The 2017 Fighting Game of the Year
Welcome to the fighting game renaissance! This year was packed to the brim with high profile fighting game releases, too many to mention here. Each AAA fighting game developer brought a new title to market this year, alongside tons of new blood from unexpected corners of the gaming world. For a genre that sometimes fails to produce enough titles to make a yearly awards list, it’s fantastic to see so much renewed interest in the genre of fireballs, uppercuts, and hurricane kicks.
Here are the best of the best.
Before we get to our nominees, let’s talk about the many games that didn’t quite make the cut. We saw not one, but two takes on over-the-shoulder fighting with For Honor and Absolver. We saw the indie scene explode with Nidhogg 2, which evolved on the original with a new art-style, new weapons, and one of the best chiptune soundtracks of the year. Not one, but two Smash-Alikes were released in Brawlhalla and Brawlout. We even had our fair share of giant robot fighting with the release of Gundam Versus.
Then there was a feast of DLC content to consume. Although Arc System Works is saving their biggest releases, Dragonball Fighter Z and Blazblue Cross Tag Battle for next year, they still had something to release with their Guilty Gear XRD Rev2 expansion. Street Fighter V had a fantastic second season of DLC characters to try out, many of which made a splash on the competitive scene. Many of the games on this list had their first DLC characters drop mere weeks after their official release.
It has never been a better time to be a fighting gamer. Even if you don’t agree with our picks for best of the year, 2017 had something for every fighting game fan to love, and for that we should all be grateful.
Now, on to the nominees!
Runner Up: Arms
With the release of the Switch, Nintendo has been dabbling in practically every video game genre. Granted, they already have a fighting game hit in Super Smash Bros. but it was always known for breaking the fighting game mold with its percentage-based health and platforming combat. Arms is a more traditional fighter... if you can call a tournament of stretchy limbed fighters equipping elemental boxing gloves traditional. It has health-bars OK!?
Arms is undoubtedly fun. It’s one of the only fighting games that works well with motion controls. Its cast of characters are lovable, and oozing with Nintendo charm. The game's unique fighting system focuses on dodging and curving punches instead of the frame-data footsie centric gameplay of 2D and 3D fighters. It’s a game that’s easy to understand and a blast to play.
But, for all the praise we can give Arms, at the end of the day it feels like a party game. There’s nothing particularly wrong with party games, but when you think of “best fighting game of the year” you think of something you will eventually see on the main stage of EVO, and you won’t find Arms there any time soon. It’s a perfectly fun game, but it’s not perfectly competitive enough for a fighting game veteran. Still, if you want a nice, casual, family-friendly fighting experience, then Arms is the game for you.
Runner Up: Tekken 7
The fighting game community was waiting on Tekken 7 for a long time. While it only launched on consoles this year, it had been a staple of Japanese arcades since March of 2015, and it was already a major e-sport title before most of America got to play it. So it’s not a huge surprise we responded positively when we finally saw its launch on consoles and PCs.
Tekken 7 has so much going for it. It has two years of arcade patches, making it one of the most balanced and fair titles on the market. Its 3D fighting is tight, responsive, and enjoyable. Its characters are ludicrous and we wouldn’t have them any other way. Who hasn’t felt the salt when losing to Lucky Chloe?
While it’s technically going on three years old, Bandai Namco has continued to throw their full support behind this title. They released new modes like Tekken Bowl, and have welcomed tons of guest characters, like The King of Fighters’ Geese Howard and Final Fantasy XV’s Noctis to the roster. They are planning to release even more guest characters in the future.
So why isn’t the winner this year? Well, for one, its three years old. Something about that just seemed to disqualify it. Secondly, it has perhaps one of the worst story modes we have ever seen in a fighting game, edging on the border of “so bad its good.” It just doesn’t give you much other than the admittedly phenomenal core fighting system, and that system has been available to play since 2015. That being said, giving you little outside of the core gameplay is something that was very common in fighting games this year.
Runner Up: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite
Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is the best fighting game I have played in 2017, but that doesn’t make it the best fighting game release of the year.
Let me explain.
MVCI has phenomenal gameplay, perhaps the best the VS. series has seen so far. Its active tag system is incredibly deep. It allows dedicated players to constantly come up with new gimmicks and strategies that keep high-level gameplay feeling fresh. Its new take on hit-stun deterioration combined with its counter switch maneuver has completely removed the “touch-of-death” problem from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Its roster (despite the lack of X-Men and Fantastic Four characters) is full of incredibly fun and interesting characters iconic to both the Capcom and Marvel universes. Its roster keeps getting better with even more fun and unique characters released as DLC. It’s a game that is super easy to learn but incredibly deep. Every single moment you spend playing Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite in VS. mode is an absolute joy.
So why didn’t it win our award? Because there is nothing good we can otherwise say about it. It’s one of the uglier games of year. Its music is bland and uninspired. Its matchmaking is disappointing. It’s hard to find a match on any platform now that launch hype has died down. Its story mode was bad. Its tutorial mode was lackluster. Its single-player content could be blown through in two hours, and it’s only unlockable rewards were character re-colors which you could get from playing online anyway.
It’s a testament to how amazing MVCI’s gameplay is that it even made this list. The gameplay carries the whole game and it carries it far. It is truly a competitor for best fighting game of the year based on that alone. It’s just that the rest of the game is such a mess it’s impossible to call it the “best” of anything. Still, if you have a dedicated fighting game group or if you play fighting games solely for the competition, MVCI might be the fighting game for you.
Winner: Injustice 2
In the fighting game community, we have a habit of saying the phrase “good for a fighting game” a lot. The story is good for a fighting game. The graphics are good for a fighting game. The single-player is good for a fighting game.
Injustice 2 wins our fighting game of the year award because it takes that phrase and throws it out the window. Injustice 2 isn’t just good for a fighting game, it’s flat out good.
Its story is one of the better narratives coming out of video games this year. In fact, it’s a better DC Comics narrative than anything the DC Cinematic Universe has thrown our way. It’s a true love-letter to fans of the DC Animated Universe, right down to Kevin Conroy’s smooth voice coming out of Batman’s lips.
The game's graphics are stunning. It walks the line between gritty realism and comic-book extremism wonderfully. The fast and jerky animations of Netherrealm’s battle system fit characters that can move at light speed or punch a hole in the side of a planet. The stunning presentation is only accentuated by the ludicrous amount of costumes and gear pieces that can be equipped.
The voice acting is amazing. The voice actors of the DC Animated Universe come back and they do a great job (with the sad exemption Mark Hamill but he is too busy with Star Wars.) The characters just sound “right” in Injustice 2. They sound like you remember them.
The single-player content is immense. Outside of the story mode (which deserves of an award all its own) its multiverse challenges always gave you something new to do if you can’t find a match online. Unlike other fighting games whose content grows thinner as players stop playing, Injustice 2 has only received MORE content over time.
The game also has a fantastic tutorial, a move-list that incorporates frame data into its move descriptions, an extensive training mode, solid netcode, and a roster filled with some of the greatest DC characters and guest characters in existence. We are going to be able to play as the Ninja Turtles for pizza’s sake! It’s by far the best roster of any fighting game on the market.
Which leaves only one question: does Injustice 2 play better than Tekken 7 or MVCI? My answer to that is: no. From a sheer gameplay perspective you will have more fun in an MVCI or Tekken 7 match than you will in an Injustice 2 match, but not much more fun. Injustice 2 is still a very solid fighting game experience that can be played for hours on end and whatever it lacks in gameplay it makes up for in polish, feature set, presentation, content, and more. You may play more multiplayer matches of MVCI but you’ll spend more time overall with Injustice 2.
Congrats to Injustice 2, GameCrate’s 2017 Fighting Game of the Year!