I’m an avid Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 player. I think at last count I’ve put about 200 hours into both versions of the game, and definitely consider it my favorite fighting game of all time. I certainly have a storied history with fighting games: I have vivid memories of staying up all night at a friend’s playing Soul Calibur II and Super Smash Bros. Melee. I’ve bought every single version of Street Fighter IV like a sucker, and I’ve definitely shouted with joy at a fair share of EVO moments.
I certainly wouldn’t call myself an “expert” or “top-tier” player though. I simply didn’t have the patience to master long button sequences. I’m not a button-masher either. I’m in a weird space where I can easily destroy anyone unfamiliar with basic fighting game paradigms face-to-face, but anyone who knows what they’re doing will wreck me online. I am, for lack of a better word, intermediate.
I feel like fighting games aren’t made for me, though. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 has a “Simple” control scheme it touted for less expert players, but I find it insultingly easy. At the same time, when you enter the training mode for each character, which has you trying to complete combos for each character in a tutorial environment, are frustratingly hard after the fourth or fifth trial. The Arcade mode AI is either dumb as rocks or ball-bustingly hard. There’s nowhere for me to just play the game.
Mortal Kombat (and presumably Mortal Kombat X, which I have not played) solved this by giving me a fairly extensive set of interesting things to do with my moderate amount of skill. The story mode was extensive, and was actually fairly interesting, and the Challenge Tower allowed me to hone and practice my skills in nice, low-tension chunks.
Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 though, gives me no such thing. Either I can knock my head against the brick wall that is the training mode, I can get curb-stomped online, or I can go into free training and goof off for twenty minutes before getting bored. There’s nothing I can do that allows me to use my skills in this game to complete something low-stakes. Everything in the game is dedicated towards being the best. I don’t want to be the best, though. Being the best at a fighting game is really hard. I wanna be the okayest.
That’s why the fighting game moments I remember most fondly from my history with the genre aren’t times where I was fighting to prove I was the best, they were goofy challenges that certainly needed skill, but at the same time were there for their own sake, not as some stepping stone on the path to EVO fame. I remember Soul Calibur II‘s Adventure mode. I remember playing a 99-stock match of Smash where the only way you were allowed to kill someone was by swallowing them and jumping off the map. I remember running sets of Marvel 3 with my friends with the worst possible team compositions. I wasn’t becoming better in these moments, but I was having fun.
As fighting games enjoy their resurgence in popularity, and growing competitive scene, I wish they would focus on us, the middle-tier players of their games. The ones that enjoy interacting with their games and all of its systems, but have no desires to be the best. I want to watch the characters interact, and to have to figure out how to use the mechanics and weird and interesting scenarios. I don’t care about frames, I don’t care about framerate, and whatever the hell a link is, I don’t care about that either.