Although I’m really very bad at them, there’s sometimes nothing as exhilarating as a fighting game. Whether it’s a round of Street Fighter IV or Smash Bros. Melee, beating the crap out of your friends—or, if you’re like me, getting the crap beaten out of you—is among the most fun you can have in a video game. The challenge of mastering Akuma, which I never really succeeded in, is still one of my best gaming memories. But what if instead of learning move sets and combos, you could actually design entirely unique moves with a high degree of granularity? Cue Toribash. Toribash is a martial arts “simulator” in which you control a ragdoll by manipulating its joints in a turn based battle. Each joint has four modes, and used in a well-orchestrated manner you can get your ragdoll to do pretty much anything. You can grab and flip and twist and turn and punch and kick, potentially dismembering your opponent, or more likely yourself.
My first experience with Toribash was some years ago. The game was released in 2006, and I must have played it around 2009. Two things I remember: 1) It’s obtuse, 2) Everyone else is better at the game than you are. Both of these were confirmed when I returned to it in January. If you’re the kind of person who likes a pick-up-and-play level of simplicity or tutorialising, this game might not be for you. Then again, I’m someone who gave up on the fairly straightforward Ratchet & Clank, and I really enjoy this game, even if I’m no good at it. There’s something incredibly satisfying, even when your plan goes horribly wrong, about watching your ragdoll execute your instructions. However, in my experience this is not the kind of game where watching replays is especially instructive. Even watching high-level play only really serves to attack your own resolve to keep playing.
So the game is obtuse, yes, but an even bigger barrier to entry is the small and dedicated community which remains to this day, some twelve years after release. Like classic Counter-Strike, the only people who are still playing today are phenomenally good, so for a newcomer for whom even Uke, the training bot, is intimidating, having your head ripped off by masters of the game in a dazzling tour-de-force of balletic kung fu over and over is maybe not such a great incentive to continue. But for me, at least, the beauty of movement that is attainable with mastery is appealing enough that I keep coming back for more punishment.
The game has amassed a vast collection of mods, which include everything from rule sets (e.g.: disqualification for touching the ground with body parts other than feet and hands), to modes with weapons, to environments such as obstacle courses, which require you learn how to run and jump and climb. On some level modes like this seem to be spiritual precursors to Gang Beasts, although that game has nowhere near the same level of granularity. Unfortunately trying to load these mods seemed invariably to cause the game to crash, so I can’t relay my experiences with them beyond that.
Despite the issues I have encountered, I still feel like Toribash is novel and well-designed enough to deserve a bigger following than it currently has, and I’m not just saying that because I want to play against people who suck as much as if not more than I do. It costs nothing, the learning curve is a steep but a rewarding one, and it’s still actively supported by the developers after all this time—check it out!