A fighting game (also referred as a versus fighting game, competitive fighting game, tournament fighting game or head-to-head fighting game) is a sub-genre of action games and is one of the major video game genres. In a fighting game, players face off against each other or against computer-controlled characters in close combat. The main distinction between this genre and the beat 'em up genre is that players are of roughly equal power to their opponents, and fights are self-contained matches involving a limited number of characters. While not defining traits of the genre, the vast majority of fighting games involve life bars, fights that last an odd number of rounds, and are viewed in profile.
Early fighting games
Two of the earliest fighting games were Data East's Karate Champ from 1984, and Konami's Yie Ar Kung Fu from 1985. While Karate Champ involved fights between generic characters, Yie Ar Kung Fu pitted the player against a variety of characters with a unique appearance and fighting style. The game mechanics were relatively simple compared to modern fighting games. Players could only execute a few different kicks and punches, and could not jump. The player had a few health boxes which would be depleted upon taking a hit.
Both Karate Champ and Yie Ar Kung Fu were studied by Capcom, which led them to release Street Fighter in 1987. Street Fighter found its own niche in the gaming world, because many arcade game developers in the 1980s were more focused on producing beat-em-ups and shoot 'em ups. The modest popularity of Street Fighter inspired inspired SNK to create Street Smart, but home game consoles largely ignored the genre. Budokan: The Martial Spirit was one of few releases for the Sega Genesis, and it did not perform as well as games in other genres. The earliest fighting games suffered from technical limitations that made it difficult to recognize the fast motions of a joystick, and so players had a hard time executing moves with any accuracy.
Rise and peak
The release of Street Fighter 2 in 1991 is often considered a revolutionary moment in the fighting game genre. One key reason is that it took advantage of Capcom's CPS arcade chipset, allowing the development team to produce graphically detailed characters and stages. Whereas previous games allowed players to combat a variety of computer-controlled fighters, Street Fighter 2 allowed players to Another reason for the game's success was that Yoshiki Okamoto's team developed the most accurate joystick and button scanning routine thus far. For example, players could hold the joystick back for two seconds and then press it forward with a punch button or roll the joystick from down to back with a kick button. This allowed players to reliably execute special moves, which had previously required an element of luck. The game also featured six different buttons for six different attacks. The popularity of Street Fighter 2 surprised the gaming industry, as arcade owners bought more machines to keep up with demand. Street Fighter 2 established a new template for fighting games, and it was not long before other developers tried to capitalize on this formula.
SNK rushed Fatal Fury: King of Fighters out before the end of 1991, which added a two-plane system where characters could step into the foreground or background. Meanwhile, Sega experimented with Dark Edge, an early attempt at a 3D fighting game where characters could move in all directions. But the game was never released out of Japan, because Sega felt that unrestrained 3D fighting games were just not fun. Several fighting games achieved greater commercial success, including SNK's Art of Fighting and Samurai Shodown, as well as Sega's Eternal Champions. However, Street Fighter II remained the most popular, releasing a special Champion Edition with improved game balance and allowing players to use the four final boss characters. The first American developer to learn from the template established by Street Fighter II was Midway Games. The release of Mortal Kombat in 1992 featured digitized characters drawn from real actors, and was packed with secrets. The game was notable for its violence, incorporating a fatality system of finishing maneuvers where the player kills their opponent. The popularity of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat led them to be adapted for home game consoles. Mortal Kombat promoted its release on September 13, 1993, aka Mortal Monday, which resulted in line-ups to purchase the game, and a backlash from politicians concerned about the game's violence.
Sega began to make waves with the 1993 release of Virtua Fighter in arcades. It was the first fighting game with 3D polygon graphics and a viewpoint that zoomed and rotated with the action. Despite the graphics, players were confined to back and forth motion as seen in other fighting games. With only three buttons, it was easier to learn than Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, which each had six and five buttons respectively. By the time the game was released for the Sega Saturn in Japan, the game and system were selling at almost a one-to-one ratio. Meanwhile, Mortal Kombat II had captivated American audiences, and is considered to be the best in the series in retrospect. Eventually, Capcom released further updates to Street Fighter 2, including Super Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. These games featured more characters and new moves, some of which were a response to people who had hacked the original Street Fighter 2 game to add new features themselves. However, criticism of these upgrades grew as players demanded a true sequel. By 1995, the dominant franchises were the Mortal Kombat series in America and Virtua Fighter series in Japan, with Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors' Dreams unable to match the popularity of Street Fighter II .
By this time, fighting games dropped in popularity overall. The releases of Street Fighter EX and Street Fighter: The Movie arcade games were regarded as failures. Street Fighter EX introduced 3D graphics to the series, while Street Fighter: The Movie used digitized images from the Street Fighter film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Modern fighting games can either be two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D). Characters in 2D fighting games (e.g. Street Fighter, The King of Fighters, early Mortal Kombat) are hand-drawn or digitized animated sprites with some exceptions (e.g. Street Fighter IV, Battle Fantasia). They can move left, move right, duck, and jump, but in many games they can't sidestep or move closer to the screen. Games where the player can slightly take advantage of depth of the fighting arena include many of those in the Fatal Fury series. The camera scrolls in various directions but observes the match from the same angle. The 2D fighter's characteristic gameplay mechanics are jumps that nearly always go over opponents, projectile attacks, and an attacking/blocking system that differentiates between air, ground, and crouching attacks. Since there is a lack of 3D depth, two-dimensional titles usually involve extensive moves that take advantage of the height of the screen; attacks in the air are essential moves. The controlling of space is a very important aspect of most 2D fighters. Projectiles are most instrumental for controlling space. Two dimensional games stem from long-established fighting systems that have been greatly refined over the years, so most modern 2D fighters have more techniques involved than 3D fighters.
Two-dimensional fighters also have a greater number of crossovers: games where several characters from various other games are merged into one title (refer to "Gaming crossovers"). These games typically have a very large amount of playable characters. Because of this, these "mashup fighters" tend to be tag-team matches; the player chooses several characters, can switch between them during rounds, and can utilize team-up attacks. Additionally, these games tend to have several different fighting systems to choose from, incorporating the fighting system from the originating game games. Notable crossovers include Capcom's "Vs" series (i.e., both MvC and SvC), SNK's King of Fighters series, and Sega's Fighters Megamix.
In 3D titles (e.g. Virtua Fighter, Soulcalibur, Tekken, Dead or Alive, later Mortal Kombat games), the characters and stages are three-dimensional polygon-based models. The camera's viewing angle is not always fixed and it can rotate and move in any direction. Because of the extra dimension, the characters can sidestep as well as duck and jump. In contrast with the gameplay of 2D titles, jumping and projectile attacks are typically minor elements. Usually, blocking and attacking are more complex, featuring high, mid, and low attacks and blocks. 2D fighters have high, mid and low attacks and guards as well. But the over-head mid attacks are most often easy to detect and guard on reaction, compared to its low attacks. Because of this, the crouching guard is the optimal defensive position in most 2D fighters. In 3D fighters however, characters are equipped with mid and low attacks of varying speed and damage output. This makes complacent guarding much more risky. The mid/low guessing game is a large aspect of conventional 3D fighting games(Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive). There are many fast mid/low attacks that have little to no visual cue or hint that may guarantee the loss of up to or around 50% health, maybe even more if walls are involved. The gameplay in 3D fighters is generally two-dimensional as well, although more on the ground's plane instead of the screen's; however, there are exceptions (like Power Stone and Tobal No. 1). 3D fighting games usually have slower attack speeds than their 2D counterparts, because attacks will generally be timed more realistically (they are often created using motion capture instead of the laws of animation; even with a quick attack, the whole maneuver will be carried out instead of using the starting and ending frames to emphasize speed).
Three-dimensional games usually have much larger fighting arenas, which can have multiple sub-sections and paths (most notably in the Dead or Alive series). There are often a number of environmental hazards that can be utilized against the opponent, such as a cliff or an electric fence. Many three-dimensional fighters have two win conditions: the normal health depletion or the ring-out. A ring-out is accomplished by forcing the player out of the fighting arena with either an attack or mere pressure. In some games, such as the Super Smash Bros. series, the ring-out is the primary (sometimes only) method of victory. Some 3D fighting games have gameplay that closely mimics 2D fighters, incorporating three-dimensional depth as a method of escaping attacks rather than an essential part of the fighting system. Notable examples of this include Capcom's Rival Schools and Street Fighter EX series, SNK's KOF: Maximum Impact, and Midway's Biofreaks and Mortal Kombat 4.
Elements of fighting games
There are several concepts common to many fighting games. The most common element is health
, usually in the form of a rectangular "life bar". Combos
, in which several attacks are chained together using basic 'punch' and 'kick' attacks, are a feature common to 2D fighting games since they were introduced in Streetfighter II
. 2D fighters also emphasize the difference between the height of attacks, and usually have both "special moves
" and "super special moves
". Blocking is another basic technique in which a player defends attacks, whether in the air or the ground. Games like Capcom's Street Fighter III
provide an advanced blocking technique in the genre called "parrying" while SNK's Garou: Mark of the Wolves
involve "Just Defending" (both involve a well-timed directional maneuver). Throwing
is a close-up attack in which a player inputs a specific command when close to the opponent; entire games and characters in normal games can be mostly grapple-based. Counterattacking (usually landing a hit on an opponent before after the opponent begins an attack) is also a common element of gameplay.
One of the most common features of fighting games is the presence of "special moves", also called "secret moves", employing complex combinations of button presses to perform a single particular move beyond basic punching and kicking. As an example, the Killer Instinct
character Fulgore will throw three projectiles if the player presses forward, back, rolls from back to forward (hitting down-back, down, down-forward on the way), and pushes the button for weak punch. These generally vary by character, making it difficult for a player to learn all of each character's moves; some newer games will feature dozens of special moves per character. Many games adopt what are known as fighting styles, where the player may choose from a smaller number of particular universal sets of special moves rather than having to learn a much larger number of button combinations. In older games, special moves might have been listed in the manual, in player guides, or kept as secrets for the player to discover; newer games often list them in-game. The non-traditional Super Smash Bros. series
is notable for using extremely simple button combinations that are valid for every character. When pulling off a super special move, time freezes for a second and a flash appears, warning the opponent and giving him/her a chance to block or dodge the attack.
Taunting is a type of move first seen in the Art of Fighting
series, and has been used in most games of the genre ever since. Taunting is personality-based, much like victory poses and character intros. Taunting is used to lighten the mood in most games, but in some games it can be an essential component of the gameplay. Sometimes, a character can even be famous for taunting (for example, Dan Hibiki
from ''Street Fighter Alpha
In most fighting games, a match consists of a varying number of rounds. In a one-on-one match, it is usually determined by winning two out of three rounds (though the exact number can depend on the game).
A player usually wins a mark upon depleting an opponent's health
, performing a knockout
(K.O.). In general, this is the most commonly employed mechanic of victory in a fighting game as it is the simplest and most obvious objective of any such game. Many games will reward a "perfect", where the player manages to defeat an enemy without losing any health whatsoever, or a "one hit K.O.", where a player defeats an enemy with only one action. Moreover, should both characters simultaneously reduce each other's hit points
to zero, a Double K.O.
may be declared. K.O.'s and special K.O.'s are often accompanied by a voiceover declaring the type of victory.
Ring-out (usually but not always found in 3D fighting games) can be a faster way of defeating an opponent than the knockout. In the event that an opponent has left or been somehow made to leave the fighting area, a "ring out" will be awarded. Ring-outs can only happen in arenas that have no intervening wall or curb (in many games with the ring-out option of victory, the boundaries of a stage can be destroyed in order make a ring-out possible in that spot). In the Super Smash Bros.
series, ring-out is the primary means of victory in most modes; in all but one mode of play, characters will not faint upon sustaining damage, but will instead be knocked away further by attacks as their damage meter increases. In the realm of more traditional fighting games, the Virtua Fighter
series are the most popular games that employ the ring-out condition of victory. In Virtua Fighter
, fighters can remove themselves from the ring as an act of surrender but in the Soul
series, although possible, it's a little harder for fighters to force themselves out. Both games also have walls on some stages that prevent this condition of victory.
Most fighting games feature a timer that counts down to zero when a round begins. This timer serves as another condition of victory. Should the timer reach zero before a character runs out of health or is removed from the ring, the victor is determined by whoever had the most health when the timer hit zero. These timers generally force players to seek a victory before the time is up to avoid being the one with the least amount of health when the timer runs out. Usually in the event of a tie (both players end the round with an equal amount of health), draws are called (which can lead to Sudden Death, see below) or sometimes (such as Street Fighter III: Third Strike
's method) the game makes a judgment call on who they believe to be the winner (usually graded on fighting effectiveness). Most fighting games for consoles include options to disable the timer so as to always have a victor by knockout or ring out (meaning actually ending the round instead of forcing an ending via time limit). This sort of ruling is somewhat similar to a technical knockout
, Mortal Kombat
introduced "fatalities" in which the victor finishes off a knocked-out opponent by killing him or her (usually in a highly violent and gruesome way). Later on, many other fighting games adopted this concept.
In many fighting games, "sudden death
" is a match which occurs after matches that end the final round in a "double K.O." or a "draw
" (which usually happens when the combatants have similarly depleted health). To break the tie, one fighter must defeat the other in a sudden-death match. Sudden Death may also have different connotations depending on the series; In the Super Smash Bros.
series, for example, characters with tied scores are spawned with a set amount of damage such that they may be thrown off of the stage very easily, and with moves that would not have done so with a normal amount of damage. A "Super Sudden Death" mode is also incorporated (enacted in the pre-game settings), in which a game is played with sudden death conditions from the start. Sudden Death is also a term for an advanced version of "Overkill
" in the Sega CD
version of Eternal Champions
; other games such as BloodStorm
or Guilty Gear
allow players to do away with their opponents regardless of health if certain conditions are met.
Number of players
Fighting games usually include a single-player mode. Most fighting games follow the story of the particular fighter the player selects. Some titles expand on this, including various modes of play relative to the character, and an intricate plot interwoven into the experience. Occasionally, single-player mode is used to unlock secret characters and such in the game as well. On an arcade machine, it is usually possible for another human player to join in the fight at any time during the single player mode.
Multiplayer participation in fighting games comes in a variety of ways.
In many fighting games, one-on-one matches are the most common style for fighting games. One player controls one character while the other player controls the other; however, if characters form teams, there is usually either a succession or a means to tag out, with the occasional team-up move.
In some fighting games (like the Nintendo's Super Smash Bros.
series and Atari's Godzilla Series: Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee
, Godzilla: Save the Earth
and Godzilla: Unleashed
), there are matches in which four fighters fight each other all at once. There is also usually a way to form either impromptu or official teams (eliminating "friendly fire") when this mode of battle is available. The number of combatants isn't necessarily restricted to four (and sometimes there aren't enough players to fill all four available positions), but it is a convenient number in terms of what can easily be tracked on a screen. This style of gameplay can prove troublesome to execute properly in games where one-on-one battles are standard. This is due to the game mechanics being built around the concept of combatants turning around whenever they switch sides with their opponents; the developers must add an "about-face" move, or allow the player to turn around with the D-pad, which can create problems for combination attacks.
Newer online gaming services such as Xbox Live
, the PlayStation Network
, and the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection
have brought more fighting games to cyberspace. Games such as Dead or Alive 4
, the Xbox 360
version of Virtua Fighter 5
, the PSN version of Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection
, Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit
and Super Smash Bros. Brawl
feature competitive gaming online. However, lag
is an obstacle for many online fighting games due to the fast-paced nature and the often split-second timing required; the number of players that can be matched up can often prove to slow down timing as well. Some PC
fighting games such as Kwonho
, and (the upcoming as of 2007
) Dead or Alive Online
feature heavily on the online component.
Fighting games started out always being 1-on-1 battles. However, starting in the mid-1990s, cooperative-style team fighting has gained some prevalence.
In Fatal Fury
, two human players could fight together against the computer opponent; this was the first fighting game to allow this. As a secret mode in Street Fighter Alpha
and in its sequels as an optional mode, a cooperative style of fighting called "Dramatic Battle" lets players play with two characters at once against another opponent. However, unlike "Dramatic Battle", Marvel Vs. Capcom
adopts and features this kind of fighting as a super attack, known as the "Duo attack", during matches. When activated, this kind of attack lets the player perform "Dramatic Battle"-style attacks, along with performing unlimited super special moves for a brief period. Simultaneous team battles can also be chosen in the Super Smash Bros.
series via choosing a team on the character select screen.
, Capcom's X-Men vs. Street Fighter
and SNK's Kizuna Encounter
introduced "tag-teamimg" to the genre, while Marvel vs. Capcom 2
became the first game with "trio" tag teaming. The King of Fighters 2003
revised the previous rules for the KOF
series to allow players to switch between their three characters, while Tekken Tag Tournament
and the Dead or Alive
series featured tag-teaming as well. The rules vary from game to game on how matches are won. In most tag-team games, each fighter on the team has to be defeated to win. In some others, only one fighter needs to be knocked out to win a tag-team round.
Assisting is another type of 'team-based' fighting game technique in the genre. In games such as Marvel Vs. Capcom
, assists are used to call on (non-playable) characters, whereas in Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter
and Marvel vs. Capcom 2
, assisting is done by calling on the player's teammates. Other fighting games such as KOF '99
use what is called the "striker
" system in the series (where playable characters are called on, and characters on a team are set aside for this exclusive task). Other games have other mechanisms, such as in the Super Smash Bros.
series, where fighters can use the Poké ball
to enlist the aid of Pokémon
and Assist Trophies to enlist the aid of other Nintendo Characters.
, The King of Fighters '94
introduced 3-on-3 elimination-style matches in fighting games. After selecting a trio team of characters and choosing their order, the same rules apply as in the normal one-on-one round matches. The difference, however, is that instead of earning marks upon victory, the next opponent on the other team must be faced, often with a little health given back to the victor (depending on how well or fast the fight was won). This goes on until all members of one team have been defeated. While this is the signature style of the KOF
series up until KOF 2003
, this kind of fighting has been adopted as an optional mode into other fighting games such as the Dead or Alive
series, the Tekken
series, and many others. In Capcom's contributions to the Capcom vs. SNK
series, characters are selected using a "ratio" system, in which characters are "worth" a certain amount when it comes time to form teams (this acts as a regulatory system between teams that add weight to a characters' attack and defense properties are judged against the standardized ratio levels 1 through 4, also taking into account a character's unique damage and endurance properties).
Unlike traditional round matches, "survival" modes let the player face a multitude of successive opponents while attempting to keep the character's life bar from running out of health. When winning matches, the life bar may replenish depending on the time left on the timer and the game being played. Survival is often featured as a mode in home versions of fighting games. In Super Smash Bros.
, Survival is the coin name for stock matches, where players determine the amount of lives each character begins the match with. When all lives are depleted, that player is "defeated" and cannot continue the match.
Custom creation, or "create-a-fighter", is a feature of some fighting games which allows a player to customize the appearance and move set of their own character. This feature has been used in wrestling games (as "Create-a-wrestler
") since Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium
in 1996, but Fighter Maker
(in 1999) and Kakuge-Yaro: Fighting Game Creator
(2000) were two of the first fighting games that worked with this concept heavily. Other fighting games such as Soulcalibur III
, Mortal Kombat Armageddon
, and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2
adopted this concept. Some fighting games, even those that lack this feature, allow the player to create other types of game content: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
, for example, features the ability to create custom stages and Godzilla: Unleashed
features the ablility to modify the gameplay, allowing different speed types and even the ability to change the size of the character.
Notes and references