a review of Facebreaker
a videogame developed by EA sports freestyle
and published by Electronic Arts
for the microsoft xbox 360, the nintendo wii and the sony playstation 3 computer entertainment system
text by tim rogers
There’s a chance it could be that they failed art class on purpose, though we can get to that later, or not at all.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, yes, Tekken is “Virtua Fighter for people who never took art class”, and Dead or Alive is “Street Fighter for people who failed study hall”.
Now, on with the review. We’ll begin with a paragraph in the first person:
Every day, when I wake up, I usually end up accidentally looking in the mirror. There I am, stark naked, ripped, cut, toned, buff, well-endowed. From the neck up, I am a disaster area: my stubble is like hobo vomit on a funny paper plastered to a sidewalk; my hair resembles a hat that a lesbian would wear. My expensive ornamental eyeglasses throw this portrait of me at sunrise way out of focus: I am a bad Halloween costume, suspended by some sick telekinesis. In a few moments, I will take a shower, wash my hair, and scrape the mud off my face with the help of a badger-fur brush and a German-engineered vintage-style safety razor. For a moment, before my slow transformation, I like to savor my supreme, transient ugliness — it puts the coming gorgeousness in context. Yes, after six hours of exfoliating and hair-ironing, I will emerge from my coccoon with a perfect outer coating that will last approximately thirteen seconds.
The problem with Facebreaker is that not a single one of the characters looks better than I look at five in the morning. Well, this isn’t the only problem. Another problem would be that the characters look mathematically better at the end of a fight, when they’ve had their faces pounded in.
We cannot stress this enough: the characters in Facebreaker are criminally ugly. We are not just saying this because we are “grown up” and we are “out of touch” with “the times”: these characters can not possibly be anyone‘s idea of attractive. The phantom of genuinely purposeful spite lurks behind every artistic choice visible in Facebreaker‘s facade. The Wacom-tablet-wielding manchildren responsible for this chaos are, no doubt, the actual “out of touch” “adults” — not us.
It’s like, when we were in high school, and we listened to Nirvana and wore flannel, and people like our moms saw us watching MTV and groaned about how ugly Kurt Cobain was, we were able to forgive her for being out of touch. We knew in our hearts that, while Kurt honestly didn’t care how he looked, the people directing the music videos were able to convince him with conscientious pleas to at least let them reposition his hair. Furthermore, it was deadly apparent that whether Kurt cared or not, he knew he was onto something with his look. The kids were picking it up for a reason. Kurt was an appearance-slacker who didn’t care; simple logic tells us that any kid “inspired” by Kurt was an appearance slacker who did care. We saw plenty of kids in high school who tried to get their hair to look like his, for example. Meanwhile, there were us, the Future Hip Elite, hair like a coonskin cap, glasses like scuba goggles, wearing a flannel shirt because we saw Kurt wearing one and thought “that looks warm”. We suppose our conscience might have belonged to a slightly inhuman species: we might have yearned for the day when a battalion of children would be fashion-inspired by a man who was neither alarmingly attractive nor relentlessly ugly. We might have longed for a fashion tidal wave initiated by a true nonchalantly sloppy human being who was respected universally for some performance art that required his face to be shown, on his own uncompromising terms.
Sloppy never precisely broke the big time, though if the modern music culture sampled by surfing Facebreaker‘s menus is any indication, grit and imperfection are most certainly craze-worthy. Nobody wants technical guitar geniuses anymore; they want confessed fakers, slacker everychildren scraping guitars and admitting in interviews that they had no interest in music before recording their breakout single. Some of the music in Facebreaker is pretty great, whether you like it or not — grindy discombobulated electro trash is probably what the doctor would prescribe if the entire world went to the hospital right this very second and the doctor had to make a snap judgment based purely on the common symptoms. Some of the music in Facebreaker, however, is pretty bad, which sets off The Action Button Dot Net Marketing Alarm. We’d like to think that if there’s one piece of licensed music we can appreciate in a videogame, then, if the person selecting the music had actual taste, we should probably agree with most of if not all of the music in the game. However, Facebreaker‘s soundtrack makes leaps from tasteful electro to terrifying post-hardcore that sounds as ugly as its characters look. We hop on the internet and look up one of the bands that offends us most; they look fucking ****ed. We remember mom seeing Nirvana on TV. Unlike her, we understand, deep down, why these kids look “good” to Hot-Pocket-subsisting American youth. We are not the ones who are confused. (They are.)
The thing about genuine phenomenon-level hit music is that any facet of a band is a gateway. You might be a guy who sees the singer in a magazine and decides to start wearing eyeshadow, or you might hear the screaming of the guitar and think that it’s precisely the kind of anti-structure you need in that very moment. You can love a band’s music and relegate your opinion that the bassist looks like a douche to a conversational footnote. Videogames, though, man — you really can’t have one without the other. Some people will say graphics are not important; some people will even say “fuck graphics”. These people probably haven’t played Facebreaker. Facebreaker is an assault on the eyes — a direct crushing punch to the front of the head, so to speak — and, unlike a rock and roll band, it’s simply not possible to have played Facebreaker, and experienced its good parts, without having seen the fashion crimes on parade in its character design and being appropriately appalled by them.
Let’s get the ironic part out of the way: Facebreaker is a chillingly, scarily decent videogame. It is a “boxing” game. It is a “fighting” game. It is a “party” game. It’s positioned as something of a “reboot” of the “fighting” genre. That’s a big concept, these days — rebooting a whole genre of videogames. Facebreaker approaches the goal of rebooting the fighting genre by kicking that teetering Jenga tower over, taking two blocks, and locking itself in its room. You play it for five minutes, and the sheer ballsiness and simplicity of the game mechanics washes over you like a cold sweat. It feels like you’re looking at a stick-figure painting of a five-year-old girl, and someone tells you “See that? An elephant drew that.” “Whoa,” you say. Then the someone pauses. “From memory”. “Whoa,” you say. Then the person says “I’m telling you the truth. And also, I’m not real“. And then you look over your shoulder, and the museum is on fire.
In Facebreaker, your goal is to beat your opponent until he’s knocked out. You and your opponent have life meters. If you beat your opponent until his life meter reaches zero, he is knocked down. (He gets up immediately, which is jarring.) Knock your opponent down three times, and you win the fight. The fights are divided into timed rounds, however, so if a round ends, your life meter is replenished. It’s possible to knock your opponent down and then stomp on his head, ending the fight immediately. They would call that a “knockout” in Real Boxing, though usually it’s accomplished without stomping the back of your opponent’s head. In Facebreaker, they call this a “facebreaker”.
Those are the rules of the game. The mechanics are like this: you have three buttons for punching. High, medium, and low. You have one button for grabbing / throwing. Here’s the smart part: hold down a punch button to immediately enter a “defensive” stance. As long as you hold that punch button, your character will dodge any punch thrown on that level. However, defensive stances are tied to very obvious visual cues. Hold down the middle-height punch button, and your character will spin his fist at a medium height. Your opponent sees this and realizes all he has to do is hit high or low.
If you let go of a punch button while in defensive stance, you will immediately throw that punch. This is crucial: it will not be stronger or weaker. It will just happen.
A fight in Facebreaker involves belligerent hammering of buttons. You can throw jabs as fast as you can press buttons. It’s deliciously breezy. Of course, if you get two guys just throwing punches at each other, you’ll have a whole lot of colliding and recoiling and jerky back-and-forth. This is crucial: even if you have two players with no skill, the fight still looks like two guys punching each other, and the winner will turn to his friend and be like, yeah, I sure pressed buttons faster than you.
Then you start using the dodging mechanic, and your friend starts using it as well. Throw three jabs, then hold down the jab button: the openings of the jab animation and the opening of the defensive stance animation are exactly the same; your opponent might prepare to dodge just as you do. In an instant, you and your opponent both cock your arms back, fists swinging, both of you realizing that whoever lets go of the button first is going to Get Dodged. When your opponent dodges a punch, it leaves you wide open to a counter attack. You have a quarter-second to decide: let go first, throw a straight punch, get dodged, then immediately hold down the straight punch button to dodge as your opponent lets go, then quickly press the low punch button just as you dodge his punch, or wait for him to punch, dodge his punch, and try to hit him high. He might dodge high on a whim, immediately after being dodged low. What are the chances of that? Well, they’re either one in three, or one in a million. You don’t need to be a statistician to find these odds fascinating.
If you have not ever seen a screen capture of Facebreaker, this is when the cold wave washes over you: this game sounds fantastic. It does sound fantastic. It sounds like the perfect “casual hardcore” game; it sounds smart; it sounds like the Thinking Man’s Wiimote Masturbating Experience. It sounds like the Anti-Quick-Time-Event. It sounds like the game designers have played every Treasure game and knew exactly what they wanted to do. This is a game made presumably by a man with a mission: a mission to make an eternally playable schoolyard smackdown experience that marries shooter twitch with Street Fighter III parrying and Mario Party accessibility. It sounds like money on a buttered skillet.
Each player has a meter in his respective lower corner of the screen; land consecutive blows, either all in a row or with skillful dodging, to build the meter up. Fill it all the way, and your next punch landed will be a crushing blow that knocks your opponent into the air. Text splashes on the screen: “Hit him again!” Hit your opponent again with proper timing to slam them to the ground. Do it right, and you will be asked to “Break his face!” This is when you do the “facebreaker” move.
In short, if you’re really good, or if you know your (human) opponent’s ticks like the back of your hand, you can possibly string together a parry-perforated rally of punches that knocks your opponent out in the first few seconds of the first round.
We wholly support this sort of thing, this sort of absolute lack of Mario Kart-like lightning-bolt nonsense in a game that is intended from the ground up to be “casual”.
We will not, however, ever play this game again, because the graphics are revolting, and they cannot be ignored.
What happened? We had our secretary go out to the local convenient store and pretend to be a detective for four hours, and she came back empty-handed (if you don’t count the dietary fiber supplement we’d actually asked her for six days ago); we had her put on a pink miniskirt, and she came back in fifteen minutes with a business card containing a link to a story on Kotaku.com:
EA Unveils New ‘EA SPORTS Freestyle’ Sub-Brand
EA SPORTS Freestyle to Represent the Lighter Side of Sports: No Rules, Just Fun.
REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Electronic Arts Inc. (Nasdaq:ERTS) today launched EA SPORTS Freestyle™, a new sub-brand aimed at a growing, more casual sports gaming audience. EA SPORTS Freestyle games, while based in sports, will be playful, inclusive, casual, and easy to pick up and play for kids and parents, women and men, and casual and hardcore sports fans of all ages.”The launch of EA SPORTS Freestyle is an exciting milestone in the evolution of the EA SPORTS brand,” said Peter Moore, president, EA SPORTS. “EA SPORTS Freestyle will be a perfect complement to our core portfolio of games that our loyal fans are deeply passionate about, and will provide compelling opportunities for new audiences looking for a lighter gaming experience and an easier entry point into EA SPORTS.”
It turns out that Peter Moore — the man who launched and killed the Dreamcast before moving on to launch the Xbox 360 and then walk away before attempting to kill it — is “in touch” enough with “youth” “culture” to both know the word “freestyle” and speak it at a board meeting. The man is definitely earning his seven-figure salary.
Analyzing the above press release is an exercise that provided us with five whole minutes of feelings of near-accomplishment. It felt, quite frankly, like fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube while sitting on top of a Wild-West-style speeding train. EA says that the “Freestyle” line will be “playful, inclusive, casual, and easy to pick up and play” games “based in sports”. Nothing confusing so far, aside from using the word “play” in two forms. The games will appeal to “kids and parents”, “women and men”, and “casual and hardcore” sports fans “of all ages”. Theoretically, they could have simply said “males and females of all ages” and meant the same thing, though they were careful to leave the fraction unreduced for a reason. They say “men and women” because they have perceived that women don’t enjoy EA Sports games nearly as much as men do. They say “kids and parents” because — and this is amazing — wherever an EA Sports game is being played, either kids or parents are not enjoying it. It’s either the kids are too young, or the parents are too old. “All ages” is the hinging phrase here. They want to make these games for “everybody”. Their press release is careful not to mention which aspect of the games will appeal to everybody. This is crucial: they must want us to jump to the conclusion that every aspect of these games is meant to appeal to everyone.
We were confused for a bit about why EA Sports launched EA Sports Freestyle when they already have EA Sports Big. Wasn’t EA Sports Big — home of SSX and FIFA Street — supposed to be EA’s more accessible line? It could, quite possibly, be proof that EA hadn’t thought things through all of the way when they minted EA Sports Big. We can understand — and forgive — this. It’s like MTV. MTV started with just music videos; then they made a couple little TV shows, and started running news segments, and we ended up having to actually check TV Guide to know when we could just see some music videos. Eventually, MTV fed the ironic generation by producing a cartoon about kids just watching some music videos. Even more eventually, we had MTV2, which promised to be just music videos. It turned out that, when you make a channel with “just” music videos, you end up attracting only a certain kind of viewer. More often than not, the people who possess the type of personality that allows them to just flip the TV on and enjoy any music videos at all has a certain taste in music; MTV’s marketers analyzed every synapse of these kids’ brains, engineered which videos to put on which channels at which time, started making television programs that appeal specifically to this newly acquired audience; analysts project that, by 2048, the most popular television program among teenagers with ADHD will probably be called “MTV31”.
This is kind of, probably, what happened with EA Sports Big. This is kind of, probably, why EA Sports decided to make EA Sports Freestyle. We have looked over the above press release, closed our eyes, remembered Facebreaker, opened our eyes, looked at the press release again, closed our eyes, and thought about Facebreaker again about five times now, and our conclusion is that EA Sports should name their next sub-label something a little more abstract. Maybe “EA Sports Jag-wire”. We always thought “Jag-wire” would be a good name for a hipster porn magazine. Or you could call it “Jug-wire” and sell it in Tennessee.
At any rate, Facebreaker fails to appeal to “everyone” at once. Facebreaker‘s music appeals to counter-counterculture youth; the game mechanics appeal to people who played Godhand and wished it could be a little bit harder; the character designs appeal to five-dollar whores who have, at certain points in their careers, walked the street for nine hours straight with a fleck of spinach between their two front teeth and six square inches of cherry pie filling spread about the lower halves of their faces. Last I checked, five-dollar whores don’t own PlayStation 3’s, because they tend to divide the total price of all purchases by five, and anything amounting to more than “a hundred blowjobs’ worth” has to be prescribed by a doctor to seem like a worthwhile investment. A doctor would never prescribe Facebreaker because it is quite ferociously rough on the hands. We have never encountered a more wrist-shocking game. It’s actually, probably, a good thing that the characters’ ugliness renders the game unplayable, because if this game looked even mildly good, it’d be a smash hit, and we’d see a sharp spike in the carpal tunnel epidemic. The only way “everyone” is going to play the game is if every parent on earth is willing to sigh, give up, and relish the chance to do anything with their children. Seeing as anyone willing to buy their child a game console obviously doesn’t hate their children, we’re going to jump to the conclusion that if your child is playing Facebreaker, he probably wasn’t an accident, which calls everyone’s taste into question.
At this point, you may be wondering what exactly is so appalling about the character design. To answer your question: what the fuck do we look like, a lawyer? Google some screenshots and then come back. Or just take our word for it.
How did this happen? It’s painfully easy to imagine the planning meetings that led to this aesthetic nosedive. They probably had a bunch of guys sitting around a table, one of whom was the spike-haired taurine-freak who just wanted to make a game with these exact mechanics, and would not back down. He might have threatened one or two members of the production team with a box cutter: don’t touch the game design. Touch anything else. The man might be color-blind, or he might dress in red sweatpants, black socks, and Birkenstocks every day. We don’t know who this guy is or if he even exists, though we love him like an autistic little brother. Or maybe EA Sports Freestyle — in order to differentiate themselves from EA Sports Big — penned up a manifesto of sorts on the subject of game design. Maybe they wanted all the games to have a rigorously polished, fist-sized set of core mechanics in addition to graphic and sonic design that appeals to modern pop culture trends. Or maybe it was one, or the other. Well, if EA Sports Freestyle were genuinely trying to make Facebreaker visually and sonically appealing to uncomplaining observers of modern pop-culture trends, it goes without saying that they failed. I can’t for the life of me imagine a single thirteen-year-old white American kid looking at any of the characters in this game and not saying “What the fuck is this shit?” I’m hardly talking about their existence as American cartoon-trash; I’m hardly speaking from a purely graphic-design-concerned standpoint: it is the heart of the design that is ugliest. So much spite foams through the woodwork at every turn.
We have already established that the characters, in general, are American-Cartoon-Network-styled lazy filth with regard to graphic design. Surely that was a “creative choice”. The other “creative choices” apparently made by this committee of disgruntled fortysomethings involve the nationalities and depictions of the characters. Like, there’s a guy from Hawaii, so obviously he’s wearing sandals, and whenever he lands with a punch, we hear the sound of ocean waves. We could keep on running down the list of delicately, feverishly, maniacally recorded examples, though what’s the point? None of it is going to sound like actual hateful “racism”. Each example would just be another head-scratcher. What’s the point of presenting your characters as stereotypes if you’re not going to try to offend anyone with them? Ohh, right — money.
The cleanliness of Facebreaker‘s stereotypes is, quite frankly, kind of postmodernly offensive. When you fight a character for the first time, and you listen to the sounds it makes when he or she punches, when you behold their outfit or the precise googly nature of their eyes, an image of the whiteboard in the EA Sports Freestyle meeting room materializes before your eyes. “Countries” “Sound effects associated with countries” “Footwear associated with countries” “Single word that any one of us jackasses knows in said country’s language — if we know it, someone out there might know it, too, not that we’re implying that we’re smarter than our target market, because maybe (probably) we’re not”.
This may sound like we’re being “meta”. We’re not. The sharp, acidic distaste in our mouths upon spending more than a half hour with Facebreaker cannot, perhaps, be fully analyzed by modern chemistry. We know it’s wrong; we know we are right. Mister Ed is simply not going to speak a full, clear, articulate sentence in front of you, and we don’t care, because we’ve heard this fucking horse speak and we don’t care if you believe us.
In this paragraph, we will allude to familiarity with the nation of Japan: one of the female characters in Facebreaker is a Japanese girl named “Kiriko”, whose voice is fucking horrifying. She sounds like a six-year-old girl screaming at you to give her back her dolly in a cartoon written and directed by a misanthropic recluse. She is dressed in what someone on the art team believed someone in America believed someone in Japan probably dresses like. Maybe this guy was an actual follower of Japanese fashion trends. Maybe he ordered all the glossy street-snap magazines from Amazon every month, and then decided to start from a clean slate, in the interest of crafting a Japanese character who is more recognizable to the typical American pre-teen with no knowledge of Japan outside some flimsy notion of what kids dress like in Harajuku. To feed his inspiration, this artist no doubt typed “Japanese fashion” into Google Images. This is what happens when you do that. That’s not fashion — that’s The Only Hobby These People Have. These are kids who want Halloween every day.
The thing is, girls in Japan haven’t dressed like that in years; the only people who would actually dress like the girl in Facebreaker dresses are the middle-school dropouts who stand on that god awful bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku every Sunday because someone told them that the Lonely Planet guidebook tells foreigners to definitely check out the hottest trends in Japanese fashion every Sunday on this bridge in front of the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. Lonely Planet lists it as one of the top three things to do in Japan. Number One is to visit the fish market in Tsukiji at five o’clock on a weekday morning. It is highly possible that Lonely Planet is trolling tourists, keeping them away from truly interesting things so as to keep them from becoming interesting people, so as to keep the planet as lonely as possible so they won’t have to endure the long legal process of changing the name of their company and the subsequent long marketing process of getting the people informed that the company has changed its name. Likewise, the Halloween-party-rejects who hang out on that bridge are — perhaps accidentally — trolling the entire world. That is not “Japanese fashion” — that is girls who are about as popular at school as you were, stretching their talons vendetta-like in the direction of the only affirmation they’re ever going to get, considering their hobbies. We need to start ignoring these people! Three years ago, there was maybe one girl dressed up as a maid outside Akihabara Station — now there are more than six dozen at all times. The “maid” thing has never been “cool” — the girls started doing it for attention, to appeal to the most depressive of males; they have no understanding of the fact that the world is only flocking to Akihabara to laugh at them, not because they think they’re amazing and wonderful. Facebreaker‘s art team made “Kiriko” as disgusting as she is for a few reasons: first, because otherwise she wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the cast; second, because they didn’t want to bother actually looking into what Japanese girls in the year 2008 really dress like; third, because they wanted people to be able to semi-immediately recognize her as “Japanese”.
If Facebreaker, the flagship title of EA Sports Freestyle, is “for everyone”, then Kiriko is an important mark of its failure: she only registers as “familiar” if you are one of the blog-reading Red-Bull-sipping psychopaths-in-training who holds a similar impression of what “Japanese girls” are “like” (or one of the blog-writing Sugar-Free-Red-Bull-sipping psychopaths-in-training who knows tons of stuff about Japan and knows that this is not what all Japanese girls look like, just that it’s what some dumb fools think Japanese girls look like). Maybe that sentence was too long! Here’s another: if EA Sports Freestyle were trying to make characters who appealed to prevailing stereotypes in such a way as to feel “familiar” to “everyone”, why wouldn’t they just put the Japanese girl in a cute little kimono, maybe with a bow in her head?
If “Men and women”, “Parents and children” of all ages” are the audience, then why was the character meant to appeal only to attitude-having grownup-hating tools who pipe Mountain Dew into their showers in a doctor-prescribed effort to make personal hygiene more “fun”? We’ve spun the Wheel of Reasons maybe twenty times in a row over here, and we swear it keeps stopping on “Spiteful Mid-life-crisis-suffering sons of bitches were involved”.
People marvel at Nintendo’s success these days. It confounds them. We used to think we were not ****ed, for inherently understanding that Nintendo is so successful lately because everything they make is simple and clean. Now that we’ve seen Facebreaker, we realize that we are actually, in fact, geniuses.
Going back to Japanese fashion for a second: back in the late 1990s, there was a street “fashion” trend known as “Yamamba”. This term essentially covered a species of Japanese girl who, tired of the clean, pure, straitlaced “schoolgirl” look, sought a means of rebellion. The problem was that, at this point in World Cultural History, nearly everything a teenager had ever done in the name of rebelling against mom and dad — leather jackets, torn jeans, ratty flannel — has been airbrushed and safened up to a point where the modern fashion powers-that-be can make it work on a fifty-year-old father of eight. In Japan, these days, it’s hardly possible to buy a pair of jeans that does not have random flecks of white paint and/or engineered grease spots all over it. Today, plain slacks are more expensive than ones with superfluous pockets and buttons and zippers. Yamamba was a counter-counterculture born in such an environment. Yamamba girls look like this. They existed for a while, then disappeared, and have recently begun to appear again. The goal of the Yamamba is much like the ancient goal of the clown: to be as heartbreakingly alarming as possible to the casual observer. Except Yamambas don’t go to school to wind up looking like this. I have asked many random street Yamambas — on many occasions — why they dress like they do, and most of them say that they do it because their friends do it. For many of their friends, it is their only hobby: dress like a genius’s nightmare and stand on highly foot-trafficked streets, disturbing the everyday passersby. Like MTV2 and numerous beverages and breakfast cereals, Yamamba eventually entered the eyes of marketers, who tried to disassemble it and sell it back piece by piece. We are not sure who started Yamamba, though we’re certain they were more of an ironic modern performance artist than a hooky-playing sincere sycophant. The thing about Facebreaker is that it is absolutely sincere about being a Yamamba. It is jumping off a bridge because everyone else is doing it, without even asking how high the bridge is, without even looking down. It is ugly through and through, and it is disturbing.
Street Fighter II is another game which played on the international stereotypes angle, though it did so a lot more conservatively and accessibly: two of the Americans are blond; one of them wears a red karate gi, and the other has a flattop and is in the military. The japanese people include a ripped sumo whose stage is a bath house and a stoic man in a white karate gi. Street Fighter III weirded things up by adding characters who were genuine fashion supernovas. The world rejected it because they had merely outgrown the idea of fighting games in general. Now, Street Fighter IV is parked in every arcade around the world, and it uses every god damned character from Street Fighter II, because it wants to “invite people back”. Inviting people back, however, isn’t the same as welcoming “everyone”. The audience for Street Fighter IV is “Street Fighter II fans”, because it is written in a spreadsheet on the Capcom mainframe somewhere that Street Fighter II fans are more in number than Street Fighter III fans, though the same spreadsheet fails to conclude that “people who haven’t played any Street Fighter games are greater in number than people who have” for the same reason that Wikipedia frowns upon “original research” and demands “citation needed” when the article on “tipping” says that not leaving a tip is “generally considered rude”. Back on subject: it is quite possible that Capcom are merely concluding that Street Fighter II‘s stereotypes were more accessible to newcomers than Street Fighter III‘s collages of gorgeousnes, so if they use them again, they have a higher chance of getting new fans than if they use Street Fighter III‘s characters again — that’s one thing. The other thing is, if this is the case, why not just make new characters based on the conclusion that Street Fighter II‘s characters are more accessible than Street Fighter III‘s?
Meanwhile, we have Tekken 6, a game you can absolutely not play on any level without accepting the whole roster of characters and knowing which Spanish bullfighter teamed up with a boxing-glove-wearing kangaroo six years ago to defeat an army of zombies. Tekken is so disgustingly confident in its presentation that its hideousness has been mistaken for fashionable; no one plays it without taking it seriously; the people who take it seriously tend to not wear a T-shirt unless it contains at least six thousand words of text on the front and back. No one would ever make the same mistaken snap judgment about Facebreaker‘s aesthetic facade, because it is not confident; it’s a big jumble of second-guesses, third-guesses, fourth-guesses, and fifth-guesses.
Facebreaker had an opportunity to wrap its sweet, chewy chocolate center with a delicious candy. Instead of choosing a sane flavor like vanilla, they went for Extreme Apple-Raspberry-Pineapple-Cocoa-Banana, because that’s “maybe crazy enough to work” in the minds of world-weary cynical fortysomething sigh-heaving at-wall-shit-flinging up-giving out-selling game developers. You might like banana, though if you hate pineapple, you’re screwed. Do you see what we mean? We might have taken a very very long time to get this point, and we mostly did that because there was a malfunction with the coffee machine and instead of filling our cup half full with regular it filled it to the brim with espresso; that happens sometimes. It’s not our fault! Let’s put it into words without metaphors: Facebreaker is a sweet little game. It plays interestingly and well. It looks hideous, like the devil’s toilet bowl after he ate a basketball made of falafel and swallowed a bag of Jolly Ranchers without removing the wrappers. We can’t play it as much as we’d probably like to because it offends our eyes and (sometimes) ears. They call these “videogames” for a pretty damned good reason. We can rate the entire “Toro” series of games higher than Facebreaker without ever having played a single one of them, because we have a little plush Pierre the Dog hanging with magnets on his ears from our office wall. We can’t rate Facebreaker nearly as high because, though we enjoy playing it, our ability to play it is hampered by our inability to look at the screen without feeling sick. Does this seem like that insane a reason to give a game one star? It very well shouldn’t: if you don’t look at the screen, you’re not going to see the visual cues needed to dodge the punches, to score the combos. This isn’t Hot Shots Golf, where you don’t even need to look at the fairway to get a ball on the green: you need only look at the name of the club you’re choosing, the direction of the wind, the lie of the pin, all represented as numbers at the bottom of the screen. You could tape a piece of cardboard over the top 7/8ths of the screen and still play Hot Shots Golf. You don’t do this, though, because the character designs are cute, and hardly offensive.
About those visual cues: the whiteboard in the planning meeting floats up again into imaginary view when you see the ways some of these guys punch. There’s the Russian guy, named Molotov because the game designers realize that, though this game is targeted at “everyone”, the only people who will actually buy it have all played First-person shooters before and they know what a Molotov cocktail is, whether they realize that’s a Russian word or not. They make sure that this guy has grenades hanging from his waistband for no particular reason — pretty sure that wouldn’t be legal in a boxing ring! — maybe so that the FPS-playing kids don’t snicker and presume that the over-the-hill hipsters who designed the character don’t know what a Molotov cocktail is. Anyway, Molotov’s “high” punch isn’t actually a punch: he squats, leaps up, and slams you with his chest. This is frustrating, because the first six hundred or so times he does it, you keep wondering which punch button you have to press to dodge it, seeing as the animation of the “punch” spans all three heights of attack. You can imagine the game designers planning this: we can’t make every punch look just like a punch! We need to mix it up! What’s the point of purposely limiting yourselves to the fundamentals of boxing, if you’re going to feel that much of a need to “mix” things “up”? Good work shooting yourselves in the foot and the hand, geniuses.