What is the appeal of fighting games?
It is human nature to feel better when others aren’t doing as well as you are. Just like in a game of rugby, when the All Blacks kick the Aussies backside (figuratively speaking of course), we love to gloat over our downed opponents. This analogy can be applied to fighting games, where we actually do kick someone else’s butt! As opposed to your typical home console video or computer game, where you play by yourself at your own pace or engage in a party-ish fun fiesta, fighting games offer a more visceral and intense experience. You may even go on to say that they constitute a serious side of gaming.
That’s the draw right there. Most fighting games out there today are full of technical depth and require plenty of mastery and skills to outperform other gamers you play against; if you come out victorious, there is no doubt as to who the better player is. Fights are typically fast-paced and chock-full of brutal martial arts, weapon combat or just plain fantastical special effects like the traditional fireball. The people who are playing are locked in an intense mind-struggle, whilst any spectators can enjoy the virtual display of off-the-hook actions from the backbenches.
The evolution of fighting games?
One of the very first fighting games that I can recall dates back to even before the ONE that EVERYBODY knows. Yeah I know you all know about Street Fighter II, but have you heard of Yie Ar Kung-Fu? This take on martial arts was one of the first to offer a wide range of manoeuvre to bring your opponent into submission. Granted it wasn’t much to look at (it was made in 1985 after all... hmm, as old as I am!) but it offered a fighting experience that could at least be compared to the real thing.
The ultimate role-model of fighting games and the benchmark to which many others were judged against is the one you all know – Street Fighter II. When it was released in 1991 it was met with well-deserved acclaim from arcade-goers all over the world. Not only did it look fantastic (and it still does mind you), but the incredible special moves and the deep string and combo system (that slowly evolved in over perhaps too many instalments) always made each battle a unique and fresh experience every time. The world stayed with Street Fighter II and its many upgrades for a very long time, from new additional characters to increased speed to more tinkering with the fighting engine. Along with rival Mortal Kombat, which put the emphasis more on realism and bucket-loads of gore, the 2D fighting game scene looked to set in high stone.
However the times changed and as technology cracked open the 3rd dimension, the flood of new 2D games that followed in Street Fighter’s footsteps saw waning popularity. Games like King of Fighters and the Marvel vs. Capcom series offered some fresh ideas with the team-play mechanics, but the 2D plane was severely limiting the true evolution of the genre.
Then came Sega’s Virtua Fighter, the first polygonal fighter that stunned the fighting game enthusiasts so used to their fancy sparkles and crazy acrobatics. Virtua Fighter took a more true-to-life approach offering real fighting actions that could finally be realised with 3D technology. Frankly speaking it wasn’t a very exciting game, but it showed a lot of potential and it definitely made a big impact for what was to come. 2D fighting was about to take a backseat to this new-fangled evolution.
The royalty of 3D fighting games lies with the following trifecta: Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur. These 3 games offer different fighting systems that are tailor-suited to fit their styles. Tekken and Soul Calibur offer frenetic, special-effects laden hand to hand and weapon-based combat respectively, whilst Virtua Fighter retains its tradition of being as close to actual art form as possible. These 3 powerhouses currently dominate the scene and there’s no doubt that they will hold their firm grip for many more years to come, maybe even besting Street Fighter’s long run!
But 2D fighting games aren’t completely out of the picture, not yet. Franchises like Guilty Gear and Melty Blood show that the more animated division of the genre still holds up well. Just like how some of us will never grow out of watching cartoons and anime (most of us at GameConsole here!) there will always be an audience for less realistic, more unbelievable battling. After all, Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Series is certainly no portrayal of the real art of war, but it still has a massive legion of followers. These games are still a heck of a lot of fun, 1 on 1, 2 on 2, and everything else in between.
How do fighting games compare to the real thing?
This is something that is on everyone’s mind whether they are a fan, a critic or someone that questions the way that videogames portray realistic violence. Fighting games are looking so close to photo-realistic these days that soon it may be difficult to discern real
from unreal. However they haven’t gotten as much attention as other violent games (Grand Theft Auto springs to mind here), and this is likely due to the fact that blood is eliminated in all the realistic 3D fighting games (with Mortal Kombat looking more plastic-like than anything else these days).
Violence is rife throughout the media so you can’t really blame everything on videogames. Fighting games tend to feature top martial artists fighting for honour and glory, rather than for all the wrong reasons such as domestic violence. There’s no doubt that as graphics look closer and closer to what we see on live broadcasts, there will be some debates stirring up, but it’s still just a game and to the wise eye it still looks just like one too, life bars and all.
What’s there to look forward to?
Visual presentation isn’t the only aspect benefitting from high-end technology. With the advent of easily-accessible networking services, online play is the next logical step. The arcade scene is still reasonably strong (see the brief interview further along), but being able to game-on in the comfort of your humble abode, match-make with gamers of any skill level worldwide, having access to live matches and tournaments, and loads of other options is an opportunity that just can’t be missed. Gone will be the days when you have to play against a mindless CPU opponent, as you wait patiently hoping that a human challenger will arrive before your dollar-time is all spent. Sure it’s always nice to battle someone who is physically right there and that’s why arcades will continue to buzz, but more accessibility means that more gamers who are normally shy to the more social scene will still get to enjoy kicking butt and taking names.
I recently had a chat with Eamonn Hyland, a long-time Tekken player (and coincidentally a good friend of mine) who placed 3rd in the Christchurch Regional Tournament for Tekken 5: Dark Resurrection. He knows his fair share about fighting games and is in the know with the rest of the NZ Tekken community. Here’s what he had to say when I asked him about how the fighting game scene will change over the next few years:
“I think serious arcade games will always have their place because of the social side to gaming. Even if a game like Tekken could be played online I and many others would still want to get out there for real to play. Have few games, drop by the local cafe or pub and have a few drinks to chill out, chat about life and everything else in general, and then head back for some more games. It’s just like a night out with the boys and girls, it’s great.
But I do think the future is online console play. I see arcade fighters slowly diminishing in the west, in the long term of course. In the short term, probably more of the same, but with more detailed graphics and greater depth and system tweaks is what we’ll see. There will probably be no more risky ‘innovations’ left in this side of the industry, seeing as how the brand names which everyone loves and recognises makes it difficult for anyone new to break in.”
The next battle
Well it looks like we’ve arrived at yet another stand-still in the fighting game genre. What’s next after the 3D evolution? I guess we’ll see soon enough, keep it all a surprise eh? As at this time the genre is carrying its own weight confidently, and while we may not see any revolution tomorrow, next month or in next decade (hopefully not too long!) the games are great fun to play right now and that’s all that matters.
There’s still a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Here are the top 3 on my watch list. Keep your eyes peeled for them as they are guaranteed to kick some serious ass. Wa-tah!
Tekken 6 (Arcade/PS3): Incredible next-gen graphics, more outfit customisation, even more refined one-on-one battles, and it’s the next Tekken - what more could you ask for? And we’ve been promised that it will retain the core elements seen in Tekken 5/DR, so we know it’s not going down the road of Tekken 4 again!
Dissidia: Final Fantasy (PSP): This was a surprise announcement coming out of this year’s Square Enix Party in Japan. It looks to bring together the old and new from the entire illustrious series, from the Final Fantasy I’s Garland to everyone’s favourite evil-doer Sephiroth. All are fair game for one epic-defying supreme battle royale. This is something to look forward to for all Final Fantasy fans over the last 20 years and counting!
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii): The all-star Nintendo cast returns to duke it out, this time with some new additions including Wario, Metaknight and even Solid Snake! The ultimate tournament is arriving soon so you’d better get your ‘Wii-pons’ primed and ready!