In the history of arcade games, the developers needed to fill some big shoes during the 1990s when the golden era came to a close. Titles like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man were fan favorites for many years, but it was time for something new.
The 1990s marked the era of Sega and Nintendo, with fighting games being the most popular genre. Sure, the ’90s fighting games look kind of ridiculous compared to today’s 4K high-end games. However, they hold a special place in our hearts.
The simplicity, glitchy colors, tough gameplay, and awesome characters in arcade games create an almost magical experience! If you’re looking to fuel your nostalgia or find out about the best arcade fighting games of the ’90s, check out our article!
3, 2, 1… Fight!
Fighting games are a true classic of the late ’80s and early ’90s. One of the most legendary titles from this era is, of course, Street Fighter, which always gets credit for popularizing the fighting game genre. Most fighting games involve two fighter characters with different strengths and abilities. Sometimes you can play with groups of two players or more depending on the game. For most games, you can play against other people in multiplayer mode or against the game.
In the 1990s, arcade games were one of the most popular social activities for “baby boomers” and adults. And arcade machines were everywhere, from truck stops to Bar Mitzvahs. The era gave birth to iconic franchises like Mortal Kombat and Tekken that are still popular today.
The Best Arcade Fighting Games
With fast-paced gameplay, epic combo moves, button mashing, fun animations, and suspenseful music, fighting arcade games in the 1990s provided a rush like no other. These games caused our adrenaline levels to spike as soon as we started a match.
To get good at them, you needed to have very good reflexes and a great memory to remember all the key moves and combinations. Additionally, during the 1990s, loads of games were ported to PC and other consoles. Luckily, today, you don’t need an actual arcade machine or a vintage console to try out your skills at some fighting games, and you can merely find faithful recreations online.
So check out our top picks for some of the best old-school fighting games of the 1990s!
Dead or Alive 2
Tecmo’s Dead or Alive 2 from 1999 is one of the most popular Japanese arcade fighting games of the ’90s. The gameplay follows Kasumi, a busty female ninja, and there are three buttons. They allow you to throw, punch, or kick, along with three different attack categories (much like Virtua Fighter). The game had a unique stun move and multi-tiered levels. Additionally, there were cutscenes between rounds that introduced some character interaction, which was seen way later in Tekken 5. The game had 14 available characters which later became well known in the Dead or Alive franchise.
Midway games released this fighting game in 1994, and many of its controls were copied from Street Fighter. Plus, the characters look kind of similar to those in Mortal Kombat. But it had some groundbreaking attacks which included addictive combo breakers. However, the game didn’t involve rounds — you’d start with two life bars, which make Killer Instinct unique for its time.
King of Fighters ’98
In 1994, SNK released King of Fighters ’94 which was the first in the franchise. Due to its massive success, there was a follow-up titled King of Fighters ’98. What made this game special is the fact that it didn’t have a storyline, compared to others in the franchise. There were some playing style options like “Extra” and Advanced.” And the losing players always received a handicap, which was uncommon at the time. But these handicaps were amazing since they gave more power to the losers and decreased the game’s difficulty. Plus, the visuals were pretty cool for that time, with smooth graphics and lightning-fast moves.
Samurai Shodown 2
Samurai Shodown is another SNK game released in 1994, and it was one of the most successful titles for the company. It was created due to the rising popularity of anime and manga. The graphics were not as smooth as King of Fighters’ though; however, it had some impressive katana moves and was quite authentic at the time. There were some expanded moves like backward or forward rolls, small jumps, high attacks, and an interesting deflect option that allowed players to attack as they blocked their opponents’ offensive moves. Plus, the samurai blades could break, which was a nice touch.
Darkstalkers III from 1997 featured a horror theme, and even if it wasn’t one of the most popular games at the time, it became a cult classic and one of the best ever Capcom games. Instead of being based on rounds, it employed a “Damage Gauge System” with multiple life bars, much like Killer Instinct. Additionally, there was a “Dark Force System” bar which activated special powers for each character. Darkstalkers III had 14 returning and 4 new characters. Most of them were based on classic supernatural beings and had a fantastic design. The animation of this game is one of its best features.
Marvel vs Capcom: Clash of Superheroes
This was one of the first crossover fighting games ever! That’s why it was so popular. In 1998, they decided to merge the most popular Capcom characters and Marvel superheroes in one game. It introduced some over-the-top fighting moves. There were air blocks, air combos, hyper-combos, tag teams, and some epic finishing moves. Clash of Superheroes allowed you to play as Mega Man, Captain America, Ryu, Wolverine, and just about any of the most popular characters from the franchises.
Soulcalibur became Dreamcast’s most popular game in 1998, and that’s not a surprise since it’ll be hard to find a game that compares to it. It takes place in the 16th century. The plot revolves around an ancient sword named “Soul Edge.” The sword is owned by Nightmare, the villain, and the characters must pursue and destroy him to save the world. Among the key features of the game was an innovative buffering system which made it easier to execute multiple moves after recovering. It also made it easier to make combos, and it created an even faster gaming experience. Plus, it has a special eight-direction system of movements.
Mortal Kombat II
Mortal Kombat was undoubtedly one of the best games ever. And it was even improved with the 1993 release of Mortal Kombat II. The sequel solved some problems and improved on the weaknesses of the first game. It introduced new moves, costumes, and gameplay changes. The iconic characters like Sub Zero, Sonya Blade, and Goro became part of pop culture over the years and back when the game was released, it was truly revolutionary. Each character had unique fatality moves and finishers. And the voice-overs were excellent! The game was violent, highly addictive, and provided tons of fun.
Namco’s Tekken 3 is definitely one of the most-played games on the planet. When it was released in 1997, it was incredibly unique due to the fact that each character had their own fighting style. Real-life martial arts inspired most of the styles, but there were some iconic finishers and combos. Plus, the characters, like Yoshimitsu, Paul Phoenix, Eddy Gordo, Marshall Law, and others became some of the most famous video game characters of all time.
Street Fighter II
Street Fighter II: World Warrior is the most legendary fighting game of the 1990s! The game is so huge that its arcade revenues exceed $2 billion, which was a lot of money for a game in the ’90s. Street Fighter II introduced some original concepts and characters. The franchise blew up after that, and there have been countless spinoffs and remakes ever since. With excellent music and a fun plot, it’s one of the best games ever! It’s definitely a game that has set the standard for fighting games. That’s why it’s at the top of our list!
Fighting Games Summary
We hope you’ve enjoyed our list of the best arcade fighting games of the ’90s! There’s a special art to fighting games, and it takes some time to master all the moves in each game. Of course, button-mashing is always an option, but it takes some fun away from it all. The 1990s had many great shooting games and beat ‘em ups, but the crowning moment of the decade were fighting games!
So take some time to check out some online arcade game recreations and have fun!