It’s the things that you don’t even notice that make a genre.
Let’s look at Street Fighter. And, yes, in this case I am talking about Street Fighter 1, arguably the granddaddy of the fighting genre. Look at this hard-hitting arcade action.
Did you see what happened there? Did you see what Ryu and Retsu did? No, I’m not talking about their janky movements or their complete lack of hyper moves, I’m talking about turning around. It’s a simple, automatic pivot to guarantee combatants are always facing each other, and it’s the most important innovation in the fighting game genre.
Think about, well, just about every videogame ever. “Where are you facing” is important in any experience where you have to aim. Mario? I suppose it doesn’t matter if he’s facing the wrong direction while he dashes through the Mushroom Kingdom, but he better aim straight and true when it’s time to start chucking fireballs at Bowser. Contra? Sure would be nice to be able to back up and shoot forward when facing down some of those bosses. And Mega Man, from the company that would bring you Street Fighter, ends every stage with a 1-on-1 Robot Master battle for supremacy… but the Blue Bomber could technically spend the whole match firing in the wrong direction. It’s up to you, player, to make sure your lil’ dude or dudette is pointing forward, otherwise Samus might keep launching not-so-magic missiles into the darkness, and not a pulsating brain.
But it is key that the protagonist be able to aim in any direction, or at least left and right. While it might be interesting if Mega Man boss battles functioned differently than the typical stage gameplay, in order for it to be consistent, Mega must be able to turn around at will, because you never know when a telly might be sneaking up from behind. Mario doesn’t even have the ability to scroll the screen left in his first adventure, but he can still turn around, because goombas are a wily and mischievous kind of chestnut. Bowser is always going to be on the right side of the screen, but that doesn’t hold true for his damn Hammer Bros. emissary. While your main opponent is bolted to the right, even Contra features a final boss that requires shooting up, down, and back to survive a friggen inanimate organ. Manual turning is important in a lot of genres.
But not in fighting games. In fighting games, turning is always a liability.
Guilty Gear Isuka should have been a thing of beauty. The previous Guilty Gears were great, enjoyable 2-D fighting games in an era when the 2-D fighter seemed to be all but dead. Capcom was resting, Mortal Kombat was dead or totally 3-D (or both), and, sadly, no one took up the torch of Eternal Champions. But Sammy did their best to keep the fires of 2-D combat going, and, over approximately 60 incremental releases, Guilty Gear had become an excellent source of 2-D fighting fun. And there was a pretty large roster of 20 or so playable characters, so let’s do something new and innovative with the 2-D genre. People like Smash Bros. and Marvel vs. Capcom’s four player mode, right? Let’s take the preexisting Guilty Gear architecture, and make a 1-v-1 into a four player free-for-all! All the characters and moves you love, but now featured in a brand new, completely hectic battle royale. Chaos is the new normal!
And, seriously, I want to say this was an excellent idea. On a personal note, I have a hard time getting my less fighting game inclined friends to play any true fighting games other than Street Fighter. The 1-v-1 format naturally seems to lead to more “focused” matches, and, if you don’t already have a good base of fighting game knowledge, of course you’re going to lose to the guy that already started playing the game last week. Meanwhile, in Smash, or Wii Sports, or even a “board game” like situation, the social aspect of four or more players leads to a lot less pressure to perform, so even those filthy casuals can have fun. In that way, a four player “evolved” 2-D fighting game should lead to more enjoyment with friends, and people won’t immediately notice how brutally I’m kicking all of their asses. I mean, uh, fun for the whole family?
Unfortunately, concessions had to be made to account for four simultaneous fighters. For the first time in Guilty Gear history, the game would like to know which direction you want to face. You’re between two different opponents: do you face right or left? You’ve got a choice, and it’s as simple as pressing a button.
And it’s absolutely horrible.
Manual turning in a 2-D fighting game is… abhorrent. Considering that mix-ups, jump attacks, and footsies are all random phrases I just googled and hope actually have something to do with what I’m saying, there are a lot of ways to “confuse” your opponent about where you’re going to be next. Then there are special moves that carry your fighter (or opponent) clear across the screen at the press of a button. And, finally, you’ve got teleporting moves, the yoga-derived bane of everyone’s existence. In short, there is a pile of ways to switch sides in a fighting game at any given second in a match, and when your character doesn’t immediately and automatically pivot, get ready to start chucking fireballs into an empty void. Oh, and never mind the fact that the damn computer has no problem turning on a dime and kicking your ass accordingly.
But it’s that coveted “casual market” where Isuka really flounders. Want to try to get that four player action going? Well, good luck, because “move left” is not the same input as “turn left”, so expect some really frustrated newbies standing right next to an opponent, but slashing air on the other side. What? There’s a turn button? Which one is that? Oh… okay… wait… Now I’m facing the other way again… which… that one? Uh… can we play something else now?
It’s not that it’s completely impossible to understand, it’s just that it’s transparently unintuitive, and there are no shortage of party games out there that don’t share the same handicap.
And that’s what it all comes down to: pivoting, simple turning around, should be 100% intuitive. In a platformer, it’s a matter of flicking the right direction. In a fighting game, it’s an automatic turn. Nobody thinks about it, it’s just that simple, and you can get back to attempting to master a dragon punch motion.
The automatic turn is the most important thing to ever happen to fighting games, and when it’s missing, it is sorely missed.
FGC #236 Guilty Gear Isuka
- System: Playstation 2 and (OG) Xbox. There’s supposed to be an arcade version out there with fewer characters, but I have never seen a Guilty Gear arcade cabinet, left alone a four-player Isuka monstrosity.
- Number of players: Four! I just said that!
- Say something nice: This game is actually enjoyable once you “master” turning. As I mentioned, this game was released during the PS2-era’s 2-D fighter shortage, and I did play ol’ Isuka quite a bit as a result. Completely impossible to get anyone else to play it for more than a few rounds, though…
- Favorite Character: Zappa is possessed by evil spirits. In any other franchise, this might lead to a character that has generic, etheric magic attacks. Here, Zappa is practically broken in half by angry ghosts, and occasionally seems to summon horror monsters (and terrifying insects). I want to say Zappa was basically the inspiration for BlazBlue’s Arakune (the character that is a big ol’ bag o’ bugs), but whatever inadvertent origins abound, he’s fun here.
- Hey you said there’d be a puppy: Oh, fine. Here’s your puppy. He’s riding a whale or something.
- Did you know? There’s also a beat ‘em up in there. Oddly, it seems to use completely different “turning” controls. Was GGI designed under the influence of powerful chemicals? It seems like a simple explanation.
- Would I play again: No thanks. I’ll just be here quietly waiting for the next Guilty Gear Xrd update. Maybe they’ll finally include a character I already like!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS! Agents are (gonna) go! Please look forward to it!