In just four weeks, Evolution 2013, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world, will take over Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada for a weekend of the highest level professional fighting game play. From all over the world, players will fly in to test their might against the best in the business, and it will all be streamed live.
Evo 2011 saw more than two million unique viewers tuning in on UStream alone, and the community has only grown in size since then. 2013 promises to be one to remember, filled with some stunning comebacks, huge upsets, and more hype than you can shake a stick at. But the Fighting Game Community (FGC) is not the easiest in the world to get into for a newcomer. You want to know what’s what, you want to know what you’re seeing when you tune in to Evo? That’s why I’m here. Over the next four weeks, I will tell you about the games that will be played at Evo, the people that will be playing them, fighting game terminology, and finally, where you can tune in to watch the action. Let’s get to it
Evolution is so huge that pretty much every fighting game has a presence there. If you look around enough, there will be people playing anything from Street Fighter 2 to Arcana Heart. But there are nine games that are official Evo games- they will be up on big stages, they will be streamed out to the world, and they will have sizable prize pools. These are the games we will focus on- as much as I’d love to talk about Skullgirls and Divekick, they just didn’t make the cut this year. So let’s discuss what did.
Mortal Kombat (MK9)
When you think about fighting games, many people think of Mortal Kombat, certainly. For years, though, if you mentioned Mortal Kombat to a professional player, they would laugh. MK9 (or just “Mortal Kombat”, as it is simply titled) is the first entry in the series that they do not consider a joke. Netherrealm set out to make a Mortal Kombat that would be at home in the pro scene, and given that it’s been there for several years now, it would seem they’ve succeeded. The series’s trademark gore and campy humor is still intact, but the balance and depth is there to support serious play as well.
As defense is more simple than in most fighting games, Mortal Kombat ends up involving a lot of blocking. There is no easy way to break someone’s guard, so lots of chip damage goes around, and a clean hit is invaluable. A slightly quirky game, but definitely fun, appealing to any watcher with cinematic sensibilities.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (UMvC3)
From the word go, the question on everyone’s mind is “When’s Marvel?” This crowd favorite is back again this year, and I don’t expect it will be any less completely insane. Marvel vs. Capcom’s trademark is having characters fight three on three- you only have one character out at a time, but you can call your teammates in for a quick helping hand, and you switch to them when your point character goes down.
The result is a game as entertaining as it is overwhelming. UMvC3 is a game about throwing as many things at your opponent as you can- one player eloquently described it as “filling the screen with bullshit.” It’s not a game of patience, or slow back and forth, it’s balls to the walls action as the screen overflows with projectiles, explosions, and death. Keeping up with its fast pace is a challenge, but never boring- there’s a reason the crowd goes wild for Marvel. It is thoroughly exhilarating.
It’s also pretty broken these days- there are numerous glitches and infinite combos that players can exploit if they know what they’re doing to make things get real dumb in a hurry. If you want a game where “cheap” is a compliment and chaos is the order of the day, you’re gonna want to check out Marvel.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Every time someone asks “When’s Marvel?” though, some smartass has to reply with “When’s DC?” When the makers of Mortal Kombat took it upon themselves to make a DC Comics fighting game, everyone knew the end result was gonna be a serious contender. And indeed, Injustice is that- a traditional 1 on 1 3D fighter that feels very much like Mortal Kombat, but with some definitively nontraditional ideas. From objects on the stage that you can use to attack your opponent to the ability to spend meter to enhance almost any move, Injustice ends up being a game of high-low mixups and zoning, with a slower, more considerate pace where combos are long, but hits still feel weighty and significant.
It’s a game of biding your time- trying to wait patiently for an opening even as your opponent gets in your face, and then capitalizing when you see it. If you just straight up like seeing muscled dudes beat the piss out of each other, watch some Injustice.
Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition 2012 (SSFIV)
Don’t be fooled by the almost self-parodically long name, this is the real deal. Street Fighter IV has been the game to watch ever since its release, and that doesn’t seem to be changing. Street Fighter IV may be a handful of years old by now, but the truth is, it’s even older than that. The game is built on the core tenants of the classic Street Fighter 2, right down to some of the combos. It’s a game that feels timeless in a way- there are no gimmicks, no bullshit, it’s just you, another man, and your wits. With fairly solid balance, a vast cast, and a history of excellence, it’s always a hell of a show.
Street Fighter is a game about footsies- using your attacks to control space, push your opponent to where you want them, and then outthink them, outplay them, and shut them down. It’s incredibly tense, long moments of patience and caution followed by bursts of activity, where no one is ever out until they are down for the count. More than any other game at Evo, SFIV strikes at the core of what fighting games are. If you’re watching Evo, you should watch SFIV.
Super Smash Brothers Melee (SSBM)
The mild-mannered party game you love so much for GameCube has a side you may never have even suspected. Super Smash Bros Melee is at Evo for the first time since Evo 2007 (Brawl in ’08 was kind of painful to watch), and you’d be forgiven if you can barely recognize the game when you see it in action. More than any other game taking over Vegas in July, Smash is about space control. Combos are short and sweet, often quite deadly, but not the extended, technical affairs of more traditional fighting games. Rather, it’s about maneuverability and reach, taking your opponent out at sometimes astonishingly low damage.
SSBM also uses a bunch of tricks like shorthopping and wavedashing that most regular players are completely unaware of and unable to execute, and the end result is that nearly every match looks like the players have been boosted to 200% speed. They have not- that’s just how crazy these 1 on 1 battles can get. With a longtime, passionate community, fast paced play, and a refreshing style that’s different from any other fighter at Evo, I highly recommend everyone check out Super Smash- if nothing else, just for the change of pace.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 (TTT2)
With a massive cast of favorites, the sequel to the PS2 classic Tekken Tag Tournament (itself a spinoff of the main Tekken series) throws series storytelling and lore to the wind in order to just have as many crazy characters as possible. This is classic combo-based fighting, with short rounds that are decided in two or three combos, played out on a 3D plane with full movement. There is, of course, the tag mechanic in play as well. You can tag out to a partner to keep a combo going, or switch at a strategic moment, but if either of your characters gets knocked out, the round is over, so be smart about it!
As the only fighter with 3D movement, TTT2 should be right up the alley of anyone looking for something not bound to a 2D plane, and the highly technical juggle combos should excite combo fiends (and maybe Combofiend). Rather like Melee, there is no other game at Evo quite like Tekken, and as the sole representative of a subgenre, it can also be refreshing just because it’s different.
Street Fighter x Tekken Version 2013 (SFxT)
Street Fighter x Tekken has had a rough time of it. Last year at Evo, the game proved so boring to watch that people started wandering off during the finals. The flow of the game was just so bad– it was impossible to do damage quickly, so it became a game all about the timer, and watching match after match time out is not exciting. This year, though, the hope is that it will be different. With a huge patch that massively changes how the game plays, excitement is back for this tag team crossover fighter, starring the best from both Street Fighter and Tekken breaking it down.
Cross Tekken may be the best choice for people simply hoping to see something new- given that the game was only brought back to life with a patch this year, and the game has a ton of possible combinations possible due to its two character teams, it’s quite likely you’re going to see a lot of brand new setups and techniques on display this year. The game is still not especially friendly to comebacks, but a good, even match in SFxT goes back and forth constantly, and it’s impossible to tell who’s ahead until the match is already over. Definitely one to keep an eye on- will the players embrace it, or get bored with it again? Only time will tell.
King of Fighters XIII (KoFXIII)
The King is back! After an insanely exciting Evo debut last year, KoFXIII is back with more meter managing, extended comboing, fire hurling madness. KoF pits 3 on 3, with characters fighting one at a time- when your first character dies, your second one comes out, and when all three are down, you’re done. Unlike Marvel, you don’t get to call for help from your bench- it is strictly 1 on 1 at any given moment. Resources are intensely valuable- with enough meter, any character can do a one touch kill combo, eliminating an entire character off of just one hit.
The end result of this is ridiculous levels of hype- players knocking out an entire enemy team with just one character, players pulling off incredible from-the-brink victories with the last moments of their last character, huge flashy combos that are infamously hard to pull off… it’s just madness. If you just want to hear the crowd roar and go wild, watch some KoFXIII. You won’t regret it.
Persona 4 Arena (P4A)
Along with King of Fighters, Persona 4 Arena is the only actual 2D game at Evo- most of the games are played on a 2D plane, but only KoF and P4A have 2D character art as well. It would seem like a strange choice to make a fighting game out of a dungeon crawling JRPG like Persona 4, but it worked. Persona 4 Arena has one of the most diverse casts of any fighting game- not only does each character have their own unique attacks and special moves, they also have their own Persona that they can summon to fight for them, and many characters have unique gameplay systems. The systems range from charging up attacks to using special instant death magic, so there’s a lot of personality to each character.
Persona is made by Arc Systems Works (Arcsys), the creators of the BlazBlue series, and as such it has a very similar feel: high mobility, high damage 1 on 1 battles where even trying to play keepaway is actively punished by the game’s systems. It’s about rushing down your opponent with speed, skill, and mindgames, and should be an enjoyable watch for those who like aggressive play and slick anime style art.
That’s all the games for this year, but knowing the games is just a small part of the battle. Next week, we’ll talk about the players you’ll want to know, and the commentators you’ll learn to love. See you then!