Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat. 2 games that single handedly brought the arcde back from the dead and 2 games that boosted the SNES (SF2) and Genesis (MK) sales to new heights. It spawned many new series like Primal Rage and Killer Instinct and even brought out a company that specialized in the genre with SNK who had some gems like Samurai Shodown and Fatal Fury / Art of Fighting.
Then the move to 3D with Virtua Fighter brought the genre to new heights and more copycats such as Tekken and Dead or Alive. The 3D fighter was perfected with Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast.
So what went wrong? First of all were the spin-offs. Capcom milked their Street Fighter games like an 8 nippled hooker, started bringing out new games such as Darkstalkers that played too similar and did nothing while games like Fighters History and Ninja Turtles Tourney something another ripped them off. SNK did not help releasing games on their Neo Geo for $300 that ended up being awful abominations such as World Heroes. Finally the Atari Jaguar launch with a game that was supposed to reinvent the 2D fighter with Kasumi Ninja. Terrible game. 3D0, not to be outdone had Naughty Dog create the equally horrific Way of the Warrior. The 2D fighter was in a state of emergency. Even Capcom was releasing so many versions of Street Fighter, it started to seem like there was nothing different. Mortal Kombat's developers tried to bring new things to their franchise but all it did was seperate gamers into 2 parties. Those that approved and those who didn't. The one good thing that came from this was Capcom's VS. line up. Marvel VS Capcom 2 for example were big. And the Dreamcast was made for these types of games. There was even a Capcom VS SNK crossover. It just wasn't enough even with a monster 56 fighters in the game.
3D fighters faired a little better. Namco was nailing it with Tekken and Soul Calibur and the ports to the Playstation brand were pretty flawless. Sega on the other hand released not so great ports on their systems, ripped off their fans with the pathetic Virtua Fighters Remix and then brought out 3 of the worst 3D fighters I have ever played in Last Bronx, Fighting Vipers, and Sonic Fighters. However, to its credit Sega made the incredible Vitua Fighter 2 and the Saturn port was amazingly close to the model 2 board fighter. How amazing was it? The Smithsonian in Washington DC has the machine there for its technical accomplishment. Sadly Sega would nevr duplicate it. Other 3D games came out, some good like Powerstone and some awful like Wargods. Companies like Square tried their hand at it with games like Toblal. But they failed to make an impression. Even the original teams who created Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat lost their way. The MK team went 3D and made a few bad 3D games, a few terrible spin-off action platform games, and created characters no one liked. The Street Fighter team was making an amazing new 2D fighter called Street Fighter 3 but it ended up overlooked because of the 3D craze and bad business habits of bring out sequals every 6 months. Meanwhile their 3D games were just not very good. SNK was going belly up and even though Samurai Shodown 2 and their King of Fighters games (A mix between fighters from all of their core franchises) are considered some of the better 2D fighting games, they had no home console to show them off and the games never reach Street fIghter status. The genre killed itself with over saturation, bad 3D developement, and milking.
Unbelievably it was Nintendo who had a franchise that grew during this dark time. Smash Brother released and even though the original on the N64 was ugly, not very deep, and a tad boring, the fact all of Nintendo's main characters were involved assured it of a hit. New platform launches with the Playstation 2 and XBOX meant a fresh start. Dead Or Alive 3 and a new port of Tekken Tag Tournament were good games but it showed the fighting genre had a new problem that better graphics could not fix. Depth. After 30 minutes, the player saw everything and aside from playing with friends the games were boring and there was not really any reason to play by yourself.
Now here we are after 2010 and we are still stuck with this problem. Smash Brothers most recent game Smash Brother Brawl had several different modes and was beefed up with extra content, games, demos, a story.....But the problem is a lot of players do not consider it a fighting game or a deep enough game for serious competition. I disagree with them but I see their argument. It is a party game. Namco, who used to put in a few silly modes like bowling and volleyball, and packed the Dreamcast port of Soul Calibur with a large story mode and a challenge mode where the player had to battle certain test like enviroment hazards or multiple enemies weridly went back to the standard modes leaving their games with little depth. Sega's Virtua Fighter games released with few new fighters and an arcade mode to match what it would be like to play in an actual arcade. Your rewards? Clothes. Same with Dead or Alive. Your rewards for beating fighters or playing the game enough times? Outfits for the fighters. It was ridiculous and to this day they milk the fanbase. With the creation of online gaming the developers feel like a traing mode, a lame arcade mode with a stupid story, and roster add-ons or outfits is enough to warrant a purchase. Nope.
To make things worse Capcom and Arc System Works, the creator of the Blazblue series and cult series Guilty Gear which had a good successful run while the other fighters were in limbo have decided to rip players off with on-disc DLC and milking that Capcom already had a bad reutation for. Capcom release4 different versions of Street Fighter 4, 2 different versions of Marvel VS Capcom 3 and negative fan reaction already had hurt the game. Namco released a Soul Calibur that no one wanted and released an aging Tekken 6 which looked terrible, and was not a very good game to begin with.
So now it is 2013. Where do we stand? Capcom release a VS. game on the Nintendo Wii that went by like a fart in the wind. Capcom and Namco released a cross over called Street Fighter X Tekken that has a $20 add-on to gt more fighters and some of the worst fight locations in the genre. It's metacritic ranking was so bad Capcom promised to reevaluate their business practices and a game that should of been a hugh hit is a bargain bin title. Dead or Alive launch with the same barren modes and no one bought it. Tekken Tag 2 did a little better and Namco has tried to add more variety and modes with some success. Nintendo has enlisted Namco to help with the new Smash Brothers but 3DS compatibility and new console releasing from Microsoft and Sony makes it a technical inferior turd on ancient hardware at this point. Sega looks to have givin up on its Virtua Fighter series and recently released a new version on PSN and XBLA for $15 and even gave it away to Playstation 3 owner with a Plus account. Even older games that have been touched up and sold for cheap have resulted in bad sales.
BUT THERE IS HOPE. One company, the Mortal Kombat team who renamed itself NetherRealm Studios found a pot of gold.They have added out of the box modes to extend the games lasting appeal for a while. Kart Racing, adventure modes, large story modes, and so on. For a while it effected the gameplay. MK Deception ended up being a decent game because of these modes before they stubbed their toe again with MK Armageddon.
Warner Brothers bought them from a dying Midway and they tried their hand at something different. A cross over with DC Comics. The game Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe was a hit that made WB a lot of money but the game had problems. It was graphically dated and had none of the violence that made MK popular. So it was a commercial success but a failure for fans and NeterRealm. But those sales opened up WB's pocketbook and NetherRealm decided to start over with Mortal Kombat. Same backgrouds, fighters, and new modes that made sense and helped improve the players games. Plus they added depth and tried to balance it out for tournaments...to some success. Then they would but a graphic shine on it worthy of being called a good looking current gen title. They hit a homerun. a large cast of fighters, little DLC, more backgrounds than any other fighter, cool gameplay mechanics, they brought back fatalities again, made one of the most impressive graphic engines for a fighter, and kept it on a 2D plain. Aside from a few balancing issues and the fact it is not meant to be the deepest figjter, it is probably the best fighter in years. They seemed to get everything right.
Now they are about to release another non-Mortal Kombat game. And again people are not sure about the depth and fighting engine. But they got a good cast of charcters to work from, the graphic engine is tip-top, and it is again gonna try new things but keep a large number of meaningful modes in the game to insure players have plenty to do. Injustice: Gods Among Us releases in a few short weeks. And something tells me this is gonna be one of the games that will determine the fighting games future. No other company seems to do it right. There is a rumor that Rare is about to announce a new Killer Instinct but there is not a gamer alive who trust Rare right now. Namco had its best shot with Tekken Tag 2 and it was good but not great. Capcom loses fans daily at a record pace that EA would be surprised at. Sega is pretty much dead and Arc Systems is gonna make niche titles. I am hoping NetherRealm and Injustice has enough interesting modes, enough deep good, gameplay, and enough interest to dig fighters out of this hole.
They are running out of chances. Who would of thought the original Mortal Kombat team who made more mistakes than about anyone would be the group to help the genre recover?