When the indie games started gaining popularity, it was clear to see that indie fighting games were going to play a huge part in this genre’s success, maybe because the people who started learning how to program video games saw fighting games as a great opportunity to let their imagination fly.
The term “Fighting Game” is very relative and isn’t strict. As an Indie developer, you have the freedom to create any kind of character and provide interesting fighting mechanics to help those characters stand out from the crowd.
All the games on this list of best Indie fighting games do just that. You’ll find some very creative characters in a classic fighting-style game, games that take the traditional “fighting game” concept and push it to the limit.
You are about to see great and well-known classics like Skullgirls, games with wonderful aesthetics like Verdict Guilty or Them’s Fightin’ Herds, and brawl-like fighting games like Rivals of Aether.
What Makes an Indie Fighting Game Perfect?
I crafted this list while looking for variety. No game listed here is a perfect game, but some are pretty close!
I looked for classic-style fighting games, brawl-like fighting games like Super Smash Bros, and even some slight deviations from fighting games that you can play with your friends and have fun!
Of course, I discarded those games with unoriginal and repetitive characters or games that get boring after playing them for half an hour or less. Instead, I looked for dynamism, creative characters, and fresh mechanics!
Lastly, this is not a tier list, so the order of the games doesn’t mean anything. Here, you’ll only find a list of the best!
Let’s get started!
#1 – Skullgirls 2nd Encore
- Developer: Lab Zero Games
- Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS Vita.
- Metacritic Score: 80.
A list of the best indie fighting games isn’t complete without Skullgirls, which is the best example of ‘less is more’.
Skullgirls looks simple, and in fact, it is. It doesn’t have intricate game mechanics or deep lore; it’s straight to the bone: a small but interesting character roster and the classical KOF-like fighting mechanics.
The most interesting part of Skullgirls is its characters. We can see an assassin nurse, a nun with diabolical powers, a cartoon-like girl (obviously, with cartoon-based attacks), and even a musical instrument monster. Then you have a simple but effective story mode into the bargain that helps players bond with the interesting characters.
I remember playing it with my friends when the game got released, and we spent hours fighting each other. It’s a classic ‘Just one more game’ experience. Games I would compare this one to are well-known titles like Mortal Kombat or Tekken, so naturally, you can expect big things from this indie gem.
#2 – Them’s Fightin’ Herds
- Developer: Mane6
- Platforms: PC.
- Metacritic Score: Still on review; the game was released in 2020.
Them’s Fightin’ Herds has an incredible storyline. Mane6 is just a small group of game developers that are also die-hard fans of My Little Pony. So they decided that it would be a great idea to release a fangame based on MLP but with a little twist; it would be a fighting game.
The project got famous, so Hasbro asked for the project to be stopped because Mane6 didn’t own the rights of MLP. But Mane6 didn’t give up, so they started the TFH project.
The MLP fighting game got very famous, so they got help from none other than Lauren Faust, the creator of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, to create the new assets for the new game project.
The result of all the efforts from Mane6 and Laurent Faust is Them’s Fightin’ Herds.
The best part of this game is its story mode. I’ll not spoil anything, but let me tell you that it is worth a shot, as it combines 2D and pixel-art assets and an isometric camera with fights, creating a great ambiance and experience. The OST is one of the most polished I’ve ever listened to in a fighting game, and overall, the game has clearly had a lot of love poured into it.
The combat system is simple but effective. I can compare it with the combat mechanics present in Skullgirls; long-chained combos and chaotic fun. Also, it is accessible and intuitive; so if you are a keen fighting game fan, this one will be very enjoyable for you.
The overall art style can be a turn-off for some, but you’ll get used to it very quickly. It happened to me; I was reluctant to play it, but I looked at some gameplay and quickly fell in love.
#3 – Brawlhalla
- Developer: Blue Mammoth Games
- Platforms: PC, MacOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Android.
- Metacritic Score: 70.
Brawlhalla was born and grew as an indie game that won popularity because of its great, fun, and simple gameplay, its low specs for PC (making it easy to play everywhere), and because it is free to play.
Based on Super Smash Bros, Brawlhalla is pure and perfect chaos because it’s the classic “free for all” system where you sometimes don’t know where to go or who to battle.
Something I love about Brawlhalla is that it’s properly balanced; you’ll always depend on your skill to win, and there are no broken characters as all of them have equal move-kits and perks, and your advantages will be defined by how well you play and how good you use the objects on the map.
#4 – Verdict Guilty
- Developer: Retro Army Limited
- Platforms: PC.
- Metacritic Score: To be Defined.
Verdict Guilty is in this list as a representative of all of those old-school pixel art fighting games based on 90’s classics like Street Fighter or the first KOFs. I know that there are a lot of games like Verdict Guilty that are also very good and polished, but I chose Verdict Guilty because of its story mode, narrative, and its wonderful and well-created ambiance. Not to mention the stellar gameplay.
The game’s theme is around Neo-Seoul and its population, or more precisely, the cops that protect the city and the criminals that menace it.
The gameplay is very simple, allowing for a pick-up and play experience, but that doesn’t make it boring. The game has a small character roster, having only eight fighters, but all of those included have creative and unique move-kits and combos.
If you are a retro-game lover, this one is for you. Also, if you want more games like this one, you can try ROBO OH, which has similar aesthetics and simple yet fun gameplay, but instead of detectives and burglars, you will be using robots.
#5 – Lethal League Blaze
- Developer: Team Reptile
- Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.
- Metacritic Score: 82.
Lethal League Blaze has two powerful features: its wonderful OST and unique gameplay. So let’s talk about both.
The OST reflects the aesthetics of the game, funky and groovy. The game is heavily inspired by other titles like Jet Set Radio, but it takes this concept and adds its own unique spin!
However, the most characteristic feature of this game is its gameplay. Here, you won’t be directly hitting another character. Let me explain.
You’ll find three elements on the screen: your character, your rival’s character, and a ball you’ll be hitting. The ball will be bouncing through the screen, and the harder you hit it, the more it will bounce. The objective is to hit your enemy with the ball until you win while avoiding the other flying projectiles.
I know it sounds very complex, but the game is very easy to understand as soon as you get to play it.
If you are looking for something new in the fighting genre, this game is for you!
#6 – Rivals of Aether
- Developer: Dan Fornace
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.
- Metacritic Score: 85.
Rivals of Aether is the best Brawl-like fighting game for a variety of reasons.
It has a big character roster, and every character feels totally different from each other, yet, they aren’t unbalanced, and there’s no “broken” character to exploit. This is especially important in platform-based fighting games.
Another great thing to mention is Dan Fornace and the effort he put into developing the characters; they feel original and charismatic, and if you check on the story mode of this game (which is really great, quick, and fun to play), you’ll fall in love with them.
Lastly, the gameplay, the mechanics, and the general aesthetic of the game. These are the three most important things when creating an ambiance in a video game. First, the gameplay is fast-paced and accessible. The mechanics are a direct replica of the Super Smash system (instead of health bars, you have percentages, and the higher the percentage, the more susceptible to devastating hits you are). But that isn’t all, as you have other game modes like the Abyss, where you ally with your friends to battle against evil shadow AI creatures.
Then lastly, as for the art style, this game is heavily based on other pixel-style games. However, I can feel a Megaman X-vibe in this game which really suits it perfectly, and the OST on it is very polished, enjoyable, and doesn’t distract very much from the game, which I appreciate.
#7 – Roof Rage
- Developer: Early Melon
- Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch.
- Metacritic Score: To be defined.
Let’s continue with the platform-based fighting games, and let’s talk about Roof Rage, a game with a mix of 8, 16, and even 32-bit art styles, and gameplay that really focuses on specific martial arts.
Roof Rage is simple and straight to the point; there’s no story mode or any narrative to speak of. You’ll choose a fighter, and that fighter is a master of a specific martial art, like Kung-Fu, Karate, etc. Then your objective is to defeat all your enemies while battling on rooftops
I chose this game because you and up to seven friends can play it locally, so it’s a great option to spend a night brawling. It also has an online multiplayer option if you want to play by yourself, and if you are looking for a big challenge, you can play against the CPU and bump up the difficulty to the max.
#8 – Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late (CL-R)
- Developer: French Bread
- Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4.
- Metacritic Score: 82.
Under Night is such a great game because it has all you can ask for in a fighting game: Great characters with interesting combos, highly fun gameplay, outstanding design, an OST, and a big character roster with a cool story mode. It feels like a Guilty Gear or KOF game in terms of quality, which is high praise indeed.
The game got its first announcement in 2012, and from there, it became popular to the point that it was ported to Nintendo Switch and arcades around Japan.
Its gameplay feels more interesting than the other classic fighting games because it has a very interesting feature named GRD. The GRD is like a Tug-of-War feature in every battle where the one with the most squares in their count (which will appear at the bottom of the screen) will gain some damage boosts for a while.
You’ll get squares (which work basically like points) by landing hits or blocking your rival’s hits perfectly. while you lose squares by receiving damage or back dashing to run away from your rival. This feature changes the way you approach fights as you need to be aggressive or you’ll lose.
The only complaint I’ve ever heard about this game is that its online mode is underpopulated, but that’s why I want you all to give this game an opportunity; you won’t regret it!
Extra: Early Access and In Development Games
I’ll give you two interesting games that are still in development but Look very promising. Let’s check them out:
#9 – Punch Planet
- Developer: Sector-K Games.
- Platforms: PC.
Punch Planet uone is a 2D game based in outer space, with a handful of Sci-Fi elements that makes the game appealing for those who aren’t big fans of the fighting games but want an introduction to the genre.
I really love how well animated the game is and the nods to pop culture, taking inspiration from characters like Robocop or some Marvel comics and series.
The game isn’t finished, but the Early Access version is very polished and well worth checking out, even in its current state. I highly recommend buying this game as it promises a lot!
#10 – Two Strikes
- Developer: Retro Reactor.
- Platforms: PC.
Two Strikes is one of those games that innovates to stand out from the pack. Two Strikes has two wonderful things working in its favor; its principal mechanic and its beautiful aesthetic.
Two Strikes’ characters and settings are hand-drawn, and they look spectacular. The drawings are technically sound and perfect, and the design sticks to the cultural era it tries to replicate, a war-stricken Japan.
The key differentiator between this and a traditional fighting game is that one direct hit will result in death. So to master the art of the samurai, you will need to be cautious, fight with your brain and brawn, and seize any opportunity presented before you.
#11 – Gang Beasts
#12 – Nidhogg 2
Question: Which game do you recommend if you want to play with some friends?
Answer: You can try Two Strikes, Lethal League Blaze, and Skullgirls, three games known for their dynamism; you won’t have time to rest!
Question: Which indie fighting game has the best Story Mode?
Answer: Them’s Fightin’ Herds, and Verdict Guilty has great story modes to try! Them’s Fightin’ Herds is more of an adventure, while Verdict Guilty has a classic arcade-like Story Mode.
Question: Which is the best game in terms of gameplay?
Answer: I really like how well Rivals of Aether’s gameplay flow. Also, Them’s Fightin’ Herds and Skullgirls are great, but all of those games have nothing to do with Punch Planet’s gameplay, designed by long-time fighting game professional competitors!
As you can see, there are tonnes of indie fighting games that push this sub-genre forward and are well worth your time. These games bring some interesting and fresh, that most AAA fighting games simply can’t match and I hope this list serves you well. As always, thanks for reading Indie Game Culture!