As cross-over focused games like Super Smash Bros, Marvel vs Capcom and Blazblue Cross Tag Battle become more and more prolific in the fighting game genre, it's no surprise that over time more fighters are embracing the concept of the guest character - exciting additions from outside their own universe.
In recent years we've seen SoulCalibur double down on guests, Mortal Kombat pull in classic movie villains, and even Killer Instinct dig into Microsoft's stable of characters for a few surprises - but which are the best?
We've decided to compile a little list of our favorite fighting game cameos and guest appearances ever - with a few rules. We decided only one entry per series - so we've picked just one MK and SC guest as their best ever, for instance - and we decided no characters from actual dedicated cross-over games. What are your favorite fighting game cross-over moments? Let us know in the comments below.
The Clintons, Shaq and Michael Jackson go boxing
There was a time, believe it or not, when Ready 2 Rumble Boxing felt like a major series. I remember the original entry as a stand-out title in the early, challenging days of Sega's Dreamcast, and I also fondly remember it as a sort of spiritual successor to Nintendo's Punch-Out. It's also memorable for its sequel, however - which had some pretty wild guest character cameos.
Publisher Midway was no stranger to putting celebrities in its games, shoving presidents and other major figures into titles like NBA Jam. In Ready 2 Rumble Boxing Round 2, Michael Jackson and Shaquille O'Neal actually lend their likenesses and names to the game, with Jackson even allegedly doing a little voice over and motion capture work. Also included are Bill and Hillary Clinton, though for copyright reasons they're instead referred to simply as Mr. President and The First Lady.
Cloud and much of Final Fantasy 7's cast brawl in a Tekken knock-off that's nearly a secret FF game
God bless the ring, and god bless the experimental Squaresoft of the late '90s. Back then, spurred on by the success of Final Fantasy 7, Square was making anything it thought might catch on. Mario Kart was big, so how about a FF kart racing game? Chocobo Racing. Resident Evil and Silent Hill are popular, so why not a game that combines survival horror with RPG mechanics? Hi, Parasite Eve.
Ehrgeiz isn't strictly an example of 90s Square branching out as it was actually made by DreamFactory, an independent Japanese developer founded by an industry veteran who worked on both Virtua Fighter and Tekken. Ehrgeiz has a fair bit in common with both those 3D fighters, but when the time came for it to jump from arcade to home consoles, Square picked it up - a Tekken-alike surely fit its expansion ideals quite well.
As well as adding a RPG-like quest mode (of course), the Square-published PS1 version of Ehrgeiz also crowbared a bunch of Final Fantasy into the roster. Cloud and Tifa were already playable in the arcade, but on PS1 Sephiroth, Yuffie, Vincent, Red XIII and even Zack Fair are playable.
Zack is an interesting addition as he barely appears in the original FF7, so this marks his most significant appearance until he got his own game a decade later. Similarly, Vincent appears as a Turk - part of his backstory that is talked about but never actually shown in FF7. Basically, Ehrgeiz is a weird little FF7 lore dump in its own right. All told, over 40% of the cast of Ehrgeiz is from Final Fantasy 7.
Arbiter and Rash in Killer Instinct
Microsoft's modern reboot of Killer Instinct is a great, underrated gem of this console generation, and I really hope it either gets an enhanced version or a new entry on next generation hardware. As well as mining the classic KI characters and adding a few new ones, it also became a game not afraid to have fun with Microsoft's catalogue - and it chose its guests wisely.
First up there's Halo's Arbiter, who is just a perfect fit for the universe of KI thanks to his look and Halo's iconic energy sword. Then there's General RAAM from Gears of War, who is less exciting than Arbiter but also fits perfectly. Finally, Rash from Battletoads is a great out-there comedy character, animated gleefully and faithfully in an over-the-top '90s cartoon style. He's a brilliant tribute to Rare, creator of both series. On the down-low, Killer Instinct is one of this generation's best fighting games.
Incidentally, while we're talking about Halo and fighters...
Spartan Nicole in Dead or Alive
The developer of Dead or Alive 4 originally asked to include Master Chief as a guest character, but feeling serious about the Halo series lore, Bungie said no - instead, the series could have an all-new Spartan instead.
Thus Nicole, Spartan 458, was born. Nicole comes with the moves you'd expect from the Chief, including sticky grenades and even a move called the Pillar of Autumn, but she is still a unique character in her own right that has been defined as existing in the Halo lore, even though her DOA exploits aren't technically canon. Given she's actually in a suit of armor, she also holds the honor of being the most battle-dressed female character in Dead or Alive history.
Alien, Predator and Al Dillon in Mortal Kombat 10
Mortal Kombat has been home to a lot of great cameo appearances - Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, Kratos and so on - but the ones that really stand out if you ask me are the sci-fi slasher icons Alien and Predator in the tenth entry. Pretty much all of the cameos developed by NetherRealm Studios are created in a really loving way that has a great eye for detail - but a few little things push MK10's Alien and Predator over the rest.
Part of it is actually down to the announcement and reveal. When Predator was confirmed, people assumed the Xenomorph from Alien had to be coming thanks to their history of facing off - but the announcement trailer was a fantastic troll all the same. MK series favorite Baraka was absent from MK10 (he's back on the MK11 roster), and the trailer opened in such a way that fans might've believed for a moment he was making a return... then a baby Xenomorph bursts from his chest. It's just great.
Then there's Al Dillon. The Predator pack also came with some alternative skins for other characters - and one turned metal-armed badass Jax into Colonel Al Dillon as played by Carl Weathers in Predator. This isn't just a skin - using it replaces Jax's voiceover work with new lines recorded by Weathers. You can even recreate the "You Son of a B***h" moment from Predator in the character select screen with certain match-ups. Amazing.
Link makes the GameCube version of SoulCalibur 2 the one to own
Like Mortal Kombat, the SoulCalibur series has made something of a name for itself via its guest characters. While including the Yoda and Darth Vader on this list seemed vital, if I'm limiting myself to just one game per series getting a shout out, that means the likes of Geralt and 2B in SoulCalibur 6 and, yes, Yoda and Vader, need to fall by the wayside. When we're talking about cameos, Link is the one that really seemed to matter at the time.
Each platform had its own exclusive for SoulCalibur 2. PS2 had Tekken's Heihachi, which makes sense. Xbox hilariously had Todd McFarlane's comic book character Spawn. Nintendo, of course, had Link. Link is a perfect fit for SoulCalibur, a fighting game built around use of melee weapons, but still his inclusion seemed insane. The Nintendo of those days didn't feel like the type that'd happily loan out its most beloved characters - but it did for SoulCalibur.
Despite the GameCube's far smaller userbase, that version of the excellent SoulCalibur 2 went on to become the best-selling - and it's likely all down to that green-clad lad on the cover, fresh from his appearance in Ocarina of Time, one of the greatest games ever.
Akuma joins the Tekken universe - and is actually canon
The thing about most of these character appearances is that they're irrelevant to the stories and worlds of the games in question. Japan's two biggest fighters crossed over in Street Fighter X Tekken, for instance, but neither impacted the ongoing stories or characters of either series. But then Tekken 7 happened.
The appearance of Street Fighter's Akuma in Tekken 7 makes a lot of sense from a development perspective. When Street Fighter X Tekken was announced, the expectation was that later we'd get a Namco-made Tekken X Street Fighter, a Tekken-style game that added Street Fighter characters. Development work was seemingly underway, but then the project was paused - and presumably the work already done helped to make Akuma work in Tekken 7, fireballs and all. He plays brilliantly and doesn't feel out of place at all - Akuma even works at a tournament level.
What's absolutely nuts is that Akuma is canon to the Tekken series - and is actually a key player in the life events of some of Tekken's most important leads. He has a significant presence in Tekken 7's story mode and has a major impact on events - and will forevermore be a part of the Tekken backstory.
That first time Akuma battered the X-Men
As we've just touched on, Street Fighter martial arts master and all around evil bastard Akuma has had a bunch of cameo appearances, even in his own series - but Akuma's most notable guest slot is such because it really helped to kick off a whole new series in its own right.
Akuma appears in X-Men: Children of the Atom, a Marvel fighter developed by Capcom. The game doesn't even bother to explain why Akuma is there, and at the time he wasn't even that famous - he'd only made his Street Fighter debut in Super Turbo earlier that same year. Everything about his inclusion feels like a bit of a last-minute joke on the part of the developers, like how his story endings are very basic - but there he is, playable.
Akuma's appearance might seem minor then, but the repercussions would be felt for years. Players loved his inclusion, and that led to the development and release of X-Men vs. Street Fighter - which in turn would spawn sequels with expanded scope, Marvel vs. Capcom. Those games would help inspire others like SNK vs Capcom and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. One silly little cameo led to all that - which is nuts, really.
That time a Daytona USA car learned martial arts
Look, I said I wasn't going to include any characters from games that are specifically based around cross-overs, but I have to make one last exception to shout out Hornet in Fighters Megamix, a Saturn title that allowed various heroes from a range of Sega fighting games to battle each other. There's a bunch of really stupid stuff in this game including a playable palm tree (no, really), but the best is the Hornet.
Hornet is a car - number 41 to be specific - from Daytona USA, Sega's arcade racer series most famous for its all-time great soundtrack. This car stands on its rear wheels and punches with its front wheels, contorting its bodywork to perform martial arts moves. This is a character and game that allows you to burn tyre rubber directly onto the face of one of Sonic the Hedgehog's friends. It looks stupid as anything, and it's brilliant.