Last year I wrote an editorial in which I declared fighting games dead because the lack of evolution in the genre since Street Fighter II (1991) and Virtua Fighter (1993) was causing existing fighting fans to lose interest and complicated control schemes prevented new fans from replacing them.
I did not give up all hope in fighting games, ending by suggesting that an original fighting game that plays nothing like existing fighting games could revive the genre.
I have been thinking about this lately, and I no longer believe a unique fighting game can save the fighting genre. If a unique fighting game could revive fighting games, someone would have declared Def Jam: Icon, one of the few fighting games that does not play like Street Fighter II or Virtua Fighter, the fighting genre's savior.
The problem with fighting games is not that they are complicated; the problem with fighting games is that they require players to know everything from the beginning.
There are complicated games in other genres, but they do not (always) overwhelm new players because they (the games) can teach them (the players) how to play the games as they (the players) play the game.
Is there a wall blocking your path? The first time it happens the (non-fighting) game teaches you how to climb a wall. A weapon on the ground? The game tells you how to pick up weapons, and every time you pick up a weapon you are taught or reminded how to perform a different attack.
Fighting games cannot do this. In fighting games you always do the same thing (fighting), and always at the same pace. A fighting game cannot slow down at key events to teach players specific techniques.
At best, a fighting game may include a training mode, not integrated into the main game. A player can spend hours in training mode learning everything there is to know about one of multiple, differentiated playable characters. How many players are willing to spend hours training for a video game, especially when games in other genres make training modes unnecessary? (And those who are willing need strong memories to remember everything they learned in training mode when they enter the main game.)
Sports video games also have complicated control schemes and cannot integrate tutorials into the main games, but unlike fighting games it is not a problem. If you buy a copy of, for example, Major League Baseball 2K7, you are probably already a baseball fan. You know the rules of baseball. All you need to learn is how to go about performing things in the video game that you have seen professional players do in real life. You do not need to be taught what a curveball is and what the benefits of throwing one are.
Can fighting games be revived? Maybe when affordable motion-sensitive controls evolve to the point that they can fully mimic our body movements. Until then fighting games will remain limited to the decreasing number of existing fans who still play sequels in long-running fighting series and those who buy fighting games based on licensed properties because they like the licensed property.