When I was seven, I thought I might be best in the world at Chun-Li. Several years of online matches and adept friends have since set me straight, but back in the early '90s I had none of either. For all I knew, I was unbeatable at Street Fighter II and excellent at all fighting games.
That is the opposite of true, it turns out, and the current golden age of fighting games that began with Street Fighter IV has been the knockout blow to my delusions of adequacy.
In my defence, and as noted by resident fighting game savant Maxwell McGee, the genre tends to underserve inexperienced players. If it is to continue to grow, he wrote, it needs to better accommodate newbies and inexpert button bashers--and that begins with better training modes.
The latest generation has made some inroads here, with Street Fighter X Tekken and BlazBlue's modes among the best efforts. Tekken Tag Tournament 2 stands to do likewise with Fight Lab: a peppy training suite with an encouraging dose of fun.
Here, you are given control of bucket-headed cyborg Combot, fighting under the tutelage of Violet. ("Don't just be a fighter, be an entertainer like myself!") The mauve-maned Lee Chaolan alter ego talks you through the basics of timing, aerial combat, and the like, coaching you gradually through longer chains and into the bound moves that smack an opponent to the ground mid-juggle.
You initially face off against a knight character in gold armour. Jingling coins ping out of him as you land blows, and a successful bound smackdown shatters his golden get-up to reveal nothing but red pants underneath.
The sense of silliness is compounded by the bears (Kumas) and pandas (Pandas) in ballerina gear doing a saucy fan dance in the background. If the effect is distracting, you can call it an exercise for honing concentration in the game proper.
The tutorials progress into time-limited drills: skill-specific tests akin to minigames, whose daftness belies the fact you're methodically learning the fundamentals of Tekken Tag Tournament 2. A lardy man in a yellow jumpsuit pelts you with sushi and pizza, and you can only damage him with aerial combos. A knitted giant panda can only be damaged with bound moves. Likewise, Kuma (or a close cousin) in a tutu and fairy wings can only be seen off with a combination of your new techniques, training out the habit of button mashing or slapdash timing.
Combot's moveset and appearance can also be customised as you go, meaning players who clear Violet's brawling academy will graduate from Fight Lab with a customised character that can be used in offline and non-ranked online play.
Fight Lab is a welcome stab at accessibility in a necessarily technical genre, and if all the talk of accommodating Johnny-come-lately grinds the gears of those who learned the hard way, look at it like this: if post-arcade-era players have gotten soft and lazy, great tutorial modes can pick up the slack.
By training newcomers to a respectable standard, the genre gets the best of both worlds--a bigger, broader audience without having to compromise on tough, technical action. And I get to feel, as in the heady, pre-online days of Street Fighter II on the SNES, like I might be excellent at fighting games.