After last week’s column on super meters, and how they can have an adverse effect on newcomers, I’ve been pondering a little more on the subject of what fighting games work well as a potential introduction to the genre. It’s been a recurring theme of sorts with these columns, now that I think about it. From my evangelising of Iron Galaxy’s wonderfully simple Dive Kick to last week’s argument against big, flashy, distracting mega attacks. The idea of what makes a good ‘first fighter’ is a topic I appear to be most keen on.
Before I get into recommendation territory, however, I think it would be in both of our interests if I take a moment to consider my own first. Now I’d be tempted to just sit here and lazily write ‘Super Street Fighter II Turbo’, as that was the first two chaps, life bars, combo affair that I got involved in, rocking my Blanka against all my friends, but that would be the lazy choice, and my shrink is always telling me to dig a little deeper so here goes…
Street Fighter II Turbo was my ‘proper’ introduction to the genre, but I’m more inclined to say that my ‘gateway drug’, as it were, was Mario Bros.
I’m specifically talking Mario All-Stars, Super Mario Bros 3. If you’ve never played this mode (and I’d be surprised if you haven’t after Nintendo saw fit to cram it onto absolutely every GBA Mario re-release they spat onto the handheld), it involves one player controlling Mario, the other Luigi, in a tight, tiered arena. There are two pipes up the top that spawn enemies and these travel down the stage. To win you must be the first player to collect five coins (coins appear after you knock out a stunned enemy).
I used to play this mode with my Dad. After dinner I’d be yanking on his shirt, urging him to play just a few rounds. He’ll tell you he wasn’t very good at it, and to be honest he may not have been, but he would curry favour by sitting through a few games regardless of his ability, and my child eyes saw him as ample competition. Some kids had football, we had Mario Bros. The games started close, I was new to this whole video game lark but somewhat competent at playing whereas Dad was less capable with the pad, but had experience. That’s a nice way of saying he was old. Anyway, the main difference between us was that I took it more seriously.
See, even though Mario Bros doesn’t have health bars or super meters or require fancy motions, you can get good at it. Winning is about planning and executing your plans while trying to decipher and react to your opponent’s ideas on the fly. I was young, I had time. Time allowed me to attain a mastery of Mario’s weight and gait while my Dad was busy, he didn’t have the patience for such frivolity. This time let me experiment with Koopa Shells, perfect techniques such as crouch jumping and learning enemy patterns. Soon enough, after a spot of practise, I was coming out the victor time and again.
Why? Because Dad didn’t mix anything up.
Dad was still playing the game we both started on when the SNES arrived in the house. He’d slowly pootle around the stage trying to kick every comatose enemy he could see with little forethought for his, or my, actions. But I was playing something else entirely. I was tripping enemies and leaving them as bait to spring on my father, focusing on dazing and trapping my opponent so I could mop up lines of dazed foes while my rival was on the run from a shell. I’d taken the time to learn, and I had a game plan.
Now I’m not trying to argue for Mario Bros at EVO or anything like that, I’m simply attempting to attain a little insight as to where I got my first hit of the fighting game spirit, and also wondering if there are more ways to train a rookie than purely traditional brawlers. To this end I think that Mario Bros – with its focus on movement, knowledge of systems, reading your opponent and reacting to the flow of the game – certainly gave me a taste for the competition and necessity for mastery that is prevalent in the genre, even if it’s not expressly a fighting game, as I’d apply those exact ideas to Street Fighter II Turbo not long after.
So thanks Dad, for being my metaphorical (and occasionally literal, apologies) punching bag.
The fighting free to play influx continues, with Namco Bandai announcing Soul Calibur Lost Swords. This is a single player only free to…
Wait, what? Single player? Yep. According to new boss Masaki Hoshino, Soul Calibur players are in it more for the characters and atmosphere than the competition, so Lost Swords will accommodate this fact by being single player only.
Talk about your sweeping statements.
Here’s the thing, Hoshino could have said ‘single-player at launch’, but he didn’t. Rather than say that, it was stated that the game ‘will not include competitive or online multiplayer’. I realise this could be changed at a later date but, right now, it sounds pretty final, and that’s bum.
I’m just dumbfounded. I see it more as a missed opportunity, the game is clearly built on the Soul Calibur V engine so it seems to me like it wouldn’t be that tricky to add even an offline versus mode. More a case of ‘well why not?’ Fighting games have included versus modes since the beginning, it is their raison d’etre! We all know that fighting game single player modes are trashy filler, so right now I’m just a bit flummoxed as to Namco Bandai’s intentions for Soul Calibur Lost Swords are, particularly when the majority of successful free to play games thrive on being competitive as that’s where you show off your spangly extra trinkets and jazz.
Pushing out a fighting game that’s single player only is like taking an order for a sandwich, and only giving the customer the side salad, or ordering a suit and getting cufflinks with no suit. It’s as if we’re getting the trimmings, but none of the meat.
We shall see…
No one plays Soul Calibur multiplayer? We’ll see…