A free beta of a fighting game by the odd title Fighting EX Layer recently appeared on the PlayStation Store with little fanfare or hype. What you might not know about this unassuming indie is that it’s a bizarre, secret cousin of the Street Fighter franchise.
Arika, the developer of this game and its 1990s progenitor Street Fighter EX, has released an early beta for PlayStation Plus users that runs until Christmas. A fighting game this early in development, and one with such far-reaching new ideas, is going to be a little bit of a mess … but that’s what’s exciting about it.
Here’s what you need to know.
Despite the title, it’s basically Street Fighter EX
Though Street Fighter EX was a divisive game among fans at the time of its release back in the ’90s, the series has since gained some appreciation among genre aficionados for its straightforward play, unique mechanics and oddball characters. Street Fighter EX2 Plus is still being played in small tournaments around the world, in fact. It’s not a huge scene, but it’s a scene.
Arika kept the rights for all of the material it created specifically for the Street Fighter EX series, like the spandex-suited superhero Skullomania. Arika has always been able to make, and has made, spin-off games away from the Street Fighter banner. It’s an odd situation that comes from a very smart business deal where Arika used Street Fighter characters to help launch its own oddballs.
Fighting EX Layer is effectively a sequel to Street Fighter EX without Ryu, Ken and the rest of the Capcom-owned gang. The beta provides six characters and a simple dummy mode practice mode while you queue up to fight against other players online. It’s a barebones beta meant to test the game’s online play and balance, which is already running more smoothly than, say, Street Fighter 5’s.
Arika has chosen the “if it ain’t broke” route after 20 years away from fighting games, leaving the game’s controls and moves almost entirely intact. It’s a very comfy fit for anyone who played Street Fighter EX in the PlayStation days.
Arika also has a plan B for those who didn’t.
The game gives you the option to play with simplified “progressive” controls, replacing the well-known and newbie-killing “hadoken” motions with simple commands like “forward + punch” and “back, then forward + punch” for special moves.
These controls are turned on by default and, unlike the beginner systems in many other games, they don’t appear to limit or handicap the player in any way against those who opt to use the classic controls while possibly giving them an advantage. It remains to be seen whether the two control schemes will be balanced out in a way that makes sense.
With simple controls and a cast of straightforward characters — and with quite a few bearing certain similarities to core Street Fighter archetypes — it’s an easy game to learn. The classic Street Fighter battle of navigating poke attacks, landing combos and rock-paper-scissors prediction is intact, even if the trappings have changed. There is a purity to these older games, and Fighting EX Layer plays like an older game.
“Gougi” add a unique twist
The big twist in Fighting EX Layer is the unique “Gougi” system, which allows players to equip items that enhance their abilities. Gougi range from the straightforward (boosting attack power) to the odd (turning oneself invisible) to truly game-changing powers, like infinite super moves or the ability to plow directly through all enemy attacks.
The system is reminiscent of Street Fighter X Tekken’s gem system, but we can’t imagine that a fighting game developer would repeat that game’s fatal and reviled decision to sell overpowered items for money. That being said, we’re also not sure how Gougi are going to be doled out in the final game. It’s one of the many things that are still up in the air.
Gougi are activated by specific conditions like “land a certain amount of hits” or “get knocked down a certain number of times,” so players have to work during the match to activate the powers.
Small buffs activate quickly, but the big ones require a deliberate effort from the player and a lot of time to activate. Players who pick the big Gougi are making a proportionally big bet, one which won’t necessarily pay off in every match.
The beta’s pre-selected Gougi “decks” allow players to choose between quick power-ups meant to end the fight quickly and huge payoffs for those who deliberately draw it out.
This adds an interesting strategic dimension, as different players may have different plans for the same character, and wily players will work to keep their opponents’ Gougi from activating at all.
If Arika can keep the balance together — right now the “Overload” Gougi begs to be abused — this aspect of the game could help it stand apart from its competition.
It’s really not done yet
This game was first shown on YouTube in April, and it was disguised as an April Fools joke. It’s only beginning to resemble a coherent fighting game. It didn’t even have a title until very recently, as Arika was just calling it “Arika’s Mysterious Fighting Game.”
Fighting EX Layer is also a little broken in its current state. The wrestler Darun seems so strong that I’m not sure why one wouldn’t choose him, and it’s easy to find other issues with balance or design.
But that’s what betas are for. Arika has effectively invited the entire international fighting game community to do its quality assurance for it by releasing a beta for a game this early and unfinished. The long beta period (a little over two weeks) gives players time to really dig in, and provide feedback about what needs to be adjusted and why.
You can already find examples of how quickly the game can be adjusted. Players were finding broken infinite loop combos like the one shown above on the first day of release. Your opponent is stunned after the hard punch for just long enough that a fast-fingered player with precise timing can run in again with a light punch … and repeat forever.
It was relatively easy for players to set up combos such as this one with any character in the game. I was doing that Garuda combo after about 10 minutes of practice. The player on the other end is dead from the first hit. They could walk away, or even take a selfie.
Arika has responded with fixes. The timeline was impressive: The loop combos were found by players on the first day; everyone learned them on the second day; Arika tweeted that it knew they existed and were working on them on the third day; and they were fixed on the fourth day. It doesn’t get much faster than that.
Therefore, on 12/15/2017 15:00(JST) we will be performing maintenance for a few hours and then releasing a version that cracks down on loop combos.— 株式会社アリカ公式アカウント (@arika_co_jp) December 14, 2017
This kind of quick, close communication with players bodes well for the game itself. Fighting game developers need to be very close to their communities and make changes when warranted, and Arika is up to the task.
There is no official release date determined for the full, paid release of Fighting EX Layer outside of “2018,” and no word if we’ll see another beta such as this one. In the meantime, PlayStation Plus members have until Dec. 25 to give it a try. I strongly suggest you give it a go, as Fighting EX Layer’s beta has been a happy surprise for fighting game fans this holiday season.