The 1990s were around the time that arcades started to fizzle out. But as they were on the decline, a new genre of arcade machine was just getting started.
If you played arcade games in the 1990s then you may have played at least one arcade fighter. Many different franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat became popular in the 1990s.
While there were a few duds made, it didn’t take long for developers to figure out the formula for what made a good fighter, and most that were released were actually pretty fun. So we are going to take that list of the good and break down the
10 Best Arcade Fighting Games Of The 90s
Fatal Fury 2 (1992)
The Fatal Fury franchise started off exclusively on the Neo Geo. Of the video games in this franchise, the first sequel called Fatal Fury 2 is often looked at as the best. It had the 3 characters from the original game and added five more for a total roster of 8.
Every character was defined by their unique style of fighting. While the series started and ended in the 90s, developer SNK would eventually port it to several home consoles. It is so popular and well-loved that Terry even made an appearance in Super Smash Bros.
The King Of Fighters ’98 (1998)
Another SNK franchise that has seen great popularity outside of the United States is King Of Fighters. Even if you didn’t play it then, you may have heard of this series as it does have an ever-growing community.
KOF 98 took the best aspects of every previous game in the franchise and put them together into one title. This game featured a roster of 39 which is many more than any game of was offering at the time.
The graphics were on par with the other KOF titles that came before it. Also, there was nothing to complain about when it came to the gameplay. If you have any interest in King Of Fighters, KOF 98 is a good place to go back and start.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors (1994)
Every person has their own preference when it comes to fighting games. Nobody will claim Darkstalkers portrays a realistic fighting game. It looks like a cartoon not only in terms of graphics but in the moves and the characters that pull them off.
Unlike KOF or Fatal Fury where you fight other normal humans, Darkstalkers is a battle of monsters.
Because it is developed by Capcom, it has the same classic feel and tight controls as any game in the Street Fighter series. Darkstalkers may be obscure to many people but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be checked out if you have the opportunity.
I can not wait for a modern Darkstalkers.
Killer Instinct (1994)
Developed by Rare and published by Midway, Killer Instinct had all the ingredients to be a powerhouse fighting franchise. Sadly it was Nintendo that dropped the ball.
If you look at Killer Instinct objectively, then you may realize it’s just as violent as Mortal Kombat. Besides the roster of characters being diverse, the announcer made every fight seem important.
The graphics and sound in this game were impressive at the time. The arcade version of the game was one of the best new machines to hit the streets. But that changed when it came home.
Originally meant to be an N64 exclusive, the game waddled its way onto the SNES instead.
KI2 made it to the arcade a short time later and was licensed by Nintendo. When they ported it home, they dropped the ball once again by renaming it Killer Instinct Gold,
These home ports were not bad, but things like promising to release on one system then moving to another, and changing the name of the outstanding sequel, all helped to slow its momentum. It quickly became overshadowed by other big fighting games at the time.
I really think if Killer Instinct had reached other consoles like the PS1 or Sega Dreamcast, it would have been much more successful and we may have seen more sequels.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes (1998)
When two or more franchises cross over into one game, it always sounds like a good idea on paper. After the success of their previous 2 crossovers, Marvel vs Capcom is one that could not fail.
Being mage by Capcom, it had all the tight control you would come to expect from a Street Fighter game except cranked up to 10. MvC allowed you to form a team of players with an unpredictable cast of characters based on the Marvel Universe and the Capcom library
The game was the ultimate attraction for any arcade. Loud, brightly colored, fast-paced action, appealing to hardcore Street Fighter fans and comic books fans alike.
If there was one video game in the arcade that could target just about everyone who walked in the door Marvel vs. Capcom is it.
While this is the first game in the Soul Calibur franchise, It was actually a sequel to Soul Edge (an equally good game). SoulCalibur came out in arcades and it was amazing. It then got a huge following when it arrived on the Dreamcast where it sold one million copies in about four months.
This game had the best graphics of any arcade fighting game at the time and they still hold up today.
The controls were easy to pick up and play with a storyline not normally seen in other fighting games. Improving on the game that came before it made SoulCalibur one of the best fighting games ever.
Every character that was featured in Soul Edge returned to SoulCalibur, with the addition of several more that are now fan favorites. Few games out there match SoulCalibur’s focus on weapons where each character’s weapon is as important as their fighting style.
Tekken 3 (1997)
This is one of my favorite Tekken games. Considered by many to be the best in the franchise, Tekken 3 looked better than its predecessors and most other games it shared the arcade with.
Adding 15 new characters to the roster was a huge leap for the series and it made this release the introductory game for most staples of the series.
With reduced jump height and better side-stepping, there was a stronger emphasis on movement and control. You weren’t going to successfully pull off combos by mashing buttons. You had to be proficient to pull off and land combos.
Virtua Fighter 2 (1994)
The second outing in Sega’s franchise, Virtua Fighter 2 focused on fast, realistic, 3D action. Not only did Virtua Fighter 2 make the leap from 30 to 60fps, but it also included 3d texture mapping which gave it a huge visual enhancement over its predecessor.
Sadly VF2 only added 2 new names to the roster, luckily they ended up being fan favorites, and since all the other characters received a major overhaul in both move sets and visuals, fans of the series didn’t seem to mind.
Virtua Fighter 2 was loved by all. Rarely scoring lower than a 9/10 on any review and noted as one of the best arcade games of all times on many lists.
Considering the game’s success and high praise it’s a shame the franchise has lost popularity. Every few years they bang out a new one that continues to impress even with the fading fan base.
Mortal Kombat II (1993)
When you talk about popular fighting franchises, the conversation always ends up about Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. When the first MK came out they relied on realistic graphics and shock value. The controls were ok but really just enough to get by.
While the changes to gameplay in MK2 were only slight, they were exactly what players needed. Add to that all the other enhancements across the board and you have what many people consider the best title in the franchise.
With the violent action and the life-like graphics, there was no way this game would be ignored by gamers who loved fighting games.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo (1994)
Since the release of Street Fighter II, it has had so many upgrades. If you were a player from day one you will agree that “Champion Edition” propelled SF2 forward and it does deserve an honorable mention.
As good as SFII was in all its early iterations, Super Turbo took the game and made it better. It is the definitive version of Street Fighter II
With the introduction of super combos, air combos, adjustable speed, Akuma, all the fighters from the original games, and the previous “New Challengers” release, ST has it all.
While many fighting games have come and gone, this is one that people still love playing against their friends and can still be found being played at major tournaments.
These are the top 10 arcade fighting games that were released during the ’90s. While the arcade is the desired gaming platform to beat these classics, I am happy to say all these titles eventually made it to one home console or another. That means it’s easy for you to check out any you might have missed, or pick up an old favorite.