The 2018 Fighting Game of the Year

2018 was a great year for fighting games, but a tumultuous one as well. We saw the downfall of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, the latest installment in one of Capcom’s most adored fighting game properties. We saw Arc System Works release multiple games to the market, all of which succeeded, and none of which were Guilty Gear. We even saw the much awaited release of Nintendo’s latest entry in the Smash Bros. series, after months of speculation whether this would just be a port, or a new game, or something in between. But fighting games are all about being the best and toppling your opponents. So who actually did take home the fighting game crown this year.

Honorable Mentions

There were tons of really interesting fighting games this year that were just too flawed to make the cut. Under Night In-Birth had a sequel that was completely overshadowed by the same characters appearing in BBCTAG. Dissidia Final Fantasy NT came out for the PS4 but was mired in, oddly enough, menu and user interface problems.

Indie fighters also had a great show this year. Fighting Ex Layer brought back Street Fighter EX style gameplay to the masses after an April Fool’s hyped up the masses. Fantasy Strike made a fighting game that was specifically created to teach newbies other fighting games. Then there was Blade Strangers which was literally an indie fighting game crossover with indie game stars on its roster.

All of this was done against the backdrop of Capcom constantly releasing new updates and DLC characters for Street Fighter V. If anyone knows how to successfully market a “games as service” model, it’s them.

Runner-up: BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle

BlazBlue Cross-Tag Battle might be my pick for “most fun” fighting game of 2018, but fun alone doesn’t make a good game. It did everything MVCI wanted to do, but better. It had a great tag system, memorable and enjoyable characters from four different properties, and controls that allowed even newbies to combo like the pros. It also had the best net-code of any Arc System Works game yet, making for the smoothest online play the developer has even created.

If you are a hardcore fighting gamer and you are looking to get into a new 2D fighting game, honestly you deserve to give BBCTAG a shot. Each match is just so incredibly fun. Unfortunately, it suffered from pretty bland single-player offerings and a complete fail in the marketing department. ASW promised us new characters from new franchises last summer and, unfortunately, has gone completely radio silent since then. While the game’s original roster of 40 characters (if you include DLC) is nothing to scoff at, going silent for half a year is a death sentence in the gaming world, and so the general scene for BBCTAG has since shrunk, likely past the point of being able to be included in EVO again next year. However, if you don’t mind great games with small communities, then BBCTAG is the game for you.

Runner-up: Soul Calibur VI

A tale of souls and swords eternally retold has been… er… retold once again. Soul Calibur VI was exactly what the fandom wanted after the poor showing of Soul Calibur V. It had a ton of new and interesting characters, plenty of returning favorites, interesting new mechanics, and some of the best single-player offerings of any fighting game on the market. In fact, I’d say it was a near perfect fighting game and certainly a perfect entry for its franchise.

Unfortunately, perfect isn’t enough for 2018. The next two entries on this list were more than perfect. They were genre defining. They literally changed the face of the pro and casual fighting game community as we know it. Soul Calibur VI… well it’s an incredibly fun game and likely the best 3D fighter out on the market right now, but we aren’t going to be seeing it taking a headlining spot at EVO any time soon.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

How can Smash not make this list. Ultimate is truly amazing. With 76 characters and six more on the way as DLC, over 100 stages, over 900 music tracks, tons of options, a 40 hour single-player mode, and more, this is one of the biggest and most anticipated Smash games ever to be released. It’s uniting the Melee and Smash 4 communities in ways we have never seen before. It’s bringing old pros out of the woodwork to start competing again. More importantly, it’s completely hooked the casual audience since, frankly, more people own Switches than Wii Us.

I have put more than 100 hours into Ultimate since its release and I was very tempted to give it the coveted game of the year spot, but frankly I couldn’t. Why? Because online simply doesn’t work. Matchmaking, rulesets, and the netcode itself are all borked and in the modern age of fighting games that’s simply unacceptable. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate might be the best fighting game to play on the couch with your buddies, and that’s exactly the demographic that Nintendo is going for, but without a working online suite it simply can’t win fighting game of the year.

Winner: Dragon Ball FighterZ

Quite frankly, there was no way Dragon Ball FighterZ wasn’t going to win this award. Like the other entries in this list it’s damn near perfect. It has a ton of single-player modes, working netcode, mechanics that make it easy to approach for beginners, and a thriving professional scene that dethroned Street Fighter V at this year’s EVO, and practically killed the MVCI scene all by itself.

So why does it deserve the top spot here? Because Dragon Ball FighterZ is completely made of original content. Smash Bros. Ultimate, Soul Calibur VI, and BBCTAG, all re-used sprites, animations, and even mechanical elements like hit-boxes from previous games. Let me make something clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, all of the models, all of the amazing dramatic finishes, all of the incredible stages, everything in Dragon Ball FighterZ was made from the ground up by Arc System Works and Bandai Namco to play and look exactly like the Dragon Ball Z/Super anime, and it works.

And despite the fact that DBFZ is being made with completely new assets, the developers have not stopped giving us new content. Eight new characters came out, and a bunch more are on their way for season two. New game modes were patched in for free after release. The netcode has been consistently improving since launch. New costumes and lobby avatars were made available for purchase and new events hit the game at a pretty steady clip. Finally, this is the only game of any of our nominees to have a thriving mod scene, meaning you can always find a way to get new content even if there is a content drought.

Frankly DBFZ is everything gamers want from a fighting game, from its high-speed three-on-three battles to its lobby system, it’s training mode and tutorials to its fully voice acted and animated story mode. It’s a game that not only united the pro and casual fighting game community, but that also brought in new fighting gamers simply because of its ties to the Dragon Ball property. It is because of DBFZ that Arc System Works and Bandai Namco have had one of their best years ever, and why Capcom, the king of all fighting games, has faded into the background and kept most of its efforts focused on Street Fighter V alone. DBFZ was a groundbreaking fighting game release, and we are still feeling the effects of its popularity to this day.

Congratulations to Dragon Ball FighterZ Gamecrate’s 2018 fighting game of the year!

Check out our full 2018 award list for more