ByMarcus O'Shea, writer at Creators.co
Resident RPG nerd and SoulsBorne fanatic. Can be spotted by their floofy hair.
Marcus O'Shea

The world of competitive fighting games is a hard one to break into. Especially for a series with a not-so-stellar reputation. For years, the Mortal Kombat games were seen as gimmick fighters, with little depth or potential for competitive tournaments. If you wanted a real fighting game, you stuck with Street Fighter or the SNK games.

When NetherRealm Studios was formed from the ashes of Midway Games in 2010, few predicted that they'd ever be a major player on the tournament circuit, but thanks to a constant drive to improve and innovate, NetherRealm have arguably climbed up to become one of the greatest developers in the genre.

How NetherRealm Became Some Of The Best In The Fighting Game Business

'Mortal Kombat X' [Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive]
'Mortal Kombat X' [Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive]

What NetherRealm have demonstrated as a developer is a willingness to learn from each game they make. Starting with their first release, the reboot of Mortal Kombat, the studio showed they were already on their way to recuperating the franchise into something great. The game shed the years of cruft that had built up on the franchise, rebooting a series that had devolved into tired shock value and endless minigames into a solid, if flawed fighter.

With Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm showed they had learned valuable lessons from their first game. Injustice improved upon the balance and complexity of Mortal Kombat in just about every way, while demonstrating that NRS could create a unique fighter outside the trappings of the series.

But it was the release of Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 that really cemented NetherRealm as the up and coming king of the tournament fighter — Mortal Kombat X improved upon the original in every way. The new character variation system introduced exciting ways to mix up fighters, and the balance, while still not perfect, was massively improved from Mortal Kombat.

Now, with the release of Injustice 2, NetherRealm have reached an impressive level of quality. Every mechanic from the original Injustice is improved, and there isn't a character that doesn't feel fun and unique. In terms of balance, it's the closest NetherRealm have gotten to perfection.

Simple To Learn, Hard To Master

'Injustice 2' [Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive]
'Injustice 2' [Credit: Warner Bros. Interactive]

NetherRealm fighting games stand out among the top competitive titles as being some of the most newbie-friendly franchises around. Injustice and Mortal Kombat are easy to pick up and play, without too many difficult inputs or unforgiving timings. New players can enjoy the weighty feel of combat and the excitement of being able to pull off special moves and basic combos with ease, instead of feeling brick walled by needlessly complex systems.

But this simplicity of design hides surprisingly complex depth. To master a modern NRS fighting game you need to be on the ball at all times, aware of your placement, your options and the possible moves your opponents could make. One mistake could land you in a devastating combo or overwhelmed by your opponent's offensive pressure.

Mastering NetherRealm fighting games is about controlling the flow of play, keeping your opponent under pressure and guessing what their next move might be. Instead of mastering finicky sub-systems or completely new input styles for new characters, you have to master the tempo of the game itself. It's a system that rewards new and veteran players alike, as well as making every game fun to watch.

NetherRealm Delivers Meaty Action

Speaking of being fun to watch, this is where Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 excel. NetherRealm have mastered the balance between tight mechanics and a weighty, dramatic feeling to fights. Every blow in an NRS game feels meaty and visceral, with real force behind it. The game manages to capture the sensation of a good martial arts movie, without cluttering the screen with particle effects and anime-style flashes. It's combat you can follow.

As a spectator, there's a flow to a lot of NetherRealm games that make them a real pleasure to watch. Where series like Street Fighter have devolved into awkward games of jabs and footsies, competitive Injustice 2 rarely feels as if you're watching two kids at a middle school, too nervous to approach one another. Instead, the matches are fast and frantic, with constant pressure from both sides.

While NetherRealm studios may not yet be the undisputed kings of the fighting game scene (they still need to work on their implementation of zoners, if the furore over Deadshot in Injustice 2 is anything to go by), the fact that they've taken not just one, but two franchises from zero to major players on the tournament scene is an impressive feat. I, for one, am excited to see where they go next.

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