Comics, Anime & Manga, Gaming

MUGEN: The Fighting Game Engine Built by Community and Chaos

Crack open the infinite possibilities of MUGEN, the absurd fighting game engine that brings all characters into one.

Luffy vs. Doctor Doom
Image: YT: AuMiO VXC
By: Javier ReyesMar 28, 2024, 10:34 AM

Remember that age-old debate about who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku? As fun as those conversations were, I feel like they never thought outside the box enough. So, what if Batman fought against Ryu from Street Fighter? Or Iron Man against a superpowered Homer Simpson? While absurd matchups like that will never happen on the pages of comic books, there is a little corner of the internet where you can see them come true. What I’m talking about is a fighting game engine called MUGEN. 

In Japanese, MUGEN means “infinite,” which is the most fitting definition for what the game engine offers. At its core, it’s a 2D sprites-based fighting game engine similar to Street Fighter, The King of Fighters, and even the classic Mortal Kombat games. But while those games follow cohesive rules and gameplay mechanics, MUGEN is an unchained beast that sacrifices balance for sheer absurdity and fun. Nowhere else will you get to see Goku, Ryu, and Spider-Man share a screen and have it make sense. Although, I use the word “sense” very loosely in this context. In this article, I’ll be diving into the wild world of MUGEN and how it’s remained a surprising force within the fighting game community and other fandoms.

Mugen SuperheroesImage: Mugen Superheroes

History - Community Roots

The beta for MUGEN was first released in 1999 on MSDos by a developer called Elecbyte. Unfortunately, the company shut down in 2003 despite making regular updates in those four years. It took the company’s closure for the game’s beta to get leaked to the public. With its whopping two-character limit and locked game modes, the initial package bordered on shovelware because of how barebones it was. But like most software released into the wild, modders eventually cracked open the file to allow for more characters and modes. That’s when the real fun started. With the floodgates open, the dedicated MUGEN community took the reigns and improved the game themselves. “Official” updates to the engine were released in 2009 and 2013, with the latter being the version still used today.

For over ten years now, the MUGEN that many people know and love has been a community-driven effort for fighting game enthusiasts to play, create, and mash together the games of their dreams. With modders pulling 2D sprites and files from older video games, MUGEN features plenty of preexisting fighters like Ryu from Street Fighter, Terry Bogard from The King of Fighters, and Spider-Man from Marvel vs. Capcom. However, the modularity of MUGEN has attracted many different communities beyond fighting games to join the fun. Scour through forums and you’ll find comprehensive lists of anime characters and comic book superheroes to choose from as your fighter. Then, there are the more insane creations like Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin, and Ronald McDonald, who all have fully fleshed move sets and supers made just for the game. As you’ll see in the image above, the character select screen being so hilariously bloated is a testament to the amount of effort put into the game by modders and dedicated community members.

Mugen - Ronal McDonald - TheLP2200Image: TheLP2200

Let the Salt Begin

One of the most commonly known incarnations of MUGEN is a content channel called SaltyBet. Streamed on Twitch and YouTube, SaltyBet is where viewers can watch randomly generated matches between two CPU characters and bet on who will be the winner. Think of it as digital cockfighting but in the most unhinged manner possible. Peaking into the channel is the easiest way to understand the chaotic appeal of MUGEN. One moment, you’ll see an incredibly hyped match between Ken Masters from Third Strike and Scorpion from Mortal Kombat 2. Then, the next match is somehow between Ronald McDonald and A.B.A from Guilty Gear. The infinite possibilities of what you’ll see make the channel endlessly appealing, even if what’s happening on screen hardly makes any sense.

So, if you’re looking for a good, honest-to-God, balanced fighting game, MUGEN is the farthest thing from it. MUGEN is where things get crazy and logical sense is thrown out the window. Dive into YouTube and you’ll find a rabbit hole of compilation videos and match footage featuring every conceivable character under the sun. But the surprising thing is that SaltyBet is surprisingly only the tip of the iceberg. With MUGEN being so easily moddable, there are plenty of different versions of it to discover and play if you look hard enough. That’s why most people would rather skip the headache of putting things together themselves and just throw down some SaltyBucks while watching some silly matches streamed online.

Mugen - Super Arts - NafrielXImage: NafrielX

The Future of MUGEN

Even though the core MUGEN engine has not had a major update since 2013, the dedicated community continues to find ways to improve and grow the game. IKEMEN, for example, is an open-source game engine designed to be compatible with MUGEN. It further expands what MUGEN is capable of, introducing more modern features like native netplay. Because MUGEN on its own did not have netplay, players were forced to use third-party software like Parsec to run sets together. Even then, it still wasn’t the cleanest experience. With IKEMEN, the game is taking steps in the right direction to being modernized while still being the place where crazy things happen all the time. And since IKEMEN is open-source, users can easily make micro and macro adjustments to the game engine in ways that were not possible before. 

In a way, MUGEN embodies the power of the internet in its purest form. It’s memes, dream matches, and hyped all rolled into one package that’s hilariously barely holding itself together. The game and the community have never claimed to be taken seriously, and that’s the pure fun of it all. After decades of surprising people with its insanity, the platform will keep growing in ways people least expect. As its name says, the possibilities are infinite, and you’ll never know which character you’ll see next stepping into the arena.

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