I should make it very clear before I start this review that I believe this is the best game on your account. Far from what Kamek-the-All-star thinks, I legitimately believe this is the best thing of yours I've experienced yet, and a huge improvement on your other games. That being said, this game has a whole host of problems, many of which come from the switch to 2 player, suddenly making a whole bunch of aspects become far more important and require far more precision. But that's something I'll get to. We have a lot to talk about.
I tend to not let bad presentation color my opinion much, as someone who isn't an artist or musician myself. But it's hard to deny that what's on display here is bad, at least visually speaking. The resolution for basically everything other than generic text is very low resolution for some reason. But even if the resolution was high, I doubt it would do much to hide to hide that there isn't much to look at in the first place. Character designs are mostly uninspired and very similar. Animations are nothing special, and look bad on the subpar looking stickmen, made even worse by the aforementioned resolution. Stages aren't very detailed, and just all around things could be a lot better visually.
Sonically speaking, things do get better. While there's nothing incredible, there's nothing really bad either. I don't know how much of this music is your own anyways, so I won't spend too much time here. Really the worst thing musically is how it often cuts out at the beginning. This gradually fixes itself over time however. Sound effects are rare. Very few moves have sound effects on whiff, and every move has the same effect on hit or block. The hit and block sounds themselves are solid, however. Hit sounds are decently impactful (maybe a little too impactful considering how many times you're going to hit the opponent during the match) and are very distinct from the more muted block sounds, which is important.
UI also is not very appealing, but it is very readable, and normal text is at a decent resolution, unlike everything else. One particular thing I'm very thankful for is the segmentation in the health bars, which made gauging damage much easier. However I'm not completely sure if all of the bars have the same distance between them.
Here are a few nitpicks with presentation before I move on:
- I wish the cutscene before arcade mode was skippable.
- I wish character names were displayed in the character select and in matches.
- I wish there was an in match combo counter, even if it would only really be useful for juggle counters.
- The game offers the option to remap controls, but doesn’t tell you what your original controls are.
Overall, I think the best presentation in any of your games is element fighters, which I suppose makes sense considering that that was your last flash game before switching to html5. Still though, even forgiving lack of artistic skill and unfamiliarity with the engine, the low resolution is a shame.
But anyways, if the only problems in your game were visual, I probably wouldn't have cared enough to give this review. There are far more important, far more basic problems in your gameplay. And they are numerous, so let's begin. In no particular order:
Before I begin criticising the gameplay, I would like to note that there are several aspects I like. Just the sheer amount and variety of characters offered in this game is impressive, and as I said it's the first of your games to offer 2p, and training mode, and that on its own is a massive improvement. The rest of my criticisms would barely matter were it not for this change, and I probably wouldn't have bothered to make them (let alone what a nightmare it would be to test them without practice mode.) Alongside that, the arcade mode is just as good as its always been, just with more characters, more difficulty settings, and more bosses. It was pretty fun. There's also a few more specific changes in this game that I rather enjoyed, which I'll get to.
First of all, I find the combo structure in this game to be rather disappointing. This game in whole is very clearly inspired by the Mortal Kombat series, which had much more freeform juggle states and combos than its largest competitor, Street Fighter, which gave the combos their own sense of identity and style. Those same juggles are largely missing in this game, apart from a few character specific ones I will get to. Alongside that, as far as I could tell, no two normals in this game link. As a matter of fact, no moves in this game seem to link, again, apart from a few character specific exceptions. The only cancels, and really the only universal combos found in this game are the target combos. Press a sequence of buttons that can be found in the pause menu, and you instantly cancel a chain of normals together. There are no juggles in combos, no special cancels, no links, no pressing directions even (again, with some small exceptions.) This leads to the combo system feeling rather limiting, sadly. While most of these problems are made important by the introduction of multiplayer, this is one that is an issue across your games. Sadly, it persists here.
The characters who I’ve found have juggle combos are Niter, Sly, Skylight, and Sprout. Sprout and Skylight get juggles off of one of their target combos, while Niter and Sly get them off of their projectiles. The juggles on Skylight and Sprout seem far more intended than those on Niter and Sly. However, all of the juggles on these characters demonstrated how adding juggle combos made the characters have a higher skill ceiling and are more interesting and fun characters. Especially Skylight and Sprout’s juggles are far less finicky than the rest, and they’re my favorite characters as a result. I highly recommend experimenting more with these kinds of combos, they’re really fun!
However, both of those issues are more about the systems surrounding the core combat than the core combat itself. After all, traditional 2d fighters do not require complex combos or special move motions to really be considered traditional 2d fighters. They do, however, require one key aspect that this game is sorely missing. A core offensive mixup. A mixup is basically whenever you make your intentions ambiguous to the opponent to your advantage. Mixup is a fairly all-encompassing and ambiguous term, but the kind of mixup I'm talking about is an offensive mixup. Basically, a mixup for when you have the advantage and want to get past your opponent's defense. But before we can talk about the mixup that comes during advantage, we first must talk about what having advantage means (I'm sure you're familiar with at least some of this, but it's helpful to have for reference, at least for other people who may be reading.)
Basically, the kind of advantage I'm talking about is whenever the advantaged person can act and the disadvantaged person can't. The most obvious example would be knockdown situations, but there are many situations where one person can act and the other cannot, the most basic and common example being blocking. There are 3 states an attacker can be in when attacking a blocker. They can either be:
- Plus on block, where the stun the attacker inflicts on the opponent for blocking their attack (blockstun) is longer than the full attack animation
- 0 on block, where the the defender's blockstun is equal to the full attack animation
- Or minus on block, where the blockstun of the attack is less than the full attack animation
What's obvious but important to note is that unless the attack is 0 on block, someone will always be plus, and able to act while the other cannot. An attack that is minus leaves the blocker plus. Designing and knowing this kind of information is very important, because it dictates the pace of the match. Because if someone is very plus, they can land a guaranteed attack on the opponent (whether or not it actually lands is dependent on whether or not the opponent was blocking when they were put into stun.) However, being plus enough that you can act first but not plus enough to land a guaranteed attack before your opponent can move, attack, or block, leads to an offensive mixup (if you're close enough) where you can make the opponent guess between a few options. And if they guess wrong, you land a hit. The reason being plus allows a mixup is because the opponent can not interrupt your mixup, making it less risky to do, and harder to escape, but just as rewarding. The more plus you are, the less risk involved for the same reward.
The way risk-reward is handled in mixups can vary a lot, and is one of the defining and differentiating qualities of different fighting games or franchises. However, every fighting game designed in this way NEEDS to have a core mixup. Otherwise the game simply doesn't work. And your game does NOT have a core mixup. To demonstrate how this hurts the game, I'll present a hypothetical situation that pops up frequently in this game.
So let's say one player does down+kick, the universal sweep and it is blocked by another player. Sweep is the only grounded normal that hits crouchers in this game, so you only really have a handful of things you can do to a crouching opponent. I don't know whether or not sweep is plus or minus, so let's look at all possibilities (not including 0 on block, since that just resets to neutral):
If sweep is plus, whatever button the defender presses will get beaten by sweep. Either it will be a button other than sweep, in which case it will whiff, or it will be a sweep, in which case it will not be fast enough to beat or trade with the attacker's sweep. Because sweeps deal chip, and doesn't have any pushback, this is infinitely repeatable, leading to a free win for the attacker.
If sweep is minus, but not minus enough to be punished completely, the only option the opponent can do is sweep. If the opponent does another action it will whiff, and if the opponent keeps blocking, you can just sweep again to deal more chip, putting him in the same situation. Once the opponent sweeps, you're in the same situation, meaning this will continue forever until somebody dies.
If a sweep is minus enough to be punished, crouch blocking will suddenly be near unbeatable. Sweeps deal very low damage, and knockdowns give almost no pressure due to how fast wakeups are in this game. Even if they did, you have no mixup and sweep is minus enough to be punished. This makes offense super high risk and low reward, making the game super defensively focused.
Though this is a very simple example, no matter how many options exist and the frame data of such options, without a core mixup, anything you make would suffer from similar issues. There not being a core mixup makes everything have an absolute answer, making the game decided once any player got into an advantaged situation.
Now let’s look at what these options would look like if there was another option, say, a grab. Let’s say for simplicity’s sake, that throwing tech protects from throws but loses to attacks, and that blocking blocks attacks but throws go through it, if you’re crouching or standing. Also, let’s make it so that every attack pushes the attacker and defender some distance apart, and that throws leave both players in neutral.
Now let’s look at our previous examples with this core mixup in the game:
Review continued here (sorry, it was too long to fit on NG):