2011 Fighting Game Retrospective

What’s good, everyone? Joshua Evo back again and I hope you all had a great holiday season! We’ve just entered the gates of 2012 and with that having been said, I’d like to take a personal look back at some of the noteworthy console fighting game releases of the year and offer a look ahead into the future a bit. Obviously, I can’t hit EVERY 2011 title that somehow falls into the fighting genre in some way (things like Final Fantasy Dissidia 012: Duodecim, Dead or Alive: Dimensions or WWE ’12) but I will be discussing the three major releases that I felt had the biggest impact on the tournament scene and the fighting game community as a whole. For the sake of keeping things relatively simple, I will be omitting things like balance patches to games that were released prior to 2011. So without further hold up, let’s get things (in no particular order) rolling with…

… Mortal Kombat. Due to the relatively lackluster performance of the previous games in the series and the multitude of off-shoots into other genres, Mortal Kombat was in sort of an underdog position when it was initially announced. Granted, there was a solid amount of hype behind the possibility of a modern era and grittier game in the franchise but it seemed to be in the shadow of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, released earlier in the year. Eventually, more and more information was released to the community concerning things such as the character roster, gameplay features and changes and the hype continued to build when a playable demo was released in March, it gave fans their first taste of how this new Mortal Kombat felt. Gone were the High/Low Punch and Kick designations, replaced with a Tekken-style control scheme where each of the four major attack buttons represent an attack and are linked to a corresponding limb. Also included was the now standard “Super Meter” which allowed players to perform enhanced versions of special moves, execute combo breakers or at maximum level, the devastating new X-Ray Attack which in TRUE MK style, was an over-the-top and literally bone-shattering move that were unique to each character. Additionally, the “Run’ button was removed and dashing was enabled for all the cast to keep up with the newly overhauled combo mechanic in the game. Combined with an excellent Story Mode, new Training modes, enhanced single player mode (including the obligatory Tag mode that is all the rage right now and which is also a very competent and stable Tag-style game play in the spirit of the Tekken Tag games) and an early flood of company support in the form of patches and several DLC characters, MK was a strong offering out of the gate and accomplished its tasks of refreshing the series and making it a worthy competitor in a re-surging genre.

Seeing as how the original (or “Vanilla”) Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is widely seen as nothing more than a full-price beta test for the Ultimate version of the game, I’ll be covering both as one title. After a decade’s worth of waiting, MvC3 finally burst onto the scene in February of 2011… and again in November 2011. Along with the inherent hype that the third iteration in the popular “VS” franchise, came a good deal of heat over things like the cast choice, introduction of the “X-Factor” comeback mechanic and hottest of all, the change in the controls. Abandoning the traditional six-button controls of MvC1 or the adapted version of the six-button control scheme used in MvC2, this game went with a more commonplace A, B, C, D control scheme for attacking which made many traditional players angry when it was announced. These fears were pretty quickly assuaged (or forgotten) when the game was released had and players flocking to it in droves. While the game was a fun and exciting experience, it was lacking in many areas. There was a noticeable lack of single player options aside from Arcade mode and the game also suffered from some of the same balancing problems that its predecessor had, which wasn’t too surprising to veterans of the series since the popular opinion was “if you want balance, this is NOT the game”. This made sense, since the games have historically been these chaotic beat-fests that were incredibly fun to observe and play. Unfortunately, MvC3 was also plagued by what has universally been agreed upon as some of the most problematic netcode ever implemented into a fighting game. This made playing online feel like a laggy chore most of the time. Also not included was a lobby spectator or replay save function. The scant amount of available gameplay options lent a sort of unfinished feeling to the game as a whole. These issues notwithstanding, “Vanilla” MvC3 enjoyed a healthy tournament life and was a huge draw.

As previously stated, November 2011 saw the release of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This retail upgrade to the original game brought with it 12 new characters (six from each side), new stages, the implementation of more online play options, an overhauled HUD, upgraded single player experience and promised boosted support in the form of DLC and improved netcode. As with the Street Fighter IV expansions, UMvC3 was released at a discounted price and like it’s Vanilla counterpart, was snapped up in relatively short order. However ALSO like its predecessor, it also brought its fair share of heat. Some of the major complaints being cast related (for example “Wai u put Rocket Raccoon and no Mega Man, Capcom?”) and the fact that the game was released as a retail release and not a downloadable upgrade. The netcode improvement was an arguable point though, with equal amounts of players saying that it had in fact gotten much better and other players saying that nothing had changed. Complaints notwithstanding, UMvC3 proved to be a welcome change to players with its bolstered roster, balance tweaks, added features and waves of DLC support (including costume packs and the recently released and very popular Heroes and Heralds Mode) and is poised to have a successful a tournament run as any other game in the franchise.

Finally, we have my personal favorite for 2011’s best fighting game, King of Fighters XIII. Sadly, the KoF franchise historically has never garnered too much of a major following in the United States and has very much remained a niche game within an already niche market. Those intrepid few who gave in to their curiosity or have been fans of the series for a long time ended up finding an incredibly well-balanced and exciting fighting game experience. The previous game, King of Fighters XII was an amazing looking but ultimately only decent fighter with good mechanics but just didn’t have enough features, proper online play or anything of substance to keep players coming back. It eventually faded into obscurity and was lost the annals of fighting game history. However, KoF XIII was quietly released in December 2011 and it brought the series back into the limelight with a vengeance. Off the bat, a “History of KoF” soundtrack collection was included for pre-orders and early adopters of the game.  Once popped into a console, players were treated to the same amazing hand-drawn art and pure Pokemon-style team vs. team battle set up that the series is known for. There was no tagging, no assists, no comeback mechanics, no gimmicks of any kind.  There WAS the inclusion of the Hyperdrive (or HD) gauge and its corresponding HD mode , which turns characters into high damage outputting combo machines and which also enabled characters to use their brutally powerful NEOMAX attack.  Both of these things are new things to learn but unless you’re looking to be particularly stylish, they’re not things that will unfairly tip the scale in your favor if you find yourself in a position of desperation in a fight to swing “come-from-behind” victory. Players still need to be very calculating with their moves, how they navigate the battlefield and how they place their actions. Rounding out the movement section are the types of jumps and the trademark rolling system that KoF games are known for.  All of this information is conveyed to the player in fine style with a robust tutorial and training mode. Single player mode has been MUCH more enhanced with the inclusion of a very detailed Story Mode and more complete Arcade Mode. Online play has also been improved, although there are still some netcode issues, which Atlus has said they are working on fixing. Unfortunately, there’s no lobby spectating mode as of so far but there is a save Replay function for a player’s own matches. Also returning is the ever popular Color Edit mode that allows players to modify the appearance of their characters. Similar to Mortal Kombat is a steady release stream of DLC characters which is indicative of the ever-important company support for the game. All of these elements create a fantastically balanced and thoroughly satisfying gaming experience despite the somewhat spotty online play. Definitely earns my vote of Fighting Game of 2011.

While there were definitely more fighting genre titles released in 2011, these were the big three, in my opinion, that garnered the most attention in the competitive fighting game scene. With such an influx of excellent titles, 2011 was a huge year for the genre. 2012 is is poised to be just as strong with titles Soul Calibur V, Blazblue: Continuum Shift EX, Street Fighter x Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and the release of the PS Vita. The fighting game genre is definitely back in a big way and I personally cannot wait to see what kind of technology is discovered by the pros, comparing the balance systems, combat styles and the competition that drives the players. So again, thanks for reading, I hope you all have an awesome year and take it easy everyone.

–Evo out


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