Top Five 2-D Fighting Games – A Personal Recollection

Last Updated on March 1, 2024

Looking for the best retro fighting games? We’ve rounded up the best of the 2-D fighting games for your pleasure.

Of all the opinions in gaming, if you were to take them and stew them until only stock, it would be the juices of fighting games that remained. Then if you were to take a microscope and examine the stock at great magnification, it would be the opinions of 2-D fighting games that would be most animate. Even after all these years. I feel a list murmuring.

How we pick the best 2-D fighting games

Let’s set some rules.

Firstly, and without apology, let’s just give the gold star special award to Street Fighter 2. If it wasn’t the story of creation, so to speak, then it was Abraham, from which all others came. That of course makes Virtua Fighter Moses, and we will get to that next time.

I am going for a personal list, and by which I mean those 2-D fighters that I most enjoyed to play just for the thrill of doing so. Those I would go back to most evenings. So with the housekeeping in order let’s go ahead and get twitchy. Fifth place…

5. Mortal Kombat II

One of the classic fighting games, Mortal Kombat 2

Although neither technical nor particularly meritorious, Mortal Kombat II does nonetheless live bright and gratuitous in many a heart. It is the sense of fullness I think. The aesthetic was crisp around the characters and the backgrounds were a new standard. Even on the Mega Drive, this game had a sense of tone about it. And within that tone it had satisfaction.

Sometimes inclusivity of entry can yield immediate benefits. The first Mortal Kombat had it, and the second kept rolling with those punches. Mortal Kombat II had a really great sense of connecting. There was the Heinz spray of blood, but also a weight of thudding impact to the kung-fu’n’fireballs.

It wasn’t complicated to get your head and hands around and the roster was top-tier for the time. I would have liked to have a pet Baraka. He was like Edward Scissor Hands for the digitised generation. Or Kung Lao, whose line in Asian gothic was as sharp as his hat. Put these guys into the pop-mythos of its Underworld setting and the whole thing was very whole. Even on the Mega Drive.

Yes, I should have probably given this place to Samurai Showdown 2, but I didn’t. I shall throw SNK a bone now though. Fourth place…

4. King of Fighters ‘95

King of Fighters 95

We’re not going to have any squabbles here. King of Fighters ‘95 was bigger than any of us. ‘98 was the jewel, but this was the one that broke me while I tried to master it. It was so big that it came with memory expansion. I think in retrospect that my brain needed it along with my Saturn. We were both trying.

SNK snuck a few canny ideas into King of Fighters, chief of which was having to choose a team of three players. It gave the games a shiftier melody that kept bouts fresh and fluid with twists of balance and pace. A vast, for the time, selection of characters made the permutations of bouts almost endless. And the backgrounds these characters were placed into were the best I had ever seen outside of Metal Slug (also SNK).

Then the characters, those almost cross-stitched marvels of attitude and animation; they knocked right on the superior-style door of Street Fighter Alpha and maybe even walked on through. Of course they did, King of Fighters back then had style to burn.

And it had girth to go with it. You had to submit to its ways, but through that you encountered a mastery of 2-D fighting that wasn’t from Capcom. But now some things that were. Third place…

3. X-Men vs Street Fighter

X-Men vs Street Fighter

Altogether big, but not entirely clever, this crossover title delivered in joy and gave the Saturn even more memory expansion. In the late hours of the Saturn’s lifecycle you were changing more cartridges than you did with the Mega Drive. And X-Men vs Street Fighter was the cartridge King, doing unencumbered amounts of animation while throwing around the special effects.

X-Men vs Street Fighter was probably a touch messy, but then so is how I eat food and I enjoy that too.

Many felt this was a somewhat tactless use of the Street Fighter characters and to balance things against the X-Men and Women, Capcom dialled their capabilities up until they were a blur of action, but loved it; tagging between Ken and Gambit like they were thick as thieves, doing Storm’s electric craziness over everyone, ignoring the larger wrestling characters like I always did. Probably it was a touch messy, but then so is how I eat food and I enjoy that too.

By the late 90s there really wasn’t anyone around me that was still interested in playing 2-D fighting, so it was entirely possible that I never kicked my copy into two-player, but so be it. Haters gonna hate, but I couldn’t see this one as anything other than the wide-eyed, ice cream sundae that it was. Much like my Number Two…

2. Street Fighter Alpha 3

Street Fighter Alpha 3

Capcom are dialling up the heat in this list now. You can argue with yourself as to whether Alpha 2 or 3 was the best of the best, but I have gone for 3. Yes, it is cluttered at the front end, and that did and does bother me, but once you get involved with those pique nineties character designs, the facts are the facts; Alpha 3 destroyed Capcom’s parallel Street Fighter 3 series.

How so? Style.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 had more gloss than a teenager’s makeup bag and then it threw a digi-fusion soundtrack on top.

Street Fighter 3 had the moodiness and the technical tip-tappery, but it was maudlin. Alpha 3 had more gloss than a teenager’s makeup and then it threw a digi-fusion soundtrack on top. It was a celebration of a game, albeit one that had a steep bar for entry. If this had been your first Street Fighter then good luck and Godspeed. I got it for the Dreamcast and it was a monster with the arcade stick.

There was simply so much content with this game that the measure of it is always somewhere further than where you are. It is a spectacular tournament game still to this day. Again I pretty much exclusively played this one on my lonesome, and again that didn’t matter. What mattered was that having tweaked and added to the formula with regular rotation the past few years, they had got it right with this. Even Guile was back, and the conversion to PlayStation was competent. High fives all around for Capcom. They were never going to top that.

Except for this. Number One…

1. King of the retro fighting games: Capcom vs SNK 2

Capcom vs SNK 2 fighting game

As 1999 entered 2000 the sheen of innovation was wearing thin over fighting games. Capcom wasn’t stopping for anyone though. Not even their rivals. SNK’s entire little industry was falling over by the end of the decade and following some rumours about merging characters, Capcom vs SNK arrived in 2000. I got it on import for the Dreamcast and loved it. In some ways it was better than this 2001 sequel, but in the really important things, Capcom vs SNK 2 was king. The Boss Boss.

Of course, it was jammed full of things. Immediately after pressing the start button. Then for a while you just looked at what Capcom’s artists had achieved with SNK’s characters and had to wonder if they weren’t the most badass-looking things they had ever drawn. SNK’s cool always had more cache, by perhaps now more than ever. It was like coach building. Style on top of style.

Then, once you had selected everything it was after, you were in. Right in, at the deep end wondering why you had selected a couple of roster exotics when you should have just gone for Ryu and Ken. There were characters from arcane little corners of both their catalogues.

The backgrounds were complete heresy upon your eyes of course. A terrible shame but what can you do? It doesn’t stop the tournament crowd and it won’t stop me from putting this game on top. It honoured both companies and did so with gusto. Bravo!

(Now, stop reading this and go play Capcom vs SNK 2 and remember who told you.)

About the author

John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90's Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.

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