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10 of the best fighting games ever

The most convenient way to beat people to a pulp (without the pesky lawsuits)

We’ve been fighting each other since the very first punch-up over the last piece of mammoth steak. But that’s not to say that violence is the answer, kids. Having said that, we’ve spent countless hours over the years beating up virtual opponents without marring our pretty faces with a single scratch or bruise.

Fighting games have often generated as much excitement as they have controversy, with their graphic depictions of violence, and sexiness, often tickling the ire glands of concerned parents. The fortunes of the genre have waxed and waned however, as the genre once inseparable from the arcade experience has moved almost completely onto consoles.

As a tribute to Street Fighter VI, Tekken 8 and the fighting game genre as a whole, here are ten of the best fighting game series that have ever come to pass. 

Image: SpencerBerry


Beginning our list is Tekken, or roughly translated as “The King of Iron Fist Fighting Competition”. As realistic as it is crazy bonkers, Tekken took Virtua Fighter’s core gameplay mechanic (and some of its creators) and went completely off the rails with it.

Not only could players do neverending combos, they could also play as cyborgs, a wooden dummy and a bear. This fast-paced and wacky fighting game has a bit of everything: great graphics, fluid controls, and inspired character design.

The latest release, Tekken 8, has been taking the fighting world by storm. Its thrilling new features and whiffs of nostalgia for fighting games long past make it a truly next-generation fighting game which goes all-in on both its singleplayer story and multiplayer versus competitions.

Street Fighter

The granddaddy of fighting games has had a long and occasionally chequered history, including more than a few misfires in the series, and at least one so-bad-it’s-almost-good movie (we’re talking about the Van Damme one). Ironically, some of the best improvements to the original gameplay came from hacked versions of the Street Fighter 2 arcade board – meaning that Street Fighter might have been one of the first ever user-modded success stories in gaming history.

Characters like Ryu, Chun-Li, Blanka, and Zangief have become pop culture icons, as have their martial arts moves. Although it hit a slump not long ago, Street Fighter 4 reinvigorated the franchise with a unique sumi art style and dynamic cinematic camera work during special move cutscenes, while Street Fighter 6 brings with it a new control scheme that makes it more accessible to newbies, and a full training mode that means they won’t stay that way for long.

Art of Fighting

Art of Fighting came along on the NEO-GEO gaming system and blew our little minds. Not only was there a coherent narrative to the storyline, the game also introduced several new gameplay mechanics: a stamina bar for special moves, desperation moves (that you could only use when your lifebar was low) and mini games that allowed you to build your character as the game progressed.

Despite many of its innovations, it just never had the reach or popularity that Street Fighter had, unfortunately.

The King of Fighters

Also the victim of a horrendous movie adaptation, The King of Fighters took the characters of the best SNK fighting games and put them in the same universe. Ryo and Robert from Art of Fighting got to battle with The Bogarts of Fatal Fury in a character roster that was the largest anyone had ever seen back then.

The main storyline revolved around the clashing destinies of Kyo Kusanagi and Iori Yagami, and the eternal battle between their two clans. The King of Fighters introduced team battles to fighting games, which meant you had to pick three characters to fight with. That seemed like a great deal until you realised that it meant you were three times as likely to suck at the game.

Virtua fighter

As the name suggests, Virtua Fighter (so named because there is no “L” in Japanese) is a virtual fighting simulation. The game series accurately tried to digitally recreate real-life martial arts styles so players could have the most realistic and authentic fighting game experience ever. The first game to use 3D rendering suffered from, well, being really, really ugly.

Despite the uninspired blocky polygons of the characters, the physics engine and unique command scheme (one button for each limb) gained the game quite a following. Later iterations of the game would constantly push the limits of 3D graphics, and the series has now garnered a reputation for producing games with visuals of such cutting-edge realism, that they are easily on par with the CG used in blockbuster films.

Dead or Alive

Dead or Alive started off as a fairly forgettable game – a game that lacked particularly memorable characters or amazing graphics, banking on fast-paced action that was at best mediocre. What saved it was its fluid gameplay, as well as one interesting feature, the ability to interact with the environment: players could kick their opponents out of the ring into a whole other part of the arena.

The game was popular enough for the developers to be able to tweak the sequels into what DoA is currently best known for – scantily clad women playing volleyball on the beach. Ahem.

Samurai Shodown

Fighting – but with swords! Samurai Shodown brought the fighting game genre to feudal Japan, where players could duel not only with fists and fireballs, but with swords as well. Players could play as characters wielding a variety of different weapons, from katanas to rapiers to ninja dogs, and could even lose their weapons in the course of the fight.

Even though the game’s lore was rooted in Japanese history, and its characters were inspired by actual famous samurai and ninjas, the game travelled fairly well overseas as well, finding a significant following overseas. No surprises there – who doesn’t like samurai and ninjas?

Unfortunately, the series made a poor attempt to transition into 3D and has not been heard of since. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that it makes an eventual comeback.

Marvel Superheroes

In the ’90s, Marvel had two huge successes; the first was the now classic X-men cartoon series and its awesome theme song. The second? Marvel Superheroes – a fighting game made by Capcom.

Turns out superpowers and fighting games were a terrific fit, and the game perfectly captured myriad combat styles that might have existed in the Marvel universe. The game spawned several sequels and eventually culminated in the excellent Marvel vs Capcom series, which included the rosters from Street Fighter and eventually Darkstalkers.

Fans of the game are undoubtedly still waiting for the day Hugh Jackman shouts “Berserker Barrage!” in one of the X-men movies. It might be unlikely, but we can dream, can’t we?

Mortal Kombat

Undoubtedly the most controversial of all mainstream fighting games, Mortal Kombat was the first game to use photorealistic game sprites instead of animation – which made the over the top violence and buckets of blood disturbingly unpleasant for parents of young gamers the world over.

Games nowadays have MK to thank for the ESRB rating system, created specifically to regulate violence and objectionable content in gaming – not that it helped. The latest Mortal Kombat games are the most violent and graphic on the market, happily including gory x-ray animations of organs rupturing and bones shattering in its gameplay.

It’s also the only fighting game to have a movie that wasn’t half bad (although the black and white cut of the Street Fighter film, with Raul Julia, is worth tracking down), along with a techno theme song that still adorns martial arts fail videos to this very day.

Soul Calibur

Basically to Samurai Shodown what Virtua Fighter was to Street Fighter, Soul Calibur was all about realistic fighting with all manner of edged and blunt weapons. Mythical warriors are drawn across time and space to compete in some sort of Soul Tournament, meaning you got samurai fighting lizard men, and demon-pirates dueling gothic freaks.

Some kind of story was hinted at, but seriously, who cares – just get to the hacking and the slashing already. Recent versions of the game have featured guest appearances from the Star Wars, namely Darth Vader and Yoda – which probably makes Soul Calibur one of the better competitive Star Wars games in recent years (Battlefront aside).

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