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On Fighting Games This Year....

Just sitting down pondering on all these great fighting games that came out this year. Blazblue, Street Fighter IV, then later King of Fighters XII and Tekken 6....this year is pretty unprecedented in terms of attention that the genre is getting.

I remember in the late nineties, when Street Fighter II was at its prime, there was also a lot of fighting games being released by various companies. You could say that the fighting game back then was the "first person shooter" of that generation. Companies were churning them out left and right, and a lot of them were simply derivative of Street Fighter II. At some point, I think gamers just got tired of all of them.

Today, I'm not too sure if fighting games will overtake the current popularity of first-person shooters with younger gamers, but the ones that are being released today are really first-rate, high quality titles that all have their own unique personality. Currently, Blazblue gets the nod for seeming to be the most original of them all (to come out this year), and I hope that Arc System Works will continue to work hard on establishing the series as a new favorite among gamers. It has an uphill battle to climb against established franchises like Street Fighter and Tekken, but I think it has its very own flavor which will make it unique and memorable on its own.

Another challenge for fighting games to overcome with newer gamers is their inherent learning curve, and the requirement to have arcade sticks as standard equipment (which makes playing these games more expensive). Yes, playing these games with the regular controllers that come with current consoles is possible, but I think that players who use arcade sticks will always have some kind of advantage, whether real or simply perceived (by others)....I personally believe that stick players have a slight edge because I think hand positioning and movement speed are important factors to playing well in fighting games. With an arcade stick, your entire arm gets in on the action, which (IMHO) makes a player a degree faster and more accurate than someone using a pad. Of course, results vary from player to player but, from experience, I think there are some things that you could only do on a stick that you couldn't do on a pad.

Anyway, moving on.....the learning curve for fighting games is probably its biggest obstacle. Street Fighter is real popular with the hardcore (and some in the game press) because they know the game from a long time ago and are already familiar with basic moves and mechanics. But for the rest of the gamers out there who have never even heard of Ryu and Ken, SF4 can be a challenging game to learn. I think one of the key advantages that old players have over the newer ones trying to learn it is that they already know how most normal moves and special moves are already like, so the way they play is already influenced by what they remember from gaming long ago. Newer players are probably still surprised when they see a Sonic Boom or when Blanka launches a blanka ball upwards instead of forwards, or when some of Ryu's punches or Ken's kicks have to be blocked high....these are things older players know from experience from older games like SFII or SF Alpha, but are not too obvious to newer players. If there were a way to communicate simple concepts like these to the newer, Tekken/Soulcalibur-playing audience, in a way that they can easily remember or understand, then maybe SF would have an even wider audience today. That said, this is a challenge that only the game companies like Capcom, Namco Bandai, SNK or Arc System Works can answer to. They have to keep this current 'wave' of fighting games going, and they have to somehow grow the audience further, while at the same time, ensure that fighting games appeal to every type of player, from the ones who memorize things things like frame data, to the ones who just mash buttons and are just playing to have fun.

Virtua Fighter 5 for consoles had a really fantastic tutorial system (and I heard that earlier versions of VF had a tutorial that was even more detailed than the one for VF5)....other companies should take a cue from Sega and make tutorials that are far more advanced, and teach via experience, instead of simply showing which directions and buttons to press to execute moves and combos.

One more thing that perhaps fighting games can do later on is emphasize team play. This is one of the key reasons why first-person shooters are so popular with many gamers: it's simply more fun to play with other players on your side...that way you can ease the burden on the player when they're playing competitively . Also, there is something to be said about how players have more fun when they're playing side-by-side as opposed to always being at odds with each other. With online modes being capable of having more than 2 players at once, this is an idea that can probably be developed further, so that winning or losing can no longer become a solitary experience.

2009 really is the year of the fighting game. Here's to the continued growth of the genre in the months and years to come.

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