I Know Kung Fu

I Know Kung Fu
Fighting Games: A Tapped-Out Genre?

Robert Bevill | 23 Mar 2010 12:34
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In 2009, Arc System Works released BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger, a 2-D fighting game available for Xbox 360 and PS3. The spiritual successor to Guilty Gear, BlazBlue looks and feels much different than its fighting game contemporaries. For one, the characters don't conform to the standard Ryu/Ken archetypes - they each have individual styles that are wildly different not only from each other but from those of fighting games in general. And the music, by Guilty Gear composer Daisuke Ishiwatari, is one of the most intense and memorable soundtracks in recent memory.

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Which is why it's so heartbreaking that such a fantastic game is shackled to many of the problems that plague the fighting game genre as a whole. As videogames have grown in popularity, they've generally become more streamlined and accessible in an effort to please longtime fans while opening the door for new ones. But fighting games are so stuck in their roots that they've only cornered the market on themselves. In 2009, four major fighting games were released: Street Fighter IV, BlazBlue, King of Fighters XII, and Tekken 6. Of those four, BlazBlue is the only new IP, and it's the only one trying to bring in new players.

Let's take a step back. What defines the fighting game genre? First and foremost, fighting games are both highly competitive and varied in how they allow players to approach combat - players can choose from a diverse roster of fighters, but they generally have to be familiar with at least one in order to succeed. Just as importantly, fighting games are usually stylish enough to draw crowds of spectators who then wanted to play the games themselves - a byproduct of the genre's arcade origins.

Over the years, the genre has become more complex, introducing game mechanics like scripted combos, various power meters and larger casts of characters. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat spawned endless sequels and imitators, while Soul Edge and Virtua Fighter took the genre into the third dimension, allowing players to move around their opponents rather than just back and forth. And in the genre's last burst of innovation, Super Smash Bros. let up to four players participate in a battle and threw items and stage hazards into the mix.

So what are the problems of the genre? The main issue is that fighting games have become stale and repetitive. Soulcalibur may have been revolutionary in 1998, but 2008's Soulcalibur IV added very little to the series except better graphics, new characters and improved jiggle physics. To an outsider, Street Fighter IV is indistinguishable from Tekken 6.

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