By Pete Dreyer
Garou: Mark of the Wolves (1999)
Garou was actually part - arguably the best part - of the Fatal Fury series, despite playing more like a cross between Street Fighter and King of Fighters. Mark of the Wolves introduced a totally new character roster, save for SNK-stalwart Terry Bogard, and has a similar feel to Capcom's Street Fighter III. The PS2 and XBLA versions are excellent ports of the original Neo Geo release, but avoid the buggy Dreamcast version.
Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (1994)
Street Fighter II has a legitimate claim to being the most iconic video game ever made. It made those original eight characters into household names, and cemented Street Fighter as a relevant gaming franchise for the next 20 years and beyond. Super Turbo is the 5th iteration, and - despite the success of Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting - undoubtedly the most played and well remembered version of Street Fighter II. It's so good, it's still played competitively around the world to this day.
BlazBlue Calamity Trigger (2008)
There's not much to choose between Calamity Trigger and the later Continuum Shift - both these games helped to build BlazBlue's cult following. The plot is a bit of a head-scratcher, but Yokohama-based Arc System Works managed to build a 2D fighter that is both simple to pick up, but incredibly deep and challenging and paired it with a charming anime-inspired art style. BlazBlue has never hit the mainstream, but Calamity Trigger is pretty cheap nowadays and definitely worth a go for fans of the genre.
Capcom vs. SNK 2 (2001)
CvS2 brought together the two power-houses of the genre for one almighty team brawl, complete with characters from Street Fighter, Final Fight, Darkstalkers as well as SNK's Fatal Fury, King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown franchises. Thankfully, CvS2 wasn't just fan service, but backed up the premise with a bucket-load of characters and frenetic team-based gameplay and an excellent 'groove' based combat system.
Dead or Alive 4 (2006)
Again, it's a tough call between DoA3 and DoA4, but we're going to give the latter the nod thanks to it's deeper move list and a larger, well balanced set of characters. Dead or Alive has developed a rep for putting all it's female characters in overly revealing bikinis, but there's a very fluid, combo-heavy fighter underneath, with a tricky but incredibly satisfying counter system.
Fight Night Round 4 (2009)
There have been some fantastic boxing games over the years, controversially we've gone with Fight Night Round 4 over Mike Tyson's Punch Out (sorry Mike). Firstly, Round 4 looked absolutely stunning - camera's flash in the background, and individual beads of sweat glisten as the pugilists dance around the ring. The controls are very simple, you'll be bobbing and weaving in no time, but your only clue to your health is how tired and battered your boxer looks. A wonderful re-creation of the sweet science.
Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (2006)
BlazBlue devs Arc System Works are also responsible for the Guilty Gear series, which is phenomenally popular in Japan, but also has a strong cult following around the world. Guilty Gear is instantly recognisable for it's looks, but also a unique button layout and combo system comprising of kick, punch, slash, hard slash and dust (a launcher attack of sorts). Fighting fans should certainly apply, but don't expect an easy learning curve, Guilty Gear is fiendish.
International Karate + (1987)
In 1987, the grand sum of £10 got you this bona fide karate-on-the-beach simulator. Two rounds of straight-up beach-side brawling were followed by a bonus round where you had to kick away bombs, or bouncing balls, before the three of you would start scrapping again. In the original Amiga and Atari versions, it was also possible to cause all the karatekas trousers to drop simultaneously, and if you repeatedly typed swear words in, the game would punish you by resetting.
Killer Instinct (1994)
C-C-C-C-Combo breaker! Killer Instinct has cemented it's place in the hallowed halls of fighting game fame with the instantly recognisable combo breaker, and a unique style of gameplay that focused more on mind games than complex inputs and specials. It plays like a mix of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but features automatic combos along with fatality-esque finishing moves making this instantly accessible to even the most novice of gamers.
King of Fighters '98 (1998)
SNK's iconic King of Fighters series started in 1994, but KoF '98 garners a lot of love among the KoF community. 98 was the first game to completely do away with any semblance of pointless plot, and focused instead on packing in a huge roster of SNK favourites (many of whom were technically dead story-wise), and creating a revolutionary new team-combat system where your teams attitude affects how cohesively they fight together.
The Last Blade (1997)
Very possibly the most underrated and underplayed fighter of all time. The Last Blade suffered from being primarily a console release, on the crazily expensive Neo Geo, and never garnered the cult arcade following that made King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown into success stories. Gameplay is all about predicting, deflecting and countering the attacks of your opponent - it's addictive stuff. The fact that The Last Blade still features in tournaments in Japan is testament to its quality.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (2000)
In America, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 isn't just a fighting game, it's a phenomenon. The game created a supremely competitive battleground where literally anything goes, and no glitch, cheat or infinite combo is off-limits. The best from the east and west coasts regularly met in money matches, where tens of thousands of dollars would change hands. There aren't many games that can say they helped make fighting games into a dominant e-sport, but MvC2 is definitely top of the list.
Mortal Kombat 2 (1993)
Who doesn't love Mortal Kombat? We have to give thanks to the original for starting things off, but if you have fond memories of funny animations, fatalities and fights that comprised entirely of uppercuts and sweeps, you're probably thinking of Mortal Kombat 2. The idea of motion capturing actors and then attaching that to in-game sprites was totally new, and made MK2 an instant hit when it landed in arcades, and later home consoles. Along with the humour and gratuitous violence that is.
Power Stone 2 (2000)
Power Stone and Power Stone 2 were among the best games on the Sega Dreamcast but predictably, not many people rmember either of them and even fewer actually got the chance to play them. Capcom had played with 3D combat in the Street Fighter Alpha series, but Power Stone 2 really nailed it, allowing four players on screen simultaneously and giving them a truck-load of special weapons to batter each other with.
Samurai Shodown (1993)
SNK's Samurai Shodown is notable not only for it's significant fanbase, but also it's distinctiveness. The first few games followed Street Fighter II's visual blueprint, but the gameplay is very accurate to the art of japanese swordsmanship (kenjutsu) and focuses on dodging and deflecting your opponents blows while landing your own. The fast-paced nature of the game gives it a steep learning curve, but it sure it satisfying.
SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium (1999)
This Neo Geo Pocket Color title is often forgotten about, but we reckon it's the best handheld fighting game ever made. With cutesy visual inspired by Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix and a cast of SNK and Capcom fan favourites, this one was already onto a winner. But it was the small things that made MotM really great, like the inclusion of proper arenas and themes for each character, and a simple but reasonably deep combat system that didn't overstretch the handheld controls.
Soul Blade (1996)
Soul Blade (or Soul Edge in Japan) picked up where Battle Arena Toshinden left off on the PlayStation, putting weapons in the hands of its characters and showing off the whole thing in glorious 3D. Where Battle Arena Toshinden was playable if not ground-breaking, Soul Blade was a smash hit, introducing a load of great ideas that helped to shape 3D fighters for the next 15 years, as well as being one of the best looking games on the PS1.
Soulcalibur 2 (2002)
The first Soulcalibur was incredibly well received and would not look out of place in this list, but Soulcalibur 2 was just better. It took the same combat system and controls that made it's predecessors great, and improved upon them by adding new dodging mechanics, and a challenging new 'guard impact' counter system. Add in a huge variety of great characters with compelling stories between them, crisp visuals and hands-down the best single player campaign of any fighter ever made, and SCII is undeniably one of the greats.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (1999)
The original Street Fighter III hit arcades in 1997, but 3rd Strike is widely recognised as being the seminal - and most balanced - version. 3rd Strike introduced new throw inputs, a universal overhead attack for each character along with five new characters and built up a fanatical competitive arcade scene, though it did not dominate the mainstream as it's predecessor did. Make no mistake, Street Fighter III isn't as forgiving as more recent iterations, and the combo and parry systems are phenomenally hard to master.
Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition (2012)
Street Fighter 4 has almost single-handedly made fighting games relevant again in the late 2000s. Ok, so it's a bit too mainstream for some fighting game vets - the inputs are extremely forgiving, as are the new ultra moves, but five years after the original version was released, it's still the most widely played fighter out there. SF4 was woefully unbalanced at first (god tier Sagat), but Arcade Edition seems to have fixed many of those issues and added loads more iconic Street Fighter characters.
Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)
The GameCube's emphasis on cutesy, cartoon visuals didn't rub everyone up the right way, but Smash Bros Melee was nothing short of a total success. It built on the platform provided by the excellent Super Smash Bros on N64, and added more weapons, items, characters and levels. The best thing about Smash Bros is its simplicity - even the most novice of gamers can grab a controller and have a ball. This is Nintendo at their imperious best.
Tekken 3 (1997)
Widely regarded as the pinnacle of Namco's Tekken series, and perhaps the best 3D fighter ever made, Tekken 3 is a no-brainer for this list. The backstory between characters is compelling and full of intricacies, the combat system is that of earlier Tekken's but made tighter and more realistic and the visuals were just flat out jaw-dropping - arguably the best ever on the PS1. It dominated arcades for the best part of a decade, whilst selling over 6 million console copies world wide.
Tekken Tag Tournament (1999)
Though not as illustrious as Tekken 3, Tag Tournament still deserves to be here in its own right. The combat was exactly the same as Tekken 3, but now you fight in teams of two. Tagging your partner in allows the resting fighter to recover some health, but the skill is in managing to regularly switch your fighters out without putting them in danger, either during flashy tag team combos or by using special throws. This is a great example of a team-fighter done right.
Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown (2010)
Though Virtua Fighter 5 is certainly the most widely played now, and regarded by most as being the best instalment thus far, we should not neglect the importance of the original Virtua Fighter, which was the first game ever to use polygons to build 3D models. The button scheme is simple, made up of three buttons - punch, kick and guard. In combination with movements on the control stick, there are hundreds of attacks and throws for each character, making Virtua Fighter 5 incredibly tough to master.
Yie Ar Kung Fu (1985)
A good old-fashioned tale of revenge, Yie Ar Kung Fu is in some part responsible for shaping many of the games on this list. You play Oolong, a young man who is looking to honour his father by defeating 13 (or 11 in the arcade version) grand masters, each with their own personal weapon and abilities. This was the first game to introduce a moveset that involved different buttons and directional inputs, giving you 16 different moves. Oh, and it was absolutely rock hard too, a proper money-monster of an arcade cabinet.