But without all the smoke and people who’ve lost all hope
For somebody who plays as many mobile games as I do, I was perhaps a bit too gullible about what Street Fighter Duel would be in the weeks leading up to its launch. I mean, I probably could have scoured the web for deets on it from its soft launch (or just read the story Chris Moyse wrote on it two years ago), but this fool decided he wanted to go into it blind so as not to ruin the hope that, based on one screenshot of the gameplay, the game would be something similar to Project X Zone.
I literally wrote that a month ago. I shouldn’t have needed hindsight to know that was dumb. Foresight should have been able to tell me that. But I held onto that hope up until I downloaded the game and discovered it’s just another auto-battler blanketed in an obscene amount of menus. A genre that is a dime a dozen on mobile; that should have been the end of it right there. I should have deleted it along with that too-dull-to-bother-with Avatar Generations game or the beautiful Ultimate Sackboy that didn’t wait for me to decide if I liked the game or not before asking for my money.
And yet, Street Fighter Duel has not left my phone, and since I downloaded it in February, not a day has gone by that I haven’t opened it up multiple times to complete challenges so I can earn multiple forms of currency I don’t understand. On paper, I shouldn’t be enjoying this game. But in practice, there is just something so enticing about it.
Street Fighter Duel is like the first 20 minutes of Babylon—visually spectacular but also really gross. It’s a gacha auto-battler where you assemble a team of World Warriors that you earn in-game or receive in blind pulls. Your team will fight on their own, but you can join the battle by activating their specials or the EX moves you’ll unlock without exactly understanding how. You can have the game play itself, which might be the preferable way to go about it as I find Street Fighter Duel far more fun to watch than play.
Crunchyroll Games did a fantastic job animating the famous and not-so-famous faces of the Street Fighter franchise. While some might argue the look of this game is a bit too glossy and clean, I think the art direction is quite pleasing. It does straddle the line of being too broadly appealing to be endearing, but I think it walks that rope quite well. Especially when it comes to the various specials and EX attacks your team will throw out there. Those are a blast, and when you crank the speed of the fights up to 4x, it has all the visual charm of the craziest arcade games of the ‘90s.
Still, even with the eye glitter, I should have already deleted Street Fighter Duel from my phone. Because it’s barely a game. What little “gameplay” that’s here is rote as hell, and most of my time with it has been spent diving into an absurd amount of menus, trying to understand how this game’s economy works. But, surprisingly, that’s where I think its biggest strength lies.
Its menus, while intentionally confusing, have compelled me to keep the app open in ways few other free-to-play games have. I don’t play games for the menus. That’s not my personality type. If I were that type of gamer, I’d be reviewing Football Manager titles every year. But the menus of Street Fighter Duel, and the way they coax me to keep taping and chasing those little red exclamation marks, have something of a stranglehold on me. Because nearly every single one will reward you in small ways that ultimately don’t matter, but it’s the fact that you’re “winning” that makes you want to keep playing.
Think about if you’ve ever gone to a casino, sat down at a slot machine, put a dollar in, pulled the lever, and suddenly the machine starts flashing its lights because you just won a quarter. You know it’s not that much money, and you can’t exactly figure out how the mixture of decals and numbers on the screen would point to you being a winner, but you’re excited that now you have 25 cents more than you used to. So you keep playing. And because the layout of the casino floor is designed to confuse you, it’s impossible to leave unless you’re absolutely determined to.
That’s what playing Street Fighter Duel feels like. I don’t know how many parts of this game work, and the layouts of the menus continue to baffle me, but whatever I’m doing must be correct because I keep scoring diamonds, cash, and a whole assortment of other currencies I won’t ever bother learning the purpose of. I just keep winning, so I keep playing. And to its credit, Street Fighter Duel is expertly designed to keep players engaged.
There are no meters here or limits on how far you can progress in a day. If you want to keep playing, whatever playing constitutes in this game, you can. There’s a story mode with a bad story to work your way through, an arena mode, multiplayer, puzzles, and a hell of a lot more. Right now, there’s a limited-time mode featuring a crossover with Monster Hunter that has you fighting a Gore Magala with the chance of unlocking a Gore Magala Ken variant.
There is so much to do in the game, and so many ways it wants you to spend your money. All of the regular, gross F2P transaction options are here, plus ads pushing players toward buying limited-time deals, event-exclusive characters, and a subscription pass that can run you $14.99 a month. There are multiple stores within the game, including the Fight Mall where, as of the publishing of this article, you can buy a Fashion Sakura variant for $49.99. And that’s “50% off the regular price.”
Unlike the first two seasons of Marvel Snap, I highly doubt Street Fighter Duel will see a dime of my money. But I could be wrong about that. After all, I told myself I’d stop playing as soon as I unlocked Cammy. That was a week ago. Today, she’s up to level 120, and I’m trying to save enough Breakstones to get her over the next leveling hump.
Why do I keep at it even though I know I’m not having any fun? Because that’s how good (or nefarious, depending on your point of view) the designs of this game’s systems are. I think the developers knew they weren’t going to win anyone over on gameplay alone, so they had to devise the best possible drip-feed reward system to keep players engaged. And that’s what they did. Of all the F2P mobile games I’ve played over the years, I don’t think I’ve seen one as finely calculated as this. It’s as if the developers went to every GDC talk on player retention and combined all that knowledge into an app that is the ne plus ultra of whale-fed mobile games.
I know I should delete this app, but there is a red exclamation mark on my screen right now that means I’ve won something. And as long as I feel like I’m winning, I’m going to keep playing.
For the love of god, can Peridot please release already so I can turn my mobile attention away from this fucking thing!