What makes a “real” fighting game?

There are a lot more technically and competitively viable fighting games than we initially thought.

There are a lot more technically and competitively viable fighting games than we initially thought.

We’ve likely all seen the debate on whether Super Smash Bros. is a “real” fighting game or not. The arguments on either side are enough to make your head spin. In all honesty, it’s rather silly if you just take a step back.

What is a “real” fighting game? According to everyone I asked, it’s any fighting game that can be played competitively.

Following this logic, even Super Smash Bros. counts as a “real” fighting game. Was it designed to be one? Absolutely not, but there is a huge competitive community surrounding the series regardless.

Shrek SuperSlam What Makes a Real Fighting GameEver heard of Shrek SuperSlam? Neither had I, until I found out about the competitive community surrounding it. They have advanced techs like crumpet dashing that competitive players utilize in tournaments.

Since we determined “real” fighting games don’t need to be Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix clones, what actually makes a fighting game competitively viable? Well, 3 things: 1v1 battles, a neutral playing field, and an attack triangle.

1v1 Battles

1v1, two player vs. battles make up the skeleton of fighting games. These are honor-bound duels where two individuals duke it out for the glory of being a better, smarter fighter. The moment a third or fourth person joins the fray, it transforms into a hectic, all-bets-off brawler.

Pokken Tournament What Makes a Real Fighting GameSuper Smash Bros. was not designed to be a 1v1 fighter, but the competitive scene won’t play it any other way. The 4-player (and especially 8-player) matches are so chaotic they get swept up in a storm of luck and misfortune. Skill means nothing when 2 or 3 players decide to gang up and take out the deadliest threat first.

If a game doesn’t support 1v1 fights, then it’s simply not a “real” fighting game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with 8-player free-for-alls, but they’re best left for friendly games and parties.

Neutral Playing Field

There are many things that can throw off the neutral playing field. Stage hazards, for example, can drastically tilt the neutral game. Dead or Alive has a plethora of stage hazards, yet it still wound up with a small competitive following.

Super Smash Bros. Wii U What Makes a Fighting GameRandom item drops are also excellent at throwing off the neutral game. Super Smash Bros. is easily the most notorious culprit, giving players hundreds of items to turn the tide of battle in their favor. That Home-Run Bat that your buddies love to seek out could KO you even if you haven’t taken damage. Pokeballs and Assist Trophies are even worse with their random effects and hazards.

It’s a small wonder why competitive Smash Bros. fighters play on Final Destination — a flat stage free of hazards — with no items.

Attack Triangle

The attack triangle is the flesh and blood of every fighting game. Each attack, block, grab, or otherwise must have a counter if a fighting game is ever to succeed in the competitive community. Fighting games are essentially high-speed matches of rock-paper-scissors.

The entire premise of fighting games is built upon the idea that every move you make can be countered.

These rounds of RPS are often blended in multiple interesting ways. At the most basic level, grabs beat blocks, blocks beats attacks, and attacks beat grabs.

Space and time complicates and layers upon this basic formula. Even something as simple as jumping brings about another unique round of RPS. Anti-airs beat aerial attacks, aerial attacks beat normal attacks, and normal attacks beat anti-airs.

The entire premise of fighting games is built upon the idea that every move you make can be countered. Becoming skilled at fighting games involves learning counters and countering your opponent’s counters. If, for any reason, there are moves that cannot be somehow countered, you’re not playing a “real” fighting game.


Any game with these 3 elements can be a real, competitive fighting game. No amount of arguing over how technical the game may or may not be changes that.

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 What Makes a Real Fighting GamePokken Tournament is a real fighting game. Shrek SuperSlam is a real fighting game. And yes, Super Smash Bros. is a real fighting game, too.

Character balance, HP gauges, 2D or 3D movement — none of it matters in the end. If players can fight one-on-one, play on even footing, and counter anything that comes their way, you’ve got a true fighting game on your hands.

What is the wackiest fighting game you’ve ever played? How was the competitive scene? Sound off in the comments below!

About the author

Autumn Fish

Autumn is a freelance writer that grew up on GameFAQs walkthroughs trying to suss out how to get through her favorite PC and Nintendo games. These days she's a capable game pioneer, mapping out guides and tips so players of all skill levels can join in on the fun.