The natural environment of the fighting game has always been the arcade. The culture of sizing up your opponent while they warm up in single player, and stepping forward - 50 pence in hand - to challenge is as much a part of the scene as combos and Dragon Punches. And if they're way out of your league, watching two of the best duke it out in a smoky, sticky-floored arcade is instructive and enjoyable. This still goes on in arcades around the world. But round these parts, it's more and more a 'hardcore' pursuit. Back in the day, arcades were where you went to see the newest, best-looking games, but with home consoles now more powerful and widespread than ever before, few people see the need to leave the house.
This generation of consoles has pioneered online fighting games. But the split-second timing required for the demanding gameplay left some early efforts, like CVS 2, feeling flat and unresponsive as the connection struggled to keep up. This is already changing, and as we've reported, there are a load of SNK titles scheduled for release this year.
But the forthcoming generation of consoles is going to introduce features that will bring us closer than ever before to the arcade experience. And it's the touted features of the forthcoming Dead Or Alive 4, of all things, on Xbox 360, that've got us thinking about this. Tecmo's Tomonobu Itagaki has grand designs indeed for the forthcoming game in his DOA series, known for being a fighting game and a breast physics emulator in equal measure. The current DOAU supports arcade 'lounges' where eight players can conduct tournaments. But the Xbox 360 could be capable of bringing this number up to 50, which Itagaki-san feels would probably be too many, if anything. He's also said that online, clans could be a big part of the gaming experience. The spectator factor could become a reality - it would theoretically be possible for hundreds of people to watch big fights taking place.
Detractors of the series might point out that Dead or Alive has never been the stage on which beat-em-up enthusiasts would choose to show off their skills. And Itagaki-san does not deny that in the past, accessibility for less obsessive players has been a priority, as well as an attack-centred combat system that actively works against more skilled players and gives newbies a fighting chance. But the competitive nature of online play attracts a higher calibre of player, and DOA4 will aim to cater for them too, without looking to alienate its more casual fans. Could the game become appealing to Virtua Fighter players?
Exciting news. If you still have your doubts about DOA, consider this: there have been rumours this week of next-gen versions of Virtua Fighter and a sequel to King of Fighters: Maximum Impact, the 3D version of the 2D classic. The problem with mastering one-on-one fighting games at home has always been that when your friends come around, few of them can match you. A new age of satisfying and challenging punch-ups could be just around the corner.