The fighting game! We might as well call chess “the monochrome game.” One-on-one fighting games are masterpieces of millisecond-reaction tactics where half the strategies involve psychic fireballs, that involve every plane of combat there is plus a few that don’t yet exist. An expert Street Fighter player is the closest we have to a combat cyborg. And this cyborg system’s most powerful technique is the combo.
The combo is computerized combat artwork, both form and function crafted to the most efficient beatdown. The release of a new fighting game is the starting pistol for a forced-evolution race that would make the Red Queen buy a motorbike and learn how to leap off it with a flying kick. Which is why we’re marvelling at the the dinosaurs and dodos of this most amazing of combat strategies.
Here’s a list of the most amazing fighting game combos in history:
Street Fighter II: The Original Combo
Street Fighter II is to fighting games as first gripping a tool was to the apes that became humans. There were plenty of other fighting games that looked sort of similar, but only one grasped the essential and eventually all-dominating combat strategy. Capcom invented the combo by accident. Much as Sir Alexander Fleming invented penicillin by accident. But with the opposite vertical-to-horizontal effect on millions.
The developers noticed that certain moves could be strung together without interruption, but dismissed it as far too fiddly for anyone to bother with. Because, back then, developers didn’t realize that players were prepared to put in more time than the Large Hadron Collider, and come out with more advanced collisions.
Mortal Kombat: Three Stooges Punch
The original Mortal Kombat wasn’t famous for its combos in the way guns aren’t famous for their ease of cleaning. Kombat was all about the finishing moves. It wasn’t really built for combos. Most of the characters moved like painted office chairs being rolled at each other by bored call center operators receiving instructions in a second language from a third country. The problem was exacerbated by Kombat‘s insistence on doing everything differently than Street Fighter, all the way up to special move inputs, which felt more like playing Dance Dance Revolution with your thumb.
None of which reduces the hilarious glory of the Mortal Kombat “Kombo.” Where Street Fighter II accidentally invented deep flying strong kick to kneeling jab to shoryuken, Mortal Kombat‘s stiff animations, digitized graphics, and limited moveset gave us PUNCH-PUNCH-PUNCH-PUNCH-PUNCH. It was like the Three Stooges had taken the stage to fight for their lives.
Killer Instinct: Ultra “Combos”
Killer Instinct is the fast food of fighting game combos: it claims all the deliciousness of the real thing, makes it faster and easier to get, and destroys everything good about the original in the process. But is still fantastic fun when you’re in the right mood. The original Killer Instinct advertised ridiculously extended “Ultra Combos,” which were just special moves with tediously extended animation sequences. It wasn’t uncommon for players to start up conversations, board games, even develop relationships and propose marriage while a particularly extended ultra played out on screen.
Marvel vs Capcom 2: The Rom
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 features more types of energy exchange than the actual physical universe. To beginners, most professional matches look like fast-forwarded fireworks displays, but with less chance of aiming what you’re firing. Most high-level matches end up like duels with Rube Goldberg guns: the first person to score a hit should win, but has to spend the next minute inputting a ridiculously complicated series of instructions or the other person will get a chance to fire back.
One of the most infamous of these is the Magneto Rom infinite loop. Obviously, the Master of Magnetism should be able to stomp all over opponents, but this combo uses his physically-impossible powers to set up a perpetual motion-machine out of his boots. A sequence of launches, kicks, and air dashes keeps the opponent on the back foot. Or rather Magneto’s front foot.
Guilty Gear X2 (and #Reload): Dust Loop
Fighting game difficulty is the greatest challenge to game developers. Too simple and players get bored. Too complicated and something is bound to be broken. And when a fighting game mechanic is broken, it’s usually broken right off and used to send players into a rage-filled pulp until the next update. Guilty Gear‘s dust loop drives players insane because it’s the worst possible combination of “easy” and “almost infinite.”
Because the repetition of jump-kick-juggle-kick-jump isn’t quite perfect, meaning players might eventually escape, but that just makes the ass-ymptotic kicking even more annoying because they can’t surrender as soon as it starts. They must fight on in a ludicrously lopsided battle after losing most of their health to an awful exploit their opponents insist is skill.
Street Fighter 4: FADC techniques
Every iteration of Street Fighter is a new evolutionary epoch of ass-kicking, and the FDAC technique was the equivalent of gravitational waves: a sophisticated adaptation to the laws of physics that gives anyone who adopts it an amazing advantage. And now the expert winners can do it almost automatically.
The Focus Attack Dash Cancel makes mere teeth and claws look like things to cuddle enemies with. First, you hit the Focus Attack to cancel out of a special move, then you dash to cancel out of the focus attack, and now your enemy is reacting to a move you never made, leaving him appallingly vulnerable to the combo you’re about to unleash.
King of Fighters XIII: Leona Trial 10
The existence of King of Fighters XIII means people have been playing for a ridiculously long time, and most of them will still say Leona’s Trial 10 combo is insanity. This is a sequence of moves which would make most Jedi throw up their lightsabers and say, “That is physically impossible.” Not least because Leona conjures lines of ass-kicking energy out of thin air. Probably because by that point in the 18-hit charge-buffering combo, the grand unified theory of existence itself is terrified of her complexity and is trying to get on her good side.
Street Fighter V: Ken Beta Combos
Being beaten up by inhuman warriors isn’t relaxing in the real world. But games let us enjoy those who are so much better than us, they’re almost a different species. Homo Streetfighterus have unleashed astonishing combos in Street Fighter V, and that game’s not even out yet. Beta players have already developed grand unified ass-kickings of every iteration and rebalancing of the game mechanics.
The above video is just one of these wonderful things that are now much more than combos. Because a combo is just a way of exchanging your skill for your enemy’s health bar. These are research reports and kinetic artworks all in one.
Street Fighter III Third Strike: Ultimate Parry
The only thing more impressive than a combo is countering it. Homo Streetfighterus may be a new species, but tournament player Daigo is their god. He’s a professional player, expert, a force of nature, and an outright swear-word. Often all at the same time. He’s the Guinness World Record Holder for winning the most major Street Fighter tournaments, and his masterwork came in the EVO 2004 matches, during the glory days of Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, the series’ last gasp of glorious 2D artwork.
And Daigo didn’t just win that battle: he danced through it. A Matrix Agent couldn’t have dodged all those hits. That’s the kind of combo where a Terminator would say “well played” and concede defeat. What’s even more impressive is how blatantly he baited that incoming ultra combo. He didn’t desperately parry his way to a last-second surprise, he deliberately danced around to the bottom of his own energy bar, daring his opponent to dream of victory just so that he could deploy a counter more devastating than a Death Star in a gun fight. And more technically impressive. Because his combo had no flaws.
Luke McKinney is a freelance contributor.