“Accessibility” and “fighting games” are two phrases that you don’t hear together very often. The genre has always been described as intimidating for newcomers and while there have been efforts to bridge the gap between veterans and beginners, you usually need to dedicate dozens if not hundreds of hours to understand mechanics, learn about execution and find a character you really like. So my question is simple: what are some of the best fighting games that I’d recommend to someone who’s new to the genre? Note that for each entry I recommend, I’ll dissuade you from playing a game that might seem similar, but is actually complex. Here are the games I came up with in no particular order.
Soulcalibur II (Arcade, GameCube, PS2, Xbox)
Soulcalibur II had single-player content that could keep newcomers playing for weeks and the flashy, fast-paced gameplay made fights look terrific, even if you weren’t sure what you were doing. Don’t get me wrong, there are multiple mechanics to learn and master, but Soulcalibur II is a three-dimensional fighting game that anyone can pick and just play without worrying too much about complex combos.
Version to get: Soucalibur II HD Online
What makes it accessible? Intuitive controls, several unlockables and fluid combat.
Stay away from: Soulcalibur V
Mortal Kombat (PS3, Xbox 360, Vita, PC)
Mortal Kombat is worth getting if only to play its one-of-a-kind story mode that manages to condense pages and pages of lore in a (mostly) cohesive mode that’s a blast to play, at the same time it teaches you about these beloved characters. Apart from the story, there are other reasons to keep playing, such as the unlockable content, challenges and violent fatalities.
Version to get: Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition
What makes it accessible? The fantastic story mode is well worth the price of admission.
Stay away from: Mortal Kombat 4
Street Fighter II (Arcade, SNES, Sega Genesis, PlayStation, PS2, Xbox and more)
If it wasn’t for Street Fighter II I wouldn’t be writing this list because there wouldn’t be a list to write. Street Fighter II is a seminal fighting game because it introduced millions of players to combos, cross-ups, special moves, a six-button configuration, competitive multiplayer, several playable characters and that fantastic Guile theme that you’ve heard on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iof5pRAIZmw. If you’re remotely interested in fighting games, Street Fighter II is the game to play.
Version to get: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
What makes it accessible? Combos that everyone knows, recognizable characters, fantastic local multiplayer.
Stay away from: Ultra Street Fighter IV
Persona 4 Arena (Arcade, PS3, Xbox 360)
A fighting game based on a Japanese role-playing game/dating simulator? Persona 4 Arena is a collaboration between Atlus and Arc System works and the result is a bonkers fighting game that’s a great point entry thanks to a variety of modes, an insane story mode and a crossover between Persona 3 and 4.
Best version to get: there’s only one version of Persona 4 Arena.
What makes it accessible? A well-balanced cast of characters and a unique story mode.
Stay away from: while also great, save Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for later.
Tekken 3 (Arcade, PlayStation)
The third installment in the Tekken series is still considered one of the best. Reviewers were calling it a classic before it was even out. The intuitive control scheme, variety of characters, great presentation for the time and large three-dimensional arenas made Tekken 3 one of the best in the series. Juggling opponents in the air and combining moves like suplexes, strikes and throws make the refined combat system daunting, but you’ll be pulling most of these moves in minutes.
Version to get: the original Tekken 3.
What makes it accessible? Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, Tekken 3 is fun to play.
Stay away from: newer entries in the Tekken series.
Killer Instinct (Xbox One, Windows 10)
Who would have known that a free-to-play Xbox One-exclusive (it’s also playable on Windows 10 now) reboot of Killer Instinct was going to take the fighting game community by storm? But it did and the game managed to draw the attention of a lot of people that are not necessarily avid fighting game players because it included a fantastic Dojo Mode that teaches you the fundamentals in a comprehensive manner. There’s a lot to learn, but if you stick with this mode, you can become a competent player and that’s something you can’t say about most fighting games.
Version to get: the latest one.
What makes it accessible? Two words: Dojo Mode.
Stay away from: the original Killer Instinct.
Divekick (PS3, PS4, Vita, Xbox One, PC)
Divekick was never about making a serious and competitive fighting game. The title was about making a casual fighting game that absolutely everyone could pick up and play. Divekick had two buttons (dive and kick,) so you needed to carefully analyze your opponent’s moves to find the best time to attacks. Soon you realize that the different characters attack at different speeds and each have their own attack angles which adds more strategy, but in the end, this is a terrific introduction to the genre. I’ll be the first one to admit that Divekick had its problems (feel free to read my review,) but its simplistic control scheme, colorful roster and the fact that the game teaches you about mechanics like timing, prediction and critical analysis make it easy to recommend to almost anyone.
Version to get: any version of Divekick would do.
What makes it accessible? There are just two buttons.
Stay away from: King of Fighters
Super Smash Bros. (Wii U, 3DS)
People are still arguing if Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game or not, but if you’re looking for a colorful title that has a low barrier of entry, it doesn’t get better than this one. And the fact that you can play as characters like Captain Falco, Mario, Pikachu, Fox McCloud and Samus definitely helps. Of course, the more you keep playing, the more layers are revealed and that’s what makes Super Smash Bros so easy to recommend.
Version to get: the Wii U version with as many DLC characters as possible.
What makes it accessible? Lovable cast of characters and simple pick up and play gameplay.
Stay away from: Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Street Fighter x Tekken (PS3, Xbox 360, Vita, PC, iOS)
Street Fighter x Tekken is entertaining regardless of your skill level, but if you want complexity, there’s a lot of that too. That said, this was never an incredibly popular fighting game with a fervent competitive scene around it. Still, this is a creative, fun and robust crossover that takes some of the best parts from Street Fighter and Tekken and blends those franchises together in some imaginative ways.
Version to get: Street Fighter x Tekken
What makes it accessible? Fun characters, absorbing gameplay.
Stay away from: Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3
Dead or Alive 5 (PS3, Xbox 360)
Dead or Alive 5 has a spectacular graphics, complex combat system, several characters and unlockables. Also, the practice mode is a deep as it gets so as long as you want to learn, there’s always something new to tackle. If you want to jump in to the Dead or Alive series, the fifth entry is your safest bet.
Version to get: Dead or Alive: Last Round
What makes it accessible? Over-the-top fights, memorable stages.
Stay away from: Guilty Gear