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The Best Fighting Games Of 2021

Fighting games got a little extra love in 2021, with long-neglected franchises returning to the spotlight. Five fighting games emerged as the nominees at the 2021 The Game Awards, all of which had their own strengths that greatly differed from each other. It was less of a battle between fan favorites like "Street Fighter" and "Mortal Kombat," and more of one that spotlighted five fighting games that might've had a tough time making the list otherwise. "Guilty Gear Strive," arguably the most critically acclaimed of the bunch, earned the award for fighting game of the year. Still, its competitors each had their own merits that led them to the 2021 nominations list. 


The Game Awards also saw several series announce new games, even if they didn't release a title in time for this year. "King of Fighters 15" is coming in 2022, and Warner Bros. announced its own "Smash Bros." clone called "MultiVersus." However, it's also important to remember all the excellent fighting games that came out in 2021 before jumping straight into the future of the genre.

These are all the nominees for fighting game of the year, where players can duke it out using their best combos and tactical timing.

Guilty Gear Strive

"Guilty Gear Strive" successfully appeals to both newcomers and veterans as the latest iteration of the "Guilty Gear" series. It builds on the story from "Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR-" while also working to introduce the series to beginners with simple, step-by-step tutorials. Critics sang praises for its tight cast of characters, flashy, eye-catching combat, and rock and roll soundtrack. "Strive" also incorporates an extensive lore encyclopedia and a lengthy animated story mode for those looking to learn about the series' history.


Fighting game community members from all sides of the scene — like "Street Fighter," "Mortal Kombat," and even "Dragon Ball FighterZ" players — raved about how the game looked from the announcement of its beta to its release. Since then, Arc System Works confirmed that the game sold over 500,000 copies (via Push Square). It has integrated into most major FGC tournaments like EVO, Defend the North, and Combo Breaker due to the high demand for competition. Also, it's regularly trending online thanks to its passionate fanbase.  

  • Release Date: June 9, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
  • Genre: Fighting Game
  • Game Modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer 
  • Metacritic Score: 84 (PC), 84 (PS4), 87 (PS5)

Melty Blood: Type Lumina

"Melty Blood" lore extends beyond its reputation as an anime fighter. Its characters come from Type Moon visual novel series "Tsukihime," which reflects in "Melty Blood" with references to its inspiration. However, the franchise has its own cult following because it's not just a spinoff — it's actually an in-depth, unique fighting game experience. Inverse even called "Melty Blood: Type Lumina" 2021's best new fighting game for several reasons, including its aerial combat options, ability to chain normals in any order, and defend with counters in a fashion that doesn't quite match other fighting games' style. 


Type Moon regularly collaborates on "Melty Blood" games with French Bread, who also works with Arc System Works on the anime fighting franchise "Under Night In-Birth." After Arc System Works' success with "Guilty Gear," "Melty Blood" fans hoped that the series' latest game would also take the FGC by storm. "Melty Blood: Type Lumina" shows off polished sprites (as is tradition), stylistic combat with its own series-defining mechanics, and even rollback netcode. Unfortunately, the game didn't seem to have enough mainstream appeal to pull in as much of a crowd. It doesn't even have a Metacritic score, despite the loud minority who vouches for its excellence. 

  • Release Date: September 30, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
  • Genre: Anime Fighter, Fighting Game
  • Game Modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score: N/A

Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl

"Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl" takes inspiration from "Super Smash Bros." as a platform fighter full of beloved childhood favorites. This Nickelodeon free-for-all throws characters from series like "Spongebob Squarepants," "Invader Zim," and "Wild Thornberry" into one memetastic fighting game. FGC members locked onto the mention of rollback netcode and the fact that Ludosity, the makers of "Slap City," were behind the title.


"Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl" stuck the landing as a carefully crafted fighting game, especially with its inventive stages and movesets. However, many critics agreed that the game didn't have as much soul as its "Smash Bros." inspiration and fell flat with bringing to life the characters that made it such a big deal in the first place. It's set to receive DLC characters later down the road, though it's unclear if it'll ever get the clearance to use original voice acting or revamp its sound design.

  • Release Date: July 13, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch
  • Genre: Platform Fighter, Fighting Game
  • Game Modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score: 66 (PC), 65 (PS5), 71 (Series X), 67 (Switch)

Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles

"Demon Slayer: The Hinokami Chronicles" bases its content on the popular "Demon Slayer" anime, and even recreates some of the scenes from the show in the 3D art style used for the game. Sega especially advertised the Adventure Mode, which tells the story of the anime in another format and allows players to fight story villains to practice gameplay mechanics. However, those who already watched the show or don't want to go through the story can just jump into the multiplayer mode.


"Hinokami Chronicles" isn't a traditional fighting game. The focus seems to be on the Adventure Mode first and the Versus Mode second. As an arena fighter, it enables characters to circle each other and move in more directions than they would be able to in a typical side-to-side fighting game. Developer CyberConnect2 already had experience with other anime-based arena fighters like the "Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm" series. Still, many reviewers — like Millenium – found the combat bland and repetitive because of the lacking attack options and mechanics. 

  • Release Date: October 15, 2021
  • Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
  • Genre: Arena Fighter, Fighting Game
  • Game Modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score: 70 (PS4), 70 (PS5), 82(Series X)

Virtua Fighter 5: Ultimate Showdown

"Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown" isn't really a new game — it's a remaster based on the original "Virtua Fighter 5" and more recent "Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown." Nonetheless, it's a faithful HD remaster that enhances the 3D graphics and combat to meet modern expectations. Its "Street Fighter" inspiration shines with a similar premise, where the characters must master their fighting styles to enter the "Fifth World Fighting Tournament" and become the legendary Virtua Fighter. 


"Virtua Fighter 5" stands as a fighting game classic with its iconic three-button control scheme and a compact cast of fighters. However, it's tough to compare to "Tekken 7," "Guilty Gear Strive," and other competitors. Noisy Pixel praised its polished gameplay mechanics but pointed out that its older netcode could hold it back. After all, in the age of the internet, rollback is a must-have for online multiplayer. At the very least, PlayStation Now members can download "Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown" for free on PlayStation 4 if they want to give it a try.

  • Release Date: June 21, 2021
  • Available On: PlayStation 4
  • Genre: Fighting Game
  • Game Modes: Single-Player, Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score: 78 (PS4)