2022 may not have seen the return of some of the most celebrated fighting games franchises like Street Fighter, Tekken, and Mortal Kombat, but that doesn't mean that it has been a bad year for the genre. As the world slowly recovers from the pandemic, which greatly impacted the competitive scene, publishers have renewed their focus on their games' online experience, finally implementing superior rollback netcode in their games (in some cases, even a few months after release), which helped keep competitive scenes alive as in person tournaments start becoming a possibility again.
2022 was also a great year for side-scrolling beat'em ups, seeing the return of a couple of long-running franchises that still have a massive following, as well as the release of a brand new property that is sure to become a full-fledged franchise thanks to its incredible quality.
Without further ado, here are the titles that, in our opinion, are the best traditional competitive fighters and brawlers, released in 2022.
DNF Duel (7.5)
Dungeon Fighter Online is far from being a household name in North America and Europe, but its large popularity in certain regions such as South Korea, China, and Japan prompted Arc System Works to collaborate with Nexon to convert the original game's beat'em up experience to a traditional, 2D one versus one, fighting game called DNF Duel.
Like every fighting game developed by the Japanese studio, DNF Duel is filled to the brim with interesting gameplay mechanics inspired by the original game, such as the MP system that lets characters unleash special attacks, the Conversion system which lets players convert white damage into MP for some insane comebacks, and a simplified 4-button control scheme that makes the game very easy to get into for fighting games newcomers.
What truly sets DNF Duel apart from other fighting games, however, are the characters. With some slight differences, the game's 16 launch characters are all incredibly fun to use and capable of unleashing serious damage in the right hands. While this resulted in some balancing issues at launch, with some characters capable of easily unleashing infinite combos, it's this "all-in" balancing approach that makes DNF Duel the explosive game it is and one of the best fighting games released in 2022.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (8.2)
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has long been considered one of the best fighting games ever made by Arc System Works, but the fact that it was stuck on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for a long time severely limited its reach in an era where 2D fighting games have much better chances of being in the spotlight.
This year, however, the Japanese studio addressed this issue by releasing a new and improved version of their fighting game based on the fourth entry in the series by Atlus on PC and consoles. Like with DNF Duel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax takes amazing advantage of the game it is based upon, taking mechanics such as the Persona, SP, and Skills systems and tweaking them in some very peculiar ways to create a fighting game like any other.
Its excellent gameplay is only one of the many things Persona 4 Arena Ultimax does well. With a huge character roster, now also featuring Shadow versions of different characters, a Story Mode that continues the stories of Persona 4 and Persona 4 Arena, a dungeon-based survival mode heavily inspired by the main series, and the welcome addition of rollback netcode on PC and PlayStation 4, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has every right to be named as one of the best fighting games of 2022.
It's not often that a developer manages to launch a property to critical and commercial acclaim, but when that happens, we know that we have an amazing game on our hands. This is the case of Sifu, a 3D brawler that does everything it set out to do incredibly well, making the players truly feel like the Kung fu masters they are supposed to be.
In the excellent brawler developed by Sloclap, players become a martial artist who desires nothing more than avenging their father and martial arts master and is willing to do anything to achieve their goal, even sacrificing years of their life. While the aging mechanics, which cause Sifu to age when defeated to get one more chance, are the most recognizable feature, the whole experience is such a joy to play, as combat is incredibly fluid, responsive, and incredibly satisfying, the challenge level is more than adequate, and the boss battles are intense and epic. The game's short length may be an issue for some, but the multiple difficulty levels and the intricacies of the combat system can keep those seeking to master the game occupied for a very long time.
With Sloclap continuing to support the game with new content regularly, Sifu has the chance of being not just one of the best fighting games of 2022 but of 2023. Kung fu, after all, is eternal.
The King of Fighters XV (8.1)
The King of Fighters series is the only major fighting game series that made its comeback in 2022 with the fifteenth entry in the series. While it isn't exactly an amazing comeback, it is a solid game that builds upon the mechanics seen in the previous game without revolutionizing the formula that fans have come to love since 1994.
Tradition is the name of the game in The King of Fighters XV, as the game feels and plays like the best entries in the SNK series. Picking a team of three fighters, players will compete in 1 versus 1 battles with no tag mechanics, switching characters only upon defeat, a system that may feel limiting to players coming from Marvel Vs. Capcom or Dragon Ball FighterZ, but that still comes with a certain amount of depth, thanks to the meter-building mechanics tied to it. Returning from The King of Fighters XIV are also auto-combos, which are more powerful and viable than ever, with multiple air approaches and rolls that will make all returning players feel right at home.
The addition of universal Shatter Strike moves that cause crumple state in the vein of Street Fighter IV's Focus Attacks, the revamped MAX Mode, a solid character roster, and excellent rollback netcode round up a solid package that makes The King of Fighters XV one of the best fighting games released this year.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge (9)
2022 has been an amazing year for side-scrolling beat'em ups, a genre that was thought dead for a long time before the success of games like Double Dragon Neon and Streets of Rage 4 proved that there is still a market for them. With all these classic series coming back, only a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles side-scrolling brawler was missing, but the long wait was well worth it, as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge is the best comeback the franchise could have ever had.
The game developed by Tribute Games has everything to dethrone Mutants in Manhattan and Turtles in Time as the best TMNT games ever released. From the amazing pixel-art visuals and varied playable characters and enemies to up to 6 players offline and online multiplayer, references to the classic comics and animated show, there really isn't anything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does wrong.
Like with other brawlers, the experience may be a little short and is only marginally deeper than the classics, but its high quality more than makes up for it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a labor of love, and such love turned what could have been just a nostalgic revival into one of the best brawlers released this year, if not the best.
We could only pick five fighting games for the main list, but there were plenty more worthy of note released this year, including but not limited to:
- Capcom Fighting Collection (7.0)
- Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle R
- River City Girls 2
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Cowabunga Collection