Rooting for the underdog is often quite popular, and comebacks can also be popular. Not just in video games, but even within popular culture like action films and other media. Fighting games have always toyed with the underdog and comeback concepts in various ways with varying results, even to the point of implementing actual mechanics designed to promote comebacks. Whether it’s a fighting game or a fictional novel though, it can be implemented both the right way and the wrong way. In fighting games, the underdog is typically the low tier character who’s not favored in an array of matchups. This is why fighting game designers have always intentionally made some characters stronger than others, not just for variety in order to avoid homogeneity, but also to create the underdogs on purpose. Though in recent years with tier-balancing and comeback-mechanics the underdog could be anyone, or it could be no one at all. Still, pop-culture critics often point out that the Deus Ex Machina can completely ruin an otherwise enjoyable story, and the same is basically true for a fighting game's comeback-mechanic if implemented just as poorly.

Unlike with other forms of media though, the players of fighting games are experiencing the story as it unfolds, so poorly designed mechanics can not only lead to simple disappointment but also frustration and possibly community-wide disinterest in the game itself.

As an extreme example, the Touhou fighting game called Scarlet Weather Rhapsody had to patch an extremely poorly implemented come-back mechanic in order to fix it. Originally, supers could be done at the single push of a button while holding any direction. Therefore, it was too easy to option-select, or even just mash, on the super-button while blocking during situations where you’d either block or reversal. To exacerbate this even further, some supers were fairly safe or even unpunishable while still being incredibly powerful. They fixed this by making it so you could not be blocking before doing a super, and balanced the punishability and damage of some supers. But the point is that this was originally a bad idea that was made a bit less of a bad idea.

The key ingredient seems to be just how easy it is to rely on, contrast with how baitable/punishable it is by the opponent. The comeback is made more appealing when the underdog has to really work for a victory; hence this is why the Deus Ex Machina is not as appealing, there’s nothing attractive about a free win. It’s exciting when it seems like a player really deserved the win, but a letdown when it seems like the other player “got robbed” of a victory.

However, if a comeback mechanic is implemented around the idea that it not only has a very large risk-reward ratio (meaning, very high risk and balanced reward payout) but it’s also not particularly easy to pull off, then it’s not only justifiable when it happens but commendable when successful. That isn't to say it should be useless, but rather just keeping in mind that there needs to be room for skill from both players. It's skillful when an aggressor is able to bait out and punish an opponent's comeback-mechanic, but also skillful when an underdog can land a comeback-mechanic despite the low odds of actually being able to land it and the risk involved when failing to land it.

In my opinion, comeback-mechanics have the potential to be good and enjoyable. If you're not able to avoid getting hit by comeback-mechanics and you're getting owned up because of them then you need to step up your game, yet likewise if you're not able to land a comeback-mechanic and getting steamrolled because you continue to misuse them then you need to step up your game. However, the mechanic itself also needs to be implemented well for it to even be enjoyable in the first place.

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As time moves forward we are seeing more and more fighting games that add new kinds of system mechanics that affect gameflow. Some of these mechanics allow the player to manipulate the behavior of a character relative to other characters, or the game itself, in rather interesting ways.

There are fighting games where some characters have projectiles (fireballs) while other characters do not, but then we could say that is simply character diversity rather than system-mechnical/conceptual diversity. A board view of some examples can be seen in games like Arcana Heart and BlazBlue. Though it’s quite a bit more subtle in games like Street Fighter 4, you do see at least some differences between the cast outside of just normal and special moves. Things like SF4’s Adon getting up slightly faster than other characters, and Hakan having a set of moves that modify the behavior of his other moves, as well as characters universally being able to switch between Ultras. Certainly, almost every game tries to avoid homogenization of the cast by making characters unique, but what makes a character unique seems to be the trend that game designers are seeking the natural conclusion to. Or at least, in the past we have seen an extremely diverse character roster with very unique gameplay between characters, such as Capcom’s Vampire Savoir series, and that has seemingly inspired the next-gen to go even further with the general idea of “everyone is different but equal” (or at least kinda equal).

A more extreme example would be Arcana Heart 3 where the player is able to pick an Arcana which modifies a wide variety of things. Like, picking the Wind-element Arcana allows you to jump cancel some normal attack moves that are otherwise not jump cancelable, and gain additional movement options in the air, whereas picking the Luck arcana will instead boost your chances of getting random bonus counterhits on hits that would not have otherwise caused a counterhit. Even more radically is the Flower-arcana which basically makes it so your character can never be counterhit (nullifies in-bound counterhits). Games like Capcom vs SNK 2 and Melty Blood Actress Again have explored Grooves/Moons which change your movement options (among other things), yet Arcana Heart instead gives every character a dash unless they pick the Ice-element arcana which then causes your character to run when front-stepping.

This sort of customization or “choice” seems like an evolution to me because some concepts are quite old, yet not fully explored in the past until relatively recently. For example, the concept of Magnetism isn’t new, we’re talking thousands of years of knowing about magnetism. But it really depends on how game designers decide to execute the concept that makes it really noticeable.

As an example, Magneto is a character from the Marvel series that has been in comic books and the Capcom Marvel and Versus titles for a long time, and yet his ability to control Magnetism wouldn’t necessarily be blatantly obvious to those not already familiar with the character. When you simply look at the way he fights, he doesn’t appear any different from other characters. However, games like Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure attempted to explore the concept of magnetism with the character Mariah “poisoning” you with increasingly stronger magnetism, making many of her moves faster/stronger with bonuses to attack range and number of hits. It became more obvious what her power was, though it could be argued that each level of magnetism merely powered up her moves rather than modified their behavior. The concept of Magnetism was also explored in BlazBlue with the character Iron Tager also being able to “poison” the opponent with magnetism, which pulls you in closer to him when certain moves activate, which is seemingly rather potent for a grappler-type character who wants to be up close to the opponent.

Some things would appear to translate over to the Fighting Game genre rather naturally and easily, such as Ice Man of Marvel being able to freeze his opponents, while other abilities may need a little more thought put into it. Even though I mentioned Jojo’s Mariah, she’s somewhat of a special case. Many of the characters from the Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series also had an array of interesting abilities in the Manga series that simply don’t appear particularly obvious in the Capcom game, if at all.

Summons and Helpers is also one of these concepts that I think could be explored further, to interesting effect. Characters like Zappa and Eddie from the Guilty Gear series have the ability to create an additional “character” on the screen and control them while still controlling themselves. In the same game, however, there are the characters Dizzy and Testament who can “summon” helpers, however these only act on their own, in other words it could be argued that these types of summons are nothing more than dynamic projectiles (or like “thinking” Fireballs). In a more narrow view, you could say that the assists that exist in Marvel vs Capcom 2 are just push-a-button-get-an-attack, in other words the assists are one-button fireballs themselves. The customization for assists in MvC2 is amazing and holds a lot of dynamic, but the actual output is simply push-button-fireball. The cool thing is though; I think players enjoy both the autonomous and the controllable types, which means greater possibility for flexible diversity. The reason that’s cool is because that gives way to possible hybridization or unique out-of-box thought, translating directly into the fighting game genre.

Personally, I always find it very interesting when a game incorporates fresh ideas that modify the behavior of normal play, and I hope to see more games in the future explore certain subjects.

What I hope to see even more of in the future is: character game-play customization, ability to modify game-play, and a broad exploration of secondary characters (summons/assists) that are teamed with the main character and either controllable or autonomous.

@Dammit wrote:
"I recall a post on some blog that matched up all the features with the first game/series that they appeared in. I'd like to see it again if anyone know about it. Ah, it was omni's page: "

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