Here's some mini-reviews I've put together over the various fighting games out there. I'd be curious to hear others' favourites. I haven't played all of these, but I've gone through most of them, and certain things like Character Design are easily-observable.
The "Street Fighter" Series:
(+)- Often very well-balanced, with the status quo shaken up every edition. Not overwhelmingly difficult.
(+)- Eventually had the best graphics of all 2-D fighting games, especially once SF III came out.
(+)- Full of iconic, extremely-recognizable characters. Nearly any video game fan ever could name the Original Sixteen.
(+)- So influential that it spawned the entire genre. Capcom made it's bones on this series for a reason, and SNK certainly followed suit.
(+)- Has Sagat, the single greatest fighting game character of all time. His look, character depth, move-set and development stand head and shoulders above all.
(+)- The Shotoclone is the single-most-copied character concept in fighting games.
(-)- SF IV is full of very ugly, very lumpy characters with weird monkey-faces.
(-)- Capcom ran out of steam with character design eventually, and they started to just take ideas from SNK. And in fact, almost every character came from "JoJo's Bizarre Adventure" or some other shonen manga/anime at some point, if only visually.
(-)- Capcom RELENTLESSLY pours out mere "remakes" every year or so, adding a new mode and a new character here or there and calling it a new game. We had eleven-billion SF IIs, three Alphas, three IIIs, and now there's been three SF IVs.
(-)- Paltry character development and depth, especially compared to SNK or other fighting games. Twenty-year old characters like Zangief & E.Honda are no more developed today than they were two decades ago, and very often people's entire characterization is just "I want to prove my art/country is the best!" Even guys like Ryu & Akuma have bare-bones shonen-style motivations.
(-)- Capcom gave up on being series at all- idiotic character concepts like Hakan (looking for an oil recipe), El Fuerte (wants to be a chef, dresses like a tool) and Rufus (fat dumb rival to Ken) come flying out of the woodwork, overwhelming other character designs.
"The Art of Fighting" Series:
(+)- Highly-innovative concepts added to the fighting game world- air throws, slow-falling and the almighty SUPER-MOVES!!
(+)- Gave the world both the adorably insane crazy-girl Yuri Sakazaki, and the overwhelmingly-hot King (shut up).
(+)- One of the very few fighting games with a legit "story mode".
(+)- Big character designs, and great graphics for it's time. And their use of BATTLE DAMAGE is a crazy innovation that for some reason never caught on.
(-)- Horrible, horrible rip-off of "Street Fighter", done by some of the same names. John is a rip of Guile, Ryo is so much like Ryu & Ken that it's embarassing, and even Lee has Vega's claw. The remaining character designs are boring as hell, such as Jack Turner the generic biker, a generic boxer, and fat losers like Temjin. This one thing alone pretty much sinks AoF in most people's minds.
(-)- Poor game balance- famously difficult to the point of being ridiculous, and many characters are out-and-out useless in combat.
(-)- Very little of the games held up over time, with only AoF 3 having good graphics after a point. The series was dropped after Fatal Fury hit big, and became the "Also Ran" of SNK's Big Four of Fury, Shodown, KoF and AoF.
The "Fatal Fury" Series:
(+)- Some good, iconic characters, fixing many of AoF's issues. Terry Bogard is a fighting game icon, and various side-characters were still quite good- Kim Kaphwan, Raiden, Billy Kane, etc.
(+)- Geese Howard was AWESOME. One of the infamous SNK Bosses, and uses AIKIDO of all things.
(+)- Innovative gameplay with the "levels" of the stage.
(-)- Too many filler characters like Richard Meyer. Some guys just look like Capcom types after all (Franco Bash looks just like Mike Haggar).
(-)- Many of the characters fell away over time, as King of Fighters replaced FF as SNK's key game. Even poor Terry got taken down by Kyo as SNK's Mascot.
The "Virtua Fighter" Series:
(+)- Innovated an entire genre- all 3-D fighting games come from this one source.
(+)- Hugely-deep gameplay, well-researched fighting styles, and what I understand is great game balance- every character was apparently designed to be balanced with the others.
(+)- Pretty consistently has THE greatest graphics of pretty much any game once an installment comes out.
(-)- Horrible "plot" and characterization. Really, most characters are cardboard cut-outs who make SF characters look like "Macbeth", and haven't changed one iota in years. Isn't Jeffrey still chasing that big shark? The guys exist as nothing more than an excuse to trot out the same dude & fighting style each year.
(-)- Bland, uninteresting character design hampers the excellent graphics. For every Aoi there's Sarah the Generic Hot Blonde, Jacky the Blonde Guy, Akira the Ryu Rip-Off, and Jeffrey the Big Shirtless Black Guy. These guys couldn't look more plain if they tried.
(-)- They just trot out Dural as the boss every single year. Getting old, guys.
The "Tekken" Series:
(+)- Very in-depth story, with tons of unique and stand-outish characters flying around doing weird things. Very few Tekken characters are forgettable.
(+)- The character and costume designs are among the best in video games. While the outfits are relentlessly "busy" compared to other games, the characters are state-of-the-art in fashion and often look very cool. Jin, Kazuya, Hwoarrang and others are fantastic designs.
(-)- A little too silly at times. Considering the hyper-dramatic plots about family tragedy and death and junk, it looks jarring to see bears, dinosaurs, kangaroos and Chinese teenagers flying around.
(-)- Often ugly-looking gameplay, though I've heard tell that this is just the "amateurs" and how they play. Most Tekken looks the same to me, though.
(-)- The whole over-arching "Mishima Family" thing is kind of tired, especially once an ELDER generation got added with Heihachi's dad. It's just not fun or funny anymore.
(-)- Characters recieve no depth or change after a point- Paul & the Laws are still doing jack-all, and are only around because they've always been there. The "Jack" idea isn't funny anymore, Yoshimitsu is still around, etc. And also, the horribly tacked-on "Everyone is older as it's 20 years later, but OH NO NINA & ANNA WERE FROZEN SO THEY'RE STILL YOUNG AND HOT" thing is completely ridiculous and solely there for fanservice. And especially how they just xeroxed some of the older characters into the new set- giving Law a son exactly like him, throwing on another Jack, and giving Michelle an adopted daughter EXACTLY LIKE HER all at once is goofy. Generation Xerox taken way too far.
(-)- Still a lot of "Filler" designs out there. Ganryu the Sumo, Wang the Old Man and Bruce the Muay Thai guy are just blatant copies of age-old concepts.
(-)- Eddy Gordo and the Eddyspammers should never have been allowed. To button-mash and still rape experienced players at THIS level? Totally sad.
(-)- The series has a history of making big, stupid-looking bosses that don't fit in with the rest of the cast, and just look kind of goofy. Ogre, Devil, etc.
The "King of Fighters" Series:
(+)- Long-running, crazy story featuring over-arching plots. And of course the totally-original idea of 3 (vs) 3 fighting. Very heavily-copied stuff, especially once Capcom ran out of character ideas.
(+)- Very stylish, young-looking characters. HUGE cast of people, too, and little treats for long-time players with both recurring old casts (Art of Fighting, Fatal Fury), but the occasional returning guy (Duck King!).
(+)- Fabled for their infamously-hard bosses. This is controversial, but I think it makes you EARN your victories, so it's OK. I mean, it's the END BOSS- it SHOULD be hard.
(+)- Always came out with a new game every year, with a new story and some new stuff added.
(+)- There's been some very cool characters made over the years: Leona Heidern, Elisabeth Blanctorche, Shingo ("Shingo KEEEEECK!") and more. Rugal of course is an EPIC villain, and has style for days. No wonder he's still the series' most-iconic villain.
(+)- It's nice to see a new cast of main heroes take over after a point, compared to SF's perma-Ryu fixation.
(-)- After a point, the graphics just looked ancient. Fixed with the more recent games, though.
(-)- As nice and detailed as their character designs were, SNK eventually became WAY too reliant on the "Well-Dressed Teenager" archetype. After a point, every single character looks the same, and you can tell an "SNK Style" character on first glance because of it. All the outfits made certain people look horribly dated eventually (old Kyo, Benimaru, etc. Even Terry's looking long of tooth- both designs!).
(-)- By a similar token, almost all of the bosses look the same after Rugal and Mukai. How many big dudes did we see wearing epic cloaks? It was just the same design over and over again.
(-)- Repeated fighting styles. Though inevitable, watching the same cast of people do "Ground Energy Wave", "Dashing Move" and "Rising Move" makes everyone look like clones at best, and Shotoclones at worst. Replacing Kyo (who was like Terry Bogard) with K' didn't help matters.
(-)- Too many teenage girls who didn't look like real fighters. The series just became overwhelmed with them after a point.
(-)- Similarly, they're way too obsessed with the "Sissy Japanese Boy" archetype. I know this is considered "Cool" and an acceptable way to get ladies in Japan (and gayness is more focused on tough "Hard Gay" archetypes), but come on- Benimaru? ASH CRIMSON? This alone probably helped sink SNK's popularity in America.
The "Mortal Kombat" Series:
(+)- Excellent stories, story modes, and characters- almost everybody, even the SCRUBS, had SOME reason to be a part of a tournament. Scorpion & Sub-Zero are famous for a reason, Johnny Cage became awesome thanks to the movie, and Goro is among the greatest video game bosses of all time.
(+)- Phenomenally influential as a series- arguably in the top ten of all time if you consider what it did re: maturity and blood in video games. The idea of having secret bosses, tons of easter eggs all over the place ("Toasty!"), etc. all made for a great experience.
(-)- The gameplay was always rather poor- every single character had the exact same moves except for specials, and gameplay was clunky and horribly imbalanced, with "Cheap" moves being frequent.
(-)- The sequels exposed the series as poor. MK3 was famously "Bloody Disappointing" (to quote "Game Players" Magazine) as the formula got old, and the series had famous problems with the 3-D versions being considered pretty bad. The story kinda fell apart after a while, too.
(-)- Way too much xeroxing. Having a palette-swap duo in the first game, with a hidden Green Ninja was an awesome idea, and good for saving money, I guess. But adding Smoke AND Noob Saibot to the second game, then including them PLUS a Red Ninja & Purple Ninja? That was just silly. Then adding in a bunch of swapped ladies as well?
The "World Heroes" Series:
(+)- Some funny concepts, and a good overall story idea- heroes from world history gathered together to fight a JoJo's Bizarre Adventure rip-off (lotta those in the fighting game world).
(-)- The series was mostly a rip-off of Capcom's stuff, and the characters were often much too idiotic. For every Janne D'Arc (with fighting's first whip-sword) there were a dozen goofy people like Rasputin (portrayed as a flamboyantly gay mystic) or Julius Carn (a faux-Genghis Khan with tiny legs and obesity).
The "Samurai Shodown" Series:
(+)- Brilliant character design- I would say it's the best in all of the Fighting genre. Haohmauru, Hanzo, Earthquake, and Genjuro are all awesome designs and concepts, and the fighting styles are very well done.
(+)- This game had GREAT edginess and style- all the snide comments people would make ("Won again? I'm too damn good!" "Don't mock my breastplate again!") added to the bloody fatal moves to make this the coolest of SNK's games. The old Japanese music is a plus.
(-)- The sequels started getting a lot weaker, and SNK just ran out of ideas for characters. Goofy machines and demons started coming out as the usual "Samurai #53" designs fell flat as time went on.
The "Eternal Champions" Series:
(+)- Unique-looking and cool. UNBELIEVABLY Gory- look up the fatalities on Youtube and be horribly creeped out. Some of them are authentically DISTURBING.
(-)- VERY stiff-looking game. The graphics make everyone look and move like Q from "Street Fighter III", and I'm not sure how the gameplay holds up (never played the series myself).
(+)- One of the greatest single ideas for a video game series in history- giant dinosaurs and apes fight and murder each other.
(-)- Bad gameplay, goofy humour (acid pee?) and the fact that it's a "Mortal Kombat" rip-off worked against it.
(-)- Also, only a paltry SEVEN characters, and FOUR of them shared two sprites between them! There wasn't even a final boss!
The "Marvel (vs) Capcom" & "Marvel" Series:
(+)- Famously-gigantic rosters, great graphics, and an awesome idea merged together.
(+)- Super-Heroes are just MADE for fighting games- seeing Cap, Iron Man & Hulk in them is great.
(-)- The balance is so unbelievably bad. Ever seen a good player play "MvC2"? Lemme guess which characters he used- Magneto, Storm, Cable & Sentinel, right? Just awful- I know it's impossible to balance 30-40 characters, but at least make more than four of them any good.
(-)- Way too button-mashy and attack-spammy for my liking. Watching people play was like watching static images and energy beams flying everywhere. I never played part 3, though.
(-)- Capcom blatantly stole the idea from King of Fighters.
(-)- Some weird ideas of what fans wanted to see. Marrow? SHUMA GORATH (who even *I* had never heard of!)?
The "Dark Stalkers" Series:
(+)- Some phenomenal character designs- Morrigan, Anakaris, Bishamon, Rikuo, Lord Raptor (guitar-playing zombie? SWEET!) and especially John Talbain are major stand-outs.
(+)- Absolute state of the art graphics for it's time- X-Men & the Alpha series both took notes from here.
(+)- Another awesome concept- famous monsters fighting is a great idea.
(-)- Standard Capcom gameplay with few alterations, really.
(-)- Some boring designs out there. Hsein-Ko, Sasquatch, Dmitri and others were weak. Lilith is one of the most embarassingly-sick and disturbing things I've ever seen in a game, and Capcom should be ashamed. It looks like child pornography.
The "Battle Arena Toshinden" Series:
(+)- State of the art for it's time. The graphics and gameplay were totally-unique, and it was THE System-Seller for the early PlayStation era, which many people forget (since Tekken later eclipsed it so badly).
(+)- There are some great characters in here. The "Ken" rival character is great, Gaia was a sweet boss (and later joined the cast in another cool design), they had crazy old men with claws, a German knight, an Angel, a ballerina gypsy in see-through clothing, a hot cop chick, a psychotic scythe-user, etc. What's not to love?
(-)- It did NOT hold up well over time. The gameplay was simple and kinda broken (just dodge to the side and slash someone to easily win most fights), and the graphics were very simple designs.
(-)- The storyline is very weird (another UberCorporation controls the world), and some characters are nutty (the cross-dressing Master is just a flying tiny guy with giant psi-swords).
The "Soul Calibre" Series:
(+)- Good designs, and the graphics are nearly always the best around.
(+)- Whenever I play the games, they're pretty fun.
(-)- I don't normally bash Fighting Games for fanservice (unlike Marvel and DC, they make no bones about the fact that they're games for guys), but this game comes across like it's designed solely for friendless losers to fap to. Ivy is so naked I'd be embarassed to play the game with anyone around!
(-)- On a related note, the entire series is just super Image-like, to the point where I think I've teleported to the mid-90s. All the uber-Liefeldian bad-ass stuff, the half-nude ladies with Jiggle Physics, etc. It's designed a little too clearly for 13-year olds.
(-)- Ivy is relentlessly cheesy, and the game is so easy for the most part that I was able to pick up the arcade version and nearly get all the way to the end on one token.
The "Killer Instinct" Series:
(+)- Some decent designs.
(-)- Goofy gameplay, over-reliance on silly combos, and really bad characters for the most part (blank-faced fire & ice guys, a robot and a raptor with giant arms?) hold it back. Never really hit big for these reasons, despite being a potential System-Seller for the Ultra/Nintendo-64.