Although SNK vs. Capcom on the Neo Geo Pocket and Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the Game Boy Advance proved that portable punch-ups weren't just the fever dream of a studio gone mental, it wasn't until Tekken: Dark Resurrection that handheld fighting games finally matched the ambition of their console brethren. Of course, this was partly down to the processing power of the PSP and its workable analogue slider - but not to sell Katsuhiro Harada and his team short, the game also benefited from the engaging Tekken Dojo mode and a wealth of character customisation options.
This year's Ultimate Fighting Championship is off to an excellent start - and a controversial one. UFC 143 delivered one of the most hotly debated fights of recent times.
Back when I worked in a game store selling third-party controllers to unsuspecting customers (on the basis that if I ever recommended an official pad, I'd be on permanent stockroom duty) an import-savvy shopper informed me that Famitsu had announced a crossover between Namco and Capcom. My automatic assumption was that this had to be a fighting game, and that Capcom had somehow struck a deal with Namco and was about to bring the likes of Ryu and Jin together in the ultimate 2D mash-up. Boy was I wrong.
Even without the perplexing addition of Stars Wars characters, the last SoulCalibur felt like a game that had run out of creative steam. All the swashbuckling pirates and disgruntled golems played much the same as they had on the Dreamcast, and although Project Soul added the Soul Crush system to make blocking more risky - as well as a customisation mode that let you adjust appearance and attributes - it was akin to owning the same sports car for 10 years straight. It still had the capacity to excite, but familiarity had dulled some of that early intensity.
It all began 15 years ago, with a lofty voice that proclaimed: "Transcending history and the world, a tale of soul and swords eternally retold!" But after the progressively stifled SoulCalibur 4 - a game whose unique selling point was the clashing of katanas and lightsabers in a Star Destroyer docking bay, with its cameos from Darth Vader and Yoda - it seemed like the curtain had finally fallen on the Stage of History. However, nobody told Project Soul director Daishi Odashima, as by taking the series 17 years into the future and retiring certain members of the cast, he finally gives us a SoulCalibur that shows tangible progression since its days on the Dreamcast.
While Modern Warfare 3, FIFA Soccer 12 and Saints Row: The Third were all topping the PS3 and 360 sales charts in the final week before Christmas, in comparison, the five best selling games on the Wii were Just Dance 3, Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Zumba Fitness, Zumba Fitness 2 and The Legend of... actually no, the fifth spot went to Mario Kart Wii, while sixth, seventh and eighth went to Skyward Sword, an ABBA dancing game and "Now! That's What I Call Music: Dance and Sing".
For a developer that once had a reputation for producing some of the most expensive console games ever, it's sad to say that in more recent years, SNK Playmore's output has gone from the bleeding edge of arcade sophistication to lingering in the unflattering depths of bargain bins across the country. And for those of us who still fondly remember the glory days of Mark of the Wolves and The Last Blade, this steady fall from grace has been more than a tad disheartening.
A couple of months before the less ultimate version of Marvel vs. Capcom launched, a few colleagues and I were given extensive access to a preview build that was lacking in the usual command lists and training modes, but as a bare-bones taster of what was to come, allowed us to experiment with the fresh combat system without any prior guidance. We were simply presented with a colourful select screen and tasked with figuring out the many technical nuances for ourselves.
For the longest time, I knew virtually nothing about the UFC. I'd dabbled with the Ultimate Fighting Championship game on the Dreamcast, and even watched some classic Royce Gracie fights on a borrowed cassette tape, but I was always far more interested in arcade-style fighting games where you could hurl fireballs and juggle opponents ten feet in the air. But after watching an MMA demonstration at an Undisputed event back in 2009, I began to watch and appreciate mixed martial arts as both a technical sport and a freeform style of hand-to-hand combat.
Last month I packed my rucksack with the usual assortment of travelling essentials and made my second pilgrimage to the Eurogamer Expo. And while travelling from the UK's most southerly county isn't exactly cheap or hassle-free, the level of gaming opulence on offer made it worth the while.
If variety is the spice of life, then fighting games have been spoiling us rotten ever since Street Fighter II kick-started the war of numbers. It all began innocently enough with eight world warriors, before Capcom upped the ante with four playable bosses and four new challengers. Tekken and The King of Fighters then raised the bar to well over 20, and as the one-upmanship intensified, we saw the ill-advised shoehorning of 63 characters into Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.
In theory, fighting games should be one of the easiest genres to define - it's pretty much all there in the title. Two people trade karate chops, dragon punches and flying kicks until one is knocked unconscious or mercilessly killed, the only real complication coming from the clicking timer (fighters tend to suffer a cardiac arrest if they break the 60 second rule, you see.)
When Super Street Fighter IV was released on console last year, some people bemoaned the fact it was a standalone retail release rather than DLC. But when you consider the avalanche of new content it offered - including ten new characters, four new stages, alternative Ultra Combos and dramatic changes to the general character balancing - it was clear that Capcom was offering a pseudo-sequel rather than a by-the-numbers update.
Portable fighting games: to some they're an enjoyable time-sink with endless replay value; to others, they're a mechanically sound premise that's let down by frustrating controls. But while it's easy to whinge about d-pads and analogue sticks when you're dropping simple combos, when you consider the pocket fighter's progression in recent years, it's clear we've come a long way.
The 2011 Superbike World Championship is under way, and it's shaping up to be a classic. Last year's champion, Max Biaggi, put down the fastest lap times at Phillip Island and Monza, but was denied a first-place finish on both occasions. He also suffered an embarrassing disqualification at Donington Park after he failed to pull in for a jump start, and this helped Carlos Checa edge out a lead over his former MotoGP team-mate. However, rivalry is the mother of epic racing and it will be interesting to see how this season progresses.
Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the most important fighting game ever made, and although I dare not speak its name in this opening paragraph, it shows how far the genre has progressed in two decades. It also highlights those series which started out as fresh ideas, and then thanks to a steady supply of subtle tweaks and major leaps, evolved into the current cream of the combative crop.
This month marks the seventh anniversary of the first Monster Hunter title. Released six months before World of Warcraft, it's a game which shares the MMO's focus on co-operative gameplay.
The Superbike World Championship season is already underway and MotoGP is set to follow this weekend. It's time to see if our 2011 predictions turn out to be insightful musings or wishful thinking. Will Rossi secure his seventh MotoGP Championship on a Ducati? Does Cal Crutchlow have what it takes to run with the best? Win, lose or crash, the stage is set for a very interesting season.
There was a time when I wouldn't have taken a second glance at Fight Night Champion. But ever since Eurogamer asked me to transfer my arcade fighter fanaticism to a preview of UFC Undisputed 2009, I've realised that strategic stamina control can be just as intense as setting up cross-ups and frame traps. This epiphany then prompted me to sample the other simulation of the moment, namely Fight Night Round 4.
Milestone won a race last year. It may have been a two bike race between SBK X: Superbike World Championship and MotoGP 09/10, but in terms of who earned the accolade of "real riding simulator", Milestone proved a premiere racing license doesn't necessarily make for a more realistic simulation. It also takes dedication, experience and Ė due to the complex nature of two-wheeled physics Ė a meticulous attention to detail.
After ten years of epic exchanges, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is finally bowing out as its long-awaited sequel shows up, looks nonchalantly at its watch and apologises for being late. But before we take the Sons of Sparda and Odin into the training room, two of the world's most accomplished Marvel 2 players want to show you their skills in one last high stakes money-match.
The line between fighting sim and arcade fighter is easy to discern. In the red corner you have the Street Fighters and the Tekkens, with their hadoukens and golems. In the blue corner you'll find the realistic mix of manoeuvres and physics boasted by the Fight Nights and the Undisputed. There's rarely any crossover.
Remember that old cliche parents wheel out to teach their kids about peer pressure? "Well, if [insert childhood friend's name here] jumped off a cliff, would you do it?"
When the original Virtual-On was released in 1995, the story implied that, rather than having been manufactured by SEGA, the sit-down arcade cabinet had been sent from the future in search of capable pilots. Once a suitable candidate had been found and proven their worth by inserting a coin into the mechanism (probably to help stabilise the space-time continuum), it was time to grab the twin sticks and select a Virtuaroid.
Two men stand facing each other in the midst of a burnt-out city. One of them wears a sleeveless jacket and a calm demeanour, while the other is both impossibly muscular and a literal giant. A fight to the death is about to take place and, if it wasn't for the look of cold certainty in the smaller man's eyes, the smart money would be on Goliath.
It seems my arcade stick skills are getting rusty. I used to play 2D fighters with an aptitude for meticulous motions and flawless timing, but since Street Fighter IV, the shift towards more lenient input recognition has made me complacent. It's not like I can't put together some decent combos, but when playing The King of Fighters 2002: Unlimited Match, I'm reminded of a less forgiving time.
As it increases in popularity, the world of Mixed Martial Arts is becoming ever more competitive as the best of the best get better by eliminating the weaknesses in their comprehensive fighting styles. With many epic battles to its name, 2010 has already tested some of the sports' greatest champions.
This year marked my first trip to the Eurogamer Expo. I was only able to attend the opening day, and with so many games and conferences I wanted to sample, I came up with a simple strategy: don't stay on one game for too long and try to mix it up.
Lacklustre sequels and fierce competition have gradually eroded Phantasy Star's storied reputation for online role-playing on consoles - a reputation founded nearly a decade ago on the Dreamcast by Phantasy Star Online. The worst blow came with the failure of series reboot Phantasy Star Universe, which, although enjoyable to play if you were prepared to pay, failed to recapture those players who'd deserted the Gurhal System in favour of Azeroth.
Despite being the most popular 2D fighter in Japanese arcades by a mile, it's fair to say that in the west, Arc System's fledgling BlazBlue series is still living in the shadow of Street Fighter. And although that's partly because last year's BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger was ported to console many months after Capcom had already asserted its dominance with Street Fighter IV, it's probably more down to the World Warrior's entrenched appeal and BlazBlue's more demanding design.