I love this game. So damn much.

I first played Def Jam: Fight for NY on Playstation 2, and then on the Wii (via its Gamecube backwards compatibility). I’ve probably beaten it six or seven times, not including the single player campaigns I’ve started but never finished. I’ve logged hours of multiplayer with my friends. All told, on an on-and-off basis, I’ve been playing this game for close to ten years.

From an objective, competitive perspective, the Street Fighter games are the best fighting games ever made—they have the diversity, the strategy, and the depth of gameplay. First and foremost, however, games should be fun.  And I’m hard pressed to think of a fighting game as purely fun as Def Jam: Fight for NY, which retains its humor, accessibility, and entertainment value even today.

The single player campaign gives you the opportunity to create your own fighter—you can even select the voice that you want. The game accomplishes this through a unique framing device—you’re sitting with a forensic artist, and she’s ‘drawing’ the suspect at a crime scene. Clever and cool—and when you see your designed character talking and interacting with Method Man two minutes later, it’s even cooler.

So the basic premise is that you get recruited by Method Man as part of an underground ‘fight club’ circuit. You fight everywhere: a subway station, an old timey saloon, an MMA steel cage, and an underground parking lot, to name a few spots. During the fight, you can grab objects from the rowdy audience, ECW style. Occasionally, the crowd takes an even more active role, holding you in a full nelson while your opponent pounds the crap out of you.

Most of the time, however, you’ll be fighting on your own with your bare hands. You weigh this when choosing your fighting style (you can eventually choose up to three): Street Fighting, Wrestling, Kickboxing, Submissions, and Martial Arts. One unique aspect of Fight for NY is that you cannot beat your opponent with basic punches and kicks; you have to finish them with a final, devastating move. Street Fighters can throw wild haymaker punches. Wrestlers can suplex or powerbomb their opponents. If you’re a beginner, never start with Martial Arts. Its power move is contextual; you require a nearby wall to pull off the flying kick.

A Blazin’ Move can also finish off your opponent. Perform enough combos, reversals, and specials, and your Blazin’ meter slowly fills up. Once you are completely maxed, you go into Blazin’ mode—the visuals go haywire, and your character lets out a signature scream. Flava Flav, for example, screams, “YEEAAHHH, BOYYYY!” at the top of his lungs.

Blazin’ status lets you perform a devastating, brutal move—the equivalent to a fatality in Mortal Kombat. There are many different types of Blazin’ moves. Each of your opponents has his or her own signature, and most Blazin’ moves are unlocked as you progress in the campaign. You can equip up to four at a time—these range from simple, like a good, old-fashioned knee to the face; to the fantastical, like using your opponent as a pogo stick. Redman takes the simplest approach; he just punches and kicks you in the nuts as hard as he can.

Man, Redman is so cool in this game. “I’mma take your tongue out! And lick my ass with it!” Classic.

So you’re beating up fighters—such as Omar Epps, Danny Trejo, Ice-T, and Sean Paul—and yes, it’s difficult, but it’s not too difficult. You’re accumulating experience points and you’re leveling up your abilities, and all is well. Then, about halfway through the game, Fat Joe challenges you to a steel cage fight. Fat Joe, without a doubt, is the most formidable beast in the game; the first time you face him, you’re completely outmatched. His Triple H Pedigree, by itself, drains a fifth of your life. He also punches hard and tosses you around like a rag doll. In the close quarters of a steel cage, that’s nothing but bad news.

The second time you meet him, near the end of the game, the fight is actually even more difficult. Even though your stats are maxed out and you tag team with Method Man, Meth has only half a life bar. Thus, the fight quickly becomes a handicap match, and you have to take out both Fat Joe and Busta Rhymes to survive. The trick is to beat up Busta Rhymes really quickly while Fat Joe is killing poor Method Man, but this takes a lot of practice, and a lot of reversals, to pull off successfully.

When I reminisce over Fight for NY, I remember how hyped the music got me. The load screens and menus, usually filler for most games, were made badass by the music alone; I would sometimes pause and let the song finish before moving on to my fight. The standout track is definitely “Bust”—a deep cut from Big Boi’s half of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. So raw. And that intro? It sounds like the prelude to a horror movie.

The final opponent is Snoop Dogg, who’s decked out in all his pimp glory—the hat, the long coat, and the cane, which conceals a sword. Snoop is a martial artist, and so he keeps those boots flying. If you win, you toss him off a building through a glass window, and all is well again in the underground fight game.

The first game in the Def Jam series, Def Jam Vendetta, was a mere prelude of things to come.The second game, Fight for NY, was casual gamer perfection. The third game, Def Jam: Icon, was a disappointment—no Blazin’ Moves, no diverse fighting styles, and no grit.

Can you imagine an updated version of Fight for NY with a revamped Def Jam roster? 2 Chainz vs. Big Sean? Iggy Azalea vs. Mariah Carey? Kanye West vs. Rick Ross? The possibilities boggle the mind.

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