One of the things that really separates fighting games from many other genres is how, balance issues aside, there’s a sense of equality. Every character is as viable as the rest, no matter what his or her place in the story is supposed to be. Yes, the main hero can defeat the evil, unbeatable god beast, but the inept henchman villain is just as capable and we can choose-your-own-adventure our way into that scenario by playing the game.
It adds a real charm when they introduce a guest character into the fold, a practice that’s become increasingly popular over the past several years. They can’t just make it a quick cameo and be done with it. When a guest character is thrown into a fighting game, they’re part of the crowd. They’re designed to be about as important, capable, and fully-formed as everyone else.
To celebrate this trope, here’s a look at the twenty-five best guest fighters. The punching and kicking marketing stunts and Easter eggs that acclimate themselves into various fighting games for the sake of giving us some interesting crossover battles.
25. LEATHERFACE IN MORTAL KOMBAT X
The last couple Mortal Kombat games have really overdone it on the guest fighter gimmick, so I feel like I need to grade them on a curve. Mortal Kombat X’s first guest character was Jason Voorhees, and while he seemed to fit the atmosphere and game engine, it felt like something was missing. It wasn’t until Leatherface showed up that I figured it out: Jason wasn’t creative or sadistic enough for this game.
Oh, sure, Jason has killed into the triple digits, and he would’ve been at home in the earlier games, but the guy is mostly pretty basic as a murderer. Outside of the occasional sleeping bag beating or punching a fatigued boxer’s head into the sky, Jason just relies on stabbing, slicing, and head-crushing. It’s an old hat.
Leatherface may not be an unstoppable zombie, but when he goes to town with his chainsaws, hooks, and hammer, he really goes to town! His Brutality with the hammer is one of the nastiest things in that game because he just doesn’t stop!
Not to mention how dark and freaky his arcade mode ending is.
24. FIO IN KING OF FIGHTERS: MAXIMUM IMPACT 2
Being considered a guest character in a King of Fighters game is hard because the game itself was originally built as, “Let’s toss a bunch of SNK characters into a fighting game and give it its own continuity.” Then again, the most recent installment King of Fighters XIV has a team made up of characters from franchises that don’t exactly fit in with the King of Fighters world.
Fiolina Germi from the endlessly-fun Metal Slug series has shown up in the main King of Fighters games a couple times as a special assist. Then in the 3D-style Maximum Impact 2 (otherwise known as King of Fighters 2006), she shows up as a hidden character, on a special assignment after being forced to work with King of Fighters’ Nick Fury knockoff, Commander Heidern.
Despite her prim and nerdy appearance, she ends up being completely over-the-top as a military badass by bringing grenades and machine guns into a martial arts tournament.
23. ANITA IN MARVEL SUPER HEROES
Anita, an emotionless girl clutching a headless doll, is from the Darkstalkers series. She is not, in fact, a playable character in those games and instead acts as a companion to monster hunter Donovan Bane. Though she was playable in Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo.
In the Japanese version of Marvel Super Heroes, a loose adaptation of the Infinity Gauntlet story, Anita was inexplicably included as a hidden character. Probably because she was really easy for Capcom to program, as she didn’t have much animation to play with. She was armed with Donovan’s levitating sword and could summon fellow unplayable Darkstalkers character Lin-Lin as well as Akuma.
Not that Akuma actually did anything. He’d just stand there. The whole thing is weird.
22. BIG DADDY IN PLAYSTATION ALL-STARS BATTLE ROYALE
Nintendo had their big hit with Super Smash Bros. and Sony figured they’d try doing the same kind of game. While they certainly had a collection of homegrown heroes and villains, in order to round out an impressive roster, they needed to reach outward to bring in some third party fighters.
The coolest choice was Big Daddy, the loyal juggernaut of the BioShock series. Driven by his blind loyalty to his totally bratty Little Sister, “Mr. Bubbles” stomps into a patchwork battlefield filled with cartoon dog rappers, flame-headed clowns, and electric vigilantes. Before facing the final boss, he ends up taking on his rival Sackboy, who drives Big Daddy into a furious frenzy by stealing the attention of the Little Sister.
21. HEIHACHI MISHIMA IN SOULCALIBUR II
When SoulCalibur II hit consoles, they annoyingly went with exclusive fighters for each system. GameCube got Link, Xbox got Spawn, and PlayStation 2 got Heihachi Mishima. At first glance, PlayStation 2 got the short end of the stick because there was nothing all too crazy about featuring a Tekken character in Soulcalibur. I mean, for one, they had already put Yoshimitsu’s ancestor/predecessor/namesake in there as a recurring character. Plus of the three, he has the least name recognition.
But then you have to remember that Spawn is actually kind of awful and it wasn’t the 1990s anymore, so who gives a shit?
After that, remind yourself that Heihachi is always a ton of fun to play in Tekken, and there’s something especially badass about his time-travel adventures. In a world of non-stop swordplay, you have an unarmed senior citizen blocking giant demon eyeball blades with just his wrist and power. Heihachi doesn’t mess around.
20. BAYONETTA IN SUPER SMASH BROS.
Like Mortal Kombat, Smash has become a series overflowing with guest characters. The last game started off with the likes of Pac-Man, Mega Man, and Sonic, only to get DLC inclusions such as Cloud, Ryu, and Bayonetta. While certainly helped by fan outcry, Bayonetta showing up was a serious, “Haha, really?” moment for me.
Nothing against her games. It’s just that she’s such a bizarre tonal mismatch for a Nintendo free-for-all. She’s an over-sexualized heroine who dresses herself by cramming her own hair up her butt and gets more naked the harder she attacks. Plus her dialogue is 50% sexual innuendo and it is really awkward to hear her playfully accuse Pit of ejaculating too early.
If anything, Bayonetta deserves her spot on the list for nearly breaking the internet in her announcement trailer the moment everyone saw the image of Kirby after absorbing her abilities. I’ve never seen such a rush of fan art.
19. LINK IN SOULCALIBUR II
Of the three console-exclusive guest characters in SoulCalibur II, Link was easily the one who felt the most special. Being a swashbuckler in a medieval-esque setting allowed him to fit in, but he still felt like kind of a big deal, like the time he got his own special episode of Captain N.
Link was well-incorporated into the world of swords and souls eternally retold, using his various weapons and speaking in his iconic grunts from Ocarina of Time. He doesn’t actually say anything coherent in the game, but I’ve always liked how his victory poses would be accompanied by his “found an item” jingle.
18. SCORPION IN INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
There was little surprise in Scorpion being the fourth DLC character in Injustice, what with the previous Mortal Kombat/DC crossover. Scorpion showed up with a little extra kick thanks to being redesigned by DC honcho Jim Lee. Otherwise, he fit in just fine and even has his first ever non-X-ray super attack where he brings his opponents down to Hell and throws them around like ragdolls.
The sweetest thing to come out of this crossover is his clash/wager dialogue. The best ones that come to mind are against Batman and Superman.
Scorpion: You are no Sub-Zero.Batman: I’m Batman…
Superman: For truth and justice!Scorpion: THERE IS NO JUSTICE!
17. DARTH VADER IN SOULCALIBUR IV
SoulCalibur IV featured a handful of guest characters, and while many of them were forgettable anime ladies created specifically for the game, the big news was the inclusion of Star Wars characters Darth Vader, Yoda, and the newcomer Apprentice. Yoda was a bit of a letdown due to his size, and there’s something simply wrong about hearing Yoda’s death cry.
Darth Vader, on the other hand, fit in just right. Drawn into the SoulCalibur IV atmosphere through a portal in space, Vader’s stiff swordsmanship and telekinesis served him well in the game’s engine. Not to mention the ending image of him dual-wielding the Soul Edge and Soulcalibur is badass as hell.
Vader’s guest appearance in the SoulCalibur series also helped me figure out what year Force Awakens takes place, so there’s that.
16. KARNOV IN FIGHTER’S HISTORY
Does it count as a guest appearance if the character is there from the beginning? Arguably not, but the way they kept Karnov’s presence a secret in the marketing makes me want to count him. That, and I just want to talk about Karnov.
Karnov was the star of the self-titled Data East platformer about a shirtless man fighting mythological foes to uncover treasure. He sort of looked like a porn parody version of Wario. While the game was mediocre and never got a sequel, Data East made him something of a mascot and had him show up now and then in other games.
Fighter’s History was a fighting game so blatantly similar to Street Fighter II that Capcom actually tried to sue them. The story was about a fighting tournament put together by a mysterious warrior known only as “K.” Big shock, it turned out to be Karnov.
One odd thing that sticks out in all of this is Karnov’s design. In Fighter’s History, Karnov is depicted as a short man who is completely jacked. Then they made Karnov’s Revenge, otherwise known as Fighter’s History Dynamite, which was basically an upgrade, adding two characters while making Karnov and fellow boss character Clown playable. For whatever reason, they decided to completely redesign Karnov from the ground up, this time making him incredibly fat while giving him a big appendix scar across his gut.
15. BOX ART MEGA MAN IN STREET FIGHTER X TEKKEN
Haha, Capcom, you assholes.
On one hand, it’s incredibly frustrating to see Capcom disrespect the Mega Man franchise. For the past years, not only have they been cancelling his games, but they also made sure not to put him in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, instead lampshading it with an Easter egg background appearance.
Mega Man finally got to show up in a new fighting game, but not in a way fans expected. Street Fighter X Tekken featured Mega Man, only it was the infamous version from the Mega Man 1 NES box art. The one everyone makes fun of. Rather than the Astro Boy knockoff we all know and love, this guy was a fat dude in a silly costume with a laser gun and a tendency to look like a total fool.
14. EARTHWORM JIM IN CLAYFIGHTER 63 1/3
ClayFighter’s jump to Nintendo 64 was an ambitious project that crumbled and failed under its own weight. That’s a story for another day.
While the game brought back classic fighters from the 16-bit days and introduced a few new guys, it also brought in fellow Interplay game characters Boogerman and Earthworm Jim. Jim brought a good dose of personality into his appearance, such as his pre-fight intro that reenacts his origin, his Claytality where he crushes his opponent with a falling cow, and the fact that he’s voiced by Dan Castellaneta.
Yes, the man who voiced Jim on the awesome Saturday morning cartoon from yesteryear reprised the role for this slop. He also supplied the voice for Boogerman, which was really just reusing the voice of Barney from The Simpsons. Hey, it worked.
13. SAKURA IN RIVAL SCHOOLS: UNITED BY FATE
Outside of the crazy Capcom catch-all video games that feature all their properties (e.g. having Arthur and Mega Man coexist in Marvel vs. Capcom 3), Capcom has the Street Fighter universe and its own expanded continuity. The game is linked to Final Fight, Saturday Night Slam Masters, and the short-lived fighter Rival Schools, which focused on a bunch of warring high school students dealing with a mind-control plot playing them against each other.
Street Fighter also had a pretty prominent Japanese high school character in Sakura and it simply made all the sense to include her. As a time-release character, Sakura had no story mode stuff outside of her ending, but they still made it apparent that she was strongly connected to this part of the Street Fighter universe and I always thought that was pretty neat.
12. THE APPRENTICE IN SOULCALIBUR IV
There were three Star Wars characters in SoulCalibur IV, and they each represented a different part of the mythos. Darth Vader was the Original Trilogy, flippy Yoda with a lightsaber was the Prequel Trilogy, and Apprentice (otherwise known as Starkiller or Galen Marek) was the Expanded Universe. Having a less-strict character design allowed the Apprentice some freedom to really cut loose as a Force-based swordsman in the SoulCalibur world.
As the game was meant to hype up the then-upcoming Force Unleashed, Apprentice was well-designed for the task, adding a unique style of lightsaber-wielding while showing off some snazzy lightning attacks. While that put him at an advantage over Vader, his rookie status meant that he could only do so many Force attacks before getting a headache and taking a second to regain himself.
11. RASH IN KILLER INSTINCT
“These cameos are killing me!”
Battletoads and Killer Instinct are not only linked by developer Rare, but also for going way too long under radio silence. Killer Instinct‘s output stopped in the Nintendo 64 era and Battletoads ended even before that. You can read more about that here.
Around the time when Rare was reintroducing Battletoads via their collection Rare Replay, they announced Rash as the face of Killer Instinct‘s third season of DLC content. Not only did the modern graphics update Rash into something insane and in-your-face, but they were able to fit in so much out-of-control personality and nostalgia into his behavior, making him seem like Michelangelo after snorting three lines of coke. He retained his body morphing, thrust-dancing, and use of his speeder and entrance rope.
To hit the “underused Rare franchises” trifecta, Rash also came with a skin where he dressed up as Conker the Squirrel.
10. ZERO GOUKI IN CYBERBOTS: FULL METAL MADNESS
Cyberbots is a lesser-known fighting game from the 90s, mostly remembered for giving us Jin Saotome in the Marvel vs. Capcom games. Taking place in the future, instead of having the characters fight it out themselves, they pilot giant mechs.
The Japanese Saturn version had a difficult-to-unlock mech called Zero Gouki. In layman’s terms, it’s a giant, robot Akuma. WHY did they make a giant robot Akuma? I can’t say for certain, but he’s awesome in action, and he looks sweet as hell.
If only they had a giant Dan Hibiki made of rusted metal and duct tape.
9. FREDDY KRUEGER IN MORTAL KOMBAT 9
Mortal Kombat 9 was an apology letter for everything that came after Mortal Kombat Trilogy, especially the series’ roster. While the game’s initial roster had nearly everyone from the first three games, the DLC needed an extra serving of whipped cream to garner interest. They had returning characters Kenshi and Rain, as well as false-rumor-turned-reality Skarlet, but nobody else from the post-Trilogy games would really set the world on fire.
Then they revealed Freddy Krueger and the surprise made everyone quietly nodding their heads in agreement. Not only did Freddy’s inclusion get actual TV commercials to promote it, but it made all the money in the world, setting up the sequel to feature four more horror icons.
Freddy was worked into the story incredibly well and didn’t seem too much like a sore thumb with his reality-bending brutality. His ending was on point, too, reminding us that the heroes in the Mortal Kombat universe are totally dumb to a hilarious degree.
8. MICHAEL JACKSON IN READY 2 RUMBLE BOXING: ROUND 2
Remember Ready 2 Rumble? It was like people realized that it had been too long since a Punch Out game and we needed something to make due. What we got were a couple of average games with their hearts in the right place.
The second game got outright wacky, what with Michael Buffer getting Hulked out and turning into the final boss Rumble Man, while featuring unofficial appearances by Bill and Hillary Clinton as unlockable characters. Then there’s the official inclusions of Shaq and Michael Jackson as boxers.
Shaq didn’t bring much to the table, but they went ham when it came to Jacko. Not only did he have a ton of dance moves – including his Moonwalk and that thing where he defies gravity by leaning forward too much – but they also supplied him with a single, rhinestone-studded, white boxing glove.
7. ALIEN IN MORTAL KOMBAT X
When Predator was included as DLC for Mortal Kombat X, the writing was on the wall. They kind of had to include the Alien Xenomorph. As cool as it was to see the intergalactic rivalry return, they needed something a little extra. As neat as the Alien’s design is, there just wasn’t enough novelty to it, especially with a personality that goes no farther than “screeches at stuff.”
At the same time, there were some fans who felt that they needed Baraka back in the game, even if his spark had dimmed over the years. Outside of the nostalgia and the badass Wolverine blades, he just didn’t stand out among the rest of the cast.
And so, the announcement trailer made it look like Baraka was going to make his comeback, only for him to cough up blood and have a baby Alien pop out his chest. The end of the clip revealed the not only was the Alien in the game, but it was an Alien after copying the genetics of a Tarkatan. In other words, an Alien with goddamn Baraka claws!
It was like fitting two puzzle pieces into something remarkable.
6. SOLID SNAKE IN SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL
Metal Gear Solid has never been my scene, but the surprise announcement of Snake in Brawl was brilliant. At the end of a trailer that showed off a bunch of new characters, like Zero Suit Samus and Wario, it suddenly cut to Campbell telling Snake via codec that he was invited into the game. Rather than be surprised, Snake revealed himself to be doing recon, watching Mario, Kirby, and Link fight it out while hiding under a cardboard box. Finally, he shed the box and yelled, “It’s show time!” to dramatic music.
That pales in comparison to the game’s most amazing Easter egg. When using Snake in the Shadow Moses stage and doing one of his taunts, he has a conversation with one of his supporting characters about his opponent. About a half hour of dialogue was recorded for this bit. If Snake were to get eliminated during one of these conversations, his ally would yell, “Snake? Snake?! SNAAAAKE!”
To make it even better, doing this against Falco leads to a codec conversation between Snake and Slippy Toad. Yes, even Slippy has his own horrified reaction to Snake losing mid-fight.
5. RYO SAKAZAKI IN FATAL FURY SPECIAL
Ryo showing up in Fatal Fury Special is not only the first real fighting game crossover from a company that’s so damn incestuous with its properties, but it’s also the first instance of a guest fighter in general.
Outside of King of Fighters’ separate continuity, Ryo’s Art of Fighting game was supposed to take place about twenty years before Fatal Fury. The connection was initially made by the SNES version of Art of Fighting’s ending where Ryo’s father, Takuma, shamefully admitted to killing Jeffrey Bogard (father of Fatal Fury’s main heroes Terry and Andy) under the orders of Fatal Fury villain Geese Howard.
Fatal Fury 2 was upgraded into Fatal Fury Special and Ryo was added as a hidden boss character, predating Akuma in Street Fighter. By playing through the game without losing a round, Ryo would appear as a special opponent after final boss Wolfgang Krauser. There was no story reason and he didn’t look any older. It was just a cool gimmick to have the hero from the other big SNK fighter show up and take on the Fatal Fury crew.
Also, by beating him, you’d be treated to a graphic of the Fatal Fury cast surrounding a weeping Ryo.
4. THE BAZ IN DIVEKICK
Lot of backstory on this one.
When Capcom was making Street Fighter II, there were plenty of character concepts that didn’t make the cut. One such character, shown only with a concept sketch, was a rope-wielding biker dude with a resemblance to wrestler Road Warrior Animal. His shirt had “ZUBAZ” on it, which made a little bit of sense as Animal was one of the co-creators of those pants in real life.
The YouTube series Fighterpedia (a spinoff of Best Friends Play) started off with an episode about rejected Street Fighter characters, introducing the world to the man they would refer to as “Zubaz.” Said character would then appear in just about every episode for the rest of the series and even when they stopped making episodes, his legend continued to live on.
Due to a lot of excessive crowdfunding donations from the Best Friends Play crew, The Baz has shown up in a handful of video games, including Shovel Knight, altered just enough that Capcom wouldn’t send them a cease-and-desist for this obscure footnote.
A more perfect home for The Baz was Divekick, a very unique and fun parody of fighting games and the fighting game community. In the game, every character can only attack with a series of divekicks and each round ends in one hit. Among the many parody characters in the game (based on fighting game characters or people involved in the industry), The Baz swings around on his rope, excited to finally find a fighting tournament that will allow him entry.
3. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG IN SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL
The great, long war had finally come to an end. Although the console war became bigger than these two companies, Nintendo survived while Sega did not. Sega continued making games, which meant dealing with Nintendo. Finally, we got the long-awaited Mario/Sonic clash…with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.
Listen, guys, it’s the thought that counts, but we didn’t wait a decade and a half to see Mario and Sonic figure out their differences through table tennis and kayaks. We want BLOOD! Figurative blood, at least. It’s still Nintendo.
When Sonic was announced for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, there was much rejoicing. Especially since the previous game, Melee, had given us that Electronics Gaming Monthly April Fools’ prank about Sonic’s inclusion in the roster.
Sonic felt at home in Brawl, whether it was punching Mario in the face or working alongside him against whatever that whole villain situation was about in the story mode.
2. AL DILLON IN MORTAL KOMBAT X
Predator was in Mortal Kombat X and they did a great job with him. He was 100% movie accurate in attacks and aesthetic, plus had Bo’ Rai Cho respond to his appearance with, “You one ugly motherfucker.” All good, but he was overshadowed by what came with him. By downloading Predator, you also got three extra character skins. One was Johnny Cage dressed as a commando. One was Scorpion in infrared Predator-vision colors. The other was Carl Weathers Jax.
By using the skin, Jax would become Colonel Al Dillon, Carl Weathers’ ill-fated character from Predator. While given Jax’s metal arms and weapons, the model was not only made to look like Weathers, but they even got him to re-record every bit of pre-fight dialogue for Jax. It’s completely inspired.
The best thing about it is that when you do a Versus match between Carl Weathers Jax and Commando Johnny Cage, rather than walk away from each other prior to the fight, Cage says, “You son of a bitch!” before they reenact the manliest handshake in cinema history.
1. AKUMA IN X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM
It had to be this one.
In early 1994, Super Street Fighter II Turbo introduced Akuma as a hidden boss and unlockable badass. Later that year, Capcom created their first Marvel fighting game with X-Men: Children of the Atom. While the game featured six X-Men, four playable villains, and two unplayable villain bosses, it also had Akuma.
There was no explanation. There was no story. In fact, the only characteristics Akuma had at the time were “looks like Ryu but is impossible and wants to beat you up.” Even his ending was just a very quick image of him lifting his knee while confronting Magneto and his Acolytes, like he was going to kill all of them with a Raging Demon attack. Then it turned into a special credits sequence showing all of his opponents in dizzy animations, a reference to Akuma’s enigmatic Super Street Fighter II Turbo ending.
Akuma showing up in X-Men, while nonsensical, was also revolutionary and pretty important. It led to Anita showing up in Marvel Super Heroes and continued into the creation of X-Men vs. Street Fighter. That ultimately led to the ever-popular Marvel vs. Capcom and its sequels. Similarly, Akuma is in the updated version of Tekken 7, where he’s treated as an actual important character in the series’ lore. It’s like he’s the patron saint of crossovers.
I still have my fingers crossed for a Mortal Kombat appearance one day.
Gavin Jasper feels that Ash Williams should be a guest fighter in pretty much every franchise. Follow Gavin on Twitter!
This article was first published on May 11, 2016.