This past weekend was EVO 2019, the world's biggest celebrations of fighting games. If I had stayed in the US another month maybe I could have gone to Vegas to attend and lose badly. Instead, I thought I'd write about fighting games.
I consider fighting games one of my weaknesses, in the sense that (a) I easily succumb to the temptation to spend money on them; and (b) I'm not very good at them. Example of (a): I'm pretty sure I've purchased Street Fighter IV on at least 4 different platforms, including all DLC. Example of (b): I have yet to advance past bronze rank in online Street Fighter V, despite having purchased the game at launch back in 2016.
Like many in my generation, I got my introduction to fighting games with the arcade release of Street Fighter II in the arcades in the early 90s. Prior to that, my arcade experience had been mostly side-scrolling beat-em ups like the old X-Men arcade game. I remember my brother and I literally playing the SF2 arcade release like "scrubs", i.e., often times scrubbing our palms over the buttons trying to get moves going. Back then arcade machines didn't come with instructions and you had to figure out how the character moves worked by experimentation. I remember he preferred playing Ryu/Ken, while I liked Guile. We didn't really do combos, most of the time we just did Flash Kicks (which we called the "Slice"), Sonic Booms, Fireballs, and Dragon Punches most of the time. We also found it hard to understand what the Japanese characters were saying; we called Ryu's hurricane kick the "Kat-kat-nougat" because that's what it sounded like he was shouting! The other characters were mysteries! We didn't know how Zangief worked for example. And I'm pretty sure we never finished the arcade mode.
Street Fighter II eventually got a home release, I remember playing it for the first time at a friend's house when he got his copy first. We would be playing SF2 on the SNES a lot. I remember the annoyance when playing SF2 at another person's house, I'd have to configure my controller because I didn't use the default button layout. I used a layout called "YXLBAR" (with the heavy attacks on the SNES shoulder buttons) instead of the default "YLXBRA". Rumor has it someone used an insane layout like "YBAXLR". I also remember seeing the arcade intro for the updated Super Street Fighter II and being so amazed.
We tried out some other fighting game franchises on SNES too, like the Japanese Dragonball Butoden series, a TMNT fighting game, and the Justice League Task Force fighting game. On the PC, we also had a copy of Mortal Kombat 1. I'm not even sure our PC could handle color back then, we may have been playing Mortal Kombat in black and white! We also didn't have controllers for the PC back then, so we had to play with two players to one keyboard, and if you held down four buttons or more on your side, the keyboard couldn't register any more additional inputs so your opponent couldn't move!
Aside from playing with my brothers, me and some HS friends often got together at a friend's house and would be playing fighting games 'til the early morning hours. We got to try a lot more fighting games in the PS1 era, since games were cheaper in the PH then. A lot of it was still capcom stuff: Street Fighter Alpha 3, the Street Fighter EX series, Rival Schools, Darkstalkers, Xmen vs Street Fighter, and Marvel vs Capcom 1. There were also the games that were similar in command style like the King of Fighters series and Guilty Gear. We would also sometimes try the 3d games like Tekken, Soul Edge, Virtua Fighter, or Battle Arena Toshinden but those played a lot differently than SF-style games and they never really caught on with our group.
The PS2 era brought with it one of our most played games of all time: the legendary Capcom vs SNK 2. With a ridiculous 48 characters and six different "grooves" or playstyles to choose from, there was a lot of variety in the game and we rarely got tired of it. The Street Fighter III series also came out at around the same time, but we never got too much into it because New Generation and Second Impact only had home releases on Dreamcast; I remember we did play Third Strike for a while, but that was quickly overshadowed when CvS2 came out. There were a lot of other Capcom/SNK/other fighting game releases we tried out at this time too, but CvS2 was the main one I remember from this era.
With the PS3 era came Street Fighter IV and a new dimension: online play! This is where I got my first indication that I wasn't very good at fighting games, despite enjoying them so much. I was fine when playing on the couch casually with my friends, but online was another matter entirely. I remember being so frustrated at the "ten wins in a row" and "get C rank for all characters" achievements in SF4 because of how difficult they were. Around this time, my brother and I also tried attending a local tournament or two, but we did poorly. During this era, I also tried out games like Blazblue, Injustice, Persona 4 Arena, and so on. (ArcSys really got it's groove in this era as far as I'm concerned.)
It was during this era that I started preferring fight sticks as well. I bought my first fight stick for the PS3, and I found I liked it a lot more than playing with a controller. My play group still prefers controllers, so when I meet up with them I have to suck it up, but at home and for online play I'm usually on a fight stick. This generation also marked the first time for me to play the Smash Brothers series via the Wii U installment, but I never could get the hang of that game either.
Finally that brings us to the PS4 era and of course Street Fighter V. SF5 isn't too popular these days, mainly due to some balancing issues and lack of innovation,making the game feel stale, but it's still very hype at EVO. My old play group doesn't get to play much anymore, mostly because the one who usually brought the console has moved abroad, but we still manage to meet up at least once a year or so and put up our fighting dukes. I still play SF5 online, though not as often as I did with SF4. Matchmaking is a lot tougher, probably because I've been stuck at bronze level all this time. I still get hyped for fighting games when EVO rolls around, and I'm always tempted to buy these flashy new fighting games that come out. Just this weekend I purchased Dragonball Fighter Z on Steam after trying it out for the free weekend and enjoying it. It helps that it has a lot of nice single-player content so I can justify the cost even if I don't win/play online too much.
Why am I so bad at fighting games? I'm sure part of it is old age - these days my reaction time isn't as good as I'd want it to be (maybe it never was?!?). A large part of it is due to laziness - fighting games take a lot of practice, and you need a lot of experience to do well online. You also need to put in the time in training to be able to pull off execution of more complicated moves like SF4's famous FADC. I don't have time to really play fighting games all the much anymore. I was doing slightly better online during the PS3 era because my play group and me and my brothers were still playing regularly, but with SF5, I don't really have anyone to practice offline with on a regular basis, and just spending a lot of time in training bores me, so here we are.
Why do I still enjoy playing fighting games so much even though I'm bad at them? I've thought about this a lot, and I think the main reason other than general competitiveness, is that I enjoy the spectacle (these days at least). It's one of the few genres where I can truly appreciate the over-the-top graphics and cool moves and supers and so on. When I get a new fighting game and try out a new character one of the first things I do is try to get a super off to see how cool it is. I also enjoy the variance in game play - which is why I prefer fighting games with larger rosters like CvS2, and I especially like it when there is a random character select option. When my play group meets up, we always do random character selection where possible, it exposes us to all the characters and everything the game has to offer.
In recent years it has become easier to enjoy fighting games even if you're not good at them or you don't have much time to play, since there's a lot more tournaments these days and many of them are live-streamed and available to watch on demand online. I still want to play the games, but when I can't find a match, watching tournament play is a good alternative.
My reflexes can only get worse as the years pass, but I'm sure I'll still be playing fighting games for years to come, and I'll probably buy Street Fighter VI day one when it comes out for the PS5 or whatever. I may not have the skills to be the world champion in fighting games, but I'll always be a street fighter at heart.