Many games are based on real-life events, but to my recollection, I’ve never witnessed a real-life event based on a video game. That is, until the recent rivalry between entertainer Chris Brown and rapper Soulja Boy, which resulted in negotiations for a sanctioned boxing match between the two. It took 15 years, but the Def Jam fighting games have finally crossed over into reality with what could have been the story arch for the next entry in the series.
Def Jam Vendetta, released in 2003 for the PS2 and GameCube, (more or less a rap veneered WWE game) introduced mainstream gaming to the hip-hop fighter genre. Vendetta generally received favorable reviews and resulted in the sequels Def Jam: Fight for NY, Def Jam: Icon, and the portable title Def Jam Fight for NY: The Takeover.
The Def Jam series might have been the first AAA hip-hop fighter release, but it wasn't the first attempt to mix hip-hop and the 3D fighter genre. In 1999, the PlayStation release of Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style – a title that you’d think would result in a decent fighting game, given the artists and subject matter – took a stab at mixing the disparate genres, but received less than stellar reviews.
One could argue that the original hip-hop fighting game would be the 1996 PS1 title Parappa the Rapper, which was an amalgamation of hip-hop, 3D fighting, and rhythm, but that’s a specious argument: only the first stage, where you rap-battle the onion-headed karate instructor Chop Chop Master Onion, features hip-hop.
One year before the release of Parappa the Rapper, the SNES basketball title Rap Jam: Volume 1 (a game so bad, there would be no Volume 2) attempted to cash-in on the video game industry. Rap Jam featured the likenesses of rappers from the 90s, such as Coolio, Warren G, and House of Pain (among others), which makes it feel even more dated, in retrospect. Mediocre gameplay, combined with 16-bit era limitations, resulted in a truly awful game, unable even to handle the music of its featured characters.
Marc Eckō's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure, a 2006 action-adventure beat ’em up set in a dystopian future, was heavily inspired by hip-hop culture. Getting Up’s protagonist is voiced by rapper Talib Kweli, but ultimately the release didn’t qualify as a fighter. However, it is still one of the most robust attempts to combine rap and gaming. I enjoyed Getting Up and, of all the titles mentioned, it is the only one readily available on Steam.
As of today, the fight between Brown and Soulja has officially been called off, leaving hip-hop heads searching yet for the rap video game holy grail – but what an entry into the series the scuffle could have been. Video game veteran Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson was also promoting the fight (50 Cent starred in two titles of his own; 50 Cent: Bulletproof and 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand). I’m imagining cameos from Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, and Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Alas, the bout of near-pugilism and drama between Chris Brown and Soulja Boy may not be the fight we need – nor deserve – but it does serve as a reminder of the history of hip-hop gaming nostalgia, for better or worse.