Each genre has its greats and its flops. The greatness of games is measured in part by the failures of others. The fighting genre is one of those that may have a more disproportionate number of hits and flops than any other. This has made it so that we need to more critically evaluate whatever pops up in the genre.
Innovation is something that is the life blood of a game or series. Not every fighting game has been in 3D, nor has every game featured great detail in texturing or sound. Those that have survived the test of time mastered at least one of those. Games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have stood the test of time by their abilities to adapt to an ever changing market. They have continued to command our attention with not only innovation, but with their ability to conjure nostalgia among fans, even those who have never touched a console before. The unfortunate reality is that for every title that is a hit, several will be complete and utter garbage.
Since there is such a large pool to choose from, here are some of the best and worst games the fighting genre has to offer.
20 Greatest: Darkstalkers
Some know it as Darkstalkers and others as Vampire, no matter which title you’re familiar with, this Gothic 2D fighter is a time honored classic. The original game did something that we all hope developers would always do, taking something that is already great and making it better. So what did Darkstalkers make better? The developers took the mechanics for Street Fighter II and added air blocks, crouching movements, and chain combos. The sheer scope of what was done early on with the series is seen in just about every fighting game on this list. It added a level of cartoonish joy that was absent from many games before hand. Character models were also highly influential, particularly the succubus Morrigan Aensland. The original game still looks great for its age today.
19 Worst: Tao Feng: Fist Of The Lotus
Tao Feng: Fist of the Lotus is not a miserable bore, it’s actually sort of fun for a couple fights on a lazy day. The unfortunate thing is that fun does not equal good. Some of the traits that made Tao Feng kind of fun are the blemishing of characters and tearing of clothing as those characters get smacked around. This added a level of realism that many other games today lack. The soundtrack of the game is fairly repetitive and the characters are either extremely slow and cumbersome or decently fast and nimble. The number of characters is highly limiting as there are only 12 featured. The game’s story is a knock off of Tekken’s and plays heavily on cheap kung fu movie tropes, so things just didn’t really seem to fit properly. If you play this game, I recommend Iron Monk.
18 Greatest: Dead Or Alive
A lot of people will make quips about the less than realistic physics regarding the female anatomy, but that’s beside the point of this blurb. Dead or Alive can and should be credited for setting a standard for in-game physics which, along with Virtua Fighter, would go on to influence more games than we can count. Dead or Alive is one of those games which has been able to ride the waves of sex appeal, but that is both a gift and a curse. The curse of it is that it has overshadowed the quality gameplay within the franchise’s fighting games. In their attempts to draw some of the focus away from the mainstay sexiness of the series, they have added a few more male characters. Unlike a lot of games which rely on sex appeal, Dead or Alive is actually fun.
17 Worst: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22
This is one of the most disappointing games ever made, as far as Dragon Ball fans are concerned. Almost every arena is basically just a low resolution lazy retexture of one another, vaguely resembling the more easily recognizable areas of Dragon Ball Z. Honestly, the only one that is definitely recognizable is the World Martial Arts Tournament arena. What hurts the most for this game is that its budget should have allowed for better graphics, sounds, and presentation. In fact, the weakest point of this the fact that its presentation is so lazy that the models weren’t even made specifically made for the game; they just ripped them from previous publications for the Super Nintendo. For fans of this series, any fan of the Dragon Ball franchise this game likely fills you with rage and contempt.
16 Greatest: Aggressors Of Dark Kombat
No, this is not a cheap knock off of Street Fighter, this is actually one of the most influential but forgotten games in history. The game directed influenced the development of 3D games because it allowed for players to move across different lanes of the battlefield. Aggressors of Dark Kombat would also feature weapon-based combat, but what it did that was so unusual is that it focused heavily on grappling and throwing your opponents. At the time, this made the game feel more like a beat ‘em up than a standard fighting game. The multilayered health bars were also a pretty unique addition. One other feature that was fairly unique to the game was that you had to “power up” your crazy meter to perform special attacks. This meant that you had to get good and quick.
15 Worst: Rumble Roses
Bad audio, terrible plot, great graphics; that pretty much sums up the all-girl slug-fest that is Rumble Roses. Like another addition to this article, this game is one that sounds fantastic on paper, but in reality falls fairly flat in the execution. The gameplay itself is not particularly bad and the corny humor is rather enjoyable, but the detracting elements of just make it too difficult to suspend belief and have fun. This is not an easy game to review thanks to the exact combination of positives and negatives. Rumble Roses could be a great game, but the audio just ruins the whole thing. Being honest, this game could make a pleasurable experience for those who can tolerate its failings, but not for more than an afternoon.
14 Greatest: Virtua Fighter
First and foremost, Virtua Fighter was one of the earliest games to feature a 3D arena and wireframe digital models. For years to come, this would be highly unusual for fighting games with its appearance being featured most prominently in the Bushido Blade series. Virtua Fighter as a game is generally considered an enigma to players; it is treated as if they are some sort of esoteric rite available only to a select few. Few games feature as smooth combat control and great frame rates as the Virtua Fighter series and the boundaries were pushed for whichever platform it was released on. The game and series as a whole, really, is one of the most consuming specimens to ever be brought to market. Can’t speak for you, but I am hoping that we get to see another release sometime soon.
13 Worst: Kabuki Warriors
What is perhaps one of the blandest games to ever come to market, Kabuki Warriors hit some of the biggest sins one could commit. To say that the graphics are sub-par would be quite generous. The bad graphics would not be so hindering if the different stages featured more variety or the characters were more easily distinguished from one another. Seriously, there is virtually no difference between the stages in Osaka and Edo. The lazy character design and constant yelling whenever you are selecting a character just makes you want to put it down. The highly limited move sets and less-than adequate AI make this the virtual embodiment of a mid-day nap. The game is so boring that the theaters you perform in totally lack an audience.
12 Greatest: Tekken
The Tekken franchise has been a staple of arcade fighting for over two decades. Each game has featured an entertaining storyline and given us characters which we adore. The series has remained strong since game one in 1994, so it is hard to narrow it down to a single entry for the single best game. The Tekken series is so entrenched in the fighting genre that it will be rather difficult to overtake it. A particular fan favorite is Tekken 3, especially with Ogre and True Ogre. Tekken has been a series which has carved its own niche in the fighting universe. This niche is exemplified by the competent use of early 3D arenas. Tekken won’t be going anywhere soon and we’re just fine with that.
11 Worst: Iron And Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft
Many people are fans of the Dungeons & Dragons games, be they table-tops or video games, the franchise has been quite successful. However, this is one failure by Wizards of the Coast that is best lost to the sands of time. Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft is a fighting game based on the Ravenloft campaigns and features an assortment of characters which seem rather out of place, to say the least. Being able to fight as halflings, werebeasts, Amazonians, and what not sounds like it might work, but sadly it just doesn’t. The game does not feature that complex of a fighting system. It isn’t entirely the fault of Take-Two Interactive or Wizards of the Coast that this is a bad game, the limitations on technology in the mid-1990s made it impossible to run at maximum capacity.
10 Greatest: Mortal Kombat
First of all, we have to admit that we love the blood, guts, bone-breaking, and homicidal rage that is Mortal Kombat. Having been subject to one of the greatest backlashes from concerned parents and lawmakers alike, this masterpiece of violence garnered a bunch of free press. Something that made this game, and series rather, so frustratingly addicting is that it is possible to kill your opponents with only a single move, knocking them into a trap which crushes, impales, burns, or grinds the victim into nothingness. The level of violence and gore in Mortal Kombat would not be matched in popular games until the Grand Theft Auto series. If brutal killing blows aren’t your thing, that’s okay, you can just let them pass out from all of that blood loss and trauma. You might be able to show them that you care with a friendship finisher.
9 Worst: Bikini Karate Babes
This is another example of a game that sounds like a fun concept on paper, but with an execution that makes it just awful. Initially released as a parody of fighting games, Bikini Karate Babes did a few things that many mainstream titles did not do; it recorded all of the actions between sprites with their actresses present. The concept of having a fighting game based on Greek Goddesses fighting in bikinis is neat, especially when you think of the joke behind it. The joke is that men in video games get to wear gear that wholly protects their fragile bodies whereas women get to run around protected by just a little cloth; it is clear who the stronger sex is. The game is not particularly good but it somehow turned out to be a great seller, I wonder why? It even spawned a sequel, Warriors of Elysia.
8 Greatest: Street Fighter
Let’s be honest, without Street Fighter, there would be a lot fewer fighting games, memes, and cosplay out there. As one of the most influential games ever made, Street Fighter is single-handedly responsible for establishing most of the tropes, trends, and formatting which are hallmarks of the fighting game genre. The game’s use of fireball and energy attacks would go on to directly inspire other popular series. Since this is one of the biggest and baddest games on the market, it is no wonder why the nostalgia factor is strong here. As Capcom’s masterpiece, replay value is high, especially if you have friends to play with. The series has not always been strong, but it remains a staple of our global culture. As of Street Fighter V, the series seems to be back on the right track.
7 Worst: Catfight
During the 1990s, companies in the adult entertainment industry began to see a loss in paid viewership and as a result they sought other avenues in which to raise revenues. One of the more unfortunate attempts is the 1996 release Catfight by Atlantean Interactive, a front for an adult company. This particular game looks like a cheap rip off of 1992’s Mortal Kombat. The gameplay is utterly terrible. The scantily clad female sprites are not the worst thing about this, as they are done in a way that can only be described as passable. Catfight will thankfully never have a sequel as it performed so badly and got such terrible reviews that Atlantean Interactive quickly disappeared after making only five games.
6 Greatest: Fatal Fury/King Of Fighters
Fatal Fury had a phenomenal impact on the gaming industry, particularly with its addition of multiple lanes of combat. The game allowed for players to move up and down the foreground and background rows in matches, allowing for more complex fighting sequences than any other game of its time. The multiplayer aspect was also quite amusing as the fight would not stop when a player joined, instead what would happen is that the two players would be forced to team up on the CPU for a two-on-one before their fight commences.The Fatal Fury series would eventually become the King of Fighters series which has survived the test of time. Thanks to how intrinsically linked Fatal Fury and King of Fighters are, it is hard to separate the two as they are functionally the same series.
5 Worst: Celebrity Deathmatch
Based on the mediocre show which many of us laughed at in our youth, Celebrity Deathmatch is a game that was unable to keep even the slightest amount of our interest. The game is clunky, looks like garbage, and has few (if any) jokes that will make you laugh. The game feels more like an amalgamation of pain, anguish, and staleness. The absence of a laugh track adds to the confusion as you just don’t know when to laugh. The game looks terrible with its highly pixelated models, bad hit detection, and it suffers from barely resembling those in the show. Celebrity Deathmatch is a pale imitation of an already lackluster show. Thankfully, there will never be a sequel as the show’s final season was an abysmal failure.
4 Greatest: Soul Calibur
Soul Calibur is perhaps the most iconic weapon-based fighting game in history. It’s known for its fluid controls, graphics, and attractive females. There is a lot of fun to be had with this one. The cohesive and easily discernible storyline has remained extremely constant throughout the series, adding to the sense of immersion. With high flying, bone-breaking combat, Soul Calibur sometimes feels like a more cartoonish version of Mortal Kombat than anything else. Each and every entry into the series, there seems to be something new and exciting for fans to try out, explore, and ultimately bash its brains in. The Soul series is a good example of what could happen if innovations in the market are combined into one game. Something that keeps Soul Calibur in the discourse is that it is just adult enough to keep the older audience but cartoonish enough for younger players.
3 Worst: Xena: Warrior Princess: The Talisman Of Fate
The Xena television series is one of the most iconic in the world and Lucy Lawless is just fantastic. That much isn't up for debate here. Unfortunately, this Xena fighting game should have been taken out behind the barn and shot before its release. First let’s start with the good. The game has its moments, as the graphics and background drawings were great for its time, but those are not enough to save any game on their own. Xena: Warrior Princess: The Talisman of Fate, not only has a mouthful for a name, but the animations are awkward (that is really an understatement0. This wannabe 3D Super Smash Bros. had a distinct lack of special moves and unique animations for each character, something which flew in the face of the era’s standard. Ending on a nice note, the game was able to hold up to four players and had great music.
2 Greatest: Bushido Blade
Bushido Blade is one of the most unique games that has ever been made. For a title which came out in the late 1990s, it still doesn’t look half bad either. What most people will remember from this game is that there is no health bar and that getting touched with the blade of any of the weapons means you will probably be killed. The unique and more realistic nature of the controls make Bushido Blade a sadly forgotten page in gaming history. Something that made the mechanics so great was that it was an open world fighting game. You could freely roam from one battle zone to another, sometimes being able to avoid killing opponents. As great as Bushido Blade was, its sequel was not enough to keep the franchise going. Maybe one day a third installment will come about.
1 Worst: Dangerous Streets
The shortest description for this abomination in gaming is that it's racist, its fighting is bad, only two controls, slow and predictable motions with everyone having pretty much the same antics, super racist, and it features caricatures of African-Americans and the ghetto which belong in a rip-off of a Tarantino film directed by David Duke. You might be wondering, "James, why did you harp so much on the racism?" Well, I'm glad you probably asked that my favorite viewer! The game's entire aesthetic is done in the style of a blaxploitation film. There aren't really enough words to describe how bad this game really is; it is astounding. In essence, this game helped hasten the death of the Amiga CD32 gaming system.