Tag Archives: street fighter

MKK: Havik & Kira & Kobra

The final realm (or at least the last one that we’re looking at) that was created for Mortal Kombat: Deception was Chaos Realm. This realm is to stand in opposition to Order Realm, and is supposed to be a wacky, crazy universe where ducks have law degrees, clam chowder marries a fish, and health care is feely available. Unfortunately, the good folks at Mortal Kombat Korp. weren’t feeling particularly creative on the day Chaos Realm went into production, so it mostly looks like a Final Fantasy continent threw up on a graveyard. Rocks float in the air, the residents are aggravatingly religious (“Have you heard the good news? Wiggle waggle wizzle, chaos is the shizzle.”), and there are a strangely high number of teleporters scattered around. It’s chaotic, but predominantly “chaotic” in a way that is less “from the unparalleled imagination of Moebius” and more “it’s 3 AM and I’m tired, let’s bang out this realm and hit the 24 Hour Diner and Pet Shop over on Poplar Ave.”

And from this glorious realm hails Havik, Cleric of Chaos. Havik is chaos incarnate. Or he’s just a walking corpse. It’s one of those.

I think he snapped

Havik is supposed to embody chaos, but it’s telling that his behind-the-scenes creation started as merely an alternate skin for noted undead monster Noob Saibot. Havik’s general look is that of a walking corpse. He also utilizes a number of moves that involve impossible contortions, prominent bone snapping, or somehow restoring health through playing dead. In short, Havik’s special move oeuvre is less “chaotic” and more “what happens if someone already dead is fighting?”. And, don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty interesting hook for a fighter (particularly in a franchise where another character’s hook is “has a hat”), but it does seem like a loss when a true “Cleric of Chaos” style fighter would likely be closer to something out of Darkstalkers. We already have Darkstalkers, Mortal Kombat! They did it better! They did it years ago!

And Havik’s general plan in the universe is “chaotic”, but that same brand of dime-store chaos that is usually reserved for GI Joe villains. Havik came upon Kabal, the former Black Dragon and sensational character find of Mortal Kombat 3. Kabal had been murdered by Red Dragon Leader Mavado, and Havik decided to revive Kabal because, of all the dead Mortal Kombat kharacters across the franchise, Kabal seemed most likely to do something chaotic. Mind you, this was only because Kabal’s intentions and personality were so poorly defined in his initial outing, he was practically a Dragon Quest protagonist, but, hey, works for Havik. Kabal was revived and tasked with creating an all-new, No-Kanos-Allowed Black Dragon clan. Sure! Sending some random cyborg dude to create a fresh band of thieves sounds pretty chaotic, but I’m pretty sure that’s something that could have been done without reviving a dead burnout. Whatever the case, Kabal capitulates, and Havik leads the New Black Dragons into battle against Onaga. Yes, to be clear, this “chaos” minion was firmly on the side of the angels, as, according to Mortal Kombat law, anyone distinctly fighting against the final boss of the tournament is a good guy. Except it was all a ruse! Havik just wanted a chaotic final battle, and, in the ensuing whaddyacallit, Havik would devour Onaga’s heart (!), and gain the ability to revive any dead guy he wanted. I mean… uh… I guess reviving Kabal took too much MP? So he had to get a new source of Phoenix Downs? It’s kind of weird when a dude starts his tenure in a franchise by bringing someone back from the dead, and then it turns out they’re fighting to gain the power to bring back the dead. Maybe that’s the most chaotic thing of all?

I think he snapped

Whatever the case, Havik doesn’t wind up accomplishing his (surprisingly orderly) plan. This, ultimately, is just fine, as everyone in the Mortal Kombat universe is alive again in time for Mortal Kombat: Armageddon anyway, and what was even the point of gaining a life spell if everyone is already immortal? Like his Order Realm frenemies, Havik is stuck with the base plot of “Havik love chaos, Havik hate order, Havik hungry” in MK: A. He doesn’t do a damn thing in the overall plot, but he’s probably missing that immortal dragon heart pretty bad by the time he and literally everyone else is dead.

Havik technically doesn’t return in the rebooted MK universe (like some of his contemporaries from Deception, the best he can hope for is a non-kanon cameo in an ending or two), but he was the main villain for much of the Mortal Kombat X comics. Long story short, he’s back to his old “reviving random dudes is chaos” ways, and he’s trying to bring Shinnok back from the brink of nonexistence. He doesn’t particularly succeed (that honor goes to Shinnok’s other minions in the main game), but he is responsible for an Onaga-esque plan that involves collecting magical trinkets from across realms and tricking some poor shlub (Reiko!) into doing all of his dirty work. In the end, his patsy is destroyed by his own hubris, and Havik is decapitated by Scorpion. Interestingly enough, the vengeful Scorpion was playing dead during his battle against Havik, so ol’ chaos champion fell for one of his own special moves. Maybe dramatic irony is the most chaotic thing of all. Havik survived his beheading (what does death mean to a creature that is so kuh-razy?), but Quan Chi wound up obliterating Havik’s severed, still-talking noggin. That’s likely as definitive an end as Havik can hope for.

But what happened to Kabal and his new Black Dragons? Surely someone cares about the new crew of thieves that Kabal cobbled together inside of five minutes (seriously, Mortal Kombat: Deception happens immediately after Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, so Kabal did not have much time to find the cream of the crop). Well, whether you care or not, I’m going to tell you about Kabal’s newest Black Dragons anyway.

Stabby

Kira is the first recruit. She was an arms dealer that sold weapons to terrorists, but terrorists in post-9/11 stories are terribly sexist, and Kira had to butterfly knife her way out of a scrape or two. This attracted Kabal’s attention, because “weapons sales” was like the one viable revenue stream available to the original Black Dragons. The fact that Kira was also a decent fighter was simply the cherry on top of the homicidal sundae.

Unfortunately, Kira is basically the worst possible version of herself. Kira was introduced in a game where both Kano and Sonya were assumed dead. This allowed Kira to arrive with special moves and fighting styles that previously belonged to Kano and Sonya. And there could be a cool story there! Kira could be Sonya’s previously unmentioned daughter that was kidnapped and raised by Kano! Or Kano could continue to be a giant weirdo (reminder: this was the period when Kano kept a lock of Sonya’s hair as a necklace), and he cloned his hated enemy and raised her like his own spawn! Or she could be a previous student of Sonya that defected to join Kano and the Black Dragons! One way or another, there could be a really interesting story hook available for a fighter that combines traits from two rivals that have been diametrically opposed since the franchise’s creation. And… there’s no answer given. Kira just happens to fight like a combination of Kano and Sonya, and… that’s that. I guess she just figured out how to turn herself into a human cannonball from Youtube videos.

So Kira is Kabal’s first recruit, and she does exactly nothing after her introduction. Like Baraka, she seems to exist as a general mook in the story modes of MK: D and MK: A, and that’s all she wrote. Later, the first female playable Black Dragon was actively patched out of the rebooted Mortal Kombat universe, as she originally appeared chained up in the background of one stage in MK9, but was removed in a later update because ????. Kira’s current whereabouts are unknown, but, wherever she is, she’s probably not living up to any kind of potential.

This dork

Kobra is Kabal’s other recruit (yes, the Black Dragons is a gang of a whole three people. Is it any wonder Kano decided to go solo?). Kobra is… Man, could there be more of a placeholder kharacter in all of the franchise? He’s a street fighter. He learned martial arts, found out he liked killing with martial arts, and decided to just be a homicidal fighting man. Kabal recruited him because he knew he lived in a karate-based universe, and this was the only karate dude not already involved in the tournament. And that’s all Kobra’s got. He never accomplishes anything, and he winds up dead in most of his endings.

Oh, and his production name was “Ken Masters”, because no one had any illusions about how this kharacter was a clear case of plagiarism. But which specific kind of plagiarism?

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The world may never know.

What’s next? The deception is over, it is time for Armageddon

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 #450 Mortal Kombat

MORTAL KOMBATMortal Kombat was one of (if not the) defining games of the 90’s, a time when gaming was just starting to stand on its own two feet. And, for better or worse, it changed gaming forever (M for Mature… or just “Mortal Kombat”? Makes ya think!). Mortal Kombat, with its spine-rips and death kisses, left an undeniable mark on the face of gaming, and whether it’s a rad scar or festering wound is up to the beholder.

But… why was Mortal Kombat popular?

It’s all about Originality

Street Fighter 2 is easy to understand. Street Fighter 2 is a damn fine fighting game with unique characters that can appeal to any (well, probably male) player. Don’t like generic karate guy? Here’s a green beast man, and he plays totally differently. There’s the lithe and nimble woman versus the gigantic, hairy grappler man. There are bosses that are carefully calibrated to drain your credits, but there is also a two player mode that is a significant draw. Take out your favorite sumo for a date with a yoga master, and battle all night long. Learn those special moves! Master one character, and move on to the next! Maybe one day you’ll beat Red Hitler and his stupid scissor kicks!

YOU GOT KANGEDMortal Kombat features four offensive buttons: High Punch, Low Punch, High Kick, and Low Kick. This is two less buttons than Street Fighter 2’s six button layout. If you’ve ever paid attention to Street Fighter 2’s jabs, you’ll note that every single Street Fighter has a different “light punch”. Same for medium. Same for every damn offensive option available. This is absolutely not the case in Mortal Kombat. “High Punch” is exactly the same for Liu Kang as Johnny Cage. Sonya’s got a jump kick, but it may as well belong to Kano. And you better believe Sub-Zero and Scorpion have the exact same animations, because, ya know, they’re the same person.

Ultimately, the only difference between characters in Mortal Kombat is the special moves, and, bad news, they’re all almost exactly the same, too. Liu Kang has a fireball that flies straight and true. Johnny Cage does, too. And Kano. And Sonya. And Raiden. Oh! Sub-Zero’s fireball freezes the opponent in place. And Scorpion’s fireball freezes the opponent and requires less walking. No wonder he’s the most popular character! Now give everybody a special that helps ‘em get across the screen, and… are we done here? There may be a few outliers, but, by and large, all of these unique characters play about as “uniquely” as White Bomberman and Black Bomberman.

Though maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree there. Maybe people are more interested not in what the characters do, but who the characters are. Maybe…

It’s all about the Characters

RAIDEN!Mortal Kombat has produced some very iconic videogame characters. There’s vain but heroic Johnny Cage, inordinately heroic Liu Kang, generally heroic Sonya, and… wait a tick, all those characters are just the same obvious traits plus one tiny quirk. Maybe they’re physically dissimilar? No, Sonya, Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage all just look like regular dudes that showed up in their gym clothes. Johnny and Looey didn’t even remember to pack a shirt. And it’s pretty clear that Sub-Zero and Scorpion totally botched their twin day fashions.

Am I just looking at the superficial? Well, when Mortal Kombat was lighting the arcades and home consoles ablaze, there wasn’t much more than that, anyway. Like with most fighting games, you got a character profile, and an ending, and that was it. There was the accompanying Mortal Kombat comic book, but its razor thin characterization didn’t exactly fill in the blanks on why Kano was a cyborg (eventual answer: why not?) or how Johnny Cage came to participate in this deadly fighting tournament (answer: he got a letter). Sub-Zero hates Scorpion, Sonya hates Kano, and I guess Goro killed Liu Kang’s ancestor. These razor-thin motivations don’t support characters, they simply support reasons for punching.

So, okay, punching is kind of the point, though. So does that mean…

It’s All About the Gameplay

mortal kombatMortal Kombat is a fighting game, so characters don’t matter past how much fun the game is to play. And is Mortal Kombat fun? Of course it is! I just said it was a fighting game! Pay attention! Fighting games are always fun, because punching some other dude in a digital arena is top shelf entertainment. Even the worst fighting games are fun for a little while.

But does the fun of Mortal Kombat last? At all? Well… uh… We already covered how every character is practically the same, so 2-player battles are going to get pretty predictable pretty fast. Maybe one player mode is more interesting? That has some fights against CPU opponents, the always popular mirror match, and then endurance matches. Endurance matches are kind of cool, right? Like, the same fight, but double? Who could say no to double the fighting? Aside from everyone that just finds it grueling and unfair, of course. And while we’re on the topic of unfair, we have Goro, the penultimate boss that in no way plays by the rules, so he absorbs your punches like they’re being thrown by some pasty nerd standing over an arcade cabinet. And the final challenge is just all the other fighters mixed together with a fireball barrage that can bleed off about 75% health.

The gameplay is pretty damn limited. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not the kind of gameplay that should make Mortal Kombat a perennial favorite that dominated the arcades and home consoles.

But maybe it was never about actually playing the game at all, maybe…

It’s All About the Blood and Gore

BLOOD!My dear, dead granny knew of Mortal Kombat, and she knew its name for one simple reason: blood. As was reported by a million moms clutching a million pearls, Mortal Kombat was unerringly violent, and a gross, disgusting mess of blood soaked through every interaction in this so-called vidya game. Mortal Kombat was such a blood orgy that the United States Senate had hearings showcasing the uncivilized ferocity on display for a mere half a buck in every arcade across the country! Could this epidemic of violence ever be stopped after Mortal Kombat opened the floodgates?!

Except… Mortal Kombat isn’t all that bloody.

Yes, there is blood (how else would we be able to tell the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ports apart), but is Mortal Kombat inherently violent? Well… yes… but not anymore than any other videogame! Contra saw Bill tearing through a thousand poor dudes with backpacks, but Congress never so much as uttered the word “Contra” in its hallowed halls. And Mario! Think of how many poor goombas he led to the slaughter! Is that game inherently less violent simply because it featured a tubby guy picking on chestnuts? Well, yes, but still! Mortal Kombat might have included a coupon for a few globs of blood with every roundhouse, but was it really the bloody mess described by so many Liebermans? Absolutely not.

THE PITBut what of the infamous fatalities? Yes, the scandalous spine-rip is bloody (awesome), but arguably the most famous fatality in the franchise is Scorpion’s “Toasty” finisher, and there isn’t a speck of blood in that ghastly inferno. Sonya’s heated kiss is on the same level, and Kano’s heart rip is about as bloody as a certain Spielberg movie. And the decapitations of Johnny Cage and Raiden are more “yes, that’s right, you do need a head to live” than anything approaching what you’d see in a horror movie of the time.

We may be looking at Mortal Kombat 1 through the lens of jaded 21st Century gamers (“I just watched Samus Aran drink the blood of her enemies six times this morning”), but the violence of Mortal Kombat was often less “bloody gore” and more a literal joke.

Actually, maybe that was the point of Mortal Kombat, maybe…

It’s All About the Humor

Back in the 90’s, it was hard to claim that Mortal Kombat was “funny”. But let’s be real here: the humor was there all along. Right the start (or maybe a particular revision), there was a certain green hidden character that had unlock conditions that seemed designed to be little more than a playground rumor. If “you have to earn a double flawless victory and perform a fatality and never block all while E.T. flies across the moon” isn’t a joke, then I’m turning in my comedian license (issued and signed by Yakov Smirnoff himself!). Speaking of which, what appears to be Peter Pan, an alien, a witch, and Santa Claus will fly over the moon at certain points. That sounds a bit humorous! And there’s certainly a reason skele-face Scorpion faces the screen with his hollow eyes after every fatality. He’s mugging for a laugh!

This became much more evident in later games, when Mortal Kombat introduced such silliness as babalities, friendships, animalities, and fatalities that were clearly just some random dude on the staff playing with Claymation (see Kabal for more details). But even back at the beginning, the humor was there, even before we saw Toasty Dan pop up to announce it was time to fight Smoke.

But it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t a selling point for the original Mortal Kombat. The humor was there, but nobody was feeding those cabinets quarters just because they wanted a laugh.

So what was the secret to Mortal Kombat’s success? It seems like we’ve ruled everything out, except…

Yeah!

Oh man, we have an answer.

Mortal Kombat was successful because it’s all about the sweet uppercuts.

Yeah!

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

  • System: Arcade first and foremost, but then Mortal Monday came, and we had it on Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and Nintendo Gameboy. Oh boy! Mortal Kombat on a portable!
  • Number of players: 2 kombatants.
  • Preferred System: Genesis might have the blood, but Super Nintendo has graphics that don’t look like the butt end of a butt. And I’m a Nintendo kid, so here we are.
  • Favorite Character: It’s obviously Sub-Zero, as he can freeze his opponent and slide. Amusingly enough, my first “main” for Mortal Kombat was Sonya Blade, but I drifted away from her when I realized she reminded me way too much of Jane Fonda.
  • FIGHT!Did you know? An NES port of Mortal Kombat was planned, but was cancelled fairly quickly (before they even entered the programming phase). For any young’uns out there, this was back when two generations of videogame hardware could be supported by Nintendo simultaneously, and not like today, when the WiiU was publically executed the moment the Switch made the scene.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Mortal Kombat, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t all that fun nowadays as anything more than a novelty, and is 100% supplicated by its sequels. If you’re getting Mortal Kombat today, it likely comes with Mortal Kombat 2 anyway…

What’s next? It’s Mortal Week! Mortal Kombat sure hit the big time with its release, and it had a number of imitators. We’re going to look at a different wannabe fighting game Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the next two weeks, and examine how some games did their best to copy the Mortal Kombat formula (and generally still failed). First up on the list: Eternal Champions. Please look forward to it!

MIGHT!

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

Here they come!First, there was Street Fighter 2, and it was good. And then there were a bunch of imitators, and they were… middling. But, somewhere in there, while we were sorting through a solid fifty versions of Street Fighter 2 and trying to remember which fighting game had that weird dude with the clown mask (no, not that clown mask, the other one), there was Darkstalkers, the Capcom fighting game “alternative” to Street Fighter 2.

And why the heck wasn’t Darkstalkers accepted as the better game?

Right from the get go, Darkstalkers had every opportunity to be better. Street Fighter 2 was an amazing and revolutionary game that defined an entire genre… but the problem with starting a genre is that you’re still, ya know, figuring that genre out. Combos? A complete accident of programming. Balance? Important, but it’s pretty clear there’s a difference between Buzzcut, who can shut down everything, and the sumo dude that can’t waddle past a fireball. How about just plain design? You cannot tell me that OG Street Fighter 2 didn’t have a limited number of special moves for certain characters for any reason other than “this will actually let us say it’s done”. Sure, Blanka is complete with “that one move from E. Honda” and “is electric”, let’s move on to “guy that climbs background”. In short, Street Fighter 2 was amazing for its time, but it needed a pile of new versions to better refine the initial concept.

Cry about itAnd one thing that never changed about Street Fighter 2 was its boring characters. Don’t get me wrong, Street Fighter 2 has an amazing, eclectic troupe that has proven over the years to be possibly the most versatile cast of characters in gaming (hey, you think Zelda is going to entice Jean Claude?), but, back during their introductory years, they were a little less interesting. Blanka was one of a kind (assuming you never played Pro Wrestling on the NES), but the rest may as well have been Karate Guy, Soldier, Girl, and (my favorite) Red Karate Guy. They all had unique moves, motivations, and blood types, but, at a glance, they were nary more than international stereotypes. Dhalsim, with his necklace of skulls and curry-based fire breath, is a typical Indian, right? Seems legit.

So by the time we were first introduced to “the new challengers”, nobody was all that surprised when we got Bruce Lee Clone #3,271 and Dee Jay the D.J. But over on the other side of the arcade, we had Darkstalkers. Now there was a cast you could take home to mother (assuming mother is some manner of murderous slime monster).

Darkstalkers has got your Ken and Ryu… but they’re vampires. Or, okay, one is a vampire and one is a succubus, but let’s not split hairs, they’re both throwing bats back and forth. Then there’s the heavy metal zombie (who once accidentally summoned demons during a concert), the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein(‘s monster, nerds). And a yeti! Darkstalkers went the extra mile and actually found Big Foot! How can you not love such a game?

And while Darkstalkers 1 may have been little more than a reskinned Street Fighter 2, Darkstalkers 2 and Darkstalkers 3 really got their unique balls a-rollin’. When Street Fighter was still trying to work out the true meaning of the Super meter, Darkstalkers was tossing mega shadow moves all over the place. Like some fireball variety? Well, you’re not going to find beams over on those fighting streets. In fact, if you like the Versus series at all, give or take a game or two, you have Darkstalkers to thank much more than Street Fighter 2. Did you play Street Fighter 3? It introduced an electric Stretch Armstrong albino dude, and somehow still made the gameplay boring. That kind of thing is literally impossible when a murderous Red Riding Hood is spraying a giant bee with an uzi.

So this brings us back to the original question: If Darkstalkers was Street Fighter 2, but more refined and featuring more interesting characters, why has it always played second fiddle to its “ancestral” game? Everyone understood not seeing a new Darkstalkers during the dark ages when the best we could hope for was a fresh Guilty Gear, but we’re now living in a world with multiple Street Fighter 4s and 5s. And a couple of new Versus games. Get it together, Capcom!

In an attempt to find the answer, I played both Darkstalkers 3 and Street Fighter 2 (well, SSF2T Udon edition) back to back. And I think I found answer! It comes down to these dorks…

Get 'em

The cast of Street Fighter 2 is, compared to just one of the living sun monsters in Darkstalkers, boring. But take a look at 15 seconds of two fighters from that “boring” cast. Dhalsim versus Zangief may seem mundane to us nowadays, but try to imagine being a “newb”. Try to envision a world where you have never seen these two characters, and then try to imagine your impression after seeing that tiniest of clips. Taken on its own, you can immediately recognize the “styles” of both of these fighters. Dhalsim can launch fireballs and stretched fists… so he’s all about the range. Zangief, meanwhile, can barely reach Dhalsim before he’s dizzied, but his moves are powerful. Did you see how much health Dhalsim lost from one piledriver? That hairy guy is the real monster! Now imagine watching another match, maybe now with Ryu and Chun-Li. You can immediately see the difference in their styles. Same for Guile and E. Honda. By the time you get to Blanka, sure, you might be shocked by his high voltage prowess, but you’ve also got a full understanding of how his speed compares to that of the blonde in the red gi.

Street Fighter 2 might have a boring cast, but it’s a cast that immediately defines its own terms. It’s a cast that, in literally seconds, helps the player to understand the exact difference between fighters.

Darkstalkers? Not so much.

OwieSasquatch might be our prerequisite strongman, and I’m pretty sure Felicia slots into the “quick girl” trail that Chun-Li so effectively blazed, but, once you get to the rest of the cast, it gets tremendously more blurry. What’s the difference between Lord Raptor and Rikuo? Their moves look totally different, but what’s the practical application? Which is stronger? Faster? Bishamon looks like a slow and steady fighter, but so Anakaris. Are you supposed to be using that mummy floatiness? Or is that more the domain of one of the other flying fighters? And when you start adding the new fighters, it’s almost impossible to even discern their purposes. B.B. Hood is loaded with guns, but she isn’t really a ranged fighter? Are Jedah’s blood moves just for show? Is there even supposed to be a difference between Morrigan and Lilith?

Of course, if you’re a Darkstalkers fan, you know the answers to all of these questions. Or maybe you don’t! Maybe you just like using the funny werewolf man to hit people with nunchucks. That’s okay, too! But what’s important is that, fan or not, it’s not nearly as easy for someone to “pick up and understand” Darkstalkers like Street Fighter 2. Look out!Yes, Darkstalkers is more exhilarating and flashy, but that flashiness blurs the lines between the fighters, and, when everyone is exciting, no one is. Street Fighter looks like a fighting tournament, Darkstalkers looks like… crazy nonsense.

First impressions count. People like to know what’s happening, and, when they don’t, they get frustrated. Street Fighter has always worn its archetypes on its sleeve, while Darkstalkers kept things a little more complicated. And complicated doesn’t mean quarters.

I love you, Darkstalkers, but you’re too weird for your own good.

FGC #390 Darkstalkers 3

  • System: Arcade, Playstation, and Sega Saturn. I also played Darkstalkers Resurrection on the PS3 for part of this review, as it’s about as close to OG DS3 Arcade as is available on the same system I’m playing a PSX game anyway.
  • Number of players: Up to two vampires may battle at one time.
  • Other Problems: A lot of people claim that the “real” reason we haven’t seen a modern Darkstalkers is that the constant “morphing” and general craziness of the franchise can’t translate properly from sprites to modern, 3D modeling. But this is complete nonsense, as, come on, you’ve seen that gif of Gohan’s arm, right? We can do this thing!
  • Version Differences: The original arcade Darkstalkers 3 did not include the bosses of DS2, nor Donovan, the Night Warrior, for some reason. This effectively nuked every new character introduced in DS2, give or take a Chinese vampire lady. The home version, however, brought the whole gang back, and included an “edit colors” mode, making it the superior version. So of course future rereleases seem to be based on the arcade version…
  • Favorite Character: In a game full of cartoony, but creepy, characters, I prefer Marionette, because everything about her is goddamn unnerving.
  • Midnight Bliss: I am not going to talk about Dimitri’s Midnight Bliss again

    Get... her?

    So let’s talk about Viktor’s amazing booty instead.

    Get 'cha some

    I like that. And I cannot lie.

  • Did you know? Lilith was originally intended to be Morrigan’s angel half-sister. Somewhere along the line, however, she was demoted to merely being some errant chunk of Morrigan’s soul, and, thus, another succubus. The official word has always been that an angel wouldn’t “fit” in the Darkstalkers universe, but I’m pretty sure the real answer is that nobody wanted to animate a bunch of feathers all over the arena.
  • Would I play again: Oh my yes. This is one of the few fighting games that I routinely replay… Mainly because it hasn’t seen a modern update in any way, shape, or form. Come on, Capcom, poop out a decent sequel. You owe me!


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… Star Fox 64 3D for the 3DS! Come in, Corneria! We’re actually finally going to play a Star Fox game! Please look forward to it!

Ugh
So unnerving