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Best classic fighting games of late 90s & early 2000s

It’s hard to believe that yet another Street Fighter game is being released and it’s still heavily anticipated by fans young and old alike.  While Street Fighter II was not the first game of the genre it was the most influential game which opened the flood gates for all that have followed.

Below is a list of some of the best games that have been released over the years and their influence in shaping the fighting game genre.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – Of course, one can’t talk about fighting games without talking about the king of them all.  In the early 90s, this game kept arcades full as we all tried to become the best at the Sonic Boom and Haduken.   Many of us may be disappointed that the newest iteration is exclusive to the PS4 but for those that don’t know or remember, when this came out for the home consoles, the Super Nintendo was the only system you could get it on.  I specifically got the SNES just so I could play SFII…and save a lot of quarters in the process.

Mortal Kombat II – The biggest rival to the Street Fighter series has been Mortal Kombat.  Back in the 90s, not only did this game have incredible graphics, but it introduced us to the most brutal fighting since Pit Fighter.  This franchise was the the one that paved the way for the ESRB and the ratings system that we have today.  So, why did I pick this one over the first? Because while the first one was very innovative, the 2nd one in my opinion vastly improved on the original with newer characters, the introduction to babalities, friendships and so much more. Not to mention stage specific fatalities as well. Let’s face it…at that time in terms of sequels, MKII was a huge improvement from the first as gamers had to wait until 1997 before SFIII dropped.

Tekken 3  The Tekken series in my mind is lauded as the game series that put the Playstation on the map.  It was one of the very few games that, on the home console, was nearly arcade perfect.  If you stood the console version side by side with its arcade counterpart, it was hard to tell them apart.   The series really didn’t hit its stride until Tekken III debuted.   Every character had 100’s of moves and combos, the ability to sidestep (which became just as important as blocking), and of course insane new characters.  It’s still one of my all time favorites.

Soul Caliber (Dreamcast) – O Dreamcast, how we miss thee. Between Soul Caliber and the Dead or Alive series, Soul Caliber remains as one of my favorite fighting games of the late 90s.  It had some of the best graphics of its day, insane yet deadly combos to pull off (Sidebar: a young lady I was dating at the time who was not a big gamer, mastered this in less than a month and was destroying me regularly…I think that’s why we broke up), and an excellent story to book.  The only knock was that the endings were not CGI but oh well.

Killer Instinct  There is so much to say about this game.  I will start with the fact that the home port was vastly inferior to the arcade version, yet I knew a LOT of people who got it anyway.  In undergrad, many of those same people skipped class just to play it, day and night.   With Killer Instinct the question was, what to add to a market that was quickly getting saturated with fighting games and still stand out? Simple: add a ridiculous combo system.  The game ripped shamelessly from others by having fatalities as well but Killer Instinct added auto combos, ultra combos and ultimate combos as well as combo breakers, which I think turned the corner for a lot of fighting games as other franchises from Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and even Super Smash Bros, would later do  the same and improve upon combo systems. Love or hate this series, Killer Instinct innovated the combo system.

Marvel vs  Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes – Why does it seem like DC is always late to the party?  The Marvel vs Capcom series has been around for 2 decades and yet I don’t think DC came to the party in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe.  Before then, Marvel and Capcom combined to bring us some of the best fighting games ever seen.  This entry felt like it took everything that made up the Street Fighter series and turned it up to a 10. The game introduced  Hyper combo gauges, variation combos, snapbacks and more.   You could even assist team members and heal some as well. But the graphics were some of the best of this series.  There was also an iOS version which as of now has been pulled from the iTunes store. If anything, I think this is probably one of the best 2D fighting games ever created.

Fight Night Round 2 – Yes, I know a lot of you probably forgot that there is an actual boxing franchise game out there and one who has lost its luster since the MMA has taken over but Round 2  was the best one of the series.  This was the game where you could answer the question of Ali vs Sugar Ray Robinson, Paquiao vs Mayweather in their prime, and so much more. At the heart of the game was the control scheme where players who were really good had to learn how to master the analog sticks to do most maneuvers.  One can’t forget the cut man mini games that happened between rounds either.

Ready 2 Rumble – Speaking of boxing games, Ready 2 Rumble was one of the best cartoony games to come along since the original Punch Out!!! series.  The biggest difference, of course, was that this game was in 3D and also allowed for 2 player support of (of course) trying to spell RUMBLE  in order to release your special combo move.  One item of interest was that the longer the fight wore on and the more damage you took, the harder it became to fight.  By the way, let’s not forget that Shaq and Michael Jackson were both in the 2nd game.

I know we didn’t cover every fighting game, but please tell us in the comments below what your favorite fighting game was and also vote for your favorite fighting game series.


About Armand (1275 Articles)
Armand is a husband, father, and life long comics fan. A devoted fan of Batman and the Valiant Universe he loves writing for PCU, when he's not running his mouth on the PCU podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @armandmhill

4 Comments on Best classic fighting games of late 90s & early 2000s

  1. In my opinion there are 2 games in this list that do not belong. Fight night, although by industry standards is considered a “fighting” game and Ready 2 Rumble. Fight night as a game is great but it doesn’t have the options of control and combat that the people playing SFV are looking at. The fighting game community has never really played those two games. I guess the best way to say it, is that the within fighting games there are multiple sub genres. All the games on your list would be in the same sub genre of 2D fighter except Tekken, where Ready 2 Rumble and Fight Night are more sports related. If you wanted influential Games something like Marver Superheroes Vs Streetfighter would have been a great addition. With the first introduction of a 3rd assist character and some of the fastest action this game led Capcom to make MVC and make the games we love today. Even further back, X-Men Children of the Atom was the first game with this tag in tag out mechanic as well as having a great mess of a game that was so broken yet some of the systems in place are still used in today’s fighting games.


    • What is the end objective of each of these games?


      • None of these have anything In-Game that you would consider an End Objective. Fighting games as a genre should be about self improvement of the player. In RPGs your end goal is achieved through equipment and leveling, in adventure games its the story. When it comes to Fighters just like some of the other games that have taken light in any competitive aspect (First person shooters, MOBA, and RTS games) it is that aspect of self improvement that is the ultimate end goal. Fighting games provide a platform with a thin story line mashing these somewhat outrageous characters together -so it makes sense- and letting you the player upgrade your own arsenal. Not equipping the character not advancing the story but your own skill as a player.


      • The end objective is to be the last man standing. Thus, ANY game where you are fighting counts. Real life Competitive boxing and martial arts are what lead to these games so you really cannot discount them.


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