Here are the best fighting games of all time that you should play.
Fighting games hold a particular position in both the history and present of gaming, especially when games like Mortal Kombat 1 and Street Fighter 6 were released just last year. To play at a high level, you must have rapid thinking, twitch reflexes, and a thorough understanding of both your own and your opponents’ possibilities. It can frequently appear intimidating. However, some of the most well-known franchises in popular culture, such as Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, fall within the same genre.
So, for our consideration in compiling this list, we’ve established some special criteria: we’ve excluded platform fighters like the Smash Bros series because they’re important enough to warrant their own list; we only have one game representing each series; and, while legacy can play a role, they must offer robust mechanics and be fun to play today. Here is a list of the top 10 fighting games.
10. Mortal Kombat (2011)
Mortal Kombat 9 is a watershed moment in the franchise’s history. It was a reboot, not only of the story, but of everything that had defined Mortal Kombat throughout the years. Puzzle Kombat, Motor Kombat, and bizarre Create-a-Fatalities were all removed in favor of a back-to-basics approach that prioritized the real kombat over everything else. It turned out to be the finest move for the franchise, as Mortal Kombat 9 saved the renowned fighting series from extinction with its excellent story mode, massive amounts of fanservice, and rewritten mechanics that established the groundwork for future games.
It certainly was not the most balanced fighting game in the world, but that was part of its charm, and its imperfections are actually one of the reasons why many fans still prefer MK9 to this day.
Even a quick peek at Skullgirls in motion reveals that this isn’t your typical indie fighting game. But Skullgirls is more than simply its looks. Skullgirls features one of the most adaptable fighting game systems ever created. Every character has a variety of combo routes, and you can play as a solo character with increased health and damage, a balanced duo team, or a squad of three lesser players who benefit from extra assistance and combo extensions. With unique character design, graphic style, and music, as well as silky smooth gameplay, it’s no surprise that Skullgirls is still going strong ten years later.
8. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown was Sega’s final arcade and console incarnation before Ultimate Showdown recreated it for modern systems using Yakuza’s Dragon Engine. Virtua Fighter is widely regarded as having significantly influenced or even invented the 3D fighter genre. Yu Suzuki (developer of Shenmue and Space Harrier) and Toshihiro Nagoshi (longtime head of the Yakuza series) contributed to the creation of a series centered on grounded martial arts, huge mobility, attack, and counter possibilities, and instantly recognizable characters.
Virtua Fighter 5 represents the pinnacle of this design, with gameplay that feels both authentic to its origins and distinct from any other fighter on the market, as well as improvements to the series’ online functionality. Although several single-player features have been removed from previous versions of Virtua Fighter 5, Ultimate Showdown is the simplest way to play the most recent entry on modern technology. Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is a must-play for lovers of 3D fighters and the genre in general, with exceptionally high execution ceilings, such as moves that demand input windows as small as one sixty-fifth of a second, and characters that are entertaining to just mash buttons on.
7. Killer Instinct (Xbox One)
Killer Instinct, released in 2013, demonstrated that the series was more than just a Mortal Kombat imitator. It was one of the first commercial combat games to use rollback netcode, and its online gameplay is currently among the smoothest available. Its Dojo mode is the best teaching tool the genre has ever seen; it teaches you how to play fighting games in general, not just Killer Instinct, and is mandatory reading for anyone looking to learn the genre. Furthermore, brilliant Instinct is jam-packed with amazing single-player content, and regardless of how you play, it looks fantastic and features a brilliant soundtrack by Mick Gordon.
However, whether you’re roaring along with the announcer while doing an Ultra Combo, landing a perfectly timed Combo or Counter Breaker, or simply learning a new character in training mode, Killer Instinct feels amazing to play and has the technical complexity that any great fighter need while being distinct. If only Microsoft would release a sequel.
6. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is set apart by its character balance (or lack thereof) and team construction. Many of the characters are broken in a way that only Marvel can get away with, and being able to put three of these characters together, each with one of three assist options, in varying orders, creates a sandbox of possibilities.
You can be in complete control as you perfectly execute an infinite combo one game and question your life decisions as you’re stuck blocking Soul Fists nonstop without having a chance to move the next game. You can start a game off with a mixup leading to a death combo, mixup your opponent’s next character into another death combo, and make one execution error on their third character just watch your whole team die to a lvl.3 X-Factor comeback. It’s brutal and unforgiving, but that feeling of being all-powerful is worth it. It’s fast, flashy, and the combo system is ridiculous. It will garner your attention and take you for a ride.
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5. The King of Fighters XIII
The King of Fighters series has a number of great entries, with many choosing 98 and 2002 as their favorites, and XV receiving a lot of love as the newest entry. However, for our money, it’s KOF XIII that remains one of the best fighting games of all time. The super detailed pixel art, pace of play, and Hyper Drive combo system all helped KOF have a resurgence in the competitive and casual fighting game scene that continues to this day, and although the infamously difficult combo trials remain, they’re not even necessary to use while playing. The characters, team-based combat, and beautiful animation keep this particular king on the throne.
4. Dragon Ball FighterZ
Not only is Dragon Ball FighterZ finally a good Dragon Ball game and anime game, it’s an amazing fighting game in its own right. The first thing you’ll notice is the presentation: It is absolutely stunning to look at, and the sounds of haymakers, super dashes, and energy beams give the action the punch it really needs. You can freeze nearly any frame and you might think it’s straight from the anime.
Combine its presentation with a deep roster of fan favorite characters, 3v3 tag system, an approachable auto-combo system that makes doing flashy combos easy for beginners, and you have one of the most fun to play fighting games in recent memory, with competitive legs that still endure to this day. And with the recent announcement of rollback netcode, Dragon Ball FighterZ has a very bright future ahead of it. Even with less than stellar netcode, the clear love knowledge for both Dragon Ball and the genre comes through in every fight.
3. 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 act of moving backwards properly requires practice. Its depth and complexity make it every bit as demanding as it is rewarding, and those who put in the time, will be rewarded.
What sets Tekken 7 apart from other entries in the series, and earns it a spot here, is how much it improved in accessibility without cutting back on its depth. The series returning to 1v1 from the 2v2 format in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 cuts the amount of moves you need to remember in half, but all the characters are individually just as complex as they were, if not more. Rage Arts and Rage Drives are exciting comeback mechanics but will never beat out solid play. And while the slow-mo finishers don’t change much of anything to the gameplay, they have created some of the hypest moments in tournaments. Tekken 7 hits the balance of attracting a new audience without alienating hardcore fans perfectly.
2. Guilty Gear Strive
The Guilty Gear series has been pumping out excellent fighting games for more than two decades, but Guilty Gear Strive is where Arc System Works’ flagship title finally found mainstream success, and for good reason. Strive sports the best rollback netcode in the business, something that was largely unheard of in a mainstream fighter even a few years ago.
But good netcode alone does not a great fighter make. Strive also refined the series’ notoriously technical gameplay, making it easy to pick up and understand without losing the depth or the diversity of Guilty Gear’s gonzo cast. Every single one of Strive’s twenty characters – whether its series poster boy and rushdown monster Sol Badguy, or the coffin-swinging Goldlewis Dickinson – plays completely differently from one another, so there’s an enormous amount to learn and discover even if you only ever play a single character. Add in Roman Cancels, which lets you cancel any action into another action, and Strive has an almost limitless level of player freedom and expression.
Combine all that with an excellent story mode, detailed teaching tools, tons of concept art and customization options to unlock, a rockin’ soundtrack spanning nearly every game in the franchise, and some of the most impressive visuals in the genre, and it’s easy to see why Strive has taken the fighting game community by storm.
1. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Picking a single game to represent the most storied fighting game franchise was a tough ask. After all, Street Fighter II popularized the genre when it hit arcades in 1991; and Street Fighter IV resurrected it when it hit home consoles in 2009. But Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is something special. It gave us Evo Moment 37, the Daigo parry, and inspired an entire generation of players. But there’s so much more to it than that. The sprite work is still some of the most beautifully animated around; the backgrounds ooze style; and the jazz-inspired soundtrack features some of the best music in any fighting game. Even the roster, underappreciated at the time because of how few characters carried over from Street Fighter II and how weird several of the characters are, holds up remarkably well with options to suit any playstyle.
But the real highlight is the parry system. The decision to make any attack, from Hadoukens, to Super Arts parryable adds almost limitless depth to a series already renowned for it while keeping it fairly easy to pick up and play for newcomers. 3rd Strike showed us what was possible, bringing the genre’s most important series up to speed with its contemporaries while simultaneously elevating it to new heights. More importantly, all of it holds up today, something most games from 1999 can’t say, and recent re-releases even support rollback netcode. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is, quite simply, the greatest fighting game ever made.