I never thought video games would be the tipping point for me to consider that I might be getting old. I've been playing since the days of Pong. One of my oldest memories is at the tender age of three or four sitting in front of our large black and white TV, happily twisting the knobs of the Coleco Pong panel, keeping that pixeled square in play. Then it was Intellivision (because anyone who had one knew it kicked Atari's ass), NES, and so on; where of course Street Fighter 2 came into the world, and any kid worth his salt knew at least how to play one character backwards and forwards. My choice was always Guile, that brash U.S. soldier with the hair that looked like he'd been hit by a bolt of lightning--and he liked it. I could toss his sonic booms like mad, and gladly hold my own against most players.
But recently I acquired a copy of King of Fighters XII
which I had unwittingly won from Destructoid's Comment of the Week
lauding, and in only one hour, I realized...
I had no business playing this game.
Oh no, not because it's bad mind you. I like the hand-rendered 2D pixelated art. I'm an old-school animator by trade, so anything hand-drawn just becomes that much more cool for me in a video game. The truth of the matter is, I suck at it. Badly.
It's not that I can't win a match. No, in fact I blew through the offline time trial in under 15 minutes, which of course made me think I wasn't half-bad at this. I ramped it up to the next difficulty setting, and still conquered all without a single loss.
Naturally, I figured I'd try taking on the world and see how I match up online. Well, that's when the reality hit. Six straight competitors later, and i had won a total of four out of 18 bouts. The trouble is, very few competitors--that I played anyways--were less about the art of fighting and more about exploiting ranged attacks that keep your character at bay. My first challenger alone kept spamming the cross-dressing Ash's wave attack at me for the first two rounds, until finally I picked up my headset and goaded him/her into taking me on legitimately, to which they did. Ah, and therein I defeated them once, but only
the once. Combo attacks were thrust upon me time and again relentlessly, and inside of two minutes it was all over.
An hour and 12 losses later, I realized that I just couldn't put up with this. I was more of a speedbag than a competitor.
The game offered no insight as to how to perform moves, most of the characters I remembered from earlier versions of KoF were not included this time around, and frankly, the sting of numerous straight losses was something I just couldn't put up with. I certainly didn't want to put in the time and effort to master all-new moves, and frankly if I won at all against anyone, it would be out of sheer luck or button mashing my Dualshock to death.
The trouble with most franchise fighting games is that unless you invest in them from day one or have years of experience playing earlier chapters, playing them will just lead to anger and the false impression you're washed up. The truth is you're already behind the curve because some snot-nosed 14 year-old spent 6-10 hours every day for a week over summer break mastering the moves when the game streeted, or that 30 year-old die-hard knows every trick in the book like the back of his hand--and they're handing you your hat. It's now a genre that is less about finesse than it is more about knowing the exact frame of animation where you can pummel your opponent each and every time from the exact moment they get back up.
I'm not going to kid you--a lot of games are like that nowadays. I play Metal Gear Online
religiously, and when you knock an opponent back with a grenade or shotgun, I know within a few frames exactly when I can fire again to finish them off, since the game allows a small recovery time from the assault. But I also know I have to ensure they're not easily aiming back at me when that happens and getting off a lucky shot, and have to adjust my position accordingly.
But in 2D fighting games, that just isn't possible. If you have your back to the corner of the screen, you only have three options: either defend and drain your energy to slow your impending defeat, leap up and over or go straight through them. When frame counts are more the primer for an attack, chances are you're going down and staying
there unless the other guy shows an ounce of mercy...or screws up his timing.
And that's just it: where are the battles where you taunt your opponent to move in closer? The jockeying back and forth with quick rabbit punches or flying kicks? The mano-a-mano, locking horns close combat? It's become a series of nothing more than Killer Instinct-like beatdowns
in them all. I actually hold KI responsible for this behavior in fighter games--all you needed to know was the ultra combo code and the game was over for the other guy. I once saw a 10 year-old kid at the local arcade slap the command on the joystick, grab his drink from the floor, and walk over to the nearby change machine to get more tokens while the college guy he was playing stood there dumbfounded, jaw on the floor watching his character get pummeled relentlessly, helpless to do anything.
So, that's it. BlazBlue's been out for months, so that new franchise is out of reach for me, and on top of it my thumb's still hurting a day later from the blistering crosspad use. I'm sticking with my buddy Guile from now on, and we're going to hit the bar and drown my sorrows away in root beer. I'm looking up an AARP membership when I get back tonight.