My Top-10 Fighting Games
Fighting Games are very close to my heart as a game genre, so I decided I wanted to present my 10 favourite fighting games. I was originally planning on honouring my usual “one game per franchise”-rule, but I felt that this was going to lead to disproportionate praise for a few titles which, while all enjoyable are not really my favourites.
As a result, there is a sizable list of honourable mentions this time around. A couple of titles I wanna give a shout-out are the SNK titles Fatal Fury and King of Fighters -94 which are both really fun titles, but not really my favourites. Although it’s very primitive, I really get a kick out of International Karate one of the earliest fighting games around. However, putting it on the list seemed like a bit of a stretch. A title that some would feel obviously belong on the list, but I decided to pass on was the original Soul Calibur. I like it, but not as much as every one else seems to. Because I didn’t want to over-crowd the list with Mortal Kombat titles (given its my favourite fighting game series) I’ll give Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe just a shout-out this time, but it’s definitely a must-have title in my opinion. And finally, a game which I feel doesn’t get the love it deserves, Virtua Fighter for the Sega 32X. Yes, I genuinely love the game though you need the horrid Mega Drive add-on to play it (or just an emulator) and who doesn’t love a game where you can make the ring so small that you’ll win with just one punch.
Well, that’s all of them, let’s get to the actual list…
The original, gory title which kicked off the violent game series where opponents rip-out each other’s spines, brains and other internal organs. The original Mortal Kombat is an unfortunately under-appreciated gem now-a-days, thanks to the vastly expanded franchise it created around it. The original title definitely looks outdated if compared to the much shinier Mortal Kombat II or the more fast-paced Mortal Kombat 3, but where it makes up for all of that is sheer fun.
Sure, there’s only seven playable characters, but they’re all distinct with their own special abilities. In fact, the roster is more balanced than in Street Fighter 2 or even any of the game’s immediate sequels. Even if his costume’s a bit derpy, Scorpion still kicks ass and I surprisingly find playing as Kano to be a lot of fun in this title. Sure, there’s not much eye-candy with Sonya only wearing some sickly green aerobics gear, but the blood and gore effects are still surprisingly effective, if a little tongue-in-cheek and exaggerated.
Plus, I think this game’s boss-duo of Goro and Shang Tsung are just a really memorable pair. Goro may be ridiculously easy to beat, but that doesn’t lessen the feeling of accomplishment when you do. Also, while the majority of the Mortal Kombat titles suffer from some pretty mediocre music, MK1’s soundtrack surprisingly does stand out, even if it sounds like a blatant Enter the Dragon rip-off at times (which the game is undoubtedly and heavily modelled after ). I still have a lot of fun with the title, but I will confess that it’s not the most versatile title on the list, which is why it’s only number-10.
In the real of fighting games, one is bound to find many a Street Fighter clone. However, depending on how they were designed, these SF-clones can either stand out with their own quirky identity or just submit to their own generic copy-cat nature. World Heroes does the former and it does it extremely well on top of that. While it’s a relatively obscure title (released for the Neo-Geo) it’s one that I always have a lot of fun with.
So yeah, there are some elements which definitely reek of Street Fighter knock-offery. There’s not only a blatant Ryu-wanna be but an equivalent Ken-wanna be, a wrestler akin to Zangief (but who looks like Hulk Hogan) and even before Street Fighter did their own, a blatant Bruce Lee clone. However, these only create a sense of familiarity as the other characters actually make up for it. There’s a sword-wielding lady modelled after Jean D’Arc, Rasputin using amazing magic powers such as growing his own hands gigantic (and curtseying amidst randomly spawning flowers in his victory pose) and a crazy cyborg, Brocken, armed to the teeth with all sorts of special abilities.
I would also like to note that for a fighting game which uses only three buttons, World Heroes runs incredibly smoothly and the fighting never becomes monotonous. You even get to choose if you want to fight in the character’s normal stages or a tricked-out deathmatch arena with obstacles to make the fighting more colourful. World Heroes is a title deserving a try from any hard-core fighting game fans and my only complaint is that it’s not possible to switch off the deathmatch arenas between fights which unfortunately means you have to listen to the deathmatch music if you go on a long winning streak. Also, the final boss sadly isn’t as interesting as the normal roster which is also a downer.
While I never experienced the arcade original, I have a lot of fond memories of the SNES version and I still get a kick from playing it. Killer Instinct was one of two titles (the other being Donkey Kong Country) which lifted Rare from moderate video-game fame into one of the top-dogs of the industry. Striving for a violent experience akin to Mortal Kombat and failing slightly, Killer Instinct was still one of the zaniest titles around.
What other game do you get to play as an ice-alien, a cyborg, a werewolf, a skeleton and a human-velociraptor crossbreed? The controls were smooth as butter and it featured one of the first notable combo-systems seen in fighting games. It also had one of the most intense announcers heard in video-games and, just as in many Rare games, one of the greatest soundtracks ever heard in a video-game.
While the game’s graphics might have taken a hit on the SNES port, the fun-factor is still incredibly high and it’s also one of my favourite titles for the system. Regardless, I always felt the sequel was a step-up which is why the original KI doesn’t quite cut the mustard (and Eyedol was a pretty infuriating boss on top of that). Also, little imperfections in the game design, like the fact that every character gets a projectile attack, eats away a little bit at the novelty of each character.
Relative to my expectations, I don’t think any fighting game has actually managed to impress me more than the Dead Or Alive series. These games were made famous by their inclusion of breast physics and the ever increasing amounts of blatant fan service in each instalment. Never the less, the series has remained alive and well. There’s even been an extremely entertaining movie adaptation based on the series, so just for the hell of it I decided to give the series’ latest instalment a try.
DOA belongs into the relatively “realistic” end of the spectrum as far as fighting games are concerned. The characters perform relatively realistic fight-moves and no-one throws fireballs out of their hands. This I felt was going to weigh against the game, but DOA5 is actually a surprisingly versatile title from the point of view of its move-sets and gameplay. Each character controls very differently and this forces you to adopt a completely different playing style depending on if you’re the quick but weak ninja girl Kasumi, the tough but grapple-reliant Tina or the slow, but extremely powerful Kokoro. The tag-team battles are also surprisingly fun and this is coming from someone who doesn’t like Tag-Team fighters.
In addition, the story-mode, while a little difficult to follow, was actually worth all the time invested in it and I quite like the arcade mode structure as well (especially thanks to all the alternate costumes it unlocks). If DOA5 suffers from anything than it’s probably from a very unbalanced roster since I find a few of the characters really annoying to play as. Of course, there is the latent, juvenile fan-service level to the game, but if you can look past it, you’ll find a game that’s also a lot of fun to play.
After Mortal Kombat 4 the series needed a bit of a break as the high amount of low quality spin-offs and tag-along products were making fans a little weary. Deadly Alliance revitalised the series by introducing far improved 3D gameplay, alternate fighting styles for each characters, as well as some of the best new characters introduced to the series.
Apart from the hotness incarnate, which is Li Mei, we also got the new female ice ninja Frost and the blind katana-wielding warrior Kenji. By far my favourite character was the fat, flatulent, vomit weaponizing master of drunken fist fighting Bo Rai Cho. This guy just made each fight excellently humorous. Best of all, Deadly Alliance was probably the most extra-filled MK title ever with tons of cool features to be opened from the Krypt using Kurrency, such as alternate costumes, new arenas, comics and funny images and videos (“Cooking with Scorpion”). Deadly Alliance just made it incredibly fun to replay the game since you would always find something cool as a reward for completing the game.
Deadly Alliance definitely holds a special place in my heart as a Mortal Kombat game, but I really couldn’t have it in the Top-5. The game, while a lot of fun, has quite a few bugs in it. While these don’t ruin the gaming experience and can occasionally add some unintentional humour into the mix, they are a little distracting. In addition, the character roster is once again a little unbalanced, which sucks if you like playing as Kitana for instance.
Under-rated doesn’t even begin to describe this game. The third title in the Street Fighter series was practically ignored upon its release which is a crime and a shame, because it’s easily one of the best fighting games I’ve ever played. Fans seemed to react this way mostly because the only SF2 characters included originally were Ryu and Ken (and in later versions Chun Li and Akuma), but Street Fighter 3’s excellence should still had not been ignored even if the cast was all new.
Firstly, the gameplay is smooth as butter and certainly much better than a lot of newer Capcom titles (e.g. Street Fighter 4). The animations are brilliant, vibrant and look so alive. And thirdly, as ignored as the cast of this game was, they are all actually pretty frickin’ awesome. We have the gentlemanly boxer Dudley, who’ll you’ll instantly love the minute he calls you “gutter trash” for the first time. There’s the freaky new stretchy guy Necro and his cute little girlfriend Effie, who joins in on his victory poses. There’s also the tough as nails martial artist Makoto, who sends her opponents flying into the stratosphere with her mighty combos and the tall freak Hugo, making his Street Fighter debut alongside fellow Final Fight character Poison.
Also, the game introduces one of my favourite Street Fighter characters ever, the capoeira master with the lethal feet, Elena. She’s not just a cheery soul and a lot of fun to play as, but also really animated and hot. Street Fighter 3 really deserves more recognition than it’s gotten. The only reason it’s not higher is that the game recycles a lot of locations in its arcade mode and the music is nowhere near as memorable as that of Street Fighter 2. Never the less, this a title everyone should get to try.
Another less well-known title and an early GameCube title, but easily one of my favourite games for said system as well as one of the best fighting games around. Bloody Roar may look like your average 3D fighting game on the surface, but it’s got one key feature a lot of other fighters don’t have. And that’s the characters’ ability to transform into animals mid-fight. In doing so they get new abilities such as new special moves, improved strength or speed or even the ability to fly. That’s just awesome.
You can suddenly become a gigantic rabbit smacking around your opponent or a freaky insect thing. You can be a tiger or a wolf, but you can also be a sexy vampire bat. And the final boss turns into a penguin, which sounds cute on the off-set – untill you find out how it puts you in a disadvantage. I love the character variety which gives you quite range of different character types, from quick ninjas to huge power-house characters. The fighting arenas can also be broken and characters thrust through them to win a fight early.
The smoothness of the gameplay and the sheer variety is again notable, considering the game uses only a few attack buttons. But that also gives its biggest edge. It’s one of the most beginner friendly fighters around. The special moves are easy to do and the graphics and sound hold up surprisingly well. Primal Rage’s only problem is the same as with many other GameCube titles. Because I don’t like playing fighting games with an analogue stick, I use the D-pad which sadly isn’t ideal on the system in question because of its small size. Minor complaint maybe, but enough that I can’t rank it in the Top-3. Never the less, it gets this high due to its charm and approachable nature. It’s a great pick-up-and-play experience.
Killer Instinct Gold may have not changed that many things from its predecessor, but sometimes you only need very subtle changes to turn a diamond in the rough into a master-piece. KI Gold does take the action into the 3rd dimension (though the characters are still sprites) with more open battle arenas (at least mostly) and retains the smooth as butter gameplay and at least the majority of the iconic characters from the original.
Add to this two new female characters, Maya and Kim Wu, a barbarian warrior named Tusk and a bad-ass gargoyle as the final boss, Gargos, and you have yourself a great game. The environments are really impressive for early N64 standards and the music is actually even better than in the first game which is quite the accomplishment. Tusk, Kim Wu and Jago’s themes in particular stand out, but T.J. Combo’s hot urban beat also sounds pretty damn awesome. Also, the character move-sets are a lot more distinct which is one of those subtle but important changes that makes this game feel more polished.
KI Gold is an absolute hoot to play and definitely recommended to the fans of the original. Once again, it’s small but noticeable imperfections that stop it from being any higher. The character-sprites are a little blurry at times and the game has annoying bug in the arcade mode where a mirror match results in computer opponents permanently having alternate colour schemes. This is definitely a small nit-pick and really a pet peeve for me, but what else do you expect from a game so awesome.
The ninth official game in the Mortal Kombat series and the official reboot of the series was a delightful surprise for yours truly. I honestly had some misgivings about the series being rebooted as well as its move from true-3D to 2½D. However, what resulted was a polished, fun and exciting new title which in my view raised the bar for the entire franchise. Mortal Kombat 9 is, simply put, the best game of the entire franchise.
The story mode hooked me in with its awesome cut-scenes that made it feel like you were watching a new Mortal Kombat movie. The story explained the reboot well and even had a few surprising twists, which all felt appropriate. The sizable cast which included familiar faces from the first three games of the series, for once, felt surprisingly balanced. And although they revamped Liu Kang’s fighting style for no apparent reason, this didn’t hurt the gameplay one bit. This game made me really like Mileena, a character I had never particularly cared for before, and also allowed me to play as one of my favourite MK characters, Sheeva (previously seen in MK3 and Armageddon).
Mortal Kombat is just a well-produced, fun to play, polished and supremely enjoyable fighting game experience. It even added a new nifty features and re-invisioned the series starting games in a new and exciting way. If you haven’t played it yet, you definitely should because the game is just so much fun.
I really hate picking such an obvious choice as number-1, but with this list what could you expect. You always need that one title to serve as your measuring stick. The game against which you compare all other games in that genre. The game that contains all the essential elements of fun. And for me, Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the Super Nintendo is that title.
SF2 Turbo isn’t the most flawless game in the world. Far from it. The roster is definitely not balanced, the bonus games are redundant (but fun) and the final boss is just a regular guy from the roster (in this version). However, that doesn’t make the game any less fun. It was my gateway to fighting games, I love the characters, locations and music. When I think of fighting games, my thoughts go instantly to this game.
Sure, there exists expanded and more polished versions of this game, but none of them can ever replace the nostalgia I have for this title. And it gives you an idea how to hone a fighting game to perfection. Just by making it fun, varied and appealing. It doesn’t have to be on the cutting edge to be an awesome game.
It just needs to be awesome.
This is what the list would have looked like with the “one game per franchise rule”
- Street Fighter 2 Turbo
- Mortal Kombat 9
- Killer Instinct Gold
- Bloody Roar: Primal Rage
- Dead Or Alive 5
- World Heroes
- Soul Calibur
- Virtua Fighter 32X
- Fatal Fury
- International Karate