighter Alpha 2. I use to love doing Akuma’s finishing move where the whole screen went white and you just saw flashes. I wish I had got Vampire Saviour, that looks awesome.

Andy P says:

Wow. I have all of the Capcom and SNK fighters for the Saturn, but I had never heard of many on the last third of this list. Great job cobbling this all together. I may need to dust off my white virtua stick and head back to Saturn.

racketboy says:

Ha! Glad to hear it! I’ll consider my mission accomplished 🙂

Darin L Herrick says:

Personally I think the Saturn library gets REALLY interesting when you start getting into all the Japanese-exclusive 3D fighters…

racketboy says:

That’s interesting you mention that! I’m hoping to do a guide someday on the 3D fighters, but I honestly haven’t spent much time on the Japanese releases yet — I’m looking forward to it!
Any particular recommendations from you? If you have any notes to share I’d be glad to include them!

Darin L Herrick says:

There’s a fair number of them that are exclusive to Japan. Some 3D fighters that really stood out to me were:

Fighters Megamix
Last Bronx
Fighting Vipers
Elan Doree

Zero Divide: The Final Conflict is also interesting and of course there’s Virtua Fighter 1 & 2 and VF Remix.

A good quick reference to get you started is:

The Other! Fighting Games on the Sega Saturn – Part 1 & 2 by SegaLordX on YouTube.

racketboy says:

Ah yes, I’ve played those (although not sure about Zero Divide), but it’s been a while.
and thanks for the video recommendation — I’ll check it out 🙂

WWammy says:

Btw what differences do the 3DO and Jaguar versions of Primal Rage have that make them better than the Saturn port?

I have all versions and I felt that the Saturn version is better overall unless I missed something?

racketboy says:

That’s a really good question. That must have been in my older notes and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I included that. I just scrubbed out that comparison and left it as a more broad statement that the Saturn version is a solid port. Thanks!

Ludwig says:

I loved X-Men: Children of the Atom.
After the Street Fighters on Mega Drive, that really blew my mind. And I did not even know of Akuma being in there! Only the boss fight with Magneto being so hard and unfair annoyed me a bit, since it meant I would never reach the end sequence with any but my best characters.

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