Fighting Games: The Early Years Feature - The Next Level

Fighting Games: The Early Years

A look back at brawling before Street Fighter.

Article by Sean Wheatley (Email)
January 28th 2007, 06:56PM

1985 also marked the beginning of Taiyo's Hiryu no Ken series. The original arcade game was released in the West by Data East under the name Shanghai Kid. It wasn’t long until Taiyo was renamed Culture Brain, and they became a Famicom developer. The first couple Famicom games: Hiryu no Ken(1987) and Hiryu no Ken 2(1988) were released domestically as Flying Dragon(1988) and Flying Warriors(1990) respectively. The series continued on with several sequels in later generations of consoles.

Also in 1985, Beam Software began their excellent the Way of the Exploding Fist series. The first game was a pure fighting game, and the 1986 sequel had an adventure mode which was a non-linear fighting/exploration hybrid. The detail and variety of moves made them among the most advanced home fighting games on the market. The series sold quite well on the Commodore 64, Spectrum and CPC formats.

Then there's System 3, best known as the developer of The Last Ninja series. International Karate (released in North America by Epyx as World Karate Championship) and its sequels were also excellent fighting games. Data East sued over this game claiming it was a rip-off of Karate Champ. They lost but, ironically, this outcome would later save them when Capcom sued them years later because of Fighter’s History’s similarities to Street Fighter II. If anything, the IK games looked and played more like smoother versions of Exploding Fist than Karate Champ. The IK series was released on various computer formats and, according to Studio 3's website's history, the original was the first European-made game to make number one on the Billboard chart in the US. 1987’s Bangkok Knights was another multi-format fighter by System 3. It didn’t play as well as the IK games, and wasn’t as successful, but it was likely the first game to focus on Thai style fighting.

Also worth noting is Palace Software's 1987 release Barbarian, also known as Death Sword, available on various 8-bit and 16-bit computers. This game can boast a few innovations. It was possible to decapitate your opponent, making it the first game with “fatalities”. This concept expanded and popularized by Mortal Kombat years later. It seems it also introduced some defensive moves such as rolling and pushing your opponent to the ground with your foot. Richard Joseph’s epic soundtrack perfectly complemented the barbarian theme as well, especially in the Commodore 64 version. It's unfortunate that its side-scrolling sequel wasn't nearly as good.

Fighting games in 1987 had become dominated by Western developers. Japan was still making some, like Jaleco’s Famicom Disk System game Fuun Shourinken, but they weren’t of the quality of Konami’s previous games or the recent British ones. However, Capcom was about to release a game that would spark the beginning of the most significant franchise in the genre’s history.

Capcom's arcade game Street Fighter never had the success of its sequel but it did lay the groundwork for it and introduced the circular motion attacks like fireballs although the control was much cruder than in Street Fighter II. It also had those large buttons like Nintendo's Punch Out!! series had a few years earlier. Street Fighter was ported to computers, and to TurboGrafx CD under the name Fighting Street.

And so, while the 1980s were winding down, the design groundwork for the fighting game craze of the 1990s had already been laid. All of the major themes had been covered, wide varieties of combatants and fighting styles were available, story elements had been introduced, and the first stages of combination and circular motion-based attacks had begun. Street Fighter II propelled the genre to new heights but the early years of the fighting genre were an innovative and enjoyable time that should not be forgotten.

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