For the past few years, we've only needed a single hand to count the number of new and interesting fighting games being released each year--especially if we didn't count the near annual re-release of certain vintage titles.
This year, however, looks to be drastically different; the planets seem to be aligned and are bringing with them a ton of incredible new games. From Japanese homebrew projects turned arcade superstars to the return of the icon, 2008 is loaded with more fisticuffs than a Las Vegas cage fight.
Street Fighter IV
In the early '90s, the joke went that Capcom lacked the ability to count to three when it came to their Street Fighter franchise. They managed to graduate kindergarten in 1997, and Three: A New Generation of Street Fighters was born. While its update, 3rd Strike (1999), is still the most played fighter on the competitive circuit to this day, that hasn't stopped gamers from desperately wanting a Street Fighter IV.
Capcom is set to deliver this year, with a 3D update to the series that is as rife with controversy as the company's decision to ditch series staples was back in 1997. The focus of Street Fighter IV rests solely on the casual player who longs for the nostalgia of their youth with simplified mechanics and systems, along with a heavy dose of returning cast members. Whether it can also become the hardcore darling remains to be seen.
Melty Blood: Actress Again
Platforms: Arcade, PC
The best 2D fighter that no one is playing returns with the biggest update to the series yet. What began as a Japanese fan project based on a PC dating simulator, Melty Blood has since touched down on the PlayStation 2 and, of course, the arcades, becoming one of the most exciting 2D fighters around. Actress Again adds two new characters to the mix and some huge gameplay changes.
Players will now be able to choose between one of three styles of play that will change the attributes of their character in a system similar to that introduced in Samurai Shodown III. A guard crush has also been implemented, which will drastically alter the way Melty Blood is played, as traps and rushdowns are a focal point in the high-pressure matches the series is known for. This could very well make or break the game, but Type-Moon seems very confident in this update.
Platforms: Arcade, PS3
After a return to form with the Tekken 5 series, Namco is set on capitalizing on the success with a quick turnaround of Tekken 6--but at what cost? Early reports and videos from Japan show serious balance concerns and graphics that aren't exactly a leap over the previous installment. The biggest addition to the King of Iron Fist tournament is the inclusion of a new Rage feature that increases the attack power of characters whose health falls below 10 percent, though this also seems to be one of the larger failing points of Tekken 6 due to it leading to new, previously impossible combo opportunities.
The chance of your average gamer in the United States playing Tekken 6 in the arcade is also slim to none, with most arcade operators not willing to take the chance on the $10,000 beast of a machine, making the inevitable PlayStation 3 edition the one to watch for.
BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger
Developer: Arc System Works
What's to know about BlazBlue (pronounced "Blay-Blue") other than it's absolutely gorgeous? It's the first original 2D fighter from Arc System Works since the developer dreamed up the Guilty Gear series in 1998. While the Guilty Gear series was known for its high-res sprites, BlazBlue will be known for its high-definition sprites, which are twice the size of those found in Guilty Gear. Not much is known at this point, but according to the creators, ground-based combos will play as much of a role as air-based combos.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
Namco will be continuing their newly found tradition of skipping the arcades and heading straight for consoles this fall with the fourth entry in the Soulcalibur (yes, it's now one word) series. Will they also continue their tradition of not bothering to fix the glitches and flaws found in each new installment? Will game reviewers continue to bestow impossibly high marks despite this? Will Darth Vader and Yoda's inclusion in the cast boost sales into the stratosphere? All signs point to yes.
When Melty Blood first hit the scene, fans of Type-Moon were quick to demand a Fate/Stay Night fighting game of a similar 2D nature. Instead, the company passed the franchise on to 8ing of Bloody Roar fame, which is churning out a 3D fighter of currently questionable quality. Anime fans will no doubt come in with low expectations, having been burned by mediocre fighting games too many times before. At the very least we should be getting some sweet Saber on Rider action. Regardless of how much it hurts.
Street Fighter II HD Remix
Platforms: Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network
Like peanut butter and chocolate, Street Fighter II HD Remix combines the perfect gameplay of Super Street Fighter II Turbo with the incredible art of Street Fighter comic artists, Udon for what should be one of the greatest anniversary packages around. The entire game--from the characters to the backgrounds--is being completely redrawn at a resolution of 1080p. For those who don't appreciate the fancy new pants that Ryu and co. will be sporting, the original version of Super Turbo will be included as well, sans vital gameplay tweaks.
The King of Fighters 98: Ultimate Match
Developer: SNK Playmore
Not to be left out of the remake craze is Capcom's old competition, The King of Fighters 98. While not nearly as dramatic as Capcom's HD Remix, Ultimate Match features cleaned-up graphics, plenty of gameplay tweaks, and new modes for the fans that have kept the game alive for 10 years now. The '98 edition of King of Fighters is still considered the best in town, but SNK Playmore is hoping to change that in 2008.
The King of Fighters XII
Developer: SNK Playmore
With a development time that SNK Playmore is hailing as their longest ever, The King of Fighters XII is a complete overhaul of the franchise. SNK is throwing every single old sprite out and returning with a completely new graphics engine, thanks in part to switching to the now popular Taito X2 arcade board that houses other upcoming games such as Street Fighter IV and Samurai Showdown Sen. They're aiming to create "the ultimate 2D fighting game," and for as seriously as they're taking this one, we sure hope they're right.