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Overcoming Weakness: The Stagnation and Inconsistency of Fighting Games
Fighting games have come so far since their inception back in the glory days of 8-bit gaming, and have remained relatively unchanged in their general gameplay since. This is not a bad thing at all. As the old saying goes: If I ain’t broken, don’t fix it. There’s something beautifully basic about being so limited to a 2D plane, and yet having a huge plethora of options and nuances available to use and abuse in order to ensure yourself victory. In a general sense, fighting games have always been easy to pick up but hard to master.
There is a problem that has become bleedingly apparent as of late – corresponding with the general growth of the gaming industry – and that is that the single-player aspects of fighting games pale in comparison to the multiplayer aspects. Many of these single player modes feel extremely tacked on, and depending on how much emphasis has been placed on them, bring down the overall quality of the game as a whole. Reviewers, trained to analyze games as a whole, are required to factor this in and this can bring the score down a whole lot. Does this mean the game in question is worthy of such a score? It is a hard question to answer.
Pictured: Game critics (left) vs. Developers (right)
Fighting game franchises have struggled to address this issue effectively, and in my opinion, should not be condemned for it. There are many pressures and expectations on developers in this regard, brought on by both consumers, as well as by the gaming press. Developers rely quite heavily on reviewers scores and overall reception of the game to ensure their products sell effectively.
A catch 22 arises: create a game with no single player, and your game with be condemned for lack of depth and options. Create a game with a single player that, by nature, will pale in comparison to the multiplayer aspect, and it will be overlooked or condemned itself for lacking overall depth.
What is a game developer to do in this situation? There is no solid answer, as any answer that has been thought up and employed so far really hasn’t dealt with this issue perfectly.
Aesthetic beauty only gets you so far.
The recent Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm franchise – although not alone in this – tried to combat the issue by incorporating a story-mode that strays from the core gameplay quite a lot. The ‘real’ battles, utilising the main fighting engine, are sandwiched in-between dull fetching tasks, or uninspired and linear exploration. Fans of the Naruto storyline may enjoy this gameplay, but only because they enjoy the story. Newcomers will struggle to piece together any in-depth story, as the world is not enough to make this departure from the core gameplay elements (the actual fights) stand out or remain interesting. From experience, people from either side of the aforementioned player base will have a tendency to skip most of the story out of sheer boredom or impatience.
Franchises that have been around longer and with an already-established fanbase, are not exempt from this phenomena either. The Tekken series attempted to add in a beat-em-up mode; a noble effort, but definitely nothing outstanding. Other series, notably Street Fighter, have generally gone with a much simpler approach, opting to leave out any gimmicky single player modes. Doing so, however, they run the risk of being received badly, by critics and players alike, for lack of depth.
This issue is somewhat lessened in severity when the game in question is released on a handheld console or as a cheaper, downloadable option. Players want value for money, and naturally this ‘value’ comes into question as soon as any aspect of a game seems tacked-on.
I have no idea what’s going on here.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to question the value of fighting games when they come out. I don’t think value for money should be overlooked in any aspect of gaming; however, this is something we have to factor in when attempting to come up with some kind of solution to this problem.
When it’s impossible to actually identify a development choice as ‘the best’, our only option left is to change our perception, and in doing so, attempt to influence the market and developers.
Call it idealistic or romantic, but I believe it’s possible.
If we were to stop placing so many expectations on fighting games specifically, we would give the developers a whole lot more room to move, and to improve on the core gameplay. This core gameplay is the focal point, and it’s what fighting game fans want out of these games. We don’t want tacked-on, half-baked concepts that act as disc filler. It has almost come to the point where players have to overlook these things and try and maintain focus on the real essence of the game. I don’t think there is one person who would play the games I mentioned above and find more enjoyment in these single-players elements than they do playing the intended, competitive and in-depth multiplayer mode.
For now, all we can do is give credit where credit is due and appreciate those games that come out that do get it right.