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Critical-GOTY 09 pt.1

The idea is simple; to highlight the games that are the best of this year. The limitation is obvious; I didn't have the time or the budget to play every game that was released this year extensively. The tradition is maintained; to present my GOTY mainly to reflect on my own personal tastes and hopes for design trends that I would like to see continued in 2010 and beyond. 

With this flexible GOTY system I don't have to worry about ranking my choices in a list, and I don't have any arbitrary entry limitations. Every game that I feel should make the list makes the list. A free indie game has the same chances as a new Mario game. With that said, I've come up with a few honorable mentions. These games have a lot of positive qualities, but I have too many issues with them to put them in my GOTY list.

Honorable Mention #1: Street Fighter 4.

The Street Fighter series is a well established fighting franchise with a refined style/definition of combat. In this game, fireballs, footsies, and dragon punches abound. Unfortunately, the core Street Fighter design has been the same since SFII released in 1991. Many fans love how the series hasn't drastically changed since its SNES inception. I'm a fan too. And though I greatly appreciate SF4's online features and how it rebirthed the Street Fighter series for the current generation, there is too many short comings about the game to award it as one of my GOTY. 

  • Unbalanced. Gameplay is the most important part of a game for me, and multiplayer balance is a very important part of a competitive, multiplayer game. I will glady pay full price for a balanced version of any of the multiplayer games that I play. And if SF4 were well balanced, it would have made my GOTY. But like always, some characters are very good while others are very bad. 
  • Old School Interactions. Everything about the way SF4 uses 2D hitboxes, invincible frames, and priority hasn't changed much since SF2. Now, this design has started to break down. There are many interactions in the game that defy form fits function making them very difficult to understand for someone unfamiliar with the abstractions of the series. Combos are one sided interactions where one player completely controls the game while the other player waits for the combo to end. 


My favorite new feature of SF4 is the FOCUS ATTACK mechanic. This is one attack that has many functions. Simply, it's a charge mechanic that can absorb one enemy attack and dish out a unique block breaking blow. Complying with the core interplay loop, the charging state and even the initial release of the attack can easily be grabbed. The following are the additional, sometimes nuanced, uses of this mechanic.

  • FAs can create a variety of mixups because the charging state be canceled by dashing backward or forward. Because the FA can absorb a hit and break blocks with a full charge, it's very aggressive. Therefore, dash canceling the attack is a great way to bait opponents into reacting to your faux aggressive play. 
  • After connecting a level 1 hit with a FA, the opponent will flinch but not fall over. Dashing toward the opponent after the hit connects results in both players having equal frame advantage, which sets the situation up for a double blind mixup
  • Absorbing a single hit and dash canceling out of the FA builds ultra/revenge gauge. If the opponent spams too many fireballs, you can absorb a few and store the energy for later.  
  • Absorbing a hit when charging a FA temporarily gives you the damage from the attack. Afterwards, the health lost from absorbing the attack will slowly fill back up. Absorb a very powerful attack, and you'll have to wait even longer for your health to fill back up. While your health is filling, if you take any hit, the filling stops, and the health you haven't recovered is lost. This design allows players to turn the table on opponents who absorb big attacks or repeatedly absorb attacks. The more you absorb, the more you stand to lose. 
  • Though I don't like this feature as much, you can FA and dash cancel out of moves that ordinarily cannot be canceled. Doing so consumes 2 bars of your super meter, but it allows players to create even more elaborate combos or make risky moves safer. 

In the end, the FOCUS ATTACK is a charge, offensive, defensive, mixup making, combo continuing, safe move maker that can be used easily by beginning players while giving pro player more options. It's fun to imagine adjusting more traditional fighting games like Street Fighter by replacing several moves with fewer moves that have a variety of applications. 

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