Older Fighting Games Offer Custom Skins, Now We Are Looking At Custom Moves. Is This New Feature a Blessing or a Curse?
As far back as E3, we have been getting more and more information about two major upcoming fighting games. Super Smash Bros. and Mortal Kombat X may look like complete opposites: one is brightly-lit, vibrant, and uses wholesome Nintendo characters, and the other is brutal, bloody, and encourages you to eviscerate your opponent.
Both Netherrealm Studios and Nintendo, however, have announced a very similar feature. Customs moves or character variations are front and centre in the list of updates.
Nintendo announced that most characters’ custom moves will affect the way their existing special moves operate. The essence of the move is the same but its application can be tailored in one of many ways. For example, Mario’s Fireball can be modified to fire fast and straight or come out as a small, short-range explosion.
What this means is that players can tailor their character’s moves to fit their playstyle. Aggressive players can employ the short-range explosion to control the low-to-mid ranges of the fight, whereas defensive, zoning players can use the fast Fireball to keep others at bay.
While custom moves opens up some exciting avenues for customisation and means that mirror matches may not be as even as one would think, Nintendo has confirmed that only standard movesets will be usable when playing “For Glory” online.
Mortal Kombat’s implementation of custom moves is slightly different and best seen in the Raiden announce trailer. Each character has three different variations which open up new special moves that can affect their playstyle in a larger way; and in a much grander way than the series’ fighting stance switching. For example, Raiden’s Thunder God variation enables him to perform longer combos and deal more damage.
On the other hand, his Storm Lord customisation changes Raiden into a control-based character that uses traps to defend himself or box the enemy in. As yet, there has been no word about whether or not there is a standard Raiden for use in competitive online play.
With the two biggest fighting games employing custom moves, does this mean it is the way of the future for this genre? Microsoft Studios’ Killer Instinct has avoided this trend but personally I avoid that game like the plague. Killer Instinct Gold was one of my favourite games from the N64 era but the Xbox One iteration feels more like an app than a game.
I find the inclusion of custom moves into fighting games a step in the right direction – providing it is handled properly. For Mortal Kombat, custom moves will let its roster of characters go further. Having three variations of each character effectively triples the roster. If the previous Mortal Kombat is any indication, the selection of fighters will be generous but not as plentiful as Super Smash Bros.
For Nintendo, however, custom moves will work similarly to Mario Kart 8‘s customisation: to prevent a person’s playstyle from forcing him or her to choose a certain character. I might really like Samus but prefer to fight close instead of relying on projectiles. Although this works only if the custom moves meaningfully change the way a character is played, not simply highlight different aspects of a character’s existing repertoire.
For instance, changing Samus’ projectiles into quick-release, short-range attacks instead of simply warping straight missiles into mines or traps. The former will allow a Samus player to engage opponents directly whereas the latter only slightly changes the moves themselves.
Another element of handling these custom moves correctly is ensuring the competitive integrity of the game. Fighting games are, naturally, competitive titles and ensuring this is a possibility for its players is important. In games such as Super Smash Bros. and Mortal Kombat, balancing the characters is vital. Otherwise there could be a situation like Meta Knight in Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Kung Lao in Mortal Kombat where one character has a clear advantage over much of the remaining roster.
Nintendo has taken the difficulty of balancing around custom moves out of the equation by banning them in competitive online play. If Mortal Kombat X allows them, it will have to take steps to ensure that all of the nine possible match-ups between any two characters are balanced.
Thankfully, both Netherrealm and Nintendo seem to have taken right approach with custom moves. While more information is required about what other characters will have in Super Smash Bros. (as only really Mario has been fleshed out), what we have seen is promising.
Meaningful alterations to characters’ playstyles makes the games deeper and allows for the rosters to do more work. As more next-gen fighting games from venerable series are announced, it will be interesting to see if they too include custom moves. Here’s one gamer that hopes so.