Wednesday, 27 November 2013

El Fuerte: The Anti-Scrub Mechanism

So I main him. So people kick me from lobbies. Then there are the rage quitters and the junior rage quitters (the ones who stop playing once you take them to splash mountain and back… repeatedly). So what is with the El Fuerte hate? Aside from superficial aesthetic protest (maybe his package wrapped in shiny PVC is just too much to handle for teenaged homophobes, and hey, they might just be racist – y’all know how Americans feel about Mexicans, right?) the bitter and salty scream: “He just doesn’t play like Streetfighter” or “Run, Stop, Punch/Fierce (aka the dai-punch loop) is broken” or even my favorite, “Everything you do with him is just a gamble”.

Well, they are mostly right, it is just that their sentiments are on the wrong (lag-free, training) stage? If these folk were not so salty and a little more meditative they would likely come to the same conclusion as myself: that El Fuerte is the greatest thing to have happened to the Street Fighter series. But how can this be so? With no projectile, a weak anti-air game and an easily escapable “vortex” how is possible to call this master chef, “the best thing”?

Simple, it just requires going back in time and looking at the deep underpinning mechanics of the game. Along with Sirlin, one of the most lucid and relevant meditations on Street Fighter out there today is on Tim Rogers’ Insert Credit. In the chapter entitled “Ryu versus Ryu (everything you need to know about fighting games)” Rogers clearly outlines how spacing, reflexes and execution are the building blocks of what is essentially real time, reflex incorporated chess.

What does this have to do with El Fuerte? El Fuerte is perhaps the single most “meta” character of the series (yes, including my beloved Dan). He has access to space on the screen like no other character. His main “special move” is a command resulting in a run. At the end of this run he can execute a special move designed to hit the opponent directly in front, overhead/behind, throw or low. His very existence is like one giant akanbeh to vortex lovers and purists. He lacks powerful combos (outside of the considerably difficult to execute daipunch) and instead, his player has to get inside the opponents mind.

Low level luchadore lunging works against the uninitiated. Indeed, some of the best fun you can have with Mr Strong in this game is the sheer, brazen cheekiness of seeing what you can get away with. Even against the most skilled players. However, high level Elfnanigans require a robust heart, a cool calculating mind and an undeniable understanding of space. El Fuerte is the anti-derp. At high level play he is at a significant disadvantage, the only tools on his side are his speed coupled with what appears to be randomness. “Appears” is correct. The better Elf players require not only a Plan A and a Plan B (heavily dependent on matchup) but Plans A through G running at the same time. This is where things become complex and difficult describe.

Elf appears weak and unassuming. This is to his advantage. His primary tactic is bait, bait, bait again and then switch. Predictable Elfnuts switch between predictable patterns of attack. I do on occasion (yeah, ok, too often) too. But when my brain, eyes and hands are working at the same speed at the same time it becomes possible to rain hell down on the opponent. Raining hell, however, requires significant matchup experience and to reach back to an earlier point, necessitates getting inside the other player’s mind.

El Fuerte teaches you that to play better, you need to play smarter. And that is not always easy, especially if some shoto-wielder has got you locked down and in their zone and a full meter. The upside is that playing a “weak” character allows you to enjoy the taste of losing. A lot. Reflecting on our errors, incompetence and habits is a powerful tool in becoming better players. I guess that makes El Fuerte a type of life coach or counselor?

Finally, Mr Strong gives the social player a useful identity to employ online, giving him/her a chance to communicate with even the nastiest, bitchiest crybabies. Someone cussing you out? Don’t take that sitting down, just tell ‘em your salsa is better than your execution and that with a little more practice you might be able to tortilla into space, amigo!

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