30 best fighting video games of all time

Nintendo /
3 of 10

24. Tekken 2

Release date: 1995 (arcade), 1996 (PlayStation), 2007 (PlayStation 3)

Notable facts: The PlayStation 2 version of Tekken 5, released in 2005, contains the arcade version of Tekken 2 as a playable bonus in its Arcade History mode. Guinness World Records ranked it as one of the best fighting games of all time in 2009.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Tekken 2 was a clear improvement over its precedessor, and the first game in the Tekken series to feature several modes that we now take for granted. Time Attack, Team Battle and Survival Mode were all added to Tekken in this game, and not only did they become standard for this series, but they’ve also popped up in other fighting games as well. That alone would earn it a place in genre history, but Tekken 2 has a lot more to offer than new play options. It had excellent character movement, more fluid than anything else in its time, and a practice mode for the less technically proficient. That helped make the game accessible to new players, who could easily get hooked.

That’s because once you got started playing, it was easy to connect with Tekken 2. If you enjoyed the technical part of gaming, there were plenty of moves and combos to keep you busy. If you were more into story, there was the doomed love story between Jun Kazama and Kazuya Mishima, the latter of whom got thrown into a volcano. It also marked the debut of a genetically altered boxing kangaroo (Roger) and a genetically altered fighting dinosaur (Alex). That sounds funny now, but it was cool to unlock a fighting dinosaur if you were a teenager playing this in 1995.

23. Primal Rage

Release date: 1994 (Arcade), 1995 (home versions including SNES, Genesis, and PlayStation)

Notable facts: The character Chaos had his finishing move censored in several ports, given that it involved the giant ape-like god um, relieving himself on his downed opponent’s corpse. That particular move prompted the game to be pulled off Best Buy shelves after an 11-year-old in Arizona successfully executed the move to the horror of his mother. The Game Gear port of Primal Rage replaced the move…with Chaos vomiting acid onto his opponent instead.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Primal Rage was a warped post-apocalyptic mind-bender of a game. Instead of playing as human fighters, gamers took control of massive creatures who had emerged after a meteor shower wiped out human life on Earth and essentially hit the reset button. This resulted in possibly the most bizarre characters, and strangest moves, ever to turn up in any fighting game. For example, Vertigo (the sort of snake/sort of dinosaur goddess of insanity) had a finishing attack that turned her opponent into a cow. Yep, a simple, garden-variety cow that just aimlessly wandered away.

Primal Rage felt like a game where the developers were having too much fun with their premise, and so it was a combination of absurd and interesting because it was absurd. Human characters would pop up during fights to worship their creature of choice, and find themselves either turned into projectiles or used as a snack. There was an entire mini-game of seeing how many people a character could eat to improve their health going into the final boss round. Add in graphics that were either awesome or terrible depending on the platform you were playing on, and this makes the list for just being strangely great.

22. Samurai Shodown (1993)

Release date: 1993 (arcade), 1994 (SNES, Genesis), 1998 (PlayStation), 2016 (PlayStation 4), 2017 (Xbox One)

Notable facts: A delivery man named Hikyaku randomly appears during fight scenes to throw things at the competitors, including bombs that cause injury or chickens that restore character health. That’s not a joke character; he’s based on the actual couriers of the feudal era.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Samurai Shodown was still relatively early in the 90’s fighting game surge, and so it wasn’t the most polished game. But what it lacked in technical advancement it makes up for in the universe it created and the effort SNK put in to make it feel like a true samurai adventure. The story takes place during the late 18th century, and was built around actual historical figures including Japanese martyr Shiro Tokisada Amakusa. The developers even utilized music from that time period. If you listened closely, you could hear authentic Japanese instruments on the soundtrack!

That’s an impressive level of detail, one which isn’t common in video games regardless of genre, and it helped immerse players not only in the game itself but in the culture. It felt like you were learning things while also slicing and dicing your opponent. And as one of the earlier weapons-based fighting games, Samurai Shodown offered a number of ways to keep fights interesting, too. Between the different kinds of moves and feeling like one was stepping into a different world, it’s no wonder the game spawned an entire series of samurai-themed titles.