One of my earliest and fondest memories of playing Street Fighter 2 when I was younger is something that meant very little in the grand scheme of things. I remember being amazed at the fact that a character, when knocked down, could fall into and break the props on each stage. Wooden signposts in Ryu’s stage, oil barrels in Guile’s stage, and more constantly amazed me. Characters flying into and breaking these objects didn’t necessarily add anything to the game: they didn’t do any extra damage or change the pace of the match, but they added atmosphere and a sense of excitement.

The basic level of interactivity with the stage that I was fighting in made the game feel real, in a sense. Sure, there were people throwing fireballs and a man with limbs that could stretch, but seeing the environment affected by the fight made everything seem more real and more brutal. I miss that. I miss interactivity with stages and the attention to detail from small things like this in 2D fighting games. 3D fighting games on the other hand feature a ton of stage interactivity, often giving players the opportunity to win a round by knocking their opponent out of the stage as opposed to depleting their health. For that, this week’s RipTen Dojo is going to take a look at some of my favorite instances of interactivity in 2D fighting game stages.

4.  Street Fighter 2 – Multiplayer Car Mayhem

This one is infinitely less impactful than the others on the list, but it’s by far the most fun example that you’ll find on the list. While the car smashing stage of Street Fighter 2 isn’t an uncommon memory for many gamers, under certain circumstances it can be played with two players. What would normally be a stage where the developers intended the players to rack up as many points as possible instead turns into a hysterical event as both players are trying to knock each other out while a car is sitting in the middle of the stage.

I can’t explain what makes this so much fun, but every time I end up playing with a friend and we happen upon this bonus stage we both end up laughing and have an incredible amount of fun solely because a car’s been placed into the stage. Since Street Fighter 2 specifically tries to have no difference in stages, being able to play a stage that’s different leads to unpredictable results. By giving players the opportunity to directly interact with an object in the stage, everything about the game is changed, including the people playing it.

It is precisely at this moment that my friends and I begin laughing like idiots as one of us tries to beat the car and the other just tries to beat the other player.

3. Street Fighter Alpha 2 – The Wailing Wife of Dhalsim

Aside from the instance given in the previous paragraph, one of my favorite moments of stage interactivity in a 2D fighting game comes from the 1996 game Street Fighter Alpha 2. Although a very beautiful stage, it has one key character in it that separates it from other stages in any Street Fighter game: the addition of one of the cast member’s loved ones. In this case, Dhalsim’s stage features his wife in the background, cheering him on as he fights. However, she doesn’t just cheer him on in a looped animation throughout the entire match as background characters did in previous games in the series.

Instead, she reacts to everything that happens in the match. She waits timidly when nothing happens, she cheers when Dhalsim lands an attack on his opponent, turns her head away when he’s hit, and drops to her knees and weeps when Dhalsim loses a round. Never before in the series have we really seen anyone’s family or loved ones outside of a cutscene. To include a character in one of the stages helps to remind us that each of the World Warriors has a story and someone to come home to.

Dhalsim's wife in the arcade version of Street Fighter Alpha 2 seen at the beginning of a round, after Dhalsim hits his opponent, after Dhalsim is hit, and when Dhalsim is defeated.

 

2. Fatal Fury series – Stages With Multiple Planes

Herer’s one of the more interesting ideas that I’ve seen in a 2D fighting game. The original Fatal Fury introduced the idea of a 2D fighting game, but with multiple planes that the characters could move on. The way that this works is that there are two separate lines that your character can move left and right on, one in the background and one in the foreground. You can switch lines with a jumping attack or a roll, which adds an entirely new level of strategy into the game. While proper spacing and zoning are still strong fundamentals of the game, adding in an entirely new way to traverse the stage not only adds a new degree of interactivity with the stage, but adds an entirely new level of tactical depth as well.

 

1. Real Bout Fatal Fury – Breaking the Wall

The fifth entry from the Fatal Fury series of games, Real Bout Fatal Fury introduces some of the key features found in 3D fighters such as Virtua Fighter, but manages to implement it in a way that makes sense for a 2D fighting game. Being able to force your opponent out of the ring for an instant win scenario makes sense for a 3D fighter because you can move in three dimensions. Even if your opponent pushes you towards one direction, you can manage to rotate around them and force them out of the ring. However, since 2D fighting games have characters only being able to move along a horizontal and vertical axis, this level of strategy doesn’t fit well to the genre.

Real Bout Fatal Fury changed that in a way that made sense: have the walls at the end of the stage be breakable after a character is forced against them a specific number of times. I can’t begin to describe how great of an idea this was from the team behind Real Bout Fatal Fury. They managed to capture the same essence behind what was a popular mechanic of Virtua Fighter, but in a way that made the idea seem and play in an original way. The way it works is that when a player is forced into a corner by their opponent, being hit would normally push them backwards, although that movement is stopped by a wall. In this case, the walls can be broken if the player is continuously pushed into them. If a wall is broken, either player can then be forced out of the ring for an instant win, just like in Virtua Fighter.

I'm pretty sure playing on a stage with breakable walls made of wood isn't the best place to be using moves that emit fire.

These are just a few examples of interactivity with the stages in fighting games that can lead to a more intuitive or engaging experience. Some of the above examples are minor things that may not have a direct affect on gameplay (or may be directly affected by the gameplay, in the case of Dhalsim’s wife), but others can bring about major changes to the way a game is played, and all because of level design. In recent years I find that creative level design is often overlooked in fighting games in order to focus on other features, yet I feel that designing an interesting locale that has its own quirks is one of the most important parts of a game regardless of what genre the game falls under.