Post Script

After a gen­er­a­tion spent court­ing ca­sual play­ers, fight­ing games are get­ting tech­ni­cal again


Fight­ing-game sin­gle­player modes have a lot to an­swer for. In Street Fight­ers of yore, any hu­man play­ing Ken who fol­lows one missed dragon punch with another to catch your in­tended pun­ish­ment be­fore it can hit him is only do­ing it be­cause Ar­cade mode taught him to. For all its strides for­ward, Guilty Gear Xrd re­in­forces the les­son. If an AI Sol Badguy misses you with his Sho­ryuken-like Vol­canic Viper, he’ll un­leash another the sec­ond he lands, and then another. Only after the third does he stand still.

It has of­ten been said that fight­ing-game sin­gle­player modes breed bad habits. It’s true, but you are only be­ing taught them be­cause they are ef­fec­tive, at least when us­ing the CPU’s own tricks against it, or on un­skilled foes in mul­ti­player. A hu­man op­po­nent will see what you’re do­ing and adapt, coach­ing you out of those bad habits, but the AI never learns. It’ll fall for it ev­ery time, be­cause the de­vel­oper wants you to feel pow­er­ful.

It was some­thing that was es­pe­cially true of Street Fighter IV, and its Ul­tra Combo. It was aimed os­ten­si­bly at the lesser skilled, pow­ered by a me­ter that filled as you took dam­age and which, when de­ployed, was so pow­er­ful it could turn the bout back in your favour. It was bal­anced by be­ing a risky en­deav­our: miss, and the re­cov­ery an­i­ma­tion was typ­i­cally so long that an op­po­nent had time to con­sider their ev­ery op­tion be­fore met­ing out a re­sponse. Off­line, how­ever, the CPU would rarely bother block­ing it. Cap­com wanted you to wit­ness the cin­e­matic spec­ta­cle of your avatar tak­ing con­trol of the match. It kicked off the fight­ing game re­vival by telling play­ers they could be bril­liant with­out prac­tice or study or even very much skill.

Oth­ers would follow. Just as the 2D fight­ers that sprang up in the af­ter­math of SFII’s early-’90s suc­cess used Cap­com’s game as the set text, so the re­boots and chal­lengers that trailed in SFIV’s wake added some kind of spec­tac­u­lar come­back me­chanic. Fight­ing-game de­vel­op­ers spent the 360 and PS3 era pitch­ing their wares to a larger au­di­ence. At re­tail, at least, many suc­ceeded. And cer­tainly, the high-level tour­na­ment scene is a busier field now than it was be­fore SFIV. But those new play­ers stuck around be­cause they fell in love with a game so deeply that they were pre­pared to find out what made it tick with lit­tle to no help from the de­vel­oper.

As the gen­er­a­tion pro­gressed, things changed. Skull­girls set a new stan­dard for fight­ing-game tu­to­ri­als, and even Cap­com no­ticed, though Street Fighter X Tekken’s in­tro­duc­tory lessons were poorly paced, tonally in­ap­pro­pri­ate (hosted by Dan Hibiki, the un­skilled butt of many jokes), and only told half the story. It’s easy to see why: as with SFIV, Cap­com was pitch­ing to first­timers, telling them its new game was easy to un­der­stand and be bril­liant at, a laud­able goal that had lit­tle ground­ing in fact.

Now things are chang­ing. Guilty Gear does not com­pro­mise in its me­chan­ics or the way it teaches you them. It shows you its wares over 50 tu­to­ri­als, then shows you even more in its mis­sions, then tests you with its chal­lenges. It puts you un­der no il­lu­sions about the tech­ni­cal com­plex­ity of what lies ahead, but trusts you to be able to do it, helps you learn how to, and as­sures you that the re­wards are ev­ery bit as spec­tac­u­lar as its vi­su­als. The forth­com­ing Mor­tal Kom­bat X, the lat­est in a se­ries that has long favoured spec­ta­cle over sys­tems, gives char­ac­ters mul­ti­ple stances with dif­fer­ent movesets, and so looks like be­ing more of a fight­ing game than ever. And that tan­ta­lis­ing first glimpse of SFV sug­gests Cap­com is now seek­ing to test and re­ward the in­vested player, rather than court the ca­sual one. How Nether-Realm and Cap­com ex­plain their next games’ in­tri­ca­cies will be key, of course, but the early signs are heart­en­ing. After a gen­er­a­tion open­ing their arms to the world, fight­ing games look once again to be em­brac­ing those who love them the most.

Arc trig­ger­ing cin­e­matic ef­fects with nor­mal and round-end­ing moves means the spec­tac­u­lar is more read­ily avail­able

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