Does Kung-Fu Factory’s all-female brawler attempt to empower women, or does its cast of fighters reek of dog-eared sexism?
With the likes of Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and the next-gen revitalisation of Killer Instinct, fighting games are as central to the gaming scene as they were 10 or 20 years ago. Such a prolific trend, as with any genre, has inspired a few copycats. Girl Fight is one of them.
With a loose backdrop of a story; set in cyberspace after a group of women have been abducted by a shady group called The Foundation, Girl Fight is a brief, sparse foray into the beat-em-up genre. Coming in at just shy of 1.5GB, its small file size is a symptom of its brevity. With just a couple dozen moves available to each of the eight fighters, fighting fans will find themselves wanting. It took me just 10 minutes to complete the arcade mode, forgoing any training, and its undifferentiated band of fighters doesn’t warrant many replays.
As expected from something named “Girl Fight”, its titular stars are the main attraction – figuratively and literally speaking. The suggestive character models are endearing if a little clichéd, but the unintuitive gameplay is all too ruinous. Moving like robots and handling like tanks, the girls turn out to be little more than sexily-dressed up mannequins; it’s certainly less titillating than it is tiring. Despite its lack of graphical fidelity, the game still tries to draw your eyes to the jiggly breasts and exposed bums which just don’t hold up to any scrutiny. Seeing a six-inch skirt disappear into a fighter’s leg as she shuffles awkwardly? Hot.
There are just two attack buttons – punch and kick – with the rest of the controller reserved for grabs, counters, and activating special moves brought on by each girl’s “Psi Amps”. You choose these psychic abilities at the beginning of the game and they do everything from bolstering your attack, to replenishing health, or activating a brief power-up state. You’re able to trigger a psi-amp by landing successive hits on your opponent, and if the game wasn’t already so straightforward it might have offered a little strategy to each fight. There are plenty of Psi Amps to unlock with the points you earn by winning fights stylishly and without taking damage, but so little more is needed than a barrage of physical attacks that their use is ultimately moot. It’s a concept feebly realised; under its surface is clearly a good fighter waiting to get out, but it is just too marred in graphical shortcomings and monotonous gameplay to really take off.
The level design is commendable if uninspired, offering enjoyable backdrops based on each fighter’s past which are nicely animated if ultimately forgettable. Complementing the gameplay is an endlessly berating techno soundtrack which makes the briefness of each fight a relief. The typical foray of arcade, versus, and online modes are available but unfortunately there wasn’t a single other player out there in the 10 minutes I spent looking for a game. So unless you have a spare controller and a friend willing to indulge with you then you’re going to get very bored very quickly.
With a fair amount of pixels spent on gratuitous cleavage and most of these scantily-clad girls’ outfits just about held together by zips and bra clasps, Girl Fight doesn’t do much to challenge genre norms of over-exposed breasts and a soundtrack of feminine grunts and moans. Admittedly, there’s nothing as drastic as Soul Caliber’s Ivy, but Girl Fight makes up for its relatively tame character models with the dozens of pseudo-pornographic art cards available after completing the game. After my first run-through of arcade mode, I was rewarded with this:
Other than the character art, there’s plenty of non-nude unlockables to tuck into once you’ve completed the game. You are able to read extensive biographies about each character, as well as unlock various skins and power-ups, and after that there are dozens of challenges for you to beat. But the game’s unashamed impetus is in its exposure of women. Its sentiments echo last-generation’s sexploitation efforts Dead or Alive: Extreme Beach Volleyball and Rumble Roses, in that indolent gameplay is the backdrop for a virtual pin-up calendar.
In the end, it’s an exercise in exploitation. Where it had an opportunity to offer a great cast of strong women on an inherently male-dominated platform, it instead opted for sleazy costumes and exposed breasts – poorly animated breasts at that. Comparisons to the infinitely better Skullgirls come easy thanks to its similarly all-female cast, and it further exposes Girl Fight’s fetishist hyper-sexualisation of women as well as its shallow, insipid gameplay. If you pick up Girl Fight looking for a decent beat-em-up or to ogle at digital women, you’ll be disappointed on both fronts.
It’s the continuation of a trend of treating women as something to be leered at instead of being taken seriously. In light of recent controversies regarding Metal Gear Solid 5, in which the representation of women has been harshly criticised for being overtly sexual, one would think that games designers would tread more carefully and perhaps evolve the way they think when characterising women. Gaming isn’t what it used to be – a male-saturated spectrum exclusive to the niche. Games are a burgeoning global market, one plastered across advertising spaces and discussed on an international level. If we ever hope to see gaming taken more seriously as a form of entertainment, then its ideals need to be brought in line to facilitate that transition.
Instead, games like Girl Fight reward players with sleaze, and it seems to think that tasteless drawings of women are something we gamers want. And not only that, but something we’d spend a good dozen hours of dull, unexciting gameplay trying to unlock it. With execution as lazy as its title, Girl Fight is to be avoided.
Images: Kung Fu Factory