From Guilty Gear Strive to Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, here are our picks for the best fighting games of all time
Fighting games have a special place both in the past and present gaming. It is a genre that requires quick thinking, twitchy reflexes and tremendous knowledge of yourself and your opponent’s possibilities to play at a high level. It can often seem intimidating. But some of the most famous series of pop cultures, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, belong to the same genre.
For our considerations in compiling this list, we have set some special criteria: We have excluded platform fighters like the Smash Bros series, as this is important enough to be a standalone list; we have only one game that represents each series, and although legacy can play a big role, they must offer robust mechanics and still be fun today. Here is our list of the top 10 fighting games.
1. Mortal Kombat (2011)
Mortal Kombat 9 marked a turning point in the history of MK. It was a reboot – not just of its history, but of everything that has defined Mortal Kombat over the years. Puzzle Kombat, Motor Kombat, and Weird Create-a-Fatalities were all omitted instead of a back-to-basics approach focused primarily on the actual kombat. It turned out to be the best possible decision for the series because Mortal Kombat 9 brought the legendary fighting series back from the abyss thanks to its excellent story mode, great fan service and revised mechanics that laid the foundation for subsequent games.
It certainly wasn’t the most balanced fighting game in the world, but that was part of its charm, and its imperfections are one of the reasons why many fans prefer MK9 to this day.
Even a cursory glance at Skullgirls in Motion will tell you this is different from your average indie fighting game. But Skullgirls has more to offer than just its appearance. Skullgirls has one of the most flexible fighting game systems ever made. Each character has a lot of different combination routes, and you can play as a solo character with increased health and damage, as a balanced duo team or replenish your squad with three weaker characters, which, however, have the advantage of additional assists and combo expansions. Add an exceptional character design, art style and music to silky smooth gameplay, and it’s no wonder that 10 years later, Skullgirls is still thriving.
3. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown was the last arcade and console iteration of Sega’s leading 3D fighter until Ultimate Showdown rebuilt the game on Yakuza’s Dragon Engine for modern consoles. Virtua Fighter is often credited with heavily influencing or even creating the 3D fighter genre, which is fundamental to video games. People like Yu Suzuki (creator of Shenmue and Space Harrier) and Toshihiro Nagoshi (longtime head of the Yakuza series) helped develop a series that focused on grounded martial arts, extensive movement, attack and counter options, as well as characters that immediately became icons.
Virtua Fighter 5 represents the pinnacle of this design, with gameplay that still feels true to its roots but is different from all other fighters and improves the online features of the series. And although some single-player offers have been removed from previous versions of Virtua Fighter 5, Ultimate Showdown is the easiest way to play the latest entry on modern hardware. With incredibly high execution limits, e.g. Movements that require input windows of only one-sixtieth of a second, and characters that are fun just by pressing buttons, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a must-have for fans of 3D fighters and the genre as a whole.
4. Killer Instinct (Xbox One)
Killer Instinct of 2013 proved that the series was more than the Mortal Kombat copycat, some claimed to be. It was one of the first mainstream fighting games to integrate rollback netcode, and its online play is still among the smoothest ever. Dojo mode is the best educational tool the genre has ever seen – it doesn’t just teach you how to play killer instinct. It teaches you how to play fighting games, period, and is a must-read for anyone trying to learn the genre. In addition, Killer Instinct is packed with great single-player content, and no matter how you play, it looks great and has a killer soundtrack by Mick Gordon.
But whether you’re screaming along with the announcer while pulling off an Ultra combo, landing a perfectly timed combo or counter-breaker, or just learning a new character in training mode, Killer Instinct feels great and has the technical depth every great fighter needs while remaining unique. If only Microsoft would release a sequel now…
5. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is distinguished by its character balance (or lack thereof) and team construction. Many characters are broken in a way that only Marvel can get away with. The ability to assemble three of these characters, each with one of three assistance options in a different order, creates a sandbox full of possibilities.
You can have complete control while perfectly performing an infinite combination game and questioning your life decisions while continuously blocking soul fists without having the chance to postpone the next game. You can start a game with a mix-up that results in a deadly combination, confuse your opponent’s next character with another death combination, and make an execution error on his third character.3 X Factor Comeback. It’s brutal and unforgiving, but the feeling of being omnipotent is worth it. It’s fast and flashy, and the combo system is ridiculous. It will grab their attention and take them on a ride.
6. The King of Fighters XIII
The King of Fighters series has several great entries, many of which chose 98 and 2002 as their favourites, and XV received a lot of love as the latest entry. However, for our money, KOF XIII remains one of the best fighting games of all time. The super-detailed pixel art, game pace and hyper-drive combo system have helped KOF to a resurgence in the competitive and casual fighting game scene that continues to this day, although the notoriously difficult combo trials remain, they are not even necessary to use while playing. The characters, the team-based combat and the beautiful animation keep this special king on the throne.
7. Dragon Ball FighterZ
Dragon Ball FighterZ is finally a good Dragon Ball game and an amazing fighting game in its own right. The first thing you will notice is the presentation: it is stunning to look at, and the sounds of haymakers, super strokes and energy beams give the action the punch it needs. You can freeze almost any frame, and you might think it is taken directly from the anime.
Combine the presentation with an extensive list of fans’ favourite characters, the 3v3 tag system, and an approachable car combo system that makes striking combos easier for beginners. You have one of the most entertaining fighting games of recent times, with competitive legs that persist to this day. And with the recent announcement of the rollback netcode, Dragon Ball Fighters has a very bright future ahead of it. Even with less than outstanding Netcode, the clear love knowledge for Dragon Ball and the genre comes into its own in every fight.
8. Tekken 7
Tekken has always been known as one of the most difficult fighting game franchises. Its 3D movement adds layers of complexity, there are over 50 characters, each with well over 100 moves apiece, and the simple process of moving backwards properly takes practice. Its depth and complexity make it as challenging as it is rewarding, and those who take the time will be rewarded.
What sets Tekken 7 apart from other entries in the series and gives it a place here is how much accessibility has improved without reducing the depth. The series, returning to 1v1 from the 2v2 format in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, halves the number of moves you need to remember. Still, all the characters individually are just as complex as they were, if not even more complex. Rage arts and rage drives are exciting comeback mechanics but will never surpass solid play. And while the slow-mo finishers don’t change much about the gameplay, they’ve created some of the most hyped moments in tournaments. Tekken 7 manages to attract a new audience without alienating hardcore fans perfectly.
9. Guilty Gear Strive
The Guilty Gear series has been churning out excellent fighting games for over two decades, but Guilty Gear Strive is where Arc System Works’ flagship title finally found mainstream success, and for a good reason. Strive offers the best rollback netcode in the industry, which was largely unknown to a mainstream fighter a few years ago.
But more than a good net code is needed to make a great fighter. Strive has also refined the notoriously technical gameplay of the series, making it easy to pick up and understand without losing the depth or variety of Guilty Gear’s Gonzo cast. Every single one of Strive’s twenty characters – whether his serial poster boy and rush down monster Sol Badguy or the coffin–swinging Goldlewis Dickinson – plays completely differently, so there is a lot to learn and discover, even if you only play a single character at a time. Add Roman aborts that allow you to cancel any action into another action, and Strive provides an almost unlimited level of freedom and expression for players.
Combine all of that with an excellent story mode, detailed educational tools, tons of concept art and customization options to unlock, a rocking soundtrack that covers almost every game in the franchise, and some of the genre’s most impressive graphics, and it’s easy to see why Strive has taken the fighting game community by storm.
10. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Choosing a single game representing the most famous fighting game franchise was difficult. After all, Street Fighter II popularized the genre when it hit the arcades in 1991. and Street Fighter IV revived it when it came out on home consoles in 2009. But Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is something special. It gave us Evo Moment 37, the Daigo Parry, and inspired a generation of players. But there is so much more to it. The sprite work is still one of the most beautiful animated ones ever; the backgrounds exude style, and the jazz-inspired soundtrack features some of the best music in any fighting game. Even the list, which was underestimated at the time because only a few characters were taken from Street Fighter II and how strange some characters are, keeps up remarkably well with options for any style of play.
The real highlight, however, is the parry system. The decision to make every attack, from Hadoukens to Super Arts, parable gives an almost unlimited depth to a series already known for it. At the same time, it is relatively easy for newcomers to learn and play. 3rd Strike showed us what is possible, brought the most important series of the genre up to date with its contemporaries and, at the same time, raised it to new heights. More importantly, everything has survived to this day, which most of the games of 1999 can not say, and more recent re-releases even support rollback Netcode. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is the best fighting game ever made.