Genre Awards – Fighting Games

Game journalism is full of lists: the best games of the year; the best games on a system; the best games of all time. It’s all been done. I decided to look back and pick the best games in particular genres (action, FPS, extreme sports, etc.). I have put together about 27 genres, and awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze metals to what I think are the best in the category. You are free to disagree – and you likely will. Everyone’s experience and list of games-played is different.
Fighting games are the first genre, because it’s the first one I started thinking about. These usually entail two combatants squaring off one-on-one in an epic battle to empty your opponent’s life bar, and then maybe eat their body and spit out the bones. I’ve always been fascinated by fighting games. They always had great graphics – only needing to put two characters onscreen. They had detailed controls with lots of moves to discover. They have a bit of a cathartic quality, though I’ve never found them anywhere near real martial arts.
I recall playing Street Fighter II: Championship Edition at an arcade during the Wisconsin State Fair. People were huddled around. When I got my chance to play, I chose sumo master E. Honda and basically spammed his hundred-hand slap move repeatedly. I picked up Street Fighter II along with my SNES, and spent countless hours becoming proficient with each person. My girlfriend and I would play Mortal Kombat II on that same SNES, cheat sheet in front of us, to witness all the Fatality moves. The Wisconsin State Fair is also where I later saw Tekken 2, with its realistic moves and beautiful polygonal characters. It spurred me to buy a PlayStation, though Tekken 2 wouldn’t come out for it for several months. Oddly, none of those games I just mentioned made the cut. So, without further ado, here are the 3 Best Fighting Games!

BRONZE: Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001, Nintendo, GameCube)
This is not your typical fighting game. First off, it features cutesy characters known for platforming and kart-racing. Secondly, it’s not one-on-one. It’s a free-for-all of famous faces, all trying to toss each other into the abyss. The 25 characters – Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Pikachu – each bring their unique personality, though the gameplay is super simple to grasp. This means anyone who’s held a controller can join in on the highly customizable multiplayer and not feel in over their head.
Or, if you’re fighting solo, there’s an extremely varied Adventure mode which always keeps you guessing – thus avoiding the repetitiveness that plagues many fighting games. The extensive stat-tracking will show just how much you played, along with your win/loss record and hit percentages. Another bonus are the little “titles” you’re given after fights, to denote special performances (which I stole for WWE SVR 2009‘s Season mode). Its Wii sequel may have includes some improvements, but Melee hits a sweet spot of advances and nostalgia that make it the best of the series, one of the best GameCube games, and the Bronze winner for the Fighting-Game category. Also, it had a gumball machine with like a million Nintendo-themed trophies in it.

SILVER: Soulcalibur (1999, Namco, Dreamcast)
Starting with Soul Edge (Soul Blade on PlayStation) in 1996, this series was easy to pawn off as Tekken with weapons. After all, both came from Namco. Soulcalibur blew away its muse – and every other fighting game – when it launched with Sega’s Dreamcast. Never before had we seen such beauty and smoothness in a 3D fighting game. I could sit there and watch the characters do their specific katas forever. Maxi was my guy, being a big nunchuk fan. Voldo was dope, too, with his S&M outfits and trident daggers. But whomever you choose, you get both fantasy and realistic moves that were approachable for button-mashers, but deep enough to reward patient players. Mission Mode opened up a variety of tasks and valuable rewards. Maybe you were the man in Arcade Mode, but could you win when poisoned? What if the opponent is invisible – only their weapon showing? What about if you can only cause damage when your opponent is off the ground?
I kind of lost track of the Soulcalibur series over the years. I don’t even own the fifth iteration. Like many fighting franchises, it seemed to only make miniscule advancements from version to version. And I’ve learned that I tend to not play enough of fighting and racing games to get my money’s worth. Evidence: I own the latest Mortal Kombat and it’s still sealed on my shelf. But I digress. Onto…

GOLD: Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1999, Capcom, PlayStation)
Street Fighter is the grand-daddy of fighting games, and Alpha 3 is by far its best showing. Alpha was originally a kind of prequel to Street Fighter II, with the characters being younger and using a slightly softer art style. But Alpha 3 throws basically everything from every previous game into it, along with a ton of new material. I’m talking over 35 characters, three “isms” that alter your playing style, the ability to take on multiple opponents onscreen at once… The list goes on.
Reading the above entries, you can tell I’m a big fan of unique single-player modes. Of course SFA3 has that. World Tour mode gives you new challenges and twists (vs. 2 Sagats?!), all the while awarding you experience and boosts like air guard or resisting dizziness. The boosts really allow you to tailor your character to your play style, and basically ensure everyone’s character – even if outwardly the same – turns out differently. I loved World Tour mode. I’m pretty sure I played all the way through it with a half-dozen fighters – including of course the aforementioned E. Honda.
I also adored Survival mode. Because the game allowed you to fight multiple adversaries at once, these were simply insane and intense. There’s a huge beat-my-score dynamic, which would have been that much better had online leaderboards been around at the time. Oh well. Maybe we’ll see an HD remake of it for download? It’s worth noting I’ve played just about every other port of the game – Dreamcast, PSP, GBA – and they were all well done. Of course, the PSP’s d-pad will give you one hell of a thumb callus. But after causing so much damage to computer enemies, it’s a small price to pay. Street Fighter Alpha 3 is easily my pick for Best Fighting Game. A winner is you!

Top 5 N-Gage Games

The newly announced Project Shield by Nvidia is very intriguing to me. It’s potentially a handheld gaming PC with its own HD screen and a gamepad that can stream Steam games. As someone with a beefy Steam catalog but not much desire to game on my desktop, this could be awesome.

For some reason, a lot of the gaming media is crapping on it. Over at Kotaku, editor Kirk Hamilton is comparing it the N-Gage. I don’t see it at all, and definitely consider that comparing fingers to toes.

For the uninitiated, N-Gage was Nokia’s attempt at melding cell phones and handheld gaming. Even before launch, Nokia dropped the ball by announcing at E3 that this device would cost $299 (by awkwardly painting the price on a girl’s stomach).

It featured some major, head-scratching design flaws. If you wanted to use it as a phone, you’d need to hold the thin side against your head in a practice that was referred to as side-talkin’ (modeled famously by my friend Christian Nutt, below). And if you wanted to use it as a game-playing device, switching out game cards required popping open the back and removing the battery.

The redesigned QD (pictured at the top of the page) fixed both problems. But by then, people had written off the N-Gage. Meanwhile, I had recently quit Game Informer magazine and was doing freelance work – including acting as N-Gage editor for Thus, I own and have played just about every N-Gage game released (and some that never saw release, like Virtua Cop). I can say that there are some really good titles for the platform. So, because N-Gage was on my mind, may I present to you…

The Top 5 N-Gage Games

5. Pocket Kingdom
Put together and customize a squad of “leet”-speaking creatures, then invade neighboring kingdoms. The weird thing is you don’t actually control them in real time. The cool thing is you can play multiplayer against people far away. I won a media tournament for this game, likely because no one else bothered to play it.

4. Rifts: Promise of Power
A turn-based RPG set in a popular cyberpunk world, Rifts really spoke to me. Unfortunately, it came out well after few people were on speaking terms with the N-Gage. Still, the character classes and bold artwork are quite memorable.

3. Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
I was blown away by the 3D graphics in this game. I mean, the previous Splinter Cell was a sidescrolling 2D game that nevertheless was a fun stealth romp. But this had almost everything the console versions did – even co-op – and looked/played fantastically.

2. Glimmerati
Instead of infiltrating a gang or becoming king of an underground racing circuit, your goal in this racing title is to join the cultural elite. Models, sports stars and other celebs toy around in their cars. To become one of them, you’ll have to race a wide variety of top-down missions in a super original and well designed Glimmerati.

1. Pathway to Glory
Advance Wars has nothing on this World War II turn-based tactical shooter. Thinking back, Pathway to Glory has so much in common with my pick for 2012 Game of the Year, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. And its developer, RedLynx, went on to make titles such as Trials Evolution and 1000 Heroz – a game I’ve played literally almost every day for 2 years. On any other platform, Pathway to Glory would have been an instant classic.

My Games of 2012

Geez, it’s already January 5th! It appears 2013 is going to fly by just as fast as 2012 did, so I’d better get off my ass – er, onto my ass and write my Games of 2012 article. I was fully ready to link to my Games of 2011, which I was sure was either on LiveJournal or Facebook. Apparently, I never wrote one? Huh…

Anway, some caveats: I will only award games that I personally played. That means much of the games that took up pro outlets’ lists will be absent. I can’t play everything, especially when I tried to forgo game buying in the busiest time of the year.

My Top 10 Favorite Games of 2012

10. Quiet Please! (XBox Indie)
Like any dedicated gamer ought to, I peruse the Xbox Indie Games market. I downloaded a demo then quickly purchased (for $1) this witty little pixelated adventure game. All your main character wants is to get some sleep, but her family prevents that from happening. I’d be surprised if it took me 2 hours to beat, but it was an enjoyable, thoughtful < 2 hours.

9. Asura’s Wrath (PS3/360)
This game is literally more cutscene than gameplay, more anime than video game. That can be a welcome change sometimes; in 2012, it was. I haven’t played a ton of
Asura, but it’s super intriguing and well done for what they’re trying to accomplish — which I admit is not for everyone. You can get it for under $20, which allays concerns of its length.

8. Dungeon Village (iPhone)
I love the Kairosoft games. Many people know about Game Dev Story, but they’ve been making great… I don’t even know what to call them. Sims, maybe? Anyway, they’ve released a ton of great ones since then, and Dungeon Village is the best. Manage a typical RPG village, with stores and homes and events to gain popularity. Meanwhile, visitors will go on quests outside the village walls, leveling-up and earning loot along the way. This dual gameplay is super compelling. So is the $0.99 sale price for a limited time. And this is the first Kairosoft game to be a universal app (though I didn’t notice cloud saves).

7. Punch Quest (iPhone/iPad)
iPhone and iPad are full of games where your character automatically runs to the right. You often have to make timely jumps; sometimes there’s a combat mechanic. But with Punch Quest, you’re brawling all the while. Bitch-slap anything that crosses your path – skeletons, zombies, bosses – and earn coins to then buy new punching power-ups. Or hats, because every game worth its salt now has to have hats. It’s so perfectly pick-up-and-play. Punch Quest is free, universal, and supports cloud saves. I’ve played it a bunch on both iPhone and iPad. It’s a definite go-to.

6. Journey (PS3)
Another download game makes my list (though there is a physical version which includes the excellent Flower, the meh Flow and all 3 soundtracks). Journey is just that: an epic and breathtaking quest where an underdog character braves the elements. Along the way, you’ll get some unexpected help. It’s just a beautiful, memorable game that takes the medium in a different direction.

5. Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 (iPad/iPhone/360/PC)
This is an amazing role-playing game. It’s funny, the combat is interesting, and it so wonderfully captures the SNES era where games like Final Fantasy III (VI), Secret of Mana, and Chrono Trigger ruled. And you can get it for the price of a mediocre cheeseburger ($2.99 in the App Store, and similar for Xbox indie games or on Steam). I fell in love with it on a plane trip, and kept playing once I got home.

4. Angry Birds Space (iPhone/iPad/Android)
I may have to turn in my “hardcore gamer card” for putting an Angry Birds game so high on my list, but so be it. I got into the first game, but became turned off by the seeming randomness of play. Something about the space motif, though, with its gravity physics, sucked me back into its orbit. Plus, Rovio is a Finnish company — go sisu! I played the iPad version until I got the maximum stars on literally every level. That’s a lot of hours of entertainment for $3, and I can only assume there will be more levels in the update. Angry Birds Star Wars was also a stellar game, but Space predated it and I played it more.

3. Mass Effect 3 (360/PS3/PC/Wii U)
I’ve been into this series since the beginning. It was first essentially Bioware’s version of its own Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic minus the license. The sequel became more of an action game, which worked for me. The finale to the trilogy where every decision mattered may be best known for 3 cookie-cutter endings, but it’s doubtlessly an amazing experience overall. However, it can’t top Mass Effect 2. In fact, this is the first Mass Effect I didn’t go back and replay all the way through. Still, these characters are so deep, you can’t help but want to spend more time with them (except Tali, who I killed at the end of ME2, followed by her entire species in ME3). Perhaps one day I’ll go back and play all 3 back-to-back and save the universe all over again. By the way, you can get ME3 for $15 right now (click the link on the name).

2. Dishonored (360/PS3/PC)
I’ve said a lot about this game on My Year of Backlogs. It was my most anticipated game in a long time. I love the team behind it, and open-ended first-person games as a whole. The world in Dishonored is alive, and with the powers at your disposal exploration is encouraged and rewarded. Many games have good and bad sides, but here it actually matters. Who you kill or spare may have profound effects on future levels. Sticking to shadows and showing mercy may not be why most people play games, but it’s worth it. Of course, you’ll want to play as a death-bringer too, to see that side of the coin. I played through both ways and somewhere in between, and loved every minute.

1. XCOM Enemy Unknown (360/PS3/PC)
My favorite game of the year was not very pretty. The story won’t blow you away. It’s not even an insane FPS or thrilling action/adventure. XCOM is just the most playable, thought-provoking, nail-biting game out there. The aliens have landed, and they’re doing more than sticking their fingers up people’s butts. You command a squad of your closest friends (if you name them as such) to show those creeps they screwed with the wrong planet. Every turn has you positioning your squad, never sure what you’ll encounter and from where. Take cover, but know that everything in the environment can be destroyed. Likewise, any trooper can be killed in action. You do not want to be stuck with a bunch of wet-eared rookies facing off against a giant alien mech. But you do want to play this game. Repeatedly. At least I do. Obsessively. It’s my favorite game of 2012.

Top 10 Games I Would’ve Liked To Play
1. The Walking Dead – I own it, but am only 45 minutes in
2. Crashmo – The sequel to Pushmo, my favorite 3DS game
3. Dust: An Elysian Tail – Amazing looking XBLA action game
4. Hotline Miami – Ultra-violent and ultra-retro
5. Unfinished Swan – Another artsy download game (Limbo, Journey)
6. Persona 4 Arena – You got fighting-game in my JRPG?!
7. Kid Icarus: Uprising – I hear it’s fun and hand-crampy
8. Xenoblade Chronicles – High-scoring Wii-exclusive only at Gamestop
9. Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – Sequel to 9-9-9, which I’m mixed on
10. Sleeping Dogs – A quality open-world action game

Coming Clean

Happy New Year to any Russian spam-bots reading this.
When I started this blog, it was to chronicle what to me was a daunting duration of time without buying video games. I didn’t know if I could do it, and I don’t know how committed I actually was to actually accomplishing my task.

Full disclosure: I’ve bought some games since starting My Year of Backlogs. If you looked at the last entry with a discriminating eye, you would notice I’ve played games that released after my October 9 start.

I won’t mention all the games I ended up picking up during Black Friday sales and the like, but I will say it is both more than I’d like to admit but less than in years past. And most of them were iPhone games, because I still haven’t determined whether those count or not.

The one I will mention is XCOM: Enemy Unknown, because it’s my 2012 Game of the Year. I know Dishonored was my muse for this blog – and that is a damn fine game – but XCOM is so strategic, so habit-forming, so satisfying… It’s also a pretty long campaign.

A small but significant feature is being able to customize your soldiers. This means giving them the name and likeness of people you know. I’ve done this for all but the “bonus” characters. This means I owe a couple friends an apology, as they were KIA. However, that’s a small price to pay for the personal touch this game affords you. If you can afford it, I suggest you pick it up.

Okay, stop looking at me like that. I also got The Walking Dead (PC) – many outlets’ selection for Game of the Year – but I’ve only played about 45 minutes of it.