Even today, most fighting games revolve around some sort of a fantasy. Whether it’s Tekken, Street Fighter or even Mortal Kombat, most of them feature complex combos unattainable by mere mortals. And characters with unrealistic physique and scorching fireballs further distance the genre from anything conventional. But unlike the former three, Def Jam: Fight for NY was actually somewhat more grounded in realism.

For starters, do you like hip hop music and fighting games? Do you enjoy having two rappers busting in each other’s teeth? That’s exactly what Def Jam was. Released in 2004, it completely turned fighting games as we know them on their head. Offering a roster of well-known performers, a surprisingly good story and a satisfying fighting system.

In this article, we take a look at Def Jam: Fight for NY after its 15 years on the market and how it redefined storytelling in the fighting genre. We also examine the game’s brutal fighting system and yet another knockout (no pun intended) soundtrack from EA.

Come and Take a Walk With Me

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Some might argue that fighting games don’t need a story. Neither does porn, but context sure as heck doesn’t hurt. A hero’s motivation to fight is just as important as how Johnny Sins ended up becoming a pizza boy. In Def Jam: Fight for NY, however, players were not delivering pizza, but rather jaw-shattering hooks.

Choosing from preset facial and body features, players took control of a custom character created at the start of the game. After saving D-Mob, the protagonist of Vendetta from being imprisoned, the character joins his crew to help him take over the city’s fighting scene. They were opposed by Crow’s crew, who wanted for nothing less than to maintain a dominant position in the city.

It was a simple, but nonetheless enjoyable story, especially for the genre. Similarly to Need for Speed: Underground, the plot was told through brief cutscenes and never overstayed its welcome. It even featured intrigue and betrayal, with friends turning into foes and supposed villains becoming trusted allies. Most of its success came from the impressive cast consisting of musicians, actors and other celebrities.

Performers like Ludacris, Sean Paul and Xzibit were featured in the story. With others, like Redman and Busta Rhymes taking on starring roles. Snoop Dogg portrayed the main villain – Crow – while actor, Danny Trejo, acted out one of his henchmen. Furthermore, punk-rock legend Henry Rollins played the hero’s trainer, and actress and model Carmen Electra was featured as a potential girlfriend. All of them were voiced by their real counterparts and just imagine how much EA invested in voice acting alone.

That Freight Train That Hit You, That Was Me

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Normally, I don’t enjoy fighting games. I find the gameplay too monotonous and having to learn dozens of combos isn’t my cup of coffee. Or was it whiskey? But Def Jam: Fight for NY wasn’t like it and gameplay was absolutely brutal and ridiculous. Beyond the engaging story, the main attraction of Def Jam were the fights.

With a range of fighting styles, melee weapons and environmental interactions, it had a ton of options for bringing the pain to your opponent. From light punches to the chin to devastating round-kicks and bone-crunching armbars. And melee weapons, like pool cues and beer bottles, were always handy to break against an opponent’s head.

Each arena, whether a crowded bar or a desolate parking lot, provided even more ways for doing combat. Given the right circumstance, you could grab the opponent and push them into the crowd for someone to hold or fit their head in a car’s door and then slam it shut. And if you were fighting on the metro level, you could push them on the rails right before a train arrived.

Five different fighting styles meant a galore of approaches to combat. Players could punch their way through the story as a Streetfighter or use Submissions to break an opponent’s will to fight. Better yet, it was eventually possible to learn multiple styles, creating your perfect brawler. And then there were the spectacular Blazin’ Moves: brutal finishers which drove the final nail in the coffin if the opponent’s health was low enough.

These moves were brutal, accompanied by the sounds of snapping bones and tendons, and each character had a signature move.

Bling and Sing

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Winning fights gradually unlocked new customization options for the character. These ranged from clothing and jewellery to impressive tattoos covering entire limbs. And as you progressed, even more advanced pieces of apparel became available.

Famous clothing brands, such as Reebok and Jordan, were prominently showcased within the game. Jacob’s jewellery was among the game’s accessories, with Jacob Arabo himself acting out a role of the vendor.

Moreover, with so many renowned hip hop artists on the roster, there was only one genre of music to go for the soundtrack. And much like Need for Speed: Underground and Burnout 3: Takedown, Def Jam: Fight for NY featured an excellent tracklist.

Among the ones that resonated with me were “Let’s Get Dirty” by Redman, “Make It Hurt” by Busta Rhymes and “Mother Mother” by Xzibit. Then there were “Are We Cuttin” by Pastor Troy and “Take a Look at My Life” by Fat Joe. And last, but certainly not least – “Walk With Me” by Joe Budden fittingly accompanying the game’s ending credits.

These are but the tip of the auditory iceberg, with Ice-T comfortably sitting somewhere on the top as well. And the soundtrack was obviously pure heaven for anyone into rap and hip hop. But regardless of your personal musical preferences, it was nigh impossible to not bump your head in tune with at least some of these tracks.

What’s Next for Def Jam?

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Upon release, Def Jam: Fight for NY garnered nearly perfect scores from the most notable publications. It even received a Game Critics Award for Best Fighting Game in 2004. But sadly, its sequel, Def Jam: Icon, didn’t sit so well with players and critics, though that’s a story for another day.

In 2018, a rumour of a possible sequel surfaced, meaning a potential resurgence of the series. Until then, tell us about your memories with Def Jam. Did you play Vendetta and Icon as well? Leave a comment down below.

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