Three weeks ago, we counted down the very best from the glorious golden age of 2D fighters. This week is going to be a little more indulgent, though, as we look at the best forgotten, under-appreciated, obscure and unusual 2D fighters ever.
At long last, this is round two!
NUMBER FIVE = = RABBIT
Okay, so... RABBIT is not a great game.
It’s got a couple interesting ideas, and the spirit-animal-sidekick-best-friend mechanic is silly and fun. It works an awful lot like the “stands” from JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE, which is fine by me. This game does, in fact, predate Capcom’s JOJO fighter (but certainly not the original manga) and I’d bet anything that the planning stages of this game involved reading a lot of ArakiI’s shonen classic.
But hold on a minute - - the sprites are actually pretty awesome!
Colorful, energetic, and with a playful cartoony style, these characters are really appealing to look at, and the ability to steal other characters' animals and fighting styles means you’ve got a ton of options for how to play.
Also, check out the terrible anime intro!
The sprites look about a thousand times better than this bland trash that greets you before the title screen. It’s as if the artists were trying to dissuade you from ever pushing "Start!"
NUMBER FOUR = = ASTRA SUPERSTARS
ASTRA SUPERSTARS immediately sets itself apart from the pack with one core gameplay gimmick - - every fight takes place in the air! Characters float mid-screen, but you can dip down or float up, effectively giving the player two ways to “jump.” It’s an interesting idea, and the game does feel pretty unique as a result. While it ends up feeling a little loose and button-mashy, it’s still a lot of fun.
Combos are the name of the game here, and it’s pretty easy to pull of some big numbers without too much effort. Supers are crazy easy to perform (executed by pressing two buttons at the same time) and most link neatly into chain combos. You can also choose to end your combos with a kind of wall bounce attack that sends your opponent flying across the screen. If you manage to kill with this move, you send your poor victim careening off screen and into the distance! It’s pretty silly and satisfying... which pretty much describes the entire experience of ASTRA SUPERSTARS.
The characters in this game range from ultra-boring anime stereotypes to inspired absurdities like the final-boss-stick-figure named Testkun or the main character named - - I shit you not - - Lettuce. The animation is nice enough and the sprites are smooth and pleasant, if a bit simple.
The backgrounds, however, are very dated pre-rendered CG bullshit and tend range from awful to passable. ASTRA SUPERSTARS strengths don’t lie in its visuals, but in its over-the-top, fill-the-screen combos and non-stop colorful craziness.
Also, this game’s art and design are entirely attributed to “SANTACLAUS.” I’ll let you decide for yourself what to think of that.
NUMBER 3 = = CYBERBOTS
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Capcom’s forgotten robot stepchild, but I’d bet you’re familiar with some of its characters. Jin and Bloodia (made famous by MARVEL VS. CAPCOM) got their start in CYBERBOTS, and serious fans of PUZZLE FIGHTER may recognize Devilot, as well. While the characters are familiar, the gameplay is not! This game has the distinction of feeling unlike any other Capcom fighter,ever!
There are only four buttons in use here: two of them for your two robo-arms, one for your projectile weapon, and one for…dashing. So, more like three-and-a-half buttons. This layout is odd and makes for a pretty unique feel. These sprites control like big hulking robots, not agile martial artists. That’s a nice way of saying the controls feel a bit clunky sometimes, but it honestly works in the context of the game.
CYBERBOTS is a lot of fun to look at, with detailed robot sprites, really great backgrounds that get destroyed as you fight, and an awesome cast of human characters that get surprisingly little actual screen time. This game appeals to the eight-year-old boy in me who just wants to watch robots punch each other and explode.
I’m a sucker and imported this game for my Saturn a few years ago. It wasn’t cheap. Luckily for all you PS3 owners out there, CYBERBOTS is available for download on PSN for a scant SIX DOLLARS. Definitely worth a look!
NUMBER 2 = = WAKU WAKU 7
Sunsoft’s second fighter to appear on this list, WAKU WAKU 7 is pretty irresistible. The sprites are charming, well-animated, and pretty clear send-ups of other fighting games/anime. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun to play.
WAKU WAKU 7 is not too far removed from typical fighters of the time, though it does feature a few interesting mechanics. The unblockable harahara supers (which actually activate a siren and enormous WARNING text across the screen), the ability to do “down attacks” which hit opponents who have already been knocked down, and the ability to dodge, attack, or roll when getting up were all unique at the time.
Since each character is pocking fun at a different anime cliché, we get a pretty wide variety from the standard plucky young hero, to the mecha-tank-suit piloted by a tiny policeman and his dog (what?), to a big purple Totoro and his little girl buddy. The sprites are nice and cartoony, and while this predates ASTRA SUPERSTARS, I actually think it looks a lot better. Character animation is lively, exaggerated, and fluid, and the backgrounds, while sometimes a bit simple, are always colorful and pleasing to the eye.
Like ASTRA SUPERSTARS, the final boss is particularly crazy, but even better is the mid-boss named Bonus-kun (a punching bag with a determined face, red headband, and the move set of Ryu from STREET FIGHTER) who falls to earth like a meteor before each fight. This game’s sense of humor is one of its best points, and these characters are genuinely funny to watch.
It’s probably worth mentioning that these characters are chasing after the 7 “WAKU WAKU BALLS” which if collected will grant a wish. That should give you an idea of how thinly veiled these references are. Any anime or videogame nerd should be able to appreciate this game on a couple of levels.
NUMBER ONE = = LAST BLADE 2
Considered to be the “spiritual successor” to SAMURAI SHODOWN, the LAST BLADE 2 is SNK’s most refined and technical weapons-based fighter. The character roster is full and varied; with an intense and flexible combo system and three different play styles (power, speed, or EX) to choose from.
The game has two slash buttons, a kick, and a “repel” button, which acts like a parry. It’s a simple button layout, but there are plenty of combo opportunities, with each character having a wide variety of chain combos and special moves, which can be linked in lots of different ways.
I’ve mentioned SNK’s talent for backgrounds before, but LAST BLADE 2 really takes the cake. These are among the most detailed, lush, and well-composed backgrounds I’ve seen in any fighting game before or after. This was arguably the finest-looking SNK fighter ever when it hit arcades.
The characters in this game are not nearly so crazy as the others on this list, but I’d argue that they’re just as memorable. I know I’m gushing a bit, but the characters in this game are awesome, plain and simple. They’re a bit more realistic and refined than previous SNK games, and so many are just cool. Classic anime badass SETSUNA with his owl pal and “hatred for all mankind” is a standout, but I could point out most members of the cast as particularly great.
LAST BLADE 2 is the whole package - - beautiful, deep, plays like a dream, and rewarding as hell. I just wish more people knew about this game so there was still a following. A nice re-release on Xbox Live Arcade and PSN (with online support) would be amazing to see, and would probably garner some new fans. This game deserves to be mentioned alongside the greats of the genre!
Unfortunately, at the moment, it’s just the best of the misfits.
Alex Eckman-Lawn is an illustrator and comic artists from Philadelphia. Check out his site - -alexeckmanlawn.com - - rumble with his Tumblr - -dudenukem.tumblr.com - - and hit up his Twitter: @alexeckmanlawn