Fighting games used to be all the rage, both literally and figuratively, as many people were firmly rooted in one franchise or another. (Of course, they're making a strong comeback now with the rise of eSports and EVO.) Hell, the rivalry used to be more intense than console rivalry is today. To be honest, I wasn't into the rivalry, but I certainly did prefer some franchises over others. For example, I like 3D fighters much more than 2D ones, but that doesn't mean I hate all 2D fighters. While I haven't played every single fighting game ever made, here's a list of my top ten fighting game franchises of all time.
Mortal Kombat (Midway, Williams Entertainment, Warner Bros.)
I remember seeing the original Mortal Kombat in arcades and I regularly got my butt whipped over and over. MK started out rather simplistically in the first game, but over the last 24 years the series has seriously upped the complexity. In addition, the fatalities that used to be laughable have now become incredibly gory, like ripping out a spine and bashing its owner over the head before they collapse.
The basic storyline focuses on an evil dude who holds a fighting tournament to find the best fighters in the world. Not many people know that this game is a blatant ripoff of the fantastic Bruce Lee movie, Enter the Dragon. In fact, the first Mortal Kombat movie is essentially a cheesy remake of Bruce Lee's best film.
Street Fighter (Capcom)
Street Fighter came out of nowhere to become the most popular 2D fighting game on the planet. This is due to in part to the excellent combat system and also the fact that fighters come from all over the world. Pugilists of different races with different fighting styles add a huge amount of variety to the game, as Zangief, Bison, Chun-Li, and Blanka fight completely different from one another. Most people pick a few of their favorite characters and spend hours perfecting their ultra-fast complex combos.
This series has become so big that crossover games featuring everything from other Capcom characters to Marvel superheroes to Tekken characters are also a huge hit. Street Fighter is one of the franchises I mentioned in the intro, as nearly everyone in the '90s was either a Street Fighter fan or a Mortal Kombat fan, but few were both. Don't think you're good enough to play this series? Sho-ryu-ken!
I'll probably get some flak for saying this, but I was in the Tekken camp during its heyday. I've loved this series from the beginning, and Tekken 3 is still one of my all-time favorite fighting games. Not only do I enjoy oddball characters like Yoshimitsu the skeleton samurai and Paul the oddball with the two-foot-tall flattop, but I prefer the slower fighting style that emphasizes strategy over speed.
I also like having four buttons that were logically set up as one for each hand and one for each foot. Back in the day I would repeat matches over and over trying to get the perfect finishing move just so I could watch the cool slo-mo replay. Add in devastating grab moves, and the result was a franchise that caught my attention with every release. Too bad the series fell flat over the years as it has never returned to the glory it had in the '90s.
Virtua Fighter (SEGA)
It's not widely known that SEGA created the first 3D fighting game with the release of Virtua Fighter in 1993. Seeing the game now isn't easy on the eyes due to the incredibly blocky visuals, but it was highly advanced at the time. It also only used three buttons (attack, kick, guard), but the developers managed to create a complex moveset with limited manual input. My favorite character was Shun-Di, an old man with the classic sifu look who was a master of drunken boxing.
It was really hard to anticipate his moves because his style was so unorthodox. Most other characters used a variety of Chinese kung-fu and animal styles. Not surprisingly, Virtua Fighter was awarded seven Guinness World Records due to the technical advancements that were made during its run. It's too bad that the series ended in 2007.
Killer Instinct (Midway, Nintendo, Microsoft)
If there was an award for the fastest fighting franchise ever made, it would surely go to Killer Instinct. “Why is that?”, you may ask. Simple, it's because entering certain commands will initiate an automatic string of combos that would easily exceed 20 hits. Skilled players could create ultra combos that would lay an super-ultra-mega smackdown on enemies with up to 80 hits. When that happens to your character, you just have to sit back and watch your character get annihilated unless you remember specific combo breakers. This franchise also features double energy bars as well as finishing moves similar to Mortal Kombat. Only two games were made in the '90s, but Microsoft brought back the franchise in 2013 to the excitement of fans around the world.
The King of Fighters (SNK)
In 1994, SNK combined pugilists from Fatal Fury, Ikari Warriors, Psycho Soldier, and Art of Fighting to create The King of Fighters '94. The 2D series was an instant hit due to the premise of creating “dream matches” between a wide variety of SNK characters, and it spawned yearly sequels from 1994-2010. After a six-year gap, The King of Fighters XIV was released in 2016. Despite the fact that a few of the games ventured into the 2D realm, more recent versions, like The King of Fighters XIII, still have a welcome old-school feel when it comes to combat. This series features more complex storylines than most games, and to be honest, I've yet to figure out what the hell is going on.
As the only fighting game on this list where every combatant sports a deadly weapon, Soul Calibur has a special place in my virtual heart. It's one of the only franchises where I actually have difficulty choosing characters because they're all so cool! If I had to choose a couple, it would be Li Long with his swift double nunchakus and Kilik wielding a deadly staff.
I've always enjoyed the storyline where every character is seeking the mystical sword of legends, dubbed the “Soul Edge” for different reasons. I also appreciate how the combat centers on an eight-way axis rather than four. This lets me perform effective sidesteps to dodge attacks and follow them up with counter-attacks. It's also cool to knock players out of the ring for an instant win, but being on the receiving end of this move is maddening!
Dead or Alive (Tecmo)
I've always loved the Dead or Alive series, but I was horrible at it for the first couple of years. This was mostly due to my inability to master the plethora of counter-attacks, which are one of the main features of the game. However, I eventually became pretty good and I really enjoy smashing opponents into environmental objects for extra damage. Its obvious this game was originally designed for teenage boys due to the skimpy outfits for females and copious amount of jiggling.
In fact, one game even let players use a meter in the options menu to control the amount of jiggle. One major addition to the series is tag-team mode, which enhances gameplay but also spawns an endless amount of juvenile humor.
Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo)
While I enjoy the Super Smash Bros. franchise, I just can't wrap my head around how crazy some people get about the series. I've even seen grown men weep with joy during E3 at the mere announcement of a new SSB game. Maybe it's because this series takes numerous well-known Nintendo characters and tosses them into various arenas to duke it out.
I admit that it's great fun to create hilarious brawls between characters like Pikachu, Fox, Samus Aran, Mario, Yoshi, and Zelda. Super Smash Bros titles are the ultimate party games because they're great fun and anyone can jump in and play effectively. It was a great design decision to make knocking enemies out of the stage the main goal of each fight because it's totally different than other fighting games and it requires unique strategies.
Dragon Ball Z (Atari, Bandai)
Not everyone is a fan of the DBZ manga and/or anime, and I have to admit that I quickly tire of the long-winded soliloquies before and during fights. However, I love the fighting games because they closely mimic the source material, and who can resist taking part in earth-shattering combat? It's really cool to perform the same moves as the DBZ characters, and becoming a Super Saiyan is unparalleled!
I also like how characters can take flight and combat each other on different vertical levels. Add the ability to literally knock enemies through mountains to the mix, and the result is a series that's sure to satisfy fans. One of my only complaints is that many of the games follow the same story arcs that feature enemies like the Androids, Cell, and Frieza. Just like I don't want to see another movie about the Spider-man origin story, I grow tired of seeing the same DBZ stories in games.
[10 is limited, so I would like to give honorable mentions to Darkstalkers and the Marvel vs. Capcom series. ~Ed. Nick Tan]