Tag Archives: fighting games

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

For shovelry!Just the other day, my father walked into my kitchen, and, because I had carelessly left a fresh delivery on my kitchen counter, my dad asked what exactly he was looking at.

“What’s Shovel Knight from?”
“He’s Shovel Knight. From… Shovel Knight.”
“Oh. So is that a movie? Comic book? Comic book movie?”
“Nope, it’s a videogame.”
“Oh. Does he… uh… dig?”

Yes dad, Shovel Knight does dig. And he bounces and battles dragons and saves the love of his life and brings hope to all the people of his homey little hamlet. And he’s been around for six years, and he’s rocketed from nonexistence to possibly the most adaptable character in the last few years of gaming. And, yes, he’s a little golden amiibo that is sitting on my kitchen counter.

And considering that all happened thanks to fan support, focused marketing, and damn good gameplay, it’s hard to believe Shovel Knight’s giant blue helmet isn’t the face of gaming of the last decade.

Now, it’s an easy thing to imagine Shovel Knight sprang into existence in the Spring of 2013 when the official Shovel Knight Kickstarter kicked into high gear. Or, perhaps, you would like to attribute his creation to when Nick Wozniak and his team first pioneered the concept over a lunch “that got too serious”. But to truly understand the origins of Shovel Knight, you have to go back to the late 90’s or so. Back at the turn of the 21st Century, 2-D platforming rapidly went from “is videogames” to “oh God everything that is 2-D is trash, strike it from thine sight”. For reasons that are still mysterious to even our most learned historians (though there is a hypothesis that Gamepro may have been involved), this kind of thinking persisted through many years, causing many a beloved franchise to embrace 3-D or die. Mario 64 was a revelation, Mega Man X7… less so. But the belief that a game could not be 2-D seemed to Shinyhold fast for a decade, and the only place you could find such an experience would be in the Gameboy ghetto of game development. It’s telling that one of the most popular games of 1997 had to retreat to the portable space, while its 3-D rival of the year managed to dominate the console industry for years to come. The message to game producers was clear: you weren’t going to get anywhere with 2-D. And doubly so if you were dropping cutting edge graphics for a “retro” experience. That kind of nonsense best be relegated to some manner of easter egg. No one would every buy a retro platformer.

So it makes perfect sense that Shovel Knight’s initial fundraising goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, and Yacht Club collected over four times as much funding ($311,502) in less than a month’s time. Shovel Knight’s audience was starved for Shovel Knight-esque content, and, while the yolk of 3-D oppression had been shaken in the years leading to 2013, it was still a time when the prospect of something “like old Capcom games” was going to appeal to a very dedicated subset of nerds. This meant that the whole of Shovel Knight’s “bonus” content was funded before ol’ SK officially touched his first trowel, so a game crammed with amazing content was forthcoming. 14,749 people were ready for some amazing retro action that would be shared with WiiU, 3DS and PC players shortly.

And, from a gameplay perspective, Shovel Knight did not disappoint. Shovel Knight is an excellent platformer that borrows liberally from the entire NES library, but combines all those pieces to be its own exceptional Voltron. Shovel Knight’s downward stab was apparently inspired by Link, but his greatest hopping challenges seem to evoke Ducktales more than anything. And the “arc” of the quest is much more akin to Mega Man, what with clearly defined “gimmick” bosses (Propeller Knight and Gyro Man were separated at birth) and stages that rely wonderfully on their masters’ theming. And maybe that world map is supposed to suggest Super Mario Bros. 3. Or those upgrades are supposed to remind us of Samus Aran’s evolving arsenal. And there were a few items that inched closer to modern sensibilities, like the collectables that advanced replay value (often hidden in accompanying “challenge” areas), or the death system that was a lot closer to Dark Souls than Darkwing Duck. But wherever the inspirations originated, Shovel Knight combined all of its pieces to be an extraordinary experience. Join the clubAnd it didn’t hurt to see a cast of memorable characters fighting through an unforgettable tale of loss and tragedy (and eventual triumph). Wrap this all up with a host of modern “achievements”, and Shovel Knight was one of the finest games of 2014.

But it wasn’t anywhere near done.

Shovel Knight was everything anyone could want from a retro platformer, but it wasn’t the complete game that had been funded a year earlier. All of those bonus bells and whistles would gradually dribble out over the following months and years. Things like Gender/Body Swap mode was little more than a (staggering and inclusive) skin for our heroes and villains, but Plague of Shadows was practically an entirely different game labeled as merely an “expansion”. The adventure, now featuring the morally gray Plague Knight, was a whole new way to play through familiar levels, and featured an added “town area” and a few other extras (peculiarly powered by washing machines) to boot. This was released alongside a number of quick challenges for Shovel Knight, and, coupled with some new console exclusives (and, uh, additional console releases, too) like challenges from Kratos and The Battletoads, it was clear that Shovel Knight’s additional content wasn’t going to be some hastily manufactured DLC.

And let me tell you, about a year and a half later, just in time for the release of the Switch, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment proved Shovel Knight “DLC” was going to be a lot more than a meager expansion.

Spin it!Plague of Shadows was an all-new story with an all-new character (well, all-new for control purposes), but it still saw its hero (“hero”) venture through (most of) the same levels as Shovel Knight. The new play style radically altered your options for traversal, but it was still just a game starring Luigi instead of Mario (well, Super Mario Bros. 2 Luigi, at least). Specter of Torment reused those same levels, but modified them to the point they are barely recognizable. And that’s a good thing! Specter Knight possessed his own moveset, and, rather than mere rehashes, all of his stages were modified to be challenging for that specific moveset. This made Specter of Torment a complete sequel to Shovel Knight! Well… that might be a bit of an exaggeration. Maybe it’s more akin to a romhack? Or, like the NES games Shovel Knight so adores, it’s an “old school” sequel. Almost all the same assets, but rearranged so completely as to be practically unrecognizable. A shining example of the proper way to recycle pixels.

And, oh yeah, Specter Knight is a blast to play as. He’s the Zero to Shovel Knight’s Mega Man (or… uh… Scrooge McDuck?), and really feels like he belongs in an entirely different game. Which is appropriate, as his “entirely different game” seems to only reuse the general aesthetics of its prequel/sequel. The world of Specter Knight goes to some very unexpected places (like the origins of Shovel Knight’s best gal pal), and eschews some gameplay conventions (like the world map) while picking up all new challenges (like an endless tower of pain)(and grinding! Like Sonic!). It’s still unmistakably Shovel Knight, but it’s a whole new experience through and through.

SPIN FOR YOUR LIFEAnd then, in 2019, they did the same thing again with King Knight and Shovel Knight: King of Cards. Give or take one extremely subjective card game (I hate all card games [even that one], but my understanding is that some weirdos can enjoy such a thing), King Knight’s adventure is another slam dunk. The general tone (and lighting) seems closer to its OG Shovel Knight origins, but Kingy’s quest to be king of at least something features dramatically shorter levels and more bite-sized challenges than any of the other campaigns. And that’s a refreshing change of pace that additionally gives some of the gimmicks of the previous tetralogy some room to breathe. Green goo and a bouncy-butted beetle finally get a showcase in their own, complete level! Considering the number one complaint anyone ever leveled against Shovel Knight was that its stages were too long (which, seriously, you gonna complain about there being too much game to play? Philistines), King Knight’s King of Cards is a sequel to Shovel Knight that listened to its greatest detractors. Yacht Club learned something!

And then, to top it all off, Shovel Knight dropped its own version of Smash Bros. You can control every knight! And make ‘em fight! And most of the significant NPCs are PCs now, too. So, finally, you can see who would hold ultimate victory in a battle between Mona, Baz, Mole Knight, and those purple goo monsters from the final tower. And, for being an 8-bit redux inspired by a game that originally appeared on 64-bit hardware, it’s pretty damn impressive. It can get a little confusing when you’re trying to find your sprite against similar colored backgrounds (or against similar-colored enemies), but the designs of the Shovel Knight cast compensate for a lot, so you can usually tell the difference between a Shovel Knight and a Black Knight. And if you can’t? Well, just go ahead and have fun with it. This is an 8-bit platformer fighting game, after all. It’s supposed to be about as chaotic as a bucket full of enemy crabs.

Get up thereSo that’s 3.5 games, right? We’ve got Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope and Plague of Shadows as two pretty similar experiences, but Specter of Torment, King of Cards, and Shovel Knight Showdown are all as different as Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3. Showdown is practically an entirely different genre. I’m going to call that a total of 3.5 games that all fall under the Shovel Knight umbrella.

And it all came from one Kickstarter.

And if you bought the initial Shovel Knight at launch, the whole package cost a measly twenty bucks. You’re actually rewarded for being an early adopter.

Shovel Knight is a game that seemed to last a decade with its various expansions, but, more than that, it is a shining example of what was possible for a few brief years in the 2010s. Kickstarter was an extremely popular platform earlier in the decade, and, while it produced many excellent games and projects, it is primarily recounted now by any number of fans who wound up burned by creators who had the collective managerial skills of a hamster (and not that hamster with the hardhat). Kickstarter and alike is now seen more as a generally reliable healthcare plan than a platform that might create the next game you’ll play for five years. But in the last decade, it was responsible for Shovel Knight. And the triumph of Shovel Knight paved the way for oodles of retro platformer titles. Was every retro game good? No, of course not. But they never would have seen the light of day without Shovel Knight blazing a trail. And, while this trend is likely coming to its close, the current digital marketplace does speak to Shovel Knight’s success.

And, as appropriate for a knight that came from the crowds, he has now returned to the crowds as the most cameoed newcomer of the decade:

Smash it Good!
Slash it Good!
Bonk it good

Not bad for a dude that didn’t exist when the decade started.

Shovel Knight is the 2010s distilled down to its purest, more hopeful form. It is an experience that could only come from one time in gaming’s history. And it’s a damn fine game to boot.

2010: The decade of Shovelry.

FGC #468 Shovel Knight

  • System: Whaddya got? Nintendo 3DS, WiiU, and PC to start, but eventually shovelry spread to the Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and the Amazon Fire TV (for some reason).
  • Look away!Number of Players: 2-Players was eventually patched in (with or without amiibo), and Shovel Knight Showdown is 4 players simultaneous. But most people think about the single player campaign, because Shovel Knight appeals to lonely, insomniac nerds.
  • Just play the gig, man: Did I mention the music was amazing? Because it is. Jake Kaufman seems to be responsible for the majority of amazing American soundtracks for the decade, and the addition of one of Mega Man’s composers is just the perfect addition. The fact that every song gets a little in-game director’s commentary is pretty boss, too.
  • Favorite System: Shovel Knight appeared across multiple platforms, but the 3DS version still might be the best. It has 3-D and the ability to quickly switch between items (or whatever they’re called in the version du jour). Battletoads are no substitute for being able to avoid a pause menu.
  • Lucasian Problems: Kudos to Shovel Knight’s team for not returning to Shovel of Hope with every update to “backdate” changes from later expansions. It would be the easiest thing in the world to sneak in “remake” NPCs that allude to what happens in other knights’ adventures (or, hell, advertise those experiences), but Shovel of Hope remains unmolested and devoid of unnecessary changes. Thank you for the restraint.
  • Favorite Character: Percy the Horse Scholar. I will not be accepting questions at this time.
  • Go Toads!Amiibo Corner: Naturally, I preordered the Order of No Quarter amiibos when they were first announced. That was in the fall of 2017. They were released in December of 2019. That might be the longest preorder for a videogame-related item I’ve ever maintained. Good thing I still care about collecting every damn amiibo in existence!
  • Say something mean: Propeller Knight’s stage is the worst in every version/adventure. This isn’t because of the frequent bottomless pits (though, admittedly, that do not help); it’s the auto scrolling areas, and spots that may as well be auto scrolling because you need to wait for a cannonball or wind gust. I hate waiting! I want to run! Don’t hold me down, Propeller Knight!
  • Did you know? Shovel Knight is almost a NES game… though it does include three additional audio channels and four extra colors not available to original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. There are some other “tweaks” here and there, too, but what’s important is that the screen shakes during explosions unmistakably like in an old school game.
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. This is the cream of the crop for 2-D platformers, and I love me some 2-D platformers. Long may his shovel reign!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pokémon Sword for the Nintendo Switch! … Yeah… that was a totally random choice, and not the result of me putting a hundred hours into the thing over the last few months… Yeeeep! Gonna be a totally randomly chosen modern game next week! Please look forward to it!

Shake it

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

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

The soul is up to somethingWho is Soulcalibur 6 for?

Okay, it’s for fighting game players. It’s a great fighting game! But let’s ask the important question: who is Soulcalibur 6’s story for?

Soul Edge/Blade started with a remarkably simple plot: there’s a super powerful sword, it’s super evil, and a ghost pirate done got his hands on it. Everybody fight! Maybe your character wants the sword for their own evil desires, maybe they want to destroy the sword, or maybe they’re just an S&M daddy that wants a new toy. Whatever the case, Soul Edge had a straightforward story with clear, understandable motivations for the fighters. Soulcalibur, Soul Edge’s sequel and the first official Soulcalibur game, picked up the story from Soul Edge’s logical endpoint: one hero succeeded in shattering the evil blade, but one villain grabbed the other half. Now there’s a demon knight running around with a damaged super weapon, and some rejects from Journey to the West are doing their best to deliver the secret good version of Soul Edge (the titular Soul Calibur) straight into that Nightmare’s heart. And they succeeded! And that’s the very moment things got stagnant.

The Soulcalibur franchise fell into the same trap as many of its fighting game contemporaries. Apparently, once you hit the sequel, you firm up your final boss, and you constantly warp the plot around that character whether it makes the tiniest bit of sense or not. Street Fighter 2 gave us M. Bison, the dictator that revives for the finale of every other Street Fighter adventure. Shao Kahn surfaced with Mortal Kombat 2, and his abs won the award for most present final boss in the franchise. Even Soulcalibur’s sister series, Tekken, introduced Devil Kazuya with its second installment, and that damn “devil gene” has been driving the plot (nowhere) ever since. It’s a weird coincidence, but it seems that the second installment in many fighting game franchises focuses on a villain that must A. be killed and B. return endlessly. And any X-Men fan can tell you that you can only come back from the dead so many times before the plot starts to get a little stale.

This gonna be goodBut come back from the dead is exactly what Nightmare did in Soulcalibur 2. Nightmare was vanquished during the finale of SC, but, four years later, he got better, and Siggy was forced to once again rampage across the countryside while the usual suspects stabbed him a whole bunch. Soulcalibur 3 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so his “possessed form” was promoted to final boss. Soulcalibur 4 saw Nightmare return again, but this time there was an even older immortal older dude who knew more about the history of Soul Edge than any of the usual players, so he was promoted to final boss. Hrm, seem to be in a bit of a rut here, so let’s see if Soulcalibur 5 can squeeze in some new material.

Soulcalibur 5 turned the entire paradigm on its head. Yes, Nightmare/Soul Edge was still ultimately the source of everyone’s woes, but the storyline generally focused on the war between the children of Sophitia, a heroine that had been around since the first adventure. It seems one of her kids was a little bit possessed by evil, and her other child was a little possessed by being a prat. And, unfortunately, the fate of the world rests on whether or not these two goobers can reconcile their differences and battle a malevolent ghost version of their mom. That’s new! And different! And all it took to get there was scrapping the majority of the beloved roster, replacing them with “legacy” characters that are increasingly ridiculous (the cool and calculating ninja was swapped for Hannah Montana), and maybe introducing a werewolf or two. And it was all a resounding success! … Wait, no, sorry, I’m receiving word that… Yes, it appears Soulcalibur 5 took the greatest risks ever seen in the franchise, and thus did it kill the franchise. Whoopsidoodle.

Yes, I know it's a mirrorSo Soulcalibur 6 was in a bit of a pickle at its planning stages. Soulcalibur needed to bring back the fans that Soulcalibur 5 had so carelessly lost with its fortunetellers and Gokus, but it also needed to do something new. This was an all-new, all different generation of gaming hardware, and the world had changed since the release of Soulcalibur 5. Six years! Do you know how many Assassin’s Creeds came out in that time? And fighting games were actually relevant again! There is so much potential in a Soulcalibur 6 that pushes the envelope even further than Soulcalibur 5. An all new roster! An all new epoch! Tell the whole story of the first wielder of Soul Edge! Tell us what happens generations after the fighters we know! The only plot constraint is wedging a magical sword in there, and, let’s face it, magical swords are already part of every plot! I’m pretty sure Romeo & Juliet were talking about Excalibur somewhere in that play…

Unfortunately, Soulcalibur 6 decided it wasn’t going to try something new. Here’s a roster of extremely familiar faces, two new fighters for the sake of saying there’s something new at all, and the exact same plot as Soulcalibur (1). Everyone liked Soulcalibur, right? It was the best one? Yes, of course. And, ultimately, what’s the problem with rehashing an old plot? “New” Super Mario is always just saving the princess, why can’t we just have a Soulcalibur where everyone is fighting Nightmare like the first time? It’s not like a fighting game even really needs a plot!

And that stands to reason, but here’s Soulcalibur 6’s Soul Chronicle mode. Its inclusion is… confusing.

Soul Chronicle mode is, ultimately, the game’s typical “story mode”. This is where you choose your fighter, and see exactly what they were up to during this game’s general eon. There is a base story that tells the tale of the main protagonists of the piece (staff boy, nunchuck dandy, and the cheerleader) and how they eventually defeated Nightmare and his vaguely threatening army of lizards, golems, and fetishists. And, yes, there are accounts for each individual fighter, which is a boon for anyone that needs to know exactly what a wandering swordsman was up to during the feudal era (fun fact: he was wandering around having swordfights). Even if it’s a story that we’ve heard before, this all has the potential to be very interesting for a Soulcalibur aficionado.

Or at least it would be interesting if it wasn’t 90% this…

Let's chat

For those of you that don’t feel like squinting at that parade of modern, tiny fonts, that’s a scene where a beloved (technically) ally is sneak-stabbed by the villain of the story. That’s a pretty dramatic moment! And it’s entirely conveyed through text boxes, characters portraits, and the screen flashing a different color (red is bad). This is visual storytelling that could have been rendered for Ninja Gaiden, and seems just a tweak phoned-in a solid thirty years later. And it’s all the more distressing when you consider that Soulcalibur 6 is capable of some really great storytelling in special moves that last ten seconds

Let's fight!

There! Even without sound, there’s absolutely everything you need to know about this version of Xianghua. She’s got a cool sword, she’s elegant and skilled with said cool sword, and she’s a bit of a goofball. Her entire storymode adds up to the same result, but why waste a half hour with talking heads spewing tortuous dialogue when you can get the same result in less time than it takes to read one of my meandering articles? And it’s not like Soul Chronicle is enhanced by the gameplay of occasionally throwing in a battle here and there: Zasalamel’s story mode is just him reading Soul Edge’s Wikipedia entries in his palatial library, and he seriously never leaves his chair. Dude wields a scythe the size of a small farm animal, and he doesn’t even touch the thing, because, oh man, did you click on this hyperlink about King Algol? Totally interesting stuff!

So if Soulcalibur 6 has the exact same plot as Soulcalibur 1, and it didn’t improve the presentation of that story beyond something that could have been seen on the Dreamcast (or possibly an NES), then why did they even bother? Even if much of the presentation is lackluster, why go to all the trouble of hiring actors to read these lines? Why write this dialogue, or make these character portraits? Why bother telling the exact same story in an inferior way when you can just pull a Zasalamel and spend a solid hour reading the Soulcalibur Wiki? Who needs a rehash of Soulcalibur when Soulcalibur is right there!?

And then it occurred to me: I’m an idiot.

…Wait, let me try that again…

And then it occurred to me: Soulcalibur isn’t right there. Soulcalibur is nowhere. Soulcalibur 6 is the perfect entry point for new fans. And that’s exactly what Soulcalibur needs.

Here we goThe original Soulcalibur was released in the arcade in 1998, and hit the poor, doomed Dreamcast in 1999. It saw a rerelease on Xbox 360 in 2008, and apparently most recently appeared on Android devices in 2013 (with a controller-screen overlay that my brain refuses to understand). Even claiming that a cell phone version of Soulcalibur is a viable solution for anyone, the most recent release of Soulcalibur occurred five years before the release of Soulcalibur 6. And the version of Soulcalibur that gets the veteran players (including myself) all hot and bothered? That’s twenty years old. Soulcalibur is nearly old enough to drink. And it probably should drink, because, as you’ve already read, its plot from that point on somehow became equal parts convoluted and trite. So, rather than play two decades worth of outdated games, why not let the new fans catch up through their own all-new story mode. Why not give the fresh fans something to enjoy?

Soulcalibur 6 didn’t repeat Soulcalibur to give its practiced fans the warm fuzzies. Soulcalibur 6 was made to invite new fans to the table. Soulcalibur 6 is the ever-dreaded reboot, but it is a reboot in pursuit of strengthening a failing fanbase. And, considering that (as of this writing) we are entering an unforeseen Season 2 of DLC, it seems to have done the trick. Soulcalibur 6 isn’t the most revolutionary Soulcalibur title, but it has succeeded where others have failed.

Who is Soulcalibur 6 for? Fans old and new.

… Just don’t let the olds get too mad at the story mode being familiar.

FGC #462 Soulcalibur 6

  • System: Playstation 4 and Xbox One. A Switch version is just too much to ask for, I suppose.
  • Number of players: Rhymes with “Lou Sayers”.
  • READ A BOOKNot Just a Reboot: Okay, technically the story of Soulcalibur 6 isn’t just Soulcalibur 1 all over again, it is actually the story of a Star Trek 2009 situation wherein a future character (or two) is muddying the timeline to prevent the narrative dead-end of Soulcalibur 5 from ever happening. However, unlike in Star Trek or Mortal Kombat 9, this opportunity for a whole new story is principally wasted, and the “real” plot plays out exactly the same (give or take Kilik going super saiyan). About the only changes here are that Zasamel is now not going to become a complete screw up (though that wouldn’t have happened until a later game anyway), and Cassandra got started on her quest a little early. Actually, there are a few other fighters that “show up early” in this version of Soulcalibur, but, complete with age discrepancies, those seem more like retcons than actual timeline changes. Time travel or no, the plot synopsis for Soulcalibur 6 is just a copy and paste from Soulcalibur 1.
  • But there is an original story, too: Libra of the Soul features your own Create-a-Character (though not your Create-a-Character from any other mode, for some reason) fighting in an epic war between the two new characters, Another Sword Guy and Fabulous Rasputin. It’s also presented in a manner that is boring as hell. And it seems to have a healthy amount of tutorials, too. That would be great if your first thought on booting a new game is to get right into playing as Original Character, and not, ya know, going to town in the ol’ arcade mode with familiar faces. Still, good try? Maybe?
  • It's a comics thingBut what about Create-a-Character: Oh, that is aces. Nothing beats the Soulcalibur customization options… anywhere? In fact, it’s kind of weird that other games haven’t adapted what Soulcalibur did perfectly for like three games running. No matter, my only concern right now is whether I should name my long-haired, super bulky YoRaHa android “Chub-B” or “2-XL”.
  • Favorite Fighter: Seung-Mina conceptually, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with the final DLC character of Season 1, Cassandra. She’s like if Sophitia wasn’t inexplicably sad all the time.
  • Did you know: The internal project title for Soulcalibur 6 was “Luxor”, because the staff had the plan to make the game “brighter” like the original Soulcalibur. You know, the game where a man who murdered his father gains the ultimate murder sword and then murders half of Europe with a literally unquenchable bloodlust (for murder). Freaking sunshine and lollipops in this franchise from day one.
  • Would I play again: I’m playing it right now! Stop interrupting!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kirby’s Dreamland 3 for the Super Nintendo! Does… does this count as Thanksgiving content? Maybe? Or maybe I’m just hungry. Well, I know Kirby is hungry, so please look forward to it!

I like purple
I’m leaning toward Chub-B.

FGC #455 Weaponlord

Here come some weapons!This FGC series has been all about games that aped Mortal Kombat in an effort to reclaim the hearts and wallets of the youth of America. Some games copied the superficial, some copied the attitude, and some did their best to emulate the gameplay involved. All took different routes, but all managed to copy something about the original Mortal Kombat formula. These are all games that, if not for Mortal Kombat, would be very different animals.

And that isn’t always a bad thing.

Weaponlord is, indisputably, a game influenced by Mortal Kombat. Right from the start, we’ve got an edgy font describing a tournament led by a hulking barbarian warrior that is out for blood and/or conquering the known world. Press start, and you’ll be treated to a bloody battle between warriors that may end in a fatality. Do you enjoy tearing body parts off people? This is better than Time Killers (though, granted, the same can be said of poking yourself with a sharp stick). And, complete with a hasty Genesis port, it seems like Weaponlord exists solely to ride Mortal Kombat’s coattails straight to the Successful Fighting Games’ Ball (monocles are mandatory).

But Weaponlord did not start with Mortal Kombat. Weaponlord started with Street Fighter 2.

Weaponlord’s lead designers, James Goddard and Dave Winstead, were originally from Capcom. Remember Dee Jay? The Jamaican street fighter that was the only Made in America character on the roster? Well, you can attribute that Maximum dancer to Goddard. And given this was the start of the fighting game scene, Goddard and Winstead knew a thing or two about fighting games, and wanted to bring the genre into the next century. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, their goal was to leave the arcade behind, and bring the competitive scene into everyone’s living room. These pioneers wanted to see battles online.

Too bad they were about a decade too early.

Korr Blimey!Goddard and Winstead did not have enough support at Capcom to realize their vision, but Namco was ready to fund such an endeavor. Unfortunately, the only reliable online console play infrastructure at the time was XBAND, which was, naturally, based on dial-up technology. This offered a challenge to the creators of Weaponlord: how could you design a high-octane fighting game that relied on the same connection that could barely download a JPG? (I experience a certain level of pride when I consider how I am now responsible for a website where just one GIF would likely crash my original AOL-based computer.) Goddard and Winstead had to do their best to create a game optimized for 24K (seriously, not even 56K). How did they manage to pull that off? Simple! They added weapons (hey, that’s in the title!).

A number of fighting games treat weapons like bonus limbs. Even in worthwhile, non-Time Killers based games, items like metal claws or someone’s stimulating new bat are still treated exactly like another fist. And, in a way, this makes perfect sense. Street fighters routinely hold an elbow up to defend against literal great balls of fire, a thrown knife or katana is clownshoes by comparison. But, in anything resembling reality, punch properties are very different from sword stuffs. Some games revel in this difference, but the typical crouch and block was still standard for weapon-y fighting games of the 90’s. But Weaponlord decided to do something a little different. A parry system was created, so fighters were encouraged to cross swords and defend offensively (kind of like in the later Street Fighter 3). This not only created a system wherein swords actually seemed to do sword things (like in the movies!), but also allowed for some micro breaks in the action where a lagging modem could catch up. The player watches radical sparks fly over clashing warriors, and the RAM just has to produce a simple parry, not an ineffective seventeen hit string on a dude sitting there blocking. Everybody wins!

Belly buttonThat takes care of one memory issue, but if you wanted a videogame in 1995 to look good, you had to limit the number of characters, too. Weaponlord features big, chunky heroes and villains, and the graphics are pretty dang swanky for the same system that could barely render a raft without slowdown back in the day. Unfortunately, that meant a roster of merely seven fighters. And this isn’t even a Mortal Kombat situation, wherein there are seven fighters, but two or three more additional, unplayable bosses. Seven is all you get! But, as a compromise, Weaponlord’s fighters all have at least nine (or so) special moves, a number practically unheard of even today. And that’s special! There is a lot to learn about each individual fighter, and, if you’re the type that really likes to specialize in a “main”, then have at it. It will take you forever to master just one lord o’ weapons.

So, while Weaponlord may initially appear to be simply another Mortal Kombat clone (and one that, given the artistic style, was also trying to ape Todd McFarlane so bad), it was very much its own beast, practically from the ground up. It was created by people who knew what they were doing, knew exactly the market they were aiming for, and knew precisely how to adapt to the environment they desired. A weapons-based fighting game with online functionality was going to be the future of gaming, and Weaponlord was poised to not simply be a Mortal Kombat clone, but the next, real Mortal Kombat that changes the face of fighting games.

And then it crashed and burned, because who the hell had an XBAND!? What the $^*% is Catapult Entertainment?

Weaponlord seemed to do everything right for specifically what it wanted to do, but where it wanted to be simply didn’t exist yet. The arcade scene would still be healthy for another few years, and online play wasn’t established enough to push Weaponlord past the glut of unremarkable fighting games of the era. It may have earned the cover for Gamepro one month, but Weaponlord was not on the top of everyone’s Christmas list. Without an arcade presence, Weaponlord languished as yet another console fighter practically indistinguishable from Fighter’s History. The seemingly inevitable sequel teased in a number of Weaponlord’s endings was never to be…

Except…

Namco, publisher of Weaponlord, did happen to release a weapons-based fighter again shortly thereafter…

THE SOUL STILL BURNS

And Soulcalibur is a franchise that isn’t shy about acknowledging its origins…

This specific soul still burns
Mostly burning

But what of the creators of Weaponlord? Well, James Goddard stuck around the industry, and he wound up working on another game that many called a Mortal Kombat wannabe…

This has nothing to do with souls

And considering Killer Instinct is easily the game on Xbox One I have played the most, I’m going to say that title worked out.

What does this all mean? Well, basically, without this back in the 90’s…

WHAMMO

We wouldn’t have this…

Now we're back to burning

Today and on my Playstation 4.

Not all “copies” are bad. Sometimes the popularity of another game is what allows a new game to exist in the first place. And sometimes the innovations of that game lead to all new experiences that endure for years to come (and then let us fight a robot lady). Mortal Kombat may have konquered the world with its innovation, gameplay, cast, blood, and humor; but it birthed a lineage that went to some exciting places. Some of its progeny may have been forgotten to the ages, but they all fit in the rich tapestry that is…

Oh screw it, I’m done with this MK retrospective series now. Need to grab a controller and get back to delivering some sweet uppercuts.

FGC #455 Weaponlord

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is apparently a port of the originally intended Super Nintendo version, so your best bet is likely the ‘intenda.
  • Number of players: May our next game be a single player title.
  • OuchFavorite Fighter: Remind me to make a game starring warring barbarians, as the outfits required seem to all be variations on “throw some fur over those naughty bits”. That said, Jen-Tai is basically Red Sonja, and her default standing stance shouts, “You hit me with your sword, and then I break your face.” That is exactly what I want from a game titled Weaponlord.
  • Story Time: I want to say this is one of the earliest fighting games to have a dedicated “story mode”, and not simply “be happy your character has a unique ending”. It’s not that different from your typical (and offered) arcade mode, but it does change slightly depending on who you choose to kill along the way. Killer Instinct 2 arcade would ape this kind of storytelling in its arcade version a year later, so that’s another point for Weaponlord being ahead of its time.
  • What’s the Password? This is also the rare fighting game that saves your progress in story mode with passwords. That… feature didn’t catch on.
  • Did you know? I joke, but the XBAND was fairly successful for its time. The company also hosted a promotional tournament featuring various games on its service, which led to Peter Kappes of Orlando winning a grand prize of $200, a custom player icon, and the honor of being the first person in history to win a national tournament over a videogame console.
  • Would I play again: I would be very happy with a Weaponlord 2, but this Weaponlord is a little too roster limited for my tastes. I’m a random select kind of guy! And speaking of random…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to randomness, and has selected… Asura’s Wrath for the Playstation 3! Asura is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

We're done