For this entry I’m going to look at the fighting game genre (sorry Parappa the Rapper fans). The fighting genre is one of the few genres that I can say I followed from it’s birth to today, and had a chance to play the variety of titles that have shaped it. From Clay Fighter, to Way of the Warrior and everything in between, there was always a way to beat the crap out of someone. To me fighting games fall into one of three styles of game play: combo intensive, special moves, and free flow. Which I’ll be going into detail about before I look at the big name games of the genre. Just to clarify , for this entry I’m talking specifically about fighting games that are one on one matches, so games like Power Stone or the Smash Brothers’ series aren’t going to be looked at.

The style of game play basically sets the stage for how gamers are going to play and master their respective games. Combo intensive refers to games that special moves are either limited or left out, and the majority of damage done is by combos. The combos require the player to set up the opponent to be hit by a multi button sequence of attacks to dish out major damage to their opponents. Anything that isn’t part of a combo string may be just one or two quick hits, sometimes just pushing the punch button in rapid succession counts as a small combo. Expert players can set up devastating combos that can usually finish off an opponent if the whole thing connects. Mastering these games is about memorizing the sequences and having the dexterity to pull them off. Tekken and to a lesser extent the Dead or Alive series are good examples of this style. My issue with this style is that the game play is really rigid, no room for improvisation and requires the player to use the combos made up by the designers or expert players. Taking things to the extreme Killer Instinct had massive combo strings that activated a finishing combo that usually hits someone over a 100 times.

Next up are games that fall into the special move category. In this one, it’s more about using a collection of special moves to defeat opponents. Special moves refer to movement and button sequences to unleash unique attacks, combos if any are more relegated to expert matches . Memorization is once again king as with no knowledge of special attacks, the player is forced to use the basic punch/kick attacks to win fights. Obviously Mortal Kombat is the big example here as well as other classic fighting games such as Street Fighter, and Primal Rage among others. The same complaint I have for combo intensive is seen here, these games are about using a rigid system to win matches. The problem is worse as it’s easier to figure out combo sequences as you can deduce if your onto something. With special moves all your left with is either the move working or just a regular punch or kick going off.

Finally we have free form fighting games, and my current favorite type of fighting game. Instead of special moves that have unique effects, here different attacks could do something special along with doing damage, such as knock back, attacking low,setting opponent up for a throw, etc. Characters have a huge amount of combos available to them, but instead of only being able to use them and nothing else, the move list is so great that just about every button combination can start something. The part that I like the most about these games is how characters are developed to be different from each other compared to other titles. These titles are less about memorizing entire move lists, and instead on focusing on moves that the player likes and working on advance techniques such as countering. The Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter series are the best examples of this type.

I was never a fan of the first two styles, since this was a time when the arcade was the still the best platform for the genre, meant that there was no way to really find these special moves or long combo strings in a play through. The free form style is the youngest of the three by one or two years starting with the original Virtua Fighter I think. Recently, the last Mortal Kombat title went heavy on rigid combos and the whole thing did not play well in my opinion. Watching footage of Mortal Kombat VS the DC universe actually looked good and I’ll be keeping my eye on it. A few years back I tried Tekken for the first time, and hated it. Unlike Dead or Alive which is combo heavy but still lets you work on advance techniques. Tekken felt that all you had were these incredibly long and complex combo strings to work with.

Playing Virtua Fighter for the first time with VF4 Evo, I was impressed with the diverse characters available. Give me quality over quantity any day, and it was interesting to see how playing with Akira was different from Shun Di and so on. I’m waiting for my copy of VF 5 to get here, and I’ll be practicing with Goh once again.
I’ve also spent time with the Naruto and Dragon Ball Z fighting games on the PS2, and they seem to be similar to free form game play even though there are special moves and attacks. The main arsenal of a player are punches ,kicks, and advance techniques available.

To me the fighting genre is the best genre for watching competitive gaming, watching expert players duke it out is great . I’ve been watching the competitive gaming series and I like watching the Dead or Alive matches the best as it’s the easiest to see who is winning or the variety of styles present. By now you should have figured out that I think the future of fighting games is with free form styled game play, I don’t think I’m going to be picking up Street Fighter 4 when it hits as going back to special moves doesn’t sound to inviting to me. I’m interested to see how much more Sega can do with the Virtua Fighter franchise above adding new characters, as the core mechanics have been pretty solid for a while. Lastly I wonder when we’ll see another evolution in the genre , if that is possible from free form .


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“Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind.”

  • By that definition, the ultimate free-form fighting game is probably Super Smash Bros. No long combos, no special moves (other than the recently introduced final smashes), just pure simple combat.

  • That’s why I covered my ass, by saying that Smash and Power Stone styled fighting games aren’t being looked at here 🙂

    I don’t know if I would describe Smash as a pure free form fighting game like Virtua Fighter or Soul Calibur, as you are using special moves (while it’s only a one button system they’re still there). The hand to hand fighting isn’t the main focus of combat, with the environmental obstacles ,space to fight in, and items to deal with.
    I think that the Naruto Ultimate Ninja series is closer with the advance techniques (multiple dodging, follow attacks, etc).

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