Fighting games are the only thing to survive from the ’90s without looking terminally stupid. They’re now so popular that even Japanese RPGs about suicidal teenage ghost hunters are being remade as fighters. Which is actually realistic, because a Japanese anime teenager would have to be suicidal to get into a fistfight. One blow and their willowy limbs would snap like twigs. That’s why they all drive robot suits.
Fighting games let two people thrust violently at each other for mutual fun. That’s the closest thing video games have to sex. In fact, it’s better, because when they’re finished the players can immediately download into new bodies and start again instead of stopping for a rest. Dozens of fighting franchises and billions of dollars in sales mean fighting games have evolved faster and more brutally than piranhas. Capcom alone have created more versions of Street Fighter than there are streets in several cities, and the results make more money. Dead or Alive has drilled so deep into the gaming consciousness it accidentally got cross-wired to the sex drive. But there are still a few features every game needs.
In modern fighting games the single-player mode is just an advanced tutorial, an extended practice session for real fights against real people. That’s why you crank it up too hard, work on weird moves, and keep pounding away with the same character. (We told you these games were like sex.) If practicing skills was this much fun in the real world, everyone would be a concert pianist fighting off multiple ninjas, not just Jackie Chan.
By the time you get to the final boss you’re more dedicated to destroying the machines than John Connor. Which is when the game decides to dilute glorious aggression with some stupid passive aggression, forcing you to sit through three minutes of BS every time you lose.
When you’re killed by an unfeeling machine with computerized reactions, it shouldn’t be the machine that goes “Hang on, give me a minute.” Dying in most fighting games takes longer than the real thing. Buddhists have been reincarnated and learned to fight again faster than some games let you get back into the action. Even the original Street Fighter II had a “character change on continue” option. Turn that off and continuing instantly launched you back into the action. And that was back when discs were only in video games if you were watching TRON. If an instantly loading cartridge didn’t want to waste time on new scene, why do discs think we want to?
The modern fighting game loads up a background and animation for the full ten second countdown. Despite the fact it never gets past 0.0001 of the first second, because you’re hitting the continue button at the speed limit of the human nervous system. Then it forgets the character and stage you were standing on, loads up the character select so you can confirm you want to use the same character you used the last forty times, then slowly and painfully remembers the stage you were on before it started this BS. When you hit a real person in the head you might expect some memory damage, but your computer shouldn’t become the guy from Memento every four minutes.
Selective Character Select
Like the real world, every fighting game has a diverse spectrum of people, and like the real world, some have blatant and unfair advantages right from the start. The Super Street Fighter IV character select screen is like a room full of exotic martial artist weapons, and two revolvers called “Dragon Punches.” You want to have an awesome fight, you’d love to choose something interesting or fun, but if the other guy is boring and chooses the gun you’re dead. So you choose the gun and now you’re both boring, and one of you is still dead. Tekken runs the risk of cancelling out your skills with “Choose Eddy and just hit the kick buttons,” and every time you play Soulcalibur online you risk facing a complete @$$#0!% with Yoda.
Despite the best intentions of the developers*, every game ends up with a few cheap and/or superior characters. It’s possible to counter any character with another through skill and training, but you don’t want to spend forty hours practicing microsecond-long counters just to get your lucha wrestler past a man who can throw fireballs and take off like a nuclear missile. You want to lucha a Sumo wrestler and laugh maniacally.
*Except Capcom, who are clearly high priests of the Cult of Ken Is Best
As well as choosing the number of rounds and length, let us choose a fighter and set of characters we’ll face before connecting. You’re only connected to opponents with overlapping character sets. That way the psychopaths training to shave two microseconds off their cross-up kick to shoryuken can time trial against each other, while the rest of us can have fun.
As a man who likes to grip my joystick and wrestle it against strangers on the internet, I can admit that fighting games are ludicrously sexist. The average male character might wear pajamas, but they’re the kind of all-covering pajamas you could answer the door in. If a female fighting character answered the postman in her uniform it would only be because they were filming and already halfway through a porno movie.
It’s hard enough to explain that playing games about beating each other up isn’t childish. We’re not saying we don’t want to see semi-naked women, because that would be lies. Instead the games should offer the same options for both genders: clothed and half-naked. Nina should be able to launch into combat in full Guile-style combat fatigues, while Raven should be able to swing his sword in a speedo. That way everyone’s happy. A truly secure man wouldn’t be threatened by equality. He’d wear the same postage-stamp sized scraps of cloth as the ladies, showing himself off for all who wish to admire his glory. Which means that the most truly modern man in in fighting game history is Zangief.
Dan is what happens when two fighting game companies take the piss out of each other until arcade machines become dialysis machines. When Art of Fighting ripped off Ryu, creating Ryo, Capcom ripped him off right back. And what they ripped off were the testicles. The result is Dan, master of delusion-fu, pink-gi’d master of the world’s worst version of the classic dragon punching moves. His fireball has the same range as a zippo, his whirlwind kick more resembles the breeze from an open window, and his dragon punch wouldn’t intimidate a gecko.
But here’s the thing: he’s still usable. He still has the core set of classic moves, they’re just not overpowered to pieces. Every game should have a Dan, a stripped down dummy of their top characters. A truly excellent player can still use him to demolish most average players. And every time they do, it’s the ultimate humiliation. A single Dan victory is worth a hundred regular wins. It’s the ultimate demonstration of skill over simple flailing. And that’s the whole point of fighting games.
For more jokes at Dan and Ryo’s expense, read Luke’s account of The 9 Least Original Fighting Game Characters.
Luke McKinney writes about games, drink, science, and everything else that makes life amazing. He’s a columnist on Cracked and writes for several beer magazines. He’s also available for hire. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter @lukemckinney.