Once again, we must thank Ultra Powerful Pal of Gaming Hell, HokutoNoShock, who has played Fighter's History Dynamite with my writer lackey so much, the session count is in double-digits, and who also checked this article before it went to print. Quite a few of our screenshots come from those sessions for that authentic 'scrap in the arcade' feel. As for naming conventions, luckily there's no character name change nonsense between regions (although there are alternate romanisatons of Fellin and Yungmie's first names, but we only have to use those once) but there is the game's title, as it's known as Karnov's Revenge in Europe. We are European, of course, but you might think Karnov's Revenge is a sequel to the original Karnov, which it is not because it's a Fighter's History sequel, so Fighter's History Dynamite is the most logical name to go for. Unless, well, you got unlucky on the random title image. Finally, shoutouts to the Western Fighter's History Dynamite community, especially LordBBH's crew. That EVO 2019 tournament was hype as all hell.

A friend of the site once described Fighter's History Dynamite as 'the best Street Fighter II clone".

Yeah, that's a statement I can get behind.

If you're familiar with any of the Fighter's History games, it's almost certainly the first one due to the Capcom U.S.A. Inc. v. Data East Corp lawsuit it sparked due to its suspicious similarities with Street Fighter II. You can see more from the Capcom side in Street Fighter II: An Oral History on Polygon but this one did end in Data East's favour in the end, which was most certainly a good thing, allowing the fighting genre to flourish and iterate upon itself for decades without fear of being stifled by Capcom. That said, Data East had done something very similar several years before with Data East USA, Inc. v. Epyx, Inc. in 1988, claiming that Epyx's World Karate Championship had infringed on the copyright of their Karate Champ arcade game- Data East lost that case upon appeal, but the judgement there would help them a little in the Capcom case. Funny how things work out like that, eh?

Let's have a very quick look at this first game, then, to give context to the sequel. The original Fighter's History from 1993 brings together nine warriors of the world in a hyper fighting tournament, the Great Grapple, to determine the champion once and for all, with two unplayable bosses in the form of Clown, who is indeed a clown. and Data East's original hero-turned-heel, Karnov. Just by knowing Data East were taken to court for this one, you can assume it doesn't stray too far from the template set by Street Fighter II, and it most certainly does not. Six buttons, a variety of selectable characters, you should know the drill if you've ever played a fighter, but its main innovation is the dizzy system- rather than the random chance after successive attacks as seen in SFII, each character has a specific weakpoint that, when hit enough times, will flash. Hit it when flashing, and the enemy will be knocked down and get up in a dizzy state. This innovation aside, Fighter's History probably wouldn't have made any kind of impact had it not been the centre of a lawsuit. It's not that it's bad exactly, it just feels a little clunky and 'off'. Perhaps a result of playing Dynamite first, but perhaps not as we'll see.

That's our very quick look at the first game, then, to set the stage for today's subject. A year later in 1994, Data East- fearing no-one on Earth, not even Capcom's lawyers- ported the original game to the SNES and released a full-blown sequel... On the Neo Geo, made by Capcom's fighting game rivals, SNK! Data East did support the Neo quite a bit, including major titles like the Magical Drop series and even a cancelled game, Ghostlop, but it's pretty funny that a game Capcom tried to sue found its sequel on SNK's hardware. Well, it's funny to me, anyway. The great and powerful Karnov has organised the second Great Grapple tournament, inviting all the participants of the first one, as well as two newcomers and a mysterious extra fighter, a real bully who only the steerongest will get to rodeo with. (It's an ox. The secret boss is an ox. That's the joke.) Ahem, anyway, while there's only two new fighters, Clown and Karnov are also playable in this version bringing the total to 13, which isn't too bad in the face of Super Turbo's 16.

So, as is tradition, here's the full roster of fighters who just can't wait to bop that Karnov fellow and win the tournament's grand prize!
(Profile tidbits from their endings and the SNK Wiki page for the game.)


Country: USA
Weakspot: Bolt on shirt

A Los Angeles detective
who wants to find a worthy
opponent to battle.


Country: China
Weakspot: Pauldrons

An opera singer who hopes
to prove herself on both the
fighting circuit and the stage.


Country: Japan
Weakspot: Headband

A young judoka aiming for
the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Based on Ryoko Tani.


Country: England
Weakspot: Headphones

A punk rock musician planning
to use the winnings to fund
a worldwide tour for his band.


Country: Thailand
Weakspot: Armpads

A Muay Thai fighter who
needs the fight money to look
after his younger siblings.


Country: China
Weakspot: Knees

A Bajiquan martial artist looking to
defeat Karnov after he brutally
beat his father many years ago.


Country: France
Weakspot: Kneeband

A perfectionist gymnast seeking
to improve himself after getting
a 9.98 score once.


Country: Japan
Weakspot: Headband

A bancho (delinquent) who
is still in school despite being in
his 20s (keeps being held back).

Country: Italy
Weakspot: Leg warmers

A pro wrestler who wants
to prove himself one last time
before his glory fades.


Country: Kenya
Weakspot: Headband

An environmentalist utilising
the Hokuto Shinkan Karate style
seeking funds for his nature work.


Country: Korea
Weakspot: Waist sash

A Taekwando master looking
for information about her
missing parents.


Country: Unknown
Weakspot: Clown mask

A mysterious fighter who, like
all clowns, is probably
party to at least one murder.


Country: Russia
Weakspot: Necklace

Circus strongman, former envoy
of Heaven and organiser of
the Great Grapple Tournament.


Country: Ox
Weakspot: Horns

He's an ox.

On a surface level, a lot of the Street Fighter archetypes are present and accounted for- a big beefy grappler, an elegant lady from China, a Muay Thai master, a hot-blooded American- and even some of the playstyles take stuff from the old masters- both Matlok and Jean are Guile-style charge characters, Lee utilises rushdown chains similar to Fei-Long (although Lee was in Fighter's History and predates Fei-Long!), Clown has Blanka-esque rolling attacks- so you may wonder what, if anything, Fighter's History Dynamite does differently from its inspiration, or even what it does to set it apart from the dozens of other fighters on the Neo Geo itself. That'll come later, but for now, let's see what's changed from the first game. Visually, the cast have come over from the original game mostly unchanged (the character portraits have been touched up a lot, though, especially in terms of colour use) with the exception of Karnov who's been completely redesigned, but technical necessities changed these characters a little. Moving to the Neo Geo meant that the button count had to be reduced from 6 to 4, but Dynamite makes the change pretty well, mostly because a lot of the higher-strength moves were just the same animation with slower movement or more damage- Ryoko's standing Medium and Heavy Punch, as an example. Some were lost, like her standing Medium Kick, while others were changed to command normals like her crouching Heavy Punch. Data East could've ported the extra moves over with a Samurai Shodown-style 'hit two buttons for max power attacks' but chose not to, and I think that's for the best- that system works best in a slower game like SamSho and less so in something with more speed to it like this one. Dynamite also expands each character's move repertoire, including 'super' moves (in name only- they require no meter, just have less-obvious inputs and are usually quite powerful but require execution to land) and fixes some of the weird things about the original (for instance, Samchay's multi-hit throws used to damage weakpoints where appropriate basically guaranteeing a dizzy for him, but this was removed).

The main difference between Dynamite and other fighters is the thing that made its predecessor stick out- the weakpoints system. This returns and works as it did before- hit your opponent's weakspot after weakening it to cause a dizzy, one per round- but is one of my favourite elements of the game. I will admit, I definitely prefer dizzies in fighting games when they're either shifted aside into their own compartment (like poison in Vampire Savior) or done via a meter (like the Stun Gauge in Street Fighter III) rather than the less-predictable Super Turbo method. The system employed by Dynamite works really well for a few reasons- it can only happen to each player once per round, and while it's hard to keep track of how many times your weakspot's been hit, when it does start flashing you know you need to step up and stay alert. It's also a more immediately-apparent and obvious way of knowing a dizzy is imminent for both players- changing the feel of the match on the fly, especially if the player about to be dizzied is low on health- and while it's a bit silly when the weakpoints are things like a logo on a shirt or a necklace, as well as being part of the game's goofy charm it's obvious, a system where you don't need to move your eyes away from the action to check an abstract little meter. It's right there, on the field of battle. That's as far as the game goes in terms of mechanics that deviate from the basic Street Fighter II template, though. No super meters, no parrying, nothing fancy like that, just a pure fighting experience, one that removes one of the more noticeably-random elements of its inspiration. Is that a bad thing, though, that it doesn't do too much that's new?

I say it isn't. Where Dynamite shines isn't necessarily in its ideas, but its execution. You can be the most innovative and experimental fighting game on the planet, but if you can't hook someone in just by playing it, you've lost, and I think this is what Dynamite does really well, for a few reasons. To start, the pace is a little quicker than the original- not super-fast like Vampire Savior on Turbo, but nippy enough, and things like reducing the time needed for charge moves and allowing more moves to chain into one another keeps the pace of matches quick and tense (as does the fact that when characters are at 30% or less health, they'll take less damage from normals). Next, while there's often criticism of the character roster for not sticking out from other fighting games at the time, they do have charm if you ask me- Mizoguchi's earth-shattering death rattle, and some of the ridiculous move calls like Marstorius' DOUBLE GERMAN and Ray's BIG TORNADO (often misheard as BAKED POTATO)- and more importantly, each cast member is pretty unique in terms of playstyle, cribbing bits here and there from other popular fighting game types but remaining distinct and having their own style and foibles. Marstorius struggles with jumping even more than Zangief and has an easy weakpoint but if he gets in has a set of powerful throws; Mizoguchi may seem like a shoto but his fireball has a lot of startup so needs to be used with caution; Karnov's BALLOON special has a ton of uses and is incredible silly and he has a teleporting glitch, and so on. Even the two Guile-style characters feel distinct from one another, somewhat reflected in the tier difference between them.

The somewhat loose feel of combos and chaining attacks into others is what really elevates the game, though- as briefly explained by the Shoryuken wiki, Lights can be chained into other Lights and a Heavy and you can mix specials at the end too, and so you're encouraged to play and learn exactly what each character can get away with, and it has a good flow to it and feels very natural. It's pretty hard to articulate, unfortunately, but it has a good feel to hits connecting, to chaining moves together, and that feeling when matches get close (as they often do here). It's a game that has the fundamentals of a fighting game down locked down absolutely solid, far far more than some of the other fighting games at the time- the real test of Dynamite's mettle is to play stuff like Martial Champion or Fight Fever straight afterwards and see, firsthand, how unsatisfying and 'off' they feel compared to Data East's effort. Many games of the time cribbed from Capcom's effort or tried to do one better than it, but Dynamite is one of the very few to nail those fundamentals so well that it's absolutely as worthy of play time as the other genre greats (and, with the neat dizzy system, even improves some parts of it!).

If there's one contemporary that makes a great comparison point for Dynamite, it's Taito's Kaiser Knuckle before they fixed things up in Dan-Ku-Ga. That game tried throwing anything, anything at the wall- five levels of attack strength, smashing through walls, fire and electricity floors to power up moves- to see if it stuck just to make itself stand out in the crowded genre. Needless to say, it didn't really work out for Taito. Dynamite, then, shows what Kaiser Knuckle could've done in the first place (and what Dan-Ku-Ga eventually did, although not to the same level of success)- stick to the absolute basics and make the game feel as fun as possible to play and experiment with. Ultimately, I think the best way to demonstrate why I hold Fighter's History Dynamite in such high regard is to speak of my personal history with it. Before I really started playing it, it was one I'd heard of- because of course, it's Data East after all- but hadn't put any real time into. When Fightcade came around to make playing weird fighting games a little easier, if not perfectly, this was one that was on the list to try with a friend, and it very quickly earned a place in my heart, but more importantly, it made it to the list of 'mainstay' fighters- a very exclusive list of games that are incredibly easy to go back to after extended periods of time. I can go for a while without playing Dynamite, then slip right back into it and have some bloody good matches, and I think that's an excellent way to summarise the game and its appeal- a solid foundation, executed so well you can go right back to it again and again.

For being a damn good fighting game, Fighter's History Dynamite is awarded...

In a sentence, Fighter's History Dynamite is...
A truly Data East fighting game.

And now, it's that time, folks!

First, if you'd like to see an even deeper dive into Fighter's History Dynamite and why it rules, may I recommend PolarBlair's excellent writeup on the game?

As PolarBlair is an expert in fighting games off the beaten path, you're in good hands reading that article too. Do give it a look!

Next, of course, we have to talk about that secret final battle!

Normally, your game will end after defeating the final two opponents, Clown and Karnov, and you'll see your character's (usually amusing) ending, and then Game Over. However, there is one final challenge for the greatest of all grapplers, and if you can beat the entire game without losing a single round, then after your ending, you'll see your character with a nice trophy on Ray's stage...

... And then this bullish fellow drops from the sky and destroys it. It's time for the Extra Round!

This is Ox. As you can see, he's an ox. As for why he's here, it's assumed he's a reference to the 'Get the Bull' bonus round in the Data East-published Karate Champ where you have to punch a stampeding bull in the face. I'm not saying I doubt that, it's just Karate Champ wasn't really made by Data East themselves- it was developed by Technos Japan who would go on to make Renegade and Double Dragon and the like- but then again, Data East seemed to completely own the rights to that game (which is why it's now owned by G-mode) so Ox being a nod to Karate Champ is likely. It's like a Data East in Court reunion over here! Anyway, you only get one round to defeat Ox, so make it count. He'll try charging at you a lot- he is an ox after all- but just like everyone else, he has a weakspot, his horns! Ouch! Whether you beat the ox or not, you're treated to the full ending credits.

In fact, I'd say it's worth losing to Ox at least once, because...

... He has the best win pose in the entire game.

Sadly, no version of the game allows you to play as Ox without using some kind of cheat device. Sorry!

Home ports time! There's only a handful and they're pretty faithful, but we have to do this, we're legally obligated to.

First up are the two you expect, the Neo Geo AES and Neo Geo CD versions, and there's basically nothing to report here, to the point where we don't really need screenshots to demonstrate them. This is all pretty standard- the Easy / Normal / MVS / Hard difficulty selection, the limit of four credits per player, and so on. However, the Neo Geo CD version does have a couple of extras in the form of menu selections letting you watch the attract mode and the How to Play video, and of course, a new CD-quality soundtrack and of course, the standard Neo CD loading times. That's pretty much it, sorry!

THe Saturn version of the game was released in 1997, sadly only in Japan, but is a pretty solid port (which, as with many Neo Geo Saturn ports, requires the 1MB RAM cartridge). There's a reason for that- it was developed by Rutubo Games, a company probably best known in the 32-bit era for their 32X and Saturn ports of '80s Sega arcade games like Space Harrier and After Burner II. They mostly stuck with working with Sega (and members of this team would go on to form Gotch Technology, who have worked with Namco and Hamster for contemporary home ports of arcade games like Dig Dug and The Ninja Warriors. Capable hands for a Neo Geo conversion to the Saturn, then, and this does the job pretty well with minimal loading times- it has a long one on boot-up (involving Mizoguchi snacking, as you can see above) but from then on it's pretty quick on the draw. It also has some welcome extras in the form of both the original and Neo Geo CD soundtracks, and an English mode! Yes, selecting 'Overseas' in the options menu changes the game to Karnov's Revenge and presents the entire game in English. However, as is common with a lot of Saturn ports of fighting games, for play modes you have just Arcade and Versus, nothing fancy like Survival or the like. For contemporary home ports though, this is your best option if you're not a Neo Geo owner.

You'd think our next destination would be modern-day consoles, but nope, we have a little pit-stop in South America first. When G-mode acquired the license for most (but not all) Data East properties in 2004, they made damn sure to use them whenever they can, meaning those titles are incredibly easy to license out. As such, a selection of Data East games were released for the Zeebo, a console released only in Brazil and Mexico (with a planned rollout in China eventually cancelled), and that selection included Fighter's History Dynamite under the Karnov's Revenge title. This is pretty much a straight emulation running on an emulator from Onan Games (which some people were able to use to emulate games other than the ones officially available) and has no extras beyond a Help menu that goes to great lengths to explain the game's special moves, which is quite useful for new players. As well as the video above, there's some screenshots of this specific version at MobyGames, and we have @chirinea to thank for the Zeebo information provided here. Ta!

Now we get to modern stuff, and Fighter's History Dynamite is of course included in Hamster's Arcade Archives Neo Geo series of rereleases, for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Windows 10, and as these rereleases are all basically the same, time to rehash some text from the Galaxy Fight page, aha! These ACA Neo Geo releases all have a shared set of features, and so they're relatively barebones- they're based on the MVS version of the game, and have no memory card stuff, no jukebox, no online multiplayer. However, you do get to choose between the Japanese and English versions of the game, the full set of Soft Dip options, a five-minute timed Caravan Mode, a one-credit Hi-Score Mode with its own leaderboards, and a few screen options including scanlines and even CRT-style screen-rolling. The lack of online versus is an unfortunate omission, but you can kludge it on PS4 if both players have a PS Plus account and do it via Share Play (with inevitable lag). The Saturn version is still the best if you want that warm CRT glow, but if this was good enough for the 2019 AnimEVO tournament, it's good enough for you.

Speaking of tournaments... To end, you wanna watch some hype Fighter's History Dynamite? You wanna watch some hype Fighter's History Dynamite.

First, here's footage from a 2017 tournament of Fighter's History Dynamite held at the Mikado Arcade in Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo.

And here's the full Fighter's History Dynamite tournament as part of AnimEVO at EVO 2019. All 2 hours, 37 minutes of it, complete with commentary.


This is how it always ends.

The Fighter's History Dynamite session went well, and all is right with the world.