The heading of the title might be slightly misleading. It is not really a question of whether fighting games are going stale or not, but rather how long before they do go stale. Fighting games follow the same basic formula with every iteration, something that can be seen when looking back to the oldest of the fighting titles.
Irrespective of 2D or 3D status fighting games follow a prescribed pattern with each and every edition. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, Tekken, and Virtual Fighter all conform to this model. In each game the developers will try put out as big a roster as possible with supposedly diverse characters who have their own move sets. The Arcade mode invariably consists of progressing through rounds until you reach the boss level, and often includes a second ‘surprise’ boss level. Each also tends to throw in half-hearted, almost randomly generated stories to reward players for finishing the Arcade mode.
While a large roster of fighters is great it is hard not to question the so-called diversity in characters. Each fighter has different moves but these are performed in the exact same way so there is not a whole lot of variation in that respect. While the special moves are often very cool to watch they again don’t differ that much in terms of execution. Arcade mode stories are another tired attempt at individuality, with the story either not making sense at all or making so little sense that it becomes humorous. Would it really be so difficult to slot a full story mode into a fighting game?
Extra modes such as trials may put players to a different type of test but ultimately players use the exact same skills in a more organised manner. Missions are a more recent inclusion, and are mostly welcome, but these have a short shelf-life before the repetitiveness kicks in.
It would be a fair point to say that multiplayer is where the most value can be found on one-on-one combat titles. The multiplayer is often intense fun but the inevitable spammers (who have made a lack of variation a way of life) take away a lot of the joy from this. Playing with friends in a lobby is possibly the best way to play – it is either that or couch sessions – but does each new edition offer enough to make the games worthwhile?
The answer to all these questions is yes. Fighting games are as popular as ever. The new Mortal Kombat restored the series to its former glory while the last few Street Fighter games have had excellent receptions. The 3D fighter games have also been redeemed with some great games releasing recently such as the latest Soul Calibur and even Dead or Alive on the 3DS (and Dead or Alive 5 due soon for real consoles). The questions about the genre above may make you wonder why the games are as popular as they are but they have something about them that brings fans back for more.
Fighting games have existed since just about forever and it is unlikely that the trend will die away anytime soon. A slight tweak in formula now and again would be welcome, however risky it may be, but it is the same ‘tired’ formula that has gamers coming back for more in the end. Fighting games are going to be around for a long time because those features seem to be packed with preservatives. Minor variations in character speed and power – courtesy of the developers – can change those samey movesets into individual works of art and spammy attacks can be overcome. Who needs a story when you can kick your opponent in the face? The familiarity of the Arcade mode feels like coming home, and the boss fights? Those are cool too. Long live the fighting game (they aren’t even close to stale).