You can’t beat a good fighting game. They’ve been a constant throughout much of gaming’s history. They are always rising and dipping in popularity, but gamers have always had an appetite for titles which pit you and close chum/mortal enemy against each other in a contest of wits, reflexes and button mangling abilities. It seems that currently they’ve never been more popular, with a huge competitive scene powered by streaming services that allow brawls to be watched by thousands.
A fighting game is only as good as its cast. It can have the best mechanics around but without a roster of fighters that capture the imagination it won’t have gamers flocking to it in their droves, or endlessly debating about who will make the cut in upcoming sequels. Now with Street Fighter V so close it can almost shoruyken you in the chops, then following up with a quick hadoken in the form of Capcom’s ambitious post launch content plans, perhaps it’s a good time to reflect on some of the great fighting game rosters. Those iconic line-ups that combine competitive balance with imagination and nostalgia, allowing them to KO the competition.
1 – Marvel vs Capcom 2
The first game in this dream crossover series was very light in the roster department. It wasn’t until the second installment that nerds from both the gaming and comic book spheres were treated to a proper matchup between these respective universes. Allowing you to pick your personal dream team of iconic characters, it held a surprising amount of depth and scope for its time, with features such as calling in your fellow teammates to for a quick surprise attack and switching your fighters on the fly.
It served as a good leaping off point for non-fighting fans, who would eagerly join for the chance to pit Spidey against Ryu, (before they realized there was no point playing as anyone other than the obscenely powerful Magneto). But with softer mechanics than other fighters it entranced a generation who would go to lay the foundations for the genres current popularity. Not to mention it helped propel cult characters like Cable to new heights of relevance. The third installment might have been more balanced, but when it comes to pitting Iron Man vs Megaman, Storm vs Morrigan and Akuma vs Doctor Doom, you can’t beat the first time…or the second time technically.
2 – Tekken 3
Tekken is widely regarded as setting the standard for all 3D arena fighters, and many a child of the nineties gathered around their Playstations for tournaments with their school chums…TO THE DEATH! It wasn’t a one off, and if anything the series continued to go from strength to strength, with its peak arguably being that of Tekken 3. The third instalment has a fighting roster that does a good job of showcasing the series’ competitive credentials, but also its famous zany streak.
Tekken 3 not only featured some of the famous original fighters, such as Lei Wulong and Nina William, but also introduced characters who are now stalwarts, like Eddy Gordo and Ling Xiaoyu. Its roster also struck a unique balance between the serious (Kung-fu masters and experienced assassins) and the absurd (a fighting panda and a fire breathing dinosaur). All of this adds to the series charm, and the appeal of its cast. When even the more serious characters have vertical hair or the head of a leopard, you know things aren’t going to be to downbeat. Though that doesn’t stop it from being a truly entertaining fighting game.
3 – Soul Calibur 2
Namco’s swashbuckling fighting series made its debut tucked away on the ill-fated Dreamcast, but it wasn’t until the multi-platform sequel that it achieved mainstream popularity. Its wide, varied and eye catching roster helped with this certainly, and no, we aren’t just referring to Ivy’s ludicrously skimpy outfit.
You have Voldo, the bizarre mummy creature with surprising flexibility and equally bizarre claw like weapons. You have Mitsurugi and Taki, and pair of badass samurai warriors. You have Cervantes, a demon pirate captain. You had Nightmare, a demon in a suit of armour with a very, VERY big sword (possibly a compensation? Assumptions are fun.). And the list went on, and on into a near limitless pool of creativity.
And that’s before you considered the guest characters. Each console got its own unique fighter to join in on the action. The Xbox got Spawn…weirdly. The PS2 got Heihachi, which was pretty cool. But Nintendo got the undisputed winning hand when they managed to sneak Link from the Legend of Zelda series into the Gamecube version, using all his various sword skills and items to great effect. It was a truly wonderful addition to an already impressive roster, before the series went completely mental by adding in Darth Vader and Yoda into Soul Calibur 4. Oh, and Starkiller, but really who cares at this point.
4 – Ultra Street Fighter 4
Picking a favorite Street Fighter roster is something of a minefield. As the distinctive group of roughhousing psychopaths changes so much from installment to installment, there will always be a favorite combatant missing or an underwhelming new addition to sour individual tastes. While the roster from the various Street Fighter 2 iterations is perhaps more memorable, in part due to stunts like the mysterious hiding of beloved brawler Akuma, the final roster in Street Fighter 4 is probably the best in the series up to this point.
It contains all the right ingredients. Pretty much every iconic Street Fighter character in attendance, making it a celebration of the series’ illustrious history up to this point. From icons like Ryu and Chun-Li to more obscure fighters like Poison and Elena. It’s also surprisingly well balanced for a roster of its size, managing to provide a good number of competitively viable characters that cater to a variety of fighting styles. It also has competitive scene which is still thriving to this very day, at least, until Street Fighter V comes along
In what is probably the most probably iconic and famous of all fighting series, Ultimate Street Fighter 4 feels like it is the most comprehensive of them all, and provides a true celebration of this series’ illustrious history.
5 – Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS
There are still people out there who viciously maintain that the Super Smash Bros series is not a serious, competitive fighter, but a fanservice laden party game. That is truely their loss, because the beauty of the Super Smash Bros games is that while it can indeed be wild and unpredictable, it has core mechanics so finely tuned that one on one battles can be a massive test of skill and endurance between combatants. Check out the many battles to be found on Youtube if you don’t believe us. Seriously though, do that.
The roster of gaming greats is what really brings in the punters to Smash Bros, and in these two most recent games you not only get Nintendo’s best and their most obscure, but fighters from across the gaming spectrum, with many more surprises recently released as DLC. Who ever thought we’d get to see Link vs Cloud in game for real? Who seriously believed we’d get to pit Megaman against Samus? And did you dream of witnessing Bayonetta repeatedly shooting at Mario? Oh the sweet childlike joy with every bout.
But fanservice is only part of it, and at its core is a truly solid and competitive experience that is easy to pick up but difficult to master, and with such a huge and varied roster, has a fighter for gamers of all backgrounds and experiences.