A Smashing Time, Alone
I like being alone.
Perhaps that is not a shock, but in the modern world we are often expected to be always connected, available, and sharing what we are doing.
This expectation seeps into our workplaces, schools and social circles and with everybody and their mother carrying around a mobile device it's difficult to check out and switch off.
I like playing games.
Games are for me, an escape. A way to be somewhere else, with different rules, sights and experiences.
But this experience is punctuated with intrusion, with the expectation of opening up my little sanctuary to others, to provide me allies and enemies from the real world.
Fun on your own terms
There are, I am aware, a whole host of excellent and rewarding singe player games! In the past year, God of War showed how a triple-A single player game can be huge and brutal but still have heart, Deltarune appeared and set off a million fan theories, and Red Dead Redemption 2 let us live out our best cowboy lives. But a genre that has recently been a bit slim on single player content, and one which has always been a personal favourite, is the fighting game genre.
In fighting games, the general gist is that one or more characters with balanced abilities fight it out until a winner is declared. The usual indicator of this is a health bar, though a few games subvert this. Most notably Nintendo's Smash Bros. series, where higher damage instead acts to increase the knockback your character suffers. This makes it easier to knock characters off the screen, upon which the disappearing character loses the round (although Smash has a very flexible ruleset!).
I have played a lot of fighting games. I have fond childhood memories of beating M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 and seeing my first character ending. I recall hours spent with magazines full of Tekken 2 movelists, practicing. And I remember the brilliance and frustration of Soul Blade's Edge Master Mode, a globetrotting, weapon collecting masterpiece.
Recent trends in fighting games have changed. With the ability to play online, there is always a challenger waiting. Why create single player content when fighting an AI is so different from fighting another player? There is a level of disinterest in single player modes, because to 'git gud' and prove your skill, you have to practice against a real person.
I've been playing a lot of Smash Bros Ultimate recently, on the Switch. However I have yet to fight online.
The game is abundant with interesting and rewarding single player content. Not only is there a large single player campaign based on collecting things from the many series that are featured in the game. There are also character specific gauntlets, a host of unlockable characters and a multitude of challenges.
Similarly, the recent Soul Calibur 6 has a great single player campaign, along with a series of story modes,. This allows large amount of play with many different characters but without relying on internet connections and other people.
One of my favourite things in both these games is fighting with weird rulesets. How do you approach a fight differently when your character is poisoned and their health steadily decreases? Or when the floor is lava? How about fighting a whole bunch of tiny characters at once? This sort of challenge encourages experimentation with the characters and your playstyle.
Playing your own way
I love that these games have catered to the single player experience. Have catered, I guess, to me. For me playing against the game, finding out that a certain move trips up the AI, that certain ways of doing things work well, is a rewarding experience. Compared to fighting a boss in an adventure game, figuring out the best way to fight a giant Bowser with fire breath is more of the same. In a fighting game you also have a greater variety of tools, because you have a larger roster to choose from, and a larger set of skills to explore and master.
Perhaps, indeed, I am just out of touch with what is popular. But at least I can be happy that some games cater to my taste still, and challenge me without relying on another player to do it.