Driven by the success of Capcom’s Street Fighter 2, fighting games emerged as a hugely popular genre in the 1990s. With their big characters, detailed animations, and high-tech gameplay, they showcased what was possible in high-end arcade consoles and a new generation of powerful 16-bit home consoles.
But with 8-bit technology still being found on mobile devices like the Game Boy or earlier systems, developers had to get creative with how to make such a technically demanding genre work on hacked devices. From successful outlets to inspiring illicit creations, here are some low-tech fighting games that still manage to beat their weight.
10/10 karate champion
A simple game by modern standards, Karate Champ (from Technos Japan and distributed by Data East) nonetheless takes credit for being one of the first games to pioneer the one-on-one fighting game genre.
It’s hugely popular in arcades and on home PCs, and with a surprisingly deep movie roster based on the inputs of two joysticks, it paved the way for mind games and action/counteraction strategies for today’s fighting games. Players are still enjoying it today and it was the last Listed in the Arcade Archives for 2014.
9/10 Special Murderous Fury
Sega’s Game Gear has had its share of flaws, from the way it eats up batteries to its less streamlined design for a portable console, and the Game Boy vastly outsells it. But it still has its share of good games, including the critically acclaimed Fatal Fury Special and served as a competent little alternative to the popular arcade game.
Since the more authentic home edition on the Neo Geo was essentially a luxury product (the original price of the Neo Geo was over $1,300 in today’s dollars), many were willing to put up with the technical limitations if it meant enjoying the fights between classic SNK characters outside of the arcade.
8/10 Street Fighter 2
Street Fighter 2 was ported everywhere in the ’90s, from SNES to Sega Saturn to the original PlayStation. Demand has been so high that British publisher US Gold (yes, the name is confusing) even tried to cram it into older machines like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, creating a muddy or monochromatic mess that barely looks like the original game.
So it was very impressive when Brazilian developer TecToy created such a bootable port on the Sega mainframe in 1997 – 12 years after the system debuted.
7/10 killer instinct
Not all fighting games have made a clean transition from arcades to the Game Boy’s low-resolution black and white screen. (Street Fighter 2’s attempt is playable but feels more like a brave effort than a legitimately good time.) So it’s surprising that the handheld version of Rare’s Arcade’s graphic-intensive Killer Instinct turned out so well.
While it lacks the full roster and all the arcade action and its SNES counterparts, the 3D models of the characters are impressively sound, and the action is smooth and true to the source material.
6/10 King of Fighters 96
SNK has been professional in adapting their fighting games to their mobile devices, Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Some of their original pocket-sized fighters, such as the SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, is a great fighting game on its own terms, whether it’s handheld or not. But their earlier, less powerful Game Boy ports still work just fine.
The King of Fighters ’96, published by Takara, was particularly successful as an 8-bit KOF experience, with a generous roster, clean presentation, and the three matches for which the series is known.
5/10 Queen Fighter 2000
Queen Fighter 2000 It is a mysterious unlicensed title from Taiwanese developer Vast Fame, who used the King of Fighters Game Boy engine to create their own illegal games.
While the game is not an unofficial entry in the SNK library, the game is a crowdsourced take on the 16-bit SNK fighter game Neo Geo Pocket Gals, adapted with new characters and a much larger roster of variety than the game it inspired. Despite the apparent copyright infringement, the result is one of the most powerful and technically sound fighting games ever made for the Game Boy Color.
4/10 Falchion spirit
Another illegal title from Vast Fame, Falchion spirit It is a loose, unlicensed mix of the Neo Geo Pocket versions of SNK’s Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade.
As with Queen Fighter 2000, the characters and their moves are all taken from pre-existing characters that Vast Fame certainly wouldn’t have had access to, but the result is an excellent weapon-based fighter that effectively implements the action of 16-bit handheld games based on old GBC hardware. .
3/10 Street Fighter Alpha
Street Fighter 2 struggled in its adaptation of the original Game Boy, but the Nintendo audience still got a great hand-held Street Fighter game with Street Fighter Alpha on GBC.
While the movements are simplified to accommodate a two-button controller, the full menu is there, the animations are smooth, and the gameplay is fun and faithful to its arcade counterpart. GameSpot even hailed it as one of the best GBC Games of the Year for 1998.
2/10 Toshinden battlefield
Takara’s Battle Arena Toshinden, which started as a PlaySation exclusive in 1995 before receiving several other ports and entries in the series, has claimed to be the first fully 3D fighting game. A gun-based fighter that plays a bit like Soul Calibur, it was graphically impressive for its time, but soon couldn’t compete critically or commercially with better 3D fighters emerging.
Still, it was a nice time for the Game Boy port, which remains a great mobile fighter to this day, with great soul, precise controls, and plenty of secrets to unlock.
1/10 force mission
Capcom’s Power Quest plays like a mix of Street Fighter, Pokemon, and Custom Robo. It has a great story mode with RPG elements in a world where fighting robots is all the rage, and when your character wins rounds around the city, he earns parts to upgrade his robot, defeats the twisted gang hyena, and wins the national championship.
While the roster of robot fighters is small, the gameplay is very polished, and the game maintains a cult following to this day. Competitive matches are still played in tournaments such as Combo Breaker, where the game is played on SNES using a Super Game Boy terminal.
Next: Forgotten Fighting Game Perks