90s arcade fighting games – my top 5

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A 90s amusement arcade

We looked at the top five 80s arcade fighters previously and, if you remember, I did not want to mix the two decades. They are just so different it would not be fair. The 80s titles would just get lost, since the newer games improved on so much.

An awesome game like Yie Ar Kung-Fu – that helped shape the future of the genre – might end up getting bumped off a list for 90s monster hits like Mortal Kombat or Tekken. For this reason, I have split the list into two groups, instead.

Without further ado then, here are the best 90s arcade fighting games:

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5. Virtua Fighter 2 (developed and published by Sega; Japan 1994, NA 1995)

Virtua Fighter 2 arcade version

You will have a lot of fun exploring every character’s arsenal of moves.

You might not remember Virtua Fighter, but it was a very important arcade game that was ported to different platforms later. If you did not play this on an arcade machine, then you might have tried it on the Sega Saturn, PC and even the PlayStation 2. It is a 3D 1v1 fighting game, set in an arena where each character has a unique fighting style.

Essentially, you are in a fighting tournament but there is no real plot to the game so do not expect to find one. Just good ol’ fighting! The game was praised at the time for having a visual overhaul and a massive variety of attacks for each character in the game, including the addition of counter-attacks and prevent throw moves.

It is a nice single player game and playing versus another person was always a good challenge, a clear representation of how the genre changed between the 80s and the 90s.

4. Soul Calibur (developed by Project Soul, published by Namco 1998)

Soul Calibur arcade version

Soul Calibur was one of the first weapon-based fighting games to ever hit an arcade. It was preceded by its not so memorable predecessor and SNK’s Samurai Shodown and The Last Blade. Definitely, an innovative sub-genre

The first Soul Calibur game! Well, it is technically not the first since Soul Edge was the first one but this is the first to actually be called Soul Calibur, so it kind of counts. Releasing first for arcade in 1998, it was first ported to the Dreamcast in 1999 (you might remember my recent list about the 10 best DC games) and many years later to the Xbox 360.

Unlike VF2, there is a (basic) plot to this game: players are chasing a legendary weapon called the soul Edge, that is currently in possession of a very bad dude.

This title did a lot for the fighting game genre, even though it does have emphasis on weapons, it plays like a fighting game and is not a brawler. So I can see how you might get a little confused with it, despite it using different fighting moves along with blocking, counter-attacks and more.

In any case, Soul Calibur is as great as they come, and I would recommend giving it a try if you never played it back in the day.

3. Mortal Kombat II (developed and published by Midway 1993)

Mortal Kombat 2 arcade version

If you have ever wondered why the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was created, then the Mortal Kombat series is the answer. Graphic and bloody violence galore caused quite a stir back in the day…

Is it possible to make a list like this without Mortal Kombat? Definitely not, considering the effect that the series has had on the fighting game genre throughout its existence. This title was the one that introduced Fatalities into the series, as well as non-lethal finishing moves too.

Matches are played in rounds with the first player to win two being decided as the victor of the game. If you remember, the series has always been surrounded by controversies and concerned parents which did not get any better with this game thanks to the addition of Fatalities.

The plot here continued from the first game with another tournament, where the aim is to challenge Shao Kahn, the evil emperor. Mortal Kombat has a long legacy and this game in particular has seen various ports to consoles, stretching to the recent PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC versions. If you are a fighting game fan, it is hard to not like Mortal Kombat, and the second installment was incredible on arcade machines.

2. Tekken 3 (developed and published by Namco 1997)

Tekken 3 one of the best arcade fighting games ever

If you read my PlayStation retro story, you might remember how noisy my friends and me were, when playing Tekken 3… The commotion caused my friend Luke’s neighbor to call the police, lol

It might not be my number 1, but Tekken 3 is a fantastic game. This is the one that added some of the most iconic characters in the series such as Eddy Gordo and Hwoarang, who are still fan favorites in the modern games as well. If you picked up a PlayStation Classic, then you would have also seen that this game was ported to a lot over the years and that it is seen as a classic title for the original PlayStation.

Tekken 3 did so much for the series with the new characters, emphasis on sidestepping into or out of the background to dodge attacks, new ways to escape a tackle and stun, adding combo throws and so much more. Though, the arcade versions does not have the Tekken Force mini-game. It was exclusive to the console version.

This honestly is one of the best titles of all time, one of the best fighting games to ever exist and one of the best franchises in gaming. Last but not least, it is also the most recurring game on my blog, lol… It has been a proud entry on at least 4 lists, so far.

Honorable Mention:

WWF Wrestlefest (developed and published by Technōs Japan 1991)

WWF Wrestlefest, a 90s arcade video game

This game was an absolute looker back then, and quite frankly, the graphics still look good today!

As much as I loved wrestling growing up and enjoyed the games, WWF Wrestlefest is not a match for the titles on this list. There is no way I could comfortably add it, since it just is not as good as the others.

Make no mistake, it is the best arcade wrestling game ever made and a huge improvement over its predecessor, WWF Superstars. Further, the Royal Rumble mode was just WOW for wrestling fans like me, but again, the others arcade fighters are simply in a league of their own.
It does fit into this spot, though!

Let’s put it this way: had it been released two years before, it would have topped the 80s list hands down.

Okay, number one is next, now: ready to hail the king?

Street Fighter II (developed and published by Capcom 1991)

Street Fighter II arcade version

Ken performing his special attack, namedly the “Hadoken”. He and Ryu have been my favorite SF2 character forever…

Let us face it, if Street Fighter was not already on the list, then it was going to be my number 1 top game. Released in 1991 for arcade, this title has done so much for fighting games at the arcade and at home. This is the one that adds multiple playable characters for you to select from, who all have a unique fighting style and special moves.

Did you know that the combo system was an accident? The developers did not intend for it to happen, but players found out that some moves flowed together, thus the combo system was born and used as a standard feature in fighting games. Pretty amazing stuff!

Like with Tekken, this one runs with a first player to win two rounds is the winner, alongside a timer, so that the person with the most health left wins or if players have equal health, then it is a draw. There was so much awesome stuff in this game it is hard to mention it all.

With bonus stages, a world map with stadiums, new characters, great controls, an amazing versus mode and more, it is easy to see why Street Fighter II is a larger-than-life game, still being played by hundreds of thousands of fans around the world. It definitely deserves this spot!

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Alright, retro folks, we have reached the end of today’s list. Please tell me, what are your favorite memories from arcade fighting games in the 90s? Personally, I loved getting those hard fought wins in Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games. It was always super satisfying, and once those games came into homes, it was awesome to have them so close to hand as well.

Oh, and do you agree with my list, or is there anything you think I missed? Please let me know, I would love to read about it in the comments! Till next!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

16 thoughts on “90s arcade fighting games – my top 5

  1. Tracy

    Another list of the best concerning the retro gaming of the arcade fighting games of the 90s. I guess this was the beginning of the changes to more advancement in graphics. I played the mortal kombat 2 a lot alongside my brother then. Oh! I love playing as lui kang. I just loved him so much then. Though I don’t fancy arcade game but mortal kombat was a game that I had special connection with. Maybe because I loved the movie too

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello tracy and thanks for coming back to my blog.
      That is correct, we could say the 90s were the beginning of it all 🙂
      I know a few people who got to play the game because of the movie and ended up being gamers lol.
      In any case, the Mortal Kombat franchise definitely helped fighting games achieve mainstream status, thus starting a legacy will last for generations.
      Thanks again for your nice comment, stay tuned for more retro lists!

  2. Joe

    Oh my.. All of them my favorite fighting games back then. It really brought back a lot of fond memories to me!

    I was a young kid back then so I didn’t know much about combos or special moves, but I had great fun smashing the buttons to take out my opponents.

    I really have the urge to get my hands on them and play them again now!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Joe and welcome to my blog!
      Bringing back lovely memories is one of my website goals, so comments like yours really make my day.
      Have you already decided what fighter you are going to play again?
      I hope you will come back again and tell me how it goes. 🙂

  3. Henderson

    This was a time when games took a good turn. Graphics were increased and the games had a better feel. I played mortal kombat, street fighter and tekken too. Most of these combat games though they didn’t have stories were awesome. Was still younger then though. This is really nostalgic. I keep remembering my favourite combat characters. Great!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Absolutely Henderson, the 90s were the turning point. That is when we realized the gaming revolution had just started and the sky was the limit. Yeah, nostalgic but awesome memories all around. 🙂
      Thanks again for your comment, it is great to have you as a regular here!

  4. Anthony Hu

    Thank you for your post. I don’t play games anymore, since I am close to 60 years old. 

    After reading your article, Street Fighter game scenery is vivid in my mind. The Street Fighter is my favorite game when I was young. I was truly enjoyed the fighting against monsters in a unique styles and special moves. 

    Maybe I should restart my game, which will enhance my mental activities. Do you have free version? I would like to try it before committing the paid game.

    It is kind of you sharing the entertaining stuff with us.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Anthony and welcome to my retro blog, I am glad I could bring back memories for you.
      As for your question, no sorry, I do not have any free versions… There are no Street Fighter 2 free versions on the market, that I am aware of.
      Recently I bought Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection for my PlayStation 4 and previously I had purchased a mini console featuring 1300 games (including Street Fighter) on * Ali Express.
      I am glad you find my content entertaining, sorry, hope you stay tuned for more! 🙂

  5. Vasilij

    Unfortunately arcade rooms were not (still aren’t) that popular in our country, but i remeber playing Mortal Kombat on my computer very well. Most of the time I played with my brother, both of us crammed behind the same keyboard … good times. 🙂

    My favorite character was the Scorpion, while my brother playe as Sub-Zero – character that was at least slightly overpowered with his freeze ability.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Vasilij and welcome to my website, it is always a pleasure for me to bring back fun memories. 🙂
      From a popularity standpoint, I believe that Mortal Kombat was on the same level as Tekken3 and Street Fighter 2, maybe even more popular than Street Fighter on home consoles. Every fighting game fan that I know has a history of playing MK2 together with their friend or family members (mainly siblings, as normally parents did not want their kids to even mention this game, lol).
      Thanks again for your comment, I hope you become a regular on my retro gaming blog!

  6. Carol5162

    The Virtua fighters was very popular back in the day. We would play this at a cyber for I think $0.2 per game. How we loved to camped at the shop waiting for our turn anxiously. I actually do not remember about the plot. I am disapointed to learn that there was none! But I must admit the fighting skills and the sounds were mad!

    I do not remember the Soul Calibur, though I might have heard of it. At least this one had a plot! I know WWF Wrestefest was my brother’s favorite. He would literally come and practice the fights on me. I also got to watch a little of this.

    Thank you for this great flashbacks. Very nostalgic!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Carol and thanks for taking time to comment on my post.
      I think it is safe to say that a game like Virtua Fighters did not need a plot… The fighting environment was very atmospheric, and the engaging tunes made you want to say “one more game” over and over.
      At my local arcade, fighting game tournaments were “the dish of the day “in the early 90s and Virtua Fighter was always part of the menu. 😉
      Thanks again for your nice words, till next retro post!

  7. grea8J

    I am glad that you made mention of the WWF wrestlefest, the royal rumble mode. I remember this so well back in the elementary school. It is the way it simulates the wrestling ring and the elimination of wrestlers out of the ring. But the most popular back then was the mortal kombat. Although mum wouldn’t get it  for us at hone, we somehow always find our way to the game house to play it.. Thanks. Reading your post has been fun.

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello grea8j and welcome to my website, I am glad that you enjoyed my post. 🙂
      You are right, the Royal Rumble mode was impressive. Despite it only having two set ways to throw wrestlers over the top rope and inexcusable flaws (you CANNOT eliminate an opponent via pin in the real RR), It was addictive and somehow created suspension of disbelief for the 14-year-old version of myself.
      Mortal Kombat was banned in many families lol, but more or less, we all managed to sneak to the arcade to play it… Not sure why, we just could not resist. 🙂
      Thanks again for taking time to read and comment, hope you become a regular here!

  8. Alfonso

    Spot on mate ! Street fighter 2 ! I manage to finish the game on the arcade with quite a few characters ! I loved chun-li and Guille !
    After the 2 they release so many more street fighters but the 2 was the best for me alpha!

    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Alfonso, once again thanks for your nice comment, glad you appreciated my list.
      I agree, SF2 will always be the best, not even a question. Over the years, I have tried to master Ryu, and I recently published a longplay video on my YouTube channel. Have you seen it?
      Thanks for all of your nice comments.


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