No Bad Ideas? – Resident Evil 5

Hello, and welcome to what will hopefully become a recurring series on Retronaissance. My colleague Professor Icepick has had multiple series focused on rehabilitating a franchise or game that has fallen on hard times or was poorly received, so I’ve decided to play that on hard mode. Sometimes a poor design choice ruins, or at least severely wounds, a game that could otherwise have been great. The easiest and most logical way to fix the game would be to completely remove that design choice, but what if for some reason that wasn’t an option? Could a universally reviled concept be rehabilitated into a good thing, or at least not a detriment? I’m going to give it my best shot.

For my first attempt, I will be looking at Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 5 had a tough act to follow, Resident Evil 4 completely recharged and revolutionized its series, becoming one of the most beloved games of its generation. Moving away from the fixed camera angles and intentionally awkward controls of the previous Resident Evil games, RE4 was one of the first big over-the-shoulder shooters, and that perspective change coupled with control over aiming made combat so much more fun. Instead of worrying about one or two zombies per room, crowds of parasite controlled villagers hunted you at the same time. You were limited enough in ammo and movement (you technically still had tank controls, but the camera perspective made them much less debilitating) that there was still tension, and the game was gigantic without ever letting up the pace. Even the dialogue managed to be as iconically cheesy as the earlier games while sounding less downright stupid. Anyone would be intimidated at having to follow up a game like that.

^FC0A961251008E77287FEAA92B9E7F05187773324CF57315A7^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

You mean I’M the one who decides if it’s a headshot!?

So how did Capcom decide to handle Resident Evil 5? The basic combat and structure of Resident Evil 4 was left intact, with a few improvements to your character’s abilities (yep, no more mandatory tank controls), but Capcom clearly felt that they had to go beyond a direct sequel after Resident Evil 4 shook up the series so much. Their main attempt at this was making the entire single-player campaign playable in cooperative mode, and putting in a mandatory computer-controlled second player if you played by yourself. Now as we all know, this was not a popular decision. Changing the core single-player game in such an omnipresent and mandatory way pleased almost no one. If I was trying to fix the game itself, this is where I’d jump in and argue that no reasonable person would complain about the first direct sequel to such a beloved game after a four year wait and that they should just make it play like RE4, but I’m restricting myself from suggesting a change that drastic. So for the purpose of this article, the mandatory AI partner stays in the game. That’s the objective, find a way that could remain in the game without damaging it. Wish me luck.

Why It Didn’t Work

Before fixing it, let’s analyze why exactly it didn’t work. Well, there are lots of reasons. For one thing, AI partners are always going to be far less competent than even somewhat decent human controlled partners. The AI partner was there so that two people could easily play every part of the game cooperatively, which means that the difficulty level was balanced with two humans in mind. So in single player mode, you were at an inherent disadvantage for the entire game. This got especially bad with anything that required synchronization and timing, good luck getting the AI to do their part during the brief window where a boss can be damaged thanks to the efforts of the other player. Especially since the AI partner could also temporarily reduce difficulty the wrong way, by robbing you of (real life) experience you needed. You or your partner dying wasn’t an instant game over, there was a window of time for the surviving character to heal the wounded one. While this alleviated having to babysit the AI to some degree, it also meant you could brute force your way through earlier parts of the game/easier difficulty settings without getting the understanding and skill you needed later. I hate AI controlled partners in games for this reason, let me fail or succeed on my own.

^35E4BB9047FA6E3782E6BAB051DB913630BDBE420B4695DC7F^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Yeah, there’s no possible way an AI partner could make this frustrating.

This wasn’t even the only issue. Resident Evil 4 and 5 may have been more action-focused than their survival horror predecessors, but item and ammo conservation was still a much bigger part of the games than in a standard third person shooter. One of the best things about Resident Evil 4’s combat system was that where you shot an enemy, and whether you could get in for a melee attack when they were stunned, could have a great effect on how much ammo you actually used in the encounter. If you thought you had taken too much damage, you could let enemies kill you and try again from the checkpoint so that your stock of healing items didn’t get too low. Now, do you see any issue with having to share your resources with an incompetent AI partner? Yeah, good luck with ammo conservation or strategic use of items when your partner just wants to pump bullets into random parts of a not-zombie until they finally drop dead. Best case scenario, you give your partner no ammo and babysit them through fights that were balanced with two human players in mind. There’s a reason no one talked about this game after the online userbase dried up.

How To Fix It

Okay, now the hard part. How do we fix this while still keeping an AI partner around for every second of the single player mode? Well, for ammo and item conservation, I think your partner shouldn’t use your ammo stock. While my solution for balancing their ammo usage with that in mind may be a little complicated, my best idea is to limit your opponent to the amount of ammo you use. Every shot you take gives your partner a shot to use, thus preventing the player from abusing an infinite ammo well from the CPU character. For the dying issue, I would just make your AI partner invincible, with a caveat I’ll get to in a bit. Staying alive should be their responsibility, right? If you aren’t dying, they have to pull their weight and also not die. If you do die, no assists (except for maybe a rare item that your partner can use to revive you), you just die while your partner yells your name like you’re Solid Snake.

^A36EA00575747FF02E6608A8627E18A0B116568B4D938AC857^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Chris? What’s wrong? Chris!? CHRISSSSS!!!

So those changes would help, but how could we make the partner actually add to the gameplay instead of just minimizing damage? And how do we handle things that require cooperation? Well, at the risk of making some hypothetical Capcom employees using 2009 hardware cry (now they know how I felt when I didn’t get a SNES-style MMX9), I think the best way to handle this is letting the player switch which character they’re controlling at will. Press a button, and the camera quickly shifts to the character you aren’t currently controlling. Your ammo and healing items will stay the same (which syncs up perfectly with my idea for the CPU matching your ammo use), but now you can personally handle the enemies on the other side of the area or take advantage of that boss opening you just arranged with the other character. And while your AI partner’s default state would be invincible, they could call for help at certain set points or if you’ve let too many enemies swarm their side of the field. Then you would have the choice of either going to them as your current character, or switching and making them save themselves. I think this could open up a lot of interesting puzzle and set piece battle possibilities, and if done correctly could feel like a positive evolution of Ashley in Resident Evil 4 instead of a mutation that messes up the entire game.

^F446A7700D8D5ACB74BE6961A8025BC5020279C0FF1C054B7A^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Falcom got it to work, on Vita!

So that’s my best shot at fixing Resident Evil 5 without, you know, fixing the biggest problem. I think that if you were chained to an AI partner like two escaped prisoners, this would be the way to make it the least painful, What do you think, would you like RE5 better if it used my concepts? Do you have other ideas to fix it, or even want to defend the game as it is? Whatever your opinion, sound off in the comments section. I’ll see you next time, if the AI controlling Icepick at the moment doesn’t waste all my healing items.

Advertisements

Sum of Its Parts: 3D Sonic Sequel

I always find it somehow comforting when things come full circle. The first article I wrote for the Sum of Its Parts series – as long as you don’t count what I’ve retroactively folded into this little category – was my attempt at designing a new 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game. When I wrote that article, the Sonic series seemed to have found its footing in the 3D realm but struggled to make headway in the sub-genre in which it originated. My, my, how much has changed in four (almost five) years. 2017’s Sonic Mania was developed by several key figures in the Sonic fan game community and has taken the world by storm, effectively declared as “the best Sonic game since the Genesis era” by a vocal majority of reviewers and fans alike. Meanwhile, Sonic’s 3D renaissance has since fizzled out: while the (criminally underrated) Sonic Lost World was torn apart by a majority of fans, Sega’s following two efforts didn’t fare any better. Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric’s poor quality was as memetic as Sonic ’06 and while reactions to Sonic Forces were mixed overall, it was generally considered a letdown in terms of being the long-awaited follow-up to the beloved Sonic Generations.

While Sonic’s future in the realm of 2D has been all but secured – so long as Sega doesn’t decide to cut Christian Whitehead and his collaborators loose without at least giving us Mania 2 – its future in the third dimension has once again fallen into question. Sega’s winning formula has finally gone stale and it’s time to reevaluate the way things are done with their 3D titles. Maybe the best way to look into the Blue Blur’s path forward would be to look back at how they transitioned into the three-dimensional space in the first place.

There are effectively two main schools of thought when it comes to 3D Sonic games: the “Adventure” and “Boost” formulas, both with their respective die-hard (and by extension, irreconcilable) fanbases. While Sega themselves advertised Sonic 3D Blast as one of the fastest thing alive’s first forays into the third dimension, it was more akin to isometric platformers of old, on par with earlier titles like Marble Madness, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll or even earlier Sonic titles like SegaSonic the Hedgehog and Sonic Labyrinth. The Adventure style originated with (what else?) the Sonic Adventure games for the Sega Dreamcast and inspired later titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog 2006 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well as Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric for the Wii U. This early style of 3D Sonic game relied more on exploration, effectively allowing players to run through expansive levels that were far less linear than the 2D games in the franchise. They would also often rely on multiple playable characters, generally with unique playstyles – though this gimmick would deteriorate in further titles. The Adventure games relied on a free running mechanic which was clumsy at its worst, leading to unfair deaths, but offered the kind of freedom that the 2D Sonics thrived on. In order to compensate for these growing pains, Sega introduced the homing attack – which allows Sonic to home in on nearby enemies – which would become a staple in both future 2D and 3D Sonic games.

The Boost formula is a bit more recent, making its first appearance in 2008’s Sonic Unleashed. This style would also appear in Sonic Colors, Sonic Generations and most recently, Sonic Forces. While the Adventure-style titles focused on trying to recreate all of the elements of past 2D Sonic games in a totally 3D environment, Boost games generally shift between two different perspectives. There are 3D-perspective running segments that are essentially auto-runners where the player’s main input is either choosing to use the Boost mechanic – a metered mechanic which allows Sonic to run faster, surrounded by a blue aura, that can smack enemies out of the way with ease – or aligning Sonic’s path, either manually with the analog stick or using the quick-step to keep him properly aligned with the shoulder buttons. Occasionally, these running segments may be broken up with some obstacles that need to be dodged with jumps, but the bulk of the game’s platforming takes place in 2D segments that take cues from the later Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush titles.

Of course, there were other 3D Sonic games that didn’t adhere to either of these formulas directly. Sonic R could arguably be considered the true first 3D Sonic game, though it was developed by Traveller’s Tales and recontextualized the Sonic gameplay into a racing setting. There was also the Sonic World mini-game present in the Sonic Jam compilation for the Sega Saturn, supposedly built from the remnants of a scrapped fifth-generation 3D Sonic title. Likewise, Christmas NiGHTS contained “Sonic Into Dreams”, which allowed the Blue Blur to run through the game’s levels on foot. Sonic Heroes implemented 3-character teams with various formations based on each member’s attributes and had stage designs that clearly attempted to recreate the conventions of the classic Genesis games in a strictly 3D space to mixed results. Sonic and the Secret Rings and Sonic and the Black Knight – the two releases in what was meant to be at least a trilogy of “storybook” games – are effectively first drafts of the 3D running segments of the Boost games, albeit with their own unique gimmicks to keep things interesting. Finally, there’s Sonic Lost World, which was experimental in its own right. The game was still broken down into 3D and 2D segments like the Boost games before it, but the former now allowed players more freedom to explore. To manage Sonic’s speed, a controversial run button was added, but even that wasn’t nearly fast enough for those speed freaks. On top of that, a new parkour mechanic was added to emphasize the level design, which was said to be inspired by Nintendo’s own Super Mario Galaxy games – but die-hard Sonic fans often compared it to the cancelled Sonic X-Treme, originally planned for the Sega Saturn. New variants of the homing attack were also added to the Fastest Thing Alive’s repertoire, allowing him to attack armored enemies with a kick or outright charge it by holding down the button to deal extra damage.

With all of the pieces in place, I guess it’s time for me to explore exactly what I would personally want out of the next 3D Sonic title. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: while many players just outright associate the Sonic games with “speed”, in reality they rely far more on a related but distinct concept: “momentum”. As such, in order to create a truly satisfying 3D Sonic title, we’re going to have to find a way to recreate the beloved mechanics of 2D titles – new and old, from the 1991 original to Mania – in a 3D space without giving up the same sense of control that one less dimension gives players. I could write an entire diatribe on my distaste for the Boost formula, but let me boil it down to a base concept: for the most part, they seem to be an attempt at recreating the so-called “hold right to win” 2D Sonic titles, focusing more on getting to go fast, without implementing enough of the platforming one should expect in a platformer, relegating that aspect of the game almost entirely to the aforementioned 2D segments. If you can’t – or rather, won’t – bother translating all of the earlier titles’ elements into 3D, then what is the point of moving past 2D in the first place? That isn’t to say that the Boost formula should be completely discarded, but rather that by taking elements from it, as well as other styles that the 3D Sonics have explored in the past, perhaps the Sega’s mascot can finally be properly welcomed to the next level.

…honestly, it was a choice between that line or doing a title drop. I think I went the less cheesy route, but results may vary.

I guess the best place to start would have to be with the game’s storyline. As per usual, I’m not going to go into any specifics, keeping things broad just to avoid stumbling into fanfic territory. One of the key arguments I disagree with coming from the Adventure fanbase is that Sonic needs to go back to doing an outright serious storyline, like the epic stories present in the Dreamcast era. Unfortunately, at this point, these can either come across as pointlessly melodramatic (Sonic ’06), easily mistaken for parody (Unleashed) or illustrate that Sega’s writing staff is no longer up to the task of making a truly serious storyline with any weight behind it (Forces). At the same time, other Sonic stories have attempted to rely on comedy – a difficult objective, especially given the interactive nature of the video game medium.

Attempting to bridge the gap between these two concepts hasn’t really worked all that well in the past – after all, since he first started talking, Sonic’s snappy one-liners have become more and more prominent, which tends to undercut any sense of drama. So, against all logic, I think that Sega should probably attempt to stay the course on blending humor and drama. As much as it pains me to say this, the only advice I can really give is “do it better this time”.

As shaky as that advice comes across, a bad story doesn’t necessarily mean a bad game. Indeed, the primary focus of this article should be on gameplay – just like always. Admittedly, this article will be much more of a challenge than previous ones. Usually, I’d just piece together various base elements of earlier games to present a much better future. This time, I’m going to have to dig a little deeper, specifically focusing on specific mechanics from different games, as opposed to just choosing one game to base the entire engine on.

I guess I’ll start with something simple. 2D segments: yea or nay? Despite my criticism, I’d keep them – with several tweaks. For starters, the majority of the game’s platforming shouldn’t be relegated to them. 2D segments should be significantly rarer in this new Sonic game compared to previous entries. In fact, the gameplay should only revert to the classic style whenever obstacles can’t be properly rendered in a 3D space. The 3D platforming genre has come so far – both during the sixth generation and with the recent renaissance with such games as Super Mario Odyssey and A Hat in Time – that locking any and all platforming challenges to a two-dimensional space seems like an insult to the concept of a 3D Sonic game in the first place.

Likewise, auto-running segments can still remain as set pieces – after all, even the original Sonic Adventure had that bit with the killer whale – but they should likewise remain fairly rare. The majority of the gameplay should be conducted through 3D segments that allow players full control over Sonic the Hedgehog, as opposed to just boosting through what feels like miles and miles of corridors. We’ve actually seen a lot of fan games experiment with this style of concept, with some going even as far as experimenting with full-on open world concepts. If small fan groups can do that, then surely Sega themselves should be able to experiment with more than just simple corridors broken up by the occasional 2D segment.

Another important element to keep in mind would be Sonic’s “moveset” in this new adventure. Personally, I’d ditch the boost mechanic in general: it leads to just mindlessly running through enemies and feels like a slapdash solution to the momentum problem with the 3D Sonics altogether. On the other hand, the run/walk toggling present in Sonic Lost World isn’t a particularly favorable solution either, though it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In my opinion, Sega should just revert to the momentum-based system that they used in Sonic (et al.)’s gameplay from the Adventure games and maybe implement some kind of a braking mechanic, like the spin dash drift in some of the Boost games or even just straight up reverse-engineer the run button from Lost World into a “walk button” or even just a brake. To compensate for the loss of the Boost attack, I’d just suggest bringing back the Spin Dash: if Lost World proved anything, it’s that Sega has finally found a way to balance it out in 3D play as opposed to the uncontrollable iterations found in the Sonic Adventure games and Sonic Heroes.

Keep the homing attack. I’m torn about including the variants found in Lost World: as much as they added strategy to the game, they had a tendency to misfire, so it would probably be for the best to stick to the standard version for now. Aside from that, I’d keep many of the abilities from the Boost games: the stomp and rail grinding still seem like perfect mechanics for a 3D momentum-based platformer. Likewise, bring back the bounce mechanic from Lost World. I’d even consider the double jump from Colors, SLW and Forces as a viable move, just so long as they can be tempered in a way that would both prevent activating it accidentally or cluttering the controls. Likewise, the parkour mechanic could make a return, albeit in a far more limited fashion – stages shouldn’t be built around it but exploiting a hampered version of the mechanic to access risky shortcuts seems like a perfect concept for a Sonic game in general, let alone one in 3D.

This ties in quite nicely with the next segment: stage design. This is one area where the Adventure games truly excelled, even if the gameplay itself wasn’t polished enough to suit them properly. The stages in Boost games generally comprise of three types of segments: 3D corridors, the aforementioned 2D segments and a wider 3D area, generally swarming with enemies. Not exactly exciting stage progression in my eyes. The Adventure games, on the other hand, tended to focus more on open-ended roaming areas that still maintained a sense of linearity – they just lacked the overbearing structure that many modern 3D Sonics tend to revel in. Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, seemed to outright attempt to recreate many of the conventions of the Genesis-era titles in 3D to (admittedly) poor results, though this was mostly a consequence of a Sega’s relative inexperience with 3D platformers in general. Meanwhile, the spherical design of Sonic Lost World’s stages added something that simply wasn’t present in the typical Boost formula games that both preceded and followed it: it allowed for much more freedom of movement as stage designs varied depending on which portion of the level itself Sonic was traversing. I’m not suggesting that spherical levels make a return in the next Sonic game, but emphasizing numerous pathways as opposed to just building straight lines with one fast path to the finish. After all, part of the fun of the 2D Sonic games was exploring the various paths present in each level: while most players tried to find the quickest (which was generally the highest path), others would revel in exploring them, taking in all of the details and quirks that the developers put into each and every level. Having said that, the next 3D Sonic title’s stage design should take far more inspiration from the Adventure titles, Sonic Heroes and Lost World. The best 3D conversions of classic 2D video games focus on the most beloved elements of their predecessors, rather than just trying to recreate them in a superficial manner. This is a problem that has long plagued the Sonic series, ever since it grew beyond the fourth console generation.

Speaking of 2D gameplay, Lost World also managed to retain this element common in the Boost games but with a lot more in the way of variety compared to even top-notch Boost-era games like Colors and Generations. As such, while I’d say that while 2D segments should definitely be present in a new 3D game, Sega should draw inspiration from the ones in Lost World and Colors, as well as the Classic Sonic stages in Generations. That last bit may be something of a cheat, but it is still technically part of a 3D Sonic title. The level design just relied entirely on 2D principles, so they could allow for much more intricate layouts – and that should be the entire point of these segments in the first place. Let me reiterate that Sega should strictly save these for concepts that would be far too difficult to accurately represent and implement in a 3D space. In other words, they should be far rarer compared to most modern 3D Sonic titles.

Boss fights are another fairly important element of the Sonic games at their best. Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard for me to choose any particular standout examples from the 3D era of games. I mean, the majority of games in the series had at least a few fights I enjoyed, but these didn’t seem to reflect the entirety of the game. As such, it’s difficult to draw from any particular games for a method to follow – all I could really write up here would be a list of boss battles I particularly enjoyed from previous games. That wouldn’t really do much in terms of building new fights, let alone an underlying concept that could be used to frame them. I guess the best advice I would really have would to draw from the various styles we’ve seen in previous games: the arena-style fights that originated in the Adventure games, the endless runner fights that outright embodied the Boost era, and even the 2D boss fights. Though ideally, if the latter end up returning, they’ll end up better resembling those from games like the Sonic Advance trilogy, the Sonic Rush games and the Classic Sonic fights in Generation and Forces, as opposed to the somewhat lame fare present in Colors.

Aside from that, there are a few miscellaneous suggestions I have. Just like in my last article, I definitely think that the Red Rings should return in any new 3D Sonic. They add a certain element of replayability, at least when it comes to completionists. Likewise, I’d like to relegate any Super transformations to an endgame state – likely a “true” final boss – like previous games, though I’m torn on whether the Chaos Emeralds should just be obtained through the story, relegated to a bonus for collecting all of the aforementioned Red Rings or even hidden in special stages. Hey, that’s what Sonic Heroes and the 3DS version of Sonic Lost World did. Though admittedly, that would probably be a poor choice. What I’d really like to see would be hiding the emeralds in stages themselves, but no 3D game has ever attempted anything like that before – just the first two Sonic games on Game Gear. Aside from that, I’d probably stick to traditional power-ups: shields (both standard and electric), speed shoes, ring boxes and 1-Ups. I don’t particularly have anything against the Wisps, they just kind of felt like they were intended to be the special gimmick in Colors, so cramming them into future titles almost seems to dilute their importance. Maybe they could be brought back in further titles, but it’s probably best to just leave them out until Sonic finds his footing once again instead of trying to rely on gimmicks from popular games. Which brings me to my final point: leave Classic/Mania Sonic out of this game. I honestly feel like trying to shoehorn him back in not only hurts the 3D games, but his own reputation. Treat him as a totally separate entity, exclusive to the 2D games.

The graphics and art style don’t really offer me much to go on. Honestly, the main question just sort of comes down to whether this new game should utilize the standard “Modern Sonic” look or go with unique designs to differentiate them from the mainline series. On the one hand, segmenting the franchise even further seems like it would just backfire. However, Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric utilized an entirely new (albeit controversial) set of designs and the backlash against that game didn’t seem to translate to the rest of the series in general. In the end, given the franchise’s need for redemption after Sonic Forces’ tepid response, it’s probably for the best if Sega just goes with the now-traditional look: there’s very little left to protect with regards to Sonic’s reputation at this point, so a new artstyle could dilute any goodwill if the game itself ends up beloved by fans.

Sonic the Hedgehog is one of those series that is renowned for its music: even if the gameplay is abysmal, the sound team always seems to put in their all. Tomoya Ohtani has been taking the lead lately when it comes to the Blue Blur’s musical exploits and he’s been doing an excellent job as of late. In the previous Sonic article in this series, I suggested that Richard Jacques be allowed to take the lead, but since then, he’s managed to head the soundtracks for all three games in the Sonic Boom series, so he’s certainly gotten his due – well, to some extent, anyway. Considering their collaborations in the past have been limited, I’d love to see the two of them collaborate on a new Sonic game. That doesn’t necessarily preclude other Sonic composers from joining in the fun but giving Ohtani and Jacques equal billing in a mainline Sonic game just seems like too interesting of a concept to pass up.

I have to admit: this article was probably one of the more difficult ones to write in this series. It seems like the best path for Sonic’s 3D titles may be a full-on reinvention, discarding what have become familiar gameplay concepts in exchange for ones that are both new and evocative of the series’ 2D halcyon days (past and present). However, maybe if Sega were to attempt to bridge the gap between the Adventure and Boost formulas – using aspects from some of their more experimental titles to smooth over particularly incompatible elements – they could find a way to please both fanbases with a single title. That seems like a far less risky experiment than potentially splintering the Fastest Thing Alive’s fanbase across yet another brand-new formula. Regardless of Sega’s decision for future games, it seems that staying on their current course is primed for disaster, so whether they refine the current formula with elements of earlier titles or build something entirely new from scratch, change is necessary for the Blue Blur’s continued longevity.

My Mega Man Introspection

Contrary to what you may assume, the first video game mascot to capture my heart wasn’t Mario. It wasn’t Sonic, even if I was loyal to him for a brief period before I gave Mario my allegiance. I’m not old enough for it to be Pac-Man, young enough for it to be Crash, or cursed enough for it to be Bubsy. The first video game character to spark my imagination was Mega Man (or his similarly named successor, Mega Man X) and his series has permanently been in my top three favorite game series for over 25 years. In honor of his imminent revival, I’m going to go over my personal history with the franchise, all the good times and the bad times. Let’s dive into my mind and do this!

Now when I said bad times, you probably thought of the time between the 2011 cancellations and “Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day”, but that’s not the only one for me. At the very start of my history with Mega Man, something happened that I’m still surprised didn’t manage to turn me off the entire series. You see, when I was very young, I had an instinctive love of video games, but no game consoles. The only thing in my house that could play games was a computer my family had gotten from my grandfather. It was a Tandy 1000 in the year 1992. You don’t have to look that up, I’ll tell you that it was severely underpowered at the time. Finding games that could run on it was not an easy task, but I was determined, and even if they were in four color mode, I found some games that would work…

^575B6285C2D0F1A5872BB4E348CC6C0E9F57B1BBEF48CE7A85^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

And that’s how we met.

Yes, that’s right, my first Mega Man game was the infamous Mega Man DOS. My second was Mega Man III DOS (I count the Tiger Handheld version as “Mega Man II DOS” for the record). That was my introduction to the series, those abominations from the masters of unspeakable horror at Hi-Tech Expressions. If you haven’t personally experienced the Mega Man DOS games, I assure you that they’re as bad as everyone says. But you know the really sad part? Those were my best computer games. So I played them, I struggled and struggled until I could beat both of them consistently. Sure, saying I beat both of those games at age six sounds cool now, but you aren’t thinking like that when you’re a kid, just wishing you could play games that were actually good. I kind of sort of enjoyed the games at the time, but I knew there were countless infinitely better games that were out of my reach.

The year or so before I finally got a console, when my only games were on that Tandy 1000, certainly left a negative taste in my mouth when it came to PC gaming. So why did Mega Man emerge completely unscathed? Well, some of my best childhood memories involve getting to play my cousin’s seemingly endless pile of SNES games when I visited his family a couple of times a year. In early 1994, shortly after I got my first console (it was a Genesis: why it wasn’t a SNES is a story for another time) and wanted to put my torture at the hands of Hi-Tech behind me, I was on one of those treasured visits. Eagerly looking through his games, trying to choose where to start, I noticed something. Something wondrous, a treasure that would change everything forever. For the first time in my life, I laid my eyes on this:

^9D23C9D980D82BDAEEDDB8C0990A8AF4E70754015B21C76D50^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

This probably isn’t my cousin’s cart, but who knows?

Yes, it had happened. I had discovered the Mega Man X series. Still having fond feelings towards the series that had given me the best games I owned for what felt like forever at the time, MMX was my easy choice for first game to play. Words can not describe how much I loved the game, I was expecting something resembling the DOS games and instead I got what to this day is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Zero was the coolest character I had ever encountered in any medium, the explosions when bosses died were the best graphical effect I had ever seen, and I didn’t have to press J to jump. Mega Man X made an incredible impression on me, and was probably the biggest factor in making me switch my loyalty to SNES, before Mario meant anything particularly important to me.

While there are plenty of memories that I treasure associated with the Mega Man series in the decade or so that followed (staying up late and beating Mega Man V on Game Boy in bed, being cured of my mono-console ways by Mega Man X4, writing a Mega Man parody series that somehow got past 600 pages), this is going to be long enough already without detailing all of them. By the mid-2000s I owned and had beaten every Mega Man platformer (except for a couple of the Game Boy ones which I didn’t realize were different games, don’t worry, I’ve since rectified that), and while the X series was and is my favorite any Mega Man platformer was a must-buy for me. Let’s get to the part where the gaming community as a whole gave Mega Man attention again, Mega Man 9.

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2_20170811170300

Not how people pictured Mega Man’s seventh-gen debut.

In 2008, we had had at least one Mega Man game almost every year for two decades. However, we hadn’t had a numbered installment in the Classic series since 1997, and through the filter of pre-2011 privilege, not getting the specific type of Mega Man you wanted seemed like a big problem. After years of requests, Capcom granted the wish of Classic fans and finally announced Mega Man 9. But what no one saw coming was how it looked and played: it was 8-bit. Not even the “8-bit” that was run through a heavy nostalgia filter upgrade like most games using that label these days, Mega Man 9 looked and played almost exactly like the early NES Mega Man games. This was a novelty at the time, and Mega Man 9 was well received. I enjoyed it, not my favorite Mega Man game, but a worthy installment and knowing we could in fact go home again was a nice feeling.

However, there was something in the back of my mind, a burning desire that I think was shared by many. We got a game that played just like the NES Mega Man games. The Mega Man X series never reached the height of its glory days after it changed up its formula with the fifth entry. So if we got Mega Man X9 and it played just like the SNES games… That concept, that phantom, hung over me. Something I wanted, that I know a huge portion of the Mega Man fanbase wanted so badly, that never materialized. While Capcom ignoring us and making another 8-bit Mega Man Classic game in 2010 hurt to some extent, I refused to blame the game itself for that. Mega Man 10’s more creative level design made it a top-tier Classic game, in my opinion.

^9CEF0758294C37318645F8443CC35C3869218249ABDB884CAE^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Well if I’d have to play it to see the improvement instead of just looking at a screenshot, then forget it.

That opinion was not common, at least back in 2010. Unfortunately, there was a perfect storm of negativity that consumed Mega Man 10. For one thing, there were two Mega Man series that were currently in a cliffhanger state (ZX and Legends), in addition to X fans who wanted their turn with the retroizer. But far worse were the fickle sequelphobes who were infuriated that Capcom had made a “rehash” of what they had regarded as a breath of fresh air with Mega Man 9. Or that’s what they claimed anyway, some of them would have complained no matter what Capcom did. Either way, Mega Man 10 didn’t perform nearly as well as Mega Man 9. This was annoying to me, but I had no idea what kind of catastrophe was coming…

At the start of 2011, Mega Man seemed to be chugging along at his standard rate. The Mega Man Legends fanbase got their wish with the announcement of Mega Man Legends 3, and Mega Man Universe looked like another solid Mega Man platformer to me (not so much to people who judged the entire game on an alpha build). But a darkness more threatening than Dr. Wily, Sigma, and Dr. Weil combined was about to descend on Mega Man. Keiji Inafune, who was well respected and considered the father of Mega Man at the time, left Capcom on clearly hostile terms. Mega Man Universe was canceled and triggered a tidal wave of apathy for most of the fanbase. Then Mega Man Legends 3 was canceled, and the shit hit the turbine. Capcom, one of the most consistent and respected publishers for around 25 years at that point, was demonized overnight (for a variety of reasons, but Mega Man’s fate was arguably the biggest factor) and it was generally accepted that Mega Man was dead, killed to spite his creator. The dark days had begun.

^BC576EC835F61C597F48E465F758E5F755C5CCA63D08040205^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The alpha build character model is ugly? That’s it, kill the whole franchise.

As you may imagine, I was not happy about this. I don’t handle negativity and pessimism well, and the mood around the Mega Man and Capcom fanbase was more negative than I had ever seen. The vindication from everyone suddenly caring about Mega Man Universe and stopped bashing Mega Man 10, the “last” Mega Man game, did nothing for me. I just wanted Mega Man back, in any form, something to give fans of the series hope. Whenever I replayed a Mega Man game, there was a twinge of sadness interfering with all the great memories I have of the series. I maintained that a series as old and popular as Mega Man could never permanently die, it would inevitably return at some point (now THAT’S vindication I enjoy), but there was an ever increasing anxiety as time went by with no word of a new Mega Man game.

2013 was the year of false hope for the franchise. There are two main reasons for that, I’ll start by covering the one that didn’t become a cautionary tale about how not to launch a new IP. At E3 2013, Nintendo showed their first trailer for the fourth Super Smash Bros. game, and there was one thing I wanted from it more than anything else. I tried not to expect it, not to get my hopes up, even when we got a special character introduction cinema after the main trailer. As the Nintendo characters looked up at the shadowy new arrival, part of my brain yelled at the other part not to get excited yet. Then that helmet appeared on the silhouette, and both sides exploded in hype. Mega Man was in Smash Bros. He had his first-ever HD design, and it looked fantastic. Surely this meant the franchise was alive, and a new Mega Man game announcement was imminent? Maybe even co-developed with Nintendo? Nope.

^03236105A31C0AA837E5D6D177650ACD6D4DB7E2D762D8CDC0^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

What could have been.

As disappointing as that missed opportunity was, it was nothing compared to the other thing that happened in 2013. Yes, I know, this is supposed to be about Mega Man, and technically this announcement wasn’t related to Mega Man, according to lawyers at least. But you have to be the most gullible person on the planet to believe that. Yep, we’re going to talk about Mighty No. 9.

In 2013, Mega Man’s “father” Keiji Inafune launched a Kickstarter for an “original IP” called Mighty No. 9. But literally every single person in the universe knew from the start that this was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Mega Man. Starring the fighting robot Beck, his creator Dr. William White (aka Bill Blackwell), a supportive female robot named Call, and eight Mighty Number robots that Beck had to defeat/save and take the powers of, Mighty No. 9 would almost certainly have resulted in a lawsuit if it wasn’t for the fact that the gaming public’s consensus was that Inafune had a moral right to copy Mega Man. Capcom didn’t need any more bad PR, and the Kickstarter was a record-breaking success. Mighty No. 9 was coming, and it would for all intents and purposes revive Mega Man.

Oh dear God, where to start. Well, right at the beginning, my feelings towards the game weren’t super positive. I deeply resent Kickstarters that put console versions of the game as a stretch goal that requires funding every extra imaginable for the PC version first, and I wasn’t convinced that Capcom wouldn’t sue and stop the game from being made. I also wasn’t comfortable with the idea that MN9 meant we didn’t need Mega Man anymore and that the franchise could just stay dead. But it was still “better than nothing” and once the console versions were confirmed, I anticipated MN9. For a brief period, anyway.

Let me see if I can remember everything that went wrong during Mighty No. 9’s development. The graphics were severely downgraded from the target renders, the community manager for the backers was mired in controversy (to be as generous as possible), the game was repeatedly delayed after exact release dates were given, Keiji Inafune started a Kickstarter for a not-Mega Man Legends game before MN9 was released, Inafune was revealed to have far less to do with Mega Man’s creation than most had believed, the physical rewards for backers were put in delay limbo and the launch trailer was insultingly patronizing unless you liked anime (in which case, it insulted you directly). This trailer was so bad, even the head of one of the companies working on it was disgusted by it. And this is before the game was actually released.

When the game was finally released in 2016, there was no miracle to overcome the many, many issues during development. While not an absolutely horrible game, Mighty No. 9 has sloppy collision detection, some horrifically obnoxious and generally uninspired levels, and a combo system meant to differentiate it from existing Mega Man games was more annoying than anything. In addition, the graphics looked terrible to make sure it could run on Vita and 3DS… and neither of those versions even came out.

^5A95A559FF3929E5832E645AD2FDE697AA1CFD56B33E28E26A^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Behold what became of your false idol.

So it was universally agreed upon that Mighty No. 9 was not, in fact, the revival of Mega Man that we had all been waiting for and Keiji Inafune’s reputation has been completely ruined to this day. Once again, all I had to show for this was some vindication (looks like we weren’t fine if Mega Man stayed dead) that didn’t comfort me at all. Thankfully, after several bleak years in gaming, 2017 saw a massive upswing for me. Nintendo made another miraculous comeback thanks to the Switch, Japanese games as a whole started to recover, and the existing eighth generation systems had completely gotten over their long start of the generation slump. Even Capcom was getting some positivity again, with Resident Evil 7 being considered a return to form for the series. Several series I had been missing/worried about the future of got new installments announced in 2017, including Darksiders, Xenoblade, and (especially) Metroid. As 2017 drew to a close, gaming looked brighter than it had since… 2010…

Yes, as all these good things happened in gaming, there was something always at the back of my mind. Something that I wanted most of all, something that would truly signal that things were going to be okay, something I refused to ever let myself expect for fear of more disappointment. It was the start of December 2017, and something was going to happen. A special stream for Mega Man’s 30th anniversary was scheduled, but no one was getting their hopes up. Capcom seemed to have forgotten how to make new Mega Man games, but they were perfectly willing to re-release his games and use his image for money however possible (I was so desperate for a new game that I initially accepted the existence of that awful new cartoon in the hopes it would spawn a licensed game). So celebrating Mega Man’s past with no regard for his future was completely in character and had happened before. But I decided to watch anyway, and hey, at least they were re-releasing the X series this time. Then they said there was one more thing they wanted to show us…

A trailer that showed Mega Man running through the years as we saw all his games listed, and shown in the case of the Classic series, began. The sides of my mind that had argued during the Smash Bros. trailer were at it again, one side saying there was no reason to do a trailer like this and give it so much attention if it was going to end with seven years of nothing while the other tried to squash any hype or expectations. Despair took hold as the trailer appeared to end with a mere 30th anniversary logo, but then the skit continued and we saw Dr. Wily escaping while Mega Man followed him. The sides of my mind were in a full shouting match again while Mega Man approached a question mark symbol listed under 2018, and teleported away when he touched it…

^E7A71A76B41BC91FB529FA9A79FF5E90A5BEF38688F3127F51^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

You will always remember where you were when Mega Man came back.

I’ve said this before, but it’s true: that was the closest a video game trailer has ever come to making me cry. That feeling when Mega Man teleported into a level in a BRAND NEW game after so many years of (what I had hoped was) hibernation is indescribable. I think the several years’ worth of frustration and worry actually flew away from my body in eight pulsating rings of light. I watched that trailer again and again, I still watch it when I need a burst of positivity, remembering how I felt when it was confirmed that Mega Man was coming back. I’ve dubbed that day, December 4th, 2017, Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day. Mega Man 11’s existence was the announcement that excited me the most in a year full of incredible ones. It signaled that Capcom was truly on the road to recovery (which 2018 further demonstrated with the massive success of Monster Hunter World, long awaited and great looking footage of the Resident Evil 2 remake, and the announcement of Devil May Cry 5), and that gaming as a whole had been saved from the dark cloud of pessimism that had hung over the mid-2010s.

So there isn’t a huge amount to say after that point. The long and painful absence of the Blue Bomber got his revival game far more mainstream attention than it would have had otherwise, even if I still don’t think it was worth the years of agony. Mega Man 11 information has been gradually drip fed to us throughout the year, and I have been very impressed by the level design shown in the gameplay footage and the demo level. The wait is almost over, in a matter of weeks (or days when you read this) the first Mega Man game in eight and a half years will have arrived. I’m looking forward to creating new Mega Man memories with it and hopefully getting my holy grail of Mega Man X9 after waiting so long. I just wanted to share how important this series is to me and how much fans of it have gone through to get to this moment, so until next time, just remember that Mega Man is alive and there is always hope for gaming.

The Wii: Gold Ignored By Fools

It’s been a turbulent generation for Nintendo. After Wii U’s crushing market failure, Nintendoom was at possibly its highest point in living memory, for me anyway. Then when things looked darkest, the light got Switched back on. In a miraculous turnaround that was more than I dared hope for, Nintendo once again had a system that was selling at a record setting pace. The Switch has clearly caught the attention of a mass market that ignored or just didn’t know about the existence of Wii U. And this time, the gaming community hasn’t even turned on it the second it became popular.

Wait, this time? Yeah, pretty much this exact scenario happened before. The year is 2006, and GameCube is currently the worst selling Nintendo console of all time and the only one to ever get third place in a console war. Nintendo goes batshit insane and decides that for their next generation system, they will release something barely more powerful than GameCube, depending on a crazy sounding gimmick to make people buy a new console. And they’re calling it Wii. I think you know what happens next: it becomes a mainstream phenomenon, wins its generation’s sales war despite quitting early, and becomes Nintendo’s best-selling console of all time. While being called Wii.

^CF4910AC866F6D71D8C5FE1B07477D916F8EA899A20C4444AE^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The definition of successful insanity.

But there’s a big difference between Wii and Switch: while Switch has had fantastic software sales for everything from Nintendo’s major IPs to originally obscure indie games and has a legion of gamers asking for their perfect world where everything is on Switch, Wii was quickly rejected by “hardcore” gamers who labeled its controller an inferior waggle stick and dismissed its game lineup as nothing but shovelware and “non-games” Nintendo had betrayed their fans to focus on. Nothing seemed to be able to break this perception, and by the time Wii U was released the brand was somehow considered toxic despite how successful the original Wii had been. Why did people treat the Wii like this? Because they’re… I’ll avoid saying idiots, but “massively misinformed.” So what am I building up to? Well, I’ll make it as clear as I can:

As of this moment, the Wii is the second best system Nintendo has ever made.

Yes, aside from the sacred SNES, the original Wii is my favorite system Nintendo has ever made, and in my top three overall. Now there are two major reasons people would object to this claim, and I intend to argue against them for the glory of Nintendo’s fifth console.

First up is the controller. If you listen to most people, the only thing you did with the Wii controller was randomly flail your arms around while Miis laughed maniacally about how F-Zero was dead forever. That obviously isn’t how the controller actually worked, and there are two misconceptions about the controller at the root of this misinformation. For one, almost no games required or played best when you dramatically swung your arms around. Simple wrist movements were the ideal way to control almost every motion based Wii game, or at least the ones that were good aside from being “ruined” by motion controls. If you’re dying in Donkey Kong Country Returns because you stand up and heave the Wiimote in a three foot upward swing whenever you want to roll, that isn’t the game’s fault, you could have just given the controller and quick, small shake using nothing but your wrists.

But what people really overlook when it comes to the Wii controller is the IR sensor. I love that thing, it is to this day the best aiming control option I have ever encountered in a game (and yes, I’ve used mouse aiming, despite the PC issue limiting my time with it). You can almost instantly place the reticule or cursor anywhere on screen with no more “waggling” than moving a mouse. Any game where aiming is intergral to the gameplay benefits greatly from the Wiimote and Nunchuck setup. I don’t care how much HD the re-releases add, the Wii version of Resident Evil 4 will be my favorite until something can match IR aiming. While the Switch (which has turned negativity into positivity so miraculously I can only guess that Iwata’s spirit is protecting it) seems to have made people warm up to gyro aiming to some extent, it still hasn’t reached the precision and speed level of IR aiming in my opinion. People ignoring and forgetting IR aiming is one of my biggest disappointments in the direction gaming took. Seriously, go play Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition or Metroid Prime Trilogy before you dismiss the Wiimote.

^5CBB49C65BE8FBBB62EFC5A32C77BC3D60B19660B239313D3C^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

The current and eternal best version.

The other reason people don’t appreciate the Wii like they should is a universal among consoles: games. The measure of a system is its game library, and once again, there are two things people ignore about the Wii’s library. Contrary to popular belief, Wii Music isn’t the only game Nintendo made between GameCube and Breath of the Wild. If your response to this was going to be “sure, they made Super Mario Galaxy and Xenoblade, but a couple…” let me cut you off right there. Nintendo made/published a lot of fantastic Wii games that were in no way “non-games”. Metroid Prime 3, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Sin and Punishment 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Punch-Out!!, Zelda: Skyward Sword (read the controller part before yelling at that inclusion), Pandora’s Tower, and those are just ones I’ll enthusiastically defend. Just because F-Zero and Star Fox weren’t there (as opposed to Punch-Out, Kirby platformers, and Metroid being on every single prior system, apparently) doesn’t mean Nintendo abandoned their fans and franchises. The Wii was actually a glorious time for Nintendo’s first party performance.

^EFFAC902FD84FF31D7DEAC790D15F7703B341CE99DE899972C^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Yeah, this was clearly made for your grandmother.

But that isn’t what makes me so confident that the Wii is better than its non-SNES brethren. What really sets the Wii apart from the other post-SNES Nintendo consoles (currently active hybrids not included) is its third party support. Now if anyone actually read this there would be countless people ready to post images of various shovelware games that publishers lacking talent and/or ethics dumped on the system, but I’m going to let you in on a secret. Something nearly everyone overlooked about the Wii, this one weird trick will change how you view its third party support forever:

No one is making you play the bad games.

That’s right, turns out owning a Wii does NOT in fact mean you will be held at gunpoint and forced to play terrible party games by people who would go on to make those creepy YouTube shorts with Elsa and Spider-Man. You are, in fact, free to ignore those and do a little research to find the hidden gem mine buried beneath the crap. Zack and Wiki, A Boy and his Blob, The House of the Dead: Overkill, Madworld, Red Steel 2, Lost in Shadow, Dead Space Extraction, Prince of Persia: The Lost Sands, Boom Blox and Boom Blox Bash Party, Trauma Team, de Blob 1 and 2, Silent Hill Shattered Memories, Rodea The Sky Soldier (for the love of God, make sure it’s actually the Wii version), Rabbids Go Home, Epic Mickey, Sonic Colors, Muramasa, it goes on and on. The Wii may not have gotten the big AAA games, but mid-ware, often thought to be extinct, thrived on it. Not only are there tons of quality third-party games on it, most of them are dirt cheap. The Wii’s library, especially the third party portion, is one of the most underrated in all of gaming.

^089F8F9AD220BBFF4CC46F6C2DB7CE23F560A89D71A753D54E^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

You don’t even know who I am!

So there you have it, my case for the Wii being one of Nintendo’s best systems and one of the most underrated of all time. Is Switch going to surpass it? I hope so, hell, I hope it dethrones the SNES. Things getting better is always… better. But that doesn’t mean we have to just leave the Wii to its unjust scorn, or that you can’t take advantage of how cheap games for it are right now. And remember, there is a force coming to its aid far stronger than anything I or anyone could write: nostalgia. Someday people will appreciate the Wii, it’s inevitable. Even if it takes until 2026, the turnaround is coming someday, but now is your chance to be on the right and bargain-priced side of history. Wii would like some appreciation, and it deserves it.

Top 10 Single-Player Modes in Fighting Games

After finally wrapping up that big retrospective on the Street Fighter franchise, I thought to myself, “what topic should I tackle in my next article on Retronaissance?” And wouldn’t you know it: this article was the first thing that came to mind – another article about fighting games! In all fairness, this listicle is going to focus more on the entire genre as opposed to one series and thankfully, it’ll be much shorter… well, if all goes according to plan. Back in the heyday of fighting games, in those final halcyon days of the western arcade before they became either havens of nostalgia, places for kids to play giant versions of mobile games or Dave & Busters, all it took to keep fans happy was multi-player. Facing off against a seemingly never-ending string of opponents made arcades the perfect breeding ground for the genre’s explosion throughout the 1990s. However, even by that point, gamers were increasingly focusing more and more on home consoles and so fighting games needed to adapt. To make up for the lack of actual human opponents – online play wouldn’t really be feasible through official means until the advent of Xbox Live – developers would often add extra modes, focusing on a lone player experiencing the game.

While it seems that most people believe that 2011’s reboot of Mortal Kombat originated the concept of extensive single-player content in fighting games, the concept existed as early as the fifth generation, by my own recollection. Several older titles had significant content meant for solo play and it only seems reasonable for me to list my favorite modes of all-time. After all, it’s only a listicle – the perfect avenue for me to relax and recuperate from such a long series of retrospectives (and prepare for the next one).

Before we get started, I’ve decided to lay down some ground rules. If you haven’t guessed by now, giving myself criteria to work within is what makes these lists fun for me in the first place – it’s no fun when a single topic dominates an entire list. For starters, these modes should (obviously) focus on single-player play. Cooperative play with additional players as an option doesn’t necessarily disqualify a mode, but entries on this list should be possible to play from start to completion solo.

Second, I’m going to be omitting several “generic” modes: arcade mode is obviously going to be left out, as are standard story modes – be they cinematic like the ones found in Netherrealm Studios or visual novels like the ones found in Arc System Works’ games. I’ll also be leaving out other prevalent modes like Survival, Time Attack and Trial Modes – at least if they follow all of their standard conventions. Besides, it’d be way too hard to track down the best iteration of them, considering just how common they are.

Finally, it should utilize the game’s base mechanics to at least some extent. It doesn’t have to use a traditional match format, but it shouldn’t be completely removed from traditional play. In other words, Mortal Kombat X’s Krypt won’t be making the cut on this list, regardless of how much I ended up liking it. It just seems a bit insulting to consider a mode that is completely divorced from such an integral part of the game itself, as opposed to a mini-game or curiosity. I did consider adding one more rule: only one mode per game, but honestly, it ended up being redundant in the grand scheme of things. With all that being said, let’s start the list with my sole honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Original Character – Darkstalkers 3 (PS)

They say you never forget your first, and that’s certainly the case for me and solo experiences in fighting games. By the time I got my hands on Darkstalkers 3, I’d been well versed in fighting game home conversions – familiar with modes like Arcade and Survival. But when I first saw “Original Character” listed on DS3’s main menu, I was intrigued. Turns out it was simply a mode for building a custom version of an existing character: renaming them, editing their colors and the ability to play through arcade mode to earn experience points to increase their power, life stocks and the amount of Super Meter they begin each match with. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t anything too fancy, but at the time, it blew my mind. Players were only allowed to have 3 custom characters per file, but in those days, I had one of those third-party memory cards with multiple pages on it – and you know I abused the crap out of it in this mode. You can even pit your customized characters against your friends in a versus mode, which honestly, isn’t much different from just playing versus mode in general. Still, it was an interesting concept back in the day and gave me an obsession with customizing existing characters in fighting games and creating characters of my very own.

10. Chaos Tower – Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower

dsc-tct

Yes, this list starts out fairly Darkstalkers-heavy, but don’t worry: this is the last we’ll see of the bronze medal of Capcom’s fighting game franchises on this list. Darkstalkers Chronicle was effectively an enhanced port of the Japan-exclusive Vampire Chronicle for the Dreamcast, with some additional features added to it. Chief among them was “Chaos Tower”, a new single player mode that pit players against a 100-floor tower of opponents, armed with a team of three characters. While they receive no health refills, they do keep their meter between matches – essentially making Chaos Tower survival mode only with more steps.

To make things even more interesting, many rungs on the ladder actually have special objectives: winning a match normally sends the team to one point but specific finishes (like a Perfect victory or using an ES Move to strike the final blow) sends them elsewhere. In fact, some matches even require performing these missions to progress properly. Otherwise, the player is left with various punishments, like having all their kick buttons disabled. There’s also an interrupt save option, which somehow felt revolutionary at the time and was likely added due to being released on the PlayStation Portable. The Chaos Tower isn’t necessarily a mind-blowing twist on the traditional Darkstalkers gameplay, but it is an interesting little diversion when the only other options are the typical Arcade Ladder and local multiplayer.

9. Shadow Lords – Killer Instinct (2013)

ki

As far as I can tell, Shadow Lords appears to be the crème de la crème of single-player modes in fighting games. At least that’s what everyone keeps telling me. Now, prior to writing this article, I had yet to play it. But as I lacked a tenth pick anyway, I decided to let my curiosity get the better of me and give it a whirl to get a feel for what it was. I’m going to be honest: I don’t think it lives up to its hype.

I hate to sound like a downer on such a widely acclaimed mode, but in the end, the basic premise is something I’ve seen many times before – but I’m getting ahead of myself. Players load up a team of three and face off against various threats that spawn across a world map, attempting to prevent the hordes of Gargos from taking over the world by protecting various continents from falling to the Shadow Lord’s (ha ha!) influence. The map itself works on a turn-based mechanic, with various missions appearing for a limited set of turns and each character only being able to perform one per turn. Matches are fought between the player’s characters and various “mimics” sporting unique looks that can actually be unlocked for use in other modes by progressing through the game. Other unlockables include in-mode power-ups, various dossiers and video clips detailing the mode’s story and even the ability to level up both individual characters and the player’s profile with experience points.

Unfortunately, while Shadow Lords does take inspiration from some of my favorite single-player modes of the past, it also seems to take the worst from both free-to-play mobile games and rogue-lites. The former means that players have to choose between grinding endlessly for in-game currency or paying actual money for a much more efficient one. The team’s health also doesn’t replenish regularly, leaving players with the choice of allowing low-health characters sit out a turn, exhausting a small inventory of health items to keep them ready or risking their defeat, which requires an even more expensive item to bring them back into the fray. Which brings us to the rogue-lite’s “contribution” to Shadow Lords: it’s possible to lose a playthrough entirely, forcing players to start back at the beginning – though fortunately, they do keep many of the perks, abilities and items they accrue in previous attempts. Still, the loss of concrete progress, coupled with an almost-predatory currency scheme, has left me with a poor first impression: maybe if I continue playing, I’ll finally understand what the big deal is.

8. Fight Lab – Tekken Tag Tournament 2

ttt2

I mentioned earlier that I’d had a fascination with the concept of customizing my own fighting game character – specifically something in line with the Create-A-Wrestler mode found in WWF games like WWF Attitude, WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy – but clearly, the logistics of creating such a mode back in the heyday of sprite-based 2D fighters made it impossible. You’d think that shift to 3D models pretty much across the board would’ve rectified that – but it took until 2012 for a company to come even remotely close to what I wanted. And ironically enough, it was the company that broke my heart several times with “Create-A-Soul”.

Fight Lab places players in command of the latest (and greatest) iteration of the Combot android, a bit player in Tekken 4 who acted as Mokujin’s replacement, fighting with a random choice of another roster member’s moveset. This new version is different, capable of equipping individual attacks taken from most of Tag 2’s gigantic roster on an individual basis, thus creating an original moveset. In order to unlock new attacks to add to Combot’s repertoire, players must complete a set of trials that veer from an outright tutorial to wacky mini-games. At one point, Combot even manages to face off against some opponents garbed in familiar (yet legally distinct) outfits.

Admittedly, when I was coming up with entries for this list, I considered using the Character Edit mode from Street Fighter EX3 instead. It’s more or less the same exact concept as TTT2’s Fight Lab and it came out a decade earlier. In the end, I gave the nod to Fight Lab for two reasons. First, it has a lot more in terms of customization. That applies to Combot’s moveset potential, but most importantly, in terms of the ability to customize Combot’s look. Ace always looks the same – and his design is pretty generic in the first place – but Combot also manages to exploit Tekken’s inherent costume customization to allow for some outlandish looks. The second stems from the feeling of progression: in Character Edit mode, completing trials unlocks currency which can be used to buy new special attacks and only by progressing through a set number of trials can more techniques be unlocked… for purchase. Fight Lab, on the other hand, just outright unlocks moves after completing each stretch of Fight Lab.

Honestly, the only real downside here is that the mode is short but considering that it leaves players with what is essentially a custom character, it’s definitely worth it. Too bad TTT2 performed so poorly: we’ll probably never see anything like this ever again.

7. Abyss Mode – Blazblue Continuum Shift EXTEND/Chronophantasma

bbcpe

While I said at the beginning of this article that I’d be avoid clichéd modes like Survival, but I didn’t say anything about modes that clearly improved upon tired concepts. Abyss Mode first debuted in the 3DS release of Continuum Shift II but managed to worm its way into the EXTEND release on other platforms, as well as both home conversions of Chronophantasma. It also, somehow, manages to use many of the concepts present in both Shadow Lords and Chaos Tower but presents them in a way I like significantly more.

For starters, it’s essentially a Survival take on the Chaos Tower concept – except players are descending deeper and deeper (fitting given its name). As the player performs better, the depth continues to increase and at certain depths (ranging from 20, 40, 60, 80, every 100 depths, Depth 999 and Depth 666), a boss encounter activates: forcing the player to fight a character using their “Unlimited” form, which is powered up and often given unique moves and abilities. After defeating the boss, the players are given a choice of four rewards, generally consisting of an increase in attack strength, speed, defense or meter build, currency that can be used in the shop, special abilities like healing items and various power-up auras or the ability to skip up or down a certain number of floors.

Originally, Continuum Shift simply consisted of four difficulties – Easy with 100 Floors, Normal with 500, Hard has a depth of 999 and ∞, which actually only has a mere 99,999 levels. The version found in Chronophantasma rebalances things with a total of 11 dungeons: ranging from 100 to 100,000 floors. Players can also unlock special abilities which can be equipped in Abyss Mode, either by leveling up or buying said upgrades in the Shop. Some power-ups are character-exclusive and certain bosses also have special abilities which are inaccessible to the player.

Of course, the next game in the series, Blazblue: Centralfiction has their own twist on the mode, retitling it as “Grim of Abyss Mode”. This iteration focuses more on customizing Grimoires with their own special abilities and leveling them up using character points. I honestly have no opinion on this mode – I’ve yet to play BBCF in any form – but this does sound like it’s on par with its predecessor. Regardless, it’s good to know that the legacy of Abyss mode will likely continue on in some form with later installments.

6. The Challenge Tower – Mortal Kombat (2011)

mk9

When it comes to single-player content in fighting games, I still think that Netherrealm’s 2011 reboot of Mortal Kombat is at the top of the heap. They had a cinematic story mode that acted as the genre’s pinnacle for years and didn’t even need to skimp out on the traditional arcade mode in the process. While NRS has experimented with various other modes in their later games, I still think that they managed to knock it out of the park with the Challenge Tower in “Mortal Kombat 9”.

Challenge Tower evokes the classic Mortal Kombat tower aesthetic, consisting of 300 individual challenges, forcing players to use a whopping majority of the cast. These consist of standard fights, side games like Test Your Might (or Sight, or Strike, or Luck…etc.) and even fights with special mechanics and unique opponents. Of course, the PS Vita version had an additional 150 challenges – an unfortunate consequence of Sony’s early strategy to get gamers to adopt their little handheld that couldn’t – bringing the total to 450. I really wish they would’ve brought this mode back in one of their later games, but Netherrealm seems dedicated to innovating with every new release, for better or for worse.

5. Quest Mode – Tobal No. 1

tobal

Ooooh, it’s our first genre-bender! Tobal No. 1 is a lesser-known fighting game – developed by the fine folks at DreamFactory and published by Square (back in the days where they occasionally did stuff besides RPGs) and with character designs from Akira Toriyama – and for me, another bit of nostalgia. After all, like Street Fighter EX+α, it was lent to me by a friend back in grade school.

Tobal No. 1 was one of many 3D fighting games to come out on the original PlayStation and it handled the concept perfectly, even incorporating full freedom of movement. In fact, I want to say that’s part of the reason why Quest Mode was possible in the first place. Rather than the traditional one-on-one fights of Tobal, Quest Mode was a full-on dungeon crawler, recontextualizing the gameplay into something of an action-RPG. As such, players not only fight random NPCs, but also has to contend with traps, navigate the game’s complex labyrinths and even purchase power-ups with crystals found throughout the mode.

While the mode itself is fun, it’s also somewhat brutal. There’s no way to save progress and dying means starting over from the very beginning. On the plus side, defeating specific opponents in this mode unlocks them as playable characters. Of course, the mode also returned with various improvements in Tobal 2, but considering the sequel was only released in Japan, I’m not really familiar with it. It’s kind of a shame, really: Tobal 2 was originally planned for a North American release, but all those involved decided to pass on it as they determined that the first game only sold well due to its pack-in bonus: a demo disc for Final Fantasy VII.

…and people wonder why I’m so bitter.

4. Chronicles of the Sword – Soulcalibur III

sc3

And the hits just keep on coming. Few would argue that the third game in the series, Soulcalibur II – Soul Blade (née Edge) was the first game, you poseurs – was the pinnacle of the franchise, but I think SC3 doesn’t get nearly enough love. Sure, it was a step down, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It introduced popular characters like Zasalamel and Tira, had some pretty awesome designs and some fantastic setpieces. On the other hand, it introduced us to the “Create-A-Soul” character creation tool: an outright forgery that allowed players to simply create outfits for pre-existing movesets and would go on to eating up more and more resources as the series continued.

Fortunately, when Create-A-Soul started out, it was fairly simple. But best of all, it launched alongside Chronicles of the Sword, a real-time strategy/fighting game hybrid with its own unique, self-contained story. Players send a troop of soldiers – consisting of the player’s chosen custom character, as well as several prefabricated ones – across the game map to overtake enemy strongholds or defend their own. Sending soldiers to a territory causes them to attack it and once the settlement’s “health” is whittled down to zero, the player takes control of the characters and fights the soldiers set to protect it in standard combat. If they win, they take over.

Chronicles’ unique gameplay comes across to me like a cross between traditional real-time strategy games, Risk and Fire Emblem, though that last bit may simply just be due to Soulcalibur’s similar medieval setting. Out of everything on this list, I’d say that Chronicles of the Sword is the most unique mode out there. Honestly, I’d love to see someone else – whether it’s just a mode in an existing fighting game or even an entirely separate game – explore this concept again.

3. World Tour Mode – Street Fighter Alpha 3

ps-002

As we ascend to the top 3, we’ve finally happened upon the benchmark – the fighting game single-player mode I judge all others against. Out of all the other modes on this list, I probably have the fondest memories of World Tour Mode. Sure, it hid a lot of the PS1 version of Alpha 3’s unlockables behind it, but I actually like unlocking stuff.

World Tour Mode effectively allowed players to choose one character, along with their preferred style and tour the world, fighting various battles – many with their own unique special gimmicks – to level up their characters and unlock various power-ups that could be equipped to properly customize them. Better still, you could even use their personalized characters in various other game modes. In many ways, it is essentially the mode that the previously mentioned Shadow Lords mode completely ripped off, but frankly, I think World Tour mode handled it way better over a decade ahead of time.

Personally, I’ve been hoping ever since the Street Fighter franchise resurfaced, that we’d see a new take on World Tour Mode. Maybe even expand on it in some ways: add a color edit, allow for a much more in-depth level of character customization. Huh, maybe that’s why I liked Street Fighter X Tekken so much…

2. Tekken Force Mode – Tekken 3

tk3

Tekken 3 was a literal masterpiece when it came to extra content in a fighting game home conversion. Not only did the PlayStation 1 add new characters, it also added several new features. While its predecessor Tekken 2 had a host of cheat codes that allowed for things like a first-person wireframe view (resembling the arcade versions of Punch-Out!) and the then-ubiquitous big head mode, Tekken 3 included Tekken Ball Mode – which blended together the standard Tekken gameplay with a mixture of volleyball and dodgeball for something truly unique – as well as a fully-featured Theater Mode that even allowed players to view the cinematics and listen to the soundtracks of the first two games through the magic of disc swapping. It’s a shame that various rights issues have prevented it from being re-released in any legitimate capacity.

My favorite addition – if you haven’t guessed by now – was Tekken Force Mode, which essentially recontextualized the franchise into a traditional beat-‘em-up. Admittedly, compared to the previous two genre-benders I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t much of a shift. Beat-‘em-ups and fighting games had been linked for years: after all, Street Fighter begat Final Fight, which in turn begat Street Fighter II. Regardless, coupling the Tekken cast’s vast array of fighting techniques with a standard multi-plane sidescrolling beat-‘em-up was a genius move.

All of the playable characters were available to use in this mode and characters could mow down various grunts from Heihachi’s Tekken Force (oh, so that’s why it was called that!) before facing down other playable characters as stage bosses. What was really cool about this is that the player’s character selection actually determined the boss characters of each level – a nice touch that Namco didn’t necessarily need to add, but that’s what makes all the difference.

Of course, Tekken 4 also had its own take on Tekken Force Mode, but this was more of an early take on the 3D character action genre that emerged during the PlayStation 2’s heyday. Barely a year removed from the genre’s codifer – the original Devil May Cry – the attempt at trying to meld Tekken’s fixed fighting mechanics with the free-roaming movement typically found in this new genre felt awkward at best. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily bad per se, but it needed significant polish beyond what we saw in the final product and the concept probably would’ve worked better with a free-roaming fighting game like Virtual On, Power Stone or even Namco’s own Soulcalibur (given its “8-Way Run” mechanic).

1. Edge Master Mode – Soul Blade / Mission Battle – Soulcalibur / Weapon Master – Soulcalibur II

soul-blade

You’re probably wondering if this is a cheat or a three-way tie or something like that. In truth, all three of these modes are more or less the same – just given different names in each of the first three entries in the series. Personally, out of these three, Edge Master Mode is my clear favorite, but to leave the other two unacknowledged just because I felt the need to play favorites with my nostalgia felt unjustified.

Edge Master Mode was a pretty impressive concept when Soul Blade was released on consoles back in late 1996. It’s not unlike World Tour in many ways: players take on the role of one of the game’s characters and travel throughout the game’s world, searching for the blade of legend. In a sense, it’s kind of a story mode, but any and all backstory is told through text-only passages in a book chronicling the player character’s exploits. The focus is clearly on the fights – often including unique objectives. But the aspect of the game that excited me the most was that progressing through the mode often gives the character new weapons with different stats and special abilities. This was absolutely mind-blowing for me when I played it in the late ‘90s and is one of the key reasons I tracked down a copy of the game years later. In fact, it’s one of the few PS1 games I still own.

Soulcalibur had its own take on this mode: Mission Battle. While we lost out on the awesome weapon customization – all you could do was shift between the 1P, 2P and “Edge Master” variants and all three were mechanically identical – Mission Battle expanded on the length of the mode itself. The rewards had changed as well: completing missions granted players in-game currency which could be used to unlock gallery items. Mechanically speaking, Mission Battle feels way more advanced than its predecessor, but the loss of the additional weapons hit me hard back in the late ‘90s. Call it nostalgia blindness, but this one’s still number two in my book because of that.

Finally, we come to Soulcalibur II’s take on it – personally, it’s my least favorite of the bunch. It does attempt to split the difference between its two predecessors, which is a noble effort. Unfortunately, trying to satisfy fans of both modes lead to concessions. The unique weapons return, but they are purchased through an in-game store with currency earned by completing areas, as opposed to being earned through sheer progress. Likewise, while Weapon Master probably has more missions overall than Mission Battle, there are no longer any unique paths for each individual character. SCII does add one unique concept I really enjoyed though: certain stages are menu-based dungeons, where players face off against a gauntlet of enemies while trying to reach its boss. The characters also level up as players progress in the mode, though this mostly just unlocks additional bonus chapters in the mode.

Alas, SCII was where this mode’s line ends. I already told you about Soulcalibur III’s replacement, but Soulcalibur IV had Tower of Lost Souls, which is another Tower mode much like the aforementioned Challenge Tower, hiding several unlockables. SCV decided to focus on a story mode and SCVI appears to be following in its footsteps with two different story modes. I didn’t play much of IV and V, so I’m not really well-versed with their single-player content. Maybe Bandai Namco will consider adding a true successor to these modes as DLC in Soulcalibur VI down the line.

And those are my picks for the best single-player modes in fighting games. But what do you think? Do you agree with my picks? Was I too hard on Shadow Lords? Is there a particularly good fighting game mode you think I missed? Feel free to sound off in the comments. I might consider doing a follow-up article based on unique fighting game multiplayer modes down the line… if I can think of enough of them for a decent-sized list.0

Turn Based #9 – To Sleep, Perchance to Dreamcast

Professor Icepick: For many, Sega’s Dreamcast was a perfect swansong to their legacy as one of the major console manufacturers in the video game industry. Heralded by many as one of the best consoles of all-time, it boasts a small library with an impressive concentration of beloved games. When Sega gave up the ghost and decided to go third-party, it impacted a lot of gaming fans: I personally took a long sabbatical from modern gaming shortly after the Dreamcast bowed out, simply because I didn’t see anything worthwhile on the horizon in the mainstream. But does the Dreamcast truly live up to its reputation or is it just an overrated hunk of junk and nothing more than an overpriced doorstop? Today, in this installment of Turn Based, SNES Master KI and I will be discussing the final Sega platform and its worth from a strictly modern viewpoint.

Dreamcast-Console-Set

Goodbyes hurt the most, when the story was not finished…

If you haven’t guessed yet, I will be arguing in favor of my beloved Dreamcast. KI and I have had many discussions on this topic in the past, so I think I know what his primary avenue of attack will be: bringing up the fact that many of the Dreamcast’s killer apps — particularly ones that were exclusive during the Dreamcast’s short lifespan — have been ported to various other platforms since. Simply to nip this line of reasoning in the bud, I’ll just remind him that if he decides to go down this avenue, then several platforms (especially those among his favorites) are similarly exempt from greatness and worse yet, that would make the personal computer the greatest gaming platform of all-time by a wide margin: truly a bitter pill for him to swallow.

With that out of the way, I’ll start by pointing out that the Dreamcast’s library was impressive for its time. There are few other platforms that truly embody the concept of “quality over quantity” when it comes to Dreamcast games. Best of all, the Dreamcast acted as a bridge between the fifth and sixth generations — offering the definitive versions of several PS1 and N64 games by taking advantage of the Dreamcast’s substantially improved hardware.

SNES Master KI: There’s a difference between ports from Dreamcast and ports from most other systems: they were done in the same generation. In our last Turn Based, you made it clear that GameCube games which later wound up on PlayStation 2 were not exclusives. I’m perfectly willing to count games like Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur (that eventually made it to 7th or 8th gen systems, right?) as Dreamcast exclusives. But Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Grandia 2, Skies of Arcadia, Resident Evil Code Veronica, Crazy Taxi, Phantasy Star Online, Chu Chu Rocket? Those all came to other sixth generation systems, and those are just the prominent ones I knew off the top of my head. Dreamcast really did get hit harder by losing exclusives in its own generation than other systems, and it doesn’t help that many of the games it managed to retain got sequels on other sixth generation systems (the aforementioned Jet Grind Radio and Soul Calibur).

^7BDE1B13C73AD5B7026E5A4DC872C117E3FB99DC323E0D450A^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

I love this game, but hard to count it as a Dreamcast asset when every single sixth generation system got it, even GBA.

Regardless, I never really intended to make that the crux of my argument. My argument isn’t that the Dreamcast is a bad system, or even an average system. It’s that it isn’t a holy grail of perfection as many ordained it after its death. It had a great run, but the only truly exceptional part was launch day in North America, which was almost a year after the Japanese launch, giving it a big advantage in getting games ready. I’ll leave PlayStation 2 out of this since that’s showing up in this series later, but I think there are other systems which sold less than they deserve which at least match Dreamcast, including GameCube and Saturn.

Icepick: I suppose the most important thing to determine is what we’re considering here: are we keeping our sights locked on the reception to the Dreamcast in North America exclusively or worldwide?

KI: Well, this is more about retrospective, so I don’t think it makes a huge difference. Aside from the launch lineup quality, I’m not aware of any gaping discrepancies between the North American reception of Dreamcast and other regions. I would probably say worldwide if I had to choose, but like I said, I’m not sure where that makes a big difference.

Icepick: I only bring it up because you brought up the Sega Saturn as a potential contender for the Dreamcast’s reputation. If we’re talking about its Japanese library, then I’d be willing to agree. But its library in North America was horrifically truncated by various terrible decisions. And while the Gamecube wasn’t specifically neutered in America, there are some noticeable gaps in its Western libraries as well.

KI: Well, with Saturn it gets kind of complicated. Shining Force 3 Parts 2 and 3? Unplayable for the average westerner. X-Men vs Street Fighter or Radiant Silvergun? Aside from price, not much of an issue. If we’re making a precise standard, I’d say any game you can reasonably play only reading/speaking English counts.

^D3CB3C57678A2CD5224BBBEBD9D2B30F201EFD094E006F96CF^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Japanese language proficiency optional.

Icepick: Fair enough.

Regardless, the Dreamcast had many exclusives that remain to this day that are clear to anyone who does more than the standard surface-level overview of the platform. There’s Project Justice, the sequel to Capcom’s cult 3D fighting classic Rival Schools; Dynamite Cop, the direct sequel to Sega’s own Die Hard Arcade; Zombie Revenge, a 3D beat-em-up taking place in the House of the Dead universe and the only existing home release of Virtua Fighter 3, labelled “Virtua Fighter 3tb” due to the addition of a team battle mode.

There are also several games that, while no longer “pure exclusives”, are still synonymous with the Dreamcast. Capcom’s Power Stone duology, the second Crazy Taxi, the original home release of Ikaruga (a Japanese exclusive, but no less accessible to Westerners) and the original Shenmue are all synonymous with the Dreamcast to this day and beloved by many.

6050485158_8d84c9f5f4_b

On an unrelated note, I also miss Capcom’s Fighters Edge brand.

KI: Shenmue 2 at least was also on the original Xbox, and unless there was a significant difference between the original home version of Ikaruga and the GameCube version, that wasn’t exclusive either. I don’t think public perception of what system a game is associated with can be used to count the games as exclusives.

I never said Dreamcast had no exclusives, I said that its stockpile was decimated during its generation, to a much greater degree than any other system I can think of. But even if you give it every timed exclusive, I don’t see why it should be put into the holy pantheon of consoles ahead of other underappreciated systems like Saturn, GameCube, and Wii U. I’m not saying Dreamcast was by any means a bad system, just that I think people have given it a sacred status based on its timing (being Sega’s last console) more than its library.

Icepick: Perhaps, but adoration is never determined by logic. The Dreamcast was clearly Sega’s last shot at remaining a first-party developer and they clearly gave it their all. It’s almost like a folk tale: the end of Sega’s glory days were predicated by one valiant last stand against the young upstart, Sony, only to be literally obliterated when their shiny new gamebox launched in North America, forcing them to throw in the towel. That’s where a lot of the love for the Dreamcast comes from: its death was poetic. Even if Sega had made the perfect move throughout the Dreamcast’s lifespan, there was no guarantee that they would be able to survive as a console manufacturer.

You’re right when you say that the Dreamcast’s high status stems from its untimely demise (and that its company went down alongside it), but that is an important thing to keep in mind. The tragedy of Sega and its Dreamcast’s shared ending only serves to amplify the latter’s beloved library, granted it a legendary status among the pantheon of dead consoles.

KI: Well, I think we’ve come to an impasse. My main argument is that I don’t think it’s fair to rank the console above others with libraries of similar quality just because it was historically significant. After the 10th time I hear “don’t say Wii U is another Dreamcast, Dreamcast is SO MUCH BETTER!!!” it’s hard not to get some kind of resentment towards Dreamcast’s sacred status. There’s also a bit of “well where the hell were you when the system was alive?” going on, Dreamcast didn’t sell badly, but if everyone who praises it now had bought one when it was alive I feel like it probably could have hung in there.

^956835CF111FAABC3B8D6355485EAE6B943634BCB2E687AA34^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

No, it isn’t sacrilege to compare this to Dreamcast in both sales and game quality.

I guess in general, I think deifying consoles for untimely deaths is a bad practice because it doesn’t help the console itself and causes the next system to join the too good for this Sonyful Earth club to get even more negativity while it’s alive. Similarly to how I think giving Super Mario Bros. a good but not great score today is a better testament to its quality than giving it an automatic 10/10 Best Game Ever label because of its significance, I think we should let Dreamcast’s game library in the face of a sadly short life speak for itself instead of deifying it for being Sega’s last hurrah.

Icepick: The thing is, the Dreamcast’s legacy persists to this day. Compared to other discontinued systems, the Dreamcast has a thriving indie scene, producing both ports of existing titles and original games at an impressive rate, even to this day. Games like Neo XYX, Gunlord and 4X4 Jam prove that the Dreamcast still has life in it to this day. Few platforms manage to have any thriving homebrew scene and the Dreamcast is clearly the most advanced platform with any significant support. Some have even speculated that the Dreamcast may technically live on in perpetuity through its dedicated fanbase. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?

Homebrew-Review-GunLord-Sega-Dreamcast-Screenshot

Also available on the Neo Geo!

But what do you think? Is the Dreamcast overrated or is its legendary status wholly earned? Does the loss of an exclusive neuter a platform’s library? Is the fan support of the Dreamcast to this day a labor of love or a misguided waste of time and resources? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and weigh in on Sega’s final platform. And stay tuned, because we have something extra special planned for our tenth article in this series next month: a topic I’ve anticipated so long, it feels like I’ve been waiting to write since 1999.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – A New Fight Is On!

The legacy of the Street Fighter franchise is a long and storied one, but after the disappointing reception to the long-anticipated Street Fighter III, the series essentially went dormant for roughly a decade. That’s not to say that the series was completely gone, but it only managed to live on through re-releases, ports and compilations. By this point, Capcom had pretty much abandoned the fighting game genre, focusing mostly on other blockbuster franchises like Resident Evil and the then-fledgling Monster Hunter. Unfortunately, when Capcom gave up on 2D fighters, the genre itself essentially went belly up. While niche companies like SNK Playmore and Arc System Works continued to fight the good fight, other long-standing franchises either went dormant or attempted to step into the third dimension: a sub-genre that already had several established franchises like Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive to name a few. The sixth generation was a truly horrifying time for fans of 2D fighting games.

However, there were still a few figures at Capcom that were championing a full-on revival of the Street Fighter franchise and after the successful re-release of Hyper Fighting on the Xbox 360, Capcom finally gave the greenlight to the first brand-new Street Fighter project in years. Of course, that wasn’t the first attempt at revitalizing the series. Apparently, many members of Capcom’s staff (and in at least one case, an outside company that had worked for Capcom in the past) had campaigned for new Street Fighter games for years, throughout the entire hiatus. While we know very little in terms of pitches, what’s been revealed to the public is kind of interesting, and therefore, worth exploring. So before moving onto the main attraction, let’s take a look at what happened between the death and rebirth of Street Fighter.

Prelude: The Road to Street Fighter IV

Let’s start with a brief recap. While Street Fighter III wasn’t the bona fide success that Capcom expected, its sales did manage to bring about two revisions. Still, by the end of the ‘90s, the gaming landscape had changed. The vibrant arcade scene, itself given new life through Street Fighter II, had begun its final worldwide recession that persists to this day. Likewise, gamers in general were far more enamored with 3D graphics, which were increasingly becoming cheaper and easier to produce. The industry in its entirety had seemed to have outgrown Street Fighter as a concept and as such, Capcom had long considered it a “dead franchise”, deciding to focus instead on their even-more-popular megahit Resident Evil and a host of 3D action titles, including Onimusha (itself, ironically forgotten) and Devil May Cry.

It’s not entirely clear how many pitches Capcom had received regarding the future of the franchise, but thanks to the people over at Unseen64, we do know of at least one project. Backbone Entertainment – the same people behind such games as 1942: Joint Strike, Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 and of course, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – pitched a completely original project to Capcom, attempting to bring Street Fighter into the modern era. Titled “Street Fighter IV Flashback”, the game was meant to be a 3D sequel to the previous Street Fighter games, with an emphasis on 1-on-1 fights and online play. They also planned on including a single-player adventure mode, known as “Ryu’s Journey”: a 3D-action vein in the same vein of such titles as Ninja Gaiden and Capcom’s own Onimusha. This mode would take place during the second World Warrior Tournament, allowing players to relive Street Fighter’s glory days through the eyes of its main protagonist.

sf4-flashback

…use your imagination on this one.

In addition to the cast from Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting, Backbone also planned on including Akuma, Sakura, “Killer Bee” (Cammy, while she was still under Bison’s control), as well as two entirely-new characters: the head student at Ibuki’s ninja village and a Chinese bodyguard. Various other Street Fighter characters were planned to appear as NPCs in Ryu’s Journey as well. The game also utilized a “flashback” mechanic, which would allow players to rewind time and correct mistakes. Whether this mechanic was intended for use in the versus mode or strictly within single-player isn’t really made clear, but it seems safe to assume that the latter was the case. Backbone also planned on changing the control scheme to a more simplified one, dubbed “New Millennium” that consisted of four buttons and allowed special moves to be performed much more simply. For example, Ryu could perform a Shoryuken by pressing down and punch simultaneously, while back and punch would perform a Hurricane Kick. This concept would eventually resurface in another Capcom fighting game, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, but on a strictly optional basis.

While Street Fighter IV: Flashback never came to fruition, W. Thomas Grové, one of the people who worked on the pitch, has released various design documents – detailing the game’s overall concept and an outline of the story mode, as well as an art book filled with concept art – via his blog. While the game itself never saw the light of day, it’s an interesting read for anyone curious about the directions Street Fighter could have taken.

Of course, Capcom had a champion for the Street Fighter franchise among their internal staff. Yoshinori Ono had risen through the ranks at Capcom, acting as a producer on games like Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, Chaos Legion, Shadow of Rome and Capcom Fighting Jam. However, his earlier work at Capcom was in sound design, and his first two projects in that field were Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: Third Strike respectively. Before Ono pitched the idea of a new mainline Street Fighter to then-head of R&D Keiji Inafune, there was little support for the franchise in general. However, due to fan demand – affirmed by the success of the Xbox Live Arcade re-release of Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting – Inafune agreed to give Ono a small budget to develop a prototype. When he reflected on the process of the game’s development, Ono referred to the game as an “unwanted child”, with his co-workers asking him to work on a project that would make money. Ono also brought up the fact that the game probably would’ve never existed without the persistence of fans and journalists, stating that they have more sway with Capcom than employees, even producers.

sf4-proto1

More like 3rD Strike, am I right?

We’ve seen very little of these early prototypes: the most prominent bit of information we’ve seen were an assortment of images taken from what appear to be two completely different builds of the game. What appears to be the earlier of the two seemed to be attempting a direct translation of 3rd Strike’s aesthetic into a 2.5D style. Many elements, particularly the use of a Street Fighter 3 stage as placeholder art for the background; numerous win icons (especially the one labelled “SA” for Super Art) and the Super meters all draw clear inspiration from the arcade classic. Likewise, Ryu’s design appears highly inspired by various pieces of promotional artwork from the game. We do see certain elements that would eventually make it into the final product though: there’s one point where Ryu appears to perform a Shin Shoryuken on the… other Ryu and the camera zooms in, with a cinematic quality not unlike the modern Street Fighters in general.

The second set of images better resembles the final game, albeit in a far rougher state. This time, Ken joins Ryu in the action and numerous mechanics that would appear in the final product (such as the revenge meter) have clearly begun to take shape. The fighting environment appears to be some kind of military hangar with vehicles and servicemen all over the arena. What’s truly fascinating is that, for whatever reason, it looks like certain screenshots are taken from different angles, implying that there may have been a much more dynamic camera planned at this stage in development. The modelling looks far rougher than the earlier prototype, but also significantly more functional: resembling an actual alpha build, compared to the more “proof of concept” look of its predecessor. Admittedly, I’m a fan of this prototype’s lifebars and character portraits and would’ve loved to have seen something like them in the final product.

sf4-proto2

I know that the phrase “looks like a PS2 game” gets thrown around a lot, but…

That’s really all of the pre-release information I was able to find in my research for this article. It stands to reason that perhaps there were several more scrapped Street Fighter projects that we’ll never know about, just considering the long gap between the release of Street Fighter EX3 and Street Fighter IV. I wonder if there were any other failed pitches made to the higher-ups at Capcom, let alone concepts that never even made it to a legitimate proposal phase. Without more information, there’s really no reason to speculate further. So, without further ado, let’s move onto the main attraction.

Street Fighter IV

On July 18th, 2008, Street Fighter IV was released to Japanese arcades, ending a near-decade’s hiatus. While it’s clear that Capcom didn’t have any faith in the project internally, they hid it well. Due to the decline of arcades outside of Japan, the arcade release was intended as Japan-exclusive, but by August, what few arcades still existed across North America were importing the machines. By this point, the hardcore fans of the fighting game community had warmed up to Third Strike and the franchise’s long absence had triggered a widespread nostalgia for the franchise, even among casual fans.

Most of Street Fighter IV’s development was handled by Dimps, with internal employees at Capcom providing support and supervision. Dimps was founded on March 6th, 2000 by several ex-SNK and Capcom employees: most prominently Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto – the co-creators of the original Street Fighter. (I told you they’d be back!) Prior to working on Street Fighter IV, Dimps’ most prominent projects were several Sonic the Hedgehog games for handheld consoles, various Dragon Ball licensed titles and two games in The Rumble Fish series: a somewhat-obscure 2.5D fighting game, utilizing cel-shaded graphics. I’d wager that The Rumble Fish games are a pretty clear part of the reason why Capcom hired them to work on SF4, though Nishiyama and Matsumoto’s work on such series as Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting and the King of Fighters likely played a pivotal role in this decision. During this period, Capcom would outsource many of their fighting game projects to other companies: Eighting co-developed both Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with Capcom in a similar partnership.

sf4-00

Not that impressive, but it’s a start.

As the CPS3 was the last arcade hardware Capcom developed, they had to rely on other companies’ hardware to release the game as well. As such, they went with Taito’s Type X2 hardware, which ran on a modified version of the then-current Windows XP operating system. The hardware itself was essentially akin to a PC, running on various Intel processors, with support for such GPUs as cards in the ATI Radeon and Nvidia GeForce series, support for up to 1080p screen resolution, an onboard Realtek HD 7.1 channel sound output, LAN capabilities and utilizing SATA hard drives. The Type X2 was the fourth model in Taito’s Type X line and the first to eschew backward compatibility with its predecessors: the Type X, Type X+ and the Type X7. There was also a variant of the Type X2 – the “Satellite Terminal” – which allowed for online play, but as far as I can tell, Street Fighter IV never utilized this set-up.

 

Capcom has this weird tendency of making prequels and interquels to the least popular games in the series. Much like how Devil May Cry 2 is the chronological end of that series, the Street Fighter III games still remain the latest games in the series. As such, Street Fighter IV was an “interquel” – taking place between Street Fighter II and III. SF4 takes place several months after SF2. S.I.N. – the Shadaloo Intimidation Network – Shadaloo’s weapons division has splintered off from the evil organization, emerging after Bison’s defeat and apparent death in the second World Warrior Tournament. S.I.N. is led by Seth, an artificial clone body intended for M. Bison, who somehow gained sentience and is capable of learning fighters’ technique simply by analyzing their data. Using several techniques from the world warriors, Seth has formed his own deadly style of mixed martial arts. Seth seeks to take over the remainder of Shadaloo and then set his sights on total world domination, much like his template. S.I.N. decides to hold another World Warrior Tournament, seeking to collect more data on the world’s most powerful fighter. However, their man goal is to lure in Ryu and study his Satsui no Hado, believed to be the final component needed to complete their bio-weapon, known simply as “BLECE”: the Boiling Liquid Expanding Cell Explosion.

sf4-03

He looks like a gender-swapped Dural.

The majority of SF4’s initial roster came from Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting, likely owed to the success of its re-release on Xbox 360. Ryu, still shaken from his encounters with Akuma, is trying to overcome the temptations of the Satsui no Hado. Ken still seeks another rematch with his best friend/rival, but feels far less confident than usual, as his wife Eliza is pregnant with their first child. Chun-Li and Guile are trying to take down S.I.N. and discover what really happened to M. Bison after the previous tournament. Likewise, they both seek answers about what happened to Chun-Li’s father and Guile’s comrade-at-arms Charlie Nash, both of whom were supposedly killed by M. Bison. Edmond Honda is still trying to prove the strength of sumo to the entire world, deciding that this new tournament is the perfect stage for his fighting style. Blanka leaves his mother once again, feeling ashamed of his appearance and wants to win the tournament to earn people’s respect. Zangief enters the tournament to prove to his young fans that he’s still worthy of being called Russia’s national hero. Dhalsim enters the tournament to free the flow of water to his village after S.I.N. builds a dam upstream. While Dhalsim abhors combat, he feels compelled to save his village.

Sagat has fallen into a deep depression after losing the second World Warrior Tournament and seeks to reignite his fighting spirit by challenging Ryu to another rematch, finally making the full transition to official good guy. Meanwhile, M. Bison has emerged in a new clone body, seeking to regain control of S.I.N. and reestablish Shadaloo in the process. As such, he rehires Balrog and Vega to infiltrate S.I.N. and keep tabs on the traitorous Seth. Of course, both agents have their own ambitions as well: Balrog seeks to get rich all over again, while Vega wishes to build new bodies for himself, so that he may stay young and beautiful forever.

Of course, there’s no point in making a new Street Fighter game without brand-new characters and much like Super Street Fighter II before it, SF4 expands the roster with four brand-new characters. The most popular of the new characters was easily Crimson Viper. Posing as a member of S.I.N., Viper is actually a CIA agent sent to infiltrate them. She was put in charge of S.I.N.’s “Battle Suit project”, allowing her to enhance her natural combat skills with electrified gloves, powerful shockwaves and burning kicks. When she’s informed that all of her fellow agents have been terminated, she realizes that she alone must finish investigating S.I.N.’s ties to Shadoloo. Next, there’s Abel, a French mixed martial artist, who primarily focuses on Judo. He was found at an abandoned Shadaloo base, suffering from amnesia. He enters the tournament to recover his lost memories. Next comes El Fuerte, a Mexican luchador who constantly attempts to mix his two greatest passions: lucha libre and cooking. Alas, he hasn’t had much luck mixing the two, so he decides to enter this new fighting tournament to discover what these warriors eat. He’s especially intrigued by Zangief, challenging him to see whose style is stronger. Finally, there’s Rufus: a loud-mouthed, obese American fighter, who was inspired to learn Karate and Kung Fu through correspondence courses after seeing several martial arts flicks in his youth. After reading an article praising Ken Masters’ status as America’s best fighter, Rufus is enraged and decides to enter the World Warrior tournament to see who’s the best, once and for all.

sf4-02

Burning Knuck–oops, wrong game.

The game also had three bosses. Obviously, the game’s main final boss was Seth, the leader of S.I.N. A silver android, resembling Gill and Urien from Street Fighter III, he also has a giant orb resembling a yin-yang in his abdomen: a power generator called the Tanden Engine. He fights using various attacks from other fighters: Dhalsim’s stretchy arms and Yoga Teleport, Guile’s Sonic Boom, Ryu and Ken’s Shoryuken and Zangief’s Spinning Pile Driver. He can also suck in opponents using the Tanden Engine. There are also two secret bosses. Akuma makes an obvious return, though he’s also a time-release unlockable character. But perhaps the most surprising new boss is Gouken, Ryu and Ken’s (supposedly) dead master. While it appeared that he died at the hands of his brother Akuma’s Shun Goku Satsu, he emptied his soul, utilizing a technique known as the “Power of Mu”: a power which relies on nothingness that could possibly even surpass the Satsui no Hado. Gouken’s fighting style is actually substantially different from Ryu, Ken and Akuma’s: he can fire his Hadouken straight-forward or diagonally as an anti-air; he has Akuma’s “Demon Flip”, the Hyakkishu; the Senkugoshoha is a straight-forward palm strike; the Tatsumaki Gorasen is a variant of the Hurricane Kick that moves straight up; and the Kongoshin is a counter that defends high or low, depending on whether punch or kick is used.

Much like its roster, Street Fighter IV’s gameplay went back to basics for the most part. Many of the mechanics found in later games, like Alpha’s Custom Combos and SF3’s parry fell by the wayside. Yoshinori Ono, the game’s producer, made it clear that this game was going to resemble the Street Fighter II games far more than anything else in the series. As such, the game’s mechanics are akin to a slower version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Combos are typically performed via “one-frame links” – pressing the buttons with precise timing – like earlier games in the series, as opposed to the simpler chain and target combo mechanics found in later games. However, to dissuade players from using infinite combos like in previous games, Capcom also instituted a system where as combos extend, each individual attack only does a fraction of its standard damage. Super Combos return, though meter remains consistent between rounds instead of resetting, like in Super Turbo.

A few mechanics from other Street Fighter games do make their way into SF4. Personal actions return, performed by pressing heavy punch and heavy kick simultaneously: in fact, players can choose between 10 taunts per character on the player select screen. Third Strike’s method of pressing light punch and kick together to throw also returns, as do throw escapes and EX Specials. This time, the Super Combo gauge is separated into four segments for all characters, and EX moves can be performed by hitting 2 attack buttons while performing a special move at the cost of a single segment. Characters can also perform a dash and quick wake-ups, using similar methods to previous games.

sf4-04

SF4 was also the first time characters had unique win quotes for the entire roster… in English!

That’s not to say that there aren’t brand new mechanics as well. First and foremost are the Focus Attacks – known as “Saving Attacks” in Japan – which are performed by pressing medium punch and kick together. Similar to EX3’s Surprise Blows, characters can attack immediately to stagger their opponents into a “crumple state” – slowly falling to their knees before falling down in a prone state, which allows for various follow-ups. Focus Attacks can be charged to three different levels: Level 1 which requires no charging and only crumples opponents that are attacking; Level 2 which requires mild charging but crumples an opponent upon a successful hit and Level 3, which requires a full charge and is unblockable. Focus Attacks also have one hit of armor while charging – allowing them to take one hit of recoverable damage without taking hit stun or getting staggered – so they can be used to counter attacks. Focus Attacks also gave rise to various other techniques, including the EX Focus, which costs two bars and allows characters to cancel special moves into Focus Attacks; the Focus Attack Dash Cancel – better known by its acronym FADC – which allows players to cancel Focus Attacks into a dash, often used to extend combos or escape unsafe attacks; and the Dash follow-up, which allows players to dash after performing a Focus Attack, allowing for combo potential while their opponent’s in a crumple state.

sf4-01

Focus Attacks were also accompanied by a beautiful brush stroke animation.

Street Fighter IV also brought in a brand-new comeback mechanic, known as the Ultra Combo. Right next to the Super bar, there’s a circular meter known as the “Revenge Gauge” which fills as you take damage. Once the gauge gets filled halfway, players gain access to the Ultra Combo, a more-powerful cinematic attack based on each character’s Super Combos: for example, Ken can use his Shinryuken as opposed to his more-traditional Shoryureppa, while Ryu gains access to the “Metsu Hadouken”, which is far more damaging than the standard Shinku Hadouken. The Ultra Combo does more damage based on how much the meter has filled, meaning that players can choose to use it to make a comeback immediately or wait until the meter’s completely full to deal the most possible damage.

sf4-07

Ultra Combos exploited the 3D graphical style of SF4, often utilizing varied camera angles.

As per usual, Street Fighter IV contains an arcade ladder, consisting of eight one-on-one fights. While the first six fights pit the player against random opponents, the seventh fight is a predetermined “rival battle” and the eighth and final fight pits players against Seth. In the first round, Seth is far more subdued but after defeating him once, he begins to showcase his true power. If certain conditions are met in gameplay, players will be challenged by either Akuma or Gouken for a special hidden boss fight. Regardless, after completing the game, players are rewarded with a credits roll, accompanied by various pieces of artwork.

sf4-06

I love these little vignettes before rival battles.

The graphics probably represent the biggest departure from the previous mainline games in the series, but it’s not entirely new. Like EX3 before it, Street Fighter IV uses 3D models for both the characters and the backgrounds, while maintaining the traditional 2D gameplay. This was originally going to apply to the gameplay as well: the developers experimented with applying 3D hitboxes in-game, but it lacked the “pixel perfect” precision of previous games, thus they went back to more traditional 2D hitboxes. Ono also stated that the since-forgotten Arc System Works 2.5D fighter Battle Fantasia helped to inspire SF4’s 3D artstyle. Daigo Ikeno, who previously worked on Third Strike, returned as the game’s art director and character design and decided to give the game a more stylized look, favoring a somewhat hand-drawn look over photorealism. The game’s aesthetic had a heavy emphasis on calligraphic, with various ink sprays and smudges accompanying certain attacks, particularly the Focus Attack.

Considering how polygonal the models in the EX games were, this was the first time we saw many of these classic characters rendered properly in 3D. An entire generation had passed since EX3 and the advancements in 3D rendering allowed for much more expressive models, with fully animated faces and limbs. The modelers even went out of their way to retain a subtle animation trick from previous Capcom fighting games: characters’ extremities swell up near the peak of their attacks. It’s a bit less subtle in 3D, which actually caused many less-observant players to notice it for the first time. However, the shift to 3D did have its downsides. Compared to future iterations, the early models from SF4 look kind of chunky, particularly Ryu and Ken, who have gigantic torsos.

Likewise, the shift to 3D means that stages are no longer tied to single characters, opting to go for various world locales, like a cruise ship off the coast of Italy, a snowy rail yard in Russia, a small military airfield in Africa, a drive-in in the United States, a South American jungle and various cities across Asia. These stages do have animation flourishes, but they’re a little weak compared to the 2D pixel art of previous games. Of course, they weren’t really meant to be scrutinized and it’s nice that Dimps and Capcom took the extra effort to add them, in an effort to recreate the vivid backgrounds of yore. I’m not going to say that these new stages are bad, just that they lack the personalization that came with character-specific stages from the past. Considering the fact that Tekken ditched the concept all the way back in the original Tekken Tag Tournament, a shift to 3D meant it was only inevitable for Street Fighter to follow suit.

sf4-05

Probably my favorite Easter Egg in Street Fighter IV.

Hideyuki Fukasawa acts as the game’s composer. He previously worked on Onimusha 2, Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams, Monster Hunter Frontier and Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2 as well as various anime like You’re Under Arrest: Full Throttle and Intrigue in the Bakumatsu – Irohanihoheto. While previous games in the series focused on specific character themes, Street Fighter IV relies more of stage-centric themes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as these songs tend to focus more on characterizing the stages themselves. My personal favorites are the Volcanic Rim, Drive-In At Night and Pitch-Black Jungle. However, a few characters do receive character themes specifically for the Rival Battle. Aside from the new characters, these end up being remixes of their themes from Street Fighter II. The themes that make it have a variety of styles, ranging from an electronic take on Ken’s theme, a jazzy rendition of Zangief’s theme and a unique rendition of Sagat’s theme, mixing rock with traditional Thai instruments. The new characters each get their own themes: C. Viper’s song veers between a fast-paced mix of heavy metal and techno and a singing choir with lyrics that reinforce that failing her mission means death; Abel’s theme sounds aggressive yet sorrowful, clearly as unsure of itself as the character himself; El Fuerte has an upbeat (if not slightly stereotypical) samba with trumpets and electric guitar taking center stage and Rufus’s theme music is an aggressive rock anthem, constantly punctuated with kiais straight out of a kung-fu film.

Clearly, Fukusawa was aiming for more characterization with his original pieces, instead of going for catchy melodies, and while his original themes aren’t bad, they aren’t quite as memorable as the music from previous games. Another element present in Fukusawa’s soundtrack was that as one combatant reached low health, the music would seamlessly transition to a loop, signifying that the end of the round was approaching. It’s the same basic principle as SF2’s tendency to speed up the music when the round was clearly approaching its end, but Fukusawa managed to pay homage to this old oft-forgotten audio flourish, while utilizing the game’s superior hardware to modernize it. Still, it’s an impressive first effort and Fukusawa would go on to hone his craft in later titles. However, I’d still say that the clear standout would have to be the game’s main theme, a vocal piece by Japanese boy group Exile and rapper Flo Rida called “The Next Door – Indestructible”. Instrumental versions of the song were used for the game’s main menu and character select themes. While the song was originally considered goofy and annoying by many players, the song’s since become a cult classic, especially after it was removed from future releases.

The sound effects were directed by Masayuki Endou, who previously worked on games like Marvel vs. Capcom 2, the Capcom vs. SNK games and Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams. His co-director was Makoto Tomozawa, a long-time Capcom employee who I’ve mentioned before in a previous retrospective. The sound effects for the most part opted for higher-fidelity versions of sound effects used in previous games. Perhaps the most noticeable of these would be the traditional “dizzy” sound effect, which was adapted directly from the Street Fighter II games. Street Fighter IV had full Japanese voice acting with a mix of returning and brand-new voice actors portraying various characters. However, the home release brought a first for the Street Fighter franchise: a second set of voice acting, completely in English. For the first time, English-speaking audiences would be able to hear their favorite fighters speak in a game made by Capcom themselves. Best of all, players could unlock the option to mix-and-match different voices, allowing for a much more customizable experience. My favorite part about the game’s sound design is easily the announcer though – who was clearly cut from the same cloth as the announcers found in games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter. Alas, much like Indestructible, he would be replaced in future installments: some representatives at Capcom USA claimed they were unable to find his contact information, so they couldn’t rehire him.

sf4-08

The cutscenes in the console releases were considered a big deal at the time.

Speaking of which, Street Fighter IV would be released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 home consoles the following year. Japan received the games on February 12th, 2009, while North America had an official release date of February 18th (though many retailers broke the street date, releasing the game early) and Europe saw their own release on February 20th. With nearly half a year of additional development time, the home console releases offered several new features not found in the original arcade version. In addition to English voice acting, SF4 added 8 new unlockable characters to their roster: Gouken and Seth now had playable versions, while Cammy, Fei Long, Sakura, Dan Hibiki, Gen and Rose were added to the game’s roster. Akuma remained an unlockable character, bringing the grand total of secret characters to nine. The game also added brand-new fully-animated prologues and endings to each character’s arcade mode, as well as in-game cutscenes preceding each rival battle. The game also had a Challenge Mode – similar to the Trial Mode from the EX games – training mode, a gallery, a dedicated offline versus mode, and online battles, handled through the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services respectively.

sf4-09

They could’ve easily called this “Street Fighter EX4”.

In another first for the series, Street Fighter IV’s Windows PC port would be overseen by Capcom themselves – as opposed to just outsourcing it to an outside publisher – releasing in all three regions in July 2009. A Polish company, QLoc, would provide quality assurance on this release as one of their earliest projects, building a strong relationship with Capcom early in their career. This version contained all of the additional features found in the console versions, with a few key differences. Online play was handled by the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. Unfortunately, there was no cross-platform play with Xbox players – despite the functionality being present in other Capcom PC ports at the time. To make up for this shortcoming, the PC version featured higher resolutions and added three art-style filters that would change the appearance of the game: Ink, Watercolor and Posterize. With these brand-new additions, this version was considered to be the “definitive version” of Street Fighter IV by Capcom representatives.

sf4-11

I see you’ve played “one-handed fireball” before.

These three releases would also receive various pieces of downloadable content. The entire roster got alternative outfits – one of the perks of switching to 3D models – which could be purchased through five 5-character packs or in an all-inclusive set with all 25 costumes. There was also a free update known as “Championship Mode”, which allowed players to watch replays of their matches and added a new Ranking system to the game’s online mode, something that would become a genre staple in future games. The PS3 version allowed players to vote on parts of replays that were “funny”, “awesome” or “beautiful”, while the Xbox 360 release allowed players to download replays to their console’s hard drive.

sf4-12

Seriously, as much as tournament players hated them, I loved the extra graphical flair Ultra Combos had.

The following year, a scaled-down mobile version was released on iOS with simplified controls. This version also replaced the other versions’ 3D models with pre-rendered sprites and used video recordings of the original game to represent Ultra Combos. The game launched with eight playable characters – though the roster would swell to 14 via free updates – and the game allowed for local multiplayer via Bluetooth, as well as achievements through Apple’s Game Center service. This release is no longer available on the Apple app store for (obvious) reasons I’ll explore later.

Despite their apprehension towards the game’s development, Capcom went all-in in terms of marketing the game. For starters, they commissioned Studio 4°C to produce a tie-in prequel anime OVA for the game’s home release, known as Street Fighter IV: The Ties That Bind. This was packed in with the game’s Collectors Editions, including the ones released in North America and Europe. The Collector’s Edition in both Western regions were identical for the most part, with these releases containing a comic book-style mini-strategy guide from Prima, a disc release of The Ties That Bind (DVD for Xbox 360, PS3 owners got it on Blu-Ray) and one of the costume packs in both regions. North America had an exclusive soundtrack CD and there were character figurines: the North American PS3 version had Ryu, the North American X360 version had C. Viper and both versions had both figures in Europe to compensate for the lack of the soundtrack.

sf4-10

It just looks a bit more… complete, doesn’t it?

Capcom also commissioned UDON entertainment to produce a four-issue comic mini-series, focusing on the new characters and their interactions with the returning cast. Mad Catz also licensed the rights to create a Street Fighter IV-themed arcade stick, as well as “fightpads” (loosely based on the Sega Saturn’s controller) themed around various characters from the game’s roster for both the PS3 and Xbox 360 – and the latter was also compatible with the PC version. Sony’s PlayStation Home service also had a SF4-themed game space, “S.I.N.’s Secret Base from Street Fighter IV”, which included costumes and ornaments in the in-game store. And because it was almost expected at that point, Enterrise licensed the rights to develop a Pachislot machine based on SF4, which came out in October 2011.

Street Fighter IV’s success is a perfect illustration of an old axiom: “absence makes the heart grow fonder”. It was critically acclaimed all over the word: earning Arcadia’s Best Game of 2008 award, among others, as well as several perfect scores from publications like Giant Bomb and PlayStation: The Official Magazine and universal acclaim on review aggregate site Metacritic. The game ended up selling a combined 3.3 million copies on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 – information on the PC version’s sales are scarce. It was also one of most rented video games of 2009, a figure I happily contributed to myself. But perhaps, Street Fighter IV’s greatest contribution was its reinvigoration of the fighting game genre as a whole. Much like its predecessor Street Fighter II, SF4’s success led to the emergence of rival developers, new and old, throwing their own titles into the ring to dethrone the recrowned king of the genre. As such, a brand-new renaissance of (mechanically) 2D fighting games began, nearly a decade after it seemed their time had come to an end.

Super Street Fighter IV

Of course, Capcom couldn’t possibly just stop at one game. While the console release of Street Fighter IV was a significant improvement on the original arcade version, there was still much that Capcom could add to the game. Downloadable content was slowly becoming more and more ubiquitous across the seventh generation of video game consoles, with improvements like onboard hard drives becoming standard features and internet access becoming more and more common in households all over the world. After all, Street Fighter IV had already had bonus content added to the game post-release, both free and paid. Yet, instead Capcom decided to buck this trend and go back to basics again for SF4’s first major update. Released at a budget price of $40 in North America, Super Street Fighter IV was a new standalone expansion that added several new features to its predecessor when it released all over the world on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 at the tail end of April 2010, just over a year after the previous game hit consoles.

In fact, the original Street Fighter IV (affectionately referred to as “Vanilla Street Fighter IV” by fans) was intended to receive DLC updates including new characters. However, according to Yoshinori Ono, the amount of content planned to be released for the game swelled to levels that would’ve been too high to sell as downloadable content, so they decided instead to release Super SF4 as a standalone budget release, in an effort to appease owners of the previous version. In addition, players with save data from the previous game gained access to two exclusive “colors”, loosely based on the filters from the PC version as well as both the original SF4 and Super’s opening cinematics and promotional character artwork. The costume DLC from the previous game was also cross-compatible with SSF4, while other costume packs would be released throughout Super’s lifespan in both 5-character packs and all-inclusive bundles.

ssf4-07

I’ll be honest, the effects on Chun-Li are way more noticeable.

Of course, considering the fact that Super Street Fighter IV added a whopping 10 characters to the previous iteration’s 25, I’d have to agree that maybe trying to extend the game via paid downloadable content would’ve been more expensive than just dropping $40 on a new disc. While we don’t know all of Capcom’s original DLC plans, we do know that Dee Jay and Thunder Hawk – the last two new characters from Super SF2 – were planned for release, because unused announcer audio was found on the game’s disc and because Ono admitted that they were in development for the game. Both would appear in Super SF4, along with Adon, Guy and Cody (returning from Alpha 3) and Ibuki, Dudley and Makoto (last seen in Third Strike). All of these characters have pretty simple motivations this time around: Adon wishes to defeat his former master Sagat once and for all and begin a new legacy; Cody’s bored of life in prison and decides to break out, looking for someone worth fighting; Dee Jay just wants to test his fighting skills; Makoto wants to win the tournament’s prize money to renovate her family’s dojo; Guy wants to prevent S.I.N. from flooding his hometown of Metro City with weapons; Dudley simply enters to look for additions to his garden and to take his mind off his father’s car; T. Hawk wishes to save his beloved Julia, who was once again kidnapped by Shadaloo and brainwashed into “Juli”; and Ibuki just wants to sneak out of her clan’s summer training camp to find some handsome guys.

ssf4-04

Truly a match-up with a decade of demand behind it!

Capcom also added two brand-new characters to the roster: Juri Han, a sadistic Taekwondo fighter originally from South Korea who allies with S.I.N. to take down M. Bison after Shadaloo left her orphaned and experimented on her, replacing her left eye with the Feng Shui Engine, a miniature Tandem Engine; and Hakan, a Turkish olive oil tycoon who wrestles using traditional Turkish oil wrestling to showcase just how amazing his product and fighting style truly are, while seeking inspiration for a new oil recipe. Juri managed to become the most popular newcomer in the entire Street Fighter IV series, easily eclipsing even C. Viper and Gouken. As for Hakan, he does have his fans – he’s at least more popular than El Fuerte and Rufus. Every new character, as well as the secret characters from the previous release, were unlocked from the start due to complaints from tournament organizers, who simply wanted to run the games out of the box.

ssf4-03

I miss Hakan.

Super Street Fighter IV’s placement in the Street Fighter timeline is unclear. I can’t entirely tell if it’s supposed to be a sequel to the original – like Third Strike was to the other Street Fighter 3 games – or was meant to replace the original Street Fighter IV in the game’s canon, like Alpha 2 replaced the first Alpha or the various revisions of SF2. Regardless, Super Street Fighter IV gives all of its returning characters brand-new prologues and endings – some seemingly taking place after their storylines in SF4 and others seemingly just being retellings of the previous game’s story. Of course, while the character endings are still fully animated, the prologues became more akin to slideshows, shifting between a few static images: a change that was met with controversy, but not at all surprising, giving SSF4’s large roster.

Super Street Fighter IV also adds in a few new gameplay mechanics. In addition to rebalancing the game’s roster, each character now has two Ultra Combos to choose from, similar to the multiple Super Arts found in the Street Fighter III games. While this offers various brand-new techniques to the returning roster, the newcomers clearly benefit from this new addition the most: their Super Combos and both Ultra Combos are entirely different techniques. In fact, the SF3 characters benefit from this change the most – one of their old Super Arts becomes their Super Combo, while the other two become their Ultra Combos. Target combos also return from Street Fighter III, though few characters on the roster have access to them. Arcade Mode remains relatively unchanged, aside from the addition of two new bonus stages between the third and fifth fights: Car Crusher and Barrel Breaker return from SF2. In fact, Car Crusher’s background resembles the original bonus stage from Final Fight that inspired it, right down to a neat little Easter egg that comes up if you beat it with Cody or Guy. Likewise, a few returning characters – specifically Chun-Li, C. Viper, Cammy, Seth, Guile and Ryu – each get secondary Rival Battles, activated by holding down all three kicks during the “Now! Fight Your Rival!” prompt.

ssf4-01

Never gets old.

All of the game modes from the previous home release return in SSF4. However, there are also some new modes added to the mix as well, specifically for the online mode. Team Battle allows teams of 1-4 players duke it out online, Endless Battle allows for “King of the Hill”-style match-ups with losers being sent to the back of the line, resembling how multiplayer was generally handled in arcades during the halcyon days of Street Fighter II. The Replay functionality has also been enhanced, allowing players to save up to 150 replays and share them with friends online and upload them to an online forum. Players can also search for replays on their own, filtering them by character groups like “III and Turbo”, “Alpha”, “Originals” and “Boss”. Finally, Championship Mode has been reworked into a full-on Tournament Mode, allowing players to hold their own tournaments – a clear nod to the fighting game community who kept Street Fighter alive during Capcom’s hiatus.

ssf4-02

OH! MY CAR

While most of the graphics are completely recycled from the previous game, the main menu and the character select screen underwent a total overhaul, allowing for a much more compact interface to compensate for the larger character roster and increased game options. The new characters and stages fit right in with the returning content, though by this point, some of the older models are beginning to show their age when compared to newer designs. The differences between Chun-Li and Juri are like night and day in-game. Some of the new stages added to SSF4 definitely outshine their predecessors: Solar Eclipse takes place in a beautiful African savannah, while Skyscraper Under Construction delivers on the titular concept, but goes even further by including a couple of Final Fight cameos for good measure.

ssf4-05

Hey look, it’s Hugo!

Likewise, most of the soundtrack from the previous game returns, with brand-new themes for the menus and character select screen. This time around, Capcom decided to use the Volcanic Rim stage theme as SSF4’s leitmotif – a good choice in my opinion, but I still miss Indestructible. Also, every character gets a theme this time around, including the characters that missed out in the previous release. For the most part, they follow a specific formula: all of the characters present in the SF2 games receive a rearrangement of that theme, the Alpha characters got remixes of their Alpha 2 themes (aside from Cody, who got a Final Fight remix) and the Street Fighter III characters retain their themes from Third Strike. The new characters all get Japanese and English voices and SSF4 has a brand-new announcer that would remain for the rest of the series: Jamieson Price, an actor with a distinctive deep voice, who I knew best for playing Iron Tager in Blazblue when he took on the role. Aside from that and some new audio from the returning voice actors, the sound design in Super is identical to its predecessor.

ssf4-06

Makoto’s English voice is perfect, by the way.

 

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition was a launch title for Nintendo’s 3DS portable, releasing late February 2011 in Japan and the following month in all other regions. It was, for the most part, an accurate representation of the original game, scaled down for the road – putting even impressive feats like the SFA on Game Boy Color and Alpha 3 on the Game Boy Advance to shame. It doesn’t hurt that this version was developed internally by the same staff as the console release. In order to compensate both for the 3DS’s less-than-ideal control scheme and the potential casual audience, Capcom included a “Lite” mode, that allowed players to program 4 distinct actions as “buttons” on the touchscreen that could be performed at will: something that more skilled players using charge characters abused relentlessly. 3D Edition also included all of the costumes that had been released for the game up to that point and included various unique features. Players could swap and battle collectable figurines through Nintendo’s StreetPass service, play local matches with friends that didn’t own the game (though they were limited to just using Ryu on the training stage) and even incorporated a brand-new over-the-shoulder camera angle, known as “Dynamic Mode” to take advantage of the 3DS’s stereoscopic 3D. Despite being sold at a severe disadvantage to other versions – one that will become obvious later, if it isn’t already – SSF4: 3D Edition managed to sell a whopping 1.3 million copies, earning a spot on Capcom’s Platinum Titles list.

ssf4-08

I always thought this bonus stage was overrated.

While Super Street Fighter IV did see the traditional drop-off in sales compared its predecessor, it did manage to sell just under 2 million copies – an impressive feat when you consider how little time had passed after the original was released and the fact that many other companies had begun once again flooding the 2D fighting game market with games of their own. Regardless, it was official: Street Fighter was officially back and had become a priority for Capcom, something thought impossible five years prior. And they were just getting started…

Interlude: Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition

The original Super Street Fighter IV had unforeseen consequences for Capcom, specifically when it came to arcades – which were still a major money maker in the Japanese video game industry in 2010. Several arcade owners managed to craft their own cabinets with PS3s and Xbox 360s running the console versions of SF4 and other fighting games to save money – trust me, I saw cabinets for Super SF4 and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at my home arcade. In fact, it’s even been speculated that Super Street Fighter IV wasn’t released on PC because Chinese arcades were infested with cabinets running pirated copies of the game. To counteract this new age of knockoffs, Capcom decided to release Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition in North America and Japan on December 16th, 2010, with a European release soon after on January 25th, 2011.

Arcade Edition didn’t add quite as much to SF4 as its last revision but since this was the game’s second release in arcades, it essentially more than doubled the roster compared to that version. Of course, that’s not to say that AE didn’t add new content. In addition to rebalancing the gameplay, Yun and Yang were added to the base roster as playable characters. Their story involves them being curious about what kind of criminal mastermind could bring the great Chun-Li out of retirement. Likewise, two new secret bosses were added to the game: Evil Ryu – boasting a brand-new design, with red hair and a torn gi, as well as scars and a gaping hole in his chest loosely inspired by the manga Street Fighter III: Ryu Final – and Oni, who is essentially a “what if?” version of Akuma, who has completely succumbed to the Satsui no Hado and forsaken his humanity. These two bosses were also time-unlocked secret characters, much like Akuma was in the original SF4. All four new characters have prologues and endings like the rest of the roster but lack rival battle cutscenes.

ssf4ae-01

Finally, an Evil Ryu design worth caring about!

The game did eventually make it to home consoles though. Much like the previous release, Arcade Edition’s home version had all of its characters available from the start. Aside from that, all versions are essentially identical. First, it was released as a digital update to the original SSF4 releases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on June 7th of the same year as the arcade release. There was also a physical release on June 28th, replacing the previous SSF4 physical release. In addition, a PC version developed by QLoc was released on July 5th, finally bringing PC gamers back into the fold. To make up for the lack of cross-compatible DLC (as well as the many costumes that had been released since then), Capcom released an “all-in-one” pack, containing every costume released prior to Arcade Edition’s home release. Sale figures start getting vague with regards to AE, with Capcom claiming that they managed to sell 1.1 million copies across the PS3, 360 and “downloads”, while not including the PC release in the mix. Whether they’re strictly counting physical and digital releases of Arcade Edition alone or if the cheap digital upgrade of the previous version factors into Capcom’s figures is anyone’s guess.

Capcom also released a new mobile version of SF4, christened “Street Fighter IV Volt: Battle Protocol” on June 30th, 2011 for iOS. The game launched with all of the characters from the previous release, as well as Cody, Balrog and Vega. Future updates added characters like Akuma, Makoto, Fei Long, Sakura and Yun. This version also added online play, but aside from these new features and functions, was essentially identical to the previous version in terms of gameplay and visuals.

Arcade Edition was originally considered the final version of Street Fighter IV, with Capcom deciding to release two major updates for the game during its lifespan. The first, labelled “Version 2012” for obvious reasons, rebalanced the game roster, completely overhauling Gouken, Yun, Yang, Evil Ryu, Fei Long and Hakan. The other major patch was “Version 2014” and was a PC exclusive: it moved the game’s online play from Games for Windows Live to the more popular Steamworks platform. As the game was already available for purchase on the Steam store, many customers saw this as a net positive – but players who had bought the game on the GfWL store lost access to any costume DLC purchased on the service. Likewise, the shift to Steamworks led to some major issues with the game’s netcode: originally, the PC version had what was considered the best netcode of all three releases on GfWL, but the move to Steamworks broke various aspects of it, which forces Capcom and QLoc to attempt fixing it. While it’s now on-par with the Windows Live version by most accounts, some still claim that the newer release is plagued with problems.

ssf4ae-02

Can’t forget the obligatory starburst.

While Capcom claimed to be done with Street Fighter IV after the release of Arcade Edition, it certainly wasn’t done with Street Fighter as a whole. From the 2000s all the way through the early 2010s, long-awaited crossovers between major rivals were becoming more and more common. And now, it was Capcom’s turn to pit Street Fighter against one of its most prominent rivals…

Street Fighter X Tekken

While most Americans would assume that Mortal Kombat would be the perfect competitor for a Street Fighter crossover – MK even managed to undergo a similar 2.5D revival in 2011 – I can understand Capcom’s logic. While Street Fighter has long been considered the most popular 2D fighting game of all-time, Namco’s Tekken franchise was the pinnacle of 3D fighting games. A crossover that would reimagine Tekken characters into the traditional 2D Street Fighter style. This would require Capcom to transpose their wide and varied (yet simple) movesets and techniques that rely on three-dimensional movement into target combos, command normals and special moves. While most fighting game crossovers either stick to games with similar mechanics or franchises with essentially no video game presence, “Cross Tekken” attempted to mash up two completely different video games genres and I was definitely pleased with the results: SFxT might be my favorite Capcom fighting game of the seventh generation.

As with the Street Fighter IV games before it, Street Fighter X Tekken was co-developed by Dimps and Capcom. The game was first revealed at 2010’s San Diego Comic Con, though Yoshinori Ono teased a fighting game even before that year’s EVO, which many (myself included) believed was a new Darkstalkers game. The game’s announcement helped showcase Ono’s bombastic personality, as he and Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada appeared together, with Harada handing out copies of Tekken 6 to the crowd during the Street Fighter panel. The game debuted with a proof of concept trailer, depicting a two-on-two fight between Street Fighter’s Ryu and Chun-Li against Tekken’s Kazuya Mishima and Nina Williams, showcasing the game’s mechanics. The game would eventually release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2012 in North America, with releases in Japan and Europe later in the month. A PC version ported by the fine folks at QLoc would follow shortly on May 11th of the same year, exclusively on Steam in North America but with a retail box release in Asia and Europe – though both releases still relied on Games for Windows Live for their online play.

I’m sure that some of you are wondering why I’ve decided to cover Street Fighter X Tekken when I omitted the earlier X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter from this retrospective. It’s easy enough to justify: while these earlier titles clearly leaned on the other licensed Marvel fighting games from Capcom, SFxT is clearly a product of the Street Fighter mindset. Game producer Ono himself even said that he intended to set Cross Tekken apart from the previous Vs. games. While many of the combatants in the Marvel Vs. games seem to be on friendly terms (he cited Cyclops and Ryu’s handshake in X-Men vs. Street Fighter’s opening as a particularly damning example), Ono wanted to make it clear that the Street Fighter and Tekken characters didn’t get along at all.  Besides, I already covered most of the Tekken franchise in a previous retrospective, so this almost feels like a homecoming for me.

sfxt-02

The sheer contempt.

In terms of storyline, Street Fighter X Tekken appears replace both Super Street Fighter IV and Tekken 6 in terms of storyline. All of the pieces from both games are in play: most notably, Jin Kazama is still the head of the Mishima Zaibatsu. Aside from that, the game goes off in its own direction. A mysterious cube-shaped object, seemingly from outer space, crash-lands in Antarctica. While preliminary research has determined very little about the object, what is known is that when beings come into conflict near the object, it emits a water-like substance that increases their strength. Because of this finding, the object is referred to as “Pandora”. Despite the potential danger surrounding Pandora, both Shadaloo and the Mishima Zaibatsu have gone to war for control of the strange object.

The game’s roster consists mostly of two-character teams of characters from Street Fighter and Tekken respectively. Each team has their own rivals from the opposite franchise, as well as a unique opening animation when both characters are selected together. Ryu worries about the true nature of Pandora, worrying that it may relate to the Satsui no Hadou that plagues him and sets off with Ken to face off with Kazuya Mishima, who wishes to use Pandora to increase the strength of his Devil Gene and has hired Nina Williams to accompany him. Chun-Li and Cammy decide to investigate Pandora due to Shadaloo’s interest in the mysterious object and take on the reluctant pair of Asuka Kazama and Lili, who are seeking the box so they can give it to Lili’s father. Yoshimitsu hires Raven to keep watch over him, as his legendary sword has resonated with Pandora’s energy, and end up fighting against Balrog and Vega, acting on orders from Shadaloo, but both secretly hoping to keep the box for themselves. Dhalsim and Sagat are seeking children that have gone missing from their respective villages, while their rivals Paul Phoenix and Marshall Law are having their usual money troubles and hope that selling off Pandora will make their dreams come true. Julia Chang, spurred on by her environment activism group, decides to make sure that Pandora doesn’t fall into evil hands, hiring the rotund bounty hunter Bob to accompany her; Zangief is also tasked with securing the box for his motherland and teams up with Rufus, who is still fuming over the fact that news of Pandora completely overshadowed his recent martial arts victory. Things only go downhill when Rufus and Bob meet up and Rufus confuses Bob for his supposed rival Ken Masters, believing he’s bulked up to steal his look and sweet moves. Bob’s just curious about how well Rufus can fight. Heihachi and Kuma decide to travel to the Antarctic to foil both Kazuya and the Mishima Zaibatsu’s plans for Pandora. Abel is still seeking answers about his past and hopes to use the box as bait to question Shadaloo for answers. After giving up his mercenary lifestyle, Abel only has one connection that will allow him to get there: the American soldier Guile, who is also tasked with investigating Pandora. Their rival interaction is odd: Abel simply wants to pet Kuma, as he’s never been able to pet a bear before.

While most of the Street Fighter cast are returning faces from the latest release of Super Street Fighter IV, but there are some additional surprises hidden in the roster. For starters, Rolento decides to find and destroy the meteorite to showcase the power of his nation of soldiers. As his troops are spread thin, he enlists Ibuki’s ninja clan for a partner on this mission. The young girl is reluctantly enlisted into the freedom fighter’s army, with a fluctuating rank throughout their journey. Together, they end up fighting against King and Marduk, two enemies-turned-friends, who are investigating a figure found near Pandora that resembles King’s dead master, Armor King. Poison and Hugo seek to exploit the media onslaught surrounding Pandora and decide to burst onto the scene by making a grand entrance in the Antarctic. They end up facing off against Hwoarang and Steve Fox, who had a mixed martials arts match interrupted by an attack on Shadaloo and decide to take their revenge against the criminal organization. The game’s sub-bosses consist of M. Bison and Juri – representing Shadaloo – taking on the Tekken cast and Jin Kazama, flanked by his admirer Ling Xiayou, duking it out with the Street Fighters. The game’s final bosses are Akuma and Ogre from Tekken 3, for the Tekken and Street Fighter cast, respectively. Both of these fierce competitors are drawn to Pandora, by forces that seem almost familiar to them.

sfxt-06

So if I were to look up the word “yandere” in a dictionary…

The PlayStation 3 version also included a few additional bonus characters. Mega Man is a version of the iconic Blue Bomber, based on the infamous North American box art from the first game on NES. He was intended to be a tie-in with the ill-fated MegaMan Universe and Keiji Inafune himself actually endorsed the character before his departure. This version of Mega Man is a treasure hunter – clearly evoking MegaMan Volnutt from the Legends games – sent by his liaison Roll, to investigate Pandora, which she believes is an ancient man-made satellite. Keeping in line with his inspiration, Mega Man fights with a few weapons from the 1987 Classic and boasts a remix of Cutman’s theme for his theme music. Not to be outdone, Namco gets representation in the form of Pac-Man, modelled after his appearance in the then-current Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures design, piloting a battle mech resembling Tekken’s own wooden golem, Mokujin. His appearance is shrouded in mystery. Both characters also appear as secret opponents in the game’s arcade mode. PlayStation’s Japanese mascots, the tiny anthropomorphic cats Toro and Kuro, also appear, aping Ryu and Kazuya’s outfits and movesets respectively. Finally, Cole MacGrath from the Infamous games also appears as a playable character, wielding his powers over electricity and the Amp, a dual-pronged baton which amplifies his attacks.

sfxt-guests

Bad Box Art Mega Man will never not be funny to me, I’m sorry.

The gameplay in Street Fighter X Tekken is quite a departure from the Street Fighter IV games in a myriad of obvious ways, opting to pay homage to both series and other Capcom fighting games. For starters, SFxT is a two-on-two tag-team fighting game but tends more towards the tag mechanics found in the Tekken Tag Tournament games, as opposed to Capcom’s “Vs. Series”. Characters don’t jump in and out with attacks, rather they run in and out, allowing tag-ins to extend combos in various cases. Tags can be performed normally by pressing medium punch and kick together, as a cancel at the cost of one bar of meter, or are performed automatically when the point character performs a launcher. Launchers can be performed individually by pressing heavy punch and kick together or are performed automatically at the end of a Boost Combo, which resembles the Chain Combo mechanic from previous Capcom fighting games. When characters take damage, they take both permanent and recoverable damage (much like in Tekken Tag Tournament and the Marvel vs. Capcom games), which can be regained by tagging the character out. The round ends when one character has all their health depleted – again, like in the Tekken Tag games – and the standard match is best-of-three rounds, as opposed to just one round, like in Capcom’s previous tag games.

SFxT’s super bar is referred to as a Cross Meter and consists of three bars, as opposed to SF4’s four-bar setup: EX moves cost a single bar, while Super Arts cost two. Each character has a specific special move that can be charged by holding down the attack button while performing the attack, allowing them to slowly charge it into an EX or even a Super Art without any meter cost. Likewise, the EX versions of said attack can also be charged into a Super Art the same way. Super Arts are performed slightly differently in this game, opting for a more Marvel-style use of the standard special move motions with all three punch or kick buttons. There’s also the brand-new Cross Art, which costs all three bars of meter and is performed by doing a quarter-circle forward motion with medium punch and medium kick. This allows the point character to do a special combo animation which leads to the inactive character tagging in and performing their own Super Art. Players can also choose to perform the Cross Assault for 3 bars by performing a quarter-circle back motion with medium punch and kick, allowing both characters to attack on-screen simultaneously, in a similar fashion to the Cross Fever technique from the original Marvel vs. Capcom. Once the Cross Assault is finished, both characters’ remaining health is split evenly between them.

sfxt-01

I see a bear and I see a tiger, but where’s the damn lion?

Players can also counterattack with a Cross Cancel, at the cost of 1 bar of meter, by pressing forward with heavy punch and kick right after a successful block. The Cross Cancel is mechanically similar to the Alpha Counters from the Street Fighter Alpha games. Finally, there’s the Pandora mechanic, activated by pressing down twice followed by medium punch and medium kick when the player’s team has less than 25% health between both characters. Once Pandora is activated, the point character sacrifices their life to allow their partner to activate Pandora. Upon activation, the character’s skin turns a glowing black, with various white, red and purple flourishes all over their body and their voices become distorted – except for Heihachi, who just turns red, not unlike Makoto’s Tanden Renki. They also gain a big boost in attack strength, have unlimited meter and double their remaining health for the remainder of the round. Unfortunately, there’s also a time limit tied to Pandora: a small meter appears above the character’s life meter and if the Pandora user doesn’t defeat their opponent before time runs out, they automatically lose the round. Characters that activate Pandora can also still be knocked out by depleting their health, so the rewards are balanced with heavy risks.

While Street Fighter X Tekken was still in production, Ono mentioned that one of the hallmarks of the Tekken franchise was its heavy emphasis on customization. While many assumed that this was a tease toward a similar costume customization system for the game, SFxT approached customization from a completely different angle. First and foremost was the Gems mechanic. After selecting a team of characters, players had the option to equip each of their characters with a loadout of three Gems to customize their abilities. There were two types of Gems. First and foremost were the Boost Gems, which would enhance the characters’ abilities after performing certain criteria during a match. Red gems boosted attack strength, yellow increased defense, green increased speed, orange allowed players to replenish a small amount of health and blue increased meter gain. Each individual gem offered a specific boost in their respective categories and had a variety of activation methods, like taking a certain amount of damage or doing a set number of combos. The other type is the Assist Gems, which are significantly less varied. They allow for easier motions for special moves, as well as auto-guard. Clearly meant for novice players, Assist Gems are purple in color, so they’re hard to miss.

sfxt-07

Love that charge mechanic.

That wasn’t the only customization element in Street Fighter X Tekken. In fact, SFxT was the first 2.5D fighting game with a color edit mode, which previously appeared in games like Capcom vs. SNK 2, The King of Fighters XIII and the PlayStation version of Darkstalkers 3. Players could also edit up to three different palettes for each character, allowing them to stand apart from other players. Unfortunately, this meant that each character only had two colors by default. Players could also set and customize two “Quick Combos” to each character, activated by pressing light punch & heavy kick or heavy punch & light kick simultaneously. Much like the assist gems, these were meant strictly for less-skilled players, as quick combos cost meter to perform, likely for the sake of balancing.

sfxt-09

Look, kids! It’s Mech-Zangief (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)!

As per usual, the game’s major single-player draw is the Arcade mode. Players select two characters and fight against 7 sets of opponents. If the player selects one of the game’s default teams, they’re treated to a slideshow cutscene explaining their characters’ backstory. Otherwise, there’s a similar slideshow, explaining Pandora and the game’s backstory. The first 4 fights take place between various other teams, while the fifth is a Rival Battle, which is preceded by a short in-engine cutscene. The sixth fight is a sub-boss fight in the Antarctic: if the lead character is from Street Fighter, they face off against a Pandora-empowered Jin and Xiayou; while Tekken characters duke it out with a similarly enhanced M. Bison and Juri tandem. Then the final match is against a single boss character on scene at the site where Pandora landed: Akuma takes on Tekken-led teams, while Ogre faces off with the cast of Street Fighter. After each fight, the player’s characters interact with one another, discussing their next move. Official teams have short little visual novel-style conversations between one another, while custom teams just use the character’s standard win quotes for their opponent. After that, official teams get a sweet cinematic ending, rendered in 3D as opposed to SF4’s 2D anime style, followed by the credits. Custom teams simply get a generic slideshow ending, with various cinematics sprinkled in. After the credits are done, there’s a brief narrated text epilogue, detailing what happened to the lead character after the ending.

sfxt-03

I still think these cutscenes are among the most beautiful things Capcom produced to this day.

Other game modes include the requisite local Versus mode, as well as Training and “Challenge”, which includes both a tutorial for new players and Trials for more-skilled players. The game also has online play: in fact, this was Capcom’s first major attempt with rollback-based netcode (much like GGPO) and while early instances of the game had various issues, Capcom did eventually improve it to the extent where it was more reliable than the online in the Street Fighter IV games. An even more interesting addition was Pair Play Mode – clearly inspired by the option of the same name from Tekken Tag Tournament – which allows two players to play cooperatively, each controlling a character on the team. This could be used in Arcade Mode, as well as local and online Versus modes. Street Fighter X Tekken also introduced an online training mode, which allowed players to practice combos together, as well as an option in the standard training mode to simulate various levels of lag. However, I’d consider Scramble Mode to be the most impressive addition to the game: essentially a two-on-two variant on the classic Dramatic Battle mode, where all four characters are on-screen simultaneously for the entire match, sharing a single lifebar and Cross Meter, but as per usual, each character has their own set of Gems and Pandora is clearly disabled.

sfxt-10

I guess I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

SFxT’s character designs and art style are in line with those of the Street Fighter IV games. However, there also appears to have been a bit of evolution in the process: I’m not sure why, but somehow, it looks like some of the older models from SF4 have been tightened up slightly in Cross Tekken: Ryu, Chun-Li and Ken look significantly less blocky and “torso-heavy” than the previous games and the rest of the returning cast seems to have been slightly altered as well. Poison, Hugo and Rolento all fit perfectly into this design sensibility as well. The Tekken cast, on the other hand, have some mixed results. The Street Fighter IV style is clearly more cartoony and exaggerated than that of Tekken 6. This generally works pretty well for a lot of the characters – where the only real difference is that they take on a more expressive appearance – but then you’ve got some weird cases. For example, Yoshimitsu’s design was taken from Tekken 3 (likely the most recognizable one) and he pretty much looks exactly like the promotional art from the game, as opposed to a reinterpretation of the classic look. Kuma, on the other hand, was likely the least appealing redesign in the game: slapping Street Fighter IV-esque eyes onto what was clearly once meant as a realistic grizzly bear resulted in a character model that looked more at home in Looney Tunes or an old Disney cartoon! I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad, but it took some adjustment. There is one change the game makes that I absolutely love though. While the Street Fighter IV games used hand-drawn stills to represent each character, SFxT fully renders the characters – including their outfits and colors – on both the character select and versus screen. These models are fully animated and showcase the cast clearly getting ready for a knockdown drag-out fight, helping to further emphasize Ono’s opinion on how to approach this crossover.

sfxt-08

Love the team intros, by the way.

The stage designs, on the other hand, are on point. While some areas are thematically neutral, Capcom also went out of their way to tailor certain fighting arenas to specific aspects from the Street Fighter and Tekken mythos respectively. You get to fight in locales like the Mishima Family Estate, a skate park, the Urban War Zone from Tekken 6, the Mad Gear Gang’s Japanese-themed hideout (guess Sodom took over after all), a blast furnace, a space elevator and even a research facility filled with dinosaurs. If Super Street Fighter IV improved on its predecessor’s stages, then Cross Tekken clearly elevated it into an artform. Not only are there an impressive amount of Tekken, Street Fighter and other Capcom references hidden in stages, but SFxT also introduces multi-tier stages. After finishing a round on certain stages, the winners and losers will jump to a completely different area in the same location: for example, descending from the scaffolding above a skate park into the half-pipe itself. Street Fighter X Tekken also handles victory poses the opposite way the SF4 games did – close-ups on the round victory, followed by the standard camera when the match is complete.

 

Hideyuki Fukusawa returns to handle the game’s composition. This time around, there’s a strict focus on stage-centric themes, with only the bosses having their own theme songs when fighting them in Arcade Mode. Having said that, there are musical references to various games found throughout the game: various songs from the original Final Fight play in Mad Gear Hideout, the Upper Level of Mishima Estate uses a remix of Heihachi’s theme from Tekken 2 and the tutorial theme is a remix of Dan’s theme from Street Fighter Alpha 2 (and by extension, Super Street Fighter IV). For the most part, it seems like Fukusawa is trying to blend the musical styles of later Tekken games with the style he pioneered in Street Fighter’s stages. I honestly enjoy a lot of the tracks in this game, particularly both themes from Blast Furnace, the daytime version of Pitstop 109, the first round from Mad Gear Hideout and Antarctica, not to mention the various rearrangements of classic themes for the bosses.

sfxt-05

I really love the interaction between teammates in Arcade Mode.

Otherwise, the sound design pretty closely resembles that of the Street Fighter IV games. Most of the cast has both Japanese and English voice actors, aside from Ogre and Yoshimitsu, who just use their standard voices; as well as the guest characters on the PlayStation 3 version – Mega Man and Cole speak English, while Pac-Man, Toro and Kuro speak their traditional gibberish. This means that many Tekken characters get English voices for the first time ever, but it also means that Street Fighter X Tekken is the last hurrah for a few members of the cast: starting in Tekken Tag Tournament 2, the majority of the cast would be portrayed by actors speaking each of the characters’ native tongues, not unlike Virtua Fighter. Regardless, it’s interesting to hear (most) of the Tekken cast speaking in English.

There were also a couple of other releases of Street Fighter X Tekken on mobile platforms. First, on September 19th, 2012, a free tie-in version of the game was released on iOS. Utilizing the same control scheme as the previous iOS games, this version launched with a roster of 10 characters: Ryu, Chun-Li, Guile, Dhalsim, Hugo, Kazuya, Nina, Hwoarang, Paul and King, but Heihachi and Rolento were added as a free update. This version also eschewed the tag mechanic – reducing the partner to an assist – much like the PlayStation home ports of the various Marvel vs. Capcom games. The final boss of this version’s arcade mode was also a Pandora-enhanced version of Ryu for Tekken characters and Kazuya for the Street Fighter cast.

The substantially better-known portable release was the PlayStation Vita release, which hit store shelves on October 19th, 2012 in Europe, with releases in North America and Japan on the 23rd and 25th, respectively. This version had the requisite downgraded graphics that accompanied most console-to-Vita ports, but it also came with 12 additional characters. These characters would also be added to all of the other versions as paid downloadable content. Bryan Fury teams up with a unique model from the Jack series, known as Jack-X – pronounced “Jack Cross”, cheeky – to help steal the power of Pandora. Their rivals are Guy and Cody from Final Fight, who are trying to protect the world from Pandora and alleviate boredom, respectively, deciding to team up for the first time in years. Sakura and Blanka are searching for their missing friend Dan Hibiki, who was last seen searching for Pandora months ago. They end up facing off with Lars Alexandersson and Alisa Bosconovitch, who seek to prevent both the Mishima Zaibatsu and Shadaloo from obtaining the box. Christie Monteiro is searching for her friend and teacher Eddy Gordo and enlists detective Lei Wulong to help search for him, after they receive a lead that a man fitting his description has been seen with the Mishima Zaibatsu. They end up battling with Elena and Dudley, who decide to travel to the South Pole after Elena communes with one of Dudley’s trees. The Vita version also included all of the PS3-exclusive characters and even had the option to do cross-play. Any DLC bought in either PlayStation version was also compatible with the other version, allowing players to “crossbuy” content as well – in fact, the physical Vita version came with a voucher for the DLC characters on PS3.

sfxt-00

Here’s what the roster looked like… on non-PlayStation systems.

There were also two sets of DLC costumes for the cast. The first set were Swap costumes, which had the Street Fighter cast dressing up as Tekken characters and vice-versa. A truly interesting concept that I wish more games would use. Some costumes even references characters that weren’t in the game: Kuma dressed up as Rainbow Mika, Heihachi was dressed up as Sodom, Asuka had a Geki costume, Hugo was Ganryu, Dudley cosplays as Tiger Jackson and Rufus had an Angel costume. The other set was simply referred to as “alternates” and they didn’t really have any cohesive theme: Sagat was dressed as a swimmer, Abel gets a Seth-inspired look, M. Bison becomes a zombie, Ogre gets an homage to his true form from Tekken 3, Paul becomes a pirate and Alisa gets an outfit with a style reminiscent of the gothic Lolita style in Japan.

Of course, two major controversies killed any good reputation Street Fighter X Tekken might have had. For starters, dataminers discovered that the data for the 12 DLC characters was present on-disc in the console versions of the game. Capcom claimed that this was intended to save bandwidth when downloading the new characters and that the content on disc was incomplete. Unfortunately, this did little to assuage their customers’ anger. This was only exacerbated by the existence of Gems that were also paid DLC: Gems that were substantially stronger versions of some of the ones found for free in the game. Many fans considered this a “pay-to-win” tactic and it only served to further poison public opinion of the game.

There was one other common criticism of the game upon release: the damage output was so low, that it wasn’t uncommon for rounds to end due to the time limit instead of legitimately defeating an opponent. Generally considered a dishonorable way to win matches, by casual players and professionals alike, this was one problem Capcom was willing to fix. Capcom released a total rebalance of the game the year after it was released, fittingly dubbed “Version 2013”. Various changes were made to the game to improve visibility of various effects, increase damage and prevent time overs. Also, as with Capcom’s previous free updates, the character roster was rebalanced. While many fans acknowledged that “Ver. 2013” was a significant improvement on Street Fighter X Tekken, its reputation had been completely ruined by that point. The game managed to sell roughly 1.8 million units, falling short of Capcom’s 2 million sales projection. As such, the game was considered Capcom’s first fighting game misstep since returning to the genre. A shame considering how much I loved this game, I wish it could’ve gotten a sequel.

There’s still one unanswered question surrounding Street Fighter X Tekken: whatever happened to its sister title, Tekken X Street Fighter? Yes, when the game was first announced, Katsuhiro Harada announced that Bandai Namco would also be developing a crossover game of their own. Aside from a few references in Tekken Tag Tournament 2’s home version, some early models and a promotional image of Ryu and Jin glaring straight forward, backed by their evil alter egos, we’ve seen nothing implying that the game is still in active development. We did see Akuma appear as a guest fighter in Tekken 7 and Harada has stated on numerous occasions that they’re waiting for T7 and Street Fighter V to die down before returning to active development on Tekken X Street Fighter. Who knows what the future will hold: maybe it will end up being a launch title on the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Scarlet, with a PC port in the cards.

Interlude: Ultra Street Fighter IV

If there was one persistent question throughout SFxT’s lifespan, it was “when are you going to add these new characters back into Super Street Fighter IV?” Capcom had already declared that Arcade Edition was the ultimate version of SF4, but the chance to add four new characters that had been developed for a less-popular game was far too tempting for most fans to pass up. It seemed like a no-brainer: demand was consistent, and this new content would otherwise go to waste. So, on July 15th, 2013, at that year’s EVO tournament, Capcom announced that another final update was coming to the Street Fighter IV series. Christened “Ultra Street Fighter IV” – likely named in reference to the Ultra Combo mechanic – this new version included balance tweaks, new mechanics and modes, and new content, including six stages taken from Street Fighter X Tekken and five new characters.

usf4-04

Because how else were we supposed to get hot Gen-on-Hugo action like this?

That’s right. In addition to the four characters reintroduced in SFxT – Rolento, Hugo, Poison and Elena – Capcom announced that there would also be a fifth character but kept fans in the dark about this new character’s identity until March 16th, 2014. There was rampant speculation over who this new character would be, a fact that Capcom referenced in the character’s reveal trailer. The new character was Decapre, one of Bison’s Dolls and effectively Cammy’s evil twin sister. Let’s just say, Decapre’s reveal failed to live up to the lofty expectations set by the wide gap between the announcement that USF4 was getting a brand-new character and her actual announcement. Some players would eventually warm up to Decapre, but overcoming that initial disappointment took time. It didn’t help that Decapre shared many of her normal attacks with her inspiration, so she essentially came across as a slightly remixed version of Cammy – utilizing charge commands, instead of motions for most of her special moves. It also didn’t help that Decapre had Cammy’s voice actresses in English and Japanese, with the English version affecting a slight Russian accent.

usf4-00

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

Each of the additional characters receives a new backstory in the process. Rolento decides to enter the tournament in order to steal S.I.N.’s weapons technology for his own army; Elena senses that the actions of S.I.N. are causing discord and misery throughout nature and decides to investigate by entering the tournament; Poison has become a wrestling manager since the dissolution of the Mad Gear Gang and decides to enter S.I.N.’s tournament to find some talent worthy of her skill; Hugo just wants to prove that he’s “the big potato” – trust me, it makes more sense in context (but just barely). Decapre’s storyline was a little more complex: having been awoken from stasis by S.I.N. and freed from Bison’s mental control, she’s plagued with flashbacks of her childhood, remembering her “sister” Cammy, which causes her to go berserk with hate. Tasked with killing Seth, it’s clear that Decapre’s not completely focused on her mission, seeking revenge on Cammy. New themes were also composed for these characters: Hugo and Elena had remixes of their Third Strike themes, Rolento had his stage theme from the original Final Fight and Poison and Decapre had brand-new original compositions. Likewise, the game had new music composed from the stages ported from Street Fighter X Tekken and the menu themes also received an overhaul.

usf4-01

You loved Evil Ryu, you went gaga for Violent Ken, now get ready for Cammy’s Evil Big Sister!

But Ultra was more than just new characters, the update also added various new mechanics to the game. The Red Focus Attack – performed by pressing medium punch, medium kick and light punch simultaneously – can take more hits than the original – effectively possessing “infinite” super armor – and doubles the gain on Revenge Meter but costs two bars of Super Meter. Delayed Standing allows players to alter their character’s recovery, as opposed to simply getting back up. By pressing any two buttons when their character falls victim to a hard knockdown, the character will take some additional frames to get back to their feet, which can affect the timing of their opponent’s strategy. However, the most prominent addition to the game was the Double Ultra mechanic. In addition to the two Ultras from the Super Street Fighter IV games, players have a new option that grants them access to both Ultras, allowing them to more tactics in a match. However, this comes at the cost of both Ultras being less damaging than their standalone counterparts, forcing players to choose between versatility or pure damage potential.

usf4-03

…just take my word for it when I tell you this is supposed to be a Red Focus Attack.

USF4 also added various new modes and features to the game. First there was Elimination mode, an online variant of team battle that allows players to fight using teams of three characters, similar to the King of Fighters games’ signature playstyle. The online training mode also returns from Street Fighter X Tekken. The standard training mode also received the ability to simulate online lag and save and reload specific gameplay states, in order to better practice in specific situations. Players could also choose to enable fight requests while in Training mode, as opposed to just in Arcade mode like previous versions. An option to save replays of offline local matches was also added to Ultra and the game allowed users to upload replays directly to YouTube at 480p quality, similar to Street Fighter III: Third Strike Online Edition. Another feature added from 3SOE was the ability to configure buttons from the character select screen.

usf4-06

Double your Ultra, double the fun!

 

However, my personal favorite addition to the game was “Version Select”: players could pit different versions of the cast (ranging from the original SF4 all the way to Ultra) against one another – the dream match of Vanilla Sagat versus Arcade Edition Yun was finally possible. Best of all, owners of Ultra could still play with players that only owned Arcade Edition. Finally, there was OMEGA Mode. Added as DLC in late 2014, OMEGA Mode was an additional option for Version Select that completely changed up the entire cast’s movesets, ranging from modifying existing normals to giving them entirely new special moves. For example, Ken was capable of firing the Reppu Hadouken from his feet; Sagat regains his Tiger Raid from the Alpha games; Dan was given another Art of Fighting-inspired technique, a flurry of punches called the Danretsuken and Decapre’s entire moveset was altered, giving her original normal attacks and several brand-new specials.

usf4-05

After tapping into his fatal fury, Dan has finally mastered the art of fighting.

Ultra Street Fighter IV was first released in Japanese arcades via the Taito Type X3 hardware on April 18th, 2014, using the NeSICA system for both distribution and online play. These were followed with digital upgrades for players that already owned previous versions of Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition on June 3rd for PSN and the 4th on Xbox Live Arcade. A full retail release, which came with several alternate costumes from previous releases, came out on August 5th in North America and August 7th in Japan. Finally, a digital PC release – both an upgrade for owners of Arcade Edition and a standalone release that replaced AE on the storefront – was released on August 8th. Ultra Street Fighter IV was the first game in the series to use Steamworks for its online multiplayer, which is why Arcade Edition received its PC-exclusive Version 2014 update in the first place, thus keeping the cross-compatibility between the two releases on PC. USF4 was also eventually ported to the PlayStation 4 by Other Ocean Interactive and was released on May 26th, 2015 exclusively on the PSN Store as a digital title. The port was based on the PC version, but launched in an embarrassing state with several issues that would eventually be fixed and lead this version to be determined the definitive edition of the game to this day.

usf4-02

A match-up almost a decade in the m…oh, already used that joke.

And with the true ultimate version of Street Fighter IV came one final mobile version, christened Street Fighter IV: Champion Edition. The game launched on July 12th, 2017 on iOS with a roster of 25 characters – adding Poison, Ibuki and Dudley to Volt’s roster – the game also added Guy, Gouken, Rose, Elena, Juri and Evil Ryu as free updates down the line for a total of 31 characters. Even more impressive, for the first time, Champion Edition was made available on Android devices through the Google Play store. The Android version came out on February 21st, 2018 and included Dan Hibiki as a platform-exclusive character, bringing the roster to 32 characters. Aside from that, the game is both visually and mechanically similar to its predecessors, advertising Bluetooth controller support as a new feature. I’d still rather stick to the real deal, but it’s an interesting curiosity nonetheless.

With that, Street Fighter IV’s long lifespan finally came to an end. It’s hard to believe that Capcom managed to keep making the game feel fresh for six years, especially considering the fast pace of the modern video game industry. In fact, discounting the various nostalgia revisions made to Street Fighter II well after its time, SF4 managed to outlast it. And perhaps, the experiences with Street Fighter II is why Capcom didn’t wait nearly as long to produce the next game in the franchise…

Street Fighter V

On December 6th, 2014, Sony held their PlayStation Experience conference, showcasing many upcoming titles for the PlayStation platforms. Among these titles was Street Fighter V, announced as an exclusive title for the PlayStation 4 and Windows PC. While Street Fighter IV was a return to the classic formula that embedded the franchise (and arguably Capcom itself) into the popular culture, Street Fighter V was meant to be more of an experiment, an effort to discover how the franchise and the entire 2D fighting genre should evolve to stay fresh and relevant. In a sense, SFV took several elements from later games in the franchise – particularly the Alpha series and the SF3 games – and tried to mix them with brand-new elements to create a worthy successor to the series. In the process, many of the traditional elements of the series (and even the entire genre) were deemed archaic – many would argue too many – and left by the wayside in an effort to build a fighting game for the modern era.

While Dimps returned to help co-develop Capcom, their involvement was significantly diminished compared to the previous game. Capcom themselves handled most of the game’s development internally. The game was built in Unreal Engine 4 and Sony financed the game’s development, which is why it was a console exclusive on PS4. One of the most intriguing elements of the game that was announced alongside the game itself was that players on both versions would be able to fight one another online, allowing for true cross-play between the two platforms and a major coup for Capcom, as few games have managed to duplicate this feat since, especially in the fighting genre.

Prior to the game’s release, Capcom held three beta tests for people who had preordered the game, in order to test out their new proprietary rollback netcode, codenamed “Kagemusha”, as well as the Capcom Fighters Network (CFN), a web platform that not only handles SFV’s matchmaking (crossplay or otherwise), but also keeps track of player data and match replays. The first online beta was PS4-exclusive, intended to stress-test the game’s servers and started on July 23rd, 2015. Unfortunately, technical difficulties forced Capcom to pull the servers down early and reschedule the beta, which lasted from August 28th to September 2nd. The second beta was meant to test cross-play, so PC and PS4 owners were able to access it. It ran from October 22nd until October 25th, but PC players only gained access on October 24th. This beta had problems of its own: players reported difficulties with finding matches throughout most of the beta. The third beta was meant to do one last test on the game’s servers and took place between December 18th and 20th. This beta was unique, as participants were also given temporary beta codes to share with their friends. There was also one final beta held on January 30th through the 31st, allowing Capcom one last stress test on their servers. Even after the game launched, Capcom would hold additional betas to test improvements to the netcode and balance changes.

Street Fighter V is another interquel, taking place between Street Fighter IV and Street Fighter III, though clearly closer to the latter. After quelling S.I.N.’s insurrection, Shadaloo has reformed and intends to make another attempt at world domination. Utilizing a plan known only as “Operation C.H.A.I.N.S”, the terrorist organization has launched seven satellites into orbit, known as the “Black Moons”. These satellites are meant to sow fear and despair throughout the world’s populace, acting as an immense power source for Bison’s Psycho Power, which Shadaloo intends to use to render their leader and his forces invincible. Unfortunately, in the process, this widespread miasma of negative emotions has had unforeseen repercussions, reawakening a demonic figure from ancient times. As with Shadaloo’s previous attacks, various figures from the past World Warrior Tournaments have banded together to take out the evil organization once and for all. However, strange unknown forces are also working in the background. Are they friend or foe?

Street Fighter V, like its predecessor, launched with 16 characters. 8 of the game’s characters return from the Street Fighter IV games. Ryu has spent time training with his former master Gouken in an effort to learn the Power of Nothingness and banished the Satsui no Hado from his heart forever. Chun-Li is once again investigating the rise of Shadaloo, attempting to put an end to their evil ambitions once and for all. Cammy is attempting the same, but matters become complicated when she realizes that Shadaloo is once again brainwashing the young women they’d recaptured during the S.I.N. incident back into the mindless killing machines known simply as “the Dolls”. She managed to save Juni during the events of Street Fighter IV, but still wishes to save the rest of her sisters from being exploited. Ken has adjusted to life as a father, but still itches for a fight with his eternal rival. Dhalsim has begun the process of training a successor to learn all that he knows of Yoga but is thrust back into action when he realizes the extent of Shadaloo’s evil. Zangief, on the other hand, simply wants to find a way to push his Muscle Spirit to new heights, communing with other wrestlers and other fighting styles. Vega is still working for Shadaloo and obsessed with beauty. He has his doubts about using brainwashed Dolls in their latest plan, believing that only true beauty fueled by emotion is worth existing. As for Bison, he is overseeing their plan, but his current clone body is beginning to deteriorate, aging at an accelerated rate due to its exposure to Bison’s raw Psycho Power.

sfv-01

Hadouken, begin again.

While Ryu, Chun-Li and Zangief look essentially identical to their designs from the previous game, the rest of the returning cast has undergone some reinventions: some minor – Cammy has some new straps and pouches over her traditional outfit; M. Bison’s hair has gone gray and Dhalsim sports a turban and a white beard – while others are a bit more radical. Vega is wearing a white dress shirt over his attire, while Ken’s appearance changes more drastically, effectively putting his hair in a top-knot and pulling down his gi top to reveal a new workout shirt. Likewise, Ken, Bison, Dhalsim and Vega’s play styles have been altered from previous games. In fact, Vega’s transformation is perhaps the most drastic of the cast, shifting from using charge attacks to a full-on stance character, able to swap between using his claw and using his bare hands, using traditional motions to perform his special moves.

sfv-04

SFV has some interesting takes on classic designs.

Four characters also return from the Alpha series. Birdie, having become obese in his inactivity, has finally escaped from Shadaloo’s grasp, unhappy with his low position within the organization. His new employer? Karin Kanzuki, who has since blossomed into a mature young woman, having overtaken her father’s corporation, but still seeks to become stronger and face down her rival. She also continues to sponsor Rainbow Mika, who has emerged as a major female wrestler star, but still wishes to train with her idol, “Master Zangief”. But perhaps the most interesting returning character is one Charlie Nash. Thought dead – they weren’t wrong – he has been resurrected as a Frankensteinesque homunculus by mysterious forces. Driven only by sorrow and anger, he seeks revenge on Bison and Shadaloo with what little time he has left. All four of these returning characters have had their gameplay adjusted significantly, strictly paying homage to their previous incarnations.

Just like it’s predecessor, SFV also adds four brand-new characters, never before seen in the franchise. First, there’s Necalli – the aforementioned evil entity awakened by Shadaloo’s recent activity. A demonic entity sent by undefined gods to devour the souls of strong warriors, he has taken on an appearance resembling his latest victim: an Aztec warrior tasked with ending the beast. Rashid is the laid-back eldest son of a wealthy Middle Eastern family who’s obsessed with the latest technology and internet trends. He’s travelling the world to find a scientist friend of his who was kidnapped to participate in Shadaloo’s latest scheme. He’s also accompanied by his manservant and bodyguard, Azam, an ex-professional wrestler who’s also an old friend of Zangief. Then there’s Laura Matsuda, Sean’s big sister. Unlike her little brother, Laura is a total devotee to her family’s unique Jiu-Jitsu style, wishing to share its strength with the entire world. Aside from that, she’s free-spirited and hyperactive and while she’s a little dense at times, she’s got a good heart. Then finally, there’s the enigmatic figure known simply as F.A.N.G. After Sagat broke away from Shadaloo and went into a self-imposed exile, the Four Kings needed a replacement member. The only survivor of the Nguuhao cartel, F.A.N.G can produce poison from his hands so toxic it can literally melt anything with just a touch, requiring him to use his long sleeves as makeshift gloves. An eccentric man of unknown origin – he’s obsessed with the number two and fiercely loyal to Lord Bison – his wacky attitude is merely a façade for his cold-blooded elitism, believing that only the strong may survive. Overall, I’d say I prefer the new characters introduced in SFV over those from the initial release of the previous game, though reactions in general seem to be mixed.

sfv-05

Seriously, I love these guys.

The last time Capcom decided to deviate from the Street Fighter II-style of gameplay, they attempted to make the game more complicated – appealing to hardcore players of the franchise. Street Fighter V goes in the opposite direction but keeps the game’s traditional mechanics intact. Since Sony helped foot the bill for development, the game was intended for a console environment as opposed to the traditional arcade set-up that even modern fighting games strive for. Street Fighter V boasted a staggering eight-frame (reduced to roughly 6 frames since then) input lag when the game launched, though this was mainly because the game was built on Unreal Engine 4 – input lag has been an enduring issue for other fighting games built on this engine. This doesn’t necessarily make the game slower by any means, but there is far less time for players to react to their opponent’s attacks.

Street Fighter V also opts to focus more on offense over defense, rewarding players with more aggressive playstyles. For example, the new Crush Counter mechanic: countering an opponent’s attack with specific moves results in an electric flash, which signifies increased damage and sends opponents into a prone state, forcing them to crumple into a prone position or knocking them into a juggle state. Super Combos also return in this game – though this time, they’ve been rechristened as “Critical Arts” and opt for more cinematic flair like the Ultra Combos in SF4. EX Moves also return and cost a single bar of meter. The Super Meter itself consists of three bars this time – just like in SFxT – and meter gain seems to be more generous in this game compared to the SF4 titles.

sfv-02

This is probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to a Fatality in Street Fighter.

SFV also completely reworks the Revenge Gauge from the previous game into something entirely new. The V-System consists of several new mechanics, each interlinked, to create something greater than the sum of its parts. The Revenge Gauge itself is replaced with the V-Meter, which consists of two to three bars (depending on the character). Taking damage still fills the meter, but it can also be filled by using V-Skills. Pressing medium punch and medium kick simultaneously (sensing a pattern yet?) performs a special technique that varies from character to character. Some are familiar – Ryu has the parry from SF3, while Cammy’s Axel Spin Knuckle is similarly repurposed – while others consist of entirely new moves – Ken runs toward his opponent and does a step quick, Vega spins to dodge an attack and lunges at his opponent with a swipe. Some moves act as additional attacks, others act defensive or allow for evasion, and there are some that defy classification altogether: R. Mika pulls out a microphone and does a promo that slowly charges her meter and increases the damage on her next grab for as long as the buttons are held – if she manages to complete her long-winded rant, she ends up with a full V-Meter and her next grab can literally deplete 100% of any opponent’s health instantly (and that includes a standard throw). Players can also counterattack after a blocked attack using a V-Reversal – which is basically the return of Alpha Counters – for the cost of a bar of V-Meter. Finally, when the V-Meter is completely full, players can hit heavy punch and heavy kick together to activate it. Like the V-Skills themselves, the V-Triggers vary from character to character. Some are quick attacks, while others temporarily boost the character’s abilities until the meter runs out. One notable example is Necalli: his V-Trigger unleashes his full power for the remainder of the round, causing his hair and body to glow with an evil aura and changes the properties of his special moves and Critical Art, increasing their damage.

Overall, I’d say that Street Fighter V’s graphical style is a step forward from its predecessor, but that’s by no means a decisive statement. Building the game from the ground up on the next generation hardware allowed Capcom to improve the overall fidelity of its art style, allowing for more detail on their character models. I’m also a fan of the theming: while Street Fighter IV leaned on a calligraphy-inspired style for all of its characters, SFV goes for straight waves of paint, with different characters being represented with different palettes: sometimes based around the character’s default outfit, but more often their special abilities and attacks. Sometimes, it’s something entirely different: rainbow-tinted streams of water surround Rainbow Mika for certain attacks. These streaks of paint are most noticeable during the final victory poses after a standard match. The character models themselves have a greater attention to detail compared to the previous game – SF4 did launch back in 2008, so Capcom had 8 years to improve their talents – but they also best represent the game’s greatest graphical failing: inconsistency. There are some amazing models in SFV: Ryu’s model is an impressive recreation of his look from the Street Fighter III games, Nash is modelled in a way that makes his grotesque redesign look completely in-line with the rest of the cast and Dhalsim’s stretchiness is exaggerated further than previous games – and SFV’s animations manage to pull that off flawlessly. But on the other hand, there are various issues that crop up constantly. Various characters (Laura, F.A.N.G) suffer from clipping on their base costumes – it wasn’t uncommon for alternative outfits to have these issues in the previous games, but never the default looks. And then, there’s the crème de la crème: Ken’s redesign was a hard pill to swallow for most players in the first place, but the way his new look was modelled in-game became an infamous meme – and things only got worse when players were introduced to his first paid DLC outfit!

sfv-03

I took this shot from promotional materials and it still has clipping!

Stage design, on the other hand, continues the progression we’ve seen across the Street Fighter IV games. Backgrounds are vibrant and full of life, with several details in the background – and with that, comes a certain level of interactivity. Performing specific moves (generally ones that result in hard knockdowns) will often force some kind of reaction from the stage itself: tripping someone in Apprentice Alley awakens a sleeping dog, who barks for a bit, before gradually spinning around and returning to its nap; knocking someone over in City in Chaos results in a fire hydrant exploding with water. Best of all are the stage knockouts. When a character is knocked out in the corner with a particularly strong attack, it can trigger an animation that either leads to their opponent having an object (like a bowl of noodles) put on their head, knocked into some situation that leaves them helpless (like getting shot out of a cannon) or in some cases, just opens up a new part of the stage. When the game originally launched, only Bustling Side Street had these animations – likely because all of them were showcased early in the game’s development – but while the concept appeared to be scrapped, dataminers uncovered similar animations for other stages. Capcom would eventually go onto implement these in future updates on pretty much every stage that launched with the original game, apart from “The Grid” – the default training stage – for obvious reasons.

sfv-07

Adorable.

Hideyuki Fukasawa returns for the game’s soundtrack, but this time, he’s joined by a number of other composers. Masahiro Aoki, who previously did fan “doujin” remixes and compositions under the pseudonym “Godspeed”, previously worked with Capcom on Monster Hunter 3 and some of the later Sengoku BASARA games. Keiki Kobayashi previously worked with Namco on their Ace Combat and Soul Calibur series before going freelance in 2014, composing on SFV and Monster Hunter Generations for Capcom.  Takatsugu Wakabayashi mostly worked on anime soundtracks, like Fukasawa before him, most notably composing the theme song for the anime adaptation of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. Finally, there’s Zac Zinger, an accomplished musician and composer who previously worked on the RWBY series among others. These new additions to the sound team, in addition to Fukasawa’s increased experience with Capcom’s fighting games, lead to much richer music all around: each character theme does much more to emphasize their respective character’s personality and other aspects.

Just like SF4 before it, the game had both unique themes for individual stages and characters. This time around, however, each stage (aside from The Grid) has two themes – one for the first round and one for every other round – much like how Street Fighter X Tekken handled its music. All characters returning from Street Fighter IV receive brand-new arrangements of the songs used in that game and in most cases, I’d say I prefer many of SFV’s takes on these classic songs. Birdie and Nash’s themes from Street Fighter Alpha 1 & 2 return, while Karin and R. Mika receive brand new compositions, clearly inspired to some degree by their music from SFA3. Of course, new characters also receive brand-new compositions: Necalli’s sounds intimidating, Rashid and Laura’s represent their Arabic and Brazilian backgrounds respectively and as for F.A.N.G? Easily my favorite piece of music when the game launched, clearly emphasizing the influences kung fu films from the 1960s had on his design.

The sound effects seem to be essentially identical to those from the Street Fighter IV games. Considering Yukinori Kanda was the audio director in both SF4 and SFV, that only makes sense. Likewise, the characters also have the choice between Japanese and English voice acting, though it seems like on the English side of things, the voice actors have really managed to step up their game – delivering great performances that show their growth in the roles. Street Fighter V, like its predecessor, has the option to mix-and-match the different voices, but for once, I decided to keep the game’s audio entirely in English, something I hadn’t done with previous Capcom fighting games.

Perhaps the biggest thorn in Street Fighter V’s side was the lack of meaningful content when the game launched. While Street Fighter IV attempted to recreate the options present in home ports of old, SFV opted for a more streamlined method, creating a game that was first and foremost for the fighting game community – specifically, their burgeoning influence on the eSports scene. Many speculated that Capcom rushed the game out the door to get it straight into the tournament scene as quickly as possible. Yoshinori Ono and Capcom as an entity have since admitted their mistake and have spent a great deal of time and resources trying to rectify their mistake. When the game launched, it came with online and offline multiplayer versus modes, a “Character Story” mode – effectively a short prologue, explaining each character’s backstory before the events of the game – the infamous Survival Mode and Training Mode.

sfv-06

Top 10 Anime Fights.

The lack of an Arcade Mode – or even a pure “Vs. CPU” mode outside of rigging together matches in Training Mode – was the crux of the most persistent criticism of the game: a lack of any meaningful single-player content at launch. “Character Story” mode consisted of still images, portraying the events leading up to each character’s participation in Street Fighter V’s eventual cinematic Story Mode (more on that later), with fights against what were essentially brain-dead AI opponents breaking up the exposition. Completing a character’s story mode unlocked the ability to purchase an alternate costume in the game’s store, either using in-game currency or actual currency. Survival Mode’s implementation was far more controversial. There were essentially 4 different courses: Easy, which had 10 simple CPU opponents; Normal, which had 30 CPU opponents of varying difficulty levels – with a severe spike near the end; 50 difficult opponents on Hard and an incredible 100 fights in Extreme (née Hell) Mode. The difficulty spikes between modes were bad enough, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Capcom hid additional colors behind the Easy, Normal and Hard Difficulties – with Extreme earning players a unique User Title – and initially, this was the only way to unlock these extras. Players could also buy various power-ups between rounds, spending their score to buy back health, increasing their Super and V-Meter and even gamble by instilling various disadvantages in exchange for score multipliers. Unfortunately, this mechanic was hampered by its sheer randomness. The rewards would vary from round to round and it was suspiciously common for the game to only pay out the worst possible rollouts near the end of runs. The fact that a player could have a great run completely ruined by the fact that the wrong health upgrade was present prior to the final match was inexcusable.

But perhaps the worst problem with Survival Mode was present throughout the entirety of Street Fighter V itself: even the single-player modes were tied to the game’s online and when the game disconnected from its servers – a regular occurrence in the game’s earlier days – it lost all of the player’s progress in whatever mode they were playing. I’ve heard more stories than I can count of players making it to the final fight in Hard or even Extreme Mode, only to be denied by the game getting knocked offline. Trials also returned from the previous game, as well as Demonstrations that showcase various character techniques being performed by the CPU.

The servers going down throughout the game’s earliest days was just as memeworthy as some of the sketchier character designs. I’ve speculated for quite some time that Capcom wasn’t trying to sell Street Fighter V as a game, it was trying to sell the community itself. That would explain Capcom’s emphasis on crossplay, as well as the barebones single-player. The game’s online mode, on the other hand, offered three distinct options from launch onward. Ranked Matches return, allowing players to fight their way to the top of the leaderboards, to determine who is the best Street Fighter on Earth. Ranking works a little differently this time around: players can rank up by defeating opponents, but losses can cause them to rank down. Ranks are consistent on a player-by-player basis, not changing remotely based on which character the player is using – an omission from the previous game I find severely lacking. Casual Matches allow random people to play online without the worry of going down in rank. Unfortunately, both of these modes forced players to set a default character to always be used: I could understand that in Ranked Mode, but some players use Casual Mode to experiment with unfamiliar characters – having to constantly change them in the Battle Setting menu is kind of a hassle. Finally, there’s the Battle Lounge, where players can join lobbies or set up their own, determining the rulesets (including the ability to start off on the Player Select screen).

Of course, only those first two options allowed players to earn SFV’s in-game currency, known as “Fight Money”. Capcom made a big deal pre-release about players having the ability to earn all mandatory content – namely characters – via their free in-game currency. Winning Ranked and Casual Matches allows players to earn money, as did completing various single-player modes, like Character Story, Survival and Trial Mode. Fight Money could also be earned by levelling up individual characters, which could be accomplished by using them in Ranked or Casual Matches or completing those aforementioned single-player modes. Fight Money could be used to buy DLC characters, the costumes unlocked in Story Mode (which honestly, should’ve just been free), new User Titles, themes for players’ profile pages and various other things. Players could also choose to use real money on these items, though Capcom did originally consider rolling out a second, “premium” (in other words, paid for with actual money) currency known as “Zenny”, which was also intended to be used as prizes in various tournaments, but the concept was eventually scrapped and Capcom decided to just cut out the middleman.

It’s kind of difficult to determine what Capcom’s core demographic for SFV was by looking at its launch content. On the one hand, single-player content was clearly cut in order to apply more time and energy to improving the competitive modes. But the first time players boot up the game, they have to play through a mandatory tutorial, with lessons clearly aimed at brand-new players with no prior experience in the fighting game genre. The game’s constant server outages and its clear reliance on online connectivity only served to further emphasize just how quickly Capcom rushed the game out and only served to leave a bad first impression with many players.

However, much like Street Fighter IV, Capcom went all-in when it came to advertising the game with various pieces of tie-in media. The most prominent connection was a live-action webseries loosely based on the game, known as Street Fighter: Resurrection, which was also a direct sequel to the earlier Assassin’s Fist mini-series. Resurrection lasted for four 8-9-minute episodes, which were posted online throughout March and April 2016. UDON continued releasing their line of Street Fighter comics, with various issues tied into the game itself, most notably The Life and Death(s) of Charlie Nash, which detailed the events leading up to Nash’s revival in SFV proper.

What’s really telling is that the game’s first season of DLC content began just over a month after the game was released. Capcom originally intended to keep each of the six characters’ identities a secret until release, but dataminers were able to sift through the game’s files and unveil just who they were during the last beta test. With that in mind, Capcom decided to split the difference: simply listing each character’s name over their corresponding silhouette, confirming what leaks had already revealed but keeping everything else about them a surprise. Players were able to buy the characters in a Season Pass for $30, which included all six characters and a premium costume for each of them.

sfv-season1

Who could they be?

First came Alex on March 30th, 2016. A character that hadn’t been seen since Street Fighter III (or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, if you count crossovers), he boasts a slightly modified look which didn’t go over well with the fanbase. As SFV takes place earlier in the series’ canon than his debut title, Alex is a homebody that gets abducted by Shadaloo and is forced to fight his way back to New York. Guile came out the following month, representing a more level-headed outlook on life with a radically different look – a standard military officer uniform (sans sleeves) – but being more in-line with his Street Fighter II playstyle than the SF4 games. To drive this point home, Capcom also included the first of many “Classic Stages”: a recreation of Guile’s Air Force Base from SF2, which could be purchased with Fight Money or actual money and was included as a bonus for Season Pass owners. May brought Ibuki – clad in a schoolgirl uniform – and boasting a slightly different moveset from previous iterations, rendering her kunai as a finite resource (with a special move dedicated to refilling them). This time, her clan has been hired to provide security for Karin Kanzuki’s household.

Balrog came out in June, making Shadaloo’s Four Kings whole once more. He’s wearing a torn-up hoodie, slightly resembling his first alternate outfit in SF4, and fights with a slightly more aggressive take on his traditional charge moves. He’s still as hungry for money as ever, and his protégé Ed only manages to make the Raging Buffalo twice as dangerous. Much like Guile, Balrog also received a recreation of his SF2 stage as bonus downloadable content. Juri returned in July, sporting a new look and a heavily-modified moveset. After the events of the previous game, Juri was knocked unconscious by Bison, who stole her Feng Shui Engine and left her for dead. Before seeking her revenge, she scavenges some old S.I.N. facilities, looking for a replacement eye, but only manages to find an early prototype, rendering her less powerful than before. Finally, in September, another SF3 return capped off the season with a bang. Urien is clad in a fine suit, but with the use of a special code, he can explode into his classic loincloth. In Street Fighter V, Urien oversees the activities of the Illuminati – including the resurrection of one Charlie Nash – and keeps a close eye on Shadaloo’s latest plans for world domination, just to see how it aligns with his organization’s own ambitions.

Season 1 also saw the full release of the main cast’s Battle Outfits, 4 of which were preorder bonuses for various retailers – Ryu for Gamestop, Cammy at Best Buy, Amazon had M. Bison and Chun-Li was available as a digital bonus for both the PlayStation Store and Steam. Capcom also offered variations on existing stages – generally taking place at different times of day – as well as an arena based around the Kanzuki family’s private beach. Capcom also released various other paid costumes and premium stages, including limited-time sets based around that year’s Capcom Pro Tour, Halloween and Christmas.

Capcom also released its cinematic story mode at the same time as Balrog. Officially christened “Street Fighter V: A Shadow Falls”, this mode put an unprecedented emphasis on the events that transpire in the Street Fighter games themselves. Capcom decided to base their first fighting game story mode on those found in Netherrealm Studios’ fighting games – not surprising, given the praise they receive, even Yoshinori Ono seemed impressed with their work. A Shadow Falls focuses mostly on Shadaloo’s implementation of Project C.H.A.I.N.S, though it’s somewhat more complicated than that. There are effectively three factions in the game’s plot: Shadaloo acts as the prime antagonist (obviously); to end their latest plot, Karin Kanzuki unites a group of Street Fighters from all over the world, while the mysterious organization that revived Nash also appears to be involved behind the scenes, allying various figures both good and evil for unknown reasons. There are also various subplots – many of which focusing on resolving character stories, like Cammy trying to rescue her “sisters” from Shadaloo and Rashid searching for his scientist friend who was abducted by Shadaloo – but there are other subplots as well. R. Mika and Ibuki form a rivalry over which of them is more adept at fighting, Guile and Chun-Li are shaken to discover that Nash is still (kind of) alive and Necalli’s threat finally allows Ryu to abandon the Satsui no Hado and tap into the Mu no Ken, the “Power of Nothingness”, and defeat him.

sfv-08

They did churn out some beautiful cutscenes though.

The Story Mode isn’t particularly amazing, but it is fun to see more character interactions from Capcom themselves. All in all, A Shadow Falls essentially feels like a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at an older audience… and honestly, that’s all it really needed to be. Beating the Story Mode for the first time gives players a whopping 30,000 FM and unlocks an extra difficulty setting – which itself grants players 50,000 FM. This mode also allowed players their first chance to see (and even play as) Juri and Urien, though they were clearly incomplete when the mode first launched. Considering the fact that both the base roster and the first season of DLC were present in this game – and that Capcom apparently originally wanted A Shadow Falls to launch with Street Fighter V itself at some point during development – I’ve always been under the impression that maybe, the first season of DLC characters were originally intended to have been a part of the base game, but Capcom simply held them back as DLC in order to get the game out early enough to gain a foothold in eSports. This theory is mainly based on a gut feeling but considering just how integral some of the DLC characters were to the game’s plot, it just makes me wonder.

 

Two more features were added to Street Fighter V during the game’s first season of post-release content. For starters, Capcom did end up patching in the option to fight CPU-controlled opponents in the game’s versus mode. Sure, it was a short-term solution to the game’s single-player mode problem, but the quick fix did manage to sate some of the more outspoken players. Capcom also added weekly missions, which gave players various objectives to complete in various game modes in exchange for Fight Money. This was Capcom’s first attempt at solving criticisms over the difficulty involved with earning FM through winning online matches and the single-serve rewards achieved by completing the Character Story and Survival modes and arguably their best.

Regardless of the criticism surrounding the game, the first season of DLC characters must have done well, because by November 2016, Capcom announced that a second season of characters was being developed. The following month, during the Capcom Pro Tour finals – held in tandem with Sony’s PlayStation Experience event – Capcom finally played their hand, officially debuting Street Fighter V Season 2 to the general public. They decided to start things off with a bang: Akuma was the first character revealed – effectively beating his guest appearance in Tekken 7’s console debut to the punch – sporting a modified look, with longer hair and a neckbeard which many fans compared to a lion’s mane. His fighting style was also slightly modified but personally, I wish they’d taken more inspiration from Oni instead of just tweaking the traditional shoto moveset like they did with Ken. Capcom also announced that the five remaining characters set for release in Season 2 would be entirely new characters “that had never been playable in a Street Fighter game before”. The online community went rampant with speculation, trying to determine who these characters could possibly be, with only the five silhouettes revealed alongside Akuma to act as clues.

sfv-season2

Who’s that Street Fighter?

Admittedly, Capcom seemed to start with a theme in mind: characters that appeared in Street Fighter V’s story. Kolin came out in February 2017, sporting the same look as her alter ego Helen, who had revived Nash and acted as his handler in the game’s story. As a disciple of Gill, she has access to ice-based attacks, making her the first character in Street Fighter history to rely solely on this style. Her V-Trigger also gave her the ability to force her opponents into a Freeze state, preventing their Stun meter from recovering and freezing them solid when it’s filled. The next character didn’t drop until May and it was Balrog’s pupil/partner-in-crime, Ed – a character I’d long anticipated. Ed fought with a combination of the boxing skills he picked up from his father figure Balrog, and the Psycho Power he inherited as a clone body for Bison. He also used simplified inputs, making him a good choice for new players.

After that, Capcom decided to dust off an old chestnut and incorporate another character from Final Fight into the SF canon: Abigail joined the cast that July. The largest character in Street Fighter history – even dwarfing his compatriot Hugo – Abigail is a dense motorhead, who relies on hitting hard rather than command grabs, which made him a refreshing choice in my eyes (I miss Jack-X). The following month brought us Menat, one of Rose’s students who wields a crystal ball which she can manipulate, placing it in mid-air and recalling it at will to attack opponents on two fronts. She also has some minor control over Soul Power, capable of generating tiny spheres as a part of her V-Trigger. Zeku, Guy’s former Bushinryuu master, came out in October and was the final character of Season 2. Zeku is a stance character, using his own original ninjutsu style in his true aged appearance, while shifting back to his own take on Bushinryuu in a disguised “younger” form.

Season 2 wasn’t bad by any means – I ended up enjoying four out of the six characters – but as more characters were revealed, the sheer unpredictability of “never before playable characters” seemed to wear on many fans of the franchise, myself included. On top of that, many players were reluctant to purchase the Season Pass without knowing exactly who would be present in the game, a lesson Capcom learned all too well. It didn’t help that Season 2 was being released the same year Capcom was preoccupied with another new fighting game: Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and I think it’s safe to say that both games suffered from Capcom’s inability to advertise both products well – SFV Season 2 and MvCi both suffered due to constant silence from the publisher, which left a vacuum that could easily be filled with criticism and negative rumors. Worst of all, both games effectively split Capcom’s fighting game division’s resources between them, which was bad enough for Season 2, but far more crippling for Infinite.

While Capcom originally intended for Street Fighter V to sell 2 million units in the year of its release, it only managed to move that many copies (and then some) by late 2017. Several fans took this as an indictment of the game, citing that its low quality meant that Capcom would suffer financially due to cutting corners, but the truth is, SFV didn’t need to move a single game to end up being profitable for Capcom. Due to the rise of eSports worldwide, Street Fighter V had positioned itself as one of the premier games in the genre. It seemed that for every person that complained about the game, just as many were entering tournaments dedicated to the game. Some might argue this was due to Capcom consistently adding to the pots at major events – but Warner Bros. managed to do even more for Netherrealm Studios’ games and those didn’t have nearly as many players.

Meanwhile, Street Fighter V managed to get Capcom a lot of mainstream coverage: events related to SFV ended up airing on North American TV on major networks like TBS, ESPN and even Disney XD. This led to a little more scrutiny when it came to things like costume choice – ESPN’s coverage of EVO 2016 forced a player to stop using Mika’s default outfit and the same happened with a Cammy user on Disney XD – but these were minor hiccups in the grand scheme. Street Fighter had finally reached a level of mainstream popularity not seen since SF2 revived arcades. Yet, despite all that, Capcom wasn’t quite satisfied with SFV in its current state…

Epilogue: Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition

Admittedly, over the past few years, Capcom has taken quite a beating in the realm of public relations. Some cite the twin scandals that killed Street Fighter X Tekken as the true beginning of Capcom’s decline from beloved publisher to “Japan’s answer to EA”, while others place their fall from grace with other events. Regardless, Capcom managed to burn through over two decades of goodwill in roughly two years. But in 2017, Capcom attempted a redemption. While Marvel vs Capcom Infinite fell victim to incredibly terrible PR – the “functions” fiasco alone would’ve probably sunk the game – Capcom appeared to focus their efforts on rebuilding their brand with Resident Evil 7. It paid off, big time.

With a success like that under their belt, Capcom decided to rehabilitate Street Fighter V into a far more content-heavy product. On October 5th, 2017, Capcom announced a major update to the game: Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition. While the title clearly allowed Capcom to keep their promise that there would be no “Super Street Fighter V”, it also managed to invoke something entirely different from the last game in the series to bear a subtitle. While Capcom would release an arcade cabinet, using the PC version as a base on the Taito Type X4 hardware, Arcade Edition was intended to reference a feature that was long requested and conspicuously absent for the entirety of SFV’s life: a true arcade ladder. Capcom also planned several new features, including a brand-new UI and tweaked gameplay with new techniques for all existing characters. They also announced that while the new features would be a free update for existing players, they would also release a new budget release of the game – costing the usual $40 – which would include the characters from both the first and second seasons of DLC, bringing the base roster to 28.

The update hit digital fronts and store shelves on January 16th, 2018 – my 30th birthday, happy birthday to me! – and this led many to bring up an old interview. In a 2011 interview with Eurogamer, Capcom’s them-community manager, Seth Killian, was asked about how long fans would have to wait for a new game in the franchise. He claimed that, “If I have anything to say about it, and I do, you will not have to wait ten years for Street Fighter 5”, suggesting the game would arrive before 2019. This led to some jokes that Arcade Edition was the true release of the game, with the previous iterations being just a beta test.

As I said earlier, Capcom named this update “Arcade Edition” due to the addition of a single-player arcade mode, and believe me when I say, it deserves the nod. In fact, to simply referring to it as “arcade mode” is something of a misnomer: “Arcade Modes” is much more accurate. Perhaps in celebration of Street Fighter’s 30th anniversary, Capcom decided to put together six separate arcade ladders of varying lengths, each representing a specific branch of the SF timeline: the original Street Fighter, Street Fighter II, the Alpha games, SF3, SF4 and, of course, SFV itself. Each ladder has a specific length – SF1 only has four opponents, while both the ladders for Alpha and SFV have a whopping 10 opponents – and each game only draws from characters that appeared in their respective games. The courses with more fights also throw in a bonus stage: the return of the Barrel Breaker mini-game, with players facing off against Mad Gear goon Two-P, who will do his best to prevent you from getting a perfect score.

sfvae-01

Can’t beat the classics.

Of course, Capcom had to fudge the rosters in some cases: the Final Fight characters – Abigail, Zeku and Cody – were folded into the SF1 course along with Balrog, who acts as a replacement for “Mike”, while Laura and Kolin represent Sean and Gill respectively in Street Fighter III. Completing each ladder with each character unlocks an ending image, themed around a comic page, but performing other objectives – like completing the mode without continues, facing off with a secret opponent or beating the game on a specific difficult level – unlocks additional images, all of which can be viewed in AE’s new Gallery Mode, along with a music player and the ability to watch both versions’ opening cinematics at will.

But that’s not all Arcade Edition added. Capcom brought back the Team Battle online mode from Ultra Street Fighter IV, allowing players to group into teams of up to five, to duke it out. Arcade Edition also gave every existing character in the game a second V-Trigger, much like how SSF4 added a Second Ultra to the entire roster. This was actually one of the selling points of the update. Dataminers actually discovered the existence of this content prior to release, as well as code suggesting plans for additional V-Skills and Critical Arts for existing characters, which have yet to be implemented in the game itself.

They were even finally able to release Extra Battle, a mode they had revealed back as a part of the game’s first post-launch content roadmap. The original concept had players facing off against non-playable characters, like various Shadaloo goons, in boss battles. AE’s take on the concept was slightly tweaked. Sure, the Shadaloo goons still appeared as rotating opponents offering up Fight Money and experience points, but powered-up versions of standard characters (like Shin Akuma, Shadow Nash and the fan-christened “Viable Ryu” who boasts a Shin Shoryuken as a second Critical Art) also appeared, offering titles as bragging rights. Capcom also released special costumes which had the SF cast cosplaying as characters from other Capcom properties – like Chun-Li as June from Star Gladiator, Rashid as Viewtiful Joe and M. Bison as Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ Astaroth – as prizes in Extra Battle mode. Players needed to unlock four pieces to unlock the costume itself.

sfvae-04

Man, the new Marvel vs. Capcom game looks great!

Fighting these battles costs the player Fight Money, so Capcom decided to… halve the amount of Fight Money earned in the Weekly Missions. In fact, the way Fight Money was earned in Arcade Edition was completely rebalanced. Finishing single-player modes – Survival, Character Story, even Trials – for the first time no longer awards FM, but rather experience. Levelling up characters rewards players with 1000FM per level. It just seems a bit weird that as Capcom adds more and more things to spend Fight Money on, they just seem to make it more and more difficult to earn it in the first place. It just seems a bit counterintuitive to me.

Throughout the end of 2017, Capcom kept teasing a third season of DLC characters. Despite some early fan speculation that Sagat would be the debut character, a shower of cherry blossom petals alongside another trailer for Arcade Edition at the finals of that year’s Red Bull Battle Grounds seemed to imply that Sakura was getting the nod. Finally, Capcom finally revealed its existence at the Capcom Cup finals during that year’s PlayStation Experience in December, just like the previous set. Lo and behold, Sakura was the first character revealed, sporting a long-awaited new outfit that emphasized her maturity. Better still, she would be released on the same day as SFVAE itself. However, clearly having learned from the diminishing returns of the previous season, Capcom expanded on the announcement by revealing the entire roster in one fell swoop: Blanka, Cody and Sagat would all be returning from the Street Fighter IV games with brand-new looks, while Falke and G were brand-new characters.

sfvae-season3

This was surprisingly refreshing.

Sakura’s story involves her coming to terms with getting older, trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do with her life – truly a relatable storyline. Blanka came out in February, boasting a slightly more feral appearance and a brand-new command grab. He’s trying to recover from a failed business venture, selling dolls in his own likeness, trying to find buyers for his adorable Blanka-chan dolls. Falke was released in April. Another possible replacement body for Bison, Falke can channel Psycho Power through a staff, even capable of firing off small bullets of the malevolent energy. Falke was rescued by Ed – makes sense considering they almost look like twins – and is now a member of Neo Shadaloo, an organization dedicated to finding and helping the original organization’s victims. Cody returned to the fray in June, sporting a much cleaner look than previous games. He’s paid his debt to society and has even been endorsed by Haggar to become the new mayor of Metro City. While he still has a tendency to get bored, he genuinely wants to protect the people of the city – even if he feels the best way to do that is by punching out street punks. Cody’s style has changed significantly from previous iterations: his moves are far more inspired by Final Fight – his V-Skill resembles his old spin kick from the classic beat-‘em-up – and he replaces his Criminal Upper with the Tornado Sweep, a new tornado-themed projectile. His V-Triggers consist of his trusty knife and Mayor Haggar’s trademark pipe.

When I started writing this retrospective – specifically this specific article – I was expecting Season 3 to be in progress, but at this year’s EVO, Capcom managed to wrap it up by simultaneously releasing the final two characters of the season: G & Sagat. G is a mysterious figure of unknown origins, a man claiming to be “the President of the World”. Sporting a top hat ensemble that makes him look like a cross between Uncle Sam and Abe Lincoln, he has a unique tattoo across his body – it’s shaped like the world’s continents, made of gold and constantly moving. He’s capable of generating attacks with an aura of gold, but as he draws power from the Earth itself, it eventually begins to resemble magma. Sagat returns, with torn attire representing his self-imposed exile and a build that finally manages to find a perfect balance between the leaner look from Street Fighter II and his more muscular design from the Alpha games. He’s also accompanied by – what else? – a tiger. His story is vague, but it seems that perhaps he was being tempted by the Satsui no Hado himself and is striving to fight for a reason truly worthy of a king.

sfvae-00

What a difference 2½ years makes, right?

Arcade Edition also changes up the game’s UI. The original game’s menus were themed on the Earth itself, showcasing a big world map. Arcade Edition, on the other hand, decides to go for more of a film set aesthetic, with a heavy emphasis on gold. I’d say it’s an improvement over the original. The lifebars are adjusted as well: shifting from a vibrant green at full health to a shining gold. Aside from that, the in-game action is nearly identical – the only other change being an increased emphasis on the V-Meter and the addition of roman numerals to signify which V-Trigger each player has chosen.

Much like Super and Ultra Street Fighter IV, SFVAE also changes up some of the game’s music, giving new themes to the main menu, character select, victory and versus screen. The game also gains two new composers: Steven McNair, who composed most of the new menu themes, and Daniel Lindholm who handled Sakura, G and Sagat’s themes. In order to compensate for the variety of Arcade modes, Capcom also commissioned the composers to recreate the character select, versus, results and openings from each game to accompany each game’s course. I literally felt chills run down my spine the first time I heard their arrangement of the Street Fighter Alpha player select – a theme which is easily among my favorites of all time. Aside from that, the sound design is roughly identical.

sfvae-03

Beating palette swaps for fun and profit.

But even the changes made in the initial release of Arcade Edition weren’t enough for Capcom. When Cody came out last June, Capcom also implemented a few new features into the game. For starters, they added Fighting Chance – a raffle mechanic which allows players to unlock various items, including gallery artwork from older games, exclusive colors and even exclusive costumes. Fighting Chance is themed around Menat’s fortune telling and relies on tickets to trade for fortunes. One ticket is given out free to players each week and they can also be obtained by buying them with Fight Money, fighting recurring weekly Extra Battles against the most recent special costume and reaching monthly score targets in Survival Mode’s various difficulties. Speaking of which, Capcom also completely revamped Survival Mode, solving many issues with the old mode. For starters, they added the option to randomize the opponent selection in each course and made every tenth opponent a pseudo-boss character, sporting one of Fighting Chance’s rare colors. There’s also an interrupt save function, which allows players to stop their run in progress and return to it later. Capcom also gave players an assortment of power-up items that could be earned and used at will, in addition to the randomized score upgrades. These ranged from the same mundane health and meter replenishes to combat modifiers like the ability to survive a match-ending attack or the ability to infuse one’s standard attacks with ice, fire and poison. These could be unlocked by finishing a run and the most commonly awarded prizes in Fighting Chance, at least in my experience.

sfvae-02

Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold!

Even Street Fighter V’s merchandising experienced a new lease on life after Arcade Edition was announced. In fact, they partnered with Enterrise again to develop Street Fighter V: Pachislot Edition, which is exactly what it sounds like. The game released on July 17th, 2018 and as far as I can tell, it’s essentially the same as the previous Street Fighter-themed pachislots… and pretty much every other machine of that variety. I wouldn’t have brought this one up, but there is one interesting thing about this release, something that’s actually present in its trailer. The game clearly uses the models from the game itself, but the animations from the Critical Arts are totally different from what’s in the game. To make matters even more interesting, there are animations for Critical Arts that aren’t even in the game. While there was some speculation that some of these might appear in the game proper at some point, conversation on the subject died quickly without any concrete evidence.

Arcade Edition is the game that Street Fighter V should’ve been at launch, full stop. Both Capcom and Ono realized that releasing the game the way they did back in 2016 was a mistake within the year – even MvCi launched with both an arcade and a cinematic story mode (and little else). Fortunately, Capcom pledged to support SFV until 2020 and so far, they’ve stuck to it. In fact, if they do two more seasons at the current rate, Street Fighter V will have an even bigger roster than USF4. There’s been discussion among fans whether this means that the game will end up with four or five seasons – let alone who they’re expecting to appear as future DLC. After that, who knows what’s in store for the Street Fighter franchise.

sfvae-05

Eh, don’t bother. I’ll probably just end up with more grapes.

Thus concludes my retrospective on the Street Fighter franchise. Admittedly, when I started this, I didn’t expect it would end up getting this long – especially this section – but considering just how important this series was not only to my personal gaming tastes, but the entire landscape of the medium, it’s safe to say that it certainly deserves all the praises I’ve given it. Street Fighter has had its ups and downs, but all in all, a good 31 years. Here’s hoping for 31 more!

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.

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.

3298_2

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!.

365-night_warriors_darkstalkers_revenge_u-5

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.

hqdefault

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.

SONY DSC

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.

1486131792613

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.

^464116F843D410D40BD18367771DA3FEB1FCE21DB13DA06ECA^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

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

playstation-ps1-wcw-backstage-assault

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.