The Best SNES Fighters in the USA

The Best SNES Fighters in the USA

Note from racketboy:  Our newest contributor, Ack, has been on a recent quest to track down a copy of every US-released fighting game on the Super Nintendo.   After playing through the good and the bad, he was kind enough to share his recommendations.  (even if there are better ports out there)

The 16-bit generation was really the heyday of the 2D fighter.  It was the genre that defined the arcade of the late 80s and early 90s, fueled much of the gaming violence debate through the decade, and holds within its ranks the title that many point to when debating how Nintendo ultimately won the generation’s console war over Sega.  And in the United States, we ate it up.  For many of us, dreams of the hits that sucked us into gaming came from our arcades, and ports of those same titles brought us to love our home consoles.

Unfortunately, the US didn’t get all the fighters that would populate the Japanese market.  We didn’t see great titles like Gundam Wing: Endless Duel on our shores.  But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get some great games.  Here’s some titles you might have missed while waiting to get that import-ready SNES off eBay.

Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition

Power Rangers The Fighting EditionBased on the television series Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, this title is really a giant monster fight.  It features 8 playable characters from the start, 4 good megazords and 4 villains.  It’s a 4-button fighter, features the original Power Ranges theme, and various stages designed to emphasize that you are fighting in giant size.  Unfortunately it also runs into problems because of these same perks.  While the stages emphasize size, there’s a lack of them in the game.  All the Megazords use the same “Zordon’s Hideout” stage as their base.  To make matters worse, Zordon’s stage uses the Power Rangers theme song as background music.  The Power Ranger’s theme constitutes about 70% of what you’re going to hear in this game.

The game does have some interesting other features, however.  The player can pick Story Mode, Fighting Mode, or Trial Mode.  Fighting Mode is the name for Player vs. Player, and Trial Mode lets the player pick any character and play the CPU.  Story Mode only allows the player to pick from two Megazords, and they then fight all 8 opponents before finally facing Ivan Ooze.  Whenever a monster is defeated, the player is treated to a cut scene where the Rangers finish off the villain.  Also, if the player happens to lose, they get to see a pretty interesting continue screen, where Lord Zedd’s finger taps on the option you’re currently selecting.  As far as losing is concerned, I didn’t mind too much considering how interesting it looked.

The game also features a new way of building power.  Each character’s power bar fluctuates on the bottom of the screen, filling from nothing to full, then dropping to nothing again.  When a special move is used, it will be more or less powerful, depending on how full the bar was when the move was executed.  If the bar is full, it changes color next time it fills up.  After the player uses a special move 3 times when the bar is full, their character enters a special mode where they can use special attacks as much as they want at their most powerful setting, for a limited amount of time.  Each character’s play style and special attacks are unique, making for a well-diversified cast.  This title is definitely worth a look.
Find Power Rangers Fighting Edition on eBay (about $12.00)

Street Fighter Alpha 2

Street Fighter Alpha 2First off, Street Fight Alpha 2 is well known, but not on this console.  Why?  It saw an extremely late release, coming out in arcades and for the SNES in 1996.  More people played it for Playstation and Sega Saturn, where it was released in 1997.  As far as SNES fighters go, it’s the most expensive American fighting release, averaging nearly double what other good fighters on the console cost.  It also lacks many of the secret characters from the arcade title.  The game was manufactured using the S-DD1 chip for graphic decompression, making it gorgeous and hard to emulate, as the chip doubles as copy protection.

The title brings many staples of later 2D Capcom fighters to the end of the 16-bit era, including the three-level Super Combo bar, counters, fall breaking, and a particular favorite of the writer, air-blocking.  It’s a deep game with 18 playable characters, not including an alternate version of Chun Li that can be unlocked in the title.  It’s a well-designed 6 button fighter, combining much of the classic Street Fighter characters with the Alpha series, and introducing Sakura’s first apperance.  Backgrounds are detailed, the music is great, and for the most part, sound effects are well done.

This does not mean the game is without its problems.  The limited size of the cart caused a lot of frames of animation that could not be ported.  Alpha 2 also suffers from some pretty nasty pauses while trying to load.  Every time the announcer says “Fight!” the game will pause for a moment to load.  Any load screens will cause the game to freeze for a second or two.  While it doesn’t get in the way of gameplay, it does swiftly become annoying.  Sound effects have trouble too, especially if two are played at the same time, say from two characters executing special moves.  The game won’t pause, but one effect will briefly override all other effects.  In general, sound quality is also diminished.  Again, it doesn’t effect gameplay, but it is noticeable.  And in a last bit of censorship, Alpha 2 is one of the last SNES titles to go under Nintendo’s knife.  Apparently Nintendo of America disliked the biblical implications of one character’s name, so in this title, Sodom is called Katana.  This has never been repeated in any other Street Fighter game.

Finally, the game lacks the options of the first two titles I’ve mentioned above.  All the player can do is Arcade and Versus.  That is all that’s available.  Of course the two modes you get are excellent, but it really does have to be weighed against the high price tag the game carries.
Find Street Fighter Alpha 2 on eBay (about $22.00)

World Heroes 2

World Heroes 2The World Heroes series has had a bit of a bad run in the United States.  When the original title appeared on the screen, it featured characters and controls similar to Street Fighter, causing the series to be written off as just another SF clone.  The series would only see two more releases, and only the first two titles would appear on the Super Nintendo in the United States.  World Heroes 2 is the better of the two titles.  It’s a 2 or 4-button fighter, depending on the options you pick at the beginning.  The game features only Two play modes from the beginning, Single Player and VS.  This is where the game becomes quirky.

Indeed, World Heroes 2 is all about Quirkiness.  There are actually several different game modes, depending on options selected at various points.  For a different experience, the player can start by selecting Arcade or SNES controls, being 2 and 4 button control schemes respectively.  The player can also set the health bar to arcade, normal, or seesaw, the last causing health to go back and forth between fighters.  Do more damage, get more health.  Also, when picking Single Player, after selecting a character, the game asks if the player wants Normal Mode or Survival.  The cast features 14 playable characters from around the world, and the game gets even more wacky when considering who to pick.  Do you want the German military commander who’s also a robot?  How about the football player from America?  The Pacific Islander with a  giant Tiki mask named Mudman?  Why not the pirate captain, who is apparently not from a country at all?  Each character is more bizarre than the last, and it makes for some excellent fun while using an engine that’s as deep as the game is weird.  Also note, projectiles can be reflected back at targets, possibly multiple times.  Can you think of a better way to piss off your buddies while proving you’re number one?
Find World Heroes 2 on eBay (about $6.00)

Power Instinct

Power InstinctPower Instinct is the English name for Gōketsuji Ichizoku, or The Gōketsuji Clan, a fighting game released on the console in 1993 by Atlus.  While its sequel would be released in 1994, it didn’t see another console port until the Playstation.  Power Instinct follows a family tournament of the Gōketsuji, who fight every so many years or so to see who should control the clan.  The game focuses on a strange blend of fighting and comedy, and though some of the humor was lost in translation, the game’s about as quirky and bizarre as World Heroes 2.  It’s a 4 button fighter featuring 8 selectable characters and one boss who is a palette swap of one of the main characters.  The game features a Vs. Mode, “Life Attack,” which is basically a survival mode, a standard arcade mode, and two different practice modes, one where the CPU stands or sits, and the other where they fight back.

The game’s got some interesting moves.  Double jumps and double dashes make mobility a must in the game, and players can knock their opponent through barriers on both sides of the stage, making it larger.  The SNES version also looks and sounds better than the Sega version.  Unfortunately the game does have issues with material being cut out.  Character endings were removed, as well as character bios that originally appeared between game demos.  In fact, the game intro demo was removed.  But perhaps the worst loss of all was the Karaoke Mode that was removed from the SNES port, prohibiting American Nintendo fans from singing along.

Still, we do get to use Otane, the old woman.  She has perhaps the greatest projectile in all of gaming history(Hint: it’s her dentures).
Find Power Instinct on eBay (about $5.00)

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3The Mortal Kombat series was possibly Street Fighter’s biggest rival in American in the early 90s.  It popularized digitized sprites, proved palette swaps could still be made fairly unique, and got the gaming industry into a fair bit of trouble with its rampant bloodshed and violence.  Of the four MK titles released on the SNES, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 had it all.  The same 4 button high punch/low punch/high kick/low kick system as the arcade.  23 characters.  2 on 2 Vs matches.  8 player tournament mode.  Unlockable boss characters for two-player fights.  There was even an option to turn blood and fatalities on or off.

The game also featured some interesting additions not found in the arcade.  The Brutality, where a player would wail on their opponent until they exploded, was invented for the SNES port.  Many of the characters hidden in the arcade were playable from the start.  There was even an easter egg where the player could access up to three different cheat menus, changing gameplay, watching character endings, accessing hidden content on the cart, and so on.  But the title did lose some things just to get all this on the cart.  The character Sheeva’s animation data was removed, though she can technically be played through some glitches.  Many backgrounds from Mortal Kombat 3 were removed.  Certain characters fatalities were edited, and in some cases removed entirely.  And finally, the announcer does not say character names when selected.  For the most part, however, gameplay remains intact.
Find Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 on eBay (about $13.00)

Fatal Fury Special

Fatal Fury SpecialUnfortunately for the Fatal Fury series, the series was plagued by allegations of ripping off Street Fighter 2 from day one, even though the first title was in development by the time Street Fighter 2 was released in arcade.  Nevertheless, Fatal Fury was well built and inventive from the get go, becoming known for its two-lane fighting system.  Players could jump and attack between lanes for quick escapes or reprisals, and could also throw their opponent into the other lane if desired.  The series would see its next installment a year later in Fatal Fury 2, and an update a year later in Fatal Fury Special.  Fatal Fury Special featured all the playable characters from Fatal Fury 2, plus the four bosses as playable characters, and three more from the original Fatal Fury, totaling 15 available from the get go.  The title also features one unlockable character, Ryo Sakazaki, from Art of Fighting.

Fatal Fury Special is a 4 button fighter, with R and L serving as “3D Move” and “3D Attack,” allowing a quick switch to a different fighting lane.  The game features a single player arcade mode, V.S. Game, and an option called Count Down, where the player has infinite health and 3 minutes to defeat as many CPU opponents as possible.  On a bit of a surprising note, the game also features Dolby Surround Sound.

There are a few problems.  Jumping sometimes feels a bit floaty, taunts have strange controls, and the lane system isn’t quite there yet in this title.  But it features a unique cast with varied characters, mixes up the lane system by throwing a few stages into the mix that don’t have a second lane, and decent controls.  If you’re a fan of SNK, this game is a must.
Find Fatal Fury Special on eBay (about $12.00)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters

TMNT Tournament FightersThis game was created after the popularity of the Sparring Match feature in the TMNT: Turtles in Time beat-’em-up.  Unfortunately when this title was released, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were waning in popularity, so this game went largely unnoticed.  It’s a 4 button fighter, featuring 10 playable characters.  The game sports a Tournament Mode, VS Battle, Story Mode, and a Watch mode, to view CPU battles.  Tournament Mode serves as the standard arcade battle, where players can select any of the ten characters to fight others for cash.  Story Mode is a bit more deep, making the player select one of the four turtles, then moving them from location to location to fight villains while trying to rescue April O’Neil and Master Splinter.

It’s unfortunate that this title sees so little recognition, as its fighting system is actually well developed.  TMNT Tournament Fighters was one of the first games to ever use a power bar that is charged by fighting.  Build up enough energy, and the player is able to unleash a powerful super move on their opponent.  This feature would become a staple of the 2D fighting genre.  The game is also great for nostalgia purposes, both for its TMNT characters as well as the use of character bios after Demo fights.  It’s deep, controls well, has great music, and a very unique attitude that lives up to its namesake.  There are a few issues with names and grammar in Story Mode, but these can be easily overlooked.  On a side note, this was also released on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis.  The Super Nintendo version is considered the best of the three.
Find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters on eBay (about $9.00)

Killer Instinct

Killer InstinctKiller Instinct was a great game in the arcade, and its success lead to a release on the SNES less than a year later.  It was a 6 button fighter that borrowed some of the best elements of other popular series at its time, and then added its own into the mix.  Techniques such as Automatic Combos, Combo Breakers, and even Ultra Combos going over 80 hits were all on the playing field.

Killer Instinct was known for its dual health bars.  You don’t win rounds in Killer Instinct, you pummel the other guy down, give him a breather, then pummel him some more.  If the player was hit before beating him down, that’s no problem.  The player still have all that health left over when the other guy gets back up.  And once the player had beaten down their opponent, the screen flashes red and finishing moves become available.  The Humiliation finisher was always a particular favorite of mine.

Of course, some changes had to be made to the game so it could run on a Super Nintendo cartridge.  First of all, all character sprites had to be toned down, in both size and quality.  Previously 3D stages were changed to straight 2D, and some were completely dropped.  The game’s camera was also changed to be more static.  And in perhaps the most heinous of cuts, the full motion videos for victory poses were changed to static images.  Heart-breaking, but necessary.

To make up for it, Rare added new game modes.  An 8 player Tournament Mode was put in, similar to what Mortal Kombat fans would see on their SNES carts.  Killer Instinct also featured a Practice Game, essentially a training mode where the player wails on Fulgore in a random stage.  Stage finishers and character bios during the game demo were also left in the game.

Killer Instinct also has three particular notes of interest.  First, it was released in a black cartridge in Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States, not the standard gray for most SNES titles.  Second, the game was never released in Japan.  And third, and perhaps most important of all, the game came packaged with a 16 track CD of songs taken straight from the game, titled Killer Cuts.  The CD was later sold via Nintendo Power, where it could also be ordered in cassette format.
Find Killer Instinct on eBay (about $7.00)

Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers

Super Street Fighter IIWhen talking fighters on the Super Nintendo, most point to Street Fighter 2 Turbo as the genre and era defining fighter.  But a year later, Capcom would release a new version of Street Fighter 2 on the SNES.  Many believe this game was released to early, and another tweaked version called Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo would be released a little while later, but it would never make it to the shores of the United States, probably in part due to the failure to sell Super Street Fighter 2.  Commercially, it tanked.  Too much supply, not enough demand.

Super Street Fighter 2 is a 6 button fighter, much like its predecessor.  It featured a similar arcade mode, called Super Battle.  Versus Battle, Group Battle, and Tournament Mode all served as multiplayer options.  Group Battle and Tournament Mode were both for handling multiple fighters or players beyond the second.  Want 8 individuals to play in random pyramid chart?  Tournament Mode.  Want to duel 8 characters vs. 8 characters with your best friend?  Group Battle.  A Time Challenge mode was also included, where the player picks their character and their CPU opponent, then tried to beat them as quickly as possible.

But beyond extra game modes, what else was there?  Quite a bit, actually.  New character portraits were devised for the game.  Characters had 8 palette swaps to choose from by pressing different buttons to select a fighter.  Chun-Li’s ending was changed, and the bosses all had new endings put in.  New animations for special moves were also put in for a few characters, including Chun Li’s fireball.

But that isn’t all.  Capcom took the time to put in a fully fleshed out combo system, keeping track of the number of hits and adding bonus score, while also awarding bonus points for things like getting the first hit.  Reversals were added into the game, to help combat some of the issues found in Street Fighter 2.  Character bios were interspersed with game demos at the start of the game.  New characters were brought in, including Cammy, bringing the total up to 16 playable characters, each with their own unique stages and fighting styles.  The game also featured an updated intro, one that is quite possibly my favorite of the entire Street Fighter series.  The only real downside was that the game was slowed down, back to speed with Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition.
Find Super Street Fighter 2: The New Challengers on eBay (about $15.00)

Additional Recommendations

But just because I recommend these titles doesn’t mean you should stop there.  Here’s a few more recommendations for all your fighting needs  (And just to let you know, most of these were left off of the above list because I wanted to only included one installment from each series).

  • Art of Fighting
  • Fatal Fury
  • Fatal Fury 2
  • Fighter’s History
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Mortal Kombat 2
  • Mortal Kombat 3
  • Samurai Shodown
  • Street Fighter 2
  • Street Fighter 2 Turbo

Of course, there are even more fighters to be found on the SNES.  You can see my quest to collect each on on this forum thread.

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How does that work then do they like beat the shit out of each other with the console and throw cartridges like shurikens?

Kataztrophy says:

Best? you basically compilesd a full list of fighters released in the US. Listing the best means you exclude WH2(They finally got it right with Perfect, but that never got a SNES port like you said), and anything with Kombat in the title(uppercut fest with gore = not a quality fighter).

The very thought of Fighter’s History being recommended to anyone makes me queezy.

kevinski says:

It’s nice to see Power Instinct getting some recognition. I agree about the quality of the list, though. There are definitely some titles that need to be removed.

Doctor Fugue says:

I think it’s a great list. Choosing 9 out of around 45 games is perfectly reasonable. Some people should try playing all the unmentioned lesser-known and slightly broken fighting games to truly see why these are the best.

racketboy says:

The Doctor summarized it well. Nobody said the SNES is the best fighter platform out there, but Ack did a good job of narrowing down a surprisingly large list of games down to a few that would be the best if you were restricted to the SNES.

Pingfa says:

A real shame WeaponLord gets no love these days… a real shame. Not that I can blame most people; it’s not easily accessible and requires a great deal of practice and perseverence, which isn’t generally what the genre is renown for.
That being said, I suppose that’s a reasonable reason to keep it off the recommendations list, though I do think it could supersede some of these choices nonetheless.

Anyhow, an otherwise very good list, with thoughtful descriptions to top it off; good job, Ack. 😉

Ack says:

Sorry about that Pingfa. You’re not the first I’ve talked to that enjoyed WeaponLord, but I’ve always felt that the game was a bit too complex, like Guilty Gear Isuka. It takes a lot more dedication than most fighters to even get to a moderate level of skill, and the CPU definitely doesn’t help you get there. I just don’t feel right recommending it to folks.

For the record, Doctor Fugue was right about their being about 45 fighters on the SNES. I’m thinking about doing a list of the worst. And let me tell you…some of these make Shaq Fu look good.

aisforaquabat says:

Oh man! I’m pumped for the worst SNES fighters list now.

racketboy says:

I think I’m gonna have to play Weaponlord now 🙂

vejita says:

Yea, if I had the time I’d get better with Weaponlord…

Pingfa says:

There’s also a Genesis version of WeaponLord, by the way, which I actually prefer – the SNES version has more detailed and colorful backgrounds but the Genesis version has more frames of animation and thus arguably plays more smoothly.

Moving on, yowzers Ack! I didn’t even know how badly received Shaq Fu was when I played it, and I couldn’t bare to play it then. A worse fighting game would have to be in a whole new league. :-p
Two fighting games I know to be generally frowned upon by the majority are ClayFighter and Ballz, so they may be worthy contenders.

Hatta says:

You want a bad SNES fighter, try Pit-Fighter.

bonefish says:

Mortal Kombat 2 is more deserving the spot than UMK3.

Tom says:

“Fighter’s History” was great. “Fighter’s History Dynamite” even better, even though it never came out for SNES.

If you’re listing EVERY SNES fighting game to come out in the US, don’t forget “Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle”. The voice acting stunk on ice but the rest was kinda fun.

Ack says:

Nah, these are just a few. I’ve actually already picked up Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle, but I wasn’t that impressed with it. I was never much into the anime, so I suppose it does have that against it.

And the list of every SNES fighting game is actually a good bit longer. We linked to the thread a couple of times in the article, and I’m only…four games away at this point, for a grand total of 43 titles. Don’t worry, all the favorites are in it, as well as a lot of trash. And I’ll write the sister article to this one, the Worst SNES Fighters in the USA, as soon as I find out if Pit-Fighter is as bad as it looks.

blanka90 says:

SUPER Street Fighter 2 wasnt as slow as Street Fighter 2.
It had morge speed modes, exactly 4.
One of the best old SF games, my favourite one.

Ziggy says:

Ultimate MK3 and MKII should have been switched around. MKII was way more popular then any other 2D Mortal Kombat game, and possibley ANY Mortal Kombat game!

Ack says:

I understand the sentiment, but between the two, UMK3 had a larger cast, more stages, and more moves to pull off. I didn’t want to base this list off popularity, otherwise some of these quality titles never would have made the cut. I also only wanted one entry per series, so I included the extra list at the bottom. Heck, the only reason there are two SF titles is because they’re from two different series, and Super Street Fighter II wasn’t as popular as Street Fighter II Turbo, selling roughly just under half of SFII Turbo’s 4,100,000 units(which apparently sold less than SFII, at 6,300,000 units sold).

Chad says:

I hate when people recomend TMNT tournament fighter its such a slow paced game and so is fatal fury both of the games are not worth your time

Ack says:

I’m sorry you didn’t like them. Honestly they feel about the same speed as Street Fighter 2 to me, and I still enjoy that game even without the turbo settings. But I understand that not everybody is ok with that, and I’ve heard gripes before about Fatal Fury.

What games would you have suggested instead?

milan simkhovich says:

i enjoyed seifuku densetsu: pretty fighter for super famicom, even though it got horrible reviews from players on controls are responsive, the graphics are nice and there are many difficulty levels, from very easy to very hard..for some reason, though, there is no boss in this game..the into theme is good, though! there is a sequel for the japanese sega saturn called pretty fighter x, but i haven’t played it yet.

Hugo says:

Just got my Street Fighter Alpha 2 SNES. Besides the limits of the cartridge vs other superior formats. I have to say it is not a bad transfer and plays good. Too bad about the loading, but the censorship issue is quite unique.

Derek says:

Sure, UMK3 had a larger cast but it’s missing some of the series best and most iconic fighters. Where’s Raiden for example? Johnny Cage? They happen to be two of my favorites, and I’m sure many people will agree that their absence is inexcusable. The same goes for the levels..yes, UMK3 has more but I prefer the MKII levels. And the new combo system and ability to run in MK3 doesn’t really make it better in my opinion. I prefer the pacing of II much more.

Remember it’s about quality, not quantity..Mortal Kombat II is a better balanced and more carefully constructed game, plain and simple.

milan simkhovich says:

on my above comment, i meant “intro” there, not into theme, and i forgot to mention that pretty fighter is an import. i would also like to add another excellent import called battle master.

Patrick says:

I got to try out that Power Rangers game!

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