3) Tengu's stage: Dead or Alive Ultimate
Dead or Alive's last appearance on the original Xbox was a remake of the first two games. But while the Dreamcast original DOA2 contained a hard-as-nails final boss with a nicely rendered 'petrified forest' style background, it was the Xbox version that blew us away. Quite literally, at times:
Above: Tengu can create mini whirlwinds. Like the background yet? Think it's dull? Just you wait...
Tengu appears, complete with his wings, sandals and protruding nose and proceeds to kick your ass into the middle of next week. But give him the chance and he'll conjure one of the best graphical effects of the last generation, transforming the season in real-time, from winter to spring, to summer, to autumn. It's magnificent. Just look at this:
Above: Full circle through the seasons in one bout. Nothing in Xbox 360 DOA has beaten this effect
Biggest mid-fight distraction
What, you mean you didn't notice just now?
Above: Tengu gets an eyeful
Look at that picture very closely and you're bound to notice the biggest distraction in this fight. The same lighting that's affecting the characters is affecting the tufts of 3D grass on the stage floor! I know, right? Talk about attention to detail.
Other noteworthy stages in DOA2U:
Kasumi's clock tower stage almost made the list, as it was the first one to introduce us to tiered fighting stages when it appeared in the original DOA2 – something almost every fighting game features now. Smashing your opponent through a stained glass window and continuing the fight in the courtyard below was awesome then and it's still awesome now. Ayane's snowy stage complete with ice cavern (and smashable ice columns) was also spectacular.
Above: That clock face is just begging to be smashed... as was that ice column. Hey, look - sparkles!
2) Carnival: Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
Most fighting games choose to be either 2D or 3D. Marvel vs Capcom 2 chose to use both techniques to make sure it looked suitably current-gen (at the time, of course) while being simple enough for the hardware to be able to handle up to six detailed characters fighting in the same bout - often at the same time. But who'd have thought this mash-up of graphical styles would produce something as amazing as this?
Above: Have you ever seen anything like that? No other fighting game is as bright or jubilant as MvC2
The stage has vertical height as well as the usual 40-odd feet of width, which proves too much for your eyes to take in the first time you get knocked into the air.
Above: Fun? You're damn right. Why aren't all games as fun as this? Hey - someone should make a sequel!
It's a wonderfully surreal arena for a fight, and with the action of MvC2 so chaotic in nature, it only makes sense that the background should reflect the game's penchant for the extreme. Everything about the game is larger than life, which reminds me...
Biggest mid-fight distraction
There can only be one candidate for the biggest distraction in this background - the damn clown face. It's the first thing you see when you start the stage, grinning at you like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon intro. It's got eyelashes and a moustache. And jazz hands. But it moves too. It isn't alive, I don't think. Well, it had better not be, or I'll be sleeping with a gun by my bed from now on. I don't like clowns. I do like MvC2. So... let's just... move on.
Above: "They all fight down here..."
Other noteworthy stages in MvC2
The other stages are less memorable, but each has something of interest to offer. The airship stands out, as does the fight by the clock. But it really is all about the carnival.
Above: Get it on PSN or XBLA to get you in the mood for MvC3. It may be a decade old, but it's still fantastic