The Evo Lineup Cometh Again

The first-ever Evo Japan delayed the announcement of the main Evo World Championship tournament series lineup by about two weeks. That didn’t stop it from being any less exciting, or in some cases, controversial.


Primed for the first weekend of August, Evo 2018 had its official lineup unveiled by the tandem of Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar and Mark “MarkMan” Julio back on February 6th. This year features a blend of the usual suspects and some new challengers, which includes:

Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition
Tekken 7
Injustice 2
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2
BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle
Dragon Ball FighterZ

The majority of this lineup has been featured at Evos past, so most of it will be familiar to many. Street Fighter has been one of the defining fixtures of the tournament series since its early days as Battle by the Bay, so there was no way it wouldn’t show up. Also, with the Arcade Edition update of Street Fighter V coming out at the beginning of this year, there’s no way it wasn’t going to be closing out Evo.

Injustice 2 made its way to the Evo roster just last year, so it’s still relatively recent. But a bevy of balance updates and all-new downloadable fighters, including the likes of Dark Horse Comics’ Hellboy and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, should shake up the metagame substantially. Of course, there’s a good chance we’ll see Dominique “SonicFox” McClean of Echo Fox somewhere in the finals again, but let’s not get into bold predictions just yet.

Guilty Gear Xrd and Tekken 7 have been a part of the main Evo lineup since 2015, and yearly updates to both have changed the experience each year. With a total roster rebalancing coming to Rev2 next month, and Final Fantasy XV’s Noctis Caelum coming to Tekken 7 at some point in the Spring following the game’s most recent addition, The King of Fighters’ Geese Howard, that shouldn’t change this year.

Finally on the returning titles, both Smash Bros. in the main lineup is still a polarizing point of contention, as I’ve made clear before. In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’s initial year, I could understand having Melee on the main lineup. However, now that the game has proven to stand well-enough on its own in regards to entrants and viewership, that should no longer be the case. Just last year, the Smash Bros. U finals featured a thrilling grand final set between current champion Saleem “Salem” Young and recently-retired Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios, a complete ten-game run where Young ultimately prevailed. Contrast that to Melee’s four-game grand final where Adam “Armada” Lindgren handily beat Joseph “Mang0” Marquez, and it paints a pretty clear picture as to which was more exciting.


The only two brand-new additions to Evo this year are Dragon Ball FighterZ and BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. FighterZ making the cut doesn’t come across as a major shock, given Dragon Ball’s immense global popularity and the excitement surrounding the actual game going back to its initial E3 announcement. With how well recent FighterZ tournaments have gone, and more characters on the way in the coming months, it should make for an excellent watch.

That just leaves Cross Tag Battle as the only real surprise of the lineup, though I use the term “surprise” a bit loosely. While I’m overall glad it’s part of the main lineup, there’s something about its inclusion that hasn’t quite sat well with me. I mentioned back in my blog about the game’s controversial DLC plans that there was a sneaking suspicion of internal pressure to get the game out by Evo season. With this news, there could very well be a ring of truth to it. It’s not a bad thing, but if Evo was the reason for ASW’s release plans being what they are, it’s not exactly a good look, either. In short, it’s complicated.


One quick note: In addition to Street Fighter V: AE, traditionally the game to close out Evo, the other Sunday titles for this year include Guilty Gear Xrd: Rev2, Dragon Ball FighterZTekken 7, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. While it’s a strong lineup, I’m torn on Melee’s inclusion.

I see what the Evo staff might be trying to do: The plan, provided both games find themselves on the main Evo lineup in the future, seems to be that Melee and Smash Bros. U will rotate Evo Sunday duties year to year. Still, I don’t see why the staff didn’t opt to ride the hot hand and give Smash Bros. U another go-round on Evo Sunday, given how phenomenal the game’s finals were last year. There’s more I could go into, but I’ll save that for a potential later entry.


By this point, you might be wondering: “Where’s Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite?”

For the first time since its introduction at Battle by the Bay 2000, the Marvel vs. Capcom series will not be on the main docket. Naturally, this has become the biggest story of the whole reveal show, yet there hasn’t been a concrete answer as to why. Cuellar said that player support for Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite “fizzled,” which is a rubbish statement when you consider the fact that entry numbers for the game have landed within the top five of every single major tournament it’s been in since launch.

However, tournament turnouts only tell half the story. The other half, to be blunt, is the fact that Infinite tanked. While many agree that the gameplay lives up to the series’ pedigree, they also mention that everything else does not. Between dull visuals, a roster with a handful of issues (leaning too heavily on the previous entry and banking on the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success being chief among them), sparse single-player content, and questionable PR management in the months leading up to the game, the game has not been all that well-received, and is likely the reason why Infinite will be regulated to a side tournament at best.

While it’s not unreasonable to think that Marvel told Capcom to not lobby for the game in the main lineup as Julio suggested, I think there’s another possibility to consider. Perhaps Capcom realizes that they dropped the ball on Infinite, and are working behind the scenes to do something to improve it. Wishful thinking, to be sure, but I like to keep all possibilities on the table.


All things considered, I’m willing to say that this year’s Evo lineup is looking to be one of the stronger ones, even without the presence of Marvel vs. Capcom on the main roster. Granted, I do think it’s a bit heavy on the anime fighters, with three as opposed to two like they tend to carry. Otherwise, Evo 2018 should be an interesting experience. All that’s left to do now is count down the months and get ready for the next battle.

‘Til we meet again,
Tom

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Wavedashing into the Future

The platform fighter is an interesting breed of fighting game, with its simplified controls and freedom of movement compared to traditional arcade fighting giants. What started with Super Smash Bros. way back on the Nintendo 64 has expanded from a Saturday night crowdpleaser at parties to a fighting game tournament linchpin. They are easy to learn on the outset, yet enormously complex once you go beneath the surface. Platform fighters have ascended to a whole new level in recent years, thanks in large part to the resurgence of Super Smash Bros. Melee…often considered the competitive pinnacle of the Smash Bros. series…and the rise of the series’ fourth iteration on the Wii U.

And if they play their cards right, Wavedash Games could take the genre to a whole new level.



(Image from Wavedash Games’ official Twitter account, @wewavedash)

The Oakland-based game developer has been working on a platform fighter that’s tailor-made for competitive play. Wavedash Games is a blend of the grassroots passion found among the Super Smash Bros. Melee community, and all-star development talent from developers like Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment, brought together to create the ultimate competitive platform fighter. They’ve also brought in the finest Melee players to playtest the game behind closed doors.

The studio’s end goal? As co-founder and creative director Jason Rice said in a TechCrunch interview, “Do for the platform fighter genre what League of Legends has done for MOBA.” In other words, Wavedash Games wants a PC platform fighter that follows in Riot Games’ footsteps.

Of course, the company hasn’t been developing entirely behind a curtain. They’ve been giving fans small glimpses of its progress, including “Commit(s) of the Day” on their Twitter account, and developer vlogs hosted by Rice. Official gameplay is supposed to be shown off for the first time at some point this summer, but with regards to insight, these have been decent substitutes as of this writing.


The aforementioned TechCrunch interview with Rice and primary founder Matt Fairchild highlighted some new details on this mystery game. In addition to a $6 million funding round from March Capital, readers got a brief sample of the game’s lore, a world where competition is the alternative to warfare, and eight characters (at the start, at least) fight it out for their people.

So far, we know of three of these characters:

  • Ashani, an African-American woman with a slick-looking power suit, and the game’s “Speedy Brawler.” (And the badass in the picture seen a few paragraphs up.)
  • Xana, a hulking alien “Belle of the Brawl” who specializes in grappling foes into oblivion.
  • Kidd, an anthropomorphic goat that, if Wavedash Games’ pitch is to be believed, should be all too familiar to competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee

Another character that goes by the name of Raymer has been mentioned, though little is known about him other than the fact that he’s portrayed by legendary voiceover artist Steven Jay Blum. Otherwise, we know very little about the rest of the first eight characters outside of gameplay archetypes, which Rice has gone over in a developer’s vlog.


While gameplay is still a ways off from being shown (as of this writing), I can at least comment on the overall vision of the game based on what’s known so far. Wavedash Games stated in a Reddit AMA that they would be following League of Legends’ free-to-play model, with a rotating roster of free characters and the ability to purchase new characters and cosmetics with either in-game currency or real money.

This doesn’t seem like a bad idea in theory. Riot Games has received high praise for making League of Legends a freemium game, even managing to win a Golden Joystick Award in 2011 for that distinction. Iron Galaxy’s Killer Instinct follows a similar system, but with a single rotating character a week instead of a cluster of them at a time, and so far that model seems to have worked out in their favor.

Even though it’s a good idea overall, I somewhat disagree with the idea of a rotating cast. The reason I say “somewhat” is because the idea isn’t bad at all in the long-term, but I don’t think it makes much sense at the outset. The model works for League of Legends, but keep in mind that the game started off with forty champions to choose from. In this case, the game is going to start off with eight characters, which isn’t that much by comparison. A rotating cast would make more sense here when the game hits twelve or sixteen characters, with eight being available from the get-go. Having all eight characters available at the start would be a better way for players to get used to the mechanics and establish a good starting metagame.


The three character designs that have been shown off so far are great. While I wouldn’t put them above the likes of, say, Overwatch or League of Legends’ character designs, Ashani, Kidd and Xana all look good in terms of visuals, and I’m sure they’ll look even better in motion once we get some gameplay. Though, if I had to nitpick any of the character designs, it would have to be Kidd’s.

I understand diversity in design, and I get the inclusion of a character that harkens back to the spirit of Fox McCloud and Falco Lombardi in Melee. That said, why make your “Space Animal” character…well, a literal animal? It feels like you’re trying to ape the best of Melee all the way down to aesthetics. Obviously you can’t go back and change things now, so take my nitpicking as you will, but it wouldn’t have hurt to make that kind of character a human, or even an alien.


All of that harping on character design brings me to the one major hope that I have for this game. I don’t have a terribly long wishlist, so you’re not going to see too much. That being said, I want this game to stand out from its predecessor more than anything.

Look, I’ve mentioned before that I love watching competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee. It’s a few ticks behind Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Killer Instinct, Smash Bros. 4 and Guilty Gear Xrd when it comes to my favorite fighting games to watch, even if it’s some combination of the same six guys in contention to win it all at a major tournament like Evo. But I’m a guy who likes innovations made to old concepts. Shake up an idea, and I guarantee you I’ll take note of it.

For example, Rivals of Aether does a great job of putting a new spin on the platform fighter formula. The game replaces grabs, shields and ledge climbing with a parry system and universal walljumping to create a more offense-friendly metagame. Brawlhalla also has something interesting going for it with its item-based movepools for each character.

And this desire doesn’t even stop at spectating. The Wavedash Games team has said that they’re aiming to make the game accessible, yet still difficult to master, which I hope they stick to. Some elements from Melee are worth implementing, certainly, but don’t do it wholesale down to the control methods.


My point is this: The game can thrive in the long run with the talent it has, and I believe that it could succeed Melee as the premiere platform fighter that most people are used to. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it will succeed Melee with time. That being said, I want Wavedash Games to make their game a different breed of platform fighter, not just 20XX for a new era. Keep the essentials, but do something that nobody else has thought of before.

They pull that off, and Wavedash Games’ title will truly, in a word, “Shine.”

‘Til we meet again,
Tom