30 best fighting video games of all time

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mortal kombat
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 17: Thundercat (L) and Flying Lotus attend Mortal Kombat 11: The Reveal on January 17, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment) /

15. Mortal Kombat (2011)

Release date: 2011

Notable facts: Won Best Fighting Game at both the 2011 Spike Video Game Awards and the 2011 Golden Joystick Awards.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Mortal Kombat nabs the spot over its successor for one simple but big reason – this is the game that brought the franchise back into the public consciousness and paved the way for the two subsequent titles. Without this game, the other two wouldn’t have existed and Mortal Kombat would still be remembered more for its success in the 90’s than for what it’s doing today.

The title rebooted the franchise and immediately re-established it as one of the premier brands in the fighting game world. Visually the game was utterly jaw-dropping, and found new ways to shock and surprise players, like its X-Ray moves that allowed fans to see the damage they were doing to their opponent’s internal organs. It brought back characters and moves that fans loved, while also offering new options so veterans weren’t just rehashing what they’d done years ago. It truly felt like the developers had poured everything into the game, and it showed.

Like any reboot, though, there was a sense of still trying to figure things out. Mortal Kombat‘s AI was more than a little suspect, at times making fights ludicrously bad and causing some frustration that took away from the awesomeness of its story mode. Technically, it wasn’t on par with other games that were out at the time. But it recaptured all the excitement and shock value, and laid the pipe for a whole new era of Mortal Kombat.

14. Killer Instinct

Release date: 1994 (arcade), 1995 (SNES/Game Boy), 2013 (Xbox One)

Notable facts: Its TV commercial involved someone cutting through an arcade cabinet with a chainsaw.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: Killer Instinct came off as Nintendo’s answer to the popularity of Mortal Kombat. But it actually was more like Primal Rage if you got rid of the parts that were kind of cringe-inducing. Killer Instinct was a similarly over the top fighting game with outrageous characters like a pirate skeleton, a werewolf, and a half-human, half-dinosaur. It was bizarre in a fun way. and made even the standard “shadowy corporation/organization sponsors fighting tournament” plot interesting.

Killer Instinct also rejuvenated gameplay, adding a second life bar to its matches and introducing the idea of “auto-doubles,” which made combos easier to execute for the less technically proficient players. The presence of combo breakers also helped to level the playing field. It did things differently all the way around, and that was a breath of fresh air before you started laughing at the hilariously amazing things characters were able to do.

We have to take points off, though, for how the game was drastically chopped up when originally shifted from arcades to the SNES. There’s always some difference between arcade presentations and home ones, but Killer Instinct‘s pare-down included the redesigning of stages, the loss of many very cool special effects, and some of the most poor quality music ever heard in a video game. Although it was still worth playing, the arcade version was clearly superior.

13. Killer Instinct (2013)

Release date: 2013

Notable facts: Spawned its own comic book miniseries, with Dynamite Comics releasing six issues between September 2017 and April 2018.

Why it’s one of the best fighting games: The new Killer Instinct did everything that a revival should do, by keeping all the stuff that made the original title great and also dealing with all of its predecessor’s flaws. Set up in multiple “seasons,” the first one brought back most of the quirky yet tough characters from almost 20 years earlier, but made them look less ridiculous and more genuinely intimidating. They felt more like competitors than characters, and while that took a bit of the fun off the top, it was filled back in with new character developments and new storylines. These weren’t just the same characters looking better; they’d all experienced some kind of change, too.

Gameplay was solid and easy to pick up, and Killer Instinct also rectified the major technical flaws where the home version was a big letdown. As a launch title for Xbox One, it was designed for home play and ready to roll out immediately. Though there were some complaints about how the “season” strategy meant the original content offering was a bit thin, the game ultimately delivered a wide variety of characters, moves and modes. It proved the value of rebooting a fighting game, because it unlocked the whole potential of Killer Instinct that the 90’s version just couldn’t reach back then. Plus, with character themes like “Touch Me and I’ll Break Your Face,” it still had that tongue in cheek attitude.