Classic Retro Video Game Blog

8 Bit Central - Retro Gaming Blog

August 2015 Retro Gaming Article

August 26, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

How Brawler Arcades Stay Relevant

Written by guest author, Jared Harris.

Fighter and brawler games have always been some of the more straightforward options on the market. You choose a character to control and face him or her off against an adversary, either computer controlled or handled by another player. And that's about it; you fight in a controlled, contained level with limited space until one of you is knocked out or runs out of energy. Then you do it all over again.

Well, it's not quite that simple. These types of games have always contained a nice variety of characters with different special moves, and sometimes different personalities and back stories or motivations. Generally speaking, plots and objectives don't play a significant role in this genre, but a lot of the better brawlers do provide a level of purpose. For example, the order of the adversaries you face might change depending on the character you control, and your final fight may be against a different rival due to conflicts and objectives stated in quick blurbs in between fights.

Street Fighter But even given the fact that different characters can help to make these games more dynamic, it's incredible just how long the genre has remained not only relevant, but prominent in the world of video games. We're talking about a style of gaming that originated on old arcade devices with the first Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat games and has endured into present day almost without change. The latest versions of these games are basically the same as the originals.

So how exactly have brawler games remained relevant all these years?

The simplest answer is to point to very gradual adaptation. To see just how gradual, this is an incredibly detailed history of the Street Fighter franchise, dating back to the very origins of Capcom. While the history is filled with information that will only be relevant to extreme fans, the overarching idea is that the franchise has basically crawled through time. The presentation is of a somewhat-stubborn gaming series that, while consistently offering new titles with minor changes, has never made a dramatic leap forward or a pronounced change at a single moment.

Street Fighter is Street Fighter, no matter what numbers or additional words are thrown into a title. But along the way, new characters have been added, graphics have been improved now and then, and the game has been optimized for new systems and consoles. The actual action never changes, and some characters have the same moves and physical tendencies now that they had in the very beginning. However, some of the surroundings change just enough, every couple of years, to keep fans interested. This is pretty typical of the brawler genre as a whole.

Another way that the genre has stayed interesting is that its key franchises have often been open to crossovers and integration of characters from other forms of media and fiction. The prevailing example is the extensive Marvel vs. Capcom branch of the Street Fighter series. It pits classic Street Fighter characters against Marvel superheroes, who exist in a range of games on their own, but hadn't really appeared in fighter-style arcades. Some characters, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men, have fairly extensive gaming histories, but for the most part games have been used for specific purposes.

Here you can find a number of popular Marvel characters in a manner that makes its own arcade games more interesting to players, and it's also common to see simple, short Marvel games used to promote specific films. But through gradual integration with brawler franchises, Marvel characters have become known in more action-packed corners of gaming in addition to film promotions and casino games. The result is that now app fighters like Marvel: Contest of Champions and, in the DC realm, Injustice: Gods Among Us have gained immense popularity. These games employ classic brawler formats with legions of comic superhero characters, keeping the genre relevant for a new generation.

It's also worth mentioning that the transition of Marvel and DC superheroes into a fighter/brawler format is by no means the first instance of new characters joining the genre. When we think of this type of video game, most of us consider three franchises first: Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Tekken. Indeed, those are in many ways the three that founded and defined the genre. But there have been other consistent series, as well as other examples of popular characters from other realms of gaming and fiction joining in on the fun.

Take a look at this countdown of the 10 best fighting video games, and you'll see some examples. Virtua Fighter and Soul Calibur are successful series despite not having quite the name recognition of their more popular counterparts. Also, the Super Smash Bros. series on Nintendo has been absolutely huge as it brings classic Nintendo characters into the genre. Again, none of these series or characters have changed the format of fighter games. However, merely by introducing new settings and playable personae, they've kept the whole genre fresh.

The fighter genre has somehow managed to stay fresh for close to three decades by changing existing games just enough to keep fans intrigued, welcoming crossovers with other games, and inspiring new series to form. That's pretty crazy when you consider Ryu, Ken and Co. are throwing the same punches, kicks, and hadoukens they were in the early '90s!

About the author:
Jared Harris is a writer, husband, and lover of technology. And he still plays Nintendo 64 games, often winning any race against his wife in Mario Kart 64 (as long as he can play as Yoshi).

« Return to the main Retro Gaming Blog 2015