Fighting games are somewhat of a niche genre when you start looking at games beyond major releases like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken, Super Smash Bros., and maybe one or two other big names. But there are so many others to discover and play, including all three entries in this list. Here are the best fighting games of 2021.
As voted on by our editors and staff, these are the top three releases in the genre from last year. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below and share some of your own favorites, too.
Best Fighting Games of 2021
Second Runner-Up: Melty Blood: Type Lumina
Deputy Guides Editor Ethan Anderson: Melty Blood: Type Lumina is about as niche as it gets when it comes to this genre. It’s a 2D fighting game that uses characters from the Tsukihime visual novel to make up its roster. No one would blame you if you had never heard of these characters, or either franchise, but the fact remains that Melty Blood deserves a spot on this list.
Developers Type-Moon and French Bread put some real effort into making sure that this game is accessible for newcomers but still deep enough to require serious skill when pulling off combos, defending, and utilizing the game’s many gameplay systems.
That does mean that there are auto-combos that less experienced players — or even seasoned players — can use when trying to string together an offense in multiple scenarios. Melty Blood can make you feel like you know what you’re doing even if you really don’t, and I appreciate that, especially when matched against players of a similar skill level online.
Though, if you really want to grasp its systems, the tutorial mode is also great at teaching all the basics you’ll need to actually improve. Don’t let the flashy visuals and insane-looking combos deter you from giving this one a shot. It’s a relatively beginner-friendly game that’ll have you pulling off flashy moves as you learn.
Best Fighting Games of 2021
First Runner-Up: Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
Staff Writer Omar Banat: Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl was one of the most unexpected titles to come out last year. If someone back in 2019 told me that in 2021 we would be in the middle of a global pandemic and that the makers of Slap City (Ludosity) were going to make an awesome fighting game featuring Nickelodeon properties, then I would tell you to stop lying to me about video games but the pandemic would make sense.
In terms of platform fighting games, there’s arguably only one other title in the genre that has a roster with as many recognizable characters. SpongeBob, Garfield, Korra, and Reptar just scratch the surface when it comes to this star-studded roster. Of course, there are deeper cuts like Powdered Toast Man, Oblina, and Nigel Thornberry as well.
But it would be unfair to assert that this game is simply popular because of its highly recognizable roster. It also has a unique way of parsing out movesets. Platform fighters typically have fairly basic controls which lend to their accessibility. Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl is able to maintain the pick-up and play aspect while changing up the formula with moves like mid-air grabs and mid-air strong attacks. Plus there’s even advanced tech like wavedashing and wavelanding for those who really want to get deep into the game.
Maybe it’s not a “smash killer”, but Nickelodeon All-Stars is one of the best fighting games to be launched last year. Its roster is the first thing that draws you in and then its ease of entry helps to keep players around. And if you want to stick around for even longer, then there’s plenty of advanced tech to learn, practice, and perfect.
Best Fighting Game of 2021
Winner: Guilty Gear Strive
Deputy Guides Editor Ethan Anderson: Guilty Gear is also somewhat of a niche franchise for someone first stepping into the fighting game community, but Dragon Ball FighterZ has rocketed ArcSys’ popularity to new heights. If you love that game and are looking for another one in that style, but with 1v1 fights instead of 3v3, this is easily your best option.
It can’t be understated how good Guilty Gear Strive looks, sounds, and feels. The signature Arc System Works art direction coupled with a killer soundtrack that you’ll be looking up on streaming platforms, and easy to pick up but tough to master gameplay mechanics make this the very best fighting game of 2021, hands down.
It’s true that terminology like Dust, Burst, and Roman Cancel can feel a bit overwhelming at first. ArcSys anticipated this. There’s an extremely helpful tutorial mode with helpful walkthroughs for the basics all the way up to tactics like baiting out your opponent’s moves.
Mastering Guilty Gear’s more complicated techniques through practice is one of the most rewarding feelings in fighting games, especially when facing off against players online with the solid net code while climbing the ranked tower.
Win or lose, Strive is a guaranteed good time that actively guides and encourages players to develop their skills, and somehow look amazing while doing it. For all of the reasons mentioned, and many more, this is the best fighting game experience to come out of 2021.
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