If you don’t associate the 16-bit era with fighting games, you’re either an amnesiac or throwing off the curve for this site’s age demographic. If, as I suspect, you are a gamer who finds himself on the wrong side of thirty, then you’re already formulating a list in your head from the topic title. Thanks once again to MichaelBtheGameGenie for his latest Top 3 Tuesday video, where he wants to know your favorite ways to beat the ‘bits out of your friends using technology from twenty-five years ago. The challengers are emerging from the wings to take their places. The lights are dimming. This is going to be one hell of a battle, folks, no two ways about it!
3) Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES)
Let’s be honest here, 90% of the responses to MichaelB’s question are going to be some variation of “A Street Fighter II cart, a Mortal Kombat cart, and whatever else some other studio managed to sucker us into buying because it was touted as the SF/MK killer.” Enough blood has been shed over the years that I don’t feel it necessary to die on that particular hipster hill, so my first pick is Capcom’s Street Fighter II Turbo for the Super Nintendo. We gloated over our Sega-owning friends when Street Fighter II was a SNES exclusive, took an equal amount of abuse from them when they got to play as the bosses in Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition (not cool, Capcom!), but then came Street Fighter II Turbo and once again we proud Ninten-drones were kings of the playground: all the bosses, all the new moves, and that epic Guile theme that still goes with everything today. Street Fighter II Turbo had everything a growing lad needed to cast off the yoke of Sega’s 16-bit oppression. For us, the day Bison visited our console was the most important day of our lives! But for Sega fans, it was Tuesday.
Street Fighter II Turbo‘s impact on the fighting genre as a whole, and the Street Fighter franchise itself, is incomprehensible. While Capcom trotted out new iterations of the game where its characters cross paths with an increasing list of other licensees over the next couple decades, gamers fell in love with the way SFII Turbo handled everything. It’s so beloved as a classic that Capcom released Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix for the PS3 and Xbox 360 just so we could all learn our reflexes aren’t as sharp as we remembered them being two decades ago, and Chun Li could still kick all our asses with one hand tied behind her back. Yatta!
2) Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen (Mega Drive)
This Japanese-only release hit Sega’s console in 1994, a year after Street Fighter II Turbo‘s release on the SNES. Being a gaijin from the midwestern US, it was years before I learned somebody had made a one-on-one fighting game based around this popular anime/manga franchise. I was never a fan of the anime, but two things put this game on my ‘must have’ list of 16-bit import titles. First, with the proper hardware you could get four-player simultaneous play out of this beast of a cart, something even modern-day fighting games struggle with. Second, it was developed by Treasure, the studio responsible for making Gunstar Heroes and a whole host of other well-regarded legends of the Genesis library. The corollary to all this is, third, it’s obscenely expensive on the second-hand market, so be prepared to dump a good chunk of your next paycheck into acquiring one, especially if you want a complete boxed copy.
Also, be aware there’s another game called Yu Yu Hakusho Gaiden for the Mega Drive, which is not this one. You can tell them apart easily because YYH Gaiden sells for around $20, while Makyo Toitsusen costs roughly ten times that amount. Nevertheless, for that investment you get some amazing animation, great music (some with vocals!), a roster of eleven fighters, and a whole host of punches, kicks, special moves, desperation strikes, and endings to provide depth and replay value. There’s also that four-player mode I mentioned, which plays like a Neo Geo fighter as characters move and flip between front and back planes. It’s even possible to play a 1 vs. 2 or 1 vs. 3 game if you’re desperate to prove your badassery to a machine programmed not to care. Yu Yu Hakusho: Makyo Toitsusen is a beast of a fighting game, and if you can bear the financial burden, it’s well worth adding to your collection.
1) Mortal Kombat II (SNES)
Mortal Kombat II is the best 16-bit fighting game of all time, and if you don’t agree, I’m sorry to learn of your life-long battle with rectalcephaly.
MKII is literally everything awesome about the original upgraded to the next level. It takes itself just serious enough to be entertaining, but not so seriously it sucks the fun out of the franchise. The graphics are better, the fatalities bloodier, the fighters more numerous, the secrets more expansive, the sound bolder, the bosses bigger and nastier. This was the cart every red-blooded American arcade outlaw waited ever so impatiently for until ‘Mortal Friday’ (September 9th, 1994) , especially after EGM broke the news the SNES cart would be just as uncensored as the Genesis version. Suck it, non-existent video game rating system!
With better graphics, more features, superior sound, and a controller with enough buttons to play it out of the box, the SNES translation of Mortal Kombat II pulled off a flawless victory. If this was the only fighting game in my 16-bit collection, I would die a content geek.
In summary: Mortal Kombat II wins.