Mighty Fight Federation may look like a party game, but Canadian developer Komi says its aim is to bring “a focus on fighting game fundamentals” to the 3D arena fighting genre. The genre we’re talking about here is not a player-character-tracking arena fight like ARMS or Virtual On, but rather a Power Stone-style all-on-one-screen havoc-‘em-up perfect for one-couch combat. And the “fundamentals” we’re talking about are those honed in the decades-long player/developer back-and-forth from Street Fighter II to the present day. That means everything is tuned for veterans thinking in terms of frames and hitboxes, rather than for all-the-family larks.

Still, there’s a cheery face on the whole thing, with 13 comic book-coloured characters (including cameos from Yooka-Laylee and a tag-team ToeJam & Earl), each bringing their own arena stage with platforms to climb on, walls to smash through or scenery to wreck. A lot of work has clearly gone into the comic-style backstories, too, which set everything in a world of improbable melodramatic vignettes somehow reminiscent of the scenarios from Elite Beat Agents. The fighting mechanics may be serious, but the pomp on it all is lots of silly fun.

However, the very first glimpse under all the colourful dress-up reveals this is a fighting game by fighting gamers for fighting gamers talking fighting game language about fighting in fighting games. Combos and zoning are covered explicitly in the beginners’ tutorial: the game wants you to pin losers down. Confirms (combo starters) are easy and baked in, with all characters having a dependable single-button launcher at their disposal.

To match that, though, you can always spend from your “Hype” reserve to execute an equally simple, one-button combo breaker. Likewise cancels (cutting short the animation of one move by initiating another) have a single universal button press. This burns Hype but instantly ends any animation, opening up some wild combo opportunities. But instant breakers and cancels are not “get out of jail free” cards. Of course, you can find the edges of that mechanic and try to force opponents into barely breakable positions, or simply recommence pummelling immediately on weaker fighters. So even with one-button fundamentals, life finds a way, and the fighter-skill arms race is present and correct.

All this means that a Mighty Fight Federation expert is clearly going to be able to wipe the floor with a casual fighter in an absolutely atrocious way – until, perhaps, four fighters are in the mix. If you could get a foursome happening, the chaos that would arrive might be a ruthless leveller. Even a pro would get their combo broken by a giant lava boulder hurled by a random from some leftfield nook of the stage. They would – if you could.

And this is where we stick the great big warning sticker for anyone considering buying this game. Four-player is a big part of the Mighty Fight Federation proposition, but we struggled to find other players online. Here in the UK, Covid lockdown means you’re unlikely to be snuggling four fight nerds up on the sofa together, either. So it seems that, unless you have three friends willing to join you in buying the game – or unless you’re happy waiting a couple of weeks until you’re allowed to have your friends play through your window from the garden at 2-metre intervals – those free-for-alls are going to be hard to experience.

The single-player Arcade mode is good, and the Missions have a lot of difficulty headroom, but it will sting a little to pay full price if you don’t have an opportunity for multiplayer. Mighty Fight Federation nevertheless remains a very interesting proposition for fighter fanatics craving a new set of mechanics to explore. Assuming the Switch online community grows, or if you have players ready for local fisticuffs, it will scratch an itch other fighters can’t reach.