The current state of fighting games

At the time of this writing, Dead or Alive and Virtua Fighter have released new entries on next generation consoles. Tekken 6 was just announced, and I’m sure it is only a matter of time before we hear something about Soul Calibur 4. It seems that fighting games are doing A-okay on the next gen systems. And yet I still get a sinking feeling about one of my favorite genres. I’m not going to go and make an assertion about fighters being doomed to become as niche as the schmup, but I still can’t shake a feeling of worry. Let’s break it down by companies and see why:

Namco/Sega: These two are responsible for the three (Tekken, VF, and Soul Calibur) most popular and powerful 3d fighting franchises. All three have dedicated fanbases that will ensure they do well enough in terms of sales. This is both good and bad. Good because these three (as well as DOA) will make sure the genre stays in the public eye. Bad because these franchises are into their 4th, 5th and even 6th sequels. This puts them in something of a Catch-22. All of the games are pretty much set in their ways. For casual fans, there isn’t much incentive to stick with them if it looks like they are getting stale – just look at what happened to Street Fighter 2. Furthermore, there is a good chance that the dedicated fanbase will not remain strong. They’ll happily gobble up the new characters and tweaks from each sequel, but if history is any guide, there will come a time when each franchise will reach its peak. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Third Strike, Alpha 2, and if you’re me, Soul Calibur 1 are all the pinnacles of their respective series, so good that there’s no need to play anything before or after, at least on a competitive level. Once they have achieved that gold standard, fans will stick with sequels for the fun and the goodies, but there won’t be the same kind of dedication.

So why not just mix it up? Why not overhaul one of these games and make it something completely new? It’s risky business. Casual fans are a strange crowd, and may not embrace such changes as easily as you might think. As much as they’ll complain about a game being stale, they may just as quickly question why a long running series needed such dire change. In that case what was wrong with it in the first place? Changes will most surely piss off the fans as well, especially if they are drastic. Street Fighter 3 is the perfect example; no one understood it, not everyone liked it, and the diehards only came to it after seeing just how good the series could be without the classic characters.

All in all, these series will surely keep their polish and production values, and that means they’ll be safe for a while. At some point we need to see some change to the fighting, because no franchise can recycle its content indefinitely (and get away with it) unless it’s Dragon Quest or Madden.

Capcom: These guys are a hoot. The company that once put the genre on the top of the world is no longer interested in original 2d fighting games because they aren’t worth the cost. And yet it was their flood of countless titles and rehashes that contributed to putting a dent in the arcade scene. Thus the one company that could set things straight is out of the running.

Yes, I know they’ve talked about possible new Street Fighter content, but until we see something concrete I am not holding my breath. Every gamer over 15 knows that a Street Fighter 4 with brand new high res artwork, lush animation and online play would be a million seller. But Capcom is the same company that closed down Clover, were at one point wary about producing hits like Lost Planet and Dead Rising, and now have a website up for fans to convince them to localize Phoenix Wright 3. They’ve made some incredibly fun and innovative games in their recent history, but unless they get risky there is no way they are making an impact in this genre. I don’t even see any new compilations coming down the pipeline, now that Darkstalkers and Street Figher Alpha have been taken care of.

SNK: With the exception of Arc Systemworks and their otaku favorite Guilty Gear, SNK is the only major game in town still dedicated to new 2d games. 2d King of Fighters looks to be getting the attention and care it deserves, while SNK also focuses on improving their 3d prowess. Toss in a whole slew of compilations of some of their best franchises, and this is one company that is going to great lengths to keep the genre healthy.

Except they’re not, because hardly any of their products ever hit U.S. shores. You can thank none other than SNK themselves, who have created a completely castrated American division that seems to have no power, and a Japanese unit that seems to relish making bonehead decisions for the West. America has missed out on two KoF anthologies, one for Fatal Fury, one for Last Blade, and good luck with Samurai Showdown. All because the company continues to deal with SCEA, the absolute worst people to propose 2d anything to. Nintendo has a virtual console, Xbox has a Live Arcade, and Gametap has Kizuna fucking Encounter but not one version of Real Bout on it. There could be a small but solid 2d revival here in the states if the company could expose gamers to the SNK classics or show them how good KOF XI can be. Instead, they twiddle their thumbs with nothing to do.

Conclusion: The fighting game genre is such that just a few really good titles are all that the competitive community will need. If fighters continue to stagnate, or worse yet drop to a few meager releases, the diehard players will still have plenty of classics to fill their tournament brackets with. Still, it is frustrating to think of how many interesting things could still be done with the genre, things that we may never see. The best hope right now is the Japanese Doujin community, which is currently the only constant source of fresh output. Yet even this isn’t enough to comfort me, as most doujin games seem more concerned with deep stories and girl on girl fighting than anything else (do you know anyone who plays Melty Blood for the competition?). We can only hope that someone manages to break through with something big, something to get the sleepers to wake up and the big boys to take notice. Until then, its a good thing I finally have a copy of Alpha 2 to play.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
17 years ago

I am surprised you didn’t mention Nintendo and the SSB series. It seems to me that SSB is a series that will be around for a long time, and while it may not be a fighter in the classical sense, I think that its popularity bodes well for the genre. I am willing to bet good money that it will be best selling game for the wii when it debuts. I know that the Nintendo won’t churn out sequels, but at least it is a fighting that many many people will play, hopefully getting them interested in other fighting games. It will be the "gateway game" to the fighter genre of this generation, and hopefully give opportunities for other developers to make successful fighting games. 

17 years ago

That’s a great point about Smash Bros.  I probably didn’t think of it because I play it as more of a 4 player/party game with my own friends, but many gamers consider it a genuine fighter, even if it is a basic one.  To discuss it though, I’ll have to think about it being a potential gateway fighter.  Studying the competitive community behind Melee, they certainly treat it like any other fighter with rules and tiers and whatnot, but I’ve never seen a Smash Player move onto something else.  That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but I think many find Melee to be a good compromise where they can play it deep with a lot of potential players, minus the incredible precision that a Third Strike player has to gain.   Also, I’m afraid that if Smash Bros. Wii does have online, the competitive community will ruin the game for a lot of easygoing players by setting up no item battles on one of three stages and will boot you if you use someone they don’t like.  Let’s hope that’s not the case.

17 years ago

Bah your fears are unwarranted. What you suggest partly happened with Starcraft. Elite gamers backed by Blizzard’s stance on what was a good map for competitive play preferred low mineral maps with small or medium map sizes. That still didn’t prevent the community at large from playing one BGH clone after another or experiment with the low mineral large size maps or any of the other more advanced mods that came out for that game.

It doesn’t take rocket science to host a game on and it shouldn’t be anymore difficult to host a game on a Wii.