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 dig the artstyle, which taps either the old school pixelwork of yesteryear or adopts a sleek anime-like aesthetic.
This X-List highlights the best 2D fighters to grace our fine hobby. Did your favorite make the cut?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!