The arrival of the Sega Genesis in the 1990s heralded the start of the 16-bit era, alongside the Super Nintendo. As these two consoles battled for family room supremacy, Sega saw an opportunity to bring the fighting game into the home and away from the arcade.
Released in North America on August 14, 1989, thanks to the strength of a sharp marketing campaign and a strong library of games, the Genesis would go on to sell more than 30 million units worldwide.
The Genesis’s popularity lives on even to this day, thanks to the release of two “mini” console re-releases, including the Sega Genesis Mini 2 which launched in late 2022. Included within these releases are some of the best Sega Genesis fighting games as it was one of the more popular genres available during the 16-bit era. Games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter helped this genre grow into a worldwide phenomenon for home consoles.
Let’s take a look at the absolute best fighting games for the Sega Genesis!
What is a Fighting Game?
Traditionally, in the video game space, a fighting game is a game of combat that involves at least two players. Generally, it’s one player versus the computer or another player through co-op or multiplayer and involves various uses of hand-to-hand combat. Martial arts often play an integral role, but so too can the mystical and magical arts.
Two fighters in a fighting game each have a health bar and the objective is to hit your opponent with as many attacks as possible so as to reduce that health bar to zero.
Because of the nature of 16-bit graphics, fighting games were generally limited to a 2D space with characters navigating vertically either by running, walking, or vertical jumping for aerial attacks. It’s also worth noting that the fighting game genre can easily be expanded into the “beat ‘em up world,” as these games involve plenty of hand-to-hand fighting.
Was the Sega Genesis Known for Fighting Games?
In some regards, yes, the Sega Genesis is well-known for fighting games, but it certainly wasn’t the only genre the Genesis was known for. Platformer games like Sonic the Hedgehog, the Sega Genesis’s Mario rival, were also major games on the console.
That said, some of the best-selling names on the Sega Genesis include three different Mortal Kombat titles and Street Fighter II, so there’s a definite argument to be made about the Genesis having a heavy fighting genre emphasis.
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As is the case with every game on this list, emDouble Dragon/em is an iconic video game that is part side-scrolling beat ‘em up and part fighting game.
Released by Accolade in 1992, emDouble Dragon/em features the story of two brothers, Billy and Jimmy Lee, as they battle against a variety of bad guys and bosses. One or two players could control either brother in levels that felt almost 3D-like due to the ability to move in four different directions. As the player, you could move your character up, down, left, and right but they could only face left or right.
To save Billy’s girlfriend, Marian, the brothers use their fighting skills as well as a variety of melee weapons including bats and knives throughout each level. A popular arcade title, emDouble Dragon/em remains an iconic name though its difficulty level was often a source of frustration. Thankfully, the game is better than the 1994 film of the same name.
Even as the Genesis version of emDouble Dragon/em was considered graphically inferior to the NES, it remains one of the best fighting games on the Genesis to this day.
emSamurai Shodown/em was a successful arcade title from SNK that was ported to the Sega Genesis in 1994, and it delivered in a big way.
Forget the punches and kicks that were all too familiar to fans of the arcade fighting games of the time and make way for throwing stars, katanas, and a whole lot of sharp objects. One of the original fighting games to drop a heavy emphasis on explosive combos, emSamurai Shodown/em focused more on reflexes and decisive action that quickly emptied an opponent’s health meter.
To port the game from the arcade, SNK had to make a few compromises like removing the camera zoom and making the fighting area smaller. The tradeoff was that every character was more detailed so the graphics felt like they had improved over the arcade cousin of the Genesis variant.
The game itself is set in the 18th century and every character in the game has a weapon of choice. Traditional Japanese weapons are present (hence the katana mention) and when a player lands an attack, the referee in the background holds up a flag which makes for a unique addition. Also unique to emSamurai Shodown/em was that match audiences will toss random power-ups into the ring that can quickly tilt a match in one direction.
Another game that crosses lines between the beat ‘em up and fighting genres, emStreets of Rage 2/em is undoubtedly one of the best games in the genre, period.
Choosing between one of four main characters, you have flexibility in movement in that you can walk around left, right, up, and down while only moving left or right. Each character offers their own set of standard attacks along with blitz and special attacks that are varied between each of the four different characters. Like a traditional fighting game, the player’s health is determined by a bar at the top of a screen and it reduces every time your character is hit by a henchperson or boss.
You could play single-player or as a co-op which just adds to the level of fun and excitement. The plot itself picks up one year after the original Streets of Rage as “Mr. X” is back and is intent on creating chaos in your town.
Everything about this game just feels right, including the updated feel of the graphics along with music and audio improvements. Not to mention the control system was a lot friendlier than its predecessor.
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The 10th best-selling game on the Sega Genesis overall, sold more than 1.02 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Released on October 13, 1995, the game offered better graphics than the first two iterations in the series along with an improved set of animalities and fatalities. As was the case with the first two MK games on the Sega Genesis, there is plenty of blood, guts, and gore, which was a major differentiator between SNES and the Genesis.
The plot revolves around Shao Kahn having lost in the previous Outworld tournament to Liu Kang, and now he’s looking to enact his revenge by resurrecting Queen Sindel. Upon doing so, he will combine Earthrealm and Outworld. It’s all a little “out there” if you don’t know the history of Mortal Kombat, but Raiden is able to protect a few of his best fighters who must defeat Shao Kahn and his minions to restore Earthrealm.
Realistically, you are not playing MK3 for the plot but for the fighting, and there’s some incredible fighting at that. Even if the SNES version had slightly better graphics, the Genesis version added the ability to play as Rain and Shao Kahn as well as adding in the excellent combo finishing brutalities the SNES version lacked.
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Like Mortal Kombat, emStreet Fighter II: Special Champion Edition/em is among the best fighting game names, not just of the Sega Genesis era, but of all time.
Still, as the eighth best-selling game on the Genesis, emStreet Fighter II/em would sell 1.6 million copies to console owners. Released for the Genesis in September 1993, the gameplay is every bit as memorable, as it offers the original eight main characters from the first game while adding the previous games’ four bosses as playable characters.
The thing about emStreet Fighter II/em is that many people remember the original as their introduction to the fight game genre. It’s also not a stretch to say that emStreet Fighter II/em is the likely reason why fighting games continue to be popular today, having introduced millions to the genre.
New game mechanics gave emStreet Fighter II: Special Champion Edition/em an instant boost with Genesis console owners but they would be further enticed to purchase knowing that you could play as the bosses from the original game (Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and Bison). The Street Fighter series continues to live on, thanks to the success of this title across the 16-bit era.
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Edging out Street Fighter II as the seventh best-selling game on the Sega Genesis, pushed at least 1.78 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Similar to how Street Fighter II introduced new characters to the series, did the same thing and also introduced new fatalities that would make the sequel even bloodier than the original release. Increasing the available playable character count to 12, everything about was improved on from the original.
The plot continues from the first game as the next Mortal Kombat tournament is set to begin in Outworld with humanity trying to defeat Shao Kahn and once again save Earthrealm. To win this tournament, game developers made some definite improvements by helping to better differentiate between high and low kicks, making combos easier to perform, and adding special moves to returning characters.
As is the case with all Mortal Kombat games, matches are best of three, and the first player to win two rounds is the winner. To defeat your opponent, you must land hits or special moves to drain their health bar and as you are about to defeat them, you can introduce a special move or fatality.
Play this classic game on Sega Genesis from Amazon .
Surprise, another emMortal Kombat/em entry appears on a list of the best fighting games on the Sega Genesis.
It turns out that selling more than 3.25 million copies will do that for a game, which also makes this September 1993 release the fifth best-selling game on the Genesis platform. The release of the original MK game was marred by controversy as Sega allowed the bloody matches and fatalities from the arcade version to carry over, while Nintendo changed the blood to green in the Super Nintendo release.
Even if the Super Nintendo offered slightly improved graphics, the sense of realism on the Sega Genesis helped popularize the console overall. Both games were similar when it came to plot and style with players battling their computer or human opponents in a best-of-three style matchup with the winner needing only two rounds of victory to move on.
emMortal Kombat/em was the first game to offer a dedicated finishing move known as the “Fatality” which became synonymous with the game’s gory playing style. The single-player game was enough to attract millions of gamers and help them stop Shang Tsung and Goro in the fight for Earthrealm against the evil villains of Outworld.
Finish your opponents by buying this game on Amazon here.
The Sega Genesis was home to some of the best gaming of the 16-bit era and fighting games played a central role in its success. Even if Sega was never able to match the Super Nintendo’s sales volume, it managed to put a dent in Nintendo’s home console dominance overall, and you can thank series like Mortal Kombat and Streets of Rage for making that a reality.
Sadly, Sega would struggle to match the success of the Genesis console with future console releases, but there’s still a special place as a company in the video game hall of fame.
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Last update on 2023-09-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API