On April 15, 2019, the Twitter account @Ninjamaaaaaan published a picture of a happy shiba quickly turning around. The blurry image gave the illusion that the dog was throwing a punch with a giant right arm, and so the “Right-Hook Dog” meme was born. After two days, on April 17, the twitter account @fox_info_net published a picture of two curling foxes and joked about how their bodies looked like two huge arms of a muscular fox stuck down in the ground. Since then, the internet has recounted the rivalry between the Right-Hook Dog and the Muscle Fox, and now their eternal clash lives on in Fight of Animals: Legend of the Strongest Creature, a fighting game by Digital Crafter.
Right-Hook Dog (here called “Power Hook Dog”) and Muscle Fox (here called “Mighty Fox”) are the Ryu and the Ken of the game, but they are not the only animal memes you’ll meet in Fight of Animals. There’s the Muscle Beluga, the bipedal Walking Cat, the water-bending Magic Squirrel, the Crowrilla, born in a viral video that shows a crow that really really looks like a gorilla, and the latest addition: the Slender Cat.
But Seriously, Though
Fight of Animals may just look like one of the many amateurish “meme games” that you can find on Steam, but its developers are not first-timers: they previously worked on various mobile titles and made another fighting game, the even more bizarre Fight of Gods. The gritty and mediocre visuals of Fight of Gods didn’t catch my attention, but it had a real crown of thorns as final prize of its first tournament and it became briefly famous when the entire Steam store was temporarily blocked in Malaysia when the game was launched. Digital Crafter created something way more interesting with Fight of Animals: something funny but not leaning on edgy humor. And, above all, they’ve created an approachable fighting game experience for everyone.
In fact, Fight of Animals is part of a new wave of fighting games designed to be playable by newcomers and to work as introductions to the whole genre. The most notable example of this trend is David Sirlin’s Fantasy Strike, but even though Fight of Animals is neither as deep nor as balanced as Sirlin’s works, it manages to offer a sweet first taste of the pleasures of the fighting world. The game has an assist mode with simplified combos (you can play using almost only one button), no button sequences for its special moves (nothing like “press down then forward and punch”) and only four main buttons for its offensive moves, so it can easily be played on a keyboard.
The basic controls include a light attack, heavy attack, super attack (it consumes a “super gauge” to either unleash a powerful move or break opponents’ combos) and a “special button.” The special button is one of the most interesting elements of Fight of Animals, because it changes its function depending on the directional input you hold while pressing it, Smash Bros-style, but if instead you don’t press any direction together with the “special” button you’ll perform an overhead attack. Overhead attacks (sometimes called “mid attacks”) are basic attacks in the fighting game genre which hit an opponent who is crouching and guarding at the same time.
But despite their importance, games do not usually have either a dedicated button or even a dedicated button sequence for these moves, so players must learn how each character performs them. On the contrary, titles like Fight of Animals and Studio Saizensen’s Blade Strangers have a proper “overhead button” and players can learn how to use them without having to worry about their execution. Curiously, Fight of Animals lacks throws (moves that can overcome opponents’ guard), that are usually considered as a necessary feature in fighting games. (Sorry, Danielle.) Its developers frankly explained that this is due to their limited budget: throws are expensive and time-consuming, and you have to create complex matching animations for each character.
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But one of the main selling points of Fight of Animals is its rollback netcode, because even the big titles of the genre still struggle with it and fighting game players are very vocal about this issue. The netcode manages online communication between players, telling a player what other players are doing, making them interact and handling the unavoidable lag. A lot of fighting games use a “delay-based” netcode: the game is updated only when both the systems know what the other one did and the match slows down waiting for all the necessary information. It can work in small countries like Japan, but it’s not so efficient in large continents like North America, Europe and Asia and between different zones of the world: communications are too slow over long distances, and the delay becomes clearly perceivable.
That’s why many players prefer “rollback” netcode, which is commonly used in genres like first-person shooters. In this system, the software “foreshadows” what’s happening in the future, running a simulation based on what the system of one of the two players (player A) knows about the inputs of the other player (player B) at that moment. That’s what players see in games with rollback netcode: a simulation, a possible present. If the forecast is wrong, the game updates the simulation with the new data when it receives them, simulating and showing a new present.
For example, player A punches player B while B is guarding, but A’s system doesn’t receive the opponent’s input and doesn’t know that player B is blocking during the attack. Player A thinks that player B was hit, and in fact the simulation on A’s system shows that the punch connected (the attack was successful) because it has not received inputs from player B yet. Then, A’s system receives B’s inputs and discovers that player B was guarding and so it rewrites the simulation, undoing the damage assigned to B. Of course, huge delays make very difficult to play online even with rollback netcode (for example, characters can teleport), but at least games don’t slow down.
A lot of fighting games (Fantasy Strike, Skullgirls, Mortal Kombat) use rollback netcode now. And bad examples like Street Fighter 5 show that rollback netcode can’t save online multiplayer if it’s not properly implemented. But many Japanese fighting game series like Guilty Gear, BlazBlue and Tekken still rely on a delay-based netcode, and that’s one reason why they struggle in America and Europe. Fight of Animals proves that a small, silly fighting experience can have a solid rollback netcode allowing people from all over the world to properly play together. Newcomers will have fun with its animal memes and its simplified controls and moves, while fighting game veterans will find something solid enough for them and they will look for endless combos and for ways to break its systems.
Fight of Animals is not the weirdest fighting game I can think of (I mean, there’s a fighting game based on Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables…) and nowadays there are already many different approachable fighting games where you can learn the basics of the genre. Either try the aforementioned Fantasy Strike or download the free HiFight’s Footsies on your mobile if you don’t know where to start. Fight of Animals is the kind of game you buy for a laugh, but then you find out it runs a lot better than the games you usually play and you want to make everyone try it. And they can actually play it, even if they are newcomers. That’s the power of memes.