Throughout the annals of the extensive history of video gaming, aside from all the childish learn-and-play games, through the dense fog of first-person shooters and role-playing titles, one question remains that, appropriately, demands one winner, one last choice standing: What is the best 2D fighting game every created?
Ever since the days that Atari gave us a controller with a joystick and single button, popular video games have included titles that featured the player controlling a character that, in a series of one-on-one battles, endured a tournament in which he or she had to defeat the other fights. Even the Nintendo Entertainment System sported a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fighting game late in its development, along with mini-games within larger presentations like World Games.
But it was not until the 16-bit glory of Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo that the fighting game genre achieved true prominence with the emergence of games like Mortal Kombat, with its emphasis on grittiness and gore, and other unique entries like Killer Instinct, Clay Fighter, and Eternal Warriors.
However, there was one early entrant in the mix that always seemed to stand above the others, one that took many quarters at the arcades and only grew more successful throughout its console iterations, becoming so popular that it spawned multiple movies and even catchphrases that are widely known. That game was, is, and will always be Street Fighter.
The original game created by Capcom was simple enough, with Ryu, Ken, Blanka,Guile, and others fighting in a tournament with basic and special moves. Once the sequel arrived, and popular characters like M. Bison, Cammy, and Chun Li continued to garner followings, Street Fighter truly took off. Eventually, it crossed platforms, and would even cross other mythos as Street Fighter characters would fight characters from the Marvel Comics canon and other special events. The credibility is in the popularity, and few franchises can match the simple name power of Street Fighter.
Street Fighter is perhaps most interesting because at first it seems very intuitive, especially so in the early games, and any one could pick it up and have a shot. There were no complicated combo controls, no inordinately difficult moves, no odd specialty timings or background dynamics, just the fighters and their capabilities. This seeming simplicity, though, actually led to better competitive complexity, and Street Fighter became the most popular fighting game for true tournament gamers because of the steep learning curve between those who only saw a basic game and those who had mastered the basics and could shape those foundational pieces into forging the most efficient winning vehicle possible, revealing the subtle intricacies that made the competitions a success.
The title of “best two-dimensional fighting game ever” is, in itself, somewhat difficult to precisely grasp because of how “two-dimensional” can be construed. After all, the Super Smash Bros series is undoubtedly high-quality and popular, and even plays back and forth in one plane across the screen, but is it truly two-dimensional? Street Fighter and most of its sequels can confidently be labeled two-dimensional, down to the animated sprites, not polygons, that made up the characters.
Other contenders may step into the ring, but only one cartridge or disk emerges as the best 2D fighting game ever created: Street Fighter.