Fighting games are remnants of a time when all you needed was a quarter and a dream that one day you’d be able to kick everyone’s butt at your local arcade.
Since its humble beginnings, the genre has expanded and evolved to encapsulate a wide range of subgenres including 2D, 3D, anime, arena, versus and many more.
While today’s gaming climate makes it easier for fighting games to maintain some relevancy long after release, thanks to passionate communities and competitive tournaments, this often leads to player fatigue.
You can only play one game for so long before you find yourself craving a new gameplay experience.
So here, we’ve highlighted the best fighting games that are worth checking out in 2021, along with a few exciting upcoming releases.
As always, make sure to check back as we’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles.
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Override: Mech City Brawl
What could be more thrilling than piloting a giant mech as you duke it out with another player? Override: Mech City Brawl is a 3D arena fighter with a roster of 12 unique characters that can be further customized with accessories and different skins. Large-scale battles are fought in arenas modeled after real-world locations, such as Tokyo, Egypt, San Francisco and Mexico.
While combat is slower than your typical fighter and centered on reacting to your opponent’s attacks and the environment rather than memorizing combos, you’ll still find the game to be a competent brawler with plenty of room for mastery. The game supports local and online multiplayer, including a 4-player co-op mode where each player is assigned to control one part of a mech.
Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid
A Power Rangers-themed fighting game sounds like one of those cool concepts you’d think already exists only to discover it doesn’t — at least not until recently. In March 2019, developer nWay surprised players when they released Battle for the Grid, a 3v3 tag battle fighter that pulls from the popular franchise’s 25 year-long history of color-coordinated teens kicking butt.
The game is built from the ground up with traditional fighting game mechanics and id designed to be accessible for newcomers but still satisfying for veterans of the genre. Its roster consists of heroes and villains from the franchise’s multiple iterations including Mighty Morphin, S.P.D., Mystic Force and more. A recent free update added a Story Mode written by Boom! Studios, creators of the Power Rangers comic book series.
Stick Fight: The Game
Don’t be fooled by Stick Fight’s minimalist presentation, this is a brutal physics-based 2D fighter where death can come quickly if you’re not careful. Inspired by the golden age of internet stick figure fighters, Stick Fight has 2 to 4 players battling in deadly environments with a massive arsenal of weapons at their disposal.
The game supports both online and local multiplayer and features 100 interactive levels in addition to a plethora of community-made stages. We recommend this title to anyone who enjoys playing Smash and wants to experience a different, less serious take on the platform fighter genre.
Lethal League Blaze
Lethal League Blaze isn’t your average fighting game, falling somewhere between a 2D fighter, a sports game and a bit of Smash Bros. peppered on top. The game is centered on hitting a baseball, with each subsequent hit causing the ball to travel more quickly than the last. If the ball is repeatedly hit, it will start to build up speed and travel across the screen insanely fast.
Eventually, this effect causes time to freeze instantly whenever the ball is struck while mind-bending visuals flash on screen. While Blaze maintains the core mechanics of the original, it also features a host of refinements and new content including an expanded roster and more game modes.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an excellent platform fighter that’s easy to pick up for just about any player. Duke it out in low stakes, chaotic 4-player battles with environmental hazards turned on and an abundance of game-breaking items and power-ups at your disposal. If that’s not your thing, choose the more competitive route and challenge someone to the standard—1v1. Final Destination. No items.
With a roster of 76 characters, a medley of stages and music pulled from so many different video game properties it’s hard to even keep track, SSBU is a colossal fighting game with something to offer for every Nintendo fan, both old and young. A recent update added Joker from Persona 5 as a playable character as well as the option to create custom stages.
For a series that’s been around as long as Tekken, it’s great to see Tekken 7 still delivering an experience that feels fresh and engaging for both casual and competitive players. This in part attributed to the decision to switch to Unreal Engine 4 as well as the introduction of two new combat mechanics — Rage Arts and Power Crush.
Rage Arts allow the player to sacrifice their normal attack power in exchange for a boost to critical attack damage once their health is low and Power Crush lets them continue attacks even while being hit by an opponent. Additionally, the game is set after the events of Tekken 6, with the story focusing on the events that precede Heihachi and Kazuya’s final battle.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
While it may not be the most recent entry in the series, with the title belonging to Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is simply put a more polished and overall better-looking game. The 3v3 tag battle fighter includes the original 36 characters from Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds as well as 12 new ones, making for a grand total of 48 unique fighters.
The game features some visual changes as well as adjustments to both aerial combat and X-Factor systems based on feedback from Fate of Two Worlds. Its community isn’t as large as it was a few years back, making it difficult to find online matches. However, this is still an excellent game to gather your friends and battle it out in a local multiplayer.
Skullgirls is a fast-paced 2D fighting game that draws inspiration from classics like Marvel vs. Capcom. The game features a tag battle system that allows you to create different sized teams for up to 3v3 battles. Fights are carried out through traditional six-button play, with each character given access to a unique move pool of attacks.
Style is Skullgirls’ main appeal, with each member of its roster being depicted in eye-catching, hand-drawn art. The 2nd Encore edition of the game includes five new characters, new skins, a story mode, a survival mode and brand new challenges with unique win conditions.
The King of Fighters XIV
Coming from fighting game veteran developer SNK, KOF XIV stands out for being the first main series game to be rendered entirely in 3D while including a roster of over 50 characters. The game was created at a time when SNK was looking to return to their fighting game roots and provide players with a new and appealing KOF game that was accessible to both experienced players and newcomers.
This is evident by the addition of a new Rush mechanic that allows even the least experienced players to perform combos by pressing Light Punch repeatedly. This works in tandem with the game’s reworked controls, which feel much tighter than any previous game in the series.
Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition
To say that Street Fighter V had a rocky launch would be an understatement, with many players criticizing the game’s lack of content and poor server performance at launch. However, Capcom has since taken great strides to improve the game’s offerings with a free update that addressed a majority of issues.
The Arcade Edition includes 30+ characters, many of which were previously offered as DLC, in addition to a single-player story mode. Launch issues aside, Street Fighter V is still considered one of the most visually impressive fighting games and introduces some new systems, such as the V-Gauge, which builds as the player takes damage and adds three new skills to help breathe new life into the series’ matured combat.
A recurring theme in this list is fighting games taking appropriate measures to ensure more casual players aren’t put off by memorizing long-chains of combos and can still have a fun time playing. Out of all the games mentioned, Fantasy Strike excels the most at welcoming players regardless of their level of experience, thanks to simple and intuitive controls.
For one, all moves are designated to a single button press, with combos being easy to perform and move lists presented as concisely as possible. Thankfully, none of these features detract from the level of strategy needed to become a top player, as the game’s roster of 10 distinct characters are broken up into different classes — Zoners, Rushdown, Grapplers and Wild Card, each with clearly defined strengths and weaknesses.
Mordhau is a hack n’ slash medieval fighting game that pits you against other players in battles ranging from small scale scuffles to massive 64-player all-out wars. The game’s central and most satisfying aspect is its realistic free-form melee and ranged combat, which grants you total control over your character’s attack motions and allows for unique fighting styles.
Included are a variety of modes such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, one-life Skirmishes and more large-scale battles in Battle Royale and Frontline. Mordhau also features customization options for equipping your character with different types of armor and weapons like two-handed broadswords, bow and arrows, axes and more.
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle
Arc System Works is unmatched when it comes to crafting engaging fighting games with tight controls, especially within the anime fighter space. BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle is the latest game to be released by the Japanese developer and brings with it many of the core concepts you’d expect from an Arc System game.
The 2D fighter has players choosing teams of characters from across four different universes, including BlazBlue, Persona, Under Night In-Birth and RWBY. Battles are fast-paced and fluid, making this one of the best anime crossover games we’ve ever seen.
Although Injustice 2 retains a lot of the ideas from the first game, the sequel includes a number of tweaks and improvements that make it worth checking out. There’s also the fact that it was developed by NetherRealm Studios, and therefore portrays the DC universe in a dramatically dark light, which seems fitting for a fighting game.
The game’s story focuses on Batman and a team of rebels as they attempt to restore order following the collapse of Superman’s evil regime when a supervillain group led by Brainiac intervenes. The sequel marks a shift in the series for granting players the ability to customize characters’ appearances and attacks by equipping different gear pieces.
Dragon Ball FighterZ
Arc System Works took the Dragon Ball universe and turned it into a frenetic fighter worthy of the anime’s namesake. This isn’t out of the norm as the developer has earned a reputation for making fighting games that control great and feature gorgeous visuals.
While characters may be rendered in 3D, their 2D sprite textures give them a distinctly hand-drawn look that elevates the game’s visuals and makes FighterZ stand out from other anime fighters. Combos are just as dramatic as you’d expect from a Dragon Ball game, with you and your teammates performing dazzling tag team maneuvers in 3v3 battles.
Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat 11 isn’t just a great fighting game, it’s arguably one of the best entries in the series. Toting a roster of 25+ characters, many of which have been around since the series’ start; however, there are a few new faces that are directly connected to the game’s brand new story.
In the game, we see Raiden attempting to protect Earthrealm at all costs, while Kronika seeks to reset time and restore proper balance to the universe.
In addition to series’ hallmarks like Fatalities and Brutalities, there are now Fatal Blows and Krushing Blows. Fatal Blows are similar to X-ray moves in MKX and deal a large chunk of damage but only become available when a player’s health drops below 30%. Krushing Blows are a more cinematic version of special moves, triggered only when certain conditions are met.
Soul Calibur VI
Soulcalibur VI is a return to form for the series, delivering a substantially large amount of story content, especially when compared to Soulcalibur V. The game introduces two new characters and new move types — Reversal Edge and Lethal Hit. When these moves are performed, time slows down to emphasize fighters’ powerful abilities, making the game feel a lot more cinematic than previous entries.
Included are two-story modes — Libra of Soul, which sees you creating a custom fighter and embarking on an RPG adventure, and Soul Chronicle, which serves as a retelling of events from previous games in a concise manner. By refocusing attention on the core aspects that make up Soul Calibur, the game is able to provide a great entry point for beginners without compromising on any of the challenge die-hards expectations.