At E3 2001, Super Smash Bros Melee got revealed in front of an extremely enthusiastic audience. The game is marketed as a casual game to beat your friends up as your favorite nintendo characters.
I remeber being really young, playing around as Kirby vs Kirby on Rainbow Cruise down-b'ing my preschool friend over and over again and thinking it was fun.
At the time, I wasn't aware what Melee was going to become,and what it already was (this was around 2006).
While melee was meant to be a fun party game, 15 years later it is one of the most competitive games in esports. Just as an example, here's a memorable meele doubles tourney clip (I do warn you if you are wearing headphones)
There's no way I'd write about competitive melee and not show that clip. In that moment, there is so much going on and there is so much energy. For the average newcomer like myself a few years ago, I figured that fighting games took as long to learn as the average game took to master. Like how long it took to learn all of the character's abilities in Mario Strikers Charged.
I was so wrong.
This is a clip from me playing in a local tourney last year, I had been playing Melee for about six months:
I had wanted to do a crazy epic wombo combo moment, and after my few hours of practice I figured I'd be able to and went to a local, instead I embarassed myself.
Not just melee, but all fighting games have this issue, where there is so much going on, it's difficult to teach players just through a tutorial or a guide. I learned street fighter by hanging out at an arcade and asking people what I was doing wrong when I lost. Of course I had to study the combos, but I only learned the ones that fit my playstyle (not a very wise decision I know). Eventually, yes, I did get pretty decent at street fighter and had some epic moments both online and in the arcade.
One would argue that the extreme learning curve is just a part of the fighting game, to have the glory of an epic moment you need the hours of training. Which is correct on some level, actual fighters would spend hours training to compete in contests of strength, and it definitley adds a sense of mastery when you spend months practicing then finally win a match using what you've learned.
But here's my issue with this. Fighting games are incredibe. There's something primal about proving yourself against one other person. The fighting game community is the most animated and lively community out there wherever you are, and when a match gets close it can be truly incredible and anyone, even people who don't want to practice should be able to experience and play in those moments.
Here's the legendary Moment #37, from a Street Fighter III toruney, just watch and you'll see what I mean.
Even if you don't understand most of it, you can at least probably see that one guy had super low health, blocked an extremely crazy move and came back and won.
So, why can't that be it. Why can't we take away the complicated combos and mindgames and footsies and FADC's and L-cancels, and BLT's and ZZT's (those last two aren't actual fighting game things) and just make it that primal beat-up fun?
Let's look at some examples.
Beat-em-up's are probably what you're thinking of right now, and while those games are fun simple fighters, they aren't what I'm talking about. I'm looking for a simple, fun 1v1 fighting game, or a game that caters to a casual audience.
The first thing that comes to mind is Injustice: Gods Among Us. First, most people are familiar with at least some of Injustice's characters. Superman, Batman, Aquaman etc. A casual gamer who picks the game up because of the characters will be happy to find most if not all of his favorite superheros are there. Super Smash Bros does this as well, and one would argue that Marvel vs. Capcom does this too but MvC is incredibly complicated and has a tough learning curve.
So Injustice has characters that the average person would know, then what? Well, the first thing is that Injustice feels right using an xbox or ps3 controller. Games like Street Fighter and Guilty Gear require the player to have a fight stick in order to be able to pull of most combos, but Injustice feels fine using a gamepad. Of course this could be my personal preference but Injustice is also a heavier, slower game than Smash or Street Fighter.
Injustice's interactables and slower moves and not so complicated combos leave it up to the player's mind and strategy, than skill of remembering and doing combos. Injustice is a great example of what fighting games for newcomers and casuals should be, even at a competitive level someone who has played a decent amount of Injustice can understand most of what is going on. The wager system and comeback moves also help with this as well, as a powerful comeback move only takes two buttons rather than a complicated series of inputs like in Street Fighter. Juggles are also a big part of Injustice, and one can practice their ability to juggle their opponent, and can get the gist within a few hours or less.
To be a good competitive player of Injustice you need to make sure every combo lands everytime and know all of the little details of every character. But a beginner won't be confused by the combos or strats since their intuitive and simple.
But even with Injustice's beginner friendly system, I still see people get scared away by it just because it's a fighting game. So how do we change that? What does an ideal beginner friendly fighting game need to be sucessful and still have somewhat of a competitive scene?
It needs to feel good with a gamepad, pick strategy over execution, have a basic intuitive physics system for juggles, stuns etc (or no physics system at all) and be presented not like a fighting game. If you focus on those, you'll have a great, fun niche game that tons of people of all skill levels can enjoy. My attempt at this is Dumb Dojo, a game you can get more details about at http://ghostwhale.neocities.org/dumbdojo.html
Thanks for reading, and I hope to see what you can do with fighting games!