There’s a sense of satisfaction that comes beating somebody in combat. Unfortunately, not all of us are physically gifted enough to actually win a fight in real life, so thankfully we have fighting games, which grant the same gratification without the risk of a black eye. Plus, in fighting games, you can throw fireballs. This console generation alone has seen the release of some of the best fighting games ever made, proving that the genre is experiencing a whole new Golden Age.
But how do these new games truly stack up against the classics of yesteryear? To answer that question, I’ve ranked the 25 best fighting games of all time (roll credits). Before we begin, one key ground rule to mention is that only one game per franchise has made the cut, purely because this list would be filled with much more Street Fighter if there were no limits. With that out of the way, let’s get into the list.
There couldn’t be a list of the best fighting games ever made without throwing a passing nod to the insanity that is Dong Dong Never Die. A fan-made game emanating from China, Dong Dong Never Die uses real-life images (mostly), similar to the original Mortal Kombat games, to create its diverse roster of fighters and arenas.
Playable characters include a girl that can summon Optimus Prime, a fat construction worker, some dude that attacks you with a rubber ring, a T-1000 knock off in a boiler suit and Mario using Akuma’s move-set. It’s bonkers, it’s free, and you’ll absolutely love it. May Dong Dong Never Die, well, never die.
Honourable Mention: Dead Or Alive 6
Developer: Team Ninja Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 Release Date: March 1st 2019
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Dead or Alive is just that fighting game series with the boobs, and to be honest, the franchise has never gone out of its way to try and prove that notion wrong. Just look at their EVO Japan 2019 presentation. Or don’t. Honestly, you probably shouldn’t.
Underneath all that though, Dead or Alive 6 boasts an incredibly in-depth set of mechanics that separate the good from the button mashers. The strike/counter/throw mind games makes for an intricate and rewarding fighting game, underneath all of the unnecessary jiggly bits.
Arika’s return to the world of fighting games was a welcome one, no doubt. The developers of Fighting Layer and the Street Fighter EX series, which was halted by Capcom back in 2000, Arika published an Unreal Engine 4 demo on April Fool’s Day 2017 featuring EX and Fighting Layer characters. The rest was history.
A nigh-on perfect recreation of those predecessors, Fighting EX Layer retains a lot of the same core features, including Super Cancels and juggling, while introducing more up-to-date features like running, auto and chain combos, and a simplified Progressive mode with easier inputs. It’s everything you love about the old games, but with that little bit extra.
24. Darkstalkers: Resurrection
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios Publisher: Capcom Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360 Release Date: March 12th 2013
This won’t be the first time an Iron Galaxy port makes its way on this list, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Darkstalkers: Resurrection was a HD collection of Capcom’s spookier fighting game. Included in the package was Darkstalkers 2 and 3, providing a different and more horrific take on the 2D fighting game genre.
Unfortunately, Resurrection didn’t perform well commercially, and the Darkstalkers characters may well be resigned to cross-over game guest spots for the rest of eternity. It’s a real shame, as Darkstalkers boasted some of the most original and brilliant character designs in all of fighting games.
Capcom, do the right thing. Please.
23. Bushido Blade
Developer: Light Weight Publisher: Square Enix (then SquareSoft), Sony Computer Entertainment Platform(s): PS1 Release Date: March 14th 1997 (Japan)
One of the PS1’s stand-out fighting games (that isn’t Tekken 3), Bushido Blade took a more realistic approach to the weapons-based fighting game genre. Instead of Soulcalibur’s juggle combos and oversized zweihanders, Bushido Blade was a more visceral, strategic experience, and it’s all the better for it.
Depending on how your attack landed on your opponent, you could maim them and render their limbs inoperable, while a well placed strike could absolutely kill them outright. Life and death, victory and defeat, honour and shame were always within reach, which only served to increase the game’s legend.
22. UFC 3
Developer: EA Publisher: EA Platform(s): PS4, XB1 Release Date: February 2nd 2018
Yes, the UFC games are fighting games. Two opponents battling to reduce the other’s health? That’s a fighting game alright, and UFC 3 is possibly the best interpretation of the popular combat sport, if only because you can watch Bruce Lee batter CM Punk while Snoop Dogg commentates.
With a variety of modes, including a different take on EA’s usual Ultimate Team mode and a lengthy career mode, along with plenty of gameplay depth, UFC 3 should keep fans of the sport and fighting game fans occupied for a long time. Well, if you can figure out the grappling and submission systems, that is.
By improving on its presentation and modes, UFC 3 could very well be the most involving digital simulation of the sport to date, but its failure to work on its fundamentals ultimately lets it down.
Developer: One True Game Studio, Iron Galaxy Publisher: Iron Galaxy Platform(s): PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, XB1 Release Date: August 20th 2013
Equal parts a celebration and lampooning of the fighting game community, Divekick boils the genre down to its two most pure tenants: attacking and mobility. One button is for jumping, or “diving”, and the other is for kicking. Apparently those inputs are all you need to create a balanced, enjoyable and, most importantly, viable fighting game, and the Addition Edition + adds even mroe new characters and content.
If you’re looking for something a bit silly, or for a game that’ll allow you to learn/practice the core principles of spacing, footsies and meter management independent of other, more complicated fighting game principles, this is your game. Plus, where else can you see Johnny Gat beat up famed fighting game developer Seth Killian?
20. Gang Beasts
Developer: Boneloaf Publisher: Double Fine Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1 Release Date: August 29th 2014 (Early Access), December 12th 2017 (Full Release)
You might be thinking that I’m playing fast and loose with what is and isn’t a fighting game, but tell me Gang Beasts isn’t a physics based version of Super Smash Bros. I’ll wait. Seriously, Gang Beasts is a phenomenon at this point, adding a fun, wacky, “anything can happen” physics element to fighting games.
While there’s still some element of skill required to win consistently, as throwing enemies off of ledges takes a certain nuance, the random nature of the game and the way you can interact with the environment levels the playing field. Gang Beasts is an ideal party game, if you can find enough controllers anyway.
The Xbox One launch means a new audience can experience the hilarious gameplay that Gang Beasts offers, but it won’t do anything for players who own the game on other platforms.
19. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle
Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works Platform(s): PC, PS4, Switch Release Date: May 31st 2018
Arc System Works have made a name for themselves for their incredible anime fighters, with titles like Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena among others, but BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle is possibly their best encapsulation of what those games have to offer.
Featuring characters from BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night and the anime series RWBY, with a 2.0 update coming soon that’ll add even more characters, Cross Tag Battle feels like a love letter to one of the genre’s biggest subsets. Plus, the simplified controls and tutorials make it the most accessible entry too. However, its launch DLC practices did leave a lot to be desired.
We’d like to focus on how deep and intricate the game is, or how much fun it can be learning different characters, but the way Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle handles its DLC and roster can’t be ignored.
18. Fantasy Strike
Developer: Sirlin Games Publisher: Sirlin Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, Switch Release Date: July 25th 2019
A more recent entry into the world of fighting games, from a new IP no less, Fantasy Strike definitely has the pedigree to compete with the titans of the genre. Developed by industry veteran David Sirlin, who wrote the book Play To Win, Fantasy Strike walks the fine line between accessibility and intricacy.
With a simplified control scheme and a roster filled with depth and variety, along with a hefty dosage of modes and decent online play, Fantasy Strike offers something to fighting game players of all skill levels, meaning it deserves a place on this list.
Fantasy Strike’s philosophy of a truly “accessible” fighting game is a successful one, with plenty to love for new fighting games players and veterans alike.
17. Skullgirls 2nd Encore
Developer: Reverge Labs Publisher: Autumn Games Platform(s): PS4 Release Date: July 7th 2015
Any fans of 3v3 tag fighters will attest to the quality of Skullgirls, a game that looks and plays like the lovechild of Marvel vs Capcom and Cuphead. Okay, maybe that’s not the best comparison considering Skullgirls pre-dates Cuphead by a wide margin, but you get the point. Skullgirls has an “old-timey” graphical style that’s absolutely beautiful.
The unique animated style and vibrant cast of characters give Skullgirls an identity unlike any other, but other features like a Capcom vs SNK inspired team system, where the less fighters you have, the more powerful they are, and the ability to set custom assists for your characters, prove that the appeal of Skullgirls is more than just skin deep.
16. Nidhogg 2
Developer: Messhof Games Publisher: Messhof Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch Release Date: August 15th 2017
A more niche take on fighting games, but a fighting game nonetheless, Nidhogg 2 is about as competitive as games can get. 2 players try to reach the side of the level that the other player is guarding. That’s it, that’s the whole premise, and it’s one that can lead to some intense, back and forth battles, where victory is always uncertain. One swing of momentum could be enough to carry you to victory.
Dedicated Nidhogg fans might prefer the original game, and in all honesty, the art style is much better. However, the increased amount of arenas and weapons available makes Nidhogg 2 a more well-rounded game. The online play might not be the best, and Nidhogg 2 offers little to no appeal for those solo players, but stick this on during a party and you’re guaranteed to have some fun.
It’s a testament to the game design that Nidhogg offered the depth and strategy of a regular fighting game without the barrier of execution that stops lower level players from enjoying the game fully. It’s a two button fighter, yet it’s more engaging than some 6 button fighters.