The 2019 Fighting Game of the Year
Fighting games release in cycles. Every so often you’ll get a year where every major fighting game producer releases a new AAA fighter to play, swamping consumers with choices. Then, they all take a break for a year, leaning on DLC and letting players dive deep into their mechanics. This was one of those years.
As a result, there isn’t a whole lot to nominate for Fighting game of the Year in 2019, since most major fighting game releases were DLC packs. Smash saw a ton of great DLC characters get released along with plenty of new modes and Mii fighter costumes. Dragon Ball FighterZ also had some DLC released yet it saw a drop in popularity after some DLC characters skewed the meta. BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle had one of its most anticipated DLC packs drop, upgrading it officially to version two and increasing the number of games represented in its crossover roster to six.
There were a few actual releases worth mentioning. Fantasy Strike, the fighting game for beginners, went out of early access and released on every major platform except the Xbox One. Jump Force and Kill la Kill The Game IF were two major anime franchise fighters, fun for casual players but will never see the stage at EVO. SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy made us all feel dirty as we dressed up the Queens of Fighters in skimpy outfits and had them blast sparkles at each other. We also saw plenty of re-releases such as a free version of Dissidia Final Fantasy NT, a collection of past Samurai Shodown games, a port of Lethal League Blaze for consoles, and a port of Skullgirls to the Switch.
But none of these releases had as much impact as the games we listed below, if only because they were some of the only full new fighting game releases to hit the shelves this year.
Dead or Alive 6 was a pretty highly anticipated game, but it just didn’t seem to hang around long. It was the only 3D fighter that wasn’t a fandom fighter like Jump Force to come out this year, and its gameplay was pretty solid. It had a decent roster, an extremely in-depth tutorial, and a long and involved story mode that was, let’s face it, kind of goofy. But we like goofy!
Unfortunately it didn’t make EVO on its release year, which almost always dooms a fighter to obscurity, or at least cult classic status. It also doesn’t help that all the DLC for this game put together would cost you a ton of money, even if it is just aesthetic. Unfortunately, DLC and micro transactions were a sore spot for fighting games this year, as we will see in our other runners up.
But hey, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experience the enjoyable cinematic style battles of DOA6. Heck, you can download a “Core Fighters” version for free, so it’s definitely worth checking out for just simple curiosity, especially if you have a group of friends who likes 3D fighters, or if you are an old fan of the franchise.
Mortal Kombat 11 scaled back the hyper combo oriented fighting of Mortal Kombat X to create a more grounded, spacing centric fighter. The result was divisive but was still fairly fun to play. It had a solid roster with some amazing DLC characters, a pretty good tutorial, some fantastic graphics, but more importantly it had the best single-player content of the year.
Seriously, you could spend hundreds of hours just going through MK11’s solo modes. The story was one of the best we have ever seen in fighting game history, with fantastic voice acting, great animation, and a plot we actually cared about. Playing solo towers would allow you to grind out new equipment to customize costumes and move-sets near endlessly. There was even a full 3D crypt to roam around full of classic Mortal Kombat references, which was a great nod to longtime fans of the franchise, especially ones who bothered to see the movie adaptations.
Yet, MK11’s great single-player content didn’t quite translate over into its multiplayer modes, which are unfortunately the pillars that fighting games stand on. It’s great wealth of customizable moves were reduced to only a few tournament standard variations in ranked mode, making each character feel a bit more boring and shallow when you were playing competitively. Of course, you could always play casually but the casual community seemed to drop off pretty quick online, making it difficult to find a match.
And then there were the microtransactions. MK11 set up a Fortnite-style store that only offered items for a limited amount of time, which felt pretty exploitative. Early calculations put a full set of equipment for all characters at hundreds or even thousands of dollars, or worse, hundreds and thousands of hours. Patches did make the grind a little better, but it soured a lot of the fighting game community on the game, keeping it out of our winner’s slot.
Speaking of being soured, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid did not make a good first impression at all. Despite the fact that this is a 3v3 team fighter with simple controls developed by some of the best Marvel vs. Capcom pros out there, it was simply released in an unfinished state. It didn’t even have all its voice acting done. In its release state, it wouldn’t even come close to making this list.
But after a ton of patches and DLC, this has become one of the most solid fighting games of 2019. It’s roster grew quite a bit, all the voice acting that should have been in at the start was put in, it got new modes including a fairly impressive story mode with throwbacks to the Power Rangers comic line, and, quite frankly, it just became more fun to play as more people started coming online and trying out new team competitions. To be completely honest, it’s probably the one fighting game on this list that I still play the most. It just goes to show you that first impressions aren’t everything. Its shoddy release might have kept it out of the winner’s slot, but this is definitely a game that is worth checking out.
Samurai Shodown is not a perfect fighting game. No game on our list this year is. However, it is certainly one of the most important games to come out this year. It filled a niche for slow, single-hit, less combo centric, high-damage fighters that we haven’t seen for a very long time. It brought many old-school fighting game vets out of the woodwork and into the pro scene again. It didn’t charge for its DLC upfront, which made the tournament scene very accessible.
Speaking of DLC, Samurai Shodown has some of the best post-launch support of any fighting game this year. Along with frequent balance patches, we received a new character every month, constantly refreshing interest in the title and keeping players filling online matches.
I also want to note that the contest was very close this year. At launch, I probably would have given this award to Mortal Kombat 11. Considering games just as they are now, I might have given it to Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid. However, this year more than any proved that fighting games cannot be judged in singular points in time. They have to be considered throughout their whole lifetime, from launch, to their e-sports scene, to the number of casuals filling the servers months after its launch.
While Samurai Shodown hasn’t been the best fighting game of the year at every point this year, it’s certainly been the most solid. It hasn’t had the massive highs of other titles, but it also didn’t have the massive lows. It’s a game that professional players and casuals alike keep coming back to, and every time it just feels good to play. It has a deep and engaging meta, an interesting roster, and we can’t wait to see what new tricks people will pull at EVO next year.
Congratulations to Samurai Shodown our 2019 Fighting Game of the Year.