What’s Wrong With Fighting Games?

What’s Wrong With Fighting Games?

Hammering buttons to make people fall over. What’s not to like?

As someone who reviews games, I would like to think I’m free from biases, that I love all game genres equally in happy rainbow land and approach all titles with an open mind. There’s one type of game, however, that I’ve never been able to enjoy at all: the fighting game.

I don’t hate all fighting games, but I can’t think of a single one I’ve sat down with and had good, honest fun. I’ve certainly tried. I’ve played Tekken, Mortal Kombat, Blazblue, Smash Bros, Street Fighter, Marvel Vs Capcom, and almost all the Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive games. I’ve started each one eagerly hoping it would show me how awesome the fighting game genre really is and how wrong I’ve been all this time. This still hasn’t happened.

Rather than simply dismissing the genre and saying “All fighting games are rubbish,” I thought I would attempt to break down what it is exactly that doesn’t agree with me when I play a fighting game.

To start with:

1: The stories always suck

“So what, George?” you might say. Crap stories in videogames are nothing new. Why pick on the fighting game?

Because I can’t think of another genre of game where the story has always sucked. And I don’t just mean “try harder next time” sucked, I mean “for the love of God don’t go anywhere near pen and paper ever again” sucked.

I’m a big fan of stories in videogames, and even try to appreciate the bad ones, but stories in fighting games range between the laughable and the painful. They don’t even need to be there beyond an introductory cutscene to offer some context, but more often than not fights are punctuated by long, expensive looking cutscenes where the narrative has to find ever more ludicrous excuses for two characters to start beating each other to death.

Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive, the Mortal Kombat reboot, Tekken 6, and Super Smash Bros Brawl are the guiltiest culprits here. The problem lies with the fact that very few of the reasons the plot offers for characters to fight justifies the standard level of violence involved in the gameplay. Kasumi may have some long running feud with Ayane or whoever, but that doesn’t explain why she would suddenly feel the urge to forcibly insert the sharp end of a high heeled shoe into her rival’s eye socket just because they happen to bump into each other.

Blazblue did put some effort into making likeable characters with interesting back stories, but after having to endure a few hours of that kooky cat-human thing with a voice like a broken fire alarm, I found myself on the verge of throwing my television out the window.

Tekken 6 Image

2: The only interaction is hitting other people

This might sound like a moot point at first. After all, aren’t shooting games ‘only’ about shooting other people? Aren’t strategy games ‘only’ about ordering other people around?

In my opinion, though, fighting games are the most restrictive type of game when it comes to interacting with the world of the game. Certainly an FPS will involve a lot of shooting, but you’re also given the freedom to walk around a 360 degree space, open doors, search for collectibles, and maybe jump over things or hack stuff occasionally. It’s not much, but it’s something. By contrast, almost all fighting games shove you onto a small, 2D plane, facing someone else, and there’s 60 seconds of kill or be killed mayhem before you’re thrown out into a stats screen waiting for the next round.

I find this claustrophobic. At worst, it feels like you are magnetised to another person in a locked closet, and can only escape by bludgeoning the other person unconscious. Pretty stuff might be going on in the background, but it has nothing to do with you, and by the time you’ve stopped to notice it you’ve probably lost most of your health bar.

Smash Bros offers a little more liberty by letting you jump around lager spaces, but the farther away you stray from your opponent, the farther the camera pans out and the harder it is to see what’s going on. Again, it’s that uncomfortable ball and chain feeling. I’m the kind of guy who likes to explore an environment, but I guess there are players who don’t give a damn about that and just want to punch someone in the face.

Street Fighter Image

3: Winning isn’t satisfying and losing is exasperating

For me it is, anyway. If you enjoy learning the nuances of combos, blocks, and parries, and love nailing that K.O. on a tough opponent, that’s great, but personally, I have no patience with memorizing lengthy button combinations, and I rarely feel like it makes a difference anyway. If you can win by randomly smashing the buttons, why bother?

I find it interesting that people who enjoy fighting games fall into two camps. There are those who enjoy the button mashing element, particularly those who don’t play many games and like getting the quick victory without having to exert much skill. Then there are those who will insist that mastery of the combat system is where the satisfaction lies, and learning the ins and outs of a character’s fighting style is a reward in itself.

Yet both of these reasons to enjoy fighting games are also the reasons I usually hate them. Winning by hammering buttons randomly doesn’t feel like winning to me at all and I quickly find myself disengaging to autopilot, even when playing with friends. On the flip side, winning through mastery of combos is a long and tedious exercise for me, particularly when you have to wrench them out of the controller through awkward stick movements. And to make matters worse, the victory never feels worth the effort.

It doesn’t help that fighting games often feature one or two overpowered characters that cause balancing issues and have to be banned from use during tournaments. When a playable character breaks the game, that’s a pretty monumental oversight, isn’t it?

Visually, fighting games also tend to be extremely fast and effects-heavy, so when you get beaten, there’s no clear feedback as to why it happened. You just keep losing and cross your fingers that your fist will get a word in edgewise next time. Some fighting games like Mortal Kombat manage to keep things looking reasonably straightforward, but a game like Super Smash Bros Brawl can feel like an epileptic fit taking place inside a tumble dryer.

4: Fighting games are exploitative

What does Darth Vader have in common with an enormous pair of breasts and Sonic the Hedgehog? Answer: they are all reasons to buy a game you may not have otherwise given the time of day.

Fighting games indulge in a lot of sexualisation and franchise masturbating, otherwise known as ‘fan service’. I’m not about to go off on some hypocritical feminist rant. I like boobs as much as the next man, but when fighting games come packed with suspiciously young females in bikinis and miniskirts, it feels like the game is compensating for something, like a poorly endowed man showing up to a party in a limousine full of prostitutes and cocaine.

Fighting games aren’t the only genre to use sex to sell, but when people talk about over-sexualisation in games, the finger of blame gets pointed at games like Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive quicker than others. Again, I don’t have a problem with women in bikinis, but if you’re going to sell a game, it should be on the strength of its gameplay, not the cup size of its characters.

As for the fanboy service, if you really want to know who would win in a fight between Iron Man and Chun Li, or Mario and Solid Snake, can’t you take an educated guess and save yourself fifty dollars? Tempting as it must be to pick up a game where you get to “play as Spiderman”, there’s a big difference between feeling like you’re playing as Spiderman (Spiderman 2, for example) and playing as a 2D sprite with a Spiderman themed move set.


Just to make it clear, these are the reasons I personally don’t like fighting games. I’m not suggesting that all fighting games are bad, just that I’ve never been able to enjoy them.

But I will leave you with this question: where do fighting games go from here, if anywhere at all? Fighting game mechanics have been worked into other genres for a while now, but is there a future for the art of two people hitting each other in the face?

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