GAMING BLEND

Editorial: Since When Do Fighting Games Have To Make Sense?

By Pete Haas 2008-05-10 10:26:56 discussion comments
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Last month Midway announced Mortal Kombat vs. DC and the concept made a lot of gamers gripe. There was a similar reaction to the January announcement that Yoda and Vader would be playable characters in Soul Caliber IV. But why do gamers show such scorn toward these crossovers?

I'm not going to defend the artistic integrity of crossover fighting games. Games like MK vs. DC and X-Men vs. Street Fighter are are greedily unoriginal. Instead of just shamelessly cashing in on one license at a time, developers throw two mismatched licenses together in hopes that the mutt game will snare both fan bases and lead to huge sales.

In addition, the attempts to create a storyline that links the unrelated franchises are usually poor. According to Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon's recent interview with GameTap, the DC Comics and Mortal Kombat characters are thrown together by way of a cataclysmic event that merges their two universes. This is above average compared to other crossover games' storylines. I don't know if someone actually writes these plots or if they just type up synopses of two games and then shuffle them like playing cards. Either way, the result is pretty stupid.

I concede that these crossover games make no sense. However, how many fighting games do make sense? A complete lack of logic is par for the course in the genre.

In the GameTap interview, Boon is asked how Midway balanced Superman against other characters in the game; in other words, how can any of the other characters hope to win a fist fight against a character who can't even be harmed by bullets? Boon launches into a lengthy explanation: "Superman has two weaknesses, Kryptonite and magic. The Mortal Kombat universe is surrounded by magic--I mean, we have sorcerers, people from the Nether realms; we have chi and magic attacks. So, remember that cataclysmic event which merges the universes? The source of that is magic. When you mix that in, that explains why Superman, who can move a mountain, who can push a planet, is, in this scenario, weakened a bit."

I give Boon credit for putting some thought into it but all he needed to say was, "Since when do these games make any sense?" Fighting games rely on the assumption that a small Japanese girl could beat a 400 pound Sumo wrestler in hand-to-hand combat. Or that a character with a weapon (such as Vega from Street Fighter 2, who sports giant metal claws) would be allowed to compete against, and be an even match for, an unarmed opponent. No character can be fundamentally better than another or no one would play the inferior character. Artificial balance is a cornerstone of these games.

Throwing the characters from DC Comics and Mortal Kombat together might sound like a stupid story idea but it's no worse than normal fighting game plotlines. Fighting games rely on the gamer accepting the idea that a motley group of violent people will agree to settle life-or-death disputes via a mixed martial arts tournament. Mortal Kombat, for example, is about an evil sorcerer from another world who wants to conquer Earth. The only way he can take over our planet though, is by his world's best warriors beating the best from our world in a martial arts tournament. In Street Fighter 2, a bunch of do-gooders want to take down a paramilitary leader and so they...hold a martial arts tournament. Ditto for Tekken.

Also, frankly, you might think it's corny to have Batman and Super Man in Mortal Kombat, but it's better than them just recoloring a ninja and calling it a new character. I'd save your whining for when the Midway team starts touting all the different outfits the characters will be able to wear. "Oh look, you can be 1940's comics Batman!"

The point is, if you can accept the complete ridiculousness ingrained in the basic concept of fighting games, what's a little more stupidity? A franchise crossover is just a little extra stretching for a genre already in strange contortions. Just look on the bright side: now you'll be able to answer middle school lunchroom questions like, "Who would win in a fight, Batman or Sub-Zero?"
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