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10 Best Fighting Games on 8-Bit Consoles

Propelled by the success of Capcom’s Street Fighter 2, fighting games emerged as a hugely popular genre in the 1990s. With their large character sprites, detailed animations, and highly technical gameplay, they showcased what was possible on cutting-edge arcade units and a new generation of powerful 16-bit home consoles.

But with 8-bit technology still alive on portable devices like the Game Boy or older systems, developers had to get creative with how to make such a technically demanding genre work on compromised hardware. From successful ports to inspired bootleg creations, here are some low-tech fighting games that still managed to punch above their weight.

10/10 Karate Champ

A simple game by modern standards, Karate Champ (from Technos Japan and distributed by Data East) nonetheless gets credit for being one of the first games to pioneer the one-on-one fighting game genre.

Extremely popular in arcades and on home computers, and with a surprisingly deep movelist based on the inputs of two joysticks, it paved the way for the mind games and move/counter move strategies of current fighting games. It’s still enjoyed by players today and was most recently included in 2014’s Arcade Archives.

9/10 Fatal Fury Special

Sega’s Game Gear had its share of flaws, from the way it devoured batteries to its less-than-streamlined design for a portable console, and the Game Boy vastly outsold it. But it still had its share of good games, including a port of Fatal Fury Special that won critical praise and served as a competent mini alternative to the popular arcade game.

Given that the most authentic home version on the Neo Geo was essentially a luxury product (the original price of a Neo Geo was over $1300 in today’s U.S. dollars), many were willing to put up with the technical limitations if it meant getting to enjoy battles between SNK’s classic characters outside the arcades.

8/10 Street Fighter 2

Street Fighter 2 got ported everywhere in the '90s, from the SNES to the Sega Saturn to the original PlayStation. It was so in demand, British publisher U.S. Gold (yes, the name is confusing) even tried to cram it onto ancient hardware like the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, creating muddy or monochromatic messes that barely resembled the original game.

So it was extremely impressive when Brazilian developer TecToy created such a playable port on Sega’s Master System in 1997—12 years after the system’s debut.

7/10 Killer Instinct

Not all fighting games made a clean transition from the arcades to the black and white, low-resolution Game Boy screen. (Street Fighter 2’s attempt is playable but feels more like a valiant effort than a legitimately good time.) So it’s surprising that the handheld version of Rare’s graphically intensive arcade hit Killer Instinct turned out so well.

While it lacks the full roster and all the moves of its arcade and SNES counterparts, the characters’ 3D models are impressively intact, and the action is fluid and true to the source material.

6/10 King of Fighters ’96

SNK were pros at adapting their fighting games to their own handhelds, the Neo Geo Pocket and Neo Geo Pocket Color. Some of their original pocket-sized fighters, like SNK Vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, are terrific fighting games on their own terms, handheld or not. But their earlier ports for the less powerful Game Boy still turned out well.

King of Fighters ’96, published by Takara, is particularly successful as an 8-bit KOF experience, with a generous roster, clean presentation, and the three-on-three matches the series is known for.

5/10 Queen Fighter 2000

Queen Fighter 2000 is an obscure unlicensed title from Taiwanese developer Vast Fame, who used the King of Fighters Game Boy engine to create their own bootleg games.

While not an unofficial entry in SNK’s library, the game is a riff on SNK’s 16-bit Neo Geo Pocket game Gals’ Fighters, adapted with new character sprites and a diverse roster that is larger than the game that inspired it. Despite the obvious copyright infringement, the result is weirdly one of the most robust and technically sound fighting games ever made for the Game Boy Color.

4/10 Soul Falchion

Another bootleg title from Vast Fame, Soul Falchion is a loose unlicensed mashup of the Neo Geo Pocket editions of SNK’s Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade.

As with Queen Fighter 2000, the characters and their moves are all taken from preexisting characters that Vast Fame definitely didn’t have access to, but the result is an excellent weapons-based fighter that capably ports the 16-bit handheld action of the games it’s based on to the then-aging GBC hardware.

3/10 Street Fighter Alpha

Street Fighter 2 struggled in its adaptation to the original Game Boy, but Nintendo’s audiences still got a terrific handheld Street Fighter with Street Fighter Alpha on the GBC.

While the moves are simplified to accommodate a two-button console, the full roster is present, the animation is smooth, and the gameplay is fun and faithful to its arcade counterpart. GameSpot even praised it as one of the best GBC games of the year for 1998.

2/10 Battle Arena Toshinden

Takara’s Battle Arena Toshinden, which started as a PlaySation exclusive in 1995 before receiving numerous ports and other entries in the series, claimed to be the first fully 3D fighting game. A weapons-based fighter that plays a bit like Soul Calibur, it was graphically impressive for its time, but it soon couldn’t compete critically or commercially as other, better 3D fighters emerged.

Time has been kind, however, to its Game Boy port, which holds up as a superb handheld fighter to this day, with great spritework, precise controls, and plenty of secrets to unlock.

1/10 Power Quest

Capcom’s Power Quest plays like a combination of Street Fighter, Pokemon, and Custom Robo. It has a substantial story mode with RPG elements set in a world where robot battling is all the rage, and as your character wins bouts around town, he acquires parts to further upgrade his robot, defeat the crooked Hyena Gang, and win the national championship.

While the roster of robot fighters is small, the gameplay is extremely polished, and the game retains a cult following to this day. Competitive matches are still held at tournaments like Combo Breaker, where the game is played on the SNES using the Super Game Boy peripheral.

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