It’s easy to say, “what a time to be alive” whenever something weird happens in video games. But this time, I feel like, is the best time to say it and actually mean it. It seemed like the fighting games scene couldn’t get any crazier, with a Dragon Ball Z game shaping up to be a major contender and a Marvel vs. Capcom game straight-up flopping. But as it turns out, 2017 was just getting started.
Injustice 2 is just knocking it out of the park with its crossover content. This whole “being bankrolled by Warner Bros.” stuff is really fueling some wild content for NetherRealm’s Season Passes. With Mortal Kombat XL, it was a host of franchise movie monsters. From Jason Vorhees to the Xenomorph, that game was packed with characters that didn’t make sense but were fun to have anyway. In Injustice 2, the theme of comic book characters is still retained with the new cameos, but in the form of a bunch of hype train-powering cross-company promoting.
The first one was a bombshell, with Hellboy coming straight out of nowhere. This was especially true as Hellboy as an IP had a hot moment, but has generally remained a niche before and pretty much immediately after the two live action movies. A new one is in production though, but none of the movies were/are produced by Warner Bros. So it’s definitely some kind of licensing deal. Dark Horse and DC Comics do have crossover history, including a Hellboy and Batman comic.
Same with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Yeah that’s right, the Ninja Turtles. One of the most complicated brands, in terms of its duration and in spite of its reputation, is also making an appearance in Injustice 2. If the announcement reaction video is any indication, people are a little excited. TMNT is currently running under the IDW banner in comics, and despite earlier ties to Warner Bros., the latest movie rights have settled with Paramount and there isn’t an active one to promote. This has all the signs of people in charge of these things just making moves based on what was available and cool.
But it’s not just Injustice 2. Tekken 7 just got real weird too. Around the same time as the Ninja Turtles made their Injustice debut, Noctis of Final Fantasy XV, of all people, showed up as Tekken 7 DLC, following two cameos from more traditional fighting games. Why is this happening? Who knows? Bandai Namco and Square Enix don’t have a ton of history together, outside of a couple weird instances just as a DS game based on the Square Enix-owned Soul Eater manga.
What does this mean for the competition? Things have been weird at places like Capcom. Street Fighter V is more or less sticking to the usual territory, while Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite failed to impress anyone outside of the FGC crowd. Indeed, Japanese sales numbers for the Switch port of Street Fighter II sold better than Infinite, and while sales numbers here are more scarce, there’s no reason to believe a similar situation isn’t happening here. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s Pokken Tournament dusted both, showing that, somehow, a goofy Pokemon fighting game is also capable of doing good business. And this is also the year Arc System Works announced its own crossover fighter in BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, a game that features at least one character from Rooster Teeth’s RWBY.
What this means is, essentially, fighting games are getting weird again. Capcom, the old king, is struggling. Meanwhile, smaller groups of dedicated fanbase-driven games are killing it, and making all kinds of crazy cross-brand deals. Every time one of these gets announced, people react, even outside of normal fighting game communities. Could licensing deals, often considered game-killers in the localization world, be turning into a new source of profit in a highly-competitive, but still niche, genre? I’m excited to see what happens next. And by that, I mean ArcSys better have something nutty up its sleeve for Dragon Ball FighterZ.