Here’s some junk I wrote a couple of years ago when I was trying to get a job with shoryuken.com. If you thought my current writing sucked enough, you’re in for a treat! Still would like to see more crazy optional stuff in fighting games, though.
There are a plethora of discarded ideas from fighting games of old. These are mechanics that didn’t catch on like combos, super moves, or taunts ever did, but are nonetheless interesting and worthwhile.
We know that 3d fighting games have arenas of various shapes and sizes. Some have multiple levels, walls, pits, and even (in the case of Bushido Blade, Power Stone, or Ehrgeiz) obstacles and huge spaces to explore. Why should 2d fighters be constrained to tiny, featureless screens? Consider World Heroes and Fatal Fury, two series from SNK, which practiced something missing from any previous fighter (save Balrog’s stage in Street Fighter II): truly interactive arenas. Fatal Fury featured leaping attacks into backgrounds, vision-obscuring walls, and even herds of stampeding bulls. World Heroes had even more crazy stuff with its Deathmatch levels, arenas with special properties like a wrestling ring with electrified ropes, steel cage matches, slippery floors, buzz saws, land mines, robot claws dropping from above to shoot lightning… all in a 2d fighting game.
Admittedly, much of these were irritating rather than making the game more fun; Fatal Fury’s background jumping was wonky and pointless whereas some World Heroes arenas could be utterly unfun. Yet these ideas have been entirely absent since the last World Heroes game in 1995. Couldn’t these traps and tricks be put to better use in an already-hectic game like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to make it all the more intense? If they were optional, as they are in World Heroes, it would offer something for every taste.
Another forgotten mechanic from past days is usable items and weapons. In the Samurai Shodown series, items are tossed into play by a guy running in the background. These simply give small health restorations or can be used as weak projectile weapons and are therefore unimportant. What is significant in the Samurai Shodown games is that certain moves can deprive your opponent of their weapon, forcing them to use inferior hand-to-hand skills or the aforementioned random items. There was also some tactical advantage in deliberately losing your weapon; certain attacks could only be blocked bare-handed and it affected your rage meter. Imagine what possibilities would be open to a modern fighter that built upon such concepts? Capcom’s 1995 game Marvel Super Heroes allowed the player to collect gems from the Infinity Gauntlet, each with certain properties that effected play, such as increasing movement speed, hastening super meter gain, giving the player super armor, or hurling projectiles with every attack. This gave players a whole new set of options which strengthened the game. The same could be done with contemporary fighters, offering untold levels of customizability to work with.
A related notion is the changeable weapons from Namco’s 1997 game Soul Blade, the ancestor to the much more popular Soul Calibur series. What was already a tight, complex 3d fighter was bolstered by the Edge Master mode, a series of harsh challenges in which the player could earn new weapons. So what? Don’t the Soul Calibur games do the same thing? Not like this. In Soul Blade, you could get immensely powerful weapons that drained the user’s health, axes that did little damage but easily broke the opponent’s weapons, swords that constantly healed the user, wrist blades that ignored blocks, and my personal favorite: Hwang’s Phantom, a ten-foot-long sword with an invisible blade. Yes, some weapons were clearly overpowered, such as Taki’s Spirit Blade or Li Long’s Twin Thunder (which both have near-perfect scores in every category, including low weight) but there was an imagination to the weapons that is lacking in the Soul Calibur games, a creativity that would be most welcome in today’s fighters.
To conclude, I speak to those who create fighting games. It’s certainly a good thing to improve the basics, but you should experiment and risk something once in awhile. Learn from the successes and mistakes of the past and advance upon them.