GameSpot’s Maxwell McGee recently wrote an article looking back at the year 2012 and what it meant for fighting games. Titled “The Year of the Combo,” this piece talks about how longer combos were a recurring theme among this year’s crop of fighting games. McGee particularly makes mention of games like Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Dead or Alive 5, Skullgirls (pre-patch), and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale.
A recurring design among many of this year’s marquee fighters was longer combos and combo-extending techniques. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and Dead or Alive 5 were the most overt with their bound and critical stun mechanics, respectively. Skullgirls wasn’t afraid to have combos lasting a solid 30 seconds (before the patch anyway), while PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale continues to provide some of the longest brawler combos this side of the Jump! series.
Beyond just pointing out the trend, however, he also gives an explanation of why he thinks long combos are popular. According to him, it’s how they’re intertwined with the two fundamental challenges a player faces within a match: player-versus-player and player-versus-self. The first is self-evident given the nature of fighting games. Players work their hardest to both get a hit on their opponent and not get hit. This leads into the second challenge, where once they do get a hit in, the player is now challenged to maximize the damage they can do off that hit.
This leads us to the second challenge–player-versus-self–which covers execution and efficiency. Imagine you have just scored a chance blow against that really annoying Rocket Raccoon in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. This was completely unexpected, and you have less than a second to react. Do you know the best combo–based on positioning, available meter, and time remaining–for that exact moment? Can you execute all those inputs perfectly?
In this situation, the challenge is no longer external (fighting the raccoon) but internal (performing the combo). Rocket Raccoon is helpless, and will not be a problem again until the combo is either finished or fumbled. In these empowering moments, players get to demonstrate their mastery over the fighting mechanics, and their opponent, while bringing themselves closer to victory with every blow. Now, it is worth noting that some fighting games include ways to escape combos, but there are often severe restrictions placed on these techniques.
According to McGee, this has led to the “player versus player” portion becoming “static,” as the emphasis turns to intricate combo systems targeted towards experienced fighting gamers.
Continuing down a road in which advancements merely target experienced fighters will only lead to games that are suited for experienced fighters. To promote the health of the genre, there needs to be growth that reaches beyond the combo counter. The masterful design of longstanding franchises is certainly something to be celebrated, but there is a pressing need to develop new ways to attract fresh competitors.
That said, he does acknowledge that next year does see games that deviate from these traditional designs, games that emphasize the player-versus-player aspect more, while stepping back from the player-versus-self aspect. Among these, he makes note of independently developed games such as Divekick and Señor Footsies that are leading the way in this regard.
He continues with a look at the games heading our way in 2013 and how they could possibly help expand the scene by bucking these genre conventions, so be sure to visit GameSpot by way of the link below to read the entire article and let us know what you think of his position in the comments section.