15 February 2012

Current State of the Fighting Game, or, Expectations for Skullgirls

I've written before about fighting games (mostly complaining how much I suck at them). They interest me as a phenomenon, and an aesthetic style.

The mid-90's were of course the golden age of fighting games. Capcom's Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series, SNK's King of Fighters series and other titles, the first Guilty Gear for the PlayStation... But what about the current status of the genre? Many of the old games, after all, are becoming harder to obtain (apart from a handful of re-releases), and, frankly, the low-res sprites are beginning to look a little dated...

Guilty Gear XX was released in 2002. It is still surely one of the finest fighting games around. Not only does it have a solid system, but, perhaps most importantly, it has tons of style. The characters are some of the most interesting and original in the genre. The story mode as well in home versions was, for a fighting game, fairly cool.

Over the last decade since GGXX, however, precious little has happened in the fighting game genre. A few revisions of GGXX, yeah, but no truly new releases in the series, nor anything for the current console generation. Street Fighter IV was probably the most significant release of the genre in recent years. And it was an OK game, but the Street Fighter franchise has never been one of my favourites. The setting and characters just aren't all that impressive. And the art style of SFIV, 3D graphics imitating a 2D look, just didn't really... 'do it for me'.

A decade without an interesting fighting game of any real originality. Really? Have I totally missed out on some rare gem there somewhere along the way?

Sometime last autumn I heard of a game in the works called Skullgirls, slated for release sometime in 'early 2012' on PS3 and XBOX networks. (Here's one trailer.) I was initially sceptical when I discovered it was being developed by westerners, a concept tantamount to sacrilegious. But once I started seeing footage of the game... I was intrigued. There's some crazy, original characters, that appear to draw influence from the likes of Guilty Gear and Darkstalkers. The art is quite pretty, hand drawn in high definition. There's a big name composer, Michiru Yamane. (I'm not 100% sure of the musical style, though. What I've heard isn't bad, but I like my fighting game music with a little more... rock.) And the system looks pretty solid, designed by fighting game enthusiasts.

I find myself rather looking forward to trying out this title. Even though I'm quite certain I will, again, absolutely suck at it, possibly spiralling into frustration and depression (but that's a risk I'm willing to take). Whether Skullgirls will be a saviour for a dying genre is too early to say, of course...

(EDIT: Oh yeah, some of you may wonder why I haven't mentioned the likes of Tekken or Soulcalibur. Those 3D games can be sort of fun in their own way, I guess, but I just can't bring myself to think of them as true fighting games. 2D games are just way cooler.)

(EDIT 2: BlazBlue from Arc System Works was brought to my attention. It looks like a potentially interesting game, something of a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear from what I can tell. I'll have to try to get my hands on it sooner or later...)

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