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Tuesday
Jun072011

Time for a New Stage in Fighting Game History

Fighting games need to grow up.

They’ve had their moment in the spotlight. We’ve seen all there is to see of their current paradigm. I get it already, developers. Every female character is going to wear a slutty outfit. Schoolgirls in short skirts are fair game. Boobs are awesome. Violence is equally awesome. Long strings of complex commands completely unexplained by the game are the norm. Single player exists because it has to and is deserving of little to no focus.

I’m not saying the current state of fighting games is bad, I’m saying it’s time to move on. 

JRPGs get a lot of crap for being stuck in the past. Everything about them is stagnant. From character designs to save systems to menus to combat, all aspects of modern JRPGs could have come from a decade ago with almost no change.

The only reason fighting games aren’t getting the same level of shit for the same problem is that they’re not as popular. 

Final Fantasy is popular among normal people, but Street Fighter can stay in its happy little niche and do whatever the hell it wants and few outside the established clique will notice.

When will this genre get tired of living in the past and grow the hell up?

Fighting games are experiencing a resurgence recently. This is good. As if it were the early 1990s again, we are bombarded with terrific fighting games. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have made triumphant returns. Marvel vs. Capcom has risen from the dead. SoulCalibur V and a new Tekken can be seen shining on the horizon.

The entire driving force behind this resurgent popularity is nostalgia. By going back to basics and applying shiny new graphics to basically the same gameplay we were getting on the SNES, developers have found a way to make the old interesting again. 

Seriously people, how many games are going to have to adopt the super meter concept until we realize that the genre is out of ideas? How much more clothing are the women going to have to remove until the genre outgrows its awkward adolescence? 

Here’s the rub, though. The fighting genre can’t do anything new, can it? It’s held back on all sides by people who are petrified of change. Developers have been making the same game for years and don’t want to have to bother to try anything new. Gamers have spent most of their lives mashing their arcade sticks in just such a way and don’t want to see all that thrown out the window when a game asks them to do something - gasp - different.

It might actually be more accurate to say that these players don’t want to be brought down to the lowly bottom rung again and have to fight their way back to the top when a game with new ideas comes along and levels the playing field. For once, I don’t think that’s just my tendency toward cynicism speaking. This genre has the most elitism per capita of any area of gaming by a factor of infinity +1. It’s absurd how many self-righteous assholes there are wielding plastic arcade sticks and thumbing their noses at the laughable plebs just learning to throw a fireball. Who do they think they are anyway, trying to compete in a game clearly too complex for their little minds to swallow?

The fighting game genre is where nerds go to pretend to be jocks, plain and simple. 

I’m not knocking the amount of skill it takes to play these games. Having gotten more into the genre of late, I have more respect for the level of skill required than ever. I just wish gamers were above the foolish nonsense that plagues the world of athletes.

I digress. 

I want to be clear. I am having more fun with fighting games now than I ever have in the past. Mortal Kombat 9 is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite fighting games of all time. Street Fighter IV taught me that it was possible to love a fighting game that wasn’t SoulCalibur. Others, like BlazBlue and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, haven’t stuck with me quite as well, but still provided many hours of entertainment. I feel that after my above rants it is important to emphasize again that the games we’re getting are fun, plain and simple.

But how long is it going to last? 

All of these games are drawing from the same shallow pool of ideas, and it’s the same pool they’ve been using for over a decade. Why hasn’t anyone tried to make a few waves? Stir the pot? Spice up the mixture? 

How about imitating the Smash Bros approach? Nintendo, of all companies, managed to create what I think is the only truly casually accessible fighting game ever made. Sure its roster of memorable characters helped, but Pikachu was not what made the game fun. The perfect blend of easy execution and mechanical complexities were what made the idea stick. Smash Bros has no complex meter management. Success relies not on spending two lifetimes in practice mode memorizing combos or being able to execute complex inputs in tiny fractions of a second. 

Normal people can play it. What a concept!

Even better would be a new idea entirely. Something truly innovative. You can’t tell me after all the action movies I’ve seen that there isn’t plenty of room for creativity when your basic premise is “a dude fighting another dude”. 

The genre spawned by Street Fighter II has had a great run. I may have gotten my ass handed to me in Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat as a kid by my much better friend, but I’ve come around to love both series and the siblings they spawned. It may have taken me a while, but I got there.

It’s this newfound appreciation for the genre that makes me hope it wakes up and gets itself into shape before it’s too late. Even the adventure game genre has seen modern adaptations now (I’m looking in your direction, Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire), so surely fighting games can manage it. 

Then again, Japan seems to have lost a bit of that creative spark it once thrived on. Just look at the sorry state of modern JRPGs. Fighting games are another staple of eastern development. The road ahead looks to be tough.

But those people at the heart of this genre, those who create the games and those who have played them far longer than myself, are nothing if not dedicated. They can persevere the changes. They can weather the storm of progress. Change must come if this genre is to survive. 

The question is, will these venerable pugilists discover the truth in time? Will they be able to overcome their juvenile fixations and obsession with the past before the gaming public is no longer fooled by the veil of nostalgia and begins seeking experiences with actual heart, new ideas, and modern relevance? 

I sure hope so.

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