There’s nothing quite like getting good at a fighting game. Fighting games take everything that works well with competitive video games and distill those elements into a perfect, bite-sized moment. They’re skill-testing, fast-paced, and extremely intense. Whether you’re a die-hard fighting game player or a newcomer to the genre, you’ve probably heard about some of the best games ever to grace the scene.
There are some ridiculously good fighting games out there. These are games that will reward you for sticking with them and practicing but are still a blast just to pick up and play. It’s hard for the best games to straddle this fine line–rewarding hardcore players without alienating newcomers–but today’s list is full of games that do just that.
Maybe you love classic 2D fighters like Street Fighter, 3D arena fighters like Tekken, or the more outlandish platform fighters like Super Smash Bros. No matter your specific tastes, this list is certain to include something you love. Let’s take a look at some of the best fighting games ever made!
Marvel vs. Capcom 2
It’s really hard to overstate how massive both Marvel and Capcom were in the 1990s. The runaway success of Street Fighter II had made Capcom a household name, and characters like Ryu and Chun-Li were as recognizable in some circles as Mario and Sonic. Street Fighter arcade cabinets were enduringly popular in arcades across the country, and people couldn’t get enough of the classic fighting gameplay.
Marvel had become enormously popular due to the X-Men cartoon, soaring comic book sales, and a resurgence of interest in comic characters in the mid-90s. When these two megaton franchises got together for Marvel vs. Capcom, it was a classic case of peanut butter and chocolate colliding for the first time. The first entry was popular, but the second one captured electricity and excitement that’s hard to replicate.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 allows players to create a team of three characters from a broad roster of superheroes and Street Fighter mainstays. Watching Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Captain America take on Ryu, Ken, and Chun-Li speaks to the inner ten-year-old within every fighting game fan. Moreover, the three-on-three nature of the game’s fights introduces some fascinating tactical wrinkles for top-tier players, making MvC2 a mainstay in big fighting game tournaments to this day.
The first Soul Calibur may have started life as an arcade game, but most fans know it as the best fighting game to ever grace the Sega Dreamcast. The Dreamcast port of Soul Calibur is buttery smooth, features downright astonishing graphics, and controls like a dream. No matter which fighter you pick, you’ll have no trouble navigating them around the 3D arenas and executing their stylish moves.
Unlike most fighting games, Soul Calibur’s playable fighters are all outfitted with signature melee weapons. Kilik uses a bo staff, Ivy uses a chain sword, Rock uses an axe, and so forth. Learning how to master each character also means learning how to use their signature weapon in concert with their unique movement options.
Soul Calibur is considered one of the best fighting games ever made primarily because it’s just so much fun to play. Moving around the 3D arenas and pressuring your opponent with a flurry of melee attacks is so gratifying that it makes you just want to play it more. Some people don’t like 3D fighters, but those who do can’t get enough of the first Soul Calibur, even over 20 years after its initial release.
Guilty Gear Strive
It’s impossible to mistake Guilty Gear for any other fighting game series. The distinctive, kinetic art style, the pounding rock music, and the over-the-top character designs are all immediately recognizable. If you’re a fan of high-octane, skill-testing fighting games, Guilty Gear Strive is for you. While the game only came out earlier this year, it’s already making a mark as one of the best fighting games ever made.
Strive ups the ante from prior games, making the action even smoother and the controls even more responsive and snappy. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as knowing you had the right inputs for the combo, but the game sluggishly fails to recognize you threw in the right button presses. You won’t have that issue with Strive, which features some of the best netcode we’ve yet seen in an online fighting game.
Bizarrely enough, Strive’s single-player mode isn’t really a video game at all. It’s more like an anime series that you just watch. There’s no gameplay at all in this “single player” experience; it just fleshes out the backstories of each character in the main cast. This is a bit unusual, but it helps you feel more connected to the game’s world and the characters you’ll spend hours learning to play as–and beat up.
Tekken and Soul Calibur are very comparable franchises, each created by the same development studio and even populated with some recurring characters. However, where Soul Calibur focuses on melee combat using weapons, Tekken is more concerned with unarmed martial arts.
Tekken 7 is one of the best entries in the series so far. If you like bold, in-your-face 3D fighting games, Tekken is the title for you. Characters have so much personality that it’s easy to get a feel for how they play just by watching them move.
Tekken 7 takes the franchise to new heights by including over 100 moves for each fighter and an enormous roster of characters. The game is one of the most popular competitive fighting titles on the market–and for good reason. With time and a bit of patience, you can master a character in a way that makes it feel unique to your exact playstyle.
Street Fighter IV
Fighting games in general fell into a lull throughout the early 2000s. There was a huge boom in their popularity in the 90s, but a decade later, most gamers had seemingly had enough of the genre. Outside of the fighting game faithful, only a handful of players were interested in classic 2D or 3D arcade-style fighters. That is until Street Fighter IV came around. The fourth entry in Capcom’s long-running series completely changed the modern fighting game landscape.
Street Fighter IV introduced a new generation of players to the genre, showing them the joy of inputting combos and dominating your opponent with superior positioning and reflexes. Street Fighter is pure joy in video game form: you control an awesome martial artist in a pitched battle against another martial artist, and the one who can throw the most accurate punches wins.
The fourth Street Fighter introduced a slew of quality-of-life changes that made it popular with both casual and hardcore players alike. Not only was the game a gorgeous 3D-rendered feast for the eyes, but it also featured seamless online play and robust support for online tournaments. While its sequel, Street Fighter V, was released years later, many diehard fans still stick with VI due to its strategic depth and complexity.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
When you give a game a subtitle like “Ultimate,” you’d better be able to back that up. In the case of the sublime 2018 platform fighter Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo was ready to put its money where its mouth was on that name. Ultimate features the stunning return of every single character from each prior Smash Bros. title, including fan favorites like Young Link and Solid Snake, which some players never expected to see again.
In addition to bringing back third-party, licensed characters like Sonic and Cloud Strife, Ultimate saw Nintendo add even more outlandish fighters to the ever-growing roster, like Sora from Kingdom Hearts and the iconic Banjo and Kazooie from the platforming game of the same name.
The gameplay in Ultimate is also fast paced, frenetic, and rewarding. It’s so much fun to move around the spacious maps and try to angle for a way to send your opponent flying. This platform-based fighting gives Smash Bros. its unique gameplay flavor, making it very distinct from the stamina-based combat seen in most other fighting games.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Licensed games are always a mixed bag, especially when it comes to anime-inspired titles. Anime fighting games are a dime a dozen, and they’re usually nothing more than a cheap cash-grab that tries to market itself solely on the cool look of the property it’s based on. Dragon Ball FighterZ is not that kind of game. In fact, it’s excellent by any measure, not just as an anime game.
If you’re remotely a fan of the Dragon Ball franchise, FighterZ will entertain and delight you. Seeing your favorite characters from the classic anime duking it out in full arena battles is a joy, and the competitive balance is so good that you’ll be itching to jump into online matches right away.
Despite the ridiculous power scaling on display in the Dragon Ball anime, the game is surprisingly well-balanced between the playable characters. Goku and Frieza are awesome, sure, but you can also do just fine as Yamcha, Krillin, or Tien. Dragon Ball fans would be remiss to avoid playing this stellar fighting game.