Originally posted: 2009-08-13 on my 1up page.
I can picture myself around 8 months ago: that Richard is exhausted from the January exams and is looking forward to some well-earned downtime. He’s thinking “time to play some games”. He’s looking at his shelf but he doesn’t quite know what to pick out. Halo 3 is getting old, Gears 2 is complete, FIFA 09 is broken – even the once fun Prince of Persia seems like a glorified QTE. He sighs and plays a few demos of games he could never commit to, and resigns himself to falling asleep unfulfilled.
Unbeknownst to him is that no less than a few months later, his taste for gaming and competition would return…
When I reminisce about my youth, I always remember enjoying fighting games; my desire to do so perhaps at a level that you could describe as ‘unnerving’ for one so young. I simply loved the idea of competition. Unlike other genres, the fight was quick and direct. There was nowhere to run or hide - you fought to win or you would surely lose. More so, I found a great thrill in the high risk manoeuvres that were tantamount to the fighting stage. When both competitors were low on health, the next move could potentially be the last.
The threat of low health however, did not mean defeat by any means. A skilful competitor could emerge victorious from even the most one-sided match if he was clever enough. It was that level of expertise that would enthral me from a young age. As an 8-year-old playing Tekken 3, I strived to perfect the special moves, command throws, 5-hit combos, even some basic juggles - everything I could in order to gain an advantage over the opponent.
It goes without saying that within the group of friends I had who would play fighting games, I was top of the chain. If a friend couldn’t complete arcade mode, I would fill in the gaps. I was greatly lauded by the friends I helped; though they would later fall victim to exacerbation, mostly due to the gratification I exhibited when muscle buster throwing them later on.
I entered the ‘Third Place’ in 2001, but I did not purchase Tekken Tag Tournament upon my arrival. Looking back it is baffling to consider I’d purchased a Playstation 2 sans Tekken or any fighting game. In fact, I waited a whole year before acquiring one. Tekken 3’s replacement was more than up to the task…
Needless to say, my choice would be construed by some as a ‘gaming non-sequitur’. Recognised fighting styles were made obsolete by quick kick combos and laser beams; super heroes replaced realistically modelled characters; side stepping became super-jumping.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was effervescent beyond any 12-year olds dreams; seemingly right at home amongst the pomp and circumstance of the holiday season. Furthermore, it was played at a speed that was faster than anything I was ever used to. MvC2’s retina-staining palette along with its celerity was compounded by the plain shift. The transition from 3D to 2D – a world I was most unfamiliar with – meant that I would have to learn to fight a new way.
Like Tekken before it, Marvel vs. Capcom was very close to my heart. I admired its rambunctious personality, but most of all I loved the fact that anyone could play it. All of my friends could play the game and enjoy it whilst they did (something I’ve seldom found with many games in the genre- including). We all had our favourite teams, and pitting them against each other in high-octane super hero brawls was an insatiable thrill.
After 5 years, my second Playstation 2 was in its death throes by the winter of 2006. I still played MvC2, but there were other games that had aroused my interest. By November, the decision was made to jump in, and I did so that Christmas. The furore of ‘next-gen’ was indomitable; Co-operative play Gears of War yielded a strong grasp, one that would take me from the arena for 3 years. Fighting games took a back seat to the shock and awe tactics of U3 tech. Xbox Live and online gaming prevailed; Tekken and Marvel vs. Capcom were forgotten about, washed away in a sea of entrails and steroids.
Consequentially, this was around the time where my taste for gaming deteriorated. Whilst I enjoyed games like Gears of War, after playing continuously for 6 months, there came a stage where playing the game just felt like flogging a dead horse. Once the story mode had been completed, yes there was multiplayer, but it never felt as though you were really achieving anything or progressing. There was no real fight in winning; it felt safe. I’d never considered ‘quitting’ gaming, but there certainly came a time wherein apathy was prevalent. It felt like gaming wasn’t fun - I was playing more out of habit.
Street Fighter IV was eulogised by the press as the ’second coming’ of the fighting game; although, to be quite honest with you, IV was not on my radar until a few weeks before its release. I’d seen a few screenshots and felt that the googly eyes were a nice touch, but no real footage. You wouldn’t be far off if you were to surmise that my hype-meter was fairly low. That was of course, until I caught a glimpse of the game in motion.
It was without a doubt, a cartoon come to life. The animation was superb; fighters attacked with moves that were satisfyingly heavy, and yet oozed elegance. The whole gang was present too; delightfully painted in the most vibrant colours imaginable. M. Bison was sufficiently menacing, Ryu was as stoical as ever and Ken looked hilariously like Trey Parker.
After that point there was no turning back: The E3 2008 trailer was viewed more and more frequently until it was the first thing in the morning and the last thing at night. I brushed my teeth whilst Abel jumped 20 feet into the air and hurtled towards the earth with great alacrity, his opponent crushed underneath him amid a flurry of flashing lights. The time in between was spent playing Street Fighter 2: Championship Edition to completion. Street Fighter had become rote: a religion, a mantra, arguably an obsession. The ‘second coming’ was indeed imminent…
My pre-ordered copy arrived on release day. As I’m sure many others did, I watched the introduction movie the first time with doting eyes. As I’m sure many players also did, upon perusing the menu I chose arcade mode and set the difficulty to medium. “I’ve played Street Fighter before” I thought. “This should be fairly straightforward”.
This iteration of Street Fighter however, greeted me not with a shake of the hand or a friendly pat on the back, but rather a spinning pile driver and a bruised ego. I’m not sure what was worse: losing a fight, or losing in front of my girlfriend courtesy of a CPU controlled Zangief. I had much to learn about IV; clearly, this was a different beast.
I looked online for combos and solutions, only to discover an undiscovered fighting community. A community with years of experience from numerous fighting games, and the dexterity to use the mandatory (at least to reach a higher level of play) arcade sticks - something I had never performed adroitly. It was at this point that I realised how far behind I really was. Experts would speak of frame data, whiffs, cancels, priority and chain links. These terms were alien to me - truly, I was the big fish in a small pond.
The 19-year old me wanted to give up there and then; the 8-year old boy in me however, saw a staunch challenge: to become a decent Street Fighter.
The next few months would be long and arduous, but I would eventually get to a level at which I could compete on Live. I’d learned so much in such a short time and along with this newly acquired knowledge, it would be fair to say that I was now playing games for fun again. Playing against people was fun; winning was fun; even losing to decent players was fun, if only to watch them make the difficult look effortless.
Whilst Street Fighter IV was fun, it was a mere doorway; or more, a doorway to the Danger Room. What was once a bizarre turn became the next logical choice: Marvel vs. Capcom 2 came to Xbox Live. It was a chance to enjoy the game I’d once loved and apply what I’d learned from Street Fighter. I found the ‘old faithful’ super-hero basher I’d adored years ago, and moreover, I found a new game; one that I loved even more..
I thank Street Fighter IV bringing me back into the fight; but I admire Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for keeping me on the floor underneath it‘s razor-sharp adamantium claws. Gone is the apathy that plagued my gaming; my enthusiasm for the hobby as a whole has returned. It’s safe to say that when playing against competitors that are now more bloody-thirsty, vociferous and downright determined than ever, the ‘taste’ is indeed back, and it’s here to stay.