Indiewatch – Footsies: Rollback Edition is an informatively frustrating look at fighting game fundamentals

Recent days have brought about a new kind of fighting game, the micro-fighting game, games like Divekick and Fantasy Strike. These games greatly pare down the mechanics and options in a standard fighting game to focus on simple fundamentals. Fighting games are notorious for being hard to get into and difficult to learn, which leads many to just boot them up, mash buttons for a while, and forget them. Microgames like this attempt to show beginners what pro players love about fighting games, the back and forth of thinking, and outthinking your opponent that feels like a game of chess with fists running at 200 miles per hour.

The latest entry into the fighting microgame genre is Footsies: Rollback Edition, a conversion of a mobile game, which was a conversion of a browser game, which focused primarily on teaching you how to out space your opponent. It is a three-button game: forward, back, and attack. Forward moves your character forward. Back moves them back and also blocks. Attack triggers a variety of context-sensitive attacks based on the situation.

Press attack without pressing anything else and you will do a long-range low kick, similar to Ryu’s crouching medium kick. Press it while moving and you’ll do a close knee. Kicks are slower and have more range, knees are faster but have less range.

Press, hold and release to do a special. You can do a step kick, similar to Ryu’s Donkey Kick, by releasing while in neutral and an uppercut, basically a Shoryuken, by pressing it while moving.

The basics are simple. You have to land a special to win a round. Win three rounds and you win a match. The complexity is in how these simple moves interact with each other.

For example, specials are all very punishable on block. If you just throw them out raw you’ll likely get hit for your troubles and lose the round. However, if you space your opponent well enough, you might catch their low kick with a donkey kick, or interrupt their own donkey kick with an invincible uppercut.

Normals don’t win you the game but they DO combo into specials and they are largely safe on block. The thing is, you’ll have to learn to watch for successful hits because, once again, comboing into a special on block will get you punished.

You do have a three-hit guard meter. Block a move (or get hit by a normal without getting killed) and you lose a pip. When you are out of pips, any attack will guard break you, leaving you open for a kill. Of course, if you know this you can wait out an opponent’s attack with an uppercut in order to counter them.

It’s all just simple spacing and move interactions, stuff that is the very basis for fighting gameplay.

You can take on an opponent either locally or on the internet with GGPO netcode, but the real draw of this game, believe it or not, is its single-player modes. It includes a full tutorial, a training mode specifically for spacing, and two mini-games: one meant to train you to look for hit-confirms and one meant to train you to look for whiff punishes. Your goal is to get a high score in situations that become harder and harder to read and even fighting game pros are getting frustrated as they realize they may not be as great at split-second reaction times as they thought they were.

Frustration is the name of the game here. Footsies wants to teach you fighting games, and it believes that frustration is a core part of the experience. This cannot be more clear than in its single-player arcade mode.

“How can this game have an arcade mode?” you might be asking. After all, there is only one character so every match is a mirror match.

Simple. Instead of putting you up against different characters, the arcade mode puts you up against different types of opponents.

For example, you’ll go up against the opponent who spams the same move over and over again, an opponent who blocks and punishes everything, an opponent who only ever uses invincible moves, and even an opponent who knows more moves than you do. The final boss is an opponent with bad netcode, so your buttons lag while he teleports around the screen as the game tries to keep up.

Your goal is to adapt and triumph. Each and every one of these opponents present a situation worthy of throwing down your controller in frustration and walking away. Footsies tells you not to. It tells you to get right back in there and try again.

You see, all of the opponents you face in Footsies might be cheap, but they are fair. They will always behave according to their very simple personality types. The spammer will just keep hitting buttons, so you’ll eventually learn to just wait out a button press and punish with a well-spaced kick. The guy who simply waits and baits out your buttons with uppercuts? He’s never going to press a button himself, so you can just walk him down.

Even the “rollbacker” who feels like he is cheating operates within the boundaries of rules. If you can predict where he is going to be rather than watch where his sprite currently is, you can land hit-confirms through his glitchy teleports. This is what you have to do in real online games against opponents who don’t have the common courtesy to use a stable internet connection, or in games that simply have bad netcode.

And that’s the beauty of Footsies. This small little $4 game is teaching you so much more than fighting game fundamentals. It’s teaching you not to give up. Or rather, it’s teaching you that all those simple strategies that you label as cheap or unfair are not only beatable, they are easily beatable.

Once you understand the flaws in these one-minded plans, you will beat them every time, and once you do that, you understand the true joy of fighting against people who can adapt and change in the middle of a match, the same way you do. It’s not just teaching you fighting game skills. It’s teaching you the fighting game mindset, and that’s something that no other game has done before.