Round 1 - Fight!
Were going to start things off with a disclaimer: this is not a list of the greatest fighting games of all time. If youre hoping for a list of the all-time best fighters, youll have to hold your horses thats a whole nother list weve got cooking in the kitchen. Trust us, the debates over that list will be most heated indeed. Some real-life fights may or may not break out.
Instead, this is a list of the best fighting games that you can buy right now. As in, hop onto XBLA, PSN, or dip into a brick-and-morter store, purchase, and play without delay. Zero emulation, arcade proximity, or inflated eBay prices required. These fighters are this generations best, evoking everything we love about 90s brawlers and modernizing them with spiffy high-resolution graphics, online capabilities, and greatly improved user-friendliness. Whether youre reviving your love for old favorites or diving into the fighting game community for the first time, you cant go wrong with these modern-day classics.
10. Soulcalibur V
Wed argue that Soulcalibur II is the best in the series, and this visually-superior installment comes the closest to knocking it off its lofty perch. Soulcalibur V is the ultimate crowd-pleaser: you can have fun swinging a gigantic sword as Nightmare or pogo-ing about as Yoshimitsu, even if you dont quite know what youre doing. Alternatively, you can explore the intricacies of high-level play, with twitchy eight-way-run spacing, complex movestrings, or the horror that is Voldos pelvic thrusting. Whatever way you slice it, SCVs duels are a sight to behold.
SCV also matches the meter management meta-game of its peers by adding the Critical Gauge, better known as a super meter in laymans terms. Were never unhappy seeing gloriously gaudy super moves in our fighters, and SCVs dont disappoint watching Viola crack skulls with a glowing orb or Hilde spear her enemies like shish kabobs during their Critical Edge moves is always a treat.
9. Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection
Tekken 6 might be prettier than this PSN downloadable, but we felt it was something of a step backwards for the series, still solid but lacking some of the electrifying flair of previous installments. Dark Ressurection, on the other hand, took everything that was great about the lightning-fast Tekken 5 and enhanced it, with bonus characters and customization progression aplenty. The Tekken franchise has often been a button-mashers paradise, with impressive moves tied to simple input strings and thats not at all a bad thing. Being able to pick up, play, and impress your buddies with cool combos is empowering, and goes a long way towards making fighting games less intimidating for novices.
Of course, skilled players will still mop the floor with brainless button bashers, thanks to the ridiculously damaging wall combos and numerous tactics for getting in on careless opponents. It also introduced two of our personal favorite Tekkeners, Dragunov and Lili. At this bargain bin price, PS3 owners would do well to pick this up before their next group get-together its sure to make the proceedings that much more rowdy.
8. King of Fighters XIII
It may not be the most popular game out there, but for those who like old-school SNK titles or insanely high-res sprites, KoF 13 is a godsend. Deftly combining one-on-one scuffles with team battles, KoF combines the best of Capcoms Versus series with the demanding mind games and footsies of ordinary Street Fighter. Arcade veterans love seeing familiar faces like Iori and Mai in glorious HD, while others are attracted to the four-button, no-nonsense gameplay where mashing will get you nowhere.
KoF might even be demanding to a fault: inputs need to be extremely precise, and the intricate combo strings youll need to memorize can be ridiculously daunting. But for those with the skills to compete, KoF is one of the best ways to test your fighting game fundamentals, and how cool you are under pressure. One-character comebacks happen all the time in KoF; what could be more hype than that? Even if you cant hang with the best of em, any fighting fan can appreciate KoF 13s graphical magnificence and fastidious design.
7. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
Its hotly debated whether or not SSBB is a true fighting game but if you ask us, its easily one of the most enjoyable ways to virtually beat up your friends. Nintendo left no mascot or character unturned from their gargantuan stable of characters, squeezing in every reference to popular or obscure Nintendo culture that can fit on one disc. But no, thats not enough they then made diehard fans mess themselves by introducing impossible-to-guess outliers like Solid Snake and Sonic to the mix. With a fun factor thats through the roof, SSBB is near and dear to many a gamers heart, whether you prefer playing with items (or just Smash Balls) on or off.
Lets be honest: unless youre a tournament-level player, you probably werent devastated that Melees wavedashes are out and inexplicably-designed trips are in. Its all made up for by the positives: even more levels, characters, trophies, and tracks to have chaotic, two-button battles in. The single-player was also fan fiction made real, with wildly diverse pairings of your favorite franchise characters. It reminds us of another exceptionally excellent story mode in a fighter
6. Mortal Kombat
The ninth entry in the Mortal Kombat franchise proved that the single-player experience in fighting games didnt have to suck. Instead of eight-stage Arcade modes or finger-torturing character trials, this reboot wove a campaign that made the Netherrealm feel brand new again. Giving context to each gruesome battle made each victory that much more satisfying, and lord knows we knew next to nothing about the origins of characters like Cyrax and Sektor before plowing through MKs plot. The sleek graphics recaptured the appeal of the original games digitized graphics, while fresh mechanics like the GAUGE THING brought the strategy side of things up to speed with its peers.
And the gore oh, the gore. X-ray attacks make us wince every time (in the best way possible), depicting a truly elevated level of blood-gushing, organ-defiling brutality that no mortal could survive. The fatalities were no different, celebrating the kinds of extravagant violence that mothers warn their kids about. Wed never seen a man get buzzsawed in half from the crotch-up before. Then we saw Kung Lao bust out his Razors Edge fatality, and our lives were forever changed.
5. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
If the other fighting games on this list are akin to mental chess matches played at rapid speeds, then UMvC3 is dodgeball played with piatas filled with bombs. Theres so much happening on-screen during these three-on-three battle royals that it can be difficult for your cortex to process and weve never been so happy to be utterly confused. The hype level of Marvel 3 matches is off the charts: with so many assists, supers, and hundred-hit combos flying all over the screen at once, wed argue that this is the best spectator sport among all fighting games.
The downloadable revamped version of MvC2 is no doubt amazing, but the characters are grossly unbalanced, with only a handful of viable fighters available at high-level play. UMvC3, on the other hand, has an ever-changing tier list, and if you put the work in, you can make any of its varied pugilists shine. For every cheap Zero or Wesker player youll face online, there are two guys trying to make something akin to a Hagger-Firebrand-Hawkeye team work.
4. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition
It used to be that, if you wanted to play one of the most legendary entries in the Street Fighter franchise without trekking to an arcade, you had to own a Dreamcast or the SF Anniversary Collection, neither of which were quite arcade perfect. While a gloriously hardcore community kept the 3rd Strike dream alive in arcades, recent fighting fans knew little of its gorgeous graphics, tight controls, and rock-solid inner workings. Then, like an answer to a prayer, Capcom revived 3S as a downloadable title, so that a new generation of fighters may appreciate its brilliance.
The utterly ingenious parry system stands as one of the best-ever mechanics in a fighter, where any attack can be countered by moving into it with split-second timing. What that means for high-level play is that raw skill and character knowledge pay huge dividends, and every attempted special or super becomes a risk-reward scenario. It also catapulted Daigo Umehara and Justin Wong to cult celebrity status in the budding online community. If, by some miracle, you havent seen said duel, prepare to love your life.
3. Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown
What started as a blocky, sluggish brawler has blossomed into one of the most revered fighting franchises and Final Showdown is its pice de rsistance. On the surface, Segas flagship fighter seems simple: three buttons, one joystick, no fireballs, super moves, or tag battles. But underneath its rudimentary exterior lies an incalculable wealth of depth imagine chess and rock-paper-scissors being played and processed at the speed of a bar brawl. Thats the kind of high-level thinking it takes to excel at this 3D fighter.
Yes, itll take hours upon hours of practice before you truly feel you know your character of choice but hard work is often its own reward. Youll feel as though youve broken through to the upper echelons of fighting game proficiency when you soundly beat a similarly-skilled opponent. We still cant begin to dream about successfully unleashing Akiras stun palm of doom during a match, but that doesnt stop us from striving to master it. Itll only make it that much more glorious when we can finally pull it off.
2. BlazBlue: Continuum Shift EXTEND
It may not be the most popular fighting game, but its definitely one of the best. Arc System Works spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear series has everything that made them great lavish hand-drawn sprites, smooth-as-butter framerates, and a fireworks display of flashy moves and makes it easier for newcomers to get in on the action thanks to simple controls and immensely helpful tutorials. The BlazBlue hook is also brilliant: give each fighter their own unique mechanic, making it so that even similarly-structured fighters will have completely different playstyles.
One of the more interesting nuances of the fast-paced play is the Break Burst system, a get-out-of-jail-free card that must be used sparingly to nullify an incoming combo, escape certain death, or amplify your offensive abilities. Knowing when to use your Bursts can make or break your success it creates an intense game of chicken with the opponent, constantly seeing who will crack under the pressure first or go for an all-out Hail Mary play. That kind of tension makes for mind games to remember.
1. Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition
Without Street Fighter IV or the updates and content additions that culminated into the definitive Arcade Edition fighting games might not be experiencing the boom theyve seen over the past couple of years. Pleasing long-time fans of Capcoms flagship fighter as well as those unfamiliar with the ways of the fightstick, SSF4AE is all about the fundamentals. All of its ingenious mechanics, like the inky charged Focus Attacks, comeback-inspiring Ultras, and twitch-reaction FADCs, are built upon a foundation of satisfying brawling thats as solid as steel. The controls, the graphics, the balance of fresh and classic characters everything is so perfectly tuned that any gamer, fighting fan or not, can appreciate AEs impeccable design.
There are no assists, Bursts, or guard breaks to think about in AE just you and an opponent on a two-dimensional plane, dueling to decide whose fighting skills are superior. That kind of straightforward presentation is what makes this fighting game so pure; anyone can understand it, and upon seeing it, everyone will want to play it.
Those are our picks for the best readily and widely available fighting games you really cant go wrong with picking these up, learning a combo or two, and delving into their respective communities. Think your list would play out differently? Hey, youre entitled! If our picks were a little too hardcore - or not hardcore enough - for your liking, let us know about it in the comments below. Dont be shy!