Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Guilty Gear, Virtua Fighter. All of these key lines originated in the 90s, during the «Golden Era» of fighting games. True, in addition to the giants of the industry, the period was filled with other significant elements that may not have become outstanding representatives of the genre, but at least actively participated in its formation.
1991 — Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
It was with Street Fighter II that the platinum period of fighting games began, when the genre stopped carefully groping for solid ground and acquired its own canon, finally separating itself from the Beat ’em up genre. The game paved the way for a huge number of imitators and extremely popularized the genre around the world. By 1994, there were at least 25 million players in North America alone.
Especially for SF2, Capcom developed the most accurate arcade joystick, thanks to which it became possible to successfully perform complex super-shots without fear of button operation problems. In addition, the company made a significant upgrade of the filling of the machines, which made it possible to bring the detailing of characters and backgrounds to a whole new level. Do not forget that it was SF2 that brought combo attacks to the genre, which, by the way, were invented by mistake.
Unfortunately, with all the success, Capcom was unable to maintain the pace set by itself, and the next two spin-offs (Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter EX) could not perform at the level of other popular titles. Only six years later, Street Fighter 3 came out and continued the work of one of the best fighting games in the industry.
1991 — Fatal Fury
Around the same time as Street Fighter II, Fatal Fury was released by the Japanese company SNK, and development was led by Takashi Nishiyama, one of the creators of the first Street Fighter. Despite the more modest success of Fatal Fury, the game managed to turn first into one series, then as a prequel to Art of Fighting into the second, and two years later into the third in the face of King of Fighters.
Fatal Fury focused on more controlled fights with competent timing of super attacks. The game also stood out by adding a second row of movement that players would switch between during combat.
1992 — Dark Edge
The idea of free movement of fighters was continued by Sega in the fighting game Dark Edge. True, then the company considered that the Western market was not yet ready for such changes, and the game was released only in Japan.
1992 — Art of Fighting
Claimed as a prequel to Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting tried to dilute the conventional format with various innovations. The most interesting of them turned out to be the Spirit gauge, which is responsible for the strength of special attacks, which, in turn, become available after completing bonus levels. The enemy can lower the level of the spirit with taunts, for which a separate button is responsible in the game. Among other things, at the minimum level of health, the player has the opportunity to save himself by performing a Desperate Attack.
Perhaps it was Art of Fighting that first used a dynamic camera that reacts to changes in the distance between opponents. Approaching, increased detail, which was beneficial to the gameplay, because depending on the received blows, the image of the character changed and became more and more shabby and bloody.
1992 — Mortal Kombat
Although Street Fighter II became a trendsetter of the genre, it was not destined to remain alone at the top. The very next year, 1992, the American company Midway Games rushed in and issued not another clone with minor changes, but a full-fledged and original game, a real example to follow.
Mortal Kombat has become, in a way, the dark side of fighting games. For the characters, not hand-drawn sprites were used, but digitized images of the actors. An intuitive combat system that is different from others, secret super-hit and, of course, «Fatality». The latter in a special way blew the heads off the fans, leaving them with no choice but to line up to buy the game. Branded finishing off opponents in the most brutal and sophisticated ways has become the hallmark of the series, as well as the last straw of patience of almost every self-respecting politician who accuses Midway Games of calling for violence. Luckily, the series got off lightly, and with each scandal, the series gained more fans than it lost.
Unlike Capcom, Midway Games has managed to capitalize on its success quite well. The very next year, a sequel was released, recognized by many publications as the best part of the series, and throughout the 90s, Mortal Kombat, one might say, dominated the industry, becoming one of the most successful and profitable media franchises in the world.
Another title from Sega that has achieved much more success than Dark Edge. And this time the developers did not try to please the American audience. Everything in Samurai Shodown is centered around Japanese culture with minimal English phrases. Moreover, in the archives of the gaming industry, the game is listed as a genre pioneer in one-on-one combat with weapons in hand, which later spawned an entire genre. Including Samurai Shodown is known for its scale of rage, which grows not as a result of successful player attacks, but, on the contrary, from the damage inflicted on him.
1993 — Eternal Champions
Eternal Champions was one of the first titles to skip the arcade and go directly to consoles. Most of all, the game is remembered for the special «Overkills» finishing moves and characters from different times. Despite the short life span of the series, atypical for the genre, Eternal Champions nevertheless managed to acquire cult status among competitors.
1993 — Virtua Fighter
While Mortal Kombat conquered the American market, a fresh series, Virtua Fighter, soon took over in Japan. In contrast to the complex controls of the MK and SF2, which included five or six buttons (in addition to movement), Virtua Fighter offered a minimalist, but by no means boring three-button combat. At the same time, the camera behaved much more dynamically than in other games of the genre, approaching and turning depending on the dynamics of the duel.
Of course, another key factor was the appearance of the title. For the first time, polygonal 3D character models were used. Thus, the game not only became a direct inspiration for other top fighting games like Tekken and Dead or Alive, but also immortalized itself in history as a game that showed the promise of polygonal human models. Virtua Fighter was so well received that it soon matched sales of its main platform, the Sega Saturn.
1994 — The King of Fighters′94
Another descendant of Fatal Fury, The King of Fighters deserves a mention for its fresh take on teamfights. Instead of the traditional three rounds with one character, the player chose between teams of three fighters for a three-on-three battle over the course of one round.
1994 — Tekken
One of the most important games for the popularization of the PlayStation, which was also sold in a million copies, was Tekken. Inspired by the success of Virtua Fighter, Namco decided to turn what was once a 3D animation test into a full-fledged game and brought in the same VF developers to do so.
One of the most attractive moments was the combat system, which allows you to manipulate each leg and arm separately. Thus, it became possible to create beautiful smooth series of strikes. The player was offered eight charismatic characters to choose from, each with their own mini-boss and a cut-scene at the end of the game.
Since then, Tekken 2 and 3 have broken through all sorts of walls and earned themselves a place among the best games not only within the genre, but in the industry as a whole.
1995 — Battle Arena Toshinden
The Battle Arena Toshinden title from the Japanese studio Tamsoft is credited with translating fighting games into «true 3D». This time, players have access to all 360 degrees of location and they had to adapt to new tactics of warfare. Despite the warm reception of the gameplay, which was later implemented in more than one fighting game, a solid part of the players still consider it superfluous and perceive only the canonical 2D approach. Either way, Battle Arena Toshinden received great reviews and grew into three sequels in the future.
1996 — Dead or Alive
The creators of the legendary NES Ninja Gaiden, Temco, could not stand aside and also decided to jump into the genre train with their Dead or Alive series.
It is believed that the key to the successful launch of the series was the emphasis on the sexuality of its female characters. In the future, somehow it even resulted in Dead or Alive Extreme Beach Valleyball, in which it was no longer about martial arts. But, of course, the series would not have been able to stay afloat for so long if that was the only thing.
The first part of Dead or Alive, in the likeness of Virtua Fighter, simplified the controls for the sake of speed and thoughtful counterattacks. In addition, the so-called «Danger Zones» were presented — arenas that pose an additional danger to any of the players.
Dead or Alive brought Temco out of the financial crisis and is the company’s priority to this day.
Another title for the PlayStation — Bushido Blade, did not give rise to another powerful game series, but impressed everyone with its innovative realistic engine and, in particular, the proprietary Body Damage System. No health bar or time limit. You don’t need it, because the enemy dies from almost every accurate blow, simultaneously spraying liters of pixel blood on the sides. The player only had to choose one of eight weapons, such as a katana or a sledgehammer, and then try to strike first, which in most cases becomes fatal.
Closer to zero, the genre frankly went into decline. The uninterrupted flow of ideas began to subside and crossovers such as Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes in 1998 and Super Smash Bros. in 1999. Although such experiments were quite successful, they were more a reference to the genre than its evolution. Having become fashionable, online shooters finally turned their attention to themselves, and for some time fighting games became mainly the lot of hardcore players and special connoisseurs.