….Popularity and ability are not the same.

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ADK was a company that seemed destined to be lost to time—as one of the few outside developers who wedded themselves to the Neo Geo hardware right from the beginning, they were overshadowed by SNK’s own software, and it’s likely that if most people remember ADK’s games, they just assumed they were made by SNK anyway (and once ADK went under, SNK immediately bought the rights to all their properties.) More importantly, as entertaining or unique or charming as their games could be, ADK never made a truly great one, one that could stand alongside the best of the Neo Geo (their overall best game is probably Magician Lord, one of the very first games released for the system)—not necessarily due to a lack of effort on their part, though. Their output has a number of games that are interesting in one way or another, and despite never obtaining much of a following, are fun to look back on—you can look at the concept, if not the execution, of something like Crossed Swords (basically a medieval fantasy take on Punch-Out!!) or the hyper-cutsey Twinkle Star Sprites (basically a competitive SHMUP) and you see a developer who was willing to go out there and do something different from the arcade norm. That approach was evident in their fighting games as well, even if you have to look a little deeper to find it.

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Is It A God? A Devil? A Shadow Lurks In The Shrine.

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Player-against-player competition is kind of the heart and soul of the fighter genre—it’s the reason most people enjoy playing them, mastering a set of skills and then pitting them against someone else who mastered a different set of skills, your wits and reflexes tested to their limits. The sheer unpredictable, adaptive variability of how a player might play the game means that taking away that second human and replacing it with an AI simply cannot replicate the experience, and even making an adequate CPU opponent is extremely challenging for even the best fighting games. It’s way too easy to either make the AI challengers incapable of most of the more skill-testing or advanced styles and ending up basic or braindead, or on the other extreme making them superhumans capable of direct input reads and lighting-fast responses—in either case, the player vs player experience is not even remotely replicated, and the kind of enjoyment you can get from the experience may end up pretty limited. Yet most fighting games soldier on with the vs CPU modes anyway, because what else can you do?

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Just Who Will Find True Happiness?

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Fighting games are an inherently ridiculous genre—even if you were to take out the theatrics and bombast and colourful-sparks-a-flowing that define most games in the genre (and some misguided souls have tried), the basic concept is two figures hitting each other until one falls down, a pretty slapstick reinterpretation of the extremely technical and methodical world of martial arts. The exaggerated ways each character moves (exaggerated for both aesthetics and to help players keep track of what’s going on in a busy match) stymies any attempts at “realism” from the get-go, and watching even the most serious competitive match makes it very clear that comical pratfalls and last-minute saves are a crucial part of how the game is played and won (the more things going on at the same time, the more hilarious it is when one side pulls out a win – for spectators especially, games like Marvel Vs. Capcom and Guilty Gear seem to be built on that notion.) As much as the games themselves may try to hide behind more serious veneers, all the blood and revenge storylines, there will always be a little bit of comical cartoon wackiness present in every fighting game, owing as much to Loony Tunes as to Enter The Dragon.

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YOU ARE A BUG TO ME!

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I’ve played a few wrestling games over the years, but some screwing around with their plethora of options aside they’ve never really engaged me—the vast majority of wrestling have extremely context-sensitive controls and a methodical pace meant to simulate the back-and-forth of an actual wrestling match, and since I’ve never been a wrestling fan those efforts don’t really float my boat. Still, elements of wrestling have been integral to the fabric of the fighting game genre since the beginning, and it’s not hard to understand why: it’s by far the flashiest of the fighting “sports”, with an emphasis on over-the-top personalities and showmanship that buff up the entertainment factor not necessarily found in the other martial arts that inspire these games. Whether or not a fighting game really ties the specifics of wrestling into their gameplay, there’s almost always a little wrestling influence in there regardless. The two styles are essential comrades-in-arms.

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