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February 13, 2012

DP Into Ultra (Part 2)

The answer to all of life’s problems rest within Street Fighter.  I still stand by that vaguely ridiculous claim, but with a slight adjustment: all fighting games have the answer to life’s problems. 

Street Fighter II, when it was released, created a revolution in the gaming world…heck, in the world in general.  It was a devourer of quarters and a bringer of new challengers to cabinets everywhere, from the dedicated arcades of old to diversions inside the occasional Long John Silver’s.  One on one combat had never been so well-defined in the history of games (and it tended to prove a safer alternative to backyard wrestling); you select your alter ego and fight with all your skill and wit to claim glory.  Granted there was a bit of violence outside the game; according to my brother Rich, doing nothing but throwing your opponent would give a kid enough of a reason to start wailing on his opponent in real life.  Whatever the case, Street Fighter II opened the floodgates on the competitive spirit, as well as the potential fighting games had to bring it out in kids who would sooner beat Gunstar Heroes than become a black belt.  Basically, children and nerds (yo) could become ultimate warriors.

Flash forward to 2012.  The fighting game renaissance has shown no signs of slowing down.  This year alone will see the release of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Skullgirls, BlazBlue Continuum Shift Extend, Soulcalibur 5, Dead or Alive 5, maybe Virtua Fighter 5 Showdown, the PlayStation Vita version of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and of course Street Fighter X Tekken.  It’s a staggering amount of fighters to be released, on top of the fighters that are already out there; I’d wager that come June or July, there’ll be announcements of new fighting games in the works (a new Darkstalkers, most likely, although I’d love to see a new Rival Schools).  In a world where Japanese games are either on the wane or automatically shunned by entitled American audiences raised on Call of Duty and conditioned to hate anything even remotely anime-esque, the fighter endures as a means to express skill and creativity -- both by its developers, and in its players. 

History’s repeated itself -- but hopefully, we won’t have a repeat of last time.  See, Street Fighter II was a big money-maker for Capcom, so naturally they had to go and ruin a good thing.  They released updated versions on a regular basis, introducing new characters and tweaked game mechanics -- and making the simple name all the more complicated.  What was originally Street Fighter II eventually became Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition.  Pro tip: if you have a game with The Anniversary Edition in its title, then you’ve released too many damn versions of the same game.  Since this was before games could be patched online or DLC could be added, this of course meant kids (i.e. parents) shuffling back and forth between Toys R Us to pick up the latest version for home consoles.  And while that was happening, competitors tried to release their own fighting games to jump on the bandwagon.  Some endured (King of Fighters); others…didn’t.  Oversaturation of the market, working in tandem with a franchise that was like a snake shedding its skin every other day -- factors like these probably led to the fighting game genre going on hiatus in the late nineties/early 2000s.

And then you look to the present and you see the same thing going on.  There’s a crapton of fighters available for sale right now, with more on the way.  The advent of patches available through your console of choice and downloadable content means that sometimes you don’t even have to leave the house to put money into a company’s pockets.  Capcom’s up to its old tricks, of course; what was originally Street Fighter 4 eventually became -- deep breath -- Super Street Fighter 4 Arcade Edition ver. 2012.  (To say nothing of the fact that Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix has been available for download for a few years now.)  Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is now Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, a galling move considering that an announcement of the update came about FIVE MONTHS after the original was released, and the update itself came four months later.  I can’t even imagine how many more pennies Capcom got out of gamers by offering costumes and characters (some of which were on the disk to begin with).  It’s almost hilarious what had happened; Capcom originally said that, while they’d offer customization options, you’d never see poster boy Ryu in a funny hat.  Nowadays, you can not only see Ryu in a goofy bandanna, but his best bud Ken in a cowboy hat, Cammy dressed like Catwoman, and T. Hawk in a costume Rich asserts is incredibly racist.

What does this mean?  Are we going to see an end to fighters, and resurgence ten years from now?  Well, if fighters go down, then I can think of a few other genres COUGHshootersCOUGHCOUGH that would go down too.  Fighters do more than just evoke nostalgia or give losers a chance to become winners.

I’ve learned that for myself. 

“My fight money!” Balrog wailed as he crashed to the ground, his boxing gloved-hands devoid of motion.  It’s a sight I’ve seen hundreds of times before -- a beaten enemy, followed by a blaring proclamation of victory from the game.  As my eyes shifted to the left, I took note of Rich bristling with pride.  Once more, his high-flying play with C. Viper had seen him through a fight, against a foe who couldn’t defend against his blazing offense.

But this time, there’s something slightly different.  Rather than bash the skull of some scrub playing online in Super Street Fighter 4, he’s playing locally.  We’d carted the Xbox 360 and two arcade sticks over to a friend’s house, and had to kill some time before we could have a WrestleMania viewing party.  Our lack of four working pads meant we had to use an arcade stick as a substitute -- and the mention of said stick gave Rich an excuse to show off his skills.  Or maybe “bully” fits better.  There’s little more explanation for his actions, considering that his opponent was Rory -- someone who I assume hadn’t played a Street Fighter game in years, much less the latest version.

I had to give Rory some credit, though; he’d chosen to face off with Rich on his terms, and tried to go toe-to-toe with an arcade stick in his lap.  He got in a few punches, but that was about it.  Countless contenders had tried to close that gap in the past and failed; in spite of his honest longing for a fight, he couldn’t compete against Rich’s offense.  But that wouldn’t stop a new challenger from stepping in.

“So cocky!” Vicente blurted, suddenly coming from the kitchen to the den of his house. 

“I’m not being cocky,” said Rich, though the smirk on his face said otherwise.  “I’m just too good, that’s all.”  Humility had never been one of his higher priorities. 

Vicente -- hot-blooded as always, and eager to shut Rich down -- grabbed a standard Xbox pad.  “I’ll play,” he said, taking a seat on the couch.  They went back to the character select screen, and he moved the cursor about in search of a fighter that could shut Rich -- and his mouth -- down. 

I rested my chin in my hand and continued to watch quietly.  We’d been playing video games with Vicente for almost two decades, to the point where we consider each other brothers.  And with that bond came an understanding of each others’ styles.  Rich had grown reliant on a mach-speed offense that could turn an enemy into gravy in seconds.  A predatory offense, like a tiger.  To some extent, Vicente was -- is -- the same way, with a few minor differences.  Rich’s offense comes from blinding speed; he tends not to leave a single gap in his attacks, and given the chance can practically come at you from three directions at once.  Vicente’s offense puts emphasis on one thing above all else: raw physical power.  His character choice tends toward big, heavy guys who, while generally sluggish, hit like trucks.  If Rich is a tiger, then Vicente’s a bull -- you don’t want to be in the way when he charges at you.

If I’d tried to be his coach (and violated my neutrality), I would have told him to choose T. Hawk, the seven-foot-six Mexican grappler.  But I kept my mouth shut and watched…though in retrospect, I probably raised an eyebrow when he chose Guile.

Guile, huh?  I wonder…  But I cut my pondering short as the fight started.  Guile was a character from the nineties with only two special moves and a host of normal attacks that Vicente had yet to memorize.  Rich’s C. Viper -- by virtue of being one of the latest-generation characters -- not only had a host of special moves, but also super jumps, jump cancels, and “seismo cancels.”  Rich had the tools, and the knowledge, to overwhelm any opponent who dared to even throw a punch.  And just like Rory, Vicente managed to land a punch or two before getting burned alive.

“You’re cheating!  Stop the cheating!” Vicente yelled as Rich spun about the screen.  Affectionate claims, of course (at least, I hoped they were); to a normal person, seeing a character move like that would have looked like cheating.  But in spite of that, Rich took the first round without much difficulty.

“You don’t know any of your special moves, do you?” Rich asked.  Whether it was a quick taunt or a lust for a stronger opponent, he actually sounded like he wanted to help…smug tone aside.  As the second round started, he held off on his assault.  “Hold back for two seconds, then press forward and one of the punch buttons.”

Even from halfway across the room, I could feel the heat radiating from Vicente -- partly because Rich had to tell him how to play, and partly because Rich had just given him a weapon to crush him with.  So he held back for two seconds, and then…threw a regular punch at the air.

“No, you have to press forward and punch at the same time.”

Vicente held back for another moment, and then…threw a boomerang of energy.  Of course, Rich just jumped right over it.  And he jumped over every other projectile Vicente threw that match -- a match that didn’t last too long.

“Mmmmm, how’d you like that?” Rich asked, now in full-blown bragging mode.  “Tastes great, doesn’t it?”

Vicente grumbled, threw up his hands, and stood up.  “Such a cheater!” he proclaimed.  “And so cocky!”

“What?  If I win, I have a right to show off, don’t I?”  I hoped that we wouldn’t have to endure one of his famous jigs.  “Don’t worry.  It’s all right.  You just lost to someone better than you, that’s a-”

I shifted in my seat.  “I guess I’ll play a round against you.”

That shut him up.  And good thing, too; I’d reached my “incessant yammering quota” ages ago.  I don’t know why I volunteered; maybe it was out of some desperate need to avenge my fallen friends.  Maybe it was just to put Rich in his place -- even if I stood no greater a chance than Vicente or Rory.  Or maybe I was just bored.  Whatever the case, I grabbed the pad that Vicente had discarded (taken good care of, considering that he could have flung it onto his hardwood floor).  I didn’t even bother going back to the character select screen.  As if he’d read my mind -- or perhaps, knew me well -- Vicente had chosen the character that I trusted the most.  So we hit rematch.  And sure enough, the battle began.

I knew better than to go rushing into a fight.  Rich’s years of experience would make quick work of me, given the chance.  If I wanted to win, I had to focus on surviving -- I’d slow down the match to my pace, rather than let him kick the battle to a feverish tempo.  He’s used to that pace.  I’m not.  The faster I move and the more heated I get the more likely I am to make a mistake and throw the match.  So I’ll take it slow.  Step by step.  And most importantly, I’ll survive the only way I can: by enduring my brother’s attacks…and countering anything that comes my way.

A crouching hard punch to knock Viper out of the air.  A Rolling Sobat to put some distance between us.  An EX Sonic Boom to knock Viper out of a Seismo.  An air grab to fling any offenders to the opposite corner.  Sonic Boom after Sonic Boom to control space, and keep Rich from getting too comfortable -- and bait him into jumping into my fist.  A Target Combo to get in a few quick hits while he’s struggling to get in.  A Sonic Hurricane to tear him up while he’s trying to get up -- an Ultra Combo that clinches one round.  And in another round, a Flash Kick -- a move that Rich neglected to tell Vicente about -- to stop him dead in his tracks, and punish him for daring to touch me.

It’s enough to net me a victory, thankful that Rich didn’t get a chance to melt the health off Guile.  I sat there quietly, with a slight smile on my face.  Rich looks at the screen in silence for a moment; as a groan started to rumble in his throat, I braced myself for the usual attack.  “Fighting Guile is so BORING,” he said with a shake of his head.   “All you do is sit there and turtle.”

I didn’t bother fighting back.  Instead, I let Vicente’s cheers do the talking for me.  “Ohhhhhhhhh, looks like somebody lost!” he yelled.  We went for a high five, drawing more ire from dear old big brother.  “Guess somebody’s not as good as they thought they were, huh?”

He didn’t bother fighting back, either.  “Let’s play Marvel,” he blurted.  And what little pride I felt in winning rocketed away. 

The only reason I’d won in Street Fighter 4 was because I’d been able to stave off Rich’s offense.  In the time since the original version’s release, I’d learned a lot about the game.  Namely, that I sucked at it; I didn’t have the reflexes to link combos together, nor did I have the creativity to make my own stylish offense.  Worse yet, I didn’t have the time for the practice I sorely needed.  Between classes, homework, writing, my penchant for napping (thanks to having the constitution of an eighty-year-old), and the fact that Rich owned the Xbox for most of the day, I could only get in small amounts of practice.  Compounded with the fact that I needed several online guides and YouTube videos to get inspiration while training, and compounding that with the fact that I’d played online against human opponents -- people with actual thought and attack patterns, rather than CPU dummies -- about six times in three years, I was crippled.  The only real practice I got was against Rich in the middle of our sessions.  To put it simply, it’s like preparing for a final exam by taking a final exam after skimming through your doodle-filled notebook one day looking for that awesome griffin drawing you made.  The only time I’ve ever felt comfortable fighting -- the only time I show any semblance of a threat -- is when I’m on the defensive.  In order to win, you have to be the last man standing; you’ll be the last man standing if your enemy can’t attack you without retaliation, or just can’t break your guard.  I’ll (grudgingly) go on the offensive if I need to, but survival is my top priority, not showing off fancy combos.

And Guile is the perfect character for the job.  While I once used him to go on the attack -- flailing about like a wild beast, I imagine -- now I’m content with using him the way he was meant to be used.  An ironclad defense that repels all attackers…a solidarity that would put even the Great Wall to shame.

But the switch to Marvel vs. Capcom would leave me without Guile.  In a game where you could blink and suddenly have a sword chopping you down by the shins, I knew my defense wouldn’t last.  Worse yet, the game had barely been out for a week; I didn’t have a basic combo, a basic defense, basic assists, or even a basic team.

 Little wonder, then, that I got steamrolled.


You know, I don’t say this often enough, but I probably should.  Anyone who says video games are worthless (or any other negative term, such as “corruptive” or “murder-simulator”) can go eat a combo platter of cockroaches and jellyfish tentacles.  Also shit.

I’ll be the first to admit that they have their issues.  There’s probably a negative correlation between the number of gameplay hours and the amount of studying/housework that gets done.  It can -- note that I said CAN, not WILL -- expose players to violence before they’re ready, desensitizing children just because they want to play with guns.  They can take normal, well-adjusted members of society into freaks who prefer to spout random references to games nobody’s played.  Shake shake, indeed.

But in spite of all that negativity from outsiders -- people who “just don’t get it” -- those who are well-versed in the gaming universe find plenty of merit in them.  If I ever become a great, famous writer, the first thing I plan to do is give thanks to the video games that continuously set my imagination into a tizzy.  I’ve managed to form a friendship or two just by bringing up games in a conversation.  Ignoring the fact that developers are taking the medium to Hollywood-level productions (for better or worse), there are researchers and tech experts who look at games and hardware and see glowing potential.  With the advent of the Wii and the sudden rise of mobile gaming, more people than ever are looking at games and saying, “Hey, this is pretty snazzy.”  And a certain microcosm of fans -- a certain niche, yet rabid base -- no doubt sees this generation as a godsend.

The fighting game community is here to stay, so long as fighting games keep coming.  Arguably, they’ll keep going even if there’s another genre collapse; these are the people who subsisted on meager offerings during the drought of the 2000s.  When gamers moved on and arcades throughout the states closed down, they gathered wherever cabinets lay, and organized tournaments to see who could come out on top.  They’d scrape up whatever games they could on consoles and play their hearts out, hoping that they could force their opponent to respect their skills.  And now they’re mobilizing, striving for greater heights, and hoping to go farther than any other community out there.  Tournaments are streamed online.  Websites host tips, strategies, and fan-related material.  Partnerships and sponsorships are formed, giving tournament players access and input to new fighters and providing them with top-line options.  Every year, Evolution -- better known as EVO -- grows larger, bringing hundreds if not thousands of fighting fans together in Las Vegas to throw down.  New names and legends are born with incredible regularity.  Upsets, as common as the ticking of a clock.  The sheer amount of hype, seeing your favorite characters and your favorite players going at it, is almost intoxicating.  The chants, the screams, the howls and the laughter -- they’re as indispensible to the community as a pixilated fireball.  And with rumblings of breaking into e-sports, we may be looking at a regime that takes over the world…of video games.

Fighting spirit is more than just the stuff of kung-fu movies and anime.  Men and women the world over bring the heat, and blaze their way across the screen.  Skill and wit come together to turn basic combat moves into expressions of art.  People who would never be able to somersault and cut the sky in half in real life can do it with just a couple of button presses in-game. 

And what does all that mean for me and Rich?

I can only offer a theory when it comes to Rich.  Being my senior, he remembers the days of playing in arcades a lot better than I do.  I suspect he has memories of good times -- of facing off with real opponents, and crushing them underfoot.  But the dearth of arcades led to him being starved for a challenge; compound that with a mostly-empty “scene” where we live, and it’s hard to find anyone worthy of respect.  So maybe he plays online in hopes of reliving the glory days.  Maybe he’s out for blood, and the thought of victory is enough to help him endure an onslaught of Shoryukids.  And maybe he challenges me so often because he wants to fight at optimum conditions.  No lagging connections, no idiots sputtering into their microphones; just someone sitting a few feet away, so he can taunt to his heart’s content.  Or maybe just that whole “worthy opponent” thing. 

And as for me?  Well, I have three words for you.

Phoenix.  Wright.  Tasty.

I can’t do a tenth of what goes down in this video -- but just seeing it makes me want to try.  See, Phoenix Wright is one of my favorite video game characters ever.  Seeing him in glorious 3D for the first time made my heart swell with emotion.  Seeing him step onto the battlefield with evidence in hand makes me think “All right, let’s do this buddy.”  I told myself when he was first announced that even if he was objectively a terrible character in-game -- a bum at the bottom of the tier list -- I’d still play him, even if it was just to fulfill some misplaced sense of loyalty.  I stand by that loyalty, and I’ve seen plenty of losses because I didn’t stick with Captain America or Ryu.  And even though it was worth it, Phoenix Wright -- no, every character I’ve ever played in a fighting game, spurred on by Mr. Wright -- reminded me of a clear fact.

I want to win.

I play to win.  Anytime, anywhere.  Games, virtual or real.  Even outside of games, I do what I can to claim victory.  But you can’t win unless you’re willing to work for it.  You have to train, and prepare, and learn, and lose, and get beaten down, and slip up, and make sloppy moves, and get humiliated, and make a lucky break, and go all in, and fight your very hardest to survive, and take victory if you dare.  Fighting games, to me -- maybe on a subconscious level for everyone -- aren’t just about two-to-six dudes going at it.  They’re a test to see what you can do.  What you can learn.  “Dare to believe you can survive,” they say.  “Triumph or die,” they say.  Valid quotes.  They want to see your heat.  So do your opponents.  So do you.

So that’s where I stand.  Am I good at fighting games?  Sort of.  I’m better than I was, at least -- wiser thanks to being a punching bag.  I can hold my own; I can put up a solid defense, but I find myself at least trying to do some strong combos every now and then.  That’s why I’ve got a tab linked to EventHubs loaded up as I type this, with another tab holding a fully-loaded Phoenix Wright combo video.  That’s why I’ll spend a morning every now and then practicing my combos, training my thumbs to recreate the attacks that’ll lead me to victory.  I want to fight, win, and feel that heat for myself.  To learn more, and know that I can succeed if I put everything I’ve got on the line.

I don’t know if I’ll lose.  I don’t know if I’ll win.   But I’ll give it a good, honest try for the sake of proving the power of my characters.  The power in me.  And who knows?  Maybe a turnabout will happen.


“I’ve got all I need!”

The music stops.  The screen darkens.  The “Objection!” speech bubble that hovers on-screen vibrates excitedly as it makes contact with the blue-coated Vergil.  In that moment of peace, I remember the fear I felt as my health bar dwindled; I’d already lost Hulk, and I didn’t want to take on Rich’s entire team with just Ryu.  But in that same moment of peace, I feel a wave of relief, and a swell of courage.

I did the impossible.  I got three pieces of evidence, switched to Courtroom Mode, and managed to land the slow-to-start Bridge to the Turnabout on an unblocking opponent.  And now, as he thrusts his hands onto his hips, Phoenix Wright smiles and begins to shine with a golden glow.  His theme song kicks in -- a sign that someone’s about to get destroyed in his game series.  The lawyer who, in Ultimate Marvel, could barely touch an opponent can suddenly shoot a finger the size of an SUV from his hand, blasting foes for huge damage.  One press sends Vergil flying into the wall.  Another, bouncing helplessly off the ground.  A third, sailing through the air.  While the half-demon might have slashed at me without impunity before, Wright’s retaliation tears through his well-below-average health.  It’s only a matter of time before he goes down.

I tag in Ryu to have Wright recover some of his health.  Ryu -- Mr. Street Fighter himself -- manages to put up an offense, and I blast Rich’s assist before he can apply the pressure.  But I’m not done just yet, and neither is he.  As we go at it, hoping to get the game-winning opening, we charge at one another.  One split-second, one button pressed beforehand, is what clinches it.  My Ryu clips Viper’s shin with a low attack, and goes into an aerial combo.  I can see victory coming; I switch to Wright in midair, and blast Viper back down to the ground.

I have her.  I smile to myself.  And then, finally, I enter the command.  A dragon punch motion and two attacks is all I need.

The screen turns jet black -- and then, there’s a close-up on Wright’s face.  As the background shifts to a psychedelic blue vortex, Wright slams his hands on a desk.  It’s a tribute to his home series, of course, but here…

“The one who actually committed the crime…is YOU!”

Viper reels in shock, holding her hands in front of her face.  As she does, her health bar starts to melt away.

“No alibis, no justice, no dreams, no HOPE!” Phoenix yells, punctuating his words with a slap of the desk.  The evidence I collected in the match appears in front of Viper, and depletes the last of her health.  But it’s not over.  “It’s time to pay for your crime!  Take this!”

And with that final cry -- and a point of his finger -- Viper explodes.  Hyper Combo K.O.

Rich can only stare in shock, knowing that he lost to one of the worst characters in the game.  “…Why does that attack have to last so long?” he asks, his voice hushed.  That’s about all he can say; no accusations of cheapness, no cries of randomness, nothing.  I turned the match around, and all the skill he’d mustered couldn’t save him this time.

I didn’t bother answering him, of course.  Because before I could even think about gloating -- maybe saying something along the lines of “LAWYERED”, we’ve both mashed the rematch option.  And just like that, we’re going at it again.  I have to gather evidence and hold off his attack, getting combos in whenever I can.  He has to rush me down, hungry for my team’s blood.

But that’s fine.  If he wants a fight, I’ll give him one.  Because in the end, I’m just as hungry for a win.

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