From Street Fighter to Smash Bros to Soul Calibur, fighting games have always been intrinsically linked to my multiplayer experiences. There’s an energy that seems to emanate from fighters that ensnares people, turning even the most timid into snarling beasts, hungry for their next victory, before reducing them into quivering wrecks as they are KO’d by a superior opponent in a matter of seconds. It’s this rapid fluctuation between emotions that helps to make these games so entertaining in a multiplayer situation.
For me, like many, my first experience with fighting games was Street Fighter II. Unfortunately, it was “Special Champion Edition” for the Sega Mega Drive and I only had the standard three button controllers. Being a kid at the time though I had no idea that the game was designed for six buttons and living in the UK meant that I didn't get to experience the SNES version until recently because no one I knew owned the console.
The Mega Drive port of Street Fighter II - avoid unless you have 6 buttons
Despite this, Street Fighter II was the first game to ignite the raging fire of competition within me when it came to gaming. My first (and long-standing) opponent was my younger sister. I would regularly force her into playing on the basis that if she could beat me at least twice we would change games to play the two-player race mode on Sonic 2 but if she didn’t win then we would continue to play Street Fighter until I got bored.
However, there was a problem. During this period my fighting style was mainly dedicated to E. Honda’s “Hundred Hand Slap” and Blanka’s “Electricity” attacks, simply because they were incredibly easy to initiate. Looking back, this was a ridiculous technique and it’s unsurprising that after a few weeks of gaming my sister was becoming fluent in countering my attacks and began winning more and more matches, inevitably leading to incredibly dull racing in Sonic 2. Eventually it got to a point where I would refuse to play with her. I was too stubborn to adopt new characters and as she gradually got better at the game I’d become more enraged at every defeat until we finally stopped playing altogether, returning to co-op games like Golden Axe and Streets of Rage.
As the Mega Drive aged it was forgotten as the Nintendo64 and PSone took its place but it wasn’t until the GameCube that I returned to fighting games seeing as the N64 had virtually none and I didn't own a PSone until after the PS2 had been released, thus missing the Tekken series and later Street Fighter games.
When I first bought the GameCube I continued using it much like the N64, playing Mario Sunshine, Luigi’s Mansion, Wind Waker and other similar titles. It wasn’t until I was at a friend’s house that I found a new fighting game that was just as exhilarating as Street Fighter had been all those years before. I was drawn to the game from seeing the box on the floor with Link on the cover. After a small amount of pleading I convinced my friend to fire up their GameCube and play.
The game that reintroduced me to exhilerating gameplay
The game was Soul Calibur II. I sucked – but I didn’t care. It broke the monotony of roaming 3-D worlds, replacing it with untethered exhilaration. I ordered myself a copy of the game and played it religiously for months, unlocking virtually everything and achieving a level of versatility with every character along the way. Not long after this Soul Calibur III was released. I’ve never owned a PS2 but the same friend who introduced me to the series did – and they’d pre-ordered the game!
Around a week after release, we organised a get together of around a dozen people to just hang out, watch movies, play videogames and drink. The result was incredible! I arrived a little early to find the PS2 setup with Soul Calibur III already loaded. As people began to arrive we alternated matches with one person staying in until they were defeated. We continued this for several hours, all the while becoming progressively drunk, but the atmosphere was amazing. Both casual and hardcore gamers had been ensnared by the game’s energy, sharing the victor’s triumph, the loser’s despair and the next challenger’s anticipation.
It didn’t matter if you were “good” or “bad” at the game, what had been brought to the forefront was the shared emotional experience of everyone there. No other multiplayer game has achieved this for me. There’s something about fighting games that seem to unlock more of an emotional response than other multiplayer games. Even though games like Mario Kart, Wario Ware and Guitar Hero all give excellent multiplayer experiences, they aren’t able to replicate the excitement and emotions produced by a Street Fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur or even Smash Bros game. Personally, fighting games will always hold precedence over any other multiplayer genre thanks to the emotional responses they incite but also through the uniqueness of each match. No battle will be exactly the same as any other. No two people will have the same fighting style or character preferences. No other multiplayer game will provide the same intensity of a fighter.