While the arcade scene birthed one-on-one fighting games, the genre had to grow in living rooms. Ten year olds all over the country plugged in their rented copies of Street Fighter II into their gray and purple SNES and called the neighbor kid from from across the street to play. Using the four-face-button-two-trigger-button layout that ended up dominating the home consoles for 2 decades, children explored the characters and their move sets without the pressure of time, or quarters or competition. I can’t count the number of times I started a match with my little sister, with the timer set to infinity, and just tried to figure out the game.
After learning a thing or two, I would return to the arcade only to find my skills were outdated. Street Fighter II went through numerous iterations in the arcade, and they all differed slightly from the home versions of the game. I might have been cultivating my skills on a very specific version of Street Fighter, but I was also generally training my brain for any one-on-one fighter. Which was good because by the mid-90s, that was only kind of game in the arcades. Oh sure, there was the occasional classic arcade game or brawler or ski ball, but if you wanted to play at the arcade, you damn well better know how to fight.
New fighting series came out in droves and eventually choked demand entirely. It was just too much. I’ve read numerous times that “the novelty was wearing off,” which would explain the increasingly desperate attempts to set a new series apart from the rest. Hyper violence, dinosaurs, 3D, comic book characters, removable limbs – they tried everything. But by the end of the decade, only the true devotees were still playing. A handful of series kept the genre alive on consoles – Smash Brothers, Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive – but scene lay dormant until 2008 when Street Fighter IV brought all those old passions and frustrations back.
The problem of too-many fighting games – especially in an age where so much of the base plays on-line – is one of dividing the fanbase. We’re currently on the third version of Street Fighter IV, and possibly because it’s been three years since the first or possibly because they’ve managed to keep prices down, most of the crowd has migrated to the most recent version. A follow up to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 comes out in November, less than a year after the original. If this divides the audience for the MvC3 series, the combatant pool for both games will suffer – never mind that fighting fans are already made to chose between Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom. Throw in to the mix the recent Mortal Kombat release, which (for the first time since 1993) boasts a balanced roster and smooth, competitive play.
There’s more on the horizon. A lot more. Capcom is a few months away from releasing Street Fighter x Tekken (the x is pronounced “cross” – there, now you’re cool) and while there’s no word what it will look like, Namco Bandai is talking about their own take on that concept, the deftly titled Tekken x Street Fighter. Namco’s not quite ready to tackle their version of the crossover just yet because they just released Tekken Tag Tournament 2 in arcades in Japan – expect that to crowd the international console market some time in 2012.
SNK Playmore’s King of Fighters XIII is being ported over from Japanese arcades and will be landing in US living rooms for the holiday season. The big-titted Dead or Alive 5 from Team Ninja will test the jiggle-physics of the current console generation at an undetermined date in 2012. I guess, unhappy with releasing only Tekken games, Namco Bandai will be putting Soul Calibur V into the world in March of 2012. And while it’s a different kind of game, it should be noted that Super Smash Brothers will see releases on Nintendo’s Wii U and the 3DS sometime in the 2012 or 2013.
That’s 10 games. And that ignores both download games that are popular (Street Fighter III: Third Strike: On-line Edition and Super Street Fighter Turbo: HD remix) and some recent duds in the genre (like Virtual Fighter V, Tatsunoku vs. Capcom and the atrocious TMNT Smash-Up).
This also ignores the one new fighting game property that’s coming out in 2012: Revenge Labs’ Skullgirls. That’s an intimidating market for a brand new franchise to enter. In a genre filled with crossovers and sequels (seriously, 13 KoF games?) it’s refreshing to see something original.
Does it stand a chance against all these known entities? Do any of them stand a chance in such a crowded market place?
Well, what the hell? If we’re going to dilute the audience into tiny niche groups, why don’t we just bring back all the fighting series we thought we loved as kids. Naturally, I have a few suggestions:
Interplay’s Clay Fighter series appeared on the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo 64. The central conceit was that the characters were made of clay and were battling for the title of King of the Circus. Later games in the series would include characters from other silly Interplay games, like Earthworm Jim and Boogerman (both voiced in the game by Dan Castellaneta, by the way). With the possible exception of Smash Brothers, there aren’t any fighters with a light sense of humor. The Capcom games usually try to inject some, but against the background of beating the shit out of a dude, it never really plays all that well. And Mortal Kombat’s humor is mostly of the “zomfg, i just ripped that dude in half lolz” variety. I think a modern game studio could have a lot of fun with the fact that these characters are made of clay. Also theme music:
Rare’s first outing with digitizing pre-rendered graphics was the highly-lauded Donkey Kong Country. Using the same techniques, Rare developed a confusing little fighting game for the arcade and Nintendo’s home consoles. The game pits humans and monsters (and at least one killer robot) against each other in mega-violent combat. But the mega-violence was mostly surface-level and contained none of the humor or irony found in the MK series. KI was focused on presentation and the game play itself was buggy and the character balance was awful. But both the SNES and N64 releases came with a CD of re-arranged music tracks from the game and the in-universe fiction was compelling and simple. Most fighting games suffer from incoherent stories and embarrassing music, and while KI didn’t revolutionize these things, it’s nice to see that they were trying. If Rare, now working exclusively with Microsoft, were to pump out a new version of this game with some story sophistication and a non-japanese approach to the art and music and fixed their bugs? That sounds like a contender to me.
Before they branched out into the third dimension with Virtual Fighter, Sega made this ultra-clumsy fighter. It’s a time traveling rip-off of both Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat while achieving the fluidity of play of neither. I know much of the reason I hold this game in any esteem is good ol’ nostalgia, but there’s more. The premise of this game is that there are historical figures from all throughout time (past, present and future) who were killed before they were able to achieve something great. The Eternal Champion pits their souls against each other in combat. The winner gets to return to their time and finish what they started. It basically opens the door for any kind of idiot character you could want in a fighting game. Look at that screen grab: there’s a caveman, a warlock, a ninja, an Atlantean, and a cyborg on the screen at the same time. These characters hold no particular sway over me, but the idea of putting doomed warriors from throughout history in an arena and watching them fight is quite appealing. Maybe better if it included some real historical figures.
Power Stone was a great game. They made two of them, both released on Sega’s Dreamcast. The game had a very 1930s look to it and it’s colorful, varied characters made the whole thing a lot of fun to look at. But the game play is what really sold me. The characters run around freely in a 3D space, picking up weapons and interacting with the environment while attempting to gain the advantage on your opponent. Unlike the rest of the genre, characters don’t have special moves that require complicated inputs. The depth of the game came form understanding how each individual character could interact with each environment and with each weapon. I would love to see a new iteration of this game with a bigger cast and more game play options. Unlike the rest of the games on this list, I don’t think it needs a big overhaul in play department.
Samurai Shodown and Darkstalkers should both come back as well. I would imagine that we could see another Samurai Shodown if SNK’s other game, King of Fighters XIII performs well in the states. And I assume Capcom will bring Darkstalkers back – they put 3 Darkstalkers characters in MvC3 for crying out loud.
It makes me nervous to see the industry repeating this same pattern, but I’m also intrigued to see what kind of drek gets pulled up from gaming’s past. And let’s not forget about Skullgirls - something bright and new in a field a endless re-hashes. Again, I’ll be back with more fighting game stuff next Wednesday. See the schedule below:
Week 2 (10/12) – Saturation and missing franchises (a return of the 1990s)
Week 3 (10/19) – Juvenile attitudes toward sex and violence and shitty, shitty stories
Week 4 (10/26) – Where I think there’s a TV series in the competitive scene
If anyone would like to play with me, I play Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, and Street Fighter III: Third Strike: On-line Edition on the PS3. My handle is SWF4815162342.