My long, sorrowful history with fighting games.
I haven’t spoken much, on Connectivity, of my fascination with fighting games. They are a constant source of anxiety for me, because I both love and hate them—like our country’s relationship with Baconnaise. Yes, it’s delicious and goes with everything, but it leads to guilt and a shorter life span, because it’s mayonnaise… with bacon. You might say every kind of food is enhanced by the mere presence of bacon, and you would be correct. Mmmm… Baconnaise. Where was I? Oh, right. I’m trying to tenuously link my unwavering love of pork-based sandwich spreads with an entire genre of video games: fighting games. I have a lot of them, and I completely suck at most.
This self-depreciating dependency started early. Certain of my childhood friends had seemingly limitless access to the latest and greatest video games. It was at their home I discovered such greats as Super Mario Bros. 2 and that sci-fi horizontal shooter for the NES that was always featured on the backs of late ‘80s comic books. We stayed up all night beating Batman: Return of the Joker and trying to beat Ninja Gaiden. I didn’t experience the Genesis vs. SNES wars because my friends had both, though secretly we all played the SNES more. Street Fighter II is what sucked us all in, though. They had a “turbo” controller for the SNES that, I swear to god, did absolutely nothing for that game (kind of like Nike Pumps, remember those?) but we played the hell out of it. I always played as Blanka because he’s awesome and green. None of us really knew what we were doing, but hey, it was fun! We experienced similar “good times” with Mortal Kombat (MK2 4 LIFE!) and, Cthulhu save us, Killer Instinct.
Anchorage had an arcade back then—the Space Station—where kids could go and play the original, superior versions of these fighting games. I swear to this day that Mortal Kombat is better in its native setting, as are Killer Instinct and Street Fighter. One day, I walked into that glorious place and saw the game that changed my life. Oh yes, you know what’s coming.
The game brought together three things I loved: fighting, stop-motion animation, and oh did I mention DINOSAURS? STOP-MOTION DINOSAURS FIGHTING?! I think I saw the face of God on the character select screen that day.
I hoarded quarters for that game. I was in there twice a week kicking tail and taking names. My favorite character was and continues to be Armadon, a bizarre combination of Monoclonius, Ankylosaurus, and lots of spikes. I tore it up with that guy. I memorized all his moves and finishers by reading the player’s guide in Walden Books. I played the Genesis version on the SEGA Channel. I bought the SNES game and mourned the loss of two finishing moves (and no blood) because Nintendo thought they were too crass. I mean sure, Chaos pees acid blood on his fallen opponent, but who among us hasn't done that? I bought the game on the Game Boy, too, though you should know right off it's a terrible version. Lacking the graphical panache of the original, the GB (and Game Gear) game was even missing a character: Vertigo (no big loss). Kids, I even bought all the Primal Rage action figures. Oh yes, this franchise was growing by the day.
Well, until it died. The arcade versions of San Francisco Rush had billboards featuring Primal Rage 2, teasers for an upcoming party at my house. Unfortunately, the game went dark and I eventually learned it had been cancelled. After having my first religious experience thanks to the original game, the death of its sequel compelled me to abandon my newfound spirituality. I tried to use other fighting games to fill the void. The N64 provided no real answers. Dark Rift, or what you might call "Soulcalibur Beta," was a bright spot in the system's fighter-starved library. Clayfighter was fun, but cheap and unfocused. Killer Instinct Gold was great, though. Riptor and B. Orchid got me through some hard times. But then I found a new kind of fighting game along with everyone else—Super Smash Brothers.
What the heck was this? I didn't know, but it was a great multiplayer game, and had a fresh, unique perspective on the traditional fighting game. My brother and I were hooked, but of course it didn't have great staying power. College was calling, and two fighting games in particular made me King of the Dorms: Super Smash Bros. Melee and, for more "serious" fighting fans, Soulcalibur II.
Let me tell you about Soulcalibur II. It was the first "hardcore" fighting game I'd fallen in love with since the antediluvian one-on-one from so many years before. Soulcalibur II remains one of my favorite fighting games of all time, and certainly holds up as the best in the series. It had everything—controls just complicated enough to make me think I was good at it, an intriguing art direction with some pretty female fighters, and Link. Link was overpowered, sure, but nobody cared; it was a Zelda crossover in a fighting game. And the GameCube got the best exclusive fighter by far—the Xbox got Spawn (OK, he's cool) and the PS2 got Heihachi from Tekken. He didn't even have any weapons! I beat every single part of that game and I'd do it again today. I was so impressed with Soulcalibur II that I actually bought a Dreamcast and tracked down the original and played the hell out of it. You'd be surprised how damn similar the two are. SC1 is basically SC2 with worse graphics and a lack of Hylian heroes. Since stupidly selling my copy of SC2 (not even sure why anymore), I still pop in SC1 from time to time and relive those old thrills. My fighting game career ground to a halt for a while until SC3 came out, a PS2-exclusive. My friends and I became heavily involved in the Chronicles of the Sword mode, which was essentially a series of battles across a large map. Your created characters leveled up and gained new equipment and all that jazz. Very impressive window dressing, but we were hooked. We all had our own characters, and we beat that mode three or four times.
Then I started branching into the Dead or Alive games. I played a lot of DoA2 Hardcore on the PS2 and found the mechanics, which were basically rock-paper-scissors (no complex button combos!), to be sufficiently simple for me to pick up and play it without a hassle. I played a lot of DoA3 on my friend's Xbox and grew to enjoy it.
The current generation came around, and I started thinking I really liked fighting games. I've amassed quite a few: Marvel vs. Capcom 2, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Soulcalibur IV, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Super Street Fighter 4, that terrible (and briefly free) Kung-Fu doll game on PSN, Mortal Kombat, Dead or Alive Dimensions, Soulcalibur V, and Skullgirls. In a few months, I'll be picking up Dead or Alive 5. It's a sickness. With some exceptions, I generally play these games for all of a few hours each before realizing I really suck at modern fighting games and moving on. Not that these games just sit, gathering dust. Whenever I have people over, one or more are always popped in. Mortal Kombat has a great single-player game (as does DoAD). I had incredibly high hopes for Skullgirls, but that game came out broken, so until it's patched, I'm just letting it sit on my hard drive. Damn is it pretty, though. The only thing I like more than stop-motion dinosaurs is hand-drawn, high-definition 2D animation. Too bad I can't play it…
Why go into this long history of my sickness? Just to illustrate one thing: I desperately want to be good at this genre, but I either lack the patience to learn or the raw skills to excel in the modern fighting arena. Recall that Primal Rage had like seven characters. It was pretty easy to figure them all out. But nowadays, fighting games have a minimum of 20 (again, except Skullgirls, which also has seven). I haven't really been good at Soulcalibur since Link, and I'm only good with like three characters in Dead or Alive because I don't have the will to learn everybody's strengths and weaknesses (it's largely a matter of speed). I'm also not willing to blow $80 or more on a halfway decent arcade stick. Sure, my brother has been letting me borrow the Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, and yes, the game IS better with an arcade stick, but borrowing something is free. Good PS3 sticks cost lots of money.
Of course, this trend has no end in sight. I still LIKE fighting games for some reason, though they may not hold the same sway they once did. Primal Rage and my college situation compelled me to play very specific fighting games, and those experiences tinted my glasses in regard to the whole genre. But even though I know, deep down, that I will play the game for all of five hours in total, I am truly looking forward to Dead or Alive 5. I liked it at E3 and boy howdy do I like Dimensions, so that's something, right? Ultimately, fighting games are my video game drug—I know I should quit while I'm ahead, but it's just not gonna happen. Never give up, never surrender!
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and get my ass handed to me by Arthur and Amaterasu.