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Fight Club #2 – Combo Breaker

by on August 7, 2013


What do you think about combos? I don’t mean the nice little ditties, the three or five hit kind. I’m talking about the obnoxious 50-hit-plus domination flavour. The sort of combo that causes its victim to huff and to puff and to blow their spirit down.

I’ve been playing a chunk of the SkullGirls PC BETA, you see, and while I do enjoy the game very much it does stumble into the odd moment of “oh yeah, this combo again”.

I’ve been playing as Squigly, the first of the four new characters, and while playing some online matches I came across another Squigly. “Lovely”, thinks I, “I shall see how another player handles this fine character”. Now, we start pretty similarly – jumping heavy punch here, charging the whip attack there – but the moment Other Squigly lands her first punch on me I become the spectator to a much longer string of attacks than I understand how to execute. It’s painful.

“Oh”, ponders I, “I really need to know that string to be dealing the damage with this character”. I mean, I won the match regardless – learning combos means nothing if your fundamentals are weak, after all – but it reminded me of both the strengths and foibles of weighting a fighting game so heavily on combo execution.

The combo can be something wonderful. A mark of executional skill. A “look what I can do!” virtuoso moment. Being able to pull that excessive string of thumps out the moment you land a hit on your opponent shows a clear knowledge of the game and, in this respect, they are good.

Yet combos are just as much a big ol’ barrier to entry. It’s hard for a novice to find the enjoyment of a fighter if they’re getting annihilated by gigantic attack tsunamis. It’s hard for them to see any chink in the armour, and if they think that they need to pull off that sort of thing in order to “get good”, then the drive to improve will likely shrink as the learning curve arcs terrifyingly in front of them, the angle of the curve being directly affected by combo length.

On the flip side, some people think the combo is everything. These poor souls often fail to grasp a loss simply because they know some moves. They can pull off that perfect 100-hitter in training mode, which basically makes them a master! Far from it. The amount of disgruntled messages I got from Marvel players telling me to “learn some combos” in spite of me being the victor always made me giggle.

Unfortunately, in the modern fighting game climate, combos appear to be more “crucial” to a game’s design than ever before. Excessive combos bring two things. They bring “hype” at tournaments, and they bring free advertising for the publisher. Just roll on over to Shoryuken.com and I guarantee you there will be at least two or three combo videos there giving Warner Bros. or Capcom some nice free exposure. And if you watch them I’d wager that the majority of the chains will begin or end in the exact same way.

It’s almost a shame when these games, these beautiful games, devolve into trading and repeating the same chains over and over. On multiple occasions during during this year’s EVO 2013 Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 finals announcer Yipes said, “This is a ride I’ve been on before”, when referring to standard long combo strings. Is that good design? Is it great execution? For me the tense poke, jab, can-he-get-a-sneaky-hit-in tap-dance of Street Fighter IV defines why that game is often a far more appealing watch, several years after release, than Marvel’s combo trades.

“Yes, we know this combo will kill the character. I’ll just go make some tea and hopefully when I get back we’ll be on to the next interesting part”.

I’ve read plenty of opinions about Killer Instinct recently that say “Oh, this is one of those fighters where I get caught in a combo and can’t do anything for ages”. Well I could say “Combo Breaker”, or I could be an absolute smug arse and say “Well don’t get hit in the first place”, but it’s important to see that these sort of repetitive mega combo fighters are off-putting to a demographic of players. But then I suppose this is exactly why fighters like DiveKick, with its “first hit wins” rules, are so wonderful and welcome.

In fact, here’s an interesting titbit: Masahiro Sakurai, designer of the Super Smash Bros. Series, revealed in an Iwata Asks session that he created Smash Bros because he was tired with the way fighters were becoming more about repetitive combo execution and less about the spontaneity that defined the genre’s early days. That’s where the increasing damage mechanic came from; because character’s flew more as they built up more damage, set combos were much harder to execute, and it became more about reacting to the moment. It’s an interesting thought to ponder on.

So, what do you think about combos?

News Burst

So it was recently revealed that Guilty Gear Xrd will hopefully see a release in arcades next year in Japan. Well, I’ve been salivating over the game since its reveal trailer and I hope that the 2014 arcade release is followed by a console appearance within some sort of reasonable time-frame.

Yet this announcement puts my next-gen purchase in a tight spot. While many point to Microsoft and Sony’s grooming of Indie developers as the next-gen “prize”, my eyes are firmly on the console-holders handling of the fighting genre. Currently, Microsoft is winning.

It doesn’t matter what you think about Killer Instinct’s lineage (or Double Helix’s past, for that matter), Killer Instinct shows Microsoft offering direct support for the genre, and that’s amazing. As an old school Rare fan I think the new Killer Instinct looks hot. You may find this hypocritical considering the discussion above, but I really like the look of it. It also helps that the team is leaking passion in their wake like a bunch of designer snails.

This opinion on the new Killer Instinct obviously paints my next-gen buying preference. I want an Xbox One if it’s going to have exclusive scrappers like that, simple as.

Wait, that means I’d miss out on Playstation All Stars Battle Royale 2! The horror!

Fooled ya…

Speaking seriously for a minute, and defining the source of my conundrum, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma is a PS3 exclusive. That’s not even a new release; that’s the fourth retail iteration of BlazBlue and now, suddenly, Arc System Works have decided “Nah, Xbox doesn’t need this”. Where does that leave Guilty Gear Xrd?

If SEGA came out tomorrow and said “We’re only publishing Guilty Gear Xrd on Playstation 4”, then my brain would bubble. Suddenly, my early allegiance is in question. I’m not super rich so it’s going to be a few years before I buy the “other” console, so given this hypothetical situation, what do I want more? Killer Instinct or Guilty Gear (the answer is Guilty Gear, but for dramatic tension lets pretend they’re even)? Who deserves my money more!?

To be fair, more and more fighters are making their way to PC. Heck, Skullgirls was in the Steam top 3 during its first day on pre-order so they’re clearly selling. Perhaps I’ll be lucky and we’ll get Guilty Gear Xrd on PC.

That would make this situation a whole lot easier. Cheers, SEGA.

Dala’s Dojo

This week I try a little bit of Injustice: Gods Among Us. Rock that Harley.