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Sitting Centerstage: Is There Any Place For Joke Characters?

There I was, sitting in the upper decks, watching the reveal of Abigail and like everyone else in the arena, I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t process what I was seeing. My initial reaction was just one of bewilderment and it wasn’t positive. After digesting what I saw and how outlandish he was, I realize this is the joke! Both the FGC & I have been a lot warmer to him since.

Now, take into account the current atmosphere for Menat. Majority response has been positive; definitely the most welcome out of the new characters this season. With that said, it’s obvious that Abigail was launched at a bad time all around. Not just the mistiming at EVO, but the tense climate for SF5, this season, even this decade! After taking the Final Fight boss for a spin, it solidified my theory that had this been the more whimsical time of the 90s, he would’ve fit right in and embraced quickly.

There’s no denying this man is as big, stupid & ugly as they come… but did it warrant the entire backlash? I mean the knee-jerk reaction couldn’t have been that much different than Hugo’s debut in Second Impact. This isn’t the first tongue-in-cheek character made, or of this archetype. Even still, had Abigail not been a solid character, he wouldn’t have seen the chance to be relevant. This brings up two thoughts that ultimately led us all here to this piece. Number One: The contrast in opinions amongst the fans on these goofy characters. Number Two: Is the category of the goofy/silly/joke fighter just a bygone concept from a simpler time? We get down to the nitty, gritty while I’m on Centerstage.

Joke characters are a polarizing bunch. There are intense emotions on both sides and then you have a rare case when they’re embraced by everyone. Why is this, though? Well, the term “Joke Character” when it comes to fighting games became an umbrella term unintentionally. It’s just another occurrence where the FGC got too lax with its language, but that’s a writeup for another time. So what kind of jokes does the term cover? You have some that mock, others out of place, the kind that are goofy or silly by design like our friend Abby Normal. Then you got the outright so bad, it’s a joke.

From the scorn side of less than serious characters, the chief complaint is giving a roster spot to a bad character. I’ve been vocal on how it makes no sense to throw away production to make a character bad. It’s an issue more so with established franchises as the universe continues to expand with beloved characters. The impact is felt big time when the roster is smaller than what we’re used to. Then all hell breaks loose when you see this joke get in over someone that has potential or a series mainstay or God forbid… your main. This practice isn’t gonna fly in the age of E-Sports, when a sponsored player's worth is measured by their wins.

The flip side to this is that we have the innate trolls who get their kicks playing and possibly winning with these fighters… fighters?  For some, the thrill of hitting their opponent with the real life option select of “I lost because the character’s bad” or “YOU lost to a bad character” justifies the inclusion of joke characters in games. Why not? It sweetens the deal for the viewers and the player using the joke gains the crowd’s support. It also makes for a legendary match if that joke is a hard counter to a high tier character. The comic relief aspect of it does as the name implies; makes the competition more carefree. You can argue that it makes playing more enjoyable for all parties involved… yes, even the poor guy that lost, too. Seems like yet another layer to the Winning vs. Fun dynamic is at work here. Actually disregard all that, there’s nothing we can gain from having a purple shoto that yells ‘Wising Dwagon’ in a fighting game -- NOTHING!

This face evokes a wide spectrum of emotions from unbridled hatred to trolling bliss.

Like I said, I’m very vocal on my disdain of jokes. However, if they’re a legit good character in-game, everyone’s got to suck it up. Take Allen here, a concept that spawned to be to Ken what Dan is to Ryu. This guy’s like the Street Fighter Waluigi; it’s something with the purple get-ups… has to be. My point is, with how things played out for Arika and this new fighter coming out bringing back the EX characters… they set themselves up nicely. Call it a move swap, laziness or parody, but Arika made their own Ryu & Ken with Kairi & Allen and they got that foundation moving forward. I say this is where the future lies for our joke characters, in the creativity, humor and viability of their movesets.

Almost every fighting franchise has a joke on their roster. As melodramatic Tekken gets, let’s not forget there’s been a playable boxing kangaroo and raptor on some of their lineups. Lame duck characters though, those days are over. That has no place today, not when we have proven concepts that make silly characters competitive. Bring on Viewtful Joe and Teddie, but Wright & MVC2 Roll need to step it up in a hurry. That’s the joke that’s lost upon me and so many others, but I’ll crack up watching Hercule placing in majors. Lab Zero got the right idea when they came up with what they would do with Minette, but I still wouldn’t want her in the game over Isaac, Annie, Umbrella, Marie, Stanley…

I may not like a crop of these joke/troll/doofy/stupid characters, but I can appreciate a well done design, especially an effective & fun design. They embody what games are all about in its most basic form. Entertainment is the name of the game these days and this archetype’s got it in spades, so if the developers are willing to give them a chance, then so should we.

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