The ’90s were a great time to be a fighting game fan. Starting with the Street Fighter craze in 1991, we got into a 2nd Golden Age of Arcades and everybody wanted a little piece of the pie Capcom had, so we got a lot of 2D 1 on 1 franchises, like Mortal Kombat and Fatal Fury, 3D fighting games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter, and weapon based games such as Samurai Shodown and Soul Edge.

Sadly, by the 2000s the PS2 came along and we started seeing a decline in the arcade fighters of the 90s, the Street Fighter games never got a huge base of players like Super Street Fighter II Turbo, and The King of Fighters never topped what they did with KOF ’98 in the Neo-Geo.

So, here comes the GameCube in 2001, and while it doesn’t have as many new fighting games as its competition (PS2 had games like Tekken Tag Team Tournament 2 and Guilty Gear XX, while Xbox had Dead or Alive) Nintendo’s little blue box did have a handful of really fun titles that gave us hundreds of hours of fun. Melee alone gave me a thousand hours of play before Brawl launched on the Wii.

So, let’s take a look at the best fighting games to play on Nintendo’s first disc-based console. This is the

5 Best Fighting Games On The Nintendo GameCube

Naruto Clash of the Ninja 2 (D3 Publisher – 2006)

Let me start by saying that I am not a Naruto fan. Sure, I was really into Dragon Ball and Ranma 1/2 in the 90s, and Manga such as Slam Dunk and Love Hina kept me up at night. 

Naruto Clash of the Ninja 2

By the time Naruto came along and I was watching anime on the Internet like Trigun, Cowboy Bebop, Azumanga Daioh, and Death Note, I never really cared about the orange kid ninja. Having said that… This game is fun!

I found out about it in a Magazine (printed back then) called “Club Nintendo”, written by guys older than me that saw Naruto as a kiddy show with no substance. But, they recommended the game even for people that didn’t watch the show, and when I found it at a GameStop for 20 bucks I decided to give it a shot. Boy was it worth it.

The first Clash of the Ninja was a generic 1 vs 1 fighting game in a 2D lane, that didn’t have anything to stand out from other similar games, except, of course, it was a game of the most popular anime at the time.

It only had 10 playable ninjas and it seemed to be a cash grab created only for the most hardcore fans of the series. Or younger players that couldn’t play more complex fighting games.

Anyway, Clash of Ninja 2 now has twice as many characters to choose from, plus a few secret ones you can unlock after finishing the story, and the multiplayer allows four players to fight off in arenas where mayhem is bound to happen.

The controller is pretty simple, you just button smash B and pull off long combos like it’s nothing. A and the directional stick is for special attacks, there’s a jump button, throw shurikens and kunai, block, and change focus, so you choose which opponent to face.

Then there’s the substitution Jutsu you can pull off when you have enough Chakra, so if you’re in the middle of the receiving end of a combo, you can escape and leave a tree log in your place.

The 4 player battle free-for-all is what makes this game extremely fun. 3D arena brawlers where you could move around freely were rare at the time, and while wrestling games on N64 and GameCube let you move freely on the ring or below it, Naruto CoN2 was something else entirely.

The simple controls let newcomers and arcade fighting veterans play on the same stage without the advantage of experienced gamers being so overwhelming.

Many times a complete noob ended up winning the bout, and more than once a player aimed a hidden Jutsu technique at a rival, only for that ninja to avoid the attack at the last moment and have someone else take the blow at full force.

Sure, it isn’t as fun as playing Smash Bros. or perhaps even WWE Day of Reckoning, but this is a game that is worth a few battles when you take a break from Mario Kart, Def Jam Vendetta, or Mario Party 4.

It’s a perfect game for when you have beginners or casual players on your gaming night, like when one of your buddies invited his girlfriend (she won more than once).

Capcom vs SNK 2 EO (Capcom – 2001)

At the start of the 90s, the most bitter rivals of the 2D fighting game genre were Capcom with his CPS-2 featuring Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, and their crossovers with Marvel Comics characters, against SNK with the Neo-Geo featuring Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, and Samurai Shodown.

Capcom vs. SNK 2 EO

In the mid-90s Street Fighter III and the Alpha series came along, and SNK consolidated The King of Fighters as their flagship title, dominating markets like Latin America and Asia, but at the end of the decade, Capcom’s Marvel vs. titles were the hot thing to play in North America, and SNK did their own with Garou, Last Blade, and Real Bout.

Around 1999, rumors began surfacing that both companies were working on games featuring characters from both universes, and the result was SNK vs Capcom The Match of the Millenium for Neo-Geo Pocket Color, which was an awesome game that I still can’t believe could fit in that tiny system and is even better than modern 2D fighters coming out these days.

The big brother Capcom vs SNK Millennium Fight 2000 launched in the arcade, the Dreamcast, and even got a port for the original PlayStation, but it had a simplistic game engine.

Both Capcom and SNK characters missed some moves from their own games, you could only fight on a handful of stages, no real story, and a strange “ratio” system that let you choose characters depending on their power, which was a weird choice, but made so they can balance out strong and weak characters in teams.

But a year later, the sequel came out, and it was just what everybody wanted to see when KOF and Street Fighter characters clashed. This time you could make teams and get in 3 vs 3 battles. There was the choice to play single bouts or choose the ratio system to give each character the strength you wanted.

This time there were 6 different “Grooves” to choose from so your fighting style matches your personal preference.

You can play in the style of 3 Super Art Levels like in Street Fighter Alpha 1 and 2, or the Custom Combo A-ISM of Street Fighter Alpha 3, or in the style of SFIII, where you only have a long Energy Bar to deliver a 3 Level Super. You can parry attacks by tapping the stick forward right before the punch or kick hits, leaving your opponent open for an attack (you’ve probably already seen Ken parrying all of Chun-Li’s kicks at EVO)

On the SNK Grooves, you have the early KOF games (Extra Mode) where you could charge up POW by pressing strong Punch and Kick or blocking attacks, you get no Pow by attacking yourself.

You can avoid attacks in your place by pressing weak punch and kick. If the bar is filled you get into “MAX Mode” and become about 20% stronger in your attacks. Also when you have very little energy in your life bar, you’re able to pull off Supers at will at any time.

The next SNK Groove is based on the “Advanced” mode of KOF ’97 and ’98, where you fill the Pow Bars just by attacking, and can “burn” a POW and get into Max State.

The last groove is based on Samurai Shodown, where you fill a “Rage” bar by being hit, and can pull off a Max Level Super in this mode. You also have the “Just Defense” block of Garou Mark of the Wolves. If you wait to just the last moment before guarding, you get a tiny amount of life added to your bar and are not knocked back by the blow, being able to counterattack quickly.

These grooves are way better than just the “Capcom” and “SNK” styles of the first CVS crossover, and you can even edit your groove to create the Ultimate fighting style that fits your perfectly depending on how you approach a match.

With 44 characters to choose from, at the time the only similar game with a bigger roster was probably Marvel vs Capcom 2, but that one recycled sprites from a lot of previous games. Here the artists actually made sprites for all SNK fighters and even brought back forgotten characters like Todoh, the first rival of Ryo in Art of Fighting, or Raiden from the very first Fatal Fury game.

On Capcom’s side, they revived Eagle, the British eskrima expert from the first Street Fighter and Maki from Final Fight 2 (thanks to Sakura Kasugano’s Manga where they appear), and also brought Kyosuke from Rival Schools and Yun from SFIII to the 2D world.

My only complaint is that they really should’ve created a new design for Morrigan, she looks way out of place and outdated compared to all other characters. Just play the first Capcom vs SNK 2000 and see how Chun-Li looks out of place, so they redesign her.

Sure, they could remake this game for today’s system, as we haven’t had any relaunch of this legendary title since the 128-Bits era, but in the meantime, dust off your Nintendo GameCube and see which company is better in the Millionaire Fighting 2001.

Def Jam: Fight for NY (EA Games – 2004)

After AKI Corporation made perhaps the best wrestling game ever made for the Nintendo 64, WWF No Mercy, they left the work of future WWE titles to Yuke’s, but they took the same gameplay outside of the ring and created a fighting game based on popular rappers.

Def Jam Fight for NY for NGC

The first Def Jam Vendetta was basically the last AKI game with hip-hop artists from Def Jam Recordings and HD graphics, with a few new crazy moves and wacky fantasy finishers that are just not possible in real life, and really didn’t fit the more simulation-oriented titles of N64.

It was a fun game, but since it didn’t have those Wrestlemania or Starrcade vibes, with the entrances, special matches like a cage, cell, ladder, hardcore, or everything that gave WWF No Mercy its replay value, something else was needed for a sequel.

Enter Def Jam: Fight for NY which was developed at a time when Ultimate Fighter and Mixed Martial Arts were just starting to gain mass media attention, and it was the perfect theme for a more mature and serious underground fighting game.

Here you can fight in 5 different styles, and instead of pinning your opponent for the count of 3, the way you finish the fight depends on your martial art.

  • If you’re a street fighter, you mostly use dirty boxing moves and can knock out your opponent with a powerful punch to the jaw.
  • If you’re a wrestler, a very strong slam like a Sit-Down Power Bomb may render your opponent unconscious.
  • A submission expert with several grappling moves, can focus on a single body part and cause enough pain after a few holds to force the rival to tap out.
  • A KickBoxer can clinch the their opponent and knock him out cold after a combo of knees and kicks.
  • A martial artist can finish a fight with a flying kick to the head. Well, that certainly can KO anybody no matter the personal fighting style in real life.

Besides the finishers of particular styles, you can also just use weapons and hit the skull of your opponent directly, or do a double team move like a Spike Piledriver to plant his head on the floor.

Also, any Blazin’ Move works when the opponent is in danger, as well as using environmental attacks.

This game has many interactive objects in the stage, and you can do things like smashing your opponent through a giant speaker, or a big screen tv, as well as throwing him to train tracks in the subway level and wait for the next car to “give him a lift” (that’s some Mortal Kombat 3 stuff right there).

You can create your own character, change his appearance and dress him up as you like, as well as learn up to 3 fighting styles to become a more complete mixed martial artist.

The story mode is okay and the general presentation of this title is better than the first title of the series, and most players that are fond of Fight for NY and played it to no end, really wanted a sequel, but since Def Jam: Icon wasn’t developed by AKI, it just wasn’t what we were expecting.

If you want an underground fighting game that captures the essence of movies like Van Damme’s Lionheart, Bloodsport, and perhaps Scott Adkins’ Undisputed 2 and 3, this may be the last great game to come close to that, with Hip-Hop and urban artist swag thrown into the mix.

Soul Calibur II (Namco – 2002)

The original Soul Edge for arcade and PlayStation was a critically acclaimed success for Namco in the mid-90s, as well as its sequel Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast.

With a new generation of consoles, another sequel was created for the 3 major consoles of the time, and on the GameCube we got Link from The Legend of Zelda as a playable character!

SoulCalibur II

Unlike traditional fighting games where you have punches and kicks of different strengths, here you have vertical and horizontal attacks with your weapon.

Depending on the direction of the stick and some button combinations, you can also block, jump, sidestep, grab your opponent, perform special moves, guard break, and more.

Battles take place in 3D areas where you can move around freely, and even throw your opponent off some stages, winning instantly with a “Ring Out”. Or you can get them “between the sword and the wall” and deliver some moves that can only be done when you have them cornered.

There are many characters to choose from, each one with several outfits they can wear, as well as some hidden unlockable fighters, each with a unique weapon and fighting style. There was even console-exclusive characters, besides Link for the GameCube, there was  Spawn on Xbox and Heihachi on PS2.

Like any decent fighting game, there’s Arcade Mode (looking at you vanilla Street Fighter V) where you beat a number of opponents before facing your “rival” and then the Final Boss.

But the real deal is single-player Weapon Master Mode, where you have an overworld map and can explore it similar to Super Mario Bros. 3

These battles have some special completion requirements and can award you with experience to level up your character, and in-game money so you can buy new costumes, art pieces, special videos, and of course, weapons.

The music is great, the graphics are beautiful, and the gameplay is top-notch. You can practice and try to learn the hundreds of different attacks of each fighter, as well as come up with strategies for all the opponents.

With such variety, you will want to approach battling against a long sword or staff in a different way than a user of short knives or sticks.

This game was so popular that over 10 years after it launched, Namco released Soulcalibur II HD Online for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, which is a testament to the game’s high quality.

Link fits right in with his Hylian Shield and Master Sword. You can drop bombs and shoot arrows too.

If you never got the chance to play any of the games in the Soul series, but are curious about it, and a fan of Zelda, you should check out this title and go for 100% of Weapon Master Mode with The Hero of time.

Super Smash Bros. Melee (Nintendo – 2001)

Yeah, the man behind this game and the father of our mellow pink ball Kirby, Masahiro Sakurai, has said in an interview that Smash Bros. is not a “Fighting Game” per se, and I actually considered the series to be more of a “Party Game” starting from SSB Brawl for the Wii and on.

Super Smash Bros. Melee

Melee has the fast-paced and hardcore gameplay of a well-done fighting game. It is still the most popular game played at the Evolution Fighting Tournament, where the most skilled fighting game players of the world meet and have awesome bouts that the average gamer never even imagined where possible.

The first Smash came out in 1999, and I thought it was a joke when I watched Mario, Pikachu, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong skipping through a grass field and then beating each other like hooligans after a football match. By the time I saw the commercial, the game was already available at Blockbuster and I rented it several times after that.

A couple of years later and here comes the GameCube. Nintendo needed a sequel to the craziest arena fighter to date, and Melee not only improved everything its predecessor did well on N64, but it also became so popular among fighting game enthusiasts that to this day there’s a huge pool of great players that each want to prove they’re the best at Smash.

Just watching the level of skill in a 1 vs 1 match on Final Destination with no items blows you away, because you witness deep strategy thinking, super concentration, and control ability that no human being should possess.

Anyway, by now you probably know everything there is to know about Super Smash Bros. a super fun and enjoyable title that brings all popular Nintendo franchises together for an awesome multiplayer experience that can be enjoyed by new gamers and seasoned players alike.

But if a fighting game fan wants to get into the “Pro Scene”, Melee is still a viable option, with a community that rivals that of Super Street Fighter II Turbo.

Nowadays, perhaps the Switch version is the best in the series, and it might be the last one.

Gameplay-wise, old-school players of 90s arcade fighting games just prefer Melee since they can get all the excitement and super advanced battles that few titles can match up

So if you never tried the previous Smash entries and only played the newer titles for WiiU, 3DS, or the Switch, you should check out Melee and find out why it is played in Tournaments with probably the most skilled gamers in the world more than 20 years after its original release.