Say hi!Ask any fighting game veteran, and they will tell you the greatest problem facing a new player is understanding fighting game mechanics. Even before you get into concepts like footsies and cross-ups, you need to understand that “special moves” in any given fighting game often requires appropriately special inputs that must be memorized and practiced. You do not have to input four separate commands to shoot a gun in Fortnite, but you need to know D DF F P to toss a fireball with Ryu. And speaking of Ryu, that street fighter is best known for appearing in a game where there were six different attack buttons right out of the gate. That’s overwhelming! The average person can only mentally juggle three different burger choices! McDonald’s does not make a Turkey Mac for a reason! Choice paralysis on where to even start with Blanka is exhausting…

Modern fighting games have done their best to include tutorials and combat training “minigames” that encourage a neophyte player to learn the basics and beyond before ever entering a match. New releases of heavy hitters like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat even kick off with mandatory(ish) tutorial matches. And that’s good! While it may be impossible for everyone in the virtual arcade of tomorrow to be on the same level, we can at least be certain someone entering a match knows how to block (even if they respectfully choose not to). “Do everything to help a player learn to play” seems to be the plan for nearly every fighting game that is released in the roaring ‘20s.

But back in the 1990s, the genre had different ideas. Everyone knew the likes of Street Fighter or King of Fighters had a barrier to entry when they first premiered, and now there were 3-D fighting games like Virtua Fighter or Battle Arena Toshinden that took those concepts into a whole new dimension. What was a neophyte player to do? Well, obviously, you were supposed to play the “kiddy” version of a fighting game, and then work your way up to the real game. What could possibly go wrong? Aside from having to purchase a hobbled version of a game just so you could earn the confidence to purchase a whole other game? This is the best idea that has ever happened!

And how did it work out? Well…

King of Fighters R-2

Enjoy these few colorsSystem: Neo Geo Pocket Color

Release Date: March 1999

What happened here? The first game on this list (likely) only exists as an example of hardware compromise. The Neo Geo was known for its fighting game franchises (King of Fighters, Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, World Heroes [it does too deserve to be mentioned, dammit!]), so it would only make sense to see these heavy hitters on Neo Geo’s portable little brother, the Neo Geo Pocket. Unfortunately, some numbnuts decided that the Neo Geo Pocket would have the clickiest, most bestest control stick to overcompensate for a meager two input buttons. Boo. So a variety of fighting games did go portable with the Neo Geo Pocket (and the Neo Geo Pocket Color), but they were limited to “tiny” graphics and two buttons. As such, we got a spiritual “King of Fighters Kids”. Oh, and we are looking at King of Fighters R-2 because if we examined the other NGP fighting games, we’d be here all day.

Does it work? This is a 2-D fighter with two buttons and (as much as I can tell) the usual collection of special moves. It is King of Fighters in miniature in every way that matters. Unfortunately, the “miniature” and the native hardware also led to an extremely cramped bit of screen real estate, so there are often occasions where it feels like your standard punch covers the same ground as a built-for-distance fireball.

Any original characters? This specific super-deformed Neo Geo Pocket fighter does not have any characters that do not appear on the consoles, but some of the other games that use these sprites did. It is weird that it works out that, way, too, as King of Fighters can have the dang Team American Sports on the console, but no Yuki Kushinada to be found here.

Are they kids? The canon of King of Fighters R-2 appears to be that this is the “regular” King of Fighters 2 universe, just slightly sillier. On one hand, the final boss, Rugal, commits suicide by blowing him and his entire boat (?) up at the first sign of defeat. On the other hand, he does it with a bomberman-style cartoon bomb. So we’re just Looney Tunes now?

How does it not work The Neo Geo Pocket had a wealth of great fighting games. And I have never met a single other human being on this planet that had a Neo Geo Pocket available for a challenge. So maybe two player head-to-head is not something a portable system from the early 21st Century should focus on.

Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix aka Pocket Fighter

Fun for the whole familySystem: Arcade, Playstation, Sega Saturn

Release Date: September 1997

What happened here? “Chibi” versions of the Street Fighters have been around since one of those Street Fighter 2 versions (probably, like, the third one), and then the little guys got their own spinoff in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. But a puzzle game would not contain these fighters, so a smattering of the Puzzle Fighter cast got repurposed to actively punch each other’s lights out.

Does it work? This might be the most unique (and thus best) game on this list. We have a limited punch kick it’s all in your mind control scheme, but there is a wholly distinctive system involved where you are encouraged to collect gems across the field to power up your (limited) attacks. It somehow makes a Street Fighter game less and more complicated in one fell swoop. Special moves are easier, maintaining your various gauges and meters is harder. At least combos are just pressing one button over and over.

Any original characters? We have eight characters from Street Fighter 1-3 (+Alpha), three Darkstalkers, and one Tessa from Red Earth. Given this was the only way Tessa was allowed to visit America in the 90’s, most people assumed she was an original character created for the game. Incorrect, but right in spirit.

Are they kids? These are the “adult” versions of the Street Fighters (and cat/batgirls) you know and love, but they are obsessed with kid-related items, like ice cream and walk-in refrigerators. Come to think of it, kids do not much care about refrigerator space, do they? Uh… point being is that the stakes are super low, and even Akuma is not trying to murder anyone this week.

How does it not work? The biggest drawback to Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix is that it always seems to share shelf/collection space with Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter Alpha, which are some of the absolute best fighting games out there. Pocket Fighter is its own thing in many ways, but being able to summon Ken to literally horse kick Zangief is not enough to overcome a lack of Dhalsim.

Virtua Fighter Kids

Watch the headSystem: Arcade, Sega Saturn

Release Date: Summer 1996

What happened here? Virtua Fighter had its heyday in the arcades and at home back around when Mortal Kombat 2 was the only other “adult” alternative at the arcade. Even more so than “silly” Tekken, Virtua Fighter was viewed as a man’s man’s fighting game, with complicated inputs and serious combatants. Or maybe a bunch of preteens just had a crush on Sarah Bryant. Whatever the case, someone at Sega must have noticed only 40-something salarymen were throwing down at their cabinets, so Virtua Fighter Kids was released in arcades on the planet Saturn.

Does it work? This is once again “the normal game, but with less buttons”. And, frankly, that ain’t so bad. Virtua Fighter did have some complicated inputs for a 3-D title (again, let us compare it to Tekken, where an entire moveset can be “is a bear”), and limiting it to punch and kick does help the kids who are more used to the inputs of Sonic the Hedgehog (“jump”). And special bonus: this one really feels like its source game in general gameplay, so you can probably transfer skills from Virtua Fighter Kids to Virtua Fighter Adults.

Are they kids? The Virtua Fighter Kids arenas and cinema scenes take place at kid-based places like circuses, playgrounds, and underwater (?). However, the correct ages are listed for every character, and Shun Di is still white-haired and bearded. Come to think of it… Shu Di is employing drunken kung fu, too. I hope he is rolling around with a suito filled with juice!

Any original characters? No original characters for Virtual Fighter Kids, but a couple of the kid models appeared alongside their adult counterparts in Fighters Megamix. Even as a joke, this appears to be the only instance on this list of a Kid fighter escaping containment to continue battling in their home genre.

How does it not work? The worst thing about Virtua Fighter Kids is that adding “kids” to this franchise adds absolutely nothing, yet the game always appeared on the same hardware as its big brothers. Odds are good that Virtua Fighter Kids did not entice any actual neophyte fans, and just repelled the preexisting fans back to their usual cabinets. Even an “older brother” trying to attract a younger player to be his player two would just kick the kid’s ass with regular-Wolf.

Battle Arena Nitoshinden

SUPER deformedSystem: Playstation

Release Date: September 1996

What happened here? Battle Arena Toshinden held the title of most popular 3-D weapon-based fighter before Soulcalibur introduced Lizard Man and ate everyone’s lunch (for the record, that was metaphorical, but Lizard Man would literally eat your lunch if given the chance). Battle Arena Toshinden is synonymous with the launch of the Playstation (1), and enjoyed moderate success through three entries (and a mythical fourth title). Between the stories of BAT2 and BAT3, we had Battle Arena Nitoshinden. Well, “we”, as in “Japan”, as it was never exported beyond its home country.

Does it work? Battle Arena Nitoshinden is the “mostly the same as the adult version” gameplay of Virtua Fighter Kids married to the bombast of Pocket Fighter. We have our usual BAT characters and moves with limited controls (and a few less special moves), but goddamned everything leads to stretching, flying, and a variety of Looney Tunes sound effects. They are violently leaning into the cartoon image here, and your enjoyment will be based entirely on how much you see fighting games as modern retellings of Tom & Jerry.

Are they kids? I certainly hope not! Sofia, the dominatrix woman you may recognize from some ill-advised Playstation Monthly ads, distinctly has a move where she repels her opponent with her prominent chest. Sofia aside, many characters are identified as going to the same generic high school in this one, so we are looking at “kids” as in “spend a lot of time focusing on the SATs”.

This game is weird in every wayAny original characters? Oodles of ‘em! I have a doctorate in Battle Arena Toshindenology, and I had to check a wiki to confirm all these losers were one-and-done for this specific game. Four characters (and a boss) are all from standard BAT, but Ryuji, Baifu, Rika, and Shu are all original. Ryuji and Rika are pretty typical “rival characters” for the school setting of the game, but Baifu and Shu are inexplicably magical in nature. Shu even has a ghost buddy! I have no idea what is going on there!

How does it not work? Battle Arena Toshinden always had a problem with tone (it is hard to take a plot about an evil organization enslaving people seriously when you are being stabbed by a ballerina), but the crossover tone between Battle Arena Nitoshinden and Battle Arena Toshinden is repulsive. If the “goofy” antics of Nitoshinden are supposed to prepare you for the “adult version”, I have bad news for you and Battle Arena Toshinden 3 being one of the few fighting games to include inlays for your bullet count.

Oh, and like 75% of these “kids” games? Battle Arena Nitoshinden doesn’t work, either. Sorry, kiddies.

SBC #37 Akira Yuki and Virtua Fighter Kids

Akira Yuki in Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Get 'em, guys!

  • What Am I Looking At? Akira Yuki hits the smash stage with voice clips from Virtua Fighter 4, but a blocky model that is (conceptually) straight out of Virtua Fighter 1. Do not cut your hand on those polygons!
  • Happy to see him? This is one of the assist trophies that has a moderate moveset all their own, and doesn’t just pop up to hurl a fireball and leave. Akira may perform a few combos, his slam-grab, or even block if he believes he is under siege. Overall, he is one of the better trophy characters to nab. Well… better for a “human” at least. You just cannot beat the dragons.
  • Does he literally work? Akira can appear on any stage, just so long as there is a fight happening. He is a Virtua Fighter, you understand.
  • Ever fight ‘em? Aside from knocking him around as an assist trophy, you can find Akira’s spirit in the Sacred Land of the Dark Realm (it’s a Zelda thing, don’t’ worry about it). Akira possess Ryu, and summons his own trophy to help in the fight. Given there is a bit of a physical similarity between these two fighters, it is an appropriate pick.
  • The background work? We will assign Windy Hill Zone to Akira, as it is the other 100% Sega stage in Smash Bros. And it’s good! It is big, wide, and contains a windmill, which is a clean energy source. It also has a weird gravity center (well, weird for a game where platforms float precariously in the void), and a couple of interspersed spots to hide. Unlike Sonic’s other venue, this is an ideal stage for smashing.
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Sonic the Hedgehog has the Virtua Fighter punch-kick combo right from Super Smash Bros. Brawl (though this may be a reference to Sonic the Fighters), and Akira and Jacky have appeared as Mii costumes going back to Smash 4. Are the Mii models closer to “real” Virtua Fighter, or the Kid versions? Those heads are not small…

Akira Yuki in Virtua Fighter Kids

  • Party time!System: Sega Saturn is its real home, but there are records of Virtua Fighter Kids arcade cabinets out there. I cannot imagine the arcade manager that would order such a thing.
  • Number of players: Two big boys ready for a big boy battle. Big girls are allowed, too.
  • Favorite Character: The fighters are mostly just their normal selves in this reality, so I will pick Pai Chan. She distinctly fits the aesthetics of this game the best with her braided pigtails and pink outfit, so she is the winner of Virtua Fighter Kids. Special mention goes to Jeffry McWild, as he gets big cartoon X’s for eyes when knocked down.
  • Create-a-Combo: There is an “edit” mode where you can preconfigure combos. Basically, it works like those old programmable controllers that were meant to make fighting games easy by mapping a whole fireball motion to a single button. Unfortunately, you must memorize your own programmed combos to quickly utilize those combos… So maybe it would be easier if you just learned those combos in the first place.
  • Could this entire game and everything in it simply been a “big head code” in actual Virtua Fighter 2? Yes. Absolutely. Why didn’t they do that?
  • Space Balls The Towel: Virtua Fighter Kids dolls were sold before the game was actually released. There was also a version of this game in Japan that was a tie-in for Java Tea, and product placement was omnipresent. So… was this whole damn thing a failed Sega merchandising stunt?
  • Best Ending: Dural, the most iconic Virtua Fighter boss, gets her gray ass some balloons in her ending, and then floats away, eventually meeting some aliens in space. She seems to make friends with her new pal, presumably because they are giant weirdos. Good for them.
  • Did you know? Saturn Power ranked this game as #86 on their Top 100 Sega Saturn Games list. There were 100 Sega Saturn games?!
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Truth be told, the Virtua Fighter franchise has never been my thing, and a lesser version of that would be even lower on my play list. If I really want to learn how to play Virtua Fighter, I will just watch seventy hours of Youtube videos like a normal person.

What’s next? Bowser is going to get on the ball. Please look forward to it!

Be happier!

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