FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

Gonna be a fight tonightThe 80’s were defined by plastic cartridges that required a good blowing. Despite the fact that it is a complete lie, Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the definitive game of that bygone decade of wizardry. The 90’s saw cartridges give way to discs, and Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy 7 both defined the new gaming experience in their own ways. The start of the 21st Century saw us go from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 to Demon’s Souls in the span of ten years, but it was a decade generally defined by solitary console experiences mixed with the occasional smattering of of online interactions. The Wii’s couch-based waggle or Rock Band’s fantastic plastic seemed to capture the public’s attention a lot more easily than Xbox Live.

And the defining experience of the teens of the 2000s? That’s the four-year boondoggle that has been Street Fighter 5.

Full disclosure: Street Fighter 4 is and was one of my favorite games. It is the game that, in 2008, revived the “official” Street Fighter series for the first time since Street Fighter 3, initially released over a decade earlier. Now, that’s always been kind of a misnomer of a factoid, as the Street Fighter series never completely went away, what with Street Fighter battling SNK or the X-Men or whatever Ryu decided to stick his fist in this week, but Street Fighter 4 was technically the first real Street Fighter in what seemed like centuries, and it was received warmly merely for its existence. And then it turned out to be a great game, too! Hooray!

Street Fighter 4 captured the fun of the original Street Fighter 2 through easy-to-learn special motions and combos that seemed to crop up naturally when jump kicking with Ken over and over again. The story aped Street Fighter Alpha with small, basic pre-battle “taunts” between fighters, and everybody got a cool anime opening and ending to further cement the fun of the traditional arcade mode. And, as an added bonus, you could whale on a second player until the cows came home online or locally (depending on the version, sorry 3DS). It was everything you could ever want a Street Fighter title to be.

But nobody cares about that. What we care about is the roster. Street Fighter 4 launched in arcades with a total of 17 playable fighters (the original twelve of Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, Akuma, and four totally new contenders). That number grows to 19 if you include the two non-playable boss and secret boss characters. From there, the home version (released a few months later), added six new fighters from Alpha and Super. So, right off the bat, you had a roster of 25 on your home system. Three or four updates later, and “Ultra” Street Fighter 4 hit its endpoint with a grand total of 44 characters. That’s pretty amazing for the traditionally restrained Street Fighter franchise (SF3 barely got past 20), and, in a way, absolutely everything a Street Fighter fan could ever want. Look at this sweet roster:

Look at all dem street fighters

So, yes, Street Fighter 5 already had a strike against it when it launched on the same system that could play Ultra Street Fighter 4, but had a roster that looked like this:

That’s 16 world warriors as an initial offering. Coincidentally, that’s exactly one less than Street Fighter 4 offered at launch. Still four new characters, but less OG fighters, and no unique bosses or hidden martial artists. None of the new class from Street Fighter 4, either. This was not a great first impression.

At its launch, many people claimed Street Fighter 5 was a “paid beta”. This seemed apt, as the traditional trappings of Street Fighter were all but missing. There was a story mode for each fighter, but it was two or three fights with little more than a biography screen. There was a survival mode, but it was the same predictable lineup every time. And, most disparaging of all, there was no “arcade mode” at all. And you don’t know what you got ‘till it’s gone! The lack of an arcade mode or unifying, overarching story was concerning, but, don’t worry, guys, DLC is coming! Street Fighter 5 will be whole soon! Don’t yell at us! It will get better!

Sonic Boom (but different)And this was made all the more disappointing by the potential seen in the base of Street Fighter 5. Many old fighters returned for SF5, but they were starkly different from their older versions. Ken now felt like an entirely separate entity from Ryu. Chun-Li didn’t have to rely on hammering the kick button. Dhalsim had projectiles that matched his slow and stretchy punches. Birdie got fat. And Charlie Nash, our Guile-expy, was some kind of revived zombie back from the dead, but, more importantly, he didn’t have a charge projectile. Dude was sitting and blocking in the hyper-active Vs. series, but here he is with a quarter circle motion. The implication seemed clear: there would inevitably be DLC for the “old” characters, but they would be as new and different as F.A.N.G. and Necalli.

And Street Fighter 5 did attempt to crawl out of the grave it had dug for itself. A complete (and, frankly, surprisingly quite fun) story mode was released a few months after release. Around that same time, many new fighters were introduced. The likes of Guile, Balrog, and Ibuki did give the impression that initially planned and established fighters were showing up late to the party, but, hey, it costs a lot to make a fighting game nowadays. If Capcom has gotta charge a little more than $60 to make Street Fighter profitable, and people are willing to pay those fees, that’s just the state of the industry. Not like Capcom hasn’t proven its ability to make fun games in the past.

Except… purchasing characters in Street Fighter 5 was… a little more interesting than usual. You had options: you could just outright purchase a Season Pass (or individual character) with real-world dollars and cents, or you could save your hard-earned cash by spending “fight money”, the funbucks you can win through playing Street Fighter 5 online and off. At first blush, this seems like a pretty good deal: if you play the game a lot, you are rewarded with in-game currency that can buy you more game to play. Unfortunately, in practice, anyone that has ever played any title with earnable gold/experience/mini medals knows what happened next. Exploits for the system were discovered, millions in fight money could be earned in an evening, and why would anyone ever spend their real money when fake money was so readily available? Free money is better than… uh… not-free money!

Get 'em!Thus did we see Street Fighter 5’s first arms race. For some, Street Fighter 5 was a simple fighting game. For others, the real fight was between players who wanted as much game for as little money as possible, and Capcom, who wanted its most dedicated players to pay for their dedicated improvements, dammit. Exploits were found and quashed and found and quashed again. New costumes were released that dropped the concept of “fight money”, and absolutely required a credit card. And through it all, somebody, somewhere, against all odds, must have been spending something on new backgrounds.

And then the season passes started accumulating. The first “season” of fighters all appeared in the story mode, and it was hard to shake the impression that they were originally intended for the initial release, and their presence here was just an unfortunate side effect of that “beta” release window. And, while half of these characters were interesting in their second appearance in the franchise (Urien, Juri, Alex), the other returning favorites seemed much less remarkable than their redesigned contemporaries. The “new” Nash was an entirely different animal, but “premium” Guile? Not so much. This would prove to be the norm for new-old characters that we’d see in Season 3 & 4, but Season 2 promised entirely new characters (almost, damn you, Akuma), so at least we’d see some good ol’ fashioned Street Fighter innovation with those dorks. Granted, we’d have to pay for it, but that was getting to be par for the course with fighting games anyway, right? And who could resist the allure of Zeku, the very confusing ninja? Nobody! That’s who!

And then we got Season 3. Season 3 made us all feel like assholes.

Get 'em, Roll!Street Fighter 5: Season 3 was officially dubbed Street Fighter 5: Arcade Edition. It was released nearly two years after the launch of Street Fighter 5. In addition to four returning friendlies, it would also include two new characters (or one new character, and one maybe kinda sorta Street Fighter 3 returning face/mask). But, more importantly, it would include the long awaited return of Arcade mode! And it was an Arcade Mode that itself contained a multitude of modes, with rosters and styles meant to evoke the good vibes of previous Street Fighter titles. Battle through the original Street Fighter ladder, or relive the halcyon days of Street Fighter 2 with world warriors flying across the globe. You’ve got options! And best of all, this whole package was now available as a complete and easy starting point, so you could nab the entire released roster for a song!

Street Fighter 5 was finally a complete package! It was out of beta! And if you had paid $150 for multiple season passes and the base “beta” game already, ha ha, screw you! That’s just the price you pay for early access to Ed!

But don’t worry! Arcade Edition offered all new ways to fleece customers old and new. Fight money seemed to stabilize at this point as something that is generally not exploitable, and now it was time for Capcom to introduce new and exciting reasons to horde your cash. Loot boxes! Yes, you could get that cool Air Man skin for Rashid, but you’d need to visit Menat’s fortune telling booth to blow your hard-earned cash on a deck of tarot cards that will maybe unlock the outfit you want. FancyOr you’ll just earn another color for Vega. Whatever! It’s all just a side attraction, so don’t worry, feeding some poor sap’s gambling addiction doesn’t really impact your game. You just have to sit there and be jealous that Sakura is out there repping Mega Man Legends and you can’t do a thing about it.

But loot boxes were not enough for Capcom. In order to further promote insane decisions, Street Fighter management decided to go full hog and cram as much advertising as possible into Street Fighter 5. You could earn extra fight money (for those delightful loot boxes!) if you chose to wear a costume for your fighter that is plastered in advertising. Considering some fighters’ outfits are “a thong” or “a slightly larger thong”, this led to a few combatants earning delightful sponsor belts. Dhalsim is really into the Capcom Pro Tour. Seemingly embarrassed by the whole situation wherein an immortal, soul-devouring godling has a significant soft spot for sponsorships, Capcom quickly dropped ad support for Street Fighter 5. But “ad style” is forever there, an indelible scar on the face of costume selection. And Capcom has not shied away from including ads you absolutely cannot ignore on any and all loading screens. And there are a lot of loading screens! That’s another problem I keep forgetting to mention!

It's a shell gameAnd then, after literally hundreds of dollars’ worth of DLC, after loot boxes designed to drain your reserves for the merest chance of a reward, after introducing “Season 4” fighters by eschewing “cheap” passes and making each ala carte, after introducing advertising because Street Fighter 5 has got to make some coin somehow; after all that, Capcom has announced that 2020 will see Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition. It will include every fighter, two new ones, every (previously loot box-based) costume, and whole new moves/triggers for the existing roster of 38. The game will be $30. If you already own Street Fighter 5, it will cost $25 for the upgrade. If you already spent a couple hundred dollars in a vain attempt to earn a sweet reference to Cannon Spike for Cammy, or if you bought all those costume packs individually on the sale that coincidentally happened before the very weekend that Champion Edition was announced, well, once again, and we cannot stress this enough, screw you. There should be some new loot boxes available shortly for all your gambling needs.

And, yes, all of this nonsense absolutely makes Street Fighter 5 the game of the decade. The moral: even profitable franchises have absolutely no idea how to be profitable.

Look at Street Fighter 5’s arc. They tried everything! They’ve got paid DLC! They’ve got mobile-esque “fun bucks” for purchasing content! They’ve got lootboxes! They’ve got season passes! They’ve got advertising! Capcom stopped just short of making Street Fighter 5 a literal MMORPG (and, let’s not kid ourselves, the online rankings are meant to foster that kind of community). But did any of it add up to… anything? No! In the end, just like Street Fighter 4, we wound up with a final roster around 40 fighters, an arcade mode, and an interesting story mode.

I think I missed two

In the end, if you look at Street Fighter 5 as a whole, you still wind up with three distinct “versions”, just like Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter 3, and Street Fighter 4. For the end user who purchased Street Fighter 5 at each of its three stages, Street Fighter 5 seems to be exactly like every other Street Fighter and its predictably iterative ways. However, from a management perspective, and from the nitty-gritty of owning the game and upgrading it at every available juncture since the game was released four years ago, you see a very different story. You see a game that tried everything it could to squeeze every last cent out of one of the most popular videogame franchises in history. Arguably, none of it worked. Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition is just the same basic “final” version of a SF game as Ultra Street Fighter 4 (complete with Rainbow-esque “let’s just have fun with it” additions). On the other hand, you could claim all of this was an amazing success, because there are people out there that spent $20 on Game of the Year, all DLC Spider-Man the Game in 2019, but spent $250 on Street Fighter 5 over the course of nearly half a decade. Street Fighter 5 wasn’t just a game, it was an experience, and it had to be profitable. There were so many suckers that signed up for everything from launch, every Zangief retro costume, every extra fighter, every beach beauty background, that Street Fighter 5 had to be a huge success. … Right?

Nothing but respect for my presidentBecause if Street Fighter 5, the latest in possibly the most popular fighting game franchise on the planet, if after four years of trying everything, if that Street Fighter 5 can’t be considered a triumph, then what hope does any other game have? What is the current state of gaming if an established company with an established IP can’t figure out how to make it all worthwhile after literally years of trying? What does that mean for the very concept of gaming as we know it?

Street Fighter 5 is the face of a decade of gaming. And that is terrifying.

FGC #467 Street Fighter 5

  • System: Playstation 4 exclusive! … Or it’s also on PC. And arcade, I guess?
  • Number of players: Okay! This one is easy! It’s every human being on Earth! All fighting! Always fighting! But maybe just two at a time.
  • Go ninjaCharacter Creation: Look, I spent the whole article talking about the nitty gritty of how Street Fighter 5 came to be its current form, let me talk about the world warriors for a second. I’m generally saddened by Street Fighter 5’s new trend of introducing dudes for filling in character relationships and not just “a random bloke from Turkey” like in the olden days. There are somehow three (or maybe even four) characters that are all Balrog’s ersatz family, and I could not imagine a more boring concept for fighter creation if I tried. Rose’s student. Guy’s master. Gill’s secretary. I appreciate that they’re trying to expand the lore and relationships of established characters, but maybe they should stick to what’s important: introducing a dirt wizard that is also the president of the world and maybe a robot.
  • Favorite New Fighter: He’s not entirely new, but Abigail being a (literally) gigantic gearhead that incidentally joined a gang called “The Mad Gears” is some inspired/half-assed characterization. But what’s important is I can finally play as that gargantuan dork that ruined my SNES Final Fight runs back in the day, so I’m happy.
  • Favorite Returning Fighter: Can I just complain for a moment about how Sakura’s story mode saddles her with “maybe I should just retire and have babies”? There is no universe where Ryu would ever wind up settling down to become a family man, and it sucks on every level that the “future” for Sakura is supposed to be some life of domestic bliss while her senpai runs off to other universes to punch werewolves. It’s a little depressing that the best Capcom can come up with for one of its iconic heroines is following the ol’ biological clock.
  • Favorite Costume: Katt the cat lady is a skin. Breath of Fire does exist!
  • Meow!They got robbed: One side effect of DLC is that new characters from the original crop seem to be almost completely forgotten. Rashid and Nicalli got to be significant players in the overall story, but F.A.N.G. and Laura are almost completely forgotten by the universe at large. Which is a shame! I would really like to know how many Brazilians have electrical powers, and possibly why!
  • Did you know? My arcade scores reset every time I boot up the game. Is that information only saved for the week or something? Or are there so many updates, my old score is void thanks to being earned under old rules? Do you know?
  • Would I play again: I am a sucker for Street Fighter. Why is Seth a lady now? I will know, and I will get her arcade ending. It’s inevitable.

What’s next? And, on a much more cheery note, we’ll dig into the other game that encapsulates the 2010s. Please look forward to it!

This dork

MKK: Kenshi Takahashi

So Mortal Kombat 4, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, Mortal Kombat Advance (don’t ask), and most of all Mortal Kombat: Special Forces combined to form an evil Voltron (Sincline) that ultimately killed the Mortal Kombat franchise for a good number of years. There was a two year gap between Special Forces and any sort of MK game, and a four year gap between fighting game installments. Four years might not seem like a long time to old and wizened gamers such as ourselves, but, to put that timespan in perspective, it only took a little over four years for Mario to de-age from a perfectly competent plumber to a useless, football-esque infant. Can you imagine what could happen to the Mortal Kombat franchise in that same span of time? Johnny Cage might become some manner of fighting fetus!

He can't see much

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was the first fighting game to see the return of the franchise. It was the official fifth game in the franchise (the logo looked like a deadly roman numeral), and it sought to right what once went wrong with Mortal Kombat 4. First of all, MK: DA ported the familiar fighters of Mortal Kombat into the third dimension in a way that didn’t completely suck. Finally, MK had graduated to graphical fidelity that would put War Gods to shame. And the gameplay had improved in this strange new dimension, too. Moving in 3-D space was bizarre and clunky (klunky?) in MK4, but MK: DA included side-stepping that actually felt smooth and remotely natural. MK was (and, seemingly, always would be) a 2-D affair (there are too many flying spears that would have to be adjusted to be infinitely wide to truly be 3-D), but MK: DA faked it well enough to make us all believe Mortal Kombat had entered the 21st century with uppercuts a-blazin’.

But the other gigantic change to the Mortal Kombat formula was that MK: Deadly Alliance was the first MK title to introduce a little bit of variety to the fighters. Previously, every kharacter had unique special moves, combos, and fatalities, but possessed “basic” movesets that were exactly the same. Sonya Blade’s roundhouse was exactly the same as Kano’s. Give or take a few pixels, every combatant was virtually identical when using anything but their generally unique fireballs and alike. MK4 made the babiest of baby steps toward some differentiation by granting each fighter a unique weapon… but this was unbalanced to the point that Fujin could snipe his opponents with a crossbow while Kai stumbled around with a staff. MK: DA, meanwhile, granted everyone an exclusive weapon and two distinctive fighting styles. Everyone was now completely dissimilar, random select felt more diverse than ever, and style switching was optimized for home console controllers, so going from roundhouses to sword slices was just a shoulder button away. This was a whole new era for Mortal Kombat!

He can't see much

Of course, not everyone liked it. One could easily argue that the appeal of the old MK system was that the fighters weren’t distinct, and claiming Scorpion or Kitana as your favorite didn’t mean you had to relearn how to play the game. Now, if you chose Reptile for his sweet acid spits, you had to also learn how to effectively use his crab fighting style, and restrain your laughter as this Yoshi-looking mofo scuttled across the battlefield. Fighters now had an “ease of use” rating, and, let me tell you, you didn’t used to have to figure out whether or not “ice throwing guy” was going to properly conform to your “playstyle”. In short, taking every kharacter from “0 variety” to “3 fighting styles each” very possibly overcomplicated the previously straightforward gameplay of the franchise.

And, heralding this brave new day of density is Kenshi Takahashi, the most complicated new fighter from the era.

Kenshi must possess the most archetypes crammed into any one fighter’s backstory. Kenshi was originally a Ryu-esque world warrior looking to be the best fighter. He eventually stumbled upon a helpful old man that claimed he could help Kenshi find a magical sword worthy of his fighting prowess. Unfortunately, that old man proved to be Shang Tsung, who was using Kenshi to uncover some magical crypt of fighting ancestors. Kenshi gained his own private Excalibur, but a curse upon the sword blinded the fighter, so now he was stuck with being a sightless master for the rest of his days. Shang Tsung ate some souls, but whatever leftovers were around possessed the sword and guided Kenshi, so he’s also got some soulcalibur wiz biz going on. And, as any Neurospear will tell you (I have decided to go all in on esoteric references now), losing your sight will increase your telepathic abilities, so Kenshi possesses both telekinesis and general mind control powers. And he’s probably really good at making sushi. And if he was on the Star Trek Enterprise, everyone would be his friend, and he’d totally be running the place by the end of the week. Captain Picard would cry happy tears.

Blindy

As you might expect from that origin story, Kenshi really wants to stab Shang Tsung but good, and he’s willing to use his two separate fighting styles and one magic sword-based weapon style to do it. He joined up with Sonya and the Special Forces sometime around Deadly Alliance in order to gain access to Outworld (apparently generating portals is one of the few powers he does not possess), and volunteered to help out Cyrax in exchange for access to sweet, sweet Shang Tsung murder. Better men than you have tried, Kenshi! Unfortunately, Kenshi never gets his chance, as Mavado (look forward to that bio!) was tasked with killing the swordsman, and world class fighter Kenshi here got his ass kicked. Kenshi spent the finale of Deadly Alliance lying dead in a ditch, but was rescued by Sub-Zero, who was similarly waylaid on his way to the final battle. They instantly became sword buddies, and ventured around having whacky adventures and distributing snow cones to Outworld children. So all Kenshi did during Mortal Kombat: Deception was bump around in the dark like some kind of dude with severe vision impairment.

But things were really looking up in Mortal Kombat Armageddon! Kenshi found his way back home, and decided to drop the pretense and just straight up become Daredevil. He dismantled criminal empires “from the shadows”, and probably would have had time to complete his law degree if another stupid Mortal Kombat tournament didn’t pop up. Kenshi actively decided to refuse the call when he not only heard murmurings of the Armageddon plot amongst the criminal elements, but also when Johnny Cage straight up invited the dude to come along and fight for the forces of good. But Kenshi’s ol’ reliable psychic powers kicked in when the battle began in earnest, so he turned his car around and lead the forces of good at Armageddon (which is apparently in Edenia). Kenshi probably did lead the armies of general friendliness well, but he definitely died, too, so he couldn’t have been that great of a general.

Blindy

Not like it mattered, though, as Kenshi got a second shot as one of the few “later” MK kharacters to appear in the rebooted universe. That’s right, boys and girls, we’re almost out of fighters that bother to show up for MK9 and later! Kenshi was DLC for MK9, and only appeared in the storymode as a name check during nuMK2. But his DLC appearance confirms that he has the same backstory, and he’s out to get all blind justice on Shang Tsung. Unfortunately, he whiffs that blow again, and is now 0 for 2 in two different universes on actually exacting vengeance. That’s a fairly impressive loss record when you consider how many times Shang Tsung has been killed by other people.

Smarting from that loss, Kenshi decided to find comfort in the arms of a woman. Or maybe he did earlier? Look, what’s important is that Kenshi met a woman by the name of Suchin, had wild, probably telekinetic sex, and then didn’t think to use any of his powers for birth control. Suchin had a kid a few (probably, like, nine) months later, but, by that time, Kenshi had already knocked off to the pub for a cig. Kenshi did not learn of his son, Takeda, until years later when Suchin was murdered for the crime of being a woman in a man’s story. Kenshi was then granted custody of his only son… and immediately dropped the kid off with Scorpion. Scorpion. You know, the one guy in Mortal Kombat who kanonically got his son killed as a result of being an assassin for hire (or whatever the hell he was doing in MK Mythologies). Father of the freaking year. No, I don’t care if he’s a recovering fire skeleton that needs something new to focus on. That is a poor choice, Kenshi. Regardless, Takeda winds up in the care of Scorpion so he can become the next generation of Shirai Ryu ninja, and Kenshi ventures forth to knock off to the pub for a cig avenge his baby mama’s death. Unfortunately, the outcome of that quest was lost with the cancelation of the Mortal Kombat X comic book, but let’s just go ahead and assume Kenshi failed yet again.

That's going to smart

Kenshi was moonlighting with the Special Forces again all this time, though, so he had an excuse to participate in the prologue and main bits of Mortal Kombat X’s story. He’s instrumental in stopping Shinnok’s initial invasion, as his magical sword directs the party to a magical elevator. Seriously. That’s a thing that happens. It’s supposed to be triumphant or something. Then he spends most of the “present” of MKX telepathically informing his son that he’d love to swing by and help, but the pub has got so many cigs, and he’s gotta go get them, and he’ll be back to help just as soon as he’s done. Kenshi is last seen being knocked out by a revived Shinnok, and does not appear again even after his son leaves with the other newbies to save the world. Kenshi and his son don’t appear in Mortal Kombat 11, leaving Frost as the only MK: Deadly Alliance protagonist to carry the torch into the final reboot.

In the end, that’s a pretty complicated life for a guy whose name just means “dude with sword”.

Next time: Ice to meet a chill fighter.

Year in Review: 2019

Disappointment of the Year: Super Mario Maker 2

It's a-me!Said it before, and I’ll say it again: disappointment of the year does not under any circumstances mean that a game is bad. In fact, in this situation, I am talking about a game that is extremely good. I played a lot of Super Mario Maker 2 when it was initially released, as its new “story mode” and Nintendo officially created nonsense was like sweet honey to the bee that is me. However, after earning all the new doodads and slopes and blocks I could ever ask for, I fell off Super Mario Maker 2 hard. Maybe the “amateur” Mario Maker stages designed by others didn’t compare to the official challenges. Maybe all the Super Hard Mode level creators had already cut their teeth on the previous Mario Maker, and the toughest of the toughies were just too tough from literally day one. Or maybe it was a simple matter of I had already created all the Mario stages I ever wanted to create with the previous Mario Maker, and adding an angry sun or floating goomba wasn’t going to make enough of a difference in my design philosophies. Whatever the case, I lost interest in Mario Maker 2 within about a month of its release, and never really got on that horse again. And that sucks! I played the original Mario Maker for literally years! … And maybe that’s all the problem there needs to be. I was already burned out on Mario Maker 2 thanks to its obvious similarities to its forbearer, and, here I sit, mad at a videogame that dared to be exactly what I wanted. Actually, I’m not mad, just… disappointed.

Reason to not let me out of the house for the Year: Pokémon Go Trips

Let's a-go art!This will surprise absolutely no one, but I’m still playing Pokémon Go. There’s no sin in playing a fun little videogame that requires very little effort and can be fired up while walking around the neighborhood or standing in line at the theatre (that is, incidentally, a pokémon gym). However, I’m starting to think there might be an issue when you travel hundreds of miles to catch unique Pokémon in officially Niantic-sponsored events. 2019 was the year I drove to Canada and Washington DC to pick up a Tropius and Relincanth (respectively), and flew to Chicago (all things go, all things go) to earn a Pachirisu. I do not regret these trips, as it was a fine excuse to see new and exciting locales (and catch Pokémon), but I’m somehow officially at the point in my life where I’m planning vacations around a videogame. And there’s likely going to be a trip to Germany in 2020, so it’s clear I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house or anywhere near a plane.

Compilation of the Year: Castlevania Anniversary Collection

Castle!There’s usually a rerelease of Mega Man in this slot, but I can’t say no to Simon Belmont once in a while (and maybe, one year, there will be a Kid Icarus collection to laud, Captain N). This compilation couldn’t go too wrong, as it already includes at least three of my favorite games (Castlevania 2, Super Castlevania IV, and the venerable Castlevania 3), but it goes the extra mile by preserving Castlevania: Bloodlines for generations that maybe don’t have a Sega Genesis hiding in the crevasses of their entertainment center. And there’s Kid Dracula, a game never released in the states (mostly, as the Gameboy port is pretty damn similar). Couple this all with the Japanese version of Castlevania 3 (and the other games, I guess), and we’ve got an amazing collection of remarkable games with enough bells and whistles to make it interesting for the people that have already memorized Death’s every pattern. And I, let me assure you, am a man familiar with Death.

Remake of the Year: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

Froggy!I feel like I already spoke of this game in great detail a few weeks back, but just to reiterate: if ever a game needed a remake, it was Link’s Awakening. The original LA is amazing, but its cramped and humble origins are simultaneously its greatest strength and most glaring weakness. The small, tight dungeons of LA are astounding… but it sure would be nice if you could dash, jump, and slash all without having to open a pause menu. The LA remake went ahead and saved the precise dimensions of the original world, but granted it a refreshing coat of paint and a control scheme that can finally control all of Link’s abilities. And the addition of a weird dungeon/puzzle mode that is safely segregated off in the optional section is welcome, too. Marin’s return may be bittersweet, but everything else about Link’s Awakening for the Switch is right on target.

Title of the Year: SaGa: Scarlet Grace

25 years of waiting, and they still can’t come up with a title that makes a damn lick of sense. Oh well, not like anyone would have been enticed by a more accurately localized title like Impregnable JRPG: Anniversary Edition.

DLC of the Year: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Smash it!First of all, fun fact, if I had gotten off my duff and written this “year in a review” for 2018, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate would have won game of the year. It may have only been released in December, but, man, what a December of only playing one game over and over again because, dang, here’s everything I ever wanted from a videogame. But it’s not 2018 anymore! Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is old news, and now we’re all expected to move on with our Bloodstaineds and Pokémon Shields and whatever. But, luckily, every one of the four DLC packs that have been released for Smash Bros. has been an event unto itself, and I anxiously await future Nintendo Directs informing me of new spirit challenges, stages, and fighters. Sure, Anime High School BoyWW #10 Persona 5 or That Hat Dude might not be my first choice, but it’s hard to argue with the sheer level of excitement that accompanies each new release. Literally every other fighting game (or “fighting game”) could learn a thing or two from this hype train.

System of the Year: Nintendo Switch

Switch it upCan I just link to my reasoning for this from 2017? The Nintendo Switch feels like a big-boy system like its console brethren, but it is also portable as hell. How portable? I can play the latest Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Pokémon, and Super Mario titles all on one system without switching a game disc (cartridge, whatever). I can play entire retro compilations of Mega Man, Mega Man X, Castlevania, Contra, and, now for some reason, Breath of Fire. And, on top of it all, now we’ve got Super Metroid. It literally has it all! Except Chrono Trigger! Somebody work on that!

Game of the Year: Kingdom Hearts 3

Okay, I haven’t really talked about this much at all, but here’s the history of the last two years or so of the site.

Have a heartSince the site’s inception, I was very consistently updating the FGC three times a week. This was doable because, as of about two months in, I would write one or two articles a week, but then I would throw in the occasionally “easy” article (like something that was mainly picture based or involved a videogame I could blather on about for literally years), and, Bob’s your uncle, I had a significant backlog and “collection” of articles ready to go. This came to a close around March/April of 2018, when some professional and social opportunities started popping up at the same time, and I simply didn’t have a second to, on top of everything else, slice up screenshots and write about three videogames a week. My backlog of available articles diminished, and, eventually, I just plain had to take a break to figure out my new normal. I returned to one article a week in October… but I fell off that trolley again in December when the previously mentioned Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was released. I literally did not want to play or think about any other videogames, thank you. Please have a nice day.

But the site has returned to one article a week stability since April. Why? Well, it’s mostly thanks to Kingdom Hearts 3.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is, as the franchise has always been, bonkers. It is balls to the wall crazy. It is a story that hangs its “to be continued” on a random dude from the mobile game that is, incidentally, wearing a unicorn mask. A jerk that has died three times over the course of the franchise is somehow revealed to be another, different immortal than the cyclopean immortal that has been skulking around for the last six games. There’s a kid that wields a key like an axe even though that iconography has been moot since the first adventure. It is crazy.

And it’s my kind of crazy.

Double tech!And even more than that, it’s messy. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate might be a perfect game, but I can’t shake the feeling that that is entirely by some kind of insidious design. SSBU operates almost exactly like a free-to-play mobile game: there is a steady drip of content and rewards that keeps you playing just when you think it’s time to put down the controller. And, while SSBU isn’t selling you anything in particular (other than a season pass), it’s very easy to believe that this was meticulously designed to keep the player playing through every spirit and challenge block. Kingdom Hearts 3? There’s a game where, for reasons that will forever elude me, your hero stands around and watches the most famous three minutes from Disney’s most famous recent release, and literally nothing of any consequence happens. Did you want to watch your hero react to a Frozen music video? Of course you didn’t. No one did. But here it is, it’s happening, so sit back and watch, because it’s not like you can quit in the middle of a cutscene.

And that kind of nonsense? That’s something I can work with.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a glorious mess, and that’s something I enjoy writing about. That’s something that gets me thinking about other unreasonable messes, like the current state of copyright law. That’s the kind of thing that inspires a series of articles about forgotten games. To put it simply, that’s the kind of thing that inspires me.

Raiden is pissedAnd then Mortal Kombat 11 was released, and, man, now I’m spoiled for splendid jumbles.

So it very much was not the “best” game of the year, but Kingdom Hearts 3 basically inspired me… nay… required me to write about videogames again. Beat that, Sekiro.

Games I’m sure are great, but I haven’t played: Too many to count

I just want to use this space to note that the odds of me ever playing Death Stranding are very, very low. Every review I’ve read seems to shout “you will not enjoy this”, and I’m just going to go with my gut on this one. I have a hard enough time carrying my groceries in real life!

Gogglebob.com Introspection 2019

I’m pretty sure I covered that in the previous paragraph. What’s important is that I still plan on doing 550 or so FGC entries, and we’re currently about a hundred shy of that goal. At one a week, we should be wrapping this all up in two years. That sounds pretty alright to me. Let’s see what 2020 will bring!

Oh, and here are some favorite articles from the year:

And that’s just a random smattering of what I enjoyed writing (and reading). What are your favorites? Gimme an answer (MMM, I am speaking directly to my only commentator).

What’s next? Just in time for 2020, the next two games are going to be my games for the decade. They’ve earned this station for two totally different reasons, but, for me, they encapsulate the last ten years of gaming. What are they? Well, guess you’ll find out. As ever, please look forward it!

MKK: Kai & Meat & Tremor

Mortal Kombat 4 featured exactly one fighter that was not previously seen in MK: Mythologies and was not originally intended to be another, more established kharacter. Kai, thus, is technically the most original choice on the MK4 roster.

Kai!

And he’s not even all that original.

Kai’s backstory explains that he is a member of the White Lotus Society, just like Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Unfortunately, Kai showed up late on the day they were handing out razor hats, so he merely went through typical fireball training. This means that a number of his special moves are “like Liu Kang, but weird”, like his fireballs that shoot diagonally. Couple this with his basic backstory of “he’s a monk that wants to do good and seeks self-improvement”, and it seems like Kai was intended as a Kung Lao replacement for MK4 (as Kung Lao was missing and assumed dead for the initial release), and was little more than the Luigi to Liu Kang’s Mario.

But Kai did have one original trait: he could do a handstand. And that was pretty cool!

This is actual gameplay
And the AI has no idea what to do with that

Developer interviews reveal that Kai was created with a specific goal in mind: there aren’t any nimble black guys in fighting games, and there should be! Practically every African American in the genre at the time was a bruiser type, including “strongest man in the world” Jax of Mortal Kombat. Some franchises have fed this weird stereotyping for decades (is Sean the single dude of color in Street Fighter without boxing gloves?), but MK decided to do something back in 1997. Thus, Kai was presented as a thoughtful, lithe guy that carries a staff (one of the more friendly weapons out there) and incidentally knows kung-fu. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar studied under Bruce Lee, people! There’s a precedent!

Goin' Clubbin'

Of course, this noble goal was completely forgotten ten seconds later. Like many of his MK4 contemporaries, Kai only returned in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Here, his handstand attacks were not implemented at all, and his “light” bo staff was replaced with a comically disproportionate spiked club. And, while his backstory of seeking enlightenment is still there in his bio and ending, his general look and abilities in battle… make him another African American bruiser character. And then he never appeared in the franchise again in any capacity.

Uh… good try guys. Going to try to do that again with another, new black character? No? Okay then. Moving on.

Mortal Kombat 4 seemed to be a return to Mortal Kombat 1’s roots: all of the finisher cruft that had accumulated over the years was dropped, and only Fatalities remained. Babalities, Friendships, and Animalities were all dropped in favor of simple, gory death. Mortal Kombat wasn’t going to entertain its bizarre brand of “humor” anymore; this is a serious game for serious fighters.

… And that lasted until Mortal Kombat 4 V. 3. Meet Meat.

Meaty

Meat was an unlockable kharacter in later versions of arcade Mortal Kombat 4, and all versions of the home ports (well, maybe not Gameboy Color). He was a reward for clearing Group Mode (which meant you had to beat literally everybody on the roster), but also little more than a model swap. Meat could technically be any fighter, just when you selected your fighter, he or she would have their normal model replaced with that of a bloody skeleton. Thus, Meat was little more than what today would be known as a “skin”, and we wouldn’t even have a name for the dude if Ed Boon wasn’t posting “Meat Lives!” on his website back in the 90’s.

But, like everybody else in MK4, Meat returned in MK: Armageddon. And this time he was a complete kharacter with a backstory and everything! Meat is apparently a Shang Tsung experiment originating from The Flesh Pits (aw, that’s where Mileena was born!), and… that’s about it. This Meat is now a bloody, muscular body as opposed to simply a bloody skeleton, but he’s otherwise the same “person”. He does now have some unique special moves (like rolling his head at an opponent, or sliding across a blood trail) and his own signature weapon in the form of a pair of meat cleavers (oh, I just got that). He doesn’t have anything to actually do in the story, but he certainly makes an impression when you have to fight a dude barely holding onto his eyeball.

Unfortunately, he only cameos in the reboot MK universe. … Which, sadly, is still more than Kai got.

And that’s it for Mortal Kombat 4 kharacters! But before we move on to the new generation of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, we have to address one more Playstation 1 Mortal Kombat game…

Shake it

As was mentioned during Jax’s biography, Mortal Kombat Special Forces was a terrible, terrible game that saw Major Jackson Briggs battling Kano and the Black Dragons. This was a prequel, so it would have made sense to include a pre-MK3, unscarred Kabal… but nobody felt like figuring out how to render such a creature, so Kabal did not appear. Dropping everyone’s favorite sand nomad meant that Kano and Jarek were the only Black Dragons already established in the kanon. So we need more Black Dragons! In an effort to see Jax punch new and interesting people, Kano recruited a few new (to the MK universe) henchmen:

  • No-Face, a pyromaniac with no ears, hair, or nose. How does he smell? Terrible!
  • Tasia, a dual-wielding ninja swordswoman. She’s clearly cut from the same cloth as Batman’s Talia Al Ghul, but Talia wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in a sewer level.
  • Tremor, an incredibly lackluster brown color swap of Scorpion. Tremor is appropriately named, as his only two special moves are a generic fireball (everybody gets one of those), and the ability to shake the ground with a punch.

MK: Special Forces had a very troubled development, and its limited roster of new characters meant we were spared… I don’t know… A turd-colored version of Cyrax named Net Guy. And, since Special Forces was such a phenomenal dud, the original characters of SF never appeared again.

… Until eleven years later.

Likely as little more than an amusing easter egg (Mortal Kombat loves those things), Tremor appeared in the Vita version of Mortal Kombat 9. Tremor was simply a “brown ninja”, but he technically had his own moveset with his signature ground pound, fireball, and now an air throw borrowed from Jax. He wasn’t available on the regular roster, but could be controlled in Challenge Tower, a mode that featured various weird situations and challenges. This Tremor was clearly a late addition (even his portrait is just a quicky recolor of Noob Saibot, and his “voice” is an exact match for Scorpion), but, hey, Tremor is back for some reason.

And then he returned for realsie reals in Mortal Kombat X as an inexplicable DLC choice. Welcome home, Tremor! (?)

Sandy Beach

But what’s the deal with this former Kano henchman? Well, he’s basically the anime movie villain of the Mortal Kombat universe. Tremor previously simply shook the ground with his fist because, I dunno, he’s stronk or something. Mortal Kombat X steers Tremor into full-on elemental mode, with whacky earth/sand powers that recall Marvel’s Sandman or President Q of Street Fighter. Additionally, at some point, Kano sent Tremor on a random mission to pick up a magical bomb in the Dream Realm (first I’ve heard of it), where Tremor gained the additional powers of a lesser god. So he’s basically Fujin’s opposite number. And practically every fighter acknowledges it during battles, with pre-fight dialogue that goes something like “Tremor, you here to destroy every one and every thing today?” or “Oh no, it’s Tremor! Oh lawd he comin’!” Tremor doesn’t even seem to like Kano anymore (probably a spat over Kano borrowing Tremor’s handcuffs), and there’s this unmistakable air that Tremor is going to conquer the universe about seven seconds after MKX wraps up.

But MK11 chose to not include Tremor, so an interdimensional criminal running around with the powers of a god is never mentioned again. The universe got destroyed regardless, though, so I guess it all worked out okay in the end.

Oh, and as for Tremor’s other Special Forces pals? No-Face is briefly mentioned in an item description in MK11, and Tasia appears in the MKX comics. It’s kanon that she’s currently rotting in the same dungeon as Jarek. So that’s two more Black Dragons no one ever has to think about again. And let’s all do the same, and move on…

Next time: Put down that sword, you’ll poke an eye out.