With the success of fighting games after the revamp of Street Fighter IV (even though SFIITHDR was better) fighting games have been on a rise back into gaming relevance. Thanks to the internet, a genre on the verge of extinction has found a second renaissance. Online play, along with a growing tournament scene that, unlike many games, has value as a spectator sport, has reawakened this sleeping beast. Since then I have begun to find myself excited about the prospect of spending a Saturday with the latest EVO tournament streaming through my TV. Excited about watching someone else play a video game. Who would have thought such a thing. As with anything gaming, Such changes have given me a lot to think about.
I believe the time is ripe for some amazing fighting game reboots, sequels, and plenty of cash-in money-grabs too! I remember a time when Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat were on top of the world, and every single other company had to get in on that!
We could have that again.
Let's start with a me-too classic, Killer Instinct.
Calm down KI fans, the game was fun, and I spent plenty of time on it, but to call it anything other than Nintendo shoving the final breaths of their arcade division into a room to ride out this wave of fighting game glory would be ridiculous. Nintendo tapped the graphical brilliance of Rare and thus Killer Instinct was born.
Killer Instinct is a tournament held every...uh...couple years, I guess, by Ultratech, an evil corporation that controls everything in the not too distant future. This company, like most evil ones, create abominations such as a flaming criminal, or a man with a case of the werewolves. Of course, there is also an alien snowman, a time traveling skeleton, and a baby robot. Luckily, the jagged angles they call a storyline means less here than on Porntube.
What became immediately important when fighting games took off, is to essentially be able to beat the life out of your opponent without them ever landing a punch. Much less than the bonus points that feat of finger dexterity got you, was the fact that you had just emasculated some kid with his last quarter. Every so often I would get the pleasure to utterly dominate a normally strong opponent in a round of Mortal Kombat II or Project Justice, and in this fighting game revival, I can just wallow in that feeling with friends and strangers alike.
Killer Instinct took that idea of dominating one's opponent and shoved a pre-rendered fist up its ass with the introduction of Ultra Combos. These monstrosities consisted of a few fancy button presses and a short nap while you beat your opponent senseless. Of course, with the appeal of dominance comes the shame of being dominated. I wasn't that good at this particular fighter, so needless to say, I had a lot of time to think about how much I hated this game as I watched my character (Spinal, always Spinal) get beaten mercilessly. So not only did you lose your money by losing, but hell, you barely even got to press any buttons! In retrospect they weren't the most broken combo system I have ever seen, but it was damn bad.
Beyond the combo system, there wasn't much that set it apart from the myriad other fighters save for the quality graphics and music you expect out of Rare.
Lets forget a minute about the Nintendo/Rare/Microsoft love triangle that sent classic Nintendo licensed Rare games into some kind of half dimension. Let's just assume, Nintendo hands over the license to Rare like they just don't care, meaning the game will be published by Microsoft (although in an alternate dimension Nintendo would have had Retro Studios reboot Killer Instinct instead of Donkey Kong Country and made Nintendo's over the top mix between Virtua Fighter and Street Fighter!!! I need to catch my breath).
If Rare set to work on a Killer Instinct right now, they would never outmuscle anybody in the graphics department in this day and age, though I bet the music will be good (The game better come with a soundtrack). The combo system can't hold up in today's tournament market. If you are going to make a fighting game without competitive balance, or even fun, might as well just get a movie/cartoon/Shaq license and rake in the money on the name alone, and to hell with gameplay altogether. I am taking the firm stance that the original combo system is out the window. Sorry stalwart advocates of old games, I expect a reasonable counter-argument from you soon.
So no combo system, no advanced graphics. What the hell would even make it like the old game?
Rare's ability to create games that have an oddly frustrating dynamic to what is otherwise a stellar experience. In other words, frustrating combos that reward memorization and not timing.
"But you just said the combo-"
Yeah I know, but this is Rare, and they defined a generation of gamers, but sometimes I just think, "Why did you map that button to there? Now I'm dead."
Now that we are dealing with ridiculous combos, the only thing left is how ridiculous? In this modern age of bone breaking screen filling super specials, what constitutes ridiculous? That is for Rare to decide, but much like the original game, it will be somewhere between the violence of Mortal Kombat and the all out power of Street Fighter/Marvel vs Capcom. They just better keep the way too excited announcer. Relax man, is this your first illegal fighting tournament between the worlds greatest fighters?
So Rare will make Killer Instinct about as amazing as Viva Pinata or Banjo-Threeie Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, and will be available for the Microsoft Xbox 360. It will get above average ratings. This game doesn't sound so amazing does it? Well there is one way to make this game feasible, even with all the misgivings I am throwing at it.
As previously mentioned, Rare was a highly regarded developer. A shining beacon in a sea of outrageously priced, foggily rendered Nintendo 64 games. They held an unbelievable grasp over graphics that kept the SNES running head to head with the PSX for while the N64 was getting delayed for a year.
Are there those working at Rare who want to recreate some level of that success (at least the 2012 equivalent). There are certainly those people in the video game community. I can be counted among them. So first let me state this carefully worded message directly to Rare.
"For the sake of what pride is left in the Rare brand, the fine people who brought me RC Pro Am, my very first racing game, please make this super epicly awesome. I don't care who you have to hire (or fire) to get this through the door. If Microsoft can't even throw money at your problems, than why do you work for them?
Microsoft already made you revamp Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker to a crowd who has absolutely no interest in any of those made up words and phrases. Admittedly you gave a good go with Viva Pinata, but you were aiming for Pokemon when you should have aimed for Digimon (and that no audience thing again). Remember Grabbed by the Ghoulies? No? Exactly.
What I am trying to say is, what do you have to lose?
Remember how Microsoft launched with Dead or Alive, and claimed the 360 wouldn't just be a console where you shoot things that are people? Yeah, I don't either. With the updates to Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie, it's no secret that Microsoft is more than happy to dig up the ghosts of gaming past and do what they will to their corpses. So just give it one more try, but cut out the furry animal crap and give Xbox gamers what they want, being able to kill people. Don't forget to add Marcus Phoenix and Halo dude since its a Microsoft exclusive and ka-ching!"
There it is, right there. My sure fire way to make this game awesome. Add Marcus Phoenix, Halo guy, and (insert other Microsoft exclusive tough guy character here*) and there is no way to pass this up. Let's face it, we all knew that Microsoft and Sony were going to steal the Smash Bros idea eventually. Sony opened fire with Playstation All-Stars, so now Microsoft can't clone the formula, but they can reboot Killer Instinct into Microsoft's answer to Virtua Fighter. This means including fighters from the Microsoft universe (that feels gross to say for some reason) in Ultratech's evil tournament. I don't play FPS games normally, but a 'roided out Marcus Phoenix driving a buzzsaw at the deadly robot known as Fulgore, only to have Fulgore block it with his metallic claws and then disappear and lazer eye him from behind is too awesome! I'm sure you could also wrangle a couple third party folks to compete, as is the style of the day, and you won't have the greatest fighter, but you will have something that is reasonably fun, sells well, and looks bad ass as hell.
Not only that, but it has already been canonically established in the original Killer Instinct that Ultratech has access to time traveling technology, so explaining how all these people ended up in the latest Killer Instinct tournament can be reasonably explained for the five of us who give a shit.
*In researching this article, I rediscovered other great Microsoft characters such as Kameo girl and whatever was in Ninety-Nine Nights**.
**To be honest, I was actually really anticipating N3 back when the 360 was about to launch, since it was being produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Rez, Space Channel 5, Child of Eden), but sadly the game was not very good at all. Well that will teach me to get excited for a launch title.
Rare needs to gain relevancy in the year 2012, and it's become very clear that Microsoft needs a few, more recent exclusives. Not to mention cash in on this growing fighting game market. It is a match made in reasonable business plan heaven.
Game wise, it will be fun to get to see a few more characters fist fight one another in photorealistic environments. The combos will be some beautiful cinematic displays of violence. The story... will exist. Kinect support?
I also believe a heavily promoted Microsoft fighting game will bring more attention to the fighting game scene in general, even if I doubt the game itself will ever be considered a serious fighter. I do hold out hope though, and will be the first one saying how unbelievably amazing that teaser cinematic is at E3 201X.