Fighting games are unique, and to be frank, ask a lot from their player base. Franchise giants like Street Fighter and Tekken may bring in lots of new spectators via eSports, but it won’t always translate to new players who have to learn dexterity-demanding inputs, a notation system, and get familiar with frame data. On top of that, players have to develop a sense of the mind game situations that come up when playing an opponent.
Fantasy Strike, developed by Sirlin Games, is a 2D fighter that’s “streamlined” with one-button moves and combos that are easy for even a complete beginner to perform. No need to spend your first afternoon throttling a fight stick doing uppercuts across the training room screen, or scrolling through the unintuitive move lists of Tekken. Fantasy Strike intends to be a fighter that’s fun from the jump.
Sirlin Games has the ambitious aim to not only make Fantasy Strike “accessible” for new players, but to impart what it is about these games that makes them “something so great.” Yes, execution is streamlined, but Fantasy Strike isn’t trying to be just a training wheels game before you move on to a “real” fighter. Fantasy Strike is meant to appeal to experienced players too, and puts the emphasis on the decision-making, big-brain thinking that fighting games are famous for, independent of manual skill.
In a post for PlayStation.Blog, David Sirlin writes about what makes Fantasy Strike approachable for new players and satisfying for experienced ones. Acknowledging the “contradiction,” Sirlin explains that Fantasy Strike is designed with top-level tournament players in mind.
“To participate in a deep competitive game, you’re basically doing this sequence over and over: 1) understand the situation you’re in, what your options are, and how they all work, 2) make a decision about what to do, 3) execute that decision so it really happens in the game,” Sirlin explains. “A deep game is one where all three of those steps work well, and the quantity and quality of these decisions the game offers is high.”
The matter of accessibility in games, and especially competitive fighters, is on the philosophical side. There’s been plenty of debate surrounding the matter, and David Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike is “a top-to-bottom commitment to be inclusive” that wants everybody to be able to get involved in “the fun, strategic core of the game.” Again, decision-making and strategic thinking is paramount, and it’s the main aspect of mastering Fantasy Strike.
When you reach expert-level play, the game does not devolve into being about input bugs,
L-cancels, kara-cancels, plinking, charge partitioning, 1-frame links, or other things you didn’t sign up for.
In order to keep information understandable the frame advantage for all characters is displayed on screen, which is something unique to Fantasy Strike. Frame data is an extremely important aspect of fighting games because it lets you know which moves are safe or punishable and is the foundation of strategic decisions. Visual cues will also let players know if moves have properties like invincibility or armor with colored character outlines, and coach the player with prompts like “Jumpable” so they can adapt before the next round.
The roster includes ten characters, representing the classic archetypes of rushdown, zoner, and grappler, plus a “Wild Card” panda named Lum who throws items that have random properties.
A relatively new aspect to playing fighting games is the blessing (and curse) of being able to play them online. Fantasy Strike will have online play that uses rollback-stye GGPO in combination with Sirlin Games’s own “proprietary sauce that makes online play especially smooth and responsive feeling, minimizing input delay.” Online ranked mode resets every three months and has tournament-style eight-player matchmaking. The game also offers single player content with an Arcade Mode, Tutorial, Survival, and Daily Challenges.
Sirlin Games took Fantasy Strike to EVO last year, and a lot of top-level players signed up to try out the game. Check out the video below to see the game in action and hear their impressions.
Fantasy Strike has been in Steam’s Early Access category for a while, but will release on July 25th via Steam as well as on Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch for $29.99. It’s an interesting and thoughtful approach to the issue of accessibility in fighting games that doesn’t forget to craft a deep, rewarding competitive experience.