These fighting games have some of the best training modes in the genre.
Fighting games weren't always so complex. Karate Champ and International Karate+ were just about connecting hits properly to earn points. But once Street Fighter came along, it became about pulling off special moves, putting together combos, and more. Quarter circles, 360 motions, and frame data became much more important.
So, fighting games gradually included training modes to help players get to grips with these requirements. Most of the time they were pretty basic, where fighting fans were lucky to get a decent command list. But as the years rolled on, some games produced some very good, comprehensive training modes that set the bar high.
The combination of the terms Mortal Kombat and "serious gameplay" wasn't always taken seriously. Not as much as Street Fighter or Tekken anyway. Those games were all about intricate combos and techniques. While Mortal Kombat’s gameplay was about quick dial-a-combos and gore. It’s a little unfair, as it wasn’t like its Japanese rivals didn’t have abusable moves, infinite combos, or bugs. But Mortal Kombat did feel late to the party in considering high-level play.
Yet game by game, it got there, with Mortal Kombat 11’s training mode being particularly intricate. The command list shows the moves, frame data for how safe or unsafe they are, and how much damage they do on hit, block, and more. The dummy AI can be customized with one setup or another to practice against. The meters (life, EX, etc.) can be adjusted for different situations, and players can practice the fatalities too. Most tournaments don't allow those, but for playing with friends, it's better to memorize them than to look them up.
The newer 3D games are more popular and have reasonable training modes. But the main series’ last 2D outing was arguably better looking, had better gameplay, and a better training mode. The graphics are certainly beautiful, and the gameplay is still fun, but its training mode is definitely a highlight for players who want to be the king of King of Fighters (or queen, or monarch, whatever they prefer).
KOF XIII’s training mode has the display up clearly throughout the mode, showing stun, total stun, individual and combo move damage, and keeps track of combos. That's not to mention a recording mode for players to create dummy setups to practice against, and plenty of combo trials to test players' knowledge. SNK liked it enough to put it in the Arcade version too. Hold A+B when pressing Start to get 7 minutes of practice time.
Virtua Fighter has a reputation for being the fighting game fan’s fighting game. It doesn’t have frills like a story mode or endings or the like. There is just the cast, their different stages, and their move sets. Despite it being a 3-button fighter (Punch, Kick, Guard), and lacking Pretzel motions and other tricky commands, it’s quite intricate. Some characters, particularly kung fu expert Akira, require very tight timing and fast fingers to master.
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution, an updated version of Virtua Fighter 4 for consoles, helped players by having an equally intricate practice mode. There were simpler options, like Command Training where players go through a character’s command list move by move, complete with dummy attacks for counters. But there was also a tutorial mode that helped them pull off less obvious techniques like evading throw escapes, or how to pull off guaranteed hits. There aren't many fighting games that actually explain its terminology and setups, so VF4: Evo is a rare gem in this regard.
Guilty Gear’s training modes were pretty basic to begin with, featuring the usual input displays, meter management, dummy settings, etc. It was enough back in the early 2000s, though even earlier games began to practice with other options. Tekken 3 came out in the same year as the original Guilty Gear and had dummy AI settings and a hidden recording mode. When the series came back for the PS4/Xbox One generation, Guilty Gear Xrd came along with its own upgrades.
It arguably just matched its rivals again in features, but it refined them with upgrades like multiple recording slots. That way, players could switch between one setup and the other to practice against without re-recording one combo or another. Or switching to one side of the screen or the other to practice 1P/2P position play by holding left or right while pressing Reset. Little as they are, these improvements go a long way.
The Killer Instinct games were cult classics but, like Mortal Kombat, they weren’t exactly seen as A-tier fighters. It was all about the blood, comedy fatalities, and ULLLTRRAAA COMMMMBOOOOOSSSSSSS!!! The 2013 reboot by Double Helix, later run by Iron Galaxy, shifted gears from that by making combo-building, defense, and counters a more in-depth process. This meant it also needed a more in-depth Training Mode too.
Input displays, dummy actions, recording, etc., were there as standard. Players could choose whether their dummy performs (c-c-c) Combo Breakers or not to test how well they can lock them out or (c-c-c) Counter Breaker them. It offers frame data and damage info, alongside combo states to show what counts as an overhead or not, etc. There’s also an extra difficulty setting exclusive to Training Mode that's the hardest in the game. It's simply called "Kyle," after the AI designer, and will put KI masters through their paces.
Sector-K’s indie sci-fi fighter is currently in early access, despite being worked on since 2017. So it’s technically not fully complete. There are only 8 characters available, with 2 more on the way, and only the Apple Arcade version has a Survival mode. But it still has the usual Arcade Mode, local & online VS modes with GGPO, and what they describe as “a robust training mode.” Which it certainly is.
Aside from quality-of-life options like quick character and costume selection, it has a recording mode for creating setups to work around. There are also save/load states to create or shift to different setups, and a display that includes juggle listings as well as damage. There’s even an option to boot the game instantly into Training Mode. For an early access game, it's got more options than many of its contemporaries.
Skullgirls has one of the best training modes around, if not THE best. It beats out its more established rivals at any rate. There's a nifty tutorial mode à la VF4: Evo that will help newcomers with the ins and outs of its gameplay. While the regular training mode offers Save/Load states like Punch Planet, extensive Dummy Settings, and hitbox viewing to show a move’s true reach and vulnerabilities.
Players can enable frame data by setting the Attack Data option to advanced, so it displays without needing to pause the game like in Mortal Kombat 11, or pay money for it like in Tekken 7. They can also enable hitstun displays, show crossups, edit health and meters, record in multiple slots, and more. It’s hard to think of a game that does the mode better, but there is one that matches it.
Yes. Really. The former My Little Pony fan game turned indie fighting game shares a lot of features present in Skullgirls. It may have simpler controls, but its training mode is just as broad. Save/load states, adjustable meters, dummy settings, hitbox viewing, and frame data are all present and correct here for keen players to get to grips with. But it has a few unique tricks up its sleeve.
Players can adjust the timing on super combos to help them get to grips with the commands. There’s a recording mode, which players can use to make their own combo trials to challenge themselves or their friends. Just record the combo, save it, then upload it to the web for others to download. Most games stick to their set trials, but this allows players to share their creativity on top of their skill. It makes high-level play feel less sterile.
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David Heath is a List Writer specialising in video games, movies, TV shows, and the occasional anime. They have written for CrypticRock.com under the name Day Heath for 5 years, and like to play fighting games and draw pictures in their spare time.