Before 3D polygons became the standard, 2D sprites were the main art assets used in games. Over the years sprites have evolved from a charming collection of pixels to very detailed characters containing thousands of frames of animation. Traditionally fighting games in the past have had some of the best, and sexiest, sprites in gaming.
Today polygons have replaced sprites as the dominate tool to create characters and animation but, much like Disney’s return to traditional animation with the Princess and the Frog, there are games coming out that prove 2D animation is still timeless. Before we look at what’s happening now, let’s take a look back at how fighting game sprites have evolved over the years.
Street Fighter 2 – Capcom, 1991
Street Fighter 2 pretty much introduced and established how we play 2D fighting games to this day. It was incredibly vibrant and had a unique cast of characters that helped it stand out from the rest of the games at the local arcade. Looking back at it now, the sprites are pretty stiff and really small but each frame was filled with personality.
Most importantly, Street Fighter 2 introduced Chun-Li, and later, Cammy White to the world. Chun-Li was a strong female character able to kick ass and look elegant while doing it. Cammy did the same except with less clothes. Most of the Street Fighter 2 Characters went on to become icons with Chun-Li and Cammy being the most recognizable females in the beloved cast.
Fatal Fury – SNK, 1991
Released just a few months after Street Fighter 2, Takashi Nishiyama worked on the original Street Fighter before going on to make Fatal Fury for SNK. Both had similar but differing play styles. While Street Fighter 2 introduced the idea of Special Moves, the combat leaned more toward executing combos while Fatal Fury emphasized movement and strategy.
Just like Street Fighter 2, Fatal Fury introduced the world to a busty Asian beauty in the form of Mai Shiranui. Later a blond bombshell named Blue Mary made her debut. Mai went on to become SNK’s sex symbol; Mary wasn’t as popular in spite of having her top slipping off in Real Bout Fatal Fury.
Darkstalkers – Capcom, 1994
Street Fighter was the start but Darkstalkers is where Capcom really started to perfect their animation techniques. Their sprites still had limited frames of animation but what made them special was that Capcom started to incorporate the “12 Principles of Animation” more commonly associated with Disney’s animated films. Sprites were filled with various techniques like “squash and stretch”, “follow through”, and “slow in and slow out” to make them seem alive and expressive. You might say that these sprites were so well crafted that Capcom never felt the need to update them, and they probably never will since they’ve switched over to polygons for their fighting games.
Darkstalkers introduced sexy characters like the lovely succubus Morrigan Aensland, her counterpart Lilith, the practically naked Felicia, a busty zombie girl Hsien-Ko, and the psychopathic B.B Hood as well as many other awesomely bizarre characters. Their personalities all came alive through their sprites and animation. Darkstalkers was a massive improvement over Street Fighter 2 in almost every way.
The King of Fighters – SNK, 1994
Size isn’t everything and that definitely applies to The King of Fighters’s sprites. The sacrifice of size was a necessary compromise to make way for more frames of animation per character and an ever increasing roster. While the sprites looked great back in the day they haven’t aged that well in my opinion. They still have their nostalgic charms though.
Mai and Blue Mary were redesigned and brought over from Fatal Fury – Mai’s costume design was skimpier than in Fatal Fury and Blue Mary was given subtle tweaks. As well as bringing in characters from other SNK games, The King of Fighters added new (and somewhat eccentric) fighters to the roster. The King of Fighters would go on to become the company’s main fighting game franchise.
Street Fighter Alpha – Capcom, 1995
With Street Fighter 2 an outstanding success, Capcom decided to give the series another shot with a prequel that utilized the animation techniques gained from Darkstalkers. As a result the sprites in the Street Fighter Alpha series are much more expressive and detailed than the ones used in Street Fighter 2.
Being a prequel, Street Fighter Alpha featured younger versions of established characters. Capcom redesigned some outfits – Chun-Li traded her dress for some athletic tights and Cammy got a different color leotard as well as having her back story get fleshed out – and introduces new challengers. New comer Sakura expands the Shoto clone army with a school girl twist, Rose brings her buxom beauty to the roster, and R.Mika makes first and only appearance.
The sprites in Street Fighter Alpha were so good that, just like with Darkstalkers, they were reused multiple times in the “VS” series with few, if any, updates.