5) Shun Di's raft: Virtua Fighter 2
Forget the crappy version of this stage that appeared in the Saturn conversion (if the raft's beached – it's no longer a raft, really, is it?), because the arcade stage is what it's all about. You're fighting on a 3D raft as it floats serenely down a river. That is awesome. And how much money did we waste trying to get a character to fall into the water? Too much. As if to thank us for all that extra cash, Sega then made the raft stage fully 3D and dunkable in Virtua Fighter 3. But it was never quite as awesome as this:
Above: The stage even tilted, which was something other fighting games simply couldn't do at the time
Nobody ever asked the question, though - how did the fighters get on? Sure, you could drop from above, but then... how will they get off? Would Virtua Fighter 3 be set at sea with the pair marooned on a desert island? No. The fight ends and then the winner's on to face Pai. Yes. Pai for the winner. Yum.
Biggest mid-fight distraction
As you drift along, you pass under a fully 3D bridge. With textured bricks and everything. And then, as you slide serenely beneath, a shadow creeps across the raft in real-time. As if the fight wasn't spectacular enough already!
Above: The actual game didn't have that text. If it had, it would've been texture mapped and MORE AWESOME
You're probably wondering why I'm getting all excited about a 3D bridge, especially if you're under 25 years old. Well, imagine playing that in the arcade and then coming home to... this:
Above: Hey, isn't that the ROFLCOPTER? No, it's LHX Attack Chopper. Shudder...
Other noteworthy stages in VF2:
Dural's underwater stage was cool, especially as it featured a slow-motion effect that let you see every frame of that amazing 3D animation. And Sarah's stage was pretty smart too, with flashes of lightning illuminating the empty coliseum as you got taunted about running home to mama now. Aww, did the nasty lady kick you in the willy?
Above: Sarah's stage and the bonus Dural fight were both memorable. As was everything, really
4) The Dead Pool: Mortal Kombat 2
Mortal Kombat 2 has aged worse than almost any other game I can think of. What was once an impressive blend of real-life digitised images and gaming sprites has become a fugly, unbalanced mess masquerading as a classic game. But that's not to say it doesn't still have some of gaming's most memorable and awesome backgrounds. Observe:
Above: Welcome to the Dead Pool. Doesn't look like much, does it? Ah, but wait until you see its little trick
There aren't many things in gaming more macabre than The Dead Pool's acid pit, which is surely one of gaming's bluntest horrors. Forget Dead Space 2 – this had way more clout than any of that game's OTT gore and cheap sudden loud noise scares. The scene is simple: There's a platform that you fight on, some meat hooks dangling from the ceiling and a pool of dull green water, which looks like window dressing at first...
Above: Your foe's body surfaces almost immediately... only all their flesh has burned away. What a nice smile!
There's no denying time has not been kind to MKII. But there's still something about this scene that goes beyond the sum of its parts. Could it be any scarier? Well...
Above: If you knocked your opponent into the acid and Weegee popped up? Bye-bye sanity
Bottom line is this: If you're fighting at Dead Pool, there's only one option when it's time to pull off a fatality. Hold low punch and low kick, then do an uppercut. Has to be. Especially as it works with any character, while other backgrounds require character-specific commands to access their secrets.
Biggest mid-fight distraction
Meat hooks. Lots and lots of meat hooks. But they're all 'vacant', so to speak. They just hang there, giving some depth to an otherwise flat scene. But they did fire up the imagination of every child of the '90s. Could you lift your opponent into the air and hang them there? Of course you couldn't. Didn't stop us trying, though.
Other noteworthy stages in MKII
The Kombat Tomb and The Pit very nearly made this list instead of Dead Pool, as their spikes and fall respectively are equally iconic scenes from the game. Many are also forever haunted by the evil trees from the Living Forest too, but probably only because the animation was so poor. Ba-doom tish!
Above: The Kombat Tomb and the Living Forest. They don't make 'em like this any more (thankfully)