Tag Archives: fighting games

SBC #08 Incineroar & Mortal Kombat 1

It is worrying that Mortal Kombat 1 has forgotten one simple fact: Mortal Kombat is and always has been about hype.

The latest Mortal Kombat game calls itself Mortal Kombat 1? Fine! You want to draw a comparison? Let’s go back to the beginning. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the best part of Mortal Kombat parenthesis one.

It's not an uppercut

Videogame historians have intermittently observed that the innovation of the Mortal Kombat franchise from the start was the emphasis on “stun” situations. The explanation goes that this key moment in any match is what separated MK from the army of contemporary fighting games that wanted a piece of the Street Fighter 2 pie. However, this is only half the story. Stun is an integral part of the Mortal Kombat formula, but not because this was something that impacted the mechanics of a fighting game. No, stun was integral because it generated hype. Stunning an opponent with Scorpion’s spear, Sub-Zero’s ice blast, or even Cage’s ball breaker offered an advantage to the attacker, but it also generated anticipation in the player, opponent, and audience. Liu Kang is helpless! That skeleton ninja could do anything to him! And, even if it was a pause that lasted less than a second, a stun generated hype that was unprecedented in fighting games. The continual push and pull of fighters being stunned created an incessant atmosphere of “anything can happen”. And that was before you got to the reason even your mom heard about Mortal Kombat…


This is the ultimate hype machine. A fighter is defeated! They stand there futilely, dizzied and helpless. What is the victor going to do? Will they spare their opponent? Will they simply punch air until their rival falls over? Roundhouse kick them across the screen? Or will they perform the supreme finisher: the fatality? It takes skill and knowledge to perform a fatality. A player must know the “secret code” that initiates the fatality, the proper distance between themselves and the opponent (which is never easy to negotiate in the limited fatality time window), and the appropriate sequence must be performed quickly and accurately. In situations where the victor fails to accurately enter the command, or accidentally punches the opponent mid input, the “winner” looks like a loser. But when they pull it off? It is the flawless finish to an ended encounter. The failure is missing key body parts! There is no coming back from that!

Welcome to the futureLater games within the initial Mortal Kombat Trilogy would offer alternatives to the basic fatality. Friendships and Babalities were widely derided as Mortal Kombat getting “too cartoon-y”, but they served the purpose of finishing an opponent in a unique way. They were not violent, but they were a way of embarrassing a defeated foe all the same. They even had particular use conditions that proved the player was superior, as a “silly” Babality could only be performed if the winner was expert enough to eke out a victory only using the kick buttons. That is extremely difficult when your color-coded ninja only uses punch-based special moves! Mortal Kombat imitator Killer Instinct ignored all pretense and called its similarly embarrassing finishing moves “Humiliations”, because subtly was not allowed in a game where a werewolf could fight a dinosaur. But that was the point: Fatalities, Friendships, Babalities, Animalities, and even the combo-based Brutalities were never just about gore or humor, they were all about one thing: humiliating the loser. One last stab of superiority before some other poor fool has to insert fifty cents.

And if you, an educated reader experiencing this article in the year of our Argus 2023, recognize this all as bullshit? Well… yeah. It is all bullshit. In Mortal Kombat, after Scorpion harpoons an opponent, there is a best move to use, because MK has extremely limited offensive options. An experienced Scorpion player is going to stun their opponent, and then use an uppercut every time, because that does the most damage. Similarly, once Scorpion wins, he is going to back up to sweep distance, hold block, and press up-up. Scorpion has one (1) fatality, and it is the only reasonable choice for finishing a match. Later games expand the repertoire, but even five different finishing options are going to be spent before a player clears the smallest of battle towers (left alone an arcade full of challengers). It’s fake! The idea that there is a choice, that there even could be hype involved here? It’s all fake!

And, yeah, buddy, but so is Pro Wrestling.

There's a centaur!If Street Fighter is the Olympic sport of fighting games. Mortal Kombat is Pro Wrestling. Not to imply that anyone playing MK11 or MK1 in a tournament is somehow “faking” their victories, but Mortal Kombat as a franchise has never been about exact technical execution. It takes skill to be a victor in Mortal Kombat! It takes a measured understanding of the game! But it also takes skill and understanding to properly piledrive an opponent in such a manner that no one is permanently hurt. Pro Wrestling is an amazing showing of physical prowess for everyone involved. It is a big, sweaty ballet (not to imply that ballet dancers do not sweat, it is simply less emphasized). But, in the same way that no one starts throwing cans on stage when the ending of Swan Lake is revealed (I think the swans win?), Pro Wrestling is not actually about “who is going to win”. Victories are “fake” insomuch as they are predetermined, but that does not mean that everyone involved is just a robot (except Business Robot, the robot businessman that can only communicate through bodyslams). It is a practiced art from toe to tip.

And Pro Wrestling lives and dies by hype. You cheer when the face wins, because you are excited about their possible victory. You boo the heel, because he did… uh… something? Pushed a grandma down some stairs? Conquered Earthrealm? Whatever. The point is that these stories, rivalries, and arcs are created whole cloth for the purpose of promoting matches. Fights are the only way to settle scores and win arguments, and you can buy a front row seat to it all. You are excited, because here are your favorites duking it out. That sassy thief with the robot eye is going to get a face full of sledgehammer because he’s been a bad little boy, and you are going to revel in his comeuppance.

Unless you are playing Mortal Kombat 1, where you are just going to watch the heel inexplicably run around like an idiot.

They have fun togetherTraditional caveat/mantra: Mortal Kombat 1 is not a bad game. It is a fun fighting game, and its story mode is still presented better than 95% of fighting games out there. There is significant single player content, and the online battles feel generally “right”. The usual NetherRealm Mortal Kombat checklist is properly completed: the cast is a good mix of important players and random mooks, and they all feel distinctive enough to warrant a slot on the roster. You are not going to get the exact same experience from Nitara the vampire as Havik the chaos priest. Mortal Kombat 1 is a good fighting game if you are looking for something to keep your thumbs twitching through the season (pass).

And part of the reason I am “emergency” slotting this into the review schedule is because I want to get these words to pixels while I still remember the hype leading up to Mortal Kombat 1. There were continual trailers showcasing the new-old characters. The old Mortal Kombat universe is dead! A new one stands in its place! And it’s coocoo crazygonuts! Scorpion and Sub-Zero are brothers! “Blind” Kenshi has perfectly working eyes. Baraka and Mileena are not a separate race/genetic freak (respectively), but afflicted with a strange new disease. The curators of Mortal Kombat knew damn well that this information would be exciting for the fanbase, and everyone was anxious to get hyped for the latest Mortal Kombat adventure.

And then Mortal Kombat 1 was released, and… Well, somebody forgot to tell the people in charge of the actual game that hype was important.

They work togetherThe new Mortal Kombat Universe is hype. No questions there: it is exciting to see vaguely familiar characters filling new and exciting roles (or at least seeing Kuai-Liang wearing yellow). That said, Mortal Kombat already did this whole thing once or twice with other games (Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks and Mortal Kombat 9), and you know damn well that an unmarred Havik is going to have his face half-melted off somewhere amid this plot (I mean, if you remember Havik at all). It is how storytelling works! Similarly, without delving into entirely unwarranted spoilers, the main plot of Story Mode eventually reaches a point where it kind of gets bored with the “new” Mortal Kombat Universe, and drifts back to including more than a few luminaries from the “old” Mortal Kombat Universe. And, while that could be hype as heck (“That’s right, kombat fans, your Kitana is back, and she’s stronger than ever!”), it is more or less an excuse to have a Super Friends/Avengers-style “all the good guys and all the bad guys run into each other” melee. Exciting for three seconds… and then confusing and chaotic. And, special bonus, it entirely drops any of the plot threads for the new Mortal Kombateers so the old guard can steal the spotlight back. Kind of a weird choice after spending six hours with the new class! Your heroes for 80% of the game have about as much impact on the finale as ants. And nobody ever gets hyped about ants.

But whatever, right? That’s the story mode. You play it once, you internalize your feelings for Kung Lao (he’s so dreamy), and then you move on to the real reason you play a fighting game. Time to fight all those people! Like in some kind of game!

BloodyUnfortunately, things are quickly undercut by practically every aspect of the presentation. Pre-match taunts are limited, and we are left with generic chest puffing and alike. Fighters that have legitimate, centuries-long beefs (Edenians are really old!) vaguely gesture toward something about winning, and otherwise act like they do not recognize their opponent. Matches are zippy and fun, but when it comes time to perform a fatality, everyone involved seems… bored. And, heck, there is the option of your fighter stepping back and letting someone else exact vengeance. In fact, those Kameos are a huge problem for hype…

The Kameo system of Mortal Kombat 1 sounds brilliant. The franchise has a deep bench of memorable kharacters, and it would be nigh impossible to do another “Mortal Kombat Trilogy” where everyone got to participate. But the Kameo system not only allows a greater range of MK luminaries, it also comes with the justification that any given Kameo fighter can be from any given Mortal Kombat timeline/universe. MK1 has playable Scorpion and Kameo Scorpion, and they are two totally different people with totally different backstories (one of the Scorpions is dead! But otherwise okay!). This opens the floodgates for all sorts of peculiar shenanigans, as fighters like Smoke have approximately seven different versions immediately available (for the record: ninja, robot ninja, nanomachine demon robot ninja, “recovering” robot ninja, demon ninja, undead demon ninja, new universe ninja). The Kameo system could be the greatest thing that ever happened to the thirty-year-old franchise.

In practice, though, it is so underwhelming, it sucks the air out of the room (and, unfortunately, Smoke is not directly involved). While some of the kameo kharacters do perform in the story mode in a deliberate (or at least present) capacity, it appears that they do not have voice actors that are providing anything but grunts. Given some of these Kameos are some of the most iconic members of the Mortal Kombat kast (Kano! Sonya! Goro lives!), their hushed existences are noticeable. And then when they actually participate in matches, they are… gofers. Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs was an accomplished soldier before Mortal Kombat ever started, and then he experienced one of the most varied histories across two different timelines. He is a warrior, cyborg, father, and champion of Earthrealm. In Mortal Kombat 1, his kameo is… running around and smacking the ground randomly. He does not say anything. His fatality is his klassic “big boot” move from Mortal Kombat 3, which is performed without comment or explanation. Jax, one of the most I love stomppivotal kharacters in the whole of Mortal Kombat (he even had his own [terrible] spinoff!) is… just kind of there. It is hard to get excited about Jax’s appearance, because he is little more than a skin and five extra moves.

This is the biggest problem with Mortal Kombat 1. Mortal Kombat is a franchise about hype, and Mortal Kombat 1 is best described as a game where “it is hard to get excited”. All the pieces are there. All the potential is there. However, it falls short on that je ne sais quoi responsible for the most memorable moments of the last three decades of kombat. It is Pro Wrestling without the drama. It is steak without the sizzle. It is Mortal Kombat without some random dude shouting “Mortal Kombat!”

And if anyone does find the hype for Mortal Kombat 1, tell it to get over here.

SBC #08 Incineroar & Mortal Kombat 1

Incineroar in Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Look at that guy

Look at that guy
I couldn’t decide between these two shots, so you get both

  • They any Good? Super strong! Super grappling! Super hype! … Absolutely terrible recovery and agility. As someone that enjoys the heavies, I would like Incineroar a lot more if I wasn’t convinced I’d be dead the absolute minute I made the wrong move. And, for what it is worth, this is the Pokémon in the playable cast that feels the most like a human. Reskin him as Randy Savage, and you wouldn’t even notice (Macho Man could independently generate fire, right?).
  • That final smash work? Max Malicious Moonsault is the most Pro Wrestling ability in Smash, but is otherwise unimpressive in a game frequently involving space lasers. It is obvious that more moves should end with an atomic explosion, but this one feels like an afterthought.
  • The background work? We are going to assign Incineroar to Prism Tower, as a proper Pokémon Hawaii never surfaced. This is the proto New Donk City, though slightly more survivable if you wind up on the wrong platform at the wrong time. It is pretty straightforward for a switching terrain stage. And, hey, you get legendary birds randomly appearing… even if Yveltal is a bird edge case.
  • Classic Mode: Burning Pro Wrestling Spirit! means fighting heavy characters in the squared circle. Donkey Kong is a king of the ring, which is probably a Punch-Out reference for the Punch-Out stage. It is nice that Incineroar gets a simple flat stage to survive with that hideous agility, but it doesn’t prepare you for the final battle against the hands…
  • Smash Trivia: Incineroar has the slowest movement speed in the game. This is why, when you attempt the obstacle course as part of Classic Mode, it feels like the poor feline is chugging through molasses.
  • Look at that guy

  • Amiibo Corner: You can feel the heat of that flaming belt, and it looks like they are grabbing someone. Can this kitty easily palm Kirby? Probably!
  • Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? Look, I know I am exploiting the flimsiest of excuses to relate the hype-based cat to the hype-based fighting game franchise. But! Incineroar’s Classic Mode ends in a Mirror Match. That’s a Mortal Kombat staple! So these games are totally related!

Incineroar (in spirit) in Mortal Kombat 1

  • He's back, babySystem: Currently available for Windows, Playstation 5, Xbox X/S, and the delightfully compromised Nintendo Switch. Everyone and everything in this game is ugly, but you do have the choice of picking a version where it is ugly and goofy.
  • Number of players: Until they make Kameos playable in the background like in Marvel vs. Capcom (1), we are going to stick to two simultaneous players.
  • What’s in a name? We have the original, 1992 Mortal Kombat. We have the 2011 Mortal Kombat that was the first official reboot of the franchise, and is often referred to as Mortal Kombat 9. And now we have Mortal Kombat 1, which 100% requires the backstory of knowing what the heck happened in Mortal Kombat 11. I’m not certain who NetherRealm is trying to fool here, but something like New Mortal Kombat or Mortal Kombat: ReMurdered might work better.
  • Favorite Fighter: Reptile has long been beloved (hey, my favorite color is green), and his current potential to randomly morph into a full or partial lizard is distinctive. He pairs well with Kameo Sareena, who similarly morphs into her demonic form. Those two crazy kids should get together.
  • Favorite Fatality: I prefer goofy to outright violent, so my current pick is Frost’s “freeze a dude’s abdomen, and then shatter that while leaving the rest of the body (marginally) intact”. That fatality probably has a better name… Regardless! It is a suitable mix of comical and violent that I prefer to a skull getting bisected.
  • This is a jokeUnlockable: Your reward for clearing Story Mode is obtaining a playable Havik. This is an odd choice, as Havik is D-Tier in the grand scheme of Mortal Kombat kharacters, and having to work for him is anomalous. He was originally designed as a possible skin for Noob Saibot! And is mostly just an angry zombie! Whatever! Shujinko being one of the hardest to obtain kameos feels slightly more earned. At least that guy damned the world once!
  • Plot Holes: So Liu Kang created his own universe with a generally more optimistic slant. Sindel is an independent, benevolent ruler. Mortal Kombat tournaments do not lead to dead participants. The villains of the world are generally less powerful. But good ol’ Liu also created a universe where an entire race has been demoted from “culture” to “fatal disease”. This feels… less than noble.
  • Did you know? Somehow, the weird relationship between Ermac and Kenshi continues. Straight from Kenshi’s introduction in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Kenshi and Ermac have always been telekinetic buddies despite having literally nothing else in common. Maybe they both just like the color green? Whatever. They are working together again in this new universe, though, so their bromance continues.
  • Would I play again: I find Mortal Kombat 1 disappointing, but I am not going to pretend that I will do anything but play it again for a week every time DLC drops. And the single player board game kontent has seasons and stories! I am all about that!

What’s next? Okay, so now we are going to get back to Pichu and his pals! Normal service resumes, so please look forward to it!

GIFs you can hear…

FGC #654 Them’s Fightin’ Herds

Let's fight!I was blissfully nodding off to sleep when a terrifying thought jolted me into terminal consciousness:

I am an adult man who, at one point in his life, had very passionate opinions about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic canon.

To be clear on the circumstances of this horrifying reflection, my thinking went something like this: I had recently(ish) subscribed to HBO Max, now Max Headroom or whatever Warner Bros. AOL Discovery has determined it shall be named for tax purposes. After initially absorbing all the prestige, adult content that was advertised (Succession, Sopranos, The Beach That Makes You Old), my infantile brain decided it was time to watch/rewatch all the content on there that was clearly intended for children and/or people that never stopped collecting action figures. I watched my Justice League, Batman, and Teen Titans like nobody’s business. At some point in there, the HBO Go algorithm figured I was a 12-year-old boy, and started recommending shows like Batwheels. Batwheels, if you are unfamiliar with the concept, is an animated program wherein the Batmobile and other bat-vehicles are sentient, have Cars-esque faces, and help Batman fight crimes (that must occur on the road a lot more often than usual). To tell you everything you need to know about the intended demographics for this show, an episode description immediately available on Google reads, “In this country-inspired music video, Buff the Bat-Truck shows off his strength.”.

And my reaction to Batwheels? “Well, at least these are separate vehicles, and they didn’t try to turn the actual Bat-family into cars. That would be silly.”

IceyNow, to be absolutely clear on the history of Batman, we are talking about a fictional character that has been around since 1939 and is not in any way based on any real-life person living or dead. In the last near-century, Batman has gone through many permutations and versions, with a continuity that only makes marginal sense at the best of times. He has been a friendly cop playing dress up, a living urban legend, and whatever homicidal maniac Frank Miller churned out. He has always been one of the more “mortal” DC Comics characters… except on those seemingly annual occasions when he dies. One time Batman died just to give The Atom something to do during a team up, and ol’ Bruce Wayne was better the next month. Oh! And we are only thinking about the times Batman was Bruce Wayne here. There was a seemingly endless period when “Batman” was James Gordon in some manner of robotic bunny suit. But back to “regular” Batman, the Caped Crusader has appeared commonly as “the night” in his contemporary appearances, but there is also conceited Lego Batman, overcompensating Harley Quinn Batman, and apparently always high Teen Titans Go Batman. Batman is an archetype and part of our culture, so why can’t some writers “have their fun” and make a Batman that is dramatically different from his “canon” appearance?

So what would be wrong with Batman being a friggen’ car? And, while we’re on the subject, what would be so bad about six pony friends being teenage humans?

FALLLet us migrate from Batman over to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Like a number of impressionable not-at-all-young males of my age, I was enrapt in MLP:FiM when it was first released. If I had to point to a reason for imprinting on this show, it would likely be its unusual combination of kinetic animation, a dry sense of humor, and an unrelenting feeling of love between the main characters. It was an extremely tight balancing act, but you could simultaneously state the twin truths of “Twilight Sparkle would die for Pinky Pie” and “Twilight Sparkle is so tired of Pinky Pie’s shit” while enjoying the fact that these ponies occasionally bounced around like Looney Tunes. And combine this all with a surprisingly rich world of mythical creatures (my pet theory is that the MLP:FiM world is Hyrule if Epona got a hoof on the Triforce), and I was hooked. I never really waded into the bogs of “brony-ism” or other overt online communities based on talking about children’s talking horses, but I definitely enjoyed the show, and told my in-real-life friends about my not-real pony friends. Oh! And my facebook icon was DJ Pon-3 for a while. She wears goggles. I’m sure you understand.

So My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a runaway success not only with lonely adult males, but also its target demographic of preadolescent girls. Either because its producers recognized that its biggest fans (well, the biggest intentional fans) were gradually growing up, or simply because there was an easy avenue to sell more toys, MLP:FiM gained a movie that tested the waters of a spinoff series a scant three years after the ponies first premiered. It was well-received, and a year later, we had a full series order of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. MLP:EG ran for five years and eight seasons (though a few “seasons” had, like, three episodes), and survived on the hook of taking the characters/relationships we recognized from the horse show, and transplanting them onto multicolored human teenage girls. This allowed for more “grounded” stories like… let’s see here… “Rainbow Dash and Trixie compete over a guitar.” Well! There you go! Ponies can’t play guitar! Those hooves are terrible for nailing an F-chord!

If you have not already figured it out, I cannot tell you anything about My Little Pony: Equestria Girls because I never watched the show. And I never watched the show because I was protesting this crass, exploitative spinoff of a pony-based program produced and distributed by a toy company.

I sometimes wonder if I have brain problems…

She's so fluffyWhat I once considered to be very objective reasoning was thus: I have been a five-year-old ever since I was a five-year-old. As such, I have watched a number of franchises for children be rebooted over and over again. Some franchises seem to be treated with delicate care (any given Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series has more highs than lows), but many are not (I love you, Transformers, but you haven’t had an original concept for a series since Beast Wars… and now that has been mined for a movie). My Little Pony always seemed to lean into the “are not” column, and my encyclopedic knowledge of cartoons for children tells me that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a shining diamond (possibly the name of a pony) in a river of shit (probably not the name of a pony). The idea that Hasbro had a genuine hit on their hands thanks to the evident sincerity of its directors/cast, and then decided they needed to make a cash-in version of that… It felt unsavory. I was not going to support it. I was not going to watch a single episode, because I knew it was encouraging the wrong kind of behavior from a media conglomerate.

And now, roughly a decade later, I feel more than a little silly that I decided to put my foot down on “horses that can go to high school”.

A saner blogger might have devoted an article to the unicornian history of Them’s Fightin’ Herds. Originally conceived as a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fan project, “Fighting is Magic” was to be a fighting game featuring the stars of MLP:FiM. Early builds were released in 2012 (a year before Equestria Girls!), and it captivated the fighting game community with the unusual movesets that four-hooved creatures would demand. Unfortunately, it also caught the attention of Hasbro’s legal department, and a cease and desist was quickly issued. However! Lauren Faust creator of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (and, later, DC Super Hero Girls) took interest in the project, and apparently felt bad about her corporate overlords smooshing the project. As a result, a woman with an extremely successful television show or two under her belt volunteered to design new characters that would become Them’s Fightin’ Herds. Thus did TFH release for early access on PC in 2018, with a complete release in 2020. Then it stampeded over to consoles in 2022, with ongoing DLC characters releasing to round out the cast. In short, this game has come a long way from its origins as a fan project, and has now outlived its initial source material by a couple of years.

And I can’t shake the feeling that I never would have played it if it was available when I cared about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

He looks friendlyThe “main 6” of this Mane6 game are obvious expies for the unavailable main characters of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Arizona the cowgirl (literally) maps perfectly to ranch-pony Applejack, vain Velvet matches the personality of fashion-forward Rarity, Pom the sheep is just as frightened of interaction as Fluttershy and similarly uses her animal pals as a shield, Paprika the alpaca has the same “shatter the fourth wall just as long as it will be funny” abilities as Pinkie Pie, and Tiahuo the dragon-horse (my Dungeons and Dragons manual tells me this is technically a longma) shows the same flight abilities and dedication as Rainbow Dash. The only major outlier here is Oleander the unicorn, who has all the talent of Twilight Sparkle, but leans heavily into the “absolute power corrupts” trope of being something of a bad girl. But even that just shifts unerringly good canon Twilight Sparkle from her MLP:FM characterization to the darker interpretation of Twilight displayed in Friendship is Witchcraft (not going to lie: that might be the nerdiest sentence ever written for this blog). With support characters similarly being recognizable archetypes (paternal Texas just needs to talk a little less to be the fraternal Big McIntosh) it would be very easy to see Them’s Fightin’ Herds as not its own product, but a shallow rip-off of a franchise that was popular enough to feed into a political movement (not a good political movement). Even with the serial numbers filed off, this is just a shallow cash-in, and no more worthy of my precious time than that pointless program about pony-people prancing to prom.

The big buyBut get past any hangups about horse-content, and you will find that Them’s Fightin’ Herds is a very unique fighting game. A tournament featuring nothing but quadrupeds is just the tip of the iceberg here. The actual fighting is fast and fun, the “magic” button and its myriad uses is something worthy of putting Blazblue to shame, and even the character victory taunts are something that makes recent Mortal Kombat releases look like… uh… Mortal… Borebat? Does… does that work? No matter! What’s important is that Them’s Fightin’ Herds can stand shoulder to shoulder with the biggest fighting games out there.

And it even has something the big boys continuously flub: a memorable story mode. Rather than be a visual novel like BlazBlue, a “playable movie” like Guilty Gear/Street Fighter 5, or whatever the generally cringe comic-book-with-fights that Netherrealm usually has going on; Them’s Fightin’ Herds has a story mode that is an actual game. In presentation it is a pastiche of a 16-bit RPG, platformer, and fighting game. In practice it doesn’t always work (any time you try to do a platformer with beat ‘em up or fighting game mechanics, you’re going to have a bad time), but there are a number of challenges and scenarios that are rarely seen in the fighting game genre, story mode or no. There are boss fights that are more than just “a strong version of a regular fighter”! And an actual environment that makes the universe of TFH feel like more than a series of separate background illustrations. Them’s Fightin’ Herds’ story mode takes what could easily be seen as a silly pun attached to a wannabe franchise and transforms it into a living, breathing world all its own.

Story mode!And I wouldn’t have experienced any of this if I just made up my mind without actually playing the game. I never would have enjoyed what may have been my favorite fighting game of 2022 (hey, it was new to consoles) if I treated it the same as Equestria Girls. All the pieces were there in my head to enjoy it already, but I could have rejected it immediately.

And I am very glad I tried it.

… So now I guess I have to watch the Bat-trucks show…

FGC #654 Them’s Fightin’ Herds

  • System: Initially PC/Steam, but eventually hoofed it over to Switch, Playstation 4/5, and Xbox One/X/S. Note that I own the physical Playstation 5 version… because I think there was a discount for some reason. That usually sways me!
  • Number of players: Two! It’s a fighting game! Let’s not reinvent the wheel.
  • Watch the fireStory Time: The previously mentioned story mode tells the full tale of a magical world where only cool herbivores (and the occasional dragon) live, but an encroaching and vaguely magical gang of predators are due to arrive, and our heroes now need to repel a series of wolves, snakes, hawks, and bears. As a result, there is a lot more plot there than expected in a game that initially appears to simply be “sheep fight alpaca now”. My only complaint is that it makes the generally boring Arizona the main heroine, but concessions must be made when you get the inimitable Tara Strong to voice a character.
  • Favorite Fighter (original batch): TFH currently has “OG Skullgirls Syndrome” wherein the cast is unique and cool… and there are only like six characters. Terrible! But I’ll choose Oleander from this limited roster, as her homicidal spell book (let’s call him Fred) is a fun game mechanic and a delightful excuse for a character to talk to themselves. Also: technically the only “pony” in the pony game.
  • Favorite Fighter (DLC division): three add-on characters have been released as of this writing. Shanty is Grant Danasty in Goat form, and Texas is our federally mandated Juggernaut. But Velvet’s big daddy, Stronghoof is my favorite of the lot, as he remembered to bring a big damn ice axe to a hoof-fight. As someone that will eternally defend Soulcalibur’s Necron, I approve.
  • This is not realDid you know? Legends claim that the My Little Pony: Fighting is Magic beta was made into a “complete” game, and is still skulking the hallowed halls of the internet to this very day. It’s worth looking up for the amazing custom fighting animations, but don’t tell this ghost story at Hasbro HQ!
  • Would I play again: Yep! I am anxiously awaiting future DLC, and my only complaint is that we are likely going to have to wait another decade for this to reach the point that we can call it a 100% complete experience. We might be fighting against Arizona’s calves by then!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 6! Or maybe Final Fantasy 3! Whatever number you give it, it is going to be responsible for a number of essays on the subject of my second favorite game of all time. So please look forward to it!

Barking up the wrong tree

FGC #646 Killer Instinct (2013)

RevolutionaryYou ever revolutionize a genre, and everybody forgets you did it?

The history of fighting games is long and complicated, but there are some milestones that may be used to keep things simple. Many people recognize Street Fighter 2 as the official start of the fighting game craze. However, by the time Street Fighter 3: Third Strike rolled around, the humble fighting genre (and its home, the arcade) was all but dead. For a time, all we had was Aksys and random crossovers to keep the embers burning, but Street Fighter 4 returned to revitalize the genre. Was 2008’s Street Fighter 4 the sole reason 2-D fighting games returned to prominence? No, but it did prove that the quarter munchers could move to the online space, and no more would we be forced to subsist exclusively on weird Mortal Kombat kart racers. Street Fighter 4 is arguably one of the least experimental Street Fighter titles in Capcom’s stable, but it was what the desert needed after an eleven-year draught.

And if you want the innovation that would define the fighting game genre for years to come, you need to look at Killer Instinct.

Everything has a season

This wolfPopular knowledge says the original Killer Instinct was little more than a Mortal Kombat clone (klone?). It was a naked attempt by Rare and Nintendo to capitalize on the violent fighting game craze without sullying Mario’s lilywhite gloves. And, when Killer Instinct returned years later to showcase the Xbox One, it seemed to be filling much the same space. While the Xbox 360 and its Xbox Live had defined online gaming for a console generation, the Xbox One needed a new Halo to dominate a different genre. Killer Instinct was to be a killer app!

Except… it kind of looked like Double Helix didn’t believe in its own hype.

A fighting game lives and dies by its roster. Some games are legendary thanks to their fighters, and many fail because they cannot support a single memorable pugilist. Killer Instinct launched with… the cast of Killer Instinct. But without the good ones! Riptor the fighting dinosaur was nowhere to be seen, nor was the dual-headed dueler, Eyedol. Seemingly all traces of Killer Instinct 2/Gold were gone (our dear werewolf lost his cybernetic appendages! And he’s supposed to be a cyberwolf!), and we had a measly one fresh fighter to showcase a new generation. Oh, and thanks to this anemic roster, marquee robot Fulgore was positioned as the big bad, and Jago was supposed to be our Ryu (complete with “Evil” version as a super boss). And Jago… geez… You can’t spell “generic” without “Jago” (this is probably true in some language). Killer Instinct’s launch was positioned to properly piss off fans old and new. The newbies wondered why the best this game could give us is a basic Native American lightning guy (named Thunder!) in the year of our Lord 2013, and any veterans were left wondering when the hell we would finally get to play as the gargoyle or fire guy.

But there would be an answer: next season.

Killer Instinct wound up with three distinct seasons. Each season brought us an equal number of new characters, ultimately more than tripling the final roster of Killer Instinct. In time, all the old fighters would return. In time, we would be granted new, innovative characters. In time, we would see Thunder’s brother, Fulgore’s prototype, and bosses new and old. Season 2 and Season 3 were always just on the horizon, and eternally sending a clear message to the playerbase: this gets better. Play now, get good, and you’ll be ready when Gargos finally flies onto the stage.

There is more on the way. Get hype.

And speaking of hype…

Every character can be an event

Rip and tearLet’s revisit Riptor.

I don’t mind saying that that dang dinosaur was my favorite lady in any original Killer Instinct. She seemed to adapt well to my playstyle (which is likely best described as “Impatient Guile”), and when she was not available for Killer Instinct (2013), I was heartbroken. Was dinosaur technology too expensive in this modern age? Was Jurassic Park not the draw it was back in the 90’s? Did the design staff decide they didn’t want to wade into the feathers versus scales debate? Whatever the case, Riptor was gone, and there was no way of knowing if she was ever coming back.

And then, as part of Season 2, we received the Riptor trailer. It was an in-world advertisement for Ultra Tech’s latest cybernetic dinosaur technology, and positioned as a rival to the robotic Fulgore line. Machine-gun ‘bots can’t go everywhere, so here’s your own private raptor! The video seemed to delight in noting that this was not a historically accurate dinosaur, but a creature created by modern science to be something unique. She has a robot tail! What more could you ask for!?

Get Excited for this new dinosaur fighter! Coming December 17! And maybe there is a teaser for the next, wholly new character at the end there! Coming January 30!

And this “hype cycle” became the norm for Killer Instinct throughout its four years of support. If there was a new season on the horizon, you knew one of the big boys was coming back… and who could it be!? Tune in to the next announcement and find out! And when the character is released, enjoy playing Killer Instinct all over again! It is not just about a new one-player campaign, it is about that online community waking back up, and getting back into the groove, because everybody wants to see how the new car handles (or how to best punch said new car).

Give it a trailer and a proper hype cycle, and you could even care about a rash.

And since we’re getting a rash anyway…

Get hyped for guests

Get wreckedCrossovers are nothing new. Ever since Akuma invaded X-Men: Children of the Atom, seeing a guest fighter on the roster has been old hat. Mind you, the likes of Gon or Freddy have always been fun, but they always felt more like an afterthought than anything else. Link is fighting for the Soulcalibur? Well, that’s cool, but we are here for Nightmare, not the elf.

What made Killer Instinct’s guests any different? Simple: it’s all about timing.

Killer Instinct’s first two guest characters, Arbiter of Halo and Rash of Battletoads, were released at the start of Season 3. And that made all the difference, as crossover characters had previously been either part of a game from the start (in the days before DLC), or were the absolute final, “whatever works” additions of the end of a game’s lifecycle. Sticking the Sangheili and the amphibian there at the top of the season meant that the rest of the season was wide open for speculation. And rumors were abound! With two absurd choices establishing that anything was possible, a renewed interest in Killer Instinct was fueled by the possibility of seeing anyone from Solar Jetman to Banjo Kazooie to James Bond. And while we only ever saw a worthy follow-up in Gears of War’s General RAAM, the possibilities certainly did the job of putting Killer Instinct back on the map. And you could draw a pretty obvious line from Rash to the eventual bonus characters of Thunder’s brother and “that lady from the Ring, but she moves faster”. You could argue these guest characters were generic compared to a straight up “here’s Kazuya”, but even when you don’t have the likes of Sora or Sephiroth, you can generate practically infinite excitement.

But focusing exclusively on the roster isn’t the only thing that makes Killer Instinct great, the single player content also includes…

Train the player

It's nice hereKiller Instinct was initially released with a “freemium” version. Said version was 100% free, though included only one playable character. In a way, this makes it little more than a demo, and an easy way to see if Killer Instinct is right for you. But Killer Instinct: Free did include one very important mode that made all the difference: Dojo Mode.

Dojo Mode was like your traditional training mode of the time, but so much more. Yes, you could practice special moves and combos, but it also included lessons that would teach a player exactly how to use their selected character. What’s more, it allowed the player to toggle hit/hurtboxes, finally illustrating oblique terms that had previously only been the domain of fighting game aficionados. Killer Instinct was an in-depth game, as it included everything from instinct cancels to combo breakers, but this training mode took the time to break down absolutely everything, including items like spacing and meter management that could be applied to any fighting game. Killer Instinct wants you to “get gud”, and it does a lot more to get you there than whip your ass in a survival mode.

But even that likely pales behind…

Reward the player

The wind upAt its core, Killer Instinct is a basic fighting game, and fighting games have always been all about “rewards” in single player content. The Street Fighter franchise was always fond of claiming that unique endings were the greatest incentive anyone could ever imagine, and the Mortal Kombat franchise turned unlocking the roster into a quest onto itself. Killer Instinct Gold, Killer Instinct’s previously most prominent console release, seemed to primarily rely on codes for its unlocks, but special golden characters could only be acquired with skill and perseverance.

And now in Killer Instinct (2013)? The most perseverance you need is selecting a character.

By the time Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition rolled around, there were nearly an even 30 fighters available. And everyone came complete with three single-player achievements. You could earn a trophy for simple, everyday tasks like winning a match, winning a match (but in survival mode), and reaching character level three. Oh, what’s this about character levels? Every individual selectable character earns experience points every time you play as them, and, win or lose, you will accrue exp for your pugilists. And don’t even get me started on the rewards that are available once you wade into the world of online ranking…

And, while the “service” end of this has now ended, please remember a recent present where the simple matter of booting up Killer Instinct once a week could yield new and exciting incentives. Maybe there would be a new character available that was free-to-play for a limited time. Maybe your “main” was able to earn bonus experience this week, so ripping into Riptor would be the best use of your Tuesday. Maybe there was a special extra for the friggen’ roguelike that somehow became part of Killer Instinct Season 3. Even if you weren’t stopping back in Killer Instinct every month for a new character, KI went out of its way to find reasons to train a player into logging in at least once a week to haul in the extra loot available.

Stay backAnd, like all the items on this list, Killer Instinct did not invent rewarding the player, it simply made it a focus for the game. So, like its training modes, seasons, and hype cycles, it became just as important to Killer Instinct as the fireball motion was to Street Fighter 2. You cannot have Ryu without a dragon punch, and you will never see Eyedol again without a trailer and bonus achievements.

And as for whether or not this all made an impact on the fighting game ecosystem? Well, just go ahead and mail me a letter from the future, and confirm when Street Fighter 6 inevitably has literally everything mentioned across this article…

FGC #646 Killer Instinct (2013)

  • System: Initially it was the killer app exclusive to the Xbox One. Then it migrated over to Microsoft Windows about three years later.
  • Number of players: Two whole people, fighting each other from anywhere on the world wide web.
  • Just play the gig, man: The music in Killer Instinct is not only distinctly pretty damn good, it is also integrated into the gameplay to an absurd degree. Moving a cursor around the pause menu plays tones matching the current theme! And Ultra Combo incorporation! It is difficult to describe in words, but this is one feature that I would like to see integrated in every future fighting game… even if it would then add an extra six months to development…
  • Love those chucksStory Time: For a fighting game franchise, Killer Instinct’s mythos are surprisingly coherent. Mind you, this is likely because the franchise does not have to accommodate twenty years and two reboots like some franchises, but this is a pretty straightforward story of swords and sorcery demons being unearthed by a contemporary, uncaring conglomerate. And, hey, the UltraTech company is unabashedly as evil as an immortal gargoyle demon. We need more games with easy-to-understand morals like that.
  • Single Player: This is one of the few fighting games where I feel I do not need an “arcade mode”, and am happy just stopping into Vs. CPU mode with random select. I literally cannot tell you why this is the case, but firing up a random match in Killer Instinct feels a lot more natural than in Guilty Gear or Street Fighter. Maybe I am just a sucker for experience points…
  • Favorite Character: My allegiance to Riptor has already been plainly stated. Glacius was actually part of the original game, so he would be my pick if we have to go with someone that was there from the start. If I have to pick a new character, it is Mira the vampire. Fighting games need more vampires.
  • Did you know? You could easily make the argument that the original Killer Instinct roster was little more than a cross between gaming character clichés (ninja, femme fatale, fire elemental) and generic movie monsters (dinosaur, werewolf, skeleton, alien). So it is appropriate that KI Season 2 introduced characters such as mummy, big statue, GLaDOS, and that girl from the Ring. They’re not derivative! They’re following the template!
  • Would I play again: This is my favorite Xbox fighting game. Mind you, all my other fighting games on my Playstation… but still! Basically, if my Xbox X is on at all, there are really good odds this will get played for at least as long as it takes to download my latest game’s updates. I assure you, this is high praise.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Final Fantasy 10! Oh boy! I bet it will be a laugh riot! Please look forward to it!

A bit gusty?

Xenogears 06: Ricardo Banderas

Let's fightLet us consider the story of Ricardo Banderas.

At the age of 30, a man named Sigmund had become the Kaiser of Kislev. Sigmund had had a hard life, being one of the last survivors of the nation of Elru. As a result of his heritage, Sigmund was a demi-human, complete with elven ears. However, he could pass as a “normal” human, as pointy ears are easily hidden by a bright orange hat, and you barely even notice that hat when a guy owns a pipe organ the size of a giant robot. Kaiser Sigmund was very successful as a soldier and politician, and much of that can be attributed to his apparent normalcy.

Sigmund’s son… not so much.

When Sigmund’s wife Anne was pregnant, malevolent doctors in the employ of Solaris administered some nasty drugs. This caused the beastly traits of Sigmund’s genetics to present themselves harder, and, when Rico was born, he had a skin color only a Blanka could love. Anne and Rico were banished (Sigmund was unaware, of course). Anne was left to raise Rico alone in the slums, and, a mere decade after losing her position as empress, Anne had wasted away into death. Rico was now all alone in the world.

Even when Anne was alive, Rico did not have a good childhood. Racism against demi-humans was always on the rise, and being an orange haired freak did not help Rico’s reputation. After his mother passed, Rico was forced to steal to survive as a poor orphan, and the local law enforcement did not turn a blind eye to this undesirable’s undesirable actions. Rico, son of a kaiser, had a mere ten years as a free child, and was then sent to prison for the next twenty.

But despite being a detainee of a discriminatory system, Rico was able to succeed. Rico grew into his beastly strength, and was able to learn how to fight with all the intensity of a man that is 90% muscle. By the time Rico was 20, he had been accepted into the Battler tournament, and was granted his own Gear. A year later, he was the victor, and reigned as the undefeated champion of all prisoners in Kislev D-Block. His Stier Gear was S-tier, without peer.

CHOMPRico may have reigned forever had it not been for the arrival of Fei Fong Wong. No one can say if it was the power of the Slayer of God, his inclination toward not fighting brute strength with brute strength, or the fact that Rico had been injured previously while skulking through the sewers that caused Rico to lose. But Rico did lose, and, after so long as the undisputed champion, Rico was robbed of his identity. Shortly thereafter, a despondent Rico attempted to assassinate the Kaiser by crashing his Gear into Sigmund’s skybox during a fight. When that attempt failed, Rico attempted to raid the Kaiser’s home, but was unsuccessful and imprisoned once again. This time, Rico was to be executed via being dropped into a terrarium with a dinosaur. That is enough for most people…

But Rico survived! Rico was rescued by his rival, Fei. But Fei was only there because of the other prisoners that Rico had led in his time in D Block. Rico may have been a downtrodden prisoner, but he was still a good man who inspired others, and ultimately his soul was saved because those others decided to repay the favor. And, from there, Rico realized how his hometown was important to him, and decided to pilot Stier in an effort to save everyone. Rico was instrumental in protecting the nation that had treated him poorly for nearly his entire life.

Rico, despite everything, triumphed over his own adversity, and became a leader and liberator on par with his father.

And then he is never mentioned in the scripture ever again. Let’s assume he had a good time.

Even Worse Streams presents Xenogears
Night 6

Original Stream Night: February 16, 2021
Night of the Breath of Fire (4)

Random Notes on the Stream:

  • Starting by talking about potential Nintendo Direct announcements (the one that would premiere 2/17/21). Rumors of Zelda games are forever!
  • My Link is always Chaotic Lazy.
  • We have it on official recording that none of us ever believed Sora would be in Smash Bros. Ever. I predicted Xenoblade 2 characters. Pyra and Mythra were announced the next day. I am a genius.
  • “His name is S-Tier?”
  • Fei wins the tournament, Dominia is introduced, and we talk about the Smash Bros that canonically f$&@.
  • Looks niceAs Rico has a flashback to his childhood, let us talk about Namco Webcomics involving Chis Hastings.
  • Time to hate on Donkey Kong 64. Platforming can never be fun (according to Rare).
  • Big Joe is skulking around the alleys while we discuss Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the impossibility of it having a sequel. Oh, and Caliscrub arrives.
  • We have to rescue Rico while Caliscrub begs to know when Hammer will announce his mad skillz. Gonna be a while!
  • “Please, videogame. I just want to play videogame.”
  • Finally! Gameplay! With trains! And discussing Street Fighter launches!
  • Sodom should appear in more Street Fighter games. And, hey, we have a dungeon here.
  • The “just had an article about this” mentioned refers to Rockin’ Kats.
  • We almost have the Weltall back! And Balrog and Ed are dicks.
  • We rescued Rico! And we haven’t talked about Xenogears actually on the stream at all. All fighting games! All the time!
  • Here come Elly and her boys.
  • “Clowns are not a race.” Kinda!
  • “Wait. They’re star-crossed lovers and they both have a robot?”
  • Guards!  Guards!Yes, Fei and Elly take a moment to hop out of their Gears to survey their own destruction.
  • Please do not get me started on the Xeno-timeline. We are trying to fight a giant robot boss here!
  • Fanboymaster claims he would be inordinately surprised if Fatal Frame 5 ever left the WiiU. Guess what was released across all consoles the following October!
  • Elly is saved by Grahf while we discuss Punch-Out and Ashita no Joe yet again.
  • “Hit ‘em with the Blanka ball!”
  • “There’s a lot I like about this game, but I’m glad I’m not playing it” is the final significant thought before we call it a night.

Next time on Xenogears: Back to committing war crimes.

Chrono Trigger always made this less ominous