When I left for college three years ago, I made the transition as smoothly as anyone could ask for. No horrible case of homesickness, no glaring social problems. Even made the Dean’s List for the first and only time. There really wasn’t anything to worry about, save for one major adjustment; there were no gamers on campus.
Sure, there were people who played, but it was usually the stereotypical group of guys who got drunk and played a lot of Madden, GTA and Halo (I would later come to embrace and sometimes join these fellows, but that is for another day). That, or I found hipsters who continued to play Mario Kart 64, insisting that it was the pinnacle of gaming, even after it received a sequel with a stable framerate. If there were crazy, dyed in the wool gamers like myself on campus, they were doing a fine job of hiding. Coming home for Thanksgiving Break in 2003 was quite a treat, since it was a chance to catch up with my old buddies from home, good kids with whom I had worked for two years or more, and all of them skilled, competitive gamers.
We squared off in a variety of games, but the vast majority of our time was devoted to two; Tekken 4 and Tag Tournament. I had spent years before ragging on the series for being highly underwhelming, despite my only prior experience being a handful of matches in the T3 demo. Yet, despite my predetermined disliking, despite my complete lack of skill in the games, our miniature Tekken tournaments provided some of my most vivid gaming memories.
When I played, it was slow, stiff punches and kicks that all looked the same regardless of the character. When my friends got into the fray, it was a work of art. These guys loved Tekken. They played it every day, understood it on a much deeper level than I – the same way I was familiar with Soul Calibur. Their fights consisted of stylish, punishing moves. They traded blows, blocks and tackles in perfect fashion. All the awkwardness was gone as their characters played out something that resembled a real street fight. I also had to give credit where credit was due; the Playstation 2 really was capable of producing some stellar graphics.
That night I had more fun watching Tekken in action than I had playing most things alone. Then I went right back to trashing it for a few more years, never giving the series another shot, yet still remembering those bouts with perfect clarity, wishing I could see something of that caliber again. It was hypocrisy at its finest. Much of this was due to my burgeoning interest in fighting games. I wanted to dive further into the genre, but I didn’t want to do it the wrong way.
I listened to recommendations from diehard fans, and started taking their opinions as law. Thus I found myself with stacks of high quality, highly difficult 2d games and no one to play them with. I thought it downright odd that no one wanted to play me in Last Blade 2, while I myself couldn’t land a good combo for shit. The answer was in front of me, but my head was already up my ass.
A game like Mark of the Wolves is beautifully crafted and can be richly rewarding, but only with a lot of dedication and a PhD in fighters. Otherwise to most people it just looks like a dusty old game that plays a lot like Street Fighter 2, and in that case, why not just play Street Fighter 2? It sure beats figuring out these newfangled characters.
I still love those 2d fighters, still try to practice with them from time to time, but I realized that the people who aren’t chomping at the bit for them are not in fact gamer cretins. They simply don’t want to invest time and energy into a piece of the genre that has changed little over the years yet has an increasingly high barrier to entry. The same thing is often said by gamer snobs about Madden football.
It took me years to see this, because during all that time I was trying to be a snob myself, the kind of person that shuns people who make Madden and Tekken sales juggernauts while always ignoring the little guy. But even the big names can do things right, while the little guys are certainly prone to mistakes. Sometimes you just have to take a closer look….