Sonic Boom – Revival
The year is 1991, and all eyes are on a new game that is taking the arcade by storm. Salarymen and young kids alike are playing it, and there are no boundaries on who can play this game, be it race, age, occupation; nothing is keeping anyone from playing and being the best. This was the title that brought the advent of the fighting game genre to becoming the focal point of arcade gaming in the early-to-mid ‘90s. Street Fighter II made it cool to play arcade games, and this was only the beginning.
Capcom had changed everything with that one game. With a six-button layout and unique moveset for each character, it was only the first in five iterations of the series. After Capcom did to arcades what Nintendo did to home console gaming, they quickly had some stiff competition from SNK with their Art Of Fighting series (and later on, King Of Fighters), and from there it was the beginning of that same “Sega versus Nintendo” rivalry for Capcom and SNK. These two single-handedly took a genre and have ran with it for nearly 20 years, and since then we’ve had numerous other companies come and go, all trying to capture that same market. The Neo-Geo and CPS1/2 dominated until 3D became more and more popular, and by 1995 it became apparent that fighters were only going to be popular to the Japanese or those that were really passionate about the genre. Also, consoles were beginning to overtake arcade machines in graphics, and once Virtua Fighter and Tekken were ported to the home consoles, it was the beginning of the end.
From this point on, most arcades either went out of business or became some sort of “family fun center” that had games like Ski-ball or other ticket-spitting machines to exchange for prizes. Movie theaters and bowling allies are still the only real places you see most arcade machines outside of the bigger arcades that still survive today, but you won’t see many fighting games. Some games broke through after the decline of the genre like Marvel VS Capcom, but it wasn’t until 1999 that there was finally a sign of life in a dying breed. With the launch of the Dreamcast and the NAOMI hardware, fighting game fans were becoming quite excited. Games that were either looked over or hard to find, such as the Street Fighter III series or the company team-up of Capcom VS SNK became hits at home, and were even being seen more and more in lieu of crappy Virtua Cop knockoffs.
The biggest title in popularity on both the NAOMI and Dreamcast platform is clearly Marvel VS Capcom 2, which brought in a whole new generation of people who missed out on previous games or were enticed by the ability to team up the likes of Mega Man and Wolverine. It was this game that could be seen as what began the second wave of fighters becoming popular, and from there you saw sub-sequent ports of games to the PS2 and Xbox, again furthering the longevity of many titles. Street Fighter III: Third Strike became incredibly popular with enthusiasts, and so you saw more and more people playing in tournaments and getting involved with the fighting game community.
Unfortunately, in the past few years the sales and interest in fighters has declined yet again. While tournaments like Evo are still popular, there doesn’t seem to be much enthusiasm for the genre itself. It’s 2008, and it seems like little progress has been made in the grand scheme of things. It seems like this is the year this going to change, as there are quite a few games coming out that could start the next wave of popularity.
Capcom’s Street Fighter IV is a continuation of the game that started it all, which is finally taking the original series to 3D, for better and for worse. Then we have what is my most anticipated of them all: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, which is going to be an entirely new game compared to the original, with all new tweaks and balances, as well as high-def art and remixed sound. SNK is taking a different approach and going with newer, high-definition sprites for King Of Fighters XII, thus keeping its 3D and 2D KOF games still separate. Arc System Works, who makes the Guilty Gear series and also made the awesome but forgotten Hokuto no Ken is coming out with a new title called BlazBlue as well, and Examu’s Arcana Heart 2 is coming soon as well. And let’s not forget the big three 3D fighters, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, and Soul Calibur, all of which are getting new releases this year (in the case of VF, it will be an updated re-release of Virtua Fighter 5).
There hasn’t been a year like this for fighters in years, if ever. Two big releases by Capcom alone would have been a big deal, but every company is coming out swinging. 2008 could be the most important year for the fighting game genre since 1991. While it’s nigh impossible to revive arcades in North America to what they were like in the past, at least online gaming has come far enough that you can simulate the experience and still play other people one on one, which had been impossible while internet connections were unable to keep up with the intensive gameplay. While we wait to see whether or not any of these games will make a dent in mainstream popularity, I can only say that as a fan of not only fighting games, but arcade games in general, it’s a good time to be an enthusiast.