Fighting Games Have Lost the Plot
Contributed by DJMMT
I guess this will be a bit of an old man rant, but I think it needs to be discussed. The first fighting game I remember playing was the original Street Fighter in the arcade. I wasn’t a huge fan but I appreciated it for what it was. From then on, countless fighting games have come and gone. I remember some really good ones that died off like Primal Rage and Clayfighters. I remember classics that lasted for a while but eventually died off in a now over saturated market like Virtua Fighter. And I remember the original versions of tried-and-true classics that have stood the test of time like Dead or Alive, Tekken, and of course Mortal Kombat. Over the years, I have seen a handful of what I’ll title “what if” games. These are fighting games that try to answer the question of who would win in a fight between popular established non-fighting game characters. This was essentially the premise of Marvel vs Capcom, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and of course Smash Bros. I would say this is the origin of games like Injustice: Gods Among Us, which was also clearly inspired by the success of Mortal Kombat vs DC. But somewhere along the way fighting games seem to have forgotten what they were supposed to be about.
Like with real professional fighting, fights in fighting games are only as good as the sensibility of the match ups. Injustice works because most of these famous DC characters are de facto gods with long histories of fighting bad guys and carrying unspoken rivalries both in the comics and among the fandoms. One kid thinks Green Lantern is the best and the other thinks the Flash is the best so they argue over who would win in a fight. That was the basic premise of any fighting game based on a preexisting IP. In a way, original fighting games work much the same way. Street Fighter essentially asks which fighting style is the best by pitting master combatants of every style against each other. Sumo wrestling, boxing, karate, and so on are all intentionally represented by country, tasking the players to decide which fighting style is truly the greatest in the world. Mortal Kombat, though a bit supernatural in nature, does a similar thing. It pits different types of people against each other in matchups that you actually care to see the results of because you really aren’t sure who would win. Smash Bros. was meant to work the same way. Or at least it did in the original version. Just about every character in the game was a fighter. With the exception of Captain Falcon, the entire roster of characters in the original game were known for snapping necks and/or cracking heads. That may not have been the point of their respective games but they all had a history of fighting enemies with force, whether physical or magical. This was the basic premise of pretty much every fighting game.
Today, we are seeing new fighting games that have no premise. Games that aren’t trying to answer a pre-existing question about who would win in a fight. They’re basically just pulling popular characters and throwing them into arenas to beat the crap out of each other. In a way it’s almost sadistic. It’s one thing to make fighters fight each other. It’s completely different when peaceful characters with no previous depiction of violence are thrown into a meat grinder. Not ironically, I think Smash Bros. is what brought this on. Over time, Smash Bros. stopped being about fighting and became more and more about popularity. It started in a very subtle manner. Go back and look at the Melee roster. There are just a few fighters that are questionable, and only two or three of them are just completely unjustified. Dr. Mario, Ice Climbers, Peach, and Mr. Game & Watch, who I do main, are all a bit suspect. But even then, only Dr. Mario is just completely out there. By the time you get to Ultimate, several characters are just out of place. Characters like Villager, Duck Hunt, and Wii Fit Trainer are downright ridiculous.
What Smash Bros. showed the rest of the corporate entertainment world was that the quality of the match ups didn’t matter anymore. All that mattered was functional fighting game mechanics and popular characters. That why games like Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl now exists. No one ever thought to themself before if Oblina would beat CatDog in a fight. That question has never been asked in the history of school yard debates. But it doesn’t matter. The game wasn’t built because people wanted to see a specific fight. It was built simply to play on the fact that older gamers who grew up watching Nickelodeon cartoons will spend money based on feelings of nostalgia for those old cartoons. It’s a corporate bastardization of what fighting games were originally meant to be.
Now they’re supposedly making a game called “Multiversus” where random properties owned by Warner Brothers will be thrown together in a fighting game because reasons. The leaked roster includes characters such as Shaggy, yes from Scooby Doo, Batman, as in the character that is already in Injustice, and Tom & Jerry, because that IP hasn’t already been milked to death. Additional rumored shows/characters include Stephen Universe, Adventure Time, more of the DC universe, The Lord of the Rings, Rick & Morty, and Looney Toons. This is absolutely ridiculous. What question is being answered here? Obviously Gandalf would beat everyone except Batman and Rick. In fact, it would make more sense just to make an animated movie about Gandalf, Batman, and Rick duking it out for supremacy. No one has ever debated if Harley Quinn can beat Shaggy in a fight. We already know the answer to that question. This is simply doing something for the sake of doing it because it’s trendy and probably profitable. Though I haven’t actually seen the official sales numbers for Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl yet to confirm or deny that claim. But the point is that these fighting games are inauthentic in nature and intent.
Note I’m not saying the entire fighting game genre has lost its way. We still have classic franchises that have remained mostly true to the original mission statement of fighting games. Soul Calibur, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Dead or Alive, and King of Fighters, to name a few, continue to keep the bulk of their integrity. But even some of them have gotten a little ridiculous with their DLC. Look at Mortal Kombat with additional paid characters like Robocop and Joker. But at least those characters do have a history of violence to back up their inclusion, and in the case of Joker appear in multiple other fighting games. There are also a number of indie and lower tier fighters that don’t get as much attention but have maintained their honor on this issue. BlazBlue, Blade Strangers, and ironically Power Rangers: Battle For The Grid are all current examples. But let’s also consider that these games aren’t nearly as popular, lucrative, or high budget as these ridiculous franchise battle games currently making the rounds. The genre is being bastardized by outside influences simply because they have the money to do so. Imagine three years from now when you see Morty in the finals of a tournament at Evo.
I’m not a huge fighting game person myself. I only dabble every so often. But I definitely don’t want to see this genre turned into a crap shoot. Especially not a profitable crap shoot. Because ultimately that will make these practices spill into other genres that I actually do play. Look at Fortnite as a perfect example. I don’t want to live in a world where Kratos has to fight Pennywise in the God of War: Movieverse plot relevant paid DLC expansion pack. But as always it ends with us. These games happen because companies determine them to be profitable. And if they determine them to be profitable, that means they are profitable. And if they are profitable, that means gamers are buying them. Vote with your wallet. Vote for legitimacy in fighting games.