|Some fighting games seem less concerned with action and more concerned with haunting my dreams.|
Fighting games satisfy a very specific corner of the mind. They don't provide the same type of gaming experience as Heavy Rain or Mass Effect 3; they affect me on a much more basic level. If I were to take a CAT scan while playing Soul Caliber, I imagine it would prove that fighting games engage the same parts of the brain as activities like binge-eating Doritos or watching porn. There is no clearer expression of my id than Mitsurugi in a ready-stance with his daikatana out.
I don't play fighting games often, but they're part of my history as a gamer nonetheless. When I was a kid, my brother and I would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for the SNES for huge stretches of time. For the uninitiated, this is a game where our turtle pals compete in vicious bare-knuckle brawling tournaments in order to win stacks of gold. I also have fond memories of playing King of the Monsters at a friend's house and button-mashing until the controller had actually inflicted a wound upon my thumb.
But there is a dark side to fighting games. Perhaps it's because they serve that very basic part of us that wants to use punching as a solution to every problem, so sometimes they come across as oddly hostile. Or perhaps it's just because I'm not as familiar with fighting games as I am with RPGs or FPSs and so some of them seem foreign, strange... wrong somehow. Whatever it is, there are some fighting games that freak me out.
They just kind of make me uneasy, okay? Something about them gives me the willies. Not all fighting games, obviously I don't have nightmares about Super Smash Bros. or anything. Just a few of them...
You knew this one was coming because of the header picture, so let's get it out of the way.
One of my elementary school buddies had Clayfighter, and every time he fired it up I got really quiet and kept to myself while the other kids played it. Something about the goofiness of this franchise always seemed sinister to me, as if the Blob was waiting until we turned off the SNES and went to sleep for the night so it could crawl out of the Clayfighter cartridge, inch its way over to one of us and seep into our ear, changing us forever.
Maybe some of you think that Clayfighter is not scary, just sort of odd. Maybe you're right. But when I was a kid, sometimes odd was the same thing as scary. This is why I was afraid of Mr. Bean for a while in the early 90's.
SCARIEST PART: Bad Mr. Frosty, the psycho clay snowman, looks like what would happen if Jack Frost (this one, not the Michael Keaton one) pumped a shit-ton of iron.
2.) Bushido Blade
When I first played a demo of Bushido Blade, I had only played conventional fighting games with big health meters and martial artists that could cast magical spells. I thought Bushido Blade was going to be pretty much the same as Tekken.
Oh, how wrong I was. Bushido Blade was, for its time, a starkly realistic depiction of close-range armed combat. There was no health bar, no Hadoukens, just brutal, sudden death. One well-placed hit from either party could spell an instant end to the match -- when you're fighting with actual swords, turns out it doesn't take too many hits before you lose a lot of blood and die. This wasn't scary in the "spoooooky" sense, but it was intimidating as hell.
SCARIEST PART: To add to the tension, during the single player mode you had to follow the Bushido code of honor, otherwise the screen would go black, inform you how much of a disgrace you were, and then disqualify you from the fight. There were obvious transgressions, like cutting your opponent in half while he was bowing reverently to you, but sometimes I'd think I'd fought a clean fight and the game would exile me with no explanation other than that I had chosen "a dark road" or some shit. This added a whole other level of scariness to the game, as you never knew when the game would pass harsh Bushido judgment upon you.
3.) Death Sword (Barbarian: The Ultimate Warrior)
I never played this old 1987 fighting game, but from the color scheme here it looks less like a fighting game and more like a headache generator. The idea is to battle evil barbarians guarding the warlock Drax to rescue a bikini-clad maiden. From watching the above video, I'm guessing the best strategy here is to do a lot of combat rolls.
Hey Drax! I've got a question. Did you buy those neon snakes to match your hot pink robe, or vice versa? Also, the guys you hired to paint your death arena the same color -- did you make them sign non-disclosure agreements?
SCARIEST PART: Probably the chauvinism! Jeez, guys, does she have to be helpless and barely dressed?
Those of you who played this, can you explain it to me? The above is a video of two roughly humanoid beings, one a bodybuilder and one a golfing caveman, fighting each other. They are each made of simple shaded spheres, or, if you will... ballz. The caveman prevails, and the bodybuilder explodes into an unformed mess of ballz. The caveman then hits these ballz around for some time with his club -- one can assume he is gloating, but one cannot be sure, because ballz have a difficult time displaying emotion.
The combination of the wisecracking low-fi computer screen behind the action as well as the frenetic, sanity-eroding sound effects really brought me from a place of confusion to a place of genuine fear on this one. Are the people who made Ballz okay? Is Ballz really some kind of insane cry for help?
SCARIEST PART: At 2:12 in the video above, when the caveman wins, a bit of music plays. I'm actually not sure if "music" is the right word. It's a vaguely rhythmic succession of human (?) noises that includes both maniacal laughter and what sounds like desperate, high-pitched screaming. It gives me the impression that the sound design team broke into an insane asylum late one night with their recording equipment on, tortured the inmates, added a bassline to the resulting audio footage, and that's what the score of Ballz is. When I die and go to hell, I'll hear these sounds on the elevator down.
5.) Tattoo Assassins
If I hadn't discovered this while researching fighting games, I wouldn't have believed you if you described it to me. If you came up to me and said, "Aaron, there's a fighting game called Tattoo Assassins that was supposed to compete with Mortal Kombat, and one of the characters is an ice skater that throws ice chunks and has toxic farts," I would tell you to grow the fuck up. I wouldn't even be amused -- it's too outlandish. You wouldn't even be playing an entertaining prank on me, you'd just be wasting my time. These would be my thoughts.
But alas, Tattoo Assassins is no lie. Though never released officially outside of several arcade machines, the game was an actual thing. If I had encountered this revolting, awkward mess of a deathmatch game when I was a kid, I imagine my life would be entirely different now. I'd be a coroner that talks to every corpse he sees or I'd be addicted to heroin or something. Normally I don't go in for this type of thing, but I do firmly believe, after seeing only a few minutes of Tattoo Assassins in-game footage, that playing it would definitely make you kill someone.
SCARIEST PART: Did you see in the video above that the racist Native American character turns into a cactus when he dies? Oh, man. Everything about this thing is wrong.
Aaron Matteson writes a weekly column for Joystick Division called Dangerous Physical Appliances 2000. You can follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronMatteson if you want.
Tags: Fighting Games