Yesterday, after some hints and leaks, Street Fighter characters Ryu and Chun-Li came to Epic’s mega-popular battle royale game, Fortnite. Watching Ryu run around shooting people with an assault rifle is weird. It’s also just one more example of how Fortnite consumes popular characters and franchises without much care or celebration.
Guest characters have been appearing in Fortnite for a few years now, from Star Wars to God of War to John Wick to Marvel and many more. If a popular franchise or series hasn’t appeared in Fortnite yet it’s probably only a matter of time. Like The Blob, Fortnite is slowly consuming and devouring all pop culture around it. None of this is by accident. Epic has been open about its desire to build a metaverse, adding skins, in-game events, and crossover seasons. Maybe one day, everything will just be in Fortnite. Welcome to Hell.
We haven’t got to that point yet, and thankfully, I doubt we ever will. Still, watching Fortnite suck up more and more franchises and characters, like an out-of-control kid in a poorly secured candy shop, is unsettling. The latest victims tossed into the Fortnite maw are Ryu and Chun-Li. With Ryu, there’s this large, odd disconnect watching a character famous for kicks and punches pick up an assault rifle and mow people down. I felt the same way when I saw Kratos, from God of War, running around in Twitter videos shooting people with rocket launchers. Something about all of this feels hollow.
I’m not here to say that all characters that appear in Fortnite need to only use weapons that are canonically accurate to them. But the way Fortnite handles these famous and beloved characters feels very different from something like Smash Bros. In that game, guest characters bring their own music, combat moves, gameplay quirks, sound effects, and more to the experience. It feels like a celebration: Here’s this character you love, personality and all, inside a big fighting game filled with other famous heroes and villains. There are many reasons why folks get so pumped for new Smash characters, but the way Nintendo handles these famous guest characters is a big one.
Meanwhile, Fortnite treats new characters like empty costumes. Outside their short announcement trailers, what you basically get is a nice-looking corpse that you can wear while hopping into battle or while doing some emote. Some of last season’s Marvel characters had special abilities based on them, but any character could use them in the course of a match. This season, for instance, features The Mandolorian’s jetpack, obtained from defeating a Mandalorian NPC but which feels like it has little to do, really, with the character it’s based on. In a way, it feels as if Epic is stripping these characters of their iconic powers and abilities and then shoving them back into the game. Tearing off the Mandalorian’s jetpack and giving it to Kratos doesn’t add anything to either franchise, but it does add more stuff to Fortnite.
All of this really got to me when Fortnite added Tron characters. When the first hints of Tron coming to Fortnite appeared online, I got excited. I’m not a big Fortnite player, but I love Tron. Like with all the other crossovers, the Tron characters were just nice-looking skins. But with Tron, a franchise that Disney has barely done anything with, it felt like Fortnite was robbing a grave. Tron is dead and yet Epic still hopped the cemetery’s fence with some shovels and dug up its corpse all so it can be thrown into the ever-growing, never-satisfied machine that is Fortnite. I fear the day I wake up and check the news to see that I’ve now been added to Fortnite.
So yeah, it’s odd to see Ryu using a gun, or to watch beloved characters from dead franchises get turned into sleek-looking skins for something much, much more popular. I have no actual ownership over Ryu or Kratos, and maybe the folks who created these characters get a big kick out of them showing up in one of the most popular video games of all time. But all of this has created something very different than what Fortnite started out as. After watching Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy do a k-pop dance during a recent match, Kotaku’s resident Fortnite expert Riley MacLeod asked himself “My God, what is this game now?” It’s a good question. As I watch Ryu jump around with a shotgun, I don’t know if I have a good answer.
I guess the actual answer is well… this is the Metaverse. It’s a sad and confusing place filled with caricatures of things you love all shooting each other and dancing.