3. Tekken 3
Release date: 1997 (arcade), 1998 (PlayStation)
Notable facts: Was the first game Namco released using its Namco System 12 hardware. Also contains a “Tekken Ball” minigame, which is a hilarious fighting game version of beach volleyball where players use attacks to hit the ball and hurt their opponent.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Tekken 3 was a massive overhaul of Tekken, and without it, we might not have gotten the other four games in the series. This is the title that only brought back six characters from the previous game and advanced its plot two decades down the line. More than a dozen new characters were introduced, and every one of those had to come with their own move sets and character development. This is the game that introduced Jin Kazama, who’s become one of the most popular and important characters in the Tekken franchise.
Jumping the plot forward also made for a great story, too. Where Tekken 7 finally gave audiences the confrontation between Kazuya and Heihachi, Tekken 3 was Jin’s story as he set out to avenge his presumed-dead mother Jun by defeating the monster known as Ogre. The most poignant part, though, had nothing to do with the villain or the tournament; it had to do with Heihachi and his betrayal of Jin, taking the young man in at his lowest point and helping him up until the point that he personally shoots him in the head. Yet even so, Jin chooses to spare Heihachi’s life. It’s a shocking and heartbreaking conclusion, and a gut punch to go along with all the actual punching. What else could you ask for?
2. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo
Release date: 1994
Notable facts: 25 years after its release, is the oldest fighting game that is still used in active esports competition around the world.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: If Street Fighter II put the franchise into the mainstream, then Super Street Fighter II Turbo took it to the next level. The game is well known for introducing Akuma, who was the first secret character in the franchise, and has since become a staple character not only in this series but in other Capcom titles. The franchise wouldn’t be the same without him, and he started here.
Turbo also allowed players to choose their own game speed, one of several new mechanics that it added to the fray. It brought in new combos, called “Super Combos,” as well as air combos. These are things fighting game fans take for granted now, but they weren’t so common back in 1994. The game polished up everything about its predecessor, and also translated near seamlessly from the arcade to the home version. In essence, this took one of the founding games of the fighting genre and made it even better.
Points must also be given for Turbo‘s impact on the fighting game community and its competitive scene. It’s something that is still played in various esports tournaments today, and is a game that almost everyone knows and loves. Very few games in any genre have that kind of shelf life and universal appeal. Turbo is the best of Street Fighter, without which fighting games would not have succeeded, and therefore will always have a place in fighting game history.
1. Mortal Kombat 2
Release date: 1993 (arcade), 1994 (SNES, Genesis, Game Boy), 1996 (Saturn, PlayStation), 2007 (PlayStation 3)
Notable facts: Had perhaps the biggest marketing blitz of any fighting game, with Acclaim Entertainment telling the New York Times that they had a $10 million marketing budget. That included comic books, a magazine, collectible stickers and trading cards, and action figures. The Times also reported that the game’s first week sales amounted to more than $50 million, which was more than the box office gross of any of that summer’s Hollywood blockbusters, including Disney’s animated The Lion King and Oscar-winning Forrest Gump.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: One could argue that the original Mortal Kombat got a fair amount of its buzz because of its gore; it was the first game to really push violent, hyper-realistic fighting into the mainstream. But Mortal Kombat II proved that the game was no one-hit wonder, and then some. It expanded the character roster to 12 fighters, including characters who have become critical to Mortal Kombat history like Kitana and Mileena.
It also massively expanded what fans could do with the characters; this game improved upon the Fatalities for which Mortal Kombat has become known, as well as introduced Friendships and Babalities for those who preferred less violent endings. The game also plays noticeably better than its predecessor, much faster and smoother. It was an improvement on every level, not just for the original title but for fighting games in general. Mortal Kombat 2 showed the full potential of fighting games as a force to be reckoned with, and was one of the reasons they’re still a popular genre today.