Welcome back to the stage of history ladies and gentlemen. It is now 2019 and the world was not ended yet. I wanted to get this article in December last year during the sales period but life decided to get in the way. But I like to finish what I start, so let’s do this! Time to see if my predictions from 2017 were correct, welcome back old favorites and judge the newcomers without mercy! The same rules as last year apply, only games I actually played will make his list, so everything Switch exclusive is out by default cause I don’t own it! And besides Smash isn’t a fighting game anyway XD
Now that we got that outta the way, let’s get ready to rock!
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But going by that mindset, DBFZ isn’t an homage to a king, it’s a downright regicide for the throne. Or so said the Internet, but to be fair there was some merit to that. The 3v3 formula, the six buttons (two dedicated to assists), the comeback mechanic that gets stronger the more fucked you are, the skeleton beneath this cell shaded skin should be all too familiar for even the most casual of players. What Arc Sys did was take that solid foundation and make it something very much its own and not only that, something that could only be Dragon Ball and then it irons out a few things. Take the way both players return to neutral after a character goes down: it resets the match’s momentum, so the winner won’t continue to win harder and the other player can have a second to breathe, but its also very much in keeping with the tone of the show, as anyone that ever watched Dragon Ball can tell you that they have to have an epic stare contest before fighting.
At this point I feel like praising Arc’s for their presentation is like praising the sun for rising up, yes it’s pretty but did you really expect anything else? Their technical wizardry and mastery of cell shading combined with the iconic designs of Dragon Ball and a deep respect for the source material made this their most beautiful game so far. Every movement, pose, facial expression, all lift straight from the original works and the Dramatic Finishers (the recreation of scenes from the show) are a nice cherry on the top of this beautiful cake. The sound department received equal care, and I don’t mean just the SFX, the music sounds like the Budokai series and Ishiwatari had a baby and that baby was a rock star. In fact, I’m convinced he’s working on this game under a fake name! Or that he was a heavy inspiration for the team, but that explanation is boring. Guitar shredding, heroic synths, nods to Chala Head Chala, this OST has it all. This is without a doubt the best Dragon Ball has ever looked in any media ever.
But what I like the most about DBFZ is in how well it translates the feeling of the show to its gameplay; with stuff like Super Dashing, Charging Your Ki, Vanishing, and a Super that is the fighting game equivalent of a Kamikaze attack just to name a few; and how that feeling ends up leaking to the player base as well. Not only that but this could be a fantastic bridge for people that don’t play fighting games. Characters have a very limited command list, stopping them from having a response for every situation (Hi Dante) and making team synergy all the more important. All of your specials are executed with a simple quarter circle motion and some combination of buttons, and auto combos are here too, so newcomers won’t be completely obliterated in their first steps. All of that makes for an accessible game that doesn’t sacrifice its depth, should you be willing to go the distance, since characters like Hit play differently from everyone else and you even have your 8 directional flying douche for all the Magneto players out there.
As for the player base, this was the most played game at EVO this year and the not only there but any other place this was played there was always a crowd there, to scream during Cell’s intro, to mourn an exploding Chiautzu, to unironically cheer for (Lord) Yamcha making an epic comeback! And that just makes the recent news of the many cancellations of DBFZ tournaments a small tragedy. I’m not sure what the future holds for this game, but I sure hope I won’t have to make a wish to magical dragon in the near future. Unless it is to learn how to play this game cause Rev 2 this ain’t my friends and besides the very meh story mode (it’s basically 3 different stories instead of 3 different perspectives. Weird stuff, but the fan service is on point, so if you are a huge fan, give it a go!) this is one of my only complaints with the game. That and the severe lack of a playable Master Roshi and an even more severe over-abundance of Gokus. I hope the next iteration of FigherZ improves on those flaws, especially the very simplistic tutorial. And if they need help they can always take a page from...
Also known as UNIST, That Game From The Melty Blood Guys or Holy-Shit-This-Is-Actually-Pretty-Dope, and this has most definitely the best tutorial I’ve ever had the joy to play. It’s on par with Revelator’s but for different reasons that I’ll get to in a bit. I mentioned this game was one of the underrated gems of this gen and one of my most anticipated of the year but boy, I was not prepared for this. Now that its finally here and in English let me elaborate on the why.
UNIEL fills a need I never knew I had, by being a middle ground between the more positional styles of a traditional Ad Street Fighter or KOF title while having the free-form combos of an anime fighting game (as long as you don’t repeat a move you can keep canceling normals into other normals, allowing for a ridiculously self expressive system. Also, reverse beats). No air dashes or double jumping tho (save a few exceptions) so battles are fought mostly on ground level and there’s an emphasis on controlling the flow of the battle trough the Grid system, whether you’re the one on the offensive or defensive. This is also why in competitive play it’s not unusual to see the low tier crew dunking out with the big shots pretty evenly and not only that, time-outs are not uncommon and not at all boring to watch, since tides can turn with the slightest of hit confirms.
Tying this more methodical but still fast paced rhythm is French Bread’s philosophy of making even the basic act of pushing a button feels incredibly good. Ever since the days of Melty Blood this has been one of their primary concerns and UNIEL shows a logical evolution of the concept. Seriously, it’s impressive how good it feels to land hits in this game. And since I’ve been hyping that Tutorial so much let’s talk about it.
I already compared it with Revelator’s but while the latter goes in great depth about its own systems, UNIST goes for a broader approach. It will teach you how to play UNIEL but it also wants to teach you tech that is universal for fighting games, making this a fantastic game to get into fighters. From the very basics of the HUD all the way to guards, combos, block strings, OS, freaking fuzzy guard!! When was the last time a game taught you FUZZY GUARD? This is the level of shit we are talking about here. And when you’re ready to dive even deeper, they have character specific tutorials to get you started (overview, combos, block strings and a few counters). Once you’re done with all of them, the game straight up tells you “Hey, you’re not ready to win yet. Go get your ass kicked now”. It’s great!
As it is to be expected of a fighting game re-release, this late[st] version is jam packed with content. Besides the expected cosmetic stuff such as colors and ways to make your Online Card look fancier, UNIST has the mandatory Arcade and a Chronicles, their equivalent of a story mode. It’s pretty much a Visual Novel so if you’re not into that, better to stay away. Last but certainly not least, this version brings in balance tweaks and 4 new characters, including best girl Wagner (and I will not hear otherwise). And honestly, in a year when Season Passes were sold like water in the desert, it feels good to buy a fighting game and just have all the content on the get go.
Thankfully for me, that would not be the last time I’d get to hang around Hyde and all the dwellers of the Hollow Night. Unfortunately it just had to be in...
And I’m not gonna lie, I went in expecting to hate this and I’ve never been so sad for being right. On paper, this game is a solid idea: Arc Sys’ very own KoF with the girls from RWBY as guests? Monty Oum be praised! So what the hell went wrong here? This concept should be hot fire but somehow turned out lukewarm like the water I use on my plants. This game is also the reason it took me so long to publish this, it was hard to find it in me to keep playing it for reasons that will soon become obvious, so take the following rant with a truck of salt. And buckle up kids, this is gonna be a long one.
The first red flag was the way they decided to monetize this, selling literally half the roster as DLC, some of which show up in the story mode! It was such a bad move that they later went back and gave us the other half of the RWBY cast for free. Ok fair enough, maybe they need time to balance these other characters to this game’s system. Except not cause all the things that made P4U and UNIEL themselves are nowhere to be found here. No I wasn’t expecting them to just copy paste every system used in their respective games cause they would clash like a match of Demolition Derby, but are you seriously telling me you couldn’t include at least persona breaking? You know, make it a little more strategic? The UNIEL crew kept their traits so being who I am I instantly gravitated towards them, which leads me to my next issue.
Everyone in this plays like an even simpler version GG Xrd’s Ramlethal, if she only had Punch, Kick, and Dust. Normally this simplification would not bother me, I’m very much okay with simpler control schemes, and I think the reason it does bother me is twofold: the first is the existence of only auto combos; locking everyone in a preset combo patch, the second is the very line that opened this paragraph, characters just don’t feel like themselves. At best, they resemble a simplified version, at worst they’re completely different, with the very worst offender being Vatista (she was a charge character and now she is not). I am well aware this was done for the sake of balance (probably) and it is a petty complaint all things considered, but it bothers me and I know I can’t be the only one. So let me complain about something less subjective.
Remember what I said about praising Arc for their presentation? Well fellas, the sun woke up drunk and lazy this time, cause BB Tag uses so much recycled content Greenpeace wants to make it their poster boy. Sprites are lift straight from the originals and the ones that are new (RWBY’s) don’t look nearly as polished as the rest, although the latter suffers from a strange lack of anti-aliasing, even after I messed around with the configuration settings (I suspect that its because those sprites were not meant to take so much space on the screen originally and weren’t properly upscaled for this game). Not even the music escaped this recycling, they couldn’t even use the good version of Under Heaven Destruction from Chrono Phantasma! I think the only new song I heard comes at the end of the story mode and I only know that cause that track was leaked.
Now, I originally wrote two whole paragraphs about how the Tag part of BB Tag was pretty phenomenal and honestly above MvC:I’s, saying it put the systems there to shame blah blah bah, but something about that didn’t feel right. Turns out, my memory was playing tricks on me and after going back to Infinite for a single night it was clear to me that past Nior was a goddamn idiot. Here’s the exact words that fool used:
“There’s a lot you can do besides the bread and butter combo extenders: tag to break a combo, DHCs, control both your characters at the same time (Soul Stone style), use your assist to create a forced corner, tag during the assist animation and probably something else that I don’t remember. The downside to that emphasis on a dynamic duo is that once one of your characters goes down, you’re fighting at half efficiency, but to compensate for that you have Resonance, basically a less broken X-Factor that lasts 15 seconds. The more times you used your assist the stronger this gets.”
Sounds familiar? It should, cause you can do nearly all the above in Infinite already. You could argue that the Emergency Tag here is slightly better since it doesn’t take from your super meter and unlike Infinite, your assist actually enters the stage attacking, but the corner trick is probably too impractical to use on a daily basis so that’s no good. The one thing I’ll give BB Tag is that going in buttons akimbo here feels better than in MvC:I, because you can actually do it more than once per match (and let’s be real, 99% of you picked up the Soul Stone anyway, so it’s not like you’re missing anything).
In the end, I don’t hate BB Tag because it’s a bad game, cause it isn’t. I hate it because it’s only mediocre. It feels as if Arc’s B team rushed this for EVO, maybe in an attempt to capitalize on the lack of Marvel, who really knows. But there is one final nail in the coffin that cements my hate boner: this game got into EVO while it was barely a month old in NA, while Skullgirls was 3 months old when it came out and it was refused for being “too young”, and I can smell the hypocrisy and it reeks of money. Yes this is mostly a problem with EVO and yes, I’ll take this grudge with me to the grave and nobody can stop me.
Lucky for me, this wouldn’t be the only crossover of the year...
Cause it’s not about size, it’s how you use it, and sometimes, a little is just enough. But enough about my excuses in bed, let’s go back to fighting games. Last year we saw a trend to make fighting games more accessible and I think it’s fitting that it was an indie the one to get that idea to its logical and satisfying conclusion: to mash the simplicity of Smash with the feeling of a traditional airdasher, without actual airdashes. And it works!
Blade Strangers (that will not be shortened to BS, otherwise no one would take this seriously) doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does upgrade it by basically fusing together elements from different types of fighters. It uses 4 buttons and no motions (only directions), with everything from Grabs to Supers being a combination of said buttons, allowing anyone to pick up a controller and string together a few moves. It also makes a few mechanics universal, like 6H always being chargeable to have armor and a dedicated button for sweeps, anti airs and knockbacks. Because of that characters naturally have a very small move list, with the variety coming from EX Moves that you can perform by (you guessed it) pressing one extra button, and thanks to that combos work a bit different than other games.
Below the HP bars it has something called Combo Meter, and that is basically a cap on how long you can be combo’ed for. So optimal use of your moves comes down to juggling the opponent, but there is a penalty for repeating moves in a combo, creating a delicate dance of finding the path of least redundancy for maximum damage. And boy, the damage here is high! With proper meter usage, it’s easy to lose half your HP in a single well-executed chain. And alongside those juggling combos there’s the movement that reminds me a lot of KoF than Marvel. Again, that mix of different styles that just works.
Given that this is an indie game, the presentation is about what I expected. The music is definitely the weakest point here, being just serivicable. But the sprites deserve mention: this is a crossover game after all and here, we are crossing indies, 90% of them totally unknown to me! Most of the cast comes from Code of Princess, but you have more recognizable faces like Gunvolt, Isaac (Yes, from The Binding of Isaac) and freaking Shovel Knight, looking so buff I’m in awe at his size! All of them rocking some brand new sprites fitting of fighting game, after all you can’t exactly take their originals since they are as 16 bit as one can get. Oh and it also uses 3D backgrounds and that gives me a major BlazBlue vibe, and that’s good cause BB looks great (when it actually tries).
But would you believe if I said there is one more crossover game with some great sprites to go? Enter...
Here’s a fun way to carbon date yourself: where were you when you first heard of Card Sagas Wars? If your answer was “reading this” then congratulations, I hope high school is everything you dreamed of. All kidding aside, there’s a good reason most people have not heard of this. CSW is a Mugen game (or module? Whatever they’re called) and if I were to include these on the article we’d be here for the better part of the next dynasty, so let me explain why you should care for this one in particular.
First lets go way back, back to the past, to the year 2005, when Smash Bros was still young and the copyright laws of the universe weren’t that strong. Someone on the internet had a brilliant idea: What if Smash included iconic characters from non Nintendo franchises and was an actual fighting game? Under that premise surfaced the first gameplay video, that looked amazing (that sprite work is the stuff of legends) and the fighting in display was fluid and fast paced. Back then, the Internet was hyped as hell for this! Link, Cloud, Samus, Master Chief, Mario, Sonic, everyone was here! But the main cast wasn’t the only draw, the assist trophies were probably the most ambitious part of this: ranging from all corners of the gaming world you have Duke Nukem, Lara Croft, Sparkster, Ark (From Terranigma), Dr. Eggman, Ezio, Frank West, hell, they even have Hatsuni Miku! Yes, the virtual idol is an assist trophy. And these are just a few of the hundred or so that made into this incomplete release.
Yes, incomplete. Much like my dreams of becoming a famous guitar player, this just wasn’t meant to be. While I think there would be some sort of copyright issue going forward *cough* Nintendo *cough* the truth is that they ceased development around seven years ago and the project faded into obscurity, living only in the memories of uber nerds like me. But come 2018, and they surprise everyone with release their prototype build for the whole world to see! The devs announced that they got a new project on their hands but wanted to give everyone a taste of what could’ve been, a gesture I wholeheartedly appreciate.
And so here I am, doing everything I can to make sure you all hold on to this gem, pretending I’m a super journalist man. So how does it play? Like Blade Strangers, it uses a button + direction combo system: X is used for your Normal attacks (lows and launchers included) and Y is used for your Special attacks. A third button is a unique action for your character (Link has his trusty grappling hook, Cloud changes the Materia in his sword, so on). Where CSW differs from both Blade and Smash, is that here your combos will be longer (and I don’t think they scale very well, if at all) and it has something called Alpha/Beta Combos that are just a fancy name for traditional Supers (A combination of Quarter/Half Circles + A/B or both, giving everyone a total of 8 Supers) that use 2 separate meters. Last but not least, you got your assist button and Crisis Moves: ultras that can only be used in low health and take every resource you got but when they connect, they are beautiful to watch!
So the controls are on the Smash side, but the gameplay is definitely more like MvC. Whether this was intentional or not, combos are fast and your moves cancel into each other without problem, even Specials cancel into themselves making extensions and juggling a joy to pull off. I say this because the game is a little on the unbalanced side (it did cease development you know?) so I’m unsure how much they intended for Chrono to be able to corner carry me by pressing Up Y four times, there’s enough infinite loops to write ten different time travel novels and not to mention that the application will inevitably crash like the 1929's stock market. But the internet works fast and not a week later, people had already uploaded updated versions that are far more stable, balanced and have support to online play (I believe that one is called Ikemen Build). You’re gonna have to look for that yourself tho, I legit get lost trying to find Mugen stuff (another reason why I don’t even bother doing so).
So go give this a shot. I doubt you’re gonna find a better way to spend zero dollars today. And hey, if you’re bummed out that Soma didn’t make into Smash, this game got you covered as well. Just saying.
Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection: Seriously, what do I need to say about this? It’s a collection of some of the most iconic fighting games of the past 30 years with lots of extras and functioning online mode for the very best of them. Buy it!
Soul Calibur VI: It was really nice of Bandai to pack a fighting mini game with my dress up simulator.
2018 was a year of hypes, of highs, lows, of surprises, of spectacular debuts and underappreciated gems. But more than that, all of those simpler games made that a year of inclusion and that is a good thing. Fighting games were always a daunting genre for newcomers and I’m happy we have so many good options for them. After all, more people more hype, right?
But now it's time to look into the future again and let me tell you it looks bright. DOA 6 wants to get rid of its bad stigma, a choice I'm 100% behind (heh), MK 11 is coming and although I still don’t care for it you gotta admit it will generate a lot of hype, a new freaking Samurai Shodown that hopefully won’t get the SF V treatment, and that Grandblue Versus that I have no idea where it came from but it has Arc’s name on it, so I’ll keep an eye out for it. And let’s not forget the rumors of a new Guilty Gear!
This is gonna be one hell of a year, guys. So Keep On Rocking!