Editor’s Note: Fighting games didn’t get their own category in this year’s Game of the Year awards because I felt that there weren’t enough – and they were such a specific and complex genre that we couldn’t do it justice. But Isaac is an expert who knows the genre inside out. This is his showcase of how healthy it was in 2012 (and, ultimately, how wrong I was to exclude them).
2012 was a strong year for fighting games. Not only did we see a few re-releases, ports, and sequels, there were some new challengers as well. Sony stepped up to the plate with PlayStation All Stars, Lab Zero Games released Skullgirls, Atlus unleashed the surprising Persona 4 Arena, and Capcom crossed the line with Street Fighter x Tekken.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a casual player or a hardcore tournament player; there was really something for everyone this year. Some games even managed to break the boundaries by introducing newcomers to the genre. Let’s take a quick look at the major releases from this year and see how each one held up. Which were your favorites?
Soul Calibur V (PS3/Xbox 360)
Namco kicked things off with Soul Calibur V. The game was infinitely better than their last attempt, though it still didn’t capture the magic of the first two Calibur titles. New gameplay mechanics were introduced, including a meter system that allows players to do enhanced special moves and supers.
The story was forgettable and some fans were bitter that their favorite fighters were replaced with characters that had similar fighting styles. The online mode was a huge step up though and served as a prelude of things to come later in the year.[drop]Skullgirls (PSN/XBLA)
Mike Z and Lab Zero Games (formally Reverge Labs) created a fighting game that was designed to be tournament worthy from the getgo. It was a risky passion project considering the competition, but it’s one that definitely deserves praise. Skullgirls borrows gameplay mechanics from other games in the genre and improves upon them. There’s an infinite prevention system, ability to create custom assists in tag mode, a more forgiving combo system, and tons of advanced tactics for tournament players to enjoy.
Skullgirls is a highly detailed fighter looks incredible, plays phenomenally, and has a solid online mode that uses GGPO netode. A recent update added a bunch of new features as well, including a tutorial mode for each character, an improved online mode, and tons of changes to the gameplay. If only there were more characters to play as…
Street Fighter X Tekken (PS3/Xbox360/Vita)
When Capcom first announced Street Fighter X Tekken fans went crazy with speculation. What would Tekken characters be like in a Street Fighter game? Surprisingly enough, Capcom managed to find a way to make it all work. Kind of. The game was initially riddled with glitches and had a nearly unplayable online mode at launch.
Street Fighter x Tekken is a great example of a fighter with a superfluous amount of gameplay mechanics that aren’t even exciting or fun to use. Capcom is hoping to fix all the problems in an extensive update coming in early 2013 that will completely revamp the entire game. It looks promising, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown (PSN/XBLA)
After tons of demand SEGA finally released the definitive version of Virtua Fighter 5 on consoles. The game included everything that made the arcade version great and added a competent online mode that worked quite well. The Virtua Fighter series is known for its highly technical gameplay but don’t let that intimidate you; this game is actually very easy to pick up and play. You’d be surprised at just how good Final Showdown actually is once you try it out. It may not be as flashy as other fighters but it’s just as satisfying.
Persona 4 Arena (PS3/Xbox 360)
Unfortunately, Persona 4 Arena wasn’t released this year in Europe. It’s a shame too, because this game is definitely one of the highlights of the year. Arc system Works and Atlus brought back familiar characters from Persona 3 and 4 and crafted a canonical story that takes place after the events of Persona 4.
The control scheme is simplified but there’s still tons of depth. Fans will also appreciate the addition of status effects and other elements taken straight from the Persona series. It looks great, plays great, and it has a good online mode. This is the perfect example of a game that can cater to fans of both fighting games and RPGs. You couldn’t ask for a better crossover.
Dead or Alive 5 (PS3/Xbox 360)
Tecmo Koei’s revival of the Dead or Alive series was met with open arms. Hardcore fans of the series enjoyed the fine tuned mechanics and casual gamers loved the instant gratification you get from button mashing. It’s not a braindead fighter by any means but it’s one that can be recommended to all types of gamers.
A few new faces joined the cast, including characters from SEGA’s Virtua Fighter series. The crossover worked surprisingly well, so maybe it’s a sign of things to come. The netcode had some issues at launch but many of those problems have been fixed. Tecmo also has plans to release another update that includes additional fixes and features to keep the game alive well into the next year.[drop2]Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (PS3/Xbox 360/WiiU)
Fans waited over a decade for a sequel to Tekken Tag Tournament and, for the most part, it delivered. If anything, this game feels like the ultimate culmination of what Tekken has become since its original arcade release.
Namco’s biggest achievement with Tekken Tag 2 was easily the netcode. Filtering opponents based on connection speed is quick and easy and there is very minimal input delay. Not only was this a huge improvement over Tekken 6, it actually sets a new standard for the genre. And then there were the free DLC fighters and stages, which made Capcom’s handling of Street Fighter x Tekken look even more questionable.
PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale (PS3/Vita)
Sony’s first attempt at a Smash-like fighting game had mixed results. Some fans absolutely love the mashup while others quickly noticed the lack of features. Perhaps the biggest problem with PS All Stars is that you have to go out of your way to find the right settings that are fun to play. Instead of going with the default 3 Minute Free for All, play 2v2 with Stock Life or First to 5 Kills. This changes the game drastically and makes it a blast to play.
Once you get over how difficult it is to see what’s going on you’ll eventually realize that this isn’t just a simple Smash clone. The Crossplay functionality with the PlayStation Vita also works marvelously. Hopefully continued support from Superbot Entertainment and Sony can keep PlayStation All Stars relevant enough to justify a sequel.
What’s next for the genre?
It looks like 2013 will be a much lighter year for fighting games. The only new game that’s been announced so far is Injustice: Gods Among Us, the DC fighter from NetherRealm Studios. Aside from that, everything else seems to be updates to existing games or ports. Street Fighter X Tekken is getting completely revamped, Dead or Alive 5 is getting Vitalized and updated, Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus will be upgraded to version R, and Darkstalkers is finally getting a Resurrection. 2013 would actually be a good year for a new studio to step up and release something unexpected.
Considering the amount of releases this year (and we didn’t even include the Vita ports of MK9, UMVC3, and BlazBlue in this list), the lack of new titles is probably for the better. It’s pretty clear that there’s plenty to play at the moment. Plus, tons of people are still enjoying Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, King of Fighters XIII, and Mortal Kombat. It might be a good idea to just let those games enjoy another year of life.
Personally, I would love to see a next gen reveal than anything else. Perhaps Tekken x Street Fighter?