GameSpite Journal 12: Virtua Fighter

The dwindling arcade market saw a considerable resurgence in the early ’90s thanks to the immense popularity of the fighting game. The popularity of Street Fighter II singlehandedly revived the arcade seemingly overnight. Shortly after Street Fighter II’s monumental success, a torrent of imitators flooded the market, ranging from the successful (Mortal Kombat) to the embarrassing (Time Killers.) While no one could deny the influence that fighters had on video games, they were not terribly unique; even aesthetically distinct titles like Mortal Kombat featured technically similar combat. Sega AM2’s Virtua Fighter would be the first game to evolve the genre by introducing it to the third dimension.

The Yu Suzuki-helmed AM2 was no stranger to arcade innovations, having designed a plethora of highly acclaimed and fondly remembered arcade classics. Virtua Fighter, which ran on the same Model 1 board that powered their first 3D game, Virtua Racing, would continue this tradition. While graphically unimpressive by today’s standards, the blocky, textureless polygons were astonishing in 1993, as it was quite literally unique. Especially impressive was the smoothness of Virtua Fighter’s visuals; most 3D games suffered from low, unstable framerates. This slick look was not simply for show; it directly influenced Virtua Fighter’s unique gameplay.

Gameplay in the 2D fighting games of the time revolved around flashy special moves including explosive fireballs and other unrealistic abilities. Instead of translating these complex maneuvers to 3D, AM2 shifted the focus to a much more realistic portrayal of one-on-one combat, replacing odd characters with ridiculous abilities for eight practical fighters defined by real world fighting styles and martial arts. While most fighting games featured anywhere from four to six attack buttons, Virtua Fighter’s streamlined control scheme only featured two buttons for punching and kicking and an additional button for blocking. This control scheme made Virtua Fighter more accessible, though it did not reduce its complexity. Characters had dozens of moves and combos at their disposal, including strikes, throws, and aerials. Positioning played a crucial role in fights, as one blow could knock a character of out the ring, resulting in an instant loss for the round. These features introduced in Virtua Fighter influenced nearly every 3D fighter that would follow.

It is a shame, then, that such a significant game would have such a troubled journey to the console market. First ported to the Sega Saturn, Virtua Fighter suffered both from a rushed production and the Saturn’s confusing architecture, resulting in a sluggish, buggy mess not at all representative of the game’s true quality. A later revision dubbed Virtua Fighter Remix was a vast improvement, though at this point the superior Virtua Fighter 2 was only a few months away from release. Another port was created for the ill-conceived 32X add-on for the Genesis, and while impressive when compared to other 32X titles, it was significantly inferior to the arcade version. Still, despite Virtua Fighter’s rocky road to homes, the arcade version stands the test of the time as one of Sega’s most influential creations.

Article by Matt Williams

GameSpite Journal 12: Virtua Fighter

6 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Virtua Fighter

  1. Remember the 2D Genesis port of Virtua Fighter 2? I think I’m the only person who liked that. I remember playing the first Virtua Fighter machine in Chicago, the day they installed it at North Pier when we were goign to play Battletech. I found it mesmerizing yet confounded by it’s floaty jumps and lethargic animation. I think VF4 was the best of that series. I am glad they haven’t milked it to death like Namco has with Tekken. Sega was really at the forfront of pushing the possibility of VR with they entire Virtua series. Namco of course copied and bested Sega at their own game. The 90’s was such an exciting era I tells ya and the kiddies today can’t possibly understand what energy there was then about the possibility of gaming. I miss the Arcade experience.

  2. Like most early 3D games (and most 3D games in general I guess) its visuals haven’t aged well, but I admit it was quite a sight to see a game like this in the arcades back in 1993. Back when about the only 3D games around were a select few PC titles and the Super FX chip stuff, this was quite inpresive.

    And really, in a way its blockier 3D is still quite appealing. Gives it a much more stylized look than 3D games that tried to go more realistic with character designs in the mid to late 90s. To put it another way, the player characters in Virtua Fighter look like what you would expect from some ridiculously 80s take on what the future.

  3. Ironically, I picked up Virtua Fighter 2 yesterday. Not bad, but it really hasn’t aged well. Either that, or I’m just not good at Virtua Fighter, which is entirely possible.

    VF4: Evolution is the last in the series I put any serious time into. And that was a very, very solid game.

  4. @Chicago Frank & Sarge: Virtua Fighter 4 and its Evolution counterpart were good, though the difficulty of the AI of CPU players based on real life players bugged the crap out of me since you have to fight them to get stuff to customize your characters with.

    Also, for an otherwise great looking fighting game, it really bugs me how the seams connecting (presumably interchangeable) hands to wrists stand out on some characters, and the fancy lighting effects makes this all the more noticeable. Player 1 Pai’s not too bad, but it really shows on Player 1 Lau, Player 1 Goh, and Player 2 Sarah. Lau in particular looks like he recently had his hands chopped back off and held back on with super glue in some of his close-up poses. =/

    Really though, this talk about Virtua Fighter’s gotten me all nostalgic and shit. I might check out Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, it looks pretty cool.

  5. @Chicago Frank: I remember stumbling upon that on a (ahem) ROM list for Genesis. At first I thought – is it possible? Then – Oh, must be a fan hack. But no! It’s an actual 2D fighter. Seems to sort of miss the point of the game’s design, but I recall it didn’t play too terribly, at least.

  6. Let’s not forget about the most curious port: “Virtua Fighter Animation” for Game Gear (and Master System). It is quite unique with its rather nonsensical, yet entertainig story-mode and a (superfluous) pseudo-zoom mode. Plays reasonably well, though. Worth a look for those interested in neat little oddities.

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