Fighting games are amazing. There’s nothing like being thrown into a small arena against a single challenger—or, occasionally, a small handful—and pushed to the limit in a fight that will test your reactions, your ability to remain calm, your memory and your strategy. Few genres of gaming offer the pure, unadulterated challenge between you and another person with minimal issues of luck getting in the way.
The genre is having a bit of a renaissance too. Arena fighters like Super Smash Bros are household titles while hardcore 2D fighters like Guilty Gear -STRIVE- are smashing old sales numbers.
But one fact remains: fighting games comprise a large genre that, unfortunately, is dominated by a handful of titles. For the most part, even gamers are only aware of the “big four”” Tekken 7, Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat 11 and Super Smash Bros. Those who are deeper into fighting games may know of a few others—Guilty Gear, Blazblue and Skullgirls are common options for those diving deeper—while those with an interest in comics probably know about Marvel vs. Capcom or Injustice. Even so, these well-known titles represent a whopping six developers.
The problem is, when you have a game aimed at a broad audience, you tailor it for the general public. You have to make sure its palatable, and there’s a lot of money involved. You shy away from risks or innovative gameplay options for the same reason that Hollywood avoids crafting new franchises.
The result of this is that gamers think that fighting games are monochromatic. It seems like there are two or three kinds of fighting games and that, if they don’t like one, they won’t like any. Yet, one conversation with a passionate fighting game fan will make you realize that people can adore one series and despise another.
This article hopes to shatter that perception. It includes a list of fighters that are a bit on the lesser-known side but which are worth exploring for anyone looking for something new.
Under Night In-Birth
A top option for anime fans, Under Night In-Birth, is a game that I’m surprised hasn’t caught on more. It’s similar to other “airdashers” or anime fighters like Guilty Gear and Blazblue but with some key differences. The most noticeable of them is the “GRD” meter, which is a “tug-of-war” mechanic that rewards players for controlling the pacing of the match.
While it takes a while to get the hand of the GRD meter, other parts of Under Night’s charm can be appreciated right away. One is the flexible combo system in which attacks can chain into each other in nearly any order, allowing even novice players to pull off cool combos without making the game less complex for advanced players. The developers have also paid close attention to how each character feels, especially in terms of movement, with the result that most characters handle as uniquely as they look.
Plus, the soundtrack is fantastic.
Fighting EX Layer
EX Layer represents the return of Capcom’s old development partner, Arika. While it may not be the best fighting game, it’s certainly worth a look. The option to pick “gougi decks” allows for pre-fight customization reminiscent of trading card games, and the fights and combos are smooth and fast. Its characters are delightfully strange, and the game’s look brings back the old arcade fighter days.
Granblue Fantasy Versus
This is one game that I’m not sure will belong on this list for long. Granblue Fantasy Versus is by fighting game giant Arc System Works, based on the RPG Granblue Fantasy. It is a beauty to look at. The character designs are a combination of the best elements of anime character design and high fantasy, and the narrative-driven RPG mode gives you more reason to appreciate these characters. What’s more, the game is being updated constantly and is receiving quite a bit of attention for being very accessible to fighting game newcomers. In fact, it even got nominated for “Best Fighting Game” at the 2020 Game Awards 2020.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds
Probably the strangest option on this list, Them’s Fightin’ Herds, is a small indie fighting game published by Humble Bundle. The playable characters are all women—and ungulates. What’s an “ungulate,” you ask? They’re hooved mammals, like horses. The game was initially inspired by the TV show My Little Pony and its adult fandom. Granted, that got them a cease and desist from Hasbro, but at least the game has great net code!
Fight of Gods
Another game more notable for its novelty than its quality, Fight of Gods allows players to play as a number of stylized mythological creatures, including Odin, Santa Claus, Jesus, Anubis and Amaterasu. Is it good? No. Will it make you laugh? Probably. And that’s what matters most—right?