Don't Miss These Lesser Known Fighting Games from Evo 2016

<i>Street Fighter</i> and <i>Mortal Kombat</i> weren't the only games at last weekend's massive Evo fighting game tournament. These smaller titles are well worth your attention, too.

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Jul 21 2016, 4:01pm
Image courtesy of Aksys Games

It's probably not much of a surprise when I say that some amazing things happened at last weekend's Evo (the world's largest fighting-game tournament, for the uninitiated). From seemingly impossible comebacks to newly crowned champions, the weekend was filled with great moments in games like Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. What might be a surprise, though, is that some of the weekend's smaller games were just as fun to watch.

Partly, that's because some of the tournaments that happened away from Evo's main stage featured weird, wonderful games. But there's also the fact that fighting games are great for spectators. There is something about a couple of characters facing off, life bars draining, and wild super moves changing the outcome of the match that is relatively easy to understand, compared to the rest of the world of competitive gaming. Don't get me wrong, there are absolutely complex techniques that will go over your head, but given an hour or two of spectatorship, you can follow along with the basics of most fighting games.

So, while you're browsing through the archives of Evo 2016, maybe put some time aside for these games, too.

Pokkén Tournament

Pikachu Libre combines lightning attacks and high-flying wrestling moves. Image courtesy of Nintendo

Given Pokémon Go's massive success, the timing couldn't be better for Pokkén Tournament's burgeoning competitive scene. That's because Pokkén translates the turn-based combat of the Pokemon games into a one-on-one fighting game. The result is a game that manages to capture the kinetic energy of the fight scenes from the Pokémon anime—something very few other Pokémon games have even attempted to do.

At first blush, Pokkén seems like a lot to take in. Unlike the all-human character selection of most other fighting games, nearly every fighter is a dramatically different shape or size. And what does a good combo from a ghostly chandelier even look like? Add to that the fact that combat in Pokkén switches between long-ranged blasting and close-up brawling, mix in support characters that can buff your character and debilitate your opponent's, and suddenly things can seem pretty overwhelming.

Thankfully sooner than later, though, it all starts to come together as a good example of how fighting games lend themselves to fresh spectatorship. Just watch this series of matches: After being repeatedly hammered by Mewtwo's blazing column of fire, competitor Potetin switches to a new, faster character and immediately sees results. I won't spoil whether or not he's able to turn the series around, but I will say that it's a thrilling match.

Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator-

Despite his name, Sol Badguy is actually an OK guy. Image courtesy of Aksys Games

Of the games on this list, Guilty Gear might be the hardest one to fully understand. It's the sort of game that only comes about through a combination of careful craft and a total lack of interest in coherency. No other game at Evo features a guitar playing witch, magical bio-weapons, and a pool hustling assassin.

It's also gorgeous. Even though Guilty Gear is rendered in a 3D engine, it presents like a high-resolution, hand-animated 2D fighter—that is, until a character's special move seamlessly slides the camera into a more dynamic position, showcasing the attack from a new perspective. Again: Gorgeous.

And just because Guilty Gear is difficult to comprehend doesn't mean that you won't be able to enjoy watching along. It's a game with a reputation for having some seriously one-sided matches, but fights can also be incredibly close. Just check out this set between Omito and Rion, which features some real nail-biters.

CATHERINE

OK, so, I know that this whole article is constructed around the notion that fighting games are easy to follow. But forget that for a second, because despite being at the world's largest fighting game tournament, Catherine isn't really a fighting game.

Released back in 2011, Catherine was largely known for its single player component, which was a hit-or-miss blend of puzzle-platforming, adventure game, and Buzzfeed quiz. But it also includes an under-appreciated competitive mode that takes the basic puzzle mechanics of the main game and complicates them with the addition of another player.

Each competitor is a sheep trapped in an existential nightmare. You're in a race to climb a tower of blocks as each level below you slowly drops away. In order to climb, you need to slide the blocks around to form staircases, utilize all-too-rare power ups, and tactically block your opponent's own attempts to climb.

Competitive Catherine made its debut last year and quickly went from curiosity to Twitch destination. The scene is still small, and since Catherine doesn't have any sort of online play, chances are that it will continue to grow slowly. So every year that it returns to Evo, I count my blessings.

And hey, unlike every other game at Evo this year, Catherine doesn't feature much violence. Well, besides a little bit of pillow fighting between sheep and a lot of sending the opposition into a black pit of despair and nothingness.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. Full Boost

Char wins matches three times faster that other pilots. Image courtesy of Bandai-Namco.

Let me be straight up with you for a second: I love all things Gundam. I also love Virtual-On, the competitive mecha game from my youth that pit giant robots against each other in high-speed bouts. Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme VS. Full Boost combines these things, and adds strategic team-play on top of that.

Like Pokkén Tournament, combat in Full Boost happens across both long and close ranges, with some of the game's giant robots better suited to sniping and others built for melee strikes. Each player needs to master limited ammunition, anticipate attacks patterns, and calculate clever routes across a 3D arena—all while communicating strategies with their teammate. Top players move with such incredible quickness that you might confuse them for newtypes.

I won't kid you, though. The commentary in these videos isn't meant for new viewers. In fact, there isn't much commentary at all. Plus, the Twitch video archive quality leaves a lot to be desired. The official tournament videographer has confirmed that cleaned up videos will wind up on his YouTube channel, but they haven't appeared quite yet (though last year's tourney archive is available). But Full Boost is so fast and fun that I couldn't help but share it, especially since Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme VS-Force for the Vita has put the series on my mind a lot lately.

While that's the end of my personal must-watch list, it's worth noting that Full Boost was part of a larger block of side-tournaments called AnimEVO, which featured a dozen other lesser-known Japanese fighting games. So, if you're less into giant robots and more into visual novel and anime characters fighting to the death, then you should definitely take a look.

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