X-List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

Posted on Jan 27 2014 - 8:00am by Jeffrey L. Wilson

X List X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

There are many great 3D fighting franchises scrambling for your hard-earned dollar (Soul Calibur, Dead Or Alive, Virtua Fighter, and Tekken), but many of the absolutely best fighting games are ones made with two dimensions in mind. It’s tempting to state that 2D fighting games are beloved due to Capcom, SNK, and Arc System Works’ incredible contributions and output, but the reason is deeper goes deeper than that.

Gameplay, naturally, is a big factor. Some fighting game fans prefer movement on the X/Y plane as it makes for one less heat-of-the-moment matter to worry about. Others simply adore 2D fighting games’ artstyles, which taps either the old school pixelwork of yesteryear (The King of Fighters) or adopts a sleek anime-like aesthetic (BlazBlue).

This X-List highlights the best 2D fighters to grace video gaming. This is a list that will continually evolve as the staff digs deep into the 2D fighting game genre, so if your favorite didn’t make the cut this time, it may do so in the future.

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BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend is concentrated insanity. Underneath the inviting fluid animation and wild rock music beats the heart of a twisted, sick monster. This game is…ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how hard it is, how it takes so much time to learn all the intricacies and subtleties, and even when you do gain an understanding for most of them you’re still miles and miles away from “being any good.”

Each character has an extra quirk, an extra gauge added to the screen to wrap your head around, and you better know each character’s ins and outs because you’re never sure who you’ll be up against. The bar for admission is about yay high, across a lava-filled chasm and Guile is on the other side readying a Flash Kick to your face. Or, in BlazBlue‘s case, a little girl with the soul of a boy and a grown woman inside her riding a merry-go-round horse around. But BlazBlue wants you to understand it and has one of the best tutorials ever seen in a fighting game.

KOF 13 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

The King of Fighters XIII
SNK Playmore’s The King of Fighters XIII is an apology letter to every fight fan that felt that sinking feeling shortly after booting up The King of Fighters XII. The Atlus-published 2D fighter remedies nearly every problem that plagued its predecessor; the roster now packs 33 combatants (two of which, Billy Kane and Saiki, are unlockable), more stages, more music tracks, and best of all, vastly improved netcode that lets you mix it up online with a bare minimum of hiccups. Simply stated, King of Fighters XIII returns the long-running series to the heights of quality that is its legacy.

In a console generation that saw the wondrous return of the 2D fighter thanks to the smash success of Mortal KombatUltimate Marvel vs Capcom 3Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Persona 4: ArenaKOF XIII is addition to the new class of combatants. If you fancy yourself a fighting game fan, The King of Fighters XIII should be considered a must-have purchase as it’s one of the best fighting games available.

third strike X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike represents the pinnacle of late 20th century fighting game engineering–and some would argue that no competitor has surpassed it. Featuring an intricate combo system, insanely detailed animation that endures as the new 2D standard, and a parry system that enables miraculous comebacks, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike easily ranks among the best 2D fighting games. And now it’s online, powered by GGPO.

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is console-based, but it’s the most arcade perfect version that ever released to home systems. That means any and everything you loved about the arcade cabinet version is here short of game-breaking flaws. For example, arcade glitches that were not present in previous console versions are present, such as Q’s grab immunity when going from crouching to standing animation. Being an arcade perfect game, players cannot change the number of rounds in arcade mode. Capcom also includes numerous visual filters that let you play with the original arcade graphics, old school monitor scanlines, new school smoothed out graphics, and more. In short, if you have any amount of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike affection, this is your game.

garou000 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

Garou: Mark Of The Wolves
Garou: Mark of the Wolves is more than a decade old, but it remains one of the games I fire up to new-school doubters to showcase the  viability and beauty of 2D, sprite-based fighters. It’s an amazingly beautiful game with large, bright sprites, and sparkly special attacks animated with old school SNK’s loving care. But Garou: Mark of the Wolves isn’t mere eye-candy; it’s a deep, technical game that will keep fight fans returning for “just one more match.” It’s easily one of the best 2D fighting games ever crafted.

Over the years, Garou: Mark of the Wolves has been knocked by a segment of the fighting game community for being SNK’s Street Fighter III clone There’s no doubt that the game’s heavily inspired by Capcom’s classic game fighter, but that shouldn’t be considered a negative by any means. SNK went to the drawing board and totally deconstructed and reconstructed Fatal Fury‘s visuals and fight mechanics to make it the best in the series to date. Line sways are gone, and the new Just Defend parry technique and T.O.P. meter give the game more depth than would initial appear. Garou: Mark of the Wolves may not play like classic Fatal Fury, but it’s set the standard for any future series entries should SNK Playmore decide to return to it.

 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

Persona 4 Arena
Persona 4 Arena is 2D fighter with the strangest source material: a JRPG. Don’t let that steer you away. This is a fighter you will want to take the time to learn, and you’ll enjoy every second of it. From its simple to grasp, but difficult to master concepts (like the different Bursts and Counters), to its extremely diverse, interesting and balanced cast, the Arc System Works-developed Persona 4 Arena is a true fighting game champ.

The game’s graphical might is the hook. Arc System Works is a development team with hardcore 2D fighting game like Hokuto no Ken and BlazBlue under its belt. The slick character designs, vibrant visuals, and silky animation make Persona 4 Arena look very much like an interactive anime.

Its role-playing game roots give Persona 4 Arena an unexpected layer of narrative depth. Most fighters have laughable story modes, but Persona 4 Arena differs with a tale that follows Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4′s events with a canonical story penned by the RPG’s creators. If you’re a Persona fan or someone genuinely interested in mastering a deep fighter, do yourself a favor and play this game. Now.

kof98u7 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match
Created to mark the 10th anniversary of King of Fighters‘ most beloved series entry, The King of Fighters ’98: Ultimate Match attempts to do what die-hard KOF ’98 fans consider an impossibility: Improve upon the foundation laid by the near-perfect original. Featuring an astounding 64 character roster, revamped backgrounds, and new fighting system, The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match displays old school SNK’s fighting game programming prowess.

The 3-on-3 team-based fighting game features a major new addition: Ultimate Mode. The original KOF ’98 utilizes two gameplay modes: Advance and Extra. With Advance, your character can dash, roll to avoid incoming attacks, and unleash MAX Super Special Moves. Extra mode lets you execute a short-hop toward/away from opponents, dodge attacks to avoid getting hit, hold down the attack buttons to charge the power meter, and also unleash MAX Super Special Moves.

KOF ’98:UM‘s dreamy Ultimate Mode lets you combine elements of Advance and Extra mode to create your own hybrid style. For example, when using a grappler like Clark, you can select Advance’s dash, Extra’s dodge (to avoid blows and stay within grapple range), and Extra’s power gauge (which lets you charge the super bar). As such, there’s lots of flexibility in building your fighter’s offense and customizing the gameplay experience.

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Capcom vs. SNK 2
Capcom vs. SNK 2 walks arm-in-arm with the original SNK vs. Capcom Card Fighter’s Clash as the greatest product to come out of the Capcom and SNK partnership. Capcom built upon the original’s solid, but flawed, foundation by adding several gameplay enhancements that elevates the title into the “best-of-all-time” category.

Let’s start at the top. Capcom vs. SNK 2 employs a “Ratio” system that lets digital brawlers select up to three fighters per team and give ratio points to each, which has an effect on the characters’ strengths and lifebars. For example, a team of three fighters is weaker than a team of one. As such, there’s lots of strategy involved in building squads that’s not on display in many fighting games.

Unlike the first game, Capcom vs. SNK 2 adopts a six-button control scheme, but the biggest change is the new “Groove” system. Before the match begins, players select one of six Grooves (C, A, P, S, N, K) that represent six different fighting styles culled from various Capcom and SNK properties. The K Groove, for instance, contains Samuari Shodwon‘s RAGE meter and Garou: Mark of the Wolves‘ Just Defend.

 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
It’s safe to assume many gamers probably missed this game’s 1999 release as the arcade scene and SEGA Dreamcast were on their way to the big video game lot in the sky. Capcom stuck closely to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s anime and manga roots, so if you’re familiar with either you know that the universe is filled with bright and interesting characters with wild looks and attacks.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure‘s mechanics are admittedly a bit broken with its handful of easily unleashed infinites, but what attracts fighting fans are the simplistic intricacies. One of the four-button controls summons a character’s Stand, a special companion who can be utilized in a number of ways. The mechanic is somewhat similar to the personas Persona 4: Arena although JBA predates it by almost thirteen years. These companions are different from character to character. Some are independently controlled, while others appear for a quick attack. If a Stand’s thrashed, however, you suffer a Stand Crash leaving you unprotected for a bit. As such, strategic fighting is crucial.

skull girls gamescom parasoul screens 08 X List: The 9 best 2D fighting games of all time

What happens when you take a well-respected fighting game community member and tournament player, and give him the freedom to make his own game? Skullgirls happens. Mike Zaimont (Mike Z) and the folks over at Reverge Labs have created a deep fighter (with an excellent tutorial) that genre fans will dig. Skullgirls follows eight female fighters and their quest to obtain the mystical Skull Heart that allows the possessor to ask for wishes, but at a disturbing cost. Each character’s fighting style is unique, yet those accustomed to fighters should find it easy to pick up any cast member.

You can air-dash cancel to continue combos like in the Guilty Gear series, mix and match your teammates like in Marvel Vs. Capcom, and even call in characters for assists. There are also launchers to set up characters for air combos. However, Mike Z and his team worked diligently to remove game-breaking infinite combos — pummelled players can perform one-button infinite breakers that allow them to escape the combo. The system works well and creates fair matches.

And that’s that. Those are our favorite 2D fighting games. Agree? Disagree? Want to list your own? Hit us up in the comment section below. Note: Don’t forget to check out our Best 2D PC Games and the Best 2D Games of the HD Era X-Lists!

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Jeffrey L. Wilson is the former Big Boss of 2D-X.com. Now retired, he spends his days as a man of leisure. Kinda.

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34 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Dee Sawyer March 21, 2011 at 5:07 PM - Reply

    No love for Neo Geo Battle Colosseum or Arcana Heart?

  2. Jeffrey L. Wilson March 21, 2011 at 5:40 PM - Reply

    Personally, I liked the concept of NGBC more in concept than in execution. It was nice seeing mashup, but it didnt feel as tight as I would’ve liked.

  3. Christian Vasquez January 24, 2013 at 10:27 PM - Reply

    Where are Guilty Gear XX AC+ and Marvel vs Capcom 2? :S

    • Jeffrey L. Wilson January 25, 2013 at 1:11 AM - Reply

      I didn’t play that particular Guilty Gear and I’m not that big of a MVC2 fan.

  4. Brian January 24, 2013 at 10:57 PM - Reply

    Why is 3S0 even on the list? its still a broken POS

    • d3v January 25, 2013 at 3:17 AM - Reply

      Balance has nothing to do with how great a 2D FG can be.

  5. d3v January 25, 2013 at 3:16 AM - Reply

    Needs more MvC2 and Skullgirls.

    • Eric Guzman January 27, 2013 at 2:16 AM - Reply

      MvC2 although fun and addicting got to a point where it was mote. Picking any team besides the top tier ones was suicide at an arcade like China Town Fair, I do think it’s still amazing. Skullgirls was good but with the small cast it can’t be on a best of list.

      • d3v May 21, 2013 at 9:08 PM - Reply

        But in terms of depth, MvC2 trumps all of the games listed here and a good part of that depth comes from just how many options the top tier had.

        Also, the inclusion of 3rd Strike makes the point moot, if you aren’t playing Yun, Chun, Ken or Mak, then good luck winning a tournament. Even Kuroda switches to top tier when he’s at SBO.

        • Eric Guzman May 22, 2013 at 10:00 PM - Reply

          Although I agree with you about SFIII 3rd strike and the tourney characters, you have to look at MvC2 like this. Everyone did the exact same combos, Magneto’s rom combo for example. In 3rd strike atleast we had a unique defensive mechanic that made almost any character besides sean and a few others viable.

          But with that said you’re absolutely right, about tourney characters, but also remember, most games have tourney characters that everyone goes to.

          • d3v May 22, 2013 at 11:53 PM -

            If you look at everything from a team perspective, everything changes. Mags with Psylocke assist is very different from Mags with Sent drones since he literally loses his best resets (and Magneto is a very reset dependent character). Same with the others, Storm with Sent plays different from Storm with CapCom, etc. This is partly due to the fact that these characters have so many options, a good number of which are only “unlocked” by certain team combinations. The amount of depth in the top 4-16 alone is enough to keep the game in tournaments over a decade down the line.

          • Eric Guzman May 23, 2013 at 8:21 PM -

            You know what I never thought of it from that point of view. I got caught up in looking at it from a single character perspective, which I’ll admit is terribly wrong to do haha. I’m gonna revisit this baby this weekend and see how my game holds up, don’t worry an updated list will surely include this classic.

          • d3v May 24, 2013 at 2:26 AM -

            It’s best to look at teams as individual characters in themselves. Every single variation to team composition and assist choice can totally alter how a team is played.

    • scir91onYouTube May 21, 2013 at 12:54 PM - Reply

      i absolutely HATED the music in mvc2. the sprites were also low res.
      moving away from jab strong fierce was also annoying, just so sega could fit the controls on the 4 face button gamepad of the dreamcast. the gameplay was great but i didn’t enjoy the whole package. 52 characters rocked. the new HD release (online only) of this game makes the experience a bit better. too bad we are unlikely to ever see that again.

  6. Mr. Beard February 14, 2013 at 6:13 AM - Reply

    Blaz Blue should be in here. Maybe should have been a ‘Top Ten’

  7. samirerre April 13, 2013 at 4:56 PM - Reply

    nice list .you coul add kof 2002 to it and meybe last blade .

  8. yepi April 22, 2013 at 2:07 PM - Reply

    niche games i very like kung fu games. :)

  9. Jeffrey L. Wilson April 25, 2013 at 2:36 PM - Reply

    That may be my favorite fighting game of all time.

  10. Prithivi May 13, 2013 at 6:38 PM - Reply

    Great list! I agree completely with you! =D

    • Jeffrey L. Wilson May 13, 2013 at 11:52 PM - Reply

      Thanks! Are there other 2D fighters that you like?

      • Prithivi May 15, 2013 at 10:49 AM - Reply

        I’m a big Street Fighter fan, I also love the Alpha series and some SF II versions. I love playing 2d fighters since I started playing a Dragon Ball game in my Mega Drive (Genesis in the US I think) when I was 10 or 11 years old! hahaha

        • Jeffrey L. Wilson May 16, 2013 at 1:44 AM - Reply

          BIG QUESTION: Alpha 2 or Alpha 3?

          • Prithivi May 16, 2013 at 3:37 AM -

            I prefer Alpha 2, but just for the nostalgia factor (I used to play it with my friends after school ha ha). Oh, and I love Sakura’s stage music!

          • scir91onYouTube May 21, 2013 at 12:56 PM -

            alpha 2 had large sprites. graphically it was better but then again, all the old CPS1 and CPS2 games are standard resolution. not great to look at.

  11. Fahd Al Zarooni May 20, 2013 at 1:00 AM - Reply

    At least this list was better…=D

  12. scir91onYouTube May 21, 2013 at 10:08 AM - Reply

    where’s street fighter 2??

    • Jeffrey L. Wilson May 21, 2013 at 12:48 PM - Reply

      Street Fighter II set the standard for fighting games, but I find great difficulty considering it one of the best when so many other games are more playable.

      • scir91onYouTube May 21, 2013 at 12:52 PM - Reply

        i meant to say the entire sf2x series. by sf2x, i mean to say champion edition, hyperfighting, super and super turbo and my personal favorite – the accelerator (super new!) and rainbow editions. right now, there is a good sf2x release – sf2hdr – it is very fun and has been rebalanced. it’s a great option for the old school gamers, brought to life in HD form and with the move sets made easier to execute (all you can’s are easier as well as zangief’s spinning pile driver)

  13. jacobdollin May 27, 2013 at 6:05 AM - Reply

    Today, most people are very interested in playing fighting games. The 2D version of fighting games has become quite famous. In above all 2D fighting games, I love to play Street Fighter III game the most. The sound and music of the game are very good and suit the best in the game.

  14. dejavu2222 July 22, 2013 at 8:53 AM - Reply

    Very nice list. I’m glad you included KOF 98 ULTIMATE MATCH instead of the original KOF 98.

    I would have really liked to see King of Fighters XI (KOF11) on this list, it is such a solid and wonderful 2D fighter…

    • Jeffrey L. Wilson July 22, 2013 at 10:25 AM - Reply

      Thanks. Ultimate Match is incredible, and has one of the best rosters in fighting game history. I haven’t played KOF XI–I’ll have to pick it up one day.

      • dejavu2222 July 22, 2013 at 10:30 AM - Reply

        Woah.. haven’t…played…KOF XI?

        What are you waiting for!!! Haha..

        It’s the most selling 2D KOF on PS2 for a reason…incredible polish, tons of depth, superb roster (the new entries and hidden characters are so awesome!), “easiest” engine in KOF meaning very open and forgiving and super smooth…man the list is endless..

        Watch some Japanese or Latin matches on Youtube…you’ll soon see why this game is so awesome and what a way to retire the classic KOF graphics..

  15. K9 January 30, 2014 at 6:43 AM - Reply

    Great list!! :)

  16. James Johnson December 7, 2014 at 3:06 AM - Reply

    You didn’t even put super smash brothers on the list. What, are you huffing fucking paint? I could understand your complaints about brawl, but what about PM, what about melee, what about smash 4? Don’t tell me its not a real fighting game, because all real fighting games are tests of skill and mastery, and being that smash has one of the biggest pools of skilled players who would kick you or my teeth in, I’d say its a fighting game. Also, a much better game than basically everything listed except maaaaaybe street fighter 2 turd-bo re-dicks. And I’m only putting street fighter 2 next to smash bros because I know nothing about sf2, I just know it’s the game that popularized the genre

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