The year’s coming to an end. Guess it’s time to rev this thing up again.
The Kusoge Advent Calendar is my favorite holiday ritual. Every December, I drag a bunch of friends into a month-long stream marathon, playing one wacky, weird, forgotten or fucked up fighting game every day. We’ve been at it for seven years, going on eight, and in the process we’ve found unexpected favorites, archaeological artifacts, baffling departures from tradition, and a whole lot of e-waste.
My mission: to extract something of value from every fighting game ever made. My consolation prize, should that mission fail: screaming about it on the Internet so that I feel less alone with these inscrutable fucking design mysteries.
After literally eleven months, I finally feel prepared to talk about this bullshit. Grab some tea and a warm blanket, this one’s long.
Table of Contents (spoilers?!)
- December 1: BlazBlue Calamity Trigger (PC)
- December 2: Street Fighter Zero 3 Mix (Arcade)
- December 3: Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (PC)
- December 4: Saiyuki Reload:Gunlock (PS2)
- December 5: SECRET MEETING 2: Accident Climax 2021 (PC)
- December 6: Final Fight Revenge (Saturn)
- December 7: Real Fighter (MS-DOS)
- December 7B: Chinese Fighter 3 (Genesis)
- December 7C: Top Fighter (Genesis)
- December 8: Metamoqester (Arcade)
- December 8B: VR Troopers (Genesis)
- December 9: Battle Master (PS1)
- December 10: Street Fighter Alpha (Arcade)
- December 11: ClayFighter Tournament Edition (SNES)
- December 11B: Ultra ClayFighter (SNES)
- December 12: Kings of Kung Fu (PC)
- December 13: Goiken Muyou II (PS1)
- December 14: Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi AF Z (PS2)
- December 15: Samurai Shodown Warrior’s Rage (PS1)
- December 16: Tekken 4 (PS2)
- December 17: Kamen Rider V3 (PS1)
- December 18: FIGHT GAME II 3000 (Genesis)
- December 19: NB Heart Breakers Advanced (PC)
- December 19B: FIGHT GAME II 3000, AGAIN
- December 20: Evil Zone (PS1)
- December 21: Dino Rex (Arcade)
- December 22: Rise of the Robots (Amiga)
- December 22B: Rise 2: Resurrection (DOS, Saturn)
- December 23: Infinite Versus (PC)
- December 24: Mortal Kombat Gold (Dreamcast)
- December 25: DNF Duel (PC)
December 1: BlazBlue Calamity Trigger (PC)
Our holiday tradition has a tradition of its own: the First One. We start the marathon off with a game that launched a series, something familiar and funny, before slowly easing down into the swamp of cryptid shit.
Calamity Trigger deserved sequels. It also desperately needed them.
Toshimichi Mori’s How To Draw Manga: The First One is, for all its faults, pretty satisfying to jump into on short notice. The soundtrack slaps, the spritework is gorgeous, and the cast is full of memorable designs with strong silhouettes and powerful gimmicks. Even at an early stage, BlazBlue’s “bringing grime to the masses” mentality is obvious; at basically any time, you can throw caution to the wind, hit the Drive button, and immediately witness some extremely normal stuff happening. It’s a basic, time-tested airdasher formula, giving characters big ways to control space and big ways of getting around it. Simple and satisfying—plus it’s a 2007 release with tap-to-set controls, smart stuff.
Calamity Trigger’s actual problems only surface when you start trying to play against a competent human adversary—so it’s a good thing we’ve got Story Mode, crammed full of voiced dialogue, one-round fights, and inexplicable route splits that require you to lose at specific times. Dub Ragna, our series protagonist mostly famous for loudly yelling BITCH during combos, is a joy to behold in the same way that going through your stack of home movies is a joy—nostalgic and genuine, but frequently interrupted by the skeleton-annihilating cringe of watching him interact with another person. Also, the PC version has no useful volume controls, so please enjoy the slow-burn animated intro blowing out your desktop speakers.
At the time Calamity Trigger was released, I think the most obvious issues were character balance. It doesn’t take a professional to realize that Nu/Tager is a matchup with some “logistical difficulties”, but Carl clap loops, Arakune with no curse meter, and Rachel’s absolutely apeshit damage are all worth mention too. Less obvious, but probably more disgusting, is the lack of Throw Reject Miss, BlazBlue’s system to neutralize throw-tech option selects; in Calamity Trigger, 4ABC is the natural first layer of defense, teching throws and Barrier-blocking strikes. Throw OS won’t help you when you’re stuck blocking at half-screen, though—enjoy the Rachel matchup, where you can painstakingly advance for 45 seconds, throw out an A normal, and instantly explode.
From where I’m standing, the strangest aspect of Calamity Trigger is the burst system. Bursts instantly put you into Danger state, causing you to take extra damage—and disabling your Barrier!—for the rest of the round. For the unforgivable crime of using a defensive mechanic, you lose the Barrier OS, cutting away the foundation of all defense; even worse, you lose the ability to Barrier-block grounded normals while airborne!
For the rest of the round, a savvy opponent can restrict you to 4% of the screen, easily swatting away grounded advances while the air is off-limits. Bursts suck, and muscle-memory from modern games will ruin your life; holding back the instinct to burst early and often is physically uncomfortable. But hey, at least you can charge your burst for a cheeky unblockable?
This gives Nu a practical checkmate from a fullscreen super. Not that she needs it.
“INFERNO DIVIDER!” BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger reminds me of the old days of video games, where you just did whatever the hell you wanted, and even if it turned out bad you just patched it up with the next version. For a game that came out in 2008, it really feels brave with just how much it doesn’t care about your feelings: with the way Burst sucks so bad, or the way certain characters are designed (Nu and Tager, of course, being on each end of the pole respectively).
Shoutouts to my boy Carl’s clap loops. He was considered bottom 1, then instantly shot to top 4, because if you can’t caounter the way the loop works in particular, you Die :)
Incredibly awesome fun for the time we played. Basically the Vanilla XX of BlazBlue, even though one has to wonder: how do you make these decisions after Accent Core? But then you play Accent Core and you kinda get it. At least CentralFiction has rollback now!
We often talk about modern fighting game releases in terms like, “It’s got some kinks, but it’s pretty good for a launch version,” so it’s kinda crazy to think that BlazBlue was so broken on launch that they had to rework core system mechanics two whole times before anyone making it knew what it was even supposed to be other than “the game that is just worse Guilty Gear but we can play it on an LCD so we’ll just pretend to take it seriously for the TO’s benefit.” While it took until around the time of the big Kokonoe nerfs in CP1.1 for BlazBlue to start becoming a genuinely great game with its own identity, it’s easy to see how it was able to stick around long enough to become that game—even if I don’t want its design sensibilities anywhere near me any more.
December 2: Street Fighter Zero 3 Mix (Arcade)
I have a bit of a history with Street Fighter Alpha 3.
Accordingly, it falls to my “friends” to sneak Alpha 3 onto the Advent Calendar every year; I think the presence of Zero 3 Mix, a hack that Capcom had absolutely zero part in, means that we’re running out of ways to make me play the same game.
Zero 3 Mix takes a very Chaos Generation approach; add more mechanics, as many as you can fucking think of, and trust players to find the game lurking beneath. To that end, we have 3v3 teams with KOF hops, cracked-out Just Defend, selectable airtech modes, and all of the best parts of every ISM—exclusive moves included—pulled into one unified meter style. (Editor’s note: King of Fighters is the national sport of Brazil.)
In general, Zero 3 Mix seems mostly interested in moving power out of the meter mechanics and into character movesets—a choice I can appreciate, even if Boxer’s low dash punches are actual grand larceny. For a dumbass who’s bad at fighting games, it’s really nice to have a simple and reliable way to convert low pokes into knockdowns, and the defensive options are robust enough that frequent knockdowns don’t usually feel overbearing. Just Defend dramatically reduces blockstun, providing a useful universal escape hatch, and it’s also the only way to defend in the air.
It’s hard for me to talk about this one; I like it, but it’s not because of the design ethos or precise tuning or anything that normally makes me smile. For the most part, I just respect the fuck out of the ambition; Zero 3 Mix is an incredibly far-reaching hack, featuring mechanics that I never would have thought to add or combine, and the fact that it feels cohesive and stable is kind of a fucking miracle. It’s golden-age Capcom aesthetics, but with gameplay that straddles the Bootleg Boundary.
Let’s zoom in on hops for a second. In King of Fighters, hops let you advance while your jumping attack covers you, but don’t leave you vulnerable like a jump-in would—combining almost all the safety of a grounded normal with almost all the ambitious scariness of a jumping normal. KOF is designed with this in mind, but Alpha 3 never needed to be, and so I expected Zero 3 Mix to reward players who
brainlessly fearlessly advanced; in reality, it didn’t quite work like that.
Just Defend helps, of course; it rewards big predictions, giving defenders a way to squeeze out of rote pressure, and the removal of standard airblocking means that hops can be swatted away for direct reward. But there’s a trickier change lurking; it’s actually not easy to combo out of a hop. Maybe this is because of the jump angle, maybe it’s because of hitstun changes, maybe it’s both—but even off deep connects, you’ll usually need to use light normals, scaling your damage and limiting your followup options.
…What the fuck, this game actually kinda works?
See, this is why fan projects are cool. A professional product, a commercial product, has endless incentive to streamline, whether it’s in pursuit of mass appeal or an effort to cut costs. Fan projects don’t—if you want to totally fuck up jump-ins, flying in the face of muscle memory and series expectations, you get to do that. If you want to add teams to Alpha 3, complete with a wacky start-of-round button hold that converts meter into life or guard bar recovery, you get to do that too—nothing can stop you but your own willingness to follow through.
In short, we finally found a version of Alpha 3 I like; in fact, it left such a strong impression that I’m starting to question my feelings on Alpha 3 as a whole. Hell has frozen over.
(We’ll see if that sentiment holds up next year.)
Look, I am not good at Alpha 3, and I can’t even pretend to appreciate its intricacies, but from the moment I touched this I thought of it as “Alpha 3 but good”
Need to fix a fighting game? Just add KOF.
It’s Alpha 3 but good, and the silly mechanics make it a more interesting romp than the way V-ISM works in vanilla IMHO. I’m glad everyone had fun with it.
Outside of jump button hitstun on full jumps being weird, from memory, I have no complaints. This ruled.
Haha, AJ liked this year’s Alpha 3.
…wait, everyone liked this year’s Alpha 3. I somehow feel like I’ve failed.
December 3: Guilty Gear XX Accent Core (PC)
Guity Gear: The Missing Link was the very first game we played on the very first Advent Calendar; the legacy it left behind is a series of awkward Twitch clips where I discover techable infinites and gawk at Kliff damage. Seven years later, I’m still gawking at Kliff damage, with one key difference: TTTTTsd, one of the greatest Kliffs to ever do it, at my side and laughing like he’s about to rupture his stomach.
AC+R is cool, though. Like, we like that game, right? Universal gatlings and high-power movesets make it fun to mash around in casually, strong universal defense means that there’s always an answer to lab-monster bullshit, and it has rollback on PC for, like, a dollar. As the final set of refinements to XX, it’s not without its stupid shit (insert any of T’s horrible Twitter clips here), but it’s still grabbing new players and surprising the old ones, even as it shares space with two newer games.
Accent Core vanilla, though…well, I’m glad I’ve got copilots for this one. As the first major update to XX, it introduced a lot of content—all good stuff—and a lot of system changes, which miiiiight not have been quite as well-considered.
The actual minutiae of the jank is…staggering, and there’s more than I feel comfortable trying to talk about—not because it’s overwhelmingly janky by ratio, but just because there is so much fucking Guilty Gear in Guilty Gear. The top tiers are probably instructive, though; Eddie can summon frame advantage from nowhere at any time, Testament gets ripshit damage off safe and far-reaching tools, and Potemkin gets a full-ass looping unblockable off any hit anywhere on the screen—because somebody thought that anvil-brained shitwit deserved to get full combos from Slide Head.
Later versions of the game would get plenty of character tweaks, but I don’t want to get into them here; if you know enough to understand, you probably know enough that I’d be boring you. However, the biggest general change from Accent Core to +R is simple and straightforward; everybody’s more durable. All of Accent Core’s top tiers fight well with momentum, and raising health gives their opponents more chances to escape or mash out.
I typically don’t like health-based balancing mechanisms—I’ll always think of Evil Ryu getting slapped on the wrist—but with how much power XX puts into Tension, even a single extra chance can represent a very real swing in momentum. It’s a change that keeps the power-fantasy of “unshakable control” intact, but makes you work just a little longer for it. I’m here for it.
It’s easy to be kind to Accent Core. Most of the jank, even though there’s a lot of it, is the sort of stuff you have to put at least some work into unlocking. Gear is about scrambles first and foremost, and your ability to get to lab-monster bullshit is always going to be dependent on slapping your opponent out of the sky; to a novice whose expertise begins and ends at gatlings into 2D, Testament’s disgusting neutral is the only frustrating outlier (and that character can’t even tech in Missing Link, so maybe they earned it).
I want to stress this for a bit, because I think the implications are pretty important. I am the wrong person to talk about Guilty Gear; it’s hard, I’m stupid, and a lot of the history simply passed me by. But we scraped together a 4-man lobby in a shitty version of an old game, played for hours, and had a fucking blast. I would still rather put my dick in a countertop panini press than fight another Testament, but we all play games with That One Fucking Character, so does that really count for much?
Conclusion A: compelling core systems can protect players from tuning mistakes until the very highest levels of play. Conclusion B: you, the reader, should buy and play +R. Seriously, if you’ve managed to dodge it until now, here’s your sign. It’s got great rollback, replay takeover, modern input-parser fixes, and it routinely goes on sale for a price that looks like money laundering. There’s a lot to learn if you want to go crazy with it, but think of it as a set of opportunities—an ever-expanding list of ways to scam your friends.
This is three games in a row at the start of the calendar where AJ is having fun. this month is going to be so fucked—frogunderscore0
I love this game. I don’t think I’d ever play it seriously, but man I love this game. Like every version of XX including the one I play competitively (+R), this game is hilarious. TRULY hilarious. It’s wild that Eddie got his fall in Slash and his rise once again in this game after the cracked out power of Reload Eddie. Accent Core feels like such a spirited update to Slash too, with the intent to make the game way more fun and interesting, and while Force Breaks ended up really messing up the balance, they at least gave players a new way to spend 25 meter that wasn’t learning an FRC, with good reward (usually.)
A game in which Eddie unblockable loops you to death, and I still love it as a game overall. Accent Core is quite the step up from Slash in terms of added mechanics and Just Trying To Do The Funny (especially seen with Potemkin), but as an overall game, I would still play it over Midnight Carnival or Slash every time. The snappy, fun gameplay, and the fact that there are no boring characters among the cast, even if there are weaker characters, is something that Guilty Gear has gotten right for a long time.
In +R, the dev team really tried hard to un-Wacky a lot of what made the chararcters in Accent Core silly, in ways that worked wonders. Shoutouts to Testament being a much more fair character and still being top 3, or Kliff existing.
Much of the English-speaking Guilty Gear community affectionately referred to this version of the game as “Accident Core”, and while that’s not without good reason, I think what’s most impressive about Accent Core is that while its shortcomings are the result of what happens to most bad versions of Guilty Gear—that being “the game is trying a whole bunch of new shit”—the game holds up a hell of a lot better than the first release of Guilty Gear XX or any release of Guilty Gear X
or Guilty Gear Strive
While Accent Core +R absolutely moved the game in a healthier direction overall, I think Accent Core is still worth playing on its own merits. Then again, I’m also in favour of legalising EX characters in +R so maybe you shouldn’t listen to me
they call it “accident core” because they accidentally made the grappler good
December 4: Saiyuki Reload:Gunlock (PS2)
When it comes to Licensed Anime Garbage For A PlayStation, I think it’s useful to define two broad categories.
One category superficially resembles fighting games—they’ve got throws and blocking and movelists and all that—but are missing some critical information about the genre, have an obvious exploitable design deficiency, and end up playing like a dressed up Samurai Kirby. These are fun for a 45-minute romp; as long as they don’t assault my eyes or ears, I’m okay with them.
But there’s a second, rarer category, the shit that I absolutely live for. Games like Saiyuki Reload:Gunlock have no system-busting holes, no meaty unblockables or one-move infinites or any of that; they’re made with a vision, a purpose, and all the systems a fighting game should theoretically need. Instead of being broken and stupid because they’re missing something, they’re broken and stupid because they have everything—and get it all just a little bit wrong.
Let’s start with a question; in the absence of developer credits, who the fuck is responsible for this thing? We’ve developed a theory, of course; if you assume that Eighting is responsible for every licensed anime fighting game, you’ll be right a weird amount of the time, and that’s before you catch all the reused animations from Naruto games. Regardless of your guess, something happened here, and Bandai will likely never tell us what it was—but if you assume it was Eighting, you might be tempted to ask “What kind of game would Eighting be willing to disown?”
Alright, controls: two attack buttons, two sidestep buttons, one throw button, and the DRAVE BUTTON, which controls your DRAVE METER. One press of the DRAVE BUTTON activates your level 1 super, but an extra press during superflash loads up your level 2, then another for your unscaled cinematic level 3.
The core mixup of this game should be a Virtua Fighter-style strike-throw system, since attack startup beats throws, but throws are, uh, bad. Instead, you keep mashing in check with the threat of super-cancels—your DRAVE OPPORTUNITIES have weirdly long stagger windows, and an opponent that tries to respect them will struggle to stop pressure resets.
Of course, that assumes you’ve got a decent super to use in the first place; if you don’t, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time at half-screen looking for counterpokes. This ends up looking pretty flat-footed and gormless, because movement in Saiyuki is dumb. Characters constantly wander off-axis, sidesteps function based entirely on vibes, and there’s an overall feeling of wrongness whenever you try to do something more ambitious than “maybe 6H will hit something”. I am choosing to give Saiyuki some slack on this, since we played it through PCSX2, but not unlimited slack. There are things going wrong here that can’t be explained with input delay.
Take jumping. At a glance, it seems like a pretty bad idea to jump; they have moon gravity, jump normals can easily be defused with a grounded sidestep, and entering the air at all lets your opponent set up some kind of deranged camera crossup, where either block direction becomes wrong once you’ve walked for a frame. All of that’s true, and all of that’s important, but there’s more; because landing recovery can be cancelled by walking, and you can air-block just about everything except a slow universal command normal, you have to commit hard to beat up-forward in neutral or up-back on defense. (Sure hope nobody has a fast air-to-ground OTG projectile balanced entirely by its landing recovery, that would be pretty fucked up.)
So far, this is a relatively normal set of ways for a game to be fucked up. No more. Enter Hazel, a character who falls short of Saiyuki’s paltry movelists by simply having none at all: one button plus one direction equals one attack, no strings or chains or special moves to speak of. Instead of frametraps or combos, Hazel has 2H, a safe multihit strike that hits everywhere within two character lengths, does 30% damage raw, and builds illegal amounts of meter on hit or block. No strings to apply pressure? Bad universal antiair? Doesn’t matter; you always have bar, your supers hit the entire screen, and when they hit, the person getting hit fucking dies.
I kind of love top tiers like Hazel—characters that are just barely beatable enough to be interesting, even if their mere presence on your screen warps every interaction into a Mario Party minigame. 2H solves every problem, answers every question, makes breakfast and fucks your dad, but it’s not unbeatable, not quite—and that’s what keeps it funny.
With a villain like that, I’ll play for hours, even if the game has virtually zero redeeming qualities otherwise. I think that says more about me than about Saiyuki.
In games where chicken blocking feels unstoppable, the mind must go to dark places to fathom what it takes to be an oppressive top tier.
“Yeah we top tier, keep scrolling”
Saiyuki Reload:Gunlock is the perfect example of a game that is complete trash, but is very fun with the Friend Factor in play, where you get to try to break the game together in various ways—like making the camera turn into what I can only describe as clownshoes vomit world, where nothing is ever aligned.
The balance is actually shockingly decent even with Hazel being definitive top 1, and Sanzo shutting down most characters who aren’t Hazel. Most characters who aren’t Goku have some form of fuckery going on that completely defies what you should put into a fighting game:
- Chin’s 2H, which throws three needles and does massive damage, and is safe, and also you have multiple strings that end in the 2H animation
- Kamisama’s range and fucked-up crossup potential, if you can actually get anyone to stay still
- Gojyo Stinger confirm
- Hakkai loop clombos and fireball
- Kougaiji, with the best unblockable Falcon Punch of all time that is only good due to the range. (Also, the level 2 that’s a nice fuck-you explosion for huge damage potential.)
Saiyuki is a game that you can play with friends and have fun! That doesn’t mean you should ever play it—but it also means that even if it is, without a question, Ass, it has charm for its ghost devving and beihg blatant PS2 shovelware.
This feels more like 4ing. 5ing at best.
December 5: SECRET MEETING 2: Accident Climax 2021 (PC)
Wait, didn’t we already do the Fighter Maker Touhou game with barely-disguised character clones and digitized crossplayers?
Right from the getgo, characters are walking out of their character select previews, the round call is spelled “RAEDY” and sounded out how it’s spelled, and Marisa is Iori. SECRET MEETING 2 knows what it is, knows that you know, and has absolutely no interest in pretending to be something else.
None of the characters in this cast are playing by the same rules. Their only similarities are universal movement—run dash, double jump, airdash, superjump, fastfall—and the standard-reference-mixup tools of 22A and 22B, a slow overhead and low that disable your opponent’s super meter when blocked wrong. It’s telling that those two moves are the only universal attacks; if there’s one thing you want in this game, regardless of what character you’re playing, it’s for your opponent to stop scamming you with EX moves.
Unfortunately, 22A and 22B have 8-10 business days of startup, so your best bet is to fight bullshit with bullshit, covering the screen in plasma or rush-punching someone’s soul out of their body (complete with giant neon star hitsparks). There is almost zero pretense of balance, fairness, or competition of any kind; the game’s Tager expy has nearly-unlimited fullscreen command throws, and they’re completely invincible because it seemed funnier that way.
Combo rules barely exist, just progressive gravity and the gentle suggestion of damage scaling, but moves don’t really fit together properly—everything is just a flashy and oppressive mess, and even at 5% volume it was probably still a little too loud. There’s some surprising, uh, “personality” in the way every actor’s cut-out photos are organized, though; everyone animates like a cross between a MikuMikuDance shitpost and a lagging stream.
Playing this shit is exhausting, because your brain is absorbing 60 metric tons of information every second and almost none of it matters. The strong movement is compelling, but don’t think you’ll be gracefully dancing in and out of danger; mostly you’ll be clumsily crashing into your opponent, showering both players in neon VFX and the sounds of incorrectly operated microphones. Almost no one in the cast has a gameplan deeper than “hit stuff until something stops me”; everyone’s got the same types of normals, limiting the macro-level strategy, and their specials are incomprehensible meme compilations that reduce the game to crashing action figures together. Why does Yukari have a Duel Disk? Stop asking questions, look at this wacky guy with the guitar.
However, SECRET MEETING 2 does something I’ve never seen before, and that earns it some of my begrudging and ill-advised respect. If you try to do a metered move without the meter, instead of the input falling back to a regular attack, you taunt. Can you think of a worse time to be completely vulnerable?
they call it “accident climax” because they accidentally made the grappler good
December 6: Final Fight Revenge (Saturn)
The Advent Calendar has almost ruined the PS1 for me, but I’m still pretty fond of the Saturn. Sure, D-Xhird is just about as low as low can go, but when a game is bad on the PS1, it’s usually a path-of-least-resistance bad—it sucks because it sucks to control. When the Saturn is involved, whether it’s an original game or an unusual port, the wackness usually comes from a different place.
Final Fight Revenge is a 4-button game with largely sauceless movement, almost-but-not-quite-vestigial sidesteps, and some fascinating ideas about meter usage. I can confidently recommend it to almost no one, but I don’t think I can really bring myself to dislike it. With one exception (we’ll get there), I don’t really feel anything about it.
Almost everything here is fine on a technical level, and it feels and sounds good on the surface, but there’s no connective tissue. Projectiles are clumsy to use and even clumsier to defend against—sidesteps seem like they should work, since they suck against strikes, but usually don’t, and they grind the pacing to a crawl whether they function or not. Buttons feel alright, but if you block anything, you can probably mash a bigass crouch jab from advantage, putting the game on hold every time attacks make contact. Weapon pickups are a cute gimmick, but they’re a pain to get your hands on, requiring perfect on-axis movement and command overlap with sidestep. The reward isn’t usually worth it, either; if you already have a fireball, why would you need the annoying space gun?
When you pick up a game like this, I think the natural instinct is to push it to its limits, searching for fucked-up strong stuff and crashing it into other strong stuff purely to see what wins out. But all the strong stuff is either more of the same—decent zoners and annoying attack properties, like El Gado’s psychotic low-profile normals—or 0-frame unblockables that just fucking kill you on the spot. There’s probably some interplay to be found here, but who would bother?
Even for lab monsters or the lonely Saturn owner, there’s not much here. Barrels randomly spawn on the pseudo-infinite stages, creating a fake corner or a raised floor as you hop on top of them, but they’re awkward to navigate, offer zero match-practical combos, and are barely relevant even for lab-monsters. There’s no secret content or single-player gimmicks, just versus, and the AI is miserable and unambitious (they’re in Final Fight Revenge, I would be too). Even the bugs and jank are largely low-rent and boring; those “pseudo-infinite” stages have invisible corners, and you’ll slide off of them as you block, flickering out of the camera’s coordinate space and waiting to be pushed off-axis.
(Of course, if you’re determined enough, there’s apparently at least a little bit of stuff going on. I’m not sure how I feel about someone having the mental fortitude to access this, but I think it’s probably positive.)
But after all that, I do get to give Final Fight Revenge some backhanded praise—at least there’s a sideshow exhibit, and it comes in the form of every fucking super in the game. You’ve got 0-frame command grabs, custom combos with virtually zero restrictions, Hugo’s insane “my next heavy punch is actually a command throw” install, Haggar’s literal roulette-wheel scoop…and the minigames.
Now, as the #1 Cinematic Super Disliker, I appreciate the idea of powerful supers having some input from the defender; for all their faults, the Budokai games and their stickbox-destroying beam clashes give you something to do besides watch a cutscene. But nothing I write will ever capture the utter fucking bewilderment of a 1-bar super transporting you to the Police Car Dimension, where you run around in 3D and try to avoid your opponent steering an actual goddamn vehicle into you.
To be fair, if I had to choose between blocking Cody and a literal fucking automobile, I’d try my luck on the car. At least it can’t cross me up.
Yeehaw! I love old Capcom jank. IDK I can’t say much else, DamnD is hilarious.
It’s like a mutant baby of Alpha 2, and I love every second of it except the gimmick supers.
The top 3 are probably all going even with each other, but the things they can do are so stupid—Cody DP jumpscare will eternally be funny, Dammd OH YEAAAHHHH into death combo, and El Gado’s EVERYTHING.
There is a very real possibility that this game sucking so bad inspired Shinji Mikami to eventually make God Hand. (Though it could also be Final Fight Streetwise, the other really shitty Final Fight game developed by Capcom’s US branch. What the hell were you doing with this series?)
December 7: Real Fighter (MS-DOS)
I’m leading with the only positive thing I can say: DOSBox fucking rocks.
Like, I’ll always bitch about trying to dial in the right waitloops and cycles-per-second settings to get a playable game—the language of timing is critical to the workings of a fighting game, what do you mean “the game speed is whatever you feel like”—but I really appreciate the work of the programmers and maintainers who let me take little trips back in time like this. Preservation is important and noble work.
Yes, even if the thing you’re preserving is Real Fighter, and even if it doesn’t fucking work. Surprise! The DOS game attempting realtime 3D with shaded polygons is an unstable piece of shit! Normally I’d have some sympathy for this kind of ambition, and somewhere deep down I probably do, but it’s been exhausted by the tedium of trying to get the damn thing working only for it to crash in mere minutes.
Fortunately, everything about Real Fighter is boring and stupid even when it’s working, which is almost never. You die in two strings, if not from damage then from ring-out, and your primary way of exploiting this is simply to mash harder, since the unresponsive step-walking sure as hell isn’t going to make anything whiff. Congrats on beating Elsword to the punch on “unbelievably annoying cinematic knockdown camera”, though.
(From my notes: “you can cancel steps into steps of the opposite direction, which is at least somewhat interesting”. I think I’ve been here for too long.)
December 7B: Chinese Fighter 3 (Genesis)
After the 10-minute sideshow attraction (you guys seriously made me set up DOSBox again for this?), we groped around for something to save the evening. When T is anywhere within 300 kilometers of me, that means one of two things—gawking at Kliff combo theory, or bootlegs! So here’s a bunch of games with “Fighter” in the title.
I think we first encountered Chinese Fighter 3 as a Lord of the Rings bootleg—we’ve played this before, but fuck it, it’s that kind of day, just do it again. It’s got traced sprites, Street Fighter sounds put through a washing machine, and the usual suite of Chinese bootleg mechanics, including such long-time fan favorites as “Complete Misunderstanding Of Frame Advantage”, ”How Is The Camera In Your 2D Fighter This Bad”, and “Jumps That Should Be Ridiculously Unsafe But Nothing That Looks Like An Antiair Actually Is So Honestly Your Best Bet Is To Just Use A Rising Jump Normal (Sure Hope Prejump Fucking Works)”.
We didn’t bother to verify whether P1 Frodo infinites still existed. I will not explain further.
December 7C: Top Fighter (Genesis)
Top Fighter has lived in the “backup game” section of our spreadsheet for a long, long time, and I think the best way to think about it is like a physical puzzle—you know, one of those slidey tangled motherfuckers made of wood or metal. You yank and bash at it for an afternoon until you find The Trick, the internal logic or secret symmetry that makes the structure make sense, and it comes apart right away; the result is a small serotonin release, the quiet pleasure of solving something, and a little less space in your junk drawer as you put it away forever.
This game’s cast is straight out of a 2010 MUGEN roster, with about the same level of stylistic consistency—remember, any time spent creating original assets is time you could spend on something else. Steal everything you can, slap it together in a way that superficially resembles a fighting game, and get it out the door, no matter what crimes against hurtboxes you have to commit on the way.
The input parser is of note, though, because it’s got Weaponlord-style special moves; a stick motion plus holding a button is enough. I think it makes sense to assume that this is just broken, and that it’s not a stylistic decision or intentional choice of any kind, but I’ll stop short of declaring it a certainty for one reason only: how would you get it that wrong by accident? As I write this, I’m deep in the sauce for a gamedev project of my own—not only have I witnessed the types of things that happen when a small team tries to do a lot of stuff very quickly, I’ve been personally responsible for them—and the technical aspects of Top Fighter still baffle me.
Like, the surface-level explanation for most bugs, oversights and lack of polish is simple—the developers didn’t notice, or didn’t have the time or resources to fix it. If you asked your average person “why is Kyo’s 2K completely invincible and wildly disjointed”, they’d probably reply with an explanation like that. But one layer deeper, there’s a structure to the game that allowed the error to be made in the first place; someone, thinking they were programming behavior A, accidentally programmed behavior B instead.
So, you can ask “why do air juggles mysteriously become possible only when a launched opponent crosses the center of the stage”, and the predictable answer is “because the developers didn’t fix it”—but if you ask why that behavior was even programmable in the first place, how someone trying to program a game with no combos could accidentally add a combo triggered by screen scrolling, I presume the answer is “what are you doing in my house? I’m calling the police.”
I maintain, stubbornly, that these types of games have some value. Like before, think of them like puzzles; think of how the presence of a friend might change one. If you wanted to solve it with them, you could pass it back and forth together, alternating to try new ideas. If you wanted to solve it against them, you’d get two copies and race to solve it first. Both approaches have completely different appeal; you’d never mistake one for the other.
A fighting game, wonderfully, is both. The rules and goals of the game dictate that you should beat the other guy, and so both players set out to do just that—but the process of experimentation, every slide and rotation of the puzzle, is a negotiation between the two of you. The instant you find something new, it’s revealed to both players, a piece that can be manipulated by either side; in search of the next momentary advantage, players play to gather information, poking and prodding at the system while always reliant on the other’s unwilling cooperation.
For as long as there are still things to discover, there’s a joy to that particular flavor of intimacy. The best puzzles far outlast our ability to solve them, presenting new surprises and complications no matter how long you spend, but even humble ones—even broken ones—can be joyful for a while, until the final payoff of finding The Trick, the hidden rule that makes it come apart.
In Top Fighter, The Trick is the ability to unconditionally attack out of blockstun.
Thanks, Top Fighter. Into the drawer you go.
The time we spent figuring out how “““juggling””” worked will never leave my memory.
Joden top 1
December 8: Metamoqester (Arcade)
Not a fan of these Q-without-U words.
There isn’t an Advent Calendar bingo board yet, but if there was, I imagine “almost a fighting game” would be on it, right next to “jumping low” and “PS1 (FREE SPACE)”. Metamoqester has up to jump, back to block, motion specials, and if your life goes to 0 you lose—but it’s not quite a fighting game. It’s a co-op boss rush.
You’re matched up with a line of lavish screen-filling monstrosities, one after the other, and none of them are really concerned with competitive integrity or a symmetrical moveset; they’re here to drain your wallet and shake your eyeballs out of your skull. If you’ve ever played the AI in a fighting(esque) game, this is familiar territory—you’ll be mindlessly chopping down pushovers until the challenge turns on, somewhere around stage 3, and everything past that point is an exhaustive search for holes in the AI or moveset design.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the final boss, who I’ll be referring to as Boss Baby for the rest of this section. Metamoqester’s bosses are not “fair” to begin with; they guard whenever they want, unleash huge attacks without much telegraphing, and do so much damage that you can’t usually face-race them. Boss Baby, as is common for last bosses, drops any remaining illusion of fairness: free-floating movement, fast and far-reaching attacks, and the only barely-telegraphed Fucking Nightmare Blast, summoning five full seconds of fullscreen strobing explosions and a third of your life as chip damage alone. No counter, no perfect guard, no counterpokes or movement; if the boss chooses this attack, you’re taking damage.
Fortunately, you can’t die to chip, and though at least one developer surely thought of it, Boss Baby does not have a command grab. If you never commit to anything that can ever be whiff-punished, instantly recognize when the boss is floating into Fucking Nightmare Blast position, and block it out for minutes at a time, you’ll start finding the tiniest slivers of opportunity to go for a safe hit, praying that your medium normals will reach. It’s an exhausting fight, made worse by the incredible slowdown, and a single mistake takes you back to the start—for the price of 25 cents.
You could embark on that heroic quest, or you could cop out and bring a friend; unlike solo play, as long as both players aren’t dead at the same time, you’ll never lose progress. Just hold down-back, wait for your friend to put in another quarter, and resume; you’ll be done with the fight in a fraction of the time. Cheaper, faster, and nobody has to learn anything.
Maybe this is uninformed shitassery, but the focus on bosses seems like a missed opportunity. Like, the spritework’s great, the music’s great, and the three playable characters are all fun to control, but the amount of resources that went into programming and spriting these lavish bosses…well, it seems like a waste, doesn’t it? Even if the bosses had been fair opponents, intricate and complex with endless opportunities to optimize, wouldn’t you want to fight real people anyway? As it is, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to this game, except maybe to jumpscare people when 2AM casuals roll around.
Anyway, your reward for your money is a completely unlocalized ending—the Japanese text crawl has been replaced with blank space, and your character of choice silently stares at you for half an hour.
What a weird game.
The “boss rush fighter” is a subgenre with a surprising amount of entries (read: more than zero). Naturally I decided to pick the most insulting one possible.
December 8B: VR Troopers (Genesis)
As discussed, Metamoqester is not a fighting game, so we picked something out of the backup list to round out the day. I recommend against doing this.
VR Troopers has exactly two things going for it, stage backgrounds and Genesis guitar, and you can get both of those things somewhere else with less radiation exposure. The controls are so fantastically distressing that I’m gonna skip over most of the specifics and just say “shitty” several times instead, and the combat they’re controlling feels like it was slapped together in a week from pot metal.
Now, I don’t want to imply that any part of the game controls well, because it’s all a giant mess. But you’ll probably have some particular problems getting special moves to come out—even the straightforward “PUNCH AND KICK”, which the character select screen helpfully suggests that you input with “PUNCH & KICK”. This is because special moves have invisible cooldowns.
Lower the game difficulty one notch, and it’ll enable one-button special move macros. They also don’t work very well, for reasons I was never able to work out, but at least they take some execution burden off you.
Lower the difficulty another notch. and the game removes special move cooldowns—and you get to immediately discover why there are special move cooldowns! Every special move that isn’t useless is completely fucked, and in particular, all meaty fireballs are looping unblockables.
VR Troopers is an Americanized toku mashup fuckheap, like Power Rangers; the latter brought us a stellar SNES fighter, Natsume’s aptly named Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition, so we have some intuition about how VR Troopers could have done the same. Instead, it launched two years after the Genesis version of Street Fighter II and learned exactly zero lessons from it. Don’t misunderstand—I’m not saying that every fighting game should be Street Fighter—but if there were any better ideas than “Street Fighter clone” in pre-production, they got lost by release.
I don’t really like special move cooldowns; I think it usually makes for more interesting choices when moves are balanced relative to other moves. But motion inputs have a really, really long history of cultural wrongheadedness; to a lot of casual players, mastery of fighting games begins and ends at basic execution, the ability to intentionally do powerful moves. Through that lens, it’s easy to believe that a fireball or a dragon punch is intentionally overpowered, a reward for your mastery—and that idea, passed down to designers who don’t have the time or inclination to look deeper, is part of how we get this horseshit.
But that’s all barely-related waffle, an excuse for me to throw my thoughts at a page, because no one is ever going to learn anything from playing VR Troopers. We couldn’t stomach more than half an hour.
Kids mode and regular mode have different metas, and both of them include unblockable looping :)
December 9: Battle Master (PS1)
Welcome to a four-hour vortex of concentrated madness. It would have been longer, but the CIA turned off my internet connection because I was too close to the truth.
A blind playthrough of Battle Master is, at times, like someone put a creepypasta on a PlayStation disc. After the “opening cutscene” throws a rave grenade into your lap, it drops you onto an unlabeled menu with random FMVs, mysterious pictographs, and absolutely no explanation of what the fuck you’re supposed to be doing. Talk to man, or go through portal?
We started speaking in code during this playthrough, because there’s a lot hidden here—Battle Master’s conveyance and unlockable structure stands in total opposition to anything that you might consider Normal Fighting Game Shit, and leads to grown-ass adults having intense theory discussions using sentences like “But if no man, then two controller?” (We wondered aloud for hours about what the mysterious locked chest icon on every menu could be; it’s a tiny concept art gallery, and actually opening it was substantially less interesting than figuring out why the fuck it was locked.)
Let’s skip through some of the flailing and talk about what we learned. You start with one (1) character unlocked, and as such, cannot play 2-player. (Guess this is a Kamen Rider game or something.) In order to unlock another character, you’ll need to travel to their stage through the wacky menu portals and defeat them. That’s the first objective: unlock everyone you can.
The actual gameplay shares a lot of the usual PS1 traits, slow and plodding and only spiced up by the occasional goofy move animation, but even here, Battle Master seems uninterested in your expectations. You can access different sets of moves by holding the bumpers; as you use them in matches, they gain experience and level up, unlocking strictly-better versions with faster animations and higher damage. There’s no use in spamming one leveled-up powerful move, though, because repeating an attack with nothing in between reduces its damage, down to 0 if you use it enough.
(Finally, forward-thinking design! Someone’s solved the problem of mindless attacking in fighting games! Instead I will spam two moves.)
Battle Master doesn’t even have traditional blocking. Instead, you get a wackass “defense” button that lets you side-switch with close opponents, leaving you both +0, or sway highs/lows with a matching directional input. Counterattacking seems almost strictly better, since sways are almost never fast enough to pick up a punish (they barely leave you at advantage in the first place), but I respect the courage of looking directly at the Standard Fighting Game Mechanic and completely fucking ignore it.
Once you’ve unlocked everyone you can reach, the real game starts: unlocked level 2 and level 3 moves can be assigned to any character’s FUCKING MECH.
Mechs start with an empty movelist; you can mix and match attacks from any human combatants, building a custom character out of your favorite twelve moves. Note that it’s completely possible to create a mech with no access to Defense, which owns.
Unfortunately, once a move is transferred, it disappears from the human character who taught it, as if the knowledge was sucked directly out of their head. To make matters worse, even if you’re only going to use two moves, you need to transfer a full set of twelve before your mech becomes selectable.
(As I talk about the rest of this, try to keep in mind that kitting a full set of mechs took the two of us half an hour, even with emulator fast forward and total cooperation. Mech gameplay is almost exactly the same as standard play, besides a damage scaling exploit; it’s kind of amazing that we bothered to keep going.)
Once you’ve kitted out every mech you can be assed to, you can challenge the final boss gauntlet, a set of three unique mechs with some truly jacked-up damage. Your whole squad of mechs lines up KOF style, but losing a match puts that mech on the enemy team, with whatever heinous war-criminal moves you assigned it. Once you beat it, it seems to disappear completely, removed from the menus—until we stumbled upon Gaia, a recolor clone character, in a sequence that jumpscared us right before the ending of the stream and appears to be completely undocumented. Whatever. Anyway, if you can beat Gaia, you’ll get one of your mechs back…minus all its learned moves. Back to the grind.
After completing the gauntlet and watching the final cutscene, you’re placed into a “postgame” void-state, with nothing to do but versus. Two-player mech fights come with the same stakes as the gauntlet; if both players bring a memory card, the losing player has their mech erased and sent to Gaia, losing its moveset in the exact same way.
You don’t need a full team of mechs to clear the boss gauntlet. It’s not just possible to kill it with a single combatant, it’s easy, since the AI seems intentionally terrible—Battle Master is so linear that competent AI would feel insurmountably strong.
Pick the giant fucking foosies move that looks like Adon’s 5HK, put two copies of it on the same mech, and let out your best half-hearted laugh as the AI walks into them repeatedly. Battle Master considers two copies of the same move to be separate moves, allowing you to spam them at full damage forever, so you can fill the other 10 slots with random level 2 trash; you’ll never use it anyway.
Battle Master will let you take a full team into the gauntlet, though; on actual hardware, kitting every available mech would take hours upon hours of pure tedium, but it’s technically allowed. If you do this—vastly overpreparing in a way that makes absolutely no sense—then somehow lose with all of your mechs, you receive Battle Master’s only game over screen.
And then it deletes your save file.
The PlayStation has become one of my favourite video game consoles over the years, primarily due to how experimental so much of its library was. With this brand new CD-based technology at their disposal, developers suddenly had seemingly infinite answers to the question, “what is a video game?” PlayStation developers had all sorts of wild opinions on what a video game is or could be, and it would seem that Battle Master has a lot it wants to say on that question. Unfortunately, I am presently incapable of comprehending its opinions, though I’m glad it got to express those opinions all the same.
The stream of this may very well be the first footage ever uploaded that includes Battle Master’s game over screen.
A fever dream on the PS1 is about as rare as a cloud in the sky, but this specific variety of fever dream is hard to truly put into words. I love the idea of a game being so mean it deletes your save, because it really did not approve of you taking the time to grind a team and still lose. Try again, I guess.
I’m onto you, System Erasure.
December 10: Street Fighter Alpha (Arcade)
Wait, are we allowed to do two Alpha games in the same year?
On a surface level, Street Fighter Alpha is just uncontroversially good. This is golden-age Capcom, with top-notch presentation and sound; the mechanics holding it up are simple, familiar, and rewarding at every level of play. It’s an old game and it feels like an old game, with a tight reversal window and scary-fast ground stuff—but you know what you’re getting, and for people who don’t dip into older titles often, it’s a great place to start. (Special mention to the character-specific gatlings, for easy entry-level confirms and combos—and cancellable sweeps, one of my favorite vices.)
Basically, almost everything about Street Fighter Alpha is uncontroversially good…until you find Akuma’s 13-frame +12 overhead. Then the controversy starts, and people start posting hitbox diagrams in the group chat.
Every Alpha game has to have some ungodly character-specific grime (it’s the law!), but without fucked-up meter mechanics, this game settles for some extremely fucked-up moves. I think many players will start to suspect shenanigans the first time they encounter Dan—specifically, the first time he kills you off two crossups, because the actual joke character can effortlessly confirm into HP Dankykyaku for 40%. (Remember, he gets it from chainable lows!)
Guy’s got a 14-frame overhead, strong meaty links out of that overhead, great pressure, fantastic mixup, a one-frame disjointed sweep, and gets to combo into slide from any hit anywhere. This should be the type of character who has no reason to complain about anything, and yet he still kinda looks like a regular guy next to Akuma’s 2-frame +11 divekick.
Alpha is fucked up in ways that won’t be obvious at low levels, but become extremely funny once you’re past even a little of the learning curve. Rose, the game’s beatable but baffling top 1, does a great job of abusing the strangest system bug; max-range normals can sometimes fail to trigger proximity guard, becoming unblockable. This happens to everyone, but Rose is the only one who can reliably set it up, using the delayed afterimages of her install super—once she’s got a bar, unblockable slide becomes a game-ending threat.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Birdie, a character so lacking in sauce that it’s fair to call him defective. The dude’s got mediocre damage, no decent low pokes, terrible walk speed, and no usable source of plus frames, plus his only unique strength—a command grab—is in a game where regular throws are already lightning fast and constantly threatening.
All things considered, though, I like Alpha—even if I often put in a credit, instantly fail a reversal input, and explode. For the first step in a dramatic new direction for Street Fighter, this honestly seems shockingly competent, and fast games with high stakes are always a treat. Just, uh, never show me another Guy hitbox.
I will unironically go to bat for this game. It feels great, sounds great, and the gameplay is simple to understand but fun. Sure, the character balance is all over the place, and I wish Supers were handled like SFA3 (button strength determining the level) as Capcom’s multi-button press detection in the Alpha games is…..shaky. All in all, though? Awesome.
Unironically my favorite Street Fighter game of all time. Street Fighter Alpha is a complete product of its time, right down to the extremely high damage, extremely low stun numbers, and absolute grime—hitboxes, mixups, and some of the best overheads in any game you have ever played. Just like most First Ones, the game doesn’t have many restrictions yet, so most of the hitboxes were shrunken over time—but in this game, we have things like Guy’s completely disjointed cr.MP, Rose cr.MP (better than some entire characters on its own), crouching punches hitting low in general, and, of course, shoto normals being incredible overall.
The top four all feel very unique from each other—Rose with her insane unblockables and projectile reflects, Akuma being the ultimate all-rounder (insane divekick, the best chains of any shoto, and the best tatsu of any shoto), Guy’s far-reaching mixups and his incredibly rewarding combos after st.HK, and Ken’s roll mixups plus insane damage off HP dragon punch, solidifying him as a simple and fun character to play.
Overall, this game is an incredible taste of what the 90s had to offer, and has incredible music and visuals to tie everything together.
Hey, if you like Street Fighter with gatlings, you should check out this game called Street Fighter X Tek—
December 11: ClayFighter Tournament Edition (SNES)
This game is fucking ugly.
I feel compelled to lead with that, because it informed about 75% of my experience with ClayFighter Tournament Edition. Some of the music is alright, not that you can hear it over the sound effects, but almost everything else oozes with the “quirky and shitty on purpose xdxdxdxd” energy that makes me feel like I’m doing ipecac shots.
I’m gonna be insufferable in this section if I don’t get this off my chest early; I hate every moment that ClayFighter is on my screen or in my ears.
Moving on: I think just about everyone knows of ClayFighter, but might not know much about ClayFighter. For the most part, fighting games of this era were falling into line behind Street Fighter II, but occasionally a development team would display zero interest in learning any lessons from one of the most successful titles in the history of video games. ClayFighter is one of those, and it’s obvious—this isn’t a deliberate attempt to break the mold, this is the specific kind of backwards development that can only come from rock-solid genre ignorance.
We played ClayFighter Tournament Edition, the updated rerelease available only as a Blockbuster rental. (Whatever.) The first Google result sells this as a minor patch, adding some more turbo options and fixing a handful of glitches, but the reality is much funnier. Tournament Edition added combos—not specific combos, but the idea of combos. <TODO: THIS IS SUCH AN OUTRAGEOUS CLAIM THAT YOU NEED TO DOUBLE CHECK>
Tournament Edition did not add any sort of juggle limiter, hitstun scaling, or progressive gravity. If it hits, it hits. Tiny, blessed with a 2-frame half-screen jab, is pretty happy about this; calling the resulting combo a “microwalk link” would be an exaggeration, it’s just a whole-ass walk. This is somewhat balanced by Tiny’s horrible throw recovery animation, which leaves him uniquely susceptible to inescapable meaty throw loops…except half the cast doesn’t have throws. (Remember when I talked about genre ignorance?)
There are some sideshow systems that might distract you for a while here, like the weird “Super KO” mechanic that marks you for Death By Special Move if you take too much damage too quickly. (Somehow, this is different from the game’s random dizzies.) But ClayFighter’s most impactful system trait is actually its hitbox design; every move’s hitbox seems to almost exactly match its hurtbox, in both size and speed. If you hit a button and your opponent hits a button, you’re almost guaranteed to trade, no matter how you’re positioned, when you pressed, or what moves you actually picked.
If that sounds like a miserable fucking slugfest, that’s because it is! What passes for “strategy” in ClayFighter is finding your tools that skip the slugfest—mainly fireballs, though at least one air-to-ground throw is in there—and churning them out until your opponent can make you do something else.
No plan in neutral? Find your character’s fastest button, mash it until something bad happens, block until you’re pushed out, and start from step 1. Also, never jump unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences; although downward-aiming jump-ins will often trade with anti-airs, Tiny isn’t the only character who can ruin your life from a free-juggle state. (Not that there’s another kind of juggle state.)
ClayFighter Tournament Edition’s speed and simplicity, plus some very stupid lingering-hitbox jank, make it a decent surface-level pick for a one-hour fuckaround game; it’s just you, your opponent, and your three relevant moves per character. But it’s actively resistant to strategy or effort, in a way that’s pretty rare for games that are largely playable; this is the Kusoge Advent Calendar, sure, but after the initial dopamine-hit of Tiny juggles, nothing really measured up. It’s just not that interesting.
Well, except for the part where charge moves regularly come out with no button press. Tiny’s automatic psychic Blanka balls won me far more rounds than they lost.
One of my favorite games on the SNES because I am insane. Shoutouts to Bonker’s 1 frame pie, Icky’s shadow throw, Tiny’s jab in general, and the entire game just making no sense because wacky.
Thank you Interplay for waiting a couple of releases before turning up the racism dial.
December 11B: Ultra ClayFighter (SNES)
After a few hours of stop-motion brain-blender, we booted up Zool’s far-reaching ROM hack, Ultra ClayFighter—one of the most impressive fan patches I’ve ever seen, evaluated purely on the basis of “who fucking asked”. Character movesets are completely redesigned, giving everyone launchers, decent anti-fireball tools, and fucking throws, using frames that I’m like 99% sure weren’t in the original game. On the system side, there’s progressive gravity, supers, an aerial magic series, damage scaling, and…lows?
Did ClayFighter not have lows and I just never noticed?
Ultra ClayFighter rocks and Zool is awesome—every character is more interesting, every interaction has more moving parts, and the overall game flow has the benefit of hindsight. TE was played with a very a small number of disjointed tools, and your ability to deal with those tools determined your lot in life; Ultra gives characters much better options for navigating around and through their problem areas. Unless you have my particular flavor of brain damage, reflexively reacting to one-move infinites like jangling keys, there is probably no reason to play the original game over Ultra.
Would I return to either of them? Probably not, but I did have to stop and ask myself: is it just the aesthetics? In an alternate universe where this game launched with a cast of cool robots and cute girls with swords, and I didn’t have to listen to badly-mixed Super Nintendo penis music, would I be ready to run the set with at least partial sincerity?
The universe we live in isn’t that cool, and if I have to look at or listen to this for another second I’m going to start throwing things. I am giving it a Real anyway. Zool’s intent is clear, and I think the execution is as good as it can get given those constraints.
But if you’re not the type to appreciate Ultra, you’ve at least made it far enough into this article for me to know that you’ll love Zool’s combo video for the Genesis ClayFighter. That one doesn’t need the meditation on how a game’s aesthetics and mechanics interact—it just doesn’t fucking work on any level.
An extremely far-reaching hack by a great friend of mine (and the god of ClayFighter himself), Zool. This game includes everything you would want on the SNES, and plays more like an ambitious tag fighter than the original, including a lot of “what if” ideas—mostly just out of editing RAM. Extremely impressive; it’s great to see that the SNES still gets love after all these years.
December 12: Kings of Kung Fu (PC)
Universal Fighting Engine, a Unity development kit for traditional fighting games, seems to be getting pretty popular; it’s the technology driving Fantasy Strike, Tzompantli, and, uh, Among Us Arena, among others.
Kings of Kung Fu is a UFE project, and I think it’s pretty good advertising. With UFE, even people with absolutely zero good ideas can make a fighting game!
I have less to say about this than fucking Top Fighter. Every audio asset was recorded with a different microphone, characters are jittery collections of badly-offset animations, and all apparent virtues of standard fighting game design are completely absent. The whole game is slow, clumsy, and thoughtless; one-move infinites are trivial, and papering them over with a hard cap of 11 hits makes the game look worse, not better.
The font-CD menus and lame, distracting postprocessing round out the experience. Kings of Kung Fu is for no one, and everything about it is limp, tiring, unambitious and disappointing, a cookie-cutter project from developers with only a surface-level interest in fighting games. But one thing about it will stay with me forever.
We know this was made with UFE, and a quick trip to the UFE documentation shows us that a move’s frame advantage is defined by two simple text inputs—one for its hitstun and one for its blockstun, both accepting any number. However, slightly above those text inputs, there is a dropdown labeled “Hit Stun Type”.
The default option is “Frames”. The other option is “Seconds”.
I assume someone’s hand slipped, because Kings of Kung Fu has a three-hit jailing low that is +840 on block.
Overhead jabs, throws that reach half screen, +840, guy with ninja star in game with half-screen throws, low jabs, infinites only prevented by a hit limit, and featuring the worst sound effects of all time.
Need that +840 low in a game I actually play.
December 13: Goiken Muyou II (PS1)
A PS1 game that’s actually sensibly designed. Somebody get my inhaler.
Goiken Muyou II seems to have two things going for it. The first is the benefit of hindsight—this is a pretty late PS1 title, which means that everyone’s had plenty of time to look at the 10fps schlock that came before it and go “huh, maybe we should do something else”.
(GameFAQs suggests Mizuki Shigeru no Yokai Butouden on this game’s “Games You May Like” sidebar. Don’t think so.)
The second is, delightfully, the fighting game experience on Mediamuse’s team; they’ve got Virtua Fighter pros in the building! Accordingly, it’s a lot like VF on the surface, but with some striking and opinionated differences. This neatly maps to the way I think about my favorite games; I always think “this game would be perfect if they just changed this one fucking thing”, and apparently, these guys did that. Sick.
The first striking difference, and the one it took me the longest to get to grips with, is a big philosophical change in the input handler. Imagine hitting HP+HK in Street Fighter II and getting neither fierce nor roundhouse, but nothing; in Goiken Muyou II, there’s no priority system that dials nonexistent inputs back to valid moves. I’m pretty sure there are some more extreme versions of this, too, like a 3P input not falling back to 5P, 6P or 2P; during the learning phase, you get some lovely moments where both players are clearly trying to do moves but just blankly staring at each other instead.
I don’t know if I agree with this choice, but I would love to talk to the people responsible for it; I see the outline of an idea here, like modern conversations about input buffering. For precise and technical players, people who don’t need their hands held, sometimes you just want the game to stop trying to guess at what you wanted—just do what I told you to do, follow the instructions! (Even if those instructions are doing imaginary moves, though?)
Striking difference #2: only certain moves can kill, and most normals aren’t part of that privileged list. This isn’t like Glove on Fight 2, where it wants you to connect with a raw heavy normal on a big read or whiff-punish; you can absolutely combo into these moves, and sometimes they’re pretty quick to boot, like the game’s electric-equivalents. (On the other hand, all throws are nonlethal. Grabs are cheap.)
Still, it prevents a whole category of lame endgames, situations where a player on their magic pixel is forced to play without 95% of their options in order to step around wakeup dickjab. Even more interestingly, it opens up a new category of lame-adjacent endgame, where both players are on magic pixel and trying to navigate their opponent’s kill options…which often results in a draw by timeout.
Fortunately, it’s hard to play for a draw if your opponent wants a win, because of striking difference #3: if you backdash too far away, you fall on your ass.
Now this is the targeted shit I’m here for. The Invisible Pratfall Bubble is a hilarious deterrent against runaway and passive bait-and-punish play, even stronger and more straightforward than walls and ringouts.
That might seem like a weird claim, but I’ll stand by it. When the stage itself has a boundary, a retreating opponent can still reverse the situation they’re backing into; we’ve all seen people play near the wall, hoping for a hail-mary backthrow or cheeky sidestep for an easy ring-out. Here, there’s no situation to reverse; if you’re the one making space, all your opponent has to do is stare at you. They don’t even have to chase you down; the ass-falling knockdown is so long, any opponent who’s wary of it can probably pick up a punish.
More than that, though, this is a mechanic that feels…authentic. Down-to-earth, maybe. It’s not elegant in the “the best design is invisible” sense; backdash pratfalls are obvious, targeted, clear-cut and loudly opinionated. At the same time, it’s easy to observe, easy to understand, and targets a very specific player behavior. The developers saw a problem, solved it in the most legible way they could—not simple or elegant, but legible—and believed in it. And it works!
All in all, I dig this thing. Good performance, responsive controls (even if the response might not be what you expected), slappin' guitars and fun character designs—Goiken Muyou II is a winner, especially after the guided character trials gave me some movelist help. There’s a lot to like here, and I think anyone with an interest in Virtua Fighter should definitely give this one a try, for comparison’s sake if nothing else.
In a just world, every fighting game with ring outs would have a “top of a moving bus” stage.
Shigeo my beloved
December 14: Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi AF Z (PS2)
Okay, there’s no way to do this in any sensible order so I’m just gonna start. What the fuck is Dragon Ball AF?
Dragon Ball AF is a hoax, a purported sequel to Dragon Ball GT, which started as fanart and somehow got promoted to an entire decentralized alternate canon. Everybody’s here, everybody’s reached new heights of power, and everything’s documented almost exclusively by people who use capitalization as More of An Affect than An actual Grammatical feature of The Language. There are no leaders and there is no lore bible—and yet everyone seems to be in strange harmony, working together to design hair of untold proportions, the visions of a paranoid barber in a deep-sea submarine.
Accordingly, Dragon Ball Budokai Tenkaichi AF Z is, uh, a Tenkaichi game—the arena-fighter-ish thing, the one that I knew almost nothing about—hacked up with the most batshit cast of Dragon Ball OCs you’ve ever seen. Like, I’m not gonna diminish this; as a conversion effort, this is fucking wild, an ambitious project that includes a total redub of the game—and not a single person working on it had a decent microphone.
Maybe this is a weird thing to be hung up on, but seriously, you’re already putting the work in—maybe it’s worth your time to investigate what happens when you resave a JPEG? Maybe you should briefly investigate why your Audacity waveforms are all solid blue rectangles? Every custom asset has a 1-in-4 chance to be so low in quality that it flirts with parody. You cannot deepfry audio like this by accident.
Right off the bat, there’s…a lot to take in. But once you’re done navigating the mismatched character select menus, where stale indices cause characters' form progressions to randomly turn into HRT progress pics, you can start grappling with an additional source of A Lot: the actual mechanics of Tenkaichi 3.
Abbock kept drip-feeding me explanations as we went, and the same pattern played out a few times. First, Abbock would say something like “yeah, if your character is too weak in the lore then stronger characters will be completely armored to their light attacks”, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Then I would ask “well obviously that’s only in the mod, right?” Abbock would patiently tell me no, I would incredulously ask if they were joking, and they never were.
Absolutely everything—attack priority, resource management, camera controls, basic movement—has some kind of gotcha that slapped me upside the head, or was constructed with seemingly no regard for any living human or their muscle memory. While getting bombarded with concentrated Latin America, I was grappling with the insane context-dependent movement, getting shaken to pieces by surprise attacks and strange defensive layers, all the while thinking to myself—“If people can get into this, then there’s no such thing as a fighting game that’s too complex, right?”
Watching high-level play makes Tenkaichi 3 look unfairly comprehensible. Honestly, it looks pretty clean, with crisp and zippy midrange movement, feints and resets in the middle of pressure sequences, and the occasional interlude of scumfuck plasma-chucking. The splitscreen behind-the-back camera is a great choice for this style of play—why don’t more arena fighters do this?—and there’s plenty of active defense in play, powerful options all routing through the push-and-pull of the ki meter. But holy fucking hell is there a learning curve.
Fortunately, there’s some famously robust singleplayer…which is broken in Tenkaichi AF Z. Yup. There was basically no hope for me, especially after Pan showed up without a fucking shirt on. While keeping a watchful eye out for more surprise TOS violations, I went through the modded cast, ranging from regular guys to walking creepypastas, and developed a simple balance heuristic. If a character’s name is more exotic than “Matt”, they will kill you the moment they have 4 bars, usually while yelling into a payphone.
Accordingly, I laughed at Tenkaichi AF Z’s claims of gameplay balance—and then immediately fell into the Tenkaichi modding hole, finding patched ISOs with everyone from Mario to Godzilla to seasonal anime protagonists. As it turns out, Tenkaichi AF Z is pretty reserved by comparison; in one of the largest and most popular collections, Crossover Legends v6.0, you’ll be hard-pressed to find characters without infinite ki.
End result of all this? Some casual interest in Tenkaichi 3, muscle pain from smiling too much, and a respectful fear of Latin American ROM hackers. This stuff reminds me of my teenage deep-dive into Brawl Vault, and if you pressed me, I’d have to admit that it had improved my life—so I hope everybody jumping on this wack shit has the same experience.
With that said, I don’t think I know a single person who is into this unironically. If you are that person, please email me.
I know AF “officially” stands for “After Future,” and can also reasonably mean “April Fool’s” thanks to its origin, but I can’t help but look at it and think “man this is Dragon Ball As Fuck huh.”
With a new Tenkaichi being announced, I really hope they make it just as complex as Tenkaichi 3. It doesn’t matter how easy or hard a game is to play, it matters how hard its audience THINKS it is to play.
December 15: Samurai Shodown Warrior’s Rage (PS1)
On the Advent Calendar, there’s a special type of failure mode that causes me extra mental damage: the one where extra development time and effort goes into a new feature, and that feature makes the game almost objectively worse.
I don’t know Samurai Shodown all that well, despite the best efforts of the most brain-poisoned kuso fiends I know. My guess is that a lot of fighting game players don’t, either; it bucks a lot of foundational fighting game trends, isn’t widely discussed in my circles, and doesn’t seem to have picked up a huge fanbase despite a recent release on…Netflix? Huh?
Fortunately, you don’t really need context to understand Warrior’s Rage. To my knowledge, it fucks up in a completely novel way, one that has nothing to do with the games that came before it; just look at the lifebars.
Lifebars in Warrior’s Rage are separated into three even thirds. When your bar is depleted, it refills like a Darkstalkers down, but a segment of it is cut off, lost forever. After one down, you’re on a yellow lifebar with 2/3rds health, and your opponent can reposition while they’re waiting for you to stand up (though they can’t attack or dash until you can). After two downs, your final stand is made from a red bar with 1/3rd health, and a cutscene of the attacker’s taunt plays before your final stand.
From a presentation perspective, this is probably for dramatic pacing, adding tension to the game’s climactic moments. From a combat design perspective, it’s probably to give struggling players some time to breathe—a break to plan their next move. Instead, we groaned and bitched about the downtime every single time; the situation barely changes, you’re just forced to watch an uninteresting cutscene every time the game should be ramping up in intensity.
That final red bar is of particular note, because it can be completely depleted by a single moderate-speed normal; this is SamSho, after all. It should be a dramatic final stand, but the situation often resolves the moment players gain control, with GO GO GADGET CROUCH KICK instantly obliterating any attempt at tension.
When you’re actually controlling your character, things are…playable? Defensive situations are flat and uninteresting, since the series’ typical special-cancellable recoil is gone, and half the cast’s movelists are locked behind awkward stances, which seems like a weird focus—there are no stance moves that seem too strong to be accessed directly.
But there’s a fighting game here, at least, even if it seems actively resistant to experimentation or expression. If you’re not here to play one of the game’s few unique designs, which are all kinda cute I guess, then you’d be better off opening up almost any other Samurai Shodown. (Somebody please liberate Rinka into a real game.)
I suppose if you really scrape, it’s fun for a laugh about game localization. SNK doesn’t understand the PS1 (there’s something funny about their gorgeous background art sharing space with Triangle Genjuro), but their understanding of English is even shakier; the translated dialogue over JP audio is correctly spelled and grammatically sensible, but almost completely devoid of meaning. I feel like this game was sent out to die.
Instead of this, you should play Samurai Shodown 6, which has rollback on Fightcade and six different selectable grooves—one of which gives you a gigantic unga-bunga hyper armor slash. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!
The novelty of the MOST MINUS JUMP NORMAL OF ALL TIME wears out fast. Why did they handle rounds like that? This is so awful!!!!!
If you’re gonna play a bad Samurai Shodown, just play III. At least that one’s funny.
December 16: Tekken 4 (PS2)
It’s no secret; the Kusoge Advent Calendar isn’t really about kusoge. It’s a framing device more than anything, a tradition that mostly survives because Jesus H Christ we all need a break at the end of long years, and the best way I’ve found to do it is to dive head-first into a special interest.
That’s why I get to talk about Tekken 4, and I’m glad I have that chance—because Tekken 4 has the best presentation of any 3D fighter I have ever played, and it’s not close.
For an early PS2 title, a largely faithful arcade port, Tekken 4 looks incredible. It’s muted and reserved, locations and characters feeling shockingly grounded for a game about men with absent fathers electro-punching each other in the heart, and the sound design pairs perfectly, a variety of bangers supporting carefully-tuned environment audio. The lighting’s striking, the locales are diverse yet believable, and even the FMVs carry the reserved tone forward, introducing characters and their struggles with an intent to take them seriously—and it works. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game carry itself like this one.
Load times are fast, a rarity on the PS2. Alternate costumes look just as good as the main designs. The announcer strikes resentful jealousy into the hearts of voice actors everywhere. But in the games that followed it, the aesthetics and design sensibilities of Tekken 4 evaporated, the series returning to the battle-tested template set out by Tekken 3. And there’s a reason for that: to steal some phrasing from Freyaday, “Tekken 4 is a game whose problems have problems.”
That focus on believable locations, moving from boxy arenas and infinite conveyors to jungles and rooftops and shopping malls, presents a problem. Tekken is already biased towards bait-and-punish play, with strong movement that rarely comes with strong commitment. You can’t take that movement and simply put it into a full-size airport; there are obvious incentives to duck out of player interaction and run the clock, forcing losing players to take big risks in the ensuing chasedown.
Goiken Muyou II solved this with the Backdash Pratfall Zone, and Tekken 4 almost goes that far, disabling backdash canceling past range 3; once you’re there, you’re much easier to chase down, and your options to create space are character-specific. That leaves us with defensive sidesteps, which are plenty strong; they’ll check strong buttons for decent reward, but perhaps more importantly, they reposition you relative to the wall.
Walls, entirely new to Tekken 4, are fucking important. A hit that knocks you straight into the wall allows you to tech-roll away, but an off-axis wall hit leaves you standing at the wall, open for further punishment. If the stage happens to have multiple angled walls, a single hit can become a huge punish—sometimes, a worryingly practical wall infinite.
So Tekken 4 is played up-close, in Sleepmode’s “messy guessy zone”, stepping or sidewalking around your opponent’s scary mids and managing the risk of your environment. A new type of throw, a fast and nondamaging hold used to quickly reposition, can quickly flip scary wall situations, adding a new and risky layer to defense with tremendous potential reward.
Seems like a solid foundation for a compelling game. Sure hope they don’t give the main character a confirmable unblockable launcher and a 2-frame-recovery parry!
Yup. Tekken 4 has a reputation for being rushed or unpolished, both on its release and in $CURRENT_YEAR, and Jin always comes up fast, an obscenely strong character with scary safe mids and scarier combo reward. Characters that can fight Jin do it with other tools that shouldn’t exist, tools that shut down the delicate balance of risk in favor of a bomb-defusal minigame. Some of these are neat-looking, like Nina’s spectacular sway sidestep; some of them are just brickhead shit, like Steve’s mid jab. Oops.
I’m a sucker for the things this game is trying to do, and I think there’s something that resonates for almost everyone here; in every way but high-end gameplay, Tekken 4 is more than polished, it’s pristine. The rough edges feel like small mistakes when you weigh them against the whole—but fighting games are played within the edge cases, in the narrow spaces between mountains of scumfuck shenanigans, and Tekken 4’s mountains are tall.
(Okay, I’ve gotta get this one in before we wrap; as someone who will never be good at Tekken 4, I’m a little concerned about its addiction to just frames. I’ve not usually enthused about needing specific timing to make a tool work, but I understand the appeal and I’ve become more sympathetic to it recently. With that said…y’all, you gave Heihachi’s electric two just frames. What is this.)
(Sorry, had to get that one out of my system. To get back into the proper mood, please seek through this tournament archive and gawk at how fucking good this thing looks in motion.)
Starting with Tekken 5, every Tekken game has gotten some sort of post-release title update, hindsight giving the developers the power to make hugely impactful changes. Tons of modern fighting games have launched in a rough state, then made dramatic turnarounds over their lifespan of support. (In DNF Duel’s case, it was less a turnaround and more a 900 out of the third story of a parking garage, but you get the idea.)
I’ll leave the reader to wonder what would have happened if that culture arrived just a little bit earlier, and Tekken 4 got another chance.
An incredible experience that’s a great example of how to do a 3D fighter right, even if it’s a little too ambitious in some spots. That’s why I respect it so much: some of the best music in any game ever made, and some of the best gameplay too, despite some characters needing just-frames to function (but that’s just Tekken for you). Also the best story of any Tekken game ever made, and one of the best fighting game story modes ever made period.
One of the last Tekken games beyond Tekken 5 that really felt like it had SOUL in its presentation beyond just looking good. Paul’s ending is STILL incredible to this day. I miss this.
An idea I’ve come to rely on in talking about fighting game design is the idea of games making “important mistakes”—mistakes in design that can be instructive for future endeavours, that help shape how we understand the things we’re making. Tekken 4 made some important mechanical mistakes, and while I will sing the praises of Tekken 5 Dark Resurrection into infinity, it’s hard not to feel as though the lessons the Tekken dev team learned from Tekken 4’s important mistakes was to adjust the wall mechanics, and then run away from everything else. The biggest loss from this is honestly not so much the mechanics of Tekken 4, but its aesthetics and texture, with future entries giving that up in favour of being louder and less respectful of many of its most iconic characters in a way that made it hard not to feel like the baby was being thrown out with the bathwater.
Sure, I love playing Tekken 5 DR, but I just love being in Tekken 4, and I wish Namco hadn’t left that behind.
December 17: Kamen Rider V3 (PS1)
Ayyyyy, there’s the Kamen Rider game. I was starting to get worried!
V3 is a pretty interesting choice of adaptation. Kamen Rider V3 (PS1) was released in 2000, but Kamen Rider V3 (literally a television) released in 1973, almost as early as the series gets. This is not a “let’s promote the latest thing” type of gig; apparently Kamen Rider as a whole was in sort of a quiet period at the time, and this was part of a larger effort to get the series back into the public consciousness.
Accordingly, this is the most basic form of the monster-of-the-week formula; beat up some mooks, bad guy shows up, we talk, we fight, bad guy gets rider kicked in the face and explodes in a nuclear fireball. YEAAAAAAHHHHHHH
Honestly, the aesthetics here kinda rule. Even with the, uh, “limited graphical fidelity” of the PS1, the animations are solid and the CD’s packed with punchy, energetic brass, classic toku music that pairs perfectly with some goofy fights. There’s also a surprising amount of voice work for the game’s episodic story mode, a march through the weekly monsters peppered with some cute and awkward horde fights.
The AI’s not gonna push you towards mastery, though, if there even is something to be mastered here; I dragged Rockforge onto Parsec and we got to work. You’ve got a punch button, a kick button, a guard button, and a standard-issue special macro; P+K to throw, 2P+K to quickly duck highs, 4P+K to catch-counter mids, and never touch the special button because they’re almost all complete dogshit. (Shhh, we don’t talk about Riderman’s fullscreen low.)
Like most Kamen Rider games, the monster characters don’t really measure up; they’re not all horrible jobbers here, not on the level of Kamen Rider Kabuto, but they’re hard-pressed to deal with V3’s 6K, a spectacular safe launcher that tracks sidesteps and armors straight through jabs. It’s duckable, and thank god it’s duckable or there would be no game; it’s not really possible to evade it in other ways, since there’s no way to quickly move backward (despite zippy forward dashes).
If you’re looking for a fast way to check your opponent’s dash, you can consult the training mode’s in-game frame data (!), which…doesn’t appear to be correct (?), but seems commendable as an effort (?!). The dummy reaction settings are pretty forward-thinking, letting you easily test against reversal attacks, and Kamen Rider V3 even does its best to coax unmotivated players into training mode; it’ll pay you for combos that meet a target hitcount and damage. (Presumably that currency is used somewhere in the gallery, we were too busy gawking at monster mirrors to check.)
Throws are fast and can be pretty rewarding, but they won’t beat attacks, and their self-contained mixup—a series of blind-input rock-paper-scissors clashes—can go wrong for the attacker in a big way, reversing the whole situation. This is obviously a bad idea if you want a consistent way to blow up turtling, but it’s executed in a really charming way, each step of the mixup changing the on-screen grappling sequence; the choreography’s fun and dynamic, but just clunky enough to feel like toku. I think this system makes the game worse from a strategy perspective, but I’ll be honest—I kinda love it anyway.
It’s not hard to see where this is going. When attacks are good, movement sucks, and active defense has scary commitment, you get a game where both sides just go the fuck in, hoping to blow through their opponent’s offense. These kinds of games aren’t usually my thing, and Kamen Rider V3 isn’t a landmark exception, but the look and feel of it does a lot for me; I think it’s probably one or two tweaks from being pretty solid.
A very fun system with a wide cast of fun characters, including the legendary Toad Boiler, but Main Character Top Tier Man is too tempting not to pick.
I’m seriously gonna have to look at the credits for these KAZe Kamen Rider games. This dev studio largely only ever made digital pinball tables, so the fact that there are at least two shockingly competent licensed fighting games in their catalog has me seriously wondering if parts of the KAZe dev team didn’t end up working at DreamFactory or something.
December 18: FIGHT GAME II 3000 (Genesis)
FIGHT GAME II 3000 is shit, and it’s not the good shit—but it’s my kinda shit.
Let’s start again. FIGHT GAME II 3000 is Genesis crossover homebrew produced in the year of our lord 2022, which means it combines vaguely modern control sensibilities with the aesthetic and technical prowess of 2000s bootlegs. Despite Sleepmode’s assertion that “this one won’t take very long”, I have a lot to cover; as you read, remember that the release page promises “gameplay balanceado”.
I don’t write these sections in order, but this is the 18th of them you’ll be reading—so far, I’m gonna guess that I’ve complained about, like, 6 to 10 games that have no clue what “frame advantage” is. FIGHT GAME II 3000 knows about frame advantage and uses it for evil. There are seconds of hitstun on every attack, allowing for some of the most godless links I’ve ever seen. Sure, ClayFighter took the “micro” out of “microwalk”, but FIGHT GAME II 3000 has megawalks.
Everybody’s got a slow fireball, so everybody’s got menacing neutral and deeply oppressive oki; special-canceling “exists”, so walking up behind your slow fireball lets even the dumbest living humans put together combos that look like a Guile TAS. Every one of these sprite-ripped characters wishes they were this good in their source game.
At a cursory glance, that’s pretty much it: besides homebrew jank and an incredible lack of polish, this is far from the worst one-man project we’ve played, especially considering the technical undertaking of running on Genesis hardware. The fact that the CPU can cancel its wakeup animation with anything, or that Terry’s close LK is substantially slower than far LK, or that said far LK projects an invisible wave of chad force 8 pixels past the guy’s shoe? That’s just the price of entry. Honestly, with as long as we’ve been doing this show, it seems normal.
Then you find the unblockable meaty fireballs. Then you find the camera scroll manipulation that lets you drag a meaty fireball on top of your opponent from anywhere on the screen. Oops.
There are no juggles, which is some pretty spectacular restraint. Instead, all midair hits force a knockdown…which leads to an unblockable fireball. But hey, who needs to time meaties when you can just two-touch kill from half the pokes in the game? If you connect with Kyo j.HP on the way down, you can get j.HP on the way back up, land on the other side, and convert into a knockdown with enough time to stop for breakfast. If your execution sucks, FIGHT GAME II 3000 will make you feel like Daigo.
We had so much fun with the batshit combo properties, it took us more than an hour to notice that FIGHT GAME II 3000 has no chip damage, no throws, no overheads, and no lows.
Something happened here.
It all falls into madness from there. Genjuro’s HP hits basically the entire screen, combos to heavy fireball at any distance, and links back into HP from any distance, meaning that you can lose the game from round start, since the game seems to have some kind of normal input buffer. Time Over gives neither player a round, and since there are no systems in the game that can directly answer blocking, you can backwalk forever and draw at worst. How did we play this for so long. Welcome to Super VG II 3000, everybody.
As an investigative exercise, FIGHT GAME II 3000 is terrific. As a fighting game, it’s almost completely unplayable on every level. It seems somehow fitting that the only way to play it online is to repack it in the shape of an Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 ROM, tricking Fightcade into unsealing this hilarious horror. I hope the dev continues work on this forever.
Keep reading the article, you’ll get it. You’ll understand. I got Tazrael (+R Baiken) to bring this to his Ohio locals.
The next time I underestimate some random 16-bit bullshit that looks like a fighting game, slap me.
December 19: NB Heart Breakers Advanced (PC)
Every year’s gotta have at least one pain in my ass.
This is a fighting game that I literally could not enjoy on any level, and considering what precedes it in this year alone, that’s saying something.
NB Heart Breakers Advanced feels like shit, with a lurching camera and weird-looking blockstop robbing hits of weight while still making play feel awkwardly start-and-stop. It looks like shit—from WordArt round calls, to the fucked up transparency on hit lighting, to the meter count font that makes 0 and 1 look like the same character. Most of all, it plays like shit; for basically 95% of play, you’ll be drilling preprogrammed special-into-special chains to keep your opponent from using their freely-cancellable meter charge. Defense isn’t nuanced enough for this game to live in the Messy Guessy Zone, so mostly it’s just mash—until meter comes into play, because supers deal dino damage and almost all of them are 0 frames after flash, bufferable inside any pressure gap.
I’m pretty sure this isn’t finished, and usually that’s interesting to me, but this time around I don’t think anything could make me care. Even the AI can’t summon the strength to take this seriously; they do nothing but punish with supers and occasionally halfheartedly reversal, to the extent that they’ll often sit at fullscreen while down on life and lose intentionally. Me too, dude.
Let’s do something else.
December 19B: FIGHT GAME II 3000, AGAIN
SURPRISE! WE’RE NOT DONE AND YOU’RE NOT EITHER.
MEATY FIREBALL UNBLOCKABLES ARE ONLY GUARANTEED FOR P1; YOU NEED TO USE A SCREEN WARP SETUP OR PERFECT TIMING FOR P2. CROSSING UP A KNOCKED DOWN OPPONENT REQUIRES THEM TO BLOCK IN THEIR ORIGINAL FACING DIRECTION, NOT AWAY FROM YOU, BUT THE FIRST GAP IN THE BLOCKSTRING FORCES THEM TO TURN AND BLOCK NORMALLY AGAIN, WHICH ALLOWS FOR AN ARBITRARY NUMBER OF NESTED 50/50S AND SEEMS TO BE LITERALLY THE ONLY MIXUP IN THE ENTIRE GAME. YOU CAN BUFFER A JUMP FROM THE PREVIOUS ROUND TO START THE NEXT ROUND MIDAIR AND IT’S COMPLETELY USELESS. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF KEN’S JUMP NORMALS IS ACTIVE INDEFINITELY. THE GENJURO MIRROR HAS NEUTRAL BECAUSE P2 CAN SIMPLY FIREBALL OUT OF BLOCKSTUN AND BE NEARLY EVEN. BLOCKING HAS STARTUP AND ALL FRAME TRAPS ARE UNBLOCKABLE RESETS. KEN RECOVERS FROM AIRBORNE HITS STANDING IF THE HIT WAS HIGH ENOUGH TO WRAP HIM AROUND THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN, ALLOWING YOU TO CONTROL YOUR DEAD BODY AND SET UP AN UNBLOCKABLE MEATY FIREBALL THAT HITS IN THE NEXT FUCKING ROUND. WE ARE GOING TO DIE HERE.
If player 2 was player 1, this game would be so much better. The grime is why it’s fun.
December 20: Evil Zone (PS1)
Oh hey, another one of those “I somehow managed to avoid learning about a game that everyone has strong opinions on” episodes. Big fan of these.
Let’s set the stage. It’s 1999, and fighting games are finding their stride. 3D titles are starting to make their way to home consoles, and 2D titles are starting to get really complicated, with long combos and meter-management push-and-pull. These games are being made for die-hard genre veterans, ravenous for anything deeper and more technical than the last one.
You open Evil Zone’s options menu, and the control menu presents you with two rebindable buttons: Attack, and Guard. These are the only controls in the game.
This isn’t a trick; the Guard button isn’t multi-function, and Attack+Guard isn’t a macro. All defense is on Guard, all attacks are on Attack, it’s exactly what it looks like; the game plays like it’s permanently on Stylish Mode, with range-sensitive attacks and direction+button inputs. Roll face, receive cool results.
6A and 66A are two different attacks, and 6AA sometimes a third. Double-tapping linear projectiles turns them into lateral versions, which beat sidesteps and lose to dashes—but either kind can be reflected with a perfect guard. 2A is a throw, whether you’re point-blank or fullscreen; ranged throws give the opponent a unique red warning under them, but can be canceled by guarding for another throw attempt or a surprise hit. Weirdest of all, 88A (yes, TWO up inputs) produces a jump attack, and 88 alone produces an empty jump.
Basically, Evil Zone has no interest in fighting game control conventions, delivering weird fullscreen dogfighting in a charming package. The roster hits every anime archetype but Goku and Sailor Moon, the sampler platter from “tan brawler tomboy” to “literally just a Power Ranger”, all given story modes styled as if they’re the stars of their own series (and narrated by someone who has no clue how to operate a microphone). The music slaps, cinematics have tons of variants to break up the repetition, and even Evil Zone’s visual shortcomings are mostly technical, coming across as quaint instead of distracting.
Evil Zone wants to give everyone the tools to fight at every range—getting rewarded for every read, no matter where it happens. It makes sense; games of this era were all experimenting with anti-fireball tools, and if you want to make mindless ranged play easier to handle, letting every character scoop you from fullscreen is definitely one way of achieving that. Unfortunately, the cast sometimes feels too fair, with similar option coverage across all ranges and situations. Often, only one or two standout moves differentiate them, with aesthetic carrying the rest.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the developer, Yuke’s Co. Ltd., doesn’t have a pedigree of traditional fighting games—instead, they’ve got an absolutely fucking ridiculous portfolio of wrestling games, cashing in on the WWE and UFC licenses to this day. Viewed through that lens, it makes some sense; there’s some fun to be found when fighting on equal ground, too, and Evil Zone characters are certainly more diverse than actual human beings in an octogon.
Evil Zone performs pretty badly. A lot of the animations look clumsy or stupid, the hit-reaction chirps are kinda annoying, and I shouldn’t have to tell you that it’s probably not a tournament mainstay. But give it just a little of your faith—step into the magic circle—and I think there’s something worth love here.
Actually, I have a complaint that’s more important than any of the gameplay gripes. Why the fuck did the US version replace the opening song?
Hey. Hey you. Go listen to “Dunjia-S” from the Evil Zone soundtrack. Do it right now.
Love the presentation and heart in this game. I think it’s unironically a great pick up and play PS1 fighter, with an amazing soundtrack and a really diverse, cool cast of characters.
Evil Zone with 2 extra action buttons but no other mechanical changes would be one of the best fighting games on the PS1.
Watching AJ play through Danzaiver’s story mode and seeing them react with “he’s so COOL” every time Danzaiver did a flip is making me think that the Kamen Rider propaganda is working
December 21: Dino Rex (Arcade)
So I’m gonna let you in on some insider trivia about Dino Rex.
This game is kinda loud.
I think this might be my least favorite thing I’ve played since Grizzly. Dino Rex is apparently what happens when you tell a bunch of Taito guys—who have never worked on anything besides a shmup—to make a fighting game.
(I don’t think that’s a sufficient explanation—my primate brain tells me that drugs, tax writeoffs, or the yakuza must have been involved. But for now, we’ll go with inexperience.)
Where do you even start with this fucking thing? You could start with the bizzare 270 motions that check for the up direction first, you could start with the dino-damage mashed throws that seem to be substantially more rewarding than anything else in the game, you could start with the usual rant about how frame advantage is seriously not that hard of a concept to understand so clearly something is going wrong in your development process that is beyond my ability to predict or reason with. But I guess if I start anywhere, I’ll start with, uh, “crossup protection”.
In Dino Rex, you don’t jump when you press up. There is jumping, but it’s performed like a superjump: down, then up. That’s a weird control decision; is it to accommodate the weird 270s? Well, maybe, but there’s an extra mechanic attached to holding up: meter charge. You can hold up-back or up-forward, building gauge while walking—and your dinosaur will scream its fucking head off the entire time, hopefully earning you some scornful looks from everyone else in the venue.
Supers are good; they only cost one bar to attempt, but cash out with your whole gauge if they connect, and as one of the only “things” that “combo” they’re pretty important. As such, you’ll want to spend a lot of time screaming and not much time jumping—but jumping is, despite its downgrade in importance, still in the game.
And from a programming perspective, jumping kinda sucks! We’ve seen FIGHT GAME II 3000 and its crossup behavior, we know this shit is tough. So Dino Rex takes the, uh, “simple” approach; it simply doesn’t allow crossups. When you end up on the wrong side, both players’ controls freeze up, and their dinos politely walk back to the “correct” side. No more jumping out of the corner, fucker, real winners just mash.
But even that solution has jank; sometimes the game will freeze your controls for the crime of getting close to your opponent, not getting over them. It’s not like there’s any collision between players anyway, so it doesn’t really change the situation, but it’s a pointless hitch in the action that gives you more time to question why you’re playing Dino Rex. Janky and fucked up.
It probably seems like I spent a weird amount of time on mechanical minutiae, avoiding how the game actually plays—but, like, you’re smart. You don’t need me to tell you that this sucks, or that it sucks in a way that is completely predictable and easy to understand. So we can skip the part where I paw through my thesaurus, hoping an entry has materialized for the word “unresponsive”, and move onto something that hopefully has more value as a digital artifact.
But I wouldn’t be doing my job, whatever the fuck that actually is, if I didn’t mention Dino Rex’s system for resolving draws. I refuse to write a single word about this; if you want an answer, you need to experience it the way I did.
We gave up after an hour to play more Zero 3 Mix.
One of the worst and least enjoyable games ever made, and coming from me, you should know that means something.
It’s bad. I commentated it for hours with the volume on. It’s bad.
Fun fact: that spinning dogu figure on the press start screen was handmade by one of the staff members. However, the game’s director offhandedly joked that he got it on a recent trip to South America, and the employee he said that to believed him and the rumor spread around the office despite the fact that said director hadn’t taken a vacation in two years.
Fun fact #2: This game fucking sucks.
December 22: Rise of the Robots (Amiga)
Check out this trailer for Rise of the Robots. Slow down, take a few moments, and really appreciate how lame this showcase looks.
Got it? Cool—I appreciate that you take these things seriously, it makes writing these articles really fun. Now, let’s take a minute to evaluate the claims made in this showcase.
- “strategy as never before”: Lie.
- “a cinematic 3D arena”: At best a half-truth.
- “full 360-degree freedom of movement”: Obviously not.
- “opponents actually learn from their mistakes”: Provably false.
- “more than kick and punch”: Actually, less.
- “the first combat game to use artificial intelligence”: ???????
These are lies, and the people making these claims are liars—but they are also bumbling rockfuckers who can’t even make Rise look competent by deception. “Check out these cutting-edge prerenders! Also there’s gameplay but I wouldn’t personally worry about that too much. Look, wireframe monkey!”
Now, before we go any further, I need to be clear: I am not a commercial video game developer. I have never had to ship a huge project with a completely immovable deadline. I have never been trapped in a workflow that, according to UK-based developer Mirage, took 2 months to render a single character. I don’t know how negotiating with publishers works, and I certainly don’t know how it worked in 1994. And developers, broadly speaking, want to make good games. I am nearly certain that the five guys responsible for Rise of the Robots gave it their all.
Okay, so we’re all clear on that? We like game developers, we know that the people selling the game and the people making the game don’t always want the same things, and we understand that working on a commercial game comes with constraints that might not be obvious to the end user? Cool.
Because Rise of the Robots is a fucking scam.
People brought Rise home on thirteen fucking Amiga floppy discs, ready to experience a new evolution of fighting games, sitting through minutes of drive-whirring and multiple disc swaps—only to play a one-button shitfest made in fucking PowerPoint, steering Great Value Pepsiman into enemy robots with the grace and precision of a banged-up shopping cart. As a commercial product, Rise of the Robots is comprehensively without value to anyone, in almost every way that value can be measured.
Like, let’s zoom in on a single feature for a second. Both players have a charge bar below their life bar. It builds over time and empties when you attack, boosting the damage of whatever move you’re using. Question: what problem is the charge bar supposed to be solving? What strategic implications does the charge bar create? How does the charge bar fit into Mirage’s vision for Rise’s combat?
I don’t have an answer. Do you?
Rise’s gameplay framework simply doesn’t support strategy. It’s not that something specific went wrong—not programming mistakes, not imbalanced systems, not anything legible that I can point to as a player. Instead, Rise of the Robots seems to have no animating principle, no value structure, no opinions at all on its own relationship with the player. Your core methods of interaction are so stubbornly unresponsive, so stiff and wooden and thoughtless and dull, that it’s impossible to reconstruct the original vision. It feels less than hollow.
However, if you frame it as a game made to look good in trailers, it makes a lot of sense—and so does the multi-million-dollar marketing campaign, the repurposed music from Queen guitarist Brian May, the simultaneous release on every console within reach, the mysterious release delay of nearly a year, the delay of review copies until days before the game’s release, the paid-off high-scoring reviews in popular UK software magazines, and the overwhelming focus on those expensive cutting-edge prerenders.
This isn’t exceptional stuff. Rise of the Robots isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime tragedy, it’s yet another creative effort that got crushed in the production pipeline and sent out to die. Every year I do this whole Advent Calendar thing, I find more games that only make sense in this framing, countless D-Xhirds and G.A.S.P!! Fighters' NEXTreams—and if you don’t find that convincing, ask anybody at a AAA studio in 2023. They’ll probably have something to tell you.
But Rise is still special, purely for the size of the gap between promises and product. Player 1 can only play as a single character, the chrome “Cyborg”; every other character is limited to the AI and Player 2. There are no crossups in Rise of the Robots, so at first, we thought it was a technical restriction of the Amiga—Pepisman can simply only face right—but this is also true in every port.
Rise is a fighting game where multiplayer was an afterthought.
A game in which I enjoy everything except the gameplay. Rise of the Robots has some killer music in the actual 16-bit versions, and the arcade version is actually the best version of the game—and also includes a move that does 60% of your life even though it’s unsafe on hit. Gaming
December 22B: Rise 2: Resurrection (DOS, Saturn)
And then they made a second one.
Two years later, Rise 2: Resurrection was shadow-dropped onto a largely uncaring world, notably without the “of the Robots” part of the title. Almost like the developers were embarrassed of something.
This is weird, right? Rise had no good ideas, its merely neutral ideas were motivated by nothing, the designs are all completely forgettable besides GORILLABOT, and the only thing worth preserving is the title screen music. This isn’t a storied franchise with clout behind the name—it’s a name associated with large-scale financial deception. Who the fuck is funding a sequel? Who the fuck wants to make it in the first place?
As you might expect, Rise 2 flopped, selling less than its predecessor. Despite this, in a turn that literally no one should have expected, Rise 2 almost manages to exist in the same ZIP code as competence. It’s not good, and it’s important that you understand that; if you’re looking for a low-rent fighting game to dick around in, you should probably look elsewhere, because anything interesting about it requires you to wade through a whole bunch of uninteresting bullshit. But it’s almost not an objective waste of your time. There’s almost a video game here.
So, what’s new in Rise 2? Well, for starters, both players can pick characters.
[This space intentionally left blank to imply a long pause.]
The rest of the game is a weird little bastard, with spectacularly fucked up fireballs, sketchy character collision, and a weird number of 412K sweeps. The animated stages are a welcome step up from a static JPEG, and the hue-shift color selector is a novel fit for largely monochromatic designs. The charge bar is gone completely, and I don’t really miss it.
The controls are bad, the combat design can’t stand up to a single minute of scrutiny, and character designs still blur into an indistinct pastiche of raytraced prerendered shittiness. But Rise 2 isn’t a scam—it’s just a bad fighting game, in some of the regular ways fighting games are often bad. Instead of instantly lobotomizing you on contact, it can provide an hour of fun among genre-literate friends, provided those friends have all had their brains pre-dissolved by FIGHT GAME II 3000.
Honestly, I’m inclined to be lenient with it. Maybe without the ankle-weights of Rise’s reputation, Resurrection could have gone on to become something in future installments; if ClayFighter could get a sequel, nothing says Rise 2 couldn’t have gotten lucky somewhere in the production pipeline. At the very least, it might have been remembered in the same breath as Shaq-Fu, earning that strange kind of pseudo-immortality.
Instead, reviewers called Rise 2 outright worse than Rise. Throw this entire medium into the garbage.
It’s a large improvement in terms of gameplay, but it’s still not exactly a masterpiece. Still, I enjoy Detain’s run-cancels and Crushers dive loops, because combos are fun to do.
The Rise of the Robots story is pretty famous by this point, and it’s pretty researched out. But the things I would give to be a fly on the wall during Rise 2’s development. What’s going through the heads of developers working on a sequel to a game not just associated with being terrible, but an outright scam? Did they think they could turn the series around, or was it a death march from the start? There’s been contact with some devs on Rise of the Robots in the years since, but as far as I can tell nobody has ever been asked or interviewed about Rise 2. And I’m convinced there’s a story there.
It’s so funny that this game got a sequel that improved as much as it did, but was still bad. How’d that even happen? What???? I wish we knew why.
December 23: Infinite Versus (PC)
Infinite Versus is a complete waste of time, but I can’t work out whether that’s on purpose. I think it’s probably a scam, because it’s hard to imagine a developer this uninformed and this confident—but if it’s a scam, it’s one of the most clumsily-executed acts of deception I’ve ever seen, like the Home Alone burglars pitching an NFT collection.
This one doesn’t get a disclaimer like Rise of the Robots; as far as I can tell, the developers are the ones doing the lying, and it is some wild lying.
Marketed with the subtitle “3D MUGEN”, Infinite Versus made two big claims. The first was robust mod support, with an in-game browser for custom characters, assists, stages, and the like. On day 0 of launch, that mod browser was suspiciously prepopulated with only the most deliciously infringing characters—the likes of Goku, Darth Vader, and the Hulk, plus a generous scattering of seasonal anime, all structured in fundamentally the same way. Either one very excited person was working with a prerelease version, or the developers threw all of their hastily hooked-up characters into the “mod browser” to dodge license accountability.
The second big claim was “Blitz Netcode”, which I’ll defer to the Steam store page for:
BLITZ NETCODE: is a new innovative networking technique that eliminates all input delay. Blitz is fundamentally different from the way delay-based and rollback netcode deal with input-delay. The few predictions made within blitz networking are all predestined and function without the occurrence of network fossils. Unlike rollback, Blitz only uses prediction in a limited manner that helps with syncing split-second long-distance character movements. Blitz is currently one of the only fighting based net codes that operate with dedicated low latency servers to provide players with a faster and more stable multiplayer experience.
This fucking rocks. What grabbed me first was “network fossils”, which gets zero relevant Google hits unless you’re talking about DOS modem drivers, but we also have the equally exciting claim that predictions are “predestined”, as if the networking strategy is simply to rewrite causality. Also, what the fuck is a “fighting based net codes”, and what do you think rollback predictions actually are?
So. You’ve got one character plus two assists. Some assists cost meter, while some assists have a cooldown, but all assists can be done out of hitstun. You’ve also got “Escape”, a dedicated meter that fuels a combo-escape side-switch attack, and “Rage Mode”, a third meter that can be spent at any time to render you temporarily invincible.
Why would a game need four separate combo escape tools? Because almost everything is dash-cancellable, there are almost zero limits on OTGs, and countless innocuous normals are unblockable for no fucking reason. Infinite Versus is a grease fire of infinites and inescapable resets, with zero fucking neutral to speak of, and the entire package is presented with the grace and restraint of an Unreal Engine particle system tutorial; call two assists and use a special move, and the result is usually loud enough to melt your speakers and render you blind. Turn off the default postprocessing, you fucks!
No one in the game can jump or crouch, features that are supposedly in the game even if the day-0 characters “do not utilize crouching or aerial combat mechanics”—so there’s nothing to do but swing on the ground and pray, keeping one finger on the Escape button. If you plan on running this at your mystery game tournament, consider banning All Might; his 2-bar super renders him permanently invulnerable, even between rounds, even to timeouts.
Do I actually need to keep talking about this? There is no game here, not even if you approach it with the psychotic lab-monster focus that trapped us in Super VG for an entire day. Even if you don’t care at all about the pack-in content, and you’re only here to make characters, why would you ever pick Infinite Versus over MUGEN or Fighter Maker when the developer showcases look like this?
The developer FAQ claims that modded characters have their frame data “automatically adjusted” for game balance. This is bullshit; if it were even possible, it would either have to be an incredibly heavy-handed system, crushing creator freedom, or a hands-off approach, useless for anything besides filtering +2000 moves. But it’s just barely possible to imagine someone believing in this approach—so it could be a calculated lie from a scammer, the genuine belief of an uninformed fuckwit, or both.
Every detail of Infinite Versus comes off this way, and it manifests as a sort of Schrodinger’s Incompetence. Is “blitz netcode” a genuine attempt at a new technique, or is it the Unreal 4 default networking? Does the game actually have user-generated content, or is it a flimsy shield to protect from copyright infringement allegations? Was the developer roadmap a genuine plan, anticipating success, or empty promises to draw in potential marks? Were there actually dedicated servers?
It feels irresponsible to entertain the idea that Infinite Versus was a genuine effort, but I can’t help myself. Maybe it was always a scam; maybe it became a scam midway through, when the developers realized that they had no hope of recouping the costs of their purchased assets. But the most interesting possibility—that someone shortsighted and ambitious, a true believer through and through, bailed after getting blasted by FGC Twitter—has a certain allure to it. It’s a compelling narrative, and it seems like I’m not the only one who wants to believe it.
Days after it launched, Infinite Versus was delisted from Steam; one of the developers posted an embarrassing whine on Discord, complaining about how no one gave “blitz netcode” a fair chance, and encouraged dissatisfied players to refund the game’s $15 online-play DLC, which may or may not have been actually possible. The game now phones home at launch and closes out of shame; you’ve got to firewall it to keep it from getting nervous, it crashes when you change graphics settings, and you can’t play keyboard versus controller without two controllers connected. “3D MUGEN” is now the exclusive domain of kusoge historians.
…So how did blitz netcode turn out?
Yeah that makes sense
An unbelievable adventure of horrifying unblockables, incredible infinites, three ways to escape combos, and the Obito player pressing J on the keyboard and instantly winning neutral.
Keep circulating the tapes. Don’t let the world forget Blitz Netcode.
You could tell me that AceMillion was responsible for “Blitz Netcode” and I would absolutely believe you.
December 24: Mortal Kombat Gold (Dreamcast)
I’m gonna go on a tangent. Everybody cool with that?
You’re 20,000 words into a treatise on the worst fighting games ever made. I think you’re probably cool with that.
When I think about Mortal Kombat, I think about Midway. And when I think about Midway, I sometimes think about No Good Gofers.
No Good Gofers is a product of the Williams/Bally/Midway merger, a trio of American coin-op giants getting thrown into the corporate melting pot and emerging as one unified Amusement Golem. It’s also one of the most player-hostile pinball machines ever made, happy to indiscriminately yeet the ball straight between the flippers and laugh when you drain. It makes you want to beat it, and savvy players will latch onto the ramp shots first, promising decent reward and a safe, predictable return to the flippers. It’s tempting to just bomb it up the center ramp over and over again, building up value and progress towards a multiball.
But in No Good Gofers, if you shoot the center ramp too many times in a row, it simply pops up a target to block it; that shot is now off-limits for the rest of the ball. The player is never warned about this limit, it’s never explained after the fact, and blocking the ramp is massively disruptive to the game’s scoring structure.
No Good Gofers doesn’t care. In the decade following the merger, Midway’s approach to arcade problem-solving had bled into all three teams, an approach that could be summed up in a single sentence. “If the player’s doing something annoying, stop them—no matter what.”
Mortal Kombat 4, released in 1997–same as Gofers—follows the traditions of its predecessors, and its combo rules feel more like input problems than design restrictions. Fireballs have internal cooldowns, special moves won’t come out in combos that are too long, and launchers simply turn off against cornered opponents. Most of all, there is MAXIMUM DAMAGE, the last-line hands-in-the-air “fuck it” approach; when a combo deals more than 40% damage, both players are immediately knocked down, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.
Would it surprise you to learn that I actually like this game?
No, really! Mortal Kombat 4’s a favorite of mine from when I was younger, printing GameFAQs movelists in 6-point font to avoid parental wrath over inkjet costs. Buttons feel good, hit effects slam with that signature Midway impact, and the weapon system is immediately appealing for both casual and competitive play. Even MAXIMUM DAMAGE is kinda neat in practice—you want to breach that 40% mark with the most damage you possibly can, back-loading your combo to squeeze a few extra percent in.
Mortal Kombat 4 has more principles than just the Midway Philosophy, though, even if they weren’t obvious to young Tyron. It takes almost everything that works from Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, a well-received entry that’s still played today, and makes some scalpel-precise changes to address mindless offense and questionable balance; the removal of run-cancelled jabs shuts down entire categories of nonsense in a single stroke.
Weapons are definitely the attract-mode star here; weapon moves replace your punch normals, often improving your combo damage or poking potential, but you have to find the time to pull out your weapon, and you’ll drop it if you take a single hit. In the absence of meter mechanics, weapons give Mortal Kombat 4 its push-and-pull, and their mere presence makes the game feel more thoughtful, giving players compelling reasons to play slow or cut their combos short.
But we didn’t play Mortal Kombat 4. We played Mortal Kombat Gold, the 1999 Dreamcast rerelease. And hoooo boy.
Now, whether or not you agree with the Midway Philosophy, it’s clear that Midway was finding their footing with each installment, steadily working out what made Mortal Kombat compelling; each game was made with finer control and a clearer vision, refining and enriching what came before it. They certainly didn’t get everything right, and some people still pine for the simplicity of the earliest titles, but each new game came with a better understanding of how Mortal Kombat worked at its core.
I think Mortal Kombat Gold is really instructive here, because they kinda…just…don’t.
Gold introduces a full row of new characters, plus some secret characters for good measure, and every single one of them shits all over Mortal Kombat 4’s core ideas, sporting spectacular fullscreen punishes and incredibly obnoxious neutral. MAXIMUM DAMAGE is the singular thread that holds Gold together at all; the new characters are missing all of the cooldowns, restrictions, and Invisible Bullshit that prevents the OG cast from being totally fucking braindead, and they’d almost all have trivial infinites without that 40% limit. The ability to mix-and-match weapons, normally character-specific tools, is just the icing on the cake; weapon-only screensplat infinites, abusing a special state that overrides the MAXIMUM DAMAGE knockdown, are now available to everyone.
Regardless of how you feel about it from an aesthetic perspective, the Midway Philosophy produces results—results that Gold can’t replicate. In fact, Gold is so fucked that it got a reprint, one month after launch; the original version, on a gold-colored disc, was plagued by graphical issues and crash bugs in addition to its questionable design choices. (There’s not a TON of documentation on these, but this should give you the right idea.)
The “red disc” reprint, also marked with a goofy-looking sticker on the case, fixes most of the technical issues—but, fortunately for us, none of the gameplay issues. Airwalks? Infinites? Cyrax bombs going off in the middle of fatalities? It’s cool, it’s fiiiiiiine.
So full disclosure—I didn’t really have any strong opinions on Mortal Kombat 4 before researching and explaining the game’s meta (shoutouts to Ketchup and Mustard), so like. I think putting this game on the calendar legitimately turned me into a MK4 stan. This game is honestly really cool, and shows that even in the realm of classic Mortal Kombat, which is so unconcerned with how normal fighting games work that it literally invented its own set of rules to play by, the dev team at Midway was gaining an ever-growing understanding of how these games work and what makes them compelling.
Mortal Kombat Gold does not do that game justice, which is a shame, because its developers, Eurocom, also did the PSX and N64 ports of Mortal Kombat 4—which have their shortcomings, but are still incredibly solid ports all the same. Given that Gold was intended to be a launch title for the Dreamcast, I’m entirely convinced at this point that the game was a technical dumpster fire purely because the devs at Eurocom got crunched to hell just to get the thing onto shelves. It sucks, because now I know there’s a timeline where Mortal Kombat Gold is without question the definitive version of Mortal Kombat 4, and we don’t live in that timeline.
Mortal Kombat 4 is actually a great and seriously competitive game at the highest levels, but Gold’s cast are so untested and shoved-out that the worst of them is in the tier with the regular top tiers. And that’s not even getting to Sektor, who is just a hell character. Good luck ever approaching those missile traps.
“MAXIMUM DAMAGE” has returned in 2023’s Mortal Kombat 1. Life is beautiful.
December 25: DNF Duel (PC)
Welcome home, kings of kuso.
In the very first year of the Advent Calendar, we played five Eighting games. At the time, we didn’t really notice, and if we had, we might not have understood the importance of it.
Eighting is discussed a lot in poverty-game circles, not just because of their portfolio—though, uh, absolutely because of their portfolio—but because of the types of projects they seem to take on, and the way they solve problems on shoestring budgets and tight delivery timelines. They seem perpetually willing to make licensed games under conditions that seem impossible, sometimes juggling several projects at once; on average, they do pretty alright given the circumstances.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, beloved yet broken FGC darling? Eighting. Kamen Rider Climax Heroes W, obsolete and solved the instant it was released? Eighting. Castlevania Judgement, uh…does anyone have any strong opinions on Castlevania Judgement? Because my opinion is “fucking neat”, and that was Eighting too. The results they get might not always be good, and you’ll certainly notice the reused assets and cut corners if you watch for them, but it’s rare for an Eighting game to be forgettable. (Even if you probably should. Looking at you, Zatch Bell Mamodo Battles.)
So when DNF Duel was announced, an adaptation of long-running KRMMO Dungeon Fighter Online—with Eighting at the helm, backed by Arc System Works' graphical tech and publishing power—everyone I knew said the same thing. “Holy shit. It’s time.”
Fast forward to release, and in my closest circles, the consensus seemed to be “this game is dumb and it rules”. Step out to the wider FGC, and it became “this game is dumb and it sucks”, players put off by the overpowering offense and polarizing movesets. Despite that, on December 22nd, DNF Duel received an update that contained more than 100 changes—and, in defiance of all expectations, zero of them were deliberate nerfs. The next day, we aired the Advent Calendar finale, and it felt like coming home.
So, how’s DNF Duel? It’s alright. At launch, it was largely a game about big swings in resources; it asked players to navigate a screen where every area can often seem equally scary, staying cool when you’re weak and pushing hard when you’re strong. As I write this, it seems like the same sort of game, but opened up a lot; Eighting’s managed to improve the game without compromising on its nature, giving characters more diverse pressure routes, more choices to make in neutral, and (not to be taken lightly) way cooler combos. The community turnaround didn’t really materialize in a big way, and it’s not talked about in the same begrudgingly respectful tones as Street Fighter V’s final state—but I like it.
I play Striker, not because I have 40 IQ, but because I like Kick Girls and I have 40 IQ. She’s an obvious stand-in for my beloved Wind Sneaker, my main from a different flavor of KRMMO, and I’m constantly reminded of the thing I loved the most about her: the elation of finding a weakness, a situation where I’m Strong And You’re Not, and banging on it with a giant laser-guided nailgun until my opponent wises up or dies. It feels cozy, in a way; DNF Duel brings me home, and every counterhit 6S is a sip of cocoa in front of the fireplace. In the end, I think this game found the people it was aimed for.
So if I like DNF Duel so much…why didn’t I play it? Why did it sit in my Steam library gathering dust for nearly a year? Sure, that year was fucked up, and I never really felt like I could focus seriously on it. But after a whole month’s worth of frivolous bullshit, a whole spreadsheet-page full of ridiculous distractions in the vague shape of fighting games, I realized that I had a question to ask myself.
Did I need to take it seriously?
Everybody wants to get good. When you find a game or hobby or system that fascinates you, it seems natural to absorb everything about it—to dive in for days, bouncing between netplay and wikis and Twitter and Discord and your three friends who kinda play, taking in everything you can. To find your way to tournament footage and replay archives, awed by the precision and expertise of the world’s strongest; to reach towards those heights, lightning in your fingertips and fire in your heart, only to get divekicked 8 times in a row and lose.
(Ask me about the time I tried to pick up Makoto.)
And sometimes, the culture starts to get its hooks into your brain. You look at your own dumb ass in Super Bronze, getting misinput fireball as an anti-air, and compare it to the nirvana at top levels, where everyone seems invincible—a level of expertise sometimes outright called the “real game”. We aspire to that beauty—we get the idea that the “real game” is why we’re playing at all.
Across all my circles, at all levels of play, I see people lamenting their performance as they look to the stars: gritting their teeth as they lose to “fake shit”, or groaning as they freeze up on things they “should know”. You swallow your scrubquotes, take your bitter medicine, and head back to the lab, following the noble path—but it feels bad to be bad, all the same.
But we keep playing anyway, immersing ourselves in what we love: discovery, self-expression, friends and found family, white-knuckle focus and perfect flow. The “aha” moments when a situation clicks, the quiet satisfaction of growing just a little stronger, the panicked glee as you actually land that goddamn combo in a real match. The 10-second endgame that seems to stretch on for years—the midnight session that passes in the blink of an eye.
You are playing the real game. When you fumble a motion, when you miss an anti-air, when you EX DP based entirely on smoke signals and horoscope readings, you are playing the real game. Your blue beat Noel combo is the real game. Mashing at -8 is the real game. 10 PM Fightcade lobbies for a game no one will remember in the morning? As real as it gets.
There’s magic in these games—e-sports or poverty, competition or casuals, kusoge or kamige.
Go find it.
I think 8ing has perhaps the most fundamental understanding of what makes a fighting game fun on the most basic level, before all the balance and high-level competitive ideas come into play: they know that the first step is to give players moves that they will want to do. Not in the sense of some “if everyone’s broken nobody is” flawed platitude on balance, but a simple belief that the player wants to feel strong, and they want to do it right now. I feel over the past few years, some of the biggest modern fighters felt like they were building characters around their limitations more than there strengths. So as much as DNF Duel’s reception was pretty tepid for a whole host of reasons, I do still insist that the game is really fun simply because it wants you to pick up a character, press some buttons, and go “that’s the move. that’s the fucking move.”
Fighting games are something so great. Thank you, 8ing. Also DIVE
I think the only real letdown with this game was just the lack of communication. It’s a shame too because it looks fun when I see people play it, and I guess it’s longstanding proof: everything is easier to enjoy without a bitch in your ear telling you why it’s bad, or something.
When it came out, DNF Duel was a breath of fresh air for me—not just because it released without any serious technical problems (online play just fucking WORKS for once), but because at every step of the way it has been completely honest and obstinate about what it wants to be, and what kind of experience it wants to provide to its players. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but I think it was also a wakeup call for the FGC at large—sometimes you just have to accept a game on its own terms, and decide how you feel about the game as it exists, rather than how you want it to be later. And on its own terms, DNF Duel is a game that wants you to go in swinging and go out swinging in a way that I thought the industry as a whole had left behind. It doesn’t want to enforce specific playstyles or modes of thought on you—the only thing DNF Duel will ever tell you to do is fuck around and find out, and that’s the shit I want from these games.
My favorite fighting game of 2022. A game that’s still receiving content and patches. A game that people started saying was dead and wasted potential as soon as they realized there were no DLC characters announced at the time.
Gamers are cruel.
AAAAAAGH WHY DOES IT TAKE ME THE ENTIRE YEAR TO WRITE THESE.
I think I know why, actually; when the year starts winding down, I start getting excited for the Advent Calendar again. Ask me about fighting games on January 3rd, and I’ll eagerly tell you that I never want to play another one for as long as I live. Ask me about fighting games in April, and I’ll probably be too embroiled in some dumbass MMO encounter or a weird programming project to even respond. But ask me in October, and I am so ready to play some dogshit Naruto games you have no idea. Is it the comfort of routine, rest from a draining but rewarding hobby, or several years of directed self-gaslighting? Good question! Have a table.
REAL REAL-ASS ASS ??? Abbock 1 1 3 - Keeg 2 - 5 1 Rockforge 1 - 3 - Sleepmode 0.5 1 2 - TTTTTsd 0.5 2 5 - Zari0t 1 - - - 8ing 1 - - - Total 7 4 18 1 I'm prepared to stop pretending this math implies anything, but I also think it's worth noting that every single bonus game of the marathon was ASS. Somehow these numbers feel appropriate.
DuckStation rollback is changing fighting games forever—I feel like 50% of the Advent Calendar, not just this year but going back through time, is now sensibly playable online. That means I get to recommend Evil Zone! Goiken Muyou II is also cool, but it’s largely just a neat curio, whereas Evil Zone is some shit that doesn’t exist elsewhere. I don’t want to oversell it—you probably have a guess for how you’ll feel about it, and if that feeling is negative it may not change your mind—but I think it’s pretty neat.
If you’ve got meatspace sparring partners, man, please just play Tekken 4. I swear this game rocks, don’t listen to the slander from people who objectively know more about it than I do. For the lab-monsters in the room…I mean, I can’t actually recommend FIGHT GAME II 3000 to anyone, but come on. You know you want to, even if you shouldn’t.
I know these articles are long as hell, and I know I’m a naturally long-winded person, but I hope I’ve made it worth your while. Failing that, I hope you can at least sideswipe someone with some completely worthless trivia the next time one of these games comes up in conversation. (Please do not actually talk to random people about FIGHT GAME II 3000.)
Thank you for playing. See you in December.