In 1994, legendary developer SNK decided to take characters from two of its biggest fighting games– Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting— and put them together into a single game, also adding in other classic SNK characters to the roster. While The King of Fighters could’ve just been a special one-time event, it actually laid the first seeds for what would almost become a genre in its own right: the “all-star” fighting game, where characters from different games/universes come together in a single release to battle.
Capcom added the multi-brand crossover layer to the all-star fighting game formula two years later when it released X-Men vs. Street Fighter, pitting characters from its iconic fighting game franchise against members of Marvel‘s popular mutant team.
In the 20+ years since those humble beginnings, the all-star fighting game category has become as stuffed as the rosters of the games themselves. Whether it is companies like Nintendo and Sega celebrating their own legacies in King of Fighters fashion or multi-brand mashups both obvious and surprising, all-star fighting games are one of the main ways fighting games have stayed relevant to new audiences. After all, you don’t have to be a fighting game aficionado to enjoy Mario fighting Pac-Man or Ryu fighting Wolverine.
Here are 15 All-Star Fighting Games, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi
The concept of your favorite Star Wars characters duking it out in a one-on-one fighting game is an undeniably cool one. That the game also forgoes any semblance of consistency within the SW universe and lets characters like Darth Vader and Chewbacca fight on an even playing field is also a treat. All the elements seem to be in place for PlayStation‘s Masters of Teräs Käsi to be a fun celebration of SW fandom. There is just one major problem: the game itself isn’t very good.
While a thin roster by today’s standards, the lineup of Luke, Leia (both original and bikini-clad versions), Han Solo, Darth Vader, Bobba Fett, Chewie, a Tusken Raider, and a Gamorrean guard is still a strong one. Fans also appreciated the inclusion of expanded universe character Mara Jade, Luke’s once-canonical wife. But it was all for naught as the game itself is slow, clunky, and worst of all, not particularly good-looking.
14. Castlevania Judgment
One of the reasons that Castlevania fans love that franchise so much is all of the rich characters that have appeared in the series over its three decade run. As such, a Castlevania fighting game is going to automatically have an amazing roster of fighters, and Judgment certainly rises to that occasion– it features characters ranging from mainstream names like Simon Belmont and Dracula to more hardcore fan favorites like Maria Renard and Alucard. Add in some flimsy excuse for all of those characters to be interacting, and you have what should be a Castlevania fan’s dream come true.
However, Judgment is anything but that. For starters, Konami enlisted an outside artist to design all the character models, and he decided dress them all like they’re going to bondage night at an industrial music club. As if their outfits weren’t bad enough, many of the characters were given embarrassing individual storylines– Maria is literally on a quest for larger breasts. For real.
13. Cartoon Network: Punch Time Explosion
After Super Smash Bros., a lot of other brands tried to create their own rip-offs of that game’s formula. While very few brands have a stable of characters vast enough to pull it off nearly as well, licensing an entire cable network to draw characters from is certainly a way to get close. The problem with Punch Time Explosion for 3DS– later ported to consoles– is that it doesn’t make effective use of its own potential star power.
When the game was released in 2011, it was at a very exciting time for Cartoon Network– they had recently launched Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball, and Regular Show, among other great new series. However, none of those shows are represented in the game! Instead, it draws almost entirely from shows that were over by the time the game hit shelves, with Ben 10 being the only then-currently airing show represented. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with including legacy franchises like The Powerpuff Girls or Samurai Jack, but if that’s the route you’re going to go, you can’t leave out fan favorites like Courage the Cowardly Dog or Ed, Edd n Eddy.
12. DreamMix TV World Fighters
While we tried to stick with games that came to the West for this list, there were a couple of Japan-only games that were just too interesting to leave out. The first is DreamMix TV World Fighters, a PlayStation 2/GameCube fighting game with a diverse and bizarre cast. A joint effort between Konami, Hudson (when it was still its own company), and Takara, the roster includes not only the expected stars from those three publishers, but also some surprises.
In terms of obvious choices, Konami brings Simon Belmont and Solid Snake, and Hudson brings Bomberman and Adventure Island‘s Master Higgins. Having toy company Takara on board meant that the game could include characters that the company owns in Japan, which not only means someone from Beyblade but also both Optimus Prime and Megatron. It’s easy to see why this game never came out here, eh?
Rounding out the roster are more niche characters from TwinBee, Gradius, Bloody Roar, Cy Girls, Micronauts, and various other largely Japan-only franchises like Power Pro, Momoden, and Far East of Eden.
11. SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos
If you were a fighting game fan in the ’90s, you were all too aware of the intense rivalry between SNK and Capcom for 2D fighter supremacy. You also remember what a huge deal it was when the two companies first brought their characters together for SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium for Neo Geo Pocket Color. Capcom then took over development duties for two Capcom vs. SNK games before the focus came back to SNK for 2003’s SVC Chaos.
While the SNK faithful might disagree, the Capcom vs. SNK portion of the meta-series is generally better regarded. For purposes of this list, SVC Chaos has the most interesting roster of all the games. In addition to the usual suspects from Street Fighter and Fatal Fury, SVC digs deep into both companies’ catalogs to include characters from Metal Slug, Mega Man Zero, Athena, Demon’s Crest, and Red Earth. This makes for a quirkier lineup that that of the Capcom vs. SNK games, and also gives fans a chance to see SNK’s artists take on a Mega Man character– which is really cool in its own right.
10. Street Fighter X Tekken
While no franchise can indisputably claim to be the “Street Fighter of 3D fighting games” popularity-wise, Tekken is certainly one of the front-runners. Since Capcom is fond of eventually teaming up with their biggest rivals– save for the long-wished for but still unrealized Street Fighter/Mortal Kombat crossover– it was only a matter of time before they invited the cast of Tekken to spar with the SF crew.
Like Street Fighter IV, Street Fighter X Tekken has 3D visuals but with action staying squarely in the realm of 2D. This was a first for the cast of Tekken, who had been fighting in three dimensions since their creation. Having the included Tekken characters play like 2D fighting game characters was very interesting, as was seeing how the seemingly disparate play styles of the franchises could work together.
It was disappointing that there was only one cameo character from each company– Mega Man and Pac-Man– especially since publisher Sony got three. It’s also too bad that the planned Tekken X Street Fighter, which was to return the favor by transplanting SF characters into a Tekken-style fighting game, is on indefinite hiatus.
9. Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe
Mortal Kombat has always been the yin to Street Fighter‘s yang; the grittier, darker, more hard-hitting fighting game. MK eventually took the step we all should’ve seen coming and crossed over with DC Comics as an answer to SF‘s battle with Marvel characters.
While a lot of MK fans had a problem with the series toning down its trademark violence and gore for this installment– DC obviously wasn’t going to allow Batman’s head and spine to be ripped out of his body, or let Superman punch bloody holes through people– most gamers enjoyed the way that the seemingly disparate match-up of MK and DC characters actually managed to come together in a cohesive way.
Sure, it was something of a transitional installment for MK, with the franchise getting much better with its next two DC-free sequels. The DC characters would soon star in their own dedicated, superior game with Injustice. But MK vs. DC is still a really fun game that serves as great fan service for both sides, so here’s hoping we get a sequel after Injustice 2 has come and gone.
8. Jump Ultimate Stars
The second of this list’s Japan-only games, JUS has a roster that is too star-studded to leave it out. This DS game boasts a total cast 300+ characters from a variety of well-known anime franchises. To clarify, only 56 characters are actually playable, with the rest just being support fighters, but it’s impressive no matter how you slice it. Just take a look at some of the 41(!) brands represented in the game: Dragon Ball, Naruto, Yu-Gi-Oh!, One Piece, Fist of the North Star, Bleach, Kinnikuman (best known to Westerns as M.U.S.C.L.E.), Shaman King, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and Death Note.
No other game on this list features characters from that many unique franchises, and none have nearly that many different characters making appearances in physical form.
While JUS was likely already difficult to license in Japan, given the nature of localization and the dozen different companies who likely have the rights to those properties stateside, it’s easy to see why we never saw it brought here. Still, the DS is region free, and you don’t need to read Japanese to mash buttons, so importing the game isn’t a completely impenetrable prospect.
7. Fighters Megamix
As a concept, Fighters Megamix is kind of a mess– partly a celebration of Virtua Fighter 2, partly a sneak preview of Virtua Fighter 3, partly a way to drum up interest for the fledgling Fighting Vipers series, and partly a Smash Bros. style celebration of Sega‘s stable of characters. There were also some baffling decisions in terms of the roster, such as including fighters from the little-known Sonic 3D fighting game, but not Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, or anyone recognizable.
Having “Bean the Dynamite” and “Bark the Polar Bear” on the roster doesn’t even begin to cover the full extent of Megamix‘s weirdness. Other characters include two VF character variants from Virtua Fighter Kids, the car from Daytona USA, a floating hunk of meat on the bone, and a neon-colored palm tree (the developer’s logo). It’s not all strange, as the game also includes Janet from Virtua Cop, an unused character from the original VF, and the little-known Japanese character Rent-A-Hero.
6. PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
The title is certainly a mouthful, but they couldn’t come right out and call it Super Smash Bros: Sony Edition— even though that’s basically what this game is. As Sony doesn’t have quite enough first-party characters to properly fill out a fighting game roster– it’s easy to forget that characters like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were never fully Sony-owned characters– the company was able to secure some interesting third-party characters to pad the lineup.
Joining in-house Sony characters like Nathan Drake, Ratchet, Parappa the Rapper, Jak, Sly Cooper, Sweet Tooth, Kratos, and Sackboy are the third-party additions of Dante from Devil May Cry, Heihachi from Tekken, a Big Daddy from BioShock, Isaac Clark from Dead Space, and Raiden from Metal Gear Rising. The lineup definitely leans pretty heavily on “modern” characters and bigger names, but a few fun niche fighters– MediEvil‘s Sir Dan, Ape Escape‘s Spike, Japanese PlayStation mascot Toro– also squeezed their way in. Abe from Oddworld, who would’ve been an awesome addition, was planned as DLC but never made it out.
5. Mortal Kombat X
This list was more about games that were entirely based around all-star, crossover lineups rather than regular fighting games that just happened to have a couple of outside cameos. But in the case of Mortal Kombat X, the five classic horror/thriller movie characters on the roster are enough to warrant its inclusion– especially since there are games on this list whose entire cast is only about twice that number.
Freddy Krueger‘s appearance in the previous MK game turned out to just be a sampler platter for the horror film royalty that was going to show up in MKX. In addition to the return of Mr. Krueger, the existing MK cast also “welcomed” Jason Vorhees, Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Leatherface, a Xenomorph from Alien, and a Predator.
Not only can you play out existing match-ups like Freddy vs. Jason and Alien vs. Predator, you can mix things up by seeing how Jason would fare against an Alien, or if Freddy is any match for Leatherface. Add in the actual MK cast, which in this edition exceeds 30 characters, and you have one gruesomely satisfying war between some of the most violent, bloodthirsty murderers in the history of fiction.
4. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
After the fighters in Capcom’s employ spent the previous 15 years battling comic book characters and their SNK rivals, they were looking for something more interesting to match fists with. Enter the world of Tatsunoko Production and the many anime series they produce, and you have one of the strangest–and most fun–crossover fighting games of all time.
The Tatsunoko half of the roster might not be familiar to the average North American gamer, but deep-cut anime fans certainly know who Tekkaman, Ken the Eagle, Karas, and Yatterman are. There is more than enough Capcom love here to appeal to the Tatsunoko ignorant, however, from the token fighters like Ryu, Morrigan, and Mega Man to characters from Dead Rising, Viewtiful Joe, Rival Schools, Onimusha, and Lost Planet.
The beauty of Ultimate All-Stars, though, is that the game is such a blast to play that you needn’t know any of the more niche characters in order to enjoy it. In fact, the Tatsunoko gang just comes off feeling like characters from some forgotten Capcom game from the ’80s. This game belongs in the collection of every fighting game fan and/or collector of Wii gems.
3. Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy
Don’t let the insane name fool you– this is only the second in the Dissidia series of Final Fantasy-based fighting games. While the first game limited itself to just two characters– one good, one bad– from each of the first twelve core Final Fantasy games. As expected, that tended to mean we got obvious characters like Cloud and Cecil, but not fan-favorites like Tifa and Kain. That was rectified with the sequel, as those two were added to the existing roster, along with additions like FF13‘s Lightning.
We’ve come to (rightfully) distrust Final Fantasy “spin-off” games, so a lot of people assumed the worst. Dissidia turned out to be a pleasant surprise; a well-made, appropriately over-the-top fighting game that makes excellent use of the characters and their abilities.
The biggest knock against the series is that it’s currently exclusive to the PlayStation Portable– and also is only available in physical form, not digitally– so the games don’t quite have the reach that they deserve. If you still have a PSP lying around– and friend who does as well– Dissidia 012 is a whole lot of fun.
2. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes
It was a very slowly evolution from X-Men vs. Street Fighter, to Marvel vs. Street Fighter, to finally reaching the inevitable conclusion of Marvel vs. Capcom, but boy, was it an event when it did. It was almost unheard of at the time for a single video game to so fully explore even one full “universe,” let alone two. The crossover of a lifetime really came into its own with Marvel vs. Capcom 2.
The roster is ridiculous: 56 playable characters from deep into the history of both companies. Capcom not only brought its best fighters from Street Fighter and Darkstalkers to battle; it added characters from Mega Man, Resident Evil, Strider, and obscurities like SonSon and Captain Commando. Marvel brought its best and brightest X-Men, Spider-Man, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and their own niche characters like Suma-Gorath, Silver Samurai, and Blackheart.
The best part about MvC2 was that Capcom somehow made all of these characters not only co-exist seamlessly, but somehow all be relatively balanced and evenly matched. MvC3 had a strong lineup but lost too many non-MCU characters, and the jury is still out on Infinite, so for now, MvC2 remains the best of that bunch.
1. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
It’s tough to argue that any single video game company in history has more iconic, pantheon-level characters than Nintendo. That also makes it tough to argue that any other fighting game could possibly have as star-studded of a roster as one that has access to all of Nintendo’s characters.
The most recent installment definitely has the best cast of the entire series, mostly building on previous entries– with very few losses, R.I.P. Solid Snake– and adding in yet another impressive group of new fighters. The ever-growing list of third-party characters now includes Sonic, Pac-Man, Mega Man, Ryu, Bayonetta, and Cloud Strife, joining the insane first-party roster of characters from Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Punch-Out!, Star Fox, F-Zero, Earthbound, Xenoblade, Fire Emblem, Kid Icarus, Duck Hunt, Pikmin, Animal Crossing, Ice Climbers, Gyromite, even Wii Fit for crying out loud!
The 58-character roster is the perfect mix of all-time classic characters that even your grandma has heard of and special treats strictly for the hardcore Nintendophile. The game also happens to be one of the funnest games of all time– so there’s that minor little detail, too.
What’s your favorite all-star fighting game? Share in the comments!
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