How to Cater to Fighting Game Beginners

How do you feel SFV and MvCI’s approach to catering to newcomers compares to Sakurai’s approach with Brawl and Smash 4?

It’s not nearly as bad, but it’s very similar in its heavy-handedness.

Instead of trying to lower the skill floor of the game, they did that and lowered the ceiling as well. Honestly, I don’t know as much about MVCI, it sounded like that game did fairly well except for hitstun decay being tied to damage, and the discoveries people (infinites, hitstun decay glitch, the new unblockable) making progressively making the game less and less interesting to play, but whatever.

Characters in SFV don’t have as much potential for combo creativity as characters in SF4. They made combos easier and more understandable, but they also reduced the number of moves on each character that link and limited the juggle properties of characters even more severely than the juggle points system in SF4 (unless I’m mistaken. SFV’s juggle system is still a bit weird and hard to understand). SFV was intended to correct SF4’s mistakes, but they overcorrected and ended up making new problems.

The issue is, they removed a lot of the potential for advanced play from the game in the name of making the game easier to pick up, and those two goals aren’t mutually inclusive. Having a lower skill ceiling doesn’t attract beginners, and honestly, neither does making the game easier. SF4 was one of the best selling SF games in the franchise, despite being arguably so difficult. Casual fans are more attracted by having a large roster of characters that they like than anything specific about the game systems. Casual fans are more attracted by single player content like Mortal Kombat’s. Brawl and Smash 4 at least delivered on those fronts, there’s a lot you can do without needing friends to play with you, and the rosters are large.

Dragon Ball FighterZ has a really neat auto-combo system that helps bridge the gap even better, without compromising high level combos in the process. Basically, you have 2 autocombos, LLL and MMM, and these will do simple combos. The light autocombo does 3 unique light attacks in a row, the 3rd one launching into a low air combo, where you can again press LLL to do light, medium, and heavy in a row. The Medium autocombo does standing medium, crouching medium, a special, then super if you have meter. What’s cool about these is, lights chain into mediums, and mediums chain into heavies. So instead of doing the next hit of the auto combo, you can at any time do a better attack instead.

What’s also cool is, later on in the combo, you can default back to doing the auto combo. So beginners can easily do LLL or MMM, but they can substitute for better attacks, then default back to the easy stuff where they don’t know the way yet. So you can do MM, but instead of continuing, you could press H to launch the opponent, then go back to doing LLL in the air to finish up the combo. If you do crouching H, then you will even get a hard knockdown off this, which you can combo into super.

In this way, beginners can slowly ramp up their combos into more optimal sequences, LMH > LLL, or LMH > LM > special > super, or 2M 5M > jc > LM 2H > LM dj LM > special > vanish > special > super. The combo trials hint at a lot of these common combo properties across characters, though I still wish they were more extensive, and the tutorial was better.

And the best part is, advanced players still have difficult and advanced juggle combos they can perform for optimal damage, or using assists and so on, so unlike MVCI and SFV, there wasn’t anything compromised in the process of building this system. The air autocombo even has special height gaining properties that make it useful in combos.

I still think they dropped the ball a bit on the tutorial end of the game however. It can be difficult for players to realize all this, especially because they probably don’t understand what’s happening in the combo trials, they just see a list of moves and don’t understand all the different ways it can go. It also doesn’t help that they didn’t include the basic universal B&B anywhere in the Combo Trials. Oh well.

Weird Controls are Good for You

What do you think of games like Octodad or Snake Pass, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

What do you think of Call of Duty, God Hand, or Mario Odyssey, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

DWHfrf3VoAUM4Hs.jpg

Learning new control schemes is fun thing to do. All the control schemes we regularly use used to be awkward or confusing when we first encountered them, what do you think of the first time people played FPS games with a controller? Or the first time they played with a mouse? Or the first time they played FPS games at all? Every game was that way for all of us at some point.

What makes these control schemes so odd really is just unfamiliarity. These games are modeling specific types of interactions, and are these the worst controls they could have chosen to do that? Or the best controls? If you want to make a game about slithering like a snake, about gripping objects and wrapping around them, how else could you possibly build it?

Mark Brown did a pretty decent video explaining snakepass, and something he showed rather well was the progression from being bad at the game to coming to a fuller understanding of it, which I really like.

Weird control schemes are a bridge to modeling new types of interaction, and creating new, unfamiliar systems to learn about and develop competency in, which is what games are all about.

How to Perform Fighting Game Motions

A lot of beginners have trouble understanding exactly how the motions are supposed to be performed in fighting games, it can be tricky to understand without being shown in person. I’ve seen a lot of people interpret a dragon punch motion like this before:

1421373662196.png

Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator has a great combo trial move that starts off by showing you the motions of every character displayed on a stick, with your inputs juxtaposed directly below the example, so you can compare your inputs to theirs. It even shows when the button is pressed, so you can see that too (more useful if you’re trying it yourself, but still).

This helps side-step a lot of the issues beginners have with learning how to do motions and learning notation. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to Guilty Gear Revelator, so not everyone can learn this way.

To remedy this, I made gifs of each of the combo trials, with the corresponding motion listed above, so you can have a visual reference for how to do different motions. The buttons are random, whatever I had available from the guilty gear movelist, so please pay more attention to when the button is pressed, rather than which button is pressed. I’ll also list how it’s usually written in notation, so you can be familiar when you run into it. It’s also worth mentioning, all of these assume you’re facing right. I’ll even list them in numeric notation, which is a way of unambiguously specifying which directions you’re pressing. Here’s an explanation of that:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DSPIPG3X4AAibPX.jpg

The red ball indicates where your stick/dpad is currently pointing, with the center being neutral, and the 8 dots around the sides being the 8 directions you can point.

Quarter Circle Forward / QCF / down, down-forward, forward / d, d/f, f / 236

QCF.gif

This is the most basic motion. This is the basis of all the other motions. It’s called a quarter circle, because if you look at the 8 directions you can point in as a circle, it’s 1/4th of the circle. This motion is in every fighting game.

Quarter Circle Back / QCB / down, down-back, back / d, d/b, b / 214

QCB.gif

Same as the QCF, except backwards. You can use a lot of moves just by knowing these two motions.

Dragon Punch / DP / Z-Motion / forward, down, down-forward / f, d, d/f / 623

DP.gif

This is the second most common motion in fighting games, and a stumbling block for a lot of beginners. You’re allowed to input it a bit sloppy, like 63236, just be sure not to accidentally do a double QCF in the process, and to complete the motion before you press attack. 6523 is also a valid way of inputting dragon punch.

Reverse Dragon Punch / RDP / back, down, down-back / b, d, d/b / 421

RDP.gif

Same as the Dragon Punch, but backwards. This motion is really uncommon, but it shows up occasionally, and it’s always bizarrely harder to do than a regular DP, even though you’ll be used to doing DPs on both sides from normal play. This gif also shows off a sloppy way of inputting the DP, 4121, instead of a clean 421. And it’s input a lot faster than the others, showing you can do the motions quickly and they will still come out. 4521 is also a valid way to input a reverse dragon punch.

Half Circle Forward / HCF / back, down-back, down, down-forward, forward / b, d/b, d, d/f, f / 41236

HCF.gif

Less common than a DP, but more than a reverse DP, half circle motions can be  significantly trickier to perform than quarter circle motions, even though they’re only slightly different. These motions are typically used for moves meant to have a bit more impact than a quarter circle move.

Half Circle Back / HCB / forward, down-forward, down, down-back, back / f, d/f, d, d/b, b / 63214

HCB.gif

Same as the Half Circle Forward, just backwards. These are frequently used for weaker command grabs.

Charge Back-Forwards / back (hold), forwards / [b], f / [4] 6

charge-bf.gif

Charge moves involve holding back for about a second, then tapping forwards and a button. They’re usually a bit stronger to make up for this charge time. You can also hold down-back to charge without moving backwards as you charge. Moving the stick to a position that isn’t back will cause you to lose your charge however, so you need to be either immobile, or walking backwards to charge.

Charge Down-Up / down (hold), up / [d], u / [2] 8

charge-du.gif

This charge move involves holding down, then tapping up and pressing attack. Note that if you’re too slow to press attack, you’ll do a jumping attack instead of your special move. Like with charge back-forwards you can hold down-back to charge and block at the same time. This will charge both charge moves simultaneously, so you can choose to use either one. In Guilty Gear, you don’t even need to press straight up or straight forwards to perform charge specials, you can instead press up-back, or down-forwards, letting you hang onto the other charge.

Double Quarter Circle Forward / 2QCF / QCF QCF / 236236

2QCF.gif

This is the most common super input in fighting games. It’s as simple as doing 2 QCFs back to back. It can be rather tricky, and frequently you can get Dragon Punches if you’re sloppy, or get supers if you’re sloppy with your dragon punches.

Double Quarter Circle Back / 2QCB / QCB QCB / 214214

2QCB.gif

Same as double QCF, just backwards. Also a really common super input.

Down Down / 22

downdown.gif

Tap down twice, simple as it gets. Uncommon input in most games, very common in games by French Bread, such as Melty Blood. Frequently used as an alternative to the DP input.

Half Circle Back, Forward / HCB F / 632146

HCBF.gif

This is an extremely uncommon input found only in Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and King of Fighters really. It’s frequently used as a super input in these games, and for command throws.

Quarter Circle Forward Half Circle Back / QCF HCB  / 2363214

QCF-HCB.gif

Another uncommon input except to those 3 games. This is only used as a super input. It can be tricky, try your best.

Building Deep Traversal Systems

how do you make deep traversal systems for 2D games? I was thinking about outland which has a double color mechanic where you switch them to phase through same colored bullet patterns, but it seems just monkey see, monkey do

The idea is, create different movement capabilities for the player with different physical properties, different niches, and design obstacles around those, without making the obstacles strictly about demanding the player use one type of traversal on it. Don’t make any movement ability a silver bullet for a particular type of obstacle.

You can see this a lot in good 3d platformers (all 2 of them), like Mirror’s Edge, or Mario games. You have a lot of different movement mechanics, but none of the obstacles specifically require you to use one, they’re more generic, like, get up to this height, move across these moving platforms, avoid these obstacles, and leave the rest up to you.

A lot of 2d games already have deep movement systems, like Castlevania Symphony of the Night (and many of the games following in that style), Super Metroid, Smash Bros Melee, Yoshi’s Island, Sonic, Gimmick!, Demon’s Crest, Wario Land 4, Megaman X (especially X3, which had a grapple and airdash), Ori and the Blind Forest, Megaman and Bass, and more.

There’s a lot that can be done with airdashes, double jumps, long jumps, slides, ground pounds, and more.

What are your favorite type of restrictions for challenge runs? (Stuff like no damage, X weapon only, ect.)

I like low% runs. Where you try to limit how much of an essential resource you pick up or use, or whatever. The Mario 64 ABC run is a great example of this, as well as Low% in a number of Metroid games. Min Captures, max moons in Mario Odyssey seems to be shaping up to be this too.

I like restrictions which force creativity. Pacifist runs tend to be cool too. It’s cool to see things that are technically possible, but the game simply wasn’t designed for.

Emo Kid Special Moves (Self Harm)

What do you think of special moves in fighting games that damage the player when they use them?

I’m not a fan of mechanics that push both players closer to losing simultaneously, negative feedback. Mechanics like this could also be called Collateral Damage or Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea is, you’re taking damage, but hopefully you deal more than you take, and even though you’re wrecking yourself, you will push the game closer to ending faster and be on top when it does end.

You can think of moves like this dealing effectively less damage, since they’re damaging you at the same time, so you’re not gaining as big a lead over your opponent by using them. So if I deal 4 points of damage to you, and 1 to myself, I only really dealt 3 points of damage to you, but moved the game 1 point closer to overall conclusion. This can tend to make games more swingy, because it functions a bit like negative feedback. It also makes characters with this trait effectively weaker than characters without it, unless their damage is compensated for the damage they deal to themselves.

In a game like Smash where the amount of damage you can take isn’t capped, and isn’t directly tied to losing, this can work out slightly better, because you can continue to use the self-destructive moves ad infinitum, just taking on additional damage, instead of outright killing yourself. I take this tactic with Snake a lot. He can pull out grenades and go suicide bomber with them, and you blow yourself up a lot, but hopefully you blow the enemy up more often. Also when coming down, you can pull out a grenade and if the opponent hits you, it will cause you to drop the grenade. If they hit the grenade too, then it will explode, damaging both of you, and overriding the knockback of their move, usually for a lower knockback, which can help you survive a lot of hits. In this way you can evade death at great personal cost, while dealing damage to the opponent as well. Since there isn’t a fixed percentage that you die at in smash, you can abuse this a fair amount, and use it to turn the tables on your opponent (though of course, you come out a lot worse in that trade than they do).

Overall though, I think adjusting payoffs in this way doesn’t contribute significantly to the depth of a game. It doesn’t strongly differentiate the game states in my opinion the same way changing the physical characteristics of moves does. I don’t think Pichu is significantly more interesting for damaging himself, I think it’s largely pointless. Even if it is a cool touch for characters like Tien in DBFZ (and it works mildly better in DBFZ, because killing a character is a much bigger benefit than just getting a health advantage, so it can be a tradeoff of orthogonal assets, rather than strictly victory points).

High Risk, Low Reward

What do you think of fighting game reversals?

They’re cool. They’re a very rare feature of games, something that’s high risk, but low reward, however still being a critical part of a rock-paper-scissors triangle. You get to beat the opponent’s attack or throw, but if blocked, you take more damage than you ever would have dealt.

It’s your only want to beat an opponent’s meaty in a wakeup scenario, the only way to really hurt the opponent instead of just sitting there and taking pressure, but it also carries a big risk.

The downside of conventional reversals, DPs, is that only some characters have them usually, so the rest of the cast just needs to sit there and take it when pressured, and they’re kind of simple. They either beat a meaty, or lose if the opponent blocks. Not the most nuanced range of interactions. It would be cool to see more investigation into other reversal options, like reversal tech rolls, reversal counters, etc. Some games like Blazblue and Smash have more options on knockdown to make their wakeup games more complex, which is also cool, but also feel like they dilute the wakeup game a bit from where it sits in street fighter. I’m not really sure how to balance this honestly.

Still, it’s neat to have something that sits in an unconventional place on the payoff matrix. (as long as it’s not low risk, high reward) It’s rare to see things that are so specialized in that way.

East Vs West

Do you really believe that eastern devs are better than western devs? if so what brought you to that conclusion? What is it that eastern dev do differently?

Y’know, yeah. I do think that. I mean, I think it because Japanese games tend to be good more consistently, and the majority of my favorite games (and the games I believe are the best games) are Japanese.

There’s some indicators of what they do differently in articles like these:
http://www.rollingstone.com/glixel/features/splatoon-2-hideo-kojima-nintendo-japanese-games-w501322

“I’m stereotyping, but in the West, scope, visuals, and features are the main attraction. For example, when we used to have Kojima Productions L.A.—we had an office in Los Angeles—we would get proposals for new games, pitches. It always started with: “This is the world you’re in. This is the experience I’m going to give you.” And gameplay was relegated to page 5 or 6 or 10. It was always about who you’re playing, who is the character, what’s going on, but not the “how,” how am I playing this?

In Japan, a pitch is a page, maybe two. The first page you write what the game is about and how you play it. And the second page, maybe you need an illustration. We don’t care about who, or what the story is, what the game world is, all of this doesn’t really matter.”

http://sourcegaming.info/2017/07/12/feelofamericangames/

“Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 were developed in foreign countries. Perhaps foreign gamers simply like to play in realistic environments but I feel like there is something else to it. I think that American gamers have a stronger feeling that they themselves are the character in the game that Japanese gamers don’t feel as strongly.

Both of these games are FPS titles which have become very popular lately. I don’t think they necessarily rose to popularity because people simply like the genre or because the United States is a gun society, but rather because FPS is a genre that lends itself to really feeling like the character in the game.

An example that comes to mind is hearing a female gamer from overseas say that she thought it was awesome that she was able to become Dante when playing Devil May Cry. Overseas developers also spend a lot of time talking about how their games are immersive and feel realistic. Even for games that are in the same genre, if one uses cel-shading and the other doesn’t, the one that feels more realistic will probably be better received. This might also be a factor for why Final Fantasy games have taken on a more movie-like feel.

I think the feeling of actually being in the game world has become very important. It might be fitting to describe it as a Hollywood movie you can play. When looking at games in the west, that seems like a fitting description.”

http://sourcegaming.info/2017/07/12/feelofamericangames/

“Sakurai: I think 3D games give American gamers a more immersive feeling. Japanese games are more of a fusion of 2D and 3D, or rather the visuals are 3D but paired with 2D game elements. I feel like there are a lot of those types of games. I don’t think that’s necessarily good or bad though. There is a gap between the, ‘I’m truly in the game world so this is natural,’ and the, ‘a game is a collection of systems,’ ways of thinking. This gap is changing the way we think about what makes a game feel like a game.”

I think that Japanese developers simply think more thoroughly about the game systems and how they can be used to challenge the player. They put a lot of polish into those where in the west we have more the AAA model, which focuses very heavily on superfluous details as well as unskippable cutscenes/tutorial sequences which drive me up a wall. Japan’s system-oriented approach turns out to be better for fostering the things I consider to be important in the final outcome of the product. Nintendo with the Mario games tend to mash together ludicrous ideas and characters to make certain mechanics work. It’s why Koopas are a turtle, so you can have that visual metaphor of the turtle going into the shell, then kicking the shell. It’s why you have Cappy and hat-wearing enemies in Mario Odyssey.

Although interestingly, despite being less game-oriented and more movie/simulation oriented, western gamers prefer higher difficulty levels than japanese gamers. I have two indicators of this:
http://blog.hardcoregaming101.net/2010/10/east-vs-west-with-keiji-inafune-and.html

“Western gamers like to challenge things. If a game is very difficult, they view beating it as a triumph over a sort of foe. Japanese gamers will quit if a game is too hard. They want an RPG where you never die. If you play an RPG correctly, you should not die. That is the point. Most RPGs are not concerned with raising your skill, they are concerned with raising your EXP – Experience. I think that Japanese companies are slowly losing the ability to make hard games that still appeal to Japanese users, and this is evidenced by the decline in sales of action games as Japanese users lose interest in challenging higher difficulty levels.”

And the feedback from the Nioh beta, Japan was not as happy with the difficulty and game balance as the West was. It’s kind of interesting that we’re split this way, but it would explain why the highest difficulty mode in western games is frequently challenging to the point of actually constricting depth instead of carefully drawing it out as tends to be the case in japanese games. As one person put it, “Built for no one, and playtested by no one.” I wish we stuck with the difficulties in Quake and Doom where more/different enemies are added instead.

nioh demo survey results.jpg

In the feedback for the Final Fantasy XV demo, we see a similar discrepancy between NA and Japan.

FFXV_complete.png

One point I have to admit to the west though is, the west has always been better at FPS and RTS games. Japan has never really tried to compete there, presumably because Japan is not very big on PC gaming, and both genres need a mouse to really be effective. Although, our glory days in both genres are long behind us.

 

The Problem with Console FPS

Is it possible for a console fps to be good? Or can a high quality FPS only be realized for pc?

FPS games are about pointing at things using a cursor and clicking on them. Console controllers are not very good at this, meanwhile keyboard & mouse are not very good at letting you press an assortment of buttons for different, easily accessible, common use, functions, and at moving a 3rd person character.

The example I usually cite is, have you ever tried using your console’s web browser? You know how difficult it is to click on things when your cursor is moved by an analog stick? Compare that to using a mouse to browse the web. That’s what it’s like to play an FPS game with a gamepad versus a mouse. Consequently, I think almost every FPS game is better served with a mouse and keyboard than a gamepad.

If you want to build a better console FPS game, then it’s probably a better idea to minimize the amount that aim factors in and emphasize other skills instead. Something that plays better to the strengths of the gamepad. A good example would be Metroid Prime, which used tank controls and sidedashing around locked on targets, as well as having morphball sections.

Probably a more realistic solution is to create it as a 3rd person shooter instead. Gamepads are better at controlling a 3rd person character than a mouse and keyboard is, so it naturally makes sense to have a shooter be 3rd person on console instead of 1st person. Some games that pulled this off successfully are Infamous, Vanquish, and Nier.

One exception I have found is this indie game named Hunternet I was asked to try out. In that game, there is a fixed turn speed, even for mouse players. It’s a spaceship dog-fighting game, so this is an integral part of the gameplay. This guideline may also apply to Descent and games in a similar vein. Of course, the enemies and other players in these games are bound by similar restrictions, so it is a game more about dog-fighting, managing your movement to line up for the shot than simply pointing at things and clicking on them. Descent, also designed for dogfighting, likely fits this mold as well.

Open World Travel Time

How much of a problem is extended travel time in games? For example: lack of fast travel in the beginning of Dark Souls, or traveling to a location in an open world? Is it just filler?

I think this is a false premise.

Travel time can be a pain, but I think the better metric is, time spent without a challenge of some kind, or even more accurately, time spent without an interesting decision, because obviously things like configuring equipment, leveling up, and other such clerical tasks aren’t challenging, but they involve interesting decisions.

I have stated many times that I really like that there’s no fast travel at the start of dark souls. I like that you need to pathfind your way around a complex series of areas that have new connections opening up as you go, so trying to find the optimal route is an interesting decision in-of itself, and you need to do things like fight enemies on the way there which is an interesting series of decisions, and given you’re pathfinding, you end up generally going through the areas in an order you didn’t go through it the first time, so it’s slightly different each time, rather than just repeated content.

I think open world games suffer a little more in this respect because the world is not dense enough with challenges. Traveling from place to place takes a lot of time, and you don’t do much along the way, which can be boring. This is where lessons from platformers or racing games could probably factor in more.

What genre, if any, do you think benefits most from an open world?

The open world genre.

I mean, open world is kind of its own genre at this point, right? Among the big entrants we have RPGs, like Skyrim and the Witcher 3, “Stealth” like Asscreed and MGSV, and a ton of 3rd person shooters, like Just Cause, Watchdogs, GTA, Far Cry, MGSV, Red Dead Redemption, plus a lot of others, and we have sandbox games like Minecraft and No Man’s Sky.

I don’t think any genre benefits particularly more than any other genre from being combined with open world. It’s just a content presentation style really. Probably games that are more sandboxy like minecraft or breath of the wild benefit a bit more, but I mean, being sandboxy comes with being an open world game to a degree.

What Makes a Good Speedgame?

I sometimes like to watch SpeedRuns, one thing that I noticed is that Sonic doesn’t appears as famous in the speedrun community as I thought it would be, It is somewhat popular but its really small compared to Mario and Zelda. Its a design thing or its simply due to the overall quality and sales?

This raises an interesting point, the distinction between what makes an actually good speedgame (game that people speedrun) and what people think correlates with a good speedgame.

People tend to think of what would make a good game to speedrun as being a game which involves speed and has a fairly linear track, much like a footrace, or a car race.

The games that tend to work out best for speedruns are more like an obstacle course or a playground, things with multiple possible means of approach. Mario and Zelda tend to be a bit closer to this generally speaking than Sonic games, which tend to be a bit more straightforward, usually. Of course it does help that Mario and Zelda are more popular games overall.

I was more specifically referring to Classic Sonic. Modern Sonic is more a linear track, but Classic Sonic have multiple paths that intersect and have physics that encourage experimentation with both the paths and physics to get the optimal route, at least on paper that’s how I viewed it

I was including classic sonic. I’m aware of the multiple tracks thing, but I don’t think the classic sonic games are amazing speedgames (though they are good ones).

Oh, and to add onto the previous post, a good speedgame isn’t necessarily fast or slow in its pace; instead a good speedgame has a lot of opportunities to apply skill to go faster than the normal means of progression, and a lot of different possible progressions that affect one another in an intertwined relationship, making total optimization of the game extremely difficult, both to attain skill-wise, and to discover routing-wise. It’s about allowing players to demonstrate a range of competency at the game, rather than simply going fast in a time pressure scenario (literally running with speed) as some people tend to interpret it (like mario maker level creators, or people who intentionally try to build games that cater to speedrunners, but don’t understand what speedrunners actually enjoy).

Is it impossible for a Linear 2D game be an excellent game for Speedrun? I can only think of 3D games or 2D games that let you choose at least the stage order. I don’t really remember any 2D game that is populer to Speedrun but uses a linear stage order

https://www.speedrun.com/games#sorting=playerCount&direction_sort=on
Super Mario Bros is probably the biggest example of this, but it has warp pipes, so you may not count it. Similar for Super Mario World and the other 2d mario games.

Super Meat Boy lets you pick which stages of a world you want to complete before unlocking the boss, but is otherwise mostly linear.

I’m not sure if Cuphead lets you pick stages, but it probably counts. (update, it lets you pick stages)

Shovel knight lets you pick stage order, but you need to play all the stages.I don’t think the 2d sonic games let you pick or skip stages.

Ducktales lets you pick stage order, but all stages are required.

The Megaman games are popular, but let you pick stage order.

Contra, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden all do not let you pick stage order. These are not among the most popular games, but they each have at least 100 players on speedrun.com, making them more popular than Wind Waker HD.

Metal Slug X has 50 players, putting it above Link’s Awakening.

Kero Blaster has 18 players.

I think the bigger question here is, how many linear 2d games that don’t let you pick stage order are there actually? Probably the most common would be arcade games, which I don’t think are that popular as speedgames. There don’t seem to be that many games that fit this description in the first place.