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So You’ve Caught The Fighting Game Bug But Aren’t Sure How To Play

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With EVO come and gone, we’re probably at the highest chance for outsiders taking an interest in fighting games. One of the biggest problems with fighting games has always been understanding the mechanics- there’s a lot of fast decision-making involved that to the everyman simply looks like fast button mashing.

While I don’t consider myself any kind of competent at the genre, I have gone from seeing fighting games as an eldritch text to actually kind-of getting what’s going on the screen. In the spirit of really liking fighting games, I thought I’d share the tools I used to get to semi-literacy.

Full disclosure, I wasn’t paid by anyone to make this list. These are quite literally the games I’ve played from my collection that I felt had any impact.

Pokken Tournament DX

Pokken is a really simple fighting game. Like, really simple. It’s genius because it does to fighters what regular Pokémon does to JRPGs- preserves the spirit of them, but mechanically tones it down so while you may not get anything too extravagant, you can walk out with some pretty solid fundamentals.

The whole game revolves around a rock-paper-scissors of blocking, normals and grabs, and every reset is dependent on how you stacked up on the rock-paper-scissors against your opponent. Those resets are pretty fast, too, thanks to the game’s shorter combos so even a single match can be quite educational in learning to watch your opponent.

The game also has two phases, with a Field Phase that emphasizes zoning, and the Duel Phase that plays more like a regular fighter. Even the most up-close brawlers will need to have some kind of zoning knowledge, if nothing else to learn how to survive the barrage of fireballs from a sinister chandelier.

Input wise, all your moves are pretty simple, with single-directional inputs so you won’t get bogged down worrying about things like quarter circles and dragon punches. As someone who struggles with games like Blazblue and Street Fighter for that exact reason, having a game that lets you focus on the sheer basics of knowing when to grab vs when to jab was a good way to dip my toes into fighting games.

Plus, the roster are all Pokémon, so if you’re the type who needs recognizable characters to jump in you’re more likely to find something you like here.

One of the big downsides for Pokken is its actual availability, since Pokken DX is only on the Nintendo Switch. If you know someone or are that person wanting to get into fighting games but don’t have a switch, it’s a hard sell to get you to jump on just for that.

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Pokken Tournament DX Report Card:

  • Control Simplicity: A
  • Characters: B
  • Availability: C

BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle

In 2017 I called Blazblue Cross Tag Battle one of the best games of that year. This was because the game has so much going for it in accessibility with baked-in options for beginners instead of a shame-bringing “Stylish mode” like older games.

As a crossover-based tag fighter, it’s got a pretty great roster with characters from Blazblue, Persona, UNIST and entirely new characters from RWBY. Each of the characters look great, and you can experiment with them two at a time. The sheer amount of other franchises involved is a great way to get you to want to try other games, too. Especially now that they’re adding even more franchises like Arcana Hearts, Senran Kagura and Akatsuki Blitzkampf.

Controls-wise, the game is a notch above Pokken Tournament with mostly single direction inputs, but also some quarter circles. Cross Tag also has high and low blocking, and learning to time your assists is a valuable lesson in how to not drop your combos. The step-up from Pokken is also great for drilling in that anti-mash mentality, since often times your combos are reliant on different buttons as well as a stricter timing.

Unlike Pokken, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle is available on pretty much every console, so it’s a much easier sell. The Deluxe edition includes the entirety of the game’s many DLC fighters, and only costs you RM115 on Steam.

Blazblue Cross Tag Battle Report Card

  • Control Simplicity: B+
  • Characters: A
  • Availability: A

Dead or Alive 6

Dead Or Alive 6 is in a weird place with me. As someone who prefers flashier anime-style fighters, I’m not really a big fan of the more down-to-earth MMA style fighting. Which is a weird way to describe Dead or Alive 6, considering how compared to games like Tekken it’s hardly what you’d call tame.

That being said, however, DOA6’s emphasis on parrying hits with directional blocks and dial-a-combo combat makes for another great teaching tool in the war against senseless button mashing. Having to be mindful of your directional holds is great because it teaches you to also keep an eye on your opponent, and be mindful to minimize whiffing.

The less flashy animations are also great for the game, since you can clearly see what’s a punch and what’s a kick, which works well for the game. Dead or Alive also has the concept of using meter to enhance moves, something absent from Pokken. You can burn meter to avoid big hits with a special hold, and even has easy supers to finish off your opponents in style.

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DOA’s main strength, however, is that it’s free. While the full game will set you back a hefty RM252, someone wanting to just give the game a try can download the free edition and, if their favorite character isn’t in the free roster, simply buy the character they think looks coolest and learn with that for barely any cost at all.

Unlike Cross Tag and Pokken, however, Dead or Alive has some form of progression in costume unlocks, and depending on your opinion of that in fighting games that may be a positive or a negative for the game.

Dead or Alive 6 Report Card:

  • Control Simplicity: B
  • Characters: B
  • Availability: A+

Final Round Thoughts

This list was in no way exhaustive, and was pretty much just me listing off the games I’ve personally played that I felt taught me something. Ultimately you should play the fighting game you want to play, and not go through a learning order at the advice of some stranger on the internet.

As for games I didn’t mention, I’ve been told that the new Samurai Shodown is also a great game, with short combos and a huge emphasis on footsies. Mortal Kombat 11 is also a valuable trove of knowledge because it lets you set things like your input window, as well as having a wealth of information regarding moves available to the player. These games are pretty much my honorable mentions for this list.

As someone who is mediocre at best in all these games, I feel like these three were great stepping stones for appreciating one of the most fun and rewarding genres in gaming. Even if you don’t move on to more complex entries, I’d be happy for at least dispelling the stigma that all fighting games are hyper complex and obtuse.