A Wishlist Named GOG 2: Electric GOGaloo

I’m going to be completely honest with you: I didn’t want to write this article so soon. That makes it sound like I’m not enthusiastic about this topic – which is most certainly not the case – but honestly, I didn’t want to do a sequel this quickly. I just wanted to branch out and tackle entirely different subjects with regards to PC ports. As I like to do these kinds of articles thrice-yearly, I considered keeping April Fools for PC-to-console ports, December for the console-to-PC wishlist, and cycle out different ideas each August, just to keep things interesting. Last year, I did the original GOG wishlist and while I did want to revisit it down the line, I also worried that I would get stuck in a rut.

Before we get this underway, I might as well come clean about the other ideas I considered around for this month’s PC port list. At first, I considered doing an article on ten PC ports that were so horrible, they deserve to be remade entirely: obviously inspired by my distaste with the abysmal state NIS America’s Ys VIII port finally launched. The problem with that concept is that a majority of the most infamous ports were eventually fixed to at least some degree, and there’s not much information on ports that weren’t absolute disasters, so researching that became next to impossible. After that, I considered doing an article on Japan-exclusive PC ports that I’d like to see hit the platform in the West, either with translations of the original ports or entirely new ones. Unfortunately, at this point, I’ve only managed to come up with 5 games. So, as a bit of a lark, I decided to do a second list of re-releases on GOG. Lo and behold, I managed to come up with over 10 games with little difficulty. Honestly, by this point, I’ve got half of a third list waiting in the wings for me as we speak.

Before we move onto the meat of the article, I’ve got a lot to go over when it comes to PC ports that were announced since my last article on the subject. The only downside is that, so far, technically, only one entry on my existing lists have come to fruition since then. Fortunately, it’s a pretty major one. But I’m getting ahead of myself: let’s tackle these reveals in order. First off, literally days after this year’s April Fools article, Nippon Ichi Software America confirmed my greatest fears: they decided to skip ahead and port Disgaea 5 Complete to PC. Originally, the game was supposed to launch in May, but there were problems (as expected), pushing the release back to a “Summer 2018” window that looks increasingly less and less likely as we’re well into the season with absolutely no updates since the original delay. A week later, Sega dropped a bombshell: the first two Shenmue games were getting a high-definition re-release on Xbox One, PS4 and (you guessed it) PC. It’s due out at the end of the month and while our version has Denuvo, I’m beginning to wonder if a shoddy kill-switch is the price we have to pay to get certain companies’ support. Hopefully, Sega (and others) will consider removing Denuvo after a set period of time – we saw it happen with Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite – but right now, it’s unclear. In May, Arc System Works announced that the original Guilty Gear – my personal favorite of the series – was getting a full re-release on the Nintendo Switch, PS4 and, again, PC. We haven’t really heard any other details since the original announcement, but hopefully we’ll be hearing more information soon. Then, at the end of May, NIS America made another big announcement at Momocon: killer7 is getting a re-release and, as of right now, it’s strictly a PC exclusive. Around that time, XSEED also announced that they were bringing Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity back to PC in English, exclusively on Steam. Not necessarily a PC port, but it is good to see an official English release on its original platform.

Then, there was E3. Devolver Digital was probably going to be my favorite conference of the entire bunch regardless of what they announced. But they brought out the big guns. After a not-so-subtle teaser, they announced an HD re-release of From Software’s cult classic Metal Wolf Chaos on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. This alone would’ve been a major coup, but the best was yet to come. The PC Gaming Show is generally considered a joke among people who pay attention to the various E3 conferences, but this year, there was one name involved that caught my attention: Sega. They debuted a trailer, titled “Best of Japan on PC”, showcasing some of their more recent titles, the previously-announced Shining Resonance Refrain and Shenmue I & II and three new titles: Valkyria Chronicles 4, Yakuza 0 and Yakuza Kiwami all had PC ports announced. The word “gigaton” doesn’t describe the magnitude of this announcement: I was literally screaming my head off when it was announced. Yakuza 0 released today and Kiwami is due out in the near future, but Sega has implied that this is only the beginning. Perhaps the resolve of the final hold-out, Atlus, is slowly reaching their limit.

After that, things quieted down again, until just recently. Arc System Works announced that UNDER NIGHT IN-BIRTH Exe:Late[st] – the most up-to-date version of French Bread’s new fighter – would be coming to Steam later this month. The previous release was one of the games on an earlier wishlist, but it’s nice to see an even-newer version come out. Steven Universe: Save the Light also had a port announced for this month just before the end of the month. Frankly, I’m just bringing that up because I thought it was weird that it didn’t come to PC in the first place. Aside from that, Fighting EX Layer had two of its DLC characters announced, which makes me wonder if the game sold well enough for ARIKA to consider making good on their PC version promise. There was also a weird piece of news someone dug up in a special E3 magazine that implies that not only is Abstraction Games the group handling the Switch version of SNK Heroines: Tag Team Frenzy, but there may also be a PC version in development. Nothing’s been said on the matter ever since.

As per usual, the same rules apply to this article as the previous one. To make things more reasonable, I’ve increased my usual “one series per company per list” rule to two. All of the games below are existing PC ports, so there’s no need to separate games by platform and as with the previous list, I’ll be doing a supplementary write-up on just how likely I think it is that GOG could get their hands on these games. I had my doubts the first time around but considering that the entire Jazz Jackrabbit series managed to make it on GOG, I’m feeling a little luckier than I did last year.

Sonic Heroes – Sega

While there certainly isn’t a drought when it comes to Sonic games on PC – Sonic Mania’s “Plus” update launched last month – there are so many older titles that are no longer available. Sonic CD and the games found in the Sonic & Knuckles Collection are technically already present on Steam (with the modern releases being substantially superior to these old ones) and Sonic’s Schoolhouse is… honestly, only tangentially related to the blue blur. But what’s this, the direct sequel to the Sonic Adventure games had a PC port way back when and the game itself has yet to resurface anywhere. Why not make a quick buck and do a straight re-release?

Odds: Even though Sega has still yet to release any of their old games on GOG, I’ve got something resembling a good feeling about this one for two simple reasons. One, it’s a Sonic game and Sega’s Western branches love anything that has to do with Sonic the Hedgehog. And two, aside from their insistence on including Denuvo in all of their games, Sega does seem to be doing their best to court the PC gaming audience. So, I think we have a chance. (4/10)

Last Bronx – Sega

Okay, I went a little obscure on this one, but for me, this was an obvious choice. For whatever reason, throughout the 1990s, Sega seemed to be almost obsessed with creating brand-new 3D fighting game franchises. While many of them would end up with sequels – Virtua Fighter and Virtual On come to mind – other attempts weren’t nearly as successful. Case in point: Last Bronx. It was essentially a weapons-based fighting game that played like a cross between Sega’s own Fighting Vipers and Soul Calibur, taking place in an alternate near-future setting where Tokyo was overrun with gang warfare. The game didn’t exactly take the world by storm, but it did manage to receive home conversions on Sega’s own Saturn home console, as well as PC via the “Sega PC” line.

Odds: Even less likely than Sonic Heroes, because at least that has fan recognition going for it. Honestly, I’d be happy if Sega just released the entire Sega PC line from the ‘90s on GOG. (3/10)

Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster – Interplay/Amazing Studios

I’ve noticed a bit of a renaissance in the full-motion video genre as of late: for some reason, the genre’s made a bit of a comeback on PC gaming. On top of that, a fair amount of older games, back from the FMV game’s heyday, have been reemerging with various re-releases. I’ll be honest, there aren’t that many games of that style that I actually want to play. Among them is Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster – a game that quite literally puts you in control of one of Dr. Frankenstein’s creations, as he struggles to discover his past and figure out the mysteries surrounding the mad doctor’s experiments. My interest in the Frankenstein mythos makes the game intriguing enough on its own, but the fact that Tim Curry portrays the infamous doctor himself intrigues me even more.

Odds: Interplay’s sold off all of their assets and I can’t find any information about the developer itself. However, considering the fact that Nightdive Studios has been working on acquiring and re-releasing various old PC games of similar styles – like Titanic: Adventure Out of Time and D – I think there’s a chance they could stumble upon the rights to this game (and maybe even its sequel). I wouldn’t count on it though. (4/10)

The King of Fighters ’99: Evolution – SNK

My early days with the KoF series were… confusing, to put it mildly, but it wasn’t entirely my fault. When SNK released ’98 on the Dreamcast, they rebranded it as “The King of Fighters ’99: Dream Match Never Ends” – so obviously, I was led to believe that the game was in fact KoF ’99. Unfortunately, when I bought a game labeled “King of Fighters ‘99” for the PlayStation, I was surprised to see that it was the game’s sequel. So, when the game in question was released on the Dreamcast itself, it was saddled with the subtitle “Evolution” to differentiate it from its mislabeled predecessor.

The Dreamcast release added various new features, including newly-rendered backgrounds in 3D and exclusive Striker characters: Seth and Vanessa, who made their official debut in King of Fighters 2000. Though what’s surprising is that the game was also ported to PC – with English, Spanish and Portuguese language options! – by a company called CyberFront. From what I’ve heard, even the worst reviews I could find of the PC version online claim that it’s a perfect conversion of the Dreamcast version, which sounds amazing.

Odds: SNK has released a fair share of games on GOG, but usually have relied on stocking their storefront with emulations handled by DotEmu. However, considering that they’ve been releasing PS2 Classics on PS4 recently, I think it’s become a little more feasible in the grand scheme of things. I think the major hurdle at this point would be reminding SNK of this port’s existence. (5/10)

Breath of Fire IV – Capcom

Just like MegaMan X8, this was one of those odd Capcom PC ports that came out in Japan and Europe, but not North America. Either way, the game’s in English, so there shouldn’t be any issues with selling the game to Americans. Fans have been clamoring for a new Breath of Fire game – well, one that isn’t on smartphones anyway – and considering it was only re-released on the PlayStation 3, the Vita and the PSP via PS1 Classics (all defunct systems at this point), a re-release on a more enduring platform seems like a good way to test the viability of the classic JRPG franchise.

Odds: Capcom’s an odd case when it comes to GOG. They released one really old port on the service (Street Fighter Alpha 2) and a much more recent port two years ago (Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen). Since then, we haven’t seen anything else for them and Capcom has begun to implement Denuvo into their games – but only brand-new titles, not HD re-releases. Maybe there’s still a chance they’ll release more games on GOG, especially considering their recent attempts to win back their audience. I guess time will tell. (4/10)

Mega Man & Mega Man 3 – Capcom/Hi-Tech Expressions

Okay, I’ve already talked about this game at length enough in several other articles – particularly in my MegaMan retrospective – so I’ll keep this brief. These games are bad, but they’re old. And GOG is a place for PC games that are good and/or old. It technically belongs on the service, that’s all there is to it.

Odds: AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA There’s absolutely no chance. This game is likely considered an old shame by the people at Capcom’s Western branches that know of its existence and I doubt the Japanese branch even knows about these games. (0/10)

G-Darius – Square Enix (Taito)

I’ll be honest: back when I had my PS1, the majority of my library consisted of titles developed or published by the fine folks at Capcom. However, G-Darius is one of those exceptions that I’ll never forget. The fourth arcade installment in the classic shoot-‘em-up franchise – and the very first to utilize 3D polygonal graphics – G-Darius was also the first horizontal shmup that I actually liked. Up to that point, I was only a fan of vertical shooters like Aero Fighters, 1944 and Raiden. Considering this game was also ported by CyberFront, I anticipate that this was also a good port of a good game.

Odds: Sure, at this point, most of Square Enix’s offerings on GOG are strictly from Eidos’ catalog but branching out seems possible, especially with old ports like this of games with such a niche following. (3/10)

Taito Legends 1 & 2 – Square Enix (Taito)

I guess it’s become a requisite for me to include some kind of a retro compilation on these GOG lists, and this time, the honor goes to the Taito Legends games. Both compilations were also released on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, but based on the information I have, the PC versions were based on the latter. With a total of 68 games across both collections, including such arcade classics as RayForce, Qix, The New Zealand Story, Darius Gaiden, Elevator Action, Operation Wolf, The Legend of Kage, Gun Frontier and many, many more. These PC releases don’t have every game that was present in every release for both collections. There were a few titles that were exclusive to the PS2 version of Legends 2, but others that were only present on the Xbox and PC versions. Also, one game wasn’t present in the Western releases of either collection, but several were left out of the various Japanese releases. Still, these do seem like our best bet for seeing these old Taito games officially playable on PC, unless Square Enix decides to revisit the concept entirely on modern platforms.

Odds: Square Enix seems like they’re a bit more literal when it comes to understanding the PC market. Because of that, I think these games have a better chance of making it to GOG than that old G-Darius port, but barely. (4/10)

Battle Arena Toshinden 1 & 2 – Tamsoft/Playmates Interactive

You didn’t honestly think that I’d be happy with just two fighting games on this list, did you? The original Battle Arena Toshinden holds a special place in my heart: despite the game’s primitive clunkiness, it may very well have been the first game I played on the original PlayStation, through one of those demo kiosks you’d find at stores back in that era. The original game’s PC port was essentially the product of a compromise: Playmates Interactive would release the game on PC, while Takara would publish the Earthworm Jim games in Japan. To signify this agreement, Earthworm Jim appeared as a guest character in the PC release, though he was honestly just a model swap for an existing character. This version appeared to be directly based on the arcade version as opposed to the better-known PS1 release. It used the original Japanese voiceovers, as opposed to the English ones found in the PS1 release, as well as a slightly rearranged soundtrack.

The second game received much more love in its PC port, containing everything from the PS1 version, as well as many other new features, like the ability to save progress on unlocking extra content and full controller customizability, two features the home console version lacked. On top of that, Toshinden 2 was released directly on Windows, while the previous game was compatible with DOS.

Odds: Just like Frankenstein, the main hurdle here is figuring out who owns the rights at this point. Honestly, in the process of researching the second game’s PC release, I found at least three companies that were potential publishers, though Playmates Interactive is the one present on the game’s title screen itself. All the same, GOG still has the rights to sell all of the Earthworm Jim PC ports, so there’s a chance they’d know exactly where to go to figure this one out. Unfortunately, Toshinden doesn’t appear to be a game that’s high in demand. (2/10)

Brain Dead 13 – ReadySoft (Digital Leisure)

This game always felt like a missed opportoonity (no, I’m better than that) opportunity for me. Brain Dead 13 always intrigued me with its various ads in magazines throughout my childhood, yet I never got the chance to play it. Essentially a game in the same vein as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace – and with an artstyle that clearly tried to ape the work of Don Bluth to boot – Brain Dead 13 may seem like more of a case of style over substance, but that’s not necessarily always a bad thing. It’s funny: generally, I hate quick-time events when they show up in action games, but if they’re the game’s only avenue of interactivity, I’m generally way more forgiving.

Odds: Well, on the one hand, the game did see a re-release on iOS back in 2010, so we do know that someone has the rights to the game in question. Of course, my guess is that if they were going to do re-releases, it would probably be a brand-new remaster – rebuilt from the ground-up – as opposed to just putting the existing DOS, Windows and Macintosh versions up on GOG. Still, you never know: I never would’ve guessed that Toonstruck would ever see the light of day again, and yet, it’s up on GOG. (5/10)

And so ends another wishlist. I went with some pretty esoteric choices this time around, but that just goes to show just how varied PC gaming was back in the halcyon days of the 1990s and early 2000s. PC gaming before Valve’s domination over the landscape was an interesting one, though not always necessarily better – Games for Windows Live was a mistake. Honestly, I had a lot of fun writing this list. I just wish I’d been able to come up with an alternate topic. I think I’ll continue these lists, but ideally I’d like to fold my next GOG list into the December 2019 article. I’m going to keep working on finding a new topic for next year, but I’ve already got another GOG list halfway done as it is.

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Turn Based #8 – Degeneration Gap

Professor Icepick: As with many mediums, the history of video games has had its peaks and its valleys. While many would argue that the “Video Game Crash of 1983” is gaming’s clear nadir in terms of relevancy and the health of the industry as a whole, most gamers have their own opinions on what are considered the golden and dark ages of video games as a whole. That’s where the fun begins: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and that can lead to some pretty epic arguments.

Case in point, my colleague SNES Master KI and I have two very different opinions about the worst period of gaming we were both conscious for. He detests the fifth generation of gaming, which brought us such classic platforms as the Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original Playstation. Me? Personally, I detest the following generation: which consisted of the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox — I consider the Dreamcast to be more of a “tweener” platform, considering that most of its lifespan occured during the fifth generation. The sixth generation was a period so bleak and samey, I outright abandoned modern gaming until the following generation. But enough exposition: it’s time to debate.

SNES Master KI: The fifth generation was a transitional period for gaming. After 2D games improved every generation, leading to our mutually agreed upon golden age in the fourth generation, we were basically made to start all over again with the fifth generation. At the time, everyone was in awe of being able to play fully 3D games… but novelty doesn’t last forever. As 2D games were marginalized, the 3D games that replaced them were riddled with near omnipresent issues that caused gaming generations to take their first and arguably only true step backwards.

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This supposedly made Street Fighter II Turbo obsolete, anyone want to argue that today?

Icepick: Where KI sees incompetence, I saw potential. It’s true that the earliest steps into the third dimension were an awkward transition for video games, but it was as necessary a step as the silent film or black-and-white television. None of the breath-taking experiences that exist in gaming today would exist without the baby steps many major publishers took in the late ’90s. Without games like Jumping Flash!, we couldn’t possibly have games like Portal or Metroid Prime. Super Mario 64 revolutionized the platforming genre to the same extent as the original Super Mario Bros. Games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken allowed fighting games to enter an entirely new dimension.

On top of that, the fifth generation didn’t even manage to shutter off 2D completely. Many brilliant sprite-based 2D masterpieces were made during this generation: the Street Fighter Alpha games, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Mischief Makers, the Oddworld games, the Lunar remakes, Guardian Heroes, Radiant Silvergun and Silhouette Mirage, to name a few. 2D games were effectively dead and buried the following generation, but the fifth gave it a final send-off, in spite of the overwhelming popularity of 3D graphics. On top of that, you had games that managed to bridge the gap between 2D and 3D with brilliant results. The Crash Bandicoot trilogy and Klonoa are examples that come to mind easily, due to their relevance by modern standards, but there are still many other early examples of using 3D models to craft 2D experiences, like Pandemonium, the Street Fighter EX games and Tomba!.

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The only 2D game the sixth generation had that was this beautiful were its re-releases.

KI: Of course there was potential, but that isn’t the issue when it comes to how good the actual games are, and it’s not like the sixth generation never showed any. The seeds for the character action and sandbox genres were planted in the sixth generation, and while there were less great 2D games in the sixth generation it wasn’t as barren as you’re portraying it. Klonoa 2, Ikaruga, the Viewtiful Joe games, Zelda Four Sword Adventures, Odin Sphere, and Contra Shattered Soldier were all 2D in at least gameplay. I’m also going to have to contest games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken being a positive development for their genre. While the sixth generation was certainly the low point for fighting games, remember what revived them later: going back to 2D gameplay.

I also don’t think you can just call the sixth generation a dark age because of middle child syndrome. While there were more issues than in later generations, the general quality of life in 3D games did greatly improve during the sixth generation. Dual analog controls became standard, cameras became at least somewhat competent, and games realized that “look around this level for the stuff on this shopping list” wasn’t enough direction. Fifth generation games with direct sixth generation sequels were often improved in every way possible, compare Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, Metal Gear Solid 2, Twisted Metal Black, and Silent Hill 2 to their fifth generation counterparts. We also got games whose basic gameplay style would never have been practical on fifth generation systems, such as Jak 2, Metroid Prime, Devil May Cry 3, Resident Evil 4, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (yes, I know my stance, but we’re talking about potential).

Icepick: My major issue with the sixth generation compared to what came before and what came after is the atmosphere itself. To use a misguided metaphor, the fifth generation — the beginning of 3D, as we both acknowledge — felt like the first season of a TV show. It was rough, not everything landed, there were some oddities that would be left by the wayside down the line, but that’s what made it so endearing. Everything was experimental, people were trying to find their grooves. The following generation was more like the second season, everything just felt locked down by comparison. The atmosphere became stifled — I hesitate to use the word “oppressive”, but it’s probably a more apt choice considering my feelings toward the generation. People knew what they wanted out of 3D games by that point, so experimentation dropped significantly.

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Mister, we could use a game like Incredible Crisis again.

The relationships between consoles didn’t really help matters much. During the fifth generation, the Saturn, PlayStation and Nintendo 64’s individual libraries felt unique, different, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each brought a distinct flavor that meant there was something for everyone. The sixth generation was much different: when the PS2 launched, the Dreamcast essentially died in America and both the Xbox and Gamecube attempted to ape the PlayStation 2 to the best of their ability, despite having stronger hardware. Everything felt the same and the PlayStation 2 was the clear favorite. There’s a reason why it’s the #1 best selling video game console of all time, even edging out platforms like the Nintendo DS and the Game Boy and Game Boy Color combined.

It doesn’t help that a lot of bad habits that plagued future generations actually spawned from the PS2 and its imitators. Companies became obsessed with building the biggest possible games, effectively sidelining smaller titles. Physical games were all you could get during this period of time and no one wanted to waste their resources making smaller, cheaper games. There was no PlayStation Network, no Xbox Live Arcade, no eShop that could be home to smaller, cheaper games. It was strictly go big or go home. That meant that if you didn’t like what the AAA market was serving — and I often don’t — you’d have to look for fun elsewhere (which I did).

Worst of all, this thought process would eventually lead to the self-destructive attitude that led to several studios closing down throughout the seventh generation, due to an even greater emphasis on technical power and graphical fidelity.

…but hey, Resident Evil 4, am I right?

KI: You’re overstating how much variety there was between consoles in the fifth generation, remember that Saturn only lasted three years in the west, and it was on life support in 2-2.5 years, it didn’t really last that much longer in its generation than Dreamcast did. Xbox was certainly much less focused on exclusives than any previous mainstream system, but calling GameCube a PS2 imitator isn’t reasonable. Nintendo was still making exclusives, and third parties gave it at least many exclusives/timed exclusives (so they weren’t just made for PS2) as Nintendo 64. Nintendo hadn’t gone full World of Cardboard Speech “I am what I am” mode yet, but they hadn’t done that in the fifth generation either. You definitely did not get the same thing from a GameCube and a PlayStation 2.

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I’m really not getting “PS2 imitator” from this design, and the games back me up.

Companies were always obsessed with building the biggest games possible, the possible bar just kept getting raised. In the sixth generation things still hadn’t gotten out of control and there were plenty of experimental niche (at least seemingly so) games released (Katamari Damacy, Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, Killer 7, Disgaea, worldwide Animal Crossing, Pikmin, God Hand, Steel Batallion, Rez). And if you’re going to give the fifth generation credit for 3D gaming, you can’t pin all the bad things that eventually happened as a result on the sixth generation. No specific previous generation caused the developer closings in the seventh generation, it was a result of technology increasing at a rate that wasn’t sustainable for a lot of companies. You could argue that the sixth generation was the last one where the majority of companies had some understanding of how to budget, as opposed to the battle between what I’d call Team Nintendo and Team EA in the future generations.

Icepick: While Nintendo did try to do their own thing with the Gamecube, it was nothing compared to what they did with the Nintendo 64. Nintendo moved to disc-based media and adopted what was then a more-traditional controller layout in order to better compete with Sony, so clearly they’d lost their way by that point. It doesn’t help that many of the GameCube’s most high-profile third-party exclusives — I’m surprised the PS2 version of Resident Evil 4 didn’t come with a commemorative silver platter for Shinji Mikami’s head after the big deal he made about the game remaining GameCube-exclusive — would eventually hit (what else?) the PS2.

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The man, the myth, the legend coward.

On that note, pointing out a few choice experimental games — many of which would go onto become cult classics — doesn’t exactly disprove my point about the gaming landscape of the early-to-mid 2000s feel rigid and stagnant. If anything, it kind of proves the point. The sixth generation seemed to move away from multiple simultaneous trends and focus on one large one. For example, the “radical animal platformer”, “2D fighting game” and “Doom clone” trends of the 90s all overlapped with one another, while the big “Halo killer” and “sandbox games” were practically divided by platform.

And while you’re right that it’s unfair to blame the excesses of the sixth generation on the mass culling of studios and companies in the seventh, the sixth generation did have one tangible effect that even you can’t deny. Sony, the clear victor of the sixth generation, became arrogant, leading what was essentially a massive lead to falter into a deficit that took nearly the entire generation (one that was longer than average, no less) to rectify. If Sony could allow themselves to fall that far, then it’s clear that they were in charge of the previous generation.

KI: There really isn’t any basis for saying Nintendo was being less unique in the sixth generation, they used their own disc format and the GameCube controller is by no means generic. Nintendo was fully willing to buck trends, remember GameCube’s virtually non-existent online? Connectivity? Bongos? GameCube only seems like it’s imitating PS2 if you compare it to Nintendo’s uniqueness upgrade with the Wii. Nintendo 64 didn’t do any better with third party exclusives than GameCube did, and late ports to PlayStation 2, as I said earlier, show that games weren’t always being designed with PS2 in mind.
You’re forgetting some sixth generation trends. Wide open sandboxes, early character action games, Halo killers, and Tony Hawk clones all co-existed. As for Sony’s arrogance, I don’t see how that makes the sixth generation worse or even how it made the seventh generation worse. They were obviously in charge during the sixth generation, but that doesn’t mean everything Nintendo did was by default an imitation of them. Being different doesn’t always mean you succeed, was Wii U trying to copy PS4?

I think one of the roots of this disagreement is how we’re quantifying a dark age. You seem to be going by the general mood in gaming, while I’m focusing on the games released. If you hate Sony and are loyal to Sega, obviously the sixth generation was the worst time period, but I think once something is in the past it should be judged by what we can still get from it, and that’s the games. 2013 is probably my favorite year ever for game releases, even though I hate almost every impact it had on the industry. As a Nintendo fan the sixth generation wasn’t exactly a high point for me either, but I think games as a whole were doing better when taken on their own.

Icepick: You read me far too well: my definition of a dark age does correlate with the general mood surrounding the medium, but honestly, I’m not the only one. While you have a general distaste for how console games were produced during the heyday of the Atari 2600, it’s clear that many of the people who actually lived through 1983’s Video Game Crash had fond memories of them. The reason that cataclysmic event is considered a dark age at all is due to the detrimental effect it had on the market, effectively causing a seismic shift in how video games were sold, clearing out many (if not all) of the established console manufacturers in North America and replacing them with some brand-new faces.

Using the games themselves as a barometer of how good a generation comes across is a bad idea in general. After all, when looking back on any and all previous generations, we have the benefit of a nostalgia filter: people only remember the good and forget the bad. It’s the same exact fallacy that pretty much every other medium is subject to. Every generations had its gems and its turds. It’s just that no one remembers the turds of the past — unless they were exceptionally terrible. I’ve often extolled the virtues of judging retro games by their contemporaries and predecessors. To compare 3D games from the fifth and sixth generations is disingenuine at best, because the mistakes made during the fifth generation paved the way for the techniques used in further generations.

KI: The issue is that the dark ages do in fact correlate with lower quality/quantity game releases. Just because you remember them fondly doesn’t mean the games will hold up. I see a contradiction in saying that we can’t judge eras by how people felt during them, then saying we have to judge games by the era they’re from. For one thing, while the sixth generation generally did 3D better, it wasn’t truly impossible to make good 3D fifth generation games, it was just rarer. Zelda: Ocarina of Time aged so well that more than a decade later there was barely anything that needed to be fixed in its remaster. Super Mario 64 didn’t have the imprecise movement or clumsy collision detection that almost every other 3D Nintendo 64 platformer did. 3D was a step forward, but it was used as an excuse for a lack of polish as often as cutting edge graphics in any other era.

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If he could run in a straight line and turn quickly at launch, why was it so hard for everyone else?

I also think you left yourself open by saying games should be compared to their contemporaries or predecessors. My very first point was that the fifth generation was the only generation that felt like a true step backwards in game quality, don’t forget the fourth generation’s glory. I honestly think we moved to 3D too soon. One more generation with 2D as the dominating force, while 3D games continued to experiment like they did in arcades and in between systems in the fourth generation, would have been ideal from my perspective. Then with more experience and power, 3D could come out in full force as we entered the 21st century. During the fifth generation publishers leapt before they looked (or followed Mario without matching his carefully planned jumps) and relied on the wow factor of 3D to make people overlook it at the time.

As usual, it seems as if we’re at an impasse. But what do you think? Were the days of the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64 the darkest gaming’s seen in recent years? Was the era of the PlayStation 2 as much of a crushing bore for you as it was for me? Or do you believe that some other point is far, far worse than either of the two? Sound off in the comments below. — Professor Icepick

But Is It Art? – WCW Backstage Assault

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Like I said at the beginning of the year, I’ve been trying to focus on reviving series that had fallen by the wayside. Even though I’ve been focusing on the Street Fighter retrospective for most of the year – just one article to go! – I think I’ve done pretty well revisiting old concepts thus far. This month, I’m feeling a little artistic: I’ve honestly had this article planned for quite some time but never really found the time to focus on it. While my colleague SNES Master KI did his own take on the concept, his article was far more sarcastic than mine. Clearly, when discussing fine art, only solemn stoicism and objectivity will do.

After all, the point of “But Is It Art?” is to legitimately attempt to recontextualize games generally accepted as terrible as truly artistic endeavors. If video games are to ascend to the lofty realm of true art, they must emulate their predecessors in every conceivable way. And if the art world has taught me anything, it’s that bourgeoisie concepts like “gameplay”, “aesthetic” and “quality” have no place in the realm of art. No, true art defies convention – only a barbaric philistine would consider the “Super Mario men” to be the pinnacle of video games. We need to dig deeper: after all, if you judge a game on how well it functions, then you’ll never have a true understanding of art.

If the title of the article didn’t give it away, this subject of this article is WCW Backstage Assault on the original PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. While professional wrestling is certainly the lowest of art forms, meta-analysis of such degenerate entertainment is truly art: the 2008 film The Wrestler was nominated for two Academy Awards and won two Golden Globes, as well as the Golden Lion at the 65th Venice International Film Festival, an award I hadn’t heard of before looking it up – which clearly proves its intrinsic worth as a piece of art! If a film, a major motion picture, the pinnacle of what video games have always strived to emulate, could weave such acclaim from such tripe, then surely video games should be able to perfectly recreate this feat, neither exceeding nor falling short of their clear inspiration.

However, while many lesser critics would simply use a beloved game like WWF Wrestlemania 2000, its sequel WWF No Mercy or the SmackDown games for the sake of comparison, simply due to their fun factor, I’ve decided to look at a game considered one of the worst pro wrestling-themed video games of all-time. While most simpletons would dismiss Backstage Assault as nothing more than just a terrible game, only a true genius could realize that the game’s seemingly-horrible overall presentation is nothing more than an allegory for the tumultuous state of its licensor in 2000.

By 2000, the Monday Night War was slowly reaching its conclusion. Despite the financial backing of media mogul Ted Turner, an incredible winning streak of 84 weeks over the then-WWF and several major names still under contract, WCW’s days as the pinnacle of professional wrestling had come to an end. While the company would survive throughout the remainder of the year, it was clearly a shell of its former glory, having attempted several gimmicks in a misguided effort to regain its dwindling viewership.

Ironically, the video games would fair about as well as their inspiration. Through the early days of the fifth-generation, WCW’s video games – at least on the Nintendo 64 – were considered among the best in the business, with publisher THQ utilizing Japanese developer AKI Corporation (now known as Syn Sophia, Inc.) to develop exciting wrestling titles for the brand: WCW vs. nWo World Tour and its beloved sequel, WCW/nWo Revenge. However, by 1999 – the point where the WWF once again eclipsed its rival in popularity – THQ had jumped ship to “the Fed”, releasing WWF Wrestlemania 2000. To make matters worse, THQ also enlisted another Japanese developer, Yuke’s Future Media Creators, to develop a series of games for the PlayStation, which received mediocre titles when THQ still held the WCW license.

By this point, WCW had gone with Electronic Arts as their new publisher. While they lacked their modern-day clout, EA was still considered a fairly major deal at this point, making a name for themselves with quality sports titles like the Madden series and the NBA Live series – I actually liked NBA Live ’97 – as well as original titles like Need for Speed, Theme Park and my personal favorite, SSX. However, the game itself was developed by Kodiak Interactive, a small studio with few games under its belt. Ironically, Kodiak wouldn’t last much longer than WCW itself: both would close shop at different points in 2001.

Ironically, the video game publisher/developer situation actually matched that of WCW at large. A large name (EA) acted as a headliner, while lesser-known talent (Kodiak Interactive) would essentially hold the product together. Meanwhile, their ex-talent (THQ and AKI) moved onto the WWF, where they would achieve popularity and success they would have never seen in WCW. In the end, even the game’s development mirrored that of WCW’s contemporary downfall, truly a brilliant move on everyone’s part. This even bled into the game itself: to pad out the roster, various non-wrestlers like security director Doug Dellinger, managers like Jimmy Hart and Major Gunns and even head writer Vince Russo were added as playable characters, as opposed to showcasing lesser-known talent.

Backstage Assault was unique among other wrestling games not because of any additional features, but due to the lack of an element that is present in pretty much every wrestling-themed video game in existence: the squared circle itself. The game’s action took place exclusively in backstage areas, hence the clever title. Now while many critics reviewing the game at the time of its release deemed this a catastrophic mistake, only a visionary like yours truly could determine the sheer genius behind such a decision. WCW’s in-ring product had declined in quality significantly, with a much broader focus being applied to the soap opera-esque storylines behind the scenes. Of course, it didn’t help that much of the intrigue of WCW by 2000 was focused on real-life issues behind the scenes which the writers would attempt to use as inspiration for storylines, recreate or just outright incorporate into the show itself. Any no-talent developer could create a wrestling game with a wrestling ring, but it took a true master of their craft to eschew the nonsense of depicting wrestling in a wrestling game itself.

On top of that, the plebian press of the early 2000s scolded this game for its poor gameplay. To make matters odder, Kodiak Interactive also developed the previous WCW Mayhem for EA, a game that was released a year earlier but had a far better reception, both with the contemporary press and the nostalgic fans of today. Meanwhile, 2000 saw a one-two punch of quality titles from WWF: the aforementioned No Mercy released on the Nintendo 64, while PlayStation fans in America were finally treated to an excellent wrestling game with the first game in the storied WWF Smackdown series. By this point, the overall perceived quality and popularity of the WCW product had taken a significant nosedive – is it possible that Kodiak Interactive noticed this and sabotaged the quality of their game on purpose? While short-sighted critics might consider such a concept counterintuitive, true art transcends the very boundaries of short-term financial gain. After all, who would value thousands or even millions of dollars over the pursuit of artistic brilliance?

Likewise, let’s discuss Backstage Assault’s unlockable material. While the game’s default offerings are meager, there is a deluge of unlockable content: additional fight locales, alternate costumes for various characters and enough characters to more than double the game’s roster. In that sense, the game truly showcased the major flaw of the original SmackDown: a lack of content. Far more importantly, the game itself once again emulates the WCW product. By this point, the company was focusing on various ridiculous gimmicks, instead of attempting to recreate the quality of professional wrestling that won them fans in the first place. Wrestlers based on rock bands and video game characters, ridiculous stipulations like the infamous “Judy Bagwell on a Pole” and “San Fransisco 49ers” matches and writing plagued by some of the largest egos in the business made WCW impossible for all but the most die-hard fans to watch during its final decline and eventual death.

Perhaps the most eerie similarity between Backstage Assault and its inspiration was what happened after them. Near the end of WCW’s existence, a group of investors led by Eric Bischoff (the man who helped catapult the company to the dizzying heights of its prime years during the mid-to-late 1990s) wanted to purchase the company, attempting to reboot it and salvage the product. Unfortunately, by this point in time, WCW’s parent company, AOL Time Warner had ousted Ted Turner and rearranged their strategies in various ventures. This meant that the guaranteed time slots on Turner’s cable networks – the major selling point of the wrestling promotion in the first place – were at their end. The investors pulled out and AOL Time Warner sold off the company and its intellectual properties to Vince McMahon and the WWF, signifying the end of the Monday Night War. Meanwhile, EA was planning a next-gen sequel for WCW Mayhem, one that was set to debut on the PlayStation 2 and improve substantially on their two previous releases. With the license no longer in existence, EA decided to rebrand the game with a completely different intellectual property: you probably know the final product as “Def Jam Vendetta”. Perhaps the most depressing revelation is that this would’ve meant AKI Corporation would have been able to develop one final WCW-themed video game – THQ had decided to use Yuke’s as their main developer for future games based on the WWF (or the WWE, as it would come to be called). In other words, it seems like the quality of the game and its licensor were equal, inexorably linking the fates of both products.

Now, I’m not delusional enough to claim that Backstage Assault was the final nail in WCW’s coffin, but it perfectly encapsulates the turmoil that was going on behind the scenes in the company in a fashion both allegorical and literal: for years, WCW had been a passion project of Ted Turner, so they were allowed to blow through as much money and resources as they wanted, before the regime change at Time Warner. Most importantly, Backstage Assault succeeds in a way that no other wrestling game that came before or after it has yet to even approach: it essentially acts as a time capsule (intentionally or not) for the state of the company that inspired it. By this point, websites dedicated to scoping out news focusing on behind-the-scenes information about wrestling promotions had begun popping up. Unfortunately, they hadn’t become quite as popular as they would be after 2000. As such, I think it’s safe to say that WCW Backstage Assault was significantly ahead of its time, a true masterwork that provided a brilliant (albeit interactive) look at the turmoil of WCW’s dying days.

But what do you think? Was WCW Backstage Assault a hard-hitting dissection of a professional wrestling promotion during its dying days? Or just a shoddy product that acted as a premonition of the horrible misdeeds one Electronic Arts would be destined to commit in later years? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Bonus Stage

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With every game in the recent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection covered in this series of retrospectives, the obvious route for continuing it would be to go straight into the modern releases. However, even when I was outlining this project from the get-go, I knew that I wanted to explore some of the more obscure titles in the Street Fighter franchise. Of course, you’d think I’d have gotten my fill with the first Street Fighter retrospective article – I covered Final Fight, Street Fighter 2010 and even Avenger, an arcade game that predated the original Street Fighter – but there were a couple of games that have still managed to pop into my mind. Games that Capcom outright acknowledged were farmed out to other developers with vastly different results, both mechanically and in their overall reception.

Of course, the games I will be discussing in this retrospective don’t even scratch the surface of the weird licensed material Capcom stuck their fingers into during Street Fighter II’s heyday. Even discounting obvious stuff like the two movies and the two animated series, you had weird things like a pinball machine, whack-a-mole, Tiger Electronics handhelds, various toy lines (including a take on Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots), a truly bizarre comic book from Malibu Comics, several manga in Japan, valentines and even a simulator ride. If you could think of it, Capcom was more than willing to slap Ryu, Ken, Guile, Chun-Li and M. Bison’s faces on it throughout the ‘90s. But I’ve clearly gotten off-track, let’s talk about some games.

Street Fighter: The Movie

Even though I’ve already done an article dedicated to this game a couple years back, there’s still a lot to unpack with Street Fighter: The Movie …The Game. Released in June 1995 – roughly half a year after the film managed a healthy box office (but flopped critically) in theatres – it’s an ultimate exercise in the concepts of recursion and diminishing returns. Every time I look at the game, I know on a visceral level that it should not exist. Every “original” aspect of this game appears to be an attempt at aping Mortal Kombat, aside from that franchise’s trademark gore, trying to maintain the relative family-friendliness of the SF brand. In the end, this game feels like something of a fever dream, even when experiencing it: I swear I saw this game in a random arcade at some point in my life between the ages of 7 and 10, but all things considered, that might just be a memory of a dream.

But before we get into the how and why (and especially the what) of SF:TM, let’s delve into the who. This game is unique among Street Fighter titles, as it’s perhaps the most major entry in the series that was handled by a Western developer. Founded in 1985 in Vernon Hills, IL (a locale that probably means nothing to anyone outside of Chicagoland) by a former NASA software engineer and a biochemist, Incredible Technologies doesn’t seem like the kind of company that would work on video games, but in their early years, they focused on developing pinball hardware, as well as some contract work for Data East. However, what they’re probably best known for is their Golden Tee series, a staple in bars and restaurants to this day. However, their first big arcade hit was 1988’s Capcom Bowling – a personal favorite of mine – which forged a relationship between the Eastern arcade titan and the fledgling company. Throughout the ‘90s, IT would release several arcade titles under the brand name “Strata Games”, but the two most pertinent games in that line-up were Time Killers and BloodStorm, two Mortal Kombat-inspired fighting games that went for a more comic book-inspired look compared to the photorealism of their inspiration. In fact, Street Fighter: The Movie ran on the same proprietary arcade system that ran both of those games along with most of their other games from the period, which speaks for their hardware’s adaptability.

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Clearly, the right people to handle Street Fighter.

The most interesting thing about this game, as with many, would have to be various tidbits of trivia that have come out about the game’s development since its release. For starters, this game was originally pitched as Street Fighter III and included a variety of characters, including Retsu, Lee and a female Geki (all from the original Street Fighter), Gunloc from Saturday Night Slam Masters and even MegaMan. This treatment was scrapped early on in the development process, when they were informed that their project was going to be based on the live-action film instead. On top of that, Sheng Long was even considered as a potential playable character and while Capcom actually considered whether or not this was a good idea, they ended up nixing it. On top of that, they also pitched an entirely original character, Raven: who was to have been played by Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, the fight coordinator and one of the stuntmen from the film. He was said to have been a stance style character, not unlike Gen’s reinvention from the Alpha series, but ended up left out of the game due to time constraints. In fact, several characters were omitted for this very reason: the actors for Dhalsim, Blanka and Dee Jay managed to record footage but were left out due to time constraints, Gregg Rainwater (who portrayed T. Hawk in the film) never showed up and the actor who portrayed original character Sawada in the film was originally intended to be Fei Long in the game itself, to the extent where the actor ends up portraying Fei Long as a cameo in one of the stages.

Considering the game was an “adaptation” of the film, it seems like it’s worth summarizing the events of the film. The main crux of the film involves a civil war in the Southeast Asian country of Shadaloo, between a terrorist general M. Bison and the Allied Nations, led by Colonel William F. Guile, an all-American soldier portrayed by Belgian martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme, along with his assistant Sergeant Cammy and Captain Kenya Sawada. Bison ends up capturing several A.N. relief workers, including Guile’s friend Sergeant Carlos “Charlie” Blanka, and holding them for a ransom of $20 billion US dollars. Guile refuses and vows to track down Bison to save his hostages. Meanwhile, Bison decides to have Charlie transformed into a super soldier by Dhalsim, a captive scientist. The process leaves Blanka disfigured, but Dhalsim alters the mental programming to retain Charlie’s humanity instead of turning him into a mindless pawn.

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The arcade game boasted some pretty impressive captures from the film itself.

Meanwhile, Ryu and Ken are a couple of American con artists attempting to swindle an arms dealer by the name of Viktor Sagat but are forced to fight his cage fight champion Vega when he sees through their ruse. As Sagat was Bison’s primary arms dealer, Guile recruits the pair to help him find Bison in exchange for their freedom. Likewise, news reporter Chun-Li Zhang and her crew, consisting of former sumo wrestler E. Honda and boxer Balrog also get involved, seeking out both Bison and Sagat for killing Chun-Li’s father and ruining their careers respectively. In addition to Sagat and Vega, Bison’s forces also include the good natured but naïve Russian wrestler Zangief and the cash-hungry computer expert Dee Jay (wait, what?).

Honestly, that last bit always confused me. I understand why you’d want to swap Balrog for Zangief within the confines of the film itself – Cold War animosity hadn’t entirely subsided by this point and adding black representation to the heroes just seems like a bonus – but making Dee Jay a villain? What, was there some weird anti-Jamaican sentiment floating around at some point during the mid-90s? I can’t say it bothered me that much, it just manages to stand out as one of the most baffling aspects of an already baffling adaptation. Also, I always wondered: did Capcom openly seek out Van Damme for this live-action adaptation as a way of sticking it to Midway, who originally conceived Mortal Kombat as an adaptation of Bloodsport?

The game’s base roster consists of 14 characters, more than Hyper Fighting and the first Street Fighter Alpha, but slightly less than Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Surprisingly, quite a few characters were cut from SSF2T, despite appearing in the game. Ryu, Ken, Guile, Chun-Li, Cammy, E. Honda, Zangief, Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison all end up “returning” from Super Turbo though. Considering this game was released at around the same time as the original Street Fighter Alpha, which ditched several SF2 mainstays, I have to wonder if that was intended to be a selling point. Of course, most of the characters were portrayed by their actors in the film – though due to time limitations, Van Damme was unable to complete all of the necessary filming, so Incredible Technologies used Mark Stefanich, his stunt double from the film, for the remaining footage – with the exception of the late Raúl Juliá who was on his deathbed and replaced with his stunt double, Darko Tuscan. Juliá’s likeness still appeared in the game, through video and audio clips from the movie itself.

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Bafflingly, this was a legitimate advertisement for the game.

Sawada appeared in the game with a moveset clearly inspired by Fei Long, but the game added a few characters that didn’t appear in the film as well. Here’s some trivia, SF:TM contains Akuma’s first appearance in the main roster of any Street Fighter game, portrayed by Filipino-American martial artist Ernie Reyes Sr. Incredible Technologies originally wanted to make him a hidden character like in Super Turbo, but this was cut due to “a combination of events”. Blade, an elite Shadaloo soldier who fights with knives, was also added to the game as an original character, portrayed by one of the game’s designers, Alan Noon. However, unbeknownst to anyone, Blade is actually Gunloc – yes, they managed to sneak him in after all – who decided to take a break from professional wrestling to help his brother Guile (!!) take out Bison’s forces from the inside. Much like Mortal Kombat’s trademark ninjas, Blade was palette-swapped into three hidden characters, boasting similar designs but completely different movesets: Arkane fights with electricity and his extendable mechanical limbs; Khyber is equipped with a custom flamethrower hidden in his mask, allowing him to “spit fire” and F7 is capable of using all of the other three characters’ attacks.

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Yes, they managed to beat Alpha 2 to the punch, err, kick.

Though the game’s visual style is clearly inspired by Mortal Kombat, the gameplay feels a lot more reminiscent of another popular Western fighting game from the ‘90s: Rare’s Killer Instinct. The game’s combo system definitely feels more like KI than Street Fighter, but there’s also a heavy emphasis on juggle combos in the game. Honestly, this might be one of the more customizable combo systems of the era, perhaps to its own detriment. The only real rule involved is combos are only limited by the player’s skill and timing. It’s honestly kind of liberating in a lot of ways, even by today’s standards. However, there’s clearly still some Street Fighter elements in there, with the gameplay running at a speed that could easily be classified as “Turbo”. The Mortal Kombat influences still manage to seep into the gameplay: a lot of characters’ crouching Heavy Punches and Kicks are very Mortal Kombat-esque uppercuts and sweep kicks, not to mention MK’s trademark flurry of punches by mashing light punch.

Aside from these changes, SF:TM does include many of the elements from contemporary Street Fighter games. Special Moves return, though many characters actually receive entirely brand-new ones, like M. Bison’s “Electric Arc”, which fires off a continuous stream of lightning in front of him that zaps characters who aren’t blocking or Guile’s aptly-named “Handcuffs”, a cheeky reference to the infamous glitch from the original Street Fighter II which disables opponents for a couple seconds using (what else?) a pair of handcuffs. Of course, these aren’t even the craziest moves: Sagat raises his eyepatch and showcases his “Evil Eye” to stun opponents; Zangief can stun opponents with an Airplane Spin and Balrog gains a special command block with the ability to reflect projectiles. Super Combos also return from SSF2T, though this time, performing special moves fills the bar far more quickly than inflicting damage with standard attacks or taking damage. Also, the majority of the cast have at least two in this game, as opposed to Super Turbo’s single Super Combo. This effectively means that the developer was allowed to formulate original Super Combos for official SF characters: E. Honda gets a “Super Hundred Hand Slap”; Ken receives a command grab super known as the “Rengoku Gurama” and Sagat receives the “Tiger Crossfire”, a barrage of both high and low Tiger Shots which, if I’m gonna be honest, feels much more fitting for the character compared to the official Tiger Cannon attack that debuted in the Alpha games.

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Yeah, it’s goofy — but it’s the kind of goofy I love.

SF:TM also added in a few unique mechanics of its own, at least from the standpoint of the game’s release. First off, there are “Interrupt Moves” – otherwise known as “Reversals” – but functionally, they’re identical to the Alpha Counters of its contemporary, Street Fighter Alpha. While blocking, players can perform a specific motion depending on the character, and perform a standard special move as a counterattack, but with a unique green shadow effect. Next, you’ve got “Comeback Moves” (or “Danger Moves”) which feel like they could have been inspired by SNK’s Desperation Moves. They’re effectively unique, more powerful special moves that can only be performed when a character’s health is low enough for “DANGER” to flash on their health bar. Most characters only have one, but they vary from Guile’s powered up Sonic Boom to Cammy tossing grenades. Throws can be escaped with a specific input, but characters can also counter throws into a “counter throw” of their own, which can be further countered with a “Reverse”, which in turn can also be countered one final time with a “Slam Master” technique. Players are also given the option to perform a “Regeneration” move when their Super Combo gauge is full, restoring a portion of their health in the process. As usual, the command varies from character to character.

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Oh look, Fei Long!

The arcade ladder consists of 14 matches, with the player facing off against the entire roster (including a mirror match) and a final fight with a powered-up M. Bison. Of course, the game also boasts a few secret modes, including a “Tag Team” mode, which honestly plays more like the 2-on-2 mode present in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3: players can’t tag their characters at will, the second one just switches in after the first one is defeated. There’s also a special mode that extends combos even further than the game typically does, as well as the secret characters which are unlocked with codes on the character select, just like Akuma was in Super Turbo.

Personally, I think the gameplay is extremely stupid – but “fun stupid”, if that makes any sense. SF:TM game clearly falls into the category of kusoge, but the clear insanity behind this game doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. In fact, I’d almost consider it a precursor to the popular Marvel crossover games, which wouldn’t even start until the following year. It doesn’t hurt that there were some interesting concepts in this game, especially some of those original special moves. It’s just a damn shame that this game never received a true home port – but I’ll touch more on that later.

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Seriously, reflecting fireballs would feel cheap, if it weren’t so hilarious.

The graphics are a mixed bag. Like I said earlier, most of the actors from the Street Fighter movie itself reprised their roles in the game, but Incredible Technologies decided to go one step further and deck out the character’s in more game-accurate outfits, at least to the best of their abilities. Sometimes, this works out fairly well – Cammy’s outfit was on-point – other times, not so much – it looks like they drew Balrog’s hair on in Microsoft Paint! Each character had between 600-800 frames of animation filmed and it shows. If anything, the animation in SF:TM has the exact opposite issue that Mortal Kombat had: a lot of characters look so smooth, they fall into the uncanny valley. The backgrounds, on the other hand, appear to be made mostly by using a combination 3D models to create pre-rendered images and similar live-action images, though there’s a clear preference for the former. On the plus side, Ralph Melgosa – the game’s artist – did an excellent job of representing several key areas from the film. My personal favorites would have to be the Tong Warehouse, based on the cage match where Ryu and Ken fought Vega (surrounded by a crowd that looks like they got lost on the way to Pit Fighter) and the Dungeon, a torture chamber, with various characters in a state of distress. There are various points where looping video clips from the movie and other similar graphics appear on various video screens, with fairly good quality. Similar clips litter the game’s attract mode and Versus screens are home to looping animations of the various characters posing in action shots that were clearly shot for the game. If you aren’t sufficiently nostalgic for the era this game came out in, the game is clearly hideous – and even then, it’s safe to argue that the Mortal Kombat games at the time were much more aesthetically appealing. I will give SF:TM one thing though: I think it’s a really nice touch that when a character is defeated with a Super Combo, their health bar explodes.

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No, I’m being serious.

Likewise, the game’s sound design is generally unappealing. The game’s default soundtrack is painfully forgettable, with the most recognizable song being best described as “generic metal”. I’m not sure what kind of sound Kyle Johnson, the game’s composer, was going for, but it’s not impressive. What’s really sad about it is that he also managed to come up with some good arrangements of SF2 themes using standard MIDI instruments, but they were mainly used in the game’s endings. However, there are special codes to activate each character’s SF2 theme – as well as Fei Long and Blanka’s – in combat, which honestly makes the game that much more enjoyable. The sound effects aren’t really anything to write home about either, particularly the voices. I’m not sure if they actually got the actors from the film to record voiceovers, but any time a character tries to say something in Japanese, my skin crawls. Chun-Li’s constant screams of “Yattai” (obviously a mispronunciation of her win quote “Yatta!” – meaning “I did it!” – from Street Fighter II) is one of the worst sounds I’ve ever heard anywhere, let alone in a video game. Seriously, listening to this would give even the most bitter critic a new appreciation for the English dubs in more modern entries in the series. The sound effects are serviceable for the most part. At times, they sound kind of cartoony, which really doesn’t fit with the game’s aesthetic, but that just ends up being more funny than annoying and adds to the game’s “charm”.

Street Fighter: The Movie was by no means the arcade smash hit that Street Fighter II was, but it’s still a fascinating curiosity. For all of their failings, Incredible Technologies made a game with the best of intentions and it’s clear that they were definitely fans of the series. While it was clearly made as an attempt to capitalize on Mortal Kombat’s popularity eclipsing Street Fighter in the West, it still felt like a worthwhile experiment on Capcom’s part. Honestly, I’d love to see their full pitch for Street Fighter III – the inclusion of characters from the original Street Fighter and Saturday Night Slam Masters clearly shows they knew Capcom’s history. That or a second revision where they could’ve gotten the rest of their planned content into the game. Unfortunately, IT’s adaptation of Street Fighter: The Movie would be lost to the ages: it never received a home port. In its place, Capcom took it upon themselves to adapt the movie themselves…

Interlude: The Console Release

Street Fighter: The Movie – known as “Street Fighter: Real Battle on Film” in Japan, a title so ridiculous, I instantly fell in love with it – was released on the Saturn and PlayStation on August 11, 1995 in Japan, while releasing in North America and Europe later that year. In fact, it was a PlayStation launch title in North America.

Those are probably the nicest words anyone’s ever said about it. Throughout the fifth generation, there was a long-standing argument over which licensed movie tie-in game was the worst, and the two most prominent choices for the top slot were SF: The Movie and The Crow: City of Angels. Ironically, both of those games were actually published in North America and Europe by the same company, Acclaim. Capcom handled publishing duties for Real Battle on Film in their home country of Japan. While there’s no concrete information about the development of this version, it’s generally been inferred that Capcom was disappointed with the arcade version and decided to take matters into their own hand for the home release.

The home console version was a completely different beast from its arcade counterpart. For starters, Blade and his fellow Bison troopers were all removed from the game, replaced with Blanka and Dee Jay, while Akuma was reestablished as a secret character. The gameplay received a complete overhaul, effectively running on a modified version of the SSF2T engine. The game doesn’t feel quite as smooth as that one, but it does add a new mechanic just to differentiate it from its clear inspiration. This game contains “Super Special Moves”, which are functionally identical to the EX Moves found in Street Fighter III and the ES Moves from Darkstalkers. When a character’s super meter is half-full – depicted by the bar turning from yellow to blue – characters can perform a single Super Special move. If they manage to fill their gauge, they can perform an unlimited number of these attacks. It’s a nice addition to the game, but it does little to mask the fact that in every other way, SF:TM’s home console release is just a half-baked knockoff of Super Turbo.

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However, I am in love with this Super Combo.

The game contains four modes. The main attraction is “Movie Battle”, a story mode that puts players in the role of Guile as he fights his way through the events of the film, with a time limit meant to represent Bison’s demand of a $20 billion ransom in three days. This mode has branching paths, which allows for extra replay value and rewards players with a music video of the film’s theme, “Something There” by Japanese pop music duo Chage & Aska. There’s also “Street Battle”, which is effectively an arcade mode, a dedicated “Versus Mode” and “Trial Mode”, where players face off against the entire roster in order to set records based on their high score and the time they take to run through the entire roster. In other words, aside from the Story Mode, it’s effectively the standard for most of Capcom’s fighting game home ports at the time.

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Story Mode did have branching paths, which would add replay value if I were willing to play it again.

SF:TM’s home release used the same digitized character graphics as the arcade original, though they had to be compressed severely and have several frames of animation cut to run on home consoles. Miguel A. Núñez, Jr. portrays Dee Jay in the game, just like in the film, while Blanka’s complex and acrobatic moveset meant that he had to be portrayed by stuntman Kim Repia instead of his actor from the film, Robert Mammone. It’s generally assumed that Blanka and Dee Jay were built from the assets that Incredible Technologies didn’t have time to implement into their version of the game, but somehow, they seem to have had far less effort put into making them game-accurate compared to the rest of the cast. Dee Jay is just wearing a pair of plain of black pants, while Blanka just looks like a run-of-the-mill caveman wearing a pair of camo shorts – his green skin tone is incredibly muted in-game, to the point of being non-existent.

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I can see why these two weren’t prioritized in the arcade game.

The stages, on the other hand, are completely original creations, opting for a combination of digitized graphics taken straight from the film and traditional spritework. Many of them seem to be based on the same locales as the arcade version, but there are some unique stages, like Sagat’s banquet hall and what can only be described as an “illegal weapon stand”. The game also makes use of the CD technology at the time and includes several video clips and still shots from the film at good quality for the time. Though there are other times where aspects of the movie are converted into looping animated sprites that comes across as janky at best and unsettling at worst.

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So Ryu’s EX Shoryuken in this game is just Sakura’s Shou’ouken. Neat.

The game boasts a completely original soundtrack, composed by an unknown individual. I’m not entirely a fan of it, but it’s at least interesting – some of the compositions remind me of some of the original themes from X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Ironically, it sounds like they used the same MIDI instruments from the arcade version to arrange these tracks, which I think is a funny little connection between the two games. The sound effects are standard Capcom fare for the time, so it’s not worth mentioning in vivid detail. The game does boast an entirely new set of voice tracks, performed by unknown Japanese actors, thus mitigating the whole pronunciation issue. Of course, they end up entirely butchering any moves with English names, but from what I can tell, most people who actually remember this game seem to consider it a fair trade.

At best, the nicest thing I can really say about Real Battle on Film is that for roughly two years, it was the closest PlayStation and Saturn owners could get to playing Super Street Fighter II Turbo on their shiny new console. Considering that the first Street Fighter Collection came out in 1997 with not only a relatively authentic port of Super Turbo, but also the original Super and Alpha 2 Gold, the game’s only reason for existing became null and void. I’ve actually seen people on the internet claiming that this game was better than they remember, because a lot of the bad press apparently came from its association with the arcade game, but at least that version was entertaining. As misguided and grandiose as Incredible Technologies’ aspirations were with their version, at least the arcade release didn’t feel like a lazy, cynical cash grab. I’d go so far as to say that it even seems like Capcom themselves didn’t want to make this home conversion in the first place. Whatever effort Capcom put into this clearly fell short of redeeming the original’s fun stupidity into anything that even resembles one of their more mediocre efforts during the golden age of fighting games – and alas, that’s exactly when this came out.

Street Fighter EX

While the games based on Street Fighter’s live-action film were clearly a reaction to Street Fighter’s dwindling popularity in the West and the rise of Mortal Kombat, the genesis of the Street Fighter EX games was clearly related to the rise of 3D fighting games. By the time the first SFEX released on December 19, 1996, heavy hitters like Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Soul Edge and even Dead or Alive had already been established, not to mention several more titles that have since been lost to time. Near the tail end of the fourth generation of video games, audiences had become far more enamored with polygonal 3D models over “outdated” 2D sprites. The fifth generation only served to kick this obsession into overdrive and both the consumer base and various publications considered 2D completely outdated, forcing even well-established series like Super Mario and Castlevania to make the jump into the third dimension. Capcom was no exception to this rule: in addition to creating entirely new franchises, they took popular franchises like Street Fighter and MegaMan into 3D to capitalize on this new trend.

I’ll be honest, this is the only game on this list that I really have vivid memories of from childhood. In fact, my best friend and I actually ended up bonding over this game. He’d recently switched to my school when we were both in sixth grade and we had a tendency of trading PS1 games with one another when we’d first met. I forget what I gave him in return, but I managed to score Tobal No. 1 and Street Fighter EX plus α (more on that later) off of him, at least temporarily before he wanted them back. To this day, he’s still my best friend, so at least I got something out of that temporary trade besides some good memories.

While Capcom sought Western expertise for their movie tie-in, they decided that keeping things closer to home was crucial for bringing a new dimension to Street Fighter. Enter the fine folks at ARIKA. Founded in 1995 by a handful of ex-Capcom employees and named for its founder, Akira Nishitani – one of the men behind Street Fighter II and Final Fight – ARIKA was among the first in a long line of developers that spun-off from Capcom: before there were Inti Creates and PlatinumGames, there was ARIKA. Ironically, Street Fighter EX was the first title ARIKA developed, but they would go on to create a host of other titles, including the Tetris: The Grand Master series, numerous games in Nintendo’s 3D Classics series on the 3DS and the Endless Ocean games on the Wii.

For the longest time, little was known about the development of Street Fighter EX. However, in order to garner attention for their most recent project – more on that later – they actually released footage from various prototypes throughout the game’s development last year. The models started off fairly simply, almost resembling the characters in the original Virtua Fighter with blank textures, but the style would eventually evolve to resemble 1995’s Tekken 2. There was also rampant speculation that Capcom was able to feed ARIKA information based on Star Gladiator, their own internally developed 3D fighting game which had come out a few months prior. However, ARIKA’s vice president Ichiro Mihara insisted that as ARIKA was an independent developer and not a subsidiary of Capcom, that they had to come up with their own solutions for developing a 3D Street Fighter that maintained its 2D roots.

Street Fighter EX was released in arcades on Sony’s ZN-1 hardware, which was essentially built off of the original PlayStation’s hardware. Capcom, like many companies at the time, developed their own variant of this hardware – though they kept the “Sony ZN-1” designation – which was host to both internally developed titles like the aforementioned Star Gladiator and Battle Arena Toshinden 2, as well as Judge Dredd: The Game and NBA Jam Extreme from Acclaim.

 

There really isn’t any known overarching storyline in Street Fighter EX and no concrete evidence for where it would take place in the Street Fighter franchise if it were canon. The closest I ever really came to information on the subject was schoolyard rumors that implied that it was supposed to have taken place between Street Fighter II and III – ironic for reasons that will become apparent later.

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The percentage meter was a nice touch.

Regardless, several characters from SF2 appeared in the game’s base roster – Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile and Zangief – but they were joined by some original characters on the roster, with unique backstories all their own. Hokuto was the heir to the Mizugami family, a family vested in the martial art of Kobjutsu. Upon her 17th birthday, she discovers the existence of her older brother Kairi, who disappeared when she was an infant. She sets off on a journey to find her long-lost brother, not knowing of her curse: if she should ever meet with her brother, the two will fight to the death. Doctrine Dark was once a brave soldier named Holger, serving under Guile until a chance encounter with Rolento that left him physically and emotionally scarred. D. Dark has marked both Rolento and Guile for death, as he blames both of them for his current condition. Pullum Purna is the daughter of a wealthy Saudi Arabian man who seeks revenge for her grandfather, who was found in a hypnotic state after reading a book with the word “Shadaloo” on its cover. Cracker Jack was once a powerful bouncer from Las Vegas who ended up becoming a member of an elite group of bodyguards known as (what else?) the “Crackers”. Eventually, he decided to leave to live life on his own terms, but when a crime organization decides to go after him for unknown reasons, he decides to elude them by becoming a bodyguard once more. But the game’s breakout character was clearly Skullomania: once an average salesman named Saburo Nishikoyama, his superiors forced him to dress like a superhero due to his poor sales. During his performance, he felt an indescribable passion well up inside him and decided to become a crime fighting vigilante for real.

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Say it with me now: “Exprosive”.

 

There were also a few hidden characters, all of which were time-released – added to the playable roster after the machine was left on for a set amount of time, but most of them could also be activated early with a special code in the game’s dipswitch test menu. Akuma was one of the game’s secret characters, though as usual, he could be unlocked with a special code on the character select screen. The rest of the secret characters are totally original. First, there’s Hokuto’s brother Kairi, who has lost his memories on his travels, wandering the world with his only memory being the phrase “you must challenge your limits”. Darun Mister is an Indian wrestler who is acting as Pullum’s bodyguard, but also wishes to face off with Zangief after hearing of his exploits. Blair Dame is the daughter of a wealthy Monegasque family who has decided to travel the world along with her friend Pullum. She’s also Cracker Jack’s client. Finally, there’s Allen Snider, the self-proclaimed greatest living Karate master in the United States who lost his first match to a young Ken Masters in the All-American Martial Arts tournament. Misinterpreting Ken’s advice that he was just “a frog in the well”, Allen decided to develop new techniques based on Ken’s, in order to defeat him and show that he’s the best martial artist in the world. There are also two entirely unplayable bosses in the game: M. Bison and the original character, Garuda – a former hero who lost his way and was overtaken by evil forces, becoming a demon. He wanders endlessly, awakened through the power of negative emotions like the Satsui no Hado.

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Two characters with a short but memorable tenure.

 

Despite making a big deal about bringing Street Fighter into 3D, Street Fighter EX was actually an early attempt at creating a 2.5D game: 3D visuals with traditional 2D gameplay. This was a conscious decision by ARIKA, as most 3D games at the time relied on mechanics like sidesteps to emphasis the third dimension capable in these games, which would leave signature attacks like projectiles – a Street Fighter staple – practically useless, as well as the traditional jumping mechanics. Special Moves and Super Combos also return and much like the Alpha games, the Super Meter can hold up to 3 bars. The special finishes also return, though this time, the traditional “starburst” background animation is associated with special moves: Super Combos get a brand-new animation with a meteor flying through space.

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Again, not lying.

EX does add a few new mechanics. For the cost of one bar of Super Meter, characters can perform a “Guard Break” attack by pressing a punch and a kick of the same strength simultaneously. Successfully hitting this attack on an opponent who is blocking not only breaks their block, but also renders them dizzy for a short time. EX also emphasizes cancels far more than previous Street Fighters. Normal moves can be cancelled into Special Moves, Special Moves can be cancelled into other Special Moves and Super Combos and Super Combos can even be cancelled into each other. In fact, finishing opponents with a chain of Super Combos results in an animation of several asteroids flying across the screen. Also, performing “first attacks”, reversals and combos give players a bonus amount of Super Meter.

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Guard Break: the clear ancestor of the Focus Attack.

Honestly, Akira Nishitani’s Street Fighter experience shines in this game, as ARIKA did a pretty good job recreating SF’s gameplay in 3D, even if it’s not technically true 3D. This extends to the game’s single-player arcade mode, which consists of 10 fights against CPU-controlled opponents, with M. Bison as the final boss. I think one of the most interesting parts is that some of SFEX’s original characters actually feel like replacements for existing mainline Street fighter characters: Cracker Jack is a clear imitation of Balrog; Pullum Purna’s moveset reminds me of Cammy to some degree (her Drill Purrus is a dead ringer for Cammy’s Spiral Arrow) and Allen Snider seems like a more competent Dan – though Ryu and Ken’s Hurricane Kicks now look more like Dan’s Danpuukyaku and act more like Fei Long’s Rekkakens than the original moves.

As I said earlier, the graphics in SFEX remind me a lot of Tekken 2, which came out almost 2 years prior. EX focuses more on aesthetic than creating complex models. Not every character turns out looking as good as their 2D counterparts, but it’s generally pretty easy to tell which characters are supposed to be which. I think the really surprising part is that not all of ARIKA’s original characters are optimized for the 3D modelling process. You’d think they would’ve kept some of the designs simpler to accommodate the limitations of that style. The backgrounds also use the same style as Tekken 2: flat pre-rendered backgrounds on top of flat, three-dimensional fields.

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The addition of instant replays was a nice touch.

The game’s music was composed by three ex-Namco staff members: Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara. The themes in the game incorporated jazz, rock and electronica elements, creating a smooth sound. Honestly, it’s probably one of the first video game soundtracks I distinctly remember liking. It’s hard to pick my favorite tracks, but I’ll just name a few: Under Tube, Strange Sunset, Amusementive Crime, Stronger and Spinning Bird. The rest of the tracks are stellar as well, so the entire soundtrack is worth a listen. EX’s sound effects sound significantly different from the other games of the CPS2 era, likely due to the different hardware. This also had an effect on the voice acting: all of the voices sound much clear in this game. The interesting part is that all of the characters that were present in the Alpha games retain their voice actors from those titles, while Guile’s voice is provided by the same actor that voiced him in the anime, Street Fighter II V. Despite that, I’d have to say that the obvious standouts for the best voices would be Allen Snider and especially Skullomania – voiced by Osamu Hosoi and Issei Futamata respectively. Their voices just add some much personality to these characters, it’s hard to imagine them without them.

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EX was such a true Street Fighter game, it even had its own revisions.

On March 3rd, 1997, Street Fighter EX plus, an expanded update to the previous game, was released in both Japanese and North American arcades. It featured a revamped user interface, informs players when they receive meter bonuses (albeit with a pretty blatant typo), and replaces the color palettes for every returning character and stage. Also, both the secret characters and the bosses from EX were added to the base roster, with the playable versions of the boss characters being rebalanced for competitive play. However, more time-release characters were added to the game as well. Evil Ryu from Street Fighter Alpha 2 returns in this game, as well as Bloody Hokuto—referred to in the Japanese version as “Hokuto with Seal of Blood Broken” – a more powerful version of the existing character that has fallen victim to her family’s curse, lost to a killing intent instilled by her biological father. There are also two mysterious robots known as the Cycloids: Cycloid-β is a blue featureless 3D model resembling a male, while Cycloid-γ is a wire-frame model. Their backstories are unknown, but it’s heavily implied that they were the creations of Shadaloo who rebelled and escaped. Beta contains an assortment of motion attacks taken from the cast, while Gamma uses charge attacks.

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Multiple rocks.

EX plus would also serve as the basis for the home version — Street Fighter EX plus α – released on the original PlayStation in 1997. Fun fact: a Nintendo 64 release was also planned but cancelled for unknown reasons – a shame, because I would’ve loved to have seen Capcom work around the N64’s unique controller. EX+α reverts to the color palettes from the original SFEX but adds even more additional features. For starters, two more classic characters have been added to the base roster: Dhalsim from Street Fighter II and Sakura from SFA2, which probably explains the “Alpha” in the title. The secret characters from EX plus are still unlockable, but the methods for unlocking them are a lot simpler. The home release also boasts a few new stages, as well as a completely rearranged soundtrack like the PS1’s Tekken home releases. While I always think that arranged soundtracks from this era blow their source material out of the water, I’m actually a fan of both SFEX soundtracks. A shame that they didn’t include the original arcade version in this release, but I guess it wouldn’t have worked with the game’s new stages.

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Sakura fighting Dhalsim in Watch Mode. Yep, managed to cram a lot of stuff into one screenshot.

EX plus α also adds a fair amount of exclusive content to the home version. Each character receives a short, generally nonsensical cutscene as a bonus for completing the game on Arcade mode. The game also adds several modes, ranging from the requisite Versus and Practice modes, as well as Team Battle and Survival. EX+α also adds in a few unique modes of its own: Practice Mode has an “Expert” setting that challenges players to 16 tests, consisting of moves or combos for each character – a clear ancestor of the various “Trials” modes found in many modern fighting games. Completing these challenges earn points, which unlock various special features like the hidden characters and the “Options Plus” Menu. The Barrel Bonus game from Street Fighter II also returns as a hidden bonus in Practice Mode. Finally, there’s “Watch” mode, which allows players to select two CPU-controlled characters to fight each other and choose to watch them while controlling the camera, even able to watch the action from a first-person perspective.

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I could’ve gone for any other ending, but none of them had a wireframe dog in it.

Street Fighter EX was released to generally positive reviews at the time, owing to the fact that it managed to successfully recreate Street Fighter’s hectic action in a 3D space, as well as the console version’s multitude of extras. The game also managed to sell over 400,000 total copies worldwide during its first year on sale, qualifying for Sony’s Platinum and The Best lines of budget re-releases in both Europe and Japan respectively. Clearly, Capcom was also pleased with ARIKA’s efforts, as it didn’t take long for them to commission a sequel.

Street Fighter EX2

All things considered, Street Fighter EX2 was the best possible sequel ARIKA could have made to the original EX. Considered by many to be the best game in the trilogy, ARIKA took the gameplay and the graphics of the previous games and enhanced them to an unparalleled degree. Released in Japanese and North American arcades on May 26, 1998, EX2 continued the previous game’s reputation by wowing arcade-goers with a combination of fast-paced Street Fighter action and contemporary 3D graphics. This time, the action moved to the Sony ZN-2 Hardware, a slightly more advanced version of the ZN-1 with additional RAM, that would eventually be the home to other Capcom hits like Strider 2, Rival Schools, Plasma Sword: Nightmare of Bilstein (the sequel to Star Gladiator) and Tech Romancer.

The roster in this game is actually fairly different from its predecessor. Several characters from the previous game were cut in EX2: Akuma, M. Bison, Sakura, Evil Ryu, Bloody Hokuto, the Cycloids, Pullum Purna, Darun Mister, Allen Snider and Blair Dame are all missing in this release. However, EX2 does add a few characters, including Street Fighter mainstays Blanka and Vega, as well as some brand new original characters. Sharon is an A-Class agent for a secret intelligence organization, living a double life as a nun at the monastery she grew up in as an orphan. On one ill-fated mission, a key member of a crime syndicate she was investigating had a rose tattoo, the same one she has on her chest, but was unable to capture him or her target. After being under house arrest for neglecting her duties to both her employer and her monastery, she sets out for more answers. Sharon is unique in the sense that she fights using various firearms, in addition to military combat techniques. The other new character added to the base roster is Hayate, a Japanese swordsman from the traditional village of Kukunochi and the son of the legendary hero who sealed the beast of Orochi. He fights using a katana in his special moves but sticks to hand-to-hand combat for his standard attacks. There’s also the implication that he may have some relation to the monstrous Garuda.

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Welcome back, guys.

Like its predecessor, EX2 contains a few time-release secret characters. Kairi, sporting a brand-new, heavily modified design, and Garuda are among them. Garuda also serves as the game’s final boss. Two new characters also join the fray as hidden characters. Nanase is Kairi and Hokuto’s younger sister, fighting with an extendable staff. She goes on a search for her missing sister after her disappearance, only to discover the truth about Hokuto and their long-lost older brother Kairi, she sets off to prevent the two from meeting in mortal combat. In truth, Nanase doesn’t enjoy her training and wishes she could live life as a normal girl. Finally, there’s Shadowgeist – another vigilante in the same vein as Skullomania, but far more serious. Once just a normal man living under a harsh dictatorship, he decided to enhance his body with cybernetic parts after his wife was murdered and his daughter went missing. He fights against the cruel dictatorship of his country to protect its citizens from becoming victims like his family. When Skullomania encounters this dark hero, he actually believes him to be a supervillain, due to his cold, serious demeanor and imposing costume.

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Here’s Hayate!

The game’s arcade mode is fairly similar to the previous games, containing a standard arcade ladder with 10 fights against CPU-controlled opponents, culminating in a final fight against the demonic Garuda. However, if the player completes certain objectives, they may fight against one of the game’s secret characters for their penultimate fight. All of the mechanics from the previous game return as well, but EX2 adds something new of its own: “Excel Combos”. Short for “Extra Cancel Combos”, they’re effectively EX2’s equivalent of Custom Combos from the Street Fighter Alpha series, allowing characters more freedom when linking basic and special moves. Using an Excel Combo costs only 1 bar of Super Meter and while it only lasts for a few seconds, it can be activated in the middle of a standard combo. As such, if the player has multiple bars, this mechanic can make for some long, devastating combos. There’s also the addition of “Cancel Breaks”, which allow players to cancel a blocked attack into a Guard Break.

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It’s just Custom Combos with prettier effects.

The graphics seem to follow the same basic template as everything else: similar to the previous game, but clearly improved. The models seem a little more advanced, allowing for more complex animations: Ken has a real Hurricane Kick this time around, though Ryu keeps the unique one from the previous game. Likewise, the textures are much more detailed, both on the character models and the stage backgrounds. In fact, some of the backgrounds are animated this time around, as opposed to just being static. Put simply, this game makes its predecessor look like a test run. While the original EX attempted to recreate Street Fighter to the best of their ability, EX2 appears to be going in its own direction, going for much more fantastic designs than its predecessor. This is particularly evident in the stage designs themselves: while the original game had more grounded designs like Tiananmen Square in China, a sewer and an Air Force airfield at sunset, EX2 goes for locales like a natural history museum filled with dinosaur models, a church, a train yard awash in psychedelic colors and the Japan-exclusive Amusementive Crime 2, which just looks like a Lisa Frank-inspired drug trip.

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Apparently, doing three straight Super Combos destroys the entire Solar System.

The composers from the previous game also return, bringing their unique blend of jazz, rock and dance music back with them. While the first game’s soundtrack holds a special nostalgic place in my heart, it’s hard to describe my feelings for the sequel’s compositions: it’s more of the same, but that’s exactly what I wanted. It’s actually hard to choose favorites, but I’ll try to narrow them down. The Infinite Earth, Lost Sea, Flash Train, White Field and Fake World are probably my choices for the top five tracks in the game, but honestly, I’d say they’re all worth listening to. Honorable mention to “Street Fighter EX2”, the song that plays during the game’s introductory cinematic. The sound effects are fairly similar to those of the previous game and many of the returning characters retain their voice actors, with the exception of Ken, who is replaced by Go Yamane, who also plays Blanka in this game. In other words, this game sounds as good as it plays.

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Another game, another string of revisions.

The following year, an enhanced version of EX2, dubbed Street Fighter EX2 Plus was released in Japanese and North American arcades. While the previous EX+ felt like a standard revision, EX2 Plus goes well beyond, almost adding as much to the game as Super Street Fighter II did to the previous version, effectively bordering on being another sequel in its own right. For starters, several characters were added to the roster. M. Bison, Pullum Purna and Darum Mister all return from the original EX, while Sagat makes his 3D debut, alongside two completely brand-new characters. Vulcano Rosso is a mysterious martial artist hailing from Italy, as dangerous as he is flamboyant. He was once the member of a mysterious organization dedicated to taking over all of Europe but left when his lover was murdered by a traitorous member of the group, causing him to swear his revenge. Area is the teenage daughter of a scientific inventor who is a genius in her own right. She’s modified two of his most recent inventions for combat: a pair of rocket skates and a giant mechanical arm, codenamed Cancer. She enters various fighting tournaments to acquire data on strong martial artists, as well as advertise her father’s inventions. However, Hayate was dropped from the game’s roster for unknown reasons. In his place, Nanase was added to the game’s base roster. The game also changes up the HUD – much like the original EX plus – and there are some brand-new stages added to the game as well.

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EX2 Plus brought back one of Street Fighter’s most beloved characters. Also, some guy named Sagat.

Of course, various tweaks were also made to the gameplay experience. First and foremost, there’s the addition of “Meteor Combos”: special Super Combos that require all three bars to perform. While specific character had access to these “Level 3” Supers throughout the EX series, EX2 Plus makes it so that each character on the entire roster has one. The arcade mode has also been significantly tweaked. There are only 7 CPU-controlled opponents this time, with Garuda, Sagat and a powered-up version of M. Bison dubbed “Bison II” acting as the player’s final opponent. However, there are also additional bonus stages between two of the fights. Between the second and third opponents, players are faced with a Cycloid that is impervious to every attack, aside from Excel Combos. Players have either 30 seconds or until their Super Combo Gauge runs out to defeat this opponent. Then, between the fourth match and the fight with Garuda, players are tasked with destroying a falling satellite in 30 seconds. However, while the main body of the satellite is the focus, there are some additional parts that can be destroyed for bonus points. There are also falling meteors that can damage the character if they collide with them, but they can also be destroyed for additional bonus points. Definitely a nice change of pace from the traditional arcade ladder.

 

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Way cooler than beating up some old Honda.

This would carry over to the home version, once again released on the original PlayStation later that same year. Still going under the title “Street Fighter EX2 Plus”, this home port didn’t add quite as much to the arcade version as the previous game, but it’s certainly a healthy release. Kairi, Shadowgeist and Garuda remained hidden characters, but Hayate was added back into the game as an unlockable character as well. Team Battle, Expert Mode and the Barrel Break mini-game also return from EX plus α, but the previous Watch Mode was replaced with “Director Mode”, which allowed players to record a short round against a dummy opponent and manipulate the camera during replays. Also, while EX2 Plus didn’t add any individual character endings, it did allow players to fight against a Cycloid dummy during the credits.

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A true dream match.

While Street Fighter EX2 wasn’t quite as well-known as its predecessor – I certainly never knew about it at the time – it was about as popular with reviewers. Though by this point, the game was considered less unique than its predecessor and the concept had lost a fair amount of its novelty by the second game. Still, in the days when 3D fighting games were considered gorgeous and 2D fighters were considered obsolete, EX2 still managed to impress audiences. As such, Capcom decided to commission ARIKA for another sequel, but first, they were working on a side project of their own…

Interlude: Fighting Layer

This might be the most obscure game I’ve covered throughout this entire retrospective (and that includes Avenger). Released exclusively in Japanese arcades in December 1998 – directly between the original Street Fighter EX2 and EX2 Plus – Fighting Layer was published by Namco, not Capcom. Yet it is still directly linked to the Street Fighter EX sub-franchise: it was developed by ARIKA, likely in an attempt to forge their own fighting game legacy, has similar gameplay to the SFEX games and contains two familiar characters.

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What a cliquey intro.

While Allen Snider and Blair Dame were absent from both iterations of Street Fighter EX2, they were playable fighters in Fighting Layer. While I can understand why Allen Snider was shuffled over to this new project – he wasn’t even ARIKA’s only “shoto-clone” after all – Blair’s absence always struck me as far more confusing. Regardless, it seems like both characters’ absence from the other SFEX games was the price for using them in this original project. However, they’re joined by an original cast of eccentric characters that make Skullomania look like another generic fighter in a karate gi. Of course, Fighting Layer has one of those too: Tetsuo Kato is the game’s protagonist by default, an anti-heroic karateka who cares more about finding powerful opponents than anything else. He tires of life in Japan, travelling to new lands, seeking a worthy challenge.

(Try to bear with me for most of these character backstories: they only appear to exist on ARIKA’s website and are strictly in Japanese – which I don’t speak – so I’m trying to interpret it with Google and Bing’s translators, transcribing them into something coherent and accurate.)

George Jensent is a plainclothes cop who simply travels to where the tournament is taking place in order to investigate it. Many people have speculated that he’s loosely based on Chuck Norris, which is admittedly much more unique than the standard Bruce Lee clone. Hong Gillson is a Taekwondo practitioner seeking to surpass the fighters he’d heard died while visiting the Zeus Islands, the location of the tournament. Lan Yinghua is a young woman who uses a nunchaku as a hair accessory. She’s just travelling to the islands to see if a story her grandmother told her when she was just a little girl is true. Janis Luciani is a psychotic, blood-crazed assassin who fights with knives, either tossing them or slashing her opponents.

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Gotta love these unique stages.

Exodus is a flamboyant and villainous heel wrestler, who wishes to surpass the legendary Clemence Kleiber. Exodus fights with a combination of pro wrestling holds and dirty tricks, like steel chairs and his fiery breath. Shang Fenghuang is a thief who fights with a special pair of claw-tipped gloves using a self-taught style, looking for wealth and riches. Jig Jid Bartol is a Mongolian who fights with a style similar to a sumo wrestler, with stomps so powerful they can move the Earth itself. His goal is simple: he believes that if he fulfills a prophecy, then his people will know prosperity. Sessyu Tsukikage is a mysterious ninja, hellbent on fulfilling his unknown duties. He fights with shurikens, a meteor hammer and various other weapons. Cappricio is the witch doctor of a long-forgotten tribe, seeking to prove the strength of his people. His fighting style is clearly the most bizarre out of the main cast, fighting by planting mushrooms that deal huge damage to characters if they step on them, as well as a command grab where he grabs his opponent by the leg and proceeds to rub them against his back, as if he were toweling off with them. Meanwhile, Allen and Blair’s backstories remain the same from Street Fighter EX: Blair’s a rich girl travelling the world and Allen still seeks to surpass his unnamed rival.

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Seriously, Capriccio has a command grab where he towels off with his opponent. Wacky.

There are also three secret characters in the game that can be unlocked by – you guessed it – time release. Clemence Kleiber is considered among the strongest professional wrestlers in history and he fights strictly with wrestling holds, preferring to showcase his strength in fair combat. Joe Fendi is an ex-professional boxer who was thrown out of the sport after he lost an eye. Enraged by this decision, he seeks a strong fight to prove that he’s still the rightful champion. Then there’s Preston Ajax, a military veteran who was modified into a fighting cyborg. Despite his powerful body, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, haunted by the memories of war in his dreams. Finally, there’s the unplayable final boss: Vold Ignitio. Though he looks like a distinguished nobleman, he fights with the ferocity of a wild animal, literally bouncing from wall to wall and biting his opponent. He even drags them across the floor with his teeth. Vold also boasts a mysterious counter attack: one where he trades places with his opponent, performing their attack on them. This works with any physical attack, even Barrage Blows (the game’s equivalent of Super Combos).

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Still shots really don’t do this game justice.

For the most part, Fighting Layer plays pretty much identically to the original Street Fighter EX, though there are some subtle changes. Guard Breaks no longer require a bar of meter to perform, but in order to get the guard break properties, the move must be held for a short period of time to allow for a full charge. In other words, they’ve essentially become the Focus Attacks from Street Fighter IV. Likewise, the combo system is significantly more freeform in this game, better resembling the Marvel vs. Capcom games than a Street Fighter title (unless you count SF:TM). There’s also an added emphasis on juggling compared to previous games: I wonder if that was an intentional homage to Namco’s own Tekken franchise.

Perhaps the biggest change to the game is the addition of sidestepping. By pressing forward on the joystick and a Heavy attack at the same time, players can move into the foreground (heavy kick) and background (heavy punch), allowing them to dodge their opponent’s attacks, working particularly well on projectiles. There’s also Easy Combination, a technique intended for novice players that essentially performs automatic combos by mashing a single button; Hard Reversals, that allow players to perform a special move on wake-up at the cost of a bar of meter; Just Hit, an almost parry-like technique which can be performed by attacking an opponent at the same time as they’re about to hit the player, and the Super Illusion, which allows players to perform an elaborate dodge and gives them a full meter by pressing all three kicks simultaneously. Unfortunately, that last technique can be used only once per match.

The arcade mode feels like a clear predecessor to the one found in EX2 Plus, but even more experimental. After fighting against two fighters in factory stages, players face off against a Knight who attacks with devastating force in what appears to be a cellar. The next two arenas are determined by whether they win or lose against this bonus fight: victory sends players to a garden and a temple labelled as the “Entrance Hall”, while failure leads to an airplane wreckage in the ocean and an aquarium. After that, players coming from the Entrance Hall have the choice of facing off against one of three animal opponents in a single round match: a Falcon, a Tiger and a Shark – those coming from the Aquarium fight the shark by default, obviously.

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Wait, did you think I was joking?

Whichever animal the player chooses also determines their sub-boss: the falcon leads to Joe Fedri, the Tiger leads to Preston Ajax and the shark leads to Clemence Kleiber. After that, it’s a boss fight against Vold Ignitio who starts with just his psychotic animal instincts, but after beating him in a single round, he becomes far more lucid and gains a lot of new techniques, including that weird teleportation counter I mentioned earlier. In that sense, he kind of reminds me of Seth from SF4 – effectively toying with his opponents before unleashing his true strength. Defeat him and you’re treated to a short ending sequence, rendered in-game and without any dialogue. After that, players are shown the staff roll, with an animation of the player’s character escaping from the island in the background

There are also a few secret fights which can be unlocked under specific criteria. Blair and Allen don’t appear as standard opponents in the arcade ladder, but after completing specific criteria, they can appear as special opponents in the fourth and fifth stages respectively. Tackle both of them and there’s a chance to face off against a secret final boss: a much more powerful version of the Knight from the bonus stage. Armed with nigh-unbreakable defense and new moves such as a tossable lance, it’s truly a challenge meant for the most skilled Fighting Layer players. As with the standard Knight, it’s a single round fight: win or lose, players are granted the staff roll afterwards.

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It’s like fighting Dan in the original Street Fighter Alpha all over again.

I’d have to say that the graphics are about on par with Street Fighter EX2 in this game. The character models are still fairly blocky, not really living up to the graphical fidelity that other Namco System 12 games like Tekken 3 (which came almost two years prior) and Soul Calibur (which came out the same year) showcases. Still, Fighting Layer does offer a few new visual tricks compared to its predecessors. For example, there’s some additional geometry on each of the stages, rendering objects like pillars, walls and even the fish in the aquarium level as 3D models, as opposed to elements on the flat pre-rendered backgrounds. By this point, it also seems as if ARIKA has mastered the intricacies of designing characters that they can recreated as a 3D model. Though I’ve got to say, this game had much more bizarre designs in general. One has to wonder if any of these characters were ideas that Capcom rejected from the EX series in the first place.

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It’s interesting to see a guy use real wrestling moves in a fighting game.

Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihare all return as the game’s composers this time around, offering a similar sound. It’s hard for me to say if I like these tracks as much than the ones present in the EX games themselves, but it’s still quality music. One interesting little diversion from the SFEX titles (and fighting games in general) is that, as opposed to hearing the CPU character’s theme music when fighting in regular battles, the player character’s theme plays the entire time – though the various boss fights and bonus stages have their own unique themes. It’s a unique concept that I’m surprised more fighting games haven’t explored, especially in the modern “post-arcade” era. I guess if I were to name any favorite tracks, I’d have to bring up Allen and Blair’s themes, as well as the music associated with Janis, Cappricio, Shang Fenghuang and the sub-bosses. Having said that, there aren’t really any bad tracks on this soundtrack in general. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the game’s soundtrack was actually released on CD in Japan back in 1999, making it one of the few physical goods associated with the game. The soundtrack even comes with an arranged version of Tetsuo’s theme, which makes me wonder how the rest of the tracks could’ve sounded in a console release.

Fighting Layer’s sound effects can be summarized in one word: adequate. All of the characters have voice acting, obviously done in Japanese as the game was only intended for release in that country. The real star of the game, however, is the narrator. Voiced by Alex Easley, the game’s narration goes well beyond the call of duty, getting extremely excited for even the most mundane attacks. And that doesn’t even begin to describe just how insane he gets when the player does something that’s actually impressive. Despite the game’s obscurity, I’d honestly have to say that Fighting Layer’s announcer deserves to be recognized at the same levels as the ones from games like Killer Instinct, Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter Alpha 3.

It’s a shame that Fighting Layer never received any form of a home release. The game isn’t amazing, but it certainly is interesting. It almost seems indicative of a much more experimental ARIKA that was clearly setting out to build its own legacy in the genre that the company’s founder put on the map. Not much is known about the game’s development in general, but I still wonder if a home console release was even considered at any point. All the same, it would be back to business as usual after this odd little spinoff. EX2 Plus was released in Arcades the following year and after that, ARIKA returned to Capcom for one last fighting game collaboration…

Street Fighter EX3

Street Fighter EX3 holds a unique distinction: it was the first major Street Fighter game without an arcade release. A launch title for the PlayStation 2 in both Japan and North America, SFEX3 was meant to be the culmination of all of ARIKA’s work on the series. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t live up to the reputation of the previous games, and to make matters worse, it was the first Street Fighter game released on Sony’s foray into the sixth-generation of consoles. In the end, it just didn’t seem to evolve that much from previous titles, at least not in any meaningful way. In the end, the game was too similar to its PS1-era predecessors mechanically, but also (and perhaps more fatally) in its visuals. Perhaps this was a petty thing to hold against EX3, but audiences had been whipped up into a frenzy about the capabilities of Sony’s long-awaited successor to the original PlayStation and ARIKA’s last Street Fighter effort just didn’t measure up.

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This sure was an intro.

There’s not much of a storyline involved in this game, even compared to the previous games. Speaking of which, the roster is just a greatest hits collection of the cast of EX plus α and EX2 Plus – there are some noticeable omissions from both games though. The base roster consists of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, Zangief, Dhalsim, Blanka, Vega, Sakura, Hokuto, Doctrine Dark, Cracker Jack, Skullomania, Sharon and Nanase. There’s a new character as well, Ace – but he’s got a unique concept behind him, which I discuss in greater detail later. There are also some characters that can be unlocked through standard gameplay: Sagat, M. Bison, Garuda, Shadowgeist, Kairi, Pullum, Area, Darun and Vulcano Rosso. Finally, there are two other hidden characters, Evil Ryu and “Bison II” from EX2 Plus. Bloody Hokuto also appears, but she’s been relegated to a transformation Super Combo, as opposed to a separate character.

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Not a bad roster.

While the base mechanics of EX3 are fairly similar to previous games in the series, there are quite a few new concepts added to the game as well. For starters, Guard Break has been replaced with Surprise Blow, which is functionally similar except that it no longer costs any meter, but it also doesn’t work on blocking opponents. There’s also the new Momentary Combo, which allows players to easily cancel into a special move from another special move by hitting either punch or kick. Each character has a specific move assigned to both types of buttons and the only real limit on performing a Momentary Combo is that characters cannot perform the same special move twice consecutively. The timing needed to perform a Momentary Combo is strict, rewarding skilled players.

Perhaps the most radical departure from previous games is that EX3 focuses more on 2-on-2 tag team fights, as opposed to the previous game’s emphasis on 1-on-1 combat. This new focus has led to quite a few tag-related mechanics added to the game. First, changing partners can be done by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously, but the rules are a bit different compared to Capcom’s Vs. series. For starters, there is a limit to how often a player can switch characters – every time the character’s swap, a gauge near the player’s health bars empties. The gauge displays the words “Stand By” when players are allowed to tag. Also, tags can be prevented by the opponent by hitting the incoming character while they’re switching.

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Nearly as crazy as the Marvel games, that’s for sure.

Then there’s the Critical Parade – an attack much like the “Cross Fever” mechanic from the original Marvel vs. Capcom which allows players to bring out both of their characters for a limited time, with total unlimited access to all their Level 1 Super Combos for the entire duration of the attack. In fact, on the character select screen, players can choose to control both characters simultaneously (Manual), have a CPU-controlled partner (Semi-Auto) or let a friend control the other character for the duration of the match (Manual 2P). There’s also the addition of Meteor Tag Combos, that let specific teams perform a devastating team super combo at the cost of all three bars of the active character’s Super Gauge. Of course, these attacks generally require a specific character on point to pull off, but they’re also spectacular to watch. Finally, there’s “Emotional Flow” – when one teammate is knocked out, the remaining character gains their Super Combo Gauge, meaning that the remaining characters has a whopping 6 bars of meter at their disposal.

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I was gonna use Ryu and Ken as an example, but Pullum bouncing around is hilarious.

The game’s primary single-player mode is “Original Mode” – it wasn’t in arcades, so they couldn’t call it “Arcade Mode”, right? Original Mode is pretty unique as far as a single-player mode could be from a fighting game circa 2000. Players start by selecting a character, then are given the choice between fighting two sets of three opponents with minimal health. After defeating the last character, players are given the option to recruit them. Yes, that’s Original Mode’s main gimmick: players can recruit their opponents and create a team of up to 4 characters. The second opponent is a choice between two tag-teams. From this point on, players can choose to use their teammates or fight alone. The third fight is a 2-on-1 Dramatic Battle fight with the demonic Garuda (though players can choose to fight him 1-on-1), followed by another choice between two tag teams. Then a 2-on-1 tag fight with Sagat, followed a team battle consisting of all 4 characters (arranged in any order, aside from the original character always being saved for last) fighting the final boss, Shin Bison. After that, the player character receives a short text-only ending and then are invited to beat down as many generic thugs as they can during the staff roll.

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I don’t know why, but this always reminded me of Mortal Kombat.

Of course, there’s more to the game than just that. First, there’s Arena Mode – the game’s equivalent to “Versus Mode” – which allows for several options. Tag Battle is a 2-on-2 Tag Match; Dramatic Battle which allows players to fight against the computer 2-on-1 simultaneously or fight a group of 3 CPU-controlled opponents simultaneously; Team Battle mode allows for a team of up to 5 fighters face-off in continuous combat (with each victor receiving a slight health boost) and Multi-Play Mode, which allows players to use the PS2’s Multitap to do Tag or Dramatic Battles with more than 2 players. The game also contains a Practice Mode, which is entirely 2-on-2, but otherwise identical to those found in other fighting games.

Finally, there’s Character Edit Mode, and this is where Ace comes into play. Players can customize two different versions of Ace – imaginatively labelled as “Left Side” and “Right Side” – with various special moves, Super Combos and Meteor Combos that can be purchased in the in-game store using experience points. Experience Points are earned by completing various trials and the more moves purchased, the more Trials the player has access to. Players can assign 3 special moves, 2 Super Combos and 1 Meteor Combo to each Ace at a time. I think the most interesting part of this whole thing is that some of Ace’s moves actually come from missing characters – specifically Blair Dame and Allen Snider. In fact, both characters’ absence feels somewhat weird, especially considering that Blair gets namedropped in Jack’s ending.

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Seriously, the Trials modes of today could’ve learned from EX3.

The graphics in this game are the weakest element of the entire game. While ARIKA’s modelling has never pushed any hardware to its limits, it was at least appealing in its simplicity. EX3’s artstyle, on the other hand, is the thing nightmares are made of. Likely inspired by the PS2’s unprecedented power at the time, ARIKA decided to go for a more photorealistic look with many of the characters this time around. You’d think the awkwardness surrounding the Street Fighter live-action movie would’ve been enough to dissuade them from this decision, but no. This time around, they decided to drag classic Street Fighter characters kicking and screaming to the very nadir of the uncanny valley. Ryu, Chun-Li and Sakura all end up with faces that look like the demon children you’d expect to see in a Japanese horror movie. Equally horrifying is fan favorite Skullomania: the indentations of his face are visible through his mask, but they’re so exaggerated, it looks like his eyes were gouged out and he’s constantly screaming. And if that wasn’t bad enough, SFEX3 actually launched alongside Tekken Tag Tournament, perhaps one of the best-looking PS2 launch titles in North America. In Japan, things were a bit less decisive – Tekken wasn’t a launch title, but it did release later in the same month. Europe got it the worst though: Tekken Tag Tournament was a launch title, while EX3 didn’t release until March 2001. I mean, seriously, just compare these two screenshots:

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Reminder: these games launched the same day in North America.

It’s hard to believe that they came from the same system. I think the most baffling art is that the character profile art – seen on the character select – is in the same surreal style as previous games.

It doesn’t really help that the art design isn’t quite as inspired as previous titles. While previous games had you fighting in crazy locales like an amusement park, a space shuttle launch site and a meat locker, EX3’s stages border more on themes like “forest”, “ravine” and “ancient tomb”. They’re not particularly bad settings by any stretch of the imagination, they just seem a bit phoned in compared to previous games. It doesn’t help that there aren’t nearly as many levels as previous games in the sub-series. Maybe ARIKA focused so much on trying to wow us with the character models, they didn’t really put much effort into the stages.

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Seriously, the imprint of his face is horrifying.

Fortunately, the sound design lives up to previous games – but that’s mainly due to the fact that a lot of the music is recycled from the console soundtracks of the previous games. That isn’t to say that there aren’t any original compositions and they live up to the older tracks. Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara return, but are joined by newcomer Yasuhisa Watanabe. My favorite tracks in this game are Vega’s theme “Matador”; “Cute Mafia”, Nanase’s theme; “Coldman Rosso”, Vulcano Rosso’s theme and Blanka’s “BIRI-BIRI Red heat”, but the clear winner overall is “Iron Eyes”, Area’s theme.  The sound effects and voice acting are about on par with previous games – in fact, Ken’s voice actor from the original EX (and the Alpha games) returns for EX3.

At the time of the game’s release, Street Fighter EX3 was actually fairly well received, all things considered. It got fairly decent ratings in both Western and Japanese publications and even managed to make it into the top 10 of the Japanese sales charts the week it was released, selling a respectable 207,000 copies. Unfortunately, no other sales records exist for the game: it isn’t listed as one of Capcom’s Platinum Titles on their investor website, even though other externally-developed titles like Ducktales Remastered and DmC Devil May Cry appear – so it’s safe to assume that it didn’t reach the lofty 1 million sales mark.

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Then again, maybe it didn’t cost as much as those games, so maybe it still did well by Capcom’s metrics.

Years after the fact, opinions toward the game would shift, effectively looking at it as a misstep for the franchise, to the extent where it would even color the perception of the entire EX series negatively for some time. This reputation probably wasn’t helped by the fact that Street Fighter EX3 was the last original Street Fighter game for the better part of a decade, effectively ushering in a series hiatus that seemed permanent.

The paths of the three companies involved in these spinoffs diverged significantly. We all know of what happened to Capcom, but Incredible Technologies would go onto achieve relative success with their Golden Tee series, which they still produce to this day, along with Silver Strike, a bowling game in the same vein of Capcom Bowling, as well as various casino games. As for ARIKA, they still manage to find contracting work with other companies, working on projects including Capcom’s MegaMan Network Transmission and Nintendo’s Dr. Luigi.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve decided it was worth discussing these games. Well, in addition to having some fond memories associated with some of them, Capcom apparently recognizes the original characters from both the Movie games and the EX series as parts of the Street Fighter legacy. In addition to giving each character official profiles on Street Fighter V’s Shadaloo C.R.I. website, they were also included in last year’s character popularity poll, with Skullomania ranking in at an impressive 16th place overall. But while the characters from the Street Fighter movie appear to be owned by Capcom, ARIKA still holds the rights to the EX characters, which has made future appearances in Street Fighter games difficult from a legal standpoint.

However, on April Fools’ Day 2017, ARIKA revealed some test footage of what appeared to be a modern version of the Street Fighter EX and Fighting Layer engine – similar to the “Fighting Sampletech demo they produced for the Nintendo 3DS years prior. Dubbed “ARIKA EX”, the footage was met with overwhelming positive reception, leading to ARIKA greenlighting the project. In fact, it’s releasing today under the somewhat awkward title “Fighting EX Layer”, paying tribute to both of their previous fighting game projects. Admittedly, I’m still disappointed that they didn’t go with “Fighting Layer EX”: FLEX would’ve been a perfect acronym. Regardless, FEXL includes the return of such characters as Cracker Jack, Blair Dame, Allen Snider, Shadowgeist, Doctrine Dark, Hayate (by way of his near-identical modern-day descendant, who just so happens to also be named “Hayate”), Nanase (rechristened as “Sanase” after the memories of her previous life were sealed away), both the original Hokuto and her “Bloody” alter-ego (going by her true name “Shirase”), Kairi, Garuda, Darun Mister and of course, fan favorite Skullomania – all sporting new designs. While the game is set to launch exclusively on the PS4, ARIKA has mentioned that they’re considering releasing on additional platforms (including PC!) if the game does well, as well as producing additional characters. Call it an advertisement, but I’m just so excited that this game exists in general and I wish the fine people at ARIKA all the success in the world.

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Seriously, I’m pulling for this to be a success.

With that being said, it will be some time before I wrap up this retrospective with the final article: delving into Street Fighter’s modern era. I originally intended to release this one at the end of July, but the timing just seemed too perfect. Maybe it will show up in August, but I make no promises.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Third Strikeout

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So far, I’ve covered just about every game included in Capcom’s recent Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection – and then some – across three retrospectives. In this write-up, I’ll be discussing the last three games included in this new compilation: the Street Fighter III “trilogy”. Ever since Street Fighter II reinvigorated arcades and essentially created the fighting game scene, fans from all over the world were clamoring for a true successor, the next numbered entry in the Street Fighter franchise. Game development takes time and trying to surpass the extremely popular SF2 was a tall order for Capcom. Unfortunately, in the time that Capcom spent with revisions and spin-offs, various rivals managed to hit the elusive third game long before Capcom. Franchises like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, The King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown and Mortal Kombat managed to receive their third numbered titles throughout 1995 and 1996, essentially outshining Street Fighter in that regard. Even Capcom’s own Darkstalkers managed a third game the same year SFIII finally hit the scene, albeit a few months after. But the question remained: would Street Fighter III live up to the previous games’ reputation?

Of course, before we go into the games themselves, there is one little slight detour that must be discussed: the arcade hardware that all three games in the series was unique, in that it was perhaps Capcom’s most advanced piece of internally developed arcade hardware, yet it was home to a mere handful of games. Still, a full understanding of this hardware is paramount to understanding just how much effort Capcom put into their true successor to their 1991 arcade smash hit.

Prelude: The CP System III

The CP System III – commonly referred to as “CPS3” – was the final proprietary arcade system board that Capcom designed themselves. I think the most impressive thing about the CPS3 is the amount of wasted potential it had. Essentially, this beast was intended to usher in the true next generation of Capcom’s arcade games, and yet, in the end, it fizzled out just as quickly as it burst onto the scene, ending not with a bang but a whimper.

While its predecessor was merely a modified version of its predecessor, the CPS3 was a completely different animal. For starters, to save money on production costs, the CPS3 used CDs to store game data. However, that didn’t mean that the platform didn’t also use cartridges: the CDs themselves were encrypted and could only be run using a security cartridge that contained the game’s BIOS and a Hitachi SH-2 CPU, which used its integrated decryption logic to generate a unique game key which was stored on the board’s battery-backed SRAM when the hardware was turned on. Above all else, the CPS3 was Capcom’s ultimate weapon in the field of anti-piracy, hardware that was far too convoluted to crack at the time. In fact, the security cartridge was so sensitive to tampering, that any attempt would result in the game’s decryption key being erased and the cart itself being rendered completely useless. Unfortunately, due to the battery-based nature of these cartridges, the security carts themselves only have a temporary lifespan, effectively making all but one CPS3 game – more on that later – a ticking time-bomb, effectively killing off any legitimate way of playing these games once and for all. By June 2007, just under 8 years after the last CPS3 game was released, the encryption method was finally cracked by Andreas Naive – one of the two people who successfully reverse-engineered the CPS2 hardware only months earlier – which allowed all of the CPS3’s games to be played through emulation.

Compared to the CPS2, there was much less of an incentive to emulate the CPS3 itself. While its predecessor was home to several Capcom arcade classics, the CP System III could boast a library of six and even that designation feels generous. The first game released on the system was Red Earth (known as Warzard in Japan) in 1996, an RPG/fighting game hybrid taking place in a post-apocalyptic world clearly inspired by medieval fantasy settings. Red Earth is among Capcom’s most obscure fighting games, likely owed to the fact that to this day, it has never been released outside of arcades, but it has managed a few references in other games: Tessa (known as Tabasa in Japan) made playable appearances in Pocket Fighter and SNK vs. Capcom CHAOS, while a handful of other characters were playable in Capcom Fighting Evolution. Next came 1997’s Street Fighter III: New Generation, which would be followed by a revision (2nd Impact) and a sequel (3rd Strike). And then there was Jojo’s Venture, a licensed game based on the popular Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure manga. This game also received an enhanced revision, titled Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future. So, while the CPS3 technically boasts an already unimpressive library of six games, half of those were expansions of existing titles.

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You expected Jojo, but it was me, Red Earth!

1999 was the CPS3’s last year, with the release of the final Street Fighter III and Jojo games. From there, Capcom decided to move to SEGA’s own NAOMI arcade hardware, itself based on the Dreamcast home console, a platform that Capcom was familiar with. With that, Capcom themselves dropped out of creating their own arcade hardware, opting instead to use other manufacturers’ hardware when releasing arcade games. Personally, I consider the CPS3 itself to be a textbook case of wasted potential. The system itself was significantly stronger than the CPS2, so it would’ve been impressive to see other Capcom franchises make an appearance on the system. Considering how amazing Vampire Savior looked, I have to wonder what a Darkstalkers 4 developed for the CPS3 would have looked like. On top of that, just imagine what could’ve happened if Capcom had branched out to other non-fighting genres: a new Final Fight or 19XX game could have been amazing.

Street Fighter III: New Generation

It only took nearly six years, several revisions and a whole host of spin-offs, but on February 4th, 1997, Capcom finally released the long-awaited sequel to the arcade smash hit Street Fighter II. Street Fighter III was the culmination of years of planning on how to surpass its predecessor, clearly built in a way to make the original game look as outdated as SF2 had made the original Street Fighter look. But the question remained: with the whole world watching, could Street Fighter III deliver on the almost insurmountable amount of hype a direct sequel to Street Fighter II would have placed clearly on its shoulders?

Ironically, the original version of Street Fighter III – subtitled “New Generation” – is the only version of the game I actually played in arcades back in the day. I remember seeing an arcade cabinet with only the word “THREE” written on its marquee. I was curious and decided to approach it. I was shocked to find that the game was actually the third Street Fighter, a game that I honestly had no idea existed at the time. With no hesitation, I pumped in my quarters and went straight to the character select. What awaited me was an almost entirely new cast of characters, which was both confusing and exciting. I decided to pick Necro and play to my heart’s content. I’d end up reaching the final boss, pumping in more quarters after losses, but I just couldn’t beat him. I think I finally ended up giving up the first time he pulled the “Resurrection” trick on me: that kind of thing was too discouraging for any pre-teen to handle. All the same, I had plenty of fun playing the game at the time and to this day, I still have a soft spot for New Generation over its successors.

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Easily tied with the original Darkstalkers for my favorite Player Select screen in Capcom history.

Capcom first announced the existence of Street Fighter III at a meeting in Tokyo on March 27, 1996, nearly a year before the game’s release. The game itself was first revealed to the public at the September 1996 Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association show, with footage from the game incorporated into a PR demo tape for Capcom’s upcoming releases in general. In fact, during the show, Shinji Mikami – a senior planner at Capcom best known for his work on the first Resident Evil – claimed that it would be impossible to port SFIII to contemporary modern consoles, leading to rumors that the game would eventually receive a home release on the then-upcoming Panasonic M2, the scrapped successor to the 3DO. What was really surprising was that the game managed to retain the 2D aesthetic of previous games in the series, despite being released at a point where 3D graphics were becoming more popular. General producer Noritaka Funamizu explained that Capcom believed that 3D graphics weren’t suitable for fighting games and that the company itself lacked the expertise to create high-quality 3D graphics. Despite these “shortcomings”, Street Fighter III boasted extremely elaborate 2D graphics, made possible by the CPS3 hardware. Each character was comprised of anywhere from 700 to 1200 individual frames of animation and the game ran at a steady 60 frames per second. SF3 also showcased one of the CPS3’s most impressive features: the game didn’t need to mirror sprites, like most hardware at the time. This was most prominently depicted with the game’s final boss, Gill – whose body was red on one half, and blue on the other – as well as his assistant Kolin, who boasted an asymmetrical haircut simply to further showcase this functionality. With this new technology, things like eyepatches switching sides were a thing of the past. Despite that, as a general rule – especially in future titles – Capcom would continue to mirror irregular character attributes in-game if they had a direct effect on gameplay.

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It also did a fine job recreating hand-drawn artwork.

There isn’t much in the way of interesting trivia for Street Fighter III, but there is one tidbit I couldn’t possibly omit. While Street Fighter III was as big of a departure from previous games in the series as the original Street Fighter II, it was apparently going to go even further. I haven’t been able to track down any concrete evidence related to this story, but it appears to be “common knowledge”, so it seems like fair game to mention it. In early location tests for the game, neither Ryu nor Ken were present in the game. In fact, the only “shoto”-type character in the game was Sean Matsuda. The details vary on the reactions to this omission: I’ve heard tell that player feedback led to their inclusion, but I’ve also heard that Capcom ended up insisting on the return of the franchise’s two most iconic characters. I do wonder how the game would’ve turned out without them but considering the backlash to the game itself – more on that later – it’s probably for the best that they were brought into the fold. Considering the fact that an incomplete early version of one of the characters from a future revision has been found in New Generation’s code, I’d have to assume they would’ve been included instead.

Street Fighter III’s basic story is about as simple as previous games: Ryu and Ken face off against a new generation (see what I did there?) of street fighters from various locales in the third World Warrior Tournament. This tournament is being held by a mysterious group known simply as “the Illuminati”, a secret society with unknown motivations that have been manipulating world events for over 2000 years. As usual, most of the story revolves around the characters themselves and their motivations. Ryu continues to seek true mastery of his fist, while Ken Masters has spent so much time with his lovely wife Eliza and his young son Mel, that he’s just itching for another fight with his best friend and rival.

Aside from those two familiar faces, the roster is entirely brand-new. The game’s new protagonist is Alex, a young man from America who was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his mentor Tom, who taught him how to fight. Alex uses a combination of wrestling holds and quick but powerful strikes. Alex doesn’t care much for travelling the world but enters the tournament to avenge his mentor who was defeated and severely injured at the hands of the tournament’s organizer. Elena is a Kenyan princess who fights using capoeira and wishes to travel the world to make new friends. Ibuki is a teenage girl who grew up in a hidden ninja village who just wants to live a normal life but is tasked with stealing data from the Illuminati as her final exam to become a fully-fledged ninja, entering the tournament to mask her true intentions. Sean Matsuda is a young fighter from Brazil who caught a glimpse of Ken’s fighting style and seeks to become his pupil.

 

There are also Yun and Yang – the Lee Twins – two Kung Fu experts from Hong Kong who learned under their uncle, Lee from the original Street Fighter. They seek to protect their hometown from anyone who disturbs the peace, including various dealings from the criminal underworld. Both characters have the same exact moves and are essentially palette swaps of one another: Yun is selected with the punch buttons, while kicks choose Yang. Oro is an ancient hermit who seeks a fighter that is worthy to learn his unique fighting style. When fighting, Oro ties one of his arms beneath his tattered robes to prevent him from accidentally killing his opponent. Dudley is a British dandy boxer: effectively the opposite of Balrog, both in terms of personality and fighting style. His motivations are simple: he wishes to retrieve an antique car that was owned by his father and ended up in the possession of the Illuminati’s leader.

Of course, that’s not the worst of the Illuminati’s actions: Necro was once a regular man from Russia named Illia before he was abducted and experimented on in the “G-Project”, which left him with limbs that could stretch like rubber and the ability to generate electrical currents through his body. Together with his girlfriend and fellow test subject Effie, he seeks to take revenge against the Illuminati and regain his freedom. Rounding out the cast is the game’s final boss and the president of the Illuminati, Gill. Boasting flowing blonde hair and a physique akin to the Greek gods, his most prominent feature is his skin: blue on the left side of his body and red on the right. They symbolize his abilities of cryokinesis and pyrokinesis respectively, though he has many other abilities at his disposal. Gill sees himself less as a dictator and more as a benevolent monarch, seeking to lead his chosen people through what he perceived as an inevitable cataclysm.

The single-player arcade mode was par for the course, pitting players against six CPU-controlled characters in traditional arcade-ladder fashion, before a final showdown with Gill himself. If the player could defeat Gill, they would be treated to a traditional slideshow ending, as seen in the SF2 and Alpha games, before being treated to the game’s credits. In that sense, New Generation’s arcade mode was probably the most barebones in the entire franchise: even the original Alpha had eight opponents.

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Although it easily had the best victory screens of the entire franchise.

Street Fighter III’s gameplay felt like a step forward mechanically, compared to both the Street Fighter II and first two Alpha games. This was a game that was clearly built to appeal to more hardcore players of those previous games, the ones that mastered the untold depths hidden in Street Fighter II. By the time SF3 had come into existence, the humble beginnings of the fighting game community (commonly referred to by the acronym “FGC”) had already been planted, starting out even more obscure and insular than it is today. In fact, the predecessor to the EVO Championship Series – known as the Battle at the Bay (or B3, for short) – was held the previous summer, including tournaments for both Super Street Fighter II Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2. While the game’s unfamiliar roster was likely the killing blow to the game’s mainstream popularity, the complex mechanics would eventually lead the game to becoming a cult classic among the most diehard fans of the franchise.

SF3 maintained a lot of gameplay elements from the previous iterations of Street Fighter, opting for a speed and feel clearly inspired by the first two Alpha games, but added various new mechanics to differentiate it from its forerunners. For starters, characters could dash and retreat (“backdash”), a concept introduced in the Darkstalkers series. There was also the introduction of “leap attacks”, short jumping attacks that could be used against crouching opponents. Characters could also be knocked into a “turned-around state” – exactly what it sounds like – with specific moves, leaving them vulnerable to attack momentarily. In some cases, certain attacks could only be performed on opponents in this state: for example, Alex’s Power Bomb command grab becomes a backdrop when performed on an opponent that’s turned around.  However, in spite of these additions to the game’s mobility, air blocking was dropped from the Alpha games.

The Super Combo mechanic also made a comeback, this time referred to as “Super Arts”. SF3 opted for a compromise between the use of a single Super Move in Super Turbo and having access to multiple attacks in the Alpha games. After selecting a character, players had the option to choose one of three Super Arts, each with their own unique motion. The choice of move also had an effect on the size of the meter – that is, how much energy was needed to fill it – and the number of bars that could be stored, ranging from 1 to 3. While this mechanic attempted to balance the strength of the moves themselves, it would eventually play a much larger role in the metagame down the line.

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The special backgrounds that appeared during a Super Art were a nice touch too.

Of course, the most famous – or infamous, depending on your viewpoint (I’m in the latter camp) – change to the gameplay was the addition of the “parry” mechanic, confusingly referred to as “blocking” in the Japanese version. By pressing forward for high and mid attacks or down for low attacks at the exact moment of impact, players could deflect an incoming attack, leaving their opponent open to counterattack. As an added bonus, parrying also negated the typical chip damage incurred by blocking special moves and even Super Arts. The only downside to parrying was the exact timing players needed to pull it off reliably. Though interestingly, hardcore players were generally receptive to the concept: from their perspective, parrying was the best “move” in the entire game and every character had access to it. Therefore, no matter what, the game could never truly be unbalanced. For them, parries were a perfect representation of one’s skill and even a truly dire match-up could achieve victory through sheer skill alone. Of course, the mechanic wasn’t exactly a perfect equalizer: for example, Elena’s neutral stance involved her dancing forward and back, making properly timing parries with her more difficult than a majority of the cast.

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Fun fact: taking all these screenshots actually taught me how to parry.

There were a couple other changes made to the game that were minor compared to everything else. First, there was the addition of the “stun meter”, which visually represented how close each character was to being knocked into a dizzy state. Mechanically, the stun mechanic itself was no different from how it worked in previous games but being able to see how close a character was to becoming stunned could lead to a change in strategy. In fact, the addition of the Stun bar likely led to the addition of Super Arts like Alex’s Stun Gun Headbutt and Ryu’s Denjin Hadouken – moves that focused more on building stun as opposed to dealing direct damage. Secondly, time overs and double KOs were handled differently from previous games. After any match without a definitive winner, “Judgement” would be declared. Three “Judgement Girls” – there are seven in total, but three are chosen at random – appear onscreen and judge the characters on how well they did in the match. It’s not entirely known what determines a winner, but most seem to believe that score and an internal grading system play a pivotal role.

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I think out of everything SFIII added, the Stun Meter was my clear favorite.

While I’ve got mixed opinions on the gameplay, I can’t deny the sheer quality of the game’s graphics. It’s ironic that Capcom was insecure using 2D sprites back when SF3 was first released: they’ve endured as one of the benchmarks that modern fighting games – 2D or otherwise – are compared to, even to this day. In addition to avoiding the various visual shortcuts that most 2D games had to enjoy, SF3’s character sprites managed to achieve more of a hand-drawn look than many of its contemporaries (and even some of its successors). And even after modern games shifted from pure 2D to “2.5D” graphical styles, SF3’s fluid animations are considered among the best in fighting game history.

The backgrounds are also probably among the most gorgeous that Capcom has ever produced as well, with a much wider variety of locales compared to other games in the franchise. In fact, most stages even change between rounds, usually shifting colors to depict a different time of day or a change in weather. A few end up changing their locales entirely: for example, Elena starts on a wooden bridge with a bird’s eye view of a rainforest. At the end of the first round, the bridge collapses, sending both fighters down into the thick of it, with a flowing waterfall in the background. Some stages are outlandish, like Ibuki’s ninja village and Necro’s mysterious train filled to the brim with scientific equipment. But even the realistic ones, like Sean and Dudley’s stages, which take place in major metropolises in their respective home countries, have this unusual perspective about them, the buildings themselves seem to curve in a surrealist fashion. Even a concept as boring as Oro’s cavern manages to look extremely gorgeous.

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Fighting a demigod adjacent to a literal lake of fire. Street Fighter sure had come a long way from fighting some shirtless dude in front of a train yard.

This attention to detail also applies to the game’s introduction and even the game’s endings, all of which resembles hand-drawn art at the game’s original intended resolution, generally only revealing its true nature as pixel art when blown up to ridiculous proportions. My favorite element of the game would have to be the victory screens after each match, showing the defeated character trying to recover while the winner stands above them triumphantly. It’s easily my favorite iteration of this out of every Street Fighter game, maybe even the fighting game genre in general. The HUD itself was also redesigned, effectively shrinking it down to showcase as much of the backgrounds while still displaying the health, super and stun meters in full view.

I’d also probably argue that New Generation is my favorite looking iteration of SF3 period. Everything about the game just has this indescribable polish behind it, much like many first iterations of post-SFII Capcom fighting games. To this day, the character select screen for NG is tied with that of the original Darkstalkers as my favorite in fighting game history. It manages to expand on the theming of the Street Fighter II games – that is, showcasing the world itself – with some interesting faux-3D artwork on the globe itself.

My preference for New Generation over its later revisions also applies to the game’s sound design. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Yuki Iwai and Hideki Okugawa, who previously worked on games like Alien vs. Predator, X-Men: Children of the Atom and the first two Darkstalkers games. That last credit feels all the more relevant: New Generation’s soundtrack sounds much more like it belongs in a Darkstalkers game than Street Fighter. Yet that’s probably what I like so much about it: there’s this smooth, jazzy sound behind all of the songs. I’d have to say that my favorite tracks in this game are both versions of “Jazzy NYC” (the themes for Alex and Sean); Necro’s haunting “Get on a Train”; Dudley’s classy “Leave Alone” and my personal favorite, Elena’s energetic “Tomboy”. I also have to give a shout out to Gill’s theme “The Judgment Day” for capturing just how imposing of a final boss he is.

The sound effects were designed by Satoshi Ise, which sound much harsher than previous games, perhaps owing to the more serious nature of the game itself. On top of that, Street Fighter III’s voice acting was unique compared to previous games in the series: it included both Japanese and English actors. Alex, Dudley, Necro, and Gill all used English voice actors, while the rest of the cast stuck to the traditional Japanese. While by no means the first fighting game to implement anything like this, it was certainly an interesting step forward for the franchise.

I’d like to say that New Generation was a welcome twist on an existing franchise, but unfortunately it lacked the widespread appeal that its predecessor had. It’s kind of ironic in retrospect: for so long, people had been clamoring for a proper sequel to Street Fighter II – one that would further the series to the same extent that the second game had turned a forgotten game into a worldwide phenomenon – yet by trying to recreate the zeitgeist that led to that success in the first place only managed to repulse the very audience they were trying to sate. Alas, to this day, New Generation remains relatively obscure, only managing to appear in the recent 30th Anniversary Collection out of a sense of completionism. All the same, I’m still glad it’s finally been made playable once again, and this time to a far wider audience. Maybe that’s just the exposure it needs to kick off a newfound appreciation for the original Street Fighter III. After all, a man can dream, can’t he?

Street Fighter III 2nd Impact: Giant Attack

Released in October 1997, 2nd Impact was the expansion most people were primed to expect after New Generation was first released. Effectively replacing the original Street Fighter III in the series’ canon, Giant Attack also added brand new characters and mechanics on top of the foundation laid by its predecessor – acting as the Night Warriors to the original game’s Darkstalkers. Or if you want to keep things Street Fighter, the Alpha 2 to New Generation’s Alpha 1. Personally, I think the former comparison is more apt: 2nd Impact even changed the default colors for all of the returning characters — though this wasn’t reflected on the character select screen.

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…not a fan of this one.

I’d say that the main attraction that Second Impact boasts over its predecessor is easily the new additions to the roster, but I’ve always been a sucker for big rosters. For starters, Yun and Yang have been separated into two completely distinct characters with their own unique movesets, and as such, both brothers have their own icon on the character select. We also finally see the addition of Hugo, a member of the Andore clan, best known for their appearance in the original Final Fight. Hugo is a professional wrestler being managed by the femme fatale Poison. He joins the tournament seeking a strong tag team partner. If you haven’t guessed by now, Hugo was originally planned to appear in New Generation, but was cut due to time constraints. Some unfinished sprites and his complete stage were actually found as hidden unused data in New Generation. Next comes Urien, Gill’s younger brother who is bitter that he was overlooked for the position of President of the Illuminati. In-game, he effectively acts as a balanced, playable version of Gill, utilizing power over electricity and metal to attack his opponents. Finally, Akuma also appears as a hidden character – both fought as a secret boss under specific circumstances and playable by inputting a code on the character select screen – still seeking a strong opponent to quench his thirst for battle. Akuma looks mostly unchanged from his previous appearances (his hair is beginning to gray, though) but he’s learned several new attacks since his last appearance. Likewise, Shin Akuma appears as a secret boss in the game, fought by scoring a perfect victory on Akuma or finishing him with a Super Art. Aside from these new additions, the game’s story is identical to New Generation’s, even the endings return completely unchanged.

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Oh look, here they are now.

The arcade mode is slightly expanded, opting for eight opponents instead of the previous game’s seven – but in most cases, most characters still finish with the climactic battle with Gill. However, some characters face off with Gill as their second-to-last opponent before fighting an entirely different character in their final match. Hugo brings this concept well beyond its logical conclusion: his final fight can be against one of four different characters – Gill, Necro, Elena and Ryu – and each character slightly modifies his ending, which involves his final opponent becoming his tag team partner. 2I also brings back Alpha 2’s secret mid-bosses and a bonus stage – not seen since Super Street Fighter II – though instead of the standard “car crusher” or “barrel breaker” stages, it involves parrying basketballs that are being tossed at the player by Sean in various patterns. It’s a pretty interesting concept, effectively providing a tutorial for people who are unfamiliar with the mechanic.

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No, seriously, this article taught me how to parry.

Aside from the standard balance changes associated with revisions to Capcom’s fighting games, Giant Attack adds a few new gameplay mechanics to Street Fighter III, many of which are considered crucial to the game’s evolution. Perhaps the most important was the addition of “EX Moves”, which are essentially powered up versions of a character’s special moves performed at the cost of a segment of Super Meter. The concept itself technically originated in 1994’s Darkstalkers, where “ES Moves” took an entire bar of meter, but 2I decided to take less – when the player has enough meter to perform an EX move, the super bar flashes – likely to encourage players to use them, instead of just saving meter for Super Arts, which generally deal more damage but have a higher risk of being blocked, due to their start-up animations. This had an effect on how players decide their Super Art: bar length and the number of charges one could hold determined just how many EX moves a character could do at a time. 2nd Impact also toys with the concept of Target Combos, which are similar in execution to the Chain Combos from the original Street Fighter Alpha – as well as the Marvel vs. Capcom and Darkstalkers series – except they rely upon specific button combinations that vary depending on the character as opposed to just using the “magic series” for everyone indiscriminately.

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The yellow shadows means it’s working.

2I also added “grap defense” – the ability to escape throws – as well as “personal actions”, which were essentially the taunts from the Alpha games, performed by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously. Personal actions did offer various perks though: some of them were actually attacks that could deal inconsequential damage to an opponent and successfully completing the action would give characters a boost, like boosting damage or reducing the stun gauge. Players are also given the ability to swap out their Super Arts when a second player challenges them, allowing for the ability to adjust their strategy based on who they’re facing.

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Here’s a twofer: Akuma doing his taunt.

Not surprisingly, Second Impact recycles much of the artwork from the previous game. The new additions match perfectly with the old, which makes me wonder if more than just Hugo was originally planned for New Generation.  My favorite addition to the game in terms of graphics would have to be the addition of Effie – Necro’s girlfriend and fellow test subject – to the end of his matches: if he wins, she apes his winpose; if he loses, she lies down beside him. It’s a nice cute touch and honestly, I can’t imagine one without the other these days. She also joins the Judgement Girls, bring the group to a total of 8 girls. As usual, Capcom decided to give each of the returning characters a different default palette and adjusted the designs of all of the returning stages. However, the game also added some new stages – and not just for the new characters. Alex, Sean, Ken and Gill all receive completely new stages, while Yun and Yang essentially split their stage from New Generation – Yun takes the bustling Hong Kong cityscape, while Yang takes the indoor segment. Giant Attack is actually unique among the other games in the SF3 trilogy: it’s the only one where each character has their own unique stage. The fresh coat of paint on existing stages is nice, but most of the backgrounds end up losing their transitions in the process. I’m just not sure if that’s a fair tradeoff.

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I feel like about 33% of the reason I miss Necro is because of Effie.

The HUD has changed and though it takes up even less room than the NG version, I’m just not a fan of the close-ups on each character’s eyes. The fact that the Super Meters list which Super Art each character is using and how many bars they can hold is a nice touch though. The new introduction is a little less interesting than that of the first game, focusing on a showdown between Alex and Hugo, while characters new and old face-off in the transitions. It’s definitely more active than the previous game’s intro, but it lacks style. The same could be said for the Player Select screen and the other various menus in the game, they’re certainly more functional than the ones in New Generation, but they’re simplistic and kind of ugly to look at. It’s eerie just how much 2nd Impact has in common with Night Warriors.

Giant Attack is also unique in the sense that it’s the only CPS3 game that supports widescreen play natively – New Generation had this feature dummied out, but it could be hacked in. It’s also the only CPS3 game that can be played after the battery dies in its security cartridge. This is because there’s a default set of decryption keys that are written to dead cartridges. In fact, it’s thought that all CPS3 cartridges set their default decryption keys to those of Second Impact once the battery dies, though this hasn’t been tested on legitimate hardware due to the rarity and fragility of the CPS3 in general.

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Yeah, I wasn’t going to actually try to get a Judgement legitimately. That’s just crazy talk.

My mixed reactions also extend to the sound design. Most of the sound team returns from New Generation, though Hiroaki “X68k” Kondo joins the Sound Effect design and Yuki Iwai is only credited as a composer: Okugawa handled all of the game’s arrangements himself. As such, a lot of music from the previous iteration returns, essentially remixed from the previous versions with clear inspiration from genres like Drum & Bass, Techno and House music. I personally preferred the New Generation tracks, but these new versions get the job done. The soundtrack really shines when it comes to its original tracks though. Sean, Ken and Gill all receive new themes, while Yun and Yang have two completely different arrangements of their theme from New Generation, each signifying the personality of each brother: Yun’s variant sounds much more upbeat and heroic, while Yang’s is laid-back and mystical. I’d probably say that the highlights from this game’s soundtrack would have to be Sean’s new theme “SÃO PAULO”; Urien’s theme “NILE (afro edit)”; “JAZZY-NYC (NY house mix)”, the arrangement of Alex’s theme; Dudley’s arrangement “LEAVE ALONE (UK house mix)”; “GIANT ATTACK”, Shin Akuma’s theme and my personal favorite of the bunch, Hugo’s “BOTTOMS UP”. Some new voice actors join the cast, but this time, they’re all Japanese – even though, by all logic, most of these new characters should be speaking English. I suppose considering how quickly this game came out, it makes sense that Capcom would only be able to find Japanese actors on such short notice.

You’ve probably noticed by now that I didn’t mention any home ports when I was discussing New Generation. That’s because, before the 30th Anniversary Collection came out, there was only one home release for both games – Street Fighter III: Double Impact for the Sega Dreamcast. Originally released in Japan as “Street Fighter III: W Impact” in Japan on December 16, 1999, it was eventually released in the West the following year. Both games are, for the most part, direct ports of the arcade versions – albeit with a few bug fixes in some cases – but they also add in a few new features. Gill can be unlocked as a playable character (with an ending and everything) in both games by beating them, while Shin Akuma is unlocked by defeating him in 2nd Impact. Both games also have dedicated Versus and Training modes, while Second Impact has an additional “Parrying Attack” mode, which lets you play the bonus stage at any time, both in the standard format and a new “Survival” format, that lets you keep going until you miss a set number of parries. It’s also interesting that Double Impact uses the CPS3 CD art for New Generation and Second Impact on the game select screen. It’s another one of those nice little touches that Capcom was prone to during this era.

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Seriously, this was a nice detail.

It’s impossible to argue that 2nd Impact wasn’t better remembered than its predecessor, but not by much. In the end, both games would be completely overshadowed almost entirely by what was yet to come. Still, Giant Attack took necessary steps forward from the original iteration of SF3 and that’s honestly the best anyone could ask from a revision. As with New Generation, the 30th Anniversary Collection has brought Second Impact back to the forefront. In fact, there’s a small following of people who wanted it to receive online play in that collection, though not nearly on the same scale as the support for Alpha 2. Still, it’s kind of endearing to know that this game still has fans, despite its obscurity.

Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future

And now we’re at the main event, the game you’ve probably all been waiting for. The game that, let’s face it, 99.9% of Street Fighter fans – and even that feels like an underestimate – think of when they hear those three succulent words: “Street Fighter Three”. 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future is the final release in the Street Fighter III sub-series, but it’s more unique than that. In previous entries – and even this one – I told you about Capcom’s tendency to brand revisions to earlier titles as sequels to the previous games. But Third Strike is unique: it’s a sequel masquerading as a revision! Aside from Arc System Works, I can’t honestly think of any other company, fighting game or otherwise, that have tried to pull this kind of thing on their audience. Released to Japanese arcades on May 12, 1999, for many years this was literally the ultimate Street Fighter, the last new game in the series released in almost a decade. For the die-hard hardcore fans, it was the perfect way to go out.

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Also, it probably had the best opening of the three.

Now compared to the original release and 2nd Impact, there is an abundance of interviews, behind the scenes information about the game’s development and other miscellaneous pieces of trivia floating around about 3rd Strike, likely due to its popularity. For starters, it was only of the earliest games that Yoshinori Ono – the current producer of the Street Fighter series – worked on at Capcom, acting as a Sound Producer for the game. Ironically, it wasn’t the first Street Fighter game he worked on: he was the Sound Manager on Alpha 3, which explains his exquisite taste in characters. Of course, most of the game’s staff returned from Second Impact and Ono was one of only a few additions to the dev team. Also, despite years of rumors regarding a fourth version, the development team viewed Fight for the Future as the culmination of the SFIII series.

Another interesting tidbit is that one of the breakout characters from Third Strike, the spunky tomboy karateka known simply as Makoto, was fully designed during the development of 2nd Impact, but the staff ran out of time to include her as a playable character. In fact, her original character concept was to be Ryu’s younger sister, but that connection was dropped relatively early on. On that note, Chun-Li was added to the game’s roster in order to add another familiar face to the game, to entice players of previous games to give Third Strike a shot. I remember reading somewhere that they also considered adding Dan Hibiki from the Alpha games to the roster, but I saw that info so long ago and can’t find any evidence to corroborate this little factoid – the closest thing to evidence I can find would be the spritework for Dan in the Capcom vs. SNK games which looks like it was modeled after the character sprites in the SF3 games. I know it’s flimsy reasoning, but I’m such a big fan of Dan’s, I just want to believe. One last tidbit, just to make up for my own rampant speculation: originally, when Twelve used his X.C.O.P.Y. Super Art on Hugo, he was going to turn into Abigail from Final Fight instead. Kind of funny in retrospect, wouldn’t you say?

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Better than 2nd Impact, but I still like New Generation’s better.

So, considering the fact that the game takes place after Second Impact (and to a lesser extent, New Generation), it only feels right to explain what exactly about the previous game has been accepted as canon in 3rd Strike. For starters, Ryu was eliminated from the tournament by Oro, who views the “young” (the ancient hermit’s words, not mine) warrior as a suitable disciple to teach his style, which leads to him dropping out of the tournament. Ken, disappointed because he can’t fight Ryu, also drops out of the tournament and tells Sean that he’ll train him only if he’s able to defeat Ryu in combat. Alex – who, if you’ll remember, was originally intended to be the game’s new protagonist – was the winner of the third World Warrior Tournament, toppling Gill in one-on-one combat. Ibuki manages to infiltrate the Illuminati’s headquarters and achieve her quarry: the files about their G-Project, unconcerned by the ninja’s mission because the project is well underway. Necro confronts Gill for the what G-Project did to him but ends up trapped in a warehouse set to explode. Necro only manages to escape with the help of Effie. Finally, Urien challenges Gill for the presidency of the Illuminati and succeeds, only to discover that Gill purposely threw the fight in order to be declared their Emperor – the true leader of the organization.

It’s also assumed that Dudley managed to retrieve his father’s beloved antique car somehow, as that storyline doesn’t resurface in Third Strike. Aside from that, the rest of the returning cast’s motivations haven’t really changed: Elena’s still looking for new friends all over the world, Hugo’s still seeking a strong tag team partner, Akuma still lurks in the shadows seeking a suitable opponent and Yun and Yang still want to protect their hometown from crime and violence. Because the tournament has concluded, Fight for the Future’s storyline focuses much more on the dealings of the Illuminati itself and their goal of creating a new world order.

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Not pictured: Dudley’s antique car.

Of course, there’s a new cast of characters added to the game – five in total. First and foremost, Chun-Li returns from a long absence. After avenging her father’s death, she’s retired from street fighting, focusing her time on police work and teaching martial arts to a group of orphans. One day, a young girl under her care, Li-Fen, is abducted by Urien to be used in one of the Illuminati’s science experiments, prompting Chun-Li to come out of retirement and rescue her young charge. Makoto is a practitioner of Rindo-kan karate, having inherited her late father’s dojo. Unfortunately, it’s seen better days, so Makoto decides to drum up some business by challenging some of the world’s strongest fighters. Remy is a mysterious fighter from France who bears a grudge against all fighters ever since his father disappeared, abandoning him and his late sister. Strangely, Remy’s fighting style resembles that of Guile and Charlie, leading many to speculate that there may have been some connection between them. Twelve is an artificial lifeform, one of the first successful products of the Illuminati’s G-Project. He can shapeshift, transforming his body parts into weapons and even mimic his opponents. His first mission is to track down Necro, his predecessor, and kill him. Finally, there’s Q. Not much is known about Q, aside from the fact that he wears a strange robotic mask and an overcoat that conceals most of his body. To add to his air of mystery, Q only appears as a hidden opponent in Arcade mode – even though he’s a standard playable character.

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Believe it or not, these are two different characters.

Third Strike also manages to expand on the previous game’s single-player arcade mode. For starters, the larger roster allows for a gauntlet of 10 characters. The game also brings in a second bonus stage: the classic “Car Crusher” returns, though this time, players are tasked with demolishing an SUV, pre-rendered using a 3D model. Rival battles also return from Alpha 3, allowing each character a specific opponent in their penultimate fight, with pre-fight dialogue (to a lesser extent than SFA3). Gill also regains his position as the final boss for every character. The game also offers another twist on the traditional formula, which may be one of my favorite twists on the concept in the entirety of fighting games: for the first eight fights in the arcade ladder, players are given the choice between two different opponents. It’s an interesting concept and I wish more games could have explored it, though I am happy to say that 3rd Strike isn’t the only game to explore the idea – stay tuned.

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Seriously, this was a game changer.

Comparatively, the additions that Fight for the Future brings to the general gameplay mechanics is pretty sparse, though considering how solid 2nd Impact’s framework was, there wasn’t really that much to add. There are two major additions to 3S’s gameplay. The first is the addition of the Guard Parry – commonly referred to as the “Red Parry” – which allows players to parry follow-up attacks if they block the first hit of a combo. The timing for this mechanic is much stricter than a standard parry, but it offers a huge frame advantage, allowing for easy reversals. The other major addition is a new grading scale, which ranks a player’s Offense, Defense, Technique (determined by how you defeat your opponent) and “SP Point”, which varies based on whether or not you finish off your opponent with a Special Move, an EX Move or a Super Art. These scores are all tallied up and the player is given a grade, ranging from a lowly E all the way to MSF (which stands for “Master Street Fighter”). Aside from providing bragging rights about just how well one can follow arbitrary criteria, the grading system determines whether Q appears in Arcade Mode and plays a role in the rebalanced Judgement system.

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Eh, the grades, I could take or leave, but the artwork is nice.

Finally, commands for a few standard techniques were changed across the board. For starters, the command for performing throws had changed, no longer requiring players to push a direction and either medium or heavy punch in close contact, opting for a simultaneous press of light punch and kick – much like how Alpha 3 switched it to a far less enduring two punch command. Like, there was also the addition of a universal command for overheads: medium punch and kick. Together with the returning Personal Action command from Second Impact, this allowed Capcom to maximize the versatility of the standard six-button layout and would inspire future titles.

Once again, the graphics are something of a mixed bag compared to previous iterations. The new character sprites mesh well with the old. In particular, Twelve pushes the animation capabilities of the CPS3 hardware with his transformative abilities – I really wish Capcom had made a Darkstalkers game on this hardware. On the other hand, the backgrounds are pretty underwhelming compared to those from the previous two versions of the game. They’re about as detailed as the earlier ones, but I just find them less appealing. They’re all fairly empty, the colors are much less vibrant and the locales themselves just seem to have way less character, both figuratively and literally – many stages are shared between characters, usually with minor variations in color depending on the character. As such, these shared stages are generally less memorable than the ones from previous games. My personal favorites would have to be the return of Suzaku Castle as Ryu’s stage; Makoto’s karate dojo, Necro and Twelve’s take on St. Basil’s Cathedral, Hugo’s room and Elena’s savannah.

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This is apparently supposed to be France.

The menus, on the other hand, are a marked improvement over Second Impact’s. Every character receives brand new artwork, looking even more hand-drawn than those of the previous games. The in-game HUD is my favorite of all three games: it combines the clean look of New Generation with the functionality of Second Impact. I’d also say that the game has the best looking introductory cutscene out of all three games. The endings also have more of a hand-drawn look compared to the previous two games.

I’m definitely in the minority, but I was never particularly fond of Third Strike’s soundtrack. Hideki Okugawa returns from the first two games, collaborating with rapper Infinite, formerly of the Canadian rap duo Ghetto Concept. As such, the game has more of a hip-hop sound compared to the previous two games. Most of the previous games’ compositions are left by the wayside – aside from Jazzy NYC and Crowded Street – in favor of brand new songs. A lot of characters end up sharing themes, even more than in New Generation, though this is likely due to the large roster and the lack of recycled music. In spite of my general distaste for the soundtrack, I do have favorite tracks. Dudley’s new theme “YOU BLOW MY MIND”; Necro and Twelve’s “SNOWLAND”; Q’s theme, which is fittingly titled “Q”; “Jazzy NYC ‘99” used by Alex and Ken; Yun and Yang’s “CROWDED STREET [Third Edit]” and my personal favorite, Makoto’s “Spunky”.

Satoshi Ise returns on sound design, joined by Yoshiki Sandou. Third Strike was actually Sandou’s first project with Capcom and would eventually go on to perform sound design on titles like Devil May Cry 3, MegaMan Powered Up and Resident Evils 5 and 6. Infinite also does the announcer voiceovers in this game, which helps to create a consistent sound. What’s more impressive is that the entire voice cast from the previous two games have been replaced. Most characters retain their spoken languages from 2nd Impact, aside from Urien, who now speaks English. Chun-Li, Makoto and Remy all have Japanese voice actors, while Q and Twelve “speak” English – not that they do much talking in the first place.

3rd Strike also received more home ports than its predecessors. The game was ported to the Dreamcast in 2000 in Japan, North America and Europe. This release added dedicated Versus and Training modes, with a new option to parry train. There’s also the addition of a new “System Direction” mode, which allows players to customize the gameplay by turning various options on and off. For example, players can choose to allow characters access to all three of their Super Arts at a time, block in the air, enable Chain Combos in the ground and the air and even turn off things like Special Moves and Throws. I kind of wish more fighting games had this level of customization. The Dreamcast version also an additional remix of each character’s music, which play during the third round of any match. This release would eventually be ported to the PlayStation 2 in Japan on July 22, 2004. In the west, it was included in the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection alongside a home port of Hyper Street Fighter II. It was released on the PlayStation 2 exclusively in North America on August 31, 2004, with an Xbox release following in Europe and Japan in October 2004 and North America on February 22nd, 2005. Unfortunately, none of these versions are considered “arcade perfect”, specifically because it was based on a later revision than the tournament standard. Many experts on the subject also cite that the console versions are perceivably faster, but it seems like aside from various minor balance adjustments, the general distaste among the most hardcore Third Strike fans is based on something intangible – most of them can only agree that it doesn’t “feel right”.

Of course, considering both the wide gap between Street Fighter releases and the amount of skill required to properly play the game – let alone master it – it only made sense that Third Strike would garner a cult following among the FGC. In fact, the game was a major part of the EVO Championship Series from 2000 – back when it was referred to as “B4” – all the way up to 2009, where it was played alongside the next game in the franchise. It would briefly resurface in 2011 for reasons I’ll get to later, but aside from that the game itself still continues to be played in smaller tournaments to this day. Of course, 3S’s biggest claim to fame is easily “Evo Moment #37”. During a semi-final match at the 2004 EVO tournament, Daigo Umehara managed to make an unexpected comeback against Justin Wong by parrying 15 consecutive hits of a Super Art with just a single pixel of health left, before countering and winning the round and the match. Arguably the most iconic moment in video game competitions, this moment went on to influence the fighting game community to this day.

It was this undying admiration that caused Capcom to re-release the game in the seventh generation. Rechristened Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition, it was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 exclusively via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade on August 23, 2011 in Japan and North America, with a European release the following day. Iron Galaxy Studios handled this release, effectively taking the PS2 port and reprogramming it to accurately match the arcade revision accepted as the tournament standard – aside from any glitches that locked up the game, of course. In this sense, Online Edition was essentially an “anti-HD Remix”: the original spritework and backgrounds were used (with optional filters), the original aspect ratio was retained and maintaining the original balance was the chief priority in OE.

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Still considered the definitive home release, even to this day.

Iron Galaxy also added various in-match challenges – simple things like performing a certain number of special moves, combos of various lengths and parrying a set number of times – which would unlock “Vault Points”, which could be used to unlock various bonus features, like artwork and music, new and old. Online Edition also offers players to the option to customize the in-game soundtrack: players could keep the standard soundtrack from the arcade version, use tracks from NG and 2I or an entirely remixed soundtrack recorded specifically for Online Edition. Best of all, you could mix and match between these three options on a stage-by-stage basis. 3rd Strike Online Edition also boasted a Challenge mode, where players would attempt to perform set combos, parry various attacks and even recreate the aforementioned “EVO Moment #37”.

Of course, the major selling point of this release was its online play and it delivered on that promise. Utilizing GGPO’s proprietary brand of rollback netcode – generally considered the gold standard by the fighting game community at large – the online mode offered the option to create lobbies (with a maximum of eight players) and filters for matchmaking, as well as the option to play Ranked or Player matches. Not only did this mode offer replays, but it offered the option to upload them directly to YouTube. 3SOE may very well have been the definitive release of the game, but unfortunately, it’s not available on modern platforms: the recent 30th Anniversary Collection contains a straight emulation of the arcade version with completely different netcode.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter how successful Third Strike was in its initial arcade release. By 1999, the popularity of arcades outside of Japan had fallen significantly after Street Fighter II breathed new life into them at the beginning of the decade. By this point, home consoles had long since caught up to arcades, both technologically and in terms of saturation. To make matters even more grim, Capcom no longer needed Street Fighter or fighting games in general: the Resident Evil franchise became the company’s chief source of income, with sales regularly in the millions, making nearly as much money as the most popular Street Fighter games on a much more regular basis. The mainstream gaming medium had grown past 2D fighting games: 3D franchises like Virtua Fighter, Tekken and Dead or Alive managed to carve out a sizable niche on home consoles, but even this couldn’t compare to the heyday of the 90s. A few small developers like SNK and Arc System Works continued to make games in that style, to appeal to a small but dedicated fanbase, but Capcom and other large companies seemed to be done with the genre for good.

…Or were they?

With that, I’ve covered the entirety of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection in these retrospectives – from the 1987 original all the way to 1999’s Third Strike – and then some. I was originally planning to go straight into the modern era with the next article, but this trip down memory lane hasn’t quite slaked my nostalgic thirst for Street Fighter. I was planning on doing a “bonus” Retrospective once the main series was done, discussing a few high-profile licensed spin-offs that Capcom farmed out to other developers. But after this latest article, I think I’d rather take a look at these offshoots sooner rather than later. I’m not sure when it will be ready, but keep an eye out.

Turn Based #7: Dari’s Advocate – A New Venture

SNES Master KI: Hello, and welcome to another installment of Turn Based! We’re going to be doing something a little different this time. Dari will be joining us again, but instead of a focus group we will be doing a debate in the style I have with Professor Icepick. But since there are three people and only two sides, I will be acting as support for Dari, since he’s new to the cut throat world of Retronaissance debates. Today’s topic will be Sonic Adventure 3. Should it be made? Icepick says yes, Dari says no, and I don’t really care but will be arguing for Dari’s side. Icepick will begin the discussion, followed by Dari’s counter and my support, before repeating that order. Let’s begin!

Professor Icepick: It’s been argued lately that there are three major sub-series within the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. The most obvious is “Classic” Sonic, the 2D games that were made during the heyday of the Genesis or later titles that attempted to recapture the magic of the age when Sonic was considered at his peak. There’s also the more modern style of gameplay, which I’ll refer to as “Boost”-style games. These games have a tendency of shifting between 2D and 3D perspectives, focusing on speed above all else, especially in the 3D segments.

However, the third — and as of right now, most obscure — sub-franchise are the “Adventure” games. It’s difficult to even categorize which games exist within that branch of Sonic history (aside from the ones with the name in their titles), but they still have a fairly dedicated fanbase, an ever-increasingly loud faction that continues to cry out for a new game in this particular style. The Adventure games probably did the most heavy lifting when it came to defining Sonic’s setting and any and all characters outside of the Blue Blur himself; his best friend, Miles “Tails” Prower; Knuckles the Echidna, Sonic’s friendly rival and the devious Dr. Ivo Robotnik, better known by his nickname “Dr. Eggman”. While I was first introduced to Sonic during the 16-bit era, I’ve always had a soft spot for the original Sonic Adventure and, to a far lesser extent, Sonic Adventure 2. So I believe that, considering Sega’s current strategy of trying to appease fans of both Classic and Boost Sonic, that they may as well make a legitimate attempt at revisiting the Adventure formula.

Dariwan: Aside from world building, there isn’t really much else there is to an Adventure game. I personally feel like it’s the red-headed stepchild of the Sonic series and it’s a side series that should be noted for what it did but it shouldn’t continue. The Boost Sonic era has soured itself, and the Classic Sonic, as Sonic Mania has obviously shown us, that Classic Sonic will never die. I still remember playing Sonic 2 on my cousin’s Genesis and being amazed and having SO much fun going fast. Adventure didn’t do that for me at all. As the saying goes, (that I’ve edited a bit) “Sonic Adventure games should be seen not heard.”

KI: The issue with trying to bring Sonic Adventure back is that it never works. Sega made a quite significant attempt to revive it at one point with a little game known as Sonic 2006. Then, almost a decade later, we got something initially promoted as another attempt: Sonic Boom on Wii U. The fact is that the Adventure game style really doesn’t seem to work without built in nostalgia.

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This is Sonic Adventure 3. Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

To expand on Dari’s point, the things people like most about the Adventure style games (story, music, character development) don’t actually require something that plays like them. There’s no reason they couldn’t be added to a game that played like Sonic Generations or even Sonic Mania, imagine a game that played like Sonic Mania but had a story told in the style of the animated shorts that Sega is making based on SM.

Icepick: The problem with attempting to inject story into Classic style gameplay is that it would likely be met with resistance from the die-hard fans. In-game cutscenes using the game’s own art assets are one thing, but outright breaking away from the in-game engine itself seems like too risky of a strategy.

As for your point about the previous two attempts of revitalizing the Adventure being disastrous, I have to acknowledge your point. However, considering the two games in question were a game that was rushed out the door in order to meet some arbitrary anniversary deadline — something Sega’s been avoiding these days — and a game being developed by an unknown developer that clearly didn’t live up to its supposed pedigree, I don’t think the Adventure style has been given a fair shake since the death of the Dreamcast.

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Yes, dear readers, believe it or not, this was a Sonic game.

I don’t disagree that Classic Sonic should remain a thing: as a matter of fact, I love that Sega has apparently decided to break off Classic Sonic into his own timeline. But Dari betrays his own argument: I’ve never been particularly fond of the Boost formula. In fact, my favorite 3D Sonic game was the unfairly maligned Lost World, which was as far from the Boost gameplay as humanly possible. The Boost gameplay may appeal to speed freaks like Dari, who simply… if you’ll excuse my terminology… “gotta go fast”. But Classic Sonic was about more than just holding right to win and the Boost formula only serves to represent a shallow parody of the Sonic formula in general.

Dari: Well now you see, I’d put Lost World in its own little section by itself with Colors as they were their own games with new things that have their own fanbases, as the Sonic Advance and the Rush games. So I wouldn’t say that they have suffered from the “Boost Curse” but I digress. I think that it would be best to inject story into another Sonic Generations game. and I don’t count Sonic Forces as anything related to the Generations thing even if they had the different sonics in it…that game is as trash as the Adventure series is to me but again I’m digressing.

There’s more to classic Sonic than just going fast. there’s puzzles and boss fights to conquer, even if the game is simplistic in nature, there’s a layer of complexity that isn’t appreciated by enough people…which makes me think that’s why Adventure exists and why it’s just so…bad.

KI: The only non-DIMPS boost game that focused on speed to the point of not having platforming was Sonic Unleashed. Colors, Generations, and yes, Forces all managed to do platforming as well as the Adventure games. And it’s not like the Adventure games didn’t have parts focused on speed and nothing else, compare the truck chase in Sonic Adventure 2 to the one in Sonic Generations, Generations’ is much more interactive. I’d also say Lost World is much closer to Sonic Colors than to the Sonic Adventure games, it had the same story style and level layout, wisps, and only one playable character.

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Not exactly “hold boost to win.”

Icepick: I’d have to agree with you on Lost World being its own beast, Dari. That’s why I brought it up in the first place. Colors, on the other hand, was clearly built from the Boost mold that was originated by Unleashed, for better or worse. It’s probably the best example of that particular format, but only just so.

However, you missed the point of my argument regarding the Classic games. I know that they had puzzle solving, platforming and boss fights. The problem is that many Sonic fans only focus on the “gotta go fast” meme, to the extent where — as KI has harped on in the past — Boost fans had to invent a new slur in “block platforming” to bash the game because they couldn’t simply hold right to win and had to…you know, navigate platforms. In a platformer, no less. What a public relations nightmare!

Circling back to the argument that the failures of Sonic ’06 and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric should nail Adventure’s coffin shut once and for all, that argument seems a bit reductive. By that logic, Sonic the Hedgehog 4 should have made it impossible for Sonic Mania to exist. Likewise, the mixed reactions toward Sonic Force should likely spell doom for the Boost formula under the same.

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Behold: the pinnacle of interactivity.

But I’ve spent far too long on the defensive, time to make my strike. If anything, the existence of Sonic Mania has seemed to emboldened the Adventure fanbase’s demand for a new game in that style. Sonic Mania took what worked from the Classic games and fixed various elements that didn’t. For example, even Sonic 2 — generally heralded as the series’ apex — was filled with death traps that had to be memorized to be avoided. Sonic Mania opted for smarter level design, avoiding the unfair difficulty of the Genesis glory days. In the process, they ended up with a game that relied on more than muscle memorization and it paid off for them, with many proclaiming Mania as the best game in the series.

By that logic, isn’t it possible that a developer with a similar affinity for the Adventure games could rehabilitate the engine into something that could be enjoyed by modern audiences? Take what worked from the Adventure games — the multiple play-styles, the overarching storyline woven into gameplay and the exploration — and simply drop what didn’t? Or better yet, even fix the clunkier elements with modern gameplay concepts? Why is that so impossible?

Dari: Yes, the things Sonic Mania did really help the series and made Classic stand out for what it was when it got the problems fixed that plagued it for decades. But what exactly does that mean for the Adventure series? Aside from some cheaply made minigames almost reminiscent of the Pokémon Stadium games or something that’d be easily thrown together as a mobile game or some really shoddy episodic play reminiscent of the multiple play styles — that they tried and failed with Sonic 4 no less — I really don’t see why this needs to be done. The only way I can see this working now is through a mobile game that cheapens sonic to nothing more than a Mario clone with different Sonic characters doing mediocre platforming throwing the story to the wayside as something even simpler than even the Sonic Mania story to try and pass off as something canon. And I refuse to have something like that just for you to have your Adventure trip.

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This is what I expect Sonic Adventure Mobile to be.

KI: While it’s certainly possible for someone to come in and make a good Adventure style game, there’s a difference between that hypothetical game and Mania that you’re missing. I think you’re underselling the Genesis Sonic games, Sonic 2 really didn’t have many cheap traps as long as you didn’t gotta go fast at every opportunity, approach it like a platformer and it’s very manageable. Sonic Mania worked so well because a solid base was established, the Genesis Sonic games. Sonic Adventure 3 would have to make far more alterations if it was to reach the quality of Mania, and have a much higher budget. A few dedicated fans aren’t going to be able to make a AAA (which is what Sonic Adventure would translate into when you adjust for inflation) game the way they made Sonic Mania. A Sonic Adventure revival comes with higher risks and greater obstacles than classic Sonic ever did.

Icepick: Perhaps, but your citations for why an Adventure game is misguided clearly had much more pressing issues working against them that simply being an attempt to revitalizing that style of gameplay. On top of that, Forces’ mediocre reception seems to be implying that the Boost formula is beginning to wear out its welcome. Also, I feel like you’re being extremely disingenuous when you think I’m expecting a full-on 1:1 remake of the previous Adventure titles. Taking what worked from them and applying them to modern gaming sensibilities seems much more likely.

Plus, I think we’re all ignoring the elephant in the room. The sheer antipathy the Sonic fanbase has felt toward “Sonic’s dumb friends” has all but evaporated in recent years. Sonic Mania proves that the floodgates can be relaxed, as the return of everyone’s favorite two-tailed fox and knuckle-head were met with nothing but applause. Likewise, the recent reveals of both Mighty the Armadillo and Ray the Flying Squirrel as playable characters in Sonic Mania Plus have been well-met. In fact, I think the only criticism I saw in relation to those two returning was from people who wanted other characters instead, particularly Sonic’s abhorrent admirer, Amy Rose.

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Adventure 1 had whack-a-mole, for crying out loud! How can you not love this?

If there’s one thing the Adventure series excelled at, it was using playable characters besides Sonic, particularly ones that played nothing like him. Considering how big Sonic’s cast of characters was even before Adventure hit the scene, making an Adventure 3 would be a great excuse to revisit more forgotten characters, especially the ones that were left behind for no reason.

Dari: Yes, but a lot of Sonic’s friends were left in the dust, Looking at you Blaze the Cat, and a few others that most people don’t even know exist. (Wave the Swallow? and seriously who thought of that name…) I think if you’re gonna talk about a new Adventure game and all of Sonic’s friends, EVERYONE should be included. And I personally don’t think Sega’s gonna even try to do that so let’s go to a different topic that may even be feasible. Trying to make a Sonic Adventure game fun for modern gamers. In the age of PUBG and Fortnite, do you really think that anyone’s gonna even care about a bunch of animals running across platforms to get rid of some scientist with some overarching story that no one’s gonna care about except people who remember the Adventure series…it’s almost as bad as the new cartoon remakes that are coming out these days.

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Wave the Swallow….WTF is this? This hurts me!

This current generation of gamers don’t care about story, they just wanna as you’ve claimed “go fast” and not have anything in their way. Unless they can see the story all at once and not have to do anything gameplay wise to see it. So we’ve hit a crossroads, either have a great sonic game with great gameplay, or a sonic that’s pretty much a story with little else aside from some small gameplay that really doesn’t amount to anything fun. You choose.

KI: Sonic’s friends are like the Koopalings. Remember when everyone wanted them back, then after a couple appearances people were shouting for their deaths? If we ever play as Big the Cat again, I promise you everyone will hate him twice as much as they originally did. While people obviously do want story in games, the massive layering of nostalgia the Sonic Adventure games had slathered on means that a new game in that style is likely to enrage most of the fanbase. I’m not saying you couldn’t make a good game in that style, but presenting it as Sonic Adventure just seems like a needless handicap. And like I said, it’s a bigger risk than sticking with either of the currently active Sonic formulas.

Icepick: I suppose it’s time to make our final arguments. The Sonic Adventure games, while flawed, aren’t even remotely anywhere near the worst games that have been associated with the series in general — even if you discount the various spin-offs. Likewise, these games have such a fan following that even after what’s steadily approaching two decades without any true successor — again, Sonic ’06 and the Sonic Boom game clearly don’t count.

I could go on about my personal affinity towards the original Sonic Adventure, and how I didn’t even hate using the characters that seem to make every other fan’s skin crawl: really looking forward to Big’s Big Fishing Adventure 3, by the way. I could go over how much I detest the Boost formula and how shallow it seems overall.

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Seriously, I think I’m the only person on Earth who didn’t outright hate this.

But I think I’ll go with something that would probably hit closer to home to my opponents in this debate. If Sega were to make a Sonic Adventure 3, a game that has that title and recreates the various elements of the previous games to at least some degree, then the Adventure fanbase would finally shut up about it.

Let’s be honest here, Sega’s doing pretty well in terms of their finances lately and they’re not exactly hurting for money at this point. Likewise, the Sonic series has already endured several terrible games and yet its fanbase has yet to give up on that blue dude with the ‘tude. I just don’t see what Sega could lose from making a third Adventure game. I’m sure these days, the fans would expect a game with a budget on par with Sonic Generations at best, so it clearly wouldn’t be that big of a financial risk, there are clearly enough Sonic fans that would buy it based on its name alone to prevent it from doing any actual damage to the company, both in terms of their finances and reputation. At worst, the Adventure fanbase would no longer be able to clamor for an “Adventure 3”. That alone’s got to be considered a win for you two, right?

Dari: Even though Sega’s not hurting for money and it wouldn’t really hurt then to do it, I really am disparate to the “popular” opinion on this. I personally think if they did do a third Adventure game if it did more than break even we’d have another drought of terrible games and we’d not see anything else like Sonic mania for ANOTHER 5-10 years like we did when t the first atrocity came out. This is my fear of the Adventure series returning, we’ll get a bunch of really bad crappy side games that don’t even hold a candle to the original Sonic formula and we’ll have to see another crash of Sonic to see another game like Sonic Advance, Sonic Generations, or Sonic Mania again. Seeing something appear just to shut a fanbase up usually doesn’t work. All it truly does it open the floodgates for more inane things that people say they want but don’t realize the ramifications of what would be if it actually did happen. To close, I’ll use another famous saying. “Be careful what you wish for……you just might get it.”

KI: Like I said at the start, I’m really not that invested over whether this does or doesn’t happen. All I really care about is that Sonic can remain relatively stable, and whether that means Sonic Adventure 3/5 or not isn’t too important to me. As long as a Sonic game is playable and a platformer, I’ll usually manage.

Icepick: And thus concludes the first installment of Dari’s Advocate. I’m not sure just how well it went, but it was certainly an interesting experience. One I’d like to repeat in the not-too-distant future. But what say you, dear readers? Do you think I managed to upset the odds and argue that Sonic Adventure 3 deserves to exist or were the combined forces of KI and Dari just too much for me? And are there any other topics you’d like to see us discuss in this format? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Any Port in a Storm: A PC Gaming Field Guide

I’ll be honest, I originally meant to write this as a small piece for my own personal sideblog. I kept putting off writing it – mainly because a lot of my attention was focused on Retronaissance and usually I only end up writing stuff on my sideblog when I’m feeling particularly passionate, a feeling that fades quickly. It didn’t help that the concept seemed to fit equally well with both forums: the topic did revolve around topics I’d long since discussed on Retronaissance, but I felt more comfortable discussing it with much less tact than I typically employ on here. It doesn’t help that I feel like I spend enough time talking about PC ports on here in the first place, with my various wishlists – finally figured out the subject of August’s, by the way – providing the bulk of my discussion on the subject. After all, superstition or not, a lot of the games I’ve listed have managed to make their way on PC, in one way or another.  I ended up discussing the topic with other contributors to this blog, who were in favor of me putting it here, but my indecision gave me cold feet, which led me to avoid writing the article altogether. Eventually, the concept began to grow – I thought up various other ideas that I decided to add to the original concept – and by that point, it became clear: Any Port in a Storm had become a perfect candidate for an article on Retronaissance. Just keep in mind that my more refined writing style might fall by the wayside at times.

While I’ll admit that I have pretty much had an on-again, off-again relationship with PC gaming from the time I first got into video games, my love of console-focused games has meant that I’ve had a nearly equally long interest in the concept of PC ports. Even from the beginning, the concept of “bad ports” (Street Fighter II) and “good ports” (the first 3 Mortal Kombat games and X-Men: Children of the Atom) were something I could at least acknowledge, albeit starting with a mere gut feeling as opposed to something I could quantify objectively. PC ports have, by and large, come a long way from the 1990s, but even today, there’s no way to guarantee a port’s quality. Some ports manage to exceed the quality of the original source material, creating a truly definitive version of the game, while others are NIS America’s PC port of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana: disasters at launch that may or may not ever be fixed to the point of working properly.

Of course, these days, it’s much easier to find quality ports in an ever-declining sea of garbage. Resources like the PC Gaming Wiki not only point out which games are quality ports, they also make recommendations for fixes on both older and poorly-made games which makes it a truly indispensable resource for PC gamers, especially those new to the medium. The real problem is still quantifying the quality of the ports themselves. As I said, some great games are maligned with terrible ports to this day, while games ranging from mediocre to outright bad will end up with amazing ports that even manage to fix problems with the original releases themselves, effectively enshrining a piece of kusoge in a fashion befitting a masterpiece.

In the end, I’ve decided to use a much-maligned concept long associated with the ills of gaming journalism for my own purposes: the “four-point scale”, a means of rating games from good to excellent. I’ll keep my criticisms on this scale brief: it’s effectively turned any score below a 9 into a dire insult and had the unfortunate consequence of causing certain people (myself, for example) to seek out games that manage to break the scale, earning scores of 6 and below, whether out of curiosity, bile fascination or some inconsequential way of “sticking it to the man”. You know, by paying some other “the man” to play crappy games. Could that have been their plan all along?

The thing is, when it comes to PC ports, the four-point scale works out perfectly. There is a definite base level of quality that people should expect in their ports, a bar that has risen continuously throughout the years. Better still, the types of ports that would receive 7s and 8s would easily have the most discerning PC gamers turning up their noses in disgust, so the unintended consequence of diluting the perceived quality of these grades would be a feature, not a bug. After all, if you don’t like these ports, well… that’s what good’s for.

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Duke Phillips: the first modern games journalist.

7.0 – Console Parity (or Is It Parody?)

Let’s start with the bottom of the barrel and work our way up, shall we? If there’s one good thing about ports that fall into the 7 score, it’s that these days, they’re rare. Clearly many developers, porting companies and especially publishers have learned that ports of that caliber are no longer acceptable to most consumers. The only real question is, why was they ever considered worthy of release in the first place.

At this point in time, the majority of the ports I’d classify as 7s came out at least a decade ago but considering the fact that so many of them are still available for purchase on Steam and various other digital storefronts, I think it’s still fair to make reference to them. At one point, ports in this style would’ve been considered the cream of the crop, but when you look at the history of PC ports overall, it’s understandable. If we were to consider the history of console games ported to PC like an evolutionary line, then the 7’s closest equivalent would clearly be either the Cro Magnon or the Neanderthal compared to the other scores’ Modern Man. When they first appeared on the scene, they were clearly impressive and best suited for survival, but at this point, they’re clearly too primitive to be considered a quality product.

But enough stalling, what defines a 7 on my little four-point scale? Quite simply, a perfect 1:1 port of the console version. Now you’re probably thinking, “But Icepick! Isn’t that what a port is supposed to be?” To which I say, feh! The problem stems from the hardware itself. Despite my posturing about how most modern consoles are just crippled PCs in the first place, their underlying operating systems are still different from one another. Consoles generally focus most (if not all) of their resources into games, while PCs run various other processes in the background at all times. As such, most console games are designed to take advantage of this focus, effectively pushing the entire platform’s resources into the game itself. Try that on a PC and you end up with a port with ridiculously high minimum specifications. Not to mention the recommended specs needed to play the game properly.

That’s to say nothing of the lack of features that PC gamers have come to take for granted these days. Fully-programmable controls, not to mention mouse and keyboard support – I’m not going to judge, but there are more than a small number of PC gamers who swear by them for literally any type of game – future-proofed support for higher resolutions, graphical filters, adjustable frame rates and the ability to switch between full-screen and windowed mode easily. Quite simply, 7-ranked ports completely lack the scalability associated with PC games, forcing a concrete cut-off on the kind of hardware capable of running the games themselves, drawing a very distinct line in the sand.

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Believe it or not, this was an actual PC port, not an emulator. No, really.

Aside from that, 7 ports are generally good ports. Not simply “good” in the scale from good to excellent, but rather they are proper approximations of the original experience. In the end, they have potential. Fixes, whether official or fan-made, can easily rectify many of the issues involved in these “low-grade” ports. One such example would be Inti Creates’ Azure Striker Gunvolt. When the game was first ported to Steam, it was in an incredibly rough state, but now? It’s on par with the recent Switch release as of an update that came out of the blue last month. This is why they fall at the far end of my four-point scale for PC ports that are acceptable. Clearly, they have their issues, but they are still generally competent to perhaps the most important degree of an PC port: recreating the console game accurately. Having said that, most if not all PC gamers at this point would turn their noses up at a modern port of this caliber. Unless I’m absolutely desperate to play the game in question, I’d be equally dissuaded from picking it up. Buyer beware and all that.

Supplement: 7.5 – Pick Your Poison

Of course, that’s not to say that the spirit of 7-grade ports doesn’t live on to this day. Their modern-day equivalents are clearly superior to true 7s, but they still find themselves slacking against the competition. I’ll just refer to them as “7.5s” to make things simpler: after all, they’re better than a 7, but still not quite on par with an 8.

There are two major differences between 7s and 7.5s. First, while 7s aren’t optimized at all, 7.5s are generally just poorly optimized. Not exactly significant, but it’s a step forward. On top of that, 7.5s also usually include at least a few of those expected features I mentioned earlier. Not all of them make it – generally most companies tend to aim for at least partial keyboard support and windowed mode – but a few core features are still better than none.

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For all its problems, at least MK9’s PC version had keyboard support.

With that being said, 7.5s are generally held to the same standard as their ancestors. Examples of 7.5s that I’m personally familiar with include Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition and Injustice: Gods Among Us – both handled by High Voltage Studios, a company which should set off alarm bells in any knowledgeable PC gamer’s head until proven otherwise. These ports are poorly optimized, effectively requiring specs twice as strong as recommended to run them properly and have their fair share of issues, but all-in-all, they’re effectively reasonable facsimiles of the original console versions. Their Mortal Kombat X port managed to be even worse than those two, to the extent where Warner Bros. had to hire the good people at QLOC to fix it for the XL update.

8.0 – The Bare Minimum

Now I can probably guess what’s going through your mind when you’re looking at this header. “But Icepick! You were saying that 8 were so much better than 7s and 7s were the lowest score you’d consider! How can 8s be ‘the bare minimum’?” Well, I’m glad you asked, hypothetical reader. Put simply, to the majority of PC gamers, a port that would score an 8 on this scale is quite literally, the bare minimum of what would be expected in a PC port. 7s are detritus that should, in all honesty, never occur again. 7.5s are outright abominations. But an 8? Well, all but the most discerning PC gamers – which, to be fair, is still probably half of them altogether – would at least consider these ports. The 8 is quite simply a bronze medal, the third-place award – compared to the participant ribbons that I’d associate with 7s and 7.5s. In a perfect world, every company working on a PC port should be aiming for a solid 8.

If there’s any point where the four-point scale metaphor begins to falter, it would have to be on 8. Considering the whole Twilight Princess debacle – for the handful of people reading this who don’t know what I’m talking about, the game scored an 8.8 out of 10 on Gamespot and it started a major backlash – 8s are generally considered bad scores, by the virtue of being lower than a 9. Personally, I tend to gravitate more towards 8s and 9s when it comes to review scores: 10s just often feel too good to be true. Then again, maybe that’s just me. I’m the kind of person who enjoys eating at Taco Bell, because I consider it “Tex-Mex-themed fast food” as opposed to “authentic Mexican cuisine”, which honestly has to be near the top of my personal list of the 10 stupidest opinions in all of human history. A game that scores an 8 has the chance to impress me by surprise, but a perfect score rarely lives up to its own lofty expectations in my eyes. Blame it on my susceptibility to hype backlash and the fact that my tastes don’t often align with critics in general.

Basically, the main thing elevating an 8-grade port over its inferiors is the fact that it feels much more like a PC game. The game is properly optimized to some extent, effectively meaning that current-gen games will run on systems with equivalent specs, as opposed to requiring top-of-the-line components. Keyboard and mouse support is a given and graphical options allow weaker PCs to run the game, while more powerful computers can enhance their experiences with filters and other improvements. Put simply, all of those features that I said were missing from ports I’d score at 7? All present and accounted for in the prototypical 8 port, and with no impact on the quality of the port itself.

Of course, you’re probably thinking “But Icepick! Why is this so low on the scale? This sounds like exactly what you’d want in the first place!” And honestly, that’s a fair assertion. The weakness regarding a port that scores an 8 is admittedly petty, but still relatively practical. 8s generally take all of their assets directly from the console version with no improvements. Now that sounds excellent on the surface, but the problem is that 8 ports aren’t entirely future proof. As time goes on, computers will come out with higher graphical resolutions, improved audio quality and more powerful processors: it’s an inevitability. Remember how great SNES and Genesis games looked at the time? Think about how they look when played at modern resolutions. They either take up a minute fraction of the screen or get blown up to the extent where you can easily count every individual pixel on the screen. A similar fate awaits ports that score an 8 at some undetermined point in the future. It’s nothing personal, they’re just the consequences of the continued march of time. Fortunately, in many cases, enterprising fans have found workarounds that will keep ports of this quality looking good for years to come.

The main example I can think of when it comes to an 8 port would have to be XSEED’s recent PC port of Ys SEVEN. The game was severely hampered by the fact that it was only released on the PlayStation Portable previously. XSEED wanted to keep the various art assets as close to the originals as possible, but due to the small resolution on the game’s textures, the game is locked at a relatively low maximum resolution compared to most games that were released around the same time.

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It’s a little blurry, but this version runs at 60 FPS. And in the end, isn’t that all that matters?

Supplement: Late Ports, Buggy Ports and Both

This section right here? It’s what convinced me to turn this article into more than a simple blogpost. Now it only seems fair to cite my inspirations for this particular aside: NIS America’s disasterpiece of a PC port for Falcom’s exquisite Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. After being delayed multiple times over the course of seven months, when Ys VIII finally launched on PC, the port was an absolute mess. It was so bad, that it was the first Falcom game to not receive a Positive review score on Steam – and it’s not even the first release to come from a company other than fan favorite XSEED. Originally the backlash was so severe, its overall review score was at an unprecedented “Mostly Negative”, but since then it’s settled on “Mixed”.

Why did this happen? Honestly, seeing anything lower than a Mixed score is rare on Steam in general, but why exactly did things drop so low in the first place? To properly understand how this backlash worked, you have to understand the common viewpoint of how PC gamers view two specific types of release issues when it comes to ports. Specifically, ports that launch significantly later than their console counterparts and ports that launch in such a buggy state, that they’re literally unplayable.

When it comes to late ports, PC gamers are generally understanding. I’d liken it to waking up with a dry, scratchy throat or clogged sinuses – unpleasant, but nothing out of the ordinary. Hell, I’ve written a whole series of posts outright begging for ports that couldn’t be anything but late. To misuse some baseball terminology, a late port is effectively like a foul ball: it’s a strike against the game’s reception but not one that will outright dismiss it. It all depends on various factors. For starters, how long the gap between the initial release and the PC port is. I’d say that if it launches within three months of the original – and the time between releases was spent properly optimizing the game and fixing bugs instead of, oh I don’t know, adding in intrusive DRM that actively sabotages the game’s performance at the last minute – it’s generally fine. Don’t think I forgot about what you did to Sonic Mania, Sega. I’ll never forget.

If it takes longer than that to release the game on PC, there are other ways to sweeten the pot. Release the game at a mild discount: most console games are generally sold at a discount after a few months anyway. Failing that, include any DLC that has come out in the base package. Honestly, I welcome late ports when they do this: it’s like getting a “Game of the Year” edition from the start! As long as you’re not selling the base game at the launch price six months after the fact, you should be golden.

Ports that are buggy at launch are a different story. Generally, if they come out at the same time as their console counterparts, bugs are expected but not welcome. Going back to the baseball metaphor, a bug-ridden port is a strike, swing and a miss, pure and simple. Launching in an unplayable state is a far worse blow to a game’s reputation than running late – feel free to add in that overused Miyamoto quote if you need to – but the thing about a buggy release is that, the bugs can be fixed. If the developers behind the port remain vigilant and try to iron out all of the game’s issues, its reputation can rebound. Lowering the price (even temporarily) in conjunction with the overhaul doesn’t hurt either.

Which brings us to the ultimate question: what happens when a late port is unplayable on a significant number of systems? Well, widespread backlash. The only acceptable reason for late ports to begin with is to allow for proper bugfixes. Take that promise away and replace it with a port that doesn’t even work and you’d have to wonder what compelled them to release it in that state to begin with. It’s a complete erosion of any and all good will and it will take time to repair the damage done to a company’s reputation when they decide to release something in such a rough state without a quick release to justify it.

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I forget: is quality job one or job none?

As I mentioned before, Ys VIII’s troubled PC version was what inspired me to think about this in the first place. Since then, NISA’s been slowly but surely improving the quality of the port, but it’s still far from acceptable: only those who decided to sacrifice their hard-earned money and kept their barely functional copies of Ys VIII act as the canary in the coalmine, while most of Falcom’s more discerning PC fanbase are waiting for the all-clear. Me personally? I never played the previous game – Memories of Celceta – and since that’s had a PC port announced for release sometime this summer, I’m content to wait for the all-clear. I have to wonder: is NIS America fixing up this port in an effort to repair their disastrous first effort or did the Japanese games media’s reports on this whole debacle send Falcom back into action, like they did with the game’s initial translation? I suppose we’ll never know for sure.

9.0 – The Gold Standard

Ideally, every PC port should end up with roughly a 9 score. Unfortunately, making a 9-caliber PC port isn’t quite as practical as aiming for an 8, especially with older games. In fact, despite their perceived gulf in quality, the difference from 8s to 9s aren’t nearly as different as 7s (and 7.5s) to 8s.

I’m not going to lie though, this is where things might get a little tricky. While I said that 8s were more akin to bronze medals in the grand scheme of things, I’ve also designated 9s as “the gold standard”. This begs the question: what would count as a silver-class port? I’d argue that in terms of my own personal scale, 8s would act as a silver ranking, compared to 7/7.5’s bronze. However, when talking about the general reception of ports by the PC gaming community at large, 8s would certainly be considered a bronze, while 7s are nothing more than cautionary relics of bygone eras and 7.5s are abominations that have no reason to exist at all. I suppose silver is redundant when considering PC ports, which are generally either categorized as “good” or “bad” in the first place.  7.5s and anything lower would be considered bad, 8s are merely “acceptable” – effectively serving as a border – and 9s would easily make up the bulk of the “good” category.

But what differentiates an 8 from a 9 in the first place? Remember how I mentioned earlier that a 8-scored port is susceptible to becoming outdated in lieu of advances in gaming technology? 9s are essentially future-proofed in that regard. Using higher-quality graphical and audio assets compared to the original console releases, 9s would no longer be tethered to the limitations of the original work. In that sense, ports of this quality wouldn’t even feel like ports, they’d feel like games that were originally designed for the PC in the first place. On top of that, ports of this quality generally allow for specifications not yet possible on a majority of systems, effectively allowing for screen resolutions that are either rare or non-existent when the port is first released. Likewise, these ports would also be capable of running on weaker systems, effectively allowing for the entire experience to be perfectly scaled for a majority of current PCs.

To put it in terms that console gamers may more easily understand, imagine a game that you could play on both models of the PS4, the PS3 and the Vita – each with their own unique framerates, resolutions and other flourishes to allow each version to produce a definitive experience, while allowing the more powerful consoles to showcase their additional power compared to older models. Sure, crossplay makes this sound outright mundane, but imagine if it were possible with a single download, as opposed to multiple unique versions, each designed from the ground up with their distinct platform in mind. Hell, in some cases, you’re able to play recent games using PCs with specs on par with the PlayStation 2. Imagine playing a brand-new PS4 game on a system from 2000!

Put simply, ports I’d categorize as 9s are essentially perfect. You’re probably wonder what separates them from 10s. To be honest, it’s far too difficult for me to discuss what ports that would be categorized as 9s lack compared to one that would score a perfect 10 in my eyes. It’ll be much easier to describe in the context of talking about 10s in general. As for examples, XSEED’s recent Trails of Cold Steel ports were considered an extreme improvement over the original PS3 versions. Likewise, Sega and Platinum’s recent ports of Bayonetta and Vanquish are considered the definitive versions.

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This is the best looking Metal Slug game I’ve ever seen.

Thesis: The GOG Equation

One last quick aside before I discuss my take on what defines a perfect score. Frankly, I’ve been falling more and more in love with Good Old Games since I wrote that wishlist last August. Turns out I’m not alone: after a debacle which has left the future of several games on Steam in question, MangaGamer has partnered with GOG to finally bring various high-profile visual novels to their service.

It’s baffled me just how little support GOG seems to receive from a lot of major publishers. While my main prong of attack has been on focusing on making wishlists for old ports to resurface on their service, I’ve also found it kind of weird that a lot of companies seem to drag their feet on releasing more contemporary titles on the service. The weirdest part is when some companies release a few modern games on GOG, but not their entire library. The most notable example of this I can think of is Capcom who, as of right now, have only released their old PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2 from 1997 and 2016’s PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen on GOG so far. To make matters weirder, Dragon’s Dogma was released at about the same time as the Steam release.

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GOG even makes a big deal about every single new release on their service. When’s the last time Valve did anything remotely like this on Steam?

It just strikes me as weird that so many companies refuse to support GOG, which is essentially the second biggest digital marketplace for PC games, simply based on the fact that they’re the only major one that doesn’t sell Steam keys. There’s a significant demographic of PC gamers that refuse to buy games with any form of DRM – and as beneficial as it has been, Steam is still DRM software – that generally buy games from GOG and other DRM-free stores for that reason. Meanwhile, you’ll see games sold at extreme discounts – I’ve seen games sell at 80% off the standard price – regularly on Steam. It doesn’t hurt that GOG boasts about having “crossplay” with various Steamworks games.

It honestly occurred to me at random one day, that there ought to be some sort of equation for determining when a company should just swallow their pride and release their game on GOG – and Humble Store, I guess, but mostly GOG. I think I’ve come up with a fairly reasonable way to look at it. If a publisher decides to sell one of their games with at least a 50% discount on a regular basis (let’s say, every time there’s a major sale), then I think it’s time to consider dropping Steam exclusivity and making the game available on other marketplaces. The same could be said for games that are sold at a 75% or higher discount – that is, a quarter of the standard price – even once. At that point, it just seems like publishers are desperate to make sales in the first place, so selling to the niche-within-a-niche market that buys exclusively on GOG – or even weirder, the people who are willing to buy games a second time on there – seems like a sure bet to make some extra money.

I understand the argument that a lot of people tend to make: that DRM-free sites encourage piracy. But honestly? Steam’s DRM is easy enough to crack and any additional forms of DRM – even the supposed piracy-killer Denuvo – just seem to act more as a challenge for pirates instead of a deterrent, effectively punishing paying customers more than the people cracking the game for free. Couple that with the fact that the EU withheld a study that proved that piracy doesn’t actually hurt media sales (aside from movie tickets) and there’s really no justification to avoid selling stuff on GOG, unless Valve paid for some kind of exclusivity, which would honestly impress me, considering the hands-off approach they’ve seemed to take running Steam for the past five or so years.

The Perfect 10 – An Abstract Concept

I mentioned earlier that I have an innate distrust of perfect scores. Frankly, the idea of perfection just seems like it should be reserved for purely objective observations, quite the opposite from any and all reviews. When it comes to media, my apprehension becomes a little more pronounced. By definition, a perfect game – even a game simply considered the perfect representation of its genre – should be one that can never be surpassed. The ideal game, a game which should sate any gamer for the rest of their days. No game that has scored perfect 10s across the board has come even remotely close to engrossing me to that extent. As such, I don’t really trust the concept in general: no game – not even one that scores a perfect 10 in every publication, past, present and future – can be perfect.

Which begs the question: what differentiates a 9-grade PC port from a perfect 10? Objectively, absolutely nothing. I already pointed out that a PC port that would score a 9.0 is the gold standard, a port that improves upon its source material, effectively creating a definitive release. As the entire concept of a perfect score is even more subjective than the scale it inhabits, it only seems fair that my take on what consists a perfect score should be equally as subjective.

Enough stalling, my criteria for what separates the crème de la crème is actually fairly subjective. Essentially, a perfect 10 PC port would be of a quality so recognizable, that console gamers effectively want that version ported back to consoles down the line. Or, better still, a case where a PC port works out so well, that publishers themselves decide that it’s worth using said PC version as the basis for any and all re-releases down the line. At the very least, the next batch would be based on the PC port.

I understand just how petty and small that comes across, that for a PC port to be considered ideal, its quality must be recognized outside our niche. However, all things considered, I can’t think of a better criterion of quality than acknowledgement from outside our own field. When you think about it, internal rankings all fall victim to some measure of subjectivity. We all play favorites. But the green-eyed pining of console gamers, hissing jealously at our long-awaited prize, a shinier toy than the one they’ve had for so long? That’s an objective measure: only the most short-sighted console gamers – so, again, roughly half – would even bother caring about a PC port unless it was clearly superior to their version. As for the publishers themselves, PC versions may be easier to port back to consoles again down the line (especially these days), but usually they’ll add some attempt at new flourishes from generation to generation. If it’s a straight port of the existing PC version though, that implies that they’ve perfected their craft.

Thus far, I’ve tried giving you an example of what I would consider a perfect example of each of these ports and I don’t intend to fail you on the perfect 10. Ultra Street Fighter IV started with a rocky release – mainly owed to switching their online matchmaking from using the defunct Games for Windows Live service to Steamworks – but eventually managed to become the definitive version, serving as the basis for a subsequent re-release on the PS4 (which itself had unrelated issues with optimization for months). QLOC outdid themselves on USF4 and have essentially earned their place as my pick for the best PC porting studio of all-time. If someone from any company stumbles upon this article and takes one thing away from it, hire QLOC to port your games to PC. You won’t regret it.

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It even has a benchmark, for cryin’ out loud!

So that brings us to the end of this little experiment. I’ll be honest, as much as I claim to have amassed a great deal of knowledge about PC gaming since migrating back to it around the end of the last console generation, I still consider myself a journeyman. It seems like every day, I learn something new about this platform. Ports and original games I missed out on in my early days of PC gaming and during my time on consoles, releases that were once considered abominations being polished to perfection, even new mods for games that I wouldn’t have expected mods on in the first place. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve taken to PC gaming again as much as I have: it’s such a vast environment, it’s pretty much got something for everyone. And for those of you that love my little wishlists: don’t worry, August’s not that far away.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Easy as 1, 2, …Alpha

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With the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection releasing today, it only seems fitting to reminisce about the series again with another Retrospective of the franchise. There have been a variety of different types of games in the franchise, but today’s topic is my favorite “flavor” out of the entire series. The Street Fighter Alpha trilogy was released throughout the mid-90s, showcasing a new evolution of the series. They were essentially the long-awaited sequels to the Street Fighter II games in everything but name… and their placement in the timeline.

While SFII introduced me to the fighting game genre, the Alpha games were what cemented my love for it. Of course, by that point, I was also branching out, discovering other Japanese 2D fighters – developed by Capcom or other companies – so while SFII has the distinction of holding more of my attention, Alpha introduced various mechanics that I still find satisfying to this day. While they didn’t quite have the lasting power of their predecessors – likely because they weren’t the true “Street Fighter III” audiences were clamoring for – they still enjoy a cult fanbase to this day.

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

After years of clamoring for a brand-new Street Fighter game, as opposed to the numerous revisions made to Street Fighter II, Capcom finally delivered in Summer 1995, more than a year after Super Street Fighter II Turbo debuted in arcades. Dubbed “Street Fighter ZERO” when it first released on June 5th in Japan, Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams eventually hit North American arcades on June 27th, with Europe seeing the game release exactly a month later.

I can’t really say I’ve got vivid memories of playing the original Street Fighter Alpha. I didn’t even play the game in arcades. By the time I even knew of Alpha’s existence, Alpha 2 had been long out, so I only really went back to play the original when the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology – more on that later – came out on the PlayStation 2. Admittedly, buying Capcom’s Street Fighter 25th Anniversary box on the PlayStation 3 gave me free codes for the Alpha games in Sony’s PS1 Classics line, which gave me a taste of the home ports as well.

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Gotta love that sick intro.

Street Fighter Alpha’s development process has some interesting stories behind it. According to Hideaki Itsuno, one of the game’s planners, Warriors’ Dreams was originally devised as a Super Famicom title fittingly named “Street Fighter Classic”. Due to SF2’s popularity dwarfing that of its predecessor, SF Classic was intended to recreate the events of the first game in a modernized budget title to act as a stopgap until Street Fighter III was ready for release. While SFIII’s development team was comprised of Capcom’s “ace” developers, the SFA staff was comprised mostly of inexperienced newcomers to the company.

Once the CPS2 had been released, the project’s development was moved from the Super Famicom to the CPS1, as Capcom still had a massive backstock of units they needed to move out. As development continued, Street Fighter Alpha became so popular, that it would be moved onto the CPS2 itself. By that point, development for SF3 had moved to the CPS3 and the CPS2 was considered a similar stopgap measure. By that point, the CPS1 build of the game was far along and given the similar specs, both versions of the game were developed in tandem, handled via a hybrid program they developed in-house that could work on both the original CPS and CPS2.

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I still think it’s funny that the only time Adon and Birdie could actually duke it out was in the Alpha games.

That’s not the only interesting story about Alpha’s development. For starters, the inclusion of Guy and Sodom from Final Fight cemented the link between the two franchises. Up to that point, Final Fight and Street Fighter had been long such advertised as occurring in the same universe, but any references both series made to each other felt more like cheeky cameos – like the time Guile and Chun-Li showed up in the backgrounds of a couple of stages in Final Fight 2 – instead of proof positive regarding a legitimate shared universe. Of course, it didn’t help that two years prior, SNK, Capcom’s chief rival in the Japanese market, had achieved something similar by including Art of Fighting’s protagonist Ryo Sakazaki as a playable character and bonus boss in Fatal Fury Special. This connection was further expanded upon when a young Geese Howard appeared as the final boss in Art of Fighting 2 and laid the groundwork for the King of Fighters series.

Speaking of which, the reason Capcom started so many fighting game franchises – Darkstalkers, Saturday Night Slam Masters and the various licensed Marvel games – on the CPS-2 hardware was due to waning Japanese popularity compared to SNK: Itsuno claimed that most Japanese players at the time believed that Capcom only had SF2, while SNK had so many different franchises to their name, like Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown and eventually, The King of Fighters. In fact, an unknown employee created Dan Hibiki as a parody of the Art of Fighting protagonists – effectively pasting Robert Garcia’s head onto recolored Ryu and Ken animations, to take up as little room as possible. Dan was effectively created as a sort of “anti-Akuma”, a character that would be humiliating to lose against.

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

Finally, the game’s art style took on a much more anime-inspired aesthetic compared to previous (and future) Street Fighter titles. This was due in no small part to the popularity of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, which ended up as one of 1994’s top five highest-grossing films in Japan. While the movie itself retold the events of the second Street Fighter game, the opening sequence depicted Ryu winning the first World Warrior tournament with his decisive Shoryuken scarring the chest of the mighty Sagat. Many plot elements and characters designs would be integrated into the series proper and the Alpha games were the most prominent example of this. In fact, a vocal track from the film, titled “Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokorotsuyosa to”, was rearranged as a secret bonus track in the Japanese release of Street Fighter Zero.

As opposed to taking place during the events of the original Street Fighter, Street Fighter Alpha takes place between the first and second game. Unlike the previous two games, there’s no fighting tournament to act as a framing device: most of the canonical fights take place in random locations, which means that after the better part of a decade, we finally have a Street Fighter game that lives up to its name!

Only six characters “return” from the most recent iteration of Street Fighter II: Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sagat, M. Bison and Akuma. Ryu, Ken and Sagat all fittingly seem to take elements from both their SF1 and SF2 designs: Ryu still has his white headband and his hair color is auburn, falling directly between his red hair from the original game and the dark brown he sported in SF2; Ken has longer hair with a red ribbon tied in it; and Sagat sports a fresh scar and his purple shorts from the original Street Fighter, albeit with a yellow stripe instead of the original white. Other returning characters also sport some significant redesigns. Chun-Li ditches her traditional qipao dress in favor of a form-fitting unitard with a vest and sneakers, while her traditional hairstyle is kept in place with yellow ribbons. M. Bison’s outfit is more or less the same, but this time, he’s much bulkier, sporting a muscular physique far removed from his slimmer SF2 design. Akuma is the character that best resembles his previous iteration, but that was likely due to how new and unfamiliar the design itself was, having only made a handful of appearances in general. The only major design change to Akuma is that he sports new poses in-game, further differentiating him from Ryu and Ken.

Four other characters return from earlier Capcom games. Adon and Birdie return from the original Street Fighter, while Final Fight gets some true representation through Guy and Sodom, one of the playable characters and the stage 2 boss respectively. Adon’s design is only slightly changed from the original Street Fighter, merely exaggerating his slimness. Birdie, on the other hand, probably went through the most radical redesign in the entire franchise. In the original Street Fighter, Birdie was a tall, clean-shaven Caucasian punk with a realistic mohawk. In Alpha, he’s so muscular he makes T. Hawk and Zangief look anorexic, boasting facial hair that I can only describe as “a mustache made of beards” and his mohawk is significantly more ridiculous (with a hole cut through it). Oh, and did I forget to mention? He’s black now – claiming that his pale appearance in the original game was because he was suffering from a cold. Guy’s design is slightly reimagined, more or less the same basic concept but slightly modified. Sodom gets a bit more muscular compared to his design in Final Fight, but he wields a pair of sai instead of the katanas he used in Final Fight.

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Also, now he can literally drag people across the ground.

On top of the returns, we’ve also got three brand-new characters added to the roster. First and foremost, there’s Charlie Nash. That’s right, the man whose death Guile fought to avenge in Street Fighter II is a playable character in Alpha. As such, Charlie’s moveset is similar to Guile’s, with the only real difference being that Nash fights with more style and flair: he throws Sonic Booms with one arm and his Somersault Shell is a front flip from behind instead of backflips like Guile’s Flash Kick. There’s also the Roma fortune teller Rose. Hailing from Italy, Rose can use her Soul Power to fire energy spheres and charge her scarf with energy to reflect projectiles. Finally, there’s the aforementioned Dan Hibiki. Boasting a pink gi, he looks like your standard shoto clone, but he’s actually a weakling. His Gadouken projectile has pathetic range and his Kouryuken jumping uppercut has less height than a Shoryuken. His Dankuu Kyaku, on the other hand, is actually a much more straightforward variation of the Hurricane Kick, extending the attack with additional kicks depending on the strength of the attack.

Despite the lack of an overarching story, each character has their own motivations. Ryu is training to get stronger, while searching for Akuma, the man who killed his sensei. Ken wants to meet up with Ryu again after winning an American Martial Arts tournament to reconnect and spar. Chun-Li and Charlie are both tracking down M. Bison, the head of Shadaloo, a terrorist organization bent on world domination. While Charlie fights out of duty, Chun-Li wishes to avenge the death of her father, who died at Bison’s hands. Meanwhile, Bison himself is searching for the most powerful warriors to create an army. Birdie, a common criminal, seeks to prove his mettle to Bison and join Shadaloo in order to rise to infamy and fortune.

Sagat, still reeling from his defeat during the first World Warrior tournament, is hellbent on finding Ryu and getting a rematch. Adon, on the other hand, is disgusted with the weakness shown by his former master and wishes to defeat Sagat and become the true king of Muay Thai. Rose divines that Doomsday is approaching and searches for the evil power responsible for it. As it turns out, she and Bison are two parts of the same soul: Rose is the incarnation of Bison’s good side. Guy seeks to continue training under the Bushinryu style, seeking mastery. The former Mad Gear member Sodom seeks to rebuild the criminal syndicate, albeit with much more of a Japanese influence this time around. Akuma, as usual, merely seeks strong opponents. Which leaves us with Dan, the son of the martial artist Go Hibiki, the man who cost Sagat an eye and paid for it with his life. Dan seeks to avenge his father by defeating the Muay Thai master in hand-to-hand combat.

The gameplay has changed a fair amount from the Street Fighter II games, while still staying true to its roots. First and foremost, the gameplay feels smoother compared to even Super Turbo. One key difference is the addition of chain combos: the ability to easily “chain” together normal attacks going from light to medium to heavy with less of an emphasis on timing compared to traditional “link” combos. Capcom first experimented with the concept in 1994’s Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, but the “Marvel Vs.” crossover series would popularize it. The Super Combo mechanic from SSF2T returned with new expansions. Each character now had multiple Super Combos – each character has at least two and they have different motions to prevent confusion. Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Sagat and M. Bison all retain their Super Combos from Super Turbo, while gaining access to new ones. For example, Chun-Li has a short-range multi-hit projectile called the Kikosho; Ryu has an enhanced form of the Hurricane Kick called “Shinkuu Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku” which pulls in his opponent and does multiple hits and M. Bison’s Psycho Crusher gets promoted to a full-on Super Combo, replacing the original special move with a projectile called the “Psycho Shot”. To compensate for these additional Super Combos, it’s easier to fill the meter and the meters themselves have three levels, as opposed to just one, allowing characters to perform up to three Super Combos with a full gauge. On top of that, Super Combos can be further enhanced: by pressing two punch or kick buttons (depending on the motion) instead of one, players can perform a “Level 2” variant of the Super Combo, which costs 2 bars of Super Meter, but deal extra damage. Pressing all three punch or kick buttons with a full 3 bars of Super Meter performs a “Level 3” Super Combo, the most powerful – and oftentimes, the most visually impressive – variant.

SFA adds various other mechanics to the traditional Street Fighter engine. Characters can block attacks in the air now – an ability creatively referred to as “air blocking” – another mechanic lifted directly from Darkstalkers. Players can also counterattack their way out of a block by using an “Alpha Counter”, fittingly referred to as a “Zero Counter” in Japan, at the cost of a single bar of meter. The ability to select between “Normal” and “Turbo” speed returns, though Turbo isn’t quite as fast as it was in previous games. Warriors’ Dreams also adds the option to turn on automatic blocking, which is exactly what it sounds like: the game will automatically block for the player whenever they’re in danger of being hit, just so long as they’re not attacking or moving under their own power. I never really minded the mechanic: it was an obvious crutch for inexperienced players, but it didn’t have any tangible effect on the gameplay itself. Downed characters could also roll on the ground to recover, allowing for more options to escape enemies.

There were also various other additional flourishes added to the game. Taunts could be performed once per fight by hitting the start button: I want to say this was another reference to the Art of Fighting games, where taunting enemies could drain their spirit gauge, but in SFA, they were only good for infuriating your opponent. Also, different win icons were awarded based on how the match ended, whether by a normal attack, a throw (represented with a lasso), a special move, a Super Combo or Chip Damage (represented with a hunk of cheese) – with an additional P added in the top-left corner if a Perfect Victory is achieved.

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I was never really that good with Rose, but damn, if her reflect isn’t cool…

The standard arcade ladder single-player mode returns from Street Fighter II, though this time players are limited to just eight opponents. To make up for this shortcoming, there’s a little more story build-up in the mode itself: different characters face different bosses and there’s a short exchange between the two fighters before the final battle. Players can also fight head-to-head with all of the features expected in a Street Fighter game, including the ability to fight as the same character – though once again, each character is limited to only one alternative palette. The standard palette can be chosen by selecting a character with any punch button, while the alternate is associated with the kick buttons.

There are also a few secrets hidden in the game. M. Bison, Akuma and Dan Hibiki are all secret characters, meaning they don’t appear on the main character select screen. They can be selected by performing specific motions on the character select screen – much like selecting Akuma in SSF2T. While Bison also appears as a boss in some characters’ story modes, Akuma and Dan can be fought as special opponents by completing specific objectives in Arcade Mode. Finally, there’s Dramatic Battle Mode: a nice little Easter Egg that allows two players to play as Ryu and Ken and face off against M. Bison in a two-on-one fight, just like the end of the Street Fighter II animated film.

Street Fighter Alpha was probably the first game in the series to really utilize the graphical capabilities of the CPS2 hardware. Sure, Super Street Fighter II and its successor ran on the hardware, but due to the sheer amount of recycled assets, the new characters were limited to better fit in with the older ones. SFA lacked these limitations and it shows. While not quite as impressively animated as Darkstalkers, Alpha’s animation was leaps and bounds ahead of SF2. There were more frames of animation per attack and the new “cartoony” art style generally associated with CPS2 games were able to better emphasize the enhanced graphical power of the hardware. The only real gripe I have about the game is that most characters recycle the same backgrounds. A minor complaint, I know, but considering the sheer amount of effort that went into Street Fighter II’s stages, it just feels like a letdown. Fortunately, future titles would improve stage variety.

In terms of sound design, this game had a much larger team. Isao “Oyaji” Abe and Syun “Kobekko” Nishigaki returned from Super SF2, but they were joined by Setsuo “purple” Yamamoto, Yuko “pop’n” Kadota, Naoaki “kuru-kuru chance” Iwami and Naoshi “groovy” Mizuta. The sound effects were designed by Hiroaki “X68K” Kondo and “Ryoji” Yamamoto. Alpha was also the first game in series to credit voice actors for the various characters.

All of the returning characters from Street Fighter II effectively have their themes from that game rearranged to better fit the game’s aesthetic. Likewise, Birdie’s theme was based heavily on his theme from the original Street Fighter, while Guy used the Stage 1 theme from Final Fight. Adon and Sodom, on the other hand, were given original themes. The same could be said for the rest of the cast. Out of all of the game’s original compositions, I think Dan’s theme is my favorite, though I’m also fond of Charlie and Rose’s themes. For some reason, I found that the various menu themes from Alpha – from the character select to the victory jingles – are probably my favorites in the entire franchise. The sound effects were much punchier compared to even Super SF2, which seemed to go out of its way to ape the CPS1 games. The voice samples were about on-par with SSF2’s, which makes sense because both games used new samples on the same hardware. Alpha seems to put more emphasis on these samples.

Before I move onto discussing the actual home ports, there’s one version of the game I’d like to discuss. Earlier, I mentioned that Capcom developed Street Fighter Alpha on both the CPS1 and CPS2. While the CPS2 version was the main version released in Arcades, the CPS1 version did also see release… in a far more limited capacity. In a misguided effort to compete with SNK’s NeoGeo AES, Capcom attempted to release the Capcom Play System Changer – or “CPS Changer” – in 1994. Rather than developing cartridges for home use, the CPS Changer plugged directly into the CPS-1 arcade board connectors. In all, only 12 games were released on the system and the last title was Street Fighter Zero. The CPS-1 version of SFZ is pretty much identical to the CPS-2 version, apart from the sound quality. The music had to be reorchestrated using the CPS-1’s inferior sound chip, many of the voice samples had to be compressed and some sound effects were outright replaced. All the same, it’s a pretty interesting curiosity: I hope that it makes its way into the 30th Anniversary Collection somehow, but I doubt it will. I’d honestly just settle for the soundtrack as an extra.

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I took two shots from the CPS Changer version. This is one of them, betcha can’t find the other!

As for more traditional home ports, the game was ported to the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn around the same time, starting at the tail end of 1995 with releases spanning the entire first half of 1996. Both ports were reasonably close to arcade-perfect and came with additional features, including a rearranged soundtrack, a dedicated two-player Versus mode and a Training Mode, a first for a Street Fighter console port. Training Mode is a simple concept that would go onto become a necessity. At its core, it gives players a safe environment to practice their character’s moves and combos. Generally, the opponent character is completely stationary, but in later revisions to the concept, they could also be controlled by another controller or the game’s AI. The PlayStation version came out a month before the Saturn version in Japan and North America, while the Saturn version launched four months ahead of the PlayStation version in Europe. Two years later, a port based on the PlayStation version was released on Windows PC.

Finally, a scaled-down port was developed by Crawfish Interactive on the Game Boy Color. It was apparently released in Europe in 1999, while North America and Japan saw releases in March of 2000 and 2001 respectively. Despite the limited hardware taking its toll on the graphics and sound, the gameplay and roster is accurate to the arcade version – especially when compared to the original Game Boy’s take on Street Fighter II: a port cobbled together from so many different revisions, it’s impossible to categorize it as a legitimate port of any particular version of SF2.

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

In the end, Street Fighter Alpha ended up lost in the annals of fighting game history. This might seem like a sad fate for the next big thing in the Street Fighter franchise, but it still managed to leave a significant impact on the series to this day. Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams may not have been an amazing game that withstood the test of time on its own merits, but neither did Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Both games did manage to lay an amazing groundwork that future revisions served to refine and perfect. When you consider the fact that SFA was originally conceived as a budget spinoff title to appease the masses until a true Street Fighter III could be completed, the fact that it was able to go from a SNES title all the way to running on Capcom’s most recent arcade hardware is a triumph in and of itself.

Street Fighter Alpha 2

With the original Street Fighter Alpha being a relative success in Japan, it only made sense for Capcom to develop a follow-up. As such, Street Fighter Alpha 2 was released the following year: February 27, 1996 in Japan; the 29th in Europe and finally, March 6th in North America. Probably in response to criticism over Street Fighter II’s numerous revisions, the original Alpha’s follow-up was billed as a sequel instead.

Of course, given the game’s story, calling SFA2 a “sequel” is a bit of a misnomer: Alpha 2 actually replaces the events of the first game – much like each revision of SF2 – as opposed to coming after them. As such, I generally refer to it as a “replacement sequel”, much like Capcom’s Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge which replaced Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors in the series’ canon. Both SFA2 and Night Warriors retell the stories of their predecessors but with additional content and a few retcons.

There isn’t much information on Street Fighter Alpha 2’s development. Due to the success of the original SFA, Capcom decided to develop a “rental version” of the game, thus postponing their original plan to use the game sell out their remaining stock of CPS2 hardware. The only real insight into the game’s planning comes from Shinji Mikami, who claimed that they decided to focus on increasing the damage of normal attacks in order to place a greater emphasis on them over special moves.

All 13 characters from the original Street Fighter Alpha return in Alpha 2 – Akuma, M. Bison and Dan are added to the base roster in the process. On top of that, there are 5 new characters added to the roster: the largest addition to an existing roster in a Street Fighter game at that point. Zangief and Dhalsim return from Street Fighter II, cementing their popularity. Gen returns from the original Street Fighter, while Final Fight’s Stage 4 boss Rolento also joins the fray. Finally, there’s one brand-new character, Sakura Kasugano, a schoolgirl who is a huge fan of Ryu. This brings the roster to a whopping 18 in total.

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

Most of the returning characters’ storylines are unchanged from Warriors’ Dreams – though Dan Hibiki is now much more of a comedic figure, focusing on using his self-taught “Saikyō-ryū” fighting style to best his father’s killer. Dhalsim tries to raise money for his poor village, while Zangief travels the world, fighting to show the strength of his homeland. Rolento wishes to build his own utopia, which leads him into conflict with Sodom’s goal of rebuilding the Mad Gear Gang. Gen is an assassin who is suffering from leukemia, looking for a worthy opponent so that he may die in combat. Along the way, he encounters Chun-Li, his former student, and provides her with clues about M. Bison’s whereabouts. Finally, Sakura idolizes Ryu after seeing one of his fights and is looking to track him down so that she can train under him (or at least get his autograph).

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It’s fun to count how many people in this background eventually became playable in future Street Fighter games.

Alpha 2 builds on its predecessor in terms of gameplay as well. Most of the previous game’s mechanics return in SFA2, aside from the Chain Combo system – though a few characters can still perform them. To make up for this, characters have the ability to perform “Custom Combos”: by hitting two punch buttons and one kick button (or two kicks and a punch) simultaneously, players can spend at least one and a half levels of super meter to activate a special mode, which allows them to string attacks together more easily for a limited amount of time. As such, standard combos are much more difficult to perform compared to the previous game. Each character now has two different Alpha Counters, performed with the standard motions from the previous game: punch works on standard attacks, while the kick variant performs a low counter. The color palettes for each standard character has also been upped to 4: any single punch for the standard palette, with alternates selected with any single kick button, two punch buttons together and two kicks.

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Ironically, I never really got the hang of Custom Combos until I was grabbing these screens.

The arcade mode is similar to that of the previous game – players face off against 8 different opponents, with the final opponent determined by the selected character. However, SFA2 does add an additional twist to this mode with rival mid-boss battles. By performing a specific set of conditions, the fourth match will be interrupted with the traditional “Here Comes A New Challenger” message and a special CPU-controlled opponent will appear, with a conversation like the ones from the boss fights before the fight begins. Akuma can only be faced in arcade mode as a secret boss by performing specific conditions, but this time around, the boss version of Akuma sports a different color palette from the standard version. He’s now referred to as “Shin Akuma”: this version of Akuma is no longer holding back, showing off his true power. Finally, SFA2 added several new win icons: a cherry for winning with a light attack (a reference to the term “cherry tapping”), an A/Z for winning with an Alpha/Zero Counter, an hourglass for winning by Time Over, special unique icons for winning with a Custom Combo, and the “Ten” symbol for winning with Akuma’s Shun Goku Satsu. The Super Combo finish win icon has also been modified, now resembling a lightning bolt. It also showcases one, two or three stars next to it, determined by which level of Super Combo the character used to finish off their opponent.

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Oh right, here’s that “Psycho Shot” move I was talking about in the Alpha 1 write-up.

Most of the character sprites from Alpha 1 were recycled in the sequel, with the exception of Dan Hibiki, who was redesigned, marking his upgrade to official character. The new characters are drawn in the same style as the previous characters and they all mesh together perfectly. However, the stages were overhauled to the extreme, for the better. I’d argue that some of Capcom’s best stages came from Alpha 2. My personal favorites include Ken, who is throwing a birthday party for his fiancée Eliza attended by a bevy of cameos from other Capcom games, Rolento’s scrolling elevator and Sakura’s house (which was lovingly recreated in Street Fighter V recently). Guy’s stage is an honorable mention, due to the sheer amount of Final Fight cameos present: it’s fun to count just how many ended up as playable characters in future SF games.

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I’d seriously love it if Capcom tried recreating this in Street Fighter V.

A lot of musical compositions and sound effects are also recycled from the original Alpha. Syun Nishigaki and Setsuo Yamamoto return from Alpha 1 as composers, joined by Tatsuro Suzuki. The strange part is that despite running on identical hardware, Alpha 2 completely rearranges the songs from the original Alpha, leading to a fuller, richer sound. I can’t think of a single song where I don’t prefer the Alpha 2 version over the original. On top of that, there are a number of new compositions. Zangief’s theme is a jazzier recreation of his classic SF2 theme, while Rolento uses the Stage 5 theme from Final Fight. Dhalsim’s theme is an original composition, a much more somber, introspective theme. Gen’s theme is also original, though it seems to be at least inspired by his theme from the original Street Fighter, finding a middle ground between Birdie and Adon. Finally, there’s Sakura’s theme, my clear favorite of the bunch: a breezy, energetic song that perfectly represents the young fighter. The voice acting has also been expanded over the original – with new character voices and old characters receiving new voice samples – with no dip in audio quality. Hiroaki Kondo returns from SFA as the sole Sound Designer for Alpha 2, clearly working the CPS2’s Q-Sound system much more effectively than last time.

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I still can’t quite wrap my head around how Charlie’s Flash Kicks work.

Compared to the previous game, Alpha 2 had significantly less secrets than its predecessor. The Japanese version only had an alternate outfit for Chun-Li – her traditional qipao dress from Street Fighter II – which could be accessed through the character select using a simple code: highlight Chun-Li, hold down the Start button for about five seconds, then select her while holding Start. Kind of underwhelming compared to the secrets in the first game. Fortunately, the American and European versions rectified that by adding some additional secrets. First and foremost was the inclusion of Evil Ryu, a “what if” version of the classic hero who has succumbed to the Satsui no Hadou. A palette-swapped version of the main character boasting a grey gi and headband and slightly darker skin, Evil Ryu had all of the original Ryu’s moves and a few tricks from Akuma, including his teleport and the deadly Shun Goku Satsu. There were also EX versions of Dhalsim and Zangief, based on their Champion Edition incarnations. These three new characters were added to the game by Capcom USA, which is why they were missing from the original Japanese release.

As with the previous game, Street Fighter Alpha 2 was ported to the PlayStation and Saturn. The PlayStation version came out a month before the Saturn in Japan – the North American versions released simultaneously on September 30th, 1996; while the European Saturn version launched a month before the PlayStation version – and it shows. Both versions had an arranged soundtrack, plus a versus and training mode, but the Saturn version had an exclusive Survival Mode. On top of that, the Saturn version was also the only version that had the secret characters added to the American release. The PlayStation port was also beginning to show its limitations with 2D software at this point, while the Saturn version was much closer to the original, earning a reputation for excellent 2D fighter ports. As with SFA1, the PlayStation version was eventually ported to Windows PC in late 1997. Impressively, that version is still available today on GOG. Eventually, SFZ and SFZ2’s PC ports would be sold in a two-pack exclusively in Japan.

Then there’s the elephant in the room: the bizarre and truly pointless Super Nintendo version. This version came out after the Saturn and PlayStation versions is pretty much every region, releasing first in November 1996 in North America and the following month elsewhere. The game was only published by Capcom in Japan: by that point, everyone else had moved onto fifth-generation platforms, so Nintendo had to publish it themselves in North America and Europe. The game used the S-DD1 chip to compress the graphics to speed up the SNES’s ability to process the graphics. Unfortunately, the game suffers from load times: that’s right, a Super NES game with perceivable load times.

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Such a weird port.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but the gameplay just doesn’t feel right either. Even just comparing the SFA2 port to the Super Street Fighter II port – a game ported from the same exact hardware – something just feels off about this release. The SFA2 port on the Super Nintendo not only fails to feel like SFA2, it doesn’t even feel like an actual Street Fighter game. The worst part is that I can already think of two other options Capcom could’ve done to release a better product. Why not port the CPS1 version of the original Street Fighter Alpha to Super NES? I mean, at least that way, the original concept for the game could’ve finally come to fruition. What baffles me even more is the fact that they didn’t try releasing 2D fighting games on the Nintendo 64. Most of these games weren’t even exclusive to PlayStation at that point and the N64 itself was lacking in fighting games overall. Hell, I’d even argue that the N64’s weird controller would’ve been perfect for Capcom fighting game ports: 6 face buttons and an actual D-Pad, it could’ve definitely outclassed the PS1 on that front. Instead, we’re left with this abomination. To put things into perspective, the Game Boy Color port of the original Street Fighter Alpha worked better than the SNES Alpha 2 port. That’s embarrassing for Capcom and Nintendo.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 improved on its predecessor’s formula to the point of overshadowing it and managed to keep Street Fighter relevant during a time where Capcom was experimenting with new franchises, both in the fighting genre and out. SFA2 managed to win various awards in video game magazines, in Japan and abroad, being named Gamest’s “Best Game of 1996” and “Best Fighting Game” for the year, as well as earning Top Character with Dan Hibiki. GameFan named it Fighting Game of the Year, while Electronic Gaming Monthly named it the Arcade Game of the Year. The home ports also sold well: the Saturn port sold over 400,000 copies in Japan alone. However, the game’s critical and commercial success proved a double-edged sword. Capcom would end up falling back into old habits with their next release…

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

I’m not exactly sure why Capcom decided to make a revision to SFA2 – I can’t find any concrete information about its development (or even its release date) online – but if I were to hazard a guess, I think Capcom Japan was intimidated by the additions Capcom USA made to the American and European versions of Alpha 2’s arcade release. That would at least explain why “Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha” was only released in arcades in Asia and parts of Latin America.

Of course, SFA2G makes various additions and balance tweaks to original version of Alpha 2 as it stands and many of them seem to be controversial among the more hardcore members of the Fighting Game Community. It would be insane for me to list every change Gold made over its predecessor, but I’ll try to list some of the major changes. For starters, both Alpha Counters and Custom Combos now cost 1.5 bars of Super Meter and the command to activate Custom Combos have changed to just pressing Heavy Punch and Heavy Kick at the same time. On top of that, Custom Combos are significantly less powerful than they were in the original version.

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It’s weird how much more I like Evil Ryu compared to regular Ryu and Akuma, right?

Some characters have also received some new moves: Dhalsim gets the Yoga Stream super combo, while Guy gets the Bushin Musou Renge – a super combo that costs all three bars of Super Meter. Ryu regains his Fire Hadoken, while Sakura gets the aptly named “Sakura Otoshi”, where she leaps into the air and can bonk opponents in the head as she descends. If the move connects, she can do 3 additional bonks by tapping a punch button with a specific rhythm. Finally, Sagat gets a new super taunt called the Angry Charge, where the game momentarily freezes and Sagat clutches at the scar on his chest as it glows. This seemingly does nothing on its own, but the next time her performs a Tiger Blow, it does extra damage.

Characters have returned to the standard six color palettes from Super Street Fighter II with each attack button associated with a unique palette, Light Punch being the default. Finally, Alpha 2 Gold adds in a little easter egg. If a player finishes off their opponent with a taunt, they’re awarded with Mobi-chan from Side Arms – who previously appeared in some SF2 homes ports as a menu pointer – as a win icon.

Alpha 2 Gold’s real attraction is its bonuses. All of the additional content from the American version of Alpha 2 returns, with Chun-Li’s alternate, Evil Ryu and EX Dhalsim and Zangief all being updated to the six color palettes afforded to the game’s standard characters. However, Gold adds even more. Champion Edition variants of Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li (using her classic outfit, no less), Sagat and M. Bison also join the roster as secret characters. All of these secret characters can be unlocked by pressing the Start button to toggle them on each respective character and the player select even showcases the character before making a selection once they’ve been activated. Sakura also gains a bonus variant, though the only difference compared to the original is that she has six brand-new color palettes. This version of Sakura can be chosen by hitting the Start button on her five times. Dramatic Battle returns as a full mode: 2 players (or 1 player with a CPU-controlled partner) can choose from any character in the roster (aside from the CE variants) and face down a four-opponent arcade ladder, consisting of Adon, Sagat, M. Bison and a final fight with Shin Akuma. In Dramatic Battle, both characters have access to an infinite Super Meter, but share a single health bar. There’s also Survival Mode – a first for an arcade version – as well as a mode where you can face off with Shin Akuma immediately.

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That’s the old Sagat.

While Alpha 2 Gold seems like it should be a rarity due to its limited arcade release, it did receive a home port as a part of the Street Fighter Collection on the Saturn and PlayStation. While Super Street Fighter II and Super Turbo shared a disc, Gold took up a second disc. This version was relatively arcade perfect, about on par with the Alpha 2 ports. Both versions had Survival and a dedicated Versus Mode, but the Saturn version had extra flourishes, like Training Mode. Unfortunately, neither version had Dramatic Battle, but they made up for it with a unique bonus feature all their own. By earning the top score in Arcade mode with either version of M. Bison and inputting the initials “CAM”, Cammy would be unlocked as a secret character in Versus and Training mode by highlighting Bison and pressing the Start button twice. Cammy was taken directly from X-Men vs. Street Fighter, including her voice samples, though her moves were toned down to fit with the more grounded style of traditional Street Fighter games. This iteration of Cammy represents her time working as a mindless agent of Shadaloo, one of M. Bison’s Dolls. The home versions also allowed players to use Shin Akuma by pressing Start five times while highlighting Akuma.

While inconsequential in the long run, I always liked Alpha 2 Gold. I view it the same way as games like Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2: side projects that were made to be experimental and fun, allowing players to do things that normally couldn’t be achieved in the standard editions. It’s not like they superseded the earlier versions, which are generally better known for being the tournament standards for years to come. I just wish that Capcom had considered adding Gold as a little bonus in the 30th Anniversary Collection, simply due to all of the additional modes found in the Arcade version alone. They wouldn’t even need to worry about translating the Japanese text: the Asian version found outside of Japan is entirely in English.

Street Fighter Alpha 3

Street Fighter Alpha 3 is one of those games that, even in retrospect, I can’t believe actually exists. The first two Alpha games were essentially created as filler games, to keep the masses satisfied until Street Fighter III could finally be completed. In 1997, that finally happened: both the original release of SF3 and its first revision were released to arcades. Yet somehow, on June 29th, 1998, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released to Japanese and North American arcades – with a European release not far behind on September 4th. I’m not sure exactly why Alpha 3 was made: I couldn’t find any information about the game’s development online. My current theory is that it was meant to address some criticisms leveled at SF3 – particularly the roster, but I’ll speak more on that later – but I prefer to believe that it was a send off to the previous Alpha games, simply due to how much they exceeded Capcom’s expectations: starting as little more than a mere spin-off for consoles, but eventually garnering two sequels and a revision.

All 19 characters from the home version of SFA2 Gold return in Alpha 3, with Cammy becoming an official member of the Alpha 3 roster. On top of that, E. Honda, Blanka and Vega return from Street Fighter II as playable characters. Cody Travers from Final Fight also makes his Street Fighter debut, boasting a radical redesign. Going from fresh-faced street fighter to apathetic criminal, Cody was sent up the river for picking fights strictly out of boredom. Karin Kanzuki, a character that originated in the Sakura Ganbare! spinoff manga also makes her video game debut in Alpha 3. We’ve also got Rainbow Mika, a professional wrestler who idolizes Zangief. There are also a few secret characters, generally fought as mid-boss characters: Balrog returns, along with Juni and Juli, two of Bison’s dolls who fight as a team as a boss character (like a reverse Dramatic Battle), but also appear as separate characters when playable. The secret characters feel a bit incomplete, they use M. Bison’s introduction, rival battles, ending and even his profile pictures.

Alpha 3 acts as a true sequel to the events of the first two games. Once again, there’s no tournament, but the main storyline involves Shadaloo’s plot for world domination. M. Bison is preparing his ultimate weapon, the Psycho Drive, which can amplify Bison’s Psycho Power and with the use of a satellite allow him to fire beams of his psychic energy anywhere on the planet. However, Bison’s body is slowly deteriorating after using the device, so he’s seeking a more powerful body that can use this power to its full capacity. His target: the wandering warrior, Ryu. He sends Vega, one of his top henchmen, to brainwash Ryu and collect him. 

Meanwhile, Ryu is dealing with the temptation of the dark power of the Satsui no Hadou, the power he used to defeat Sagat and the same power that Akuma used to kill his sensei. Sagat, Ken and Sakura are all searching for Ryu too, each for their own reasons. Karin, on the other hand, is searching for Sakura, to avenge her first loss in combat. Dan, still overjoyed over defeating Sagat – don’t worry, he threw the fight – decides to found his own dojo to teach his Saikyo style to the masses. Along the way, he declares Sakura as his first student and befriends the Brazilian beastman, Blanka. Blanka lived peacefully in the jungle until he mistakenly climbed into a poacher’s truck and finds himself stranded in the middle of civilization. Adon seeks a new challenge after defeating his former master (Sagat threw a lot of fights in Alpha 2).

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I always loved these backstory screens.

Chun-Li and Charlie – wait, didn’t he die in Alpha 2? – are working together again, to take down Shadaloo once and for all. Zangief fights for a similar goal, viewing Shadaloo as a threat to his beloved home country. Meanwhile, R. Mika is picking fights with the strongest fighters she can find to make a memorable debut as a pro wrestler. Rose feels responsible for Bison’s evil and seeks to stop him once and for all, even at the cost of her own life. Birdie’s achieved his goal of joining Shadaloo, but he tires of life as a mere henchman, seeking to overthrow Bison. Cammy is one of Bison’s mindless Dolls until a choice encounter with Dhalsim that awakens her and allows her to think for herself. After failing to capture Ryu, Vega is sent to track Cammy and report on her status.

Rolento still seeks to build his utopia, seeking strong warriors to help protect it. Meanwhile, Sodom has become obsessed with his Japanophilia, searching for like-minded people to form his new Mad Gear gang. His search takes him to Edmond Honda, a Rikishi who seeks to prove sumo’s supremacy over all other fighting styles. Guy still seeks to perfect his Bushin-ryuu style. Meanwhile, his old friend Cody has fallen on hard times, going from street fighting hero to prisoner. He breaks out of prison out of sheer boredom to seek strong opponents. Gen is still near-death from leukemia, seeking one last strong opponent to give him a warrior’s death. Akuma also seeks a true challenge, a strong warrior worthy of his full power.

While clearly cut from the same mold as its predecessors, Alpha 3 feels like a brand-new game. The largest difference comes from the ISM system. The choice between manual and automatic blocking has been removed, replaced with three different fighting styles. First, there’s the “Standard” A-ISM (Z-ISM in Japan), which is based on the gameplay from the Alpha games. In A-ISM, characters effectively play like they did in Alpha 2, having access to multiple super combos, 3 bars of meter, air blocks, Alpha Counters and taunts, only lacking Custom Combos. Next, there’s the “Simple” X-ISM – based on Super Street Fighter II X (Turbo for us Americans). One bar of super meter, one super combo, less options, but a slightly higher damage output than the other two modes. Finally, there’s “Variable” V-ISM, which includes many of the benefits from A-ISM with a few key differences. V-ISM has a weaker damage output than the other two modes but has a 2-bar meter and replaces super combos with Custom Combos. On top of that, different characters gain and lose techniques based on which mode you choose for them. Each character has six palettes, but the method for selecting them has changed. There are two colors associated with each ISM and they can be selected with a punch or a kick button. I think the coolest thing about the ISM system is that certain characters’ appearances are altered: Chun-Li dons her standard blue dress and Sodom regains his classic katanas from Final Fight in X-ISM. I’m just a little disappointed that they didn’t go further in some cases: it would’ve been cool to see Ryu’s red headband or Cammy sporting her Delta Red design in X-ISM as well.

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Man, these Katana would be a pretty cool V-Trigger. (*HINT HINT*)

A few other minor changes have been made from Alpha 2. For starters, throws are now performed by hitting two punches or two kicks simultaneously and can be performed at any range, regardless of success. A-ISM is still capable of performing Super Combos at three different levels, but instead of hitting multiple attack buttons to determine the level, it’s now determined by the specific attack button pushed: light attacks perform the Level 1, mediums perform Level 2 and Level 3s can be performed with heavy attacks. Personally, I prefer the way Alpha 3 handled it compared to previous games in the series, but that’s just personal preference. Finally, Alpha 3 adds a guard gauge: every time an attack is blocked, the gauge depletes, only recovering after not blocking for a short period of time. If it runs out, the character is subject to a guard break, which leaves them helpless for a split second. Depleting the gauge also shrinks the gauge for the remainder of the round. X-ISM has the largest guard meter by far, but it tends to vary based on character in A-ISM and V-ISM.

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GUARD BREAK!

The standard arcade mode returns as well, with some additional flourishes. After selecting a character and ISM, players are met with an introduction that explains their fighter’s history and motivations. The arcade ladder goes back up to ten, and there are two mandatory rival battles – the fifth and ninth opponents respectively – while every other opponent is determined at random. The rival battles have their usual dialogue exchanges before each match, but there’s also dialogue after defeating them. Finally, the tenth and final opponent for nearly everyone is a powered-up version of M. Bison, boasting an extremely powerful version of his Psycho Crusher as a Super Combo. To make matters even more difficult, he must be defeated on the first try. If not, players receive a bad ending and a game over. A controversial decision, but also a memorable one.

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Seriously, these rival cutscenes blew my mind back in the day.

Like its predecessor, Alpha 3 recycles a lot of graphics from the previous game. The new characters blend in seamlessly with the old, showing the amount of care Capcom put into consistency. By this point, the sprites from the original were about 3 years old – older than the SF2 sprites were when SSF2 was released – and the new characters are no less visually impressive because of it. Most of the characters have unique backgrounds – aside from Karin, who sports a recolored version of Sakura’s stage (at least in the arcade version) – with very little in the way of recycled content. What’s really impressive are the profile pictures, which resembles the hand-drawn promotional artwork to an amazing degree. While Vampire Savior is often heralded as the most beautiful CPS2 game due to its animation, SFA3 is no slouch in the visuals department.

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Like I said, not so good with the Custom Combos.

Street Fighter Alpha 3’s soundtrack was an extreme departure from the previous games in the franchise, ditching all of the iconic music in favor of completely original compositions. The lead composer was Takayuki “Anarchy Takapon” Iwai, best known for his work on Vampire Savior. Other composers that worked on the game were Iwai’s wife Yuki (née Satomura), Isao Abe, Hideki Okugawa and Tetsuya Shibata. Originally, Iwai wanted to implement a new CD-based custom variant of the CPS2 hardware – allowing for a heavy metal soundtrack – but due to budget limitations, he was forced to use the standard MIDI format. This difference of opinion would eventually lead Iwai to leave Capcom and work as an independent composer.

In spite of these limitations, SFA3 has a pretty killer soundtrack – though I personally prefer the one from Alpha 2. Lacking the CD audio, Iwai went for a much more industrial sound, something I never would’ve guessed possible on the CPS2’s hardware. The music in Alpha 3 seems to have been composed to avoid the simple yet catchy melodies associated with Street Fighter up to that point, which just makes the game’s soundtrack that much more memorable. Everything’s been thrown out the window, which led to less of a focus on creating or retaining leitmotifs for each character and focusing instead on capturing the essence of each character. As such, there are some pretty memorable songs in there: I think Akuma’s “Feel the Cool” is my all-time favorite theme for the character. Other favorite songs of mine are Karin’s “Simple Rating”; Dan’s “Perfomance”; Ken’s “Active Red”; Ryu’s “The Road”; R. Mika’s “Prismatic Stars”; “High-Tech”, a theme shared by Juli and Juni, and Sakura’s “Breeze”. But my favorite song in the entire game is easily Cammy’s “Doll Eyes”. It’s a shame that so few of these compositions resurfaced in later games: Karin and R. Mika’s themes in Street Fighter V take inspiration from their Alpha 3 themes, while the NeoGeo Pocket Color crossover SNK vs. Capcom: Match of the Millennium uses Akuma, Sakura and Dan’s SFA3 themes as opposed to their more quintessential themes.

Hiroaki Kondo returns as Sound Director, with Takeshi “Moe.T” Kitamura and Satoshi Ise working on Sound Design. A lot of sound effects were clearly recycled from the last two games, but somehow, things sound different. Strikes have a much harsh sound, which just makes them so much more satisfying. Alpha 3 also has a significant number of voice actors, most notably Junko Takeuchi, who would later go onto voice the title character in Naruto. Finally, I’d be in remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s announcer, Greg Irwin. Arguably the most iconic announcer in fighting game history, he even managed to reprise the role in the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

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Cheeky.

Finally, let’s discuss the game’s secrets. The extras in Alpha 3 manage to dwarf even Alpha 2 Gold, but it’s one of those cases where good things only come to those who wait. As the arcade machine is left on, the color of the title screen changes. It starts out colored off-white, but eventually turns red, signifying that the secret characters Balrog, Juni and Juli can be selected with a simple code. Next, the title screen turns green, which means that the first secret ISM, Classic Mode, has been unlocked. Classic is similar to X-ISM, but it lacks a Super Combo meter. Then, the title screen turns Blue which unlocks two more secret ISMs, Mazi Mode and Saikyo Mode. These two modes can be selected in addition to the three regular ISMs: Mazi mode increases attack power significantly at the cost of defense and opponents only need to win a single round to defeat anyone using it, while Saikyo Mode – a play on Dan’s Saikyo-ryu fighting style – weakens attacks, reduces the guard meter and imposes other limitations. Finally, when the title screen turns a lighter shade of blue, players can access Survival, Dramatic Battle and Final Battle Mode. The first two are similar to their Alpha 2 Gold iterations – though Dramatic Battle now gives each character their own separate health meter, Super Meter is no longer unlimited and partners are determined automatically – while Final Battle sends you to the arcade mode’s final boss immediately. There are also special codes that can unlock these extras immediately, but they can only be performed in the game’s test menu.

As good as Alpha 3 was, the game itself was never really considered tournament viable. Even by the standards of Capcom’s output from the mid-to-late ‘90s, there are just too many exploits in V-ISM that makes using anything else useless. This, in turn, has led to Alpha’s current identity crisis: to this day people still argue whether Alpha 2 or 3 is worthy of becoming the true representative of the series in fighting game tournaments. To make matters worse, there’s a significant gap in terms of content when comparing the various revisions of both games, furthering the divide. This is a major part of the reason why Capcom didn’t attempt a re-release back in the seventh generation: Street Fighter II and III have “definitive editions” in Super Turbo and 3rd Strike respectively. Even with the announcement of the 30th Anniversary Collection, people aren’t entirely happy with the online offerings – while Alpha 3 has an online component, many people (myself included) want the same for Alpha 2.

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

You’re probably wondering why I decided to dedicate an entire sub-heading to all of Street Fighter Alpha 3’s home ports. The fact of the matter is that every single home release for SFA3 adds something, to the extent where I’d consider pretty much all of them as unique revisions – aside from the version present in the 30th Anniversary Collection, which is just a straight port of the original arcade version. In that sense, it almost seems like a disservice to limit my discussion of even the earliest ports to a couple of paragraphs tacked on at the end of my analysis of the arcade version, like I did with the previous two games.

We’ll start with the earliest home port, the PlayStation 1 version. Unlike pretty much every other game in this section, I owned this version back when it was brand-new – in fact, it was the first Alpha game I ever had. Alpha 3 hit the PS1 on December 23th 1998 in Japan, with the North American version releasing on April 30th of the following year and the European version finally seeing release on June 25th of that year. By that point, the PS1’s (admittedly deserved) poor reputation with 2D fighting games had been cemented, so Capcom tried to mitigate some of the problems they had. In order to save space for character animations, they rendered hit sparks by using flat polygons instead of traditional 2D sprites. Unfortunately, the game still didn’t contain every animation from the arcade version and suffered from significant load times between matches. To Capcom’s credit, they did at least include some beautiful images on the load screens.

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A true masterpiece.

What the PS1 version lacked in accuracy, it more than made up for in bonus content. Balrog, Juni and Juli were expanded on – given their own profiles, artwork and endings – and added to the base roster. Fei Long, Dee Jay and T. Hawk, the remaining New Challengers from Super Street Fighter II, were also added to the base roster, though their sprites were recycled from Super Turbo and recolored to better resemble the rest of the Alpha cast as opposed to outright redrawn. Evil Ryu, Guile and Shin Akuma were also added as unlockable characters.  The home port also includes all of the additional modes from the arcade version, though Dramatic Battle is a bit more limited: only Ryu/Ken and Juli/Juni have full campaigns, while every other team is limited to a single match. This version also adds the standard Versus and Training Mode, but that’s not all. Team Battle is an unlockable mode where players choose a team of 3 characters and see who lasts the longest. The main attraction is World Tour Mode, where players can customize a character with ISM ups, enhancements and power-ups that are earned by completing various objectives. In fact, World Tour Mode is among my favorite single-player modes in a fighting game of all time. The Japanese version was also compatible with the PocketStation peripheral, allowing players to increase the strength of their World Tour characters with a set of minigames. Obviously, because it was never released outside of Japan, this functionality was removed from international releases.

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I only recently realized that Fei Long, Dee Jay and T. Hawk were simply recolored from their SSF2 sprites. Kind of impressive, honestly.

What most people didn’t know is that there was also a Japanese-exclusive Saturn port. Released on August 6th, 1999, it had the exact same extra content as the PlayStation version. However, due to the Saturn’s 4MB RAM expansion pack, the game contained much more sprites and faster load times. On top of that, Evil Ryu and Guile were added to the base roster. Dramatic Battle was also expanded to include campaigns for every combination of characters and even the ability to fight through an entire arcade mode-length campaign, a feature unique to the Saturn version. Furthermore, the Saturn version also added a new “Reverse Dramatic Battle”, which allowed players to fight against a pair of CPU-controlled characters at the same time. It’s just a shame that this version didn’t get a wider release: it was released near the end of the Saturn’s Japanese run and it’s among the rarest games on the system. I didn’t even know about this version’s existence until a few years ago and I know I’m not alone on that.

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Here’s one last shot from the PlayStation version. Tracking down the Saturn version just isn’t worth the hassle.

That isn’t to say that Sega left Westerners out in the dark. On July 8th, 1999 – exactly one month before the Saturn version – Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō was released on the Dreamcast in Japan. It would be released internationally the following year as Street Fighter Alpha 3: Saikyo Dojo in North America and Europe. The Dreamcast version retained more of the animation from the arcade version, but also includes all of the bonus content from the PlayStation version, while adding Guile and Evil Ryu to the base roster. The game also had shorter load times than the Saturn version, but the gameplay itself is said to be less accurate to the arcade version. World Tour mode was modified from the PlayStation version, changing up the progression and the interface by allowing players to customize their own “I-ISM” with various traits and ISM ups to fully customize their characters. The Dreamcast version also added “Saikyo Mode”, where players use a weak character to fight against a downloadable AI character with several enhancements taken from World Tour mode to prove their strength. Players could also “compete” online by uploading their high scores.

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This is the same World Tour screen from the Dreamcast version. Totally different, right?

On February 15, 2001, the game was re-released as Street Fighter Zero 3: Saikyō-ryū Dōjō for Matching Service on their mail order service. This version of the game would add true online play. Capcom would also use the Dreamcast version as the basis for SFA3’s sole arcade revision. That same year, Street Fighter Zero 3 Upper (rendered as Street Fighter ZERO 3↑) was released on Sega’s NAOMI Hardware – itself based directly on the Dreamcast – with a few balance changes and the additional characters from the console versions, as well as adding the ability to upload any customized characters by inserting a VMU into a memory card slot on the cabinet itself.

But wait, there’s more! Rounding out the “Alpha ports on Nintendo hardware clearly not powerful enough to run them” trilogy is Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper on the Game Boy Advance, developed once again by our good friends at Crawfish Interactive, released in Japan, Europe and North America in 2002. As with their previous effort on the Game Boy Color, Alpha 3 Upper is surprisingly playable, even managing to find a reasonable way to allow for all 6 attack buttons on the GBA’s 4-button layout – pressing the two strengths of punch or kick mapped to the GBA’s buttons simultaneously performs the third. Better still, there aren’t any noticeable load times. Even more impressive is the fact that it retained more character animations than the PlayStation version, though many stages were just outright omitted. The sound took the worst hit: in addition to being heavily compressed, most of the game’s music and sound effects were removed and there were even cases where voice samples were either pitched up or down and used on other characters.

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

That’s not to say that this version didn’t still have extras: all of the bonus features from the arcade version return, as do the extra characters from the console releases – though Guile and Evil Ryu are unlockable once again. However, this version also adds its own unique unlockable characters to the mix: Eagle from the original Street Fighter, Maki from Final Fight 2 and Yun from Street Fighter 3 all enter the fray in this version. Of course, they were all lifted directly from Capcom vs. SNK 2 – not to mention Yun’s presence had to be explained via time travel shenanigans – but it’s impressive that they were able to add even more content. The ISM Plus power-ups from World Tour mode also return and can be toggled on or off in the options menu after being unlocked. With these additions on top of a recognizable facsimile of the original game, this game is miles above the previous Nintendo releases in the Alpha series.

After that, things stayed relatively silent on the Alpha 3 front until 2006 when Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX – or Street Fighter Zero 3 Double Upper, as it was known in Japan – was released on the PlayStation Portable. In terms of content, this release is essentially the most complete version of SFA3. Even the characters introduced in the GBA version return, with additional flourishes like storylines in the arcade mode. On top of that, Ingrid from Capcom Fighting Evolution is added to the roster, ushering her into the Street Fighter universe in a decision still contested to this day.

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Just because I have to show Ingrid doesn’t mean I had to play as her.

MAX also brings back every mode from the previous console releases of Alpha 3 – even Reverse Dramatic Battle from the Saturn version – but adds a few of its own. Variable Battle allows players to do a two-on-one tag match against a single opponent. There’s also 100 Kumite mode, which pits players against 100 opponents in single-round matches. This version also includes the ability to fight against other players using the PSP’s built-in local Wi-Fi connectivity. Unfortunately, the game does suffer from a few control issues, but these stem more from the PSP itself than anything else, particularly earlier models. Still, most fans of the series who don’t care about arcade-perfect conversions have been requesting a re-release for SFA3 MAX for years, mainly because in terms of content, it can’t be beat.

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

2006 was a banner year for the Street Fighter Alpha series. A few months after SFA3 MAX was released, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology was released on the PS2. This collection was the full package: containing arcade-perfect ports of the original SFA, Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold and Alpha 3. On top of that, each of these games have a dedicated Versus, Survival and Dramatic Battle modes. In addition, Cammy was added to the Anthology’s port of Gold, playable in all modes and even receiving a unique storyline and ending in Arcade Mode. Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix – better known as Pocket Fighter in both Japan and its Western home release – a CPS2-era comedic crossover featuring super-deformed characters from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers and even Red Earth, was also included to round out the collection. Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper was also included as a secret bonus game, unlocked by completing the standard SFA3’s story mode.

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Cammy and Chun-Li beating up M. Bison in SFA2 Gold’s Dramatic Battle mode. Truly breathtaking.

There was also a secret options menu that would allow players to access specific revisions of each game and even allowing them to create their own custom revisions by enabling and disabling certain features. The Japanese release – titled Street Fighter Zero: Fighters’ Generation – did have a few extra games, including the original Japanese arcade versions of both Zero 2 and Zero 2 Alpha by default and “arranged” versions of the two were also unlockable games in that version. However, these extra versions were the ones available by default in the Western release, it didn’t really have a detrimental impact on the content in both versions.

The Anthology did have one extra hidden game though. By completing every game’s arcade mode (including Super Gem Fighter and SFA3 Upper), Hyper Street Fighter Alpha could be unlocked. This game effectively recreated the gimmick of Hyper SF2: allowing players to choose between every iteration of each character across the entire Alpha series and pitting them head-to-head. Of course, this game was limited to just a 2-player versus and training mode, but it was still an incredible concept. The game’s interface was mostly based on Alpha 3, but with several additional features. Brand new ISMs were added to the game and its soundtrack spanned not only the entire SFA trilogy, but also earlier games, like Street Fighter II and Final Fight.

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Yes, that’s Alpha 1 Dan beating up Blanka. Yes, this is a legitimate screenshot.

After that, there were no Street Fighter Alpha releases until the 30th Anniversary Collection, which just contains 3 perfect emulations of the CPS2 games, with online play added to Alpha 3. There was one little tidbit that I found interesting. Apparently, Capcom originally wanted to make an enhanced re-release of Alpha 3, until David Sirlin convinced them to remake Super Street Fighter II Turbo instead. As if I didn’t have enough of a grudge against the guy. Although, considering just how HD Remix turned out, maybe Alpha 3 dodged a bullet.

Thus concludes the history of Street Fighter Alpha series, unless Yoshihiro Ono decides to revive the series with a fourth game. I’m honestly surprised at just how long this segment of my retrospective turned out. I guess I was even more passionate about these games than I thought. Next time, I’ll be recounting the long-awaited Street Fighter III games and the effects they had on the franchise as a whole, both in the short and long-term.

Is Arc System Works Becoming the New Capcom? Should We Worry?

Arc System Works has been on a roll for the last decade or so. Blazblue and Guilty Gear have been selling gangbusters. They have a new crossover game with Blazblue Cross Tag Battle. They bought back their first fighting game hit with Guilty Gear with great acclaim. But are they copying Capcom’s fate?

Capcom started in 1979 and mainly made arcade games in the beginning. Arc System Works came around about 9 years later as a contract developer at first, until 1998 when the first Guilty Gear was made. This became a cult classic fighting game that spawned sequels and what I would call a “light” version of the game, Blazblue, which again exploded and turned the “anime fighter” into what it is now. Capcom revolutionized the fighting game genre itself about 10 years before Guilty Gear with the Street Fighter series, albeit more of the traditional sense. Street Fighter II and its many forms still are thriving today.

In the 1990s, both Arc System Works and Capcom were the big dogs in the fighting game department, even with Capcom having more games, Guilty Gear was still one of the top fighting games of its time. Capcom had a few other fighters in the 90s in their belts, like Rival Schools, and Darkstalkers, and Power Stone, but their main fighter back then was Street Fighter. Both Capcom and Arc System Works saw success in this genre well into the 2000s, when Arc System Works would bring more competition with Blazblue in 2009. Around that time, Capcom had hit a bit of a bump in the road with fighting games, and hit a resurgence with Street Fighter 4. These games don’t compare well, except it started Arc System Works’ rise to fame and Capcom’s resurgence into popularity.

It was about this time that Arc System Works decided to do more creative things with the fighting game genre. They started with a game called Battle Fantasia in Japanese arcades in 2007 with eventual console releases two years later. This was an interesting foray into fighting games that Arc System Works wasn’t known for before. This game fits most with Capcom’s Red Earth game. Both of these games are outliers of their genres and has their own fans but they have their detractors as well.

Battle Fantasia definitely showed Arc System Works changeover to different tastes in the fighting game market. This led to the creation of the Blazblue series. This was a new creation by Arc System Works that definitely fit the “anime fighter” genre and propelled it to the levels of mainstream success it has today. Blazblue Continuum Shift came out in 2009 on consoles (2008 in arcades), and it sold well. Capcom however went back to the old drawing board with their fighting games and hoped for a miracle with Street Fighter 4. This also succeeded for them and put them back on the map.

Arc System Works had a few sequels and expansions to the Blazblue series called “Extends” that gave extra content such as characters and stories. This is similar to Capcom’s consistent re-releases of past Street Fighter games. At this time, Capcom continued this trend by releasing Super and Ultra Street Fighter IV. People saw the “Extends” as something positive but the Street Fighter 4 expansions to be negative and a retread to the past that should not have been repeated.

In 2012, Arc System Works decided to go into the licensing sphere of fighting games and create Persona 4 Arena, a fighting game based on a Japanese role playing game by Atlus. This was a very different game, even though they used a lot of basis from Guilty Gear for the fighting game system. Arc System Works actually used things from the game it was licensing that hadn’t really been seen before. This game got a sequel called Persona 4 Arena Ultimax or P4AU which added more story and a couple new characters for the game.
During this time, Capcom had decided to go back to the Vs. Series and decided to bring up something big that some fighting game fans had been waiting for for a long time. Street Fighter X Tekken was a fighting game that people had speculated about since Tekken’s arrival on the fighting game scene in 1994. This was also one of the first times Capcom had crossed over with another fighting game company since Capcom vs SNK 2 or SNK vs Capcom SVC Chaos almost a decade before. Street Fighter x Tekken was also ambitious in its execution, with a story mode all its own and also the implementation of a new Gem system that had caused a bit of a lukewarm reaction for the game as this was called a cash grab as most of the good gems were paid downloadable content. Coupled with on-disc downloadable content and the game really had some negative feedback.
Capcom also decided to revisit some of the old Vs. series in 2012 by releasing Marvel vs Capcom Origins, which had Marvel vs Capcom and Marvel Super Heroes with online for the current generation of consoles (Playstation 3 and Xbox 360). This fared better than Street Fighter x Tekken with very little negative feedback for this game.

In 2014, Arc System Works finally was able to bring back one of its original cash cows, and what got their rise to fame, Guilty Gear Xrd Sign was announced and it brought back many memories for people who had played the Guilty Gear games on arcade and console so many years before. The game was a visual marvel as it had beautiful 3D models made to look like 2D sprites. This is a trend that would continue with its future games. The game had two sequels, Guilty Gear Xrd -REVELATOR- and Guilty Gear Xrd Rev 2, which added fan favorite characters and added to the story, much like the Extend expansions of the Blazblue series.

As Arc System Works brought a smash hit back, Capcom was ending one era and starting a new one. Ultra Street Fighter 4, the Ultimate edition of Street Fighter 4, was released in the same year. Over the next 2 years, the next numbered Street Fighter would come out.

Around the time that Blazblue’s latest (and possibly final) mainline sequel, Centralfiction came out in 2015, Capcom decided to unveil its new fighting game, Street Fighter V. This started with a beta for the game that anyone who pre-ordered the game (and eventually anyone) could participate in. This got people very excited as they felt like their input was being heard, and they got to play an early version of the game.

Street Fighter V would eventually release in 2016, around the time the first sequel to Guilty Gear, Xrd -REVELATOR- would also release. Some people would have problems with both of these games. SFV had the problems of a small roster and more new characters than old characters that people knew and loved. Revelator only had a few characters as its main selling point, even though they were fan favorites, some really had no justifications for buying the game.

2017 would prove really interesting for both of these companies. Arc System Works would have its second sequel for Guilty Gear, Xrd Rev 2 release to lukewarm audiences. People were hyped for it, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. Capcom, on the other hand, decided to hit back on the Vs. Series door again. This time adding a new game to the Marvel vs Capcom series, releasing Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. This game really had a roller coaster of a time before and after release. The public relations were very sporadic and the information we got were either lackluster or previously known before the information was given, making some people distraught. Then at E3 2017, Arc System Works pulled a bomb out of their repertoire that no one was expecting. Dragon Ball FighterZ was announced there. It was another licensed game that featured characters from a popular anime that would almost tear the fighting game community apart by its seams. This game would come out in 2018, but the hype for it lasted throughout the life (or lack thereof) of Marvel vs Capcom Infinite, even though Marvel came out in September 2017, and Dragon Ball FighterZ would not release until February 2018. Capcom would try to save face by releasing Ultra Street Fighter 2 for Nintendo Switch, announce Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection and save Street Fighter V by releasing Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition to most people’s happiness.

Arc System Works delivered one more interesting entry into this by announcing Blazblue Cross Tag Battle,which is a crossover with two of Arc System Works’ past successful games, Blazblue and Persona 4 Arena, and one other fighting game and an (American) anime, Under Night In Birth, and RWBY. Some of the old mistakes Capcom had made with older games are seen in this one. Lots of downloadable content issues exist with this game, as half the roster is paid content. Also a lot of the roster was copy pasted from their original games, which a lot of Marvel games were berated for by Capcom games in games such as Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Infinite. This game is currently the only Arc System Works fighting game to not be released yet as of the writing of this article, so we’ll have to see if this game has any more issues or problems upon release.

Now, with so many successful fighting games under Arc System Works umbrella (there are a few more games I neglected to mention), will we see them make some of the mistakes that Capcom has in the past or present? Only time will tell.

Remaking History Repeats Itself

When it came to revisiting older articles that I intended to make into series, Remaking History was my white whale. Trying to figure out a way to write a follow-up to the concept was difficult, simply because it revolved around finding five games in franchises that would be worth covering in minor detail, as opposed to doing full write-ups for each of them. Fortunately, I’m more of a sequel man in that regard, but coming up with a list of five games worthy of remaking in the first place managed to be my major hurdle. Still, I ended up persevering and I can finally share the fruits of my labor.

The fact that I considered Remaking History viable as a series in the first place is a testament to my hubris roughly four years ago. Effectively, the concept behind the original article – and by extension, this humble successor – is to pick out five existing games from popular series that don’t live up to the reputation of other titles, both past and present. Personally, I think it’s a crime when games that are already great are given remakes. We’ve managed to get so much joy out of overhauls of weaker and more forgettable titles. MegaMan Powered Up recreated the 1987 classic while learning from later games in the series; Metroid: Samus Returns brought the forgotten Metroid II – a game from the original Remaking History article! – back to prominence; and Ys: The Oath in Felghana easily redeemed its source material, turning the black sheep that was Wanderers from Ys to one of the most popular games in the entire franchise, while still retaining many distinct elements from the source material. Remaking games that were popular in the first place and hold up under modern scrutiny just feels like an utter waste of resources.

I’ve decided to modify the format from the original article. Originally, I broke each entry up into three headings: the problems, the potential and my proposal. Looking back, I wasn’t really a fan of the formatting or the way that each section was broken up. While I’ve still got three subheaders in this new format, they focus more on simpler questions. What game should be remade? Why bother remaking it in the first place? How should a remake be handled? Not an exact match but talking about each game’s problems and potential separately felt redundant. I also wasn’t a fan of rearranging the headers depending on importance, keeping everything standardized should allow for an easier read. With all that being said, let’s move onto the first entry:

MegaMan 7

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What?

The seventh game in the MegaMan franchise’s original “Classic” line and the first game in that particular continuity to appear outside of the original Nintendo Entertainment System. By the time it was released, two games in the follow-up “MegaMan X” series had been released on the Super Nintendo and a third came out within a year of MM7. It’s generally considered one of the weaker games in the Classic series (if not the entire franchise).

Why?

The game was clearly rushed, with a development cycle lasting roughly three months. Obviously, this led to MegaMan 7 having a fair amount of issues. Stiff controls and wonky jumps made the game feel like a parody of the Classic NES games when compared to the X trilogy available on the same platform. The interesting thing about that is these minor issues appear to be the only real problem: a fan remake called Rockman 7 Famicom actually recreates the majority of the game – aside from the introduction and intermission mini-stages – and when transposed into the classic 8-bit style associated with the NES games, it’s honestly an excellent game.

How?

You’re probably expecting me to suggest going a similar route to the fan-game and have Capcom do a similar 8-bit demake. Honestly, I liked MM7’s graphics too much to ditch them, so I’d instead suggest going the “Sonic CD 2011” route. Take the existing game assets and rebuild the game using an improved engine. Simply put, make MegaMan 7 feel like one of the NES games while retaining the SNES aesthetic in both art and sound design. On top of that, expand the resolution to modern proportions, so that the irrelevant complaint about the screen being too cramped can finally be put to rest.

Considering the recent re-release of the original MM7 in the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think this is an unlikely project. A shame, considering just how amazing of a budget title this could be.

Shantae

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What?

The first Shantae was originally released on the Game Boy Color back in June 2002, over a year after the Game Boy Advance was released. A cult hit that pushed the aged hardware to its limits, Shantae was cut from the same cloth as games like Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, pushing the concepts found in early “Metroidvanias” exploratory platformers to their limits, combining labyrinthine dungeons with an overworld brimming with character. Future titles only served to expand on the storyline and gameplay, but the original game serves as a clear bedrock for the franchise. On top of that, it’s easily one of the best games in the Game Boy Color’s library.

Why?

Two reasons. For starters, compared to every other game in the series, the original Shantae is only available on a few platforms. Aside from the initial Game Boy Color release, the game was only re-released on the 3DS’s Virtual Console. Compare that to other games in the series, which are available on pretty much all modern platforms. Since the original game was built from the ground-up on the GBC, a remake just seems more viable than a direct port – I have a feeling that Nintendo wouldn’t allow emulation.

On top of that, as good as the first Shantae was, there were a few weird design decisions which a remake could easily iron out. I can think of a whole host of Quality of Life improvements that I’d recommend, making this diamond in the rough truly shine, but I’ll stick to my two main issues to keep things short. The lives mechanic – present in Zelda II and Simon’s Quest – just doesn’t make sense in that type of game. My other major issue is that there wasn’t a map in-game, which is distressing considering that the first Shantae easily boasts the most treacherous overworld of the entire franchise.

How?

Think a Super Mario All-Stars style revamp of the original Shantae, using newer graphics and quality of life improvements, but otherwise leaving the level designs completely untouched. Best way to handle this would be as a budget project: recycling assets from other games in the series seems like it could work. My only question is which art style should they use: the pixel art from Risky’s Revenge/Pirate’s Curse or the new hand-drawn style from Half-Genie Hero?

I’d personally prefer the former, simply because the sprite work from those two games was clearly inspired by the GBC game’s look in the first place, but I worry that they’d need to create more original content compared to recycling HGH’s assets. On the other hand, it might be possible to rehab the original game’s existing graphics to the enhanced style as opposed to outright drawing brand-new assets, which would be a necessity for using the hand-drawn artwork of the most recent game.

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II

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What?

Clearly the most obscure of my choices by a wide margin, The Legend of Heroes II was one of Falcom’s early turn-based RPGs. I’ll be honest, I’ve never played the game myself, but I am familiar with its legacy. These days, the Legend of Heroes series is probably Falcom’s most popular franchise, at least in their home region. Before all of that, it was just another spinoff from Falcom’s Dragon Slayer “series” – which was really less a series and more of an umbrella term for a variety of projects headed by producer Yoshio Kiya.

Why?

Once again, it all comes down to availability. Oddly enough, every other game in the series was re-released on Windows PC, with the fifth game and the “Trails of the Sky” trilogy debuting on the platform as well. After that, the “Gagharv Trilogy” (the third, fourth and fifth games) and the “Trails in the Sky” trilogy would see enhanced ports on the PlayStation Portable, likely to accompany future titles in the series that would debut on that platform. I just think it’s absolutely weird that the original Legend of Heroes would see a PC port, while its sequel was completely ignored.

Admittedly, the 1997 Windows PC version of the first game isn’t its most recent release: a two-pack of both Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes games were released on the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1998. When it comes right down to it, it’s still easily the most easily accessible version, still being sold on Japanese software sites like DMM to this day.

How?

For inspiration, I’d look to another similar Falcom remake: Ys I & II Chronicles. Simply put, remake both games with a low-budget rerelease in mind. Keep the base gameplay the same as the original games, improve the graphics to the same level as Chronicles and rearrange the soundtrack. That or Falcom could also just re-release the Mega Drive or PC Engine versions ad infinitum. Either way, it’s more about making sure that future generations could enjoy these classic RPGs.

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

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What?

Back in the 1990s, Mortal Kombat was a worldwide phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, the franchise is still popular today, but the sheer amount of promotional material that accompanied the first three games in the franchise is absolutely staggering. Two theatrical films (and at least one direct-to-video), two television series, toy lines, it was truly something else. Midway didn’t rest on their laurels however, deciding to further cash in on their cash cow with Mortal Kombat Mythologies. Speculated to be a pilot for an entire series of spin-offs, the first game chronicled the life of Sub-Zero, the ice ninja, prior to the first Mortal Kombat tournament. The concept seemed like a slam dunk – Sub-Zero is probably the second most popular character in the entire franchise, acting as the Ken to Scorpion’s Ryu. Alas, it was not to be.

Why?

The original game sucked. That’s really all there is to it. The game was essentially a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up with fighting game controls. Add in awkward platforming sequences and the game become annoying to play. In fact, Mythologies reminds me of Acclaim’s Batman Forever game on the Genesis and Super Nintendo, with its cryptic and awkward controls. To make matters bleaker, Mythologies was eventually followed up by Special Forces, a 3D action game that somehow managed to be even worse.

The thing is, the entire concept was still interesting. I owned this game when I was a kid, simply because of just how much the idea of a Sub-Zero-centric adventure grabbed me. Years later, Midway would revisit the concept of a Mortal Kombat action game spinoff with Shaolin Monks, a 3D co-op action game that took place during the second Mortal Kombat, which was substantially more successful.

How?

Mortal Kombat’s already gone through a reboot, so I’d say do the same with Mythologies. Just remake the game as a 3D action game, taking more inspiration from beat-‘em-ups than usual. In other words, use Shaolin Monks as a template. Ditch the poorly implemented fighting game controls in favor of more traditional action game controls. Most importantly, keep those cheesy full-motion video sequences from the PlayStation version – preferably as bonus content, but I wouldn’t reject them being made a part of the new game itself.

Bloody Roar

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What?

Bloody Roar (known in North American arcades as “Beastorizer”) was another also-ran in the era of the 3D fighting game, a period ushered in by heavy hitters like Virtua Fighter and Tekken. Created by the fine people at Hudson Soft, Bloody Roar wasn’t particularly obscure among fans of the genre, but its popularity didn’t reach the dizzying heights the concept deserved. Effectively, the game took cues from other 3D fighters with looser engines – Fighting Vipers comes to mind – but incorporated a unique gimmick: filling an energy gauge allowed the fighters to transform into anthropomorphic animals, giving them access to new attacks as well as boosting their strength and speed. The original Bloody Roar managed to spawn 3 sequels – I personally can’t tell if the second or third game in the series was the most popular – but eventually, even its cult audience wasn’t enough to sustain it.

Why?

Since “Because Icey want!” was rejected by my editor, I’ll give some “valid” reasons. We’ve recently seen a 2D fighting game renaissance, but their 3D counterparts have languished: at this point, Dead or Alive and Tekken seem to be the only active franchises, with Soul Calibur preparing a seventh entry for release sometime this year. We’ve recently seen a boom in 3D platformers on the heels of a similar revival of the 2D variety, so it only stands to reason that there’s an underlying demand for 3D fighters: Virtua Fighter fans have been clamoring for a new game for the better part of a decade now.

How?

Maybe I’ve still got Mortal Kombat on the brain after the last entry, but I’d love to see the series get a full-on reboot, starting from the first game. Ideally, we’d be seeing something exactly like Mortal Kombat 9: a retelling of the first 3 games in the franchise, with many (if not all) of the characters from all three games. After all, Bloody Roar was one of those rare fighting games where most of the characters in its first entry never returned. So, starting from the beginning and working up to the game’s peak in popularity would allow for an interesting roster. It’s not like there were that many characters in the series to begin with, so recreating all of the old characters shouldn’t be that difficult of a feat.

…of course, Konami owns all of Hudson’s IPs these days, so this seems like just another pipe dream. Though I guess if Bomberman can come back, it’s not quite as impossible as some of my other entries on this list.

While the original Remaking History had a 20% success rate – at best, I’d argue “25%” if the Street Fighter I-themed Arcade ladder in the recent Street Fighter V expansion counts as a remake (and it doesn’t) – I’m not quite as confident that anything from this article will come to pass. I’d argue that only Shantae is within the realm of possibility, and even then, it just seems much more likely that WayForward would rather work on a sequel instead. Having said that, I’d love to be proven wrong and that we’ll see these remakes or others like them.