27. Soul Edge
Release date: 1995 (arcade), 1996 (PlayStation Japan), 1997 (PlayStation North America)
Notable facts: Had its name changed to Soul Blade when it was released on PlayStation in North America, Europe and Australia to avoid conflict with EDGE Games having trademarked the word “edge” in the gaming space. Is the precursor to 1998’s Soulcalibur.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: This is one of the rare games that got even better when it made the transition from arcade title to home platforms. There were features and unlockable characters that were specific to the PlayStation, including a whole boatload of extra weapons and an entire game mode (Edge Master, which turned it from a fighting game into a fighting-RPG hybrid). It’s impressive how much work Namco put in to making this better, whether it was from the original arcade version to the Version II arcade release to the PlayStation title. That’s a growth not a lot of games can boast.
Soul Edge also holds up because of its story. The game is set in 1584, and follows a group of characters all searching for the titular sword, which happens to devour people’s souls. The historical setting gives the game a fun and different atmosphere, and its main characters include a ninja (Taki) and a pirate (Cervantes). It’s an interesting ensemble, with characters people want to follow. Add in an excellent soundtrack (enough great music to fill two CDs), and the fact that this game spawned a whole franchise, and what’s not to love?
26. Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls
Release date: 1994
Notable facts: Unlike other Double Dragon titles, was based on the animated series that aired from 1993 to 1994, and several of the game’s characters were taken directly from the show. Double Dragon V was developed by Williams Entertainment; at the time this title was released, Williams’ parent company WMS also owned Midway Games – the developer that gave fighting game fans the Mortal Kombat franchise!
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Double Dragon V will never be considered a smash hit, but it’s a fighting game that has never ceased to be a heck of a lot of fun to play. It partially benefits from the animated series tie-in, because at the time, it was neat to watch characters on Saturday mornings and then be able to play them immediately thereafter. Even now, more than two decades later, there’s a certain amount of happy nostalgia that comes with it. Double Dragon is a property that has been understandably overshadowed by the more successful Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter franchises, but it’s never lost its entertainment value.
To that end, the title has some original characters who are appropriately more fun than ferocious (such as Bones, a re-animated skeleton who loves rock music and has a laser rifle for a weapon). Double Dragon V‘s lineup feels like characters fans would come up with in their overactive imaginations, and the gameplay with all these quirky villains doesn’t disappoint. There’s also a story mode, called Quest Mode, where the player can choose to be good or evil – adding yet another possibility. Fighting games have far surpassed this, but this is an old favorite that will always be worth a replay.
25. World Heroes 2 Jet
Release date: 1994 (arcade), 1995 (Game Boy), 2017 (PlayStation 4/XBox One), 2018 (Nintendo Switch)
Notable facts: When the game was scaled down to fit the smaller Game Boy screens, several characters wound up looking “super deformed” as a result. Whoops.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Despite its awkward title, World Heroes 2 Jet is the best of SNK’s World Heroes series. Part of the surge of fighting games from the mid-90’s, it’s not the most technically proficient but it makes up for that with outlandish characters and a delightfully over the top story. Think of Street Fighter on acid. World Heroes 2 Jet features a crazed pseudo-god named Zeus (aka Mr. Z) as its final boss, and brings back characters like the pirate Captain Kidd and the sword-wielding heroine Janne D’Arc (an obvious rip-off of Joan of Arc).
This game absolutely does not take itself seriously, and that’s what gives it so much replay value. This game absolutely does not take itself seriously, and that’s what gives it so much replay value. The characters all have their own memorable personalities, instead of spouting the usual fighting game cliches. And while the story of a fighting tournament that’s also stopping world domination is far from new, the way World Heroes 2 Jet presents it makes it fun and easy to engage with. A number of dialogue lines are outright groan-worthy (“I resolve to make sushi of your entrails”), but you can’t resist going on to the next level just to see what funny or wild thing happens next. And when the fighting game genre can often be too dark and serious, it was great to have a game that was not either of those things. None of the World Heroes titles since have been able to capture that same spark.