Retro Respawn – The Great Fighting Game Showdown of 1995

Anyone who has read my work in the past will know that I enjoy myself a good fighting game sometimes. There’s just something about the genre that appeals to me, even though I’m hardly the best at actually playing them. I once managed to get to some level of reasonable competency at Street Fighter III: Third Strike, but most of the time in fighting games, I tend to do just enough to scrape by so that I can defeat the computer and see the ending. 1995 represented a very interesting year in the genre, with the PlayStation and SEGA Saturn both making it possible to play arcade-perfect versions of fighting games in your home. As a result, console owners had more choice than ever when it came to having punch-ups in their living room, and today we’ll be taking a look at three games in particular as part of The Great Fighting Game Showdown of 1995!

 

The Combatants

The Great Fighting Game Showdown of 1995 will centre around three fighting games that were all available on home consoles during 1995, be it in Japan or in America. Those games will be Tekken on the PlayStation, Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn and Mortal Kombat 3 on a glut of consoles, including the PlayStation, Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. I’ll be matching the three games up against one another in a number of different categories with the goal of seeing which one will come out on top and be declared victorious in The Great Fighting Game Showdown of 1995. This will, of course, just be my own subjective opinion based on my own personal preferences, so feel free to disagree in the comments section and give your own opinions.

There is one notable game missing from the battle, Killer Instinct, which I’ve left off because I’ve never really played it that much, and I wouldn’t feel as qualified to discuss it as I would the other three games, which I have put substantial time into. I know Killer Instinct has its fans and is considered one of the better fighting games of its era though, so you can chastise me for excluding it, and I’ll have no recourse. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll actually sit down to give it a proper playthrough for its own retro feature article? Battle Arena Toshinden has also been excluded because I’ve never played it and don’t own a copy for either the PlayStation or Saturn. Add that one to the “maybe play one day” pile as well.

 

Gameplay

This is where I will probably alienate and anger a large portion of the readership straight out of the gate because I think the first three Mortal Kombat games are awful from a gameplay perspective. This isn’t because I don’t like 2D fighters, because I do, and I’ve enjoyed the MK games since they rebooted them as 2D fighters again. That’s because the post-reboot games are actually fun to play due to having fluid controls and exciting action, whilst the original 2D games in the series were stiff to control, with every fighter feeling the same outside of a handful of special moves. Even at the time, I thought Mortal Kombat 3’s control scheme was bordering on being archaic.

By comparison, Tekken controls a lot slower and is far more deliberate than the smooth fighting later games in the series would be known for, but it’s still a functional fighter, and the characters at least feel different from one another, thus bringing tactical decisions into play when it comes to selecting who you want to fight as. Virtua Fighter 2 may only have a 3-button control setup, but it squeezes a lot out of it, and it also makes better use of the 3D environment than Tekken does by bringing in things like ring outs. It’s also a quicker and smoother fighting experience than what you will find in Tekken, which is stodgier by comparison.

Scores
Virtua Fighter 2 = 3, Tekken = 2, Mortal Kombat 3 = 1

 

Graphics

Mortal Kombat was cutting edge from a visual perspective when it first hit arcades due to using real actors to create digitised fighters on-screen. By the time Mortal Kombat 3 came along though, the digitised graphics were starting to get a bit old hat, especially as other lesser games had jumped on the bandwagon due to it being the hot new thing. That’s not to say that Mortal Kombat 3 looks bad because it doesn’t. The backgrounds in particular are impressive, especially when you fight atop the bank roof and can see the city below you. I think 2D games generally tend to age better than early 3D games when it comes to a visual perspective, and Mortal Kombat 3 bares that out somewhat.

What I will say though is that Tekken and Virtua Fighter 2 hold up far better than some of their contemporaries from the same era, including the previously mentioned Battle Arena Toshinden. The Saturn struggled with 3D sometimes due to its difficult to program for dual processor, but it manages a pretty much arcade-perfect port of Virtua Fighter 2, and SEGA had benefited from having the first game to build on whilst Namco were starting from scratch with Tekken, and it looks a little bit rougher around the edges as a result.

I tend to lean towards Virtua Fighter 2 in this one just because I prefer the fighting stages, and I think it still looks decent for a mid-90s 3D video game. I’ll go with Tekken in second place because the big, open 3D fighting environments, such as the baseball stadium, were impressive for their day and don’t look that bad even to this day. Mortal Kombat 3 doesn’t look bad by any means, but the more real-world environments that the fights take place in give it a more dingy and less fantastical feeling that could be found in the previous two games, so I’ll put it in third here, but I don’t mean that as a knock on it.

Scores
Virtua Fighter 2 = 6, Tekken = 4, Mortal Kombat 3 = 2

 

Sound

All three of these games have good soundtracks, so it’s no shame to finish third in this category as a result. I would give Virtua Fighter 2 the edge due to tracks such as Akira, Shun Di and Lau all being excellent pieces of music that get you ready for a fight in different ways. Tekken slides into second place due to great tracks like Chicago and Szechwan. Mortal Kombat 3 has some solid tracks and some fun sound effects, such as “Toasty” and Shao Khan roasting you whilst he gives you a kicking, but I think it doesn’t really have any pieces of music that really challenge the best you’ll find in the other two games.

Scores
Virtua Fighter 2 = 9, Tekken = 6, Mortal Kombat 3 = 3

 

Roster

Mortal Kombat 3 got some criticism for its original roster due to the game missing series mainstays such as Johnny Cage and Scorpion, whilst the game’s new characters, such as Stryker, didn’t really engage the audience. The game did see re-releases that led to changes in the roster, but the original offering was a little weak, and it didn’t help with the feeling that the game just felt overall flat when compared to the second game in the series.

Tekken has an interesting mix of fighting archetypes, with luchadores such as the two Kings, Jack the android and ninja character Yoshimitsu. Virtua Fighter 2 has some fun characters as part of the cast as well, such as drunken kung-fu specialist Shun Di and mysterious ninja Kage. Mortal Kombat 3′s roster isn’t without some fun additions, with the likes of Cyrax and Sektor bringing something new to the table, and series favourites Sonya and Kano making their returns after missing out on the second game.

I know some like to say that Virtua Fighter 2 doesn’t have the most exciting roster from a personality standpoint, but I think the selection of fighters is hardly dull, and each character can defeat any other if you learn their moves and work on your skills. From a boss perspective, Shao Khan and Heihachi both work better as lead villains than Dural does in Virtua Fighter 2, with her being more of a bonus level than an actual boss, and her weird underwater stage feels more like a surreal special challenge than the proper end to the game.

Overall, I think I’d give Tekken the edge in this one just because so many enduring characters got their start in the first game, and I just generally have more fun with that cast of characters. I’ll slot Mortal Kombat 3 into second place as, even though some popular characters are missing, Shao Khan steals the show as the villain of the piece, and I also like series newbies such as Sindel. I’ll have Virtua Fighter 2 in third just because Tekken does a lot of the same character archetypes slightly better (King over Wolf every day). I still enjoy the roster though.

Scores
Virtua Fighter 2 = 10, Tekken = 9, Mortal Kombat 3 = 5

 

Storyline

Mortal Kombat 3 is almost a mixture of classic kung-fu and modern action movies, with even some sci-fi elements thrown in when it gets to guys like Cyrax and Sektor. It’s also a game that puts the story front and centre in a way that not a lot of fighting games did or even do to this day. Shao Khan merging Outworld and Earthrealm together so that he can invade and take over certainly raises the stakes even further following the first two games. It’s a very silly story in some ways but silly in the entertaining way that the MK series does best.

Tekken’s story is a bit more subdued by comparison as it’s more about competitors entering the tournament for their own personal reasons, such as Kazuya wanting revenge on his father and King wanting to win enough money to keep his orphanage open. The story would evolve and get more outrageous over the coming years, but as of the first game, Tekken has a pretty straightforward story of “everyone is entering this tournament because of X”, and each fighter’s ending addresses that in some form or another, for the most part.

Virtua Fighter 2’s story is probably the weakest part of the game as it’s always seemed to take a bit of a backseat to the fighting. Some like that approach, but I do prefer the story to be a bit meatier. You’ve got the tragic backstory of Dural and how it links to Kage, but you never really feel like the story is explored that much, and each fighter doesn’t have their own specific ending like you get in the other two games, so you do get a bit of an empty feeling for completing the arcade ladder mode that you don’t get in Tekken or Mortal Kombat 3.

Scores
Virtua Fighter 2 = 11, Tekken = 11, Mortal Kombat 3 = 8

 

The Winner

Virtua Fighter 2 and Tekken both wind up on 11 points, but Virtua Fighter 2 ends up picking up the victory due to more 1st place finishes in the categories. Mortal Kombat 3 ultimately comes out the loser owing to its comparatively lesser gameplay more than anything else, and indeed Midway would try moving into the 3D realm for the fourth game in an attempt to freshen things up.

If you’ve enjoyed this, then let me know, and we might try it again either in the fighting realm or with another genre.

Now, let’s all take a moment to show respect to Virtua Fighter 2, the winner of The Great Fighting Game Showdown of 1995!!!

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