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Note: If you don’t know what “footsies” are in regards to fighting games or what a Roman Cancel is, you may not meet the qualifications to read this article. Might I suggest looking at puppies instead?
One of my favorite genres of games is the fighting game genre. I love the action and competition the genre provides. That’s why this year I’d like to post my opinions about the state of fighting games as a whole and state my predictions of the results of EVO 2011, happening July 29-31 in Las Vegas.
The following games will be the main events at EVO this year, all of which I will give a brief overview of:
Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition
The Street Fighter IV series began in Japanese arcades in 2008 with the release of Street Fighter IV. The game was wildly successful due to its combining of Street Fighter II-style zoning and footsies and Street Fighter III-style combos with an interesting new Focus Attack system, visually stunning ultra attacks, a Roman Cancel-esque system that was
blatantly stolen from influenced by Guilty Gear, and almost the entire Super Street Fighter II Turbo cast as well as several new characters. However, the initial SFIV release was criticized by the fighting game community due to extremely lenient shortcuts, the ability of some characters to be able to land their ultra combo after trading moves, Ultra combos in general as a comeback mechanic, and the fact that several characters were considered overpowered at high levels of play, most notably Sagat.
So, roughly a year after the release of SFIV for home consoles, Capcom produced Super Street Fighter IV, which introduced a whopping ten additional characters (though only two were brand new to the SF series), gave the entire cast a second ultra, and fixed a lot of the balance issues of the game. The game wasn’t perfectly balanced as you still had characters like Gen, Cody, Hakan, and Makoto who suffered from a number of bad matchups and were very hard to use at high levels of play, but for the most part you could pick a character you liked, learn them inside and out, and do well with them (unless you picked Dan, in which case winning probably wasn’t important to you anyway). The balance of SSFIV was so good that people were willing to overlook the fact that it was basically the same game with the same shitty input shortcuts and the same bullshit comeback mechanic ultras, or the fact that Capcom created maybe 6 new characters for the SFIV series (several of whom were heavily based on other characters in the SF series), and play the living shit out of it. It was a ton of fun for a lot of people and it even converted players who weren’t fans of the original SFIV.
Then Arcade Edition came out and brought back Yun and Yang from Street Fighter II: 3rd Strike (I know they originally appeared in New Generation but I just want to get these abbreviations out of the way as soon as possible) as playable characters as well as two “original” characters in the form of Evil Ryu, who is slightly more original than the Street Fighter Alpha series Evil Ryu since he has a HOLE IN HIS CHEST HOLY SHIT, and Oni, who I’d like to call a palette swap of Akuma but his moveset is just barely different enough for him to be a “original” character. Remember how the Scooby Doo series started to go downhill in quality when they introduced Scrappy Doo? That’s what Yun and Yang are like. Yun and Yang, often simply called “The Twins”, are walking balance issues. In retrospect, I really don’t understand how people didn’t see this coming, as they were both very dominant in 3rd Strike. Maybe the community as a whole was just so glad to have them in that they didn’t stop to consider what kind of impact having a super like Genei Jin in addition to an ultra would have on most matchups. Maybe they didn’t realize how easy it was for Yang and Yun to build both super and ultra meter through the use of palm strikes and focus attacks. Maybe the developers were too busy making Street Fighter X Tekken to actually be bothered to balance AE.
But no matter the reason, his heart or his shoes, The Grinch sat at his computer, hating this fucking game. I mean seriously, why would you play this game over other games in the SF series? For pure footsies, ST is better. For combos, 3S is better. For balance, SSFIV is better. There is literally no reason to play AE unless you were a good Yun player in 3S and you want to help scrubs’ wallets lose weight. But the SF community as a whole is incredibly fickle and has to play the very newest thing at all times, no matter how bad it is. What a bunch of sheep.
Who I think will win: Daigo Umehara. There have been two SFIV-series EVO championships so far and Daigo has won both. Now in AE he’s playing the best character in the game, so Americans stand even less of a chance. I’m not a Daigo fan or hater, but the reality is that unless something absolutely astonishing happens Daigo will win AE. Period.
Who I want to win: Wolfkrone. The man is one of the hardest working people in the SF community and doesn’t accept any failure from himself. Even if he gets second place at a tournament, he’ll go home sad that he didn’t win. He’s that kind of person and he has the exact mentality that the American community as a whole needs to succeed over the Japanese. PR Balrog is also very dedicated to this game, and I’d like to see him do well too.
Marvel vs Capcom 3
Speaking of over-hyped things, let’s talk about the disappointing sequel to a game that came out ten years ago. Now when I say disappointing, I’m not complaining about the fact that it was inevitably going to be disappointing after a decade of hype (I understand this logic but it doesn’t apply to everything), nor am I complaining about the netcode (why would you play fighting games online anyway?), and I’m also not complaining about my favorite character not being in the game (he is, although ever since they nerfed his health he hasn’t been that fun to play as). I’m talking about everything that’s wrong with the game from a competitive balance standpoint. Now there’s a ton of things wrong with this game so I’m not going to go over everything, but I will go over the biggest ones right now.
One issue in the game is the very same issue Capcom said they were going to get right with this game – character balance. Now I’m not going to waste time talking about the underpowered characters in the game. Since MvC3 is a team game, a weaker member of the team can be balanced out by having strong characters to back them up. So unless you’re playing something like Chris/MODOK/Viewtiful Joe, you’ll be able to run a lower tier character on a team and still be able to come out on top. However, one character is so good that you can run whoever you want with her and still do incredibly well. I am talking, of course, about Phoenix.
For those who don’t know, Phoenix is absurdly good at both rushdown and zoning in MvC3, like some combination of Strider and Storm from MvC2. Her teleport mixups are ridiculous, her blockstrings are extremely good, and her “weakness” of low health isn’t really a weakness at all for reasons I’ll discuss soon. On top of that, when she dies with 5 meters she gets even better. She’s effectively a comeback machine and playing against her requires most players to completely change their gameplan. In level 3 X-Factor, which I’ll talk more about soon, Phoenix is ridiculously powerful ans can wipe out whole teams on her own, even if you only have a very basic grasp of the character. This isn’t just me being a scrub and complaining either, Phoenix has been incredibly dominant at high-level tournament play, to the point where a typical top8 has at least 3 or 4 Phoenix players. Now I know I’ve been complaining, but there are some smart design choices that went into making Phoenix. One such choice is in her teleport. Phoenix cannot use her teleport to run away, as all three versions of her teleport leave Phoenix right next to (or on top of) her opponent. This means that Phoenix needs to be ready with a blockstring and she has to hope that her opponent doesn’t hit her out of it with an invincible move.
In this game, for every good design choice Capcom makes, they make at least two bad ones, and the worst design choice by far is X-Factor. Remember how I said people criticized Ultras in SFIV as a comeback mechanic? Well that was nothing, nothing, compared to X-Factor. X-Factor is, to put it moderately, completely balls to the wall ridiculous. Let’s look at a list of things X-Factor is:
Now on paper this doesn’t seem that bad. There are some worrisome parts, sure, but most of them make sense. Roman Cancels are in there because Guilty Gear was a cool game. Melty Blood is also a cool game and the MvC series already uses red health, so it makes sense that a health regeneration mechanic would be included too. Chip damage isn’t fun for new players, so nobody really cares if it goes. Resetting damage and hitstun scaling doesn’t really have any purpose aside from making cool combo videos, and that’s what really matters, right? In practice though, X-Factor is a catastrophe. It’s either burned off quickly to kill your opponent’s whole team or it’s saved until your very last character to make them as powerful as possible and wipe out your opponent’s entire team. The damage and speed boosts are seemingly random too with some characters not getting very significant changes until Level 3 X-Factor and others getting absurdly powerful. What’s more, X-Factor is integral to the balance of this game. Whenever discussion of a character happens, one of the things that’s brought up is “good in level 3 X-Factor”, regardless of whether the character being discussed is good without X-Factor or not. On top of all this, in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, X-Factor not only has these boosts but you can do it in the air. Come on, Capcom, I thought you were proud of the fact that you listened to your fanbase.
To me, everything about X-Factor and most aspects of MvC3 in general is really lazy. Players who are too lazy to learn how to block well and deal with pressure situations can X-Factor on their last character and still come back and win. Players too lazy to learn long combos or complex resets can X-Factor and repeat the combo they just did for over double the damage. Players who want to be good with minimal effort can pick Phoenix. But there’s just as much blame to be put on Capcom too. Online play might not work with a 3 on 3 fight, so they gave us only the bare minimum. Balancing was too strenuous, so they gave everyone a broken button. People don’t like it when they lose two characters to their own stupid mistakes, so they gave everyone the most overpowered comeback mechanic of all time. Everything about this game screams bad design. I’ll probably do a full review of this game eventually because there’s just so much wrong with it that I don’t have time to go into everything here. Most of the community is starting to realize that this game is bananas too, as many Marvel vs Capcom 2 pros have quit the game.
Ten more years? At the rate this is going, I’ll be surprised if it lasts for ten more months.
(That is, ten months after UMvC3 comes out, because god forbid the Capcom Fighting Game community ignores a new game no matter how much it sucks)
Who I think will win: Justin Wong. The best and most successful MvC2 player of all time has been doing incredibly well in MvC3 as well, winning nearly every major tournament he’s ever entered. His team is also incredibly strong, using the powerful combination of Wolverine and Akuma, which many players hate as much as or more than Phoenix. In the rare event that Justin doesn’t win, however, the winners will most likely be Phoenix players. The two best Phoenix players I can think of at the moment are Clockw0rk and Filipino Champ, both of who are very solid players with very strong Phoenixes, so if Justin does not win one of them likely will. A lot of people are concerned about American players’ chance of winning since both Daigo and Tokido are entering MvC3. However, the Japanese have historically not done well at MvC3 since, unlike most other 2D fighters, the Marvel vs Capcom games are more about resets, positioning, and meter management than just combos. I have no doubt that Justin, who is a veritable encyclopedia of MvC, will have little trouble beating Daigo in MvC if it comes down to that. Tokido, however, is a very skilled player and a notorious tier whore who plays Wolverine/Sentinel/Phoenix, so he may actually be the biggest threat in MvC3 to come from Japan.
Who I want to win: EMP Mugetsu, if he’s going to EVO this year. I always liked Mugetsu as a player and I never really knew why he wasn’t successful in this game. He has good execution, extensive knowledge of his characters, and is just a good player overall. Fanatiq is also a player who I really want to win – he seems to have pushed Magneto/Storm/Sentinel to its limits in MvC3 and he’s an old-school MvC2 vet. But if Mugetsu and Fanatiq don’t go (and I have no idea if he will or not) then I’ll probably want Justin Wong to win. Though really I’ll cheer for anyone who’s not Japanese or playing Phoenix.
Yeah…I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know shit about Tekken.
I like watching people play it because of the unique footsies and spacing involved, but when I go to play the game it’s like a six year old stumbling through calculus. I will say this though: Rage mode is bullshit. For those who don’t know about Rage mode, it’s a condition that automatically triggers whenever a character is at about 10% of their maximum health or so and gives them a 50% damage increase. Not the worst comeback mechanic (**cough**X-FACTOR**cough**) but it’s still bullshit.
Who I think will win: The Koreans or the Japanese.
Who I want to win: The Americans.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger was a fun spiritual successor to the Guilty Gear franchise. For those of you who don’t know what Guilty Gear is, it’s a fun but execution-intensive game with a gorgeous anime-influenced art style, an awesome rock soundtrack, and a community that has in the past been completely disrespected by the SF community for no adequate reason. BBCT was similar to Guilty Gear in a lot of ways, had great netcode, and was beginner friendly without being dumbed down, so naturally I played it about 5 times as much as SFIV back in the summer of 2009. However, there were problems with the game but fortunately they only stemmed from the balance of a few characters, which was easy to fix since the game only had 12 characters and there weren’t any un-winnable matchups anyway.
The rebalancing came in the form of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift last summer with many characters being nerfed or buffed as needed but there were still some balance issues in that version too. Not as much rebalancing was needed though, as since CT had three characters (Rachel, Nu-13, and Arakune) who needed balancing out of 12, CS only needed to balance two characters (Bang and Litchi) out of 15 (not including DLC characters). Now in BlazBlue: Continuum Shift II (aka. “the balance patch”) the cast is so well balanced that there are almost no characters that stand out from others in terms of how good they are, and I mean this in a “this game is really balanced while still having diverse characters and it’s really fun to play because of that” way and not a “they nerfed everyone into oblivion so now nobody is fun to play” way.
However, in situations like these where every character is viable at a competitive level, the most likely ones to be successful are the popular ones, simply because there are more of them. Of the characters in BBCSII, the most popular one right now seems to be Makoto. Makoto is popular for her fairly safe rushdown style, her mixup abilities, her ability to punish normals, and the fact that she looks like Alvin and the Chipmunks’ wet dream (and believe me, that’s about as SFW as Makoto gets). She also has a good damage output and excellent super meter building skills. So why aren’t I complaining about her? Well, she’s honestly not that unbalanced. It’s not as easy to zone her as it is to zone some other characters but once you do she can’t really do much about it, once you read her mixups you can hit her out of them, and she can’t deal with being pressured as well as other characters in the game without the use of a guess parry. She’s just not as dominant as Yang, Yun, or Phoenix are in their respective games.
Who I think will win: Makoto players. The most recent major to have BBCS2 as an event had double Makoto grand finals, and I doubt that the results from EVO will be much different.
Who I want to win: Lambda players. Gotta side with my main here. I would also want Mike Z to win so that he can show our puny American minds some real Soviet damage, but at this point all I want him to do is finish making SkullgirlS.
Mortal Kombat 
If you had told me a year ago that the game I would be most excited to see at EVO was Mortal Kombat, I would have laughed at you and then probably poured my drink out on your head and kicked you in the groin because that’s the kind of asshole I am. Nobody expected MK9 to be even remotely good since the series as a whole has had a history of being about as competitively viable as rock paper scissors, only once in a while paper throws a spear at rock and yells “GET OVER HERE!”. It’s extremely refreshing, then, that the most recent iteration of Mortal Kombat, called MK9 by fighting game fans, is quite possibly even better than SSFIV:AE.
YEAH THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT.
Well alright, let me explain. MK9 does have input shortkuts like SF4 does, but the way the inputs have worked throughout the series it’s about the same as what you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat game and definitely not as lenient as SFIV. On top of that, the development team has been working very hard with the kommunity to make patch after patch to improve the balance of the game more and more, so characters that were initially overpowered (Kung Lao for example) have been nerfed to a reasonable level. The gameplay is also just plain fun. It has the 2D footsies and zoning of a Street Fighter game with the juggling system of a Tekken game along with bursts from Guilty Gear (though in practice they operate a bit more like Mega Crashes from Tatsunoko vs Capcom).
Ironikally, where the game fails the most is in the single player mode, which is probably the single mode that matters least in a fighting game. The one important single player mode that MK9 fails at the most is the most important one – training mode. Training mode in MK9 is atrociously bad with very few options for the dummy. Being able to rekord the dummy is something that has been in fighting games since the Dreamcast era but MK9 totally botched it up by making the rekord funktion only useful for showing replays of sick kombos and not actually practicing said sick kombos. The story is also a joke, but it’s a fighting game so who gives a shit.
Overall, MK9 is an excellent game and I love it. The only thing that irks the kompetitive player in me is how easy it is to do X-Rays – you literally push two buttons at the same time. This kind of takes away one of the more difficult aspekts of doing kombos into supers in a fighting game – the exekutional barrier. Making it so easy to do X-Rays on reaction kind of takes away the exekutional elements of the game, which I imagine is why many players don’t like the it. Still, I think the game is fantastic and I can’t wait to watch it.
And yes, I am going to spell everything with a hard “C” sound with a “K” while talking about MK. Kan you handle it?
Who I think will win: EMP Tom Brady (and for those of you who don’t know the MK9 scene, this is not the New England Patriots’ quarterback). Tom Brady is to MK what Justin Wong is to MvC. The man is a walking encyklopedia of knowledge on the game and has already won or almost won several majors. However, he’s not invincible and there are a lot of SF players who are picking up the game and doing well, so we’ll see.
Who I want to win: EMP Tom Brady. Not only is he a great player, but he’s also very helpful in fostering the kommunity and helping it grow. He worked with the development team at NetherRealm Studios to balance the game and has a semi-weekly podcast where he answers questions from inquiring minds. He’s really just a great guy all around and he deserves to go home with the MK9 2011 trophy.
EVO 2011 Panels
Yes, for the first time ever, EVO is having panels. I guess they thought that their tournament wasn’t enough like an anime convention.
Panel #1 – Feed the Stream Monsters: A Guide to Broadcast Fighting Games
As a stream monster myself, I find the title of this very offensive. Stream monsters can be very productive contributors to the community. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make fun of Chris Hu’s accent.
Panel #2 – SkullgirlS: A New Age of Heroines
Get it? Because MvC2 was subtitled “A New Age of Heroes”? Yeah, I don’t think it’s clever either. Anyway, SkullgirlS looks amazing but the one thing I want to hear from them more than anything else is a fucking release date.
Panel #3 – Inside the Mind of the Beast: Daigo Umehara Exposed!
I honestly couldn’t care less. I really couldn’t. I think everyone makes too much of a big deal out of Daigo as it is.
Panel #4 – Marvel vs Capcom 3: Past, Present, and Future
This really doesn’t matter since by EVO everyone will already know about the future of MvC3 (or rather UMvC3) because of the SDCC announcements. All we can hope for is character announcements, but really the only character people wanted was Strider and he’s in UMvC3 (but man did they fuck him up – Ouroboros as a level 3 is a sick joke).
Panel #5 – The King of Fighters XIII: Panel and Discussion
I would like to know more about the game so yeah I guess you could say I’m looking forward to this one.
Panel #6 – Street Fighter III: Online Edition, Reinventing a Classic
You know what they could give us that I’d be interested in? A release date. Never mind, they already announced the release date so I have nothing to care about here.
Panel #7 – Namco Bandai: Get Ready For The Next Panel!
I’m not that interested in Soulcalibur V, but I am interested in Tekken Tag Tournament 2.
Panel #8 – New Directions in Street Fighter X Tekken
Another upcoming game I’m excited about. After all this comeback mechanic bullshit with Rage mode in Tekken and Ultras in SF, it’s nice to see a comparatively normal game that doesn’t have any ridiculously centralizing comeback mechanics to upset the bal- WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT!?!
I gotta say, these panels are at the very least very relevant to new fighting game releases. Except for the Daigo interview, I thought that was kinda stupid and unnecessary.
Other EVO Stuff
Balrog: Behind the Glory
Who gives a shit?
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Invitational
I’m definitely looking forward to this. Here’s the list of players I want to see:
I want to see a good amount of character diversity but at the same time I also want to see the best players. It’s a shame Kuroda and MOV aren’t coming, I’d definitely want to see both of them play in this invitational.
East Coast vs West Coast MvC3 5-on-5
So far the teams haven’t been announced, but we do know that the captains for the East Coast and West Coast teams are NerdJosh and Justin Wong respectively. Here are my predictions for what the teams are actually going to be.
Since Justin Wong is the West Coast captain and lives in SoCal, I’m expecting the team to be mostly consisting of SoCal players. However this is not a bad thing because right now SoCal has some of the best players in the game, including the best, Justin Wong, and his teammate, Floe. Clockw0rk and Filipino Champ are also going to be mainstays of the team since they are arguably the two best players of the best character in the game, Phoenix. I would have listed Marn on this team, but since he not only is not the best choice but also hates the game, I thought that Combofiend would be the most likely 5th member of the team.
East Coast I’m less sure about. Obviously NerdJosh would have to be stupid not to pick Chris G and Ry Ry, who are two of the best on the coast. However, the rest of the coast is roughly the same in terms of skill and no one in particular stands out besides them. PR Balrog seems to be a likely choice but I’m not sure if he plays the game anymore. Marlin Pie is extremely talented and he plays C. Viper, a character which few people know how to deal with, but he hasn’t made strong placings in majors. Evil Rahsaan is in a similar predicament, in that he uses Spider-Man, a character who has the tools to deal with Phoenix and Wolverine (thought not much else), but Rahsaan has also made sub-par tournament placings. This leaves Jago, Smooth Viper, Josh Wong, and Noel Brown, all of whom are strong players but also around the same skill level, so it’s kind of hard to guess who will be on the team. Honestly, I think the weakest point of this team in NerdJosh, who has never performed particularly well in tournaments. Josh’s insistence on using Tron instead of, say, anyone else also hurts his team, as a good assist is nothing in MvC3 unless the character can also perform well on point.
Of course it doesn’t particularly matter because I’m also predicting that regardless of who is on the East Coast team, West Coast will win for one reason – Justin Wong. It is not hyperbole to say that Justin is the best MvC3 player in the world and because of this he is the single biggest factor in this 5 on 5. Justin has beaten everyone else I’ve named here in tournament or money matches in this game in the past, East Coast and West Coast. And frankly, because I am so confident that this will be the outcome, I’m not going to bother watching it. I’ll probably watch some MvC2 games instead, like Duc vs Sanford, Neo vs Clockw0rk, or Fanatiq vs Toan.
Wireless Controllers Banned
Is this bullshit? I say yes…to an extent. On one hand, I think that if a player qualified for EVO playing on pad then they should be able to play on a pad at EVO. On the other hand, there are some fairly easy workarounds, which the EVO website even outlines. I don’t play on pad so this wouldn’t affect me, but this is still a problem. Then again, I guess if anyone had a wireless arcade stick they probably wouldn’t be allowed to use that at EVO for the same reasons.
Whenever Gootecks lands a combo I’m going to yell out “THERE YOU GO GOOTECKS!”
Play ’em off, Keyboard CrossCounter!
Join me next week when I talk about The Problem With Game Reviews.