Ultra Street Fighter II is out for the Nintendo Switch and it does what Capcom is perhaps best known for: repackaging Street Fighter II: The World Warrior yet again. This time, they’re making a big deal out of it by including Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. In essence, they’re reusing their sprites, recoloring them, and adding a few extra animations here and there.
Alternate fighting game characters make it easy for developers to fill up the roster. Sometimes they can be inspired concepts that build on what makes the characters interesting. Sometimes they can be the laziest attempts to add more fighters. Hell, maybe they’re both.
We’ve picked our top twenty altered fighting game characters. This is the criteria we used:
1) They have to have appeared as a fighter in at least one game alongside their “normal” version.
2) They have to be considered the same person. For instance, Prototype Jack from Tekken is essentially just a modified take on Jack, but he’s still a different entity. He doesn’t count. Similarly, Rasetsumaru from Samurai Shodown is just a recolored Haohmaru made to look evil, but he’s in no way related to him. He’s just a demon.
3) They have to play different from their normal version. The later Mortal Kombat games introduced revenant versions of dead characters and despite having different skins, they’re totally the same.
Akuma stands in the shadow of the Street Fighter universe as the ultimate wildcard badass. His devotion to the dark arts of his fighting style has put him on the border of human and demon. He’s ruthless and vicious, but with a sense of honor.
Then there’s Oni, the “what if” version of the character where he goes too far and hits his peak potential at the cost of what’s left of his humanity. Introduced in Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Oni not only plays differently from Akuma, but he also has completely molted off the classic look. He looks far more fearsome than his normal counterpart and adds more stakes as a hidden final boss.
Then again, Akuma is still a better design. Still nice that Oni gets callbacks once and a while despite being non-canon, and he’s a way cooler take on “Akuma but tougher!” than Shin Akuma.
Despite being so damn good, the Darkstalkers series quickly became increasingly lazy and repackaged. The two main sequels introduced a couple of new characters, but other than engine overhauls, things became stagnant.
The Japanese-only release of Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection featured a new character named Dee. At first glance, the idea of a new fighter should be celebrated, but not so fast. Dee is Donovan Bane, once an honorable protector of the disturbed girl Anita. As a dhampir (half-man/half-vampire), Donovan struggles with the darkness within and his ending in Nightwarriors: Darkstalkers 2 shows him saving Anita from her darkness, only to succumb to his own.
Dee is supposed to be what Donovan becomes. Sounds rad, but he’s also really just Donovan’s head put on Dimitri’s body. It’s not the worst mashup, but Capcom probably could have put some effort into this one.
18. ORDER SOL
The Guilty Gear games gave us Robo-Ky, a fun way to spin-off from Ky Kiske, one of the two main heroes, but what about the cooler, gruffer hero Sol Badguy? Eventually, they used time travel to bring in Sol’s past self from when he was working alongside Ky in the Holy Order, which, for those who don’t know Guilty Gear’s mythos, was a group of futuristic knights who fought what was pretty much the hybrid of SkyNet and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
With modern Sol being more of a loner outlaw, it’s kind of a trip to see him wearing a uniform and being slightly more civil. He even has a prototype version of his regular sword.
His in-game appearance is later revealed to be part of a plot by the rock ‘n’ roll witch I-no, who pits Order Sol and his normal self against each other, and then kills Order Sol. Despite time-travel logic, Sol Badguy is so rugged and hard to kill that he’s able to shrug off having his younger self killed. Sol has no time for your goddamn time paradox.
17. HOL HORSE WITH BOINGO/VOING
Capcom’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure has plenty of alternate characters, and while some hit, others like New Kakyoin (he has sunglasses!) don’t. The second version of Hol Horse not only works as a fun alternative, but it comes straight from the manga. As a hired gun, Hol Horse hates working alone because he always needs a fall guy to take the heat in case things don’t work out. His initial partner, the dangerous serial killer J. Gale, gets killed and Hol Horse sneaks off to fight another day.
And so, he once again goes after the heroes with a partner to fall back on. This time, it’s Voing (originally Boingo), a little boy with a comic book that predicts the future. In-game, Voing follows Hol around in a box like he’s Solid Snake. While Hol’s mirror-based attacks are gone due to the lack of J. Gale, he does now have the amazing grapple super where he holds up his opponent by the nostrils and an oncoming truck drives by and smashes into the victim.
Also funny is how if Hol Horse gets transformed into a child by Alessy, he’ll shove Voing out of the box, take his spot, and force the boy to fight in his place.
16. SERIOUS MR. KARATE
Takuma Sakazaki is one of my favorite SNK designs, and he rides the line between total joke and grizzled martial artist that you simply cannot fuck with. His Mr. Karate persona is an extension of that. Originally, it was a masked alter ego that allowed him to do horrible deeds for the mafia while remaining anonymous. Then it became a running gag in which he’d act like a “mysterious” doofus and annoy his family members.
In SNK vs. Capcom Chaos, Mr. Karate appears as Akuma’s rival, and while Akuma has Shin Akuma as his stronger form, Takuma becomes Honki ni Natta Mr. Karate, otherwise known as Serious Mr. Karate. No longer a joke, he shows his full potential and easily cuts through his challengers.
His ending is a nice little moment in which we see that such high-level activity has rendered his body a wreck, but his friend Lee notes that due to his can-do attitude, skill, and willpower, he probably has another four decades of ass-kicking left.
15. SLIM BOB
With Tekken 6, Namco unleashed Bob onto the world and I will always love them for it. The plus-sized bounty hunter has the unique story of being a dude who left the fighting circuit to find the answer to how to improve his fighting skill and rise to the next level. Said answer turned out to be, “Get really fat.”
Bob’s ending sees him become a huge success story, but then he pulls a reverse-Elvis. Success makes him lose weight and, in his eyes, this turns him into a shadow of himself.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 features Slim Bob as a playable character. His moveset remains mostly the same, and what he gains in speed, he loses in range. His attitude also takes a hit as he sulks over his skinniness. As a fat man, he reeks of confidence, but with a smaller frame, he can’t stop moping.
14. CORRUPTED SHINNOK
I’ve always thought that Shinnok is a lame villain. He sounds cool on paper, but he just doesn’t have any air of sinister big bad to him. The most intimidating version of the villain is his enraged final form from Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, but even that’s still pretty forgettable.
Then in Mortal Kombat X, we get to see Shinnok in his most powerful form by tapping into the story’s maguffin. No longer looking like a bored jester, he became pure nightmare fuel: an enormous demigod with devil horns and a body that looks like a thick exoskeleton cracked with glowing magma flowing underneath. THIS is what Shinnok should have been from the beginning.
God help you if you lose and he goes for his Fatality. It goes on forever and is straight-up viscerally horrifying. His winpose is no picnic either.
13. OROCHI SHERMIE
King of Fighters ’97 introduced the New Faces Team and with them came a neat twist. At first glance, they were just a band of young adults who were joining the tournament due to a stupid beef with Iori Yagami. Then, whoops, they turned out to be psychotic cultists bent on unleashing their god and destroying all of humanity.
Upon this reveal, the trio became more evil and more…dark magenta, with their animations and attacks getting a big shot in the arm. Of the three, Shermie’s change is the most jarring. She goes from a fun-loving teen girl chatting on her cell phone to a stoic lightning witch. Her attacks suddenly have more of an electric taste to them, including her grapples.
I wonder if her eyes look any different.
12. DEVIL KAZUYA
There are a couple Devil characters in Tekken lore, but who wore it best? Doesn’t take too long to figure that out. Jin Kazama whines about what he’s become, but his father Kazuya owns to it. Kazuya absolutely loves the fact that he can transform into a purple god with lasers.
Kazuya’s relationship with the Devil Gene is like Cletus Kasady and Carnage where you don’t know where one’s attitude ends and the other begins due to how well they fit together. He stays just as rotten as normal, but now he can fly and shoot projectiles. He’s so attune to it that, in Tekken Tag Tournament, a Kazuya/Devil team will tag by simply changing form.
11. CYBER AKUMA
X-Men vs. Street Fighter introduced Apocalypse as the final boss (sort of), and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter was lazy enough to just use him again. In short, Capcom needed a new hook. And so, upon defeating Apocalypse, you’d face Cyber Akuma.
First off, turning Akuma into a cyborg is such a delightful 1990s move that it’s charming in its dumbness. Second, even though the game has very little in terms of story, the implication is strong and later verified in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Cyber Akuma is what happens when Apocalypse takes Akuma under his wing and transforms him into his Horseman of Death. He’s essentially Archakuma.
Akuma’s become both a Horseman and a Herald. He really makes the most of those Marvel crossovers.
The first four King of Fighters games build up to a confrontation with the ancient god Orochi. Orochi, in his purest, reptilian form, cannot be killed. He can only be sealed away. Luckily for the heroes, Orochi never gets to show up in his true form. Instead, he possesses the body of Chris from the New Faces.
Chris, the annoying young boy who otherwise totally sucks.
Chris ends up having two transformations in King of Fighters ’97. He starts off as his smirking, positive self. Then he becomes the flame-wielding worshipper of a destructive god. Finally, he becomes the god himself in the big final boss fight the series spent years building up to.
So yeah. An invincible god is now a floating child in khakis, taking out three enemies at a time. At least he improved on Chris’ body and gave him some rocking abs.
9. EVIL RYU
Evil Ryu, or Ryu with Killing Intent, is the moment when the protagonist of Street Fighter finally had more going on than “dude is serious about fights.” Turns out that when he won the first Street Fighter game’s tournament, it wasn’t through pure skill, but because Ryu briefly became overwhelmed with the Dark Side of the Martial Arts Force for a moment and tore Sagat’s chest open in a fluke. Whoops!
Akuma really, really wants Ryu to lean into this persona, but Ryu would rather not be a power-drunk murderer with nothing else to live for. While Akuma appears to have a grasp on his senses, Evil Ryu is almost mindless at times and just stares at his fists like he’s tripping balls.
Interestingly enough, the very concept of Evil Ryu was created by Masahiko Nakahira for the Street Fighter Alpha manga. He didn’t show up in-game until Street Fighter Alpha 2.
8. CYBER SUB-ZERO
Back in the early days of the internet when we had web rings and hit counters across the horizon, there were a million Mortal Kombat sites with edited images. Lots of screenshots of four-armed, orange-clad, female ninjas doing Fatalities that fans came up with and the like. Since those days, fans have created mock-ups of cyber ninja sprites colored in blue and with ice powers. “Cyber Sub-Zero” was such a simple concept to play with.
It took over two decades, but after Raiden screwed up the timeline in Mortal Kombat 9, we finally got Cyber Sub-Zero. Yes, the same game gave us the human versions of Sektor and Cyrax, but their differences were nothing compared to Sub-Zero and his robotic counterpart. Dude has ice bombs and shit.
Then there’s his ending, which for some reason has zero narration. Shao Kahn’s ghost takes over Cyber Sub-Zero’s body and we get Cyber Sub-Kahn. If he were an actual in-game character, you bet your ass he’d be in the top three of this list!
7. SHADOW DIO
Dio Brando is an awesome and scary villain. When the heroes of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure finally fight him, we get to see the full extent of his power and realize how overwhelming he is. Powered by The World, he has excessive strength, speed, precision, and most importantly the ability to stop time for seven seconds. No wonder he has so many underlings. Who would want to fuck with a guy like that?
And he’s a vampire, too!
Truth is, as cool as Dio is, Shadow Dio represents the fear of the unknown. In the manga, before the final battle, Dio is depicted as calm, confident, eerie, and a little bored. His face is constantly shadowed out. We know he’s bad news, but we aren’t sure how outside of his ability to teleport.
In-game, Shadow Dio saunters around uncaring and with his face still darkened. There’s less emphasis on The World and more on his expert skill at throwing multiple knives at once. He’s more fun to play as and feels so much more sinister.
6. RIOT OF THE BLOOD IORI YAGAMI AND LEONA HEIDERN
Going to lump these two together.
In Iori Yagami’s second appearance as the rival antihero guy in King of Fighters, his connection to the evil force behind the plot causes him to lose control and mindlessly murder his partners. Sure, Iori is a jerk, but he isn’t the kind to needlessly slash up his allies.
This ending cliffhanger not only kills off Vice and Mature, but it sets the stage for King of Fighters ‘97’s mid-boss battle. Iori – who doesn’t even have a team because he’s attacked his previous teammates in earlier tournaments – goes into a bloody coughing fit and turns into a mindless, hunched over, smoke-out-the-mouth killing machine.
And if you have Iori on your edited team? Well, then you’ll have to contend with Leona, whose hair will turn red as she also goes full-on 28 Days Later.
Not only do they make for fun boss fights, but they also help expand on the characters themselves and the overarching storyline of the first few King of Fighters games.
5. BLACK POLNAREFF
When the heroes from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure go up against the sword Anubis, they end up facing three threats – which hold spots on the game’s character select screen. Not only does Anubis possess anyone who picks it up, but it also learns to adapt to any attack. Polnareff is able to defeat Anubis-wielders Chaca and Kan by the skin of his teeth.
Then he ends up picking up the sword himself. The moron.
Black Polnareff is such a badass design. The sword is broken in half, but Polnareff merges his sword-using Stand the Silver Chariot with the Anubis blade itself. His moveset is like a best of both worlds situation and easily makes him one of the most enjoyable characters to use.
4. NOOB SAIBOT
The all-black ninja was the hardest-to-find opponent in Mortal Kombat II, and it was a while before Midway even gave him the most basic of backstories. All we knew was that he worked for Shinnok as his herald. Though…strangely enough, Noob Saibot didn’t appear in the prequel Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, where Shinnok was the main villain. Hell, he wasn’t even referenced.
There was a good reason for this. As revealed eleven years after Noob’s first appearance, Noob Saibot is the original Sub-Zero reborn, much like how Scorpion died and came back as an undead monstrosity. It just so happens that the two of them worked for the same bad guy without knowing it.
It’s great because the two Sub-Zeros fight exactly the same, but the first Sub-Zero’s alter ego is a totally different animal. Noob has more of an identity than simply “like the current one but not as good.”
3. MECH ZANGIEF
Being the resident strong guy is great until you’re outclassed. Just ask Ben Grimm or Colossus. Outside of maybe Hugo, Zangief is the brutest force in the Street Fighter world, but that doesn’t mean much when he’s crossing over with the likes of Juggernaut and the Hulk. Yeah, he’s a mighty grappler, but he’s in over his head against these giants.
Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter introduced a new take on Zangief that not only made him feel like a rival to Marvel’s heavy hitters, but made for an interesting novelty. As Mech Zangief, the chrome-skinned wrestler is now practically unstoppable. He can barely jump, but he also powers through damage without falling back and rarely falling down. His super armor comes in exchange for his inability to block.
He also has the power to spit blue flame like a total boss. In later Marvel games, Zangief could change into his Mech form at will…as long as there’s a stock on the super bar to spare.
It didn’t take too long for the Soul series to fall off a cliff in terms of story, since the evil Soul Edge sword is too important to remove on a narrative level but the plot is constantly about heroes trying to destroy it anyway. It just keeps showing up, barely hindered, over and over again while the story repeats. Kind of like why the Nightmare on Elm Street movies kept getting dumber.
But man, those first couple of games were red hot. Soul Edge/Soul Blade introduced Siegfried, a knight with a bigass sword who acts like he’s a heroic figure out to kill an evil entity, but is really on a mission to cover up his repressed memory of killing his father. He’s already a broken dude, but on some level he means well.
At the end of the first game, he gets his hand on the Soul Edge and it immediatel transforms him into a merciless knight obsessed with endless death. As Nightmare, he becomes a living extension of Soul Edge’s will and suddenly looks sweet as hell.
Siegfried later escaped the sword’s influence and accept his horrors, ultimately walking the path of redemption. Nightmare assumed its own form and the two became obsessed with destroying each other.
1. GOD RUGAL/ULTIMATE RUGAL
When they make a fighting game based on a crossover, you’ll occasionally get a hybrid boss. Shao Kahn and Darkseid merged into Dark Kahn. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite features the being Ultron Sigma. Neither of those amalgams matches God Rugal’s level.
Despite being cheap as all get-out, Rugal Bernstein is one of the best boss characters in fighting games. Then Capcom went and put him in their Capcom vs. SNK games and made his design even more stylish and suave. In Capcom vs. SNK 2, they hit another level by making Rugal the rival of Akuma. If you play through arcade mode well enough, you get to see a cutscene of Rugal and Akuma about to throwdown.
If Rugal wins, he dangles Akuma’s dead body over his head and absorbs his energy. Rugal goes full-on Mega Man as the ultimate Capcom/SNK end boss. Unlike guys like Ryu and Sakura, Rugal assimilating Akuma’s trademarks feels crazier because power aside, they’re very, very different flavors.
Not only does he have a Raging Demon (complete with proud flexing instead of standing with his back to the player) and the dashing teleport (with arms crossed), but upon winning the last round, he tears his shirt off to reveal the Akuma glowing Ten symbol tattooed onto his chest.
Gavin Jasper refused to put Ogre on the list because of his dedicated belief that the Ancient form is way cooler than his True form. Follow Gavin on Twitter!