12. King of Fighters ’94
Release date: 1994
Notable facts: There was an Xbox remake of the game completed, but canceled in 2006 and there’s never been an explanation for its absence. To this day the remake is only available in Japan.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: The King of Fighters series was a crossover well before they became popular in the fighting game arena, bringing together characters primarily from SNK’s Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting franchises into one tournament. It also proved that tag teams could work, as opposed to just one on one matchups. It even allowed players to choose the order in which their team members fought. In many ways, this game turned the fighting game genre on its head, and proved that the genre itself could be more than simply two characters punching each other in the face.
Instead, King of Fighters required players to master three characters and not just one, and added a further element of strategy as players tried to determine which team to pick and how to arrange their fighters. While the characters themselves weren’t as well balanced as they could have been, that only added more to think about for the player, making the game one of the more mentally engaging fighters on the market at the time. It was a whole lot more than just mashing buttons or memorizing combos, and it looked and sounded pretty good for its time. Because of its unique mechanics, it’s still something we can play today and enjoy, even as sequels have followed.
11. Tekken 7
Release date: 2015 (arcade), 2017 (PlayStation 4/XBox One)
Notable facts: Led to the creation of the Tekken World Tour, a series of international tournaments that run throughout the year to showcase the best Tekken players in the world.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: If a series is lucky enough to make it to a seventh game, it can start to feel tired. That wasn’t the case at all with Tekken 7, which returned teasing the final showdown between Heihachi Mishima and his son Kazuya. The writers framed this massive confrontation by telling it from an outside perspective – that of an investigative journalist whose family had died in the crossfire between Heihachi and Kazuya’s factions. That alone put a new spin on the Tekken story, and the actual confrontation between father and son was just as epic (and surprisingly emotional) as expected.
Tekken 7 also pushed its gameplay forward by creating the Rage Art attacks and Power Crush mechanism. Both were major shifts that allowed players to never truly be out of the fight, plus there were two new characters designed to be easier for new players (Shaheen and Katarina Alves). For the more veteran players, there were still more than enough combos to keep them busy. The game was a step forward for the franchise in mechanics, at the same time that the story reached the conclusion the previous volumes had been building to. With everything so neatly wrapped up (and so well put together), it almost made it hard to see where Tekken could go after this.
10. Injustice 2
Release date: 2017
Notable facts: Spawned a comic book miniseries where the Injustice characters met the Masters of the Universe. Among the game’s DLC characters are Hellboy and all four of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Why it’s one of the best fighting games: The ending of Injustice: Gods Among Us made it very clear that a sequel was inevitable, and Injustice 2 was able to reach the very high bar set by its predecessor. Its narrative was an organic extension of the story from the first game, and while pretty much just as depressing, deserves praise for continuing to add new characters while not becoming convoluted – and ultimately distilling the game down to the core Superman vs. Batman dynamic when it mattered most.
What made Injustice 2 more interesting than its predecessor, though, was its application of mechanics normally seen in role-playing games into the fighting game world. The “Gear System” rewarded players with experience points and increased their characters’ statistics with each battle, while also providing them gear that they could use to further make enhancements and customizations. It wasn’t perfect (of course there was the inevitable microtransaction system that sought to profit further from fans’ interest), but the idea of marrying RPG progress to a fighting game was generally worthwhile.
Plus, if you thought Injustice looked amazing, the sequel was even more visually appealing. Between its visuals and the new level of choices, it really immersed gamers into its alternate DC Universe in a way that most games only wish they could do.