It’s time to perfect that hundred-hand slap as we dive into the best 2D fighting games of all time!
If you don’t know what I mean by 2D fighting games, we’re talking side-on fighters akin to the early Street Fighter titles where players move side-to-side with the ability to jump over each other.
And that could well be a spoiler as to one of the games you’re going to see below.
These games were the ultimate tests of skill between two mates in the early days of gaming, testing your knowledge of movesets and special moves that would own your opponents and leave them crying into their crisps.
Or at least, that’s my experience of them.
From early SNES titles right through to PS4 giants, we’ve made a list of the best 2D fighting games for you to slap on and get punching.
Who’s ready for a beatdown?
10. Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution (2003)
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution kickstarts this list of the best 2D fighting games of all time, and what a title to kick off with.
Seriously, the Virtua Fighter series needs no introduction, and Evolution is one of the finest titles both in the franchise and on the PS2.
These games have been kicking about since the early Sega days and made a name on the Dreamcast.
Even if you’re coming to this title for the first time in 2022, it’s still an absolute classic and one of the most exciting side-on fighters ever.
And we’re only on Number 10!
From the previous instalment, players now have the excitement of getting 2 new characters, new items, moves, and ring types/levels.
If you’re used to playing games like Tekken and Street Fighter (games you’ll definitely see further down this list), then you’ll feel right at home with Evolution.
The character customisation options aren’t something that you would usually see in early fighting games, making Evolution one of the most ahead of its time titles too!
9. Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1999)
Street Fighter Alpha 3 is one of those legendary Street Fighter titles that we all know and love.
As a sub-series of the main Street Fighter series and one of the best PS1 fighting games of all time, this game brought back some classic characters to the fold such as Blanka and E. Honda.
Plus, new characters like R. Mika were introduced for the first time, characters would then go on to feature on later titles in the series.
So the graphics were a little more cartoony than previous entries, but that’s ok. That’s a look that the Marvel vs Capcom titles would go onto champion at a later date anyway.
Having the chance to change fighting styles mid-game really allows you to switch things up and change the way you play.
That’s great if you need to throw your opponent off if they’re getting used to your standard moves.
Speaking of which, Alpha 3 is an incredible multiplayer title to play with friends, especially when you need to burn off steam or assert your dominance in the pack.
That last one works for both wolves and gamers, honest…
8. Tekken 3 (1998)
Tekken 3 takes the next space in our list of the best 2D fighting games of all time. If we’re being honest, this could also be one of the most famous names in the entire fighting genre.
Boasting some of the most recognisable names in the business including Yoshimitsu and Eddy Gordo (spot why I picked the picture below), this title is jam-packed full of beat-em-up action.
And you know what, it’s a fighting game that just does what it says on the tin.
The premise is simple; fight an opponent while the clock counts down. The game mechanics are super simple if you’re a fan of fighting titles, and while it doesn’t exactly ‘break new ground’, it’s a perfect example of how a fighting game should work.
That’s smoothly, with gameplay that packs a serious punch.
The level of detail in the characters and the levels themselves is what has always made the Tekken series such a massive hit, and this game still looks amazing on the PS1 even today.
Many reviewers gave Tekken 3 a 100% score, and it’s not hard to see why. If you’re bored of Ryu and Guile, then try your hand with Brian Fury for a little while instead!
7. Dragon Ball FighterZ (2002)
Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the best Anime Fighting games of all time and a real tour de force on the PS4.
In many ways, it’s Dragonball Z meets the Marvel vs Capcom titles, and if you’re a Dragonball Z fan, then you probably won’t be bothered about seeing any other titles in this list.
The graphics are amazing; playing this game feels like stepping straight into a TV episode, with stunning 2D environments to fight in and some seriously addictive action.
Build your dream team of Dragonball Z characters in 3v3 battles. There’s even a brand-new character to play with too.
Take a trip into the Story Mode and see Android 21, one of Akira Toriyama’s new creations!
You can even get online and play in ranked matches and a 6 person Party Match… absolute carnage!
6. The King of Fighters 2002 (2002)
Next up on our list of the best 2D fighting games is an absolute Neo Geo classic, The King of Fighters 2002!
Can you believe that this game came out 12 years after the Neo Geo dropped? If that isn’t a success story, then I don’t know what is!
For some reason, the King of Fighters series never gets as good a review as some of the other titles in the genre.
I’ve always been a huge fan, and the fact that came out with a new one every year just like a Fifa game shows how much the fans loved them.
The 2002 edition of KoF brought back the 3 on 3 battle style used in the ’98 edition of the game, just like we saw in Dragonball Fighterz above.
It also brought back the popular Power Gauge system from the ’97 game too.
I guess you could call it a bit of a ‘best of’ edition.
The monumental Dream Match brings back all the fighters from every previous game to the fold too, and there’s tonnes of non-stop button-mashing action for players to sink their teeth into.
5. Killer Instinct (1995)
The original DMG Killer Instinct jumps into 5th place in our list of the best 2D fighting games of all time.
They don’t get as retro as this! I remember a world before many of the titles in this list where Sabrewulf and Fulgore reigned supreme.
They might look super pixelated these days and not have any cool fatalities like Kung Lao, but that still image of the fighters before diving in was all I needed to create a perfect fighting world in my mind.
I would have spent far too much money on Arcade machines had I not had the Gameboy version. That meant more money for sweets while kicking the living daylights out of Glacius.
Killer Instinct was basically a gateway drug to Killer Instinct Gold, a chance to see all of the characters from the DMG game in glorious colour on the N64.
T.J Combo is still one of the greatest boxers of all time, and these characters will always have a special place in my heart.
4. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2002)
Super Smash Bros Melee is still my favourite game out of all the Super Smash Bros titles.
I know everyone loves ultimate, but there’s just too much choice in that game. Melee wasn’t the winner of the best selling GameCube games of all time for no reason, you know!
It kept things simple, focusing on gameplay rather than endless lists of characters and more items than you can shake a stick at.
The Ice Climbers, Gannondorf, Mario, Link, Nes; all the classic characters from yesteryear appear for players tot hash the C stick with.
That’s not a euphemism, it’s just one of the main ways people played while wielding a GameCube controller.
Pick up K.O hammers, throw Pokeballs, and try to chuck players over the edge of the level into oblivion.
And of course, it was all done through multiplayer on the same couch. You just can’t beat those days.
3. Mortal Kombat II (1993)
Mortal Kombat II takes the bronze medal in our best 2D fighting games list, my favourite Mortal Kombat game of all time!
Liu Kang, Sub Zero, Shang Tsung; these are characters that defined my childhood…
… which probably says a lot about why I am the way I am!
Mortal Kombat was one of my favourite shows in the 90s. My mates and I would watch the cartoon and then jump straight on the Genesis to recreate the scenes we saw, albeit with way more blood.
I don’t need to go over the formula here; it’s the same as the other fighting games we’ve seen above, the difference being that all the characters have special fatality moves that players can pull off to end the match in a gruesome way.
Not as brutal as some of the best Mortal Kombat games that came later, however!
2. Ultimate Marvel VS Capcom 3 (2011)
Any game where Storm and Viewtiful Joe go up against each other or Deadpool and Ryu go head-to-head is always going to be a winner.
That’s why Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is such a huge hit!
Just look at the graphics in the still below too; it’s like stepping into a comic book and watching the characters wage war against each other!
Like Dragonball FighterZ, players pick teams of 3 and jump into action.
If you’ve played an Street Fighter game before, then you’ll know how to play right from turning the game on for the first time.
Reduce those healthy bars, swap fighters in and out like Pokemon, and be the last one standing at the end of the match!
1. Street Fighter II Turbo (1994)
Finally, Street Fighter II Turbo takes the top spot in this list of the best 2D fighting games of all time!
Turbo added some cool extras to the mix, bringing four new characters and four new bosses for players to fight.
We’re talking new moves too. No wonder Turbo is still one of the most played arcade title in existence and still draws a competitive following today.
Turbo will forever be the quintessential fighting game of all time. Whether on the SNES or the GBA, it plays perfectly and is just one of the best fighting titles I’ve ever had the privilege of playing.
Get into M.Bison’s new arena on the GBA and see updated versions of Chun-Li and Rru too!
All the action of the arcade in your living room, on the bus, or in the park. What more could a person want?
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Seb Santabarbara has bought every Nintendo console that has ever been released in his 31 years on Planet Earth. His favourite game franchise is Zelda, and he’s patiently waiting for Banjo-Kazooie to come back to the fold. When he’s not playing games, he’s travelling the world in his self-converted camper van.