[When we discussed the prompt for this month, I knew there was a lot of different choices to pick from. But to start things off, I wanted to bring back one of my favorite blogs I made, nearly two years ago. This is a blog about how much I love grapplers! This is pretty much it in its original format but with one major change: Alex and Hugo have gone from an honorable mention to having their own space thanks to Hugo being in Ultra Street Fighter IV and Alex being in Street Fighter V.]
For every fighting game, there is always a grappler character. While not inherently a divisive archetype or idea, the grappler is still a polarizing archetype nonetheless in the circles he or she frequents. Beginners will groan at their might while veterans will begin processing a hundred strategies a minute to prepare a 90% successful plan. But it doesn't matter what game I play, I always end up gravitating to playing a grappler at least 50% of my time on a given game.
But let's back up for exposition purposes. What exactly fits the grappler archetype? A grappler is a character who has command moves that involves grabbing their opponent for a high damage attack. Using their grab is usually central to their attack plan due to its high damage and other useful properties such as knockdown. The fact that it is usually a grab means it is unblockable and the first lesson anyone new to fighting games learns is that they have to jump to avoid it (or at least, be in an airborne state).
The next few attributes don't define all grapplers but fit many in general. Grapplers have poor mobility to balance their high damage. A general strategy against them is to keep them out at range where they can't do anything. They are slow and generally have to develop a gameplan just to get in close. Mind you, most can't run or have bad movement options. While Ryu can take a quick step forward in Street Fighter IV, Zangief has a comparatively slow and lumbering lurch forward. And in nearly any anime fighter, almost everyone can flat out run but characters like Tager or Potemkin can't do anything but walk forward and think positive thoughts.
Grapplers have a wide variety of perceptions depending on who you ask. To a pro, a grappler is a cautiously easy win. Grapplers tend to have the worst match ups in the game and that's before you even factor in the match up against the resident keep away character. I don't keep up but the Yukiko/Kanji match up in Persona 4 Arena is something depressing like 9/1, stating that if skill was equal and conditions were replicatable, Yukiko would win nine times out of ten. It's always surprising and hype-worthy when a grappler places high in a tournament like EVO or even something smaller like West Coast Warzone. A pro player could always play someone who is far better and easier to handle because grapplers are very rarely high in tiers. Seeing a grappler in top 8 is a testament to the players skill that they devoted their time to learning how to grab people by the waist and slam them into the concrete.
Grapplers tend to weed out newbies too. Grapplers are bona fide scrub filters, being an end all be all trial by fire to see if you're really ready to even be considered mediocre. Scrubs can complain that grapplers are cheap or broken. Their grabs are unblockable and do a ton of damage. Of course, if they truly knew what they were doing, they'd know that the hard counter to grabs if to jump. Online warriors can sometimes subsist entirely on scrubs during their game's online career.
But that's why I like playing the grappler. There's a visceral rush of adrenaline whenever you score that coveted grab move. Where technical characters can execute complex 40% damage combos, a grappler can do close to that amount by just getting in close and doing one move. There's a humongous trade off of course but there are other factors too. Losing all that health instantly can be extremely demoralizing and in most cases for the grappler, it grabs momentum by putting his opponent in a hard knockdown state; the opponent is guaranteed to not stand up for a period of time as the sheer impact must have dazed them into an uncontrollable stupor. With a half unconscious victim lying on the ground, a grappler can easily stroll right up to them as they groggily get up and face a dilemma of what to do with a muscle bound, touchy-feely fighter up in their grill.
So now that you know what its like to be a grappler and to fight a grappler, there's nothing else quite like going down a list of well known grappler characters to really know what to expect from your stinging pain as you get thrown into a backbreaker performed from a two-story high leap.
Arguably the most well known grappler and the one who started it all. If Chun-Li is the first lady of fighting then Zangief is the grand poobah of slamming and jamming wrestlers. His signature move, the Spinning Piledriver (the SPD as known by veterans), is what it is: a piledriver with the unnecessary twist of spinning through the air before delivery. Is it needed? Maybe not but that doesn't change the fact that Zangief leaps and average of 20 feet into the air before driving his opponent into what is usually solid Earth.
In terms of other noteworthy options, he has the Banishing Flat (the green glove). This functions as both his mobility and an offensive move as Gief swings a flaming overhand slap in a forward motion, moving him forward, destroying fireballs, and slapping the fear of Gief into his opponents. And all of the above is a good thing because Gief is a huge, bear-sized man who can barely dash and has a huge, lumbering, slow walk speed. Plus not a lot needs to be said about his Final Atomic Buster, his characteristic super move. It's basically all his wrestling moves done in sequence at once. Truly Gief is known for making ridiculous comebacks with such powerful comebacks. What more of a comeback can you expect when you do a suplex, a backbreaker, and a spinning piledriver all in a row?
The big burly government agent from Guilty Gear has a few unique tricks all his own that most grapplers his day wouldn't even imagine having. For one, he has a projectile reflect, the F.D.B., which is a big utility considering most match ups against Potemkin means staying away and throwing everything and the kitchen sink to keep him at a distance. He also has an interesting anti-air option, the Heat Knuckle, in which he grabs a mook right of the air and proceeds to make his freaking gauntlet explode with them still in your clutches. Heat Knuckle and future attacks that use it for inspiration tend to be used more in combos that launch your opponent though, rather than an actual anti-air. Last to note is the combination of his Slide Head and Hammerfall. Slide Head is, for all intents and purposes, a localized earthquake you create by falling face first into the ground. It's completely unblockable if you're touching the ground and leaves you helpless on the ground as you contemplate your future of pain. Hammerfall on the other hand is Potemkin's answer to Gief's green glove; a move that sends him forward with a hit of super armor before clashing his knuckles together for a sandwich of pain. The secret of them together though is that Potemkin can knock his enemies down with Slide Head, then use Hammerfall but cancel the actual attack, using it only to move forward safely with absolutely zero fear of retaliation.
Which brings us to Potemkin's signature grab. A move so damaging that he can only name it after himself. The Potemkin Buster uses his infallible muscles to simply grab his opponent, put them in a backbreaker pose, then leap off-screen and probably the height of a modest office building before crashing down to a backbreaker strong enough to make every WWE wrestler quit for fear of their good health. The super version, the Heavenly Potemkin Buster, isn't as usable as most other grabs since it's a true anti-air for Pots as he flings himself into the air to grab anyone airborne in his way. But just knowing Pots has the meter for this move is enough to ground most people for fear of losing maybe half their life bar to one life changing mistake.
The Blazblue follow up to Potemkin. Iron Tager inherited a lot of Pot's tricks like his Heat Gauntlet or Hammerfall. Atomic Collider is like Heat Gauntlet in many ways except with one big difference: Tager can combo off a collider grab. Meanwhile, Sledgehammer is a two part, movement based attack where 90% of the time, people never use the second part of the move since its wildly unsafe on block and has limited utility on hit. The first hit from the portion that sends you sliding across the screen though completely laughs off any projectile and has a lot of utility on counterhit which will honestly happen a lot when your opponent isn't expecting a two ton, half-man, half-Buick to suddenly cause you to experience a high speed collusion.
The biggest thing about Tager that sets him apart is his unique power that every Blazblue combatant has. While some people use ice to freeze or a helper doll, Tager uses the secret power of science to assist in his grappling: magnetism. Specific attacks, including a projectile he can use after storing enough electromagnetism, magnetizes his enemies. Only Tager can magically turn a 9-1 bad match into a 4-6 match by applying magnetism to his opponent and instilling the same panic in them that WWII American soldiers would feel when they see kamikaze dive bombers. You see, when magnetized, opponents will be drawn towards all of Tager's most dangerous attacks, including the Atomic Collider (never jump when magnetized), and the Gigantic Tager Buster. The Tager Buster you see, is also a backbreaker. Only instead of grabbing his opponent and leaping with them, Tager throws them into the air and leaps after them before bringing them down. And not only is the range deceptive like all grappler grabs, but magnetism increases its reach significantly.
And then there's the Genesic Emerald Tager Buster, also augmentable with magnetisim. This move defines PTSD for people who have experienced it. It's a move where Tager throws his opponent sky high, leaps after them, grabs them by the torso (his mitts are that big afterall), and drives them straight down into the ground, splintering it in the process. Only there's a huge detail in that when you both come down out of the sky, you show signs of heating up from sheer air speed and friction.
But of course that pales in comparison to his instant kill. Potemkin's is just a really big punch. Tager's is literally out of this world. After placing his enemy in the backbreaker position, he stores energy before rocketing into the stratosphere, before calmly turning around and performing quite possibly the only body slam you'll ever see come out of orbit. It even generates a crater normally only reserves for meteorites!
A lot of grappler characters are made with ideas in line with tradition. Grapplers are slow, have a small number of movement options, and have limited combos and therefore rely on command grabs for real damage. Cerebella is the grappling hero's hero, built from the ground up in Skullgirls by the game's director and designer Mike Z, a renowned grappling fighter in the tournament scene. She has a huge repertoire of tools made just to even out her matchups against zoners and other dominating examples. She has a projectile reflector, an invincible reversal, a close range command grab, a long range command grab, an anti-air grab, an air-to-air command grab, a long reaching poke, several moves with armor and forward movement, and actual combo potential to do damage outside of grabs. All of these things are very rare to find on a grappler. Of all the characters shown so far, none really have invincible wake up options to punish pressure.
While she still certainly struggles against the likes of Peacock and her cartoon menagerie of keepaway cronies, a combination of her unorthodox grappler tools and the ability to partner her up with positive teammates for help or to let her do real Soviet damage when soloing, makes Cerebella really stand out and alone as a grappler. And its not just Cerebella as a character that's interesting but the universal mechanics that are native to her game that also enhance her. First and foremost, the game is built with a feature that allows 360 motions to be performed without jumping. The game simply detects your 360 input and keeps your feet planted on the ground. No more needing to buffer the motion in other attacks! If other grapplers were conceived in a traditional era, Cerebella is the new age wrestler ready to take all comers regardless of their strategy.
Thunder Hawk may seem like someone who treads on Zangief's territory but they actually differ somewhat on methodologies. Zangief usually has several possible options to fall back on whenever using an SPD isn't feasible. Banishing Flat is a great forward moving attack that resets neutral game and a lot of his normals have great range or movement. T. Hawk has a forward moving attack as well but generally isn't comparable to Banishing Flat. T. Hawk is bigger and slower than Gief and while he hits harder to a degree, the increase in sluggishness is tough. However, his increase in power means he has an increased emphasis on landing his own SPD, the Typhoon.
T. Hawk generally has an even tougher time competing compared to Gief's illustrious career but any opponent will run scared for fear of a heavy Mexican Typhoon. That's basically his whole game plan. Maybe you can sweep them, smack them with Condor Spire, or get a few random hits in with his big mitts he calls hands. But its all so that he can force his opponent to make the mistake of staying on the ground so T. Hawk can grab his opponent by the head and windmill swing them into the ground until they're only a pile of dust. Everything T. Hawk does is for the goal of Mexican Typhoon. If they try to run, Hawk can one of his moves to cover those bases. So eventually the fear to block sets in and that's when Timothy J. Hawkins (East coast nickname), grabs his opponent and sends them hurtling into a Mexican racial oblivion.
The dead man from DC's own Injustice has the luxury of only needing to press one button to do his grabs. Rather then any complex motions, you just need to press the trait button to grab your hapless victim then press a few prompts to continue until you do 40% off one move.
Grundy's trait grabs also give him boosts in attack, health, and defense against chip damage and all are quite lengthy which means if he uses Grave Rot, a damage over time, area of effect attack, he can pile on the damage quickly if his opponent isn't prepared. He also has a unique super all his own, which puts him into a different stance of combat. When his super is triggered, Grundy gains armor for the duration of his short super and any button you press causes him to lurch forward and attempt a grab, even in the air! His opponent must run away since the armor prevents them from zoning him effectively and a combination of the power augment from his trait with his super can lead to instant death for many players. This is before considering that as a strong arm undead zombie, Grundy can also tear most things in the environment off and throw them into unsuspecting opponents. They may think they're safe at fullscreen until Grundy throws a statue at them from across the screen.
Grapplers aren't worth much in the Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 series. All the most played characters are highly mobile, can do some sort of infinite or a combo with can repeat itself for a long time, and can usually fly somehow. While mobile characters are the norm in other games, mobility is proof you won't be affected by Darwinism somehow. But so called grapplers characters are still worth something even if they're actually more gimmicky in their actual grabs. Thor is one of the few characters who actually has a command grab but he isn't known for using it for raw damage.
Firstly, his throw, the Mighty Hurricane, can be done on the ground or in the air. Secondly, Mighty Hurricane isn't used for pure damage but for combos, since after slamming his opponent into the ground, they bounce off the ground perfectly for a follow up combo. It's for this reason that Thor players are known for a nasty trick known as the reset. Rather than complete a combo for a finite amount of damage, Thor lets his opponent tech out of his combo early. The reasoning is that the opponent is so scared that they're only holding back and not trying to mash reversals out. If they are indeed only holding back, Thor can use Mighty Hurricane on them for free. Rather than get 100% of his combo, Thor stops at 60% and performs another combo at 100%. Resets of course are the gimmickiest of gimmicks, easily escapable if the opponent sees it coming. But though Thor's damage is high and his grab is reliable, he gets shut down a lot in Marvel's high octane environment, so any trick he gets is appreciated.
Haggar, also a grappler in MvC3, is basically Zangief if he was the American Mayor of Earth but with two major threats players must respect: respect the pipe and respect the lariat. Zangief also has the lariat move but Haggar's is legendary for its full invincibility. People play Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 where it was toned down but in vanilla his lariat assist was the stuff of legends.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kanji Tatsumi as he appears in Persona 4 Arena, who uniquely relies on his Persona in order to perform his own command grab and is even afforded a reversal in the form of the universal Furious Action. Cerebella is the only other character on this list with something reliable to wake up with when the pressure is on and Kanji's has his persona shocking him, causing anything and anyone to come into contact with him that isn't blocking to get shocked and paralyzed, preventing them from jumping. Kanji, like Cerebella, has a wealth of unorthodox but effective tools to combat his shortcomings, only being failed by extremely slow start ups on his moves. Take-Mikazuchi, his persona, gives him a deceptive amount of range to poke with. His Cruel Attack is a follow up command that lets him slam his chair into people he's not done with yet, completely negating the problem of staying in after getting in. And Kanji has one particular aerial attack where a swing of his chair takes up an impressive amount of space in front and below him. But anyone who's played P4A knows simple, scrub cleaning Kanjis love to do three things: Furious Action, command grab, and the air dive.
We know his FA and his command grab has the Cruel Attack follow up so he doesn't need to worry too much about staying close. The air dive is something that makes or breaks new players though because it tells whether or not you're dedicated to winning. The game does not teach players that this attack, which causes Kanji to fall out of the air with the fury of one thousand thunderclouds in order to tackle them to the ground and ground pound them, is utterly unblockable but can be avoided simply by crouching. If someone complains that Kanji's dive is cheap, then you know you can count the number of days he's been playing the game on one hand. While his super command grab is locked as an Awakened SP Skill Attack (only available when health is <20%), it's truly a powerful attack that will KO anyone unlucky enough to not be in Awakened mode before getting hit by this attack. Many characters can attempt pre-Awakened touch of death combos but Kanji can pretty much aim to kill or deal a near fatal blow simply by performing his super grab on an opponent on the precipice of Awakening. Nothing is more heart wrenching then seeing your health evaporate completely when you were expecting to rely on Awakening mode's defense buff.
Kanji's dive is the epitome of a grappler match. It forces the opponent to be on their best behavior because grapplers can do so much damage from the smallest mistake. Now those mistakes are easy to avoid doing in the first place but being careless and complacent is a huge opening to a grappler.
Alex and Hugo
It's a testament to Capcom's prevelance that many of these entries are from Street Fighter. Hugo and Alex were introduced in Street Fighter 3, back before they decided to bring back Ryu or Chun-li or Ken in response to the lukewarm response to the original new generation of fighters. But after Third Strike solidified SF3's place in history, people really began to take notice just the dichotomy between Alex and Hugo. They're two sides of a grappler after all.
Hugo to me is just this huge wall of meat just waiting to wail on you. He's so big and powerful that his moveset is vastly different from any other character's, with a strong, slow jab and medium with a flipping strong hard punch. I love how one of his punch buttons causes him to scoot forward while swinging his huge bear claw of a hand. While he has a 360 command grab, my favorite move is his backbreaker, an anti-air attack that hurls Hugo forward, causing him to automatically grab anyone out of the air into a painful backbreaker. He can even force his opponent airborne by grabbing them with his Ultra Throw, rebounding them off the wall for him to pick out of the sky! He also hasMeat Squasher, a move that force people into the corner. Grapplers love corners.
Alex on the other hand is a much faster, more mobile kind of grappler. Slash Elbow and Flash Chop are great moves for him to use to get in or poke with. And of course there's no Alex without mentioning his Stungun Headbutt, a fancy jump that ends with a series of headbutts that creates and automatic stun! Alex even has two different grab animations depending on whether he performs a normal grab or if he grabs them after a Flash Chop, which forces opponents into a turnaround stunned state. Alex's can even get saucy with crossups with the Big Boots doing crossups. YOU CAN'T ESCAPE!
There are still so many more grapplers I love that I could name, all with their own unique spin on the classic formula of bashing your victim's head into our planet's tectonic plates. A lot of the characters I've mentioned are from anime fighters or old school fundamentalists. But there's still more your can play and learn lessons of patience from! There are plenty of characters from the SNK side of fighters like Clark Still, Tizon, and Raiden, who all pound away at their opponents mercilessly. Street Fighter still has fighters to offer like R. Mika, the buxom blue peach bomber from Brazil. Tekken has Craig Marduk, King, and Armor King to chain together ridiculous grabs, Astaroth swinging an ax and crushing his foes in Soul Calibur, while Tina and Bass represent wrestling in Dead or Alive. Chief Thunder, a possible link to Thunder Hawk, hails from Killer Instinct and only recently in its revival became a grappler. Then there are even characters even further out in the anime fighter spectrum like Bravo from Chaos Code, Kira from Arcana Hearts, Waldstein from Under Night In-Birth, Kanea from Akatsuki Blitzkampf, and Lilith from freaking Vanguard Princess. Yes, I purposely got more and more obscure there. You know fighters? How about goddamn Vanguard Princess?
But the very nature of a grappler is risking everything just to get close and perform an attack that pays it all back with interest. Grapplers tend to face uphill battles but every time we nail that grab, we get that visceral thrill of victory even when we don't literally win. No matter who you are, even if you're another grappler, there's always that moment where you second guess yourself and have the seeds of fear planted as you know one thing for sure: one mistake can means the difference here in this fight.