Many fond memories come to mind when I think of Christmas. So much so that I even wrote a special article dedicated to just that. There are certain things that I’ll always associate Christmas with, for better or for worse. For me, Clay Fighter will always be linked with Christmas. Released 25 years ago (damn where does the time go), this Street Fighter II parody is but a minuscule footnote in the annals of SNES lore. But to me, Clay Fighter represents something beyond that, even if the final product isn’t all that good. It represents a time of true innocence, a time of allegiances and a time of change. Not to mention learning how to navigate expectations and disappointments even in the smallest of ways. Indeed, Clay Fighter was one of my childhood games. As such, I’ll never forget it. Especially whenever Christmas comes rolling around…
ONCE UPON A TIME…
It was the summer of 1993. 2D fighting games were all the rage, and seemingly everyone and their brother were getting in on it. From Kaneko to Konami, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. It was the fighting game era, and 1-on-1 brawlers was a booming business. One idyllic summer day in ’93, my mom took me to the local grocery store. As per usual, I browsed the VHS rental section while my mom bought food. I remember seeing cheesy horror movies like Leprechaun (oh Jennifer Anniston…) and Critters 4 (oh Angela Bassett) before making my way to the magazine section. It was there that I picked up a GamePro issue and first laid eyes on Clay Fighter. It was love at first sight.
There was just something special about growing up in the late ’80s to early-mid ’90s. From cheesy horror movies (with badass memorable box art) to hundreds of fun 8 and 16-bit video games, it was the perfect time to be a gamer who loved horror movies to boot. I miss those halcyon days where my mom would drop me off at a store and I would just spend a good 30 to 45 minutes browsing the various boxes and back covers of horror movies and the latest video games. Truly a special time in our lives (for those lucky enough to have lived it).
But I digress. As the months went on, the Clay Fighter hype train gained more steam. Gaming magazines previewed the hell out of it, and the comedic aspects of the game really appealed to a 10 year old kid. It promised to be WACKY!, WEIRD! and WILD! I mean, what more could you want?
The fighters had their own unique charm.
Not only was it a parody of Street Fighter II but it was also a parody of many other things such as Elvis, The Blob and The Headless Horseman among others. Clay Fighter was Parody City.
The unique claymation graphics made it stand out in a crowded genre. I couldn’t help but be drawn to its unique look, even if the aesthetics were a bit sloppy. Hey, it was 1993 and I was 10. Clay Fighter looked super cool in my book back then!
And then came the ads. And boy, were there a TON of ads. Clay Fighter had one of the most robust and memorable ad campaigns in 16-bit history.
One of my fondest memories came in the Fall of 1993 when I stayed home from school due to being sick. I remember just hanging out in my room, playing a demo song on a Casio keyboard a relative recently gifted me and gawking at that Clay Fighter ad above and flipping through the preview. There’s nothing like looking at a few blurry screenshots and letting your imagination run wild. The possibilities were endless and more often than not, your imagination made the game way better than the actual end product. Still, it was all part of the fun of gaming back in those days.
Filled with puns galore, I couldn’t help but love it.
THE CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT NEVER WAS
December 1993. One fateful evening my cousin called me asking what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t hesitate to tell her all about Clay Fighter. By the end of the phone call I was assured that Clay Fighter would be mine come Christmas morning. Alas, for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be. My cousin got me something else (I can’t even recall what she got me). My Clay Fighter dream went up in smoke. POOF.
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 1993
Noting my abundantly obvious disappointment the night prior, my old man decided to take me to The Wherehouse to rent Clay Fighter as a consolation prize. I wanted to buy it instead, but I happily settled on renting it. I remember running to the game section, seeing the box on the shelf and taking it down from its resting place nestled up top. I admired the front cover and couldn’t get enough of how cool I thought it looked. Bad Mr. Frosty coming right at ‘chu as Tiny stretches poor Taffy (oh the irony). It fit in perfectly with the times we were living in… that whole attitude era of the early-mid ’90s.
I then flipped it over where I must have stood there for 5 minutes reading over the back cover and being completely convinced that Clay Fighter would only be a tier below Street Fighter II, in terms of gameplay.
I love how 16 MEGS was considered a big deal back in 1993. I miss when meg count was a thing and people got hyped partially because a game contained a certain amount of megs. There was something charming to that. Even though we knew game quality wasn’t based on a game’s given meg count, it always served as fun playground chatter with your friends. It brings back memories of the Neo Geo and their fighting games containing 100+ MEGS, as well as the 16-bit console war. Wait, Super Street Fighter II on the SNES only has 32 MEGS while the Genesis copy boasts 40 MEGS?! Good times.
I got a kick too out of the humongous 1 OR 2 PLAYERS graphic. It just added a certain pizzazz to the back of the box and it’s been burned into my memory bank. I can still see that giant logo in my mind to this day. The whole package just hit all the right notes. I handed the game off to my dad who then walked to the counter to make the magic happen. I was only a 5 minute car ride away from finally experiencing Clay Fighter.
On the ride home I admired the beautiful color instruction manual. The artwork was pretty banging, and I studied that little booklet for all it was worth. That was part of the fun of renting video games back in the ’90s: combing over the instruction manual on the way home.
I remember being a little worried when I got to the character bios. They looked great and I loved the detailed description of their special moves but one thing greatly bothered me. At a glance, it seemed as though you had to press all three punch buttons to do projectile-based attacks. I thought to myself “Please don’t let this be” and “Damn what a terrible decision if so.” Thankfully, it turned out not to be the case. The colored buttons there simply depict either of those buttons would suffice.
After popping the game in for the very first time, it took me less than 5 minutes to realize Clay Fighter was a bit of a dud. A dud in the sense that it came nowhere NEAR my level of expectation. It wasn’t unplayable, but it wasn’t very good. I remember thinking thank God I didn’t waste one of my few precious video game buys on this. Thankfully I rented it instead and picked out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters to buy the following week. COWABUNGA!
The lit bomb acting as a timer was creative. I liked that it wasn’t just another typical countdown from 99 seconds as was the case for most fighting games back then.
Once a mild mannered snowman, this devious spawn of winter lives for the icy cold of the far north. The good manners of snowmen no longer mean anything to Bad Mr. Frosty. He believes in the cold of winter and little else. He lives to see an eternal winter, where the snow never melts; and enjoys sharing his keen weather sense with all those around him.
This malleable clay fighter really goes for the clay. Once a simple glob of salt water taffy, he has been transformed into a mean spirited ball of solid sugar. Emerging from the sugary goo which spawned him, Taffy took an oath, “The Circus will be mine, and every clay fighter will require new fillings when I get there.” Taffy’s stretchable body allows him to make long range attacks. These moves can surprise opponents who believe they are out of his reach.
The buffest of the clay fighters, Tiny works out whenever he isn’t pounding the clay out of the other players. A member of the WCWA (World Clay Wrestling Association), he truly loves to wrestle and fight. He is not very bright, so he relies on his massive strength to win. He is proud of his physique and will smash anyone who laughs at him.
Once the meteor was done mutating the clay fighters into their present forms, there were bucket fulls of radioactive clay left over. Not wanting to be thrown away like common garbage, the clay rolled itself into one elastic mass. The ball of clay developed intelligence quite quickly and named itself Blob. Studying goojitsu, Blob has become a force to be reckoned with among the clay fighters.
The radioactive clay meteor has given this middle aged circus freak delusions of grandeur. Once a respected member of the circus, his great arrogance has turned the rest of the world against him. Believing that he is the king of rock and roll, he croons to the masses from his porcelain throne; sickening many and scarring the rest. Taking time off from his busy movie career, he has joined in the fight to control the circus. When not doing battle he focuses much of his time on his hair. To him there is nothing cooler than his groovy doo.
Every circus has its share of ghost stories; the lion handler who didn’t train his cats enough, or the clown who never came out of the little car. The coming of the clay meteor brought one of these haunts back from the ethereal plane and gave him substance. The circus ghost, Ickybod Clay, has come to rule the circus for those who are halfway between our world and the next. While existing in our world, Ickybod Clay is able to tap the ethereal plane for power.
From the far north, this Viking woman has earned the title of Valkyrie from her people. She is looking for another arena in which to compete and is planning to take control of the circus. With her Viking heritage has come special powers from the gods. Thor and Odin have granted her abilities no other clay fighter could even hope of mastering. Many of these abilities are to offset her one vice; eating. She lives to eat, and often has a hard time breaking away from a clay salad sandwich.
A previous employee of the circus, Bonker was caught sleeping under the Big Top when the meteor landed. Once a friendly clown, Bonker has become as hard as clay. His other motto is to keep them laughing as he pounds them into the ground. This has turned many of his old clown tricks into dangerous attacks. What may have been hilarious to a 4 year old now brings other clay fighters to their knees.
January 26, 2006. I just recently got back into all things Super Nintendo. On that fateful Thursday night I decided to revisit the town I grew up in. It marked 10 years since I moved from my childhood home. 10 years. I wanted to swing by the old crib and also check out the Game Crazy hub inside my childhood Hollywood Video, which still stood at the time. Being less than two weeks into my SNES resurrection and having a wish list of over 200 games meant there was a good chance I was going to find at least one game to add to my ever growing collection.
Early 2006 was a good time to get back into the SNES scene. Prices had yet to explode and real life stores like Game Crazy (a chain tucked inside Hollywood Video locations) actually carried a decent selection of SNES games. So many times as a kid my dad took me to this very Hollywood Video location and I would spend hours browsing the SNES and horror section. There was nothing like admiring the art work on the front covers and reading the description on the back of the boxes. It’s a shame that kids of today will never know what that feeling is like.
That evening I bought Art of Fighting, Mortal Kombat II, Super Baseball Simulator 1.000 and got Clay Fighter for free. These games represent the crux of my SNES comeback to a tee; two games I liked playing as a kid and two I always wanted to play but never did. But now I could. Such is the beauty of the hobby. In a lot of ways, retro gaming is the closest thing to a time machine.
Clay Fighter came free because Game Crazy used to run a Buy 2 Get 1 Free promotion for retro games. Early 2006 was a glorious time to be buying SNES games. I beat the nostalgic train by several years and was able to scoop up all these old titles for bargain basement prices. Great times they were
How fitting it was to get Clay Fighter free on the day of my 10 year anniversary since I moved from my childhood home. With another bag full of old childhood favorites and curiosities, I made a beeline toward my old house. There was no way I was ending this 10 year reunion trip without seeing my old house live in the flesh.
Exiting the premises of Hollywood Video around 6:30, my hometown had been devoured by darkness. As I drove back to my old neighborhood where I grew up, I took full inventory of all the sights, sounds and smells that assaulted my senses. I remember those roads. That old street corner. The little hill where my brother, our friends and I used to play tag and flag football. The smell of the crisp cool night air. The soothing sounds of the grass and leaves swaying gently in the calm of a quiet January evening. It was a little slice of paradise.
At last I spotted my house. Memories came flooding back like a tidal wave crashing over me. It was an ordinary house, like any other house in America, in a suburban neighborhood just like any other. But it was home. My home. Or at least, it once was, anyhow. Somewhere in the depths of my heart though, it will always be to some degree. I turned off the engine and radio. I sat there for a quiet minute, admiring my house from across the street in the dead still of the night. Has it really been 10 bloody years?! Gawd DAMN.
I ended up going inside and talking with the lady who now lives there. Crazy shit. It was one of those serendipitous moments. After 10 minutes of being back in my childhood home, I slipped back in my car. I took a quick glance at my new SNES games resting on the passenger seat, turned down the windows, cranked up the radio and put the pedal to the metal. It was one of the best drives of my life.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Clay Fighter earned good to great reviews. It’s one of those weird games that got rated really high at its time of release but such glowing praises have since been rescinded over time. EGM scored it 8, 8, 7 and 7. GameFan gave it ratings of 97, 92, 90 and 90%. Super Play rated it 85% (very high by their strict standards). The reviews at the time cemented in my mind even more that Clay Fighter must have been can’t miss. Sadly, if only that were the case.
They mocked Capcom with the HYPER tagline and refusal to number up this pseudo sequel. Nice!
Clay Fighter 2 however was a legitimate sequel featuring a slew of brand new characters (although sadly they did away with many of the original fighters). I like how it played off the title T2: Judgment Day. Even though C2: Judgment Clay was several years late to truly capitalize on this marketing ploy, you gotta give them credit for creativity.
Can’t believe it’s been 25 years since I was obsessed with Clay Fighter. From studying the magazine previews to asking my cousin to buy it for me, I certainly have quite the storied history with this game. There’s a ton of nostalgia but when it comes down to it, it’s all about how well a game plays. And I’m sad to say Clay Fighter does not play very well. The characters are way too big for their own good, the physics feel off and the characters have a strange weight to them. It’s kind of hard to explain but it’s one of those things that you immediately recognize the second you play it. In a nutshell, Clay Fighter tries to get by on flash and style, but underneath the fancy coats of paint, there just isn’t much substance. It’s very much a product of its time. There are so many better fighting games you can play on the SNES instead. This one is strictly for collectors and those with nostalgic memories.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not unplayable. Some enjoyment can be had but it’s very lightweight and even if you approach it with the proper mindset, its novelty act grows old fast and you’re left with a mediocre fighting game, at best. Clay Fighter just doesn’t scratch my fighting game itch. Play one of the Street Fighter games or SNK brawlers instead. That said, there will always be a place in my gaming heart for Clay Fighter. It just takes me back to a place and space where a one page colorful ad with a few rinky dink screenshots could blow your mind. Where seeds of hope are harvested and then later realized, or crushed, by reality through renting, borrowing or blind buying. It was all part of the magic back then. So here’s a toast to Clay Fighter, who did more with its 15 minutes of fame than most other average games.
Happy Taffy 25 years!