Kusoge Advent Calendar 2021
Approximately ten thousand years ago, I decided it would be fun to spend a lazy December playing through shitty fighting games. Six Decembers later, it’s become my most cherished holiday tradition, because there is something wrong with my brain.
The Kusoge Advent Calendar began as an excuse to gawk at digital garbage, then pass judgement on it. Over the years, it’s gradually morphed into something different: part dumpster dive, part archaeology, and a heaping spoonful of appreciation for false starts and forgotten gems.
Along with these noble goals, I appreciate when people get kicked in the dick 85 times by the same move.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents (spoilers?)
- December 1: Dead or Alive (Arcade)
- December 2: Garouden Breakblow: Fist or Twist (PS2)
- December 3: Street Fighter 4 Remix (PC)
- December 4: Ningyou Tsukai 2 (PC-98)
- December 5: Master’s Fury (Arcade)
- December 6: Glove on Fight 2: Gleam of Force (PC)
- December 7: Revengers of Vengeance (Sega CD)
- December 8: Tzompantli (PC)
- December 9: Weaponlord (Genesis / SNES)
- December 10: Fighters' Impact/Vs. (PS1)
- December 11: Kamen Rider Kabuto (PS2)
- December 12: The Thing (???)
- December 13: Makeruna! Makendo 2 (PSX)
- December 14: DOH Fighters 2 (PC)
- December 15: The Untouchable (PC)
- December 16: Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (PS1)
- December 17: Survival Arts (Arcade)
- December 18: X-Men Mutant Academy 2 (PS1)
- December 19: Kensei Sacred Fist (PS1)
- December 20: Kirby Battle Blitz (PC)
- December 21: Groove On Fight (Arcade)
- December 22: Naruto GNT Special (Wii)
- December 23: Steel Rivals (PC)
- December 24: Guilty Gear Isuka
- December 25: Dragon Ball Z Hyper Dimension (SNES)
December 1: Dead or Alive (Arcade)
Every Advent Calendar has begun with the start of a series. It’s a warm-up round, something that’s still identifiably a fighting game (and maybe one people have actually played!) while still being far-removed from contemporary staples. In deference to tradition, we started with Dead Or Alive: The First One.
The result? Well, it’s a First One: solid enough that it’s obvious why it got sequels, while still rough and barebones enough to have you missing stuff from the later titles.
The most obvious attraction is the DEATH ZONE, which I am typing with the Shift key every time because Caps Lock doesn’t feel respectful enough. Stepping onto the ominous black floor won’t kill you instantly, but any knockdown over the DEATH ZONE is followed up by a GIANT EXPLOSION (techable), dealing damage and popping you into the air for SICK EXPLOSION COMBOS (unless you teched). With an operator dipswitch and a secret button input, you can even choose to play with the DEATH ZONE covering the entire stage, making round start sweep just a bit more deadly.
I think I prefer the DEATH ZONE to standard ring-outs; it feels like a less restrictive corner, imposing risk while still letting players on their back foot keep moving. I think I have some idea of why it didn’t return, though; with so much space to get around, the game seems content to let turtles be turtles, and the risk of walking into a SICK EXPLOSION COMBO isn’t fairly distributed. Most of the game seems to be played at the edge of the DEATH ZONE, with both players pretending they want to engage, and I’m not sure whether it’s more or less degenerate if you turn off the timer.
Like every early 3D game, movement kinda sucks, giant swathes of the movelist feel redundant, and getting backturned is a mess (backwards forward dashes!). All things considered, though? As far as giant up-close fuckup scramble games go, pretty uncontroversially aaight, and a nice way of easing into the month. Holds beat strikes, strikes beat throws, throws beat holds; gawk at weird inputs, vibe out to the excellent soundtrack, and enjoy 30-second rounds where you can punch someone to death in two mid strings. Don’t mind Tina’s gigantic fucking disjointed ass.
I’ve played basically zero DoA. Hell, I’ve barely even seen it, outside of that one time some tournament footage showed up on G4…ten years ago, in between COPS reruns. It seems like I’ve been seeing it more often lately, though. Maybe it’s time I gave this franchise a proper shot.
I gotta say, there’s something really appealing about the look of this game compared to the rest of the DoA series (even the updated version of this game for PS1 and arcades!). I’m not sure what it is, just something— oh right it’s on SEGA’s Model 2 hardware it’s literally that
Yep, it’s solid! Definitely a really interesting game, the explosive floor mode is really cool and reminds me a lot of those weird Single Player mode gimmicks you’d run into in SC2’s Weapon Master mode. This game was definitely at least a little innovative.
The most wack looking Hayabusa ever though.
Good to know that Dead or Alive has just always been “anime Virtua Fighter”.
December 2: Garouden Breakblow: Fist or Twist (PS2)
Garouden Breakblow: Fist or Twist is an adaptation of Baku Yumemakura’s long-running martial arts novel series. Accordingly, it’s less a “fighting game” and more a “game about fighting”—that is to say, emphasis on movement, pressure, combos or footsies is largely replaced with emphasis on two huge dudes beating each other to death. Like, there’s a special cut-in specifically to emphasize when one of you sustains a traumatic brain injury, and in a close enough round it’s likely that both of you will see it.
What makes Breakblow feel so different than other 3D fighters? Well, there’s the stellar animation and art direction—Keisuke Itagaki (Grappler Baki) was responsible for a Garouden manga adaptation, and his signature body-breaking insanity transfers shockingly well. The differences run deeper, though, and a quick look at training mode will tell you why; there’s standard damage, the kind that makes you win or lose, but attacks also deal stamina damage and body damage. Stamina damage affects when you take hitstun—a healthy fighter can shrug off attacks and keep rolling, but an exhausted one will be interrupted by jabs. Body damage largely controls how long that hitstun lasts, letting you target specific areas for hugely rewarding extended staggers.
The start of the round is an up-close flurry, both fighters scrambling for as much damage as they can get, but as blows start to land with more force, the fight transitions naturally to a slower pace and higher stakes. With a body vulnerability and low stamina, a single well-placed attack can finish you outright, left reeling with no recourse but to take the next hit—and the next, and the next, and the next. There’s a joy in those moments, the charm of one-move combos that has top 8 audiences yelling “AYY” to the rhythm, but there’s also a ferocious brutality—microwalk jab this is not. The camera pulls forward with every blow, going from uncomfortably close to stifling, and the impact sells, giant dudes falling like trees.
Most crucially, though, standard damage works off a tug-of-war system; every hit you land is a hit that’s taken away from your opponent. There’s no such thing as a sure win, or even an advantage that’s truly safe to push; as long as you can just keep finding hits, any situation can be reversed. Not enough for you? The game unlocks supers as you take more hits, character-specific life thresholds (marked by chains on the lifebar) unlocking hugely impactful attacks and holds. Critically, they’re use-it-or-lose-it—taking enough damage for your level 2 seals your level 1 away forever, so if you’re already on your back foot, trying to hold onto an unused super could leave you with nothing but bruises. On the other hand, if you have the chance to fight your way back without your super, using it on the advantage could blow through your opponent’s chains all at once, a hammer blow crushing the comeback mechanics before they even turn on. Trying to strategize under pressure feels fitting.
There’s a lot to like about Breakblow, but its greatest strength (and perhaps its greatest success as an adaptation) is the way the mechanics tell a story. In the closing moments of a protracted bout, you really do feel the exhaustion, run-down and beaten up; the flurries of back-and-forth hits are gone, replaced with precision strikes and languid reeling, every punch landing with the force of a hydrogen bomb and leaving you only an instant to duck away from the followup. The mechanics, sound and visuals all work in perfect concert, conveying weight and force and an intensely physical battle of attrition.
This all culminates in Breakblow’s most wonderful side mode, where two teams of five characters face off in order. Standard and stamina damage are refreshed between rounds, but body damage isn’t; any fighter that survives their bout starts the next round perfectly capable of laying down hurt, but a single slip in control could crush them in seconds. The result was the most exciting set I’ve played in any fighting game. I blew through four of Abbock’s characters with a battered Rikiozan on point, limbs nearly crumpling and brain rattling in his skull as he somehow refused to go down—only to falter at the very last moment, even a glancing blow enough to erase my momentum, then watching in growing disbelief as Abbock dismantled my remaining characters one-by-one with thundrous body shots, seemingly invincible.
In the end, my endurance wasn’t enough. Abbock finished 5-4, an armored one-inch punch proving too much to contend with—the full spectrum of elation and despair covered in nine games. The crowd roared in-game and the chat blew up on-stream, the course of the set seeming surreal, impossible: not the sort of thing that happened in real life, but itself a story out of Baki or Garouden.
I should have been crushed—part of me was. More than anything, though, I was glad to have fought.
No other fighting game I can think of has such a keen sense of drama literally built into its mechanics. This game is real special.
Rikiozan’s achievements are the things you see statues made for. I think we should get on that.
Game itself is REALLY unique and interesting. I guess it is a fighting game, but it’s more like sanctioned violence if that makes sense? A truly unique experience.
Yujiro Hanma is quite literally built different
December 3: Street Fighter 4 Remix (PC)
SF4 Remix is a cool hack masquerading as a shitpost hack. Ryu’s face is stuck in a terrifying rictus, Ken is a charge character, Sakura has brain damage and a 9-way airdash.
(Take a moment to count, use your hands if you need to.)
I will gladly out myself as an 09er. Before SF4, I was button-mashing on mall arcade cabinets, occasionally renting Capcom vs. SNK or Marvel vs. Capcom 2 from Blockbuster, but Street Fighter 4 is one of the first fighting games I can remember taking seriously. Nothing really came of that, because I was a stupid kid trying to play Games for Windows Live netplay on Comcast wireless—hell, I think my experience with Touhou Hisoutensoku ended up making a bigger impression—but it still represents something important to me.
In that way, coming back to SF4 through SF4 Remix is…interesting. There’s a lot of “what the fuck” and “did they always have that” and “whuh”, both for things that were always a part of SF4 (damn, everyone has neutral jump normals) and things that very definitely weren’t (Ken is now a charge character with arcing fireballs??)
Hugo and Poison both joined the tournament for different reasons. Poison intends to kiss as many people as possible with her Poison Kiss. She doesn’t know it’s poison even though she shouts poison kiss when she does it.—SF4 Remix Wiki
Okay, here are the system changes. Ready? Walk and dash speeds universally increased, forward dashes attack-cancel, everything special-cancels, medium and heavy normals are JP99 across the board, light normals cause guaranteed flipout, Focus Attacks are gone and replaced with a meter charge / Roman cancel mechanic, every character’s ultras are now accessible as 2-bar supers, Alpha Counters exist, characters turn around on crossup, grounded heavy normals armor break, and stun is completely gone.
Hhhuhhhh. Whuh.After realizing it takes a long time to master kung-fu, Rufus decided he’d just make shit up and hope it works. It does.—SF4 Remix Wiki
I remember shitpost ono! edits from Arcade Edition on PC, but I don’t remember ever seeing anything even close to this scope or depth. The far-reaching system changes transform the game completely, and the character-specific changes run the gamut from “cute tweak” to cosmic shitposts—for any given character, there’s a coin-flip chance that their gameplan is deadass from a different series. Sometimes this is because of hilarious moves, most often fireballs with weird properties or special-into-special cancels, but it’s just as often because their fundamental movement has changed; Makoto got an armored forward dash, and that should give you some idea of how fucked this cast is, even when they’re dry on meter.Yun sold his bones for gas money. He doesn’t even have a car.—SF4 Remix Wiki
I keep thinking of OMEGA Mode when I think of this hack. These days, I think most people know that Omega was actually pretty cool, prototyping a bunch of Street Fighter V features and fun experimental stuff, and didn’t really deserve its reputation as a giant meme, despite the quickly-patched Gen infinite. (If you didn’t, now you know.)
I wonder if Remix falls prey to the same misonceptions. Koryu mode probably doesn’t help that perception—incredibly overtuned shitpost modes, based on the legendary Street Fighter II Koryu—but on the whole, when it’s not trying to be a meme, Remix just seems like a fast, fun, and easy-to-pick-up system.
…I wish I could play it online.
Blanka thought being best pals with Dan meant his dad was safe from getting killed by him.
He was wrong—SF4 Remix Wiki
YUP, GOTTA GET THE NETCODE WHINING IN BEFORE THE END. This part of the marathon ended up being a training-mode exhibition, because Sleepmode lives in Australia and SF4’s delay-based netcode simply can’t handle more than Online Training Mode. Part of me misses when I had no standards for this stuff, plugging away at Persona 4 Arena on Xbox Live wifi. Now I’m just pissed that the only person I can play Remix with lives in my house, and knows enough about my taste in fighting games to be afraid of it.
I guess I dodged T’s unbelievable fuckshit this time, though. God, I can’t imagine giving that asshole access to Koryu mode Genei-Jin.
I underestimated this game, and so was destroyed for my hubris
I firmly believe that the best thing about fighting games is that they can be outrageously funny. Usually this is the result of the genre being a vehicle not just for competitive tests of skill, but also for co-operative improv comedy acts. When you load up Koryu mode, though, you very quickly learn that the improv comedy is only as funny as it is because the scenario writer has a fucking excellent sense of humour. Shout outs to Miriam.
I am sad I wasn’t there to torture AJ, but I do remember Cody has the funniest super ever where he levitates the stones and shoots them at you.
December 4: Ningyou Tsukai 2 (PC-98)
Wikipedia describes the PC-98 as a “business-oriented personal computer”. It can do high-resolution text (great for Japanese characters), it can do high-resolution images with a whopping 16 colors, and…that’s basically it. The result is a machine that had a ton of adventure games, a ton of visual novels, and substantially less of everything else—not because there wasn’t demand, but because only the most masochistic programmers and designers could wrangle the machine into doing anything fast enough.
So how does Ningyou Tsukai 2 fare? Well, I want to be kind to it, but…
You could probably write this section yourself, honestly. Super low framerate, super unresponsive controls, and while the input parser does its best, it simply can’t keep up—though the game deserves some leniency on that one. We couldn’t figure out how to configure the four-button mode, and the Takara-style two-button mode obviously adds a little latency as the game checks for a button tap (light attacks) or a button hold (heavy attacks).
There are real game mechanics here. Character movelists vary wildly in complexity, including limited special-canceling and a few conditional special-to-special chains, and the combo rules are pretty free-form, allowing some interesting juggles. It all crumples under the game’s technical shortcomings, though; decent-sized movelists are useless without good movement to back them up, and navigating the screen at this framerate is a chore. Combine all that with match-swinging supers and a meter-refilling desperation mode, and you get a glacial swamp of a game where committing to anything is probably the wrong idea.
You’re not really allowed to react to anything in a meaningful way, so your best bet is to just run your gameplan and ignore everything else. In practice, this means you pick Daigo (yeah), Ninyou Tsukai 2’s designated grappler function, and say goodbye to neutral forever, throwing out your giant shithead hitgrab that can catch any outstretched limb from anywhere on-screen. For bonus points, combine with her (its?) actual grab for a true close-up 50/50. Fantasy Strike, eat your heart out. Also, the pilot has a cute hat, in case you needed more persuading.
You could also just pick a boss character—it’s not like anyone’s going to stop you. Bosses are unlockables from the single-player mode, and they’re obviously not fair. Lucifer, the game’s main boss, has Jam Session as a 50% damage super, a high-damage rekka with great disjoint and a knockdown, and a spotdodge that deadass appears to be completely gapless (though good luck chaining it into itself at this framerate). Caviar, the game’s secret boss, has a gimmick super that fires a random number of missiles, all of which randomly do either 1 damage or 10 billion damage. This sucks.
I seriously want to like this. The theming is obviously my thing—cool robots piloted by cute girls, who isn’t into this stuff?—and the music pretty consistently slaps. There’s at least some reasonable system and moveset design, despite the technical shortcomings, and it’s not hard to imagine how well things would work in a faster game. Hell, even the stages look alright.
Naturally, because it’s the PC-98 (high-resolution color graphics!), there are porn CGs. This doesn’t strike me as cheap bullshit selling with sex, though; the logic of the PC-98 era seems to be “if the video game’s in the privacy of your own home, why not add porn, just as a bonus?” You can switch it off completely from the settings menu, and like most eroge, there’s not really any meaningful connection between the CGs and the gameplay, or even the CGs and the shell of a story—you’re not exactly missing out on lore.
It did, however, lead to the first game’s horrendous localized title of “Metal & Lace: The Battle of the Robo Babes”. That’s just depressing—it’s not like either game presents itself super seriously, but there’s levity, and then there’s whatever the hell that title is. The matching OVA (also pornographic) was dutifully localized as “SEXORCIST”. Video games.
Anyway, this game also got ported to Windows with dramatically improved performance, CD voice acting, completely unhinged combo theory, and some of the loudest hitsounds known to man. See you in a future December, probably while seething about PC game setup hell.
I’m sorry, I really just can’t be mad at this. It is trying so, so hard, and the music kicks ass. FM synth is good for the soul.
December 5: Master’s Fury (Arcade)
The lifebars are at the bottom of the screen. I think that should give you a good idea of the developers' headspace while working on this.
Remember Dragon Master? God, I fucking hope not.
Master’s Fury is another Unico project, and they share a lot of things—mostly lurching, nausea-inducing camera movement and voice samples shouted from the bottom of a giant soda can. Those are easy observations, though; this game didn’t even look good at its 1996 release (remember, ST was ‘94). What’s more interesting about Master’s Fury is how it manages to check every box for “features a fighting game should have”, presenting system mechanics that are completely normal on a surface level, then manages to be complete shit anyway.
Movement sucks and most attacks make no sense, so the quickest way to get around the screen (and for most characters, the most consistent way to whiff-punish) is with forward-moving special moves. Unfortunately, most forward-moving special moves recoil (whether they hit or not!), sending you back to a range where fighting game things stop happening, and behave in completely impossible ways if you travel under your opponent or into the corner. Fireballs exist, but the game’s performance and input parser is so laughably awful that fireball wars usually end with a misinput, and while the game’s giant horrible moonjumps should provide consistent opportunities to anti-air, anti-airs largely don’t work.
There seem to be zero juggle limits, which you’d think would be mildly interesting for labwork, but it’s really just “do a move into the same move”—plus stupid disjointed walkjab loops are everywhere, leaving you at giant advantage even if they’re not outright infinites. Oh, and the game’s random damage is so insane that juggled normal into normal will sometimes outright kill a character. Not the most fertile ground for rewarding labwork, though it’s alright for a cheap thrill or two.
Played casually, it’s an unresponsive and annoying piece of shit, and played even remotely seriously it becomes uninteresting within a FT5. Shoutouts to blockstun infinites.
Now here’s where it gets weird. The real star of this particular show is a PS1 game of unclear origin, The Masters Fighter, which uses Master’s Fury’s stages and characters but definitely isn’t a port.
It’s not actually clear what it is, though. It’s not a remake, even though it uses all of the same assets, and it’s certainly not a sequel or prequel. Names are changed, the music seems to be completely new, the story’s totally different, moves seem to have been shuffled around and gone missing…maybe an alternate-universe fever dream?
More than anything, it feels like unlocking a secret boss of the Advent Calendar. Masters’ Fury was already awful, so watching it get substantially worse feels kind of surreal.
You can’t block meaties. I’m just gonna get that out of the way early—meaty sweep xN, GG, shake my hand. It’s a fundamental failure on a way deeper level than any of the bizzare fuckups in Master’s Fury. Not only did someone pick Master’s Fury to “““remake”"”, they did it with absolutely zero understanding of how fighting games are played by even the most novice players.
Suffice to say, I have a lot of questions. The company credited is “Cinema Supply”, and a quick search or three turns that name up as…publishers of texture CDs. That would certainly explain why the game’s UI is a “typography is my passion” pastiche of a billion conflicting pieces, but it wouldn’t quite explain how they took perfectly good sprites and scaled them this badly, or how they managed to delete the animations from the stages, or knockdown animations from the end of rounds, or…dude, I don’t know. What’s the history here? This isn’t a Dragon Ball GT Final Bout, where it’s so barebones it’s obvious that it was sent out to die, but it’s not anything normal either.
There are a few minutes of entertainment in The Masters Fighter if you take a walk through the movelist, taking a drink every time you see a move property that’s blatantly wrong—antiair crouch normals being overheads, visually low attacks whiffing on crouching opponents, jump normals failing to hit crouching opponents, infinitely tall pushboxes on characters turning around—but in terms of actual play, there is nothing to do. It’s ugly, loud, exhausting and dull. And despite all that, I still can’t stop thinking about it.
Honestly, at this level of competence, I’m surprised there are lows or overheads at all.
It’s not often that you get like, historic recovered media like this. Keep in mind: until very recently, this was just a lost piece of gaming media, it hadn’t been redumped or emulated at all and like, its existence was only known through screenshots and maybe someone owning a board. The game itself? Oh yeah, it’s awful. The same impossible to comprehend jank that is laden through Dragon Master is here too, with the same audio sensibilities and a lot of the same presentation, too!
Master’s Fighter, on the other hand, is an enigma. I don’t even know how the fuck that got made. Who in their right mind looked at Master’s Fury and said “Yeah, you know, THIS is something I wanna port, redesign, and REALLY make a franchise out of.” I can’t earnestly understand how it got made, at all.
This is a very educational game for anyone who wants to make a 2D fighter. It shows you everything not to do.
December 6: Glove on Fight 2: Gleam of Force (PC)
Simple games are a simple joy. Grab a friend, grab a controller, and experience the entire range of human emotion in three hours.
Three-button game, light/heavy/guard, hold any direction + button for up to 9 moves per button. No jumping, but some moves leave you airborne, which gives you access to a handful of air normals. Light attacks can be freely cancelled into blocking (guards everything) or a parry (pick high/low). Heavy attacks, on the other hand, can be cancelled into parry or backdash, but not guard—because all heavy attacks are armored versus lights.
Well, heavy attacks are slow, and they’re slowed down even more by hitstop, so it’s common to jab the startup of a B normal and easily block in time. To compensate, B normals (and combos starting from B normals) deal space damage, while A normals (and combos starting from A normals) don’t just deal lower damage, but actually can’t kill. You need a decisive hit with a heavy attack to kill a 1HP opponent, meaning that most rounds end from explosive counterhit combos or a last-ditch hell scramble.
To start, I spent nearly an hour grappling with Glove on Fight’s replacement for the traditional throw—dashing. Dashing into your opponent instantly breaks their guard, and to beef up the reward, it gives you the “In-fight” buff, a short window allowing you to freely cancel all normals on hit or block. It even adds tons of untech time, opening up absurd combos off any starter. (You can cancel into this state for a bar, but it’s competing with supers and bursts—entering In-fight from a throw is free!)
The game’s most damaging combos all come from In-fight, and almost every character wants to play at close range, so it’s a constant threat. Problem: if you aren’t holding Forward when you make contact, or your opponent is doing anything besides sitting still and blocking (including getting hit!), your dash passes through them instead, and you have to return your inputs to neutral to turn around. If your character also happens to have a bunch of forward-moving attacks…
I get why this exists, but it’s maddening for a new player trying to get to grips with the system; your existing muscle memory actively fights you, and if you try to use movement at all, you risk ending up backturned and defenseless, dash momentum sending you well behind your opponent. Did I mention that the game has extra backturn damage? Slipping a single time can sometimes instantly end a round—a single heavy normal can easily hit for 50% with backturn bonus, and a follow-up In-fight combo can drain another quarter.
Suffice to say, there’s a bit of a humbling learning curve, despite the game’s simple appearance—and I was coming in fresh from Old Game Setup Hell, so I might not have been totally fair to it. Once you figure out how to stay on the right side, though, the underlying game is…good?
I have no idea how to take Glove on Fight 2 seriously. The comeback mechanics are so aggressive that perfects might be impossible—players on the offensive will quickly have their damage reduced to the single digits, playing rigged chicken against a juiced-up defender looking to land a space-damage armor move. But the weird defensive mechanics give those scrambles a unique feel; in just a few games, Zar and I were deep into the vortex, popping off every time we checked an In-Fight attempt or backdash-canceled away from a Button of Certain Death. It’s a slugfest of a game, where neutral is really just a formality before the gigantic up-close nightmare fuck, loud-ass VFX and SFX selling every earned hit.
If you’re looking for a fun romp through something weird and different, I think this is worth a try. It’s not the sort of game I would ever play with randoms (and watching it usually just gives me motion sickness), but if you’ve got a fighting-game-literate friend around, it makes for a pretty excellent improv comedy routine.
THIS WRESTLER IS
AND THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
December 7: Revengers of Vengeance (Sega CD)
T’s submissions are starting to grow on me. It usually takes me about 45 seconds to figure out why he’s submitted something, and once I’ve identified that, it’s just a nonstop fucking clown show until I give up. There’s something comforting about the routine.
Anyway, RPG single-player mode!
You’ve got 30 days to travel the land, train up your stats, buy your equipment, and defeat Some Guy. Are you a bad enough dude to get two-shot by bullshit RPG stat advantages, then hear about how it was technically your fault for getting hit? (I played Elsword, this is basically my home turf.)
I think this mode is probably unclearable without the manual. The things you need to do to progress, plus the way the training mechanics actually work, are totally inscrutable; with only 30 days to work with, it’s trivial to render the game unwinnable in your remaining time. Fortunately, once you actually know where you’re going, there’s a pretty basic strategy that can get you through the game: Buy and eat 500 swords.
That’s right—this is an RPG with equipment, but no equipment system. Items that should go into a slot, like weapons or armor, are instead consumables that permanently raise your stats (except for the ones that lower your stats, or randomize your stats, or make your opponent invisible, or reverse your controls. Whatever.) The Fucking Sword, which is available from the very start of the game, happens to have the best damage/$ ratio of the options available, so if you ignore every stat besides brute strength, it’s trivial to burn down the final boss in seconds.
…Oh yeah, there are fighting game mechanics here. Let’s talk about those! They’re awful. Bad performance, unresponsive movement and motions, move properties that trigger fullscreen knockdowns and grind the game to a halt constantly, super fucked up jump normals with hitboxes scribbled in crayon, and since it’s a Sega CD game, nobody ever shuts the hell up.
There are some interesting oddities, at least—like the elf-girl’s fireball, notable for being possibly the worst fireball outside of Tao Taido. Long startup, three full seconds of recovery, dramatically minus on hit at all ranges no matter how meaty. And it can be crouched. Other characters have projectiles fast and fucked up enough for Guilty Gear (not that walk speeds are fast enough to actually do anything interesting with them), so what gives here?
There’s at least one meaty throw loop, so if you’re playing seriously (for some reason), the game is largely limited to characters with reversals—not that a reversal will always save you, since there’s apparently no reversal buffer. In RPG mode, a juiced-up jump stat can make your air attacks a little better (they get lower!), but in the proper game they’re all unusable moonjumps, which is fortunate since Revengers has some of the worst corner and crossup behavior I’ve ever seen.
General impressions: funny, at least for a while, but not fun. If you look up the endings on YouTube, you’ve extracted a solid 70% of this game’s entertainment value with .3% of the time investment, which I think is a good ratio. If you want to scrape a little more, enter the secret title screen code for VERSUS ARKANOID.
…Oh, and remember how I said T’s games are pleasantly predictable? I lied. After a few hours, he revealed that there was an option in the menus to remove character shadows, which nearly doubles the framerate and overall game speed, making the game significantly more playable. Why is this option even in the game?
I’m giving this one credit: I think the Single Player mode idea it has is COOL. Is it executed well? Hell no. But it’s COOL. I like the idea of trying to redefine what you can do in solo affairs in Fighting Games, I don’t think it’s an entirely unexplored space but I think more exploration is something I’d like to see in the future, too!
The actual Revengers of Vengeance fighting game really sucks though, haha. On one hand, the default settings provide a really slow, inconsistently performing mess. I can’t tell what’s hitstop and what’s lag. Disabling the shadows inexplicably activates like Turbo 4, SOMETIMES. Lag still occurs though. This is all before you examine the plethora of mechanical issues like no throw protection, goofy hitstates, random critical hits, Logan’s throw dealing damage twice over……
Read the US cover and manual for this game sometime. They were trying so hard to make it seem cool. I appreciate the effort, even if the market most likely didn’t.
December 8: Tzompantli (PC)
So we’re 10 seconds into the stream. I’m a giant skeleton woman versus a deformed minion, in an arcade with music so staggeringly loud it sounds like a bass boosted meme, struggling to hear Rockforge explain my BnB corner combo: “tiger knee heavy Testament times eleven”.
Tzompantli is an indie crossover fighter with a cast sourced entirely from Mexican comics; if you don’t already know this, the game will make sure you work it out by the end of the first few rounds.
The visuals are…striking. There’s some neat stage design on display, and the heavily saturated cel-shading is appropriately in-your-face, but it’s drowned out by some of the worst camera logic I have ever seen in my entire life—I didn’t think it could be that difficult to keep track of your character in a 1v1 fighting game, but game development is hard, and here we are.
It doesn’t help that nearly every jumping normal alters your jump arc in some way, which is conceptually cool, but executed by flinging your character around like a paper cutout under a fan. Add some completely unreadable silhouettes, usually from characters with giant wings, and the result is delirious. If you’re motion sensitive, Tzompantli will try to kill you.
Of note: Tzompantli runs on a Unity kit called the “Universal Fighting Engine”, also responsible for breakout hits like The Tale of Fighting Nymphs and Among Us Arena, and a good amount of its visual issues seem to stem from naively leaving things at their default values. Not content with this, though, Tzompantli goes above and beyond in fucking up its collision handling. Characters vibrate into or phase through each other completely at random, and given the number of weird jump-altering air normals, trying to block a simple crossup is usually a glimpse into madness.
The same goes for throws; sometimes throws fail to interrupt your moves, sometimes the cinematic throw camera peaces out into the floor, and sometimes you can simply walk out of an ongoing command throw like it never happened. I don’t know how much of this is actually handled by UFE, but any answer would just raise more questions.
It’s a shame; if the game didn’t make me motion-sick, it would be the exact kind of poisonous grime that always tempts me into the lab. Every zoner in Tzompantli is a deranged criminal and enemy of God, pairing fucked-up armor and fucked-up disjoint to lay down a warpath for any hopeful low-tiers. Half the cast deletes the other half in deeply depressing blowouts, but even among top tiers, the aforementioned minion (El Bulbo) has UMvC3 Doom’s finger lasers as a normal-ass special move. You are never getting in.
Thankfully, war-crime armor isn’t limited to just the zoners—Kitty, a middle-of-the-road rushdown character, has an armored unblockable target combo, only kept remotely sane by virtue of being hit-based armor. My cherished skeleton woman, Muerto, staples the movelist of every fighting game scythe user together (down to stealing their names), scoring fullscreen knockdowns into a blatantly unfair trap setup. And yes, there are infinites; the only combo rule is progressive gravity, so it would be more surprising if there weren’t infinites.
Ultimately, I’m incredibly glad this exists, and I urge you to stay away from it unless you have a stash of Dramamine on hand.
A beautiful mess that should have had more balance testing. Tzompantli defines what a fun kuso should be IMO; fast paced, crazy characters, WHAT??? moments, banned infinites because they are so easy, Dedos Laser, game has it all—along with some banger music if you pick the right stages. I just really wish someone would patch the camera : (
Tiger Knee Testamentx11
God bless you Rockforge.
December 9: Weaponlord (Genesis / SNES)
The back of the box should explain everything. Weaponlord is an artefact of its era, not just in the obvious way—the “hyperviolent secret super combo finishing moves” focus—but in a more fascinating way that you might easily miss.
There’s a particular type of Casual Player Mentality that transcends genre and skill level; the idea that if you know what your opponent is doing, you should never have to deal with it. It’s what makes Third Strike the fighting game of choice for people who are passionate about fighting games but never play them—parries, at least at a casual glance, defuse every kind of mindless play that “““defines””” “““other””” “““fighting games”"”.
You might know someone like this. Maybe they don’t play Third Strike, but SoulCalibur or Tekken, possibly complaining about “spamming juggles” (but not when they use their Skillful Combos) or wakeup Rage Art (but not when they make the Perfect Read), and think that knowing the entire movelist for the three characters they play makes them better than everyone at Evo top 8.
For those of you nodding your heads, let me summarize the next few paragraphs simply: Weaponlord is a limp-wristed attempt at designing for your scrub friend. The whole game is built around system knowledge and prediction, with almost every interesting interaction in the game coming from attack properties, not from movement or screen presence. I cannot fucking stand it.
Weaponlord is willing to sacrifice everything for its parry mechanic. Holding a light attack and tapping a direction lets you briefly deflect attacks coming from that direction, usually with a punish opportunity afterward. You’ll recoil when opposing attacks clash, too, and knowing which attacks can blow through a clash situation is critical to making any headway on the ground.
“Now wait a second,” you might be saying. “Holding a light attack? So you have to whiff a jab every time you want to set up a parry?” No. In fact, super no. Weaponlord is so infatuated with this control method that it makes every single normal attack a negative-edge input—designing input lag into the game on purpose. Even more baffling, most special moves are input with a dpad motion while continuously holding the button, which I guess prevents you from getting HP when you want HP fireball, but some special moves are executed the normal way instead?!
If you’re coming in with any kind of genre knowledge or muscle memory, the way Weaponlord handles button-up almost singlehandedly ruins the experience; it almost makes the lack of throws seem sane. After all, everyone knows throws are tOo cHeAp, and a straightforward way to beat blocking is obviously unfair. Instead, every character has a special move that puts you into a temporary “guard break” state if blocked…which prevents you from blocking a single attack…and only if that attack is chained into from another blocked attack. What in the fuck. How is anyone supposed to do something with this?
Despite all of this, plus godawful walk speeds, moonjumps that are somehow still impossible to anti-air, and an input parser that seems to be broken in ways I can’t even articulate, there are still combos. Consider me humbled: I would never have found them, even if I could stomach the game for longer than half an hour. The closest we got was a weird-ass airwalk glitch out of a hitgrab (produced by sitting at range 2, holding HP and spinning the stick in circles, which is a special input I guess). It led nowhere except some minor graphical corruption.
SO. Time for the reveal: Weaponlord was designed from the ground up for online competition through the XBand SNES/Genesis modem—long-distance dial-up netplay. Hell, it even had the logo on the box; it’s the only title on either system advertising XBand support as a first-class feature.
Suddenly, the emphasis on prediction, the limited movement, and the context-sensitive control scruples make more sense; Weaponlord was effectively made to showcase cross-country online matchmaking, and in that kind of environment, mindgames and system knowledge are the only things that stay intact. In 1995, this is the kind of game you have to make if you want netplay to be worth anyone’s time at all.
I think I’m still allowed to hate it, but I have to acknowledge that it’s a weirdly forward-thinking way of going about things—and, alright, if I’m being honest, disembodied head juggles are pretty cool.
Anyway, this game was designed by former Street Fighter II developers, and 20 years later, they claim to have no fucking clue what they were thinking. If you must play this, play the Genesis version, but you should probably go listen to the XBAND OST instead.
WeaponLord isn’t very good, but I still can’t bring myself to dislike it all that much. It’s super earnest, full of ideas that could only come about in a period when people were still very much figuring out what the hell a video game is supposed to be.
And uh. Yeah, Namco totally copied this shit for SoulCalibur. Has someone made a Jenn-Tai Create-A-Soul in SoulCalibur VI?
No offense to Weaponlord, but the deep dive we did was far more interesting than actually playing the fucking thing.
How many mechanics? All of them. Every single one you can think of.
December 10: Fighters' Impact/Vs. (PS1)
Getting me to go through two Advent Calendar games on the same day is a pretty hard sell. This time around, the premise was a bizzare and quirky localization; most sources online point to Vs. as the US version of Polygon Magic’s Fighters' Impact, taking a giant clumsy brush and drowning it in a new coat of American-friendly paint. (Wait, we know Polygon Magic, they did Slap Happy Rhythm Busters and…the four-player version of OutRun 2, the fuck?)
Everyone online is wrong. Vs. shares some technical aspects with Fighters' Impact, but apart from the engine and a handful of animations, the two games are basically nothing alike—and that means I have to document this shit. Time to go be historians.
Lets start with Fighters' Impact—a 3-button title for arcade and PS1. Clumsy movement, neat presentation, cool soundtrack, 80 fonts on every screen. We have been here more than once, and the degree to which I enjoy myself is almost always based on movement and technical performance.
I have a habit of complaining about 3D fighters and their bloated movelists, especially from this era, but Impact lacks any kind of strings, target combos, or preprogrammed attack sequences at all. Instead, every move freely chains together into every other move, a lot like French Bread’s Reverse Beat system. Repeating attacks lets the move go through, but puts you into a long recovery state where you can only block.
The system seems cool on paper, and for a while it stays cool in practice, but there are a bunch of annoying special exceptions; some moves always end your chain, while others can’t be chained into specific normals. Despite those restrictions, any launcher leads to a ToD provided you’re willing to churn butter for it; the game is so thoroughly cracked open that I’m surprised they bothered with the limiters. Fortunately(?), throws are fast, untechable, and have no whiff animation, giving every character an escape hatch out of most grime.
Each character has three variations, giving them new costumes and new moves themed after a specific martial art or focus. The differences are rarely gigantic, but tying flavor and function together makes both aspects stronger, IMO. Stage variety’s decent, too; walled, infinite(ish), and ringout stages all exist, though the final category seems to have a black hole placed just outside the camera, pulling you into the void if you place your heel within 10 miles of the edge.
If you happen to be motivated enough to lab Fighters' Impact, there’s COMBO DE MAMBO, an excellently-named training mode that lets you sequence frame-by-frame dummy inputs and map them to macro buttons…that can then be used in versus mode, because lol. Flying text calls you out whenever you use a macro button, so I guess there’s some acknowledgement that maybe executing a ToD by holding down a single button is kinda silly, but it’s not particularly judgemental flying text. You do you, hypothetical player.
Overall, despite being aesthetically neat and surface-level interesting, Impact is awkward and unresponsive, and generally sauceless outside of annoying launcher infinites. The Internet told me that Vs. is a reskin of Fighters' Impact, so it should be the same way, right?
Welcome to the longest stream of the Advent Calendar.
People seem to think Vs. is a localization paintjob, and I have no idea where this idea came from. The games have a lot of engine traits in common, but share zero mechanics or meaningful content, and if you ask me, Vs. is substantially better.
Unlike the slow shuffles of Impact, you get around the screen almost exclusively with dashes, which can be freely cancelled into attacks, blocking, or opposite-direction dashes. The ability to bait pokes and quickly advance is a rarity for early 3D titles, and it plays into the game’s emphasis on deranged offense.
Vs. goes beyond neutral guard (you block all standing moves while idle), and introduces neutral throw tech, rendering strike/throw mixups situational at best. Even with that strong defensive layer, command throws are untechable without a button input, and certain moves create a “stagger” state when blocked incorrectly, leading to an unblockable followup with the starter of your choice. On this kind of a system, Impact’s “custom combos” would be utter madness, so Vs. uses traditional strings instead.
The craziest part of all this? The aesthetic kind of rules. I have no clue what ska music and flashy disco stages are doing here, but the style in the menus and the style during gameplay couldn’t be more different. Even on a technical level, the dynamic lighting on hit effects does crazy aesthetic work, and sells the darker environments.
In the end, we played for hours—my extremely fair forever-mixup with a tetsuzanko that could steal turns from nowhere, versus Abbock’s 70% damage SPD and ridiculous giant swinging staggers. When the deranged offense became too much to handle, we explored the rest of the cast, including the playable bosses. As it turns out, despite some writing on the subject, Hendrickson’s shotgun is not just for show—it’s an infinite range unblockable.
We spent more time on Vs. than any other game on the calendar, and possibly any game in this event’s history. It’s certainly not perfect (and we were definitely coming off a three-game ASS streak), but given this marathon’s track record with PS1 games, I feel comfortable calling Vs. one of the Advent Calendar’s all-time gems—somehow it mixes grime, charm, and baffling novelty in just the right proportions for an afternoon of quick sets and weird experimentation.
There’s almost zero documentation on this game online, and I think that needs to change; I don’t know if I’d play it again, but no matter what the rest of the world has to say, Vs. deserves its own spotlight.
Fighters' Impact: This game has a weirdly haunting aesthetic at times. Very surreal, especially the music. Curious if the composer for this game also had anything to do with Darius Gaiden. Both were Zuntata (Taito’s internal music team) works, but I don’t know the specifics.
Vs. Seriously you could pick both Fighters' Impact and Vs. up for like five seconds and tell that they play super fucking differently why the fuck did the internet think this was just a localized version. Also this game kicks so much ass even if it does ultimately devolve into enforcing the most illegal mix in 3D fighters. P.S.: Dear a certain site that wrote about this game and enforced the misconception that it’s just a localization: the shotgun is not just for decoration. (also you probably shouldn’t link fetish videos using this game in your article but I feel like you shouldn’t need to be told that)
I can only comment on Vs., but I got home in time to hear “Hey T, listen to the music on this stage” and they picked the Beach. I was greeted by aggressive Ska.
This game rules, by the way. Maybe one of the most underrated PS1 3D fighters out there. The mechanics are probably very easy to crack open though, so would it hold up under scrutiny? Possibly not, but it feels amazing to play anyways and it’s a ton of fun.
December 11: Kamen Rider Kabuto (PS2)
In which adding a mechanic removes all the other mechanics.
This is an arena fighter, ostensibly, and it has command normals. They’re clumsy as hell to access, because the input is relative to your opponent in 3D space. “Hey Tyron, why does a Kamen Rider game, based on a property that is literally marketed to children—on the PS2, a controller with eight easily-accessible and reasonable button inputs—feel the need to put normal moves behind direction+button in the first place?” I’m glad you asked, unusually verbose reader. It’s because they used one of the face buttons on fucking Clock Up.
That’s right; everyone’s favorite time-slowing Bullshit Install is back for another round, and it earns that face-button slot, because this might be the most overcentralizing it’s ever been. If your opponent enters Clock Up and you can’t instantly respond with Cast Off (a weird burst-slash-transformation-thing) or a Clock Up of your own, the game is over.
Once you’ve used Cast Off, normals are freely dash-cancellable on hit/whiff/block, letting you poke forever without actually committing. There’s no timer, and (perhaps strangely) there’s no active way to charge meter, so all you can really do is wavedash around whiffing jabs, hoping to find a stray hit and build some bar. Once your bar is built, you Clock Up and do the most annoying-looking dash-jab combo on earth.
I think this makes more sense if you assume Kabuto was designed for 2v2, but not only did the PS2 only have two controller ports by default (and if you think I’m configuring a multitap on an emulator you are fucking mistaken), story mode spends almost all of its time in 1v1 or weird 1v2s, with the occasional pack of mooks breaking up the pace and revealing how awful the lock-on controls are. Those 1v2s don’t exactly get me excited about the potential of team tactics, either; they mostly just expose the horrible hitboxes of off-axis whiffs.
You can’t even properly play the unlockable characters, ranging from broken bosses to jobber-of-the-week mooks, because you can’t mirror match. (Why is this such a common missing feature in the Kamen Rider games? It’s gotta be licensing and palettes, right?)
I feel obligated to write more about this, but I don’t know if I can. Every time I think back to this game, I’m certain that I’m not giving it a fair shake—that I must have forgotten something, because there’s no way that the game became obviously and blatantly solved within like 15 minutes. In the end, I think you can sum up the experience with Rockforge repeatedly asking “why are you still playing this?”
There’s just so many buttons, like Clock Up, and Clock Up, and Clock Up.
A game I labbed too much, but that still doesn’t mean it’s worth anyone’s time, aside from the movement and the license. My honest biggest gripe is how slow every normal is for no reason at all, which even as far as the worst Kamen Rider games go, is Quite Horrifying.
Shoutout to the prestream, where I get asked what the game entails and just say “shovelware” with no warning, right away.
Non-8ing Kamen Rider fighting games have a habit of falling victim to their own short-sightedness. Kabuto seems to have been made under the pretense that its players will be focused more on recreating the cool fights from the TV show than on actually playing the game. Granted, the target audience is mostly Japanese 10-year-olds, so I guess they can hardly be blamed for it.
…I wish Climax Heroes had this game’s movement, though.
dear god in heaven we pray for 8ing to deliver us
December 12: The Thing (???)
Some Advent Calendar traditions are good. The First One is good. Better simplified fighting games than Divekick are good. T bursting into uproarious laughter as he hits me with Earth’s most disjointed normal 28 times in a row is good.
Other Advent Calendar traditions, like putting Street Fighter Alpha 3 onto the schedule every year, are not as good.
The arcade version of Alpha 3 has some interesting board unlocks, like secret characters and alternate modes, that only become available after a few weeks of real time. There are secret operator codes to force these unlocks early, but they need inputs from both players, multiple resets, and the ability to tell colors apart. They took us half an hour. This game has been on Fightcade for, like, a decade.
Anyway, Mazi mode! Press MP+MK when selecting your character, and you take and deal double damage. This might actually be a good trade for some characters, but it also causes you to lose the match if you lose a single round. Combine this with the damage boost of X-ism, use the operator menu to set damage to “MAXIMUM”, and most characters kill you in three hits. Welcome to the minigame!
Sagat’s gigantic 2HP, X-Adon’s one-button Jaguar Kicks, and every version of Blanka’s ball are all hilarious here, but my pick for Funniest Move is max-charge Turn Punch doing 40% damage…on block. Round start supers also kill you, as they should. One-round games are a bit annoying to restart, but with proper savestates I could see myself sinking an embarassing amount of time into this—I’ve always been fond of lightning-fast rounds.
The other weird unlockable feature is Saikyo Mode, named for Dan’s dojo. Appropriately, it makes you shittier, lowering your damage output, shrinking your guard bar, increasing stun damage taken, and removing your ability to special cancel(?!). I guess X-ism characters are strong here because of their CPS1 chains, but the stipulation makes the game a lot less interesting. Worse than Mazi, would not play except as part of a meme tournament.
Neither of these sideshows could truly last for a whole session, so instead, Sleepmode had me play SVG.
…No, not Super Variable Geo, we did that already. We played Spectral Vs Generation, an IGS game that I actually somehow loved. (If you couldn’t tell it was IGS at first sight, the arcade training mode and the stubborn insistence on on-screen super notation should make it clear enough.)
Spectral Vs Generation is a crossover fighter—Spectral Force and Generation of Chaos, TRPGs from JP developer Idea Factory. I feel pretty comfortable leading with the conclusion here; this game is on Fightcade and you should play it. It is 100% the most competent thing IGS has ever made, and manages to remain completely unhinged while actually being fun to control and enjoyable to look at.
(During the production of this article, I noticed the IGS logo on Asphalt 9: Legends DX Arcade at our local arcade, and played it when I was finished disassociating. It’s aaight but I like SVG more.)
Sleepmode and I picked the most aesthetically satisfying characters we could find on short notice and played for a while, surprised that the game was so snappy and responsive. Then we started exploring the rest of the cast, and the game got way, way faster; turns out that the hyper-versatile trap zoner and the Beefy Brawler Function are Spectral Vs Generation’s slowest characters. I guess that makes sense.
I will readily admit to being biased, because the character I picked first turned out to be a highly mobile oppressive shithead with a tool for every situation, able to combine all of those tools in any order and generally do whatever she wants as long as she doesn’t get knocked down. But, like…isn’t that enough? For that kind of character to exist in the game without being undisputed top 1? SVG brings IGS’s deranged moveset design to the forefront, letting it shine without fighting technical issues or shitty presentation, and it seems to have a character for every kind of player. Hell, it has two characters for me. Usually I get zero.
There’s a universal infinite off the game’s combo-extension mechanic, Seal of Time—a metered slow-mo juggle state that only works off certain special moves—but it seems to be soft-banned in most places, and the game’s better for it, since it’s two moves at most and annoyingly low damage.
Character-specific infinites are still allowed. Play this game.
Stop making me look at Alpha 3.
SVG owns though.
Well, there certainly can’t be another way to put Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the calendar after this, right?
There are more Alpha 3 memes yet to come, but I want to at least think I can pride myself on providing the funniest one thus far.
Anyway, Spectral vs Generation is great! Pretty good note for IGS to end their fighting game development career on – can you believe those guys started with Alien Challenge and ended up here?
December 13: Makeruna! Makendo 2 (PSX)
Welcome to the back half of the calendar, where the optimism runs out and my brain slowly liquefies.
If any other game on this list was presented like Makeruna! Makendo 2, I’d probably rank it ASS without further consideration. Backgrounds scroll at lightspeed in every direction, the character select theme is a series of annoying vocal chops, and I had to adjust my volume down at least five times during the stream. Nobody ever shuts the hell up and all their voices are the worst. I’m only spending a paragraph on this because it will be obvious to you throughout the article.
Makendo has four attack buttons, plus a fifth “Magic” button for some meter-dependent wackness and a sixth button for easy-input specials. Since every special move can be used as a free guard cancel (WARNING SIRENS), the macro button is of immense importance: guard-cancel DP is bad enough, but when you don’t even have to do the input, it easily shuts down all normal offense. (Even worse, Mamarin shuts down the entire game with her guard-cancel command throw; if you don’t have a fireball, the matchup is probably unwinnable.)
But what’s “normal offense”? Wikipedia notes the differences between the SNES and PS1 versions: “In the original Super Famicom version, the gameplay has a traditional combo system. In the PlayStation version, the combo system and speed were increased.” Weird wording aside, that’s exactly what happened—the combo system sure were fucking increased. All normals are dash-cancellable on hit, block, OR WHIFF. Somehow the insanity of this mechanic cancels out guard-cancels, and attacking becomes possible again. As a bonus, 5S is a dash macro!
…And this is about as far as I got before entering an hour and a half of psychotic madness. To skip to the end, the S button allows negative-edge input. Want to dash-cancel an attack with the macro button? You’ll need precise timing on the button release, or you’ll dash out of your dash and be stuck in dash startup, eating your followup attack. There are also some weird negative-edge behaviors; when using the S button, certain special moves only come out on button-up. I have no clue.
The rest of the input parser is annoying and finicky, too, so what should have been fun experimentation and deranged ez-mode offense became a butter-churning exercise in frustration. My execution sucks, so it was gratifying to see Abbock also immediately fail to perform moves, especially as Rockforge insisted “the dash jab infinites are easy!”
Yes, dash jab dash jab is a near-universal infinite—though it’s subject to the weirdest combo escape mechanic ever, where transitioning between crouching and standing hitstun pushes your opponent back, stacking with corner pushback in a way that looks blatantly bugged. It doesn’t always trigger, either. Again, no clue.
Makeruna! Makendo 2 earns this year’s Seal Of Unparalleled Galactic Motherfuckery by somehow failing to implement character select. When playing repeated games, the winner is character-locked (already bad), their inputs control P2’s character cursor instead (what), and if they happen to hit a button, they’ll immediately lock P2 in as an AI opponent (how). I’m baffled that this wasn’t changed before release, but even more baffling—why would it have ever wroked this way in the first place? Like, you have to program that behavior in.
Climax of the stream: after arguing with Rockforge for hours about the S button, and whether performing a dash-jab combo was difficult or not, I tabbed out of the game to take a look at one of his Twitter clips. I copied the button presses on his input viewer for a while, then tabbed back into a dead character. It turns out that the combos are pretty lenient…if you happen to naturally release the dash button on a dead frame every single time and never think about this.
I am done thinking about this game.
I’ve only played the SNES one but that shit was awful so I cannot imagine the PS1 version fared much better and oh, oh it didn’t.
Mamarin has real counterplay, as I’ve come to find out, because of guard-cancel backdash—but no one will want to play this long enough for that to ever matter. And I cannot blame them for one second.
December 14: DOH Fighters 2 (PC)
Ever since getting T into this mess, I’ve started really looking forward to MUGEN games. “The brightly colored boxes are the wrong sizes” shouldn’t be as funny as it is, but when T tells me to hit the debug key and activate a hitbox overlay, I know that I’m about to have my eyeballs injected with concentrated comedy.
Guilty Gear has proven that strong universal defense and strong character-specific offense is a winning formula for a compelling fighter—not the only formula, but a tried and true approach. DOH Fighters 2 goes for this in a refreshingly simple way. On the defensive side, you have parries and SoulCalibur’s Guard Impact. On the offensive side, you have illegal combo theory, space damage command throws, and hitboxes that look like that.
Maybe it seems weird to start with system details. I think most people would start from a different place, like Ky’s half-screen low with no hurtbox that links into itself, or the interface that looks like a gothic doujin game ate the entirety of Geocities, or the fact that every character seems to be voiced by the developer or their friends with the gain turned up as high as it will go. Also, Q is an anime girl.
See, crossover games are difficult to write about. My strongest takeaway is usually the overwhelming feeling of “wat” when familar characters violate your expectations. Like, I can tell you that Twelve’s in this game, and I can tell you that not only do they have stellar damage, but X-Copy transforms them into Sean, Jin, or Pyron, with full movesets including EX moves and supers. You can read those words, and maybe you’ll have an idea of the feeling, but I don’t think I have the ability to convey the sheer sense of brain-stopping “hhhhhuhwhuh” as you do a super motion (the WRONG super motion) only to transform into a Marvel character. I’m gonna be honest, I’m just not good enough at writing.
Sadly, while good movement and fucked-up offense is always a recipe for fun, the power isn’t really distributed evenly throughout the cast. Different games typically have wildly different ideas of hitbox and hurtbox disjoint, so when you combine them together without standardizing them, the result is visually identical moves that are functionally completely different. Sometimes that means “one of these is a poke and the other is an anti-air”, sometimes it means “one of these is a poke and the other is dogshit”.
I kind of love DOH Fighters 2, despite its ambitions beginning and ending at MUGEN Mashup Fuckheap. It’s silly hobbyist shit that isn’t afraid to be silly hobbyist shit, and despite offense tools that are beyond any kind of intentional design, movement is good enough that you can still navigate the screen and play something interesting (if not something normal). Lenient juggles and fun move properties make this worth lab time, and if you’re looking for something to fire up and fuck around in with a friend, you could do a lot worse.
This is one of my favorite MUGEN Games. It’s incredible, there’s so much concentrated effort in specific areas everywhere, but it feels like the bulk of it went to the exact WRONG little details. The hitboxes are unbelievably inconsistent, tools across the roster are GENERALLY powerful but some lack congruency at all, the list goes on. But enough effort was put in to have mechanics taken across all the games these characters are from, the entire game has original VA work (emphasis on original, not necessarily QUALITY)……it’s got a lot of heart. It’s a god damn disaster, but it’s always fun for about an hour.
December 15: The Untouchable (PC)
Here is a list of things that The Untouchable does acceptably.
- Much of the digitized choreography is kind of neat-looking.
- The soundtrack is occasionally really good.
- It has an unusually large cast for a game of this era and budget.
There. I’ve been fair to it. Now for the rest.
I wanted to start this part of the article by summarizing what’s wrong with The Untouchable, probably in some clever and pithy way that I could feel vaguely smug about. Problem: I don’t actually know what’s wrong with The Untouchable.
Sure, I can name a bunch of symptoms, from unbelievably stiff controls to nonsensical knockdown rules to collision that simply doesn’t work on any level. I can also point at literally any screenshot of the game, belt “GRAPHICS BAD” at maximum volume, and collect thunderous applause. What I can’t articulate, because I genuinely don’t understand it, is the decision-making process that led to all of those things. I am completely at a loss to explain how a human being—someone fundamentally like me, at least in some way—comes to the conclusion that their time on Earth is best spent programming and sequencing an elaborate series of dial-in strings that not only don’t combo, but are punishable on hit or block.
Some characters are forced to attack when standing up, losing their invulnerability, so any guaranteed knockdown can be a character-specific infinite. Some characters' jumps have landing hitboxes that hit low. Characters randomly warp around the screen when getting hit for no reason I can fathom. Many characters can only walk in steps—a giant dash followed by several seconds of completely inactionable garbage time. Some sweeps are unblockable. Special move inputs look like cheat codes printed in Nintendo Power. Two characters attack as part of their standing hit reaction.
The Untouchable is completely bereft of any positive qualities associated with fighting games. It feels like it was made by someone whose entire experience with the genre was glimpsing a Mortal Kombat cabinet on the back of a moving truck. It is utterly, stubbornly unplayable—and that’s weird. There are things to be admired here, and there are pieces that can be appreciated in isolation. So what happened?
In search of answers, we turned to Google, and found a cast list that covered a wide range of quality and experience—from professional expertise to high schoolers to former students of the game’s director, Travis Riggs. Among ad copy, movelists, gameplay videos and some wallpapers, Travis posted some plans for The Untouchable 2, an unreleased sequel; the only records of its existence are an IMDB page, listing a fight director with some serious professional chops, and a casting call on the official website.
Instead of The Untouchable 2, Travis would go on to release Bikini Karate Babes, which you do not need footage of. If you’re the type of person who reads these articles, there’s a decent chance you’ve heard of this, but for those who haven’t, it’s exactly what you think it is—a sequel in all but name, sharing every single gameplay problem from The Untouchable, but with safe-for-work titties. However, it does add throws. 342 of them, to be exact, recorded with every single possible combination of the actresses. Hm.
After universally negative critical reception, Bikini Karate Babes 2 would release nearly 10 years later. It’s the exact same thing. BIkini Karate Babes 3, a mobile title released more than half a decade after that, is the same thing but with “digital trading cards”. Through it all, Travis has remained; on the now-defunct Bikini Karate Babes official message board, he is the most prolific poster, and his merchandising attempts have evolved from photosets and “making of” DVDs to a Patreon that…appears to have cut out the middleman completely and is just selling model photos without a pretense.
And so we’re back to to where we started: how did The Untouchable happen? Was the entire thing a scam from the very beginning—a quick cash grab, made for cheap with former students and whatever other talent could be conned into radius? It’s easier to believe in the wake of Bikini Karate Babes, but at least one archived “fansite” feels like more substantial proof: it uses wording almost identical to Travis’s posts on the old Untouchable site, and contains information about secrets that don’t seem credibly discoverable without help.
I’m done. I think I have a nosebleed.
TIL Brief Karate Foolish was a direct parody of something. You should probably play that instead of any game mentioned in this part of the article.
Empty Jump Jump
Please watch the VOD for the Travis Riggs deep dive. Please.
December 16: Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (PS1)
I’m considering banning the PS1 from this marathon.
You will understand what’s wrong with Warriors of Ravenloft after five minutes, tops. This is a 3D game with absolutely zero interest in keeping a fight moving; you have to use shoulder-button tank controls to manually swivel towards your desired facing, a process that takes ages, leaves you defenseless, and only gives you a vague approximation of “on axis”.
This would be bad on its own, but the stage’s invisible walls interact in the worst way. Making any contact with a wall immediately bounces you to the floor, rendering your body a flying hitbox until you hit the ground. Attacks from disadvantage, any type of offensive pressure, or forward-moving moves that are slightly misaligned will all trigger this constantly, completely stopping all normal play as you get off your ass and back into fighting stance—usually facing the wrong way. And the flying-body hit knocks down, too, so get ready for mutual knockdowns!
This is one of those mechanics that makes me wonder about the game’s development history. Like, this is obviously horrible to literally everyone with electrical brain activity, right? People complain about wallbreaks in Guilty Gear Strive, there’s no way anyone on Earth is okay with wallbounces in Ravenloft—but here we are.
My conclusion is that fighting games are so fucked up and confusing that no one understands them, not even the people being paid to make them; if you think every fighting game looks like vaguely directed mash with a side of motion inputs, then whatever you make will probably look a lot like that. It would explain how blockstun works—there isn’t any. (To their credit, blocking doesn’t delete the blocked hitbox, meaning that if you stop blocking too early you’ll get hit by the move you just blocked…which is sometimes kind of like blockstun?)
Anyway, this is a Dungeons and Dragons property, which means it needs RPG mechanics, and boy howdy does it fucking have them. The game asks you at startup if you want to enable autosave, and goes as far as to ask “ARE YOU SURE” in red text: that’s because the autosave toggle is actually the permadeath toggle, causing your leveled-up characters to be instantly deleted—reset to 0—if you lose. (With autosave off, characters can’t level up, but won’t be destroyed.)
This comes to a head in Campaign Mode, which is a grueling team-match setup that runs 15 games minimum—5 characters per team, 3 lives per character. Successive wins unlock the ability to use your “magic power” move, then allow for more uses per game; stage-specific input codes, dialed in at specific times, unlock “artifacts” that can be used to teleport, resurrect fallen characters, pick your opponent’s character for them…
None of this is explained in-game, of course, and a good amount of it isn’t explained in the manual—this is the “secrets are cool” school of game design, and honestly, I would agree if I thought any of these were discoverable by accident. Don’t worry, though, you can GO ONLINE TO DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF RAVENLOFT what the fuck.
Sadly, magic-power moves aren’t usually any good, and the low framerate and shitty movement make Ravenloft a chore far before a 15-game set can finish. Don’t worry, though—in the future I’ll probably end up subjected to the DOS version, which actually looks way better (graphically), or the prototype version for an unreleased 3DO console—which, among its many visual and gameplay-related upgrades, actually has axis correction, and therefore must have some horrible cursed bullshit to compensate. Maybe it’ll get dumped someday.
This is, in my opinion, my least interesting submission ever. Not that it wasn’t funny, but in terms of lasting intrigue, this one has so little. It’s the perfect combination of barely fun to play and barely anything to explore, and what’s there to explore is wacky, nearly impossible to set up, and the payoff sucks.
I can’t get any lower than this in terms of this criteria.
There’s a thing with western-developed fighting games of the 90’s where so many devs making them were so focused on their New And Awesome Ideas but then never put the slightest modicum of effort into, like… understanding how it feels to play the fighting games that people like? I dunno, maybe they really just weren’t given the time or space to do that research and tweaking by the publishers.
December 17: Survival Arts (Arcade)
Some of you skimmed down to the screenshot and got a sinking feeling in your stomach. Digitized actors bad, right? Developers trying to mindlessly ape Mortal Kombat without any knowledge of what made it good, uh, bad? Well, Survival Arts meets a surprising bar for “normal and playable fighting game” despite its…aesthetic.
…Oh, the sinking feeling in your stomach is from the camera. Fair enough.
So, take this entire section with a grain of salt. My definition of “normal and playable” has apparently expanded to include “fireballs that three-hit kill you”, and if you disagree I honestly can’t fight you on it. But Survival Arts managed to hit the critical point between “not enough grime to be interesting” and “not too much grime to be (permanently) unplayable”, and it’s in large part because of everyone’s fucked-up offense. (Viper has an uppercut that’s a better horizontal poke than an anti-air—and it’s a pretty decent anti-air.)
Survival Arts is a 6-button game, with basic universal movement—just walk and jump, really—but strong character-specific movement that is not distributed fairly at all. Dashing is a character-specific privilege, and while some characters have double jumps, Hiryu (designated ninja function) is hoarding Five Fucking Midair Jumps, presumably stolen from the rest of the impoverished cast. Can you guess who the best character in the game is?
(It’s Hiryu. He also has the world’s slowest setplay fireball, and an invincible forward dash because fuck you.)
Weapons periodically drop at random locations on the stage, and you can pick them up with 2HP from full crouch, which is way more annoying and unreliable than it sounds. Weapon movesets replace your heavy attacks; some characters benefit from picking up melee weapons and some prefer to keep their own heavies, but everybody wants to pick up the gun (realism?), which allows you risk-free instant overheads (just kidding).
In an unrestricted ruleset, Hiryu and Gunner absolutely dominate the rest of the cast; Gunner’s “three shots and you’re dead” fireballs, which can be tiger-kneed to erase their recovery and render them impossible to safely jump, basically shut down all interaction at all ranges. (It’s really blatant and I have no idea how it was allowed; maybe the developers were just terrible at fireball motions?) Take the two top-tiers away, and the rest of the cast is comprised largely of weird steerable air moves and dino damage.
Survival Arts is sometimes an ordeal to play: not just because of the deranged character designs, sometimes leading to rounds where you make no progress and die in exhausting minute-long shutouts, but because of its camera, which follows jumping characters way too readily and makes parallax backgrounds jitter around with even the gentlest tap of the stick. I’m a gameplay-first sort of person, but when visuals start getting in the way of comfort, it’s difficult to ignore just how insane this game actually looks. Points for the timer sitting in the mouth of a fucking skull, though.
This is the first time I’ve personally seen a Mortal Kombat-style game from Japanese developers—and make no mistake, it is Mortal Kombat-inspired, down to the fatalities and the weirdly somber music. Seeing these kinds of visuals in a game that actually has sort-of-reasonable gameplay is weird and kinda neat: give it a look if you can stomach it.
It’s always nice to find a live-action fighting game that doesn’t feel like dogshit. Survival Arts is no Jackie, but it’s also no Untouchable.
It’s unironically awesome go play it.
December 18: X-Men Mutant Academy 2 (PS1)i am writing this down first so that you understand the effect it had on me. cyclops has a 0 frame jab. it’s -1. HE’S NOT EVEN TOP 3—the very first line of my notes on X-Men Mutant Academy 2
Mutant Academy 2 is from Paradox Development, the same guys who did X-Men Next Dimension. If you remember that game from its KAC appearance (I do), it would be reasonable to expect Academy to be unplayable garbage, but surprise! It’s actually a pretty reasonable game. Mostly. Sometimes.
Okay, let me get this out of the way first: The wackass fucked up meter system from Next Dimension is also in this game, although phrasing it like that is kind of an anachronism, since Mutant Academy 2 came first. To review, your super meter is split into three segments, each corresponding to its own super; during a match, you have to swap meter between these bars, each of different “internal” lengths, to select the super you want. I still have no idea who this benefits, and the inputs are even worse than Next Dimension, so we’re just going to move on and pretend it’s not there. We’re also going to pretend that the three-times-per-match parries aren’t a thing, since their reward is minimal and they’re kind of finicky to use correctly, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t mention how weird they are.
Alright. So. Mutant Academy 2 is a four-button game, and I wouldn’t even bother to mention that if it weren’t for the game’s first and most impactful oddity: standalone buttons produce LP/LK and MP/MK, but pressing light+medium at the same time, a macro for light+medium at the same time, or 6MP/6MK will all produce heavy normals. The multiple input methods all have their own input-leniency systems, since hitting two buttons on the exact same frame is surprisingly hard, and it leads to “heavy-canceling”—the ability to plink light specials into identical medium or heavy specials, allowing for things like double fireballs.
This ability was left in the game intentionally (an unlockable developer combo video uses it multiple times), but Paradox missed the most impactful application. Juggernaut and Psylocke both have special moves that exist on LP but not on HP, giving them the unique ability to kara-cancel that special to a normal move (cue warning sirens)—which can then be cancelled back into the special. This leads to infinites on hit or block; the community bans the blocked version but allows the hit version, which I think fucking rules.
There are a lot of fun little system edge-cases like that, and I’m just a sucker for them. Aerial blockstun leaves you invulnerable until you hit the ground, which puts you in landing recovery that you can cancel with any action but can’t be buffered into. Superflash is sometimes just a suggestion (Elsword?), Spider-Man’s air fireball doesn’t initialize its move properties and can “inherit” low or overhead status from the last move you performed, Juggernaut can trick the input parser into giving him a run dash while holding only crouch, and…okay, I already touched on Cyclops’s 0-frame jab, but I seriously have to give this some more space in the article. I had to check via frame advance multiple times, but it genuinely is a zero-frame jab, with pretty decent range, and the gap between that and the rest of the cast’s fastest normals means that “-1 on block” is more like +0 at worst—fuck your pressure, we’re scrambling now. Give Paradox the keys to the Darkstalkers series or something, this mentality fucking rules.
There’s a jankiness to the overall feel that I recognize from Next Dimension: even if you ignore the unbelievably fucked up hitboxes on every single air normal, the sound design is completely deepfried, with no volume limiters on stacked SFX from multi-hit moves, and hitstop might be a little long even for me, #1 Long Hitstop Enjoyer. But there’s charm here, too; where else can you watch Magneto perform a psychic suplex?
Or watch Xavier…
How did they go on to make Next Dimension? Why didn’t they just keep making things like this??? THIS IS AWESOME!!!
I’m still convinced that FlipMeign was shit-talking Marvel vs Capcom 2 purely to gas up this game. I mean, MA2 is alright, but like. Are you sure about that one, chief
What the hell was in the water that made them go from this to Next Dimension.
December 19: Kensei Sacred Fist (PS1)
More like Kensei Sacred Foot. This game might have some of the most rigid top tiers I’ve ever seen.
System mechanic one: there are no special mids and there is no crouching. Defense against strikes comes down to high or low blocking only, and there is always a wrong answer for every move in the game.
System mechanic two: Throws are incredibly slow and awful, and chain throws can be trivially broken by mashing.
System mechanic three: When you get a counterhit, every move in the string that follows is considered a counterhit—and there are a TON of moves with extended crumple stuns on counterhit.
Free pass for me! Sacred Fist is masquerading as a technically competent 3D fighter, but actually devolves into linear edge-case nightmare hell literally instantly. As T put it, “it’s the 3D version of the Wyler mirror”.
Lows are all awful, throws are all awful, and movement is all awful; you can block-cancel dashes, but it’s impossible to get anywhere useful with it. In the end, you kinda just fruitlessly mash in an attempt to bait your opponent into fruitlessly mashing. Some characters instantly win for doing this, either because of fucked up counterhit conversions or a dead-ass infinite on normal hit, and that’s your tier list.
The obvious optimal strategy is to never do anything. The risk is just too high, and it’s too easy to react to attempted offense. All you can really do is whiff jabs, but if your outstretched hand gets kicked? Go next.
The input systems are actively malicious, too: the buffer is incredibly long, guaranteeing misinputs if you want to stop a string before it’s finished, but doesn’t work at all if you’re in hitstun, so good luck attacking from disadvantage. Combined with slow movement, infinite stages that look like glitchy conveyor belts, and an announcer yelling through a paper towel roll, Sacred Fist is probably not for anyone, despite the decent soundtrack.
…And that’s it. That’s literally all there is.
The game that gets worse the longer you play it and the more mechanics you find. Because the only ones that matter are hitstun and counterhits.
This game actually gets even worse imo if you ban the infinites, because the one funny thing to do dies entirely. Also, the balance is SO BAD that if you ban Yugo, Akira is probably in his own tier. Then if you ban Akira, it’s probably the next best character a never-ending cycle until you only have mid tiers left :*)
Also has the worst stun break mechanic in any game ever, where the attacker is still + and can actually link into different moves now. Music is great at least.
I don’t know what it is about this game that makes it so god damn funny but I think having the world’s fakest looking combos is a big contribution.
December 20: Kirby Battle Blitz (PC)
Visually loud, audibly loud, spiritually loud. Kirby Battle Blitz is an IKEMEN creation with sprite comic energy, in every sense—down to the cast of Kirby OCs.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the formula that drives countless compelling fighting games, from Guilty Gear to Ultra Fight da Kyanta 2, is “strong character-specific offense + strong universal defense”. In that way, it’s encouraging to boot up a new game and see four universal system buttons compared to two attack buttons.
Now, is “jump-cancellable Grim Reaper” too strong even for strong offense? Ehhhhh. Probably just a bit.
Battle Blitz is a hard game to describe, but one thing’s for sure: it feels like what it is, an OC mashup collab fighter. Every member of the cast seems to play largely by their own rules, whether that’s “tightly woven moveset where everything locks together in obvious ways” or “disconnected collection of weird tools, figure it out, glhf”.
Movement is universally strong, at least—everyone’s got a double jump and unlimited forward/back airdashes, though you can’t airdash in the same direction twice—and the universal parry keeps most brainless pressure in check, which is nice because half the cast is ignorant apes with buttons that hit the entire screen whenever they want. Weirdly, damage is kinda universal too; meterless damage is always low and super damage is always high, but budgeting meter for defense can be the difference between blocking once and blocking forever.
Movesets are small, and specials/supers are accessed with Smash-style direction+button inputs rather than motions, so everyone’s pretty easy to figure out just by getting in-game and mashing around for a few rounds. I’ve never enjoyed a Jack-O style “I drop this on your wakeup and you have to handle it” character before, but Battle Blitz managed to sucker me into it, two buttons giving me access to one-player gameplay with zero labwork. IMO, that’s when the game is at its best, with strong characters fighting strong characters and very little investment in the outcome—just Watching Cool Fighting Game Things Happen.
Try to take control of the system, though, and you quickly discover that tiny characters with big weapons lead to dramatic differences in Top Tier Privilege, and access to risk-free disjointed normals is basically a prerequisite for playing the game in any normal way. Parry may shut down idiot pressure, but it can’t protect you while you’re trying to start offense against fullscreen nonsense, and the big emphasis on metered damage means you’re fucked if you can’t easily convert to super.
It’s not perfect. It’s messy, it’s fucked up, and it might be hazardous to your health. But there’s charm here, and a frenetic energy that sucked us in for an entire afternoon. When IKEMEN gets rollback, I think I could be convinced to go back for seconds.
This got updated for SAGE 2022 and they did in fact nerf my guy a bit. He’s still really good I just think they have a juggle limit and actual techable time on stuff now.
YES YES YES this is the ENERGY we NEED in this world! The chuunibyou just… it warms my heart. I can’t help but fall in love.
December 21: Groove On Fight (Arcade)
My best advice for understanding the nature of Groove on Fight: seek to the back half of the VoD, scrub around a little, and watch until someone screams.
We play a lot of weird shit on the Advent Calendar, but we play even more shit that isn’t that weird—just put together in an unusual way. Groove On Fight is one of those; shit is built different, in both complex ways (powerful autocorrect, no corner crossup protection, abundant forward-moving specials that inherit dash momentum) and in simple ways (everything deals dino damage for no reason at all).
The result is one of my favorite feelings: staring at the screen in disbelief, thinking “I have forgotten how to play fighting games,” as you discover all the contradictions between what moves look like they do and what they actually do. Groove On Fight hits you with a double-dose, too, with normals and specials that dramatically change properties if done out of the game’s universal run dash; some of your best tools are sometimes locked behind it.
This is the fourth game in the Power Instinct series, so Atlus has had three prior titles to figure this shit out: it shows. The game’s fun to look at and polished in all the important places, and though the cast is a bunch of random scrimblos that look like they could have come from 15 different games, there’s a stylistic through-line that keeps everything feeling coherent—one I have no idea how to describe. It’s hilarious to watch magical girls, rulebreaking setup zoners, and microdash assholes share space with Larry (Literally Just A Dude), who gets 50% damage from a meterless jump-in by punching you in the head three times.
The game’s roughest point is the tag system, which feels kinda tacked-on and slapdash because it is; it’s new to Groove On Fight, and outside of a fun “fight your partner” twist in single-player, it’s not really that interesting. Given the inherently grime-attracting nature of tag systems, though, I guess you could do a lot worse: incoming characters are -0, tag attacks are largely whatever besides a banned infinite, and you can pick the same character twice, so if you want to play the game like a 1v1 fighter you’re really not losing out on much. Also, you can throw your partner’s dead body as a setup projectile oh my god I take it back this is the greatest thing ever.
As I have probably said about 50 times in this article (I don’t write these in order), the Guilty Gear-style recipe for fighting game success is strong movement, strong character-specific offense, and strong universal defense. Groove on Fight nails the first two—universal airdashes and doublejumps, attack-cancellable dashes, and bigass disjointed buttons—and appears to give absolutely zero fucks about the third.
It’s exhausting to play, but it fits with the game’s playful tone; Power Instinct as a whole wants you to run up and do stuff, and doesn’t seem incredibly concerned with the outcome as long as it’s funny. This is presumably why, after three games of prior work, Atlus decided they should dedicate an entire new button to the world’s slowest and most punishable universal unblockable, one that no one would ever actually get hit by.
After getting our fill of gameplay, we ended up spending the rest of the night watching combo videos, revealing some tight links, technical nonsense, and some extremely incorrect-looking pursuit attacks. Before long, it became free-form wandering around YouTube, looking for CMVs from any game—because god damn, fighting games are so fucking cool.
I think any experience that puts you in that headspace is one that might be worth having.
This is the Power Instinct game that desperately needs rollback because I actually want to play it very badly. Just a lot of cool ideas, an awesome aesthetic, GENERALLY cool char designs and like, listen. You can throw the dead body. Do I have to say anything else?
Man… I wish Sega Saturn/ST-V emulation had rollback netplay. This game is genuinely too good to pass up. Low skill floor, easy to get to the cheap stuff, and just an absolutely killer presentation. I could listen to that character select theme forever. Check out the arranged version of it, btw. Best use of that vocal sample I’ve encountered in a very long time.
atlus stop being homophobic for five seconds and give this game rollback
December 22: Naruto GNT Special (Wii)
The Naruto: Gekitō Ninja Taisen series (localized as Clash of Ninja) is, fundamentally, a bunch of games about meter. It’s full of wackass and illegal character-specific tools, plus universal combo extenders that can turn errant hits into huge punishes, but everything’s controlled by meter—the same meter that you use for Substitution, a universal teleport out of hitstun, the series' most important defensive mechanic.
The push-and-pull resource-management shows up in a lot of games, from Touhou Hisoutensoku to SF2 Mix, and it works well in GNT; getting stuck without meter is terrifying, and pressing an advantage with all of your resources always comes with a risky rush of adrenaline. At anything above a surface level, access to your metered options governs every interaction in the game, and informs every choice you make.
So what happens when you take it away?
I seriously don’t envy Eighting’s job adapting Naruto characters to fighting games; some of that series' characters have powers that make zero fucking sense, stuff that would be broken in any normal fighting game framework. Even series jobbers have fighting styles and special powers that just…aren’t fair. Giving those tools opportunity cost lets everyone fight on a kind-of-mostly-sometimes-equal basis, in a dynamic that feels uncomfortably similar to bad matchups in Elsword.
GNT Special, the final game in the series, separates Substitution to its own purely defensive meter, leaving the existing meter solely for offensive tools. I could slowly work up to the natural conclusion of that choice, but you know where this is going. After nine prior games, GNT Special’s single change destroys every part of the game that still works—and despite the insider explanations that feel like a cross between engineering documentation and war films, from an outsider’s perspective, “every part that works” seems like it was already a pretty short list.
Take Kiba and his giant fucked up wolf friend, for instance. The wolf has collision, which is fucked up. The wolf can go off-axis and off-screen, which is fucked up. The wolf can be called during blockstun to punish almost any blocked attack, which is fucked up. To a casual observer, there is no part of this that is not fucked up. But in GNT Special, you can also call the wolf during hitstun, which is absurdly fucked up. When people say that Special is fucked up, this is the kind of fucked up they’re talking about: characters that were already fucked up getting the restrictions on their fucked up shit fucked up, or gaining some unbelievably fucked up ability because the porting process is fucked up or the game engine is fucked up.
Luckily for me, what’s left is a hilarious carnival sideshow of nonsense characters, presented by Abbock and Rockforge with the air of a Turkish ice cream vendor. The baseline system sucks ass, with lightspeed guard-cancellable sidesteps shutting down the vast majority of every movelist, and the way characters interact with it alternates between blatantly unfinished and blatantly illegal.
Minato is probably the game’s most straightforward bullshit character, able to effortlessly run away forever with lightspeed teleport backdashes and sidesteps. One of his signature moves allows him to set a trap, then teleport to it on demand as a special cancel; this would be cool, offering strategy regarding when and where to set (plus opening up teleport-specific pressure sequences), but it’s critically bugged. If you input the teleport without setting the trap, it instead instantly returns you to idle, opening up single-move infinites and unlimited safe pressure. Fuck you.
The most dramatic system-specific failings manifest in Sage Naruto, who has spectacular neutral but can’t regenerate chakra gauge manually; he needs to use a long setup move to refill gauge, preferably after a knockdown. In the prior GNT games, this would probably be somewhat fair, since substituting would leave you in a difficult disadvantage state. In Special, every neutral win is rendered useless as he substitutes for free, fucks off, and beats you to death.
…He also has unblockables based on which idle stance your last move returned you to. Fucking whatever. Get me out of here.
I don’t have any god damn clue about the like, GNT competitive scene, but hearing Abbock describe the downward spiral of the development of GNT Special with regards to its mechanical designs and what it implemented was entertaining and illuminating. Game development sucks, especially when people who don’t know anything decide they need to make big decisions about things they don’t understand.
Really into how Dragon Knight’s Kamen Rider Wrath had such an influence on 8ing that they put him in a completely different game, entirely by accident.
Thanks for showing up for the finale, 8ing. And congrats on your glorious return with the upcoming DNF Duel, by the way. I don’t think anyone can truly replace what you do.
[Author’s note: HAHAHAHAHA I TAKE THE ENTIRE YEAR TO WRITE THESE]
December 23: Steel Rivals (PC)
I’m gonna tell my kids this was Super Turbo.
The meta evolved, which makes me happy, and I got away with submitting putrid scamware asset flip hell that got a Wii U port somehow. At least it has Zylon and zoner lady, along with the greatest 10-0 matchup in fighting game history.
Why did this get played for more than an hour
December 24: Guilty Gear Isuka
You might have heard of this. What you might not have heard is that it was almost good.
Isuka’s 2003 arcade release plays almost identically to 2002’s Guilty Gear XX #Reload, with one primary difference; it supports four players at once. To keep the inevitable chaos in check, fights are separated into foreground and background planes; characters on one plane are invincible to characters on the other, but you can switch planes from a neutral state at any time. Not only that, you can also knock players into the other plane with a universal input, launch players into the other plane and follow up with air combos, and even guard cancel into the other plane, trading meter for extreme safety.
So what happens when all four players end up on the same plane? If one opponent is on one side of you, and another is on the other side, which direction do you face? If you hit a button, which way does it come out? Plenty of games have tried solving this plenty of ways, from MUGEN’s “simul” mode to GNT’s lock-on system, and Isuka chooses what might be the worst one; you use a new button to manually turn around, replacing the Dust button.
This on its own would be a little clumsy, but not too awful. However, Isuka never automatically corrects your facing: even if there’s only one opponent in your plane, even if all opponents are on the same side, and even if there’s only one opponent in the game at all, you always have to turn around. Combine this with the strong movement and chaotic scrambles Gear is known for, plus moves that inexplicably recover the wrong way, and you have Guilty Gear But Strictly Worse.
Isuka’s teamplay mechanics are clearly well-thought-out. You can hit your teammates, immediately eliminating entire categories of stupid grime and sandwich combos, but ally hits deal zero damage, so you’re not punished unduly for slugfests and imprecise cooperation. As a casual fuckaround experience, it’s seriously almost there; Isuka is still Gear, so it still looks and sounds amazing, including the new backgrounds added in this version, and characters are still unique and exciting. Hell, between the EX characters, Unlimited Sol, Unlimited Ky, and a build-your-own-moveset version of Robo-Ky (?!?), you can make an evening out of crashing special moves into each other and watching four-player gameplay dynamics try to handle it—and they almost always do, even if your aforementioned Robo-Ky is the most broken piece of shit on earth, picking the wackiest and most game-crushingly powerful special moves from the entire cast.
I want to see more doubles fighting games, and I want to see them try all kinds of wacky shit—every once in a while, I think about how Street Fighter X Tekken lets an inactive tag partner tag themself in for a mid-combo switch, and I smile a little. But Isuka gains almost nothing from strictly-manual turning (the ability to clumsily backwards airdash forwards?), and creates a chaotic mess instead—not the fun kind of chaotic mess, the kind that Gear is made of, but the kind where you line up for the perfect punish only to baseball-swing in the exact opposite direction of your opponent, despite no reasonable player ever wanting to do this. If it controlled better, this might be one of my favorite games I’ve ever played on the Calendar, but as released, it’s a comedy routine starring Faust; I have absolutely zero inclination to get over the control hiccups when when AC+R exists.
But hey, it, uh, has a beat-em-up stapled to it? I don’t know if I can really be upset about something with this amount of neat extra pack-ins. Maybe it’s best to accept Isuka as a wacky package of weird stuff.
Sincerely a lock on feature away from being a fucking awesome game period and not just a fun game you play once in a while with 3 other people. I love how much effort they put into making this game have like, meaningful stuff in it for people to do outside of the game. The Beat Em Up mode is one thing on its own, but like, a fully customizable Robo Ky with all of these moves and like, stats and FRC points on all of the moves and and and…..
it’s SO cool! I LOVE this game! I did a fucking Robo-Ky MK2 combo for a CMV because I love this game! Or at least, I love what this game tried. Actually playing it a lot would drive me bonkers, but just….man. I miss this ambition in GG.
There is so much in this game it’s kind of blowing my mind? It’s really emblematic of the kind of shit that brings non-competitive players back to fighting games for hours and hours. It’s super cool. Would love to see this idea revisited with, like, a better control solution (like just let you lock on to one opponent).
December 25: Dragon Ball Z Hyper Dimension (SNES)
In which we experience the Fightcade equivalent of a drive-by shooting.
On the grand scale of things, playing shitty fighting games isn’t really that difficult. They’re still video games—it’s not like Abbock and Rockforge sent me to work in a coal mine. But at the end of the marathon, I’m always a little run down, even if I’m having fun. Having weird garbage beamed directly into your brain will do that to you.
Suffice to say, after a month of incomprehensible nonsense, it was so, so nice to say this without reservation: Dragon Ball Z Hyper Dimension is fucking bad. I’ve had enough of nuance, research, and the exhausting task of staring at obvious bullshit and giving it the benefit of the doubt. Give me something that Just Fucking Sucks.
There is no coherent thesis statement or core design philosophy here; there are a bunch of weirdos with awful gameplans, a bunch of fucked up moves, and a bunch of system mechanics that feel like they’re struggling to function on an individual basis, let alone as a group. Zero-height-restriction divekicks, invincible wakeup dashes, unavoidable round start command throws, jumping mids, unlimited desperation supers…you get the idea.
All of these things would be forgivable if the game had an ounce of charm, or if movement was fun, or if the grime was at least interesting to execute. It doesn’t, it’s not, and it isn’t. It’s an SNES fighting game; remember that Street Fighter II, Yu Yu Hakusho Final, or even Super Variable Geo are standout exceptions purely by virtue of being controllable or interesting at all. We’ve been here before; this isn’t even saved by short and explosive rounds, because you can charge to regenerate life. It’s another “here’s why this doesn’t work” tour.
Everything is someone’s favorite game, though. During the stream, the Fightcade2 lobby filled up with a few Venezuelan players, looking for games; apparently, it’s a standard house rule to set the lifebars as high as they can go, and combining that with showstopper lag made a single game take about six months. Unbelievably, they were down for more. You do you, South American heroes.
Hyper Dimension has, like, one quarter of one good idea; certain moves can launch your opponent into new sections of the stage, like Tekken floor breaks. Considering how much DBZ loves launching characters in the air for the specific purpose of volleyball spiking them from low Earth orbit, this is a cool and thematically appropriate idea. It’s immediately ruined when the game transitions to an awkward free-floating flight mode, where you have to try and navigate your standing normals into the right Y-axis postiion.
When normals clash during sky phases—and they will clash, because a lot of them gain forward movement—one character moves into the background for a 50/50 minigame, where the defender has to match the attacker’s input or take damage. This isn’t a timed input or anything, though; you can take some time to think about the highly in-depth mindgame, and input your choice at your own pace.
Or you can just, uh, not.
Every time AJ talks about the Super Nintendo sound chip I want to delete my account.
This game deserves the roasting though.
I don’t think anything I can say about this game will be as telling as being challenged by random Venezuelans in the Fightcade lobby at 250+ms ping and them being completely okay with that play environment. Dragon Ball Z fans are built different, dude.
the titular “Hyper Dimension” is Venezuela
Which means that December is literally staring at me through my bedroom window, and I needed to stop slacking and finish this off.
REAL REAL-ASS ASS Abbock 1 0.5 2 Keeg 2 2 1 Rockforge - - 4 Sleepmode 1.5 0.5 3 TTTTTsd - 2 3 Zari0t 0.5 2 - Total 5 7 13 Decimal scores are for team selections. Anyway, ROCKFORGE?
After 2020’s majority-Real schedule, it’s somewhat comforting to return to ASS outnumbering the other categories combined, even if it was from a certain outsized influence. Despite that, 2021’s marathon was the most fun to date; not only was it a stellar selection in terms of raw entertainment value, but I think we’re all getting better at Finding The Fun in unconventional places. Plus it’s fun to do these with a bunch of people looking over my shoulder. Y’all are cool.
2021’s crop was pretty wild, and there’s not a lot with reasonable conventional netplay, but I will unconditionally recommend Spectral VS Generation to everyone reading, since it’s available on Fightcade with rollback. (Survival Arts is, too, but whether you care about that is up in the air.) Garouden Breakblow: Fist or Twist is my pick for “most likely to show up at HITBOX DIMENSION hotel casuals”, with Isuka, Glove on Fight 2, and SF4 Remix just behind, but I’d be down to replay a lot of things on this year’s schedule. (Yeah, I was down on Isuka, but with a hotel room full of shitheads, putting four players on the same monitor seems alright.)
If you’re inclined to lab-monster, Remix and DOH Fighters 2 would probably be my go-tos, but a masochistic part of me wants to open up Ningyou Tsukai 2 and see if I can get some ToDs down, just to prove to myself that I can. (I will probably not do this.)
Thank you for playing. See you in December!