Peculiar bedfellows, perhaps? There was always going to be a clash somewhere in this year's Coming Attractions as we sorted our way through 12 categories, but you could argue there's more that unites fighting and strategy than divides them. Both are about trying to take maximum of advantage of your opposition's weaknesses, both reward patience, concentration and consideration, and as of Red Alert 3 both have a thing for impractical women's clothing.
However, 2009's fighting games - or beat-'em-ups, as we and apparently no one else still enjoy calling them - can be forgiven for gimmickry, because there's a sense that few would pay attention otherwise. Fighters like Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and Tekken: Dark Resurrection have done reasonably as downloads, but others - even the licence-heavy Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe - have flopped. And for the most part, that won't change in 2009. But for once there are two or possibly three fighters that have the potential to capture the public's imagination, and not just the ring-fenced pounds of an ill-fed hardcore.
Street Fighter IV
Street Fighter IV is already a massive achievement in one sense: there's more buzz ahead of its 20th February release than there has been for any other beat-'em-up in this generation of hardware - even including Fight Night Round 3, which headlined PlayStation 3's coming-out conference and won the occasional 10/10. Some of SF IV's success here is coincidence - even Capcom wouldn't have predicted the her-off-Smallville Chunners film would be done at exactly the same time - but the Japanese publisher has also been canny: with those animated shorts, with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, and with bespoke peripherals made out of knobs flown in specially from Japan.
But for all the hype, the arcade version proves it is all the things people keep saying it will be: Street Fighter II's re-ignition, fuelled by tweaked characters, draped with new tactical layers and smothered in snazzy graphics. All of which is enough to satisfy the two traditionally discrete beat-'em-up consumers: the button-mashing have-a-go-Honda and the Shotokan-denying Third Strike disciple. A last-minute critical collapse isn't inconceivable, but HD Remix ran the online code past enough scrutiny for it to work, the arcade balance is tight, and Capcom's not only spent a year figuring out the best way to use the PS3 and 360 pads, but it's made its own for people who still don't like them.
Whether it will work at the tills is the bigger question, but in the meantime let's enjoy something else: Street Fighter IV can't be ripped off like for like, as there is no other videogame company with the right beat-'em-up IP, under the right circumstances, to do so. But for every other Japanese - or Western - publisher with hot 80s or 90s IP smouldering in the trademark office, it's a blueprint for revival we'd be happy for them to nick.
Supporting Cast (in alphabetical order)
Fight Night Round 4
Fight Night Round 3 was great, but it's as well remembered for giving up its gamerpoints as it is for its analogue attacks, bone-cracking visuals and entertaining fighter balance. We hope Round 4's remembered for more than giving Tyson a paycheque.
King of Fighters XII
Like SF IV, it's an overhaul, but on different terms, with new hand-drawn sprites on 2D backgrounds and a professed desire to be the best 2D fighter ever. New features include a critical counter system, allowing players to follow a strong counter with a flurry of attacks and a special.
On: Wii / Developer: Next Level Games / Publisher: Nintendo / Release: Summer
Silly and simple but memorable, the original Punch-Outs are enough to put this on the list. We're also pleased that boxing's role in Wii Sports hasn't ruled out the commission, which may bode well for potential returns for Mario Tennis and Mario Golf further down the line.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Cross Generation of Heroes
On: Wii / Developer: Capcom, 8ing / Publisher: Capcom / Release: TBC (out in Japan)
The latest game in the splinter series that brought us Marvel vs. Capcom and Capcom vs. SNK, with similar mechanics. We may not have a clue who half the Tatsunoko characters are, but we'll enjoy taking them down with variable assists.
Fight Night Round 3 wasn't the only game at the original PS3 conference: Tekken 6 was there too, and is finally due out later this year, on 360 too. In the meantime there's Castlevania Judgment, and Western bows for PS3 and 360 versions of Battle Fantasia; and BlazBlue, with the odd arcade unit sneaking into the UK this month.
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