Street Fighter II | Arcade 1991 | Guile
iPods. Cell phones. Flat screen TVs. GPS. The internet. These are all things that came into prominence AFTER the release of Street Fighter II in 1991, so it makes me feel positively Jurassic thinking back to my early days with this iconic brawler. That was back when the only action was arcade action, where one dollar got you a few credits, and when I sucked so hard at Street Fighter it made black holes look like underpowered vacuum cleaners by comparison (I'm a bit better now, thanks for asking). I still remember my first few attempts at a hadouken--the instructions read down, forward down, and forward, so there I was, trying to rapidly jab in those directions individually, as opposed to doing a smooth, quarter-circle motion. Duh.
Because of my quarter circle dyslexia, I tended to favor charge characters in those early days. Blanka was a favorite, as was E. Honda, but the character who I ended up playing the most was that no-nonsense all-American, Guile. Guile, with hair you can slice a steak with and a powerful double-hit leg sweep. Guile, with his easy-to-pull off sonic boom and difficult to defend against flash kick. Guile, who was so simple and so cheap that you could easily annoy even the most patient of your friends. Guile was the first ever character I defeated M. Bison with, and he retains a special place in my heart because of that.
Fatal Fury | Arcade 1992 | Terry Bogard
With the huge success of Street Fighter around the early '90s, I often found it difficult to find a spare machine to hone my skills on. And even when I did find a spare, I would usually be challenged by someone who, you know, was actually decent at fighting games. Luckily, the success off SFII spawned a host of imitators, and for my dollar, SNK's Fatal Fury was one of the best. Sure, the original Fatal Fury didn't have a huge list of fighters to choose from--there were only the two Bogard brothers and Joe Higashi initially--but it had a great cast of characters that were genuinely distinct from each other and great to line up against. Plus Fatal Fury was the first ever King of Fighters Tournament, and we all know the success that series has gone on to achieve.
As for the brothers, Terry was the stand-out for me. Terry had a great mix of killer moves--a projectile with the power wave, an anti-air with the rising tackle, and a rush with the burning tackle. Plus he had a sweet hat, which I've always wanted.
Tekken Tag Tournament | PlayStation 2 2000 | Lei Wulong and Jun Kazama
Up until Tekken Tag Tournament, I'd always preferred to do my virtual fighting in an arcade. Why? It wasn't until the power of the PlayStation 2 that the arcade experience could well and truly be replicated at home (with an honorable exception going to Street Fighter II for the SNES), and Tekken Tag Tournament was the pinnacle of home fighting at the time. As well as sporting a hefty character list, plenty of extras, and most impressively at the time, looked even better than its arcade counterpart. Tekken Tag was one of the main reasons I bought Sony's latest console.
In Tekken Tag, my go-to combination was always the deadly team of Lei Wulong and Jun Kazama. Lei had become one of my favorite characters since his introduction in Tekken 2 (being heavily into Jackie Chan films back then), but Tekken Tag was my first serious attempt at playing Jun. Jun had seriously deadly combos and was tough to defend against, and is one of the characters I'm seriously hoping makes a comeback in the next Tekken Tag. Do you hear me series producer Katsuhiro Harada? Bring back Jun!
Pit-Fighter | Arcade 1991 | Buzz
Many may think Mortal Kombat was the first time digitized actors were used instead of animated characters in a fighting game. But a year before fatalities were in vogue, Pit Fighter had already tried to make a more "realistic" fighter. And boy, was it the pits (see what I did there?).
Good fighters give you nuanced, interesting characters to play and tough but fair opponents to go up against, but Pit Fighter gave you neither of these. Each of the three characters had extremely limited movesets, and your opponents were cheaper than copies of Rock Revolution. What was even worse were many of the game's home console ports, which took an already average looking arcade game and made it crappier to look at. Ex-pro wrestler Buzz was my favorite, if he only because he could take the most punishment from the oh-so-cheap enemies.