Please Stick To The Rivers And Lakes You’re Used To: Fighting Games and “The Crossover”

Three years ago I would have been excited about this. Today, I’m kind of pissed.

It’s no secret that I love fighting games, and I see nothing better than characters from different worlds dukeing it out. Nothing! That’s what attracts us to the world of sports, or movies, or comic books, or porn (I do not have a link for that but I’m sure it exists). There’s nothing cooler than seeing worlds collide, in a bit of a literal sense.

So for me, a fight fan, what went wrong?

Too Much of a Good Thing

I’m not going to give a long-winded history of these crossovers, but I will stress that it’s not entirely new.

Above: Nothing new.

Capcom released X-Men vs. Street Fighter back in 1996 to much critical praise. While I’m sure it didn’t originate the crossover concept, it really helped springboard it to popularity. Years later Marvel vs. Capcom 2 would become a tournament circuit staple, segueing to the success of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 in 2011. Capcom wasn’t the only one doing the crossover jiggle, but they sure as hell popularized it.

I fondly remember 2003, seeing the release of Soulcalibur II.

Probably one of the most critically-praised fighting game of the previous generation (hell, maybe all generations), the novelty of Soulcalibur II was its guest characters. Heihachi was received with little to no fanfare, while Spawn was considered, at least by my cousins, very cool. But the true superstar of this game was Nintendo’s own, Link.

Just browse through a gaming forum and you’ll see how welcome Link was to the game. I personally never played the GameCube version, but the combination of “Dude, Link!” as well as how his character played made him a fan favorite. But my favorite was Spawn.

It’s less to do with how he played and more with “DUDE, MOTHERF*CKING SPAWN!” who I think fits in so well in the Soulcalibur mythos. I haven’t met many other people who dug Spawn as much as I did.

An aside: Can anyone who has played both tell me once and for all why Link was the fan favorite? And why Spawn was received lukewarmly? The above is just my theory. I’d love to hear someone else’s. Can someone also tell me if “lukewarmly” is a word?

A few years later I remember being really, really excited when Halo crossed over with Dead Or Alive.

I loved Halo. I loved Dead Or Alive. It was like a match made in heaven!

I enjoyed Dead Or Alive 4, but to my understanding the critical reception (of Nicole, Spartan-458) was lukewarm. By all accounts, that it wasn’t Master Chief himself marred the excitement, although I personally could have cared less. It was jarring to some people to hear a female voice while playing and not that gruff, deep voice of Steve Downes. But it was a step in the right direction.

And Then Came The Waves

Namco soon made crossover characters a staple, a mandatory in every game (except III, which introduced a character creation system). People soon came to expect it. Soulcalibur IV made headlines with Star Wars’ Yoda, Vader, and Starkiller to help co-promote Star Wars: The Force Unleashed which would be released later that same year. In 2009, Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny was released exclusively for the PSP with God Of War‘s Kratos taking up the marquee.

And this past year saw the release of Soulcalibur V, with Ezio from Assassin’s Creed II sticking it where it doesn’t belong.

I’m not entirely angry, or bitter, and believe me when I say I’m not pointing a finger of any kind at Namco. They make fine, good games. But I’m worried crossing over has not only become a trend, but a mandatory requirement.

This very week saw the release of Street Fighter X Tekken, which I have no inherent problem with except that the PlayStation 3 version has Pac-Man, Mega Man, the Sony Cats, and Cole from freakin’ inFamous. Is this a console fanboy issue? Absolutely not.

It’s a “Why?” issue.

Why Not?

Let me be clear: I have no issue with crossover fighting games, or fighting games with crossovers in them. I love Super Smash Bros. as much as the next guy, and I am excited that Akira will be in Dead Or Alive 5. What I don’t like is the trend mutating into expectation. True: Why not have these characters from all these gaming universes collide? They’re fun and for the most part, pretty harmless. But do it enough times and people will come to expect it, and that’s much too dangerous — for the franchise, and for the fans. It is here where novelty becomes apathy, and failure to meet expectations is met with backlash.

Let’s look at Mortal Kombat.

“F*CK YEAH!”

When Mortal Kombat was released last year, people were excited because, shit, it’s Mortal Kombat! And along with it came news of guest characters, like Kratos, and Freddy Krueger.

“Would you like to play a game?” -Not Freddy.

Was it cool? Yes. Mortal Kombat, among other things, was proper nostalgia, turning the old into something new and palatable for raised expectations. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is just as representative of an era gone by as Mortal Kombat was/is, so the inclusion of Freddy was not only a marketing ploy, but a celebration of 90’s gore porn. But it was a marketing ploy.

In a post-Bayformers pop culture landscape, media producers understand that nostalgia and novelty, which can go hand-in-hand, are extremely profitable. Historically, novelty has always been present as a selling point for any media — it’s why early motion picture films were nothing more than a ballerina twirling around or people walking out of a God damn factory. The attraction was the novelty, and nostalgia has become a part of that. But it’s novelty that’s selling the games, not just nostalgia. While I won’t rule it out, I find nothing nostalgic about Cole from inFamous.

So what happens when a game fails to attain that novelty?

It’s a bit unfair to use Mortal Kombat since it managed and sold anyway with its exclusives, but during its development Marcus Fenix from the Gears of War franchise was considered, among others, to be included in the game. Netherealm failed, and of course fans were upset. Maybe more so that Xbox 360 editions weren’t getting anything exclusive period, but upset nonetheless. (It’s been an odd trend in and of itself, actually.) Thing is, fans don’t need to be upset with this in the first place. Because it shouldn’t be happening at this accelerated rate.

Nearly every fighting game of this generation has been or includes a crossover.

It’s not that I don’t like crossovers, it’s that the trend has become almost a requirement for every fighting game has upset me. Why? Like nails on a chalkboard, it just does. I can’t fully explain why.

It’s kind of like the cool relative who would give you $20 every time they’d visit. It’s cool the first few times, but in the long term it sets a bad habit of expectations like Pavlov’s dogs. When you’re a little older and know exactly what money does, when that cool uncle or aunt would visit with no money in hand you throw a hissy fit. A consistent river of gifts turns you into a spoiled brat.

So please, fighting game creators. It’s cool that you do this. But you need not chase waterfalls every time.

Stick to the rivers and lakes that you’re used to.

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