Round 1 - Storied Reputation
Fighting games like Tekken and SoulCalibur have enjoyed an unprecedented resurgence over the last two years. But before Mitsurugi's katana skills and Paul Phoenix's extreme hairstyle came into style, old-school gamers were playing The Way of the Exploding Fist and Yie Ar Kung-Fu on their humble ZX Spectrums and Commodore 64s. These early fighters - which were inspired by martial-arts films - then paved the way for the most important fighting game of all time.
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior kick-started the golden era of fighting games in the early nineties. It achieved this with a cast of eight international fighters and an epic (and allegedly accidental) combo system. Street Fighter then matured into a globally adored series and inspired everything from Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct to Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive. But when the genre fell into decline in the years following the turn of the millennium, it seemed like the honeymoon period was finally over.
Round 2 - Re-enter the Dragon Punch
This all changed when Capcom pulled the pin on a grenade labelled Street Fighter IV in 2008 - because not only did the ensuing explosion revive the genre in spectacular style, it made it the strongest it's ever been. SFIV kept all the iconic characters and special moves from Street Fighter II, and by reworking the classic 2D controls with the new Focus and Ultra systems, it offered accessibility and depth in equal measure. But while Street Fighter IV set the benchmark, its 2010 follow-up, Super Street Fighter IV, smoothed out the kinks and offered unrivalled diversity.
SSFIV could have been a lazy update. Instead it offered ten new faces and a choice of two Ultra Combos. This allowed each fighter to be played in two distinct styles. But Super isn't the end of the story, as it was ported onto Nintendo 3DS as Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition, and on June 7th, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition will be released. The inclusion of Yun, Yang, Evil Ryu and Oni will bring the roster up to 39, making Arcade Edition the definitive Street Fighter.
Round 3 - The New (and Old) Challengers
Street Fighter IV was the game that led the charge, and in its wake, other fighting games followed. A particular highlight was BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger in 2009. This beautiful 2D fighter was the spiritual successor to the intense Guilty Gear series, and much like its eccentric forbearer, BlazBlue was brimming with innovation. It featured a rapid tempo and an ingenuous Drive system which made each fighter unique. Then, when BlazBlue: Continuum Shift tightened up the gameplay in 2010, BlazBlue established itself as the hardcore fighter of choice. An accomplished port of Calamity Trigger is also available for the PSP.
But the award for “most accessible fighting game” goes to the long running Vs. Series. This Capcom-developed series began in 1996 with X-Men vs. Street Fighter. After a long hiatus, it returned to Europe last year with Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars on the Wii. But while Tatsunoko is massively popular in Japan, it only has a niche following in the West. So when Marvel vs. Capcom 3 launched earlier this year with its familiar cast of celestial wolves, bionic commandos, thunder gods and less-than-jolly green giants, it stole the show in style. Its rabid tag-team combat and X-Factor system also allowed for many astonishing combos.
Round 4 - Fatal Fantasy
Another classic that made a comeback this year is Mortal Kombat. This brutal fighter was on a slippery slope after switching haphazardly to 3D, but with a series reboot having just been released on the 360 and PS3, Mortal Kombat is back in the realm of 2D gameplay where it belongs. We get the classic Raiden torpedo dive and Liu Kang bicycle kick, as well as a new super gauge that allows for gory X-Ray attacks. But Mortal Kombat's crowning achievement is the variety of content it offers, because even after finishing the seven-hour Story Mode, a Tower of 300 challenges awaits.
If a fully fledged narrative isn't surreal enough, how about a PSP fighting game based on Final Fantasy? Dissidia Final Fantasy is a 3D fighter that brought together the heroes and villains from Final Fantasy I through to Final Fantasy X. This allowed RPG fans to fight battles between Sephiroth and Squall using a unique combat system that centred on HP and Bravery attacks. The recent sequel, Dissidia 012 Duodecim Final Fantasy, included more characters - including Tifa and Yuna from Final Fantasy VII and X - as well as a significantly expanded single-player mode.
Round 5 - Fight for the Future
When you add all these excellent games to the likes of Tekken 6, The King of Fighters XII, Super Smash Bros. Brawl and SoulCalibur: Broken Destiny, it's clear that fighting game fans are being spoilt for choice. But what's next for the genre?
In the coming months we'll see the release of Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus on the Wii and PSP (May 6th), the manga-inspired Arcana Heart 3 on the PS3 and 360 (June 24th) and Dead or Alive Dimensions joining Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition on the new Nintendo 3DS (May 20th).
After that, we have the Capcom-developed Street Fighter X Tekken to look forward to next year, as well as the long awaited Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and the Namco Bandai-developed Tekken X Street Fighter. All in all, there's never been a better time to own an arcade stick!