Using digitized imagery in video games was a pretty big trend in the early ’90s. One of the more notable examples in the pre-Mortal Kombat era was Atari Games’ Pit-Fighter. That is, it was notable for its graphics featuring real actors, and pretty much nothing else.
Pit-Fighter is a an arena fighting game that shares more in common with SNK’s Street Smart or Technos’ Renegade than other more recognizable fighting games. Many people note that the game feels more like a beat’em-up, including three-player co-op and weapons you can pick up off the ground. As one of three playable characters, you fight your way through matches with different opponents until you beat the final boss. After every few levels there’s a bonus round where your object is to knock down your opponent (or the other players) three times. And that’s about it.
I’m not gonna beat around bush: the game is not very good. There’s no real skill or strategy involved. You simply mash buttons, and sometimes you hit your opponent and sometimes he/she hits you. It is the very definition of a quarter-muncher.
And yet, it’s also hilarious! The designs of the characters and their animations are so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine that they were meant to be serious. Their walking look like bad dancing. One guy looks like he’s wearing a diaper! (“Totally Studly,” indeed!) The whole thing is just so late-’80s kitsch that it’s hard not to find it amusing on some level.
Yeah, I admit I kinda like it. I’m not sure the term “guilty pleasure” really applies, but whenever I pop in the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 compilation, I usually have to play at least one game of Pit-Fighter. It’s just so goofy, I always get a good laugh from it. Well, for a minute or two, at least, and then I move on to a better game. I recall seeing it quite often in arcades back in the day, and similarly, it was interesting to drop a quarter into it for the novelty, but it just didn’t have any long-lasting appeal.
Maybe I’m grasping for things here, but I do actually like the attract mode with the images of the main characters training. That’s about the coolest part, and it didn’t cost anything to see it.
The game was ported to several home platforms, including the SNES, Genesis/Mega Drive and Game Boy, and all of them are considered even worse than the arcade version. It was also on a few compilations, like the aforementioned Midway Arcade Treasures 2. A sequel was planned for the Genesis, but it was never released. In 1992, there was sort of a spiritual follow-up in the arcade called Guardians of the Hood that was an actual beat’em-up, but it’s even more obscure.
Is it “so bad, it’s good?” Maybe. It’s not really a fun game, but it’s good for a few laughs. And then move on to something better.
Hardcore Gaming 101: Pre-Street Fighter II Fighting Games