Although the very "first" fighting game can be dated as far back as 1976's Heavyweight Champ, the genre really saw landslide popularity and the formation of a competitive community with Capcom's Street Fighter II in 1991. The rest, as they say, is history. Franchise after franchise continued to spring up and establish their own legacies, such as Mortal Kombat's controversially high impact violence, and the rabidly competitive scene surrounding Super Smash Bros.
Although the genre's offerings have become a veritable smorgasbord of beat-up-your-friends simulators by the year 2019, some are invariably remembered as the absolute best among the competitors, and those are the games that Game Rant's here to check out today. Below are the ten best fighting games to have ever stepped into the ring, as ranked by Metacritic. As a note, we'll only be including the best-rated version, re-release, or update for each title, as a list consisting entirely of different Street Fighter IV editions would get old pretty fast.
A few things come to mind when reminiscing over Dead or Alive 2. Namely an outrageously skimpy set of outfits and the hilarious inclusion of what is essentially an option that controls the intensity of the jiggle physics attached to certain anatomical features on the fighters.
But with those things set aside entirely, you're still left with one of the most engaging fighting games of all time. Its smooth and satisfying combo and counter systems are practically genre standards. DOA2: Hardcore is essentially the "final" version of DOA2, or as close to perfection on the original concept as the developers could get.
You may as well go ahead and brace yourself, because we're going to be seeing a lot of Super Smash Bros. on this list. This 2014 brawler falls in the same vein of the rest of the franchise, pitting a spread of Nintendo's best characters against one another in a brawl to push all other combatants out of the arena.
Although it had been outsold by a wide margin by its 3DS counterpart by the end of 2017, the Wii U version obviously took the lion's share of the critical acclaim. This chapter of the SSB franchise saw the addition of the Wii Fit Trainer, Dark Pit, Mega Man, and several other noteworthy characters to the already resplendent roster.
Melee is the second installment in the SSB franchise, and was arguably the title most instrumental in putting its infamous competitive scene together. It's notable for beginning to include some lesser-known characters in the roster, such as Roy and Marth from the Fire Emblem series.
It greatly expanded on the original game's already celebrated offerings with new game modes and challenges. Melee was a massive draw for competitive eSports, managing to retain its status as a centerpiece at events like the Evolution Championship Series (or Evo, as it's commonly known) for a full seventeen years after its original release.
SoulCalibur II follows in the precedent of its roots, being a pseudo-medieval weapon fighter with a fantastic selection of original characters wielding cool, unique weapons. Managing to stand out at the time of its 2002 release was no easy task, as it didn't command the brand recognition that competing franchises like Super Smash Brothers, Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat had already well established, despite being the third game in its series.
In addition to the already extensive roster of the original, SoulCalibur II introduced several characters that would become iconic within the franchise, such as Sophitia, Talim, and Raphael. Console-exclusive guest characters included The Legend of Zelda's Link on the GameCube, and Spawn (from the eponymous comic books) on the Xbox version.
Finally, a Street Fighter title. Though their absence until approaching the top half of the rankings is to be expected, isn't it? After all, Street Fighter is the franchise responsible for truly putting the genre on the map. Canonically, the Alpha series fills in some of the plot gaps between the mainline games, but does anyone really play a fighting game for the riveting narrative?
Alpha 3 shakes up the already increasingly convoluted cavalcade of mechanics by introducing the "isms" system, a series of three different playstyles that fundamentally alter the combos, super gauges, and even the move sets for each character, raising the skill ceiling through the roof.
Arguably (or definitely, according to Metacritic) the best iteration of the renowned SSB formula, the 2008 chapter of the franchise saw a great deal of critical acclaim, and with good reason. Naturally, it's built around the traditional "ring out" style of gameplay that the series is known for, but with a slew of newly introduced bells and whistles.
Nintendo newcomers to the SSB roster include Pit from Kid Icarus, and Lucas from classical masterpiece Earthbound. Brawl was also noteworthy for embracing third party characters, such as the out-of-left-field inclusion of Solid Snake from Metal Gear, and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Despite being a classic, the Virtua Fighter series isn't a branding that commands nearly as much recognition as most of the other franchises on this list. Nonetheless, the fourth entry in the series managed to secure enough clout to achieve a respectable ranking among Metacritic's best.
The game was noteworthy for achieving impressive graphical performance at the time of its 2001 release without sacrificing gameplay value. As a fun fact, the Japanese arcade version of the game was among the first to offer truly live and online components in a conventional arcade setting, allowing players to earn unique rewards, customize fighters, and participate in leaderboards.
It may not have secured the number one spot, but the most acclaimed title of the Street Fighter series to date still achieves a respectable ranking among its peers. The full North American release came out in 2009, with the goal of achieving a middle ground between innovation while recalling the classic feeling of earlier, definitive titles in the series like Street Fighter II. Given how well it was received, it did not disappoint.
Street Fighter IV introduced the "Focus Attack" system, which is, mechanically, essentially a glorified system of counter attacks, as well as the "Ultra Combo," which are powerful, cinematically rendered attacks attached to a "Revenge Meter" that charges up as the fighter suffers damage.
Though it is conspicuously the only Tekken title to place on the list, placing second should still be telling enough concerning how well received this fighter was. Originally releasing in arcades during 1997 and on home consoles the following year, Tekken 3's roster featured mostly newcomers to the series that have now become iconic, such as fan-favorite Bryan Fury.
Tekken 3 was also first in the series to really and truly embrace three-dimensional arenas, with players being able to dodge back and forth into the "background" of the typically two-dimensional, face-to-face plane on which the majority of the combat took place. While not entirely revolutionary, it definitely struck a chord with fans.
Depending on where you stand with the SoulCalibur series, you're either nodding your head in understanding, less-than-surprised approval, or you're flipping tables to see it claim the number one spot. Regardless, the numbers don't lie, and so here it stands.
Simply put, this classic weapon fighter did everything right. It truly revolutionized three-dimensional movement in a typically two-dimensional genre, lending matches an unprecedented amount of freedom in positioning and movement. It also eased the strain of button inputs for combos, allowing them to "buffer" and thus giving players a much smoother experience when it came to setting up extended strings of attacks.