There’s an entire generation of gamers out there who cut their teeth in the old arcades. Standing side by side with your opponent was the only option for real, player vs. player competition back in the day, and the king of the competitive genres was undoubtedly fighting games. The simple premise of two fighters squaring off against each other spawned some of the most popular and successful gaming franchises of all time. To this day, games that once made their debut in arcade cabinets are releasing new sequels for your home consoles to play from the comfort of your own sofa.
Whether it’s against the computer, online, or playing locally on your couch, fighting games offer a pure test of skill that many compare to games like chess. Unlike chess, each fighting game has its own rules, systems, matchups, and more to learn. Factor in things like pure 2D vs. 3D fighters, extra modes, and character rosters, and any two fighting games can look almost entirely different. Plus there’s always the art style to consider too. The PS5’s hardware is perfect for running fighting games, which demand rock-solid performance, and it’s home to all the biggest franchises. If you want to throw down in a one-on-one test of skill, there are the best fighting games for PS5.
Guilty Gear Strive
Guilty Gear has always been seen as a somewhat second-tier fighting game series below the major names among the general masses, but those who know the series have been singing its praises for years. Guilty Gear Strive hit after Ark System Works finally broke into the mainstream with the perfect pairing of their anime art style with the biggest anime franchise of all time, Dragon Ball. Dragon Ball FighterZ would probably have made this list before, but now that Guilty Gear Strive is out, there’s no denying this is the better game. Sure, you don’t get 10 versions of Goku to play as, but some consider that a plus.
Just looking at this game is almost unbelievable. Arc System Works has always been a wizard when it comes to making 3D character models look like near-perfect 2D ones, and Guilty Gear Strive is perhaps the most impressive yet. The animations are unreal, fluid, and brimming with more detail than you can even perceive. The cast is wildly varied, with no “clones” in sight. Arc System Works has refined its easy-to-pick-up, hard-to-master gameplay in fighting games here. The only weak element that has to be pointed out is the single-player component. The story mode is essentially just a series of cutscenes that won’t mean much, or even make a lot of sense, to anyone who isn’t familiar with the frankly absurd and convoluted Guilty Gear lore.
Street Fighter 5: Campion Edition
Ah, there’s nothing quite like the old, familiar, and reliable fighter. Street Fighter set a new standard in fighting games way back with Street Fighter 2, and with incremental improvements and features, has held strong as the most iconic game in the fighting game genre. That being said, after the series made a revival with Street Fighter 4, the next iteration didn’t come out in a state many were happy with. At launch, Street Fighter 5 was quite bare. The roster was limited, mechanics and online not quite up to standard, and essentially no single-player content whatsoever. There wasn’t any form of story mode at all until later down the line.
Thankfully, Capcom stuck with Street Fighter 5, and it is now at the point where it is a complete package. The story mode is included, multiple seasons of DLC characters have filled out the roster, and balance changes have made it a much more fair and accessible game to jump into. The act of getting that extra content will be expensive, however, in either time or real cash. You can unlock anything in the game by earning in-game currency, but be prepared to grind out a lot of matches. Alternatively, you can purchase one of the newer editions that come bundled in with most of the extra characters. Either way, Street Fighter 5 has revived itself as the king of fighting games. At least, perhaps, until an eventual Street Fighter 6.
Tekken has a very distinguished style that makes it at once incredibly addicting and also so mechanically deep and free-form that you will continue to feel like you’re learning how to play dozens of hours in. Tekken 7 follows the very toxic and dysfunctional Mishima family yet again, with a new story mode. It does its job, swapping you between all the main characters and stages, but the actual content and delivery of the story aren’t really worth writing home about. Still, it is at least another option for single-player content in a game that isn’t too robust in that regard.
Tekken was, and in a lot of ways still is, notable for being a fully 3D fighter. We don’t just mean having 3D characters, but actually utilizing 3D arenas to fight. That means positioning is more complex than just moving closer or farther from your opponent — you need to consider sidestepping as well. The way you attack is also uniquely Tekken, and sticks to the well-established roots of the series, but adds on top of them some new features like Rage Arts and Power Crushes. Plus, the feature of the game slowing down to slow motion on dramatic moments sounded like a terrible idea when we first heard it, but actually does a really good job of highlighting tense moments.
Read our full Tekken 7 review
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate
Another arcade phenomenon that has somewhat quietly become the best-selling fighting game series of all time, who could forget the bloody, mature, violent, and intentionally misspelled Mortal Kombat? Granted, this series has been going on for a long, long time and has arguably had more bad games than good. The transition to 3D in particular was not kind to the MK games up until NetherRealm decided their long, overly obtuse narrative needed a reboot just as much as the gameplay. Mortal Kombat 9 retconned the entire franchise back to the start, cutting the roster down and focusing on what made the game fun while also setting a new standard for fighting game stories.
Two sequels later, Mortal Kombat 11 is probably the most popular the series has ever been. The story continues to be fantastic, well acted, and freakishly well animated. New and existing characters are all great to play, and of course have their own unique Brutalities and Fatalities (plus some other hidden moves) to enjoy. If you like seeing skulls shattering and blades tearing through internal organs, only for the recipient to shrug it off and keep on fighting, there’s no alternative to Mortal Kombat 11. You also won’t find the Terminator facing off against Joker, Spawn, or Rambo anywhere else either. The PS5 version of the game is a free upgrade and lets you enjoy every drop of blood at a dynamic 2160p resolution.
Read our full Mortal Kombat 11 review
Soul Calibur 6
If you want a fighter that’s more weapon-focused, Soul Calibur 6 is the clear winner. Aside from the actual gameplay, which we’ll certainly speak to, the Soul Calibur series has one unique feature that no other major series has really attempted to replicate. That feature is a ridiculously robust character creation system. This is more than just a simple reskin of an existing character. With Soul Calibur 6, you can not only fully customize your own character’s appearance, but also give them their own combos and weapons. Yes, most of these will be taken from the existing roster, but the level at which you can mix and match moves leads to characters that feel completely new.
Perhaps where Soul Calibur 6 stands above every other entry on this list is in single-player content. Aside from making your own character, there’s a deep progression system to get into, a pretty good story mode that’s tailored to each character, mission mode, and arcade mode. Versus mode is naturally where you’ll spend the most time, and it remains solid as ever. The focus on weapons makes you approach each fight differently, which lends itself perfectly to it utilizing full 3D space. Just watch your positioning so you don’t get knocked out of the ring! And, since fighting games seem to be mandated to have some level of crossover characters, you can even play as Geralt from The Witcher games and 2B from Nier: Automata.
Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late(cl-r)
No, that’s neither a typo nor me having a stroke while writing out a game title. Under Night is one of the few game series that can outmatch the Kingdom Hearts series for most ridiculous titles. Names aside, this is the newest entry in this series that is essentially the poster child for “anime fighters.” It’s so anime that it isn’t just a fighter, but the story mode is essentially just a visual novel. Seriously, Chronicle mode is a full 23-chapter visual novel that dives deep into the characters, their histories and relationships, and the entire plot of this bizarre game. Thankfully the Arcade mode is more of what you expect from a fighting game story mode.
Speaking of modes, Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late(cl-r) has almost too many modes. You’ve got Arcade, Chronicles, Versus, ranked and unranked online matches, local, Score Attack, Time Attack, Survival, Training and Tutorial, and more. The game has a respectably sized cast of 21 default characters, and each one is lovingly detailed and animated. Seriously, this game is second only to the output of Arc System in terms of showing off beautiful anime-style characters. There is a lot to learn in this fighter, but the game has more than enough tools to get you going thanks to the in-depth tutorial mode. If you wanted an alternative anime fighter that makes you feel like you’re playing your favorite shonen show, don’t be late(cl-r) for this one.
There’s really no substitute for Super Smash Bros. Many have tried, but there’s no game that can match that game’s free-flowing, expressive fighting system with the roster of iconic characters. That’s why Brawlhalla decided to forgo attempting to outshine Smash in star power, and instead delivered a refined, tight, and most of all solid gameplay experience even when playing online. Oh, and did we mention they don’t even charge you to play? That’s a big point in their favor. That being said, if looks are important to you, then you might feel a little disappointed with this one. Brawlhalla does look like a free game, for better or worse.
All that being said, Brawlhalla is doing a lot of things right. Aside from being free, the game has full crossplay between PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and even mobile. The simple art style and character designs have let the roster grow to more than 50 characters so far. You can play with up to eight people locally or online in various modes, including ranked 1 v 1 and 2 v 2 modes, and wacky side modes like Brawlball, Capture the Flag, and Kung-Foot. Like Smash, the core game itself is a simple platform brawler where you duke it out on stages floating above pits with or without item drops. The community around Brawlhalla is so strong that it even has its own Esports league, meaning there’s no limit to how far you can go with this game.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown
Virtua Fighter used to be one of the big names among the fighting game titans like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat. However, it’s been years since the series got any new entries. While not the brand-new entry fans have been craving, Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown is a welcome return for this classic fighter. Originally released in Japan in 2006, this updated, and upgraded, edition shows that the core formula of this series is as solid as ever. It was even re-released in 2010 on the PS3 as Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown, but this ultimate version manages to up the ante even more.
Every character looks better than ever, though you’d have to squint a bit to make them look current-gen, especially if you stare at the backgrounds too closely. What the game lacks in graphical powers, though, it makes up for in performance. The game is rock solid, and the online portion even got some new additions like tournaments, spectator modes, and a league feature. Like Tekken, Virtua Fighter games are built for those who want to dive deep into a game’s mechanics. Every move has its perfect time, place, and distance to be used, as well as combo potential. Each character in the game can feel completely different to fight if given to two different players. If you’ve got the ambition, this is a game that will reward your time investment like a few others.
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If you want a different misspelled type of showdown, Samurai Shodown is another series that seemed like it might’ve been forgotten until recently. This game is arguably the most brutal fighter on the list. And we’re not talking brutal in the Mortal Kombat sense. No, Samurai Shodown is brutal in the sense that one mistake probably means death. Unlike essentially every other fighter, especially Mortal Kombat, this game tries a little harder to be realistic in how a fight between two Samurai would play out. Rushing in, swinging wildly, would probably end in a quick death, which is exactly how this game functions.
Samurai Shodown’s gameplay is far deeper than it may look if you just watched a couple matches based on how quickly they go. I mean, seeing one heavy strike deal about 30% of an opponent’s life bar, and special moves doing around 90%, would probably make you think the game is more like Nidhogg. But there are systems for attacking with your weapon, while unarmed, kicking, clashing, guards, parries, guard breaks, counters, blade catches, and more. With plenty of post-launch support, including three seasons of DLC characters, plus crossover characters with SNK, this is a full package. For the calm, observant, and patient fighters who like to outthink their opponents, Samurai Shodown is that mood distilled.
Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite
Right off the bat, yes, Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite dropped the ball with the roster. No one is denying that. However, if you can look past the lack of X-Men, or even series vets from the Capcom side, the game itself is actually really good. You’ll also have to look past the admittedly unattractive character models, too. They did drop the three-man roster down to just two, but except for the dedicated player, it was difficult enough to parse what was going on when up to six characters were jumping in and out of frame, firing off a massive special, and jumping out. MvC: I streamlines things a bit, but is way more accessible because of it.
The story mode is … there? It’s really a waste considering the amount of potential there is to craft a fun, off-the-wall story with these two worlds of eccentric characters clashing, but whoever was in charge, Marvel or Capcom, just dropped the ball big time. Thankfully, Capcom was in charge of the mechanics, and they know how to craft a good hyper fighter. It’s really a shame it was buried beneath bad press, marketing, and even a tight budget. Plus, the integration of the Infinity Stones as a mechanic could’ve been a massive disaster, like the gems from Street Fighter Vs. Tekken, but actually adds a layer of depth on top of the game that makes it even more fun to experiment with beyond which two characters you’ll have on your team. It’s balanced, fast, readable, and frankly didn’t get the love it deserved.
Read our full Marvel Vs. Capcom: Infinite review