I suspect that when I diverge from my RPG or fantasy literature related posts, I lose a bit of my audience. After all, just because I happen to like fighting video games and dinosaurs as much as I like Dungeons & Dragons doesn't mean that anyone else shares that particular subset of interests.
Be that as it may, this is my blog, and therefore my forum to ramble on about whatever I feel like rambling on about. You noticed the "most opinionated guy on the Internet" tagline, right?
I promised that after picking my "best of" from the fighting game genre, I'd do a few runners-up and then also a few "not runners-up" and why those games in particular didn't get picked when a lot of other fans of the genre probably would have included them.
Without further ado; here's a list of games that I also like quite a bit, but don't quite make the cut as "best of the best".
King of Fighters XI. This game is notable for several things: 1) very impressive character selection (although some notable and popular characters are missing, and a few others were only added back in on the console version as unlockable "secret" characters, 2) refined and polished gameplay based around the equally impressive King of Fighters 2003 game engine with tag-team fighting, 3) a continuation of what is possibly the most ambitious storyline the KoF franchise has attempted yet, although as normal this is often difficult to see for all the noise around how it comes out.
This one doesn't quite make the cut because I find the tag-team gamestyle a little too hyper for my taste. Much of that can be mitigated by playing in 3 on 3 team mode or single player mode (instead of arcade mode) but it still feels like it could take a Ritalin and be improved by the experience.
Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves. Sadly, none of the recent Fatal Fury compilations for the Playstation 2 included this, the last Fatal Fury game. Luckily for me, I've had a copy for my Dreamcast for years now. This is a beautiful game; well rendered, and with extremely engaging gameplay. It's considered one of the best fighting games ever by many fans of the genre, and I don't disagree with them.
For me, it doesn't quite make the cut because many of the characters aren't quite as engaging as the ones we're already familiar with, or they feel like rehashes of other characters on whom they're loosely based. I don't find the protagonist (Rock Howard; Geese's orphaned son, raised by Terry) very compelling. In fact, the character select in general is what brings it down. Apparently work on a sequal was underway when SNK went bankrupt. It was over 70% done. That might have improved the game significantly; at the very least, one presumes it would have bulked up the very Spartan line-up of selectable characters, which was sorely needed. Still; this one came very close.
Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. The final iteration of Street Fighter III was the best that that subseries got. It's got a fairly back to basics gameplay engine; almost as if the Alpha games never happened and this evolved down its own path from the final Street Fighter 2 game. It added a few more technical things as well; the parrying feature in particular.
What brought this game down was its character selection and its presentation. While the redrawn sprites were fairly attractive compared to the Alpha sprites, and the improved framerate made their movements very fluid, more than half of the characters, quite frankly, I had no interest in seeing. Interesting character design was not something that Capcom had on its mind when this was developed. Word on the street is that they almost didn't even include Ryu or Ken; what a disaster that would have been! They were among the only characters I was interested in trying for some time as it was. Although marginally prettier than the Alpha games, the Alpha games are much more fun to play, for me. I also have a pet peeve about some of the jazzy drum n bass songs in the soundtrack. There's a few good tracks, but at least half of them are almost painful to listen to. Plus, the boss, Gill, was just a dumb idea to begin with.
Darkstalkers 3. This is the final iteration of another series that was concurrent with (and similar to) Street Fighter Alpha, except with movie monster type characters, including a vampire, a frankenstein monster, a werewolf, a zombie, a creature from the Black Lagoon, etc., all seen through a sharply anime-styled lens. It's a pretty fun game, with gameplay not too unlike Street Fighter Alpha in many ways, but it also suffers a bit from too much silliness.
Real Bout Fatal Fury Special, King of Fighters 2002, Street Fighter Alpha 2. These games are very solid games, but just barely are edged out by other games in the same subseries that I picked instead. For example, Real Bout Special is almost as good as Real Bout 2... but not quite. Same thing with the Alpha title. King of Fighters 2002 is a dream match, not unlike King of Fighters '98. It's also a very fine game, but I think '98 manages to edge it out ever so slightly. The "Ultimate Match" version helps with that (although an ultimate match version of 2002 will come out in 2010 for Xbox Live download) but only a bit. Probably nostalgia makes up the rest of the difference.
A major not runner up is Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which I have on the Dreamcast, but which has also recently been re-released for current gen consoles and which was also released long ago for the old Xbox and PS2 for that matter. I found this game to be way too hyper and way too silly for my taste. Many of the characters are just plain bizarre. The ridiculous lounge lizard music is insult to injury. I also dislike that there is no option for single player, which I greatly prefer to lengthy team player games.
It's too bad; the Marvel characters are fun, and I really enjoyed the older Marvel Superheroes game. I wish they would take all the Marvel characters out of this game and put them in their own Marvel Superheroes 2. I'd have played that in a heartbeat, and it would possibly even have made my top games list. Ah, well. Wishful thinking.
I also did not include any of the Street Fighter 2 titles. While many of them are indeed still pretty fun to play, and they deserve a lot of credit for almost single-handedly creating the genre in the first place, to me they feel like they haven't aged well. The presentation is lacking in those games, and the options for play are limited. Possibly it's just worn out its welcome due to over-exposure. I have no idea how many hours and hours and hours I've put into SF2 games... but I'm mostly done with them now. I play them on occasion, but I feel like it's just nostalgia when I do. For engaging gameplay, I prefer newer games with more going on.
Fatal Fury Special is another game I considered adding to the runners-up list, but it's got the same issues as Street Fighter 2, and in addition is saddled with slightly less iconic characters overall, and much more fiddly controls. I can't in any honesty include it unless I include the best of SF2 first, and I've decided not to do that. So this one misses out too.