The fighting games tier system explained

Editors Note: In preparation for the release of Mortal Kombat X next month, I am sharing this post on fighting game tiers. A lighter topic for a Friday. Enjoy. M.P.


Many fans of the fighting game genre are familiar with the notion of a tier list for fighting games. For those that aren’t familiar, it is a ranking of the available playable characters in a fighting game, ranking from strongest to weakest. The designations typically are top tier, upper, tier, middle tier, low tier, and bottom tier. This is how dedicated fighting game players appraise the usefulness of the characters in the game.
Some characters always dominate, but others really require you to put work in to make sure they win. And there are some characters that, even if you play your best game, have so many disadvantages that they lose most of their match ups. In the eyes of serious tournament players, these characters are considered unviable; basically, if you want to win, you are advised not to pick them.
In the most recent trio of fighting games, there are new characters available for download. Super Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat 9 all have characters available as downloadable content in addition to costumes and other extras.This is all well and good, as it increases the replay value of fighting games. In the era of consoles such as the XBox and online gaming sites like Ruby Fortune, it was only a matter of time before downloadable characters got thrown into the mix.

Downloadable characters introduce new issues to fighting games. If they are an unbalanced character, will they automatically become top tier? They will inevitably bump some characters down a notch, but will they “break the game” so to speak? Even in a balanced game, there will still be some characters who will win over others. That’s just the nature of fighting games.
In my experience, I find that many players who swear by tiers often have difficulty dealing with a polished so-called mid-tier/low tier character. Why is that? Since everyone is used to fighting high-powered characters, they haven’t developed a strategy to go against people who play with unpopular ones. While it may be expedient to use top tier people, it makes for a less rounded match all around. Some people don’t believe in tiers at all, and say that it’s all about how you use the character.
With downloadable characters being the new norm for fighting games, it adds another dimension to the game even after a title is launched. No longer are we limited to characters “on the disc,” and furthermore there is a spirit of anticipation that was not present in fighting games even a couple of short years ago.

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