Sony’s PlayStation launched in Japan in late 1994 and worldwide the following year, at a time before online gaming was as prevalent and accessible as it is today. Shortly after the best PS1 fighting games started to reveal themselves.
Consequently, competitive gamers flocked to arcades to show off their skills against other players, with fighting games proving to be an excellent way for gamers to demonstrate their impressive reaction times – and earn that incredible dopamine rush that comes with beating a skilled opponent who happens to be standing right next to you.
It’s no surprise that fighting games proved popular as a genre for home consoles, with many of the most highly regarded titles being converted from arcade originals.
That’s not the whole story, however, as you’ll soon see from the list of the Best PS1 Fighting Games – which have been compiled from the highest rated titles in the genre on Metacritic.
There was a bizarre prejudice against 2D fighting games in the press at the time of release, with a common complaint being that they looked and felt dated – this wasn’t relegated to fighting games exclusively, but rather 2D games in general – so user scores tend to reflect the more commonly held contemporary views of all types of fighter.
Due to this, it’s user scores that I’ve used to compile this list instead of critic ratings. Ready? FIGHT!
Released just a year after the X-Men saw their live action debut catapult superheroes into the mainstream consciousness and kicked off a superhero craze that is still in full swing, with Kevin Feige, head of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having been a young producer on X-Men.
X-Men: Mutant Academy might not be the most proficient fighting game from the point of view of its mechanics, but it improved massively on the first game and had an impressive roster of mutant fighters – and, somewhat bizarrely (considering the tortured tangle of the movie rights keeping these characters apart on the big screen), Spider-Man was also a playable character.
Though not traditionally a ‘fighting’ game as they’d normally be defined, translating the larger than life antics of oiled up, musclebound men – who throw themselves at each other in the name of sports entertainment – into the video games arena does essentially bring similar conventions and mechanics that are familiar to the genre.
There’s no doubting that this game came at a time when WWF (now WWE) wrestling arguably hit its last major peak – in the Smackdown era.
Featuring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson at the height of his popularity in the squared circle – just before he rocketed into the mainstream by moving away from wrestling and into Hollywood blockbusters – and a versatile suite of customisation options (even allowing players to create movesets) alongside a story mode and robust multiplayer bouts, it’s not difficult to see why WWF Smackdown! 2 is such a fondly remembered title, even if it’s inclusion in this list may be a tad controversial.
The first Tekken was an absolute technical tour-de-force upon arrival in arcades in 1994.
Though not the first fighting game to feature fully 3D characters (hello, Sega’s Virtua Fighter!), it joined the fray with a great deal of flair and an unparalleled fluidity (being twice the frame rate of Sega’s game).
Being developed on PlayStation-based hardware (Namco’s System 11 arcade board) meant that it was easily ported to the home and it became a massive, early hit for Sony’s console.
The sequel was an arcade smash in 1995 and came to the PlayStation in 1996, with an impressive array of bonus modes and features that added significant value even for players who’d already played the arcade version to death. Some say it’s one of the best PS1 games for those a fan of fighting games.
Strangely, this entry in the Gundam Battle Assault series was only released in North America and Europe, skipping Japan entirely on its original release, but these didn’t stop the masses from snagging one of the best PS1 fighting games of all time.
It came pretty late into the PS1’s lifespan and utilised a pseudo-3D pixel art for its mech characters, along with polygonal 3D backgrounds.
The sense of controlling a huge, lumbering machine was well done and the colourful style of the Gundam cartoons gave it a bold, colourful look.
For fans of Gundam, the large roster of characters was taken from a few different shows, meaning that no matter who your favourite mech was, it was almost certain to be included.
Both Capcom and SNK were duking it out to be king of the fighting game genre in arcades and home consoles during the 90s, yet the two companies were able to put their differences aside and settle the matter once and for all in the only arena that mattered: a fighting game!
For fighting game aficionados, the Capcom vs SNK games were an absolute dream come true.
With 30 characters available, chosen from the enormous selection of personalities that both companies had at their disposal, it may not have had a massively comprehensive list, but there was plenty to keep players busy.
Though regarded as the ‘worst’ version of the game – with the original arcade title and a Dreamcast port available – it was still hugely playable despite the chopper animation and less impressively rendered, but still gorgeous, pixel art.
The original Dead or Alive courted attention and controversy – along with quite a bit of ridicule – for its exaggerated physics, most notably the endlessly jiggling breasts that the female combatants were endowed with.
Yet despite this tacky exterior, Dead or Alive was a solid, hugely enjoyable fighting game.
The title’s popularity led to five sequels, a number of spin-offs (such as Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, which has an even more obvious focus on the female form – and has become a series in its own right) and even a live action movie, DOA: Dead or Alive, back in 2006.
Probably the most unique and realistic game on this list, Bushido Blade is a fighting game that – sequel aside – still has few peers.
A one- on-one fighting game that takes place in 3D arenas, at first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s very little to set it apart from other games of the era.
Yet there’s no health bars or time limit in Bushido Blade – which features a well-implemented, very clever mechanic called the ‘Body Damage System’.
This allows players to target different parts of their enemy’s body, critically wounding or even disabling them in a variety of ways depending on where they’re hit.
It makes for tense, tactical bouts that are miles from the over the top, combos-and-pyrotechnics laden fighting games that usually populate the genre.
Despite falling prey to the aforementioned distaste for pixel art in its day, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was a critical and commercial success outside of the finicky fashion victims in the PS1 critical circles.
The joke’s on them now of course: 2D pixel art still looks beautiful and hasn’t aged a day, whereas time has most definitely not been kind to the awkward 3D graphics of the era.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was an excellent iteration of the Street Fighter sub series and one of the best Street Fighter games out there, packed with a great roster of fighters and a selection of ‘isms’, which allowed players to choose a moveset that fit their playstyle.
Though it suffered a little in being ported from the impressive, cutting edge arcade title to the then-aging PlayStation hardware, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was nonetheless a huge success on the PS1, going on to sell 1 million copies.
So, what’s number two on our best PS1 fighting games list?
With the distinction of being the very first PlayStation game I ever saw in action, way back in the mid-90s, it’s fair to say that Battle Arena Toshinden turned heads upon release, being a great showcase for the 3D capabilities of Sony’s first console.
It looked and felt leagues ahead of anything available for home consoles at the time, a massive step up even from the likes of the 2D fighters that were all the rage back then.
Though few would argue that it’s among the very best fighting games from the point of view of its mechanics, there’s no denying the impact that Battle Arena Toshinden had on the home fighting game scene, even if it was a definite case of style over substance.
Though, from a purist’s perspective, the Street Fighter titles were arguably the better fighting games, there’s no denying the huge popularity, incredibly impressive (in their day at least) visuals and great gameplay found in the Tekken series.
Tekken 3 took the series to ever greater heights; arguably to its peak. The PlayStation version even featured a side scrolling beat ‘em up called Tekken Force and a further, volleyball-esque mode called Tekken Ball.
With 8 million copies sold (an absolutely enormous amount in its day), Tekken 3 stands proudly as the overall fifth best selling PlayStation game and is still highly regarded as one of the best fighting games of all time.