Time to clean things up a bit
There's pixel art, and then there's pixel art. You might not realise it--understandable given how they're never the player's main focus--but fighting game backgrounds comprise some of the most impressive, most technically accomplished, and flat-out most artistically imaginative work in all of games. But no-one ever gets to appreciate how good they are, because of all the HUD gauges, health bars and actual fighting going on in front of them.
That's the ironic thing. A lot of this stuff is good enough to work as visual art entirely on its own, but the very nature of its existence means that that potential is always buried. Well no more. I've collated a gallery of some of my favourite fighting game background art, completely free of clutter, so click through, take your time over each one, and get a real look and feel for these places for the first time. And for the love of all that's scared and holy, please click on the 'expand' icon in the top-right of each image for the full-screen versions.
Marvel Super Heroes - Shuma Gorath
Because apocalyptic, skull-strewn wastelands can be picturesque too.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift - Halloween
Creepy, yet cozy, and altogether, er, rosey? Look, I know they look more like poppies, but I had a contrived Addams Family gag to squeeze in. And I did. So move on.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift - Rest Time Orient Town
Admit it. Wherever you live, Orient Town looks cooler.
Darkstalkers - Bishamon
Being on Bishamon's stage is like inhabiting the warmest, most festive Christmas card ever drawn. And then beating monsters' heads in on it.
Darkstalkers - Fetus of God
You think that's nightmarishly vile, just wait 'til you see it move.
Darkstalkers 2 - Red Thirst
"Red desert at night, camel's delight. Until the moon crushes everyone, because they were all too occupied with how pretty it was to notice the impending danger."
Darkstalkers 2 - Vanity Paradise
Seven slides in and I'm already losing my ability to write amusing captions. Look, I've got 27 of these to do. But anyway, isn't this one lovely?
Darkstalkers 2 - War Agony
We have found what war is good for.
Guilty Gear X - Grove
The municipal park of MC Escher's outdoor survivalist cheese-dreams.
Guilty Gear X - Hell
The municipal planning meeting of Hieronymus Bosch's k-holes.
Guilty Gear XX - Frasco
This probably took longer to design than the rest of the game. And Guilty Gear is a Hell of a deep game.
Guilty Gear XX - London
I was in the real London twice last week. This is far better than the real London. Far, far better. Real London, look upon this in shame. Think about what you could be if you made the effort.
King of Fighters '99 - Osaka
I presume there's a Japanese journalist making similar comparisons to the real Osaka right now. But alas, I can't do that myself. I have not been to the real Osaka.
King of Fighters '99 - Rainy Park
You have to see this animated. You just have to see this animated. You won't be able to die happy until you have.
King of Fighters XIII - London
I'm usually against stereotypical foreign representations of the UK in video games. But this one is so deliriously overloaded with sugar-rushing, cartoon Britishness that it gets a free pass. Also, it is better than the real London.
Marvel vs. Capcom - Moon Base
A spokesperson for NASA said, "This is the one thing we didn't want to happen."
Street Fighter Alpha 2 - Hong Kong Back-Alley
Never has wretched urban decay been so damn beautiful.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 - Metro City
Oh Mike Haggar. Always consigned to the background in Street Fighter games. It's the same in this year's Ultra Street Fighter IV. Guy and Cody are already in the roster. Get of your pampered local-government arse in gear and join them.
Street Fighter II - Dhalsim
You're hearing the sound of roaring elephants right now, aren't you? Don't worry, I am too.
Street Fighter II - Ryu
Moody and enigmatic as it is, the design of Ryu's stage has always confused me. Just why is this the only house with a flat roof? It couldn't have been designed just for fighting, could it?
Street Fighter II - Sagat
However many times I've fought on this stage, I've never noticed how disapprovingly the Buddha seems to be looking down upon the fight. Makes sense though, I suppose.
Street Fighter III: New Generation - Sean
I'm going to get this one blown up and put on my wall. I'm not even joking.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike - Akuma
Gloomily ethereal, black-skied woodland setting? Ominous. Gloomily ethereal, black-skied woodland setting with subliminally oppressive fisheye-lens effect? You are definitely going to die.
The Last Blade - Kaede
Again, you need to see this one animated
The Last Blade 2 - Large Fire at Wadamoya
This one too.
The Last Blade 2 - Cloudy Battlefield
War. It is also good for this.
X-Men vs. Street Fighter - The Temple of Fists
This Buddha looks a lot happier. Presumably because it's snowed. The deer look pretty cool with it too. Everyone's happier in the snow. Even people getting punched in the face.
Of course not. This is just the tip of what's out there. As follow-up ogling, I'd implore you to check out Slateman.net, for a look at some lovely re-creations of some of the best backgrounds in the business (a far trickier process than you think, when you take parallax art into account). And definitely look at RudeBootie's glorious, 125-slide gallery of fully-animated fighting art GIFs. This feature wouldn't have been possible without either of those sources.