What Are Fighting Games?
Fighting games (or “fighters,” as fans of the genre usually call them) are high-octane, competitive games that put two (or, in a few cases, four) players in a restricted arena, allow them to pick from a wide and colorful cast of characters, and let them battle it out with all sorts of cool tricks and abilities. They’re flashy, gorgeous, exciting, and incredibly responsive, making them an early example of precise, fast-paced, multiplayer gaming.
Or, if you want to put it really simply: think of it as UFC with superpowers.
But, fighting games, for all their draw, are notoriously difficult to get into. Many people want to give them a go but just can’t seem to manage it.
As a fan of the genre, that’s something I’d like to fix.
Why Should I Play Fighters?
Like any genre of any medium, different people come to fighting games for different reasons.
For many, the draw is challenge and competition. We love having something to practice that can only really be tested by pitting ourselves against people who have put the same effort into honing their skills.
For others, the draw is creativity. Fighting games are all about versatility and indulging different styles of play. Every character (ideally) feels different, and all players bring to the game their own style of play, which allows them to showcase their unique personalities.
And, increasingly, fighters are being used to reconnect with friends. Between the pandemic and people simply moving away from home, it’s nice to have a game you can go to for online, one-on-one matches, chatrooms, and lobbies, where old and new friends can hang out and talk while they watch the main pair of players beat the living hell out of each other.
Then, for some, the draw is just the heart-pounding excitement.
Though even beginners can have fun mashing buttons and watching the pretty effects, the genre is notoriously difficult to start playing. This notoriety is only half-earned, though. Part of the reputation comes from newbies playing against experienced players (which is obviously going to be overwhelming in any skill-based competition), while another part comes from the odd tendency of these games to have awful tutorials.
Still, a simple run-down of the options available to you should help you overcome these hurdles and find a way to join the fun.
What Kinds of Fighters are There?
Broadly, fighting games are separated into three genres.
- 2D Fighters place your chosen characters into a flat arena that restricts overall movement while introducing the opportunity for nifty strategies. These games are often more fast-paced than others in the genre, feature more colorful characters (and more “powers”), and are very flashy. They’re broadly grouped into “traditional” 2D Fighters and “airdashers,” so called because of the focus on aerial combat and the presence of mid-air “dash” movements.
- 3D Fighters give you the ability to go back and forth into the background and foreground, and this new dimension of play drastically changes the game. Most installments in this sub-genre are very intuitive, and movement and positioning become paramount. What’s more, these games are often more beginner-friendly and slow-paced.
- Arena Fighters are a much smaller sub-genre. They usually feature four-player matches in larger, unique stages, rather than two-player matches on stages that differ mostly in cosmetics. These games are colorful, chaotic, and crazy—though they can sometimes feel a little “noisy.” They’re fantastic for parties, though.
So, How Do I Know What to Pick?
If you’re just getting into fighting games, there are five main elements you should consider: speed, single-player options, online community, learning curve, and cast.
- Speed is the “accessibility” of the game. Some folks need the chaos of a fast-paced game to stay focused, while others get overwhelmed by the speed and need to start with something slower and easier to manage. Luckily, there’s an easy rule. If you want low speed, go for a 3D fighter. If you’re looking for the highest of the high speeds, find a 2D airdasher.
- Single-Player Options are important because you won’t always have someone to play with, and it’s frustrating for newbies to learn solely from playing against other people. Most fighters these days have tutorial and practice modes, and they’re beginning to pay more and more attention to their story modes (though the stories are rarely all that good).
- Online Community is extremely important if you’re wanting to compete against others, especially during the pandemic. While every modern fighter has an online matchmaking mode, some of these games are better played by joining subreddits and other online groups that help you meet other fans and set up focused matches.
- A game’s Learning Curve can be the difference between a game that’s easy to pick up but gets boring after a week and one that just feels impossible to understand from the get-go. Fighting games are inherently complex, so this is always a tough line to walk. But I’ve found the best solution is to choose games with intuitive controls and solid tutorials.
- Cast is much more subjective. Some may want a cast of familiar characters from other series. Others just want characters who are fun to play or to whom they can connect. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. There are paid professionals in the genre’s pro scene who choose their characters based solely on their personalities. Your reaction to a cast can’t be predicted, but it might be good to look into YouTube videos about the characters in a game you’re considering playing.
Once you have these five elements in line, it becomes much, much easier to find a game to start with, and, to help, we’ve narrowed down a few recommendations for you. Make note that this is not an exhaustive list of the games out there, nor is it a list every fan of the fighter genre will agree with. The goal here is finding games that will be easy to break into without being boring.
Traditional 2D Fighter: Street Fighter 5
While there are some very legitimate complaints about how Street Fighter’s publisher, Capcom, has handled the series lately, it is still the OG fighting game, and many of its problems have been cleaned up since launch. It’s also an excellent entry point for first-time fighters. The tutorial is okay; it’s slow-paced and focuses enough on the fundamentals for you to learn easily. Each of the characters also has a distinct style (one of the major improvements to the series). It has one of the strongest online communities in the genre, too, and, while its single-player options were lacking at launch, they’ve grown quite a bit—even if the story isn’t so great.
2D Airdasher: Blazblue: Central Fiction
This game is one of the kings of single-player content due simply to its massive, fully-voice-acted, single-player story that takes the form of a “visual novel.” While the story won’t appeal to those who aren’t into anime, the game has other draws. The tutorial mode is absurdly thorough (perhaps a little too thorough), and the controls start to feel intuitive after an initial break-in period. Its control scheme translates to other games in the genre well, and the characters are wildly different and fun in their own ways. Want to play as an amorphous blob of goop that drops bugs on the opponent from the other side of the stage? Got you covered. Want to play as an old-man-werewolf who gets up in the opponents’ faces before they have time to blink? He’s right here. The game, despite its extremely fast pacing, feels smooth and avoids “noise.” The learning curve is a little steep, though.
3D Fighter: Tekken 7
I love Tekken, and, while it isn’t my all-time favorite, it’s still the one I’d start my friends on. The controls couldn’t be simpler. The stick moves you around, and each button controls a different limb. It’s slow-paced enough for you to know what you’re doing. The 3D arena feels intuitive, and, even though it doesn’t have much in the way of a tutorial, simply playing around will teach you most of what you need to do. Its online community is strong (though there has been some controversy in it recently), and the learning curve is incredibly gentle. It has enough single-player content to keep you occupied, too, though it probably won’t challenge you. And while the cast does have variety, you may not be able to really feel it until you’ve started to get used to the game.
Arena Fighter: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
There are many other arena fighters, but most are just trying to be Super Smash Bros. It’s the most kid-friendly in the genre and has enough customization options to style rounds however you want—and that’s to say nothing of the insane breadth and variety of the cast. I mean, where else can you pit a bounty hunter in an ancient, mechanized battle suit against Pikachu? It’s easy to learn (so long as you turn items off), and, while it can get noisy and fast, it’s the fun kind of noisy. It’s exceptional for parties. However, its online community has been on the rocks lately, so take heed.
For Superhero Fans: Injustice 2
This has been included as a bonus. I’ll be honest with you. Injustice isn’t terribly well put together as a fighting game. But (and this is a big “but”) it does allow you to pick your favorite superheroes from the DC Universe (think Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and just go ham on the other player. What’s more, it easily has the strongest story of any fighting game on this list (even if it pales in comparison to the story of the original). Its tutorial is quick but thorough, and it has plenty of single-player content. Its online community is growing, too!
Hopefully, you’ve come out of this with an idea of where you might want to start in the fighter genre. As a last note, I’ll always recommend looking on Reddit, Twitter, and any other social media you’re a part of for communities of the game you’re considering. We’re few, but we’re strong! Enjoy!