We are experiencing kind of a second fighting game renaissance these days. We have tons of fighters to choose from. We have 3D fighters, 2D fighters, air-dash fighters, anime fighters, fandom fighters, oldschool franchises like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, new franchises like Injustice and Skullgirls, assist fighters, crossovers, and so much more. But when you really think about it, aren’t all of these fighters the same game?
… excuse me while I dodge an angry mob of fighting game pros who want to kill me for suggesting any similarities between Arcana Heart and King of Fighters.
Seriously though, all of these fighters are kind of the same thing. The goal is to attack your opponent until his life bar reaches zero. You can attack and block and combo and use special moves with a correct series of button inputs, and your basic goal is to mix-up your opponent in such a way that you land more hits than he does. This is the same for nearly every single game in the fighting game genre.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not suggesting these games play the same way. Anyone who has experienced the slow footsies of Street Fighter IV as opposed to the one touch death combos and Soul F- Soul Fist! projectile spam of Marvel can tell that the two games need an entirely different set of skills and strategies. But think of these games like 2/4 Texas Hold’em and no limit 7 Card Stud with wild Jokers shuffled in. Both games require a completely different set of skills and strategies. Heck, the rules of each game, according to when you can bet and how much you can bet, are totally different. But nevertheless, both games are still poker, because the goal of the game is the same: make a higher ranked hand than your opponent. Similarly, the goal of nearly every fighting game on the market is the same as well, open up a blocking opponent and combo him in an attempt to deplete his health bar before he does the same to you.
The only well known “different” fighting game experience in the AAA world is Smash Bros, a game in which there is no health bar, and instead your goal is to increase an opponent’s damage percentage in order to knock him off a stage. Smash is also popular enough to still be played at tournaments today, and to be the killer app that Nintendo is practically resting the whole success of the Wii U on at this point.
However, you can find a lot of new and interesting takes on fighting games in the indie genre. Nidhogg just came out a few months ago to incredible critical acclaim. This was a fencing game with limited moves, one hit kills, and infinite respawns, in which the goal was to get to the end of a mirrored platforming level before your opponent does. Starwhal: Just the Tip is another type of fencing game where you control flying narwhal whales with dual analog sticks in an attempt to pierce each other in the heart. Lethal League is getting a commercial release soon, and it’s a game in which you attack a ball instead of attacking your opponent, and only the ball can do damage. The list goes on, from Bari Bari Ball’s limited jumping resources, to Divekick's extremely minimalist spacing game with two buttons, to Samurai Gunn’s limited projectile resources for each player. There is no shortage of interesting fighting games with interesting mechanics and vastly differing goals.
For this reason I’d posit that the future of fighters is definitely in the indie-sphere. Of course we will still see AAA fighters be made, and much like Call of Duty and Battlefield duke it out in the AAA world for shooter dominance, AAA fighters will usually be interesting takes on the same set of “deplete your opponent’s life-bar” mechanics. But the indie-sphere will continue to try and re-invent what it means to be a fighting game in the first place. That, coupled with the fact that you can pick up many of these games for 10-15 dollars, means you can easily have a huge variety of fighting games to play with your friends at very little investment, not to mention the simple mechanics of these games makes them more appealing to newbies. So the next time you want to pick up a new fighter, think about browsing the Steam indie game library before you head on over to Gamestop.
Senior Contributing Writer