The Top Fighting Games You Should Be Playing From 2004

Samurai Showdown V Special key art

The Top Fighting Games You Should Be Playing From 2004

It’s hard to beat 2004 when looking back at banner years in gaming history. With the PlayStation 2 at the peak of its popularity and the clear winner of the 6th generation console wars, there was no shortage of incredible titles releasing just about every month on the console. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Gran Turismo 4; the list goes on. Of course, trailing just behind the PS2 was the Xbox, gaining plenty of traction and helping to change the industry with titles like 2004’s Halo 2. While the GameCube would experience its own successes and maintain a solid third place in the West, its unique controller would cause it to miss out on some third-party titles and arcade ports that other consoles were home to. As a result, the top fighting games of 2004 can all be found on PS2 and Xbox.

The best-selling console of all time, there would practically be no stopping the PS2. Thanks to a strong foothold both in Japan and in the West, the console would be the de facto hardware to experience many of the 6th generation’s best titles, and that includes ports of popular arcade games. While most of the top fighting games from 2004 are new entries in long-running franchises, some surprising newcomers have since become cult classics in their own right with dedicated competitive scenes. And, when it comes to the best fighting game from 2004, it’s obvious that the classics never go out of style.

9. KOF: Maximum Impact

KOF: Maximum Impact box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — August 12, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — SNK Playmore/Noise Factory
  • Platform(s) — PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • Review Aggregate Score — 64% (Mixed or Average)

KOF: Maximum Impact is an interesting spin-off and outlier in SNK’s hugely popular King of Fighters series. Unlike the mainline entries (which incorporate team battling), KOF: Maximum Impact places two combatants against one another as solo opponents. Further, KOF: Maximum Impact is one of the few SNK fighting games to utilize 3D character models on a 2D plane. The new visual style is perhaps the biggest difference that exists between KOF and the mainline King of Fighters games (with their excellent 2D character and stage designs). Though its gameplay is fairly standard as far as fighting games go, KOF: Maximum Impact has more than 20 characters and a fairly compelling story mode. However, the English dub for the story mode is subject to some criticism for how low quality it is.

8. The King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout

King of Fighters '94 Re-Bout box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — December 28, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — SNK/SNK
  • Platform(s) — PlayStation 2
  • Review Aggregate Score — N/A

A remake of the legendary fighting classic King of Fighters ’94, King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout maintains everything players love about the original and then some. While the core gameplay remains fully intact from the original release, the performance and visuals receive a major upgrade. Considering that in 1994 having an arcade-perfect port of King of Fighters ’94 on a home console would have been nearly impossible, Re-Bout marks the first time players could officially have one of SNK’s greatest fighting game experiences in their living rooms. Additionally, Re-Bout introduces 2 new characters to the roster and adds online functionality for competitive play. King of Fighters ’94 Re-Bout remains one of the better PS2-exclusive fighting games and is an example of a fighting game remake done right.

7. Guilty Gear Isuka

Guilty Gear Isuka box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — July 29, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Sammy Studios/Arc System Works
  • Platform(s) — Arcade, PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • Review Aggregate Score — 73% (Mixed or Average)

The sixth installment in the now-legendary Guilty Gear series, Guilty Gear Isuka is much more than a simple iteration of the franchise’s formula. While the general gameplay remains similar to previous entries in the franchise, Isuka makes several noteworthy improvements and innovations to see it becoming one of the best Guilty Gear games and a fan-favorite entry. Firstly, Isuka introduces the new “Turn” button, adding a new strategic option to battles by requiring players to manually turn their characters after switching sides of the screen with opponents. Additionally, the new Versus Mode allows players to select 4 characters and participate in 4v4, 3v1, or “last man standing” style matches against friends or the AI.

But the kicker, and the real reason why Isuka continues to stand out as one of 2004’s best fighting games, is the Boost Mode. Rather than act as yet another traditional fighting game mode, Boost Mode transforms Guilty Gear Isuka into a beat ’em up. In Boost Mode, players defeat waves of enemies to accumulate experience, becoming more powerful and taking on tougher waves of foes. Boost Mode is great on its own, but it would end up being especially addictive on the Xbox version, which supports up to 16 players via Xbox Live.

6. Samurai Shodown V Special

Samurai Showdown V Special box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — July 15, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — SNK Playmore/Yuki Enterprise
  • Platform(s) — Arcade, PlayStation 2
  • Review Aggregate Score — N/A

Another of SNK’s long-running fighting game franchises, Samurai Shodown would see its 5th entry arrive halfway through 2004. Though the title was originally released in arcades, a revamped version with improved visuals (specifically, a more artist-accurate color palette) would arrive in late 2004 for arcades and the PS2. Unfortunately, the PS2 version of the title would end up being a Japan exclusive, but today players can enjoy Samurai Shodown V Special on nearly every modern platform, including digitally via PlayStation Network, the Nintendo Switch, and on any Xbox console via the Xbox Marketplace. What sets Samurai Shodown apart from other SNK titles is its heavy emphasis on characters and their weapons, as well as a more pronounced incorporation of gore from attacks. It’s bloody and brutal, but Samurai Showdown V Special is also one of the great 2D fighting games of the 6th generation.

5. The Rumble Fish

The Rumble Fish box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Sammy/Dimps
  • Platform(s) — Arcade, PlayStation 2
  • Review Aggregate Score — N/A

The Rumble Fish is one of the lesser-known and criminally underrated fighting games from 2004. In a year packed with high-profile fighting game ports, sequels, and spin-offs, The Rumble Fish is one of the few new IPs making its debut, and it stands as one of the best fighting games of its generation 20 years later. Similar to Guilty Gear in its mechanics, The Rumble Fish is a fighting game that places attack strings (combos) and speed at the forefront.

Though characters don’t wield weapons as they do in Arc System Works’ Guilty Gear franchise, the game makes separate attacks based on their type and where they’re supposed to land. The end result is that The Rumble Fish presents players with a low floor for entry and a high ceiling for maxing out skill as the best fighting games do. And, on top of its excellent mechanics, The Rumble Fish has some of the most breathtaking 2D visuals of any non-Capcom or SNK fighting game.

4. Mortal Kombat Deception

Mortal Kombat: Deception box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — October 4, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Midway/Midway Games
  • Platform(s) — PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • Review Aggregate Score — 81% (Generally Favorable)

Prior to the series reboot with the excellent Mortal Kombat in 2011, it’s safe to say that the 2000s were a mixed bag for the Mortal Kombat franchise. Mortal Kombat 4 and its many console editions (Mortal Kombat 64, Mortal Kombat Gold, etc.) have a dedicated fanbase that appreciates the series’ earliest attempts at 3D, but everything after was very lackluster in comparison to the groundbreaking initial trilogy of Mortal Kombat games. Where the series starts to course-correct is with 2004’s Mortal Kombat Deception, a phenomenal new entry in the notorious fighting game series that brings things back to their roots, albeit with the best 3D visuals the series had seen up to that point. What makes Deception work is its use of 3D character models on a 2D plane, giving players the closest thing they had to a traditional Mortal Kombat game in years.

3. Capcom Fighting Evolution

Capcom Fighting Evolution box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 16, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Capcom/Capcom Production Studio 2
  • Platform(s) — Arcade, PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • Review Aggregate Score — 61% (Mixed or Average)

After scrapping the 3D Capcom Fighting All-Stars, the company would pivot into what it does best with the incredible 2D fighter Capcom Fighting Evolution. Capcom Fighting Evolution is a crossover-style game similar to SNK’s King of Fighters in that it pulls characters from across various Capcom franchises to battle against one another in a single title. The game’s roster includes highlights from across the Street Fighter franchise (including fan-favorite characters from Street Fighter II and Street Fighter III), Darkstalkers, and the one-off fighting game Red Earth. Similarly, the general structure of matches is identical to the 2v2 bouts from Capcom’s own Rival Schools. While some players would criticize the title’s visuals for copying and pasting character models and stages from Capcom vs. SNK 2, Capcom Fighting Evolution is a worthwhile title in any fighting fan’s PS2 library.

2. Tekken 5

Tekken 5 box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — November 16, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Namco/Namco
  • Platform(s) — Arcade, PlayStation 2
  • Review Aggregate Score — 88% (Generally Favorable)

The last Tekken game on the PS2 is also perhaps the series’ peak on the console, taking all the lessons from Tekken 4 and Tekken Tag Tournament to deliver one of the best games in the franchise. The PS2 port is as close to an arcade-perfect experience as players could have gotten at the time, and that’s just scratching the surface of what makes Tekken 5 so special. In addition to featuring a plethora of new modes alongside the core Tekken 5 arcade experience, Tekken 5‘s PS2 release marks the 10th anniversary of the franchise. As such, the game includes full ports of the arcade versions of Tekken, Tekken 2, Tekken 3, and the cult classic Namco rail-shooter StarBlade.

Of course, the true star of the show is Tekken 5‘s excellent continuation of the groundbreaking 3D fighting franchise, complete with its new innovations like the “Hot System” and a staggering roster of available characters. If players were going to own just one Tekken game on the PS2, there’s a strong case to have Tekken 5 be it.

1. Street Fighter Anniversary Collection

Street Fighter Anniversary box art and gameplay
  • Release Date — August 31, 2004
  • Publisher/Developer — Capcom/Capcom
  • Platform(s) — PlayStation 2, Xbox
  • Review Aggregate Score — 82% (Generally Favorable)

There’s something to be said about timeless games, and Street Fighter II remains one of the primary titles to earn that distinction. A massive hit in both the arcades and on home consoles (with surprisingly excellent ports to both the SNES and Genesis), Street Fighter II is undoubtedly one of the most important games of all time. Accordingly, the title has been ported, remastered, re-released, and otherwise rehashed no less than a few dozen times, with the quality of each release varying based on hardware. One of the best Street Fighter collections would arrive late in 2004 for the PS2 and Xbox, and it brings with it what’s arguably the best version of the classic Street Fighter II.

After originally beginning as a ROM hack of the Street Fighter II arcade board, Hyper Street Fighter II would eventually get its own sanctioned release by Capcom, and it still exists as one of the more preferred versions of the title in the competitive fighting scene. Street Fighter Anniversary Collection brings not only Hyper Street Fighter II to consoles but also Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, another hugely important game in competitive fighting circles. Either one of these games would earn its own spot on the list of the best fighting games, but having both on a single disc makes Street Fighter Anniversary Collection a must-have and the top fighting game of 2004.

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