Life Lessons From Video Games: Falling Out of Love with Street Fighter?

 

LifeLessonsHeaderI’m not the kind to brag about my video game accomplishments.  Mostly because I’m very casual and don’t play games to “be the best.”  But I can say, quite unabashedly, I’m good at Street Fighter II in all its iterations.

It comes from having no life outside my Sega Genesis as an adolescent and really only being able to afford one game at a time.  I played Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II for years literally.

Since that time I’ve had every edition of Capcom’s imitable fighting franchise save for the wierdo 3-D one and the first incarnation of Street Fighter III.

I haven’t been as good at the rest of the series (except for the Street Fighter Alpha sub-franchise) mostly due to all the random over-complexity cluttering what I felt was a marvelously simple interface, but I still loved them and played them.

The announcement of Street Fighter V got me pretty excited.  I was awful at Street Fighter IV for the reasons mentioned above, but I still loved the game and playing the best 2-D fighting series on my PS4 was a thrilling concept.  Then the news broke: it’s online only; no tournament mode; no arcade mode!

Right now it stands to be the first main Street Fighter I’m choosing not to buy.  At least not in it’s current state.  The release, which Jim Sterling has brilliantly dubbed “Early AAAccess,” is severely disappointing and majorly off-putting.  While fighting games certainly lend themselves to be online, to me Street Fighter was an exercise in zen.  Like old-school beat em ups, you turn on the console, pick a character, and hit combos of buttons unleashing brutal combos on hapless foes.  Just turn your mind off to release some stress.

Even better was having a friend over, either to beat each other up or take turns at the AI.  My best friend for 20 years plus, Mike, and I bonded over games like this.  Beating up a CPU is harmless chill out fun.

Now Street Fighter has become competitive only, except for a lame-ass story mode.  It’s especially disheartening to me because, even in an arcade cabinet, the competition was almost always friendly.  You laugh when you screw up, opponents curse their failures, it’s all good fun.  Mostly because you’re all right there, looking each other in the eye.  While I’m sure somewhere there were epic arcade brawls, they never occurred in my skating rinks…

Online competitive gaming, at least in my experience, is almost never “all in good fun.”  The anonymity of the remote multiplayer makes it easy for assholes to be worse and even decent people to let their prick side protrude.  Essentially it’s the opposite of relaxing.

So like many other old school fans…I’m skipping Street Fighter V.  At least for now.  And it especially tragic because it’s beautiful.    Maybe when it gets a real release where we can play it the way we’ve been playing since the beginning.  It speaks to the changing nature of the industry that a game once the standard of excellent in home console fighting now embodies everything wrong with the AAA game business now.

Until then, at least I know Super Street Fighter II on my Sega Genesis is still playable, no servers or random online MLG wannabes necessary.  Just me, my controller, and maybe a friend or two.  It’s all it needs.  And all Street Fighter ever really should need.

Life Lessons from Video Games: Every Day Video Game Influences

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Video gaming has affected modern culture in strange ways. Many of the more recent ways spring from online/multiplayer culture, but surprisingly the games I grew up with, the ones from the 80s and 90s, have had a lingering effect. Things I do day-to-day still show the touch of the 8-32 bit era and just recently I thought to document the weird game references I do in everyday life and here are just the top ones…I’m sure everyone does something like this…

5.) Korobeiniki: I’ve found this to be more common than I realized. As someone with an advanced degree in OCDs and organization I’ve found that organizing anything, desk drawers, folders, shelves, U-Hauls, is always accompanied by this song playing in my head, and occasionally I hum it aloud. I never even played much Tetris because of how messing up lines made my OCDs want to eat my brain but I attached this song indelibly to putting things in order, in nice right angles, NEAT UND TIDY!

4.) Null sweat, chummer: Yes, yes I know Shadowrun was a pen-and-paper RPG before it was ported to the Sega Genesis and turned into an action/adventure masterpiece in 16-bit glory…but I never knew that in the 90s. I knew Shadowrun as a cool used cartridge I got with a very interesting futuristic landscape and creative lingo. Every now and then instead of the usual “No problem,” “sure,” or “My pleasure,” “Null Sweat, Chummer” pops out, much to the bewilderment (usually) of the person receiving this statement. I think if I ever say this to a girl and she responds “Keep running in the shadows” I’ll probably propose…

You say sure thing…he says “Null Sweat, Chummer”

3.) At Doom’s Gate: I spent more time running down the hallways of Doom than I spent in school I think. It’s a rare game I could put on godmode and not get bored. Thirty days in a row… To this day moving swiftly down hallways, corridors, or even through crowded mall makes this music pop into my head. Given how much time I spent blasting hellspawn in that game I wonder if I should fear for the crowd…

2.) Test Your Might/Flawless Victory/Fatality: Mortal Kombat…it briefly held our attention by being more cartoonishly bloody than contemporary games. Even beyond that it started its own mythos…you could find secret characters, see secret things, and half the rumors about it weren’t true. The fighting parlance of the game though far out-lasted the novelty of ripping people’s spinal columns out. I use the above three phrases a LOT in day-to-day life. “Test you Might,” any time I have anything to do really (not just breaking big blocks of steel, rubies, or diamonds). “Flawless Victory” is usually reserved for a better-than-expected result, with “Fatality” brought in when that result ended in total ownage.

1.) HADOUKEN: I use this ALL the time. It’s sad. I use it when I throw clothes across the room. I use it when I toss my phone on the desk. I use it when I drop a dish in the sink. I have no idea why but anything leaving my hand at any moment and any speed equals HADOUKEN to me. It’s probably from the ridiculous spamming of that move that came with playing any version of Street Fighter II… If I ever do figure out how to throw a fireball (I’ve tried moving down, then slightly down forward, then forward and yelling it…it didn’t work) the world would be in big trouble (see my comments on crowds in the “Doom Music” section above….).

 

Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Bonus Stage!

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While Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat were locked in deadly battle for arcade supremacy other franchises came and went on the console market.  TMNT Tournament Fighters, Clayfighter, and the dreaded Shaq-Fu all appeared to take advantage of the fighting game popularity.

One franchise stood out to me and, though it’s vanished into retro-obscurity, it is probably my favorite of the bunch.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions showed up as a Sega-only franchises on the Genesis and utilized the same aggressive marketing campaign that Sega used to fight Nintendo.  I remember seeing the plastic clamshell box stalking around the residential hallways chasing down other fighting games throughout the house.  Admittedly these kinds of ads are a turn off to me.  I’d rather not compare one item to another, just let me know what’s good about the one you’re selling me.  But Eternal Champions won me over.  It combined the cartoon-style animations and unique character styles of Street Fighter with the brutality and violence of Mortal Kombat.

The premise was terrific.  A group of warriors, all throughout time, each meets a premature demise . The Eternal Champion has offered them a chance to return to their respective time, moments before their deaths, and have the chance to prevent their deaths before they happened.  I loved the premise, and when the Sega CD sequel offered more fighters and more options I jumped on that version too.

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My copy of EC: Challenge from the Dark Side

At the time reviewers, who are always an annoying snarky bunch I’ve found (and I still maintain it’s easier to write a bad review than a good one…recently reviewers don’t think it’s “cool” to like things they review), called it a Mortal Kombat rip-off, based solely on its bloodiness.  But the gameplay and presentation was FAR closer to Street Fighter than Mortal Kombat.

The special moves, character movement, and attacks all resembled Street Fighter.  I remember playing as a caveman named “Slash” (I was then and am still a GnR fan I had to play as Slash) and how incredibly hot the portrait of Shadow Yamoto looked in the game, so much so that I hated to beat her up.  My favorites on the Genesis were RAX, the futuristic kickboxer and Midknight, the vampire.  In the Sega CD sequel Challenge from the Darkside I added Chin Wo and Ramses III to my favorites list.  They all used specific martial arts styles as well and, since I was deep into Tae Kwon Do at the time, I loved the variety.

The kills that were the most fun came from the environments.  I remember the car in Larcen’s stage riddling you with bullets and getting sucked into the big fan on Blade’s.  Dinosaurs ate you, you got electrocuted, and burned.  The tricky part was getting your opponent into the right position to meet their destruction.

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Description of moves including some of the kills!

UN-like Mortal Kombat, it required the strategy and techniques of Street Fighter to defeat an enemy.   Often killing your enemy was just an awesome bonus.  The Challenge from the Darkside offered more kills, challenging, but terrific if you pulled them off, and often related to stories.  Sometimes a new event happened you’d never seen before and, remember this is PRE-INTERNET, you had to figure out how that happened.

Added to this was the secret element.  Eternal Champions was loaded with secret characters.  From a Senator (taking potshots at political anti-game violence grandstanding) and my favorites, the animal characters, a chicken named Crispy, a monkey named Zuni , an owl (loved the owl) named Hooter, a snake named Slither, and a dog named Yappy.  These were simple diversions from the regular game…but brought humor and replay value into the fighting game, which can be sorely missing in some of them.

Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Darkside, along with Sega Saturn’s X-Men: Children of the Atom, remain my favorite non-Street Fighter fighting games.  It doesn’t suffer the same “Duke Nukem” effect I mentioned that impacts Mortal Kombat for me and is still loads of fun to play.  I personally would like to see a return to the Eternal Champions franchise.  Updated in the same way as Street Fighter IV, keeping true to 2D fighting roots but updating the graphics and gameplay.  The premise, characters, and styling already exists.  You’ve got a foundation, gaming industry, get to it!

So while Street Fighter reigns supreme in my fighting game memories…Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side holds a special place as the potentially the best fighting game no one remembers…and potentially a challenge to SF’s throne…

For a full look at my love for classic Sega check out my love letter to the Genesis-Saturn days!

Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: SFII v MK Finale!

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There are two kinds of people in this world: those who prefer Street Fighter and those who prefer Mortal Kombat.  Yes we can love them both, but if you were stuck on a desert island which would you prefer?  We all have an answer.   This will be no surprise, I’m a Street Fighter person.

Part of it has to do with my introduction to it.  I learned it first so its moves in a one-on-one style tournament fighter became second nature to me.  I’m not a fancy or elaborate Street Fighter player, I keep things basic, but I also win a LOT (right Mike? >: ) )  Here’s why I prefer Capcom’s Street Fighter to Acclaim’s Mortal Kombat.  Keep in mind I’m only dealing with the 16-bit iterations of the games, not the later ones.

Longevity: I don’t mean one series has or will outlast the other.  We’ve seen bad versions and weird crossovers for both franchises, I mean the longevity of these 16-bit games themselves.  Street Fighter II is a fun game.  All the special moves, all the different characters and strategies, it still feels the same way as it did when I first played it.  Mortal Kombat has suffered the Duke Nukem effect for me.  Despite all its violence and cutting edge effects…it all seems somehow…childish.  As though maybe that kind of thing is only really cool to a 12-15 year old.  Mortal Kombat’s brutality actually feels like a gimmick now.

SPAM: I think we’ve all done hadouken-hadouken-hadouken-hadouken or TIGER (high)-TIGER (low)-TIGER (high)-TIGER (low) against the computer or a live foe.  I have.  Especially Zangief and Balrog (M. Bison in Japan).  But if you did that on a harder difficulty or against a competent foe you also saw a jumping roundhouse or a leaping short into a sweep.  You can only spam fireballs for so long.  I can beat Mortal Kombat by doing flying kicks and upper cuts.  And JUST flying kicks and uppercuts.  The flying kicks strategy is how I always beat Goro.  I could usually get a flawless victory on him too.  Even on tougher difficulties.  It seems easier to spam cheesy moves in Mortal Kombat to me.  So much so that I’d try to play fair then just say, “forget it I’m spamming to win…”  I’m sure the MK masters out there know ways to break those kinds of things, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating when some chump starts doing it to you…or any less lame when you see it work on the game’s hulking sub-boss!  One cause of this problem is reflected in the next item!

Diversity:  I mentioned this in my Street Fighter post, but it wasn’t until I did my Mortal Kombat post that I realized how diverse Street Fighter is in comparison.  Street Fighter had two characters that played essentially the same, Ryu and Ken.  In Mortal Kombat, except for special moves, they all essentially play the same.  And it struck me the reason why, no one really cared about the fight.  I never did as a kid.  I typically just rushed through the fight however I could…I only cared about fatalities and unlocking secrets.  In a way MK’s secrets and violence kind of trapped it.  By giving all the characters the same basic set of moves with the same range, speed, and strength, it made it essentially the same game over and over with different kills at the end of each round and those kills are what I looked forward to.

Fun: The most important thing to me.  To this day I can plug in Champion Edition or Super into my Nomad or CDX and pick up right where I left off as though it was 1992 all over again.  I can have just as much fun, find just as much challenge, and remember all my timing and moves through straight muscle memory.  I admit I haven’t played Mortal Kombat since I quit playing it in the 90s (though I have played the newer ones!)

All of this is not an indictment of Mortal Kombat at all.  I love the game.  I loved the time I spent with it and I still cherish the franchise as the brutal cousin of Street Fighter, the Asia-gothic-hellscape fighting game that still has plenty of room to grow and reinvent itself at every opportunity.  I just prefer Street Fighter.  All of these opinions are of course mine only.  I think Mortal Kombat fans also have good points as to why they prefer their franchise and I’d love to hear some.

Which do you guys prefer?

In my opinion it’s a clear win and a…

KO

KO

…for Street Fighter!

My original strategy guides from the 90s.  Before the internet…books like these were the only way to get info!

Guide Covers

Guides Open

Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Mortal Kombat

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Mortal Kombat…  I admit I never played Mortal Kombat in the arcades when the cabinet first came out (though I remember it took some of the crowd away from my SFII cabinet at the skating rink…) What got my attention with this game were two things: word of mouth and the ad campaign.

I was already used to Street Fighter’s cartoon graphics and its somewhat Looney Tunes violence (even literally seeing stars when dizzy) but I heard a new game was out that upped the maturity level.  It showed real violence and blood and, rumor had it, you could even kill people in this game!  To a 10-12 year old this sounded amazing.  I couldn’t believe any of this could be true!  Then the ads came out for the home version.  The epic commercial featuring 90s techno music and the single shout of “MORTAL KOMBAAAT!” got everyone’s attention.  Followed immediately by the firestorm from parents’ groups and politicians saying the game was too violent for kids and should be banned.  All this did was make kids like me who didn’t pay attention realize “hey I gotta see this bloody game!”

Again I got it for the Sega Genesis, and in this case I was LUCKY.  While the SNES version bent to the will of parents’ groups and removed the bloody aspects, the Sega version just made you put in a code.  This was before the internet folks so, like all the codes I learned, I went to the local FoodMax, opened up GamePro magazine, found the code (down, up, left, left A, right down) and repeated it over and over as I  walked home.  Voila.  Bloody Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat was like nothing I’d ever played before.  I half expected it to play like Street Fighter, it was what I was used to.  I was shocked when pressing back didn’t block, and finding that block button was tricky!  But once I got into it Mortal Kombat, and the superior Mortal Kombat II, sucked me in.  The digitized characters looked more “grown-up” than the cartoons of Street Fighter.  The flinging blood, the wild special moves, and the fatalities…oh the fatalities.  Finding these out was a gold mine of gaming information.  I couldn’t memorize them, I had to write them all down and then play the game over and over until I could execute each one.  Ripping out spinal cords (I was a huge fan of Predator so this was awesome to me), pulling out hearts, uppercutting off heads, skulls spitting fire…this was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

Again I felt lucky to have my 6 button controller and the Sega version on MK I.  I learned Mortal Kombat, not playing alone, but with my buddy Mike, who was far better at it than I was (I still trump you in Street Fighter though, Mike…)  We played it relentlessly and learned all the kills, environmental kills, and secret characters and levels.  They still stick with me, after all these years, and its etched into my adolescent gaming memory.

So what gave Mortal Kombat its legacy?

1.)    Maturity: Until Mortal Kombat the most “badass” game in the arcade was…Pit Fighter…shudder…  Street Fighter was full of cartoon characters and cartoon violence, all the beat em ups had a similar look and feel.  Mortal Kombat, with digitized actors playing the characters had a more “cinematic” ambience.  By now I was into Tae Kwon Do and I could recognize the realism in the basic combat moves and appreciated it as a step toward “growing up” in gaming.  The blood and violence just filled out what I expected as a maturing gamer to see more and more of.  Boy was that right…

2.)    Unique Control: After the success of Street Fighter many games copied its controls and animated style to varying degrees of success.  Mortal Kombat was the first game of its kind to use high-punch, low-punch, high-kick, low-kick uppercuts, etc that I ever played.  These moves were all designed to set up special moves that would do the real damage.  And the special moves themselves were terrific and memorable, “GET OVER HERE!” Raiden’s nonsensical babbling during his torpedo move, and Sub-Zero’s Freeze attack.  It didn’t FEEL like other fighting games at the time, but I’ve found, especially as 3D takes over the fighting game genre…the control scheme has become more popular.

3.)    Fascinating Characters: As far as standard attacks, all Mortal Kombat characters essentially play the same.  What makes them cool is their look and their special moves.  Kano was one of my favorites, he just looked wicked with that cyborg eye.  I usually played as Scorpion though. That vicious spear and 90s Ninja outfit made him a stand out option.  Even non-playable Goro still sticks with me as one of the most memorable bosses in video game history.

4.)    Marketing: Mortal Kombat hit at just the right time.  Gamers were maturing, violence in gaming was a hot topic, and the market was expanding.  All the noise people made in fear of Mortal Kombat just made it more interesting.  It stays true to the cliche, no such thing as bad publicity!

5.)    Secrecy:  This concept goes hand-in-hand with Mortal Kombat.  I didn’t believe fatalities were real until I saw one myself.  I just assumed it was talk.  I remember when a guy in my 7th grade class, Charles, mentioned Reptile the first time.  I didn’t believe the character existed…then he did.  For every secret proved to be true, two more theoretical ones appeared.  For every one debunked five more appeared.  If just ONE of all those proved to be grounded in some reality, it made us plug the cartridges back in again and buy the next sequel!

So there is my recollection of Mortal Kombat and why I loved it.  As I mentioned Mortal Kombat II was even better.  I never even tried to play the arcade of that one and just bought it when it came out (or got it for birthday or Christmas…yes kids…games have been 50-60 dollars for a LONG time…)  Playing as new characters, adding new fatalities, kinds of fatalities, and stage hazards made the game fresh and fascinating.  It, like Street Fighter has gone 3D, added new gameplay styles and mechanics, and even jumped genres (Shaolin Monks was an awesome game…), and while it didn’t retain the very basics of the original, they have generally felt true to the original, with secrets, wild characters, and crazy kills.

Next post will be my final comparison and why I prefer one over the other (I’m sure everyone can see where this is going!)

And for  bonus:

Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Street Fighter 2

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Street Fighter II…  Capcom’s sequel to the now-obscure Street Fighter changed the face of fighting games.  Multiple, selectable characters, specific special moves, bright graphics; it took everything that could be learned from beat em ups like Double Dragon and simplified it into a one-on-one tournament fighting game.

I won’t go into the game’s colorful history.  That’s not the focus of this review, this will just be my history of Street Fighter.

My first introduction to this legend of the arcade occurred in 6th grade.  Our middle school typically took students with decent grades and no suspensions on an “incentive” trip to a skating rink or a bowling alley.  That six weeks we all went to an local bowling alley for a couple of hours.  I wasn’t interested in bowling really, but the alley had two arcade machines.  I don’t remember what the other one was, but one was Street Fighter II.  There was a queue of kids lined up at one stick, and a kid named Ralph dominating the other.  I got into the queue, not knowing what this game was or why there was a line and one-by-one kids fell as Ralph took them out.  When it was my turn I put in my two quarters, selected the character I thought looked the most interesting (I chose Blanka…all I thought was “wow big green monster!”) and preceded to lose two rounds.  I didn’t do too badly.  In fact after the fight I remember saying, “I didn’t know what I was doing!” with a laugh and Ralph telling me, “Actually you didn’t do so badly…”

I only went to the arcade on rare instances or when the school went to a place that had some machines so I had to wait for a home version in order to really play games.  Despite having only played the game one time, I got swept up into the craze when Street Fighter II: Champion Edition came out on the Sega Genesis.

It was here that I really learned the game.  The Genesis standard controller wasn’t great for these games, but buying a six button controller made it PERFECT for Street Fighter (in fact the licensed “Street Fighter” controllers that came out with the release of SFIV look suspiciously like Sega 6-Button controllers…) and I played the game religiously.  So much so that on trips to the Rivergate Skate Center during 7th and 8th Grade incentive trips I started to run the Street Fighter II machine.  I originally played as Sagat, having recently seen Jean Claude van Damme’s Kickboxer but eventually moved to Ken, and solidified using Ken once super moves were introduced in Super Street Fighter II.

So what makes Street Fighter II a legend?

1.)    Design: Starting with the first thing a gamer would see when they first laid eyes on the cabinet or picked up the cartridge box.  The characters were all unique (except of course the Ryu-Ken similarities) and colorful.  Similarly the backgrounds were all character-specific and had great animations.

2.)    Graphics: Tied to design, the graphics of the game were amazing at the time.  The characters moved fluidly and smoothly, their jumps and attacks all looked better than anything I’d seen before, and the special moves truly looked special

3.)    Diversity: All the 14 of the 16 characters in Street Fighter II Champion Edition were unique.  Though similar commands were used for special moves, they didn’t execute the exact same moves (though they may be similar) and ALL the basic attacks were individual to each character.  Also each character (except essentially the four “boss” characters) had unique story-based endings that gave the game massive replayability.  Beating the game with Ryu was an entirely different prospect to beating it with Vega.  Similarly, fighting each enemy took thought.  You couldn’t always use the same strategy to beat Zangief as you did to beat Chun Li.  Until you mastered it…your brain had to be awake for this game.

4.)    Ease of Play: the most important aspect of a fighting game to me…and something I feel they’ve lost, even the Street Fighter series, over the years.  Fighting games are GREAT because they are “pick-up-and-play” games.  Like I said, I never played before losing terrifically to Ralph in that first game.  But I did ok.  It’s not button mashing, you don’t get far in Street Fighter doing that, but the attacks, moves, and special moves are all so easy to figure out and execute a player can easily learn how to play one or two characters after playing the game only a handful of times.  This pre-dates the over-complexity that I feel has been added into fighting games.  Long-strings of combos, idiotic “air-juggles,” and multiple counter moves are just more than I want in a fighting game.  Keep it simple and fun for me…

5.)    CONTROL: Tied to the last one but by far the most important aspect of the game.  Street Fighter II‘s control was a revolution to me.  It was intuitive to the player and even made sense for the actions being executed.  Pressing “back” to block was a stroke of genius.  Six attacks varying in strength, 3 punches and 3 kicks, all useful (thought admittedly I played for YEARS with just a jab-fierce and short-roundhouse button setup on PS1) “Down-Down+Forward-Forward” is actually the motion you’d expect a character to do when throwing a fireball.  The same goes for the Shoryuken and the Hundred-Hand Slap.   I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with more perfect control (but woe be unto the second player who’s used to playing first player…and has to reverse all those commands!)

Street Fighter II revolutionized arcade gaming.  Through various iterations of II, eventually Alpha (Alpha 3 is my favorite of the series by far…the most balanced and best character roster I feel), a 3D game (EX…ugh), and now back to 2D with Street Fighter IV (and its iterations), it retained basically the same controls.  It’s heaped on many new complex concepts, and crazy characters, but at it’s based on the same framework.

Next time will be another arcade fighting game that revolutionized the genre, Mortal Kombat!