Fighting games were huge in the 90s.
Sure, they’re still big now (Street Fighter V is eagerly-awaited, and Mortal Kombat X was a hit), but the genre flooded the games market during the 20th century’s final decade. Gamers of a certain age will remember crowding around arcade machines, pumping more and more loose change into Street Fighter II or Tekken, desperate to give that pesky boss just one more try.
Now, online multiplayer allows us to fight strangers from around the world, ramping the competition and challenge up to new levels. Despite the more complex additions introduced to fighting games over the years, though, they remain beautifully simple: use a variety of moves to beat your opponent and emerge victorious – they’re essentially the same as they were twenty years ago, with better graphics and more impressive backgrounds.
Still, not all fighting games can go on to spawn huge franchises like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat – and plenty released in the 90s have been forgotten by many of us.
Let’s look back at some of the 90s titles that deserve to be dusted off for another go …
When you think about it, there aren’t enough games featuring dinosaurs.
Primal Rage was a 2D fighter starring an awesome cast of monsters, including a T-Rex, a velociraptor, and a huge ape – all with their own human worshippers.
These followers actually appeared during fights, and could even be eaten to build health. Primal Rage featured plenty of gore, fatalities, and (in one case) the ability to urinate on a fallen enemy. Needless to say, this sparked some controversy, but Primal Rage is still a pretty distinctive entry in the genre.
(Sega Genesis/ SNES)
Made by photographic real clay models, ClayFighter was a safer alternative to the growing trend for video-game violence at the time. Based around members of a circus becoming exposed to goo from a clay-meteor, this game featured a bizarre cast, including: Bad Mr. Frosty, a badass snowman; Blue Suede Goo, a big-haired Elvis impersonator; and Bonker, a clown armed with lethal pies and a hammer.
ClayFighter was well-received at the time, and a 2016 remaster of the game was announced last year. Fingers crossed it actually appears!
In the 90s, one of the biggest series was Virtua Fighter, which showed off the three-dimensional power of the then-current consoles (the PlayStation, Dreamcast, Sega Saturn).
The first entry in the franchise, released in 1993, was visually groundbreaking at the time, and four more main instalments followed. As 3D became a given for most other games, the series’ core appeal dwindled slightly, but it definitely still has its fans.
Without doubt, this is one of the hardest games on this list – and maybe in the entire genre!
Eternal Champions is based around a roster of fighters from across various times, brought together to help balance the universe, with the losers facing death. It’s a high-concept game, and the story was decent enough to spawn a spin-off strip in the UK’s Sonic the Comic (worth a look for completists!).
Unfortunately, while many gamers are sure to have found a way through the tournament mode, Eternal Champions is brutal. Seriously – give it a try. Even on the easiest mode, trying to land a hit on an opponent without them blocking it is a real challenge, and frustrating enough to put anyone without superhuman patience right off.
Still, it’s an interesting game, with visuals and characters cool enough to justify another try.
Battle Arena Toshinden
Released in 1995 – 6 (depending on your console and region), Battle Arena Toshinden was one of the first fighters to feature polygonal brawlers in 3D surroundings (along with Virtua Fighter). The sidestep move it introduced featured in many a game afterwards, and proved incredibly useful to avoid attacks.
Battle Arena Toshinden was also the first weapons-based3D fighting game, a refreshing change from the usual fisticuffs. At the time, this was stunning to look at, and while it’s obviously aged since, Battle Arena Toshinden still has the fun, exciting gameplay to justify another go.
Released way back in 1990(!), Pit-Fighter was was a fairly gritty, down-and-dirty fighting game known for its then-cutting-edge use of digitized actors.
Using a bluescreen technique, said actors performed moves and stances on-camera, which lent the game a more realistic look and feel than others released at the time.
Pit-Fighter also used weapons and interactive environments ahead of competitors, too. During a fight, players could grab crates, knives, and even bar stools to hurl at their enemy, and if they ended up among the crowd, the fighter would be pushed back out into the combat zone.
While Pit-Fighter might not be all that pretty or exciting now, it’s definitely worth revisiting to see how influential it’s been on so many games since.
This is a weapons-based game, like Battle Arena Toshinden – but that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike most fighting games, Bushido Blade has no health meter or time limits: instead, connecting hits will disable limbs, restricting the player’s abilities, and a strike with enough power causes instant death.
Also, players were free to explore the 3D areas in which battles took place, meaning fights last a little longer than they might otherwise. It’s not as fast-paced and exciting as Battle Arena Toshinden or Soul Blade (for example), but Bushido Blade is a distinctive game deserving another go.
So, that’s our seven memorable 90s fighting games you should play again – how many do you remember? Let us know!