Forgotten Fighters of the 90’s is a 5-piece retrospective on the lost titles from the “Golden Era” of fighting games, a time when everyone and their mother was trying to cash in on the Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat hysteria. With the recent release of Super Street Fighter IV/Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and the upcoming release of Mortal Kombat (the reboot), are remakes of these hidden gems far behind? Only time will tell.
People generally don’t believe me when I tell them this, but the first ever CD that I purchased was Green Jello’s “Cereal Killer Soundtrack.” Enamored by the twisted claymation of the video for “Three Little Pigs,” I had to get my hands on that CD in order to relive it’s awful glory on loop. Shortly after I convinced my parents that it was a good idea to let an 8 year old purchase a CD with a song called “Misadventures of Shitman” on it, we were off to the movie theater to see Raul Julia give his final feature film performance in, you guessed it, Street Fighter: The Movie. Naturally, despite its misgivings, I absolutely loved the movie, and went to bed that night dreaming of a fantasy world where the claymation mayhem of the “Three Little Pigs” video merged with the fighting credentials of a game like Street Fighter. Little did I know that my prayers had been answered a year earlier in the form of ClayFighter for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (heretofore shortened to SNES).
Released by Interplay in 1993 during the height of the fighting game hype wars, Clayfighter stood out in nearly every arena, besides gameplay. The original 9 characters (8 playable, 1 boss) were rendered with photographic stop motion claymation animation, as opposed to the sprites used by much of their competition. Characters like Bad Mr. Frosty (killer snowman), Ickybod Clay (spooky ghost with a pumpkin for a head), and Blue Suede Goo (Elvis impersenator) gave Clayfighter an instantly iconic look and feel. The madcap circus vibe was accentuated by colorful backgrounds and lively (and occasionally unsettling) music and sound effects. Clayfighter had all the tools to compete in the fighting game scene, except for one thing… mechanically, it kind of sucked.
Despite copying most the controls and special moves from Street Fighter, Clayfighter fell victim to the same clunkiness that plagued fighting games from that era. The lack of responsiveness granted a huge advantage to the snappier characters, specifically Taffy, who’s range attacks made him like Dhalsim on steroids. The original Clayfighter was also rife with glitches, one of which allowed players to play as the game’s end boss, “N. Boss” (get it?). Because of this, Clayfighter: Tournament Edition was released in 1994, fixing these glitches and adding a few new characters and stages, along with some cosmetic changes to the game.
In 1995, the Clayfighter series grew up with the release of C-2: Judgement Clay, which improved on its predecessor in nearly every way. While still far from perfect, the gameplay was sped up a little bit, which made it an easier play overall. Several new characters were added, including (but not limited to) “Hoppy,” a rambo like killer bunny that became the game’s mascot, and “Googoo,” a giant fighting baby (or is it clay-be?). In addition to the new characters, each fighter was given an “evil” palette swapped counterpart, who served as that character’s end boss, complete with new moves and catch phrases. Overall, the game sported a much darker vibe than the original, moving away from its roots as a kids game and diving headlong into the field of overt creepiness and limitless pop culture puns.
By the time 1997’s ClayFighter 63 ⅓ was released for Nintendo 64, the cheekiness had worn off. Complete with all of the modern trappings of the next generation of fighting games (advanced combos, super meters, “Claytalities”), it appeared that the series had overstayed its welcome. However, the series that was known for its imitation had one final trick up its sleeve. By featuring Boogerman and Earthworm Jim as playable characters in the game, ClayFighter 63 ⅓ became one of the first non “VS” games to feature existing characters from other games as playable characters. In 2011, this is common practice, but at the time it was a shock and a thrill to see your favorites from other games popping up in a fighting game.
After apparently cashing out in 1997, the series has seen a bit of life in the past few years, including a re-release of Clayfighter for the Wii Virtual console, and the supposed development of Clayfighter: Call of Putty for the DSi/WiiWare. As an adult, I’m a bit scared to revisit the original game, for fear that it hasn’t aged well. Despite my grown up analysis, I will always maintain a soft spot in my heart for Clayfighter, a game which, despite its misgivings, provided me with endless hours of button mashing entertainment and countless nightmares of being harassed by claymation clowns. ‘Til next time… clay on, clayer!