When Good Game Franchises Become Bad Fighting Games

A great video game franchise does not necessarily a great fighting game make. In fact, it’s as rare as a fighting game with a good story to have a successful fighting game spun off of a non-fighting game franchise. Yet over the years, many companies have tried to do that exact thing, and unsurprisingly, the results are disastrous more often than not. Here are a few – but certainly not all – of the more infamous examples of this. (As a side note, these are only fighting games based off of specific gaming franchises, not just general licenses like Star Wars or TMNT.)
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Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls
1994; SNES, Genesis / 1995; Jaguar

Double Dragon V

A franchise that is built entirely around fighting would certainly make a good fighting game, right? Not necessarily. Beat-em-ups and tournament fighting games are two completely different beasts, and one does not automatically translate into the other (see: the fighting games that have spawned terrible beat-em-ups, which would be a list way longer than this one). The traditional-style Double Dragon series had already run its course before the release of DDV, and perhaps this was publisher Tradewest’s last ditch attempt to keep the franchise relevant in an industry where the beat-em-up had largely given way to one-on-one fighting games. Borrowing elements from the two biggest fighters of the time, DDV featuring a six-button control scheme as in Street Fighter, and “finishing moves” as in Mortal Kombat. It failed to deliver either of those things even remotely as successful as the series it borrowed from, unsurprisingly. The completely unmemorable cast of characters that were added to assist series heroes Billy and Jimmy Lee didn’t do the game any favors, nor did the Jaguar port that didn’t bother to update the graphics from the 16-bit originals – which were already unremarkable-looking by 16-bit standards.
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Golden Axe: The Duel
1994; arcade / 1996; Saturn

Golden Axe The Duel

See above. It seems like Golden Axe‘s sword/club/axe-swinging action would be a perfect fit for a fighting game, and it is – when it’s handled by other developers and has the title Soulcaliber or Samurai Showdown. This game ain’t it. In fact, Sega unashamedly “borrowed” much of the game’s look from Samurai Showdown, and like most lesser 2D fighters of the time, the entire thing just felt like a half-baked imitation of better games – which always begs the question, “Why wouldn’t I just play one of those instead?” The fact that the Saturn was home to the best available home ports of Capcom’s 2D fighters of the era was all the more reason not to bother with this game. That is, unless you’re just super into choosing from a generic roster of medieval fantasy cliches (yeah, I like the Golden Axe games too, but come on: the main male hero of the series is literally named “Ax Battler”).
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Mega Man: The Power Battle
1995; arcade (Japan only)

Mega Man The Power Battle

In all fairness, Power Battle is more designed as a game consisting entirely of Mega Man boss battles than a traditional “fighting game.” Still, it was released in arcades under the guise of a fighting game, and in that respect, it falls way short. Just getting to play a series of boss battles is only fun in a game that is specifically designed as such, like a Treasure game, for instance. To just take an existing action/platformer’s boss battles and pass them off as their own whole separate game just doesn’t work, especially since Capcom didn’t do the thing that could’ve made this concept really interesting: letting you play as the bosses. Nope, the only playable characters in the game are Mega Man, Proto Man and Bass (yep, no X either. Yeah yeah, he’s a different character from a different timeline, blah blah blah. It’s a damn fighting game, it doesn’t have to make sense). So that was a huge missed opportunity. Even two-player mode just consists of a second player picking one of those three characters and joining player one cooperatively to fight the AI characters. Yawn. A sequel was actually made for this game, but was largely the same except for the addition of a fourth playable character. Is it X?? Nope…a new character named Duo. Hooray.
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Sonic Championship
1996; arcade

Sonic the Fighters

In the mid-90’s, Sega did all it could to distract us from the fact that it wasn’t giving us a true Sonic sequel for the Saturn, putting Sonic in an isometric game, an on-foot racing game, and this awkward 3D fighting game (among other missteps). The thing is, Sega knew 3D fighters pretty damn well; at this point, they already had three Virtua Fighter games under their belt, with VF2 still being considered among the best 3D fighters of all time. To be sure, Sonic Championship – which is just as bad of a title as the awkward Japanese original, Sonic the Fighters – runs on the VF engine and plays not unlike Sega’s flagship fighting franchise, only extremely simplified and streamlined. So what’s the problem? There just doesn’t really feel like any need for this game to exist. The characters of the Sonic universe just don’t look right punching and kicking each other in the face. And it isn’t as if there is anything about Virtua Fighter that is family- or kid-unfriendly that there needed to be a more G-rated fighting game alternative. Plus, to have a game that played like a dumbed-down Virtua Fighter 2 two years after Virtua Fighter 2 only proves just how dated this game felt by the time it was released. It may not be “bad,” but it is completely irrelevant, which sometimes is just as, well, bad. The fact the Saturn version was cancelled despite how badly the Saturn needed games – especially Sonic games – says a lot about the game’s relevance, even to Sega.

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Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble
2005; Gamecube / 2006; PSP

VJ Red Hot Rumble

Neither the fantastic Viewtiful Joe nor its equally-fantastic sequel sold as well as they deserved too. Well, no Clover Studio games did, which is why the developer dissolved after only three far-too-short years. That didn’t stop Capcom from trying to milk the franchise for all it was worth, and thus Red Hot Rumble was born a year after VJ2. The game took obvious inspiration from Smash Bros., with the notable handicap of not having a roster of memorable and iconc characters to pool from like Smash Bros. does which is a big part of what makes Smash Bros. compelling. The other issue is that Clover tried to modify Viewtiful Joe‘s engine into a fighting game engine, and it just didn’t work. Fighting games and platformer/beat-em-ups just play far too differently to be interchangeable, as evidenced by Midway trying to do the reverse with Mortal Kombat Mythlogies: Sub-Zero to horrid results. RHR didn’t fare as poorly as that train wreck, but that doesn’t make it good, either. Producer Atsushi Inaba is among the best in the business when it comes to action games – his resume includes VJ, Devil May Cry, God Hand, MadWorld, and Bayonetta – but he was clearly out of his element when it came to four-player party-style fighting games.
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Castlevania Judgement
2008; Wii

Castlevania Judgement

It’s not just that Judgement made a complete mockery of Castlevania‘s beloved cast with its terrible reinterpretations of their character models and outfits by an outside character designer who’d mostly only done anime and manga prior to the game – including amping up the sex appeal of the female characters to absurd proportions (pun intended). And it’s not just that the individual character stories were completely ridiculous, even by fighting game standards – Maria Renard’s entire story literally revolves around her wishing she had huge boobs like the other women in the game. It’s those things plus the developer’s decision to try and integrate Wii-mote waggle into the gameplay in a major way  rather than just making it play like, you know, most of the other fighting games on Wii – just using the d-pad, analog, stick, and buttons – that make Judgement one of the darkest blemishes on Castlevania‘s legacy. People can’t seem to understand what went wrong between Konami and Koji Igarashi that lead to him being taken off the Castlevania series after successfully shepherding it for many years, but those people obviously don’t realize that he also produced this game. Maybe that didn’t deserve completely taking Castlevania away from him forever, but it certainly deserved some sort of serious punishment. Like, say, being forced to play this abysmal game that he clearly never touched – otherwise he wouldn’t have let it go out with his name on it.

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2 thoughts on “When Good Game Franchises Become Bad Fighting Games

  1. Oh…Double Drag…I can’t say it without being ready to vom! I’m not sure what was worse; making a cartoon years after the series peaked or a clunky, boring, lackadaisical fighting game slightly less crummy than Justice League Task Force. Nice post.

    Like

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