Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The best fighting games of all time

Of all the confusing naming conventions associated with video games, fighting games are perhaps the most notorious. With most franchises receiving countless re-releases, ports, and sequels, it can be hard to know where to get started. That’s why we’re here to count down the best fighting games of all time.

In order to not highlight one series too heavily over another, we’re only giving a single slot to any individual game in a franchise. Super Smash Bros., for example, has Melee and Brawl, but we’re only dedicating one slot to Ultimate.

Tekken 7

Tekken has a long history of being a viciously competitive fighting game, and Tekken 7 is the latest in that lineage. The first game to use the Unreal Engine and last game in The Mishima Saga Story, Tekken 7 introduces a variety of new mechanics, making the game more accessible for newcomers while retaining the competitive nature of the community that surrounds it.

Although lacking in content upon release, Tekken 7’s roster of characters has grown substantially. Returning favorites like Jin Kazama and Kazuya Mishima are present, as well as newcomers in the form of Fahkumram, Shaheen, and Devil Kazumi.

Since launch, Bandai Namco has also partnered with various other studios to bring third-party characters into Tekken 7. Those include Akuma from Street Fighter, Geese Howard from Fatal Fury and The King of Fighters, Noctis Lucis Caelum from Final Fantasy XV, and, strangely, Negan from The Walking Dead.

Read our full Tekken 7 review

Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct is an old, but fairly niche, fighting franchise. Developed originally by Rare in 1994, the series only received three games, one of which was an arcade exclusive. After Microsoft’s acquisition of Rare, however, it decided to reboot the franchise, launching alongside the Xbox One in 2013.

Developed by the original co-designer of Killer Instinct and a slew of fighting game veterans, including former competitive players and tournaments organizers, Killer Instinct truly is a fighting game created by the fans, for the fans. Although the first season of competitive play was met with some disappointment, Killer Instinct has grown into one of the better fighting games around.

Further, it’s free, or at least, free to download. The base game only comes with a single fighter, and you can choose to either upgrade to the full version of the game or buy fighters a la carte. If you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber, however, you get everything for free, which is why Killer Instinct is one of the best games on Xbox Game Pass.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Super Smash Bros. is a marvel of game design, allowing players interested in button mashing to have as much fun as competitive players. Although the Smash Bros. series doesn’t have the knuckle-busting combos of other competitive fighting games, it’s still a nuanced and fast-paced brawler.

Ultimate is the most expansive title in the series, too. Although Melee is often hailed as the epitome of the Smash Bros. series, Ultimate offers a lot more content. The base game features 69 fighters, with fan-favorite Nintendo characters like Captain Falcon and Ness, as well as third-party fighters like Cloud from Final Fantasy VII and Snake from Metal Gear Solid.

This is one of the best Switch games you can buy, pairing perfectly with the console. No matter if you’re jumping into a few online battles on the go or sitting down with some friends to duke it out, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate provides the same experience. Not only is Ultimate the biggest Smash game to date, it’s also one that can fit in your pocket.

Read our full Super Smash Bros. Ultimate review

Street Fighter V

Street Fighter might be the most well-known fighting franchise around, with the original game releasing in 1987. Street Fighter V is the biggest game in the series to date, though, and like many other entries on this list, was met with negative criticism upon launch.

Released in a mostly unfinished state, fit with controller issues, network problems, and little in the way of single-player content, Street Fighter V was considered a cash grab more so than the masterpiece that was Street Fighter IV. Still, Capcom stuck with the game, and it has improved considerably.

Since launch, Capcom has released two major updates to the game, the Arcade Edition and Championship Edition. Although a common practice for the Street Fighter series, Capcom made these updates available as a free download to all Street Fighter V owners. With the new content, Street Fighter V is even more balanced and diverse than Street Fighter IV, reaching a new high for the series.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a sequel to Persona 4 Arena, originally released exclusively in Japanese arcades before being ported over as a PS3 game and Xbox 360 game in 2014. Of the various spinoffs from the Persona series, the two Arena titles may be the best, with Ultimax improving nearly every aspect of the original.

In it, you can play as characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4, each with their own special moves and Persona abilities. Although much more focused on fighting than mainline Persona games, Arena Ultimax keeps some of the life simulation aspects of the main titles intact. Outside of battle, players can build social links that can help them in battle.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax includes all of fighters from the original Arena on the roster, as well as eight new characters. Each of these fighters has a “shadow type,” too. These shadow versions of characters have lower normal attack damage but can maintain their SP over multiple rounds, allowing them to build up special moves.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

Dragon Ball games have a spotted history, with no truly bad games, but very few truly good ones. Thankfully, FighterZ fits into the latter category, ditching many of the RPG elements of the Xenoverse titles that came before in favor of a strict brawler. That focus pays off, with FighterZ having some of the most engaging battles the franchise has seen.

The game takes place in the Dragon Ball Super timeline but is a side story from the main series. In it, you face off against Android 21, a human turned machine by the Red Ribbon Army. After awakening Android 16 and using the Dragon Balls to bring back Nappa, Cell, Frieza, and the Ginyu Force, 21 develops a system for linking human souls to machines.

Of course, the roster of iconic Dragon Ball characters is intact, with Goku, Gohan, Piccolo, Vegeta, and Trunks. Since launch, Arc System Works, developer of Dragon Ball Super, has supported the release with various fighter packs, showcasing alternative versions of Goku and Vegeta, as well as new additions to the roster, such as Broly and Android 17.

Read our full Dragon Ball FighterZ review

Injustice 2

Since 2011, one studio has dominated the fighting market in the West: NetherRealm. A rebranded subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, NetherRealm has led the charge on the last three Mortal Kombat games, which are considered some of the best in the series. It also created a new franchise with Injustice.

If you’re unaware, Injustice is a fighting game based around the DC universe, allowing you to take Batman, Superman, Joker, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and more into battle in this superhero game. In addition to the roster of DC heroes and villains, Injustice 2 features fighters from other franchises, including the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hellboy, and Sub-Zero.

Compared to the first entry in the series, Injustice 2 has a much more compelling single-player mode. Following the events of the first game, Injustice 2 pits Batman versus Superman, with Superman taking extreme measures to punish criminals. With DC characters joining both sides of the battle, Injustice 2’s story feels like a true clash of superheroes.

Read our full Injustice 2 review

Mortal Kombat X

NetherRealm Studios initially proved their fighting game prowess with 2011’s Mortal Kombat, before moving on to launch Injustice: God Among Us. Like Injustice 2, Mortal Kombat X improves on the game that preceded it in almost every way, with increased visual fidelity, more characters, and more refined mechanics.

Introduced in NetherRealm’s first swing at a Mortal Kombat game, X features the X-Ray special moves, slowing time in the battle to showcase your opponent’s bones breaking with each of your hits. X also allows you to interact with the environment like you can in Injustice, either to get to a different point in the stage or hit your opponent.

Mortal Kombat favorites are present on the roster of Mortal Kombat X, including Johnny and Cassie Cage, Reptile, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, and Sub-Zero. NetherRealm has done various crossovers with other franchises since launch, too, adding Jason Voorhees, Predator, an Alien franchise xenomorph, and Leatherface.

Read our full Mortal Kombat X review

Skullgirls

With staples of the genre like Street Fighter and Tekken hogging the limelight, it’s hard for an original IP to break into the fighting game genre, especially in the West. Skullgirls managed to do the impossible, however, releasing for just about every platform under the sun upon release and eventually being ported to modern consoles.

The title’s main claim to fame is its art style. It features a “dark deco” style, that being a similar animation style to Batman: The Animated Series. The title blends aspects of art deco, an early 1920s visual design often associated with the film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, with noir-style elements, creating a dark but high-class feel.

In the context of a fighting game, the visual style works excellently, with beautiful hand-drawn characters and mesmerizing finishers. Skullgirls is a game with a lot of heart, with the passion of the developers showing through each frame.

Soulcalibur VI

Soulcalibur VI doesn’t throw out the formula the series has been going with since 1998, rather iterating on the title that came before it, much like other entries in the series. It boasts a decent roster, though not on the level of Smash Bros. or Cross Tag Battle, and the competitive scene is decent, though not as bustling as Tekken. Still, Soulcalibur VI stands out.

That’s mostly thanks to its gameplay. Like previous titles, VI battles take place in a 3D arena, one where you can move around using its eight-way run. There are some new additions in VI, however. The most interesting is Reversal Edge, which is a technique that essentially allows you to parry incoming attacks.

In addition to some new mechanics, Soulcalibur VI has two story modes, one of which outlines the backstories of all the characters on the roster and another that allows you to create your own custom character to serve as the protagonist. Between the two, you’re looking at around 10 hours of single-player content, which is four times as much as the previous entry.

Read our full Soulcalibur VI preview

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3

Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a re-release of Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, adding 12 new playable characters while keeping the core gameplay intact. Unlike the other entries on this list, you choose a team of fighters whenever you start a battle. Although the fights are one-on-one, you’ll need to defeat all three fighters on your opponents team to win the match.

The game comes into its own when you start switching characters, though. As the battle progresses, you can tag in another fighter from your team. With them, you can perform an air combo with the character you’re switching in if you time it right, breaking your opponent’s posture and leaving them vulnerable to attack.

Backing up the team-based battles is an excellent roster of 48 characters. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 features all 36 characters from the base game, including Chris Redfield, Iron Man, Viewtiful Joe, and Deadpool, as well as 12 new characters. Those include Ghost Rider, Rocket Raccoon, Frank West, Nemesis, and Phoenix Wright.

BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle

BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is a spin-off from the BlazBlue series, developed by Arc System Works. Instead of just featuring BlazBlue characters, Cross Tag Battle features characters from four different franchises: BlazBlue, Persona 4, Under Night In-Bitch, and RWBY.

Battles are fought in teams of two, so your primary character will have a side-kick under their command. Parallel to the rules in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, you can call on your sub to relieve you mid-battle. You can also use their assistance for certain special moves. Gamers initially criticized BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle upon release for lacking certain fighters, but it’s come a long way since then, now featuring 40 playable characters through DLC.

MUGEN

MUGEN stands out as an anomaly due to its authentic format, garnering a hip reputation amongst gamers. Released for Windows in 1999, MUGEN is a fighting game engine rather than an actual fighting game. It provides you with the bare-bones foundation for a fight and expects you to provide the pivotal details. You can add your own characters, graphics, and stages, essentially building a custom fighting game. If you don’t have programming knowledge, don’t worry – MUGEN has some built-in gameplay modes, too.

Keep in mind that MUGEN doesn’t provide the fierce competition and well-rounded fighting match experience that you would expect from a paid game. What you will get with MUGEN is a game created by the people for the people that you can access at no additional cost with a little something for everyone. The customization is the best part of the game, as you’ll gladly entertain yourself for hours falling down the internet’s rabbit hole in search of the quirkiest pair of fight contenders.

Editors' Recommendations