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.
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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.
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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?


1.
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.

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

  1. 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!

    Reply
    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.

      Reply

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