With Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds almost upon us and sporting some of the coolest, most fan-pleasing backgrounds ever seen in a fighting game, it's high time we came up with the definitive list of the Top 7 fighting game backgrounds. After all, we know you spend ages deciding where to fight, even though it rarely affects the gameplay in any way. It's OK, we do it too. So let's get started with round 1, shall we? FIGHT!
7) Venice: Soul Calibur
The criteria for this list is more than just best-looking. But that's certainly the reason Venice is kicking us off. It's as beautiful as a cold beer on a hot day and just as wet. The sun is low in the hazy sky, the majestic stone pillars are reflected in the azure waters and the shadows are long under the fighters' gleaming blades. It's head and shoulders above most fighting backdrops, even though it's over a decade old now.
Above: The super-clean XBLA version doesn't do it many favours, but it still looks the business in standard def
You can see why Venice is seen as a city of romance - we're all in love with this. But don't think it's just a pretty skin - that water is there for dunking your opponent, which was still a relatively new feature for fighting games in 1999. Better still, once the fight is over the invisible wall that prevents you accidentally stepping off the edge is disabled, allowing you to deliberately give yourself a nice cooling bath after every bout. Hey - there's nothing wrong with making your own fun, right?
Above: Aaand in he goes! Who'd have thought a girl in a skimpy dress could best an armoured knight?
In fact, so good was this background, I'm convinced it's one of the biggest reasons Namco chose not to support widescreen in the XBLA version, sticking instead with huge black borders on the left and right of the screen. With Soul Calibur IV just around the corner at the time, there would have been no need to buy the new game. This is good enough for any generation of console.
Biggest mid-fight distraction
The lens flare? The magnificent architecture? Come on, you're looking at Seung Mina's pants, aren't you? Sheesh...
Above: Incidentally, why did Namco make Seung Mina so ugly in subsequent games? Boo!
Other noteworthy stages in Soul Calibur
Cervantes' Spanish stage with the galleon in the background and the shadows that are light sourced to the glow of the setting sun is rather special, as is the final fight in the void with Inferno. Oh, and Ostrheinsburg Castle or Taki's Hoko Temple stage with the huge statue (both pictured). Or the water/fire-filled Kunpaetku Shrine with the massive serpent. Pretty much every single stage in the game is dripping with detail and a very rare kind of videogame magic.
Above: This is why no-one writes about Soul Calibur 1 these days. They just start playing it again instead
6) Gun Hill Garage: Def Jam: Fight for NY
The whole Fight Club idea of underground fighting is perfect for videogames. But why have such gentlemanly rules? 'Only two guys to a fight?' Naff off! (That's gangsta speak, for 'get out of town', by the way). In the Gun Hill Garage stage, the onlookers are the ring boundary, which shakes things up nicely.
Above: Those bystanders will hold onto you if you get too close. It's brilliant... if it's not happening to you
They'll hand you weapons, hold onto your sparring partner (er... this is only sparring, right fellas?) and even help you out with tag team moves. The wealth of possibilities means you'll never see everything it has to offer in your first fight, making this a great stage to return to to make sure you haven't missed anything.
Biggest mid-fight distraction
Street Fighter II used car smashing as a bonus game, but here it's actually part of the fight. Your opponent's car and your own pride and joy are parked up in the middle of the ring and you can use them to inflict damage to each other. But the cars take damage too, so if you smash up your own vehicle in an attempt to KO the other fighter, you're actually hurting yourself.
Trouble is, while you're trying really hard to do the context sensitive moves, you're probably going to get beaten up in the mean-time. Ah well, it's good when it happens.
Above: "Hey! You're getting your blood on my car! GTFO, B! etc
Other noteworthy stages in Def Jam: Fight for NY
125 Street Station is the only other contender so far as we're concerned. Virtua Fighter 3 always hinted at how awesome a fighting stage with 'interactive' subway trains could be. Def Jam just went that little bit further and gave us what we wanted. Blammo.
Above: It's all about the environments in Def Jam. Well, that and the rap music. Dur