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EVO 2015 Highlights from the Couch

Evolution is the world’s largest fighting game tournament and is the Olympics of the fighting game community. Every year, the fighting game community pours in from all over the world to Las Vegas with their sticks, fight pads and headphones in tow to compete for some cash money. If it’s a fighting game, chances are someone’s brought it to EVO with them. Evolution 2015 (EVO2015) was no exception.

But for most of us, it meant spending a weekend with takeaway food with several twitch streams running at the same time. This is not meant to be a comprehensive review of EVO 2015, but rather highlights on what made the event great for those of us who couldn’t be there.

Anime Fighters in the Spotlight
This year was a particular good showing for Arc System Works, the game company that developed the 2D style anime fighter subgenre.

The latest edition of the Persona 4 fighting game entitled Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold (Or just Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for short) had KSB | Superboy (Ken Amada/Koromaru) and Niceburst | Tahichi  (Margaret) fighting it out in the Grand Finals in a tense match that proved that the Persona 4 spinoff had well and truly stepped out of the Shadow of ArcSys’ other fighters such as BlazBlue and Guilty Gear.The Persona characters are all fully realised and true to their JRPG builds, translated into beautiful fighting sprite form. The Persona and status ailment systems offer complexity while still being accessible and characters have different play styles to suit their personalities. No longer does it have to suffer allegations that it is merely a clone or watered down version of ArcSys’ other offerings with particularly dynamic plays that show that you can do fighting game adaptations of other media and have it be tourney worthy.

Guilty Gear finally returns to EVO after a long absence – the last time it appeared at EVO was in 2009 when Guilty Gear XX: Accent Core was released. Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign- is the latest iteration of the iconic anime fighter and brought with it something familiar yet completely fresh. The latest expansion for Xrd, Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- was announced and due to go into location tests in Japan, so it seemed timely that -Sign- was making waves in EVO.

A highlight of the Guilty Gear finals was between Woshige (Millia) and Ogawa Zato (Zato-1). Both players big in the Japanese scene, Woshige believe he had the round and stood up to celebrate – not realising that he had one more round to fight. This of course meant that Woshige’s celebration was short lived – allowing Ogawa Zato to win the round, take the game and eventually become Evo 2015’s Guilty Gear Xrd Champion.

Series creator Daisuke Ishiwatari came to Las Vegas and seemed genuinely taken aback at the warm reception that it was receiving, even hopping onto stream do to an exhibition match on the Sunday.


Beyond Crouch Kick – Western Fighter Magic

Mortal Kombat X comes as a second renaissance for the series. Since its reboot in 2011, the series has been making waves in terms of plot and graphics but seemed to fundamentally fail at being a fighting game. We all remember the B-movie blood and gore stylings of Mortal Kombat 3 from our childhood on the PS1 and every kid who knew how to crouch kick basically had the game down pat. But fastforward to EVO 2014 and Mortal Kombat 9 still featured high level tournament play crouch kicking. Mortal Kombat was the series I desperately wanted to shake by the collar and go, you’re better than this! You’re a fighting game!

Netherrealm just couldn’t escape crouch kick until Mortal Kombat X. The introduction of the Variations system in addition to much needed characters to fill specific niches in the game meant that Mortal Kombat X is finally recapturing the same sort of magic that the first three games had but instead of B movie gore, we’re looking at action movie levels of slick and lots of well modelled blood and guts.

The crowd wanted to see the gore, so there was drama as members of Team Yomi were booed loudly when their members pulled up start menus when the red flashing FINISH HIM came up on screens. If you’re gonna be at EVO, learn the finishers to your characters. It’s just right.

The Grand Finals had CR Sonicfox (Royal Storm Kitana, Outlaw Erron Black) and PND A F0xy Grandpa (Tempest Kung Lao) faceoff in a tight sequence of fights that could have been anybody’s game. It brings the author particular joy that her main and preferred variation was used to deliver the killing blow which sealed Sonicfox’s victory. (And they knew their finishers without needing to pull the start menu.)


Staples of the Circuit

The oddities in EVO 2015 line up include Super Smash Brothers Melee and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. Super Smash Brothers Melee was released for Gamecube in 2001 and Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 was released in 2011. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3  has seen continuous tournament play in EVO ever since it came out and Super Smash Brothers Melee was featured in EVO 2013 through the efforts of the community towards charity. Some critics levelled that both these games may be past their prime at this stage, especially with Super Smash Brothers for the Wii U bringing the kind of polish and balancing that Brawl didn’t have to make it tournament worthy.

On the other hand, changes to licensing means that Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is now unavailable online (its DLC and updates are only downloadable if bought previously), the game has been dissected and explored ad nauseam which left some wondering – what else could it bring to EVO?

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 features teams of 3 characters. The synergy between these three characters mean that certain combinations have been seen time and time again – Devil May Wesker (Dante, Vergil and Wesker) and Doom/Morrigan being particular staples in the community. However, unusual combinations were abound this year showing that there is still room for exploration in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 with BE|Kane Blueriver from Chile opting for a close quarters game using Hulk/Sentinel/Haggar while his opponent CTRL|RayRay worked Magneto/Doctor Doom/Sentinel in a more technical spacing based game. The result was nothing but adrenaline in this clash of styles.


A Good Day To Be A Street Fighter Fan

The crown jewel at EVO is always Street Fighter. Capcom ran a panel detailing more information on how Street Fighter V was going to be different from previous instalments in terms of updates and roster, but the most exciting part was the reveal of new character Necalli, who just looks badass on many levels.

This is the second year that Ultra Street Fighter IV was featured on the main stage. As always, Street Fighter had the largest pools and was on last on the main stage to cap off the Sunday. As it is looking more and more likely that Street Fighter V will be taking main stage during EVO 2016, all eyes were on Street Fighter to end EVO with a bang.

It didn’t disappoint.

Before even reaching the grand final, there was a gruelling match between AVM|GamerBee (Elena, Adon) and INFILTRATION (Evil Ryu, Chun Li, Abel, Juri) where the comparisons to chess and poker become valid. The players showed considerable skill and psychology where picks and counter picks became important for the all important right to challenge EG|Momochi for the title of EVO 2015 Street Fighter champion. It was exhausting to keep up, so we can only imagine what it was like for those two on stage.

Momochi is one of those Japanese players who is often mentioned in the same breath as the five gods of Street Fighter Sako, Daigo, Tokido, Nuki and Haitani. It was a clash for the ages that had the exhausted Gamerbee face against the relatively fresh Momochi.

Of course, it wouldn’t be EVO without it’s share of drama. Of all the times for a malfunction to happen, Momochi’s stick broke towards the very end. You could hear the crowd not know what to do when the pause menu came up. (Skip to 1:45 if you wanna see the moment it happened.)

GamerBee took the round, as was in his rights but he was a real sport about it in a community known for unsportsmanlike behaviour or “salt.” Sadly while this won him over with the crowd, he didn’t take the prize home as Momochi triumphed as the victor but all is not lost – Gamerbee still gets to participate in the Capcom Cup and he tweeted that he was gonna get married to his girlfriend, so it was a happy ending for all.

Even if you’re not a fighting game fan, EVO is still a spectacle and it is competitive, with some of the best game playing you’ll ever see in the world. And if it’s good enough for Jamie Lee Curtis to come with her family and cosplay as Street Fighter’s Vega, then it may just be good enough for you.

Kimi Lim

Kimi is a half English half Filipino philosophy postgrad in Ireland by day and a geek by night. When she's not terrifying undergrads, she spends her time playing Magic the Gathering decks, hugging her game consoles, cosplaying and crying over her husbandos and waifus in Fate/Grand Order. Determined to be a katsudon that seduces men (and women) with her mad skillz. I also Twitter at @kannascope.

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