Mortal Kombat X: Discussing Guarding in 2D Games

The plan was to do a post about the necessity of a block button in Mortal Kombat, and why it’s important.   And why some games, like Street Fighter, do not need and shouldn’t have a block button. (This post is going to get extremely detailed, so if you’re not into fighting games, you might not want to read this, unless you want to perhaps become better at them).  I was going to discuss the actual Mortal Kombat X game too, but, the post just got way too big for that.

But, there’s a camp of fighting game fans that wants to see a block button removed, in favor of the usual hold back to block.  And, it’s enough people for me to make a blog about it.

Let’s first look at why these people want a block button.

Cross-ups.  That’s the only reason.  Check this out.  Back is an ambiguous term.  It can mean press left, or press right to block.  A cross-up attack is an attack that hits from the same side you’re blocking.

What that means is, if your back is facing left, you press left to block, however, the attack you are trying to block is also coming from the left, which means you should be pressing right.  Cross-ups are supposed to be ambiguous.  They attack from behind with little time to react.

Here is an example of a cross up attack, which leads into a combo.

Here’s something.   A fighting game I don’t play.  However, it shows in detail of what I need.  A cross up.  Now, as Kyo is jumping over his training dummy clone, The hits are hitting him from the opposite side.  If the dummy is on the left, he should press backwards to block. However, a cross-up hits from the opposite side, which means you should block in the direction you appear to be facing.  So, press forward to block, not backwards, like you’re supposed to.

That is only true for cross-up attacks, and if you press the usual back to block during a cross-up attack you will be hit.   And, the reason I needed the video was to show how fast paced cross ups can be.  Different characters across different games may even be faster.  Some come out so fast that the only way to know it’s coming is if you were in the exact same situation before and got hit by the cross-up.  They can be so fast that you cannot react to them, and you wont know they’re coming unless the person you’re playing already succeeded in hitting you with it.  And, you just have to  predict it.

So, you see, it’s all about mind games.

But, a cross up is anything that happens so quickly, you, as a defensive player, don’t know which way to block.  As long as an attack hits you before you can figure out which direction is forward and backward, you have been crossed up.

There’s some characters fast enough to fly over your head, land, crouch and hit you with a low attack which must be blocked from a crouching position.  Furthermore, have the option of hitting you before they land, and attacks from the air must be blocked from a standing position.  Of course, I’m talking about Storm.  Here’s an example I conveniently found:

Now, it may be hard to tell, but, before the video starts, if you look at storm, and ignore her legs to avoid confusion, her torso is behind Cable.  Which means Cable is standing on the left, and Storm is on the right, they just aren’t facing each other.

But, at first glimpse, you’ll assume, if you’re Cable, press Right to block.  Well, you’ve just been hit by that meaty combo that took more than half your health.  Keep in mind attacks have push-back, so cable was on the Left, but after he got hit by that first punch, he was properly aligned with his attacker again.

And, of course, if Storm was a little more to the left, due to the jump being off distance, Cable would have been able to block by simply pressing Right like he’s obviously supposed to.  And, she could have just landed behind him and attacked low.

All this is to simply explain why cross-ups are effective, and how they work.  They can be fast enough to make people quit games entirely because of the difficulty of knowing rather to push LEFT, RIGHT, Down-Left, or Down-Right.  That’s four directions of which to block and you have extremely short notice to read whats going on.  Even if you see it with your eyes, you hand still has to go to the position and some people just cannot react that accurately while keeping their cool.

The thing about Mortal Kombat?  It completely eliminates that style of gameplay.  There is no such thing as a cross-up in Mortal Kombat.  It doesn’t matter where an attack hits (forward or behind), or how fast it is.  If you start pressing that block button, and hold it down, you are good, as long as you aren’t grabbed, and are properly blocking a high for a mid attack, and low for low. attack. (Crouch high attacks, don’t wast time blocking them, they go over your head if you’re crouching.)

All you have to worry about in Mortal Kombat is high and Low.   The following video shows why a back to block is bad for Mortal Kombat.  Scorpion was recently in Injustice: Gods Among Us, as a guest character which features only characters from the DC Universe.

His teleport, initially wasn’t changed from Mortal Kombat 9.  There was no way you could know which way to properly defend yourself (Injustice has back to block.)

Obviously, there’s no way to react to all that.    Even if you see it coming, you wouldn’t always be able to react to it.

Here’s why.  You cannot block without your directional pad coming from a neutral position.  Neutral being not left, up, down, nor right.  If you are attempting to block pressing right, and need to shift to left, you have to slide your thumb from the right position, and to the right, and during that short instance, which is a fraction of a second, the pad has shifted from Right, gone back to the the neutral position, and now at Left, the direction you are holding.

Eventhough it can easily be done three times in a second, fighting games are sensitive, and based on numbers.  Sometimes, seeing it, and reacting to it, you have 1/5th of a second to get your guard correct during a cross up, and you just have to know it’s coming.

But, people say “so what?”, “get better,” “learn how to read your opponents,” and “cross ups help break down your enemy’s defenses.”  That’s what fighting games are about.  It’s a mental battle more than anything, in which your objective is to set your enemy’s health to 0, and you have to out-whit them in the process, using your characters tools and abilities….  Not just press any old thing until you win.  I hate fighting against people that have no concept of how fighting games work, so resort to just attacking air and are just pressing random buttons.  It’s like swinging a stick at someone to keep them at distance.  That wont work against someone that knows how to shift you off your balance by using your thrust against you.  You’ll be on your back waiting to get stepped on.

Anyway, I know exactly what a cross-up is, and why they are important to some games, but, they don’t belong in Mortal Kombat.  I’ve covered what a cross-up is, how to block it, and why it’s effective.  Now it’s time to explain why they don’t belong in Mortal Kombat.

What do you do with directional pads?  You move around with them.  They are primarily for movement.  What is movement?  Movement is positioning yourself.  You might be effective away from your enemy.  Perhaps close?  Maybe mid-screen.  It depends on the character you’re playing as.  But, you want to stay at YOUR optimal distance.

What else is a directional pad used for in fighting games?  Attacking.  Press X is one attack, Press Forward + X is another attack.  Single-tap forward then tap X is another attack.  HOLD forward and press X is another attack.  Yeah, it’s excessive, I know, but that’s how Tekken manages to fit 100+ attacks into the command list for a single character.

And, there is finally one last thing the directional pad is used for…. BLOCKING.

So, yes, you are expected to move around, attack, and guard yourself from attacks while using the directional pad.  That is a lot to take in.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  You have to see a cross-up coming, stop whatever you are doing, and react to an attack that is potentially a cross-up, depending on the attack being used, and where it’s going to hit?

Mortal Kombat has multiple characters with attacks that hit behind.  Some attacks connect twice, hitting from both sides and you cannot react even if you know what is about to happen.

So, you say slow down the teleports?  I say no.  Why?  Because the entire argument here is holding back to block.  And now, the discussion is being changed to not only hold back to block, but also slow down attacks?  What’s next?

It’s a trade off.  The block button is not being disabled by movement.  If you press block in Mortal Kombat, your character stops moving.  That’s the important thing.  It’s not being tied up in the directional pad.  It’s its own separate thing, off the d-pad, and that makes all the difference.

The attacks can stay as fast as they are.  You don’t have to worry about sliding your thumb from one position to another.  Just press the block button, and as long as you aren’t in an attack animation, and have your feet planted on the ground, you are good to go. (Assuming you are using a standing guard for high and mid attacks, and crouching for lows.)  High attacks should be ducked under, with no guard at all, because it’s going to go over your head anyway, which means you should immediately be attacking from a crouching, or a while rising position (which only applies to 3D fighting games) , or standing if it’s an option.

Mortal Kombat is not a difficult game to pick up.  It has easy commands for all of its attacks.  It doesn’t require any full 360 degree spins on the directional pad, and just has easier controls overall than Street Fighter.  If you use Hugo or Zangief in Street Fighter, you know you have to anchor yourself, or buffer the 360 while in mid-air to grab.  It’s extremely hard to do a 360 degree spin for a grab which can only be done with your feet planted on the ground when in order to do a 360, you have to press up-back, up, up-forward, which are all jump commands.  In fact, unless you are allowed to cancel the start-up jump animation (before your feet actually leave the ground) you can’t even do a 360 grab solely from standing.  No matter what.

Again, Mortal Kombat doesn’t have difficult commands.  It’s just press Down, forward, X.  And there goes your ice ball.  Fatalities aren’t even like they were in the original, in which you had to input the commands lightning fast and were difficult to remember, for the sake of making them uncommon in arcades, because no one had the internet then to look stuff up, so when you saw it, it was a rare occasion and excitement always ensued.

But, this isn’t the arcade days anymore.  Fatalities are easy to do, and easy enough to remember.   Now.  What is the point in having offensive options so easy in the game, while having defensive options like blocking so difficult?  There is no reason at all.

You couldn’t just change the block button.  You would have to change so much more about the game to the point of it not even being Mortal Kombat anymore.  You may as well come up with a new fighting game entirely.  But, wait…  They DID…  It’s called Injustice: Gods Among Us.  There you go.  Go play that.  Scorpion is even a guest character.  And, he’s been slowed down (nerfed) since that video above, but, I needed him while he was still broken to make my point.

Hope I’ve explained in full detail why a block button is needed for MK.  It’s meant to have easier controls.  You still have to use your brain to beat your enemy.

But, if you love cross ups so much, still, there is another option.  Holding block doesn’t reset the direction you’re facing.  To fix that, all you would have to do is press the button again, and your character blocks the other side.  But, that opens up the possibility of you being hit in the middle of you releasing the button to press it that second time, which could make for some potentially unblockable set-ups.

There’s so many options.

If you’ve  liked this post, please feel free to check out my other posts.  You’ll be glad you did.




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