2021, like 2020, has been very challenging years for fans of fighting games. The current pandemic impacted the fighting game community a lot, forcing organizers to switch to online-only formats, like EVO, or cancel events altogether, limiting the impact that most fighting games released this year had.
Despite the challenges of the year, however, it's undeniable that 2021 has been a pretty good year for the genre, with the release of a new entry in a beloved franchise and the return of a series that seemed dead, and abandoned for good.
Without further ado, here are the best fighting games released in 2021. Also, this year, we're running our polls for the community awards in each category's articles, so make sure to scroll down below and vote for your favorite fighting game in the poll!
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles
Fighting games based on anime series are nothing new. Still, few of them have managed, so far, to be as engaging as Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles for both fans of the show and complete newcomers.
While the game's main story mode can feel a bit of a slog, due to the lack of interesting traversal mechanics and the slow movement speed, it does a great job at introducing the world and characters of Demon Slayer and teaching the basics of an arena fighter that is easy to understand, thanks to a simplified control scheme that assigns regular and special attacks to single buttons, but harder to master, as proper spacing and assist timing can be more important than simple offense and defense.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba - The Hinokami Chronicles isn't flawless, but it's clear how CyberConnect 2 learned from the mistakes made in the Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm games to present a much more enjoyable experience. And when a game based on an anime show doesn't confuse the hell out of you, you know you have something special in your hands.
Guilty Gear -Strive- (8.4)
With Guilty Gear -Strive-, fighting game masters Arc System Works set out to make the series' intricate mechanics more accessible while retaining a certain level of complexity. While the game may have been streamlined too much, compared to the Guilty Gear Xrd series, it is undeniable that the Japanese developer did manage to achieve its main goal.
To be fair, Guilty Gear -Strive- hasn't launched in a particularly great state. While the story mode is quite engaging, featuring a gripping story that brings several storylines to a satisfying close, the game feels lacking in content, as there is very little single-player content available right now, outside of a few modes. Multiplayer, on the other hand, fares much better, thanks to one of the best implementations of rollback netcode in high-profile fighting games. The online play feels so good that it is easy to look past a frankly bad lobby system that still has some trouble working properly a few months after release.
When it comes to gameplay, however, Guilty Gear -Strive- feels extremely polished, featuring an incredibly varied roster and many of the mechanics that have become staple in the series, such as the expanded Roman Cancel system. Long-time fans of the series that loved the mechanical complexity of the Xrd series may not appreciate the streamlining too much, true, but it seems like Arc System Work's approach is working out, as Guilty Gear -Strive- has become one of the series' most successful entries. A success that is completely deserved, considering the amount of love Daisuke Ishiwatari and his studio have put into the game.
Melty Blood: Type Lumina
Arc System Works completely dominated the fighting game scene in 2021 by releasing two excellent fighting games. While Guilty Gear -Strive- is undoubtedly the more popular of the two, fighting game fans should definitely give a look at Melty Blood: Type Lumina.
Based upon the Tsukihime visual novel, the Melty Blood series has always been a very welcoming series with a high skill ceiling, and Type Lumina is not different in this regard, as it is one of the easiest fighting games released in 2021 to pick up and play. Those looking to master the 14-characters big roster, however, will have their work cut out for them, as Melty Blood: Type Lumina is still an anime fighter, and it comes with a wealth of offensive and defensive options, including some aerial options that spice up the experience even more.
While the game's online experience is not as consistent as that of Guilty Gear -Strive-, it is undeniable that there are few better fighting games to play this year than Melty Blood: Type Lumina, both offline and online. With its great accessibility and classic 2D presentation, this is the game to get if you haven't played fighting games in a long time and want to experience something modern without feeling overwhelmed.
Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl
The Super Smash Bros. series has been the undisputed king of platform fighters for a very long time, and it seems like things will stay this way in the foreseeable future. Although the king does not risk getting dethroned anytime soon, a contender like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl doesn't come every day.
Creating a platform fighter based on Nickelodeon's properties made so much sense that it is actually surprising that it took so much time for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl to get released. While it hasn't made a huge splash like the Super Smash Bros. series did with the release of its first entry on the Nintendo 64, the platform fighter developer by Ludosity Interactive did manage to get quite a few fans, thanks to its incredibly easy to understand experience and to a few tweaks over the modern Smash Bros. formula, such as the increased movement speed and air dashes.
And with a roster like this, featuring diverse characters ranging from Spongebob Squarepants to TMNT's Leonardo and Michelangelo, there was no way Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl wouldn't become popular. Not in any sort of eSports capacity as of now, but you can never tell. Nintendo, after all, did not want Smash Bros. to become a competitive gaming sensation, which it did anyway, thanks to its dedicated community.
Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown
2021 saw the return of the celebrated Virtua Fighter series with Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown, a port of the original Virtual Fighter 5 with a focus on online and competitive play and very little for solo players.
Even though this new version of the latest entry in the series does feel lackluster not only for its lack of single-player modes and decent learning tools, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown plays so well that it is impossible not to consider it one of the best fighting games released in 2021. The simplified three-buttons control scheme, combined with the roster's depth, makes the game a joy to play, and the wealth of online multiplayer modes, including tournament rooms, provides something more outside of your typical ranked mode. Unfortunately, SEGA opted to use its own netcode solution that does not work as well as standard rollback netcode does, so the moment you meet a Wi-Fi fighter is the moment you will start seeing the cracks in the code, so to speak.
Even if it is far from perfect, Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown is the best way to start experiencing SEGA's classic fighting game series or get back into it after years of hiatus. Hopefully, we won't have to wait too long to finally see a proper, truly modern Virtua Fighter released on PC and consoles.
Vote for your favorite Fighting Game of 2021!
- Guilty Gear -Strive- 52%, 67 votes67 votes 52%67 votes - 52% of all votes
- Virtua Fighter 5 Ultimate Showdown 32%, 41 vote41 vote 32%41 vote - 32% of all votes
- Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl 6%, 8 votes8 votes 6%8 votes - 6% of all votes
- Melty Blood: Type Lumina 5%, 7 votes7 votes 5%7 votes - 5% of all votes
- Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Hinokami Chronicles 5%, 6 votes6 votes 5%6 votes - 5% of all votes