Fighting games are among the most instantly recognizable video game genres ever since Karate Champ became an instant arcade classic in 1984.
Fast forward to 1987 and the release of Street Fighter, then to its sequel in 1991, Street Fighter II, that popularized fighting games in a way never imagined. Today, some of the most successful names in all of gaming belong to the fighting genre with the likes of Mortal Kombat and Super Smash Bros.
As popular as the genre is, fighting games haven’t always been an industry darling as they have also courted controversy over the years. Who remembers the SNES release of Mortal Kombat and its green blood? Still, parent (and 1990s U.S. Congressional) concerns aside, fighting games remain some of the best titles for replayability and fun with friends and family.
Here’s a list of the absolute best fighting games of all time according to Metacritic.
What is a Fighting Game?
A fighting game is best known as a type of video game that includes combat between two (or more) characters. As these characters fight, they are able to use special moves, combos, counter-attacks, blocks, and various forms of hand-to-hand fighting.
Fighting games could also be more original with the likes of Super Smash Bros. where you suspend the original definition of a fighting game and replace it with something that requires a little more disbelief around super high jumps, falling off platforms, and multiple lives. Fighting games require quick thinking, strategy, and the ability to memorize dozens if not hundreds of different controller combinations.
#7: Marvel vs. Capcom 2
Long before the days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was one of the best ways to get a fill of your favorite comic characters.
Available on a multitude of consoles, it was the Dreamcast version of the game that remains the most memorable. The game itself requires a player to select three characters from either the Marvel or Capcom universe and engage in a one-on-one battle.
What made Marvel vs. Capcom 2 so unique was its ability to tag in any of the various characters you selected for a match in the event one of your characters is losing. You can also call one of your characters just to come in and perform a special move to help you win back some offensive ground. Within the single-player mode, you fight seven different computer-controlled teams before reaching a final boss.
Multiplayer mode helped Marvel vs. Capcom 2 earn its 90 Metascore as did the availability to choose between more than 56 characters. As popular as the Dreamcast version was, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was also playable on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and later on iOS.
#6: Super Smash Bros. Melee
Published for the GameCube in 2001, Super Smash Bros. Melee was the second entry in the Super Smash Bros. series and took an already outstanding game and made it even better with a 92 Metascore.
The overall Super Smash Bros. franchise has sold more than 70 million games worldwide, accounting for more than seven million copies. In fact, it was even estimated at one point that more than 70% of all Nintendo GameCube console owners had a copy of Melee.
All of the characters from the first game returned while also adding new faces like those from the Fire Emblem franchise. Unlike traditional fighting games, Super Smash Bros. Melee is a best-of-three-round format as players look to knock their opponents, computer or human, off a stage as many times as they can within a certain time limit. Whereas most fighting games require various button combinations, Melee attacks were single-button focused.
Available in both single-player and multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Melee was a smashing success for the GameCube but it’s the multiplayer mode that’s the real highlight. Up to four players can play in a free-for-all against one another or compete on the same team and attempt to defeat the computer or other human opponents.
#5: Super Smash Bros. Brawl
As good as the GameCube edition of Super Smash Bros. was, the Nintendo Wii version with Super Smash Bros. Brawl took an excellent title and upped the stakes for the franchise.
An increase in the number of available characters plus enhanced graphics and an improved fighting system all helped Super Smash Bros. Brawl earned a 93 Metascore. Today, Super Smash Bros. Brawl holds the position as the eighth best-selling Nintendo Wii game of all time having sold more than 13 million copies worldwide.
The overall stakes of the game remained the same as players select a character from the Nintendo world of games and look to knock an opponent off one of a series of recognizable stages. Starting each stage with 0%, players attempt to heap enough damage on their opponent to get them as high as 999% damage or knock them off the platform using a series of moves that are specific to each character.
Within Super Smash Bros. Brawl you can choose from 39 different characters including a staple of Mario faces as well as Samus, Young Link, Diddy Kong, and Solid Snake from the Metal Gear franchise. Nintendo was even able to partner with Sega and introduce Sonic the Hedgehog into the game as a playable character.
#4: Virtua Fighter 4
Released in 2001 for the Sony PlayStation 2 and 3 consoles, Virtua Fighter 4, with its 94 Metascore, was home to 13 different characters all of whom had moves based on real martial arts.
The series has come a long way since the world was first introduced to Virtua Fighter almost ten years prior, and so have the graphics. On top of impressive graphics, the biggest highlight of Virtua Fighter 4 is that its controls are as good as ever. Of course, you’re going to need excellent controls in the single-player mode in order to battle the final boss, Dural, as she is one tough opponent.
Another major highlight of Virtua Fighter 4 is how easy the game is to pick up for beginners. Not only are some of the characters specifically identified for beginners to the franchise, but their moves also don’t require the same level of precision as other characters in the game. Thankfully, the game has a training mode that walks players through all sorts of different combinations, various game mechanics, and how to counter opponent moves.
Unlike previous iterations of the franchise, Virtua Fighter 4 is a little more down to earth, specifically around jumping. Whereas previous iterations of the games gave players the opportunity to jump in ways no human should be able, Virtua Fighter 4 brings the game back down to earth, literally.
#3: Street Fighter IV
- 3D environments and characters
- Traditional 2D Street Fighter six-button gameplay
- New locations never seen before
- Classic characters re-imagined, including the original cast of Street Fighter II
- New brawlers: female super-spy Crimson Viper, lucha libre wrestler El Fuerte, mixed martial artist Abel and more!
- New special moves including Focus Attacks, Super Combos, and the Ultra Combo system
What Street Fighter II did for arcade consoles by breathing life into them at a critical point, so too did Street Fighter IV for the fight game genre and the home video game console.
Gaining an audience outside of a more diehard fighting game crowd was not easy but Street Fighter IV did it by keeping its core character base intact with more than 25 different playable options. Often regarded as one of the best games of all time, it’s no surprise to see that Street Fighter IV earned a 94 Metascore.
Released in 2011 for the PlayStation 3, one year after it hit arcades, the game captures the original 2D perspective while adding 3D camera moments to make it feel and play more modern. Six-button controls were a game staple and would enable players to pull off special moves never attempted in any Street Fighter game. To help modernize the game, developers included special moves such as Super Combos and Ultra Combos, the latter of which is part of the 3D camera inclusion to help provide a different view of the playing field.
Selling more than 20 million copies worldwide, the Street Fighter franchise is one of the names best associated with the fighting game genre as a whole. Only Mortal Kombat and Super Smash Bros. outsell Street Fighter in the genre.
#2: Tekken 3
The third installment in the Tekken franchise found its way from the arcade to the PlayStation in 1998 and was re-released for the PlayStation 2 in 2005.
Featuring a mostly new cast of playable characters, the game was a major hit for both consoles selling more than 8 million copies worldwide. Those are strong enough sales numbers to make Tekken 3 the fifth best-selling game ever for the original PlayStation. Earning a 96 Metascore is no easy feat, and that speaks to Tekken 3’s value to the fighting game genre and PlayStation consoles, in particular.
Thankfully, even as the developers introduced new characters, they left core gameplay intact from the two previous installments. Even so, Tekken 3 also introduced at least one new major advancement with the inclusion of a third axis which allows your character to step in and out of the background. A minigame called Tekken Force was also included as a side-scroller. It was a fun addition which added a retro feel to the title and many players loved the nostalgic addition.
Another minigame, Tekken Ball, allows the players to partake in a game of something that feels similar to beach volleyball but uses their special moves to serve and volley. Minigames or not, there is just something so great about Tekken 3’s ability to execute eight, nine, or ten-hit combos that look as good today as they did 20-plus years ago.
- Sega Dreamcast
- Great graphics and animation
- Single and multiplayer modes as well as team mode, computer vs. computer, martial arts demo, and more
- Secrets and extra features are plentiful
It’s not often that video game fans come together and universally agree on the best game of any genre or format. While that isn’t 100% true here, there is a very vocal majority that all echo one thing: SoulCalibur for the Dreamcast is the absolute best fighting game of all time.
Released on the Dreamcast in 1999 (and later on Xbox in 2008) and earning a jaw-dropping 98 Metascore, SoulCalibur is actually a sequel of an arcade-only title, Soul Edge.
Set three years after the arcade game, SoulCalibur is a 3D fighting game with a heavy emphasis on weapon use. To use those weapons, the Dreamcast took full advantage of its technology by providing players with the ability to move the joystick in various directions which would move the character to help avoid attacks being thrown by an opponent.
SoulCalibur features 11 different playable characters including some from the original arcade game, the game does follow a plot around a mystical sword but, realistically, the game wasn’t played for its plot. It was played for its eight-direction movement and the weapon-focused combat that was unlike anything the fighting game genre had ever seen.
The fighting game genre is as competitive as any other genre like sports games with long-standing industry names competing against newer titles and developers all trying to make a name. Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat will always be best associated with the genre but should never allow a player to forget about incredible titles like Tekken, SoulCalibur, or Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
Fighting games may never overtake sports or open world games in terms of sales but they still have a place in the video game world. Thanks to their strong replayability and suspension of belief around just how many punches one character can throw in a 10-second stretch of time, fighting games are here to stay.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Zoa.Arts/Shutterstock.com.