Jump Ultimate Stars (DS)
For anyone with a passion for manga, Jump Super Stars and its Ultimate sequel are a crossover dream come true. Ridiculously popular faces from series like Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, One Piece, and other Weekly Shonen Jump series assume 16-bit-style sprite form, then battle for glory with all the iconic, over-the-top moves you could ask for. The fact that this series remains a Japan exclusive (likely on account of red tape) is partially why I cry myself to sleep each night.
Does it do anything unique? Because the cast all originated in manga, each arena is built to resemble the pages of a comic book. There's also a sort of deck-building system that lets you buff your fighter with a selection of comic panel cameos called komas. It's awesome.
Marvel Super Hero Squad (DS)
Love the idea of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but can't pull off a combo to save your life? Why not swallow your pride and play the Smash Bros.-esque battle mode of this DS baby game! This mode is basically just a bunch of super-deformed Marvel heroes duking it out in vaguely violent fashion. Funnily enough, this simplistic 2D brawler was made by Halfbrick Studios, before they were drowning in money from games like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.
Does it do anything unique? The multiplayer battles are unfortunately limited to one-on-one, but there are some pretty cool modes. Super Weapon tasks one player with defending a doomsday device from the other, while King of the Fractal was classic King of the Hill hotspot gameplay. Why doesn't Smash have that?!
Rag Doll Kung Fu (PC, PS3)
Take Kung Fu Chaos, the Xbox exclusive Power Stone clone that nobody remembers, and remove most of the blatant racism. Now, flatten the action onto a 2.5D plane, turn all the fighters into puppets, and make ragdoll physics the focus of the fight mechanics. Congratulations: you've just made this PC and PSN fighter that's a decent amount of kitschy fun.
Does it do anything unique? If you hadn't guessed by the name, the ragdoll movements of your character are what define this brawler. Moving your floppy limbs around sporadically might not be as precise as Smash Bros., but it's entertaining in a goofy sort of way.
Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble (GameCube, PSP)
Capcom, clearly not content to turn just one niche property into a Smash Bros. clone (see: previous entry about Onimusha Blade Warriors), decided to give the wacky Viewtiful Joe a starring role in a multiplayer brawler all his own. The chances of you recognizing anyone in the roster other than Joe, Silvia, and Captain Blue directly correlate to how much of the Viewtiful Joe anime series you've watched. Yep, that's a thing.
Does it do anything unique? The Viewtiful series turns film special effects like slow-mo or sped-up action sequences into superpowers, which Red Hot Rumble turns into items. Some power-ups can trigger a VFX Battle, where the match spontaneously erupts into a frenetic button-mashing minigame.
Fright Fight (Android)
If you're desperate for a cast of recognizable characters, but can't afford those pesky licensing fees, you could do a lot worse than a roster full of classic horror movie monsters. You get your pick from a grim reaper, husky yeti, gothic vampiress, savage werewolf, or... that's actually it, at the moment. It's unclear why they're all brawling atop a colorful floating island in broad daylight, but backstory hardly matters when a yeti is punching your face with his robo-arm.
Does it do anything unique? Do you enjoy Smash Bros., but wish it constantly incentivized you to spend small sums of money? As a mobile-focused Android game, Fright Fight isn't safe from the dreaded abomination known as "in-app purchases."
The Outfoxies (Arcade)
On one side of the spectrum, you have the playful innocence of Smash Bros. "living Nintendo figures in a toy chest" premise. On the other end is The Outfoxies, where the dastardly Mr. Acme hires a bunch of assassins to kill a target, then each other. It's got it all: over-the-top action, a goofy '90s vibe, guns, rocket launchers, weaponized fruit baskets, destructible environments, and a zany cast of hitmen, hitwomen, hitchildren, and hitmonkeys. It may very well be the greatest Smash Bros. knock-off of all time.
Does it do anything unique? Wait hold up. You're telling me that The Outfoxies came out in 1995? Four years before the original Super Smash Bros. on Nintendo 64?! My GOD. That means... that means Smash Bros. has been a clone all along! Tune in next week for the thrilling conclusion to this earth-shattering revelation.
Two-button fighters are all the rage
So, do any of these fighters sound appealing to you? If you can find them, give 'em a try, if only to appreciate the excellence of Smash Bros. that much more. And hey--you just might like them even more than their inspiration.
And if you're looking for more, check out 17 Pokemon spin-offs weirder than Pokken Tournament and 8 amazing things Super Smash Bros. will teach you about Nintendo.