The Evolution Championship Series, the world’s most prestigious fighting game tournament, is back! Sort of. Originally established in California in 1996, being called Battle by the Bay before moving to Las Vegas and taking up its current mantle in 2002, Evo has long been viewed as the World Cup or Super Bowl equivalent for fighting games. But 2020 was filled to the brim with turmoil for the legendary event. First, the Evo staff altered the lineup of games after being forced to move the tournament to an online format after the COVID outbreak, then cancelling the event entirely amidst copious, disturbing allegations of sexual assault leveled at Evo co-founder Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar. With Cuellar’s removal and Evolution’s cancellation, the fighting game community was at a loss, akin to Major League Baseball in 1994, when a player’s strike caused there to be no playoffs or World Series that year and just like the MLB, the future of the FGC/Evo was in doubt.
That was, until this past March when Sony Interactive Entertainment acquired Evo from remaining co-founders, brothers Tony and Tom Cannon, who will “remain closely involved as key advisors”, according to Sony reps. In their statement to the FGC, the Cannons seemed confident in placing their faith with the Sony team, admitting after the controversy of the past year that “we realize that we need an experienced strategic partner who truly respects the spirits of the FGC.” The Cannons also clarified at this time that any form of abuse or harassment is unacceptable at their events and that they would be taking extra precautions to prevent this type of behavior from ever happening again. As for Sony, it would seem they’re a near perfect choice of partner when taking into consideration their claims the Cannons will “ensure that Evo remains a one of a kind, grassroots competitive platform for fighting game players and fans around the globe” and their involvement in past Evolutions, providing consoles, pot bonuses and sponsorship money. Not to mention the exposure that Sony could potentially bring to both fighting games and the fighting game community, which have long been a niche in gaming. And although Evo pulls in thousands of participants and hundreds of thousands of online viewers each year, it has been unable to generate the colossal views and player base of MOBAs and shooters.
Shortly after Sony’s acquisition of the famed event, Evo Online 2021 was announced and is to be held over the weekends of August 6-8 and August 13-15, along with confirming the main lineup of games to be played, which includes Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Mortal Kombat 11 and the brand new Guilty Gear -Strive-. The games will be played on PS4, PS5 and PC, with Street Fighter V being the only game played on all 3 and Tekken 7 being played on PC only. Registration for Evo Online opened up June 4, ends July 15 and is free to competitors across the globe, provided they have access to the proper console(s).
Sony wasn’t satisfied with just helping to resurrect the granddaddy of fighting game tournaments though, as they later announced the Evo Community Series, a circuit-esque trio of events that begin June 10 and and ending August 3 that will span the course of two months leading up to the Evo main event. Kicking off with FGC Arcade: Evo Edition from June 10-22, region locked to North America and Europe, it will feature Granblue Fantasy Versus, Guilty Gear -Strive-, Mortal Kombat 11 and Tekken 7 running exclusively on PS4. Then continues with the Evo Online 2021 Warm-Up from June 26 – July 13, which will run the same 4 games as the main event albeit only on PS4, along with being an open tournament across the globe, before finishing with the third leg, the also global Evo Online 2021 Side Tournament. The side events will include BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Mobile Suit Gundam EXtreme VS Maxiboost ON, Skullgirls: 2nd Encore, Soul Calibur VI, Them’s Fighting Herds, Granblue Fantasy Versus and Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late[cl-r], with all of thes games running on PS4 except Them’s Fighting Herds, which will run on PC.
In this era of COVID, masks and social distancing there’s been a large number of American citizens that have continued working through the entirety of the pandemic thus far. No layoff. No unemployment checks. Maybe a raise or a “hero pay” bonus as consolation for putting themselves at risk in order to keep their families housed and fed. It’s an arduous go for these essential workers, but there’s been a group of people who have had it even tougher in the last year+. This wholly unfortunate group I’m referring to are the poor souls that just don’t understand the concept of personal boundaries. An unending, perpetual need to be no more than 6 inches from your face. The look of devastation that glosses over their irises as you inform them they really need to back up for a plethora of reasons. Unable to quench their desire to be close enough to breathe someone else’s exhaled carbon dioxide they turn to other outlets to satiate their hunger. Another avenue where they can forcibly invade personal space and instigate rapid, somewhat nonsensical interaction. They’re there lurking in your favorite game’s lobbies, ever present, inevitable. I’m speaking of rushdown mains, of course.
What is Monke?
Rushdown is an aggressive, up close playstyle that relies on confusing the opponent as to what direction and height they should be blocking and, occasionally, if they should be jumping or not. It differs from the other main archetypes (Zoners, Grapplers, Shotos) by being loosely defined, with many rushdown characters having wildly different attributes and abilities. For example, there are rushdown characters that have projectiles and others that don’t, some have a command grab, some have access to a rekka special, they can be wildly different in size as well, some are even charge characters, which is an archetype that is typically thought of as defensive. However, there are still a couple of characteristics that do give a rough outline of whether or not a character can be defined as rushdown:
Average to below average footsie/midrange game due to stubby normals but very strong up close because of the speed of those same attacks
High mobility, usually having good walk speed, low recovery and far advancing dash, sometimes possess an air dash or another special that launches/carries them across the screen, bypassing neutral
Small health pool, typically one of or the lowest in their respective game
Strong stagger pressure and frame traps
As what categorizes a character as rushdown is difficult to encompass, I’m choosing to exclude characters whose strategy revolves around 50/50 overhead – low mixups, I’ll be covering those as a separate archetype entirely.
Absolutely braindead. Just imagine cavemen beating each other to death with their barehands, possibly a club, while screaming in gibberish laced with an unga bunga and an ah-tah here and there. Beating on their chest, roaring and baring their teeth to display a willingness to engage in fisticuffs with other potential alphas. Occasionally, one of them will find a very strong tool and abuse that as they rise above the other apes to the status of chieftain. With newfound power obtained, they then slaughter the remaining bloodline of their competitors… well, maybe not that braindead, but close enough. The strategy of a rushdown character is similar to that of a grappler, in that they are the one pressing the issue and forcing interactions more often than not. However, rushdown has much easier time getting in thanks to their enhanced mobility, such as the aforementioned superior walk speed, dash, etc., along with sometimes being able to easily circumvent neutral altogether. An example of one of these footsie defying specials would be Jacqui’s “Bionic Bounce” in MK11. This incredible movement offsets their 2 biggest weaknesses: poor range and a low health pool. Once they get in though, the fun, or agony begins. Rushdown gets away with murder up close because of how blazing fast their normals are, with jabs and pokes that are anywhere from 3-6 frames depending on the game you’re playing. Not only are these moves fast, but they’re safe and have a large amount of block stun, allowing them to create frame traps off of blockstrings, leaving opponents at a frame disadvantage and unable to press a button to take their turn back and pressure you. The mindgames don’t come close to ending with the plus frames though, as I said before, the normals of a rushdown character are almost universally safe. This means when you’re applying pressure each single hit of the blockstring they’re performing isn’t punishable after they block it, creating ample opportunities for stagger pressure. Stagger pressure is exactly what the name implies, instead of finishing your intended blockstring, you stagger your actions after a hit that’s safe on block, rendering your opponent unable to know if you plan to finish the blockstring or not. This creates scenarios where you can steal away turns from your opponent when you’re minus on block because they are afraid of you finishing your string and continue blocking, netting you chip damage at the least and more opportunities to mix them up, rushdown is especially adept at strike/throw mixups because of how good their staggers are. Establishing this fear is when rushdown gets to open up their toolkit/moveset even further, exposing defenders to deeper mindgames/mixups. Once you make opponents tentative to attack, rushdown excels at having defenders make rapid guesses on defense, forcing choices between blocking low or high, ambiguous crossups to make people guess between blocking left or right, or throwing out a grab (command grab if your character has one) to entice opponents to backdash, jump or throw tech. Paired with frame traps and stagger pressure this allows for creative, intuitive mixups that can be adapted and changes on the fly. If a defender can’t keep up, they get “caught in the blender”.
Who is Monke?
Any and every fighting game that can be played includes Rushdown specialists, from Akuma in Street Fighter to Nina Williams in Tekken, Leo Whitefang from the Guilty Gear games to Liu Kang, lead protagonist of the Mortal Kombat franchise. If you enjoy being the only one able to speak in a conversation, I mean, the only one allowed to press buttons, generally fast paced and aggressive strategies and rolling your drooling, closely ape related face all over whatever controllor you’re playing the game with, then reject humanity, embrace monke. You play rushdown now.
The FGC is changing. I see it in the controllers. I feel it in the netcode. I smell it at the locals. Much that once was still is, for many now play who remember it. It began with the forging of the Great Tournaments. “CEO” was given to the Floridians, unwavering, unstable and grabbing every headline. “Combo Breaker” was given to the Mid-West, barren, lacking fundamentals, 13-0. And “Canada Cup”, Canada Cup was given to the Canadiens, who above all else desire sportsmanship. For within these tournaments was bound the strength and the will to govern each scene. But they were all of them deceived, for another tournament was made. Deep in the suburbs of San Jose and in the fires of Las Vegas, the Dark Lords of the West Coast forged a master tournament, and into this tournament they poured their “hype”, their “swag”, and their will to read everyone’s souls. One tournament to rule them all.
A Dab’ll Do Ya
Even within the midst and heights of my peak days as a smasher, I never really stopped having an interest in more traditional fighters. I dabbled in games like 3rd Strike, Killer Instinct and the Mortal Kombat series. I recall trying to complete the character trials the like of Chun-Li, Akuma, Ken and Dudley in the Street Fighter 3 port on Xbox 360, learning on stick and then later pad. I played Alien casually in MKX with my friends, didn’t even know a combo or how to poke and take my turn back or pressure. I tried to get into Killer Instinct several times over the years and it wasn’t until 2021 that I began to appreciate the game. I attempted to create my own combos with Kung Lao in MK9, thinking it was sick that I could get 30+% juggles using x-ray. How little I knew I could’ve been doing more damage for 1/3 the meter cost. I dipped my toes into some new platform fighters during this time as well, such as Rivals of Aether, Super Smash Flash 2 and Brawlhalla. This habit of wading in the shallow end of the larger fighting game genre pool kindled that fire I had for these games and kept it alive, the embers just wouldn’t go out.
I grew to love watching games outside of my platform fighters, I watched Evo 2016 Top 8 for Street Fighter V on ESPN 2 and Twitch at the same to support the community that I felt was a part, albeit small, of. I saw Infiltration complete his download of Fuudo and Sonic Fox remove his hat, achieving his final form and stopping Tekken Master’s onslaught in Grand Finals of Mortal Kombat X. The next year I bore witness to Tokido’s epic loser’s bracket run and become Punk’s worst fears realized, resetting the bracket and winning two straight sets to claim another world title. I saw Marvel Vs Capcom played on the main stage at Evo for perhaps the last time ever. At the time, I don’t think it even registered just how important the game was, is and always will be to the FGC. I’m grateful to have had that experience. In 2018, Lil Majin’s King slayed gods in the Tekken 7 tournament, en route to 3rd place finish, best ever for an American in Tekken and making the entire United States scene proud. Problem X became the first Brit or American to win the Main Street Fighter tournament at Evo after defeating the reigning champion, Tokido. It was around this time I made a foray into another game that plays extremely loose with the genre’s rules, in fact, some modes of this game, including the main one, are decidedly not fighting game modes at all.
Grabs, Guardbreaks, and Hate Mail
After Evo 2018 I was really motivated to play a fighting game other than Smash and other platform fighters. Although I had access to Killer Instinct, I still couldn’t grasp what made the game so engaging to its dedicated player base and I was also flat broke so I turned to a game I already owned but that doesn’t even necessarily belong in the genre. For Honor. This Ubisoft title’s main game modes revolve around team based combat, doing battle with human controlled opponents and cpus alike. However, the game also has a mode called “duel”, where you can battle 1v1 against another person and this is where the game dips into the fighter genre. It emphasizes movement, grabs/guardbreaks, blocking/parries, unblockable attacks and mixups just like any proper fighting game. For Honor was the first game I attempted to get more than casual with outside of the Smash franchise and was also the first time I had access to to dedicated tutorials and training modes to speed up the fundamental learning process. I settled on the Kensei character, whose gameplan revolved around his access to unblockable and uninterruptible attacks and his ability to cancel into or from these attacks from just about any of his other strikes. Kensei also wielded solid movement and guaranteed punishes off of guardbreaks, a not quite top tier but excellent character. Due to my focused effort I improved at duels very quickly, practicing against others online and watching videos of skilled players of my main to learn new strategies to add to my repertoire. It was this rapid improvement, along with my low rank and mostly unused “Xbox One” I was playing on that lead to many messages calling me a “smurf”, or just complaining and being very salty in general. For a brief time, I considered getting into online duel tournaments, but decided against it due to an uninteresting high level meta. I had a fun and productive experience with the game, beginning to grasp how to jump into a new game and learn strong strategies from the jump. This had prepared me to immerse myself into 2-D fighters yet again with the release of Mortal Kombat 11 in spring of 2019.
MK was one of the franchises that gripped me when I was young and never left, I played through the 3-D era and dabbled in MK9 and MKX, so when the surprise reveal of MK 11 happened in late 2018 early 2019 I was watching and I was impressed with the graphical upgrade over the last title and the new time bending story mode, along with promises of an improved NRS’ rollback netcode and a Konquest inspired Krypt. Although I didn’t play the beta or pre-order, I purchased the game shortly after its release, ready to dig in with my guy Liu Kang. Inspired by some Ninjakilla gameplay and after some research and time spent in practice mode I was eager to find out if MK11 would be the wild thrill ride the previous titles had been. I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of deep combo trees and how simple the strategy of most characters was, the mostly non existent oki, the recharging meter system and general lack of safe or meter less launchers. On the other hand, the movement and competitive balance was good, Krypt was really engaging and the game looked incredible, but the core gameplay just wasn’t very fun. Gone were the wacky, ridiculous, strong moves and memorable moments ever present on previous titles and in its place was a somewhat bland Street Fighter V inspired mess. MK11 seemed to be the game that comes about from trying way too hard to please very casual fighter players, who often have unwritten rules on how to play the game honorably, such as not using the same move so many times in a row, not throwing your opponent when they block, no zoning, letting them off the ground after a knockdown or letting them out of the corner. Essentially, anything that makes them lose or that doesn’t resemble mashing buttons at point blank range, which is also somehow unacceptable, the lack of logic and hypocrisy from this group of people is astounding. Liu Kang excelled at doing most of the things people hate and when I was playing MK11 I received plenty of direct messages saying so. Between the whiny player base and snooze fest game mechanics I didn’t play this title for very long and turned back to SSBM for a while after this. But during my Mortal Kombat 11 era I was constantly watching gameplay videos and hoping to get my hands on an entirely different NRS game. One that despite some prominent flaws I still play and enjoy currently and remember the strange circumstances that allowed me to get into it finally in spring of 2020.
I recently covered my personal experiences with Deception in a previous post, detailing the love I had for the game and how many hours I spent across all the game modes, particularly Konquest. While reminiscing and writing about the game and altogether reveling in the nostalgic memories of my youth, I developed an itch to once again get my hands on Deception and see if the title stood the test of time in my eyes. So I bought a used copy on Mercari for $10-15 plus shipping and after an error on the part of USPS I received the game about a week later. No harm, no foul. I delved back into Deception over the next two weeks, Konquest mode, the Krypt, 1v1 Kombat, the whole nine yards. The game was every bit as enjoyable as I remembered from the bygone era of my childhood and I wanted to share my thoughts and knowledge on Deception in the year 2021.
On October 4, 2004, also known as “Mortal Monday”, the sixth main installment of the Mortal Kombat franchise was released in North America on PS2 and Xbox. Deception was both the 2nd 3D and 2nd 6th console generation entry in the series after MK: Deadly Alliance. Continuing the story established in DA, Deception’s opening cinematic shows the climactic final showdown between Lord Raiden, as humanity’s last hope, and the Deadly Alliance of Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, who, in order to conquer the realms, had successfully resurrected the undead army of Outworld’s first emperor, Onaga the Dragon King. Unbeknownst to any of the three was that the Dragon King himself had also returned to life. The return of Onaga results in a brief, but futile alliance between the two sorcerers and thunder god, ending with the death of all 3 and an unfaltered Onaga regaining control of his legions.
Deception was a commercial hit, managing to ship one million units during it’s release week, becoming the fastest selling game in developer Midway’s history and sold about 2 million copies when all was said and done. On the critical end, Deception was also an overwhelming success, receiving almost exclusively positive reviews and taking home best fighting game of 2004 from multiple major publications. Furthermore, Deception has been recognized as the very first fighting game to include online versus capabilities, making it an influential and impactful title even in today’s market.
Building off of Deadly Alliance’s three dimensional controls and tri stance fighting styles, Deception’s kombat is also heavily reliant on frenetic movement, huge punishes and making pokes safe by utilizing backdash cancels. All characters have one or two very overpowered characteristics such as launching grabs, unblockable setups, wall infinites and every character is dishing out 50-70% BnB’s midscreen. In other words, balance is neither a virtue nor existing in Deception. This title has a heavy reliance on constant 50/50 mixups once you establish your pressure, making gameplay even more explosive. Any character lacking a reliable 50/50 is mid tier at best, especially when compared to characters such as Dairou, Bo Rai’ Cho and Noob/Smoke. Dairou is able to sidestep cancel into his unblockable “Tomb Stone Drop”, leading into situations where he can simply perform this technique repeatedly for an extremely effective neutral strategy and force nearly every other character in the cast to press in and force approaches on him. Bo has access to a launching grab leading into 50+% punishes and unblockable double “Puke” setups, due to its ability to be sidestep cancelled, which are guaranteed on most knockdowns. He also has access to guaranteed grab setups and a wall infinite. As one part of the tag team character Noob/Smoke, Smoke’s cyborg form wields one the, if not the most effective and simple to setup 50/50 leading to 70% punishes along with Noob’s solid projectile that circumvents Smoke’s struggles in neutral. Many of these strategies change during online kombat, due to huge differences in frame data, making many moves safe online that are not offline, or creating new combo routes while others are now not performable. MK Deception is neither for casuals nor the faint of heart, if you don’t like games that are busted beyond reason, a la Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 and Super Smash Bros. Melee, then this may not be the MK title for you. All that said, I find the gameplay engaging and enjoyable despite its faults.
When compared to Deadly Alliance’s mission based Konquest, where the only control you had over your character was during kombat and mini games, Deception ups the ante by giving the player an RPG-esque open world map, third person action adventure controls and a hub, called the Nexus, that allows you to travel in between the many realms of the MK universe. You’re also given control of a brand new character to the series, Shujinko, who narrates the game’s opening cinematic. Although marred by poor voice acting and somewhat repitive gameplay, particularly the training sessions, which take place in the 1v1 kombat format, Deception’s Konquest is a huge step up from the previous installment and still manages to entertain. A shining bright spot in Konquest is the exploration, allowing you to immerse yourself in the MK universe in a way never seen before or since, meeting fan favorite characters and uncovering the secrets of each realm. Hours can easily be spent wandering, collecting koins and completing every side mission and kombat challenge and that’s not even including the unlockable content hidden within discoverable chests in the game world. Opening these chests can give you koins to spend in the Krypt, hidden characters, stages, artwork, videos, music and more. Some of these chests are incredibly challenging to find before you can even open them, for example, to unlock Liu Kang as a playable fighter you must travel to specific spot in the realm of Edenia at precisely midnight on Friday mornings where his corresponding chest will appear for an hour in game time, roughly a minute in real world time. The story of Konquest serves as a prequel to the main events of Deception and in some parts to the entire Mortal Kombat franchise. Beginning many years before the tournament where Liu Kang was victorious, you take control of Shujinko as a teenager, who dreams of representing Earthrealm in Mortal Kombat like the Great Kung Lao and defeating Outworld’s champion, Goro. While training with Master Bo Rai’ Cho, Shujinko is approached by a spirit called Damashi, who claims to be an emissary of the Elder Gods. He tells Shujinko that he’s been selected to be the Elder Gods’ champion and sends him on a quest to retrieve 6 artifacts called Kamidogu, one in each realm. 46 years later, after traversing the realms and coming into contact with nearly every major player in MK lore, Shujinko succeeds in his quest placing the final Kamidogu on a pedastal in the nexus, but nothing happens. Shujinko questions this as Damashi reveals himself to have been the spirit of the Dragon King, now fully resurrected by Shujinko, giving finalization to the titular “Deception”. Onaga informs Shujinko of his plan to fuse the 6 Kamidogu and Shinnok’s amulet along with himself to become the One Being, powerful enough to destroy the Elder Gods and life itself. Shujinko escapes to Earthrealm while Onaga makes his way to Outworld to claim the amulet from Quan Chi, leading to the events of the opening cinematic. Decepton’s Konquest mode stands out among its Deadly Alliance and Armageddon counterparts because of the freedom it gives you as a player to interact not only with, but inside the MK lore at your pace creating a comfortable sense of immersion. It truly stands the test of time, great in 2004 and in 2021.
Like its predecessor, Deception allows you to navigate through a graveyard in first person filled with alphabetized koffins, which contain all of the games unlockables. Using the gold, ruby, platinum, sapphire, onyx or jade koins rewarded by completing training sessions and missions or found in the map and chests of Konquest mode, players had the ability to uncover secret characters, stages, music, concept art, etc. Unlike Deadly Alliance, which had 626 koffins, this Krypt only holds 400, organized in a 20×20 grid. However, opting for the smaller number of koffins was a welcome change as it eliminated DA’s frustrating mechanic where opening a koffin may only yield hints directing you to a different koffin, or absolutely nothing at all. Deception’s krypt was also packed with atmosphere: blood curdling screams, threatening whispers, eerie music and familiar faces being seen lurking amongst the headstones only to disappear into the darkness helped break up the monotony of opening koffin after koffin.
Deception featured two bonus mini games: Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. The Puzzle Kombat mode is similar to Tetris in that the main objective of the game is to organize and break down sections of colored blocks that descend from the top of the screen before it fills up. But in Puzzle Kombat, blocks always descend in pairs of two and instead of blocks breaking after a certain number of them are linked together, you must use koin shaped blocks called breakers. When a breaker touches any of the corresponding colors of block, yellow, blue, red or green, every block of that color that is linked to the breaker is destroyed, giving you points and filling your super meter. Here’s where things get interesting. This mode is played as a two player battle mode and whenever you destroy blocks using a breaker, the number of blocks you destroyed is added to your opponents stack. There are also bombs, which destroy every block of the color it touched regardless if they were linked or not. Bombs can be a life saver if you’re behind or a game clincher when you’re in the lead and they can also setup for huge, layered combos. For example, if you had a big sheet of red blocks separated from a red breaker by a blue block, you could drop the bomb on a blue block, destroying all blue blocks and sending the red sheet and breaker into each other for a huge combo multiplier. As for the supers mentioned earlier, as you break blocks and perform combos you fill up your meter, when your meter fills you gain access to a timed super move. Super moves perform powerful actions such as removing blocks from your stack, adding them to your opponents, rearranging your or your opponents’ stacks or rendering your opponent unable to properly interact with their stack. Each of the 12 playable characters in this mode use their own, unique super move across 6 different arenas. The characters, arenas and supers are as follows:
Scorpion – Jumble – Scorpion launches his Spear at the opponent, reels them in and uppercuts them in classical fashion as the target’s blocks are randomly scrambled.
Sub-Zero – Freeze – Sub-Zero launches his Ice Blast as the target’s blocks are frozen where they cannot be broken by any means until they thaw out completely over time.
Ermac – Levitate – Lifts and eliminates a large portion of the user’s blocks
Baraka – Edger – Summons Baraka’s blades down to pierce all blocks on each far side of the user’s screen.
Jade – Stack – Adds a pile to the target’s screen.
Raiden – Storm – Bombards the target’s screen with blocks.
Nightwolf – Breaker Buster – Destroys the opponent’s Busters on their screen.
Kabal – Double Bomb – Grants the user a dual-Bomb piece.
Bo’ Rai Cho – Collapse – Eliminates a good portion of the user’s pile.
Mileena – Drill – Summons Mileena’s sai to eliminate the middle most blocks in a straight line.
Kenshi – Invisible – Renders the opponent’s pile invisible.
Sindel – Arrange – Rearranges the user’s blocks so that all pieces are stacked right to each other of the same color.
Beetle Lair – The loser is crushed by a falling weight.
Yin Yang Island (Unlockable) – The losing player has their head bit off by a giant snake.
In my personal experience playing Kabal, Raiden and Sub Zero have the best super as they have, respectively, the best block removal, the best block adding and best interaction negation of the roster. The snakes on Yin Yang Island and Sindel’s hair can be distracting as they sometimes obstruct your vision of the lower corners of the grid. Puzzle Kombat has engaging, strategic gameplay and puts an interesting spin on an all time classic.
One of two bonus mini games along with Puzzle Kombat, the Chess mini game doesn’t come close to delivering entertainment the way the Tetris homage does. The Midway team did attempt a very ambitous, creative, “MK” shake up of the classic chess formula, but ultimately fell flat for numerous reasons. Contrary to classic chess, Chess Kombat uses 5 pieces instead of 6, although each piece can only move a certain number of spaces or in a certain direction depending on their role. For example, the Leader piece, equivalent to the King in chess, can only move one space in any direction. Prior to the match, each player must select 5 different characters from the game’s full playable roster to fill the roles, but opponents may choose characters already selected on the opposing team. The names and abilities of each role are as follows:
Leader (King) – The goal of the game is to protect the leader whilst attempting to defeat the enemy leader. Once the leader is gone, the game ends. A Fatality is automatically performed upon seizing victory of the match. The leader starts out with a nearly full health bar. The Leader can move in any direction but can only advance one square. The leader starts out at the center of the far side of their base holding a light overhead. Concept art depicts the leader piece sitting on a throne with a malnourished servant carrying him, which explains the Leader’s limited movement.
Champion (Queen) – The champion serves as the personal bodyguard of the Leader, standing beside them as the last line of defense. The Champion can move in any direction and number of squares they wish, allowing them to easily close gaps. Players start out with two Champions and they stand beside the Leader. They start out with a full health bar.
Sorcerer (Bishop) – The Sorcerer is a very dangerous piece on the board. While not geared towards direct kombat, they possess the ability to cast spells that can affect the flow of the game. The Sorcerer’s movement is restricted to diagonal advances only. Each player starts out with two. Unlike the other pieces, both Sorcerers are unique. The one on the left casts offensives spells that range from space swapping to instantly killing any piece short of a Champion. The right casts buffering spells that range from healing to reviving a fallen piece. Each spell can only be cast once, so the player must conserve their spells until truly needed. They start out with a 30% health gauge. The spells are:
Heal – Restores any piece’s health fully
Teleport – Teleports any Grunt, Shifter or Champion to any unoccupied square on the board
Resurrect – Revives any Grunt, Shifter or Champion that has fallen.
Protect – Safeguards any chosen piece from battle declarations
Kill – Automatically removes any Grunt or Shifter from the game.
Exchange – Swaps any Grunt, Shifter or Champion’s current position with the enemy’s.
Sacrifice – Removes one’s own piece to restore the health of another piece.
Imprison – Prevents any chosen piece from moving and prevents kombat declarations.
Shifter (Rook) – A formidable class. The Shifter has the ability to mimic the form of whomever they commence kombat with. They also mimic the current stats of their opposition. Shifters will not activate their special ability if they’re fighting another Shifter or if their opponent is the same as their initial form. Should they do kombat with another Shifter, both kombatants will start out with a full health bar. Shifters can advance four spaces forward, backwards and sideways and can move any number of squares diagonally. They start out with half a health bar. There are only three of them.
Grunt (Pawn/Knight) – The Grunt is the bulk of the player’s army. Though weak in stature, they’re numerous and indispensable. They can move two squares backward, forward and sideways and one square diagonally. Each player starts with eight pieces and each has 40% health.
Yet another change to the normal formula of chess is that in Chess Kombat the spaces themselves play a strategic role in the game. In this game, there are 2 unique spaces called traps and power cells. Power Cells are easily noticed as they glow green and are place across from each other horizontally on the board. When a piece lands on either of the two power cells, they are granted a full health gauge (regardless of role) and a 25% health bonus is given to all pieces that player controls as long as they have a piece occupying a power cell. Traps on the other hand are entirely invisible, indistinguishable from the normal spaces and cause collateral damage, eliminating any piece that stumbles upon them, ignoring role and health pool. The traps are set before the game begins, one by each player, and can be set anywhere except on the power cells, although you may not set your trap on your opponents’ side of the board. Players can even set fake traps, further confusing opponents as to where the true trap may be and forcing them to rethink and doubt their decision making. It may seem like Chess Kombat is a deep, strategic mini game that could serve as a worthwhile detour from Konquest, the Krypt and 1v1 Kombat but that sentiment is single handedly sunk by one mechanic. In chess, when a moving piece lands on and occupies a space already occupied by an opponents piece, the moving piece eliminates the non moving piece without any chance of resistance by the opponent. This mechanic is what sets up the strategy of sacrifice, space control and resource (piece) management that has helped chess stand the test of time through thousands of years, influencing cultures and kings alike. This mechanic is exactly what is missing in Chess Kombat, since when two pieces cross paths in this game, both opponents are sent into 1v1 Kombat with their respective pieces. Meaning that the strategic chess game you’ve been playing up until this point is immediately made irrelevant because whoever is better at Mortal Kombat is the going to be the only one consistently taking pieces, eliminating the concepts and strategies of chess altogether and making you wonder why even play this game mode, jumping through hoops to fight each other when you can go fight immediately in Kombat mode. Removing this mechanic would’ve taken Chess Kombat from pointless to perfect.
Mortal Kombat: Deception is still a fantastic game 17 years later, I can’t say that enough. It is admittedly dated, with some poor voice acting and animations here and there, a few misses with game mechanics such as death traps (but are able to be turned off) and the equippable weapons on certain stages, plotholes in Konquest and new characters Kobra and Kira. But Deception also gave us excellent reimaginings of classic stages such as “The Courtyard, some great new stages that have inspired locales featured in the NRS trilogy, puzzle Kombat, online play and much more. It definitely laid some groundwork used in Mortal Kombat titles to thus day and it’d be great if NRS came back to the open world concept of Konquest, as I haven’t had that much fun with a fighting game’s story mode before or since. If you have the chance to revisit or discover this game for the first time, take up the opportunity it’s worth it.
To the Mortal Kombat Wiki, where I pulled some of the info in the Puzzle and Chess Kombat sections from. Any MK would enjoy the sheer wealth of lore, secrets and general series info that’s housed there. I’ll throw a link to the site below:
Lame, unfair, cowardly, no skill, boring, unfun, corny, braindead, cheating, doesn’t belong in fighting games, dishonorable, fight like a man, spam. These are among the plethora of excuses you’ll hear scrubs make when they lose to the elegant, classy, sophisticated, kingly, gentlemanly archetype known as the Zoner. The zoner has no time for foolish games and fisticuffs, as those filthy mongrels don’t even deserve the right to look upon them, let alone touch them, rabid dogs they are.
What is a Zoner?
Zoners are outlined by the following characteristics:
Typically have one or more strong projectiles
Long range normals perfect for keeping opponents at bay
One useful anti air or escape option
Weak up close game compared to the rest of the cast
These standards were more or less established by Guile, Dhalsim and Sagat in Street Fighter II. In fact, these are good examples of how unique and different zoners can be from one another. Guile plays most effectively at a spacing just outside footsie range, where he can throw Sonic Boom at a forward advancing enemy or anti air a jumping one with Flash Kick. On the other hand Dhalsim wants to be further out, using his incredibly long range normals along with his long and short range projectiles to lock the opponent down at nearly full screen. Not to be confused with the “keepaway” archetype, which focuses almost entirely on non interactive, footsie circumventing, campy, full screen tactics.
The fundamental goal, or strategy, of a zoner is to keep their opponent locked in a range that renders their attacks and grabs ineffective by forcing them to weave through layers, or zones, of projectiles or long range normals, giving the archetype its namesake. Opposed to characters that are strong up close, zoners don’t play mixups with strike/throw or 50/50s, their mix happens as you attempt to get in on them. For example, if Guile is throwing Sonic Booms at the same timing and distance each time they throw it, it’s a simple task to block the projectile and inch forward bit by bit until you’re at poke or jump in range. But Guile can change the speed of the Boom, the distance that he throws it from and the timing he throws it at to catch you moving forward at the wrong time. Zoners also aren’t only going to throw projectiles, they’re going to use those long range normals as stated earlier. Guile will use pokes like forward fierce to ensure you stay blocking and standing strong and crouching fierce to punish your jumps, complimenting his Booms and Flash Kick. Dhalsim is the other side of the zoner coin, he’s going to zone you out using his pokes first and projectiles secondarily, also Dhalsim can’t walk behind his projectiles like Guile can making his up close game even weaker, leading to Dhalsim playing at a further spacing than Guile would. A zoner with a low hitting projectile like Sagat will make you crouch block constantly to lock down all forward movement on the ground, further enticing a jump where you’re unable to block, then when you attempt to jump throw their high projectile to stuff it. Even further, a zoner may have access to a useful escape option, such as a teleport in Dhalsim’s case, increasing their slipperiness and frustrating opponents struggling to pin them down. With the ability to swap between different projectiles, speeds, heights, pokes, anti airs, choosing when to use meter and changing the spacing and timing on each action, it’s the subtle differences in neutral that make up the basis of a zoners mind games.
Who is a Zoner?
Beginning with the aforementioned Street Fighter characters in the early 90s, every major (except Tekken) and most minor franchises have roster slots filled by zoners. These include: Morrigan in the Marvel Vs. series, Freddy Krueger in Mortal Kombat 9, Peacock in Skullgirls and Toon Link from the Super Smash Bros. franchise. Zoners get a lot of undeserved hate from impatient players who are unable to get in, but zoning is a necessary, not to mention legacy, archetype in fighting games and has helped to mold the community into what it is today as part of the trifecta of playstyles. So, “git gud scrub”.
24 years after Mortal Kombat: Annihilation disgraced Mortal Kombat, video games, film and humanity itself another go was given at bringing the hyper violent fighter to the big screen. Friday, April 23, Mortal Kombat was released in theaters and on streaming service HBO Max in the United States. As a huge fan of the franchise since I was a child, I was understandably hyped up to see my favorite characters and storylines play out utilizing today’s far superior technology. Even further I was fortunate enough to have the release day off work along with my equally excited, albeit less engrossed in MK lore, girlfriend Kirsten. We awoke the morning of the 23rd and immediately started the film, while questions ran through my mind such as: Will they do the lore of the games and fan favorite characters justice? Are they going to hold back or go all in on the violent nature of the source material? How much care have they put into the fights and fight choreography? Most Mortal Kombat fans are going to judge the films quality based on these tenets. They want to see their favorite fatalities, special moves and characters on a level they’ve never seen before. So the primary objective for director Simon McQuoid and his production team was to deliver on these aspects, but did they?
The movie opens with an intense, well executed, aesthetically satisfying sequence, introducing the series’ most famous rivalry between masked “ninjas” Scorpion and Sub Zero. But since this scene is set in the year 1617, they’re still going by their government names of Hanzo Hasashi and Bi Han, respectively. It also introduces Hanzo’s wife, son and daughter before Hanzo goes to fetch some well water. During his task, Bi Han and his fellow Lin Kuei clan members show up at the house and murder his wife and son. Hanzo returns to find his family impaled and frozen solid in the front yard like a macabre lawn ornament, slaughters the Lin Kuei goons with his kunai spear and then does battle with Bi Han himself. The costume work clearly had meticulous effort put into it because if it weren’t for Bi Han’s ice projecting effects, which were also spectacularly handled, I could have been convinced the film was a period piece set in feudal Japan. After Bi Han emerges victorious in the titanic showdown with Hasashi by impaling the latter with his own kunai, leaving him for dead and a date with the Netherrealm, thunder god and protector of Earthrealm Raiden shows up, rescuing Hanzo’s baby daughter, who had been hidden in the floorboards of the Hasashi home. Roll opening credits. Right there, roughly 12 minutes into the movie, Mortal Kombat has already hit its peak and begins to descend into mediocrity.
The story is weakest part of the film by far, allowing characters with important roles in the lore to go unused or ignored. Some were turned into jobbers or crash test dummies for grisly deaths. For the most part, every deviation from the established lore the writers took failed miserably.
As an attempt to explain some of the more fantastical elements of the film, the introduction of magic abilities called “arcana” that are unlocked in a variety of ways was an unnecessary addition the plot as it’s explanation only served to bog down the films pacing. We’re already watching a movie about monsters and gods from separate realm battling for the fate of the universe, it’s unneeded to explain why a monk can shoot fireballs from his hands.
The introduction of Cole Young was equally unnecessary, as his role could have been filled by Takeda Takahashi perhaps, or a combination of Johnny Cage and Liu Kang.
The choice to have the movie serve as a prequel to the tournament instead of just covering the tournament wasn’t needed either. It made Mortal Kombat feel like a 2 hour preview for the planned sequels.
There was a lot of questionable, stiff and silly dialogue even for an MK film. The writers did many characters a disservice by not giving them any relevancy in the plot. Some were there just to die, fatality style. They chose kill off a lot big players in the lore, then proceed to seemingly retcon the entire film by having Shang Tsung say that death isn’t always the end.
Not allowing Hanzo and Bi Han to have a true one on one battle in the climax of the film, having their guy Cole jump in on a 2v1, was another what were they thinking moment.
This story, since they wanted to make it a prequel, had plenty of unused, established lore to utilize: They could have further expanded upon the Scorpion-Sub Zero’s clan rivalry, along with Quan Chi’s string pulling to pit the two against each other. The history of the MK tournament, Outworld, Earthrealm and Edenia and the role that Shao Kahn, Shang Tsung and Raiden play in it, the Great Kung Lao and Goro’s rise to champion of Mortal Kombat, etc.
The characters are incredibly polarizing with some being well written and entertaining characters in every scene they feature in, while others are either ignored outright or have their place in the lore disrespected and altered in ways that besmirched the rich, 29 year history of MK.
Josh Lawson’s Kano and Max Huang’s Kung Lao are shining high points in the film. Both are well acted, with Lawson and Huang capturing their characters’ personality and swagger. Bantering back and forth throughout the film, the pair showed a chemistry that would be a mistake not to expand upon in future installments in the franchise.
Joe Taslim’s Sub Zero and Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion are equally entertaining and satisfactorily given intimidating auras by their auteurs. The entire movie could’ve focused solely on this pair and been all the better for it.
Ludi Lin’s Liu Kang, Jessica McNamee’s Sonya and Mechad Brooks’ Jax occupy a strange space in the film. They’re not given much of a role in the plot outside of one or two scenes and their lores are altered in questionable ways. Liu Kang’s chosen one and Mortal Kombat champion role are essentially passed off to new character Cole, leaving him without a role in the story outside of exposition. Sonya is no longer a chosen combatant for Earthrealm and instead also falls mostly into an expository role. Jax serves as exposition, gets a new origin story for his mechanical arms, and then a second new origin story for his mechanical arms. They’re seemingly powered by magic called arcana now.
Chin Han’s Shang Tsung and Tadanobu Asano’s Raiden are given absolutely nothing to do in the plot except be magical ferrys for their realms respective champions. After how Christopher Lambert and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa chewed scenery in MK ‘95 both are a massive letdown.
Reiko, Reptile and Nitara exist only to be killed in gruesome fashion. Sisi Stringer’s Mileena doesn’t quite fall into this category but she’s close enough.
They turned Goro into a jobber for their new guy Cole. GORO. 9-time defending Mortal Kombat champion Goro. Killed the Great Kung Lao Goro. 4 armed behemoth, Prince and General of the armies of Shokan Goro. What were they thinking?
Cole Young. As much as I think Lewis Tan could be exceptional in an MK film, Cole Young is an absolutely terrible character. He’s very badly written, how is an mma fighter that’s also descended from Scorpion unable to beat guys at the local gym still selected to defend Earthrealm against the cosmos’ deadliest warriors? Why is an mma fighter with absolutely zero weapons training given Tonfa as part of his arcana ability? Cole was given a literal suit of plot armor as his special ability. Why does his blood on Hanzo’s kunai seemingly summon Scorpion from the Netherrealm? He’s unnecessary, could’ve been turned into a character that already exists in the lore or removed entirely and the movie would’ve benefitted or been unaffected.
The effects were mostly spectacular with a few inconsistencies with the cgi but also some perfect 10 out of 10 renditions of famous Mortal Kombat moves and abilities. As for the costume department, equally high praise is deserved as Cappi Ireland was able to flawlessly bring some of the most iconic Mortal Kombat kombatantsto life in a way fans of the franchise could only dream of up until this point.
The effects on Sub Zero’s ice abilities are arguably the high point of the entire film, that’s just how good they are. From the opening scene down to the moment Bi Han uses Scorpion’s own frozen blood to wound the Netherrealm specter, from the frozen mma gym the films final battle takes place in to the derelict building where Sub Zero shatters Jax’s arms, every time Mortal Kombat shows off Sub Zero’s cryomancer powers is a classic moment in the making. His costume design as both Bi Han and Sub Zero were remarkable, letting his villainous nature present itself in a subtle way and the dark tones possibly alluding to his return from the Netherrealm as the shadow wraith Noob Saibot.
Everything about Kabal was top notch, from costume to abilities, personality to voice. They even gave him a surprisingly impactful role to play in the story. But the portrayal of Kabal’s speed abilities were fully realized and faithful to the source material, while also maintaining the suspension of disbelief, never getting too corny. Bonus points for his cool hookswords. His costume was masterfully crafted, not utilizing any cgi, just as all of the other costumes. Clearly inspired by his MK 11 look, Cappi Ireland’s design managed to top even that appearance. This is the best looking Kabal we’ve ever saw regardless of media.
Jax and Sonya aren’t exciting design even at their peaks in the games. That said, their designs in the film still managed to be a spot on rendition, Jax’s mechanical arms looked better than ever and Sonya’s energy rings looked great.
As for the monks of the order of light, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, both looked absolute immaculate, with Lao in particular being one the best designs in the movie. Their costumes perfectly encompassed their personalities as well, with Lao’s flashy attire and cocky persona playing off of Liu’s plain look and humble, everyman relatability. Although, it would have been nice to see a more confident Liu Kang, he didn’t seem quite his usual self. Liu’ fire effects were well executed, particularly his infamous dragon fatality. Lao on the other hand, only used his teleport once in a non combat scenario before relying solely on his hat from there out.
Reiko, Nitara and Shang Tsung were by far the most lacking designs, as a longtime fan, Reiko and Tsung were unrecognizable until referred to by name and Nitara, if not for her vampire wings, could’ve been any other character or nameless grunt. Their abilities were given similar treatment, Reiko and Nitara were turned from fearsome opponents into powerless displays of superiority for Jax and Kung Lao.
Costume work for Raiden and Kano was serviceable, easily recognizable but didn’t elevate the source material. Admittedly, there was no need to change their simple designs from game to film. Now, their abilities were done just as much justice as their costumes, nothing really groundbreaking was done, but instead faithfully recreated and well executed at that.
Main man Cole Young was as boring as his name implies and the plot decided. He obtained a literal suit of plot armor during his fight with Goro and while it was a well made costume, it completely lacked any sort of cool factor.
Instead of being an animatronic puppet, Prince Goro was instead developed entirely in cgi, which was a mistake, missing a huge opportunity to blend cgi with practical effects for as realistic a look as possible. Just as the writers dropped the ball on the Shokan general’s role in the story, the effects team failed to give the reigning champion of Mortal Kombat a look worthy of royalty.
Both Scorpion’s design and abilities were well represented here, he used his spear and his hellfire, said “get over here” and 100% looked as good if not better than he ever has before.
Mileena and Reptile were excellently designed, although we didn’t get to see Reptile’s human form, his saurian design was better than its ever looked including MKX’s hybrid design. We got to see Reptile utilize his invisibility and acid, though not to the extent I would have liked. One of the most satisfying moments in the film was seeing Mileena throw her head back, unveiling the extent of her tarkatan facial feature, blood dripping fangs and all. Not to mention, her teleport was well done, albeit it did look a little like that effect should belong to Smoke in a future installment.
The fights were action packed, slickly choreographed and tightly paced, fitting into the films runtime and advancing the plot when necessary. Altogether, Mortal Kombat 2021 had the superior fights compared to both of the 90’s films, outside of the iconic Liu Kang-Reptile showdown in ‘95. Other highlights included the training scenes with Cole, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, as their respective actors are also martial artists and were able to really display their skills. Surprisingly, the Kano-Sonya fight was incredibly entertaining despite Josh Lawson and Jessica McNamee not having fighting backgrounds. The close quarters, no holds barred grudge match managed to hit the brutal core MK fans are looking for. Of course, the two contests between poster boys Scorpion and Sub Zero were nothing short of mesmerizing, with one or two potentially classic moments contained within them. Even though I disliked the Kung Lao-Nitara and Jax-Reiko battles personally, I can’t deny the grisly fatalities were awesome, Jax gave Reiko the clap and exploded his head into red mist and brain goo and Kung Lao scored a flawless victory by sawing Nitara clean in half with his hat. Fan service at its peak, really.
Mortal Kombat 2021 was poorly paced, badly written and dipped a little too deep into carrying moments over from the games that didn’t translate well on film. It disregarded any sort of established lore in favor of developing its own, disrespecting characters that have long been fan favorites or giving them the silent treatment. The plot wasn’t cohesive and was barely able to keep up with itself, let alone engage an audience and get them to care about the heroes and their fight. It suffered from the same pitfalls we’ve seen in recent years with the DCEU and Monster-verse, it’s difficult to setup a cinematic universe and you really should be trying to make a good standalone film first and foremost or else the follow ups aren’t going to generate interest. Set design was uninspired outside of 2-3 scenes and not a single classic MK arena was included on screen. The acting was excellent considering the script and story they were given to work with. Any future sequels need to give these characters more impact on the plot, particularly Raiden, Shang Tsung and Liu Kang. These three are the key components in the initial MK lore and they need to be involved more purposefully. Costumes were a shining beacon in the darkness of the storm and I hope they only give Cappi Ireland more money and resources to go for broke in her vision of what these characters are to look like on the big screen. I’d give MK 2021 a lukewarm 5/10, definitely NOT OPTIMAL and doesn’t have me too optimistic for future entries in the film franchise.
This past week I vacationed in Tennessee, staying in both Sevierville in the Smoky Mountains and the state capital Nashville. This coincidentally worked heavily in my favor because, although the vacation had been planned for some time, it allowed me to visit a much more recently discovered haven for anyone interested in arcade games and a good time in general. Due to the plans already put in place, I had the good fortune to spend 3-4 hours at “The Game Terminal”.
The Game Terminal is a barcade located in South Nashville at 201 Terminal Court within the city’s industrial park and is actually housed inside a repurposed truck terminal from the 1960’s. Utilizing 10,000 square feet of space, the away from the city location is a big bonus because it allows patrons to avoid downtown rush hour and nighttime traffic and lets the staff play music loudly all day and night.
Within its walls are a seemingly endless amount of options for entertainment including 95 pinball machines, 138 arcade cabinets, 2 bars (both with seating), a healthy amount of drink holders so you can sip and play, some reserved seating and 3 separate game rooms that can be reserved as well. Of course there is a selection of fighting games among the the wealth of cabinets, which were of course a huge highlight of the night, including Killer Instinct, Soul Calibur 3, Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat II, Tekken 6 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. But inside is only half the party!
If you venture out to The Game Terminal’s backlot you’ll find a third bar, copious open seating, cornhole, ping pong, shuffleboard and jenga, connect 4 and beer pong, all of the “giant” variety. Still, it gets even better. If you get hungry, there’s a lineup of local food trucks offering Nashville’s signature hot chicken and their native style of bbq in an array of dishes. The trucks swap out everyday in order to offer an even more expanded menu and keep the experience fresh for every visit.
Now, you’re probably thinking it must cost a hefty chunk of change for a day, or night, of fun but here’s the kicker, the piece de resistance, so to speak. Entry into The Game Terminal is 100% FREE for each and every patron, regardless of age. On top of that, the pinball machines cost just $1 and nearly all of the 138 arcade cabinets and all outdoor games are entirely free as well. You’re not even required to purchase drinks or food while you’re there, leaving you with the option to have an entirely cost exempt experience.
All in all, The Game Terminal is a 5 star, two thumbs up experience. The location is excellent, providing ample space for the 200+ game machines, music, multiple bars, seating, food trucks and outdoor area. You get a massive bang for your buck, the food and drinks can be a little expensive but those are your only expenses outside of pinball machines and a few, select arcade cabinets. You can forgo all those options if you choose and still have hours of excitement all for free. The service is friendly and expedient, food and drinks are delicious and with countless classic arcade titles to choose from one will never experience a dull moment. Please check out The Game Terminal’s website, I’ll drop the link below, and if you get a chance to make a visit don’t squander it it’s a great time.
They’re big, they’re bad, they want to do 720 motions and make you mad. The self proclaimed, most big brained archetype in fighting games: the Grappler! No, not the Yu-Gi-Oh card, I’m talking the huge, red “hulk”-ing brutes that can turn one neutral exchange into a round win at a moments notice. Surly, burly and quite often hairy and scary, grapplers are one of fighting games oldest archetypes and have made an impact on the community through tournament results and memes. You either love them or hate them, I give you the Grappler.
What is a Grappler?
Grapplers are defined by two primary characteristics:
They don’t have a projectile, if they do, I’m looking at you Dragonball Fighterz Broly, they can be some entirely new, unique archetype, but not a grappler.
They have one or more command grabs, which are integral, irreplaceable parts of their playstyle and key to their strategy
These characteristics were established by Zangief all the way back in 1992, where he was one of 8 playable characters in the vanilla arcade version of Street Fighter II.
Grapplers are all about getting close to your opponent and deleting your opponents health bar with big damage combos and command throws. Due to their conspicuous lack of a projectile, their typically large bodies and poor movement speed/mobility, grapplers don’t have the easiest time playing neutral. They get walled out easily by zoners and shotos alike, even characters who are usually aggressive often turn to a slower, more methodically paced strategy against grapplers. But to combat their natural weakness in the zoning game, grapplers are often given projectile invincible, armored (can withstand one hit without suffering hitstun) or super armored (can withstand infinite hits without suffering hitstun) attacks, specials and grabs. These mechanics heavily reward the grappler player for making hard call outs, or reads, on their opponents offensive/defensive options and maintaining a zen-like level of patience, which is made possible by the larger health pool grapplers are given, typically the largest in the game. Being able to condition the opposition, give them a false sense of security in their decision making, bide your time and maximize your advantage when you do find a single opportunity is a hallmark attribute of a good grappler main. Grapplers have zero difficulty abusing their advantage when they get in, with incredibly strong oki on the defenders wake-up and equally powerful mixups on a blocking opponent, not through overhead-low, but strike-throw guessing games. These mixups are are made even more powerful due to grapplers access to one or more command throws, which can’t be teched or ducked under like a normal throw. Adding yet another layer to the yomi when a grappler is close to you, many command throws also have tic throw setups, meaning you can cancel a poke into the command grab leaving the opponent forced to jump or backdash as their only options to avoid being thrown, and even then backdash isn’t a viable escape when in the corner. Grapplers define the phrase “feast or famine” and aren’t very consistent characters, but are nightmarishly imposing once they get within striking distance and can collapse or crumble even the stoutest of competitors in seconds.
Who is a Grappler?
Virtually every fighting game franchise has one or more grappler characters, starting with Zangief and T. Hawk in Street Fighter II, all the way up to Ladiva from Granblue Fantasy Versus. Other examples include: King from the Tekken franchise, Hulk in the Capcom made Marvel fighters, Scarecrow and Bane in Injustice, Kotal Kahn from Mortal Kombat, Rook in Fantasy Strike, Potemkin from Guilty Gear, Raam from Killer Instinct and Cerebella in Skullgirls. Grapplers have long been bringing hype to some members of the fighting game community and being a terror instilling menace to others. As they say though, styles make fights and if you enjoy a methodical, measured yet explosive playstyle then the grappler archetype will be an enjoyable play and/or watch for you. So pick up a grappler and throw your friends around like a younger sibling until they rage quit and never want to play a game with you again. You know that deep down that’s exactly what you want anyway in your sick, twisted, disgusting grappler heart.
Previously on The Young Man and the FGC: Our hero discovered the wonders of the fighting game genre and 3 of its most heralded franchises. Tekken, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, but unknown to our hero there was a fourth franchise. A franchise he had even played and owned in his youth, lurking in the shadows of the fighting game community. Is it even a fighter? It certainly slipped under the Young Man’s radar. What was the identity of this mysterious fourth franchise? It was none other than… the platform fighter Super Smash Bros.!
Era of Smash
In 2013, during my senior year of high school, Super Smash Bros. Brawl became the go to game among myself and my friends for a little competition. Not to say the game didn’t have excellent single player content with the “Subspace Emissary” adventure mode, which was an expansive, labyrinthine quest to save the Smash Bros. universe, but multi-player brought an extra layer of fun that could always be built further upon. When “Subspace” ended that was it, sure you could replay it, but it would be a similar if not same experience. Playing against another person you could always adapt and try to do something differently than you did last time in hopes of a better outcome. My experience with the game and learning the basic mechanics lead to wanting to be the best out of my friends. Little by little, the more casual aspects of the game grew less interesting as item drops were turned down, then eventually off entirely and certain stages went unused due to promoting “unfun” strategies. Naturally, spending so much time with Brawl led to comparisons between it and previous installments and while Brawl was held in high regard, nostalgia told us that the superior title was the GameCube entry, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Now, at the time of this writing, getting your hands on a hard copy of Melee is a big hassle. They clock in at around $70-80 used, with or without case and manual. Keep in mind this was the best selling game on the entire GameCube system, pushing more than 7 million copies off the shelves. For a game to have been so popular at one point and still so difficult and expensive to obtain 20 years later is a testament to the quality and love surrounding the it. People are simply not willing to part with Melee, myself included. The friendly competition continued and eventually it got to the point where I found myself wondering if there were professional Smash Bros. Melee players, since I knew that there were pro scenes for games like Halo and Call of Duty. This was around fall of 2014 and I stumbled upon the competitive Smash scene simply by searching “professional melee” on YouTube. My search brought directly to a famous set of Melee featuring a player of legendary status in the Smash community, “SephirothKen”, or just “Ken”. Bearing the nickname “The King of Smash” and wielding an unorthodox Marth, whom I had played predominantly in Brawl and Melee, Ken’s “Kings of Cali” grudge match against “Scar” pushed me down the rabbit hole so to speak. I found out that Ken was no longer the best player, that title had been passed down to a Fox/Falco player called “Mango”, I found out that Mango had just won a huge tournament in Romulus, Michigan called “The Big House 4” not too far a drive from where I lived at the time, I discovered a 9 part documentary chronicling the existence of the competitive Smash community and its forefathers. A friend discovered a mod of Brawl called Project M that mixed Brawl’s cast and unique mechanics with that of Melee’s, cultivating a perfect storm of Smash in a 2 month or so period that really did impact my life in a significant fashion. I watched my first live streamed tournament, “Apex 2015”, and I found out there was a local tournament happening for Project M an hour or two north. I had a group of 4, including myself aboard the hype train and ready to make the drive up there. We knew we wouldn’t be the best there but we thought we would perform well nonetheless. What happened there would give me an itch I’m still trying to scratch to this day. That day I became a real, competitive player.
The Shanty, the Shuffle and the Basement
I didn’t do so poorly at my first Project M tournament, I managed to avoid finishing last winning my first set in the losers bracket, then bowing out of the tourney after a narrow 2-1 loss. But in friendlies both prior to and post bracket I got my butt handed to me for about 3 hours straight. It was an eye opening experience and really drove home the desire to improve, although I was still pretty new to competitive gaming, with those Brawl nights with the guys being my first taste of multiplayer gaming. I wanted to get better but I didn’t really know how and I definitely misunderstood what the most important part of being a good player was. I was convinced to be a good player I needed to have perfect combos, performing “touch of deaths” every time I hit an opponent. While having a “TOD” punish game certainly helps, it means nothing if you struggle adapting to and even hitting your opponent, where my skills were woefully underdeveloped for a long time after. It wasn’t until finding a local scene in the area that I lived in that I started to fully appreciate how much work it takes to improve at Smash, along with any other activity. The NWOH Smash scene didn’t even have a local tournament series at the time I was introduced to it by a friend, they only had a weekly get together, known as a “smash-fest”, at a house where several smashers lived, referred to as “The Shanty”. Getting mopped up by more experienced players led to me starting to practice by myself for the first time ever. In competitive Project M and Melee, advanced movement techniques are invaluable to a winning strategy. But as I was already prioritizing the wrong skills I overvalued superfluous, aimless movement. I was moving simply for the sake of it instead of moving with strategy and purpose and I didn’t genuinely learn my lesson about that bad habit for what seemed like an eternity. Definition of a hard headed scrub I was. Nevertheless, the skills that I was cultivating at the time were enough to be a not completely terrible player and keep me interested enough in the game to travel to Columbus for a regional tournament called “Shuffle”. Myself and 5 others traveled to Columbus for the two day, weekend long event featuring Melee, Project M and the still relatively new Super SmashBros. For Wii U, or Smash 4. Two days straight of platform fighters amid the excellent backdrop of the campus at “The Ohio State University”, where many of the top smash players in the Midwest had gathered to compete. One premier threat did make a surprise appearance to sweep nearly every event at the tournament, a legendary player in the community know as “Mew2King”, whom one of my companions had a humorous run-in with involving a bag of “groceries”. After waffling between Jigglypuff and Sheik as my character of choice in the month prior, “Shuffle” was where I permanently decided on Sheik and never looked back. The atmosphere was really the highlight of the trip for myself: the campus, the city and spending the final day of “Shuffle” walking around with a massive lemonade from “Raising Cane’s Chicken”, which also has the best dipping sauce and garlic bread, and watching the top players finish out their matches. Now that I remember, singles Grand Finals of PM actually had to be played outside after the venue had closed down for the night. All in all “Shuffle” remains my favorite tournament I’ve ever gone too, ranked above even the tournaments I’ve won money at. It furthered the competitive drive but more importantly it furthered my ingratiation into the community as a whole and my local scene, which took an even deeper step after returning from the trip to a brand new local tournament series and a new weekly smashfest. The Shanty was gone but in its place emerged “The Basement”, which had been a hangout spot among friends for years even before I knew about Smash. We used to pack 10, 15, even 20 or more people along with 5-7 crt TVs to play on into a muggy, uncomfortable basement but it was truly the lifeblood of the community for about a year. Running alongside the local tournament, I made friendships through playing a kids party game that I still maintain 5-6 years later.
You never really Quit Smash
In November of that year I took my first break from Smash and it would be far from my last. The break lasted until late spring of 16’, where I played consistently through the summer, making my first top 4 and getting some wins against players I didn’t think I could beat. That fall I took another break from the game to focus on work and the beginning of my transition into adulthood. I picked Melee back up in the spring more than ever driven to compete and for the first time seeing serious, permanent improvements in my play. I finally rose to the top of that first group of practice partners and placing top 3 and “in the money” for the first time ever. After a sporadic summer light on events I was a mainstay in the BGSU scene during the 2017-18 school year, appearing on their power rankings and placing top 2 at several locals. The school year ended and I “quit” smash yet again until the very end of 2018 as life, work and other responsibilities were ever present. I was inconsistent with Melee and the community throughout 2019 and the beginning of 2020 when COVID-19 hit in full force, which pushed me back towards traditional 2-D fighters with netplay. Even though I had an on off presence in the scene since late 2015 and eventually moving on entirely, Smash played a pivotal role in my years post high school and I remember them fondly. Smash in NWOH and for me was really at its it peak that summer and fall in 2015.
So you’ve decided you’re going to pick up a fighting game, which is great, the more, the merrier. You’ve got the game picked out, you’ve got your $300 fight stick and you’re ready to start throwing hands. But you think to yourself, “I don’t know the first thing about playing a fighting game”. So you pull your phone out and jump into a Facebook group or Reddit or Discord and start asking for advice. Something along the lines of “what is the best way to learn this game?” and you start getting all kinds of answers: “Just play whatever character you think is cool” or “just play the main character” and “play a shoto they’re easy to pick up and the best to learn fundamentals with”. Now you’re thoroughly confused, “what in god’s name is a shoto?” How are they easy? Why are they particularly adept at teaching fundamentals? Well, you’re going to learn today friend.
What is a Shoto?
You could spend hours debating what makes a shoto a shoto but here, where I am the law, we’re going to define shotos by using three rules, commandments if you will.
Thou shalt have a horizontal space controlling projectile, fireball or otherwise
Thou shalt have an invincible and/or high priority rising uppercut attack
Thou shalt have a forward or upward moving projectile invincible or reflecting attack
These three commandments were made precedent by the two original shoto characters, Ryu and Ken from Capcom’s Street Fighter series, who wielded the Hadouken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki that established the move set for the archetype. The name shoto originated from Ken and Ryu as well, since they are both practitioners of a fictionalized version of Shotokan karate called Ansatsuken, or “Assassin’s Fist”. The name of the archetype has since branched outside of Street Fighter.
The design of a shoto is centered around balance. Their normal attacks have good range and speed to play footsies with, their specials allow them to hold their own in projectile combat and having access to at least one low and overhead attack helps open up defenders at close range. Essentially, shotos have the tools to deal with any and all situations you may find yourself in in a fight without having any glaring, exploitable weaknesses. This well-rounded game plan is what makes shotos particularly adept at teaching newcomers the fundamentals of fighting games. When you learn to play a shoto, you learn how to win using a mixture of attacks, throws and projectiles, the universal fundamentals of the game and the basic strategies of zoning, grappling and rushdown, which are the three major archetypes of fighting games (with shotos being the 4th), making the transition to playing other characters much easier. A shotos strategy can change on the fly depending on what type of character you’re going up against. Projectile-less character? Throw fireballs, space with your long range normals and anti-air their jump-ins. If they have better projectiles than you do? Shotos have the mobility to weave through the bullet hell and fire their own projectiles back, slowly pushing your opponent into the corner where they can’t escape your attacks. A turtle who just walks back and forth, poking and blocking everything? Use your throw, lows and overheads to make them pay.
Who is a Shoto?
Starting with the franchise of origin, Street Fighter, there are at least 7 characters who fit the shoto archetype: Ryu, Ken, Akuma, Sakura, Dan, Sean and Gouken. But in the years since Street Fighter II popularized both the archetype and fighting games as a genre, many homages and imitators alike have popped up in other titles and franchises; these characters are referred to as “shotoclones”. Examples include:
Ky Kiske and Sol Badguy from the Guilty Gear series, Jago from Killer Instinct, Captain America, Spider-Man and Cyclops from the Capcom made Marvel fighting games, Terry Bogard in Fatal Fury, Ryo Sakazaki of Art of Fighting fame, Mario and Dr. Mario in the Super Smash Bros. franchise, Lucario from Project M/+ and Superman and Wonder Woman in Injustice.
Shotos have been and always will be rampant in fighting games. After all, they represent the core game mechanics of all fighters and the spirit and love of competition and the camaraderie it brings to a diverse, global community. I’ll continue to cover the other most common character archetypes in fighting games in future posts.