1) Rush forward, beat down, flurry. (Jump in and hit buttons. Sometimes moves come out. Sometimes it's a fireball, sometimes it's a dragon punch.
2) Defensive "wait for a mistake" counter-attacks. (Parries, counters, and things of that nature in game where your standard Guile turtle defense isn't viable.)
3) Evasion and avoidance, minimizing possible counters. (In 3D games, this is mostly used with sidestepping and evasion of that calibur.)
4) "Scripted" play. Using set techs in a row ad nauseum. ("I have to land that combo, and then I win.)
Now, in general here's how they play out. (This isn't always true, depending on the skill difference, just a loose guideline.)
1) beats 4, ties 3 (Actually winning a little more than not), loses to 2.
2) Beats 1, ties 4, loses to 3.
3) Beats 2, ties 1, loses to 4.
4) Beats 3, ties 2, loses to 1.
Now, I place them in this order because this is typically the order that people learn to play in. People will learn rush fighting first, (Button mashing) and then after getting creamed by the defensive technique, they'd try to learn those highly defensive characters. This isn't the case for everyone, but it's pretty common in the evolving playstyles of those I've seen from start to now.
However, the skills seem to switch back and forth between them in a good player. For example, Ivy in Soul Calibur 2 would simply do a series of her moves that, even if blocked, would leave her in no danger or being hit and would deliver UNTOLD AMOUNTS OF PAIN unless countered in a very specific way. That style of Ivy player would have a roughly 50% win-loss against a defensive player of the same skill level, and would likely trounce a scrub that thinks dodging is more important that landing a hit. However, a player who doesn't know better would run in and not give Ivy the time to set up that chain of painful combos. Sometimes, the best defence is punching a dude in the face.
Is this example going to work ALL THE TIME? No. That Ivy player, if they've got to the point to where they know when they want to do what, could (and I should hope WOULD) adapt and pull out a quicker move or two to set up her rush foe to a painful and humiliating defeat. Conversely, I should hope the rush fighter would have learned where not to be, and avoid the pain Ivy can inflict.
Let's put this in a different perspective. Zangief. Everyone knows that being within arms reach of him is a bad bad bad place to be. How can someone defeat Zangief? Well, you've got projectiles. Those'll work a little. Wait, he's got a spinning Lariat which takes him through it while attacking. Ok, How about anti-air? No, that won't work either, since Zangief has no business in the air. Run? Nope, he'll throw you.
Why is it, then, that Zangief doesn't actually play like this in the hands of a human? Because there's something I'd like to call the "Skill handicap." Playing a character like this has a steep learning curve that will often scare away the nooblets and pros alike. N00bs because the 360 is a scary command, and Pros because they hate to lose.
That skill handicap that certain characters possess can be terrible. It can essentially remove one to three of the above skill sets. Zangief is a little slow to be a true Rush fighter, although the running Siberian Suplex helps out (360 + K Super Street Fighter 2 or later).
He lacks consistant defensive tools. In an air game he's got two options, either Jump and Belly Flop (Down + fierce Punch) or spinning Lairat (2 punches or 2 kicks). With the Flop, you run the risk of missing and leaving yourself wide open. With the Lariat, you get either lucky and hit them before they attack, or you trade hits. At least trading hits will usually work out in your favor, but depending on your foe you won't even get that. (Chun Li's head stomp is notorious for raping a Zangief).
He's a slow guy, and that makes it hard for him to evade a quicker character than himself (i.e. all of them), and that puts him in a tight spot. He's often too big to even jump over projectiles.
He also lacks attack strings that go well together. Anytime he lands a 360, both players positions are basically back to starting, with both of them away from one another. Sadly, this is not condusive to Zangief's "I will smash you into the ground" playstyle. Forcing him to get into hand to hand against anyone is not always something you can do.
So, why bother learning a character like that? Well, there are three reasons.
1) Seeing the look on your foes face when you land a 360 is magical. I've been the first to land it on quite a few people, and they all say the same thing. "Wow, no one's ever hit me with that before. I'll have to rethink this fight." The look in their eyes is that of fear. You've mastered one of the harder moves in exsistence. They have to wonder what else you have up your sleeve.
2)Nothing feels better, to me anyway, than letting people know that I'm using a typically "weaker" fighter, but they're still going to lose. It's why I love Dan. It's why I love Zangief. It's why I love Kyoko (from Rival Schools you heathens).
3)The characters no one uses means they don't know how they fully work. Hopefully, you do. They wouldn't have been put into the game without having SOME purpose overall. Some characters just trump others, hands down. Learning these characters that no one else really uses will both improve your knowledge about what you need to do to counter harder foes, but also expand your foes knowledge. Why would you want that? Great fights make both competitors better overall. No one plays fighting games just to play against the computer.
So, here's my request to you. Reply to this with the characters, in whatever fighting game you've got, that you or your playgroup just don't play with all that much.
In fact, I'll start us off!
Street Fighter (all of them) - T. Hawk, Necro, Area, Nanase
Soul Calibur (all of them) - Yoshimitsu, Necrid, Rock
Tekken (all of them too) - Armor King, Anna, Eddy, Julia
Mortal Kombat - Pretty much all of them after UMK3. Fuck that 3D-ish bullshit.
King Of Fighters - K'9999, Choi, Robert Garcia, Most boss characters (Because SNK makes some of the most
Guilty Gear - Eddie/Zato, Zappa
How about you?