Executive Editor, PC Games
Now Playing: Virtua Fighter 4, C&C Renegade, Warcraft III (beta)
Most Wanted: Soldier of Fortune II, Warcraft III, Impossible Creatures
All-Time Favorite Fighting Game Characters: Ryu (SF2T), Sagat (SF2CE), Scorpion (MK), Reptile (MK2), Haohmaru (SS), Hanzo (SS), Genjuro (SS2), Akira (VF2), Kazuya (TK), King (TK2), Geese (FFS), Goro (KOF'97), Mitsurugi (SC)
Virtua Fighter 4 is the best game I've played so far this year. And I've played plenty of good ones. Just recently I wrote about my affinity for fighting games and about how I was looking forward to finally getting my hands on the home version of VF4. Now I'm deep into it, spending lots of time with it so that once my review finally goes up, it'll be bulletproof. Some games you feel like you're slogging through, while other games you can't tear yourself away from, and for me, Virtua Fighter 4 falls squarely into the latter category. But you'll read all about it soon.
Point is, all this beating people up has made me decide to bring you the centennial Top 10 Best Fighting Game Special Moves of All Time awards. I'm the host of the ceremony and also the only judge (though there's a readers' choice poll at the end). And you, my friend, are probably the only member of the audience and also the embodiment of my guilty conscience: Shouldn't I be talking about Warcraft III or bugs or something? All right, it's a deal--this week, special moves; next week, bugs.
The difference between a great fighting game and an average one comes down to the nuts and bolts. Some of the classics--Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown--had characters with only a relatively small number of special moves available to them, yet these moves required a great deal of time, practice, and close observation before you could master them. There've been a lot of great fighting games over the years, but here, I'm rewarding the originals--the games that brought something new to the table or helped define the rest of the genre, one move at a time.
Now, without further ado, I present the countdown:
10. Move: Haohshokohken
Courtesy of: Ryo Sakazaki/Robert Garcia
First Appearance: Art of Fighting
Shown here, one of the many reasons why the Art of Fighting games were just plain nuts.
It's the first screen-tall fireball. Art of Fighting wasn't that great of a game, but its huge characters and its weird fighting system were certainly different--at the expense of fun gameplay, perhaps. One of the game's coolest features was the gigantic haohshokohken attack, a move you actually needed to "learn" during the single-player story mode. If this massive fireball hit home, it would be nearly fatal to the opponent. Those giant projectile attacks you later saw in games like Marvel vs. Capcom were clearly influenced by the haohshokohken.
09. Move: Spear
Courtesy of: Scorpion
First Appearance: Mortal Kombat
"C'mere!" "Get over here!"
The definitive Mortal Kombat move--tons of gore, tons of satisfaction. Scorpion's spear perfectly represents the unique gameplay of Mortal Kombat, not only from the shocking effect of the attack, but also in its perfect balance of risk to reward. The spear left Scorpion wide open, though it was also the single most powerful attack in the game. Though there were plenty of Mortal Kombat sequels, the spear never seemed as visceral in any of them compared with its dramatic appearance in the original game.
08. Move: Flash Kick
Courtesy of: Guile
First Appearance: Street Fighter II
Guile's flash kick looked excruciating.
Pulling off "charge" motions with the joystick was worth learning because of Guile's flash kick. While most of the Street Fighter II characters were quite noisy, Guile would coolly use his flash kick to slash his foes right smack across the face with his combat boot. This was one of the most painful-looking moves in Street Fighter II, and it's been used in millions upon millions of satisfying finishers to Street Fighter II rounds all over the world. Though Guile and various pale imitations of him appeared in subsequent fighting games, Capcom never again managed to make the flash kick seem as destructive as it was in Street Fighter II.
07. Move: Sanrensatsu
Courtesy of: Genjuro Kibagami
First Appearance: Samurai Shodown II
Images of hanafuda--a type of Japanese playing card--would flash as Genjuro hacked up his foes. That's just rad.
Genjuro's sliding slashes from Samurai Shodown II are nothing less than an inspired work of genius. This is the first and only move in a 2D fighting game that has to be blocked backward--that is, to defend against it, you need to walk right into it. The attack actually passes through the opponent and hits from behind. It's also one of the first three-part moves in any fighting game, yet unlike most moves of that nature, if you fouled up the timing of Genjuro's sanrensatsu, you'd pay for it very, very dearly. Screwing the timing up--and the timing was very tough--would usually cost you the round. It was a powerful move but truly the ultimate toss-up between risk and reward. In my mind, this move still epitomizes the depth, style, and ingenuity that great fighting games can offer.
06. Move: Phoenix Kick
Courtesy of: Kim Kaphwan
First Appearance: Fatal Fury II
Kim's been in more than a dozen fighting games over the years, including a cameo appearance in Samurai Shodown II.
The original rush combo, tae kwon do master Kim Kaphwan's deadliest attack in Fatal Fury II and subsequent games, remains one of the coolest-looking moves in any fighting game. The phoenix kick (houoh kyaku in Japanese) literally lifts the opponent up into the air in a torrent of vicious kicks, ending with Kim's patented crescent kick. Fatal Fury II was the first fighting game to introduce the concept of desperation moves--you could pull off the phoenix kick only when you were close to defeat. It was the phoenix kick that first gave evidence to the fact that SNK was developing a really great sense of style in its fighting games. People had become accustomed to the fairly cut-and-dried combos of Street Fighter II, but this move made them say, "Wow!"
05. Move: Spinning Pile Driver
Courtesy of: Zangief
First Appearance: Street Fighter II
I showed off to my friends both in my ability to pull off SPDs like nobody's business and by being able to read all that stuff in the background on Zangief's stage.
The alpha and the omega of specialty throws in fighting games lies in Zangief's spinning pile driver--the Street Fighter II move that was both the most difficult to master but also by far the most damaging. Expert Zangief players were feared like the plague back in the early '90s, thanks to this move. Plenty of other fighting games have featured great-looking, powerful, difficult-to-execute throw attacks, and all of them will forever remain in the shadow of Zangief's SPD.
04. Move: Crescent Moon Slash
Courtesy of: Haohmaru
First Appearance: Samurai Shodown
Samurai Shodown was filled with incredible, almost cinematic moments. It's the first fighting game with real drama.
Sure as day, all fighting games have uppercuts. Samurai Shodown had uppercuts with swords. The first-ever fighting game with real style, Samurai Shodown also successfully incorporated weapons into the action. The game's pseudo-hero, a scraggly-haired ronin who'd spit wine on his sword to make his cuts sting, packed an incredible whirling uppercut attack called the crescent moon slash (kogetsu zan in Japanese). This move could send him rocketing up and out of the screen, causing tremendous damage to his foe in the process. The way this move would connect was simply indescribable--the game really gave the feel that Haohmaru was dragging his sword up and through the opponent. Samurai Shodown spawned a number of sequels, but the kogetsu zan was never as spectacular, or as powerful, as it was in the original game.
03. Move: Knockdown Throw
Courtesy of: Geese Howard
First Appearance: Fatal Fury
Geese Howard is my hero.
Geese Howard is one of the greatest fighting game characters of all time, thanks partly to his reversals--his knockdown throws (atemi nage in Japanese). You couldn't just keep attacking Geese with impunity, since his knockdown throws combined an impenetrable defense with a powerful, guaranteed counterattack. In Fatal Fury Special, the first game in which Geese was playable, his knockdown throws let him automatically counter and slam down any would-be assailants. The only way to beat a good Geese player--rest assured the knockdown throws weren't easy to master--was to mix up your strikes with some throws. Throws had previously been considered "cheap" but were now made forgivable out of necessity--either that or you had to use a lot of fake-outs to get Geese to use the wrong counter. His counters really forced you to rethink the way you played. Now reversals find their way into literally every fighting game, but Geese Howard did them first, and did them best, way before they were popular.
02. Move: Stun Palm of Doom
Courtesy of: Akira Yuki
First Appearance: Virtua Fighter 2
Here it is in all its glory: The stun palm of doom. I'd call it the dreaded stun palm of doom, but it already sounds pretty scary.
The SPOD is quite possibly the single most difficult-to-execute fighting game move of all time, but mastering it is possibly one of the most rewarding experiences that fighting games have to offer. This attack has been Akira's meat and potatoes since Virtua Fighter 2, and it's still supreme in the latest game. Beginning with a powerful palm strike to the midsection, Akira quickly steps behind his foe and bodychecks him in the back, sending him stumbling forward. He then flattens his opponent to the pavement with a powerful double palm attack, right to the spine. This great-looking move needs to be performed with the utmost precision and only at those times when the opponent leaves himself open to it. It's the ultimate skill-move for one of the greatest skill-characters in any fighting game.
01. Move: Dragon Punch
Courtesy of: Ryu, Ken
First Appearance: Street Fighter
Street Fighter II is the once and future king.
There can be no denying it: There is no greater pleasure in this mortal coil than to perform a perfectly timed dragon punch right smack into Blanka's ugly green face when he's in the middle of that damned roll attack.
And there you have it, the top 10 best fighting game special moves of all time. Fighting games are one of the great misunderstood gaming genres. The layman merely observes two people frantically beating one another up. But very few types of games manage to bring out the obsessive, meticulous, and competitive side of human nature quite like fighting games do. If you're skeptical of this, merely look up some FAQs for some of the games I mentioned above. You'll find exhaustive volumes have been written, enough to fill not just books, but rooms full of books. I don't know if Virtua Fighter 4 will rescue fighting gaming from obscurity, but what I do know is this: It's good to play a really great one again. It reminds me of playing all the old ones, too.