A top level overview of the major fighting game franchises and the mechanics that make them great.

Video game speed dating: Finding the best fighting game franchise for you

A top level overview of the major fighting game franchises and the mechanics that make them great.

Do you ever feel… stuck? Bored with your current relationship? Has the spark gone away? Are you getting frustrated with things that you once found charming and unique? Maybe the game you once saw as the best fighting game ever just… isn’t anymore. If so, it’s time to move on.

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Fret not. Breaking up is hard to do, but you’ll be happier for it. If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, it might be time to find a new fighting game to call your own.

In that spirit, we’ve compiled this brief overview of most of the major fighting game franchises with active competitive scenes, rated for game speed, friendliness to new players, and how active the game’s competitive scene currently is.

Welcome, folks, to Video Game Speed Dating.

Super Smash Bros.

New-player-friendliness: 5/5
Game speed: 2/5
Activity: 4/5

Ah, yes. Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. Even though the last bit of DLC has already dropped for the game, the scene continues to grow, thanks in no small part to the fact that the game is fairly easy to pick up and play at a relatively competitive level. Of all the titles on this list, Smash 4 is probably the best fighting game for newcomers to the genre.

Unlike Super Smash Bros. Melee, this version of the game is slower and more methodical. While there are advanced techniques like dash-dancing, pivoting, and foxtrots to learn, mastering fundamental play is more about mindset than twitch reaction times.

Success in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U comes from being able to read opponents and predict, based on their tendencies, what they’ll do next. Oh, and by the way, if you want a guide on how to level up your Smash 4 game, we have one right here.

A great match for:

Methodical gamers who can appreciate a zero-to-death combo as much as a good prediction, and who don’t mind memorizing strategies for a, frankly, insanely expansive character list.

Skip it if:

You get frustrated by campers, or have trouble dealing with projectile characters in fighting games. 

Super Smash Bros. Melee

New-player-friendliness: 1/5
Game speed: 5/5
Activity: 3.5/5

Perhaps more than any other fighting game on the market today, Super Smash Bros. Melee simply looks different when professionals play it. It’s frenetic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it action.

Being at all competitive in the insanely-fast-paced world of Super Smash Bros. Melee requires mastery of advanced techniques like wavedashing, as well as split-second reactions to what your opponent is doing.

All that is to say, the barrier of entry here is high, but if you’re able to clear it, you’ll be rewarded by entering a scene that has played host to some of the best moments in fighting game history.

A great match for:

Gamers who don’t mind devoting months to mastering techniques, knowing that they are necessary to even compete at a basic level, and who then won’t mind spending more time mastering character specific combos and honing reaction time.

Skip it if:

You thrive on instant gratification

King of Fighters

New-player-friendliness: 3/5
Game speed: 3.5/5
Activity: 2/5

The King of Fighters series has always been one of the more niche fighting game franchises currently running, especially when compared with the bigger franchises like Super Smash Bros. and Street Fighter

Despite this, the modern King of Fighters games are about as close as gamers can get to an older school 2D fighter like Street Fighter Alpha, or to a lesser extent, Marvel vs. Capcom. This is probably the best fighting game series out there for gamers that grew up mastering cancels and long combos, and who are a bit alienated by the slower, meatier direction the Street Fighter games are taking.

Time will tell what King of Fighters XIV brings to the table when it is released this August, but with Street Fighter V disappointing many fans of the series, there’s no time like the present to explore other options.

A great match for:

Gamers who miss sprite-based 2D fighters of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, but who are alienated by the additions made by 2D fighters like Guilty Gear.

Skip it if:

You don’t like having 75% of your health bar destroyed by one combo

Mortal Kombat

New-player-friendliness: 3/5
Game speed: 2.5/5
Activity: 3.5/5

Chicago’s Netherrealm Studios, the brains behind Mortal Kombat, have been hard at work these past few years. After partnering with Warner Brothers, the Mortal Kombat series of games (and, by extension, the Injustice games) have become huge, cinematic affairs with expansive character lists. 

The great thing about the growth of these games, however, is that the mechanics of the game have largely stayed the same throughout its existence (well, the weird 3D games excepted). Mortal Kombat’s combo system has always been juggle based, rewarding players who are patient with their button presses with long combos that easily eat through opponents’ health bars.

Yes, the developers have added advanced techniques and gameplay elements to the title throughout the years, but the meaty, bloody combat of Mortal Kombat X will be familiar to gamers, even if they have not played a game in the series since Mortal Kombat 2.

A great match for:

Gamers willing to workshop their own juggle combos and resets in an effort to find a zero-to-death combo.

Skip it if:

You don’t like having 100% of your health bar destroyed by one combo

Guilty Gear

New-player-friendliness: 2/5
Game speed: 4/5
Activity: 3/5

With the recent release of Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, the Guilty Gear scene has been infused with some much needed life. Unlike King of Fighters, Guilty Gear prides itself on complicated gameplay that requires careful meter management and in-depth knowledge of a burst system to string together combos. 

That said, for players that loved the more complex elements present in the later Marvel vs. Capcom games, Guilty Gear scratches that itch very nicely. Players will need to completely immerse themselves in the game’s mechanics to succeed, mastering burst types, dust attacks and aerial rave linkups, all the while attempting to avoid one-hit-kill special attacks.

There’s a lot to think about here, and the action gets very intense and hard-to-follow at the highest levels of play, but for connoisseurs of the 2D fighter genre, it’s hard to find a game with a higher skill ceiling, even if you count Guilty Gear’s similar-but-more-combo-focused cousin, BlazBlue. The best players out therewill find a lot to love in this fighting game franchise.

A great match for:

Gamers who don’t mind learning and mastering unfamiliar mechanics.

Skip it if:

You don’t want to have to practice in lab for, like, a year to be competitive. 

Street Fighter

New-player-friendliness: 2/5
Game speed: 3.5/5
Activity: 4/5

Despite Street Fighter V’s rocky launch, and all the issues that came from Capcom releasing what was, in effect, an incomplete game, Street Fighter V is a mechanically sound fighter that follows in the footsteps of Street Fighter IV as another fighter where you really have to pick your moment to attack.

Though the removal of focus attacks in favor of character-specific V-skills and V-triggers has sped the game up considerably, combos in Street Fighter games are (generally) not as long as they are in other 2D fighters. This means that matches are more of a push-pull affair, where one mistake doesn’t necessarily mean the end.

Because of this, it’s generally easier for new players to pick up Street Fighter V and learn it, since they have more time to identify and try to learn from their mistakes. While the skill ceiling is high, the barrier for entry is low.

A great match for:

Fans of Street Fighter IV, gamers who prefer to learn by playing instead of by spending time in the lab.

Skip it if:

You don’t want to fight hundreds of people online who main Ken

We hope that this has been helpful! Again, we know that it is sometimes scary to try something new, but it can also be exciting and fun. So next time date night comes around, light a few candles, dim the lights, put on some music, and pop the fighting game that is best for you. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them. They’re all knockouts.

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RobotsFightingDinosaurs has been writing about games for 10 years and playing them even longer. Despite the millions of hours he's played across multiple gaming generations, his favorite games are The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and Super Smash Bros. Robots has written for Polygon, Thrillist, Kill Screen, and more.