An Underdog Story – How Shovelware Becomes Political
Fight of Gods is many things. On the surface, it is a fighting game in the style of Tekken. It features a roster of unique characters to choose from, each with their own special abilities. The fighting arenas are varied and fantastical, ranging from the Ancient Near East, to the North Pole, to Japan.
Fight of Gods is ambitious, allowing you to choose your fighter from the ranks of Earth’s divine pantheons. Furthermore, it is relaxed, refusing to take itself seriously. It’s always great to see a new face in the fighting game genre, a space traditionally dominated by giants like Bandai and Capcom.
It has been in Early Access since 2017, and recently the developers felt confident enough to call the game finished.
Digital Crafts’s Fight of Gods is all of these things. Mostly, however, it is an exercise in mediocrity and poor taste, riding a wave of censorship and controversy to the bank.
Let’s talk about why that is.
You Were the Chosen One!
I launched Fight of Gods with optimism, seeing that the plucky title had over 600 Steam reviews and was sitting pretty in the “Very Positive” rating range. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
What greeted my eager eyes was a frankly archaic UI and stretched textures. I navigated to the graphics options – only to find that the highest resolution was locked at 1920 x 1080. I hazarded a guess that “Arcade” was the correct game mode. This is when I confronted the now-infamous roster.
Fight of Gods‘ roster forms the heart both of the games’ unique appeal and of the controversy surrounding it. At face value, a fighting game that pits god against god like an exciting idea; who doesn’t want to throw down as Thor against Ares? Certainly, other games have used real life mythology and executed it well, such as Ensemble Studios’ Age of Mythology. and Sony’s wildly successful God of War franchise. Please bear those titles in mind as we forge on.
Santa Claus: The God of Christmas
Unlike many fighting games, the entire roster is available for use from launch. The characters all feature a short biography, which is nice. Deities available as your personal punching-bags include;
- Anubis, Ancient Egyptian god of the afterlife
- Odin the All-Father, patriarch of the old Norse Pantheon
- Amaterasu, Shinto goddess of the sun and universe
- Jesus of Nazareth
- Siddhārtha Gautama, here simply called Buddha
- Motherf*****g Santa Claus, whose biography describes him as – no joke – “The God of Christmas”. Christmas.
It was at this point that I really started to feel the trepidation. It’s one thing to include gods from older mythologies that have largely fallen out of worship – like Odin and Anubis – but including deities from Shinto, Buddhism, Christianity? It’s a risky move, at best. To pull this off, Fight of Gods would need to be either hilarious, very well-made, or both.
It is neither.
The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
Fight of Gods looks and feels like a poor quality arcade fighter from the early 2000s. The textures and meshes are PS2 quality, the audio quality is appalling, the voices laughable (Anubis, I’m looking at you) and the music amateur. Each character feels like a barely altered copy-paste of the last. The controls are confusing and poorly explained – button-mashing is king. The animations are clunky in a major way – the most care and attention in the game went to Sif‘s breasts’ jiggle physics.
There is no balance to speak of – I discovered that if I spammed the quick attack button as Anubis, none of the AI fighters would have time to get any attacks in as I slowly whittled down their health. I finished “Arcade Mode” in about 30 mins, with no reason to replay, as I already had all characters unlocked.
The Power of Controversy
You may be asking yourself, “How in the world did such a clunky, third-rate game garner such positive reviews?”. I asked myself the same thing. The answer, dear reader, is this: the power of controversy.
Back in 2017, when Fight of Gods was still in early-access, it became the subject of a controversial ban by the Malaysian government, swiftly followed by Thailand. For some years, Malaysia’s government has been the subject of criticism for its policies on censorship and free speech, with Fight of Gods being the latest in a series of similar stories.
You know what that makes Fight of Gods? It makes Fight of Gods the underdog, and boy, do gamers love an underdog. In droves, players bought, promoted, and otherwise lauded the controversial title. One Steam user went as far as to make a post encouraging all Malaysian players to buy the game.
Reviewing the Steam reviews that had filled me with confidence before, I noticed something. Most of them came from players with less than an hour or two of screen time; the game’s positive score was due almost entirely to the its controversy.
What does this say about gamers, and about censorship in general? On the one hand, fighting against censorship is laudable – freedom of expression is, of course, one of the cornerstones of civilization. But when an otherwise unremarkable, barely playable game becomes successful enough to port to the Switch, are we encouraging unpolished games and unscrupulous developers to take advantage of our sympathy for the little guy?
Let us know what you think in the comments!