Kusoge Advent Calendar 2020

by AJ "Tyron" Martinez @ worldsbe.st • November 17 2021

For the last few years, I’ve spent each December marveling at the worst and weirdest fighting games in the world, an exercise that straddles a fine and hilarious line between self-indulgence and self-harm. At the end of the year, I collect my thoughts on the 25-ish games I’ve played—thoughtfully selected and arranged by a few friends for maximum effect—and start on documenting the process.

It has been 11 months since last December, and I am still trying to wrap my head around this shit. Strange and shitty games are fascinating systems that invite you to analyze and speculate and experiment. Strange and shitty fighting games manifest as a compulsion to gather all of your closest friends and kick them in the dick with a single move 28 times in a row. These two things synthesize to become digital crack, and like analog crack, if you do it nonstop for a month, it’s probably a good idea to take some time off and reconsider your life choices. (Also, why?)

But December rolls around again, and in a few weeks, I’m going to be swan-diving into the fucking dumpster and getting my ass beat by computers. So fuck it. Let’s try things in reverse; I’m writing this as a way to warm myself up, and to prepare for what’s ahead.

So. Here’s what went down last year.

Table of Contents (spoilers?)

December 1: X-Men: Children of the Atom (Arcade)

For the first day of the marathon, we like to showcase something that’s the first of its kind. This can tell a lot of different stories: franchises like Tekken and Guilty Gear started from some pretty awful places, Melty Blood is instantly recognizable despite being mired in the trappings of shitty doujin fighters, and Dynasty Warriors tripped down a flight of stairs and fractured its genre.

Iceman connecting with a throw on Sentinel, with full meter stocked
POV: you are about to fucking die. I have no idea why Iceman’s super doesn’t break the freeze state of his throw, but against BOOTMASTER, NEUTRAL DEFENDER I guess he probably needs it.

X-Men: Children of the Atom is kinda cheating here. It’s widely recognized as the oldest ancestor of Marvel vs. Capcom and its ilk, but it’s hardly underground and not particularly bad. Hell, depending on who you ask, it might be golden-age Capcom: basically the most “FIGHTING GAME” thing around.

If you’re feeling charitable, you could call this an attempt to pivot the show towards the “fighting game history” side of the scale, taking detours from the dumpster-dive to explore the fascinating origins of games we know and love. If you’re feeling less charitable, you could call it an elaborate decoy, intended to throw the next 24-ish games into the harshest and most baffling relief possible. I’ll let you decide which one it was at the end.

Moves that are cancellable on whiff + moves that retain dash momentum + moves that cover the entire fucking screen = serotonin injected directly into my brain stem

Despite the attract mode shouting “CREATE YOUR OWN COMBO” and “COMBO IS THE KEY” (adorable), combo rules are weirdly restrictive; just about everything seems to chain and cancel on whiff, but only character-specific chains are allowed on hit, which seems distinctly unfriendly coming from modern games with “lmao chain goes up I guess” type systems. I had plenty of moments where I’d unexpectedly end a blockstring at -500. Also under this category is shit like Iceman’s launcher only being jump-cancellable on whiff (???), or Sentinel’s fly costing meter to activate but not to maintain, or throw inputs being character-specific, or air-to-airs just generally being a disgusting mashfest where nothing makes any sense, or…metered throw techs? Children of the Atom was a pioneer, and as prior First Ones have shown us, that often means a strong core idea and absolutely none of the mechanical nuance to properly realize it.

The production value, though. Fuck. I mean, I’ve already gone over this shit, it’s golden-age Capcom and it shows; stages are gorgeous and detailed without being distracting, VFX have the eye-watering arcade punch that makes me want to buy a CRT, and I’m sure I don’t have to say anything about CPS2-era soundtracks. God bless QSound.

To check the last remaining box, Juggernaut and Magneto are both absolutely fucking miserable (and thankfully non-playable) bosses. The former has a floor-slam move that spawns enough overhead rocks to lock you down for 30 years; the latter has a long-duration fully invincible shield that he can use whenever he wants, and eating a fireball anywhere on screen can cost you 50% life. It’s a hilariously transparent quarter-muncher, and as usual, your best bet is blatant AI manipulation that looks nothing like normal play.

“Air special move limit”? You fucking idiot. Welcome to 1994.

But hey, in terms of standard play? It’s got hella infinites and some ignorant buttons, that’s for sure, but I don’t think this counts as kusoge. That judgement might have something to do with the month of brain damage that immediately followed it, but hey—I had fun with it, you’ll probably have fun with it, don’t pick Silver Samurai.

Iceman making a very pained-looking face
JobChamp

VERDICT: REAL

TTTTTsd

I love this game so much. From the weird character specific rebeat chains (or whatever the hell they end up being on any given character) to the amazing music, presentation, visuals, you name it. Despite being the progenitor of the Marvel gameplay, it has a lot of soul and is still really fun to play to this day for the same reasons any of the Marvel games are (except MSH vs SF. Sorry).

Sleepmode

I think that one video of Cyclops making a wild comeback against Sentinel tells you everything you need to know about this game’s appeal.

December 2: Dual Heroes (N64)

For the Nth year in a row, we do the “relatively decent and normal video game” into “some fucking cryptid shit” whiplash gag. This happens every time. Why am I still unprepared for it?

It’s weird that “unexpected dance super” has happened to me twice on this show. Nice effects btw

After G.A.S.P!! Fighters’ NEXTream, a game that attempted to punch so far above its own weight that its arms fell off, I don’t think anything will truly shock me anymore—but I’m realizing that G.A.S.P’s ability to waste the combined skills of everyone working on it is far from unique. There’s a pattern in N64 fighting games, where the excitement of realtime 3D convinces developers (or more likely, publishers) that a 12-megabyte cartridge can suddenly accomplish the impossible.

In Dual Heroes’s case, those 12 megabytes are crammed floor-to-ceiling with the most baffling image compression I have ever seen in a retail release. Yes, I know this is a weird place to start, but like…look at it. Everything but the character textures look like they were stored on floppy disks at a nuclear test site, but despite the image fidelity being roughly “cave painting” tier, load times are everywhere and long as fuck. While I was waiting, I thought about the type of human being who might choose to place linebreaks in these particular locations.

GUN's scrolling backstory, with the most ridiculous ragged right edge ever
Probably the same person who named a member of the playable cast “GUN”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on the Advent Calendar (there isn’t), it’s that 3D movement systems are deceptively hard to design. My evidence: the absurd number of games, Dual Heroes among them, where the AI will randomly walk offstage and ring itself out, almost casually. For humans, it’s not much better; going off-axis completely destroys your movement until you hold 8WR and wait for your character to swivel in the correct direction. While you’re waiting, the camera leisurely wanders around, not really all that interested in lining up with you and your opponent, in a way that probably looks better in trailers than it does in practice.

To be fair, this is apparently the first fighting game to use analog controls (!), so credit for the attempt? This would explain why third-party controllers (or improperly configured emulators) feed the game analog stick values it’s not equipped to handle, and your character starts vibrating all over the screen in some kind of awful-looking flash step. I guess Melee isn’t the only fighting game with competitively unfair analog stick positions.

The Dual Heroes article on Wikipedia, containing literally two sentences describing gameplay, one of which is "Dual Heroes is a fighting game", and five paragraphs of story explanation. Good lord
The temptation to add a [citation needed] to the first sentence is unbelievable

Oh yeah, and for absolutely no reason, there’s an AI training feature, where you spar against a computer opponent to teach it how to fight, then throw it into in-game tournaments. According to the on-screen UI, they take inspiration from your general move choice, but our collective efforts to train one into SCHMOVEMENTBOT 9K69 ended in a training dummy that occasionally whiffed throws. Maybe if you have the patience to put in 500 max-effort training sessions, it becomes GO1.

Bottom line: there’s not really any reason for you to be here other than sightseeing, so turn the handicap settings to maximum, pick a stage with no walls, and enjoy—say it with me—a better simplified fighting game than Divekick.

I assume the referee was looking at their phone for this one.

VERDICT: ASS

Zari0t

Even with all its shortcomings, you have to give credit where it’s due - this game did a lot of things way ahead of its time, and I think that’s really cool.

Also GUN and HOE exist and I can’t even tell you how hard I laughed at the reveal.

Sleepmode

The writer and director of this game, Keita Amemiya, is one of the most prolific names in tokusatsu, with character design and even some writing credits on everything from Chojin Sentai Jetman to Kamen Rider BLACK and even Golden Knight GARO. What happened?

TTTTTsd

I’m glad the in-game rulesets let you make it actually fun because in the absence of that, it’s uh….

At least this game has both gun and hoe

Keeg

Wow, I can’t believe this beat Nintendo to the Amiibo fighter feature from the recent Super Smash Bros. games. You don’t even need to buy plastic figures for this one!

December 3: Touhou Haou 2 (PC)

Okay, this is it. This is the most technically infuriating game I’ve ever played on the Advent Calendar. Between the uncanny way it dodged all forms of software capture, the baffling display fuckery that randomly blocked other unrelated windows on my PC, and the pause button somehow ending up mapped to “Button -87”, I think I spent more time getting this fucking game to function than actually trying to play it. End result; I have heard the awful main menu theme more times than I ever wanted. Thank god I have a capture card and extreme brain damage.

Anyway. Besides being a technical clusterfuck beyond anything I’ve ever witnessed, this is the Touhou fighter with the “universal turtle assist” button.

(What the fuck?)

In fairness to this game, Youmu is literally not supposed to be here. Then again, regardless of where you put her, I don’t know if she looks like she belongs there.

Touhou Haou is actually a series of 3 games, all built on the same engine powering Brief Karate Foolish. (For some of you, this is already a warning siren.) It’s possible to port the characters from 1 and 2 to the final game, and after a little casual experiementation, that’s exactly what we did—just slap the files into the right place, edit the character select screen, and there you go, three confusing games in one. Bonus: guess which character is from which game based on their portrait art style and whether they have a super cut-in.

So. Airdash, double jump, super jump, universal metered turtle assist. Touhou Haou is one of those doujin fighters that kinda just takes everything the creators liked and throws it all at a familiar franchise, an approach that I have a deep respect for; “Reimu is Geese, Marisa is Iori” is a formidable statement of intent.

Reimu throwing a Reppuken
It’s not subtle. :ayaXD:

If you’ve played any of the modern (“modern”) Touhou fighters, you probably expect a lot of aerial dogfighting and projectile weaving, and while there’s some of that—Sakuya’s instant-lockdown supers and Aya’s “block me forever” hailstorms certainly feel familiar—there’s also plenty more traditional shenanigans. Quadruple instant overheads are a constant threat, aided by giant crouching hitboxes and complete horseshit jumping normals, and the game’s weirdly Marvel-like combo structure is combined with metered airtechs (?!), making disadvantage situations seriously scary.

Meter stocks up to 9 bars and builds fast, and most of the cast can make you block with just one super, so the game is largely played in the narrow valleys between mountains of grime. Fortunately, damage is low overall, so it feels like you get ample chances to find a way out. (If you’re going to make a game like this, I don’t think there’s any room for damage values between “gentle love taps” and “literally Samurai Shodown”.)

Moriyashrine.org claims that this game has iPhone, PSP and NDS ports. I have no fucking idea why—if it does, no evidence of them exists anywhere. There’s a PSP EBOOT of some kind buried in the game’s assets, which is the file type used for PS1 conversions, and there appear to be some movelist images sized for portable screens, but that’s about as far as I’ve got.

Sakuya vs Mokou in a GLvoid
Mokou is unimpressed with Windows 95 Compatibility Mode

…See, this is the trouble with doujin games, I can talk for hours about the confusing presentation and insane computer magic and barely touch on the gameplay, which I’m still undecided on. Touhou Haou looks and feels pretty fun on a monkey-brain level, helped by some adorable spritework and tons of stolen sounds, but the system limitations were simultaneously too restrictive and not restrictive enough—there’s just not very much to do. There’s too much jank and not enough nuance for the game to be interesting when taken as it is, but no one in the cast is allowed to break enough rules that it becomes a fun dumpster dive; for instance, Reimu can loop TK fireballs with nearly a solid second of leniency, but after 8 grounded hits, the next button you hit just completely no-sells, as if it doesn’t even have a hitbox. Yawn.

I wish someone made fighting games specifically for me.

In the end, you’re kinda just playing Marvel But Terrible as a bunch of King of Fighters characters in cosplay. +3 points for fun novelty, -800 because I had to rip up half my desktop to get the fucking thing to launch at all.

VERDICT: ASS

Zari0t

I’m sorry for the work to get this to work? But fuck you it was worth it for Iori Kirisame alone.

Keeg

As a semi-recent Touhou convert, I… yeah I got nothing here. At least it has Aya Shameimaru.

December 4: Zero Divide (PS1)

Was there some kind of campaign against blockstrings in the 90s? “Winners don’t use plus frames”?

They really, really want you to play near the ledge, huh?

I feel like I’ve written this section at least 10 times before. PS1, ambitious art design, terrible performance, stiff movement, attack properties blurring together into “mash to beat opposing mash”? Check, check, check, check, and emphatic check. Given the shit I’ve played on this show, it would be easy to be shocked that 3D games caught on at all.

You shouldn’t play this—but you probably knew that if you looked at it for more than 5 seconds. Let’s take a look at some of the cool ideas anyway.

Zero Divide's stage select
You know, “robot fighting game set inside a computer system” really should have baited me personally. NO FEAR

Zero Divide’s cast is…kinda crazy? Most of the mech designs abandon all pretense of “dude in suit”, and the novelty of picking a gigantic scorpion-looking motherfucker and throwing your entire ass at your opponent is pretty fantastic. Sadly, the only character in the game with functional plus-frames is, uh, also the only character in the game who’s blatantly “dude in suit”. Main Character Syndrome strikes again.

There are ring-outs, but getting pushed off the stage generally doesn’t kill you instantly, which denied me the obligatory “AI rings itself out for no reason” clips. Instead, it puts you into kind of a weird Smash-style “hanging on the edge” state, where you have a few different options to pull yourself back on-stage. My instant instinct was to timer-scam with this, but if you don’t take any action for a few seconds, you forcibly launch into a “PLEASE KILL ME” moonjump that leaves your controls frozen for about 6 weeks. You can also trigger this manually if you really want to die.

There’s a secret game mode that removes stage graphics, textures, and character lighting, but boosts the framerate to 60. Unfortunately, rather than doubling the responsiveness, it just doubles the game speed; it’s equally unplayable. If I had a quarter for every time this feature has shown up on the Advent Calendar, I might be able to buy myself a soda?

Can you believe this is double speed? Or that this goofy-looking motherfucker is the last boss?

Oh yeah, and there’s…limb damage? There’s a location-specific damage chart on the HUD, and if you take too many hits on the same location it’ll…uh…do something. I dunno. I actually don’t remember this system doing anything at all, and if I had to take a wild guess, I’d say that it decreases the power of moves that use that particular limb, but I literally cannot find any information about this anywhere. This feature was on the back of the box, along with a bunch of alternate camera modes that are really only good for a laugh.

I actually had to go back through the VoD and make sure I hadn’t simply forgotten how the mechanic works. Nope. Nobody knows shit.

Sometimes, after playing a game on the Advent Calendar, I’ll take some cursory glances at reviews published near release; I think a lot of old stuff gets a pass in the form of “didn’t age well”, either from contrarians or people with no standards, so it’s gratifying to see shitty games called shitty even on release. Zero Divide ignores this trend, and reception seems generally positive—there’s even a few vintage scrubquotes about how the edge mechanics prevent “cheap wins”. This confirms my bias that all gaming media has been poisoned since the dawn of time, so I’m generally alright with it.

But hey, apparently this game did well enough to get sequels, despite being so stiff and awful that you can only walk in full steps, and despite every single knockdown requiring you to churn butter just to get up at all. Never give up on your dreams, I guess. Now is a good time to make your predictions about KAC2021.

The most evasive 5K in human history. (I realized that this was probably a SICK 3D DODGE only after frame advancing.)

VERDICT: ASS

Keeg

It took me a good amount of effort to unlock that textureless mode. Appreciate me.

December 5: Super Variable Geo (SNES)

In Super Variable Geo, there’s a character who can’t block cr.LK→cr.LK. She’s top 1. Maybe skip this section.

Big fan of how Yuka’s dying scream makes her sound like an exotic bird. gg go next

After Advanced VG2, a PS1 title from KAC2019 that left everyone who played it just a little bit happier, I expected generally positive things from the Variable Geo series. Sure, it’s all basically ancient eroge, but VG2 felt so pleasant to play regardless—fun cast, cool tunes, great feel, see me. On the surface, Super Variable Geo is the same way, and if you’re careful not to look at it dead-on, it’s probably a pretty enjoyable game overall.

However, here on the Advent Calendar, where Arm Joe’s fucking spacetime distortion beam continues to ripple through the fabric of reality, Super Variable Geo is lab-monster quicksand. It masquerades as a perfectly competent and innocent SNES fighter, and by the time you realize things are horribly wrong, you’re up to your knees in +8 jabs, unblockable setups, and reversals that would make O.Ken cower in fear.

Let me be perfectly clear: I wanted to stop labbing this game. It wouldn’t let me.

SVG's character select screen
I was too busy losing my shit over the system mechanics to notice these absolutely choice portraits. Me too, Reimi

This game’s frame data, documented by a sole GameFAQs user because of course it is, reads like some kind of prank. Like, that 1-frame 5LK can’t seriously be +7 on block, right? And yet there are a billion light normals that range from +4 to +9, (?!?), and that’s barely the tip of the iceberg.

How do attacks hit 3 miles deep same-side only for your character to land crossed up? Why does Yuuka have a 2F, completely unpunishable DP that hits half-screen? Why do blocked attacks sometimes produce the wrong hitsparks? Why does Kaori’s normal throw shred 50% life despite Kaori herself looking like she works out at the library? What is Ayako’s game plan even supposed to be? I wrote “backturn unblockables” into my notes and I don’t even remember what that means.

The game’s most far-reaching exploit, the one that prompted 3 hours of brain-poison investigative netplay with no training mode, is a weird oversight upon leaving blockstun or standing up from a knockdown; on your first actionable frame, you can’t stand-block.

Meaty jHK (unblockable). Opponent must hold everything ever.

This leads to unblockable setups off any knockdown long enough to allow a jump-in, which opens up an entire category of screen-position-dependent unblockable loops. Since air resets leave you standing, air-to-airs and the game’s few normal anti-airs have the same problem; go ahead, jump out of the command throw and find out what happens. And if you happen to have a fast grounded overhead (Kaori does, and it’s her 2HP?!), every knockdown is basically Chance Time; blow up the throw and take the unblockable, or blow up the unblockable and take the throw.

However, Kaori—and only Kaori—is forced to stand when she leaves blockstun; for exactly one frame, the crouch input is inexplicably ignored, and she becomes actionable while standing. This causes Kaori to be completely incapable of blocking anything during this time: every character in the game can hit her with an unblockable off almost any blocked normal.

Fortunately for her, in that 1-frame gap, Kaori can use her forward-moving invincible reversal. It’s +3 on hit or block. This is the end of the Super Variable Geo section.

Antiair jab → unblockable drill → GG shake my hand

VERDICT: REAL-ASS

TTTTTsd

I am pretty sure the KAC stream of this game is the most labbing anyone has done for it given that the creator of the walkthrough we used has apparently learned stuff from it?

What a game. It’s always great when a franchise that has really good games also has like, comically silly versions of itself across maultiple platforms. Shoutouts to Guile in Super Turbo having CPS1 chains on the Sega Saturn

Sleepmode

For reference, “backturn unblockables” refers to a situation where if Yuka throws her opponent into the corner, they wake up facing away from her. If you time a meaty tatsu (which isn’t hard), it’ll hit fast enough that the opponent can’t block because the game can’t accept either 4 or 6 as a valid block input while they’re backturned… probably. More like Completely Normal Variable Geo.

Keeg

You guys went through the entire life cycle of the English-speaking community for Samurai Shodown 3 in roughly five hours with this game. What a terrifying, eldritch creation.

December 6: Moon Lights 2 (PC)

I don’t think I can describe the feeling of booting up a game this old, entirely unsure of what to expect, and hearing ripped Street Fighter II sounds.

As far as I can tell, this is the actual jacket art for the Windows version. Holy shit.

Take everything you think of when you hear the words “doujin fighter”, slam it with a hydraulic press, and punch a hole in the center. I assume this is how you produce a CD of Moon Lights 2. This game is weirdly forward-thinking, incredibly jank, and completely illegal.

This is a two-button game that has multiple girls with swords, so I was probably going to like it regardless of how it played, honestly. But there’s just enough here to be interesting, and purely as an archaeological expedition, it’s really neat to look at.

Normal stun punish into abnormal oki

Attack clashes are common, usually resetting one player to standing while stunning the other, and you take a fuckton of extra damage when getting hit out of that stun. This adds a neat extra layer to what would otherwise be pretty anemic defensive mechanics, and it makes grounded exchanges feel a little more consistent. Ryoryo makes the best use of this system, capable of clashing with just about anything and easily converting into Space Damage, and naturally T beat the shit out of me with this for half an hour.

Good clashes are HELLA plus—a heavy character’s dream.

Kaworu (yes, from NGE), the game’s final boss and only male character, is basically that Falco at your local who grinds tech skill like a full-time job but has never heard of neutral. He puts up a good act—hovering walk animation, tons of empty teleports, big scary erupting ground beams—but if you ignore all that and just hit buttons at him, he kinda falls over. Honestly, given the number of awful fighting game bosses I fight on the Advent Calendar, I consider this a positive thing.

So, if this game has sword girls and mechanics from the future, easy Real, right? Almost. Unfortunately, the stock game speed feels really sluggish, and the next speed above that (because of course there are selectable game speeds) alternates between way too fast and normal. It’s like they skipped straight to Turbo 7, and it makes me wonder if any part of the game is working as intended on modern hardware; my guess is no, considering the hour-long setup process, but if you have an ancient Windows PC (or an X68000) around you’re welcome to check for yourself. Hell, email me—link’s at the bottom of the page.

If you’re trying to take a dive into this game for yourself, I recommend dgVoodoo; use Locale Emulator, set the game to fullscreen, force windowed in dgVoodoo settings, use 256-color mode, enjoy the Eva MIDIs.

IT’S ME, THE ONLY MALE CHARACTER IN THE CAST

VERDICT: REAL-ASS

Keeg

Matchup protip: Ryoryo’s big fucking ball abuses the hell out of the clash system, giving her a large advantage against most characters. To counteract this, pick Multi; her gameplan is focused around calling assists that don’t interact with that system at all, making her an effective zoner that doesn’t have to worry about being bullied to hell when she’s running her game. (Raging Demon sucks though.)

TTTTTsd

The time we spent setting this up was both worth it and also why I didn’t submit it. Also see my RyoRyo, I space and time absolutely everything you’re seeing in the VOD.

Zari0t

I can’t believe this thing predicted Joshua’s moveset all these years in advance.

December 7: Super Dodge Ball (Arcade)

Is this a fighting game? Well, it has infinites, mixups, a top tier, and rollback netcode through the ever-excellent Fightcade—if the “fighting game” part of your brain just lit up, you have your answer.

(Also, this is apparently in the same universe as River City Ransom etc., but after spending about five seconds on the Wikipedia article for the Kunio-kun Cinematic Universe, I’ve decided to completely ignore this fact—I know none of these games and will almost certainly get some shit wrong related to the localizations.)

collage of Discord emotes with my, Zar's and Frey's faces on top, Kenji torsos on the bottom
:mastermind:

Super Dodge Ball, which is very technically a team sports game, is all about a single timing mixup—when do you throw the ball? Hit your opponent with a normal throw, and the ball will bounce back to your side of the court for another throw; hit your opponent with a special throw, and you’ll often get a knockdown and some OTG hits, possibly a ToD with the right leader (Kenji) and the right distance (everywhere that isn’t fullscreen).

When you’ve got the ball, you can mix up timing, adjust your distance, pass, and feint, giving you plenty of options to catch overzealous reactions. Defenders only need one timed button press to catch a throw, but if you’re sitting slack-jawed and waiting to catch, you’re not charging meter—and you really, REALLY want to charge meter, since it leads to a huge and nearly-uncatchable team super. The attacker’s trying to punish meter charges or whiffed catch attempts, the defender’s trying to bait a bad throw with good spacing and short charges…and there are DPs.

Yup, if you have a hard read you can just Shoryuken the fucking ball and send it right back at lightspeed. Some of them are active for so long that a successful DP can rebound off your body multiple times, leading to huge punishes. Standard DP rules apply, though; whiff and you’re dead, and even a successful DP with the wrong spacing can leave the attacker enough time to DP before the ball returns. DPs are also the only way to defend against passes to eliminated teammates, who hang out on your opponent’s backline for grimy backturn hits that can’t be caught normally. Is this the part where I check the “better simplified fighting game than Divekick” box?

AYY AYY AYY AYY AYY AYY AYY

Hell, there’s even some room for weird hitconfirms and damage optimization. Knocking down the character your opponent’s controlling leaves their other characters helpless, letting you smack the entire gang around while they stand up, and hitting a backturned character can let you tack on follow-ups before they can turn around to catch. People fucking die in this game, and that’s before even considering weird alien technology. Did you know you can interrupt backdashes with a catch to buffer actions while on the opponent’s side? Why does this game have sauce?

Each selectable team has a single leader, with better moves than the other two and their own team super—if your leader’s down, no supers for you. The quirk: beating a team lets you swap one of your characters for their leader, eventually assembling a team of three leaders over the course of multiple sets. The ability to play a team of three Kenjis is patently unfair, so if you were to ever play this game seriously you’d probably F3 after every match, but…please, please find a way to work this into a tournament ruleset, even if there’s no reason to do it.

Catching supers is really tough, and they do chimpanzee damage, so attackers have to apply pressure instead of running the clock. (Zar is just here to watch people explode)

Anyway, as is Neo Geo standard, the soundtrack slaps, the spritework is great, and there’s a charm to crunchy-ass voice clips that I’ll never be able to adequately explain. Super Dodge Ball belongs in the KAC, because the purpose of this marathon has drifted somewhere into the ocean of weird video game archaeology, but it’s not kusoge in any sense of the word.

…Okay, maybe the Kenji 623A knockdown infinite is a little kuso. But only a little.

why are you popping off this hard

VERDICT: REAL

Keeg

AJ’s probably covered everything I’d say about this, except I’d like to add that the soundtrack fucking slams.

Zari0t

Discord collage emote of the triple Kenji victory screen

December 8: Avengers in Galactic Storm (Arcade)

Remember how I said X-Men: Children of the Atom is the grandfather of modern “Versus” games? This is its weird uncle—the one with a Camaro and a substance abuse problem.

Pushboxes aren’t real, they can’t hurt you

As far as I can tell, this game is held together by paper clips and prayers, and every character in the entire game wants to kill you to death with a maximum of two moves and absolutely zero neutral. Assists basically skip all player interaction, whether they’re trivial beam unblockables or a fullscreen tracking DP, and walkjab infinites are so common that they’re basically a system mechanic.

Avengers in Galactic Storm is the first game any of us were able to find with assist mechanics, and more than a quarter of a century later, games with assists are still degenerate fucking nonsense from top to bottom. Even the tamest of them, Giant Man and The World’s Largest Mid, can still extend a turn or catch buttons from fullscreen. The stronger tools are probably better than entire character movesets; we’re still trying to figure out what direction you’re supposed to block Iron Man beam left/rights. Assists also have zero startup and can be called from dizzy, which seems to be the only prevention against touch-of-stun → touch-of-sad.

DO NOT JUMP OR HIT BUTTONS. FUCK YOU

There are a few strange ideas here. Assist selection is dependent on whether you’re playing a hero or a villain; heroes seem like generally better characters and also have the better assists, whoops. Single-player mode is some kind of weird dramatic battle thing, where AI opponents get access to some exclusive invincible-interrupts that honestly suck all of the fun out of sandwich fuckery. Certain specials chain into other specials (or themselves), which seems to be defined on a rigid character-by-character basis. And for whatever reason, you can block out of a normally-invincible part of your getup animation, meaning that against certain ambiguous setups you can just…hold [5] until the crossup isn’t ambiguous anymore? Doesn’t help against Crystal’s disgusting corner-slide 6-way safejumps, but hey, we tried.

There is something deeply fucked up about corner pushback and jumping hitboxes; this is one of those games where every jumping normal is active for seven centuries, and Crystal’s j.LK has a worrying habit of beating every offensive option while leaving you completely safe on block. All of the insane tools blur into 15-second rounds, where a timing difference of a few frames determines whether you get to play neutral or you just drown in bullshit. Oh, and meter gain on whiff gives every character with a fireball a great incentive to chill out at fullscreen and build assist. I honestly don’t know what this game would look like if people played it seriously for a few months.

This version of Sentry assist is only available to the final boss, but even if I could pick it, I’d probably pick Iron Man instead

Later in the marathon, I got on Fightcade for a completely different game, still idling in the Avengers in Galactic Storm room and certain no one else would ever enter it. I was wrong: someone wandered into that room, bright-eyed and full of hope, and challenged me in the middle of the stream. I accepted, mixed my opponent to death with a single setup that morphed into a godless 3-part 50/50/50/50/50/50, and watched them Alt+F4 out of the game without a single word.

ggggggggggggggggs

And that, Charlie Brown, is the true meaning of Christmas.

VERDICT: REAL-ASS

Sleepmode

You can tell this game was the first of its kind, because it offers the most unhinged kind of bullshit that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other fighting game. Crystal’s fuckin “spray and pray” self-layering okizeme is special in a way I am loathe to even describe. Sleepmode Must Hold That.

Zari0t

I’ll admit, I did not like anything about this game when I first saw it. I didn’t like how it looked, how it played, how it sounded. Nothing. But man has it grown on me, even with all its grime. I need to throw more time at this eventually.

TTTTTsd

Data East is the Christmas gift that, factually, will never stop giving. Between Shatterax backdash in the corner forever, Att-las instant redizzy bullshit, IRON MAN, and so much more, this game is the pinnacle of why Data East was and will always be the best: they just did what they wanted with no consideration for what happened next, and this to me is truly the pinnacle of the human spirit.

Keeg

I pick the Thunderstrike. I build the meter. I do the bzzt. The bzzt hits the entire screen. Life is good.

December 9: KOF Maximum Impact Regulation A (PS2)

Every once in a while, a game makes its way onto the Advent Calendar just because someone wanted me to play something cool. This is one of those games. This is my vacation day.

I admire The King Of Fighters from a distance, mostly because I can’t be assed to learn a third character to complete my Terry/Athena shell, but I have a deep respect for any series with crisp movement and bigass Neutral Buttons. Those two qualities are….not what I expect from 3D fighters, and I’m starting to realize that my expectations are probably really dumb. Like, there’s so much good shit in this genre! I unexpectedly loved Soulcalibur VI, I’ve got friends who swear by Dead or Alive and its relentlessly legible mechanics, and now I’ve played some wackass 3D game from SNK and enjoyed that too, despite a really weird adjustment period.

Regulation A is about 200 times better than I expected from “storied franchise famous for gorgeous 2D art tries this whole polygon thing”, taking elements from traditional 3D fighters while leaving most of what makes KOF feel like KOF intact—hops included. The combo rules are extremely aggressive, but clear-cut and relatively common-sense, with a focus on keeping move properties the same no matter when or how they’re used. Movement is great, with a low-committment run and powerful sidewalking, and Terry’s dumb ass is somehow fully intact despite lateral movement taking fullscreen Burn Knuckle from “bad idea” to “maybe the worst idea available”. (I will never adjust, you cannot make me learn.)

Kula's overhead snowman drop move
Block this friend. C:

Games with powerful movement have a unique ability to design fucked-up character-specific tools, and there are plenty of those here; even next to previous KOF games, or weapon fighters like Soulcalibur, there are some ENORMOUS long-range pressure tools here—Xiao Lon and her gigantic hidden glaives come to mind. Did you know Fio from Metal Slug is in this game? Did you know she plays like an incredibly frustrating combination of Elphelt and Yukiko?

Unfortunately for my dumb ass, this game has hella strings and really wants you to use them, which made it pretty unfriendly to my brief tour. I am not one of those people who enjoys paring the useful tools out of a movelist, but Regulation A was very clear: even with special cancels, no strings means very, very limited combos. Eat your vegetables.

Maybe in a distant future where PS2 emulators get rollback (or we can all go outside again), I’ll pick this game back up. I actually really like what’s here, especially Athena’s big fuckin' goofy Energy Hands install that turns her forward dash into a really stupid-looking corner-to-corner juggle.

This juggle is objectively worthless in a real match, but come on. Appreciate this with me.

Anyway, uh, remember my two-character team in search of a third? In Regulation A, I was given a third team member directly from the heavens; Luise, whose multiple airdashes and gratuitously overindulgent design make it clear that she doesn’t actually belong in The King of Fighters at all. Fortunately, as a mostly-unaffiliated bystander, what does or doesn’t belong isn’t important to me in the slightest. Plus she has a sword, even if it’s only in a super. Check, check, check and check, see you at Evo. Sleepmode was too nice to me this year, dude.

BANG. Regardless of dimensions, SNK knows how to make big hits feel BIG.

Have a cool combo video before you go.

VERDICT: REAL

Keeg

Kinda surprised that this was such a barebones arcade port feature-wise; the prior two entries in this series were console exclusive and as such offered a ton of features, including fully voiced story modes. As you may expect of 3D fighters of that console generation, the English dub is a thing of immense power.

Zari0t

Why am I not surprised that all it took was an airdash and a swordgirl to bait AJ smh

Sleepmode

I think part of the reason why I love this game is because it almost feels like what would happen if you told 8ing to make a KOF game. Can we get Code Mystics on this?

December 10: Critical Blow (PS1)

I have a habit of picking low tiers. I don’t do it on purpose; no one in their right mind does, unless you’re the type of person who really enjoys leaning on the “I beat you with Dan”/“I only lost because I play Dan” mixup, in which case I genuinely hope you’re happy with Street Fighter V, you giant tool.

Melty Blood?

I pick low tiers because I pick characters with polarizing gameplans—because something about having all your power consolidated into a handful of oppressive options makes me kinda giddy. Unfortunately for me, most fighting games try to ensure that any strategy hinging on two buttons and three braincells doesn’t work for very long; the result is a comfortable cycle of picking a linear shithead character, then complaining that they’re a linear shithead character while still refusing to play anyone else.

In Critical Blow, I picked Berserker, a motorcycle that transforms into a top tier: a blessed and beautiful child of God, and one who somehow escaped the Linear Shithead Character pit of despair. Not only does he have the game’s best midrange tool—a fast, safe, half-screen launcher that combos into itself more times than should ever be allowed—he has the best and second-best long-range tools in the game. After forcing you to block a handful of fullscreen beams, which are lightning-fast and deal decent chip, Berserker will have built a bar, which he can immediately spend for a gigantic fuck-off space laser that pushes you right back to fullscreen. Start again. Fuck you.

Block one normal, go to fullscreen, die. Check out those meaty beams and the high-connect juggles.

Also, the entire time you’re getting zoned by this gigantic anthro tractor, you’re forced to listen to him pop off like Yipes commentating entirely through a Speak & Spell. He never, ever, ever shuts the fuck up. Like, imagine Regirock and Lord Zedd had a kid who was really into Hot Wheels.

The titular Critical Blow is a desperation instant-kill that requires max meter, ranging on a character-by-character basis from “comboable comeback tool” to “if you land this, you could also have replaced your opponent’s controller with a scorpion while they weren’t looking”. Amongst the standard playable cast, no boss characters, they’re mostly funny gimmicks.

I wasn’t even going to include this in the writeup, but check out how fucked up throws are in this game. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether no-sold throws are from long blockstun, throw protection, or bad hitboxes, but in this game there’s plenty of all three. Anyway, BERSERKER ALSO HAS A COMMAND GRAB.

There’s even some brain-expanding side content; not only does there appear to be a full-ass VN in here, complete with animated cutscenes that have some actual production value, but there’s a side mode like Marvel 3’s Heroes and Heralds that allows you to steal moves from other characters. I want to give other characters Berserker’s beam and make the worst combo video ever.

Critical Blow would be a miserable shitfest if it’d been typical of the PS1, some low-framerate wooden schlock that’s impossible to control in ways that feel malicious and deliberate. It’s not; the game keeps a crisp and steady 60, movement is fast and low-commitment, and everything feels responsive enough that you’re not really forced to think about it. A lot of attacks even allow you to keep dash momentum, which makes crossing the screen super fun, and plenty of offensive tools knock you around the screen, giving both players the opportunity to use their movement.

Basically, when Berserker isn’t on the screen, the game is pretty respectable. When Berserker is on the screen, you’re given the agency required to fight him and lose; every time you run into that dumb fucking beam, it’s your fault, it feels like your fault, and it’s the best ever. You are the star of your own Tom and Jerry-ass physical comedy routine, and every attempt to walk forward looks like some hapless buffoon stepping on a rake. GEE I HOPE THE NEXT FORWARD JUMP WILL GO BETTER.

Berserker's beam connecting with Bobby's toes, extremely high up
PRETTY GOOD HITBOX BTW

(it won’t)

VERDICT: REAL

December 11: Battle Master (SNES)

After playing a game on the Advent Calendar, I jot down a quick bulleted list to jog my memory for later. The first bullet on Battle Master’s list is “depression”. This is not a bit.

Gonna have to agree with Past Tyron on this one.

Battle Master’s entire design document would fit on a coffee-stained napkin; “STREET FIGHTER BUT SHITTY”. Normally I don’t shoot for the throat right away; even if something is a thoughtless cash-in on a popular (and superior) property, treating it that way doesn’t do it justice, and guarantees you’ll miss any refinements and improvements it has to offer. Fortunately, I’ve done the legwork for you; I went in with an open mind and left with a slightly shorter lifespan. Everything interesting about this game is exhausting, broken, and less interesting than it appears. I’m mad I’m writing about it.

Some ungodly jLP backturn crossup nonsense, where a hitspark has appeared a full two head heights over either character involved
That’s a hitspark. Take it in.

The word of the day is “inconsistency”, sometimes. The game seems to fluctuate in speed constantly, taking the input parser from “garbage” to “flaming garbage”, and high stun plus random damage often leads to insane reward off one knockdown plus a poke. Dashes are fixed length and only interruptible by awful dashing normals. Air moves can be cancelled into ground-only specials if you churn hard enough to register a DP, which is apparently an intentional feature but feels like a combination of satanic ritual and airwalk bug. God help you if any move induces a capture state.

And I didn’t even get to punish.

Continuing on the yearly theme of “fuck the corner”, some stages have…platforms?…in both corners. Absolutely everything about getting on and off of them is miserable, since collision detection basically doesn’t work, and the only real benefit is the ability to aim sweeps at head height, which is barely useful at all. I guess it prevents you from getting crossed up?

Damage seems baffling and random, and the low stun threshold regularly stops play as one player tries to rapidly invent something that looks like a reasonable punish (but is probably jHK→sweep, one of the only consistent combos you can put together without the input parser throwing a tantrum).

Command throws can be performed out of blockstun, which is a design decision that only makes a fraction of sense if you build the entire game’s rules and pressure system around it. They didn’t. Actually, it doesn’t really feel like anything here was built so much as it occurred, like a natural disaster. Bonus: P2-only guard-cancel glitch that lets you input any move or action out of the command throw, leaving your opponent spinning in an SPD forever.

If I don’t return to neutral, you don’t return to neutral. Welcome to hell.

Some games have mind-expanding jank, some games have mind-numbing jank. This is one of the latter. Please don’t waste your time here.

VERDICT: ASS

Keeg

Some of the things in this game are fucked up in a really funny way. It’s a shame that they’re outshined by the things that are fucked up in a painful and depressing way.

Sleepmode

Y’know, thinking on it, I don’t think there’s ever been an instance of crouch cancel tech in a fighting game that wasn’t insanely fucked up. These guys made Ragnagard, by the way.

December 12: Mobile Suit Gundam Ex Revue (Arcade)

Was I too hard on Battle Master? I think I was too hard on Battle Master.

Completely horizontal move is a better anti-air than a neutral tool. Everything about the movement on-screen, from the vibrating after throws to Char’s Zaku leaving proximity block for one excruciating frame, is wonderful.

Mecha may not usually be my thing, but I’ve gotta admit that the music kicks ass; Gallant Char gets my blood pumping with or without context. If you’re making a licensed Gundam game, that’s probably one of the big assets available to you, right? Iconic songs and cues from one of the most storied franchises in Japanese animation?

Let’s set the stage. The year is 1994. Super Turbo just hit the floor a week ago, and one of the most iconic soundtracks in video game history has never sounded better. Meanwhile, Ex Revue’s try at Gallant Char sounds like…this.

dudududududududuuuuuuuuuu. You poor thing. Despite some neat stage designs, the visual effects don’t fare much better.

Maybe it seems unfair to compare this game to ST—Capcom was basically nonstop killing it at around this time, and ST was an outlier among outliers, enjoying a bustling Fightcade scene and a huge number of diehards to this day. I think Ex Revue earns the comparison, though:

Side-by-side screenshots of Ex Revue's spritework being, uh, "very closely inspired" by Street Fighter II spritework
Source: videogamesdensetsu on Tumblr. Click through for the Samurai Shodown side-by-sides, they’re about as blatant.

What Ex Revue doesn’t steal isn’t exactly worth having; features range from baffling (visible input displays for both players, allowing you to joystick peek without looking away) to the broken (a one-button throw that can be held to automatically throw anyone during any gaps), and sometimes both (random afterimages appearing on characters for seemingly no reason, turning the screen into a fucking mess).

TL;DR of the preceding parenthetical fuckup; it’s not a functional fighting game. Stuff devolves into annoying corner cases almost instantly. Even for lab-monsters seeking the tech equivalent of junk food, the low framerate and bad input parser make the game a chore to play. I wouldn’t dock any points for the AI ignoring charge times and motions—that’s standard for the era—but it did moves I wasn’t able to perform at all.

This move completely breaks proximity block, making an ambiguous looping crossup even more difficult to defend against. It’s also a low.

It’s 2021. We’ve figured out cross-continental netplay, CG anime-style shading, and basically every category of weird exploit and fighting game design fault (not that everyone can be assed to remember them at the same time). Players are spoiled, and it’s easy to be harsh on old games because so much of the groundwork simply hadn’t been done yet—plus, as consistently underestimated by everyone, video games are really fucking hard to make.

My point, eventually: even as this show gets weirder and worse entries, I’d like to think that my default mode of critique has moved away from “dunk by default”, but I can only forgive so much. Like, if somebody labs out a gaping hole in your 1994 fighting game, you’re not going to hear about it on Twitter, and patching it isn’t exactly trivial. There will be no reproducible frame-by-frame video evidence of SKD solving your entire game with a 9-way proximity block OS. But it had to occur to someone to just hold the fucking throw button down during development, right?

Anyway, we played Avengers in Galactic Storm for the rest of the day. Fuck this game.

VERDICT: ASS

TTTTTsd

I played this for about a week, did this and stopped. You’re welcome, the game is quality, I assure you.

Sleepmode

[mikado commentary guy voice] ガイル!ガイル!!

December 13: The Street Fighter Power Hour (Various)

There are a lot of Street Fighter games. Zar really likes making me play exactly one of them. I put my foot down: no more Street Fighter Alpha 3.

This appeared on our roster about 5 seconds later.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 (SNES)

I think a lot of you are probably already familiar with this port, and a good number of those probably knew about it before the stream itself—because Alpha 2 on SNES is a valiant effort, good fucking god. It’s painful to play when compared to the arcade version, with butchered sound and miserable load times, but…it’s Alpha 2 on SNES, come on.

I will never miss the opportunity to dunk on SNES instrumentation. MOST OF THE GAMES ON THIS CONSOLE SOUNDED LIKE SHIT. I DO NOT ACCEPT CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM.

I have absolutely nothing to say about the gameplay itself. I will take the L here, it’s basically just Alpha 2 exactly as I remember it (which admittedly isn’t in great detail, but even good ports tend to have one or two standout changes).

This is a sideshow exhibit. We showed up, we laughed at the 18 million year load time between “FIGHT!” and a struggling Chun-Li theme, and we left…which left us with a lot of extra time.

Street Fighter II' Special Champion Edition (Genesis)

Y’all smoke Turbo 7?

The fighting game equivalent of a jumpscare.

Apparently T just felt like inflicting this on me for no particular reason. If you missed the stream, just imagine that video playing on loop forever.

Street Fighter II (Master System)

Long after the rest of the world had moved on, Brazilian electronics company Tectoy dragged a hacked-up backport of SFII to a console with two face buttons. I can’t really find any information about why someone would do this, but apparently you can still buy Brazilian Master System plug-and-play consoles in the year 2021, including several original games made specifically for Tectoy’s licensed emulation boxes, so maybe Brazil is just a parallel dimension and I should stop being surprised by this shit.

So. Street Fighter II: Parallel Dimension Edition. If you want to extract some entertainment value from this, skip the fighting and go straight to the sound test menu, where you can gawk at the death-compressed announcer clips or cringe at the transcribed-by-ear music that’s just wrong enough to be annoying—because Tectoy’s Street Fighter II literally runs at 10 FPS, instantly earning the title of “least playable game on the calendar”.

Look at my face while witnessing this shit. My brain is broken.

I am genuinely baffled that this exists.

Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact

Yes, at this point we are just fucking around and entertaining ourselves. Sue me. I won’t keep you in this section for too long, but I do want to note two things:

Street Fighter II Mix

I played two different Brazilian versions of Street Fighter II in one day. I almost feel like I’ve been tricked?

Mix is an incredibly full-featured ROM hack of Champion Edition. It adds guard bars, EX moves, rolls, throw techs, KOF-style hops and runs, perfect guards and huge movelist expansions. It also adds fake parallax, gives Guile a pair of shades, changes a Sagat voice clip to “TIGER ROBOCOP”, starts rounds with characters at random distance, and adds the bonus stage car to the India stage.

Waaaaait a minute. Is this just Battle Master but inverted?

Absolutely what the fuck is going on.

A single meter functions as your stun bar, EX meter, and guard bar; push too far on offense and you’ll die in one touch, but fail to punish a guard break and you’ve effectively handed your opponent a full bar. There are no charge motions, and most charge moves don’t seem to have been changed much to compensate, but perfect guard and throw techs defuse otherwise nightmarish pressure situations. Juggle properties have been relaxed across the board, allowing for some truly fucked combos (fireball into sweep is just the tip of the iceberg), and walk speeds are basically all on crack. Absolutely no normal fighting game things happen here.

Chargeless charge moves are something that you just…kinda need to be prepared for. Cool guard break punish.

The technical aspects of Mix are incredible—it’s the most far-reaching arcade hack I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine that the CPS1 is super friendly to work with. But the design sensibilities? I don’t even feel qualified to comment on that. I have no idea what this game is even trying to be. My closest comparison is Chaos Generation, which is more confusing than no comparison at all.

You absolutely have to play this. You may not find any lasting appeal, you may peace out the moment you get ToD’d from blocking a deep Dhalsim drill or get scumfucked by Vega’s war-crime-ass fire claw, but I promise you’ll enjoy a few sets, if for no other reason than baffling novelty. (Seriously, watching SF2 characters run is an out-of-body experience.)

VERDICT: REAL-ASS (like, as a genre)

Sleepmode

While both Chaos Generation and SF2 Mix are categorically insane, the difference between them is that Chaos Generation was made by people with a deep love for like, at least five different fighting game franchises, while SF2 Mix was made by people who learned 68k assembly programming on a cocaine high.

TTTTTsd

Round 1!……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

SF2 Mix is certifiably insane, maybe TOO insane, because I could barely keep up with it. Anyways go play 2nd Impact that game rules

Zari0t

Stay tuned. 🙂

December 14: Saint Seiya: The Hades (PS2)

Classic anime aesthetics are cool. This game’s mechanics are…less cool.

Deathmask mirrors, with both players charging meter at fullscreen
Hey, wait a second, this isn’t Budokai 2

Saint Seiya: The Hades lasted about an hour, the shortest stream of any Advent Calendar outing. Half of this is because T came prepared, handholding me through an itemized list of jank that saved me the trouble of grappling with the controls. The other half is because there’s really not much to be entertained by here.

Heavy normals are universally unblockable. That should give you an idea of how many fucks this game gives about traditional fighting game design. It’s pretty clearly doing its own thing; the result is a nearly-universal sidewalk jab infinite, absolutely baffling off-axis connects, and literal tank controls when the camera starts doing rapid 180s around scenery objects.

This is a fucking Elsword combo.

Even the victory condition is fucked up. In classic anime fashion, nobody ever dies unless you call your shots; death to anything besides a cinematic super leads to an incredibly dramatic and drawn-out cutscene, and mashing to stand back up gives you another chance. There’s a fallback, though; if you die three times to normal attacks, the mashing becomes humanly impossible, and the result is your character rapidly oscillating forward and backward through their “STAND THE FUCK UP” animation as a disappointed deity looks on in disbelief. Strong contender for one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever seen in a fighting game, or maybe I just have terminally online brain poison.

naptime

As usual, I have almost zero context for the source material, and my primary exposure to Saint Seiya is Yuri Di Aaaaaaa and the absolutely stellar SaltyBet matches that resulted. (PEEEEEEGASUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUS) This definitely seems like it falls into the same general category as most 3D anime outings, where most of the appeal is frontloaded into the fanservice, but the overall aesthetics kind of kick ass even as an outsider. Maybe I should watch Saint Seiya.

…Then again, playing this game is kind of like watching anime to begin with. Cinematic supers are one thing, even if they’re absurdly long and absurdly common, but cinematic throws test my patience a little bit, especially considering how important they are to opening your opponent up. Most characters have throws that run longer than modern supers, and every time it happens I wonder if Super Turbo actually put us on the bad timeline. Meter was a mistake.

I could go through all of the nightmarish top-tier shit that T showed off, including some grievously incorrect hitboxes and a surprisingly straightforward unblockable loop, but the stream is so short and so packed full of bullshit that I kind of just want you to watch it instead. You don’t have to understand any of it, or even make a serious attempt to take any of the information in. I certainly didn’t. Ride the wave and laugh.

ATTENTION EVERYONE WHO COMPLAINS ABOUT SMASH HITBOXES: you ain’t seen shit, chief

VERDICT: ASS

TTTTTsd

This game is hilarious, absolutely one of my favorite “Rockforge Greatest Hits” games, and without a doubt for great reasons. If I could recommend anything, I would at least seek out the soundtrack. The game’s aesthetics pair well with it, but the music is actually quite good.

Sleepmode

this game sucks

Zari0t

this game sucks

Keeg

this game sucks

December 15: Kizuna Encounter (Arcade)

Okay, let me get this one out of the way. I am done with infinite desperation supers. I don’t like this mechanic and I’m tired of finding it in old games (and/or Smash Ultimate). I am double tired of it if the supers in question set off 60Hz red strobes that make me want to surgically remove my cornea, and I am triple tired if those supers pause neutral until you painstakingly dash-block your way in or take enough chip to start yeeting desperation supers of your own. This was never a good idea and I resent it every time I see it.

Tag combo into DM: cool. 85 DMs in neutral: not as cool.

Okay, negativity’s out of the way. Kizuna Encounter is fucking awesome. No, seriously! I really only bothered to complain because I love the rest of it so much.

Kizuna Encounter is a 2v2 game, and losing either character is an instant match loss. (Points for making Tekken Tag Tournament look reserved.) You need to physically walk back to your tag zone to switch characters, and the tag itself is quick but punishable. Crucially, the tag zone is midscreen, creating fun situations where cornered opponents suddenly switch to ride-or-die rushdown as their former attacker runs for their tag zone, or where someone applying corner pressure suddenly backs away to catch rolls and superjumps into the zone. If you’re stuck blocking inside your zone, you can even guard cancel with a special tag attack.

The Fucking Zone brings Kizuna Encounter’s weird defensive mechanics to the forefront; you’ve got a sidestep in place and a backturn roll, and both can cancel straight out of your wakeup animation to dodge meaties. Even with universal free guard cancels, they’re basically required to beat the game’s otherwise oppressive offense, which includes huge plus-on-block advancing fuck-you moves and…jumping lows? Rosa, what the fuck?

Kizuna Encounter’s jump arcs are very high and very slow, so one would expect jumping to be a terrible way to advance. This…isn’t exactly true.

The controls are pretty unorthodox, and I still don’t feel fully acclimated. One button is dedicated to tags, and the other three are split in an unusual way; 5A gets you a light punch, but 6A gets you a heavy punch, giving the weak-to-strong chains a really unusual input feel and making walking light normals tricky. I think this is something I’d be able to get over with practice, but it’s definitely the sort of thing that might trip you up for the first few hours.

You can lose your weapon if you’re counterhit out of special moves with other special moves, but you can pick your weapon up again without much worry. Disarms require new animations and new moves for every character, so it seems kinda weird that they’d put the work in only to make the mechanic irrelevant. I guess it’s one more thing to add to the weird scramble atmosphere.

Some characters get bonus features or new moves at low health, separate from their DMs. Some of those moves are, uh, pretty okay I guess

Credit to this week’s horseshit arcade boss: fighting a single juiced-up character with your team of two is a fun way to wrap the game up. It probably would have been more fun if that boss didn’t have a “fuck you, whenever I want” parry, but hey, credit for trying, I guess. These types of bosses remind me of kids on the playground, insisting that they have an anti-everything shield and you totally didn’t tag them.

There’s a special sting to Unfair Arcade Bosses when they’re just a blatantly improved version of a playable character. Give me that fuckin' parry.

Wrap-up: I seriously can’t get over how cool the tag zone is. It doesn’t replace the standard grappling for stage control, but there’s something really cool about the ability to land a few well-placed attacks from disadvantage and send your attacker scurrying back to midscreen, instantly flipping a corner situation. Every match has compelling moments of tension as both players weigh the risks of going for a tag, and while there’s always potential for a comeback, you have to earn every point of damage.

Play the damn video game.

VERDICT: REAL

Sleepmode

Game has a wiki and a Discord. See my Hayate.

Keeg

There’s actually an ultra-rare version of this game with four-player support. It was never mass produced and was only played at events. The European AES (console) version is also extremely rare but that’s just because Neo Geo AES collecting is a twisted hobby for insane rich people.

Zari0t

Wait, there’s a 4p version?? Oh holy shit someone dump the ROM already

December 16: D-Xhird (Saturn)

Ohhhhhh man. It’s another one of those games—the kind of kusoge where obvious potential spontaneously combusts for no clear reason. God, I love these and I hate these in equal measure.

List of things that could have prevented this situation: everything

D-Xhird is shockingly incompetent in almost every way. The usual early-3D-fighter problems are present, checking boxes for “what the fuck is frame advantage”, “what the fuck is responsive movement” and “oh god CDs have load times”, but it also fucks up a lot of things that you’d never really otherwise think of.

This is a fighting game where 95% of the movelist might actually be mathematically worthless. Almost all strings seem to be unsafe on block or hit, even if their godawful startup was capable of hitting human players. You can even sidewalk away from even the most basic pokes, but actually connecting with any moves while off-axis is nearly impossible—you can spend seconds at a time fighting with the controls and trying to turn to face your opponent.

This string is SUBSTANTIALLY slower than returning to neutral and doing ANY OTHER MOVE. This is awesome.

I think the intent is some kind of guard-feinting deal; the startup of most attacks can be canceled into blocking, so maybe the idea is to fake attacks to make your opponent freeze up, letting you walk in and connect with short-range mids or throws or something. Problem: Throws are almost impossible to use, since they’re a two-button input with no kara leniency and negative range, and every good mid seems to hit from fullscreen, so there’s really no reason to feint when you can just let them rock. Maybe this is intended for combos, but every move is minus a billion?

More than anything, I want to know what this game was intended to play like, since what we got definitely doesn’t have anything to do with anything anyone wanted. It’s so far away from playability that it makes me wonder what happened; normally it’s easy to diagnose as “fluid 3D animations make for stilted gameplay”, but D-Xhird is graphically awful too! This even affects the final boss, whose overblown minute-long windups for fireballs and blasts of energy make them dramatically weaker than the rest of the cast.

It’s like outsider art. Total ignorance of every fighting game that came before it. Stellar.

Admittedly, there are cool ideas here. Besides the aforementioned awesome concept art, revealing some designs that didn’t get justice and alternate costumes that I’d wear in real life, the stages are generally pretty neat locales, and the ability to leap off walls and ceilings is a cute gimmick even if it’s completely useless in practice. You can even jump out of ring-out situations, climbing up the side of the stage with more control over your character than Zero Divide’s matching mechanics (though not by much). It seems like movement was supposed to be a core focus of the game, but the game’s actual movement mechanics are miserable and stilted, sucking all of the life out of what seems like a decent concept.

There’s also a mechanic that we simply weren’t able to figure out at all; you can spend guard gauge to put up a whirlwind-looking thing that automatically throws opponents who hit you, but the only way we were able to get it to come out is by mashing, and it’s almost mechanically useless since opponents can just…not hit you and let you drain your own guard bar. Hell, being low on guard bar leaves you vulnerable to disarms, and getting disarmed in a game full of giant weapons is basically just asking to die…but outside of the whirlwind, nothing does enough guard damage to make disarms plausible. That’s twice in the same marathon we’ve found a completely vestigial disarm mechanic, what the fuck?

The ratio of effort to competence might be one of the highest I’ve ever seen. WHY IS THIS HERE?

The now-defunct Nextech, the developers of D-Xhird, were contract developers, most noteworthy for some mediocore ports of Battle Arena Toshinden (and there’s actually an unlockable Toshinden character in this game!) Toshinden itself was already foundationally shaky, so I guess D-Xhird’s incredible shittiness makes sense; what else is going to happen when a studio known for bad ports of a bad fighting game tries to make their own with no direction or oversight?

The contemporary reviews, including the stellar line “not worth the plastic it’s printed on”, speak for themselves. D-Xhird was garbage and aged like garbage, and it’s not even garbage in an interesting spectacle way, unless you have my particular neurose where incorrect move properties make you randomly burst into horrible belly laughs (mid sweeps!).

The music’s great, the character concepts are cool, and the design is admirably ambitious; people cared about D-Xhird, probably a lot, and it still ended up like this. Maaaaaaaaaaaan.

VERDICT: ASS

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I have played this approximately once in my life.

I decided that it was enough. I think anyone would, really.

December 17: Suiko Enbu: Fuun Saiki (Saturn)

I opened up the VoD of this stream, scanned to a random point, and frame-advanced for a bit. Within 5 seconds, I’d seen a 10 frame backdash go nearly fullscreen. Explaining this is the second-best way to explain Suiko Enbu: Fuun Saiki. The best way is to explain that it was developed by Data East.

Just for fun, a Trio the Punch cameo. At this point, I get the feeling I’m going to play every Data East game whether I want to or not.

I’ve done this in the wrong order for effect, because some of you aren’t really familiar with Data East. They’re responsible for Magical Drop III (one of the greatest versus puzzlers on Earth), Avengers In Galactic Storm (covered about 15 seconds ago as a hilarous barrel of toxic fighting game waste), and a whole bunch of stuff in between.

I have never been able to predict anything about a Data East game with any degree of accuracy: as far as I can tell, they’re making video games from a different dimension, one that may only be tangential to our own. Fortunately, it produces characters like Mizoguchi, who dashes like a Looney Tunes character and has 5 air fireballs that you can machine-gun forever.

Probably sounds pretty unfair, right? Well, it’s rare that I see a completely novel mechanic on this show, but this game’s got one: your opponent can never force you to land on fireballs, since holding Up in the air gives you a little hop the moment you would otherwise make contact. Mizoguchi’s chainable projectiles, and all the rest, only do work if you force them to block.

Don’t like getting hit by fireballs? Simply don’t.

Air normals can be chained on block or hit…basically forever? The hitstop is super long, so there’s not really a paralyzing mixup attached, but you can absolutely jump in and do octuple overheads if that’s your joint, sometimes chaining on the way up as well as the way down. It gives the game a weird stop-and-start sort of feel; while you’re in neutral, both players are Going Places with aggressive jump arcs and quick ground movement, but when attacks make contact you’re in for 5 seconds of jab short jab short jab short.

More overheads per jump than the next leading competitor.

This is a pretty bare-bones arcade port, and that bare-bones feeling extends to a lot of places, most notably the stages—all static backgrounds with maybe some weather if you’re lucky. Fortunately, there’s so much shit going on in the foreground that if you ever notice, it’s likely because jab-short-jab is currently being mashed into your face and you’re looking somewhere else to distract yourself.

This game’s aaight, even if the sound design reminds me of fuckin' Kid Pix. I think stream footage would probably have looked slightly more like Normal Fighting Game Things if I hadn’t been obsessed with all the dumb fucking tools everyone seemed to have; it only takes a little digging to find fans of this thing posting some pretty neat-looking combos, all of which I failed to find while yelling TAIGAHBAZUUDAGEH 800 times in a row. Fighting games.

Photosensitivity warning. That link tho. Anyway, get the fuck away from me

VERDICT: REAL-ASS

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Everything I said about Data East applies, except this time the music is even better and the sprites are quite nice! A shame about the JPG backgrounds but it’s minor, please go and listen to the Saturn arranged OST for this game it is genuinely incredibly good.

December 18: Spore Hero (Wii)

If you’re anything like me, when you hear “creature creator with a versus mode”, after the initial wave of nausea and panic subsides, you get excited about the possibilities. It’s a chance to create your own top tier! You could build an awful asshole with Dhalsim limbs, or a solid wall of meat that basically just falls on things, or some horrible abomination like four spiders duct-taped together, just to marvel at the engine trying to animate it.

This is a Wii game. Adjust your expectations way, way, way, way, way down.

VANILLASAGAT has seen better days. Hopefully.

So…listen. The Wii Remote doesn’t have a lot of buttons. I get that. But I played modded Brawl on remote+Nunchuk for years. We already know you can design a mechanically deep game around a small number of control options, just look at [checks notes] One Second Galaxy Fight. You can make that shit work. All you have to do is not use waggle controls.

If you’re swinging a weapon or fucking with physics objects, waggle can be fine. There are plenty of games that are better with their motion controls than without (usually using the MotionPlus, which this game doesn’t), and in every single one of them, your movement corresponds directly to a matching on-screen movement. On the other hand, to use motion controls for anything that plays even remotely like a traditional fighting game, the game has to do the opposite: watching your movements for a while, doing nothing, until the sensor data tells it “okay, yeah, this is definitely $TYPE_OF_MOTION, start the move.” There’s huge delay built in by design, or every single twitch would give you an attack.

Look, it’s HP Burn Knuckle!

Now let me throw all that out the window: this game would suck ass even with arcade controls, and I just wanted an excuse to rant. Spore Hero laughs at the concepts of movement, spacing, whiff-punishing, pressure, and all apparent virtues of fighting games. No matter what kind of creature you create, they’re limited to a handful of interchangable moves based on flags like “does it have a mouth”, and the interactions between those moves and defensive systems are completely inscrutable. It’s as consistent and strategically deep as a 5-year-old smashing action figures together and making explosion noises with their mouth. I want everyone who trashed Dissidia NT to play this for 45 seconds and experience what a real shitty arena fighter plays like.

Zar, I’m concerned that you’re enjoying this so much

Even the character creator is kind of anemic. You can spend 5 minutes making some awful fucking abomination that only fights because it wants to die, but there’s not much room to express yourself, and “fresh” creatures are missing the premade creatures' stat advantages—you’ve got to take your creation into single-player and level it up, giving it several times the health and damage of a level 1 creature.

I couldn’t be assed, so instead we played KOF95.

VERDICT: ASS

Zari0t

I am but a simple man. You give me sliders, I max them and laugh at the end result. Don’t you even DARE say you’re not the same.

Keeg

So Iori was top tier as hell in KOF95, his first appearance, and he was a very versatile character who could fight well at all ranges. For whatever reason, SNK decided that this wasn’t enough, so in KOF96 they gave him a command grab. Video games.

December 19: Kamen Rider Dragon Knight (Wii)

Reused animations, wackass resource management grime, and at least one inexplicable top tier. It’s an Eighting game! More than that, it’s got not-quite-roman-cancels, non-branching strings, and an entire toy box full of neutral-bypassing nonsense. It’s an Eighting Kamen Rider game!

(That also contains a 3D beat-em-up. God, is this more common than I thought?)

Time to cherrypick my rare and slim victories instead of including any clips where I get my ass beat by one projectile. Fuck Torque

Kamen Rider Dragon Knight (the show) was a 2009 adaptation of Kamen Rider Ryuki, giving it the Power Rangers treatment. If you’re curious about how this went, the series was cancelled two episodes before its finale, and in the 12 years since, Toei has never tried anything like it. Solid attempt.

In 2009, it was apparently illegal to sell toys to American kids without also throwing out a tie-in video game, so Dragon Knight received two—one for the DS, developed by Natsume and almost certainly coming to a future Advent Calendar, and one for the Wii, handled by the unhinged geniuses at Eighting—Advent Calendar mainstays. We have been here before.

The biggest surprise: this game might actually be worth playing for reasons other than gawking at the top tiers (though the We Gave Tyron A Lady With A Sword Clause applies). Dragon Knight barely uses any original assets (in keeping with the adaptation I guess, AYOOOOO), but the engine and mechanics are different from Eighting’s Climax Heroes games in hugely impactful ways.

Because this is basically a game made out of other Kamen Rider games, it inherits all of the stupid animation jank from other Kamen Rider games. The system may be more grounded, but this will still happen to you.

The most striking difference: Rider Cancels, the Eighting Kamen Rider games' version of Roman Cancels, no longer allow you to cancel into sidesteps, blocking, or the move you’re canceling. This limits them to extending combos and pressure, and (in an insane display of restraint for an Eighting game) doesn’t allow you to make attacks safe or summon schmix from nowhere, keeping neutral and whiff-punishes intact in a way that Climax Heroes usually doesn’t.

Fortunately, we know this is still an Eighting game, because it has hilariously degenerate assists, unblockable supers, metered combo escapes, and wackass backturn states (where, for some reason, you specifically take less hitstun?). Meter is still your god in Dragon Knight, and it’s gained and spent just as quickly as usual, but now there’s a little more of a reason to use it on…uh, things that look like relatively normal fighting games.

What remains is a nice balance of scary, powerful tools and simple system interactions. Budget your meter, dodge assists, get people scared enough to land your hugely rewarding throws, and hit ‘em with the cutscene.

The most menacing super in fighting games. This character is top tier, btw

I hope Eighting keeps making these dumbfuck games forever. Even on a budget of half a roll of masking tape, made entirely out of assets I’ve seen before, Dragon Knight manages to feel novel and neat.

VERDICT: REAL

Sleepmode

Y’know, there might just be an alternate universe out there where this was the beginning of a consistent English localisation of the Kamen Rider Climax Heroes games. Kinda terrifying to think about.

December 20: Kamen Rider Agito (PS1)

Okay, now that we’ve exhausted the mandatory “Kamen Rider” space on the Advent Calendar bingo card, I can—FUCK

combo notation: buttons jc buttons

Proof that you can make a licensed fighting game on the PS1 without making it a godawful disaster to play. Kamen Rider Agito is mostly noteworthy for being a Kamen Rider fighting game not developed by Eighting, which I assumed was some kind of violation of international law, but it’s actually surprisingly fast and fun. Movement is pretty snappy; jumping out of dashes carries your momentum, including some kind of weird crouch-cancel dash stuff that I’m convinced you could call wavedashing if you turn your head and squint a bit, and nearly anything can be jump and double-jump cancelled at any time.

Double jumps give you the ability to backturn and steer in the air with a huge amount of control, letting you use giant aerials to push mix and generaly be an oppressive shithead, but you get one airtech per air period—if you’re backturned without it, you’re in for a world of hurt and the combo rules will do nothing to save you. There’s even some weird mix on the ground; most special attacks can be charged and become unblockable at full charge, so every character can frametrap in some way even if the reward isn’t always great.

Villains generally don’t have the crazy tools that our protagonists do, but they’re solid characters that can hold their own by virtue of the universal mechanics. Also, FULLSCREEN UNBLOCKABLE. FUCK YOU.

It’s Kamen Rider, though, so there’s always jank. Most notably, there are no mirror matches, which is fucked up because the game clearly has mirror-match alternate palettes when playing through AI modes. The exception is Agito, who is on the character select screen twice; he has a bunch of different weapon forms, but they’re randomly selected at the start of each match, and some of them (most notably the staff) are way more fucked up than others. The 1P character select lets you pick each form individually—who is this forced random-select versus mode shit for?

Leaning into the gimmick, Agito has secret fucked-up fusion forms, all of which are almost certainly hilarious top tiers, that are randomly picked at an extremely low chance. (I’m honestly surprised Smash hasn’t done this already—seems like it would have fit right into Brawl Pokemon Trainer and Brawl’s general philosophy of “fuck you for trying to take the game seriously”.) Now, if this game was almost every other fighting game with secret characters, you’d be able to input a secret code to get these forms consistently, or unlock them on the character select screen by playing through Survival mode or something. Agito doesn’t do this, but the super forms become more common if you…set your handicap higher?

What?

If you see the staff, you’re about to have a good time.

Story mode is conceptually cool. Unlike Saint Seiya: The Hades, which just no-sells every lethal attack unless it’s a cinematic super, Kamen Rider Agito makes the Anime Finisher feel cool; there’s no enemy healthbar at all, and the objective is to build your meter to 100% for a unique cutscene finisher that instantly ends the fight. Of course they all look absolutely awful—cinematically panning the camera around a stage made of six triangles and a 16x16 texture will do that—but given that the game hits 60FPS, a disappointingly rare target for fighting games of the era, it seems like a perfectly reasonable sacrifice to make.

I love this show, dude. Never in a billion years did I think you could fuck up a game so drastically by failing to implement character select. If you set max handicap on both sides, the HP and damage come close enough to cancelling out that you can play relatively normal games with these characters, but this goes right under Mizuki Shigeru no Youkai Butouden’s “just-frame playable boss” on the Weird Character Select Screen Shit list.

VERDICT: REAL

Sleepmode

There are a lot of Kamen Rider fighting games left once we move past 8ing, just so you know.

December 21: Fighter’s History Dynasties TE F (PC)

T successfully shilled this into the finale and I’m not mad in the slightest.

GOD BLESS GAMES WITH GOOD GRAPPLERS

How much power comes from knowledge, and how much comes from moment-to-moment decision making? I think every fighting game arrives at a different answer to this question, and as long as that answer is consistent, I think the answer itself comes down to preference. Tag games tend to fall closer to the “grimy and evil labwork” side of things, just because of the amount of control you can exert over your opponent, and the way that simultaneous or closely-staggered attacks can push fragile systems beyond their breaking point.

Fighter’s History Dynasties might be the most reserved and straightforward tag game ever made. For dumb people like me, there’s the drop-dead-basic combo system; every normal special cancels, every attack free-juggles, and the only thing restricting combo length is a nearly 100% consistent juggle point system. For smart people like Apologyman, most of the common categories of tag jank are immediately squashed; left/right unblockables are impossible, high/low unblockables are impossible, and tag cooldown only regenerates in neutral.

You do NOT need assists to get in, stay in, and wreck shop. Also, that st.LK juggle is deranged.

There are still fucktons of illegal grime, and that’s awesome; grime is basically the foundational appeal of tag fighters. But the grime that remains doesn’t come from edge-case tag abuses and weird checkmate scenarios—it comes from high walk speeds, bigass neutral-defender hitboxes, oppressive extended pressure, and some really unorthodox punishes.

The largest DP I have ever seen.
BLOCK ME

Every character in Dynasties is legitimately good in their own right—that is, they’re good without the tag system. Players still get The Cheap Stuff, and the strategic agency of deciding when it’s the right time to bust it out, but the overall game is actually incredibly grounded; the core systems are easy to understand, even for a novice, and the ability to skip to playing the “real game” without carefully optimized can-opener setups is liberating.

It feels like the best of both worlds: the compelling discoveries of an open-ended tag system, but without the overcentralizing power that forces motivated players into the Grime Gulag. I swear T didn’t pay me to write this.

I’ve never fought an arcade boss that forced me to begrudgingly accept their sick combos.

So when’s Ikemen getting rollback?

VERDICT: REAL

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If you liked what you saw, by the time this article comes out the actual final release is imminent and MANY MANY fixes have been made, and improvements. And even a new game mode! The praise for Kame and I’s work is, however, immensely flattering.

That being said, Shin Akuma is an asshole

Sleepmode

I think outside of having the approximate design sensibilities of a sane person, the mark of a truly great MUGEN/IKEMEN creator is resourcefulness. Get a load of Marstorious’s running animation. I want every grappler to run at me like I just took a baseball bat to their mailbox.

December 22: Real Bout Fatal Fury (Arcade)

Keeg successfully shilled this into the finale and I’m not mad in the slightest.

Featuring Terry Bogard from the Super Smash Bros. Series

Is this kusoge? Better question: do we actually care?

I knew Real Bout Fatal Fury from homo-genius, Dandy J’s excellent video series about fighting games being the strangest and most mystifying of God’s creations. Specifically, I know it for approximately 800 clips of Normal Fighting Game Stuff carrying hapless players to the corner of the stage and beyond, dumping them into the ocean—or onto train tracks, or a departing cargo ship, or a train bound for Brazil. Wherever Ring Out happens to be.

The fact that this shit can happen in BLOCKSTRINGS is actually the best ever.

There’s a lot of character to it; SNK’s committment to killing their artists is on full display, and like most of their games of this era, it’s doing double-duty as a fighting game and a Neo Geo graphics demo, built to take advantage of the hardware’s breakaway strengths. You know what that means—gorgeous character animations, wonderfully detailed stages, and sprite scaling, baybeeeeeeeeeee.

Enter the plane-switching faux 3D, which Fatal Fury thinks is so important, it has its own dedicated button. You can pull your character into the foreground or background for unique attacks and dodges, which sounds nice in theory until you realize that you can’t block while off-axis. In fact, the most relevant use of the 3D systems involves certain moves forcibly launching you there, forcing scary unblockable followups. You know you’ve got some groundbreaking shit when high-level competition involves avoiding the game’s core gimmick whenever possible.

Real Bout Fatal Fury is a 1995 title that makes The King Of Fighters ‘95 (remember that? That’s the one we played when Spore Hero gave everyone mesothelioma) look pretty primitive by comparison. Sure, the plane-switching sprite-scaling business is a gaudy gimmick, but stages are beautifully detailed and the overall design is strangely forward-thinking.

O.Ken called, he wants tutoring from the guy who hits himself in the balls. (There is a version of this move where you don’t hit yourself in the balls, but on block, it’s substantially better to hit yourself in the balls, since the punish becomes airborne for some reason. This character hits himself in the balls.)

I dunno, dude. Old SNK stuff is always a treat. (Waiting to be proven wrong next year.)

VERDICT: REAL

Sleepmode

The breakable walls that can be destroyed even through blockstrings add such an interesting dimension to corner pressure, especially with the surprisingly flexible chain combo system. I get why Real Bout 2 is the more popular entry, but this game just seems way cooler to me.

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This game kicks ass. Not only did it bridge into RB2, a genuinely just amazing game that I still need to dive into, it also just….is really cool? Ring outs are an interesting concept, the presentation is fantastic, buttons feel good to press, hit impacts are great, this game is such a huge step forward for the Fatal Fury franchise, and to think it only keeps going up!

Keeg

this is a ring out only calendar

December 23: Daraku Tenshi (Arcade)

Sleepmode successfully shilled this into the finale and I’m not mad in the slightest.

I am LOSING MY MIND thinking about this shit. Please brace for, like, 20 paragraphs of disbelief.

I have never seen a game that looks like Daraku Tenshi, and I think that’s the idea. Let me explain this as quickly as possible; Psikyo was so attached to the high framecount of these giant character sprites that they changed the way special canceling works. Instead of cutting off those precious recovery frames, special canceling just doubles the speed of the recovery, like (jesus) L-cancelling in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Special-cancel combos still work, but they look like they shouldn’t; until you’re used to the system, it looks like you never cancelled anything at all, since the animations are playing out in full.

Like, you know how people meme about the foreground table in Third Strike’s Chun-Li stage? Daraku Tenshi has a stage with about 20 of those, and they react to attacks, flying away and scattering (sometimes directly into the camera!) until the foreground is mostly unobstructed. This is awful if your goal is to make a fighting game with clear visuals. It is awesome if you want to make a fighting game that looks more like fighting than anything on the market.

The setting and characters feel weirdly grounded, despite some out-there designs; there are only two characters with projectiles, and they both feel about as effective as they would in real life. If you’re Cool (クール Kūru), and you try to enforce the Guile gameplan by throwing darts at someone in a fistfight, you are going to get your ass kicked, because that’s dumb as fuck. If you are Harry, and you bring a fucking rocket launcher to the fistfight, you’re probably going to want to use it, at least as long as you have the space and ammo to do so. No fireballs or blasts of energy—just normal-ass dudes with normal-ass moves. The character who looks like he might be the Ryu equivalent? Nope, he’s just a homeless guy with karate training and a visible miasma of stench, and all he does is punch people in the head. Just dudes.

This is what the holidays are all about, right?

The most Daraku Tenshi is willing to allow is MAX mode, which increases your damage and hitstun, but also the pushback of your attacks—not strictly upgrading your combo routes, but kinda sidegrading them. There’s also a fun glitch with cancelling into command throws that have no whiff animation (it’s always whiffed command throws in old games, man), and Yuiren sports two +10 jabs and a run dash that stops on frame 0, giving them pretty oppressive stuff and run-stop-jab loops in MAX. Oh yeah, and Haiji’s fully armored chargable rush punch that does anywhere from 40% to 100% life on counterhit. (As expected, Japanese arcades have adapted this single move into a game of ToD chicken, something something simplified something something Divekick.)

Dude punches you so hard, it makes an explosion noise. Sick.

Honestly, this game feels like it comes from a different universe, one where standard fighting game knowledge and muscle memory doesn’t apply. Psikyo was 100% doing a Bespoke Weird Thing with this game, and while I found it alienating and awkward at first, towards the end of my session I was pretty into it. Unfortunately, Daraku Tenshi was the last fighting game ever published by Psikyo, and it’s pretty well-known that it was rushed to its release date; there are four unfinished characters left in the game data, and the game’s UI and sound design feel pretty unpolished. A “complete edition” was announced for release on exA-Arcadia, with the unfinished characters completed and restored, but this seems to be vaporware so far (also, lmao exA).

Throws and throw reversals are absolutely lavish. It’s insane. I just want to watch grapplers for hours.

Imagine thinking that something like this could be rushed, though. God, the amount of work on display is so lavish and insane. Like, look at the flickering lighting on the edges of these painstakingly animated sprites, and then compare it to the stage that’s casting that light. fire.gif . What would this have looked like given another few months?

VERDICT: REAL-ASS

Keeg

This game’s atmosphere is so heavy. There’s really nothing else like it. It evokes imagination and emotion in a way a lot of games wish they could, fighter or otherwise.

Zari0t

I was not ready for trumpets.

TTTTTsd

Name a super move for a military-based character that is better than “Waste of Taxes” because I assure you, you won’t It is a god damn shame the complete version of this game will likely never see the light of day, because as Keeg said it REALLY is such a unique game. It deserves a better fate than this (I would argue most games in this state do, honestly).

Sleepmode

It’s not too late! You can still give this game to M2! They’ll do the right thing!

December 24: WWE Undefeated (Mobile)

Abbock successfully shilled this into the finale and I’m not mad in the slightest.

I’m not just in your head, I’m directly controlling your mind. Welcome to fighting games.

So mobile fighting games, huh? This is a uniquely fucked up design space; everyone’s on WiFi, small screens obstructed by thumbs demand peak visual clarity, and touchscreens are famously awful input devices for more than a very small number of very large on-screen buttons. Suffice to say, targeting phones presents some weird challenges, and sometimes the result doesn’t look much like what we know as Fighting Games.

Remember Power Rangers: Legacy Wars? Mobile fighting game based around a simple strike-block-“throw” system, where moves are drawn from a deck and “played” with a realtime energy cost? WWE Undefeated is basically that, by the same publisher, except you actually get to play the game without whaling on lootboxes—as it turns out, when you’re allowed to play it, the actual game is pretty good!

Opposing move classes beat each other like strikes beat throws in VF—blocks always blow up strikes, breakers always blow up blocks, and strikes always blow up breakers, no exceptions. Movement is only performed with half-screen fixed-length dashes, controlled with a swipe, and the energy system leads to brutal advantage states, where you can simply be completely unable to perform moves.

My favorite place in the entire world, layer 1. Check out those holographic buddies for combination moves.

So what stops this from being competitive RPS with Hulk Hogan in it? Fighting game stuff! Not all strikes, breakers or blocks are the same, sporting different hitboxes and frame data, and even the ones that behave similarly have different costs and on-hit reward, weighting the odds and making predictions more interesting. There are subtleties to which moves you can “draw” when, and keen players will know to abuse certain tools against opponents who blew certain kinds of defenses; breakers tend to have long, reactable startup, but a player who just whiffed a strike is less likely to be holding another one, and if you have good screen position, they may not be able to dash away, letting you Impose The Grappler Gameplan from a state that superficially resembled neutral. Incredibly, in a game that may as well have two ranges—“point blank” and “infinitely far away”—movement is relevant and important, and baiting whiffs is critical.

There are a lot of small system-level differences between WWE Undefeated and Legacy Wars, including the entire grapple system and the addition of reversal supers, but the most important is related to multi-hit strikes—or, uh, in the case of Legacy Wars, the complete non-viability of multi-hit strikes, since you can cancel hitstun with blocking. This quality left most of Legacy Wars’ cast completely unable to play the game, since their strikes didn’t function against anyone who knew to keep a block in their hand, disabling 1/3rd of the RPS and leaving them completely helpless. Undefeated doesn’t allow this, thank god.

The result is something I always find charming; a game that rewards fighting game fundamentals without rewarding fighting game experience, letting players skip almost directly to the decision-making part of the game. The inevitable result? Sometimes you get blown up by 10-year-olds for making godawful, miserable decisions. That’s just the way it is.

Sometimes, YOU are the idiot mashing wakeup super.

If I have a gameplay-related complaint, it’s that games are played Bo1 without a look at your opponent’s deck beforehand. Sometimes someone just decides to run 5 blocks, and there’s no way to know until your strikes bounce off them. With that said, damage is low and losing a round reverses corner position, so you have some time to figure things out after a round of adaptation. (Also, I guess the ragequit rate is the highest I’ve ever seen in my life, possibly due to the types of people that a WWE mobile game selects for, and the game forces you to kill a lifeless training dummy when this happens.)

As far as the Calendar experience specifically goes…man, it’s weird to have someone who worked on a game telling me how to play it for the first time. Abbock played Legacy Wars like I played Elsword—extremely well, with malicious intent, while laughing—and ended up at nWay, designing Undefeated’s combat systems specifically to address Legacy Wars’ most destructive gameplay issues. Good shit. I am free, pick Body Avalanche.

VERDICT: REAL

Sleepmode

I think my favorite thing about this game is how skill-based it is. No matter how much money you spent on getting that new character, you’ll still get rinsed by someone who understands the game better – it’s completely antithetical to the monetisation strategy of mobile games. “The game is designed too intelligently” is not a problem I would ever have expected a game to potentially have, and I don’t know how I feel about that.

December 25: Dust Up (PC)

Frey successfully shilled this into the finale and I am platinum mad.

I have never said this sentence before.

One of my bullet-point notes on this game is “where am I”. I think that should probably speak for itself in some capacity.

Anyone remember Tekken memes about SUPERIOR LIMB BASED COMBAT? Dust Up is those memes brought to life. It feels more like QWOP than like any actual fighting game; every limb kinda slides around of its own accord, and if one of your joints happens to collide with the opponent, it deals damage based on the speed of the collision.

No, Zar, that is not what that is. That’s not what any of this is.

The critical difference: QWOP lets you control individual limbs. Dust Up does not. Like Grizzly, Frey’s other nearly finale-destroying submission from last year, the only thing I can say for sure about this game’s controls is that it responds to your buttons in some way—that is, not hitting buttons is clearly different than hitting buttons. Any other statement would be too strong.

My best guess, though; when you hit a button, the game tries to automatically transition your character to the appropriate “limb state”, but without any particular regard for where all of your limbs are at the moment. That means that if one of your limbs is unable to move, either because it’s trapped under your opponent or already has some momentum in a different direction, the entire animation falls apart and you basically start drifting in random directions.

I just have one very simple question. What the fuck is this?
—Sleepmode

There’s some tongue-in-cheek awareness on display; the default characters are clearly styled after the Mortal Kombat recolor ninjas, right down to Sub-Zero’s frustrating ice ball. That projectile turns out to be pretty valuable, since it’s basically the only way you can hit someone without also hitting yourself. Bonus: there’s a sort of primal slapstick appeal in watching your opponent’s limbs lock as they slowly, slowly tip over.

I’ve said for a long time that anything can be competitive if you’re motivated enough. To remain consistent, I am forced to acknowledge that Dust Up probably has relevant strategy and tech. It is likely, though I don’t think anyone has yet confirmed this, that one person can be “better” at Dust Up than another person. But…why would you ever, ever bother?

Korean Backdash.

I think the appeal of this game is probably the character creator. You can configure and keyframe your own animations for idle, movement, and attacks; they’re subject to some light constraints, so no idle animations that rocket you across the screen, but you can get some better-feeling movesets solely by spinning your character really fast, dealing more damage when your limbs happen to make contact. I am mildly interested in the create-a-character meta, even if it does turn out to be Beyblade, and my guess is that anyone with more than 45 minutes in Dust Up spends it here.

And hey, if you judge the game by the character creator and not by the fighting mechanics? Honestly, it seems like you couldn’t do the concept any better. Granted, “the concept” is QWOP Fighter, just about the narrowest and most self-defining design space that can exist, and I’m employing it partially to weasel my way out of trying to talk about Dust Up for any longer, but fuck it. Dust Up Is Good Actually. Let history judge me.

Custom characters tend to be a little more playable, since you can pose them into a shape that naturally launches them forward. This, however, is not a better simplified fighting game than Divekick.

VERDICT: REALLY NOT A FIGHTING GAME, ACTUALLY

TTTTTsd

I am always proud of Frey for finding just…..things that are too cryptid even for me. I want you readers to really, REALLY think about the weight of that statement and what it bears.

Sleepmode

So is anyone gonna tell the QWOPpen guy about this or

Ę̷̒T̵̳̅Ẽ̵͉R̸͓̓N̵̲̏A̸͚͛L̸̳̀ ̸̝̔-̷̦̐ ̷̤̅E̴͌͜l̸̮͌s̶̘͂ẉ̴̒õ̵͇r̶̛͖ḏ̷̑

It’s 2011. I’m 16 years old, and I’m almost certain I’ve broken the game.

I’m playing Elsword, a joyless microtransaction grinder dressed up with cute characters and flashy finishing moves. I don’t know this at the time, because I think the Cash Shop items are just cosmetics, and don’t realize that those cosmetics have slots for socketable stat increases that are weighted at a higher value than anything else in the game. (The Ice Burner costume sets, only obtainable through gacha at an average rate of hundreds of dollars per set, double these values.)

I’m playing Elsword because, buried deep inside of the perpetual PvE gear grind, there is a platform fighter: one with a diverse cast of fascinating characters, quick and painless matchmaking, and movement so compelling that I could probably cherry-pick a few clips and convince you it was the next Melee. This platform fighter exists to allow big spenders to convert their stat values directly into a feeling of smug superiority, but I don’t know that either.

What I do know—what I’ve just discovered—is that the game’s combo rules have a loophole. Every attack has a fixed point value that adds to a global knockdown counter, and once that counter is full, the next attack forces the combo to end. But if I carefully track the knockdown value of every attack in a combo, then breach that limit with a special status, the knockdown is cancelled—and the knockdown counter resets anyway.

I am on a 20-game win streak. I have been called every slur that I know, and several that I need to punch into Google Translate. I log into the official forums and share my discovery, certain that I’ve found a technique that splits the game in two.

The community answers: “We know. You’re going to need it.”

Neutral Defender.

Elsword was my gift to The Committee, for providing the highest-quality mind poison year after year. I leveled a handful of showcase characters on a private server, frozen in early Season 3—the time I had played the most, before a series of unusually player-hostile changes forced even diehards off the game for good—to give everyone the experience that windmill-dunked me straight into the deep end of caustic and brain-melting “““fighting games”””.

I could talk for several thousand years about what makes Elsword endlessly, disgustingly fascinating—the way that it perfectly synthesizes crisp emergent movement, tight space control, bafflingly ignorant moveset design, complete technical incompetence, and the outright evil of free-to-play monetization systems. There is so, so much shit in this game that defies all explanation, where mechanics so simple that they’re typically invisible warp the game into an unrecognizable mess at high levels of play.

What’s the opposite of rollback netcode?

Elsword is not a good or well-made video game. It is not worth anyone’s time in 2021, and it shouldn’t have been worth my time in 2011. But it was the first competitive community I connected with as a peer instead of a spectator. For years, in the moments between projects, I explored stupid bullshit that was worth exactly no one’s time, learning that a single knockdown-cancel infinite was just the beginning of the hundreds of esoteric tricks and weird discoveries waiting for me. In its brightest moments, it was a process of collaborative discovery, of friends bonding over triumph and suffering, of unraveling mysteries hidden in code, and—for brief, joyful moments—the feeling of beating the system.

Despite the stacked deck, despite the vampiric and exploitative design demanding every player SPEND OR SUFFER, there was just enough hidden technology—and always just barely enough—to sneak through with wins against the game’s biggest whales, and to dominate and embarass someone who thought “get geared, get wins” was the end of the process. The opportunities slipped away too often; you needed to be more than perfect, operating at a level of mastery that the developers were actively attempting to design out of the game. But they were there, and it was enough.

In short, Elsword led me here. It was a roundabout microcosm of what awaited me in fighting games of all kinds, whether mainstream or forgotten, and it’s something that I could have missed out on forever if my life had taken a slightly different course. Ten years later, everything’s changed, but in a lot of ways, I couldn’t imagine myself being happier.

With all that said, fuck this cobbled-together blood-sucking dumpster fire. Eve deserves better.

VERDICT: ASS, FOREVER.

Keeg

I mean, if nothing else, it’s a platform fighter that doesn’t feel like someone trying to make Super Smash Bros. Melee But A Little Different. What they are trying to make is a F2P KRMMO, though, so that’s probably not a good tradeoff.

Sleepmode

I pressed the R key with Ara and I clapped. Now I know why people played this game for so long.

Zari0t

I had fun in this stream!

See, this is the kind of thing that the KAC has become for me after helping organize them for the past…what, six years now? Damn. Anyway.

The KAC started as just a way for us to force AJ to play some cursed shit, so we could collectively point and laugh at his suffering, but it’s become way more than that. I mean sure, it still is about doing that (there’s an obligatory “I’m not sorry.” entry every year for a reason), but now it’s more about the discovery of it all - finding new games to play, new games to avoid, seeing where certain beloved series started and their path towards current greatness, and sometimes just…new favourites. I think it’s a fair assessment that everyone involved, both as a Committee member and as a viewer, has found something new that they won’t ever forget (for most of us that’s probably AVG2, I personally can’t name a better experience than solving Arm Joe four times in the span of two hours, fucking everyone wants more Suguroku, to name a few).

And that makes me very happy.

TTTTTsd

Fuck you. My 2021 submissions are what they are because of this.

(Thanks for having me this year though! Really!)


And with that weirdly heartfelt explosion of bullshit out of the way, we’re done.

REALREAL-ASSASS???
Abbock3-2-
Frey1---
Keeg3-3-
Sleepmode131-
TTTTTsd221-
Zari0t111-
Tyron--1-
Total1069-
Zar achieves True Neutral

Huh. So I wasn’t imagining it, they are going easy on me. A majority-Real crop marks a weirdly optimistic 2020, and honestly, I think I’ve carried that enthusiasm through the year. Fighting games are pretty cool, and even out of the ones that are complete fuckin' jank, it’s been excellent discovering and sharing them.

Of course, I also gave Dust Up a Real via fiat, so this could just as easily have been a tie or a majority-Ass Calendar. But whatever.

Scanning through the list, uhhh…okay, you seriously need to play Super Dodge Ball, Kizuna Encounter, SF2 Mix, and Daraku Tenshi, since they’re so easy to acquire and netplay, and they fall just barely outside of the Fightcade Canon that I think most people are familiar with.

A lot of the other games this year are kinda only viable if you’re willing to tolerate Parsec or have housemates that you haven’t yet given fighting game-related trauma, but lab monsters are encouraged to check out Avengers in Galactic Storm and Suiko Enbu: Fuun Saiki for some fun experimentation, and if you’ve got anyone willing to play PS1 games with you, please, please try out Critical Blow (if you’re emulating, use Retroarch’s Beetle PSX core for best latency). Seriously, that game is way better than it has any right to be.

2020’s Advent Calendar was on YouTube; 2021 will be back on Twitch, because YouTube refuses to improve their fucking chat system. Seriously, you can’t just silently profanity-filter the chat, half my audience uses “fuck” like “um”.

I’m looking over this year’s plans and there is literally a note stating “This doesn’t even deserve a day of its own.” Maybe bring a hazmat suit this December.

Pac-Man, hang gliding and screaming, captioned “PANIC”

See you soon.