This article is part of my ongoing “Indie Fighting Game Thursday” review/retrospective series, now on supercombo.gg! This week we talk about Etehfowr Against, an experimental 2v2 game with both characters playable at the same time. The game has some rough corners, but deserves an in-depth analysis, even only for what it brings to the design table.
Time to get serious
In my boundless trip to the darkest depths of indie fighting game development (which culminated in some pretty cursed discoveries, like the infamous Chinese bootleg arcade machine), I tend to stumble upon games that are almost unplayable, games whose development was abandoned after a first tech demo, and games that — despite suffering from glaring issues — show a great deal of originality and make me wonder “what if the developer had more time/money/resources to materialize their vision”?
This week’s game belongs to this last category. While playing it, I constantly asked myself what this game could have become, if there had been more interest around it. Because, let me put it straight: Etehfowr Against answers the question “what if you could control two characters at the same time while juggling your resources?”… which is one heck of a question, something I had seen addressed mostly in more experimental RPG games, like the first The World Ends With You (and I’m talking about the original Nintendo DS version, not the simplified remasters!). If you ever wondered how chaotic it could have been to play a simultaneous MUGEN tag match while ALL characters on your team respond to the inputs of your controller… Etehfowr Against is gonna scratch that itch.
Everyone is here!
Etehfowr Against features eight playable characters, with wildly different designs and special moves. Before starting a match, each player needs to select two of them — one point and one secondary character. There are no assists, but the placement of a character determines the actions available to them.
The game has some standard movement options, but no “real” crouching, as the character will just stand in place while pressing down. Blocking is performed by pressing down and backwards together, while jumping is as simple as pressing the up direction. There are four main action buttons: Attack, Dash, Grab, Super. Pressing backwards plus Dash will propel the character backwards (duh!) while pressing any other direction with it will push them forward, proudly facing the opponent.
Special moves are performed by using somewhat standard motions, with some characters requiring negative edge button releases. Supers are triggered at the press of one button and deal a fair chunk of damage.
So far so good, this doesn’t seem much different than any other run-of-the-mill indie fighting game. However, it’s in its team mechanics that Etehfowr Against shows some genuine spark of brilliance.
Who’s on point?
First off: both characters move at the same time. When you press a direction, each member of your team will move at their own pace, which means that they will scatter around the stage unevenly already in the first few seconds. Second: you can keep moving a character while one is still locked in hit stun or during an attack. Third: you can basically desync your characters, turning every team into a nice “Ice Climbers meet Zato-1” beatdown party.
As mentioned before, there aren’t any assists, but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a difference in the order the character should be chosen. Your secondary character cannot block, won’t stand still when pressing down, and can only ram forward when using the Dash action. In addition, their super move must be performed by inputting quarter circle backwards followed by the Super button. These limitations vanish as soon as the secondary character is the only one left standing: When only one character remains, its controls switch automatically to that of the point character (except for the super input, which remains tied to a motion).
The fact that you have to control both of them at the same time also means that you need to be very careful about how you build your team: having both characters using quarter circle forward specials might be good for a relentless assault, while e.g. using a charge and a negative edge character can be more suitable for defensive players. The eight characters cover different archetypes and input systems, so it’s best to try and experiment with all possible combinations.
One of the most fascinating aspects of Etehfowr Against is its timer system. You see, instead of having one, single timer that dictates how long a round lasts, each team has its own separate timer that ticks down at different velocities, depending on the flow of the match. When a timer hits 0 or goes negative, both characters of a team enter a “sudden death” status, where any hit will KO them.
Using special moves will also affect the timer, subtracting precious seconds from it when performed, so be sure to mind that glowing number at the top to avoid shooting yourself in the foot. As a visual indicator, the timer will alternate between a green and a red color, depending on who’s in the lead in terms of overall character health.
The timer is also inherently tied to the super meter: As soon as the first hit of the match is scored, the super meter of each team starts swinging up and down in a continuous fashion, hitting a Max state and going back with a velocity that depends on your current health. If your team’s timer is green, your meter build is faster; if your timer is red, the overall meter build is slower.
When the super meter reaches the Max zone, you can use each character super without issues. However, pressing the super button while the super meter is outside of Max mode will result in a hefty timer penalty that could sink your chances of winning the match. True, your super will come out in any case, but at the cost of pushing your characters further near the brink of defeat. Speaking of which, the winning condition is fairly easy — you just need to knock out both of your opponent’s characters. Point is, that there is a baked-in resurrection/last chance mechanic: by pressing down, down, super when one character is KO, the dead character will be revived instantaneously at the cost of sinking the team timer to zero.
Eight shades of Etehfowr
The eight playable characters are members of or related to the Etehfowr family, including the three estranged brothers Majormel, Cyrus, and Embryo, Majormel’s adoptive dog mother Sasha (don’t ask), and Majormel’s shadow, Lemrojam. Each character has a different specialization: Majormel best friends, the gun-freak LULZ and Tenpenny, are good at the keep-away game; the cockroach-themed superhero Raidgirl is perfect for setups and high mobility; Sasha has a small frame and a power-up super; Embryo is a big body character with a vacuuming super; Majormel is a charge character with very long reach; Cyrus is a shorter range character with good tools. Overall, the different sets of inputs and special moves offer a lot to fiddle with and allow for some creative setup, especially in the team building department.
There was originally a story mode planned, but it was scrapped during game development. The only remnant of it is a somewhat hidden ending scene that can be accessed by defeating Cyrus and Lemrojam with Majormel and Sasha. This specific match-up will also trigger a unique Moon stage, just for the sake of it.
What the *blip* is happening?
If you have read the above description and thought “what an utter chaos of a game”, I can sympathize with you. Etehfowr Against puts together resource management, hyper fast speed, high damage, and screen filling specials in a colossal burst of destructive mayhem. Be it for the sketch-like graphics, the limited animations, the sound effects or the overall weirdness, playing this game is no less than an experience and surely the source of many “what the f…” moments.
I have wondered at times how the heck I won or lost a certain match, as the last instants were hectic enough that I hadn’t realized my timer was in the deep negative… and that a stray jab killed both my characters that were, otherwise, at full health. Etehfowr Against manages to overwhelm a player in the blink of an eye, as much as a first naive impact with Kyanta 2.
It’s definitely not a game for everyone, especially because…
The bad and the ugly
… it still has some technical imperfections that reduce its potential impact. Etehfowr Against is an early access game, so it’s definitely possible all things mentioned will be fixed in the near future. However, I need to touch on some of them in my review.
First off, controls aren’t remappable, neither for keyboard nor for joypad. Speaking of joypads, while the downloadable itch.io version supports them flawlessly (except for the analog axes), the web browser version found on Newgrounds seems to detect only the direction arrows. There is a lack of video/audio options too, but this isn’t as much of an issue at a first sight.
The game UI might use some coat of fresh paint too, as the character selection icons overlap quite a bit. There is a textual tutorial on the itch.io page, but outside of that there is no in-game material that explains how it is to be played.
Speaking of character selection, probably the biggest current issue is the impossibility to play a mirror match. Once a player selects a character, its gone from the grid and the opponent cannot pick them. This is probably the biggest problem I have with the current game build, while the rest is fairly minor, including the slightly underwhelming AI and some graphical glitches here and there.
How to play it?
The game can be downloaded from itch.io or played in the browser at Newgrounds, the two versions are equivalent. You can also follow the developer on their Twitter account. I strongly advise you to download the Windows build, if possible, so that you can play the game with a controller. As content goes, the game currently offers only a local versus, a VS CPU mode, and a training mode that is accessible by pressing the Super button in the character selection screen, turning the background from yellow to blue.
In any case, I would advise all game developers and creatives to give a fair chance to Etehfowr Against, as it is probably one of the most unique experiments in a panorama that is getting every month more crowded of new, similar indie fighting games. The cardboard aesthetic, the quirky characters, the crazy mechanics… Etehfowr Against might not be perfect and might have some very noticeable shortcomings, but all becomes secondary when one realizes the potential of this idea and its one-of-a-kind execution.
Name of the game: Etehfowr Against
Developer: Sashalabs&co. (Twitter account)
Available on: PC Windows(itch.io), PC web browser (Newgrounds)
Price: Free (pay-what-you-want)
Year of release: 2022 (version tested: 1.25)
Engine: Löve 2D
Netcode: None (Parsec)
In one sentence: A fascinating experiment where each player controls two characters at once, in a unique fashion. The current version has some bugs and a not so stellar AI, but it’s a design case study for aspiring fighting game developers and obscure games connoisseurs.
If you are interested in more coverage about indie fighting games, you can find me on Twitter at @AndreaDProjects
Other articles in the series
- Pocket Bravery (Demo) — from Brazil with a burning heart
- Heatwave — a pixel-perfect, Guilty-Gear-esque, post-apocalyptic trip
- Ultra Fight Da! Kyanta 2 — the hero we didn’t deserve
- ROBO OH — NES-like, Pixel-sized, giant robot mayhem
- Beatdown Dungeon — Jet Set Crawling with Tofumen
- Mega Knockdown — taking “it’s my turn” too literally