, the first real fighting game
Fighting games are video games in which players fight each other or computer enemies with martial arts. Along with fixed shooters, they are traditionally at home in the arcades, and are considered separate from Sports games such as wrestling, boxing and "ultimate fighting" video games.
Fighting games can also be referred to as beat-'em-ups, although this term is often used to apply specifically to the "scrolling fighter" sub-genre.
In this type of fighting game, also known as a beat-'em-up (or occasionally brawler) one or more players (most often two, but sometimes as many as six) each choose a unique character, and team up to punch, kick, throw and slash their way through a horde of computer-controlled enemies. The fighting happens in a series of side-scrolling stages, some with a powerful 'boss' enemy at the end. In the most common variation, players can move away and toward the screen as well as left and right, although earlier scrolling fighters such as Kung Fu were more likely to allow only one-dimensional movement plus jumping.
Typically these games are side-scrollers with players generally moving from left to right, but there have been some three-dimensional versions which allow relatively free movement throughout a level and the ability to face in all directions.
Two major milestones in this genre are Double Dragon and Final Fight. Some of the most popular games from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s followed suit. At its height, the side-scroller was one of the most popular kind of arcade game, but they have since fallen out of fashion.
While a few 3D scrolling fighters exist (notably Sega's Die Hard Arcade, Squaresoft's The Bouncer and Konami's remake of 1989's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), they are much more a niche genre than the 2D iteration had been.
In this type of fighter two players (sometimes more, but quite infrequently) each choose a character, then fight against each other over several rounds, usually three. The winner of a round either knocks out his opponent, comes closest to knocking him out, or (in 3D fighters) sends him out of the ring.
In contrast to side-scrolling fighters, most versus fighters are competitive rather than cooperative. Some versus fighters offer players the chance to battle as teams (2v2 or 3v3 being most common) instead of one-on-one. In a few of these team versus games, players can opt to play on the same team, usually in a tag-team fashion.
One of the main attractions of this game type is the large number of characters each game has, all of whom usually have a distinct appearance and fighting style. Characters are usually unarmed or armed with melee weapons (swords, sticks, nunchaku, etc.).
Due to the fall in popularity of scrolling fighters, the term fighter, when applied to a game, usually refers to versus fighters.
The 2D/3D difference
Fighters are either two-dimensional (2D) or three-dimensional (3D).
Characters in 2D fighters (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Guilty Gear, Killer Instinct) are hand-drawn/digitized and animated sprites, and can move left and right and duck and jump, but in many games they can't sidestep or move 'closer to the screen'. The player's viewpoint scrolls in various directions but stays at a fixed angle. The 2D fighter's characteristic gameplay mechanics are exaggerated jumps, projectile attacks, and an "air/ground/low" attack/block system.
In 3D fighters (Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, Tekken), the characters and stages are 3D polygon-based models. The player's viewpoint is not fixed and can rotate and move in any direction, and the characters can sidestep as well as duck and jump. In contrast with the gameplay of 2D fighters, jumping is a minor element, there are few if any projectile attacks, and a "high/mid/low" attack/block system is used. Thus, the gameplay in 3D fighters is generally two-dimensional as well, although in the XZ dimensions instead of XY. Power Stone is an exception to this generalization. These games usually have slower attack speeds then two dimesional fighting games, because instead of a punch being represented by a two frame animation, a 3d game usually has a motion captured punch animation which is allowed to play fully, causing the overall attack to be slower-but more realistic looking.