December is finally upon us and you know what that means. Time for everyone to start writing/filming/recording the mandatory GOTY list and like the mindless zombie that I am of course I wanted to follow suit. Unfortunately, I might not be able to write a proper GOTY list, so I figured instead of that, I’d make a more focused ramble and here we are. So shut up, grab your sticks and let’s talk fighting games. Starting with...
Probably the biggest surprise I had all year, Tekken 7 actually managed to entertain me. I’ll fully admit I never gave the series a proper chance because of that weird 3D-ish King of Fighters on PS2 that left a bad impression on fighting games that can’t decide if they want to be 2D or 3D. But I now realize that the addition of the third dimension gives Tekken the depth it is known for (you may now clap twice for that pun). My failed attempts at humor aside, Tekken has a surprisingly amount of tricks up its sleeve, with all of that parrying, sidestepping, armor moves, high and low crushes (hell, even the arena may play a part in the fight) and other stuff I don’t remember now but must be mastered to be really good at this game, since your health disappears faster than chocolate around my fat cousin. The idea of Rage Arts (aka Ultras) only being available after your HP is below a certain mark and being a one use only brings some interesting mind games to the table like: do I rush my enemy ruthlessly to not give him a chance to use their super, do I play the waiting game after his Art is online, or is my enemy more cautious now that mine is on, that sort of thing.
All of that gameplay is helped by a diverse cast of polyglot fighters that range from the mandatory Bruce Lee ripoff to motherfucking Akuma, which reminds me that Tekken 7’s story mode has this weird duality. On one hand, the fact that Akuma is pretty much canon in this universe makes the story cheesier than a yellow moon but it’s the good kind of cheese, the one I would feed my rats with. On the other, anyone whose name doesn’t include Mishima is only there to serve as filler. I like a focused story as much as the next guy but when you give my fellow Brazilian boy Eddy Gordo a single fight and call it an episode mode I’m forced to classify it as bullshit. And as ridiculous of a plot it is, when it was over I at least walked away with a smile on my face because I got to kick Jin’s fine demonic ass in yet another volcano as a Street Fighter character without having to worry about some random gems, and that my friends is a crossover I can approve. Unlike...
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It seems like it was barely 17 years ago you had the biggest roster in the history of crossovers and now look at you. But I suppose that’s what happens when Disney is in charge of the helm, fun is not allowed for a purpose that isn’t selling your kids toys. I can already imagine poor Capcom walking in the executive’s office and presenting the pitch for the roster and someone just handles them a note that says “CINEMATIC UNIVERSE!” and suddenly all the fun characters were sucked out into the void. No Deadpool, no Okami, no Phoenix Wright, no frigging X-Men, arguably the reason this series exists in the first place and what do you mean Sigma is a pre-order bonus? He’s literally half of the main villain!! It makes me sad and angry to see a company just throw away their legacy like that.
It’s such a waste of potential to make everyone look realistic when we’re talking about comic book characters facing against videogame characters, if anything this should’ve been an excuse to get as wild as possible, but I guess someone up there vetoed that and the art style had to be this bland “realistic” looking, with the quality all over the place: some characters looking great (Captain Marvel), X and Zero look like waxed plastic toys and I swear to God, Captain America, Spider Man and Chris Redfield all share the same model with only a different texture applied to it. And poor Morrigan what have they done to you? I guess someone took a look at her concept art and their head sounded the “Non-Advertiser Friendly” alarm that YouTube seems quite fond of these days and now she looks like Barbie doll (especially in that alternate costume) and has vampire fangs. She’s a Succubus dammit, she does a different kind of sucking!
The rest of the presentation is terrible in every level: the music is subpar, with all the returning characters (that is to say nearly all of them) either keeping their themes from MvC 3 or getting a techno/dumbstep remix. I wouldn’t mind, but there’s no variety there! Graphically it looks like a mobile game (made even worse thanks to all of those Dragon Ball FighterZ comparisons) and don’t even get me started on the UI, that I legitimately think it’s a placeholder due to how atrocious it looks.
Thankfully Disney doesn’t know how to program (yet) and so the actual fighting systems of this fighting game were left to Capcom and say what you will about Ol’ uncle Cap, but both of them still know how to throw a punch. Infinite returns to the tried and true 4 button layout from the times of MvC 2 and the two-man team from MvC 1, with a tag system that completely eliminates assists and instead gives you immediate control over your second character while the first executes whatever was the last command you gave them. You can even tag out while you’re taking a beating and try to turn the tide around. It’s a welcome change and one that adds incredible combo possibilities because of how flexible it is.
But learning how to play MvC is still a difficult task because it doesn’t have a difficulty curve as much as it has a difficulty butt slider. It all involves learning and properly executing the longest combo you can find, juggling your enemy up and down enough times to make Mai Shiranui jealous, not unlike teaching your grandma’s parrot some swear words: both are incredibly long and boring processes, have temporary payoffs and are bound to end a few relationships by the end of it. And I would talk about the Stones if it weren’t for the fact that half the player base is either spamming the screen red with the Reality stone or rezzing their ally with the Soul stone, with only the eventual troll picking the cage stone one that I honestly can’t be bothered with remembering the name.
The fact that the series was always terrible at teaching you how to play it doesn’t really help. Mission mode is still less of a tutorial and more of a series of mini-challenges and the story mode is wasted potential (I feel like I’m saying that a lot). Yes for the first time MvC has a proper story and it’s… Well, it’s there. It starts in media res without never going back to the start for more than ten minutes, every character (and I mean, every single one of them) enters on screen calling each other by name and throwing some attempt at humor. You can tell it’s just to introduce all those people to the casual audience, and that would be fine if it wasn’t so forced and rushed. But the worst of it all is that is somehow manages to be a boring “good guys vs bad guys story”. The only real stand out moments I can think of is the Dante vs Jedah fight and X vs Zero (that I still think should’ve been a 1 on 1 like the Dante fight) and the whole thing is predictable even for fighting game standards. TL;DR: Story sucks. But you know what story doesn’t suck?
Granted it’s just an anime you sit back and watch along. Is it cheating to put what is basically an update to an older game on this list? Maybe, but if MvC can get away with recycling 90% of its roster, surely I can get away with putting a great update to an already great game on this list. But the matter of fact is that Guilty Gear has been my favorite fighting series ever since the days of the PlayStation 2 and when even with Sign’s rough start, the eventual Revelator release more than made up for it. As a fair warning, I have nothing but praise for this game and this is just an update, so TL;DR: This is still the best fighting game of this generation and if you liked Revelator, buy Rev 2. You may now skip the following paragraphs.
If MvC is a blind man teaching a deaf class, Xrd is a proper parent, teaching you what you need, when you need. The tutorial goes through all the basics of movement, its 5 button control scheme and the Gatling Combo system, blocks and GG’s unique Roman Cancel mechanic. It even understands the importance of repetition, giving you one last trial that goes through everything you just learned. If that wasn’t enough (and trust me it isn’t) you have the Dojo, where you can learn character specific combos, a mission mode actually designed to teach you the intricacies of the game (requiring you to succeed in whatever is asked at least 3 outta 5 times), and even a few character specific tutorials to help you counter a few of their moves. And should you ever find yourself having trouble with a particular task, you can just hit the sample button to watch the computer execute it for you and you can reset everything at the press of a button if you screw up. For a series that was always “famous” for having a high execution ceiling, Xrd goes miles above and beyond any other fighting game I’ve played to make sure you’re gonna have a good time should you be willing to put the effort. Whether you’re aiming for EVO or just want to beat the little twat that is your younger brother that never goes into training mode but somehow still beats you, learning to play this game is actually fun, thanks to a mix of minimal downtime, clear precise instructions and a system that won’t punish you for managing to sneak a quick jab before a kick as long as you manage to finish the combo.
After you are done with the training wheels, Rev 2 is packed with content. Starting from an arcade mode that serves as a pretty nice way to hone your skills. I found myself discovering little things each time I played it like, I have trouble with I-No’s combos or, I still fucking hate to play against Potemkin, to name a few. Finishing Arcade mode without ever seeing the difficult drop fills me with a real sense of pride and accomplishment. And should the need for human contact arise, you can always try the Online Mode and join in one of the many many lobbies around the world. If you liking collecting stuff, Rev 2 rewards you with virtual cash that you can use to unluck colors, music from across the whole series, stickers, illustrations, sound files AND stuff for a brand new figurine mode that almost makes up for the lack of actual action figures of the franchise (I still need a physical mini Baiken on my shelf Arc Sys).
The Guilty Gear series was always like a foundry because it never stops dispensing molten metal all over the place, and the whole game reflects that. Arc Sys has mastered the 3D cell shading technology, with extremely detailed models that look and feel like sprites (and will look gorgeous many years down the line), dynamic camera angles for Overdrives (Supers) and Dust Launchers for example. The story brings huge developments for the fans that care (like myself) and the music oh praised be Lenny, the music! It’s no secret that Director/Designer/Creator/Composer/Sometimes-Voice-Actor Daisuke Ishiwatari is a huge metal fan. Almost everything in the series makes reference to a song, band, person or musical term, from Sol’s real name Frederick (in honor of Mercury), an attack named Gamma Ray, a song that has a riff suspiciously similar to Judas Priest’s “Electric Eye” and a place in the plot literally called the Floyd Rose tower (guitar players out there will get this one) just to name very, very few of them. This game is unapologetically an ode to hard rock and heavy metal culture and wears its inspirations on its sleeves and multiple belts. Much like the next challenger...
When I found this game while going through my Steam recommendations, my first thought was: damn woman. My second thought was: I’m being baited. But like a Chomper from Super Mario, I have a mouth and I must bite and bit that bait I did! A good thing, because for once there wasn’t a proverbial mousetrap at the end of it. Instead, there was a literal ambush made by mutant cats! Now you might be wondering, what the hell is this game doing on this list? Obviously, this isn’t a fighting game. You’re right imaginary reader and the reasons for that are twofold: One, I didn’t play all of the games that came out this year (understandably so because I’m a very serious and productive member of society) and two, this is a little gem that deserves all the love it can get!
I knew there was something special about this game when, in my first run there was a moment I landed a combo, into a throw, into a wall bounce, into an uppercut that I cancelled into my super that would’ve put me in the perfect position for a reset if the dude hadn’t EXPLODED in a million pieces a second ago. And if that didn’t activate the pleasure center in your brain I think it’s time to close this tab. I guess this would be a third reason why this game is on this list: it draws inspiration from conventional fighting games while being a damn fun homage to beat ‘em ups from the Golden Era. If you thought Xrd made references, boy you are in for a ride with this one. Everything in Fight’N Rage is a reference of some sort: your 3 heroes are Not Ninja Chuck Norris; Not Gender bend Guy; and Not Mutant Haggar. There is a war between mutant animals and humans, guns are nowhere to be found, the apocalypse happened, there’s a set piece taken straight outta Fury Road and I swear to God there’s one moment that references both Battletoads and Ninja Turtles and it is awesome! Those are only a few of many more that I won’t spoil, but if you lived that age and played those games you might just drown in nostalgia.
Fortunately, F’NR has more than just nostalgia. After finishing your first run, you unlock the endings table (a whopping 56 in total, considering all routes and characters combinations and yes, there’s 3 players co-op), the Extras section; where a cute foxy girl will trade the coins you earned for stuff and pro tip: you can press start on locked items to see the unlock requirements. There is a lot here: costumes, add-ons like AI Partner and Turbo Mode; extra characters (namely the enemies that you can then use in Versus Mode); and the one you’ll probably unlock immediately: Training Mode. This is where the whole “Streets of Rage and SF Alpha had a kid” thing becomes clear. You are presented with a series of tutorials, covering movement, cancels and of course, combos. Here is where you’ll discover there’s a parry, jump cancels, recovery, throw escapes and a few really neat combos. For your troubles, you’ll be rewarded belts and unlocking the prestigious Black Belt and you get a costume for that character. Lovely.
That simple and effective gameplay is backed by beautiful pixel art, and the game even gives you the option of emulating old CTR monitors, add scanlines, hell, you can even make it all grayscale if you really want to remember your first TV (well, if you have more than 22 years that is). Just a shame that this lacks a sound test mode because the music here is on point! The menu theme gets the blood pumping, the hard rock boss theme tells you shit is getting real, a distorted synth enhances the creepiness of a dark forest and smooth acoustic guitars and pianos encompass the few quiet moments you get in cutscenes. It’s such a varied soundtrack and I absolutely love it. Did I also mention that other than the music, this is the work of one man? Yeah, let that sink in for a moment. So go show this little gem some love, for only ten bucks you couldn’t ask for more bang for your buck if your buck was a double barrel shotgun.
Now to end this a rapid-fire round for the ones I had little or nothing to say about:
Injustice 2: Still feels like MK but with DC characters. Quite frankly I don’t care much for either but holy shit it’s the Ninja Turtles 10/10 instabuy!!
Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late[st]: This technically was released in 2017, but only in Japan, American release only next year. And long ass title aside, its more UNIEL, an underappreciated but nonetheless very good game. Here’s hoping Cross Tag Battle draws some attention to it.
Fight of The Gods: Is it mediocre at best and infinite rage loop at worst? Absolutely. But any game that lets me pimp slap as Buddha or unironically say that Jesus’ cross up game was on point it’s worth at least a check if you have a few friends, beer, and five dollars.
And that is it. All things considered, this was a very good year for fighting games and 2018 is promising to start out with a bang with Dragon Ball FighterZ, BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle and the recently announced Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. And who knows, maybe the inevitable updated version of MvC:I will fix some of the issues I have and credit where its due, Capcom seems to be putting some effort into making that happen, so here’s hoping!
It is a very good time to be a fighting game fan and I couldn’t be happier.
Let’s Keep on Rocking!