A game is accessible if a new player can pick up the controller and play it. Recently I was embroiled in a discussion of whether or not Street Fighter (specifically, Super Street Fighter IV) fits this mold.
For its part, SSF4 is far more accessible than previous games in the series. Even HD Remix had its foibles, what with the exacting control inputs and an online community who had spent the past 15-ish years playing and perfecting the game.
I still maintain no Street Fighter game is at all friendly to new players, though. At the most basic level, you’re playing a game with a console controller that was originally designed for an arcade stick. Neither the PS3 nor 360 d-pad is very good for fighting games (and they each suck for different reasons), both control sticks are too sensitive for use as 8-directional input… heck, just having some of your attacks mapped to analog shoulder buttons is a huge disadvantage.
So to be at all competitive you have to invest some money in a new controller. That’s $30 right there. If you really want to play, though, you’re going to need an actual arcade stick, which are more like $80+ if you can find one.
Now that you have a brand new controller the game is a little more respectful of your commands. Yay! But that’s only one hurdle gotten over. Now you have to learn to do the moves, and the moves are pretty complex. This is the real barrier of entry; nobody can do a dragon punch within a few minutes of picking up the game.
Let me back up a few steps here. You remember Super Mario Bros.? That was a pretty accessible game. Mario could only do two things: run and jump. Conveniently, the controller had two buttons on it. Within seconds of starting the game the player will be able to run and jump. Whether they are proficient at running and jumping isn’t the issue here — maybe they’ll jump over the first goomba, maybe they won’t. Maybe they’ll get a mushroom. Maybe they’ll die and restart, but then make it to the flagpole. What’s important is that Mario’s complete moveset is easy and intuitive. The player spends zero time learning how to run and jump, and can move immediately to the part of the game where they can practice running and jumping, and apply those concepts to the game world.
We can even step back further than that: Tetris. In Tetris the only thing you do is spin and drop blocks. Your grandmother could play Tetris, right out of the box, without spending any time at all learning the game. No player has ever quit Tetris in frustration because they couldn’t figure out how to spin a block. You really can’t ask for a more accessible game than that.
(Okay, well, you can: point-and-click browser games. You get the idea, though.)
There are levels of play, of course, above 1-1 in Mario, and beyond the first few lines in Tetris. Mario players have to learn the physics behind Mario’s jumps, how much distance he can clear, which monsters are susceptible to which attacks, where the hidden 1ups are, etc. And a Tetris player needs to learn how to play a piece ahead, keep the different shapes of each piece in their head, understand the difference between the S-block and the Z-block. To get good at these games you do need a lot of practice. Everyone can play Mario within five minutes of picking it up, but only a few people will be able to actually beat it.
Now look at Street Fighter. Special moves in Street Fighter require a joystick movement and some combination of buttons. Ryu’s fireball is a quarter-circle-forward motion plus a punch, which means you move the joystick from down to down-forward to forward, pressing a punch button as soon as you reach forward. That’s pretty complicated, and not the kind of thing every player will be able to do right away. Most players will have to spend a significant amount of time practicing the motion just to be able to do Ryu’s fireball.
The fireball isn’t Ryu’s hardest move, though. The dragon punch is a z-motion: joystick forward, then down, then down-forward plus punch. This requires some pretty tricky thumb gymnastics if you’re on a joystick. It’s doable, but again, not right out of the box. If you mess the motion up even a little Ryu will just throw a punch instead.
To further complicate things, Ryu will do different things with his fireballs and dragon punches depending on which strength of punch he uses. Three strengths of punches, plus three strengths of kicks, plus various combinations of these, plus aerial versions of these — the game is already extremely complex even before you get to the special moves.
And yet, you simply cannot play Street Fighter without learning that. All of that. If you can only do your dragon punch 9 out of 10 times, you haven’t practiced enough. I’ve been playing Street Fighter since I was a kid and I still whiff dragon punches, even after hundreds of hours of practice across many different versions of the game.
Being able to land that dragon punch isn’t like reaching the flagpole in Mario or leveling up in Tetris — it’s like jumping the first goomba. It’s successfully completing your first line. That’s where the game begins.
Street Fighter is a fun game, there’s no doubt about that. But trying to claim that it’s easy to pick up or effortless to get into is just laughable. And if your grandma can land a dragon punch, then I’d love to meet her.