I have a saying: “there are no good video games.” I am about 80% of the way to believing it.
Welcome to the archive of the fourth annual Kusoge Advent Calendar. Every year, I task a handful of trusted friends with assembling a list of 25 fighting games I’ve never played before, all of which are forgotten relics or unimaginable clusterfucks. I spend the first 25 days of December fulfilling my civic duty as a digital dumpster-diver, showcasing weird shit for the world.
Why fighting games? Because fighting games are balanced on a knife’s edge, and even the smallest oversight or technical slip-up can warp a game from “satisfying contest of strategy and mechanical finesse” to “race to do a single arbitrary thing as quickly as possible”. The limits and boundaries of a fighter’s gameplay systems are narrow, and this makes them easy to explore—and to exploit.
Why garbage? Because it’s really, really funny.
Table of Contents (spoilers?!)
- #1: Melty Blood (Windows)
- #2: 1 on 1 (PS1)
- #3: Destrega (PS1)
- #4: Justice League Task Force (Genesis)
- #5: Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends (PC)
- #6: WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (Arcade)
- #7: Yu Yu Hakusho Final: Makai Saikyou (SNES)
- #8: Baku Baku Animal
- #8EX: Ballz 3D (SNES)
- #9: Jingi Storm: The Arcade (Arcade)
- #10: Fighting Masters (Genesis)
- #11: Fighting Eyes (PS1)
- #12: Battle Capacity 2013 (Windows)
- #13: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Battle Orchestra (PS2)
- #14: Cardinal Syn (PS1)
- #15: Arm Joe (Windows)
- #16: Advanced VG2 (PS1)
- #17: Kamen Rider Climax Heroes W (Wii)
- #17EX: Battle Cross Fever (Windows)
- #17EX+: Double Dragon (Neo Geo)
- #18: Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi (PS1)
- #19: Unholy Night (SNES)
- #19EX: Daemon Bride Additional Gain (Arcade)
- #20: The Killing Blade Plus (Arcade)
- #21: Battle of the Eras (DOS)
- #22: Samurai Shodown III (Neo Geo)
- #23: Akatsuki Blitzkampf (Windows)
- #24: Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale (PS1)
- #25 (BAD END): Grizzly (Mac)
- #25 (TRUE END): Tao Taido (Arcade)
#1: Melty Blood (Windows)
It’s tradition to start the marathon with a starting point. Last year, it was Dynasty Warriors: The First One. The year before that, it was Tekken: The First One. The year before that, it was Guilty Gear: The First One. This year, we discovered that Melty Blood’s eight-year journey to poverty godhood started in a surprisingly mundane place.
The moment I noticed the missing timer—the space between healthbars displaying framerate instead—I realized just how fucking old this franchise is. This game belongs to a different era, where doujin fighters were still finding their feet; hell, fighters of all kinds were trying to figure shit out, running into issues with wooden controls and stiff movement whenever they deviated from Street Fighter II. I expected OG Melty to be different, and it came as kind of a shock to discover that it kinda wasn’t. Lower overall speeds and high landing recovery make getting around the screen pretty awkward.
The game still looks and sounds gorgeous, of course; even by modern standards, it’s in a league of its own, and that’s twice as true when you put it next to its 2000s contemporaries. That’s what makes it so weird—everything that makes Melty Blood look and sound like Melty Blood is here, but almost everything that makes it feel like Melty Blood is still years away, except for hilariously mashable jabs.
In particular, the “anything goes” feel of Current Code’s combo system, where you can chain pretty much anything that’ll by-the-numbers connect, is completely gone. It’s okay, though—even though none of us could find a single combo worth a damn, invidual moves and supers deal way, WAY more damage than they do in later iterations. Eat 70% from one bar because you jumped anywhere on the screen? Sure, whatever, sounds good.
The weirdest system change: if you’re hitting buttons, and your opponent is hitting buttons that are anywhere near the same speed, you’re probably going to clash. It was clearly something the developers wanted to focus on—there’s at least one character-specific easter egg that happens on clash—and it’s…sorta hype? I can definitely see why it was toned down in subsequent installments, though, it probably wouldn’t have remained entertaining for long. Long hitstop + homogenizing ground game = recipe for sadness.
I can’t think of another game that’s undergone this kind of transformation. I totally get why this got popular, but it would be a stretch to call the gap between 2002 Melty and Current Code “refinement”—they feel like different games built with the same assets, and it’s given the whole affair this weird, ethereal, MUGEN-like quality to me. No, I can’t explain it in other way, and yes, I’m going to end the section before I even begin to try and clarify.
Shiki Tohno’s walkspeed vs. his dash speed should be your first clue to the arcane nature of this game. Almost everything that’s good about this game is like what someone 5000 years in the future would roughly acclimate as the “Good things” about current Melty Blood. A lot of the design decisions in this game would actually last far into the future, they’d just be sensibly refined into something coherent.
#2: 1 on 1 (PS1)
Now that we’ve lured everyone in with something that makes sense, time to immediately jump to disc-based fuckery. Welcome to the PS1 voidzone. We’ll be spending a while here.
I’ll put aside my questions of how the fuck this can possibly exist, and just lead in with my honest impressions; my small amount of Playstation Bastketball Experience consisted of randomly trying every button and getting hit in the head at round start, 500 times in a row. I still feel like I know absolutely nothing about how to play it, and we were on the simple control method—not quite the QWOP of basketball, but it feels pretty damn close.
Two gauges for shooting, contextual movement controls based on the position of your opponent and whether you’re defending or not, combos into steals, extending individual limbs to block runs, some type of stance system, and the ever-present ability to elbow your opponent in the face and drop them to the floor. 1 on 1 is more like Tekken 2 than NBA 2K; the simple act of walking felt like brain surgery.
“So I looked up this game on YouTube just now. The first video I saw was titled ‘the worst basketball game’, and the second was titled ‘the best basketball game’.” —RagnellBlue
Modern sports games lean heavily on context-based controls. They’ll usually try to interpret any series of buttons, no matter how stupid, as something that might plausibly be a good idea in the sport you’re playing. 1 on 1 does not give a fuck about this, and there’s something amazing about the game allowing you to try a dunk from 15 feet out, freezing you in cinematic slow-mo cam as your character volleyball-spikes that shit into the pavement. One moment, you’ll execute something that looks like a completely intentional Intelligent Basketball Move, the next you’ll literally sprint the ball out-of-bounds from round start.
The sequel, 1 on 1 Government: One on One Government (possibly the greatest sequel title of all time, by the way) was originally released in D3 Publisher’s Simple series, collections of budget console games with the price included in the title. 1 on 1 Government itself was released under the “Simple 1500” banner, costing around 1500¥ (or $15 USD), and I have no idea how to judge whether anyone got their money’s worth.
Government ditches a lot of the control cruft for more simplified free-run movement, and we were also able to try out a 2-on-2 version of the game that was just about as ordinary as they come. Both of them are definitely more playable games, but if I return to anything in this series, it’ll be the original—I absolutely have to unlock some Hidden Basketball Technology, though I might need a translator.
“dribbling is just basketball abare” —phos4
I came away with a lot of questions (Are there crossups in basketball? Is there oki? How the fuck do I walk forward without getting punched in the face?), and eventually, I’m gonna have to search for answers. This is too baffling to ignore.
1 on 1 and 1 on 1 Government are perfect examples of how control schemes directly affect your experience with a video game, and in more ways than just “good/bad controls”. Original flavor 1 on 1 has a unique, up close, intimate feel thanks to its unique control scheme, while Government pushes more for movement around the court like many other basketball games. Just goes to show that game design is a multifaceted thing. P.S. Now that we’ve had this, can I argue that NBA Street Vol. 2 is a fighting game? Probably not; that game is too good for this calendar anyway.
It’s common for fighting game players to identify just about any competitive multiplayer game as a fighting game—“Virtua Tennis is a fighting game” is a hill that I’m willing to die on. Lots of sports games arguably fit that bill, but 1 on 1 manages to be the most fighting game sports game I’ve ever played in my life, and I can’t even begin to tell you why.
Truthfully the sequel, 1-on-1 Government, had surprisingly good accessibility in its controls and was a fairly acceptable multitap PSX game with enjoyable 4 player and weird ass designs.
The actual 1-on-1? What the hell is this, Keeg? Thank you. Thank you so much.
Chat log, local time 2:40 AM
Sleepmode: by the way, AJ, to answer one of your questions about 1 on 1, there are, in fact, cross ups in basketball
Tyron: oh no
Sleepmode: that’s the name for changing which hand you’re dribbling the ball with
Sleepmode: it’s one of the ways you prevent steals
Tyron: …like, in 1 on 1, or in basketball as a whole
Sleepmode: basketball invented cross ups, if you’d believe it
Tyron: this is not a future i’m prepared for
Sleepmode: I’m pretty sure there’s no oki though
#3: Destrega (PS1)
As I poked around in Destrega, I saw chat compare it to Power Stone, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi, Acceleration of Suguri, Immaterial and Missing Power, and a whole host of other games: free-running movement, melee and magic attacks, basic combos, and HELLA damage. It might not be a huge innovator, but out of the three games I played on day one, it was definitely the most playable. When your competition is Tekken Ball Extreme and a doujin game found in an ancient Egyptian tomb, this might not be a laudable achievement, but I’ll take what I can get.
Melee attacks are contextual, activating whenever you’re within a certain range of your opponent. There’s not a lot of variety in strings, but the stagger timing is fairly lenient, and there’s a dedicated button that slips off-axis to deliver a slow unblockable. If you want something to do at range 0, frametraps and conditioning can get you pretty far, though that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Ranged attacks are the real meat of your offensive options. They’re weird dial-in affairs, your character chanting for each button press before they fire a shot—this leads to the priceless situation where you get knocked down, your opponent goes “UUU UUU UUU UUU”, and you instantly die because you wake-up rolled into a gigantic fireball. This happened to us at least once every game, because sometimes the alternative was staying on the ground and eating a 50% OTG. Don’t get hit.
While you’re chanting, you can also dash forward, invincible to weaker magic attacks, or block stronger ones; most characters have insanely far-reaching magic, so you’ll be doing this constantly. Hope you like three-button inputs for basic movement…in a game that reaches 30FPS at best. Think of it as a random chance to get hit. If you’re playing this shit to win instead of experiment, the tracking properties of your magic attacks probably matter more than anything. Stages in Destrega range from massive open fields, allowing for perpetual runaway, to clumsy multi-level structures where you’ll constantly be scrambling up and down. If you don’t have something fast with fantastic tracking, it’s really difficult to present threat to an opponent who’s vertically disjointed. In other words, the arena fighter rewards playing lame. Shocker.
It took T a maximum of 10 minutes to start innovating, and the result was the kind of shit that gets you beat up at the arcade. One of Zauber’s magic attacks launches multiple fireballs straight up, coming down à la Hidden Missiles after a second or two. This pretty much solves every vertical situation for the character—it’d be a strong tool even if the move was otherwise weak. However, because this is the Kusoge Advent Calendar, they set up trivial unblockables, are fully active on the way up, flawlessly track on every axis on the way down, can be dash-cancelled during startup to keep you safe, can be channeled while running, bypass the magic-invulnerable dash, and do 50% damage if you get hit raw.
God fucking dammit, T. We were having fun.
This concept deserves a revisit. I think there’s something neat in it.
It’s kind of incredible how Omega Force went from Dynasty Warriors: The First One to this, a significantly more playable game, for all of its faults. The game definitely has some honest-to-god tech revolving around guard-cancelling magic charge animations to extend close-range juggle combos and other cool stuff. It’s unfortunate that the game ended up being solved by Hidden Missiles, but that’s just all the more reason for someone to come back to this concept.
Zauber makes me feel unclean and Claw is my secondary in Super Turbo.
I’m also not sorry. I am a NATURAL garbage gaming innovator.
#4: Justice League Task Force (Genesis)
T makes himself known.
“Unsafe on block and hit” continues to be one of the most baffling design fuckups, and Justice League: Task Force commits this cardinal sin with almost every move on every character. Every time I run into this, I wonder whether it’s on purpose or not. If it’s on purpose, the developers thought that turning all close-range interactions into butter-churn Mario Party minigames was a good thing. If it’s on accident, then something about the way the game is programmed prevented them from checking “huh, recovery > hitstun, probably a bad idea”, which might be even more terrifying. If something combos, or even leaves you at any kind of advantage at all, it’s on accident. Hope you like jabs.
The presentation has Alien Challenge energy, and if you’re not familiar with the Advent Calendar repertoire, that isn’t a compliment. Here, the YM2612 is wasted whenever possible, with instruments alternating between fart noises and ear-piercing sonic weapons, and absolutely nothing hits where (or when) you’d expect it to; watch anyone play this for longer than ten minutes and you’ll see plenty of terrible-looking hurtbox interactions. Depending on who you pick, you might even get to see P2 reset to the P1 palette.
The crown jewel, the star of the fuckin' show, is Batman’s 236K, a move so deliciously broken that it can only be kept in check by Task Force’s malevolent input parser; a Sub-Zero style slide that actually hits overhead, is “proximity unblockable” (confused air quotes) while also moving forward, loops into itself because of this property, low profiles most projectiles, and autocorrects anywhere between 1 and infinity times if it somehow goes under the opponent—but only if you’re player 1.
Despite this, even as player 1, Batman is terrible. The best character in the game is (of course) Superman, who has a fullscreen unblockable that combos into itself forever and can be confirmed from all of his best moves. Infinites aren’t an unusual thing for Task Force, though, and they’re not what sets him apart—Superman is the best character in the game because you can land a throw, cancel it into flight, and softlock the game, leaving you free to play something else instead.
T first exposed me to this by showing me the video review of the game from the “Team Best From Now” guys. Something about the slightly bewildered, exhausted cadence of the reviewer really set the tone for every subsequent experience with Batman’s Homing Cha-Cha Slide and everything else that makes the game even worse.
The SNES game is a whole other can of worms by the way! Perhaps I’ll get to submitting that one day. This one though? It’s just the pinnacle of what happens when you have people that have watched fighting games for about 5 minutes, thought nothing of the actual mechanics, and said “I can do that.” We all mock fighting game developers for not understanding their own craft (Sirlin not knowing what input lag was drove me insane enough to want to cartwheel off a monument in Europe) but this is the perfect example of people ACTUALLY not knowing. At all. Even remotely.
#5: Kung Fu Panda: Showdown of Legendary Legends (PC)
Kung Fu Panda: Literally How Did This Get Produced was added to the itinerary by KusogeKris, winner of the Kusoge Advent Calendar Dumb Idiot Challenge. As you would expect from anyone with the fortitude and lack of self-respect required to triumph over two Turbo 7 Shin Akumas in Reverse Dramatic Battle, it was impressively cursed.
I’m typically pretty kind to platform fighters. There’s a lot of room in the concept, but not a lot of territory explored, so it makes me smile to see developers experiment and iterate. Accusing every chimera of platformers and fighting games of “ripping off Smash” does the genre a disservice. With that said, if I continue stalling through this paragraph trying to describe this game without saying the words “bootleg Smash”, it’ll be a waste of time and bandwidth.
(Can’t blame ‘em, really. If I’m Some Fuckin Guy tasked with making a licensed party-fighter, Smash has a familiar and successful design, and it’s right fuckin there.)
Every character in this game is an annoying piece of shit on every level. I won’t speak for the source material (can you blame me for avoiding Dreamworks?), but there is absolutely nothing about this game’s visual presentation capable of sparking any amount of joy or hope. I remembered exactly zero character designs until I went back to look up the footage, which I watched on mute after the first five seconds. They all feel like you’re playing with a drifting analog stick and a hangover—like it’s your first week with a homebrewed Wii and you’re knocking back cans of Dr. Pepper, not because you like it but because it’s there, as you dive way, way too deep into Brawl Vault.
The game’s sole saving grace? The people making it were taking it 100% completely seriously; the result is buried in the nebulous no-man’s-land between “soulless cash grab” and “genuinely worthwhile experience”. It’s not hard for me to imagine other people having genuine fun with this…but you know where you are, we’re here to break shit.
Thanks to a free period on Playstation Plus, Showdown of Legendary Legends attracted the attention of more than a few lab monsters for a while; Kris had plenty of batshit hitboxes and one-move infinites to show me. The pantheon of top tiers are all sporting gigantic idiot moves and easy kill combos, and movement isn’t really fast or divergent enough to give the game an apppeal beyond “I want to play a wall of hitboxes”. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a surprising amount of Functional Game stretched between those; the Kung Fu Panda Lore apparently supports a pretty varied cast, each with a varied moveset that generally makes sense. Hell, this game also beat Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to the concept of the Final Smash meter, and the fact that I have to concede that much is incredibly fucking cursed.
Just…know that this is the type of game where you can shield out of a move’s recovery, drop shield, and link it back into itself. The tech that’s here is all completely on accident; the one deliberate mechanical addition, far-reaching airdashes replacing airdodges, is locked behind a charge system that keeps them almost completely irrelevant. Treat this shit like an archeological expedition, and mute the sound.
[a transcription of the last scene in Kung Fu Panda 1]
[EDITOR’S NOTE: no]
Oh you want my actual thoughts on this shit? I think K. Rool should be as good as Master Croc when Smash Brothers 8 comes out and I’m 55.
I vividly remember the experience of watching this game develop in real time well before I ever played it. Waking up to Kung Fu Panda 0-to-death sequences one day left me feeling like I both had to go back to bed, and wondering if I had gotten out of bed at all. The game surprised me with how awful it is, but at least the developers made an actual attempt at making something decent. Kris gets my thanks for buying this game for me—I will probably never play it again (note: don’t take my word for it), but part of me is glad that I own it.
#6: WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (Arcade)
I think I’ve done a full 360 on Midway; my opinion on them has gone from “kickass” to “terrible except NBA Jam” to “just downright fuckin’ adorable” over a 20-year span. Midway’s arcade titles always feel punchy and fun, no matter the bizzare licensed subject matter or incomprehensible mechanics…and even if you can punch a guy so hard that barbells fly out of his body, for some reason.
I’m getting very used to leading into licensed titles with “I don’t know the license.” I certainly don’t know wrestling, outside of one of the most important videos in human history. I guess it wouldn’t be fun if I ever got to play anything I could fucking understand. I get the feeling this game is weird to play even as a die-hard wrestling fan, though—I definitely felt pretty fuckin' dumb.
PRESS PUNCH + KICK TO RUN appeared after almost every single round; I searched for almost two hours and still have no idea why you would ever bother. Every time I tried it, no matter the character, I’d launch into a relaxed jog towards the ropes, interruptible by a handful of attacks that all sucked ass. Same for the combo meter—sorry,
COMBO! meter—that I literally never figured out how to use; I can only assume they were activated with some dial-in nonsense printed on the cabinet, because I was never able to spend it.
“The home version of this sucks, by the way.” —Abbock
“THIS VERSION OF THIS SUCKS” —Me, on my last pixel of health
Every defensive mechanic is activated by mashing, but half the time, I’d mash out of the progressively-less-fair capture states and immediately activate some eight-year-long move aimed somewhere in the stands, effectively vortexing myself. Throws are reversible, but I don’t actually remember how, and I’m not actually certain I ever knew.
I felt a little less dumb when I checked out the operator menu, where you can set damage, timer, and CPU difficulty settings, helpfully represented in terms of average length of a credit—because it’s 1995, and if a motherfucker is on the machine, you’d better be bleeding their wallet. To that end, by the end of the game, even on the easier difficulty, you’re fighting one-versus-three, in addition to some impossible mashing and the CPUs suddenly becoming uncomfortably good at blocking. Par for the course, I guess. I can’t even be all that mad.
Even without any idea of how to get ahead, I actually had a lot of fun with this, once I’d developed a one-move strategy that the AI seemed to feel obligated to respect. After catching this game on 1CCMarathon, and discovering that the runner’s strategy was quite a lot like mine but with an actual combo, I don’t feel so bad.
Honestly, I think Midway was on top in this era because all their games feel like they were designed by the type of person who would be playing them. “DUUUUDE WHAT IF YOU DID A SECRET COMBO MOVE THAT’S LIKE A BUHJILLION BUTTONS LONG AND THEN A COFFIN COMES OUT OF THE GROUND AND SUCKS THE GUY IN AND THEN A TOMBSTONE POPS UP, THAT’D BE SOOOOO COOOL. Oh, uh, my mom said you could sleep over tonight, we bought pizza rolls. Can you bring your PlayStation?”
Would you believe that there’s a sequel to this that’s just a lot more boring and its on the Playstation?
Anyways this game is really cool! The thing about Midway kusoge, whether its old Mortal Kombat games that happen to be extra bad or stuff like this is that more often than not, its barely really that bad, and more like a curiosity of mechanics that are very well thought out, just very unconventional by most metrics of fighting game design. It means it can be described as bad, but I think it ends up rolling around into endearingly good. Midway Arcade Games are the definition of CHARMING. Thank you, Midway.
HE’S FUCKING SAMOAN
#7: Yu Yu Hakusho Final: Makai Saikyou (SNES)
Hey, look, it’s better SNES poverty than Sailor Moon S! Sorry not sorry.
In any other situation, I probably would have written this game off as typical licensed garbage, chock-full of infinites and degenerate nonsense. The primary mechanic preventing all of that is nearly invisible; I’m convinced you could play this game for years and never discover how to airtech out of juggles. The input is, incredibly, 64—forward, then back. This seems insane to people who actually play fighting games (you have to do the opposite of blocking to stop getting hit?), but probably makes more sense to the kind of person who never stops mashing, gets reset 17 times, and claims fighting games are all about who can do the longest combo. In practice, escaping juggles as quickly as possible means plenty of joystick wiggle, and there’s something kinda cute about it.
The ability to safely flip out of otherwise-lenient juggles saves the game from being terrible, and actually leaves it almost entirely playable and fun. Characters feel diverse and snappy to control without being too wacky or mechanically intense, the juggle rules are easy to understand, and there’s a surprising amount of honest-to-god footsies. This might seem like a low bar, but considering how many SNES fighters don’t have any goddamn neutral at all, I think it’s worth mentioning.
Getting cornered is an absolute nightmare, leaving you subject to insanely strong strike/throw and big damage whenever you get opened up, but defensive throws are lightning-fast and can be performed out of absolute guard, letting you shut down most of the more blatant stuff. Just don’t get jabbed, or you might eat a practical infinite; jabs already chain into themselves for ages, even midscreen, but standing up negates corner pushback, so 2A~5 can basically be manually “chained” into itself forever.
Maybe I’ve been at this for too long, and I’m so desensitized to despair that a single spark of joy sends me into a frenzy, like a middle schooler totally convinced they’re drunk off their ass after a virgin Piña Colada. Regardless, I’ll stand by my take; I think this is worth playing even if you lack my self-destructive dumpster-diving habits, as a rare example of an SNES fighter with meaningful gameplay of any kind.
If absolutely nothing else, it’s a good excuse to test out RetroArch’s rollback netplay, which worked remarkably well and even supports spectators / hotseat play—just make sure you grab Mia’s Reduced Flashing ROM hack, which was MADE LESS THAN A DAY AFTER I PLAYED THIS ON STREAM WHAT THE FUCK PEOPLE ARE HEROES.
Amazingly this is the best YYH Fighter on the SNES and quite honestly, maybe even the best original SNES fighter out there? It’d be in my top 3 for sure, I haven’t experienced all of the SNES fighting game library, but YYH Final and TMNT:TF are definitely highlights. This game is awesome. It seems like its just a bad infinite ridden juggle mess but the minute you learn how to air tech it becomes frantic scramble SF2 where the corner is somehow even more bullshit than before.
My dream is to one day make a tournament patch for this game that has two versions, one having simply added colors, and the other containing actual balance changes, but who knows if I’ll ever get around to hacking the rom. I’d LOVE to do it though.
I’ve gotten considerably softer on Sailor Moon S as I’ve come to realise my sense of admiration for the kind of bullshit fighting games from the Super Turbo era provide. That game is honestly pretty alright.
This game is better. Hold that.
#8: Baku Baku Animal
The PC version of this game was later included in the “Sonic & Garfield Pack”, a compilation release featuring the Sonic & Knuckles Collection, Garfield: Caught In The Act, and Baku Baku Animal.
#8EX: Ballz 3D (SNES)
“This is Tekken movement, right?” —Zar, on crack
To the motherfucker who decided to make a 3D fighter on the SNES: Are you okay? Were you intending to make 5FPS schlock, or were you just not thinking particularly far ahead?
Everything about this is miserable, from the DVD-menu-tier controls to the painful and patronizing attempts at “attitude”—a text-based “announcer” quipping shit like “smell the mat” and “suck sidewalk” more or less any time two players make contact. The sound design begins and ends with gargled vocal samples and the occasional “BWONG” noise. To paraphrase a random owl statue in Link’s Awakening: “COMEDY FIGHTER IN NAME ONLY, FOR IT IS NEITHER.”
“So it’s the rolling sobat kick” —T, on crack
I think throws exist. I’m not certain. Forget learning the controls—trying to decipher what’s happening on-screen, at all, is exhausting enough. I’m morbidly curious about the 3DO version, which seems to run at a way better framerate, to see if the system mechanics are designed as badly as I suspect they are. Don’t think for too long about the fact that there’s a 3DO version, by the way.
I have only one positive thing to say; as far as I can tell, the developers did not fuck any particular move up so badly that it’s unsafe on hit. This is reaching for a low, low bar, possibly embedded in concrete several miles underground, but Justice League: Task Force exists, so credit where credit is due. You did not fuck up absolutely everything that can be fucked up. Of course, that just means something worse is lurking out there.
“Oh, okay, it’s like Third Strike” —Me, giving up
Hey AJ, did you know 3DO emulation is good? Did you know Ballz 3D had a 3DO port with actual framerate? Did you want to know? Too bad. It’s coming, and you can’t stop it.
Well, maybe you can. I don’t know if I could take this game anymore than I already have, to be quite honest.
Please don’t make me put Shaq-Fu on one of these. Please for the love of god tell me that you’ve at least heard of it. I’m not going to preside over Shaq-Fu.
#9: Jingi Storm: The Arcade (Arcade)
I feel like every time I boot up Demul for a NAOMI game, I’m pleasantly surprised. Maybe I’ve gotten lucky, or maybe the bar for an arcade release on Dreamcast hardware is a little higher than it was in the wild world of SF2 bootlegs.
Thank god for fighting games that understand the value of speed. Abbock introduced this as Virtua Fighter on crack, and IMO that’s pretty apt. After my first two rounds of Jingi Storm, I was wondering how it made it to the calendar at all; good feel, responsive controls, weird cast but nothing really all that noteworthy? Was it because of some game-defining jank, or a nonsense AI gauntlet, or some character design that was way too dumb and obnoxious to not cover?
Then it hit me with this CG out of nowhere.
When it’s not busy being fast as fuck, with guard breaks and fireballs faster than most 3D game lows, Jingi Storm has some weird relics of eroge elements in it? Location test footage shows some early builds with these mechanics intact, removing clothes the better you score, and FOR SOME REASON this didn’t make it into the final release. So now we just have a bunch of awkward fully-clothed CGs lying around—that, and the deeply confusing experience of selecting a gruff bodybuilder chararacter and getting some moeblob voice in return.
I also spent about 200,000 years fighting the final boss, who is some gigantic crab-looking motherfucker with a 1-frame lariat and a psychic sidestep, clocking me in the back of the head whenever I so much as thought about throwing a fireball. Forward dashes are amazing and backdashes are terrible, so spacing the move out would be a little tricky even if it didn’t literally hit the entire screen. Fighting game bosses remain miserable.
So. Fuck the actual game mechanics—how did this happen? The title screen credits “Atravia Japan”, and supplementary stuff names Yuki Enterprise, but the majority of Jingi Storm was actually developed by Anchor—the developers of Toy Fighter! Same button order, same weird “timed button press to counter juggles”, and an undeniably familiar feel.
Originally developed under the title Force Five, the game was cancelled for unknown reasons, and only one board of that version is known to exist. There are no eroge elements in sight, and in addition to one original character that didn’t make the cut, it has a playable Del Sol from Fighting Vipers 2???
“what is the point of GIRLS” —eebrog
This is one of the rare times where a game makes it to the Advent Calendar not because it’s fucked up—Jingi Storm isn’t, really—but just because it’s really, really weird. The game inarguably suffered from its conversion, losing characters and gaining a vaguely uncomfortable erotic-mahjong-solitaire-esque vibe. Considering that Yuki Enterprise would later become the now-defunct Examu (Arcana Heart, Nitroplus Blasterz, Million Arthur), this makes a lot of sense, and gives me a pleasing sense that everything’s somehow come full circle. Except more terrible than it was before.
If anyone has more information about this, please email me. I’ve gotta know.
I both cannot believe and can completely believe the fact that Jingi Storm actually got released, but Capcom Fighting All-Stars: Code Holder died after like two location tests. Capcom needed to throw more CGs of Ingrid and Morrigan in the arcade mode, apparently. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Can confirm this would have worked]
While there was no Jingi, this game was pretty funny. I mean listen, just the name of it is fun to say. Tell me you don’t laugh when you say “Jingi Storm.” That being said, the game this was ORIGINALLY going to be looked like it would have ACTUALLY ripped ass. What a shame.
Please let Force Five get dumped someday. PLEASE. On a related note, Sega port Fighting Vipers 2 to something modern.
#10: Fighting Masters (Genesis)
Fighting Masters is a game with no blocking. Despite this, throws are the most important tools in the game. Resolve the contradiction.
The answer: almost every strike in the game does 1 damage, but throws deal damage for each wall you hit on the way down. The simplicity of the system is delicious. If you want to delete someone from Earth, you hit them with a jumping attack for weakshit baby damage, buffer a throw, walk up during the excessively long hitstun, and chuck them into the nearest wall for SPACE DAMAGE.
“But Tyron, if the strike is long enough to get a walk-up throw, why not just pummel them to death?” Well, aside from being way less awesome, it’s actually impossible, because you’re invulnerable to strikes while in hitstun. In other words, this entire game could plausibly be a cocaine-fueled accident.
I think it’s on purpose. You don’t make a two-button fighting game unless you’re actively shooting for total nonsense (foreshadowing). Yes, Fighting Masters, a game for the Genesis—a system that was particularly well-suited to fighting games specifically because of its six-face-button controller—uses two buttons. Can you guess what they do?
This is the second fighting-game-adjacent thing with the balls to just name a character “UPPERCUT”. The one you might have heard of is the MUGEN character, but UPPERCUT is spelled exclusively in all caps—because god bless the Genesis—and his only worthwhile move is exactly what you think it is. Of course, characters with amazing names and fun designs can’t ever be top tiers—that honor goes to GRINDER, also spelled exclusively in all caps, whose jump attack hits 20 miles on both sides and easily converts into some decent throws. Hey, at least you don’t have to block crossups.
The bow on the package is Valgasu, a final boss who probably works out with 100% Toguro and The General. See, Valgasu’s got this shit figured out; why go to all that effort cornering your opponent and bouncing them off the walls, when the floor is right there? And so he just dribbles you on the ground like a fucking basketball instead, dealing nearly triple standard throw damage even if he doesn’t decide to regrab you while you’re bouncing. To reiterate: if you get hit, even once, Valgasu does as much damage as Valgasu wants. Naturally, his normals are also the fastest, most disjointed, and longest-lasting in the entire game.
As I played, I realized why everything felt so familiar to me; this game is basically Elsword Okizeme Simulator 2020. No anti-airs, obnoxiously long wake-up invulnerability, but god damn can you ever catch wakeup jump with air normals—you can even cancel one aerial into another to alter your jump arc. Of course, the difference is that this game is actually fun; the insane camera is really the only thing holding this back from genuine, unironic greatness. It’s dumb, sure, but it’s dumb and funny, and after 9+ consecutive nightmares, it was a welcome break. Another one for the “better simplified fighting game than Divekick” collection.
Apparently this game has meta even I don’t know about, and I’ll have to update you on it when I actually figure it out, but it fucking rules, absolutely. I think I’m just a DIO player, truly.
Do you think the Hokuto no Ken fighting game was actually the result of two guys in the Arc System Works offices playing Valgasu mirrors or [EDITOR’S NOTE: Removed due to threat of legal action from Arc System Works Co., Ltd]
#11: Fighting Eyes (PS1)
If it’s in this marathon, and it’s on the PS1, there’s a good chance that I can do the entire writeup using a Mad Libs template. Bad PS1 fighting games are often really similar, almost always guilty of the same core sin: wanting their high-tech 3D animation to be as fluid as possible, even at the expense of game feel. If you’d swapped my Hitbox out for a plank of wood during the round call, I probably wouldn’t have noticed—they’d both control about the same.
I started my writeup for the 2017 Kusoge Advent Calendar lamenting the original Tekken; “Tekken is one of those games that makes me wonder how fighting games ever got popular.” I spent a paragraph or two complaining about how terrible it felt to control, with a sadistic input handler and weighty, committal movement. Two years later, it’s starting to slowly sink in that Tekken might have been the best of its kind at the time. Like…far-and-away the best, in every category.
That’s the only way early PS1 fighters make sense to me, at least. Over and over and over, games cross my desk with shittier gameplay than an LCD-handheld Happy Meal toy—the ones they stopped making because every kid on the planet has a smartphone and a combined attention span of 4 seconds—and I’m forced to grapple with a world that allowed them to be made at all.
I can only assume these things sold in the PS1 era, because there seem to be approximately infinity of them. When returning in 2020, there’s not much left—a handful of wacky animations to gawk at, some generally decent music, and a game that is absolutely not worth your time in any way, even if you’re literally doing a seasonal marathon centered around shitty games.
Fighting Eyes is special because its animation was probably bad even for its period. I can count the number of animations conveying character or energy on one hand. There’s barely a spark of any positive emotion anywhere, and it certainly didn’t help that I was choking on glacial walk speeds and eon-long input delay.
This game’s most noteworthy achievement is naming a character “Shark Pirate.” The loading screen explains: “The Goliath Who Devoured A Shark Is A Modern Day Pirate Indeed.” Yeah, I guess it makes sense that he’s called Shark Pirate, then. Thanks for clearing that up.
This game passed through me, taking my time instead of my flesh for having the audacity to intersect its inexorable march into the future. I almost wish it had taken the latter.
#12: Battle Capacity 2013 (Windows)
Welcome back, my old friend Fighter Maker, consistent home of the worst sound design in the history of electronic entertainment. (“Consistent” here means “literally every single fucking time.” I’m more confident in bad Fighter Maker sound design than most laws of conventional physics.)
This time, it’s some motherfuckers literally making Pokémon noises into a microphone—because Battle Capacity 2013 is a fighting game born from Smogon’s “Create-a-Pokemon” boards, and I’m already worried that some of you are going to read that sentence thinking it’s a shitpost. It’s not. This is actually a fakemon fighting game, which is fucking awesome, and I will not hear a single damn word otherwise.
The system’s pretty by-the-numbers (honestly a relief) besides EX moves. Each player starts the match with one charge each; once an EX move hits or gets blocked, you transfer your charge to your opponent, but if it whiffs you don’t lose a damn thing. This is…a little unga, especially if you have special moves that are primarily meant for movement, not damage. I think the mechanic is interesting on paper, but in practice you end up making a quick judgement call—is my EX more useful to me than my opponent’s is to them?—and decide whether to use 800 EX moves per round or 0. (Of course, when we played, we spammed EX constantly no matter the situation because It Was Funny.)
There aren’t really any universal defensive mechanics, and everyone who doesn’t have godlike frame traps probably has godlike left/right/throw in some form, so don’t get hit or you’re gonna be fuckin' sad. Special mention goes to The Fucking Shrimp, who is like some unholy fusion of Rocket Racoon, Adon and Vega, constantly zipping around the screen at lightspeed for super ambiguous mix. Bonus points for all the small characters who block fireballs if they down-back, but crouch them if they just hold down. I will never really understand why people do this.
For what this is, I am shocked that it’s as competent as it turned out to be, and for now it earns the dubious honor of “least fucked up Fighter Maker thing I have played”. Honestly, this might be worth an afternoon if you’ve got someone to fuck around with it locally; the cast is pretty fun, running the gamut from “let me oppress the fuck out of you with cr.M fireball” to “gigantic asshole groundwhale who yells SOIL while falling on you” to “literally El Fuerte with no alterations”, so you’ll probably find somebody you like.
Protip: just like in competitive Pokémon, spam Swords Dance to win.
I don’t usually play grapplers, but holy shit Revenankh was way too much fun. The mixups, man.
The only fighting game where whiffing your EX reversal is better than having it blocked. I hate it here.
#13: Neon Genesis Evangelion: Battle Orchestra (PS2)
Neon Genesis Evangelion: Battle Orchestra is my new least favorite platform fighter. Not only does it fare worse than Kung Fu Panda: Something of Something Something, but it’s probably worse than Elsword, and anyone who’s been here for a while knows just how bad that is. Falling below that standard—a standard I’ve previously described as “the perfect storm of nepotism and psychological imbalance”, “the one thing in my life I should almost certainly regret”, and “a machine made to convert US dollars into human suffering” requires a degree of failure that can only come from anime games.
Terrible input feel? We’ve got that. I played through PCSX2, but (as you’re probably used to hearing) a CRT and a console wouldn’t have made a damn difference. This is the sort of thing that’s normally difficult to explain without handing over the controls, but this time it’s refreshingly easy; they fucked up jump cancelling. You know, the simplest mechanic available in fighting games beyond basic attacks and movement; do a move, hit up, you are now jumping instead of doing the move. If you manage to make jump cancels difficult and finicky, the rest of your game is not going to fare very well.
Boring character design? We’ve got that. No, I’m not actually talking about the characters in the series, I don’t know fuck about that except the one End of Eva meme. I’m talking about the mechs, which all look the fuckin' same and play about the same. You’d think that would be alleviated by the rest of the cast, outnumbering our protagonists by a huge margin, but despite being wackass aliens they manage to have less interesting movesets. Hell, even the genuine oddballs are wasted; Ramiel, who you may know as a big fucking blue octahedron, feels like it was programmed in 15 minutes, with a handful of awkward projectile attacks and permanent (but useless) free flight. Hey, at least everyone has two terrible cinematic supers.
Poorly thought-out mechanics? Sure, we’ve got that. Ground dashes feel fucking turn-based, walking is unbearably slow, and air movement leaves you utterly defenseless against almost everything in the entire game. Special moves are restricted by meter, making the anemic movesets feel even smaller because of how little you can use the fun toys. It doesn’t help that guard cancels are 1. also metered, and 2. so hilariously good that you’d be a dumbass to use meter for any other purpose, hitting in a gigantic 360 bubble despite their animations. (So much for those cinematic supers after all.)
Terrible stages? We’ve got that shit by the truckload, with gigantic impassable walls and annoying, one-note destructible features. The coolest of them has you jumping between boats in the middle of the ocean, and it’s pretty alright until you realize that every single string will unceremoniously dump you into the drink because the platforms are all 3 inches wide. There’s only one stage that could be credibly considered playable, and I guess it’s appropriate that it’s…Extremely Evangelion.
Honestly, though, I think the funniest thing about this game is the complete inability to keep the scale of the mechs straight. Are they easily leaping from battleship to battleship, or are they marginally taller than a penguin? How did you make a Licensed Anime Fighting Game that even the lorefiends will get mad over? (For that matter, I’m not an expert on the source material, but isn’t a Neon Genesis Evangelion fighting game sort of…missing the point?)
Final note: Sleepmode labbed this game long enough to discover a ToD. There are two ways you can interpret this:
- Battle Orchestra is so broken that, despite how disgusting it is, you can find a death combo before the input feel drives you to physically vomit
- Sleepmode is so broken that he actually played this shit for long enough to find relevant tech
AND IT’S NOT EVEN FOR A CHARACTER IN THE ACTUAL SERIES.
Not only did I lab this game long enough to find a death combo, I labbed it long enough to find that the game actually has a juggle limit. Even when you’re having fun the game doesn’t let you have any fun.
I’d say “Sleepmode is broken” is the more accurate explanation for all that, but I’m not sure I want to know what people mean when they call me “broken” for labbing Battle Orchestra
Wow. Just wow. I got home from a grueling shift of Christmas retail, hopped into the call going “HELL YEAH LET ME PLAY THIS.” Guess how long it lasted before it turned into “Wow. Wow. I came home for this.” The movelists in this game are bland, none of the characters do anything interesting really. I’ve read things online that say “Man the amount of SHOTOS in SF is lamentable” and “The MK Ninjas are just wasted roster slots” and you know what, while I used to empathize with this, WOW are those refreshing compared to the shit in this game. God fucking damn.
This thing spent so much fight against its source material it didn’t have any left for the gameplay.
#14: Cardinal Syn (PS1)
There are two ways to play Cardinal Syn. You can play it like your typical 3D fighter, getting around and avoiding attacks with sidesteps, dashing, and blocking. This version of the game is ass.
The other is to tape down your block button and your 8-way run button, walk out of every single string, spend the entire round off-axis, and fish for midscreen low launchers while invulnerable to every other kind of attack. This version of the game isn’t amazing either, but it gets extra credit for being pretty fuckin' funny.
This is the type of game where every attack, no matter what it does, produces a splash of watermelon-red squares that could charitably be interpreted as blood—the type of game that has ultraviolent 15-button finishers just because it’s the cool thing to do, probably buried somewhere in the manual. Considering that premise, I expected complete trash, but the game’s actually pretty well-put-together.
In any other game, if I led with “there’s an option select that makes you invulnerable to almost every move in the game”, you’d tell me to fuck off, unless you play Persona 4 Arena. But, perhaps purely by accident, every character has a wealth of lateral options—and a good amount of them hit low, providing a natural check to 8WR+block. Walk speeds are fast enough and stages are sane enough that you can plausibly chase down runaway, juggles follow common-sense rules without being trivially breakable…hell, even from a technical perspective, Cardinal Syn hits stable 30fps, which is totally understandable given the environments and the hardware.
There’s a sprinkling of party-fighter elements, like stage hazards and items. Stage hazards mostly stay out of the way, and are mainly noteworthy for running at an incredibly distracting 5fps—hell, you can even turn them off if you want, which is yet another thing this lineup of cursed-ass games beat Super Smash Bros. to. Items enable special magic attacks, all of which seem terrible and I never bothered with them.
By the end of my session with T, we’d “optimized” the game down to manually aiming gigantic half-screen launchers, playing some strangely satisfying 3d footsies. Maybe I’m overselling this—the game is dreadful to look at when you consider anything but animation quality, I remember nothing about the music save annoyance, and disc-based load times can fuck off—but hey, there’s neutral and there’s grime, it’s good for an hour or two. If it weren’t for the usual PS1 texture-warping shenanigans, I might have played for longer.
BONUS POINTS EARNED FOR: Tons of bonus characters, sick demoscene fire on the title screen, tap-to-set control remapping (which people are still fucking up in 2020 and I have no idea how), absolutely delicious hammy pre-rendered cutscenes.
BONUS POINTS DEDUCTED FOR: Clown stage.
Leroy Smith was first released in Tekken 7 and was essentially a mid-low tier Cardinal Syn character. He has since been nerfed into a bottom tier Cardinal Syn character. You can guess via these statements how this game fares in the realm of 3D Action Fighting entertainment.
#15: Arm Joe (Windows)
I think this game is already pretty famous, and it’s not just because it’s older than time. The memetic potential of “fighting game based on Les Miserables"—yes, the French novel later adapted into a stage musical—is off the fuckin' charts, tailor-made for the Western image of “WAAAAAAO JAPAN IS SO WAAAAAAAACKY”. But despite my expectations, Arm Joe’s source material was one of the most normal things about it.
Before you proceed any further, fair warning; if you don’t know Arm Joe, you might not want to read this. Instead, find a friend who’s similarly ignorant (fighting game literacy is a plus, but it can probably slide) and strap in with one of the most mechanically batshit fighters you’ll ever play.
You have the chance to experience this for yourself. If you’re reading this, the odds are pretty good that you’re the type of person who will enjoy it. If you can devote an hour or two of genuine labwork, taking the game 100% seriously, it’s an experience that I don’t think you can get anywhere else.
This isn’t a bit (well, it is, but not entirely), and I don’t even think it’s an exaggeration. If you have a Windows PC, can handle a little fuckaround with Locale Emulator, and any of what I just wrote resonates at all with you, skip to the next section and make a note for yourself. Come back when you’re ready.
What’s beautiful about Arm Joe is how ephemeral the experience really is. It masquerades as a technically competent fighting game, and it does it pretty well, until you put it under the slightest amount of scrutiny. Poke anything that seems even slightly out of place, and the game doesn’t just fall apart—it explodes, spectacularly, like a firework made of terrible ideas.
The defensive mechanics make no goddamn sense. You can press forward at any time during blockstun to parry, which seems to hit everywhere but behind you. Even if you somehow get crossed up without your opponent switching sides, it also leaves you fully invulnerable until you can block again, while also building meter. Even before you discover Cursed SOCD Behavior—the stuff that lets you auto-parry all lows and mids while ducking throws, in a game where most jumping attacks aren’t overheads—it’s one of the strongest defensive tools I’ve ever seen, and the only thing that keeps it remotely in check is how batshit fast every move actually is. Yes, this is a game where “literally just press forward” is a guard-cancel mechanic you can fuck up.
The meter mechanics make no goddamn sense. There’s a universal install that drains life and regenerates meter, similar to Street Fighter X Tekken’s Pandora mode, but a bunch of supers will literally never end when performed with this mode active, since your bar never drains to zero. If you kill someone like this, there’s a good chance that they’ll win the round anyway, because you probably died first. Even outside of Pandora, there’s at least one super that builds its cost back on hit…and links into itself.
The programming makes no goddamn sense. One moment you’re playing Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the next you’re playing Sonic Battle Lost Ending NEO. We managed to get characters stuck in infinite pushback at least once, and the game crashed constantly even when we weren’t trying to break it, barely making it a handful of rounds in arcade mode.
The aesthetic makes no goddamn sense. The sprites are huge and wonderfully detailed, with surprisingly high framecounts for any game of that era that isn’t Melty Blood, but every move plays 500 overlapping sound effects and generates a billion particle effects, as if it were some kind of primal ancestor to every overpowered MUGEN KoF recolor. Hell, the entire style of presentation, with strobing visuals and hard camera cuts 10 times a second, makes the game look like it is literally falling apart before your eyes—and it feels that way too.
The combo system makes no goddamn sense. The juggle rules seem to randomly alternate between a legitimate attempt to restrict infinites, and a neon sign with the words “FUCKING GO FOR IT DUDE.” Moves seem to be handed wallslam properties completely at random. One-button infinites are the norm, and the fact that almost none of them matter is a testament to how goddamn insane Arm Joe actually is.
The moveset design makes no goddamn sense. Every Darkstalkers and KoF character wishes they were Police, who has the most aggressive and horrifying hopdash I have ever seen in my entire life; in a game with nothing but moonjumps, his instant overheads are heat-seeking missiles. Everyone’s got at least a handful of nonsense gimmicks like his, and they’d all be overpowered in almost any other game. Arm Joe’s solution is a global escape-hatch defensive mechanic, where you can press Down to backdash out of any grounded hitstun from a light normal. It’s not even remotely enough, and sometimes it softlocks the game.
It’s…exhausting. Every time you think you’ve discovered a mechanic that “solves” the game, there’s a mechanic that re-solves the game waiting in the wings, invalidating everything you thought you knew about how the system works.
I am genuinely happy that I played Arm Joe. It was a truly joyful experience that I was lucky to be able to share with friends. I will never open it again.
My parents took me to see Les Miserables live on Broadway once. There was a man seated a row behind us who would loudly yell “BRAVO!” multiple times every time we applauded. I hope that that guy knows about Arm Joe.
I remember it being astoundingly pretty, but I feel like if I go back and check, I’ll be cursed to transform into a horrid stuffed rabbit.
Someone should’ve just used MUGEN to make a fighting game instead, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying that.
Les Miserables is a very emotionally charged work of theater. It’s honestly quite beautiful. And yet, the part that always hits the hardest for me is right towards the end, when Robo-Valjean does a fuckin infinite on the police and wins the French Revolution
#16: Advanced VG2 (PS1)
Cute girls with uppercuts. No complaints here.
Any game where you can pick a bunnygirl and get rewarded with a half-screen sweep is probably alright in my book. So it goes for Advanced VG2, a welcome break from edgy magazine-ad violence and dogshit early 3D. There’s more joy and personality in Ayako’s idle animation than in the entirety of Cardinal Syn—and this is from an entry in what’s supposedly an eroge series?!
(…Okay, yeah, after further research this is one of the only entries in the Variable Geo series that I could have safely played on Twitch. Thanks, y’all.)
I dunno. I feel like I’m slandering this thing by even including it on this list, regardless of its origins, because just looking over my old footage is making me want to open the game again. It feels like it was intended for me, and me specifically, at this exact moment in my life—dead center in a stream of trash.
To my great delight, there’s a pretty healthy poverty scene for Advanced VG2 overseas—I was even able to find some recent footage from EVO Japan. As I watched, it struck me just how well the game seemed to hold up even when played super-seriously. There’s a nice mix of ground footsies and aerial scrambles, projectiles are allowed to be good without being overpowering, pressure is rewarding but never too prolonged or oppressive…the only big strategy we missed was the power of hitting buttons on the way up from a jump. (They stay active for ages, don’t recover for very long, and can be chained on block.)
Even Kaori, despite her neutral toolbox and meterless infinite, is still played. The infinite is banned, of course, she hardly needs it…except in the mirror, where it’s totally legal. I appreciate whoever put this ruleset together.
I am aborting this section, because VG2 does not belong here (though if every game on the calendar was like it, I’d probably be a healthier person). It’s lovely to look at, feels great to play, and has just enough stupid jank to produce some “exciting” “strategies” during a short play session, while still being solid enough to be worth a return visit. Advanced VG2 was a save point for my soul, and the next time you see me at an event, I’ll probably have a setup for it on hand.
I guess the PS1 had to get something to redeem it this year.
It’s funny that the character design I gravitated to in the Variable Geo series just happens to be a character that is top tier in every single game she is in. Let’s go Kaori gang, we play the HONEST neutral and the very fair offense game. Nothing but hard work.
I think the Kusoge Advent Calendar is reaching some kind of singularity. If we keep accidentally letting good games on the calendar like this, the concept of “kusoge” will wrap around itself and December will just be a month of us making AJ play good fighting games.
Anyway, we need a Code Mystics re-release of this game like yesterday.
#17: Kamen Rider Climax Heroes W (Wii)
The Advent Calendar is kind to me sometimes, giving me a game that’s comfortable to play while still being reducible to 100% solved degenerate bullshit in a single session. This is one of those times. If you’re playing to win, there is absolutely nothing to this game other than “get bar first”; there’s no defensive mechanic that can stop you, mostly because the game has no defensive mechanics at all, and no crazy touch-of-death combos to optimize, mostly because the game has no combos at all.
You want bar because it lets you transform. You want to transform because it gives you free unblockable supers for its duration. It’s actually that simple.
…I actually don’t think I have much more to say about this. I’m not a Kamen Rider guy, though I think the motherfuckers assembling this list are probably trying to convert me, so I don’t have any special attachment to the license. There are roman cancels (the appropriately-abbreviated “Rider Cancels”), but they don’t lead to anything interesting or particularly worthwhile. Hell, the game’s in Japanese, so even my ability to poke around the menus is pretty limited.
I kind of appreciate game design that cuts to the chase, though. There’s no crouching, because the Down input is repurposed for something far more important than defense, movement, or extra attacks: charging meter.
Did I play this game? I think the trainsaw gave me brain damage.
Fun fact: legendary shmup developer Raizing was actually a division of Eighting. This is apparent because every system in this game is about as mind-bogglingly fucked up as the rank mechanics in Battle Garegga.
How is it that the only game in the Climax Heroes series with a light > heavy > special magic series is also the only one with literally zero combos? That kind of serendipitous stupidity is really only possible in an 8ing joint—it’s kind of terrifying just how much more of a video game Super Climax Heroes is by comparison.
This game had the audacity to advertise its W, and in reality, it’s holding a big ass L.
#17EX: Battle Cross Fever (Windows)
We played Climax Heroes Wumbo for an hour, and it was probably at least 20 minutes too long. To round out the evening, we played some games that originally didn’t quite make the cut for the calendar, under the dubious logic that a handful of one-note clusterfucks could be traded in for one actual video game. In other words, the happenstance ordering of an Excel spreadsheet was the only reason I experienced this game, and…I’m not sure what that means.
Battle Cross Fever is the embodiment of the “most ambitious crossover in history” meme. “Ambition” is the key word; this game includes a shot-for-shot recreation of the entirety of Sonic Adventure 2’s City Escape, complete with skateboarding and rail grinding, but couldn’t quite work out movement mechanics that can be grasped by human intellect. There’s an involved chain combo system for every member of the growing cast, but none of them can really do anything if you just decide to hold the joystick away from them. You can put up to 16 players on a single screen, but only for about five seconds, and only if none of them have ears.
There’s something conceptually interesting about a crossover fighter that gives no fucks about consistency, aesthetic or otherwise. There are neat aspects to this, too, and it’s clearly made by people with a deep respect and adoration for the source material—a personal favorite touch was the addition of damage numbers on a Phantasy Star Online-inspired stage.
For everyone who gets their kicks posting progressively less-plausible photoshopped Smash rosters, this might be your joint, especially if you have 15 friends and a TV the size of the sun. If not, hey, there’s always Parsec…wait, is this an official article?
My only explanation for this is that the creators genuinely don’t care what anyone thinks of it. This is something that they made because, in their minds, it needed to be made, and I respect that. Shoutouts to JMan, whoever you are and whatever you’re smoking—for whom “Creator” was apparently an insufficient title. You da man.
Having played this game years ago it is JUST as funny as it was then. It’s just such a remarkable piece of fan work, it is so OBVIOUS that it is fan work, and I find that excessively endearing in the year of 2019-2020, to be honest. Professional-ish looking things and whatnot are always impressive, but when you can tell something was made by someone who was like “YEAH THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME”, it’s got its own kind of unique heart to it. Bonus points for Link and Young Link as the same character, effectively making Link the fucking Zeku function. I wouldn’t have thought of it, and it’s really funny.
I’LL! MAKE! IT! THROUGH! PROVE! IT! TO! YOU!
#17EX+: Double Dragon (Neo Geo)
After every game, before I got up from my PC to curl up on my shower floor with a tub of ice cream, I’d take down a brief set of bullet points to jog my memory in later discussions. 25+ games in a month is a lot of games, especially if most of them are awful enough to have psychoactive properties, and I wanted to be sure I did everything justice.
The first bullet point on my list for Double Dragon is the word “damage”. It remains the only thing I really have to say about it.
See, the combo system in this game is apparently famously exploitable, but combos are hard and my hands don’t work too good. Fortunately, Double Dragon thoughtfully provides absurd space damage on just about every character. Can’t combo for shit? Damage is high and stun is easy—just hit them with the same overhead three times and they die, GGs. The control layout naturally complements this plan; instead of being separated into punches and kicks, the four-button scheme is labeled “light”, “medium”, “heavy” and “heaviest”.
Still too hard? Your super meter is the length of your remaining life, so you can vomit supers constantly if you’re getting your ass handed to you. One of them is bound to hit eventually, especially if you’re playing me and I’m more focused on trying to get SICK HOPDASH AERIAL PRESSURE than blocking. (Bizzare twist: all hopdash aerials are mids. Vampire Savior looks on in disgust.)
Double Dragon’s presentation is lavish, to the point of being overwhelming. Every stage and interface element seems designed to show off just how much they could pack onto the board, with constant excuses to show off sprite scaling and foreground layers. When this works well (subjective), you get cool intros where characters jump in from the background. When this works less well, you get the plane stage, which is…a little busy.
I didn’t have much left in the tank when I played this, and I’ll readily admit that. Between Trainsaw Heroes W and Rail Grind Simulator 2019, I was about ready to check the fuck out. In a way, that’s what Double Dragon provided; a visual spectacle where I could hit buttons and watch damage happen. Simple, fun, and no hard work required whatsoever. Perfection.
This game fucking RIPS ASS god damn! Easily one of the best looking Neo-Geo games out there, period, and just like, it feels good and fluid and fun to play! Really overlooked I think.
#18: Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi (PS1)
What if Tekken was a waking nightmare?
Honestly, I feel like the comparison defames Tekken more than Teräs Käsi, but it had to be made. “Teräs käsi” apparently translates to “steel hand” in-universe, which is amusingly similar to Tekken (lit. “iron fist”), but “teräs käsi” is also literally “steel” and “hand” in Finnish—expert linguists will note that Finnish is an actual language spoken by humans in real life on Earth.
Before you even make it off the title screen, this game is creatively bankrupt in two ways. If you can make it to the command lists, go ahead and tack on another, because this game has 10-hit combos that are exactly as useless as their Tekken counterparts.
Remember the bit about Fighting Eyes? Yeah, go ahead and mentally copy-paste the entire thing down here. Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi earns the Kusoge Advent Calendar Lifetime Achievement Award for “worst input system in the history of 3D fighting games”—though I’m excluding games without lateral movement, hello Dragon Ball GT Final Bout. It is truly miserable to control, on every level.
If you’re the type of person who will happily park themselves in training mode trying to Taunt Jet Upper even once, I encourage you to pick this game up and try to do any super. Like, on any character. They’re all motions combined with 6+ dial-in buttons, and even if you can remember and execute them, the input parser will almost always ignore you. Of course, the horribly useless dial-in 10-hit strings can be buffered, and they appear to be the only moves in the game that work this way.
Throws are performed with Triangle + X, or Square + Circle. Those of you who have used a PlayStation pad before, please take a moment to visualize those button combinations. How does this happen? Out of 6 different possible combinations of inputs, how did they find the two worst ones for human thumbs, and then proceed to use them for the entire development cycle? Were they somehow unable to change it? Did they program the game on stone tablets? This is staying with me for as long as I live.
Absolutely nothing combos, especially strings—double especially if it’s labeled in the manual as a combo. Instead, the game has a fairly involved stun system…that is never explained and completely irrelevant, because your opponent would have to put the controller down and also die to even be in danger of filling their stun bar. If you want to kill someone quickly, your best bet is probably to ring them out, because this game has ring-outs, because of course it does.
I don’t think anyone made a particularly serious attempt to play this, but even if you can get over the controls, there’s not much here. Lateral movement is the best form of defense, because almost everything will go off-axis the moment either player inputs anything; while horizontals should work to check this, for the most part, they really don’t. Because nothing combos, any string that involves a vertical attack (or a horizontal that forgot to eat a healthy breakfast that morning) can be sidewalked and punished, provided you can actually get a jab to come out.
There are some weapon-stance shenanigans, but most of their options are terrible, and most weapon moves are shared between characters—Mortal Kombat 4 beat them to this idea by a matter of weeks, and for all that game’s flaws, Midway did it better. Every projectile is effectively worthless because there’s no way to generate space; Han’s low laser, which is actually a mid which is actually a low, might be the only exception. There’s not even much of a reason to fish for super; even if you’ve found a way to make it come out reliably, most of them don’t really do much damage.
Silver lining: I might be the first person to find and document a non-chain combo in this game. If you can get behind a knocked-down opponent, a very precisely angled OTG will launch them towards you instead of away, allowing you to follow up with…a single jab.
You get one.
I played it on real hardware once. Guess what?
Nothing changed. It’s fucking horse shit awful. Once again the best Star Wars fighting game is a Soul Calibur game.
See, this is the kind of game that it always makes me sad to see. A fighting game where the experience of controlling it is painful, and where the room for exploration is basically nil. This sort of game was common when fighters first started shifting to 3D, and it’s just so depressing to play something like this and realize “yes, that really is all there is.” It’s not what I love about digging through kusoge, but it is a job that must be done all the same. Maybe.
I saw “Licensed PS1 fighter that was panned on release” and got excited.
#19: Unholy Night (SNES)
Unholy Night is modern SNES homebrew developed by ex-SNK staffers. This should have been awesome. It’s…not.
As I played Unholy Night, I kept thinking back to the 1992 release of Street Fighter II for the SNES. Compared to that, Unholy Night had the benefit of 25 years of hindsight, powerful modern development tools, and an overwhelming amount of inspiration to draw from. The genre has made massive strides forward in finesse and accessibility, there are a wealth of high-quality titles to measure yourself against, and any remotely-modern PC can emulate 10 SNES consoles running at 200x speed—with changes previewed in seconds, no fucking with devkits or burning to EEPROMs. Despite all these advantages, Unholy Night is so buggy and poorly-performing that it’s objectively obsoleted by something that is now almost 30 years old.
One-touch kills are everywhere. You probably have access to at least one super that will instantly destroy anyone below full life. There’s no damage scaling, either, so jab→jab→super has a decent chance of killing most characters (unless you’re Reinhardt, in which case your supers all do zero damage and are punishable on hit). Did you whiff? Don’t worry, you can stock up to three, and meter’s given out like AOL free trial discs. Swing away.
Corner pushback rarely functions, so Blaze—a horrible asshole who earned his spot at the front of the box art by being top tier—can literally 2A you to death if you happen to step near a wall. (Side note: the AI knows how to do this. There is no way the developers didn’t know.) For the rest of the cast, this is forbidden technology; they don’t have chainable crouching normals at all, and awful juggle properties give them more damage comboing out of the corner than into it.
The input parser is completely broken. From least to most baffling: the ninja archetype has a completely useless mash move that’s apparently tracked for 45 frames, so it comes out whenever it wants. You have to shortcut special moves so the absurdly lenient supers (with inputs like 626P) don’t come out instead. Holding a button disables your movement (why?) but gives you instant glitch backdashes and rising air normals (why???). Worse than all of that, P2 side can’t do charge moves or quick getup at all. I can only assume that if you and your future enemy both main a charge character, you play this one like chess.
In every way but graphically (the sprites are aaight), Unholy Night feels like one of those wackass clone bootleg fighters on the NES. It’s actually uncanny how close it is—low-button-count control scheme, hits that feel like they have no impact, and camera hell-bent on uncomfortably lunging to follow the stuttering movement. At least walk speeds are fast.
This is the Under Night we have at home.
At an actual serious level, this feels like a version of those bootleg Genesis fighting games you’d find on the Gamecenter BS VOD archives. It has that same level of responsiveness, button inputs, “hitstun and combos.” You’d actually be able to convince me that this game was made for a GBA and then ported to SNES, I’d believe you!
Something important to note is that the Unholy Night dev team, Foxbat, is supposedly comprised of ex-SNK developers. No one has been able to independently verify this claim, which only enhances the Unholy Night experience, if you ask me – was this game created by actual ex-SNK devs who just completely shit the bed? Was it a bunch of total amateurs just lying out their asses for clout? It’s like Schrodinger’s Kusoge.
Lives up to its name.
#19EX: Daemon Bride Additional Gain (Arcade)
How do we keep sneaking decent games onto this thing? Oh well, call it detox from Unholy Night.
Daemon Bride: Additional Gain is…basically Touhou Hisoutensoku meets Deathsmiles?
- Dedicated dash button governed by a universal regenerating meter
- Strong projectile attacks, which cost the same meter, can be dashed through
- Gothic horror metal aesthetic?
- Small flying girl with scissors?
My favorite aspect of Hisoutensoku (and Elsword, if you can fuckin' believe it) was the way you could quickly transtiion between measured zoning and frantic scrambles. There’s a weird sort of brain-teasing context switch as you find a hole in your opponent’s projectiles, or you manage to slip away and set up a wall; it’s something that feels deeply satisfying to recognize and abuse, even if you’re not all that familiar with fighting games. Daemon Bride managed to hit those buttons for me, and I lost two hours just trying to wrap my head around how to use the movement.
The animation and visual effects are pretty much gorgeous across the board, and though the style won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s kinda hard to argue with a game that leans into it this well. There’s probably something that matches your particular flavor of bait somewhere in the cast. Combos are pretty short and feel natural to construct, thanks in part to the small movelists, but characters don’t really feel linear in the way that you’d expect—the core systems give you plenty of room for experimentation, and I’m a sucker for it.
I think everyone knew my verdict on this the moment I found the nun with the gigantic magical sword-gun, but personal bait aside, I had a lot of fun. This section is short because Daemon Bride is actually just uncontroversially decent. NESICA stuff runs on surprisingly low-spec hardware, too—if you can get through the setup, it might be worth a shot.
HOME PORT WHERE EXAMU I NEED MY GOTH SOKU YESTERDAY
I didn’t play this at all, and if I did, I don’t remember it, but it seems like an ok game. [EDITOR’S NOTE: T really wanted to have a comment for every game, since he also attempted to play all of them]
Okay but when are we gonna get a rollback caster for this game? That’s what you really wanna be opening up port 10800 for.
…There’s a priest here fighting against the pope. Clearly Martin Luther.
#20: The Killing Blade Plus (Arcade)
The endpoint of the IGS redemption arc.
The Killing Blade Plus is a tag game; you select two characters to play and one as an assist-only extra. If you’re like me, “IGS tag game” gave you an immediate stress reaction, and that’s…pretty fair, honestly.
There is intense grime available here, and we’ll get to it, but despite my expectations, the game was more technically sound than I expected—low bar, considering IGS brought us Alien Challenge. Camera and character movement is pretty jittery, making the game look like it’s running way worse than it feels. I actually had to go back and pop the game open again just to make sure I wasn’t crazy; it looks absolutely terrible, but really doesn’t feel as bad as it ought to, even if IGS gravity is still jank as fuck.
When it comes to tag mechanics, IGS asks the questions no one else has the courage to answer—questions like “what if Vajra was three times longer and the blockstun lasted 20 minutes”, or “what if Astral Vision but you didn’t have to throw the fireballs yourself?” Some people would argue that these are overcentralizing mechanics that make matches feel dry and deterministic, but that’s just because they’re free to skeleton setplay, and they should be scorned for their terrible opinions. If you can’t block assist supers and bullet hell while defending an 8-part rekka where every hit individually crosses up, why even bother?
Assists have a separate meter, and they can build super meter, and your supers can build your assist meter…with the end result that, when you’re running your gameplan, there isn’t really any time where you’re out of resources. Even the worst assists are lightning-fast and lock down for long enough to steal a turn. At least there aren’t really incoming mixups, since killing a character automatically triggers a lightning-fast tag attack from their backup.
The Killing Blade Plus also has one of the most unexpectedly friendly features I’ve ever seen in a fighting game; when I switched characters after continuing, the game gave me a 30-second round with the AI turned off, “PRACTICE MODE” flashing at the top of the screen, for me to feel out my moveset. Considering the moderate unfriendliness of the gameplay itself (and a character select timer that nearly gave me a heart attack), this was a surprise. In the immortal words of Mike Z, why don’t more games do this?
I, uh, don’t know if this visual style is going to garner any fans, but there will definitely be no fans with photosensitive epilepsy, since the game will kill all of them. (Maybe aping a little too much from Samurai Shodown.) IGS’s signature command of shitty sound design is on full display, too; the game is as exhausting to listen to as it is to look at. Despite that, The Killing Blade Plus is still capable of delivering the slightly-unhealthy joy of Making Your Opponent Hold That Shit, and I’d probably play it again. I’m proud of you, IGS.
This is what Samurai Shodown IV would be if it were Samurai Shodown III. I will not explain what this means.
Idea: Genjuro Rekka. Even better idea: no crossup protection. The best idea: Said character having a fireball super that tracks.
Yeah you know what, IGS, you’re fine. Alien Challenge was an anomaly, you actually are the royalty of fighting games. No further comment.
How is it that IGS literally only made one bad fighting game? Oh, also, the poverty guys at Kohatsu are all about these IGS games, so peep their youtube for match footage.
#21: Battle of the Eras (DOS)
THIS. SHIT. COMES. OUT. SWINGING.
Anything that requires me to configure DOSBox is triple-cursed from the very beginning, but “DOS game made by high schoolers” is a level of malice I wasn’t really prepared to handle at the start of the finale. Of course, I didn’t know that when I launched the game (it’s way more fun to go in blind), but it didn’t take anyone particularly long to figure it out.
Battle of the Eras is a breathtakingly beautiful fusion of digitzed photography, painstaking claymation, cutting-edge computer graphics, and a font compilation CD one of the developers picked up at a Goodwill. I’ve seen the game characterized as an unfitting mishmash of clashing visual styles, and I wholeheartedly disagree. Battle of the Eras is, with 100% consistency and crystal-clear intent, everything the developers thought was SUPER FUCKING COOL at the time. That counts as an aesthetic in my book, even if the result is a baffling mythological crossover time-travel sci-fi shitfest.
A lot of people who don’t play fighting games think the whole genre is just mindless button-mashing. Battle of the Eras is from a universe where those people are correct. I was only able to stomach a playthrough because of Gatekeeper’s absolutely incredible crouching jab, which has no pushback (I’m not sure anything in the game does) and links into itself as quickly as you feel like mashing it. This ended most rounds in about 5 seconds, which was coincidentally the amount of sustained time I could look at the game without vomiting.
Battle of the Eras just…does things sometimes. It crashes a lot, which I’ve basically come to expect when I’m given PC games for these events, but it also likes to make really loud sounds for no clear reason, or warp playable characters into explosions of technicolor TV static. diskman.com suggests these might be disk corruption, since it spent about two decades stored on floppy disks.
The interview on the same page, 20-something years after the fact, is bascially just the lead programmer admitting “nope, game’s a buggy fuckin' disaster.” My favorite production note is how the “Minotaur” character was originally intended to be, well, an actual minotaur—but the model they’d created couldn’t stand up to being posed, so they improvised and just had a fuckin' worm burst out of his chest during the intro animation, making a vaguely enemy-shaped lump of clay into the real character.
Based on one hour of play and some subsequent VoD review, I have developed a theory about Battle of the Eras. I think that every attack in this game starts up in zero frames, and anything that looks like a startup animation is actually just really elaborate hitstop. I don’t think attacks come out at all if your opponent is blocking. This is so goddamn backwards that I don’t even think I can speculate on how the game would be played seriously, but if anyone feels like running Battle of the Eras at your local, please report back with your results. (Do not actually do this.)
There is a part of me that thinks Battle of the Eras is actually awesome (certainly beats my high-school flailing in Game Maker and TI-BASIC), and a much larger part of me that wants to beat the other part of me to death with a Panzer stick. I am entirely unconvinced this game is enjoyable for anyone besides the developers, including other high-schoolers. The shareware landscape of 1995 seems to agree with me; the game sold zero copies.
Ah yes, this game. I told myself that I would submit very interesting games for most of the Calendar, and then I specifically had the thought: “Why don’t I finally drop my secret weapon? The worst one I’ve ever played.” Now, certainly, it could have been Heavy Nova, but really the only time that game is a “fighting game” is when its two player. This game though? GOD. GOD DAMN. I’m glad the developers have long since moved on and still laugh at it whenever they see it, but god damn. Made in Canada, by the way. For anyone who doesn’t know, that is also where I live. I’m holding the L. As for what’s wrong with this game, let’s see……everything.
As completely unplayable as this is, I’m glad a couple of teenagers got the opportunity to put this together and unleash it on the world. I know I complained about games with nothing going for them from a gameplay perspective on Star Wars, but I think there’s a difference between a completely empty corporate product and a group of kids just having a good time putting something out there.
I can’t bring myself to be harsh. I made awful, barely functional games when I was 14, and I had the luxury of using Game Maker and getting all of my sprites from Naruto GBA rips I found on the internet. I guess this is a kind of solidarity.
#22: Samurai Shodown III (Neo Geo)
You know a game is good when everyone actively playing it is meming constantly about how fucking stupid it is. Samurai Shodown III scores really, really high on this test, maybe higher than anything else that can actually be considered a fighting game. Everyone I’ve talked to has been absolutely elated to show me their own brand of degenerate nonsense, whether it’s three-hit death combos, weirdly practical infinites, unbreakable blockstrings, or just a general disregard for the entire concept of neutral. Not only is there a wiki, not only is it actively maintained with useful information, but every available space in it is crammed full of shitposts.
When selecting your character, you also select between two variations—Slash and Bust, offering two different sets of special moves—and three “grades”, modifying your meter mechanics. Beginner Class gives you a limited number of auto-guards, but makes your meter charge slowly. Medium Grade gives you standard meter gain and standard blocking. Upper Grade gives you infinite Rage and completely removes your ability to block.
…I think that’s probably a pretty representative look into the design philosophy of this game.
“Gaira and Basara have the unique ability to perform special moves during blockstun—or, in other words, they can guard cancel. This does not consume any type of resource, nor does it otherwise require any special conditions be met. They are able to do this because SamSho 3.” —Samurai Shodown III Wiki
My brief look into SamSho3 was exhausting—every explanation of every character started with “okay, here’s why this is the most annoying shit in the game,” and it was always something new. Haohmaru’s got an anywhere-on-screen infinite and 50 ways to start it, Nakoruru becomes an invincible dash-canceling wall the moment she gets on the fuckin' wolf, Genjuro has a fireball that bounces off your head and back down for an overhead (and that’s in the shitty variation)…
Regardless of character-specific jank, everyone gets value out of back hits. Defenders (that aren’t named Zankuro) take extra hitstun when hit from behind, and there’s a universal dodge that puts you behind your opponent’s back—put two and two together. Backturned opponents automatically turn around if they input movement or attacks, so it’s not exactly a *teleports behind you*-fest, but most of the cast has plausible death combos if you can get a clean hit from behind, and they all look breathtakingly stupid. This is balanced because you can also die instantly from counterhits or something.
(Aside: I wanted to include another video in this article, but instead of doing that, I’m just going to link one of the greatest Fightcade videos I’ve ever seen, because I’m not getting anything better out of my own footage.)
And now it’s time to talk about the fucking strobing. While not as frequent as Astra Superstars, the epileptic flashbang from last year’s finale, Samurai Shodown 3 makes up for it in terms of raw intensity. Every counterhit (which, if you mash like me, is every hit) gives you a brief burst of background flashing, and end-of-round calls strobe whole-ass white for the entire duration of the dramatic hitstop. I get that you’ve gotta make your game stand out on the floor, but literal strobe lights seem like they’d eat into your bottom line a little—dead people don’t credit feed. What’s frustrating is that without the flashing, the game would still totally be able to sell hits; it’s still SNK spritework, still heartbreakingly gorgeous, with fantastic meaty SFX and hitstop on every stab. But nah, gotta make Galford super flash the screen MAX BRIGHTNESS CYAN FOR TEN SECONDS. (Remember, you can eat this at round start with Upper Grade.)
I want to revisit this game (though I may have to do it with sunglasses), and it’s precisely because of the overpowered nonsense. Using strong tools and enforcing powerful gameplans is Fun and Good, actually; a lot of modern games seem obsessed with meticulously shaving away character identity in favor of balance, and I think it’s a shame. Of course, SNK may very well have patched the nonsense out of Samurai Shodown 3 if it had been as easy then as it is now—like, come on, Basara doesn’t even have hurtboxes during his deflect, there’s no way that was even remotely intended—but the fact that this was allowed to exist makes me pretty happy.
How am I a commentator for this how am I a commentator for this how am I a commentator for this how am I a commentator for this
This game, SOMEHOW, is the most arcane SamSho of them all, and this is in a franchise that looked at frame advantage from a jump in and said “You know what, you should only ever get it if it hits extremely deep” or in the case of the PS1 SamSho game, “Hanzo’s jumpkick should just never have it, trust.” That’s a BOLD selling point, but it’s the selling point of Samurai Shodown 3, a game that has so many arbitrary rules it follows sometimes. Grab startup? Universal, except for the final boss and ALSO Genjuro (huh?). Guard cancels exist on like 2 characters and cost nothing to do (HUH?). Crouch blocking special moves adds 10 frames of blockstun (HUUHHHHHH?). Don’t ask me how this game happened, even I don’t know. This game’s mechanics astound me, and I have spent at least a decade looking at what the average MUGEN author considers “balanced frame data.”
I haven’t played this game as much as I’d like, but I’ve watched the scene for it grow from nothing into a tight-knit community with a passion for playing what they love. Shoutouts to Fightcade Musouken Special, and let Zansam live on. Also don’t ban Slash Galford’s softlock glitch. He Needs It.
This writeup took so long to happen that SamSho 3 actually got a home port in the meantime. They haven’t turned down the flashing.
#23: Akatsuki Blitzkampf (Windows)
Despite the incredible support from The Committee, the Advent Calendar often feels like a pretty solitary experience. Native netplay’s not the norm, Parsec ain’t perfect, and RetroArch rollback is only available for games that are really old. I’ve got housemates, in theory, but I struggle to drag them into normal fighting games—nobody in my house can be coaxed into this fuckfest.
What that means is that I spend a lot of time fighting AI, and I kinda resent that. Fighting games are designed around human reactions and human adaptability—situations where every hit feels earned, like a meaningful out-maneuvering of your opponent, instead of a random number generator deciding not to block. It’s no fun to throw the same move at a hapless AI over and over again, watching as every failed coin-flip hands you free damage, but powerful computer opponents just tech every throw and jump every fireball. You can’t condition a computer; you can’t play mindgames with the machine.
The worst offenders are classic arcade bosses, and everyone remembers a different one. They’re always cheating bastards, characters that don’t even pretend to play fair, and most players will beat them by exploiting the AI instead of anything resembling strategic combat. In the words of the Mortal Kombat prophet Tom Brady, it’s frustrating. The feeling of equal competition is gone—and that’s the whole appeal of fighting games in the first place, right?
Hahahahahahahahaha. Meet Sugoroku mode.
As the first entry in a moderately successful fighting game series, with enough of a legacy to get cameos in Under Night In-Birth and BlazBlue Cross TAG Battle, Akatsuki Blitzkampf would have been a perfect candidate for the first entry in the calendar, fulfilling our tradition of “The First One.” One critical problem; Akatsuki Blitzkampf is actually a good game. Like, pretty fuckin' good. Hell, some fans insist it’s the series peak; I can’t imagine someone saying the same thing about the original Tekken, though I can’t wait for someone to go digging through GameFAQs and find the worst take of all time.
I don’t know if I have a lot to say about the actual game. Responsive, fast, relatively simple combo theory, pretty mild execution requirements (22X DP motions are weirdly cozy), and Blitztank (again), the most blessed of God’s creations. Despite the absolute nightmare ABKCaster put me through, it’s pretty uncontroversially fun, and Zar even managed to keep me on the hook long enough to learn a combo with an actual fuckin' character. (Pick Akatsuki.)
This made it to the Advent Calendar solely because of Sugoroku, a board game mode with random items, character-enhancing cards, and a healthy dose of scramble mode champions. It doesn’t even remotely pretend to give a fuck about traditional fighting game rules or structure, letting you flip the script on impossible odds with broken buffs of your own—whether that’s summoning allies, crushing guards in two hits, temporary immortality, or bolting machine guns and Soul Satelites to the character of your choice. For best results, try all of them at the same time.
Sugoroku works because it doesn’t try to replace a human player. Instead, it offers something completely different, repurposing the framework as more of a…creative exercise? You’re challenged to think about moves and system interactions in ways you’d never encounter otherwise, and you’re given the freedom to unlock broken nonsense that most human players would never tolerate. Blizkampf even gives you an escape hatch from the most egregious CPU nonsense, even if you’re out of cards—a powerful one-button parry that seems to work on everything but throws. (No, don’t worry about the fact that the AI can also use this, I’m sure it’s not a problem at all.)
This was one of those rare times where I could walk away from a single-player mode feeling satisfied. That’s not to say I don’t want to play this offline against other people (Zar, after memeing this into the finale the least you can do is FT10 me at CEOTaku 2021), but it was a welcome change. Just, uh, don’t throw me to the gun nuns again.
More fighting games should experiment with their single-player modes like this. Most of the interest of a fightan is interfacing with another human through the medium of the game, a conversation made with hitboxes instead of words. Just as no chatbot can hold an interesting conversation, no fighting game AI can hold one either. So fuck it, put whackass buffs on the field and go ham, man, see if you can beat this sorta-planned-out challenge. Just ignore the JP slurs in the background please.
One day I will outshill you Zar. One day.
Oh, this game? Fucking rules. Play the fuck out of it right now. If it ever gets rollback this entire genre is dead to me except this game. I’m serious, kind of.
My first and only time playing against someone in Blitzkampf was playing Ausf Achse in a Round 1 and poking the same guy to death with Fritz 10+ times in a row. He was playing Marilyn Sue and he had some actual combos. I wonder if he didn’t realize she got nerfed really hard in Ausf Achse. If that’s the case, I apologize that you had to find out that way.
#24: Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale (PS1)
If Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale taught me one thing, it was that PCSX Rearmed fucking sucks. My belated apologies to every game I’ve ever been unable to find in .cue format, because compared to RetroArch’s Beetle PSX core, Rearmed adds so much input lag that you may as well be playing on the moon.
Fortunately, I realized my mistake before getting too far into things, and the game went from a gorgeous-but-unplayable mess to a…more playable mess?
I will admit, begrudgingly, to not being totally fair to Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale. To my credit, it’s a licensed game for the PS1, and my history with that particular subgenre isn’t fantastic. If I had to pick a word to describe it, I’d go for “traumatic”, and if you asked me to stop being so damn melodramatic I’d revise to “shitfest”. So it’s only several months after the fact that I can properly give this thing some credit; this game is fucking gorgeous, with charming animation and wonderful backgrounds, and I wish I could bring myself to give a fuck about its characters.
The single-player story mode is basically the polar opposite of all my gushing over Sugoroku, and it’ll only be useful or interesting to series fans—if you’ve played Anime Game Single-Player before, you’ve played this, even if you didn’t know it at the time. This would have been miserable if we hadn’t committed to setting up Parsec netplay this year, but playing against another person reveals plenty of easy-access grime, aided by one-button specials and a strangely satisfying parry system.
A successful parry instantly steals a turn even in the least advantageous position, and usually leads to a follow-up combo, but they don’t work on special moves at all; when we played, the mileage you got out of special moves seemed to determine how good your character was. For instance, if you happen to have an instant projectile that lingers for 10 years after you press it, allowing you to completely nullify wake-up parry on demand, you might be the best character in the game. Not that I feel robbed or anything like that.
I’m rapidly developing an unhealthy soft spot for games that are easy to control, but turn out to be nonsense grimefests. There’s something lovely about picking up a new game, taking a few minutes to get to grips with the controls, and immediately indulging in the most important part of fighting games—making your opponent feel like the dumbest idiot who’s ever walked the earth. Fuck labwork, let me attack your life points directly.
Is Inuyasha: A Feudal Fairy Tale the future of e-sports? Probably not. Is it a game worth stealing a FT5 in before you dodge it for the rest of your life? Maybe.
The spritework in this game reminds me of Drawn To Life, a 2007 DS platformer with the gimmick of letting you draw out your main character. Under-the-hood, they work the same way: a character is broken up into multiple segments, drawn with a smattering of sprites that can each be individually moved and animated independent of the other. The artwork here is such a marvel that I barely have anything else to say. Sure there’s pocket sand and some questionable gameplay decisions, but all I remember is those beautiful sprites.
As the true innovator of Pocket Sand Technology, this game is epic fighting game art. I wish I had the battle design foresight to just make a projectile move that spawns on Frame 1 that also leads to setplay in the corner, has massive block and hit advantage, and is on a character with nearly half screen normals who also has one of the best fireballs in the game and a full screen super. Why are you looking at me like that, hey…..wait…..WAIT.
Also holy shit Sango is bad in this game. Like, wow. Alarmingly bad.
#25 (BAD END): Grizzly (Mac)
Grizzly is a fighting game for Mac OS 9, released as shareware at a price of $15. It has the worst sound design, visual design and overall control responsiveness of any interactive experience I have ever had in my entire life. If that wording seems unusually careful, it’s because calling Grizzly a video game is an insult to every developer in recorded history. It is completely without any virtues of the medium. There is nothing good to say.
“There is more strategy inolved that comes at first glance, or I wouldn’t have made the game. I haven’t personally game tested Grizzly enough to say how involved the strategy is in Grizzly, but it does exist.” —Grizzly user manual
Most of my time with Grizzly was spent staring in disbelief, wondering if any of my inputs were even making it through at all. I still have no idea what the fuck the input parser was even trying to accomplish. It was working—when I hit buttons, my character behaved differently than when I didn’t hit buttons—but mapping any sort of deliberate actions was completely beyond me, The Committee, or anyone watching. It is, without a hint of exaggeration, less responsive than Twitch Plays Pokemon.
Battle of the Eras was programmed by high schoolers. It crashed every 10 minutes. It eclipses Grizzly’s level of stability and playability by a factor too large to quantify. If Street Fighter and SoulCalibur are the top of the fighting game iceberg, with titles like Masters of Teräs Käsi and Arm Joe hiding beneath the surface, Grizzly is located dead center in the earth’s core. I cannot fathom anything worse, even if it were created for the express purpose of “winning” this deeply depressing competition.
“Another special move was added[…]I send the listing of special moves to registered users.” —Grizzly user manual
I don’t know how anyone finds this. TCRF has an article on it, but details are scant, probably because Grizzly kills those who view it in short order. It notes an unused dialog box hidden in the program, apparently belonging to an educational math game. I don’t even want to think about what it’s doing there.
Playing Grizzly is like drowning. It remains the only game I’ve ever played that is simply too terrible for the Kusoge Advent Calendar.
Please leave a message after the tone.
Ruining Christmas aside, this game’s visual aesthetic is way too unnerving for a game about fighting stuffed animals. I kind of love that about it.
I’m still laughing.
#25 (TRUE END): Tao Taido (Arcade)
Ending on something so terrible wouldn’t just be a disappointment—it would, by intergalactic law, make me the Grinch. As such, Frey was tasked with selecting a single game to undo the Grizzly catastrophe. If it was worthwhile—which is a bit tricky to measure around here—Christmas would be saved. If it was a horrible mind-destroying shitfest like the last attempt, the marathon would end forever.
Frey, after some consultation with the Committee and a night trawling Wikipedia, found Tao Taido. And Tao Taido is some fucking shit.
For starters, despite having only two attack buttons, Tao Taido has more moves per character than any game I’ve ever played. The size of the movelist is only beaten by 3D games, and only if you include all the strings that you’ll never use on purpose. There are standing normals, crouching normals, and jump normals. There are close normals and far normals. There are neutral jump normals and angled jump normals. There are normals that only come out when your opponent is crouching. There are normals that only come out when your opponent is backturned. There are normals that only activate as crossups. There are normals that only activate air-to-air. The list goes on, and on, and on, down to edge cases you might never have even conceieved.
There are special moves, too, mapped to the one remaining unused button combination—both of them at once. Even here, where you’d think there’s no room left for more moves, there are twenty-four per character; you hold both buttons to charge, cycling through three levels of power, and press a direction to execute one of 8 moves for that level. This isn’t a simple light-medium-heavy system, either; while they’ll often share sprites, every single special move has its own function, some of them lasting longer than your average super.
“You don’t control your character,” Tao Taido bellows from the top of Jank Mountain. “I control your character.”
Here’s the punchline; almost every single move in the game is useless. Normal moves are all pretty much interchangable, and you almost never control which one you’re getting in a useful way; you’d probably never see about 50-60% of them unless you were specifically looking for them. 2/3rds of specials are rendered pointless by their massive charge time, and most of the ones at level-1 charge are either literally broken or do things that you would never deliberately try for; I distinctly remember one that seemed to be a DP aimed directly away from your opponent, and that was probably one of the more practical options. You could make an afternoon out of going through everyone’s special moves, and if you took a drink for every one that would never hit a human opponent, you would be dead before round 3. (This is still probably true even if you’re doing shots of orange juice.)
Alright, let’s put it all together. What happens when you sit down next to someone playing single-player in a fighting game, put in a credit, and hit Start? If you answered “it goes to character select so we can both play each other”, you are not ready for the level of innovation Tao Taido provides. Instead, it drops your character directly into the match; you, your new enemy, and the AI are now fighting a free-for-all. Fortunately, the original P1 can even the odds by feeding another credit into the machine and hitting Start, instantly healing him to full life. Hell, pretend you’re playing Gauntlet, just feed in credits non-stop; if you’re already at full life, the game will just give you another health bar on top of your existing one. (Of course, nothing stops player 2 from spending a credit that player 1 paid for. The strong shall devour the weak.)
The unexpected three-player scramble mode might be the driving force behind every decision in Tao Taido. Picking contextual attacks is way more useful if you’ve got opponents on both sides, especially if you’re getting knocked around. Long charge times suddenly become practical if both your opponents are brawling at the opposite edge of the screen. A move that flies all over the screen, leaving you open to a single opponent, might be great for hitting two. Maybe this was a work of brilliance all along, and we just didn’t get it.
…so why the hell isn’t there a third set of controls on this cabinet?
For our final act, we checked out the 6-button version of the game, presumably a derivative, which ditches most context-sensitive normals and remaps special moves to motions. You’d think this would be the definitive, “normal” version of the game, but despite the extra input space, most special moves end up unused entirely…and player 2’s kicks are wired to player 1. We double-checked the bindings ten times, verified the ROM, and tried it in both Final Burn Alpha and MAME. Either there’s a very specific bad dump in circulation, or the only version of the game that could be tenatively called “normal” is actually that fucked up. There is a six-button version of Tao Taido that exists only to tell you to fuck off.
The creator of Touhou knows what this game is. That scares me.
This game is so beautiful. It is. So beautiful. As someone who regularly salvages trash into something redeemable (its every fan fighting project thing I do, tbqh), this game is a dream come true. Look at all of these sprites! Each character has enough frames to make two full entire movesets that play entirely different, because the context sensitivity in this game is out of control. They couldn’t even find a way to get special moves to fit in one moveset reasonably, so you have this weird charge mechanic to boot. What a masterpiece of gaming. I can NOT believe the people that would go on to be Psikyo made this, but…..no you know what, I absolutely can, this game controls a LOT like Battle K-Road, holy shit. Except, well Battle K-Road did not have ALL OF THIS going on.
Tao Taido’s two-button control scheme feels like the most dumbfuck stroke of genius in fighting games, somehow. There’s a way to make this work, I can feel it in my bones.
|A Group Effort||-||2||1||-|
Once again, The Committee outdoes itself. Excluding Frey’s extinction-level finale pick, 2019 had a balanced mix of “so bad it’s good”, “so good it’s good” and “what the fuck”—just the way I like it.
Even total trashfires (again, with one exception) were entertaining enough to linger on, thanks to the magic of Parsec netplay. Sure, there was a new source of audio problems or controller issues every day, and I had to wrangle with my dump of Daemon Bride for half an hour before my PC would accept that it wasn’t a rootkit, and a Cardinal Syn CPU apparently manifested in my backyard and cut my Internet, and my audio interface crashed at least once every stream because I was overloading it from crylaughing too hard…but we had fun, right? (Jesus, it’s like the games escaped their emulators and started attacking my PC directly.)
Out of the lineup, I think I had the most fun with Arm Joe. I wrote enough about it, didn’t I? However, given that Arm Joe’s appeal involves permanently ruining it for yourself, Yu Yu Hakusho Final is the game I’ll most likely return to. (Again, it’s got excellent netplay through RetroArch’s SNES9X core, and if you prefer Fightcade 2, I hear it’s alright over there too. Do not let this shit go unplayed.)
There are, by my last count, over 40 candidates that we haven’t gotten to yet, and it’s a backlog that grows larger with each year. As far as I can tell, terrible fighting games are being made faster than I can bear to play them. That means great things for everyone who made it to the end of this writeup, and most likely terrible things for me.
Even so, after waiting so long to finally write all this, I’m feeling a strange longing for the garbage bin again. Sooner than I’m prepared for it, there’ll be another batch to suffer through—another incomprehensible box of nonsense, full of surprises—and it’s nice to think that maybe my excitement for it isn’t completely driven by psychosis and Stockholm syndrome.
Thank you for playing. See you soon.