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This is part of our about games and trends of one of the most longest-lived eras in gaming’s history — the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation. ongoing series
We have seen a lot of KO screens since 2005. Fighting games have attained a popularity not seen since the arcade years thanks to the revival of famous franchises, the rise of online play and patching, and the growth of tournaments in terms of both participants and online viewership. With the Wii U already out and the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launching in weeks, it’s time to observe what new characters and ideas prevailed in the past generation.
These warriors aren’t the coolest or have the most imaginative abilities, but they represent the trends that dominated the genre in terms of combat styles and outside-the-ring developments like the rise of downloadable content. As a rule, they also made their fighting-game debut in games that appeared on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or Nintendo Wii. So don’t blame us if your favorite isn’t on the list — blame SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos and Justice League: Task Force.
Scroll down below to meet some of the most interesting people who ever pummel you, launch you into the air, smack you 50 more times, fling you into the ground, and evaporate you in a laser blast.
Mexican masked wrestling was underrepresented in previous generations since it’s fluid and daredevil stunts are hard to adapt, so it makes sense that a new breed of luchadores would now invade fighting games. El Blaze from the Virtua Fighter series was one of the first to appear, and he’s a great tribute to cruiserweights like Rey Mysterio. El Blaze’s speed and ability to cancel moves into his Rocket Discharge run enable him to pressure heavyweights until they have nothing but an empty health bar. And how can you deny someone who claims he is “invincible beyond all imagination”? The Super Smash Bros. series has been an entry point into the fighting games for many fans, and for Brawl players, this Kirby anti-hero (pictured at right) was their first playground bully. For a brief period in 2012, all tournaments even agreed to ban him. While he’s beatable, Meta-Knight’s rapid sword slashes are perfect for offense and defense, and his extreme maneuverability enables him to return to the stage easily.
Dominant characters have always been around, but Brawl was one of the few games over the past few years that didn’t receive any balance changes or patches, solidifying Meta-Knight’s status as the blob to beat since 2008. Soul Calibur IV gave us a dental-floss garment for Ivy, Sophitia wearing the outfit of a free-to-play game’s advertisement model, and the most progressive female character on this list. Clad in a full suit of armor, Hilde is a bold champion who dual-wields a sword and spear that she can charge up for more powerful attacks.
What makes Hilde different from the rest, however, is not the outfit but her portrayal: She has a strong personality that isn’t betrayed by bad writing or male-gaze camera angles. Not every woman needs to dress like a nun, but fighting games should depict women in ways that suit their individual character and not treat them as interchangeable dress-up dolls. Yoda. Namco Bandai and Capcom both debuted pudgy-yet-nimble warriors around the same time for their big next-gen titles. Tekken’s Bob (pictured at left) appeared first, and he has an edge over his Street Fighter counterpart, Rufus: While the latter is a rotund joke, Bob is a cool bruiser who purposely gained weight to complement his fighting style in an idea that’s so crazy, it just might work. And it did: Bob is a dangerous opponent, and in the Tekken 6 Evolution 2011 championships the Grand Finals was mostly an all-Bob mirror match. He and Rufus would later face off in Street Fighter X Tekken, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 featured a skinnier version of him as a gag participant. It’s not always about having the inside knowledge of Street Fighter Arc System Works’ BlazBlue series is one of the few games of this generation that features an entirely new cast, and the amorphous Arakune (on the right side) fits the genre’s “freak” archetype with erratic movements and the ability to pester foes with insects after inflicting a curse. The mechanics behind this ability changed drastically between the first game and its sequels: It turns out that the ability to send out a cloud that will infect opponents even while blocking is kind of broken, so now Arakune has to fill a special meter to unleash mayhem. Character-specific meters and oddball mechanics was something only ASW used to do since it can be tough for new players to learn them along with everything else. But these are now they’re a regular part of games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Injustice: Gods Among Us. BlazBlue also makes a habit of introducing future playable characters in the game’s story mode. Hazama (to the left) first appears as a meek government official, but he later reveals himself as a ghost-thing who’s both a master planner and powerful enough to only pretend to feel his adversary’s attacks. The text-based narrative delves deeper into his actions and motivations than most fighting games do with their villains.
As a fighter, Hazama is a terror in close range with his knife slashes and Jayoku Houtenjin kick super, but in order to reach that point, he needs to use special chains to whip him around the screen. Later newcomers like MVC3’s Spencer and Injustice’s Cyborg will also employ grappling hooks for a unique way of getting around the screen. This archetype originated in the Guilty Gear series, but since then it has spread to almost every other franchise: The fighter who’s weaker than the rest of the cast but improves considerably after meeting certain requirements. It’s easiest to explain this with Super Street Fighter IV’s oil wrestler: Hakan sucks and is easy to bulldog into submission if his body isn’t lathered up with a sheen of oil. He has to find moments to use his Oil Shower special move to become the scary grappler with a pseudo -parry who can battle the game’s best, and he has to regularly grease himself to prolong the effect.
The rules and benefits behind the power-up depend on the character, and it’s also hard to balance in order to make it more than a gimmick. Using the super mode should be the end goal in every match, but it’s not worth the effort if the initial character is at too much of a disadvantage — hence why in recent updates, Hakan now begins the match oiled. These competitors need to take control of the match early to succeed. Fans demanded for this Devil May Cry hero to appear in a fighting game for years, so it wasn’t a surprise that he was one of the first announced for the 3-on-3 clash of companies Marvel vs. Capcom 3. But the most striking thing about his appearance is how many of his abilities survived the transition: Dante has more than 50 special moves that gave him great versatility and 100-hit combos that never seem to end. Dante also represents a shift in how Capcom designed its portion of the cast: While in previous MVC games, it felt like the developers found some old 8-bit heroes, gave them laser beams, and called it a day, now the Capcom side had representatives who could succeed while remaining faithful to their source material.
His grungey reinterpretation from DmC: Devil May Cry also appears in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and the genre in general has injected DMC’s emphasis on long, stylish combos into its mechanics. Wesker stormed into Marvel vs. Capcom 3 like a madman who felt he deserved to be the best. He and his Marvel counterpart, Phoenix, popularized the dual strategies of using teleports to amplify mixups and reserving the game’s X-Factor power boost for the final member of a team in order to mount an easy comeback. While Wesker’s dominance in tournaments has decreased lately, he still stands out as one of the generation’s great “villains” in terms of the number of people who complained about him. In today’s interconnected world, you can fight seven Wesker players in a row on Xbox Live, watch Weskers run amok in an online tournament stream, and share parody videos where Wesker rap battles Doctor Doom on social media. Skullgirls lead developer Mike Zaimont is famous for using heavyweight grapplers in Guilty Gear and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, but he also recognized that they often face an uphill battle over time. In designing the circus strongwoman Cerebella (pictured at left), he made sure to give her techniques like a pseudo-air dash and charging run to help her keep up with the cast and prove she’s no jobber. American fighting games were previously limited to Mortal Kombat knockoffs, but the growth of the indie development scene and the influx of fans-turned-creators into larger companies has created more avenues for those to work within the genre they’re passionate about. Skullgirls stood out from its competitors with its hand-drawn graphics, and Peacock (to the right) is a great example of how 2D can still pull some ideas off better than 3D. All of her attacks are based on classic American cartoon tropes like killing ants with a magnifying glass, sending in an armada of toy planes, and dropping anvils from the sky. She captures the best aspects of arcade-era sprites while approaching it from Tex Avery sensibilities that a Japanese creator wouldn’t be as familiar with. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
Batman’s greatest nemesis has an interesting development history. He originally appeared in the crossover fighter Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, where his fatality involved pointing and firing a fake gun at his victim’s head. After a quick laugh, Joker takes out a real revolver and makes his killing joke. The publisher censored this in the final version to maintain a T-rating, but the original later appears as one of Shang Tsung’s finishers in the Mortal Kombat reboot, where he transforms into a circus clown to do the deed. The villain was also a major part of the narrative in Injustice: Gods Among Us (pictured here), and the proliferation of story modes has shown that no matter how unnecessary and nonsensical fighting-game stories are, we still want to see what happens in them.
Fighting games have now been around long enough for them to use the community playing them as inspiration. Seth Killian grew up in the tournament scene and eventually become a special adviser for multiple Capcom games and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. He also inspired two separate final bosses. The first was Street Fighter 4’s Seth, who had nothing in common with him other than his name. The other and more direct homage is S-Kill (on the left side) from the two-button parody fighter Divekick. Here, he’s a parrying, teleporting villain who wants to “rebalance” the world into perfection.
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