Remember Def Jam: Fight for NY? The Most Underrated Fighting Game Ever

Anecdotal evidence suggests that out of every game released in the early 2000s, Def Jam: Fight for NY is the one that most desperately deserves a sequel. There aren’t stats or figures to back this up, but rest assured that if you ever find yourself in conversation with someone who happened to play AKI Corporation’s arena fighter, they will tell you that one of the greatest tragedies in this world is that we never saw the release of a Fight for NY 2.

Fight for NY absolutely shouldn’t work. Taking predecessor Def Jam Vendetta‘s rapper wrestling but moving it into the world of underground fighting, AKI Corporation (previously responsible for the beloved WWF No Mercy) and its now-defunct collaborator EA Chicago created an alternate universe in which the likes of Ghostface Killah, Fat Joe, and everyone’s favorite jolly car dealer Xzibit are bare-knuckle fighters duking it out for survival in a crime-ridden city. It’s a roster of multi-millionaires playing themselves, but if they decided to supplement their bank-rolling careers with cash-in-hand work as part-time murderers.

Considering that this is a fighting game featuring rappers, very little rapping is done in Fight for NY. Instead, the music genre’s themes of excess and the pursuit of monetary gain are the focal point, as are the larger-than-life personalities of the stars themselves. In reality, rappers essentially play caricatures of themselves. Snoop Dogg, for instance, is called as such because he is a man who looks like a dog. No further explanation is necessary. The inherent absurdity of these crafted personas is intensified in Fight for NY, which dials each character up to 11 (or, in Flava Flav’s case, a solid 13).

As a rule, fighting games don’t have compelling stories. It’s understandable that this is the case, as attempting to explain away a reason behind a group of characters routinely meeting up in order to punch the piss out of one another stretches the boundaries of reason. Def Jam: Fight for NY manages to navigate this by revolving its plot around an illegal street fighting ring that steadily progresses into a murderous tale of revenge, like The Godfather mixed with Fight Club only with Bubba Sparxxx.

The game sees the player’s created character teaming with D-Mob, the antagonist of Def Jam Vendetta, who the player-character rescues from a couple of crooked cops. From there the protagonist teams up with Method Man, Redman, and the game’s rapping Judas Sticky Fingaz as they go up against a crime syndicate led by Crow (Snoop Dogg), an ostentatiously dressed sociopath hellbent on taking over New York’s underground fighting scene.

Fight for NY emulates the “rags to riches” tale so prevalent throughout rap’s history, with you starting as a bottom-feeder in tatty, cheap clothing before moving up the ladder and being able to adorn yourself with shinier jewelry and more impressive sneakers. It is rappers portraying street fighters who are living the rap lifestyle, and coming out the winner in a big fight before promptly throwing down your cash on a ridiculously oversized diamond chain is great fun. You get to choose from a selection of voices for your fighter, too, meaning that unlike most games featuring a created player-character, they actually have a personality and talk during cutscenes.

Fight for NY‘s story is your standard revenge fare, with its plot escalating to the point where more-or-less every fighter in D-Mob’s crew defects to Crow’s gang, culminating in a showdown with Snoop in his fancy apartment. However, the game is elevated by the excellent voiceover work by its cast, who each sound like they’re having a blast in the recording booth. Considering that rap is essentially pro wrestling, with artists exaggerating their real-world personalities for the sake of entertainment, it’s perhaps not surprising that they each do so well.

It’s a crying shame that Sticky Fingaz didn’t receive more voiceover work following Fight for NY‘s release, as despite Crow’s position as the game’s crime lord, Sticky’s the real asshole you want to beat down. The guy’s a snarling Jack Russell snapping at your ankles, determined to get your player-character out of the picture as soon as you emerge on the scene. He’s appeared in a bunch of films and TV shows over the years, though I firmly believe that he should be the main antagonist in every video game. BioShock‘s Andrew Ryan? Replace his VO artist with Sticky, and he’s exponentially more villainous. Bowser? You’d want to stomp on his head 100 more times if Sticky’s voice was coming out of that dragon’s mouth.

Fights take place in a variety of settings, each boasting their own unique environmental hazards that can be used to brutalize an opponent — slam Busta Rhymes’s skull into a jukebox; throw Fatman Scoop from out of a window; send Sean Paul to his literal death by pushing him in the direction of a subway train. It’ll always be hilarious to me that each of these famous faces signed off on having their likenesses willfully murdered by teenagers over and over again, and it’s something that you’d never see today. Imagine Kanye giving the green light on allowing some 16-year-old in Connecticut to smack around his virtual head? Perhaps that is why a Def Jam: Fight for NY 2 has never surfaced.

Each character is also equipped with their own Blazin’ Move, which can be used as a finisher to KO your opponent. These special moves routinely defy the laws of physics, and throughout the story mode you get to unlock a whole bunch of them to attach to your fighter. You’ll also get a variety of fighting styles to choose from, each boasting their own unique strengths and weaknesses, along with unique standard moves you can pull off.

Replaying Fight for NY on the Gamecube in preparation for this feature, I was struck by just how over-the-top and brutal these moves still look. The camera shakes when you slam an opponent’s head against a bar, and when your guy pulls off six piledrivers in a row onto the concrete, the end result looks suitably grisly. The visuals have held up, with its cartoonish art direction affording it greater longevity than you expect, and the soundtrack is still as great as ever. Compiling a selection of tracks both from its cast and other artists affiliated with the Def Jam label (and also Outkast), this is unequivocally music designed to get the blood pumping. And pump it does, from out of pretty much everywhere — while the game’s cast consists of celebrities with images to protect, it remains incredibly violent.

So why have we never had another Def Jam game? While there’s no official answer to this, it’s no surprise that the series nose-dived after Def Jam Icon tanked. Taking Fight for NY‘s four-player arena brawling, throwing it out of the window and moving to more traditional one-on-one matchups, Icon ignored the absurdity that had made the previous Def Jam games so great, with it trying to root the inherently surreal franchise in realism. With EA Chicago completely taking over the reins from AKI, many of the ridiculous moves were also left by the wayside in favor of underwhelming punches, kicks, and throws, with it playing out more like a barebones and boring Virtua Fighter than a No Mercy spiritual successor.

Unfortunately, with many of the artists included in the game no longer being signed under the Def Jam label, it seems unlikely that we’d even see a remastered version of Fight for NY these days. The industry has also moved on a whole bunch since the 2004 game, with EA likely having to fork out a whole bunch to include Def Jam’s current roster of rappers in a sequel. Justin Bieber probably (and understandably) wouldn’t allow gamers to repeatedly throw him in front of a subway train without being paid a pretty penny in return, that’s for sure.