Retrospective: Street Fighter – Bonus Stage

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

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

Street Fighter: The Movie

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

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

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Clearly, the right people to handle Street Fighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bafflingly, this was a legitimate advertisement for the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh look, Fei Long!

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

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

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

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

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No, I’m being serious.

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

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

Interlude: The Console Release

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

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

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

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However, I am in love with this Super Combo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The percentage meter was a nice touch.

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

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Say it with me now: “Exprosive”.

 

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

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Two characters with a short but memorable tenure.

 

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

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Again, not lying.

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

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Guard Break: the clear ancestor of the Focus Attack.

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

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

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The addition of instant replays was a nice touch.

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

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

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

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Multiple rocks.

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX2

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

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

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Welcome back, guys.

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

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Here’s Hayate!

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

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It’s just Custom Combos with prettier effects.

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

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

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

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Another game, another string of revisions.

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

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

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

 

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Way cooler than beating up some old Honda.

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

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A true dream match.

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

Interlude: Fighting Layer

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

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What a cliquey intro.

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

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

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

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Gotta love these unique stages.

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

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

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

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Still shots really don’t do this game justice.

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

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

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

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Wait, did you think I was joking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX3

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

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This sure was an intro.

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

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Not a bad roster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, the imprint of his face is horrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

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

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

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Gotta love that sick intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

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

Street Fighter Alpha 2

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

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

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

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

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such a weird port.

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

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

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the old Sagat.

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha 3

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

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

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

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

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I always loved these backstory screens.

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

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

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

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

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

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GUARD BREAK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheeky.

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

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

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

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

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

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A true masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective: Street Fighter – The Second Coming

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Welcome back to my Retrospective on the Street Fighter series. This time around, I’ll be tackling the most popular part of the series: Street Fighter II and its various expansions. Back in the early 90s, Street Fighter II effectively ruled the entire medium, spawning an entire genre through several imitators and knockoffs. It also effectively extended the lifespan of arcades for several years, as they were already beginning their decline in the late 80s, due to technological improvements in home consoles and personal computers. There are very few video games period that become worldwide phenomena, but Street Fighter II was memorable enough to span a live-action film, an animated series and countless merchandise and remains as one of the few video games that was recognized by the mainstream both during the peak of its popularity and to this day.

As such, it only seems fitting to examine each iteration of Street Fighter II separately, showing the build from the original 1991 release all the way up to the modern day. There are quite a few versions to discuss – and that’s not even including all of the home versions – as well as various curiosities that altered the trajectory of the series itself, as well as its continued legacy.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior

February 6, 1991: arguably the most important day in the history of fighting games. It’s the day that Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was first released in North American arcades. With a worldwide launch following 8 days later, SF2 was a phenomenon that kickstarted the fighting game genre into inescapable prominence throughout the 1990s and managed to pulse new life into the ailing arcade game market. Very few fighting games were released between the original Street Fighter and its sequel. Most developers decided to focus on beat-‘em-ups instead due to the success of Final Fight and Double Dragon. Street Fighter II – commonly referred to simply as “Street Fighter”, as the second game completely eclipsed its predecessor – provided a template that jumpstarted the entire fighting game genre and led to onslaught of games, ranging from wholly unique takes on the genre to obvious knockoffs of other games in the genre.

Most of my memories of the original Street Fighter II don’t actually involve the original arcade version. Instead, I spent most of my time playing The World Warrior either on my cousin’s Super Nintendo or my own copy on IBM PC. I can say with certainty that while the SNES version is clearly where my love of fighting games in general spawned, my experiences with the PC version clearly illustrates the lengths I was willing to go to play the game – for reasons I’ve explored before and will explore again later on.

Street Fighter II’s development has an interesting story behind it. After the arcade smash-hit Final Fight, it was clear that Capcom wanted a follow-up. Instead of creating a direct sequel to the 1989 beat-‘em-up, they chose to develop a sequel to its inspiration, 1987’s far less successful Street Fighter. The reasoning behind this varies depending on who you ask: the game’s producer Yoshiki Okamoto claims that Capcom wanted a direct sequel to Final Fight, but he decided to develop Street Fighter II instead. Akira Nishitani, one of the game’s designers, corroborates Okamoto’s story. Akira “AKIman” Yasuda, the game’s other designer, claims that Street Fighter II was actually in production before Final Fight was even created, but ROM capacity limitations stalled the game’s development. Noritaka Funamizu – a producer at Capcom who was merely credited in SF2’s special thanks – claims that Capcom’s US branch made it clear that they wanted a direct sequel to Street Fighter all along.

Regardless, the game spent two years in development and had a staff of roughly 35 to 40 members developing the game. Okamoto says that “The basic idea at Capcom was to revive Street Fighter, a good game concept to make it a better-playing arcade game.” Street Fighter II utilized the same controls as the first game, opting for the joystick and six-button layout found in the later revision of the first game. Funamizu notes that balance was not a priority when developing SF2, most of the developers were actually focusing on creating visually appealing animations. As with Final Fight, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior ran on the CPS-1 Hardware and the game’s visuals benefitted from the hardware.

The second game’s story was about as barebones as the first: the primary focus was on a world-wide fighting tournament. Perhaps the most significant change from the original Street Fighter was the fact that players had eight characters to choose from, as opposed to essentially having no choice in SF1. Ryu and Ken return from the first game, but the rest of the playable cast are entirely new characters. Guile is an American soldier, bent on avenging his best friend Charlie Nash’s death at the hands of Shadoloo; Edmond Honda is a sumo wrestler bent on showcasing the supremacy of the sport; Dhalsim is a master of Yoga, reluctantly fighting to provide for his village; Chun-Li is a member of Interpol bent on avenging the death of her father; Blanka is a savage green-skinned beastman capable of electric attacks and Zangief is a professional wrestler who enters the tournament at the behest of his country’s president. This new eclectic cast of characters became pop culture icons and represented far more of the world than the previous game, though ironically the United Kingdom was left unrepresented in the second game, despite having two fighters present in the original Street Fighter.

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A small roster by today’s standards, but absolutely mind-blowing in 1991.

Of course, there was the additional intrigue of just who was holding the tournament: a shadowy terrorist organization by the name of Shadoloo (or Shadolaw, depends on who you ask). Of course, this plot point would become almost as influential as the concept of a fighting tournament in general. Shadoloo was represented by the game’s four unplayable bosses, the “Four Heavenly Kings” – referred to as the “Grand Masters” in earlier English releases of Street Fighter II. Balrog is an ex-boxer barred from the sport due to his illegal techniques killing one of his opponents. Vega is a narcissistic Spanish ninja who fights with a claw and covers his beautiful face with a mask, lest it be harmed in a fight. The previous game in the series’ final boss, Sagat, returns as the bodyguard of Shadoloo’s leader and the game’s penultimate boss. Since his defeat at the hands of Ryu in the first tournament, he has mastered a new technique: the devastating Tiger Uppercut. The game’s final boss is M. Bison, the leader of Shadoloo. His ambitions of world domination are his key motivation and he fights wielding a powerful energy, known simply as Psycho Power.

Of course, the names for Balrog, Vega and M. Bison had to be shuffled around in the international releases: in Japan, the boxer was M. Bison (a clear allusion to Mike Tyson, which is what caused the name shuffle in the first place); Balrog was the claw-wielding Spanish ninja and Vega was the dictator in charge of Shadoloo. As such, those terms are used as nicknames for the characters in tournament settings, to avoid confusion. It’s a piece of trivia that almost everyone knows, but I figured it was worth mentioning for the sake of completion.

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The rematch of the century.

If Okamoto and his team sought to take the basic elements of the original Street Fighter and streamline them into a new game that finally made good on the original game’s concept, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Street Fighter II clearly built off its predecessor, retaining the first game’s control scheme: six attack buttons, separated by strength (light, medium and heavy) and limb (punch and kick), hit up on the joystick to jump, hold down to duck and back to block. Ryu and Ken’s motions for their special moves return from the previous game, but now the timing is more lenient. Instead of pressing the button as the joystick motion is being finished, the timing now relies on pressing the button after the motion is completed.

Of course, with new characters come new motions. Many of the new characters use charge motions: holding back or down on the joystick for roughly one second, then hitting the opposite direction and an attack button. Charge motions were originally conceived as an easier method of performing special moves for novice players. Special moves could also be performed by mashing attack buttons (Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap, Blanka’s Electric Thunder and Chun-Li’s Hundred-Feet Kick), doing a half-circle motion followed by an attack button (Dhalsim’s Yoga Blast), pressing multiple buttons simultaneously (Zangief’s Double Lariat) and performing a full circular motion on the joystick followed by an attack button (Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver). The sheer diversity of character abilities made the game’s multiplayer mode much more attractive to players than the first game’s, to the extent where it became the key feature.

Of course, perhaps the most influential new mechanic was the addition of combos. Combos were originally a bug unintended by the developers: certain moves could be cancelled into others with little delay between them. It was the unintended consequence of making special moves easier to perform – allowing more leniency when performing special moves allowed players to execute special moves after performing standard attacks. While rumors circulated that the development team originally considered removing this as a glitch, Nishitani actually said they found it interesting, and since it didn’t cause any bugs, they decided to leave it in as a feature, to expand the gameplay. Considering how combos are considered a staple of the genre, it clearly worked. Likewise, there was the addition of a stun mechanic: after taking a set amount of damage within a short amount of time, a character would wake up in a dizzy state, leaving them open to attack. This only lasts for a short period and players can try to speed up the process by rapidly tilting the joystick left and right and mashing buttons. While not quite as prominent as combos, stun appeared in many future fighting games, with some games even putting their own unique spin both on how it was achieved and how it could be escaped.

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Combos are hard to convey in screenshots, but stun? Easy.

The single-player arcade mode is pretty simple. Select a character from the eight playable characters, defeat the other seven, then fight the four bosses. Every three stages, players are treated to a bonus stage, much like the original Street Fighter and Final Fight. In fact, the car-themed bonus stage returns from Final Fight. There’s also a stage with wooden barrels being dropped from a ceiling and one with a stack of oil drums that burst into flames when attacked. I was always fond of that last one, but it seems to be the least popular of the three – it certainly hasn’t appeared in any future titles, unlike the other two.

All things considered, I’d say Street Fighter II’s graphics have aged pretty well. The sprite work owed a lot of inspiration to Final Fight, but the visuals have been improved significantly. Animations are much smoother, the colors are much more vibrant, and the backgrounds do a good job of conveying aspects of their respective characters: Blanka’s stage takes place in a small village near the Brazilian jungle, while a busy street corner in China is Chun-Li’s fight locale. Despite all of the flashy animations and beautiful backgrounds, everything in Street Fighter II is easily readable at any given moment. It popularized the now-common tendency of putting each character’s health bar over the side of the screen they start a round on – and by extension, the side of the arcade cabinet each player is on. I’m not sure if this was the first time health bars were arranged in this fashion for a fighting game, but it definitely implied a greater emphasis on multiplayer than previous fighting games, most notably the original Street Fighter.

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If my math’s right, this bonus stage is due back in Street Fighter VI. Can’t wait!

Most of Street Fighter II’s compositions were handled by Yoko “Shimo-P.” Shimomura, a long-time Capcom composer who worked mostly on early Capcom console games before moving to Squaresoft, composing for such games as Live a Live, Parasite Eve and Kingdom Hearts. Her work was supplemented by Isao “Oyaji Oyaji.” Abe, who would later go on to compose on such titles as Knights of the Round, Ring of Destruction: Slam Masters II, Pocket Fighter and Auto Modellista. Each piece of music does a good job of matching its respective stage. They also do a good job of representing the action itself: when one or both characters are low on health, the music’s tempo increases, audibly signaling that the round is near its end. This went on to become a musical trademark of the series, I can’t really think of any other fighting game that does anything like this, yet it’s such a good idea that many games in the series used it or something similar.

“Iconic” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word to describe Street Fighter II’s soundtrack: considering just how many times many of the compositions from this game have been rearranged, both in other games and fan compositions, many of the songs that originated in this game have become permanently associated with their respective characters, regardless of how many attempts there have been at composing new leitmotifs for them. The sound effects are also well done for their time, though many of the characters seem to recycle the same voice clips.

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The trash talk’s also come a long way from the first game.

Surprisingly, most of the home ports for the original version of Street Fighter II were released on home computers in Europe. U.S. Gold published versions of the game on the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. North America only saw two home ports: the fantastic SNES version, handled by Capcom themselves, and the abysmal version for DOS, developed by Creative Materials and published by the fine monsters at Hi Tech Expressions. These ports were also released in Europe, published by Bandai and U.S. Gold respectively.

I’m only familiar with the two ports released in North America. While the Super Nintendo version wasn’t arcade perfect and came out a year after the original release, most of the changes were aesthetic. Many of the game’s visuals and sounds had to be simplified and compressed to run on the SNES’s weaker hardware. Fortunately, the gameplay was left more or less intact. The Super Nintendo version did add a few new features: both the wooden barrel and oil drum bonus stages were removed and replaced with one where players punched their way through a pile of bricks. The game also had a Versus mode, which kept details of both players win/loss/draw record and select characters and stages, as well as letting players set handicaps before each match. The SNES version also had a secret code that allowed for mirror matches – a feature not present in the arcade version. The DOS port, on the other hand, is an abomination. The game only allowed for a single punch and kick button, the motions for several special moves weren’t implemented correctly, most of the soundtrack was missing – and what few tracks remained were never used in their original contexts – and the animation was so jerky, the game was practically a slideshow at times. To make matters worse, the game was completely unbalanced: Dhalsim’s stretchy limbs had an obscene hit priority which made him pretty much unstoppable. The only silver lining to Hi Tech’s version was that it seemed to take assets directly from the original release, allowing for a game that appeared arcade-perfect …but only in screenshots.

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I’ll always love this box art though.

Considering the worldwide phenomenon it inspired, Street Fighter II is generally held as one of the most important video games of all-time and this reputation is well-deserved. It was even inducted in the Video Game Hall of Fame last year, a well-deserved honor. It’s hard for me to determine whether or not Street Fighter was the game that made Capcom a household name in the first place, since I don’t really remember a time before Street Fighter II existed in at least some form. Compared to many “important” video games, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior has actually aged surprisingly well, though it’s clearly been overshadowed by later revisions.

Street Fighter II’: Champion Edition

Even back in the days when arcades ruled the world, it wasn’t uncommon to see an established title receive some form of a revision at some point after its release. Most of the time, these would often just include fixes for various bugs, glitches and other problems with earlier iterations of the game. For the most part, these new versions of existing titles wouldn’t draw attention to the differences between previous releases: generally, the different versions would be identified with a hidden revision designation in an arcade cabinet’s Service Mode or hidden somewhere in the source code. It was rare for games to outright advertise being a revised version of an earlier title. Street Fighter II’ (pronounced “Street Fighter II Dash” in Japan), better known as the “Champion Edition” in the West, was one such game that took the already popular Street Fighter II and added a few new features to expand it. It was released worldwide in March 1992, just over a year after the original version.

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Haven’t seen a fight like this since Wrestlemania XXIV.

The most obvious addition to Champion Edition was that the “Four Kings” of Shadoloo – the previously unplayable boss characters – were made playable, bumping the roster of selectable characters to 12. Of course, they had their abilities rebalanced in the process: as bosses, they weren’t balanced for competitive play. CE also added the ability to fight mirror matches, allowing both players to select the same character when fighting. This prompted the addition of alternate palettes for each character, which could also be chosen by hitting the Start button when selecting a character. Mirror matches also had an effect on the arcade mode: bumping the total number of opponents fought from 11 to an even 12.

The maximum number of rounds in the game was also tweaked. While the World Warrior allowed up to 10 rounds in a single match, Champion Edition decided to cut down the number to speed up play. If the third round ends in a draw, the fourth round is considered the final one – win or lose. Capcom also redrew several art assets, generally focusing on stage backgrounds (most of them were also recolored) and the endings, tweaked the game’s balance and fixed various bugs. Finally, the game was also made slightly faster.

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One Blanka…two Blankas!? But he– but you can’t– oh, my medication!

Technically, Champion Edition had the least amount of home ports. It was released in Japan on both the PC Engine (or the TurboGrafx-16, as it’s known in the West) and the Sharp X68000 computer. The PC Engine version was clearly a downgrade, while the X68000 version is nearly arcade-perfect, much like the port of Final Fight. There was also a home port that was released on the Master System in Brazil, handled by Tec Toy. It’s an impressive port given the hardware limitations but not worth tracking down. Of course, most people assume that the Genesis release was also based on CE, but I’ll hold off on discussing that for reasons that will become apparent later.

Out of all the versions of Street Fighter II, I think Champion Edition is the most forgettable, which isn’t fair. CE helped to codify many of the elements that would be taken for granted in future iterations of the game, the series and even the genre. While it may not have had as much of an impact on the series at large as The World Warrior, it was a necessary step forward for the game. The Grand Masters are among the most popular characters in the series and making them playable in the first place is likely a major source of their mainstream popularity. Mirror matches, on the other hand, had a significant impact on the genre, reinventing the tired concept from the original Street Fighter and other competitive fighting games into something much more dynamic. Competing with friends or random opponents to determine who had the best Guile, Chun-Li, Balrog or Zangief added a new dimension of strategy to the meta-game.

Interlude: Street Fighter II’: Rainbow Edition

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Of course, as with any arcade smash hit, there was always the possibilities for hacks sold as knock-offs. Pac-Man had Crazy Otto, Donkey Kong had Crazy Kong (I’m sensing a pattern), Dig Dug had Zig Zag and Street Fighter II… had a lot. In fact, there were so many modified versions of Street Fighter in the arcade that there are some left totally forgotten to history, hacks that are completely unknown to video game historians.

The most infamous of these hacks is generally referred to as “Rainbow Edition”, due to its title screen’s rainbow palette, but I’ve also seen it referred to as the “Black Belt Edition”. The code for this version originated from the Taiwan version of the game, which was licensed by Hung Hsi Enterprise. There is another famous hack of Champion Edition (using the same source ROM) called “Street Fighter II Koryu” which dials up the insanity of the Rainbow Edition to 11, but Rainbow is the only version that was ever acknowledged by developers at Capcom.

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Just an average fight where E. Honda blocks Zangief’s Sonic Boom spam with his patented boxing gloves.

Rainbow Edition is clearly built on Champion Edition’s framework, containing a roster of 12 characters. The game’s engine plays considerably differently. For starters, the game is significantly faster than both The World Warrior and CE. The properties of various special moves have also been changed. For example, Hadoukens can either travel extremely fast or float slowly while homing in on the opponent. On top of that, several special moves from other characters (such as E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap) now generate Hadoukens of their own. Special moves can also be pulled off in mid-air – even when they don’t make any sense. On top of that, players can cycle through characters on the fly by pressing the Start button. In fact, when CPU-controlled opponents take a certain amount of damage, they also transform into different characters, though they revert at the beginning of the next round.

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Wait, does this mean the Marvel vs. games were inspired by this too?

While Rainbow Edition and its sister hacks had little direct impact on Street Fighter as a whole – though they did inspire modifications of other games as recent as Ultra Street Fighter IV – it did lead to two notable changes. For starters, the ease of hacking CPS hardware forced Capcom to develop a new arcade board, dubbed the “CPS-2”. In addition to being less vulnerable to bootleggers, the CPS-2 was significantly more powerful than its predecessor, allowing for much more impressive visuals and sound effects in later Capcom arcade games. While James Goddard, a Capcom USA employee, wasn’t impressed by the changes made to Rainbow Edition, he did notice that it was significantly faster than any official Street Fighter games. This observation led to some significant changes in the next SF2 revision.

Street Fighter II’ Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Inspired by the changes made in various bootleg conversions for Champion Edition, Capcom further tweaked Street Fighter II and released another revision to arcades in December 1992. Referred to as “Street Fighter II’ Turbo” in Japan and “Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting” just about everywhere else, the third iteration of SF2 is my favorite by a wide margin. In my opinion, it is the ultimate version of Street Fighter II: Turbo builds the ultimate SFII experience from the framework of its predecessors, while still retaining enough material from the earlier two games to not feel like some form of a sequel.

As I mentioned earlier, Hyper Fighting was created as a response to various bootleg upgrade kits for Champion Edition, billed as a balanced and legal alternative to Rainbow Edition and other similar hacks. Apparently, the changes to the game were inspired by Capcom USA rather than the main office in Japan, who thought that Champion Edition was fine as it was. When Turbo was initially revealed at a trade show, the speed was only increased by 5%. When arcade operators made it clear that the crazier (and cheaper) bootleg upgrades were much more appealing, Capcom head Kenzo Tsujimoto told James Goddard – the Capcom USA employee who brought up the idea in the first place – to overhaul Turbo’s design in the span of a day, leading to the creation of the version we’re familiar with today.

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I could’ve used the Champion Edition Player Select screen too, but I wanted to show off the pretty new colors.

The main difference between Turbo and the previous iterations of SF2 is the faster speed of the gameplay. Compared to Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting was 15% faster not only in terms of gameplay, but also the speed of the various menus and endings. This led to much stricter timing when performing special moves, but also allowed players to get into battle and react to their opponents much faster.

Hyper Fighting also gave most characters – everyone aside from Guile and the Grand Masters – brand-new special moves. Some of these moves were mundane variants on existing attacks: Ryu and Ken’s Hurricane Kick and Chun-Li’s Spinning Bird Kick could be performed in mid-air (which could’ve been a subtle nod to Rainbow Edition); Blanka was given a new anti-air variant of his rolling attack, allowing him to catch jumping opponents by surprise and Zangief was given a faster variant of his Double Lariat which can pass through to low attacks like sweep kicks. The real standouts are E. Honda’s Super Sumo Splash – an anti-air maneuver that sends the sumo flying into the air before slamming into the ground – Dhalsim’s Yoga Teleport and Chun-Li’s new fireball, the Kikoken. All of these new techniques became trademarks for their respective characters and offered new strategies for playing them, keeping the game fresh.

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There’s something about recycling existing assets into new moves that gives me goosebumps.

A few other minor alterations were made to Champion Edition in Turbo. Most prominently, each character was given entirely new default color palettes, while the classic colors were available as alternates. This was the beginning of a trend in Capcom fighting games, where revisions would swap out returning characters’ default palettes for something else entirely. The game also received various balance adjustments and bug fixes and a new graphic was added after the single-player mode’s ending, presenting the victorious character standing on a podium with M. Bison and Sagat (or Vega, if the player chose either one) in second and third place, respectively.

Turbo’s most famous home port was the Super Nintendo version, but what most people don’t realize is that Hyper Fighting also technically made its way to the Sega Genesis. Sega originally announced a home version of Champion Edition around the same time as the PC Engine version, however Capcom wasn’t pleased with the first attempt at porting the game and delayed it. When Nintendo nabbed the exclusive rights to Turbo, Sega demanded that the features from the latest revision also be added to the Genesis release. As such, the Genesis version was renamed “Street Fighter II’: Special Champion Edition” in the West and “Street Fighter II’ Plus: Champion Edition” in Japan. Of course, the SNES and Genesis versions were functionally identical in terms of basic features: they were technically home conversions of both CE and Hyper Fighting, thanks in part to the option to change the game’s speed in the options menu.

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A Hurricane Kick…performed in the air? Preposterous! 

 

There were a few other major re-releases. Street Fighter Collection 2 compiled the first three iterations of Street Fighter II – The World Warrior, Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting – onto the original PlayStation in North America on October 31, 1998. This collection contained new ports that were essentially arcade-perfect, to the extent where they would later be used in the Capcom Classics Collection on PS2, Xbox and the PSP. SFC2 was released in Japan as “Capcom Generations 5” on both the PlayStation and Saturn later that year. The collection included unlockable arranged soundtracks, as well as “Super Vs. Mode”, which allowed two players to compete against each other using characters from any of the three versions present in the collection. In 2006, the game was ported to the Xbox Live Arcade in North America and Europe. This version was also arcade-perfect and included the option for online play. This release is notable simply because it garnered enough interest in Street Fighter for Capcom to develop new titles and revive the franchise.

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I forgot to show off the breakable stage elements in the earlier games. Still a nice touch.

To this day, I’d say Street Fighter II Turbo is one of my favorite games in the entire series, as well as my absolute favorite revision of SF2. On top of that, it’s easily the second-most popular version of SF2 currently – more on that later. Even more than that, it may be the fighting game I would recommend to anyone just getting into the genre. Hyper Fighting retains the simplicity of The World Warrior, but with the increased play speed and the various other new features, it showcases the insanity that I love about fighting games in general. I was ecstatic to hear that Turbo is going to be one of the games with online play in the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection.

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers

I’d have to say that Super Street Fighter II – the initial release, as opposed to its far more popular revision (more on that later) – may be one of the most tragically overlooked fighting games of all-time, on par with titles like Fatal Fury 2 and the original version of Mortal Kombat 3. Objectively the most radical revision of Street Fighter II, The New Challengers added several new features – many of which would become mainstays in the fighting game genre to this day – differentiating it from its predecessors. The fact of the matter is that SSF2 could have easily been passed off as a “Street Fighter III” in the hands of a more less company with a different amount of scruples than Capcom circa 1993 and the arcade crowd would’ve eaten it up.

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers was first released in Japanese arcades on September 10, 1993. North America followed suit in October, while Europe didn’t receive the game until January 6, 1994. SSF2 was the first game developed for the new CP System II hardware, a new hardware that improved on the graphical and audio capabilities of the original but was mainly developed to combat bootleggers from making unauthorized copies of games and modifications. CPS-2 games were comprised of two boards: the A board connects directly to the arcade cabinet itself, while the B board contains the game itself, effectively acting as a cartridge to the A board’s “console”. Considering that CPS-2’s encryptions weren’t cracked until 2007 – four years after the final CPS-2 game was released – it’s clear that Capcom’s efforts were successful.

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A still frame from the new opening. It doesn’t do it justice.

Very little is known about the development of Super compared to other iterations of SF2 and even other games in the series. The only interesting story about the game’s development stems from the creation of two of the game’s new characters. Originally, Capcom planned on having a pair of twin brothers who would essentially be headswaps of each other, sharing the same fighting style. James Goddard felt that a pair of characters like this would be redundant – comparing them to Ryu and Ken – suggesting a replacement character design: a black kickboxer based loosely on Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks, who would eventually evolve into Dee Jay. This gives Dee Jay the distinction of being the first Street Fighter character (and the only one in the mainline series) to be designed by an American.

Considering that it was subtitled “The New Challengers”, it only made sense that Super SF2 would add four brand-new characters to the game. Easily, the breakout character was Cammy White from the United Kingdom, the second female character in the franchise. Suffering from amnesia, she was taken in by Delta Red, an elite special forces unit. When she learns of M. Bison’s involvement in the second Street Fighter tournament, she felt a strange connection to him and entered the tournament, hoping to find answers. Fei Long is a martial arts film star from Hong Kong – and one of a plethora of fighting game characters “inspired” by Bruce Lee – who enters the tournament to test his skills among real fighters. As I mentioned earlier, Capcom originally pitched two martial artists brothers as characters for Super and Fei Long was what became of the original concept. Thunder Hawk (generally referred to as “T. Hawk”) is an American Indian of the Thunderfoot tribe whose ancestral lands were taken over by Shadoloo, forcing him to live in exile in Mexico. He fights using his tribe’s unique style of martial arts, a style that involves strong strikes, powerful throws and airborne dives. Finally, there’s Dee Jay, a happy-go-lucky kickboxer and famous musician from Jamaica. He enters the second World Warrior tournament seeking inspiration for his next album, hoping to find a new rhythm in the heat of battle.

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Two of the “New Challengers” duking it out. No points for guessing who I like more.

SSF2 reduces the speed from Hyper Fighting back to that of Champion Edition, which was generally viewed as a negative change. However, the game also better emphasized the combo mechanic by displaying the number of hits in a combo and awarding a score bonus based on both the number of hits and the moves used. Point bonuses were also awarded to the player who made the first hit in a round, successful reversals and escaping from a dizzy state without taking damage. Speaking of which, there were new animations added to the stun mechanic that showed off how difficult it was to escape: stars and birds represented the standard length, angels were easier to escape from, while Grim Reapers represented a dizzy state that would be the most difficult to escape. Super also increases the number of color palettes per character from 2 to 8 – there’s one assigned to each of the attack buttons (Light Punch being the default color), one for the Start button and a secret color that can be activated by holding down any of the attack buttons when selecting a character. As far as I know, this is the first time this many alternate palettes were present in a fighting game and considering how much of a fan I am of using different colors, this addition was an absolute treasure to me.

Just like Turbo before it, Super SF2 also adds a host of new moves, even more than the previous revision. Some changes are a bit minor: Guile gets some new “command normal” (performed by hitting a direction and a specific attack button together); Ken’s Heavy Punch Shoryuken becomes surrounded with flames and burns opponents on impact; E. Honda gets a new air command normal, the Flying Sumo Press; Chun-Li’s Kikoken and Dhalsim’s Yoga Teleport had their inputs changes and Sagat’s normal attacks got modified. However, some characters get entirely new moves. Zangief gets a pair of new command grabs – both use a 360 motion and kick, but the properties of the move change depending on how far away from the opponent he is. Ryu gets a new “Fire Hadoken” that burns opponents on impact. Blanka gets a third variant on his rolling attack, where he leaps backwards then pounces at his opponent. Balrog gets a new anti-air, the Buffalo Headbutt; while Vega gets the Sky High Claw attack, which sends him flying across the screen in mid-air, as well as a new shorter variant of his backflip. Finally, M. Bison gets “Devil Reverse”, a feint variant on his Head Press that allows him to trick opponents and perform new attacks.

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After years of being called a “fireball”, the Hadouken gives in to peer pressure.

Once again, there were also various bug fixes and balance changes made to Super from the previous version. More importantly, Super was an important point in the evolution of both Ryu and Ken as individual characters, in the sense that SSF2 is where they began to gain distinct abilities, as opposed to slightly different properties on their special moves. Super began differentiating the two “Shotos” by changing some of the properties on their regular attacks and their balancing in general: Ryu became the stronger, slower character, while Ken became faster but did less damage per attack.

Surprisingly, despite the new hardware, Super Street Fighter II recycles a lot of sprite work from the previous CPS-1 versions of SF2. Most of the characters do receive some new animations though – the chief standout is Chun-Li’s Kikoken which sports a new unique projectile design instead of a hastily palette-swapped Yoga Fire and a much more fluid movement. The New Challengers, on the other hand, are completely drawn from scratch. Capcom does their best to match the new artwork with the old, but the details on the new characters alone seem much more detailed than the other characters. It’s not quite as distracting as future titles that relied on similar recycling, but the sprites from 1991 are beginning to show their age. All of the returning backgrounds have had their palettes changed a second time, likely to take advantage of the CPS-2’s more powerful hardware. The new backgrounds do a good job of blending with these new takes on the older ones – Cammy’s stage is one of my favorites of all-time, due to the presence of the Northern Lights. All of the characters had their portraits completely redrawn in a new art style.  I think they were meant to help mask the age of the recycled artwork and personally, I like how most of the new ones look compared to the earlier versions. Capcom also redrew some of the artwork in the game’s endings – while giving Chun-Li, Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison entirely new ones – and a brand-new introductory animation where Ryu charges up and fires a Hadoken at the screen was drawn up for the game. The world map was also redrawn to accommodate the additional stages and modified the designs of the health bars. They even changed the victory symbols from a V hand gesture to a yellow star.

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A screenshot that shows off a new move AND the new scoring system? Score!

The improved technology also allowed Capcom to rearrange the game’s soundtrack. While Yoko Shimomura’s compositions were still being used in Super, she’d left Capcom by this point. Isao “Oyaji” Abe returned to compose the game, along with “Syun” Nishigaki, who helped pioneer the CPS-2’s Q-Sound chip. Syun composed the themes for Cammy and Fei Long, while Abe handled T. Hawk and Dee Jay. Most of the songs from the previous games returned, though not always used the same way. For example, the new introduction had a completely original song (composed by Nishigaki) and the theme for the intro from the previous three versions of SF2 was used as the new Player Select theme. The sound effects were also significantly improved from previous installments. Nobuhiro “Nobu” Ohuchi and “Toshio” Kajino were the sound team for Super and they did an excellent job showcasing the abilities of the CPS-2 hardware. Each character has a distinct voice in SSF2 – even Ryu and Ken! There was also a brand-new announcer voice (also used by Guile) which sounded …interesting, to put it mildly.

In addition to the standard arcade version, there was also a special variant of Super SF2 that connected four cabinets together, allowing for eight-player tournaments. Referred to as “Super Street Fighter II: The Tournament Battle”, it was an interesting idea that was handled a bit awkwardly. The first round takes place on all four cabinets, but after each match is completed, players are often sent to entirely different cabinets to continue. For example, the first two cabinets are where the semi-finals take place, while the other two hold the Losers’ Bracket. It’s a fascinating curiosity that never received any direct home ports, until it was announced that it would be a unique bonus feature in the Switch version of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, using the Switch’s built-in LAN capabilities and JoyCons to emulate connectivity between multiple cabinets.

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It’s funny: I think this is my favorite world map out of all the SF2 games.

Compared to the previous two revisions of Street Fighter II, Super SF2 actually had a fair amount of home conversions. The most prominent of them were obviously the SNES and Genesis releases, which both came outf in 1994. Compared to the previous releases, these ports of Super definitely show the age of the 16-bit consoles, appearing much more anemic when compared to Turbo and Special Champion Edition. The graphics and sound are significantly downgraded from the Arcade version and the SNES version has various content omissions: the Genesis used a 40 Megabit cartridge compared to the SNES version’s 32, which meant that various sound samples from the announcer had to be dropped and Nintendo’s censorship policy caused the removal of blood in the character’s loss portraits. To make up for these shortcomings, both the SNES and Genesis releases included additional game modes. The Tournament Battle was carried over as a special feature, allowing 8 human or CPU players to go through an entire tournament. Time Challenge Mode challenges players to defeat a computer opponent in a 1-round fight as quickly as possible. Finally, there’s Group Battle which feels like a precursor to “Team Battle” mode for future fighting games: players can choose between Match Play, which sets up a series of matches between an equal number of characters, and Elimination, where the character who wins each match moves on to fight their opponent’s next character until one of them runs out. Both versions also had the ability to increase the speed, though it was only able to go as far as the standard speed in Hyper Fighting. On top of that, the Genesis version also added the option to fight against all 16 characters in “Super Mode”, as opposed to the standard 12.

There were also various PC ports that differed wildly in quality. The Sharp X68000 release in Japan did a fairly good job reproducing the Arcade experience, though it wasn’t quite as arcade-perfect as previous ports on the platform. Japan also received a home port on the Fujitsu FM Towns which came with an arranged soundtrack and a color edit mode that allowed players to modify each character’s color palettes. In North America and Europe, Eurocom released SSF2 on DOS computers and Amiga, though these ports were based on the Super Nintendo release as opposed to the arcade version. The DOS version was handled by our good friends at Rozner Labs and was about on par with their port of MegaMan X: functional but clearly inferior to its source material and saddled with an abominable MIDI soundtrack. The Amiga version fared even worse, being ported by Freestyle – the same company that handled MegaMan on the Game Gear.

My first memories of Super Street Fighter II involved seeing an arcade cabinet of the game with a giant screen while I was on vacation. I also had a copy of the game on Genesis, making it my first “real” Street Fighter. Maybe I’m biased because of the good memories I’ve associated with it, but I don’t think SSF2 ever got a fair shake by the masses. By the time it was released, fans were hungering for an actual sequel and despite all the improvements and additions it made to the Street Fighter II formula, it was considered a tragic misstep. While the more discerning members of the fanbase had become skeptical about this being the final version, Super was still the last version of Street Fighter to appear on 16-bit consoles in any meaningful capacity – more on that later. I guess in that sense, it was the end of an era: Street Fighter had finally grown beyond the systems it called home in its earliest days: from the obscure Fighting Street on TurboGrafx-CD, the runaway success of World Warrior on the SNES, to the console war that led to the creation of separate but equal ports in Turbo and Special Champion Edition, Super all but proved that the fourth generation of video game consoles was swiftly approaching its end.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo

Finally, we come to what is generally regarded as the ultimate version of Street Fighter II. Super Street Fighter II Turbo – or Super Street Fighter II X: Grand Master Challenge, as it was known in its home country – was released in Japanese arcades on February 23, 1994, with North America receiving it exactly one month later and coming out in Europe on April 6. Personally, I think this version is overrated, especially by today’s standards, but for so many fans of the franchise, Super Turbo is literally synonymous with “Street Fighter”. It is perhaps the oldest fighting game to still have a significant following in the tournament scene to this day, which is an achievement in itself. Unfortunately, just like the previous revision, there’s very little concrete information about SSF2T’s development. There’s speculation that it was only made due to criticism regarding the original Super SFII’s slower speed compared to Hyper Fighting.

As with the previous revisions, Super Turbo adds a few more game mechanics. Perhaps the most influential of these was the addition of the Super Meter. While SNK beat them to the punch by introducing Desperation Moves in Fatal Fury 2 and Spirit Gauges in the original Art of Fighting – both games came out in 1992 – SSF2T popularized the concept among the masses. Each character’s Super Meter appears at the bottom of the screen, below their respective health meter. Performing special moves or taking damage fills the meter and once it’s full, players have access to a Super Combo. Essentially a beefed-up version of an existing special move, Super Combos feel gimmicky and unrefined in Super Turbo compared to later iterations on the concept, feeling more like a comeback mechanic in ST. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a match to end with neither character achieving a full gauge.

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Gotta love that sunburst when you finish someone off with a Super Combo.

Super Turbo also reintroduced the higher speed from Hyper Fighting. In addition, before selecting a character, players could also set the game’s speed. There were 4 speed options – labeled as Turbo 0-3 in the West and Turbo 1-4 in Japan – though generally, only the first three settings were visible. Characters are also given the ability to escape throws. Throws can also be “teched” out of by hitting a throw command in the middle of it, allowing them to recover and only take half damage. Both of these new options became extremely prominent in future fighting games during the 1990s, though only the latter persists to this day.

Of course, perhaps the most influential addition to the game came in the form of the secret boss character: Akuma – or Gouki, as he was known in Japan – the brother (and murderer) of Ryu and Ken’s master. By playing the arcade mode under certain constraints, Akuma will warp in and obliterate M. Bison, taking his place as the game’s final boss. Boasting moves from both Ryu and Ken, as well as unique techniques like a teleport and air fireballs, defeating Akuma is truly a testament to the player’s skill. It’s generally been assumed that Akuma was inspired by an April Fools’ joke in Electronic Gaming Monthly’s April 1992 issue, depicting how to unlock a similar boss fight with “Sheng Long” with over-the-top powers and a ridiculous method for unlocking the fight. Capcom has neither confirmed nor denied this urban myth’s influence on the creation of Akuma, but considering he was given a profile on the Street Fighter V site as an April Fool’s joke, they seem to at least acknowledge its existence. There was also a special code to unlock Akuma as a playable character, but while he was significantly weaker than the boss version, he was also considered unbalanced and is generally banned from tournament play. He also lacks a Super Combo, unlike every other character in the game.

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I think Cammy’s stage might be my favorite out of all the Street Fighter II levels.

SSF2T also added a whole new host of command normal and special moves, far too many for me to list them all. Some have become iconic: Zangief’s Banishing Fist (generally referred to as “Green Hand”), Fei Long’s Rekku Kyaku (aka “Chicken Wing”) and Cammy’s Hooligan Combination all come to mind. Others, like Blanka’s command hop and Ken’s assortment of new kick-based special moves were promptly abandoned. Ryu and Ken’s divergence also continued, with both characters receiving unique normal attacks to further differentiate them from one another.

All of the characters in the game lost their default color palettes from SSF2, opting for 8 new palette swaps. There was also the option to use variations of all 16 regular characters, allowing them to play more similarly to older iterations by inputting unique codes on the player select screens. These “old” variants of the characters used the original palettes (with one alternate), lost access to the Super Meter and throw escapes, but would be balanced differently from the standard versions. Sometimes they were objectively worse than the newer versions, but Sagat, Ken and T. Hawk are all generally considered superior to the standard incarnations. Super Turbo removes the bonus stages from the single-player mode, but also adds a piece of artwork to the end of each character’s ending, looking significantly more detailed than the rest of the game’s artwork, showcasing the CPS-2’s abilities in a way that future games would only expand on. The game’s introduction was also expanded, adding a scene with Chun-Li and Cammy posing back to back and Akuma standing with his back turned as Ryu charges his Hadouken. New music was also composed for this extended opening.

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Cammy’s being remarkably cheeky here.

While previous iterations of Street Fighter II appeared on the most popular home consoles, Super Turbo’s ports were a little more obscure at first. The most prominent version was on the 3DO of all things. It was a relatively accurate port, missing the “Old” variants of characters, certain moves and various background effects, but retained the arranged soundtrack from the FM Towns version of SSF2. The MS-DOS version was developed by Eurocom and published by GameTek. This version allows players to choose the original palettes for characters, reintroduces certain moves lost in the 3DO conversion and boasts its own arranged soundtrack. Unfortunately, due to a low resolution, the game’s view is a bit compact compared to other versions, but aside from that, it far exceeds previous PC ports of Street Fighter games by a wide margin. GameTek also published an Amiga version which was developed by Human Soft. It looks far more accurate than the previous SSF2 release but suffers from very jerky animation. Impressively, it also has its own soundtrack arrangement as well.

Mainstream ports did eventually surface. Street Fighter Collection, released on the Saturn and PS1 in North America, Japan and Europe, contained near-perfect arcade ports of both the original Super SF2 and Super Turbo. There was also a Japanese exclusive port on the Dreamcast in late 2000, dubbed “Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service”, due to the fact that it implemented online play. Finally, the second volume of Capcom Classics Collection on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox contained an emulation of the arcade version of SSF2T.

I think my lack of experience with Super Turbo may be the reason why I’ve never really liked it as much as most fans of the series. My main experience with it was seeing the 3DO version being played during my sole visit to a short-lived video game shop in my home town.  I honestly wish I’d known just how well the DOS version was designed: considering how turned off I was from Hi-Tech Expressions’ port of The World Warrior, I gave up on playing Capcom fighting games on my computer until I happened upon a copy of X-Men: Children of the Atom, which was a well-designed port. Maybe the upcoming 30th Anniversary Collection will win me over, but for now, Hyper Fighting is still my favorite version of SF2.

Interlude: The Legacy of Super Turbo

Of course, while most people consider Super Street Fighter II Turbo to be the final game in the SF2 line, that hasn’t stopped Capcom for making even more revisions down the line. While all of these versions could easily be classified as “enhanced ports” of Super Turbo, they each add enough unique elements for Capcom and most of the fanbase to consider them separate titles.

First off, we have 2001’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival on the Game Boy Advance. Not only was this the first iteration of Super Turbo to appear on a Nintendo platform, it’s the first one I owned. Revival’s a mish-mash of content: recycling sprites from both the SNES version of Super SF2 and the arcade version of Super Turbo, characters often fluctuate in size when using the new moves from ST. Two versions of Akuma are unlockable on the main character select – the standard balanced version and “Shin Akuma”, who has some of the tricks from the unplayable boss version. Akuma is also given a Super Combo, his trademark “Raging Demon” attack, the Shun Goku Satsu. The bonus stages are also reimplemented into this new release. New artwork for each of the characters have been drawn up exclusively for this game and Ryu, Ken, Guile, Zangief and M. Bison are given new stages. Chun-Li and Balrog also have different stages, though theirs are taken from Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3 respectively. Akuma is also given his own unique stage, though it’s a palette swap of Ryu’s. Most of the user interface is also completely redrawn.

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Still pretty impressive for a handheld.

Unfortunately, this port has a whole host of problems. The GBA only has four buttons, which limits the controls significantly. Players can change the button layouts in the option menu to best adjust to these shortcomings. The music quality takes a hit due to the GBA’s sound chip, but most of the voices are retained from the arcade version, with the exception of Ryu (who uses the classic SF2 voice samples) and Akuma (using the voice samples from the Alpha games). This port is also filled with various bugs, with the North American and European releases introducing bugs that didn’t exist in the original Japanese version. Most prominent among these are the dreaded “Akuma glitch”, which freezes the game completely if Shin Akuma gets reached in Arcade Mode and switching around Balrog, Vega and M. Bison’s win quotes.

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I don’t know why this always stuck with me, but it did.

Next up, there’s my favorite update, Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. Released on the PS2 in Japan and in arcades on CPS-2 hardware, HSF2’s major difference and selling point is that players can choose between every iteration of each character. Of course, the game’s arcade mode just defaults to the Super Turbo characters, but Hyper is essentially Capcom’s answer to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Imagine the dream matches: World Warrior Guile versus SSF2 Sagat alone sounds epic! The game was also released in North America and Europe as a part of the “Street Fighter Anniversary Collection” on the PS2 and Xbox. The home versions offered the ability to choose between three different soundtracks – CPS-1, CPS-2 and the remixed soundtrack present on the FM Towns and 3DO versions. I wish this was included in the upcoming 30th Anniversary Collection, but I suppose it would be redundant considering the original Super Turbo’s inclusion.

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It’s like Mortal Kombat Trilogy, only good.

Backbone Entertainment’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is probably the most prominent of these enhanced ports. Released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a downloadable game, this version was based on the Dreamcast version. HD Remix is named for its completely redrawn art assets – produced by UDON Entertainment, who have since become a long-time collaborator with Capcom, mostly localizing art books and producing comics based on Capcom properties. These new graphics look decent when still, but downright hideous in motion: a friend of mine commented that he thought I was being ridiculous until he stopped looking at screenshots and saw a video of the game in motion. There’s an option to use the classic pixel graphics, but this only applies to the characters, not the backgrounds. The game also received a new arranged soundtrack provided by OverClocked ReMix and rebalanced gameplay overseen by David Sirlin, who would go on to develop Yomi and Fantasy Strike. Of course, there is an option to use the classic balancing as well, but Sirlin’s take on the game was center stage. This was the first version of Super Turbo I invested any real time into, which may have also contributed to my distaste for that revision in general.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, they’re all “barf”.

Everyone assumed that HD Remix was going to be the last version of SSF2T, but last year Capcom went back to the well one more time. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers – we’ll see about that – was released as one of Capcom’s first games on the Nintendo Switch. This version contains the two options for graphics: “Classic” uses the original spritework in a 4:3 aspect ratio, while “New Generation” recycles the HD Remix art assets on a 16:9 perspective.

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Figured I’d start with Classic, because you might need a palette cleanser. 

Ultra adds Akuma to the base roster, allows players to unlock Shin Akuma and introduces two new characters to the roster: Evil Ryu, an alternate version of Ryu known for his appearances in the Street Fighter Alpha games and Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition; and Violent Ken, who only appeared in SNK vs. Capcom CHAOS which wasn’t even developed by Capcom. As with HD Remix, this version was rebalanced from the original arcade version. Using the newer artstyle changes the music to a unique arranged soundtrack and uses voice samples from Street Fighter IV’s Japanese dub for the characters. There was also a brand-new announcer in both versions.

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The Final Challengers, Color Edit and… “Buddy Battle” all in one screenshot? What more could you ask for?

Other additions include a color edit mode and “Way of the Hadou”, a first-person perspective rail shooter where players take control of Ryu and fight off Shadoloo soldiers before a final showdown with Bison himself. Special moves and attacks are performed by using the JoyCon’s motion sensors. Considering the game’s $40 price tag, most people assumed this game wasn’t going to succeed. However, Capcom has announced several titles for the Switch since then – including the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection – so clearly, the game managed to at least meet their expectations. Capcom also mentioned the possibility of porting Ultra SF2 to other platforms depending on the game’s success, but considering the announcement of the compilation, it seems unlikely that this Switch exclusive will be released on any other platforms in the future.

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I don’t know what Capcom was thinking with this one.

And with that, we close the book on the long, storied history of Street Fighter II – at least for the time being. I still find it impressive that a game that started over 25 years ago could still see new iterations as recently as last year. I originally intended to do this write-up in honor of the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection but I decided to move it to April due to a nice little gap in my schedule. Instead, I’m going to celebrate this new compilation’s release by discussing my personal favorite “flavor” of Capcom’s fighting game institution: the Street Fighter Alpha games.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Round 1, Fight!

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I’ll be honest: I did originally dismiss the idea of doing a Retrospective on the Street Fighter series back when I looked over Tekken last year. The thing is, after the Classic MegaMan article ended up being split into multiple parts, any excuse I had for not writing about Street Fighter evaporated. This series isn’t necessarily going to be as prominent as the other Retrospectives have been. I plan to mainly just write these whenever I’m not writing something else, so they’ll trickle out infrequently. Still, considering the fact that Capcom will be releasing a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection this May – featuring a whopping 12 games – now seems as good a time as any to do a wistful look back at one of Capcom’s most enduring franchises. The only limits I’m putting on this series of retrospective articles is that I will be sticking mostly to Street Fighter games that managed to see Western release. Granted, most games in the series came out here, but there are a few rarities that were Japan-exclusive.

The thing is, I owe a lot of my interest in video games to Street Fighter. The 2D fighting game genre is among my favorites across the entirety of mass media, and like a majority of the children of the ‘90s, that love stemmed from the first time I played a Street Fighter game. In my case, the first game I played was the original version of Street Fighter II for the Super NES at my cousin’s house when I was around 5 or 6 years old. Another cousin had the Special Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis and eventually, that first cousin would obtain a copy of Street Fighter II Turbo for the SNES as well. I became enamored with the game, almost to the point of obsession and I was incredibly happy when I was finally able to own a version of the game of my very own. Of course, that was the IBM-PC version, which was a complete train wreck, but you try telling that to a happy child. Not long after, I finally had a legitimate home version of my very own: Super Street Fighter II for the Sega Genesis. While Street Fighter is probably no longer one of my favorite fighting game series, it still occupies a special place in my heart. As such, I’ve got a fair amount of the games in various forms in my collection as it is: the 30th Anniversary Collection just affords me the opportunity to own several older titles on the PC, my platform of choice.

Street Fighter II is probably one of the most important video games of all-time. It popularized the fighting game genre in a way that no previous game had and managed to extend the life of arcades in the West. Back in my childhood, we just thought of it as “Street Fighter”: even though the “II” was omnipresent, none of us had ever really experienced a “Street Fighter 1”. As naïve as we were back then, the mystery was nothing we really pursued at the time, but SF2 actually owes its existence to multiple titles. What better place to start than by taking a look at some of the earlier titles that preceded, inspired or even simply shared the name of one of Capcom’s greatest all-time hits?

Avengers

On February 1st, 1987, Hissatsu Buraiken – which roughly translates to “Deadly Ruffian Fist” – was released in Japanese arcades to relatively little fanfare. It would be released in the West sometime that year as either “Avengers” or “Avenger”: the game’s title screen and many of the arcade cabinets themselves use the former title, but some promotional material uses the alternate title. I would argue that this is the earliest ancestor of the Street Fighter line, despite lacking any obvious connection to the franchise in general. Of course, at this point in time, Capcom had a minute fraction of the acclaim they currently enjoy in the West. Their most popular games by this point were Ghosts ‘n Goblins and 1942, which were respectively an arcade platformer about fighting occult creatures in a medieval fantasy setting and a shoot-‘em-up taking place during World War II. While both of these titles were fairly popular in their heyday, they would be completely eclipsed by future Capcom titles.

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Not the most unique concept, but hey, it was the 80s.

Avengers actually shares a fair amount of staff with the original Street Fighter. Most notably, the games shared a producer: “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama. Nishiyama actually started his career at Irem, working on some of their early hits like 1982’s Moon Patrol and 1984’s Kung-Fu Master. Likewise, two of Avengers’ character designers – “Short Arm Seigo” Ito and “Puttun Midori” were listed in Street Fighter’s credits, under Special Thanks. One of Avengers’ composers, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi (better known as “Yuukichan’s Papa”) would also go on to work on both the original Street Fighter and the first MegaMan game.

Of course, Avengers ran on one of Capcom’s proprietary arcade boards, generally referred to as the “Section Z Hardware”, as 1985’s Section Z was the first Capcom game that used this particular hardware. Avengers was apparently the last of four games made to run on it, with Legendary Wings and Trojan – both released in 1986 – rounding out the set. Like most of Capcom’s early arcade hardware, this board utilized a 6 MHz Zilog Z80 processor as its main CPU as well as 2 4MHz Z80 chips for its sound CPU. The hardware was rounded out with two YM2003s acting as the sound chip.

As with many arcade games from this era, Avengers’ storyline was simple but got the job done. It’s a two-player game, but both characters – Ryu (hey, another Street Fighter connection!) and Ko – are essentially palette swaps of each other. The game’s villain, known simply as “Geshita” has taken over Paradise City and kidnapped six girls, handing off five of them to his henchmen. It’s up to Ryu and Ko to “banish” Geshita from their city. The game’s English translation leaves a lot to be desired, but it doesn’t seem like too much was lost in translation.

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The most interesting part of the game’s intro.

“Beat-‘em-up” is probably the best way to describe Avengers’ gameplay, but it approaches the genre from a totally unorthodox style. Unlike many beat-‘em-ups of this period (or in general), Avengers is a top-down game, in a similar vein to games like Ikari Warriors or Capcom’s own Commando. As such, players are able to move around freely in 8 directions. There are also two attack buttons, punch (fast, but short range) and kick (long range, but slower). Honestly, the best description I really have for the base mechanics of the game would be Irem’s Kung-Fu Master (known as Spartan X in Japan) meets Commando. There are also a variety of bonus items that can be found hidden in objects like trash cans and clay pots scattered throughout each stage. These can replenish health, increase the character’s speed or just act as bonus points. There are also various weapons that can be found, like the “Super Punch” which increases overall damage temporarily and nunchaku, as well as grenades and shuriken, which can be thrown. These weapons are generally found in bonus rooms, hidden across the game’s 6 stages. These rooms contain an assortment of enemies that have to be defeated in a set time limit in order to free hostages that give out a reward upon being rescued.

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One of Capcom’s all-time grates. …get it?

This is one of those situations where obscurity has generally helped a game. Most of the reactions I’ve seen to Avengers online have been negative at best, with a few declaring it to be “Capcom’s worst beat-‘em-up ever”. To be honest, I can’t really argue against this statement. While Avengers’ concepts were unique and interesting, the execution was severely lacking. Commando’s overhead view and playstyle just didn’t lend itself all that well to a fist-fight. The bosses themselves are particularly difficult, as many of them boast long-range weapons, making it impossible to deal damage against them. Granted, that’s a pretty common criticism of the beat-‘em-up genre as a whole, but when the game’s first boss attacks by swinging around a giant spiked ball on a chain that deals damage in an area that takes up over half the screen, you know that this was one of those arcade games designed to get as much money out of a paying customer as possible.

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Oh, I’m sorry: did you think I was joking?

With that being said, there are a few other Street Fighter connections aside from the shared staff members and the name of the main characters. For starters, some of the sound effects from Avengers – most notably various character grunts – were completely recycled in the original Street Fighter. There’s also a reference found in one of Street Fighter’s humblest characters, Dan Hibiki. One of Dan’s super combos is named the Hisshou Buraiken. Sound familiar? That’s right: this move was named as a parody and reference to Avengers’ Japanese title, Hissatsu Buraiken. If that doesn’t confirm that Avengers is a truly obscure progenitor to the Street Fighter line, I don’t know what could.

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It was even a piece of graffiti on Street Fighter’s title screen. What more could you ask for?

I have to assume that Avengers wasn’t a particularly popular game upon its release, because as far as I can tell, there were no home conversions made for the game around the time of its release. The first home release I’ve been able to find for the game was on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection, found on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2. It was also present on the PSP via the Capcom Classics Collection Remixed, the first of two collections that just rearranged games from the previous console-based collections. Since then, the game has only appeared as one of the games on the Capcom Arcade Cabinet, a digital-only compilation of Capcom’s early pre-CPS arcade games, released in both multiple packs consisting of three games each – Avengers was in the first pack – and a full set on both Xbox 360 and PS3. Aside from that, the game’s been pretty much forgotten, which may honestly be for the best. Avengers isn’t a particularly impressive game by any means and it’s a fairly rough product, even compared to some of Capcom’s earlier arcade games.

Street Fighter

With that out of the way, let’s get to the true beginning of the Street Fighter franchise. Released in Japan on August 30th, 1987 – with releases in North America and Europe that same year – Street Fighter was the first fighting game Capcom ever developed, though not the first game in the genre to have ever existed. Many cite 1984’s Karate Champ as the first true 1-on-1 fighting game – with head-to-head combat included in a unique revision, subtitled “Player vs Player” – and introduced the concept of bonus training stages, which would be prevalent in the early days of the genre. Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu (released the following year) introduced the concept of fighting multiple unique opponents in succession, another trademark associated with the genre. Street Fighter took inspiration from both of these games and expanded upon them, acting as another stepping stone in the genre’s development, while adding new concepts that would shape fighting games to this day.

Before we get into discussing the game itself, we’ve finally reached the point where I’ve actually got some childhood memories attached to this game. Of course, the memories aren’t associated with the original arcade release, but rather one of the home ports. I already discussed these in-depth in one of my Repressious Memories videos from a few years back, so I’ll just summarize by saying that it’s colored my perceptions of the game in a much more positive light than many of my contemporaries. Put simply, the Hi-Tech version was so terrible, it made the admittedly-flawed arcade version seem like manna from heaven.  Few people I’ve encountered around my age actually managed to find the arcade version of Street Fighter in the wild back when it was brand-new, so most of them only experienced it well after the much more popular second game. Obviously, Street Fighter pales in comparison to its vastly superior sequel, but I’d say it’s still an interesting curiosity all the same.

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Admittedly, shirtless men in red jeans weren’t the most dynamic of opponents, even in 1987.

The two major players in the development of the original Street Fighter were “Piston Takashi” Nishiyama and “Finish Hiroshi” Matsumoto, the game’s director and planner respectively. It’s claimed that both of them also worked on Avengers, but as of right now, I can’t really find any information about Matsumoto’s involvement in that project. Likewise, it’s also said that this was the first project for Keiji Inafune (of MegaMan fame), who claims to have designed Adon, but again, this hasn’t really been confirmed anywhere else, especially not in the game’s credits. Street Fighter was developed on another of Capcom’s early arcade hardware systems, christened the “68000 Based”, due to the fact that it used a Motorola M68000 as its main processor. Capcom started using this hardware in 1987, and quite a few of their arcade games used this setup, including Tiger Road, Mad Gear, Last Duel and most notably, Bionic Commando.

Of course, the most fascinating thing about Street Fighter would be the fact that it had two completely different arcade cabinets. While the version commonly seen today used the traditional six-button/joystick layout generally associated with Capcom fighters, there was also an alternate model with a different control scheme. This model had two large buttons, associated with punch and kick respectively, and depending on how hard the button was pushed, a different strength of each attack would occur in-game. Not exactly the most precise method of control, but an interesting gimmick nonetheless.

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Seriously, playing Street Fighter on one of those machines with the giant buttons is on my bucket list.

Street Fighter offered players two characters to choose from: Player 1 was Ryu, while Player 2 was Ken. At this point, the characters played identically, the only real difference between them being their colors and Ken’s head being redesigned – in fact, early prototypes just made Ken a complete recolor of Ryu, with no other modifications. Instead of selecting one’s character, players were given the chance to choose from 4 countries – although some versions only offered 2 countries (Japan and U.S.A.) at the start – each boasting two opponents. Japan was home to Retsu, a monk excommunicated from his temple for using forbidden techniques and Geki, a master ninja wielding a claw, shuriken and the ability to teleport; the U.S.A. gave us the incredibly generic kickboxer Joe and bare-knuckle boxer Mike; martial artist Lee and the aged but deadly assassin Gen represented China; and the massive punk rock hooligan Birdie and staff-wielding bouncer Eagle are the fighters from England. Beating both representatives of a country allows Ryu to partake in a bonus stage, either breaking bricks by building power or cracking boards within a time limit. Only after all of the first eight opponents are defeated does Ryu (or Ken) gain access to Thailand, the fifth and final country. There, players are forced to defeat Adon, the champion’s top disciple, before taking on the King of Muay Thai and Street Fighter champion Sagat himself. After that, Ryu (or Ken) is treated to a montage of all of the fighters he defeated on his way to the top and declared “King of the Hill”, but also told that they have no time to rest on their glory, warning that there will always be new challengers.

Compared to later games in the series, the original Street Fighter’s controls are incredibly clunky. The physics are floaty, the controls not nearly as responsive as one might expect, and the CPU-controlled opponents are able to deal way more damage than the player. Having said that, the game came out back in 1987 and considering that the game took inspiration from Karate Champ and Yie Ar Kung Fu in a genre that was barely fledgling, Street Fighter could have only have been primitive. It seems unfair to judge the game against its own legacy, as opposed to its contemporaries, but alas, that’s how most people view it.

Having said that, Street Fighter did introduce a feature that would become synonymous with the genre: the special move. Of course, back then, the “special move” lived up to its name – because it was nearly impossible to pull off consistently. While the motions for the Hadouken, Shoryuken and Tatsumaki Senpuu Kyaku – referred to as the “Fire Ball”, “Dragon Punch” and “Hurricane Kick” respectively in the English versions of the game – are common knowledge to anyone who paid attention during Street Fighter II’s prime, but back in 1987, they were secrets. Of course, to perform these moves in the first SF, one needed to be precise. In fact, the motions themselves worked differently: instead of hitting the button after completing the corresponding joystick motion, players needed to release it at that point. Quite the change from how special moves were performed back in 1991, let alone today.

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We did 20 takes and that was the best one.

 

The bonus stages may not have been a genre first, but they don’t really resemble those found in future games very much. There are two types of bonus stages found in Street Fighter, with two version of each, for a grand total of four. The stages themselves alternate after completing each country. First, there’s a segment where Ryu is tasked with breaking a stack of bricks (replaced with cinder blocks on the second attempt) in front of an audience that cheers or boos, depending on the results. This mini-game resembles the “Test Your Might” mini-games found in the original Mortal Kombat, except it relies on timing instead of button mashing. The other mini-game involves splitting wooden boards that are held in various positions by men dressed in fighting attire. In this mini-game, precision is key: some boards can only be struck with specific attacks. These bonus stages have very little impact on the game itself, only adding to the player’s score, but they are a well-deserved break from the action.

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This might actually be my favorite part of the entire game.

The art is pretty standard for a late-80’s arcade game. The graphics are advanced far beyond what most home platforms at the time were capable of displaying, but on reflection, are kind of ugly. The character sprites themselves showcase the growing pains present in arcades at the time, adapting to wider color palettes and larger resolutions. The final product is something that is inarguably ugly yet endearing in the same way one would look at a gangly, awkward teenager. The backgrounds, on the other hand, are actually pretty breathtaking for the time. My personal favorites are the cliffside adjacent to Mount Rushmore where Mike is fought, Gen’s Chinatown-inspired setting, the forest with the castle in the background associated with Eagle, and Geki’s locale, which appears to be a river near Mount Fuji at sunset. While nothing special compared to future games, they are pretty impressive for their time.

The sound design doesn’t fare much better. Don’t get me wrong: there are actually quite a few good compositions present in Street Fighter’s soundtrack, but the odd instrumentation has a tendency of masking their quality. Fortunately, one home port – more on that later – has a rearranged soundtrack that reimagines these songs using Redbook CD audio, making them much easier to enjoy. The sound effects, on the other hand, are just silly. The real star here are the voice samples. They were generally the same in the Japanese and English versions, with the only exception being Ryu’s attacks. At their best, they’re extremely garbled: people still argue to this day whether Ryu is saying “Dragon Fire”, “Psycho Fire”, “Hell Fire” and probably several other things whenever he fires off a Hadouken in the English version. However, the Engrish present in this game, particularly on the win screens is downright amazing.

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I still quote this to this day. (Hey look, it’s white Birdie!)

Surprisingly, Street Fighter actually had several home ports. Growing up, the only version of the game I knew about was the IBM-PC version, published by Hi-Tech Expressions, but it actually also managed to come out on several computer systems throughout North America and particularly Europe, namely the Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC. The version that was the best received was the game’s sole console port – available for the TurboGrafx-CD. Retitled “Fighting Street”, it was released in 1988 in Japan and 1989 in North America. This was the version that included the rearranged soundtrack I mentioned earlier. The only real flaw in this version stemmed from the TG-16’s controller: two buttons limited the ability to perform attacks of different strengths, but this was a common flaw in most home versions. Arcade-perfect ports would eventually surface on the second volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and original Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed for the PSP. It’s also planned to be included on the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, being released on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC later this year. Sadly, this isn’t one of the games with online play.

I think the most impressive thing about the original Street Fighter is the legacy it left behind. Believe it or not, it inspired more than just Street Fighter II and the rest of its series. Aside from the two games I’ll be discussing below, it also managed to get an unofficial sequel. One that predates SF2 by quite some time – it was released in Europe back in March 1989. Many of the computer ports I mentioned earlier were developed by a company called Tiertex and published by U.S. Gold – the same companies behind the infamous Strider Returns. Their ports of Street Fighter ended up being so popular that they made a spiritual successor for the European PC market. Simply titled “Human Killing Machine”, the game holds the distinction of being even worse than the already poor ports of the original Street Fighter. The game was also incredibly bizarre. I mean, the main character was a Korean martial artist named Kwon – normal enough – but his opponents included a dog, two prostitutes, a waiter, a bull and even some terrorists. It really defies all description. While I’ve never played HKM myself, all the information I was able to find on it declared the game outright terrible. It’s really no surprise was promptly forgotten to the sands of time, to an even greater extent than its inspiration.

Final Fight

One of the most unique things about video games as a medium is just how quickly people will accept a spin-off of an existing franchise. Case in point, there are almost as many flavors of Mario as there are of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. However, there are few that can compare to Street Fighter, which managed to receive a spin-off merely two years after its very first game… and nothing else. Let that sink in: the original Street Fighter, itself only a relative hit in Capcom’s eyes, managed to receive a full-blown spin-off with only a moderate amount of ports (ranging from mediocre to terrible) to back up the moderate success of the original arcade release. Of course, considering just how trigger-happy Capcom eventually became with spin-offs – particularly in the 90s – maybe it was just a sign of things to come.

In 1988, both Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto had left Capcom and started their careers at SNK – going on to develop such franchises as Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. However, Capcom wanted a sequel to the original Street Fighter and tapped Yoshiki Okamoto to produce this new sequel. Okamoto cites the arcade version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge as his basis for developing the next Street Fighter title, eschewing the 1-on-1 fighting genre and focusing on the beat-‘em-up style of gameplay pioneered by Technos Japan. The game was originally shown off at trade shows under various working titles, most notably “Street Fighter ‘89” and “Street Fighter: The Final Fight”, but due to feedback from various operators, the game was rechristened simply as “Final Fight”.

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Pretty surprising, right? I especially like how they’ve practically finalized the SF2 logo there.

The game was also heavily inspired by Western culture, particularly the 1984 film Streets of Fire. In fact, one of the main characters, Cody Travers, was inspired by the film’s hero, Tom Cody. Likewise, various enemies found throughout the game were named after 1980s rock musicians, bands and albums: most notably Poison, Abigail (named after King Diamond’s second album), Axl (Rose) and Roxy (Music). Likewise, the boss character Andore was heavily inspired by professional wrestler, Andre the Giant.

Final Fight was the first game in the Street Fighter line to be designed on the Capcom Play System, a proprietary arcade system developed by Capcom. Unlike most arcade boards at this time, the CP System ran games on removable ROM cartridges, similar to SNK’s NeoGeo MVS. The CPS was developed in order to reduce hardware costs and to appeal to arcade operators, as it was often easier and cheaper to sell modification kits for existing cabinets – allowing arcade owners to provide their customers with the latest games at a much cheaper price, maximizing profits. The CPS (retroactively called the CPS-1) was fairly successful, but also plagued by bootleg versions of Capcom titles.

The game’s storyline is pretty basic when compared to the games from today, but for an arcade game released in the late 80s, it’s pretty fleshed out. A cutscene that plays in the game’s attract mode sets the stage: Metro City – clearly a fictionalized version of New York City – is ridden with crime and violence. Newly-elected Mayor Mike Haggar decides to clean up the city, making it safe for its citizens. However, the Mad Gear gang, the most powerful crime syndicate in the city, decides to take matters into their own hands. After a failed attempt at bribing Haggar, they kidnap his daughter Jessica, demanding that the mayor comply with their demands or else. Haggar decides to call Jessica’s boyfriend Cody and their mutual friend Guy, asking them for help to save his daughter. Of course, considering the fact that Haggar is a former professional wrestler, Guy a master of ninjitsu and Cody an accomplished street fighter in his own right, the three decide to bust some heads and save Jessica from the clutches of the Mad Gear Gang.

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I mean, it’s already on. How else could there be static on the screen?

Final Fight is one of the earliest games in the beat-‘em-up genre to offer multiple playable characters with different abilities and mechanics, as opposed to the identical palette swaps common in the early days of the genre. Cody is a well-rounded fighter, Haggar is the strongest but slowest of the three, and while Guy is the weakest character, he’s also the fastest. The game also has three weapons spread across its stages and each character gains special abilities with their corresponding weapon. The knife can only be thrown by Guy and Haggar, while Cody can choose to hold onto it, stabbing enemies. The lead pipe is the strongest weapon in the game, but its weight slows down both Cody and Guy, so only Haggar can use it to its full potential. The katana’s a good weapon for all three characters, but Guy’s speed allows him to use it to its full potential.

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Stabby stabby! No wonder Cody ended up in jail.

The gameplay is highly reminiscent to other games in the genre like Renegade and the Double Dragon games, but there’s also been some streamlining involved. The controls feel silky smooth and responsive, even by today’s standards, with characters gliding across the screen effortlessly and attacks coming out with lightning speed. Final Fight is a free-roaming multi-plane beat-‘em-up, meaning that the player characters and enemies can walk in 8 directions at will, meaning that characters have to be lined up to attack one another. The game has the standard joystick and buttons layout, with one button dedicated to attacks and the other allowing the character to jump. Pressing these two buttons at the same time allows the character to do a special move – Cody has a jump kick, Guy does a spinning kick not unlike the Lee Brothers in Double Dragon and Haggar does a spinning lariat – at the cost of some health.

The game has six stages, each taking place in some segment of Metro City. The game starts in the Slums, before moving onto the Subway, followed by the West Side, Industrial Area, the Bay Area, with the final showdown taking place in Uptown. Each level is capped off with a unique boss character that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game. There are also two bonus stages, taking place after the second and fourth levels respectively. After defeating Sodom at the end of the Subway level, players are given the chance to destroy a random thug’s car in a time limit. The other, taking place after the Industrial Area and the fight with Rolento, involves walking on a conveyor belt and breaking panes of glass.

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OH! MY GOD CAR!!

By the time Final Fight had been released, Capcom was beginning to settle into the CP System’s capabilities, cultivating a look that would persist in many future titles, especially later Street Fighter games. The coloring is a bit dull compared to later games on the CPS, but everything else is top-notch for the time. Considering the fact that this game was originally released in 1989, it’s simply amazing that this game manages to sidestep the various aesthetical pitfalls that several arcade games from this era fell into. The soundtrack is also pretty good for its time, my favorite songs include the Stage 1-1 theme, the music that plays in Stage 5-1 and the second theme from the Industrial Area. It doesn’t necessarily hurt that these three themes would eventually resurface in later Street Fighter games, but those are my personal favorites. While Yoshihiro Sakaguchi was the only composer credited in the Final Fight’s credits, six more people worked on the game’s soundtrack. You probably recognize Harumi Fujita, Manami Matsumae and Yasuaki Fujita from the Classic MegaMan retrospective, but Junko Tamiya (who worked on the Strider arcade games, as well as 1943 and 1943 Kai) and Hiromitsu Takaoka (1941, Sweet Home) also contributed to the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura also composed a couple of songs, but we’ll discuss her more later.

The game was unquestionably a smash hit in arcades. In fact, in the February 1991 issue of Gamest, a Japanese magazine dedicated to arcade games, Final Fight was named the number one game of 1990. It took home several other awards, taking home “Best Action Game” and ranking in fourth place on Best Video Game Music, ninth place on Best Graphics, second place in Best Direction and fifth Best Album of the same year. Final Fight’s popularity also extended to its characters, with Mike Haggar being named the most popular character of the year. Guy took second place, Cody was number seven, the sultry and mysterious Poison at #26, the massive weeaboo Japanophile Sodom took the #33 slot and damsel-in-distress Jessica ranking in at 40th place.

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I’m shocked that Rolento didn’t even place.

Western reactions are a little harder to gauge, but considering the sheer amount of home conversions, I think it’s safe to say that Final Fight was a hit in all regions. As with the original Street Fighter, several home computer ports were released across Europe on the Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum. As with the Street Fighter ports, these were handled by U.S. Gold and aren’t particularly impressive. Granted, how much of this was due to the limitations of the computers in question and how much was due to U.S. Gold’s lax quality control often varies and is debatable. However, unlike Street Fighter, there were actually several home ports worth talking about, as opposed to one. For starters, there was a port on the Sharp X68000, a Japanese home computer. The interesting thing about this version is the fact that because this was the hardware that the game was developed on, the game is essentially near-arcade perfect, a true rarity at this point. Then there was the Sega CD version, which traded vibrant colors for a Redbook CD soundtrack and voice acting, as well as a new Time Attack Mode. Time Attack Mode isn’t what one might expect: they’re essentially three arenas (one per playable character) with endless waves of enemies that need to be defeated within a time limit. On the plus side, the Western release had far less censorship than other console versions.

On that note, I couldn’t do a round-up of Final Fight’s home ports without the most well-known version of them all. The Super Nintendo release of Final Fight hit Japanese store shelves on December 21st, 1990, with North American and PAL region releases on November 10, 1991 and December 10, 1992 respectively. While the game itself wasn’t a launch title, it did release within the same year the system launched in these three regions. Unfortunately, this version did come with a fair amount of limitations. Perhaps the most important omission was the loss of multiplayer: Final Fight SNES was a strictly single-player affair. Likewise, both Guy and the fourth stage were removed. There was also a ton of censorship, at least in the Western home releases. Damnd was renamed “Thrasher”, Sodom was renamed “Katana”. One change that was exclusive to the Western SNES versions was that Poison and Roxy were replaced with two scrawny guys named Billy and Sid. Even with all of these cuts, the SNES version is brutal to play: in fact, for many years I hated Final Fight, simply because the SNES version was the only one I’d played. Capcom did attempt to rectify this in a roundabout way years later, with the release of “Final Fight Guy”. Despite being released a whopping two years after the original Japanese version, the only difference in this version is that Cody has been replaced with Guy. The game did see limited release in the USA as well, but only as a Blockbuster exclusive in 1994.

There were a few other modern home ports of Final Fight. SNES ports were all the rage on the Game Boy Advance and Final Fight was no exception. Fittingly named “Final Fight One”, this version of the game is pretty much arcade perfect, not only restoring the content cut from the SNES release, but even adding new content, like alternate versions of Guy and Cody. Arcade-perfect ports were also made available on the first volume of the Capcom Classics Collection for the PS2 and Xbox, as well as Capcom Classics Collection Remixed on the PSP. The most recent release was Final Fight: Double Impact, a digital release bundled with a new remixed soundtrack, online play, graphic filters as well as a bonus game, Magic Sword. This was exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, though the latter was marred with a controversial always-online DRM protection which prevented the game to be shared with other PSN users. The 360 version of Double Impact also saw a physical release in the form of the Capcom Digital Collection alongside various other Capcom digital titles in March 2012.

Thus concludes my piece on Final Fight. Final Fight did manage to earn 2 direct sequels on the SNES – which are fortunately much better than its ports of the first game – as well as three spinoffs: a super-deformed parody game on the NES, a Saturn-only fighting game that was developed by Capcom USA despite only releasing in Japan and a gritty reboot on the PS2 and Xbox that is so bad, that it killed the studio that developed it. That being said, the most lasting contributions Final Fight has made to video games in general have been through the Street Fighter franchise. Even to this day, new references to the original Final Fight have surfaced in Street Fighter games, ranging from characters and settings to subtle Easter eggs. While we haven’t seen a new Final Fight game since 2006 (and believe me, Streetwise may have salted the Earth on that one for generations), the franchise remains relevant to this day.

Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight

I wasn’t originally planning on doing a write-up for this game. Doing a write-up on Street Fighter 2010 was actually suggested to me by one of my editors, and once I found out that the game actually predated Street Fighter II – something which only raised further questions – I didn’t have a compelling argument against doing one. This game does have a pretty weird history behind it, so it would at least be interesting to explore.

There’s actually a pretty unique backstory with regards to this game’s release in North America. The original rumors were that the game was originally known simply as “2010” when released in Japan and the Street Fighter branding was a decision made by Capcom USA to increase the game’s visibility. As it turns out, this simply isn’t the case. The game was always meant to be a Street Fighter spin-off: the game’s full Japanese title is “2010 Street Fighter”. That’s not to say that Capcom USA didn’t modify the game. They changed the game’s protagonist – originally a cyborg interplanetary police officer by the name of Kevin Straker – into Ken (not yet given the surname “Masters”) from the original Street Fighter. They also completely changed the game’s storyline (more on that later) and added “The Final Fight” as a subtitle to both drive home the Street Fighter connection, as well as piggyback on the success of that arcade smash. In other words, Capcom Japan always intended 2010 as a Street Fighter spin-off, the USA branch just boosted its relevance to “sequel” and added a Final Fight reference to boot. Eat your heart out, U.S. Gold: Capcom USA managed to find an even cheaper way to make a contested sequel for one of their hottest franchises.

2010SF

I guess we owe Capcom USA an apology.

The game’s backstory actually varies a fair amount between the Japanese and Western release. I’ll start with the original plotline from 2010 Street Fighter. Humanity had grown far beyond the confines of the Earth and sought out new worlds. In this new interplanetary society, crime is rampant. Many criminals are powerful cyborgs, but they became even more powerful in the year 2010 AD, after the discovery of “parasites”: armored insects that merged with their hosts, causing them to sprout a beetle-like shell of armor and boosting their strength significantly. To combat this new threat, the Galaxy Police sends out Kevin Straker, a cyborg officer, His orders are to apprehend the parasites’ creator Dr. Jose, destroy the parasites and absorb their power, which opens a dimensional gate to the next outbreak area. However, Kevin has a mere 10 seconds to pass through the gate and if it should close, Kevin would die. With these limitations in mind, he sets out to combat the parasitic scourge.

kevin

He even showed up on the Street Fighter V site. Dr. Jose too!

The English localization took things in a very different direction. The game’s main character was Ken, who retired from street fighting after winning the tournament and returned to college, eventually becoming a brilliant scientist. He ends up developing a new substance known as “Cyboplasm” which grants superhuman strength to any living organism. Unfortunately, soon after this breakthrough, Ken’s lab partner Troy is left murdered and the Cyboplasm stolen. Ken decides to upgrade his body with bionics and, using the martial arts mastery he developed in his street fighting days, tries to track down Troy’s killer. Following the trace amounts of Cyboplasm left behind in each planet in the “Frontier”, Ken eventually discovers that the culprit is Troy himself (replacing Dr. Jose from the Japanese version), who faked his death and is going to use the Cyboplasm to create a race of superhuman warriors loyal to him. Honestly, if you discount the Street Fighter connections, I think I prefer some of the plot points from this version – particularly the expanded relationship between the main character and the antagonist.

2362261-nes_streetfighter2010

I still think we got the better box art for once.

Street Fighter 2010 is a difficult game to describe. It plays like a weird mishmash of Ninja Gaiden and MegaMan, but never really reaches the quality of either game. Kevin is armed with a short-range projectile which can be rapid-fired on the ground but fired off only once in the air. While grounded, the projectile can be fired straight-forward, straight-up by holding up on the D-Pad, diagonally-up (with a weird kicking animation) by holding down on the D-Pad and straight down when somersaulting in the air. The range and power of this attack can be upgraded by collecting power-up capsules that are strewn throughout most stages. Collecting two capsules powers up Kevin’s attack one level and it can be boosted five levels. Another power-up gives Kevin an orb that follows him around that damages any enemy that comes into contact with it. The Flip Shield turns Kevin’s somersault into an attack that kind of resembles a Flash Kick, damaging enemies that come into contact with it. He can also scale walls by pressing the jump button against them and scale through platforms.

sf2010-01.png

Ah yes, the far-flung year 2010.

Levels vary from full-on platforming segments with bosses at the end to enclosed boss arenas. Most levels are timed and when the boss of each segment (referred to as “Target”) is defeated, a warp portal to the next area opens up. Kevin only has ten seconds to enter the portal before dying. The game offers unlimited continues – never a guarantee on the NES – but considering the fact that stages consist of multiple segments and health doesn’t replenish until an entire world is beaten, this game still offers a daunting challenge. Weapon power-ups remain constant between levels but revert to nothing when Kevin dies.

sf2010-02

Purple robo-gorillas are way more interesting than some shirtless guy!

The game’s graphics look pretty good for an NES game, especially considering the fact that the game came out roughly halfway through the system’s lifespan. The environments are colorful, character sprites are detailed and everything’s clear and visible. It’s probably not the most impressive-looking NES game in the system’s existence, but it was an early taste of what the console could do when pushed to its technical limitations. The game’s soundtrack is also top-notch, composed by Junko Tamiya – remember her from Final Fight? The tracks are energetic and manage to have a sound that’s much edgier than most of Capcom’s NES games.

The game feels like a lot of wasted potential. With unique stage layouts, beautiful sprite art and a good soundtrack, the game should be good. Unfortunately, the controls are too clunky at times and while infinite continues may seem like it would make the game easier, it just ends up feeling like more of a punishment considering how weak Kevin’s base stats are. Honestly, the game might be better if it only gave players one life, just because losing power-ups makes Kevin useless in combat and while some stages offer a lot of items, there are some with absolutely nothing. Worse yet, making a tie-in to the Street Fighter series that wasn’t a fighting game, even before SFII hit arcades, rubbed a lot of gamers the wrong way – a choice that got exponentially worse in hindsight. SF 2010 isn’t a particularly terrible game – for most companies at the time, it might be considered among the best – but Capcom’s pedigree at the time made for a hard act to follow. SF 2010 was released in August 1990 in Japan and a month later in North America. By that point, Capcom had released the first two MegaMan games, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, Codename Viper, Ducktales, Bionic Commando and Strider on the NES in North America. It’s just a shame that they never decided to revisit and refine the concepts present in this game, because there’s clearly a lot of untapped potential here.

sf2010-03

This deserved a 7th-gen sequel way more than Mercs.

One final thought occurs to me: was Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in production while Street Fighter 2010 was being made? I mean, the game did come out the following year, so I think it’s safe to assume that it was. However, if that were the case, I have to wonder why Capcom continued with 2010’s development if SFII had been conceived. Given how much of a departure 2010 was from the original, both in terms of setting and gameplay, it just seems unusual. Chances are the game was already so far into development that it would’ve been a waste of resources to not complete it, but I wonder what could have happened if 2010 ended up becoming a huge success like Final Fight before it. Would 2010 have had sequels and the traditional 1-on-1 fighting game formula have been abandoned? Or would the mainline Street Fighter games have run in tandem with a series based around the 2010 continuity, sort of like the various iterations of MegaMan that coexisted? We’ll never know, especially given how little information there is about Street Fighter 2010’s development, but it’s interesting to consider.

That seems like the perfect place to cap off this section of my retrospective: a nice little appetizer before we get into the real meat of the series. Next time, I’ll be taking a look at the worldwide phenomenon that was Street Fighter II, in all of its various incarnations. I’m not sure exactly when the next article in this series will surface – like I said, I’m only planning on doing these when I have a gap in my schedule – but right now, I’m planning on doing Part 2 sometime this April.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 4]

Mega_Man_Logo (1)

Welcome back to the final installment of my look back at the Classic MegaMan series. While the games I covered in the first three articles took place in roughly a decade-long period, ranging from the late 1980s all the way to the end of the 20th Century, the original MegaMan franchise would go into something of a hiatus for almost a decade. Apart from collections, individual re-releases and even a remake of the original game, no new mainline games starring the original Blue Bomber would hit the scene until 2008, just past the Blue Bomber’s 20th anniversary. Of course, various spinoffs and sequel series got their time in the sun during this period, introducing new generations to the MegaMan universe in unique ways, but seeing the original return in a familiar form was enough to get people excited. Unfortunately, this brief renaissance ended as quickly as it would start, taking the entire franchise with it. We know of only a handful of games that Capcom cancelled after the departure of Keiji Inafune, the man long called “the Father of MegaMan” (erroneously, but hindsight is always 20/20) and since then, the entire franchise has languished, appearing in ancillary media and the occasional video game crossover. I wrote these four articles well before the actual day of MegaMan’s 30th anniversary – a deadline I imposed on Capcom after a disappointing 25th. I don’t know whether I’ll be right or wrong, but as we conclude this look back at MegaMan’s history, I would also like to take a shot at speculating directions the franchise could take as a whole – not just Classic, but every MegaMan, past and future. I’m sure that all of my speculations will end up less like predictions and more as a wishlist, but honestly, the latter seems more fun than the former anyway.

MegaMan 9

I’m always intrigued by cases of video games being ahead of their time. While not exactly the first time the MegaMan series could be considered visionary, the shift back to the classic 8-bit style in MegaMan 9 was definitely one of the earliest cases of the modern “retro throwback” movement. The problem is, the game came out back in 2008, long before the actual movement itself took off. Fortunately, just simply due to the lack of traditional MegaMan games released in the 2000s, not to mention the sheer novelty of an official game release using the classic NES aesthetic,  gamers came back in droves. MegaMan 9 could be best summarized as a love letter to MegaMan 2, generally considered to be the best game in the entire Classic line of games. Personally, I think they were a bit excessive in this regard, but the game still holds up today.

MM9-01

…8, 9! Told ya MM&B was canon.

As early as 2004, Keiji Inafune expressed interest in creating MegaMan 9 as a “throwback to the super old school”, but such games didn’t fit into the “grandiose and expansive world that the consumer gaming industry has become, and so you have to make games that match the current expectations”. He also figured that a classic MegaMan game made in the same vein as the 8-bit games “would be quickly criticized for things like being simplistic, outdated, or too expensive”, which made justifying a project in this style difficult. However, with the rise of such retro gaming-themed services, most notably the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, it was decided that the seventh generation would be the perfect time to revisit the original Blue Bomber. Recruiting the developer Inti Creates – a company of ex-Capcom developers who previously created the woefully underrated MegaMan Zero and ZX games – MM9 was built from the ground up as an homage to the first two games in the series, particularly MegaMan 2.

 

Capcom’s management supported making MegaMan 9 as a downloadable title, but originally wanted to make it in 3D. This would eventually lead to a compromise, allowing players to choose between 8-bit and 3D graphics, but eventually, the 8-bit style won out. During the development of MM9, Inti Creates sought to create a game that would surpass MM2 (as opposed to MM8), as it was considered the pinnacle of the series. The game’s producer Hironobu Takeshita referred to MM9 as “the new MegaMan 3” because of this. He also clarified that despite the aesthetic being a complete recreation of the 8-bit era, MegaMan 9 was far too large to fit on an NES cartridge. Keiji Inafune designed Plugman and Splashwoman, while the other six Robot Masters were designed by Inti Creates staff. Plugman was designed as a template for the younger designers to base their own concepts on, while Splashwoman was the series’ first female Robot Master and requested by the planning team. Originally, Splashwoman was intended to be a male Robot Master, while Hornetman was originally conceived as “Honeywoman” before Inafune presented Splashwoman’s design. Having said that, many of the Robot Masters in MegaMan 9 appear to draw inspiration from earlier MegaMan games: the most prominent examples being Splashwoman and Tornadoman, who have been compared to MegaMan Zero’s Leviathan and Harupia respectively. The game was first released on the WiiWare service in September 2008, likely as a nod to the Virtual Console’s contribution to the game’s creation. It would release soon after on both the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade services, though the Japanese Xbox release was delayed almost an entire year.

MM9-04

Bees: the mermaid’s natural predator.

Since Dr. Wily’s most recent defeat, the Blue Bomber has been able to retire to a world at peace. Unfortunately, one day, robots all over the world begin going crazy once more. However, this time the robots were the creations of Dr. Light. As phone calls began pouring into Light Labs, Dr. Wily hijacked all television signals to announce that he was not behind the latest batch of robotic riots. The mad doctor put the blame on his former rival, Dr. Thomas Light, even producing video evidence of the beloved roboticist trying to recruit Wily in his own plans for world domination. Dr. Wily announced that he would try to build his own army of robots to counter Dr. Light’s, but needed donations to his Swiss bank account to make it happen. It doesn’t take long for the police to arrest Dr. Light, leaving MegaMan, Roll and Auto to find out who was really behind the revolting Light bots. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize the storyline of this game, but personally, I think it’s my favorite in the entire series. I especially like the way that the game’s story is told through several cutscenes after completing a certain number of stages, turning MM9 into what may very well be the most story-driven game in the Classic series.

When I said that Inti Creates took inspiration from MegaMan 2, I meant it. This game practically plays like a ROM hack of the NES classic. As such, MegaMan’s abilities take a bit of a nosedive. The Blue Bomber loses his charge shot and slide abilities, opting for the purely jump-and-shoot gameplay that made MM a household name in the first place. In spite of this, a few elements from future titles do manage to make their way into the game. For example, the pause screen layout matches those of MegaMans 4-6. Also, the game utilizes a save system similar to MM8 and MegaMan & Bass, as opposed to using the traditional password system. There was one popular feature from more recent games that was omitted in MM9: the ability to swap weapons in real-time. Most people assume that this was dropped due to the fact that the game was originally developed for the Nintendo Wii. The standard layout for the console relied on holding the Wiimote sideways, leading to a layout similar to NES controllers, which apparently lacked any viable equivalent to the shoulder buttons generally associated with the feature.

MM9-05

Spin on, you– wait, I already said that.

MegaMan 9 also went for a more traditional approach to Support Items. The Rush Coil and Rush Jet return and are functionally identical to their MegaMan 4 iterations. While the Rush Coil is available from the start, the Rush Jet is unlocked by defeating five of the game’s eight Robot Masters. MM9 also brings back the shop system from the most recent games in the series. Screws (formerly Bolts) can be found throughout stages, either as standard power-up or as items dropped by destroyed enemies. Staples such as the Energy Balanacer, extra lives and both E-Tanks and M-Tanks return, but are joined by new items. The Eddie Call summons MegaMan’s flip-top robot companion, who drops random power-ups for 10 seconds. The Beat Call acts similar to the Beat Whistle in MM7, allowing Beat to save MegaMan from pitfall-related deaths. The Shock Guard prevents death from spikes and the ½ Damage Guard reduces damage by half for an entire stage. There’s also the Costume Change and Book of Hairstyles items, which changes Roll’s outfit and allows MegaMan to remove his helmet respectively. These items must be purchased again – though the Book of Hairstyles gets replaced with MegaMan’s helmet – to reverse their effects, but they don’t really have any effect on gameplay.

With the charge shot being retired, one would expect that the weapons would simply go back to their traditional place of just being stronger weapons. Fortunately, MegaMan 9 decides to offer the best of both worlds – the weapons are still powerful, but many of them have alternate uses as well. As per usual, I’m going to be ranking the game’s weapons by how effective I think they are. The game’s best weapon would have to be Jewelman’s Jewel Satellite – essentially the Leaf Shield taken to its logical conclusion. MegaMan can move freely while using it, and pressing the button a second time fires it off, where it can destroy several weak enemies at once. It can also reflect most enemy projectiles in the game and only costs energy once activated. Coming in second is the Hornet Chaser, obtained after defeating Hornetman. This allows MegaMan to shoot out hornet-shaped robotic drones that can either home in on enemies or retrieve most power-ups. Number 3 would have to be MagmaMan’s Magma Bazooka. MegaMan fires off three fire balls in a spread shot formation. The shots can also be charged, similar to MM2’s Atomic Fire. Fourth best weapon would have to be the Black Hole Bomb, taken from Galaxyman. MegaMan fires off a pulsating purple orb, hitting fire a second time detonates the explosion, which sucks up any nearby enemies and deals big damage. I tend to rank this one so high due to its spectacle more than its practicality, but it’s still pretty useful all the same. Concreteman’s Concrete Shot would have to go down as weapon #5. MegaMan fires a glob of concrete at an arc, which generates a concrete block that acts like a stepping stone. Enemies take a great deal of damage from the attack and those destroyed by it are also turned into blocks. The concrete shot can even petrify certain hazards, like magma barriers and even laser beams. Laser Trident, Splashwoman’s special weapon, is the sixth-best weapon in the game. Effectively acting as a more powerful Buster Shot, the Laser Trident can also pierce enemy shields (and even destroy those aforementioned concrete blocks). Number seven would have to be Tornadoman’s Tornado Blow. A full screen weapon similar to the Centaur Flash and Astro Crush, it fills the screen with tornadoes. MegaMan’s jump height also increases while it’s active and it can be used to activate various air-based platforms. Fire-based enemies are also susceptible to the winds. Finally, there’s the Plug Ball, Plugman’s weapon. Similar to weapons like the Bubble Lead and the Search Snake, the Plug Ball is a spark ball that travels across the ground and can climb up walls and even ceilings. Unfortunately, this means that airborne enemies are practically invulnerable to it. It’s not a bad weapon by any means, but it pales in comparison to the rest of MegaMan 9’s arsenal. Still, that might just make the Plug Ball one of the best “worst weapons” in MegaMan history.

MM9-03

Diamonds are a girl’s robot’s best friend.

What is there really to say about MegaMan 9’s graphics? Inti Creates did a pretty good job trying to recreate the aesthetic of the NES games. They recycled what they could, but aside from a few characters, they pretty much had to either heavily modify existing sprites or draw entirely new ones from scratch. MM9 aimed to emulate MM2 in many ways, to the extent where many of the levels have simpler backgrounds than even the late-era NES MegaMan games. Having said that, the artstyle achieves what it set out to, to the extent where some of the bosses are miscolored due to the limitations associated with the NES’s color palette. While the game was designed with widescreen (16:9) TVs in mind, the game uses the traditional 4:3 ratio, with black bars on the sides of the screen, similar to how older TV programs are displayed on modern televisions. MM9 even adds in a feature strictly meant for retro purists: the option to emulate the NES’s flickering when there are too many sprites onscreen. I personally never used it – like most people, flickering always bugged me in NES games – but it shows the amount of attention they paid to detail when attempting to recreate MegaMan 2 on far more advanced hardware. In that sense, MegaMan 9 was a complete success.

For the most part, a lot of MegaMan 9’s sound effects were recycled from previous games, especially MM2. There were also some sound effects designed exclusively for MM9 itself, though all of the game’s audio was modelled after the NES’s sound chip. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Ippo Yamada, Ryo Kawakami, Yu Shimoda (who also worked on the game’s sound effects) and Hiroki Isogai – all members of Inti Creates’ internal sound team, referred to as III. Ippo Yamada previously worked on MegaMan 7, as well as the MegaMan Zero and ZX series. Of course, some of the game’s music – the menu screen tune, as well as the jingles for selecting a stage, getting a weapon, Game Over and the map screen for Dr. Wily’s Castle – were recycled directly from MegaMan 2. Aside from that, however, I’d say that the musical compositions deviate from MM2’s framework more than any other aspect of the game and frankly, I’d consider that a good thing. Despite the fact that most of Ippo Yamada’s compositions for the MegaMan series were built on more advanced sound hardware, he’s able to slip into the 8-bit style seamlessly. My favorite themes in the game are the stage themes for Galaxyman, Hornetman, Magmaman and Concreteman, as well as the standard boss fight music and the third Dr. Wily stage – though most people tend to prefer the first two. The music that plays over the game’s credits is also amazing. Of course, much like the Zero and ZX games, Inti Creates’ involvement with MegaMan 9 meant that an arranged soundtrack was released around the game’s release. While these tracks weren’t present within the game itself, they do offer some interesting rearrangements to the game’s compositions. Some were even handled by other composers from the Classic series, such as Akari Kaida, Shusaku Uchiyama, Yasuaki “BUN BUN” Fujita and even Manami Matsumae herself. I wish that these could’ve been incorporated into the game itself, but with WiiWare’s size restrictions, it would’ve been completely impossible.

There are also a few bonus features added to the game, to increase replay value. For example, there are 50 challenges hidden in the game – akin to in-game achievements – ranging from beating a boss with the Mega Buster or clearing a stage in a certain amount of time to beating the entire game without taking damage once. There was also a Time Attack mode, which allows players to replay any stage – though the Wily Castle stages have to be unlocked by beating them – in order to rack up the best possible time. Time Attack mode made use of all 3 systems’ capabilities to connect to the internet to maintain online leaderboards, allowing players to compete with people all over the world to complete each stage with the best possible time.

MM9-02

Somehow, I always pictured him being more dignified than this.

MegaMan 9 wasn’t the first game in the series to toy with downloadable content – more on that later – but it was the first to actively charge extra money for it. Having said that, I’d have to say that Capcom actually managed to price things fairly at this point. First off, there were two additional difficulty settings, labelled “Hero Mode” and “Superhero Mode,” which were available for $1 apiece. $1 was also the cost for an additional Special Stage, an extended-length level that pit MegaMan against the devious “Fakeman”, a police robot modelled after the one that apprehended Dr. Light in one of the game’s cutscenes.  Endless Attack was a special mode that pit players against an endless onslaught of stage segments – both taken from existing stages and some completely original – to see just how long they could last for a mere $2. The main attraction, however, was the ability to play through the game as Protoman, MegaMan’s mysterious older brother for a mere $2. Protoman plays fundamentally differently from the Blue Bomber, inheriting both the slide and Charge Shot MegaMan ditched in MM9, as well as gaining the ability to reflect certain shots with his Proto Shield while jumping. In exchange, Protoman takes twice as much damage as his little bro and can only fire two shots at a time, as opposed to the traditional three. He also replaces the Rush Coil and Jet with the Proto Coil and Proto Jet respectively – both themed around his trademark shield as opposed to the Blue Bomber’s canine companion – which he starts the game with. Of course, Protoman also lacks any of the game’s story cutscenes, as well as the ability to use the game’s shop. Honestly, I think that’s kind of fitting: Protoman was always depicted as something of a “lone wolf” character and completely rewriting the story around him seemed like a waste of time. Using Protoman also disables the ability to unlock in-game achievements, but I think that’s a small price to pay for something that should probably be saved for repeat playthroughs in the first place.

MegaMan 9 is really a hard game to gauge. Its Japanese subtitle “The Ambition’s Revival” was definitely fitting, as it provided a necessary in for both the Classic MegaMan series as a whole, which lied dormant for at least a decade – relegated entirely to re-releases and the occasional remake – as well as the retro-inspired aesthetic, which would eventually lead to a throwback trend that still exists to this day. I definitely enjoy it for the most part, but the fact that it essentially tries too hard to be a second MegaMan 2 sort of rubs me the wrong way. Ironically, despite being held up as a stellar example of what developers should try to achieve when building retro throwbacks, it’s a perfect example of one of the flaws so many people criticize when bashing the entire trend: it sticks too closely to the source material. I think most of the negative reviews I’ve seen for this game since its release nearly 10 years ago – has it really been that long? – have claimed that it was nothing more than a ROM hack. Now I’m not stupid enough to go that far when criticizing the game, but it’s obvious that Capcom went out of their way to try to recreate the magic of MegaMan 2. It was definitely a success on that front, but I’d argue that they might have done too well. If I haven’t already made myself clear in the earlier parts of this retrospective, let me make something crystal clear: I think that later games in the Classic series – not all of them, mind you – actually managed to exceed MegaMan 2 in terms of quality. Shooting to match something that’s already been improved on feels pointless to me, regardless of popular opinion. If the teams at Capcom and Inti Creates had been trying to make a game that was better than MegaMan 2, I’d be a lot more forgiving. Unfortunately, that’s not what they were aiming for. They simply wanted to match a standard that was topped years back. As such, I’d say MegaMan 9’s a good game, but definitely not the best the series has to offer.

MegaMan 10

The praise that MM9 received for being “a fresh breath of air for the entire franchise” makes the criticism lobbed at its successor all the more infuriating. Dismissed as a “lazy retread” by most members of the fanbase by the time the game was launched, MegaMan 10 continues the series tradition of later games being dismissed out of hand. In that sense, MegaMan 9 truly was a successor to the legendary second game in the franchise: no follow-up could have possibly lived up to the lofty expectations it inspired. If MM9 planted the seeds for the retro throwback trend that continues to thrive to this day, then MM10 clearly suffered because it hadn’t taken root by 2010. Likewise, whether indirectly or not, MM10 clearly took inspiration from the later games in the series, delivering a more developed project that would go down as my favorite mainline game in the Classic series.

Pleased with the success of the previous game, Capcom commissioned Inti Creates to develop MegaMan 10. Keiji Inafune felt that MM9’s “retro style” had contributed to the game’s success, so they decided to continue the trend in this new title. However, according to Ippo Yamada, while MM9 was developed as a spiritual successor to MM2, 10 was made up of “original pixel art and chip music, neither a remake nor a revival”. The development team decided that when developing this new installment that they should listen both to old-school gamers and former gamers who hadn’t played any video games recently. This led to the inclusion of Easy Mode, due to the complaints surrounding MM9’s extreme difficulty.

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Seriously, this will never not crack me up.

After Dr. Wily’s scheme to frame Dr. Light failed, peace has returned to the future of 20XX. However, soon after Roboenza, an illness that only affects robots, begins spreading throughout the world. Without the assistance of their robot helpers, humanity finds itself incapable of finding a cure. Eventually, even Roll, MegaMan’s sister, is infected with the mysterious disease. Matters only get worse a month after the outbreak begins, as the afflicted robots begin going berserk and attempt to take over the world. One day, Dr. Wily’s flying saucer appears at Light Labs, heavily damaged. Wily claims that one of the robots attacked him and stole the parts to a machine he’d be working on to cure the virus. MegaMan vows to retrieve the stolen parts from eight Robot Masters, but before he’s able to jump into action, Protoman appears. Believing that the job is too big for the Blue Bomber to complete alone, he offers his assistance and the two join forces to acquire the cure.

For the most part, MegaMan 10 – bafflingly subtitled as “Threat From Outer Space!!” in Japan – resembles its predecessor in terms of its gameplay. MegaMan retains his abilities from the previous game, though this time around Protoman is playable from the start, also retaining his quirks from MM9. Both characters have their own unique storylines, which makes Protoman’s involvement feel a lot more organic than it did in the previous game. Aside from that, gameplay is mostly unchanged from the previous game, though the addition of multiple difficulty levels in the base game does allow for more variety than previous games in the series. One welcome addition is the return of the ability to switch weapons without pausing, assigned to the shoulder buttons on most controllers. Considering how easy it was to implement – the Wii Remote uses the A and B buttons – I’m still shocked that the previous game lacked this quality of life feature. Easy Mode actually manages to have more of an effect on the game than previous iterations: special propeller platforms are placed over gaps to make jumps easier, certain enemies are entirely missing from the difficulty setting, some enemies have completely different attack patterns and all damage is halved – just like in MM2’s “Normal” mode. However, beating the game on Normal difficulty unlocks Hard mode, which is the exact opposite of Easy Mode. Item drops are reduced significantly, nearly every enemy has an upgraded version and bosses even have entirely new attacks. These new features definitely add to the game’s replay value.

The support items from the previous game also return in full force: MegaMan has access to the Rush Coil and Rush Jet, while Protoman wields the Proto Coil and Proto Jet. As with the previous game, Protoman starts with both support items, while MegaMan only starts with the Coil. Fortunately, the Blue Bomber only needs to beat four Robot Masters to unlock the Jet this time around. The Shop also returns from the previous game, but this time, Protoman has access to one all his own. Both characters’ shops are completely different: MegaMan’s is run by Dr. Light and Auto, while Protoman’s is run by “?????” – in reality, a disguised Auto wearing a hard hat – accompanied by Tango, the robotic feline from MegaMan V. MegaMan’s offerings are essentially identical to the previous game, except Roll’s Costume Change is replaced with a W-Tank. Protoman’s offerings, however, are significantly more limited: he can buy extra lives, Energy and Weapon Tanks, Beat Calls, Shock Guards and the Energy Balancer. Kind of ironic that the character who takes twice as much damage can’t buy the item that halves it. I guess that would make the game too easy.

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A mystery wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a Hard Hat.

Just like in its predecessor, MM10’s Special Weapons attempt to bridge the gap between the early games’ power and the later games’ practicality. In this case, it seems like they tend to evoke more of the latter quality compared to the previous game. In the end, they end up coming across like a mixture between the experimental qualities of the weapons found in MM5 with the non-combat applications of those found in MM8. While 10’s arsenal may not be the most devastating of the series in terms of firepower, they’re definitely among the most fun weapons in the entire series. My personal favorite weapon would have to be Pumpman’s Water Shield. A unique take on the traditional “Leaf Shield” weapon, MegaMan (et al) summons 10 orbs of water to act as a shield. Firing again shoots them off in random directions, sort of like a more chaotic version of MM7’s Junk Shield. The unique part is that each hit the shield takes only manages to dissipate one orb, but the wielder can still take damage from attacks that slip in between the gaps left in the barrier. Next up would be the Solar Blaze, Solarman’s weapon. It essentially fires off a bomb that splits into two waves of fire, each careening in opposite directions. It sort of reminds me of the Pharaoh Wave attack from MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters. Coming in at number 3 would have to be Nitroman’s Wheel Cutter. Similar to the Spin Wheel from MegaMan X2, it fires off a buzzsaw that travels across the ground when the fire button is released. However, if the button is held, the saw remains on MegaMan’s buster, which can allow him to scale walls quickly. Then there’s the Chill Spike, taken from Chillman. It fires off a glob of icy gel which forms spikes when it lands on the ground, but hitting an enemy with it directly freezes them temporarily, much like the Ice Slasher. Blademan’s (not that one) weapon, the Triple Blade, is my fifth favorite, firing three katana-shaped blades in a spread shot formation, though the pattern varies depending on whether it’s fired on the ground (straight, diagonal up, further diagonal-up) or while jumping (straight, diagonal-down, further diagonal-down). A little tricky to aim at times because of this, but it works well for the next part. The Rebound Striker, obtained by defeating Strikeman, is essentially an improved version of the Gemini Laser from MM3. The ball still ricochets around the screen, but this time it can be aimed in three different directions from the start – straight forward and diagonally up or down – which can allow for greater accuracy. Coming in at seventh place is Commandoman’s Commando Bomb, an explosive missile that can be aimed after firing by pressing up or down on the D-Pad, forcing it to turn at a 90 degree angle. Once it makes impact with a wall, ceiling or floor, it creates a large explosive wave that follows the contours of the landscape. This is where the majority of the damage comes from: the missile itself is a dud if it hits an enemy directly. Finally, there’s the worst weapon in the game, the Thunder Wool, courtesy of Sheepman. MegaMan fires off a slow-moving thunder cloud that slowly rises into the air and drops a powerful lightning bolt. Two clouds can be combined to increase the attack’s range and damage, but the cloud is so slow and fragile, it’s almost not worth bothering with the attack in the first place.

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A lot of weaknesses feel too esoteric, but this seems way too obvious.

While MegaMan 9 set out to imitate MegaMan 2 exactly, MM10’s aesthetics were clearly meant to be more of an homage to the classic 8-bit games, attempting to ape the classic console’s look while utilizing artistic tricks that the NES was clearly incapable of. For the most part, the game’s graphics are similar to that of the previous game, but the presentation is improved significantly, much to any retro purist’s chagrin. While various traits of the classic 8-bit system are retained in the game’s spritework and cutscenes – particularly the limited color palette – MegaMan 10 also decides to use graphical tricks that the classic console would clearly never be able to do within actual games. I think my favorite bit of presentation of the game is what happens when one of the Robot Masters’ stages are selected. A cyan rectangle, surrounded by a darker blue background above and below it. The background contains silhouettes of each of the eight Robot Masters – four above the cyan part, four below – and the chosen boss hops into the center, introducing itself. As each boss robot is defeated, their shadow is removed from the line-up. I don’t know why, but something about that just struck me as a nice touch. Compared to MM9, the game’s aesthetic clearly draws more inspiration from later games in the NES library but doesn’t tether itself to the system’s limitations. Perhaps the most evident shift away would be the fact that the flicker setting from the previous game is completely absent this time around. As with the previous game, MM10 uses a 4:3 aspect ratio for its gameplay. This time, however, there are graphical borders that vary based on whether the player is on the main menu or selected a character. Some players found this addition distracting, but I didn’t really mind one way or the other.

The sound team from the previous game returns. Ippo Yamada returns as the Sound Director, Hiroki Isogai joins Yu Shimoda on Sound Effect Design and Ryo Kawakami composed many of the game’s tracks. However, this time around, an all-star team of composers from previous MegaMan games return, each providing one of the Robot Masters themes. Manami Matsumae (MM1) composed Nitro Rider, Yasuaki “BUN BUN” Fujita (MM3) wrote Solar Inferno, Desert Commando was MM4 composer Minae Fujii’s contribution to the soundtrack, Mari Yamaguchi (MM5) scored the catchy Cybersheep’s Dream, Yuko Takehara of MegaMan 6 & 7 composed Polluted Pump, Makoto Tomozawa (Dr. Wily’s Revenge, MegaMan X, MegaMan 7 and the Legends games) produced Fireball Strike, Absolute Chill was composed by Shusaku Uchiyama (MM8) and Akari Kaida (MM&B) contributed King of Blades. In fact, Takashi Tateishi, the composer of MM2, even rearranged the standard stage clear jingle, while Manami Matsumae handled the trademark stage selected tune. As such, the game’s soundtrack comes across as eclectic, but also memorable in my opinion. MegaMan 10 also sets the record for having the most unique boss battle songs in the series history: there are unique themes for the Robot Master fights, the fortress bosses, the Wily Machine battle and the Wily Capsule, bringing the grand total to four. likely has my favorite soundtrack in the entire series, which makes it difficult to choose my favorite songs. Sheepman, Nitroman, Pumpman and Chillman’s themes are my top choices, as well as the third Wily Castle level theme (though the first and second theme are also great), the Wily Fortress Boss Battle and Protoman’s unique shop theme. MM10 also received an arranged soundtrack around the time of its release, though it was referred to as an “Image Soundtrack”. It’s a shame that not every song in the game gets remastered, but what manages to make it in sounds great.

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Somehow, Protoman even manages to make the MM4 charge shot look cooler.

The Time Attack mode and in-game achievements also return from the previous game. MegaMan 10 also adds a brand-new challenge mode, consisting of 88 mini-stages, each with their own unique layouts and requirements from completion, generally involving reaching a goal or defeating an enemy. Some of the earlier Challenges end up resembling a tutorial mode for the base game, while later stages put player to the test to prove their mastery of the game. These challenges also have various ranks, which can be unlocked by completing each challenge while meeting specific criteria, like finishing in a certain amount of time or beat it without taking any damage. It doesn’t really add that much to the overall game, but it is a nice extra feature that I would love to see return in future games.

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Did I mention just how much I love the references in this game?

As with the previous game, there is some paid DLC to extend replay value. This time, there are three special stages, which cost $1 apiece. This time, each stage is topped off with a boss fight from one of the three MegaMan Killers: Enker (from the first Game Boy game), Punk (MMIII) and Ballade (MMIV). These stages are only accessible in the game’s time attack mode by MegaMan, but defeating each boss adds their Special Weapons to the Blue Bomber’s arsenal permanently, in every game mode. Endless Attack also returns as additional DLC, costing $3 this time around. The game’s most important addition would have to be Bass as a third playable character, costing $2. Bass retains his aimable shot from MegaMan & Bass, but loses his double jump. He can also dash instead of sliding and comes equipped with the Treble Boost from the get-go. Unlike Protoman in the previous game, Bass even gets his own storyline and has access to a shop, run by Dr. Wily’s robotic bird Reggae. Bass’s shop selection is similar to Protoman’s, though the Beat Call is replaced with the Treble Item and Treble Rescue, which are functionally identical to the Eddie and Beat Calls respectively.

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A literal game-changer.

In the end, MegaMan 10 feels like more of a tribute game than an outright retro throwback. The fact that it was released after MegaMan 9 definitely hurt its reception – especially given the series’ reputation of low-effort sequels – but it seems that unlike the other MegaMan games that went unappreciated, MM10 still suffers from the poor reactions that plagued it upon its original release. I’d like to think that its position was exacerbated by the fact that it was the last true MegaMan release up to the present. While I hope time will heal the wounds this game has suffered in the past seven years, I grow more and more skeptical as time goes on. MegaMan 10 is still presently my favorite game of the entire Classic series and I think a lot of that has to do with just how perfect of a game it was to precede the great hiatus we’ve been suffering for over five years at this point. The game contains references to several earlier games in the series: the Weapon Archive boss fights in the first Wily Castle stage recreate Robot Masters from nine of the previous games; Bass’s gameplay is reminiscent of his previous playable appearance in MegaMan & Bass and Tango, Reggae and the MegaMan Killers all make appearances representing more obscure titles in the series. In a sense, if we had to say goodbye to the Classic MegaMan games – whether permanent or temporary – MM10 felt like a perfect note to end it on as it pays tribute to the franchise’s rich history, instead of just paying lip service to a single title. I’m still holding out hope that we’ll see a MegaMan 11 sooner or later, but until then, this game has left me satisfied for the time being.

MegaMan Powered Up

While MegaMan 9 didn’t arrive on the scene until 2008, there was one other title released between it and the delayed Western release of MegaMan & Bass on the Game Boy Advance. Releasing in 2006 on the PlayStation Portable, MegaMan Powered Up – known as Rockman Rockman in Japan – was a total reimagining of the 1987 classic that started it all. While remaking the first game in the series may seem frivolous by today’s standards with multiple re-releases of the NES version over the years, MMPU delivers a package that I’d count as the gold standard for video game remakes. Powered Up attempts to fix many of the flaws of the original game while maintaining the things that made it great in the first place and adding entirely new elements to keep the game feeling brand-new. In that sense, MegaMan Powered Up feels like the most substantial game in the entire series, no small feat for a game exclusively released on a handheld system.

MegaMan Powered Up was developed alongside a similar remake of the first MegaMan X game – MegaMan Maverick Hunter X – on Sony’s PlayStation Portable fairly early into its lifespan. Both games were intended to start an entire series of remakes, but unfortunately, due to the handheld’s lack of sales in any region when the games were originally released, these plans were inevitably scrapped. MHX was released first and as such, it included a demo for Powered Up as a bonus. The PlayStation Portable’s design actually had quite a significant impact on the development of the game. Due to the PSP’s widescreen aspect ratio, the super-deformed chibi artstyle was chosen to better emphasis the character’s facial expressions. Keiji Inafune expressed interest in using a similar style in the original MegaMan game but was unable to realize his vision due to the limitations of the NES hardware. The game’s aesthetic, especially the character models were designed around the concept of “toys”, specifically trying to design them to resemble “the kinds of characters that you’d see hanging off keychains and such”, according to character designer Tatsuya Yoshikawa. The extra screen space afforded by the widescreen also inspired the developers to expand the sizes of the stages, as they were given more screen space to work with. Keiji Inafune mentioned that there were originally going to be eight Robot Masters in the original MegaMan on the NES, but ended up with six due to tight scheduling. Inafune originally considered using one of the abandoned concepts – Bondman, a adhesives robot – in Powered Up, but decided that due to his cult status, he would leave the character as a “legend”. Instead, Inafune designed two original bosses: Timeman and Oilman – not that one – who had to be slightly redesigned outside of Japan, due to his resemblance to a racial caricature.

As one might expect from a remake, MegaMan Powered Up essentially retells the story from the first game, albeit in greater detail. In the year 20XX – I guess they figured “200X” didn’t sound futuristic in 2006 – humans have been able to create industrial humanoid robots. At the forefront of this technology is Dr. Thomas Light, a brilliant roboticist, who created two human-like robots with highly advanced artificial intelligence: “Mega” – I will never get over this change – an android resembling a young boy built as the doctor’s lab assistant and his sister Roll, a helper robot designed for housekeeping. After the success of these two robots, Dr. Light would build eight more “Robot Masters” designed for industrial use. Dr. Wily, a former colleague and rival of Dr. Light, becomes jealous of Dr. Light’s achievements and decides to attempt world domination. He steals and reprograms the eight Robot Masters to aid him in his megalomaniacal scheme. To add insult to injury, he leaves Mega and Roll behind, declaring them as nothing but useless scrap. With the world in chaos and Dr. Light fearing the worst, Mega volunteers to be converted into a super fighting robot. Rechristened as “MegaMan”, the Blue Bomber sets off to rescue his fellow robots and stop Wily’s evil plot. Of course, this game doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as other games in the series, and considering that this is a Classic MegaMan game, that’s really saying something. I think MMPU is a pretty big part of the reason why I prefer the Western storyline of the original game – where Dr. Wily was Dr. Light’s assistant rather than just a colleague. I always used to wonder how Wily would’ve been able to steal Light’s robots if he weren’t working for him and ever since Powered Up’s release, I can’t help but think of him literally putting all of them in a giant sack and flying away. It’s both hilarious and impractical, but I really can’t think of any better way for Wily to have reprogrammed the robots if he didn’t do it under Dr. Light’s nose as his assistant.

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What, did you think I was joking?

The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from a MegaMan platformer. Stages are generally longer than those of the original game, and returning stages mix new obstacles into existing stages to create entirely new layouts. In fact, elements from future games – namely a few enemies and obstacles – manage to make their way into MMPU, paying homage to other games in the series. For example, the game starts with a unique introduction stage, much like MM7, MM8 and MegaMan & Bass, capped off with a brand-new, yet surprisingly familiar boss fight. Likewise, MegaMan can switch Special Weapons on the fly by using the shoulder buttons. Despite being a relatively early attempt at a 2.5D game – that is, a game with 3D graphics but gameplay limited to a 2D plane – Powered Up pretty much nails everything. It’s especially jarring considering this game was released in 2006 and on a portable game system of all things, when many of the game’s console contemporaries were still suffering from the  problems commonly associated with 2.5D games at this early stage in their development, let alone a platformer which requires more precise controls than most other genres. Look no further than the game’s counterpart – Maverick Hunter X – where the 3D models didn’t allow for the precision 2D platformers are generally afforded with sprites and other more traditional 2D artstyles, leading to ill-timed jumps and other unintentional difficulties for the player. Speaking of difficulty, each stage in the game has three difficulty settings: Easy, Normal and Hard. The difficulty is always chosen at the beginning of each stage and after the eight Robot Masters are defeated, the Wily Fortress stages can only be played on difficulty settings all of the previous stages were completed on or lower. Similar to MM10, each difficulty setting has its own enemy layout and boss characters even gain access to more powerful attacks on the higher settings.

The addition of two new Robot Masters actually changes quite a bit about the game compared to its source material. For starters, the boss weakness order has been heavily modified, even beyond the obvious way of just accounting for the additional bosses. To name a few, Rolling Cutter defeats Bombman now and Oil Slider is Elecman’s weakness, whose Thunder Beam now defeats Timeman. It may feel like just a small inconsequential change to the game itself, but honestly it refreshes the entire concept and keeps long-time fans on their toes. Another important change comes to the boss fights themselves, each Robot Master’s attack pattern has been expanded greatly over the 1987 original. Most importantly, they gain powerful special attacks that render them temporarily invincible. While these attacks are limited to when they’ve lost half their health, the difficulty setting affects how often they’re used. Frankly, I love the entire concept and wish that other games in the Classic series could have done something similar.

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Jump, jump! Slide, sl–whoops, wrong game.

Powered Up brings back a majority of the weapons from the original game, with the sole exception being the Magnet Beam. In its place are two new weapons: the Time Slow, which temporarily slows down time for a brief period and the Oil Slider, which fires a glob of oil that MegaMan can ride like a snowboard. Neither new weapon is particularly useful, but they are interesting concepts. I’d probably put both weapons below even the Hyper Bomb in terms of usefulness, but otherwise, my rankings for the weapons in the original NES version still hold true.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan Powered Up’s aesthetics deviate from the series in general, ramping up the cutesiness substantially even when compared to the Tezuka-inspired artwork of Keiji Inafune’s original designs. And yet, it’s probably one of the most gorgeous game in the PSP’s library, despite being released fairly early in the game’s lifespan. The character models are very expressive and all of the stages are colorful, with surprisingly detailed backgrounds despite the system’s small resolution. The lifebar and weapons meter also showcase MegaMan’s remaining lives and how many shots of each Special Weapon MegaMan has left, similar to both MegaMan 8 and the Complete Works games. Some people may be turned off by the game’s aesthetic, but frankly, I still think it holds up even to this day.

The entire soundtrack from the original game returns in MMPU, totally rearranged by Toshihiko Horiyama, who previously worked on MegaMan 7, the original MegaMan X, MMX4 and various other games across the entire franchise. Horiyama’s arrangements have lighter instrumentations, fitting with the game’s more light-hearted tone. Some of the games songs – notably Cutman, Gutsman and Fireman’s – were shifted from minor to major key, leading to them sounding a bit different. What’s really surprising is just how much of the music ends up getting recycled within the game itself. The boss theme from Dr. Wily’s fortress gets rearranged several times, quickly becoming the mad doctor’s leitmotif. So much of the music gets rearranged that there actually doesn’t end up being that much in the way of original music. What’s there – specifically the new main theme (which gets recycled even more heavily than the Dr. Wily theme), Oilman and Timeman’s theme – fits in perfectly with the new takes on the original compositions. My favorite songs in Powered Up’s soundtrack would have to be Timeman’s theme, the Fireman rearrangement, Cutman’s stage, the introduction stage, and the theme for the Wily Fortress boss fights.

In addition, Powered Up was fully voice acted, to an even greater extent than MegaMan 8. There were Japanese and English dubs, though the PSP’s UMD format could likely only handle one version per disc. As such, I’m only really familiar with the English version. The game’s English dub was handled by the Ocean Group, a production company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, well known for many anime dubs. They also ended up providing the voices for the MegaMan cartoon in the 1990s, as well as the dub for the Rockman: Wish Upon a Star OVA. The game’s voice acting actually manages to give the characters even more personality than they did back in MM8: Elecman is a narcissistic pretty-boy, Gutsman becomes a total workaholic, Iceman becomes bi-polar – see what they did there? – shifting from wimpy snowman to drill sergeant and Fireman turns into a cross between a superhero and a fire and brimstone Southern preacher. Even the Yellow Devil gets voice acting! My personal favorites are easily MegaMan, who manages to sound like an actual child, and of course Dr. Wily, who sort of comes across like a shriller version of Wallace Shawn.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of MegaMan Powered Up is the sheer amount of extra content crammed into the game. For starters, there are actually two entirely different modes of gameplay. The full-on remake is labelled as “New Style” upon starting a new game, but there’s also an “Old Style”: essentially a perfect recreation of the original MegaMan using MMPU’s art assets and control scheme. Personally, I think it’s the most playable version of the original MegaMan out there, making several concessions to recreate the game as closely as possible. This includes shearing down the PSP’s screen to an accurate 4:3 aspect ratio, bringing back the Magnet Beam as an unlockable support item and even bringing back the original 8-bit version’s music in its full chiptune glory. While a few concessions were made due to the difference in some of the designs between both versions, these have little effect on the actual gameplay. Granted, the gameplay itself did receive a few tweaks, but these were made to make the game more in line with the later NES games, fixing various oversights the version from 1987 never thought to change.

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I’ll never understand why the PSP had so many 4:3 games on it.

New Style has a few extra tricks of its own, mainly in the form of unlockable characters. For starters, all eight of the game’s Robot Masters are playable characters: to unlock them, just defeat them with the Arm Cannon alone. This allows the damaged robots to survive and be brought back to Dr. Light’s Lab and deprogrammed. Each Robot Master is only equipped with their respective weapon, giving each of them unique challenges. Fortunately, they also have other special abilities. These range from the mundane – Fireman’s immune to fire attacks and Oilman doesn’t slip on oil – to the practical – Timeman retains his clock-hands attack and Cutman can wall-jump. The most impressive change would have to be Gutsman, who can summon a set number of tossable blocks at will, turning the Super Arm from a mere gimmick into the devastating onslaught it always should’ve been. Each Robot Master has their own take on the story, fighting a MegaMan doppleganger (referred to as “MegaMan?”) at the end of the stage they usually occupy. Beating the game on each difficulty setting also unlocks a new variant of MegaMan: Easy Mode unlocks “MegaMan S”, capable of sliding like in MegaMan 3; “MegaMan C” is unlocked by clearing the game on normal difficulty, still boasting the slide but also regaining the charge shot from later games in the series; while Hard Mode “rewards” players with “Mega”, who trades his blue armor and Mega Buster for a pair of comfy shorts and a swift kick. MegaMan’s sister Roll was also available as free DLC. She fights by swinging a broom, almost acting as a parody of Zero. Better still, Roll also has access to 12 alternate costumes, ranging from her MegaMan 8 outfit and a raincoat that evokes Toadman.EXE from the Battle Network games to a witch’s robe and a knight costume that resembles Sir Arthur’s armor from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins games. Finally, MegaMan’s older brother Protoman is also unlocked by completing all 100 in-game challenges – more on those in a bit – but Capcom eventually offered him as a free downloadable character too. Unlike other games in the series, Protoman’s only weapon in Powered Up is the Proto Strike, which fires off giant, powerful shots similar to a fully-charged Mega Buster shot, though only two can be on-screen at a time. He can also block various projectiles with the Proto Shield by standing still, though it can be knocked away with powerful attacks, requiring it to be retrieved. To compensate for these advantages, he takes twice as much damage as any other character in the game. Considering the sheer amount of playable characters, not to mention the 3 difficulty settings, some people have claimed that the game has 468 levels, but this seems like a bit of a stretch.

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I’m still a bit rusty, but does fire beat scissors?

There are also two more additional modes. First, there are the Challenges. MegaMan and each Robot Master have 10 unique challenge mini-stages, coupled with 10 Boss Rushes to make a total of 100 overall. The real star of the show has to be Construction mode. Long before games like Super Mario Maker and even the Little Big Planet series, MegaMan Powered Up allowed players the chance to create their own unique stages. While the interface was a bit clunkier than future titles – the PSP’s small screen and lack of touch controls didn’t help matters – the customizability allowed players to create stages on par with the ones already found in the game. There were also various special expansion packs, adding new stage elements, hidden throughout stages in New Style mode. In fact, there were even tilesets based on the original 8-bit NES game stages – even Timeman and Oilman get some love in this regard – that I wish Old Style had used as opposed to the standard Powered Up backgrounds, but you can’t get everything you ask for. On top of this, there was also an Online Infrastructure mode, allowing players to share their stages with each other all over the world. In fact, even Capcom themselves got in on this action, regularly releasing custom-built stages of their own throughout the game’s first year of existence. With these various features, MegaMan Powered Up’s size was only limited by the player’s Memory Stick, which was generally either small or quite expensive, especially when the game was first released.

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Literally hundreds of hours of gameplay. And that’s just figuring out the interface.

I’d generally count MegaMan Powered Up to be among the best games in the entire MegaMan series, as well as one of the best video game remakes of all-time. As such, I’d also say that it’s the perfect game for anyone trying to get into the series: it’s a perfect retelling of the first game, with top-notch gameplay and several bonus features. There’s only one problem: it’s not available on modern platforms, at least outside of Japan. You see, while many PlayStation Portable games are available as downloadable titles on the PlayStation Network, the North American version of MMPU had various technical difficulties that neither Capcom nor Sony were able to fix, leaving it in a state of limbo. While Rockman Rockman did end up seeing release on the Japanese PSN store, the difficult nature of the PlayStation Vita – the only platform still in production at the time of writing capable of playing PSP games – and dealing with other regions will make this difficult to obtain for gamers outside of Japan. Ironically, despite the game’s critical success, Capcom has never attempted re-releasing the game on any other platform, which just seems like a mistake to me. Bundling the game with Maverick Hunter X and selling it as a digital title on modern platforms (including PC) just seems like a brilliant move for these games that many fans of the series never got the chance to play. Better still, platforms like the Nintendo Switch and PC could easily improve the admittedly awkward Stage Construction interface – the mode’s only major limitation. Considering all of the re-releases Capcom’s been doing lately, I hope the PSP MegaMan games eventually get their day in the sun.

Interlude: MegaMan Universe

Of course, while MegaMan Powered Up didn’t see a direct successor, Capcom attempted to revive the stage builder concept in a game years later. MegaMan Universe had a unique artstyle – which I liked personally – and included cameo appearances from characters like Street Fighter’s Ryu, Sir Arthur from Ghosts ‘n Goblins and even the infamous “Bad Box Art” MegaMan from the North American cover of the original game. In addition to these unique features, the game appeared to be taking much of its inspiration from MegaMan 2, including all eight of the Robot Masters from MM2 in the game’s promotional material. In addition to customizing stages, players would also be given the opportunity to build their own playable characters by combining various pieces from existing models and customizing them with a unique name. The game was set to be the next release in the series after MegaMan 10, but it was unceremoniously cancelled soon after it was originally announced.

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Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

The reason I bring this game up is that I actually played it. Back in late 2010, I attended New York Comic Con for the first time and visited Capcom’s booth. It was quite popular that year, with announcements like Okamiden on the DS, the similarly-cancelled MegaMan Legends 3 Project on 3DS and the original Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I was a Classic MegaMan fan at heart, so I had to get my hands on the game. I only got to play the demo at the kiosk once, but I still remember quite a few details. For example, the demo offered three different stages, each based on their difficulty – I obviously chose the most difficult stage. Each play session afforded the player with the standard 3 lives and I managed to complete the on my last life. For my troubles, I won a nice little prize, given to everyone who completed the most difficult stage: an inflatable lance based on Sir Arthur’s, marked with the MegaMan Universe logo, which I still have to this day. Honestly, there really wasn’t that much to hate about the game. At worst, the controls felt a bit wonky compared to other games in the series, but considering how early in development the game was, it could’ve easily been tightened up in future builds.

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Brown and gray? Has MegaMan finally gone AAA?

However, this wasn’t taken into account by either the gaming press or the public in general. The game was considered an abomination at first glance. The artstyle was “hideous”. The controls were incompetent. Everything about the game was irredeemable. Just ignore the fact that MegaMan 10 was derided for being too similar to the previous game in the series, Universe was far, far too different. Soon after the game was first announced, news about the game began to dry up. I remember a short time before the game was officially cancelled, I asked Christian Svensson – then-Senior Vice President of Planning and Business Development at Capcom USA – about whether or not MegaMan Universe had been cancelled on Capcom-Unity’s “Ask Capcom” forum. He stayed cryptic, simply stating that the game was going in a new direction. Not long after, the game’s cancellation was officially announced. The games media in general was shocked – a MegaMan game getting cancelled? Unthinkable! – but not remotely disappointed. Everyone was more excited about MegaMan Legends 3 anyway, Universe was nothing more than a terrible game that no one wanted.

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Low on cash, Roll scores a part-time job at Build-A-Bot.

Public perception of Universe did a complete 180 after Legends 3 was “cancelled”. Suddenly it had gone from a waste of Capcom’s resources to yet another innocent victim in the wake of the company’s sudden anti-MegaMan sentiment. I still consider most of the people who began mourning the demise of Universe once MML3 had met the same fate to be hypocrites of the highest order. A game that was literally smothered in its crib due to sheer antipathy from the very fanbase holding it up as an example of Capcom’s mistreatment of the franchise in general. My stomach still turns whenever I see people bring up MegaMan Universe and there’s one question on my mind every time I see anyone bring up the game’s existence: did you always care or just when it suited you?

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At the very least, having a bigger screen would’ve been nice.

Of course, there have been more cancelled projects since then. A Korean MMORPG called “Rockman Online” was in development by NeoWiz Games and was set to feature characters from both the Classic and X series was announced around the same time as the other two projects, but wouldn’t be officially cancelled until 2013. There was also a gritty reboot planned for the MegaMan X series, a first-person shooter codenamed “Maverick Hunter”, set to be developed by Armature Studio, comprised of several developers who worked on Nintendo’s Metroid Prime games. The latter was only discovered long after it had been discarded, and while I joke that it’s the game the MegaMan X fanbase deserves, it honestly looked somewhat interesting.

Street Fighter X MegaMan

1987 may very well be the most important year in Capcom’s existence. It was the year that two of the series that led to them becoming household names were first released. I’ve already mentioned that the original MegaMan was released in December 1987, but the first Street Fighter – not Street Fighter II – was first released in arcades that summer on August 30th. Just think about that, most companies these days would kill to start two brand-new highly-successful franchises in the same decade, let alone the same year. In 2012, Capcom celebrated Street Fighter’s 25th anniversary with a massive media blitz and the release of Street Fighter x Tekken. Capcom decided to float MegaMan’s celebration to the following year – the less said on that, the better – but decided to give a small nod to the Blue Bomber during the World Warriors’ massive celebration. On December 17, 2012 – exactly 25 years after the release of Rockman on the Famicom in Japan – Capcom paid tribute to two of their flagship series with Street Fighter X MegaMan, a free downloadable PC game made available exclusively on the Capcom-Unity website.

The game originally began development as a fan-game back in 2009 by Seow Zong Hui, a Singaporean Engineering student going under the alias “Sonic”. He tried to recreate the MegaMan physics engine to practice his programming and due to the prevalence of 8-bit Street Fighter images drawn in the MegaMan style, he decided to put Ryu in the project on a whim. In 2012, he presented a work in progress build of the game to Capcom USA who decided to fund the project, in exchange for providing creative input and the exclusive rights to distribute the game online.

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MegaMan blasting animals? This truly is a PC game.

Pretty much everything about this game resembles the classic 8-bit MegaMan games of the NES era. This time around, MegaMan regains his slide and charge shot from the later games in the series, but considering that he’s facing off with eight of the strongest fighters in the world, he’ll need them. All things considered, Seow Zong Hui did a pretty good job recreating the physics of the Classic MegaMan games. SFxMM takes bosses from various games in the Street Fighter canon: main protagonist Ryu; Blanka, Dhalsim and Chun-Li who made their debuts in Street Fighter II; Rose from Street Fighter Alpha; Rolento from Final Fight – who would go onto appear in the Alpha series; Urien from the Street Fighter III games and Crimson Viper from Street Fighter IV. The Wily Fortress in this game is themed around Shadoloo, with Balrog, Vega and M. Bison – or M. Bison, Balrog and Vega, if you go by the Japanese names – acting as the game’s fortress bosses.

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Balrog’s stage literally just consists of running away from him. It’s perfect.

The game’s stages are standard MegaMan fare, each using settings that are associated with the origins of each Street Fighter. For example, Blanka’s level takes place in a Brazillian jungle, Dhalsim’s stage is a maze resembling his stage from SF2, Urien’s stage takes place in an Olmec temple and Rolento’s stage takes place on a construction site. Most of the stage enemies come from earlier games in the MegaMan series – Sniper Joes armed with laser and Mettools riding bicycles are among the highlights – but there are also some unique enemies, like flying swords, giant roses and even robots based on members of Gill’s Illuminati. The boss fights have also been tweaked from the traditional MegaMan games. In addition to the standard health meter, each boss also has a Revenge Meter – like the one found in SF4 – which fills as the boss takes damage. Once it’s completely full, the boss can perform a powerful Ultra Combo, which deals major damage in MegaMan gets hit by it. I liked this addition, as it managed to implement some elements from the Street Fighter games into the gameplay itself.

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Brown and gray? I already made that joke!

On January 18th, 2013, an updated version of the game – dubbed “v2” – was uploaded to Capcom-Unity, replacing the original. This new version added new features like improved controller support, bug fixes and most notably, a Password system based on those from the NES MegaMan games. Originally, SFxMM was intended as a one session game, but many players requested some kind of a save system. The game was also tweaked to be more user-friendly: confirmation prompts were added to the game’s quit and reset functions and a screenshot function was added, which made keeping track of passwords easy. This new version also increased the difficulty of the game’s final boss, making M. Bison a truly challenging foe.

The game also had a whole host of secrets. Originally, SF3’s Yang was planned as a boss character, but replaced by Chun-Li in the final game. His weapon, the Sei’ei Enbu, can be unlocked in-game via a secret code. There’s also a code to replace the entire game’s soundtrack with a recreation of Guile’s theme, relating to a popular internet meme. MegaMan could also sport a helmetless look with a special code on the boss select screen. There were also two secret bosses that could be unlocked by performing specific requirements before the game’s final stage. To unlock Akuma as the game’s secret true final boss, players must defeat four or more stage bosses with full health, earning a Perfect Victory. V2 added Sagat as a second secret boss, fought right before taking on M. Bison. To unlock that boss fight, players need only score four or more Perfects during the boss rematches in the third Shadaloo Fortress stage.

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Does he or doesn’t he? Only his hairdresser knows for sure.

Of course, defeating each of the initial eight Street Fighters grants MegaMan a Special Weapon. In most cases, they’re actually based on real moves from each character’s moveset, but there are exceptions. As usual, I’ve decided to rank these from best to worst. My favorite weapon is easily Rose’s Soul Satellite, which surrounds the Blue Bomber with two spiritual orbs, acting sort of like a Leaf Shield. While active, MegaMan can fire another orb at no energy cost. The best part is that if MegaMan swaps weapons while using it, the orbs stay out, changing color to match Rock’s current weapon. Aegis Reflector was one of Urien’s Super Arts in SF3 and it produces a shield that reflects projectile attacks, disappearing either after 5 seconds or deflecting 3 shots. As with the Soul Satellite, the Reflector stays active while switching weapons. Then there’s the Optic Laser, originally one of C. Viper’s special moves in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – which was, in turn, a reference to the X-Men character Cyclops. MegaMan fires off a powerful beam attack, consisting of four segments, each dealing its own share of the damage. Then there’s Ryu’s classic Hadouken, which can either fired normally or charged to become more powerful. Of course, MegaMan can also use this attack without even defeating Ryu in the first place: just perform the traditional Hadouken motion (down, down-forward, forward) followed by the fire button and MegaMan performs the signature attack, even without equipping a Special Weapon. Then there’s Dhalsim’s Yoga Inferno, which fires a stream of flames, while leaving MegaMan immobile – similar to the Wave Burner from MegaMan & Bass. The trajectory of the attack can be changed by hitting up or down. The Mine Sweeper, obtained after defeating Rolento, lobs a grenade at an arc. When it collides with anything, the bomb explodes, causing multiple hits of damage. Blanka’s Tropical Hazard is a random attack that isn’t really based on any of the Brazilian beastman’s attacks, rather one of his victory poses. MegaMan drops a watermelon right in front of him, which he can slide into or kick. He can also jump on top of it, bouncing into the air. In this sense, it’s much like MM8’s Mega Ball. Finally, there’s the Lightning Kick, Chun-Li’s signature attack. MegaMan does several quick kicks in succession, dealing decent damage at severely limited range. As for the unlockable Sei’ei Enbu technique, MegaMan is capable of moving faster, jumping higher and generating afterimages as he moves. These afterimages mimic MegaMan’s actions and even shoot Mega Buster shots when he does. Of course, MegaMan is limited to his standard weapons while using it and the energy meter counts down while the weapon’s in use. After inputting the secret code correctly, the Sei’ei Enbu can be activated by hitting the Left Weapon Change and Fire buttons at the same time.

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20 takes and that was the best one.

As with pretty much everything else, SFxMM’s artstyle mimics the NES MegaMan games. MegaMan is accurate to the original design, while the sprite work on the Street Fighter characters seem similar to Capcom’s own 8-bit take, but they also manage to be animated fluidly, which is impressive. The game’s backgrounds are hit-and-miss, some stages exceed the NES’s capabilities, while others end up looking a little plain but accurate. The various menus and map screens do a good job of blending 8-bit MegaMan and Super Street Fighter IV aesthetics, which is a nice touch. I also appreciated seeing Dan in the game, even if he was essentially a training dummy to show off all of MegaMan’s new weapons.

The game’s soundtrack was composed by Alex Esquivel, better known by the pseudonym “A_Rival”. If I’m going to be honest, I think it’s perfect for this game. A_Rival essentially transposes various Street Fighter themes into a style that’s practically identical to 8-bit MegaMan. In some cases, he even blends together each Street Fighter’s stage music with classic MegaMan tunes, like Dhalsim who takes riffs from Snakeman’s theme in MM3 or Rolento who takes cues from Heatman’s stage. I think my favorite themes in the game would have to be the Boss Battle music, based on the Drive-In At Night stage in SF4; the Get A Weapon theme, based on Dan’s Stage; the first Shadaloo stage, based on Balrog’s theme; as well as the songs from Rolento, Blanka, C. Viper and Urien’s levels.

There’s really little to complain about when it comes to Street Fighter X MegaMan. Considering it literally costs nothing, it’s actually a really touching tribute to the two franchises that made Capcom a household name in the first place. The only thing that really makes it bittersweet is the fact that many people assumed that this was a sign of big things to come for the Blue Bomber. After Keiji Inafune left Capcom, MegaMan in general has been ignored by the company – quite a massive shift for a series that, at its peak, would receive roughly half a dozen games per year. And yet, the hiatus never really ended. MegaMan’s seen several licensing deals since then, not to mention a major cameo in Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U, but nothing in the way of actual new releases. The fact that the game’s still just relegated to the Capcom-Unity website also feels like a crime to me. You’d think that Capcom USA would at least consider putting the game on Steam as a free download. Maybe they’ll do that this year for the 30th anniversary. At the very least, it’d be nice to see it on a more permanent and accessible platform. Worse yet, since SFxMM’s release, there have been several other high-profile fangames – which I won’t refer to directly for obvious reasons. I’m surprised that Capcom USA hasn’t considered making similar deals, at the very least, it would probably help to quell the fanbase’s lamentations over the Blue Bomber’s perceived demise.

Interlude: MegaMan Legacy Collection 1 & 2

This brings us to the latest releases in the MegaMan series, which are ironically enough just compilations. On the plus side, the games had been pretty much relegated to the Virtual Console on the Nintendo Wii, 3DS and Wii U for the past few years, so allowing other platforms some form of re-releases is nice. Better still, these are the first official releases of mainline Classic MegaMan games on the PC – the Hi-Tech Expressions games obviously don’t count. At this point, the sheer lack of releases in the franchise has left many fans listless, so seeing the series make an appearance on modern platforms, even if an extremely familiar one, was welcome.

 

Before I get into the Legacy Collections themselves, some of you may be wondering why I didn’t cover the MegaMan Anniversary Collection, released in 2004 on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, with a delayed Xbox release the following year. Quite frankly, I did bring up the Anniversary Collection twice before – when discussing Rockman Complete Works and the arcade games – and the remainder of the package seems to be hardly worth any mention. The extras consist of a few “interesting” remixes of classic MegaMan songs, an image gallery and a variety of video extras that vary between versions: the first episode of the Ruby-Spears MegaMan cartoon on the PS2, the GameCube version including an interview with Keiji Inafune and bafflingly, the first episode of MegaMan NT Warrior (the English dub of the anime based on the Battle Network games) on the Xbox version. In fact, what few people tend to realize is that MMAC also had several technical issues, including terrible ports of both MegaMan 7 and 8. Various audio cues and songs were distorted heavily in every game and worst of all, the GameCube version reversed the jump and fire buttons and the controls couldn’t be altered. The fact that so many people considered the Legacy Collections to be ripoffs compared to the previous abomination of a compilation reeks of rose-colored nostalgia. And that’s a pretty damning statement coming from someone who has essentially written a novel’s worth of words on a video game series that started in the late ‘80s.

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I love that there’s the option to just fight bosses in these collections.

The first MegaMan Legacy Collection was released in 2015 by Digital Eclipse for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC platforms in North America, Europe and even Japan, where it took on the name “Rockman Classics Collection”. A 3DS version with additional bonus content was released the following year. It was originally billed as having perfect recreations of the first six MegaMan games, when in reality, it used an emulator. While the game did launch with various issues, bug fixes allowed the collection to reach its full potential. Compared to the aforementioned MMAC and the Virtual Console releases on various Nintendo platforms, these are probably the best official releases of the NES games to date. Digital Eclipse also managed to include several visual options. Aspect ratios include Original, a pixel-perfect recreation of the NES’s original resolution; an extended “Full” setting, which increases the resolution while keeping the original’s aspect ratio and Wide, which renders the game in a 16:9 for people who love seeing the 8-bit classics squashed beyond recognition. The first two settings also have the option to add a border, consisting of artwork from the Japanese box arts and there are also three filter options: the option to run the game without a filter, one that emulates a classic CRT TV (fittingly labelled “TV”), and Monitor, which essentially acts as a happy medium. The game also has full controller customization – including a rapid-fire button – and settings are maintained between games. MMLC also included savestates, allowing players to save their game at any time and return to it at their leisure. Digital Eclipse and Capcom would end up partnering for a second collection of NES re-releases – the aptly-titled Disney Afternoon Collection – which released in 2017.

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NES Remix, eat your heart out.

Meanwhile, Capcom ended up developing MegaMan Legacy Collection 2 in-house and released it the same year. This game consisted of MegaMans 7 through 10 and the ports were about on-par with Digital Eclipse’s work in my opinion. The collection, like its predecessor, was released on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, though oddly, not on the 3DS. The game’s menus are based on MegaMan 8, utilizing existing art assets and music, as opposed to the more generic theming from the first Legacy Collection. The save system is different from the previous game, focusing on checkpoints rather than save states. Many players complained about this change, but I prefer it: it does a much better job of balancing the games’ difficulty, acting more like an infinite lives code than a rewind button. The aspect ratios from the previous game return, though the “Monitor” filter option is removed from the first MMLC. In exchange, players now have the choice of 4 different background borders. Controller layouts differ between games, simply due to the fact that the games themselves had different control options and auto-fire is only an option in MegaMan 7, 9 and 10. Likewise, MegaMan 9 has a different aspect ratio compared to the other games in the collection, appearing smaller in the Original and Full resolutions. This ends up making for a less cohesive package compared to the first MMLC, but everything ends up working out.

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Is it just me or does Frostman’s concept art look way more like Coldman?

Both collections have similar extras. There are music players containing the soundtracks of every game in each respective compilation, as well as art galleries. Digital Eclipse definitely provided a more robust package in the latter’s case, but Capcom managed to scrounge together a decent collection. A nice feature present in both games is the ability to access boss fights through the Database and Art Gallery respectively. There are also a unique set of challenges in both games and this is where the first Legacy Collection really shines compared to its sequel. Due to the fact that the NES games all essentially run on the same engine, Digital Eclipse was actually able to mix and match segments from all six games. The second collection’s challenges are similar, but generally limited to a single game at a time. There are also boss rushes in the challenge mode. To make up for its shortcomings, MMLC2 also includes all of the extra modes from MM9 and 10 in the Challenge section. Likewise, all of the DLC for both games can be unlocked by completing each game once – or by inputting a special code on each game’s title screen, for people not willing to replay the game all over again.

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Not as awesome as the first game’s challenges, but still a nice extra.

Of course, both collections are great additions to modern platforms, bringing back 10 Classic MegaMan games to modern and long-time gamers alike. I’d honestly say that both Legacy Collections are perhaps the ideal way to enjoy the Classic MegaMan series. Some have speculated that Capcom may work on a similar collection for the MegaMan X series next, but personally I’d love to see at least one more compilation for the Classic games. While the first two definitely scratch an itch, there are so many games left in the Classic series that I believe deserve the same treatment – I’d personally love to see an official English translation of the Super Famicom version of MegaMan & Bass, console releases of the Game Boy games, another port of the arcade games and even the first official North American release of MegaMan: The Wily Wars! There’s still so much left that could be put in a third Legacy Collection.

The Future of MegaMan

So we’ve reached the end of the existing games. Before I move on to discuss my own thoughts for the franchise as a whole, there’s one oddity present in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2 that I’d like to discuss. Tucked away in MegaMan 8’s art gallery is a strange piece of artwork. Resembling the Blue Bomber’s design from Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, but utilizing a transformation not unlike the Soul Unison concept from the Battle Network series. Matters were complicated when a Nendroid figurine of MegaMan’s sister Roll was announced this past September, sporting a brand-new design with a similar artstyle to MMLC2’s mystery artwork. Speculation has run rampant since then and frankly, I don’t know what to make of either image. I guess I’ll just hope for the best.

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Seriously, I’m digging these designs.

As I said in the beginning of this segment, I’m not going to pretend I know what the future holds in store for the Blue Bomber or any of his offshoots. The best I can really do is speculate on the directions I’d love to see the series take. Whatever impact the departure of Keiji Inafune had on the series as a whole will probably remain a mystery for all times, but considering the sheer amount of merchandising associated with the character, as well as the backlash at the 25th anniversary’s anemic offerings, I’m almost positive that Capcom has to be gearing up for something big. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen – after all, I obviously wrote all of this before the actual 30th anniversary – so until then, all I can leave you with are my opinions on the franchise itself.

For starters, three sub-franchises in the MegaMan brand have come to a conclusion: MegaMan Zero, Battle Network and its successor, Star Force. Considering the fact that one of the challenges surrounding the MM brand as a whole is the splintering of the franchise, leaving any series that has reached a satisfactory conclusion in hibernation is probably the best bet for the intellectual properties’ health. At best, I could see another compilation title for the Zero games and especially the Battle Network series. Star Force, on the other hand, will likely remain dead for the foreseeable future, considering its overall unpopularity. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect a follow-up to Rockman Xover: the game was so unpopular, that North Americans campaigned to prevent its release in their region and the mobile game ceased operations back in 2015.

The MegaMan ZX series, on the other hand, ended on a cliffhanger. MegaMan ZX Advent, the second and as-of-right-now final entry in the series, seemed to imply that a third game would’ve provided a finale. Unfortunately, out of all of the games I’d consider possible, it’s the long shot. I don’t know if Inti Creates and Capcom have maintained a working relationship – especially considering the former’s partnerships with various other companies, as well as their own independently published titles – but even if that were still viable, the ZX games didn’t have the largest fanbase – though Advent did manage to outperform the original in sales. I would personally love to see a MegaMan ZX3, but I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority as far as the overall MM fanbase is concerned.

Then there’s the game that almost was: MegaMan Legends 3. On the surface, it seems like an obvious choice, especially if Capcom intends to get back on the fanbase’s good side. I’d argue that there are far too many open wounds involving the game’s development and regardless of his present reputation, doing the game without Keiji Inafune would probably be a massive mistake. MegaMan Volnutt was the first iteration of the character that Inafune himself designed and given his schemes to get the game made in the first place – Capcom’s MT Framework engine was even named after MegaMan Trigger – I just feel like there’s a chance that a game without Inafune at the helm wouldn’t live up to anyone’s expectations. The excitement surrounding the MML3 Project and its unreleased prototype only serve to complicate matters. Considering the fact that Keiji Inafune seems to have moved on, supposedly working on the suspiciously similar Red Ash, I think the ship may have sailed on this one. Still, if Capcom’s willing to take the risk and if Inafune managed to create an entire outline for the game’s plot, it could be viable to some degree. I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

Of course, who’s to say that a new MegaMan game would necessarily have to exist within an existing sub-series? Capcom seems to be gearing up for a massive marketing push surrounding the upcoming cartoon, developed by Man of Action Studios, and set to premiere sometime next year. This new animated series is set to take place within its own continuity and several people have speculated that any new MegaMan game would likely be a tie-in game. I’m apprehensive toward the idea: Capcom hasn’t had the best track record with releases and tie-in video games for similar multimedia projects – Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures and Sonic Boom – have generally ended up mediocre at best. The fact that this new cartoon itself seems to have been designed from the ground-up to make me hate it as much as humanly possible doesn’t help matters much. Frankly, I’d rather see a title based around Bad Box Art MegaMan. Honestly, ever since his cameo appearance in Street Fighter X Tekken, I’d been hoping for a title based around the character, maybe designed as a more modern incarnation of the Legends series, combining action-RPG and third-person shooter mechanics. There’s absolutely no chance this would happen, but I can dream, right?

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I’m not kidding. I’d buy a game starring this guy in a heartbeat.

The recent appearances of MegaMan X and Sigma as well as the return of Zero in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite has led many people to speculate that MegaMan X9 may be a part of Capcom’s upcoming plans for the franchise. I’ve already gone into details about my concerns with the project years ago, and I’d say many issues with the concept still apply to this day. I supposed it would at least be interesting to see what Capcom ends up putting together for this kind of release. A SNES-inspired continuation from X8’s cliffhanger ending seems like the safest bet, though I could also see a full-on reboot based on either the 16 or 32-bit era’s artstyle happening just as easily. Whatever Capcom decides, I’m almost certain some major portion of the MMX fanbase will feel overlooked in the process.

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I wonder if they just recycled Zero’s alternate costume from the last game to make X’s model.

It’s funny, roughly a decade ago, I actually ended up coming up with some concepts for fan-games in the MegaMan series, three in total. MegaMan 9 obviously happened, but the other two were a bit more out there. First off, there was MegaMan VI – quite literally, a successor to the Game Boy games. The other was a MegaMan & Bass 2, which would essentially expand the playable roster to 3, with the inclusion of Protoman, and focus on the first game’s gimmick of different paths per character to a greater extent. The actual design documents I came up with all those years ago don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I’d love it if Capcom effectively did either of these concepts. Of course, by this point, I’d probably prefer seeing Roll as a playable character over Protoman in future MegaMan titles, but honestly, the more the merrier. Unfortunately, as the release of the Nintendo Switch effectively means that there are no longer any dedicated handheld consoles any more, making a successor to the Game Boy games sort of feels pointless. Likewise, MegaMan & Bass’s major gimmick of having multiple playable characters was implemented into MegaMans 9 and 10, so there’s really little point in making a direct sequel to that either.

At this point in time, if you asked me what I feel like Capcom should do with the Classic MegaMan series, I’d have two answers for you, answers that honestly go hand-in-hand. A while back on Twitter, someone mentioned the idea of making a “MegaMan Mania”: not the failed Game Boy Advance compilation, but rather another Classic MegaMan throwback title in the same style as the recent Sonic Mania. I’d essentially pitch the game as a pure anniversary game, effectively taking Robot Masters from the previous games – MegaMans 1 through 10, MegaMan & Bass, MegaMan V and a few others to round things out to a grand total of 16 – built in a style that is inspired by the NES games, except more advanced. The other game would be MegaMan 11, which would essentially deviate from the NES style entirely. People complained about MM10 continuing the throwback trend 9 started, so it’s only fair to finally bring the series back in a more modern light. MM11 would effectively try to modernize the series in the way that 7 and 8 attempted, but without making concessions to the NES era’s pixel-perfect gameplay. I can’t really say much about the concept except that the gameplay would still be 2D. Whether that comes with some sort of faux-retro look more advanced than the traditional 8-bit style, a 2.5D game with 3D models on a 2D plane or even hand-drawn artwork, if the core of the series remains intact, I’d love to see just what kind of crazy directions the series could go through if Capcom decided to try an entirely new style.

That brings my retrospective to its conclusion. I guess I felt the need to speculate on future releases, not only because the MegaMan line-up is sparse compared to the other series I’ve covered – Zelda, Tekken and Ys all had big releases this year – but also to give myself a sense of closure. I wrote this whole thing over the course of a few months to have it ready in time for December 17th, 2017: the 30th anniversary of the day the original Rockman was released in Japan. We’ve all been expecting some big announcement to come either on or around that day. In that sense, that’s essentially my deadline before I decide whether or not Capcom has given up on the series entirely, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard. Compared to the other Retrospectives I’ve done so far, this feels bittersweet. It almost feels like I’m saying goodbye to one of the video game franchises that got me into the medium in the first place. Compared to various other series I consider important, MegaMan’s really the only one that seemed to have a distinct point where it felt like it could be ending, and it happened for some very petty reasons. I know that the series may not be dead, but I also worry that if it does come back, it may return as little more than a shambling shadow of its former glory. I guess in that sense, this whole retrospective feels almost like a eulogy. For a while, I considered doing a section on games that were clear spiritual successors to the Blue Bomber’s jump-and-shoot legacy, but it sort of came across to me as bitter. In the end, they do provide comfort: even if Capcom decides to never make another MegaMan game, there are still developers that were inspired by these classics and create brand-new legacies all their own.

[Postscript: Since I wrote these articles, Capcom has announced re-releases of the mainline MegaMan X games, as well as a brand-new 2.5D MegaMan 11 for all major platforms. I’m happy about this news and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the Blue Bomber, but decided to leave this article intact, simply because I thought it was important.]

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 3]

Mega_man_logo

Welcome back once again to my retrospective look back at the Classic MegaMan franchise. The first two articles looked back at MegaMan’s glory days during the 8-bit era. While the Blue Bomber began to lose his luster during the second half of his appearances on the Nintendo Entertainment System, all of the games are generally recognized as memorable. However, MegaMan had yet to face his greatest challenge: staying relevant for two more generations. The 16-bit era saw consoles that made huge technical leaps from the previous generation. By extension, video games themselves becoming more complex than when NES reigned supreme. Yet this was child’s play compared to the horrors that awaited the Blue Bomber in the 32-bit era: 3D games were considered the wave of the future and anything 2D was deemed passé, especially in the West. To make matters worse, the Blue Bomber had to contend with two completely different successors, each falling more in line with the evolving tastes of the marketplace. I also discussed various spin-offs and licensed games in previous articles and I’m happy to say I’ve only scratched the surface. I’ve got a few more left to discuss, including MegaMan’s two major arcade outings, the most baffling sequel ever devised and what may very well be the worst game in the franchise’s history.

MegaMan 7

MegaMan 7 is generally considered one of the worst mainline games in the MegaMan franchise. It was also a game that had a lot going against it. For starters, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System had already seen the release of both MegaMan X – a modernized take on the franchise – by the time MegaMan 7 had entered development. Worse yet, its release was literally sandwiched between X2 and X3, further games in the X series that used the special CX4 chip, allowing the SNES to display rudimentary wireframe effects, generally considered a technical marvel when both games were released. MegaMan 7, therefore, had two options upon its release: be an outdated retread of the NES games or completely ape its successors, diluting any chance of a unique standalone identity from the X series. MM7 chose a third option, though how well it worked is still up for debate.

I remember my two main introductions to MM7, and neither of them came in the form of actually playing the game. The first was a comprehensive guide for how to play through the game, including various hidden secrets and how the weapons functioned, in a magazine I owned during childhood – the only other things I recall about it was that the issue in question was an “end of the year” special, and I’m almost certain that the publication was Tips & Tricks magazine. The other came from my introduction to the MegaMan online community, when I first started browsing the internet itself. Back then, a lot of people were using MegaMan 7’s sprite work for a lot of their iconography and as a child, I fell in love with those character designs. Despite the valid criticism levelled against MM7,  it was the newest game available in the Classic series around the time I was exposed to the series again and for that reason, I’ve got an irrational love for the game.

MM7-03

More than two decades later, I think this game looks gorgeous.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about MegaMan 7’s development cycle was its length: the game spent a mere three months in development, due to what Keiji Inafune only referred to as “bad timing”. Regardless, the team said that morale remained high while working on the game. Designer Yoshihisa Tsuda compared the game to a “sports team camp” and said that his only regret was that they didn’t have at least one more month to work on it. Personally, I found the game’s quality impressive considering how little time was spent on its creation: I’ve played worse MegaMan games with longer development cycles and some of them even came from Capcom themselves. Inafune designed one of the game’s new characters, Auto, having based him on stereotypical toy robots he remembered from his childhood. He also came up with the original concepts for Bass and Treble – then referred to as “Baroque” and “Crush” respectively – before handing the designs off to Hayato Kaji, who refined them into their final designs. The game’s infamously difficult final boss fight was also a conscious decision from the development staff: they wanted something “insanely hard” and “something that cannot be defeated without the use of an Energy Tank”. For this game, Capcom received roughly 220,000 boss character submissions – impressive considered they’d scaled back to Japanese entries only. One last interesting bit of trivia: Capcom originally completed the game in Summer of 1994, but decided not to release it. The resulting fan backlash forced their hand, with the game eventually seeing release on March 24, 1995 in Japan. It seems odd that they’d just leave the game hanging around for that amount of time without trying to improve it.

After his past six attempts at taking over the world, Dr. Wily has finally been brought to justice. At the end of the Robot Master Tournament, MegaMan finally apprehended the mad scientist and he stood trial, where he was sentenced to a long stint in jail. However, the not-so-good doctor lives up to his name: he built four Robot Masters and put them in storage as a failsafe in case he was ever incarcerated. After six months with no word from their creator, these new robots awoke from stasis and attacked the city, leaving it in ruins. This ended up being a distraction, allowing them to attack the prison holding Dr. Wily, freeing him and allowing him to return to his megalomaniacal schemes. While MegaMan was unable to stop Wily from escaping, he does manage to meet two new robots, Bass and his robotic wolf partner, Treble. They inform him that they were also assigned to battle Wily before leaving to chase after him. MegaMan is confused, but also optimistic that with the help of his mysterious new allies Wily will be back behind bars in no time.

MM7-01

Meet the new guys.

One odd criticism I’ve heard about MegaMan 7 is that it takes pretty much absolutely nothing from the first 2 X games, which came out before this game. Instead, this game was built from scratch to best try to emulate the original games on the NES in terms of base game mechanics. I feel like this was a conscious choice on the development team’s part, in order to get differentiate this new entry in the Classic series from the aforementioned X series, which enjoyed significant popularity due to bringing the franchise to the 16-bit generation. I think the game was essentially built from scratch rather than building on the existing MMX engine in order to make the game as different from the new series as possible, therefore justifying the continued existence of the Classic series in light of the new spinoff. MegaMan’s slide and chargeable Mega Buster both return from MM6. However, more than anything, MegaMan 7 actually feels more like a “MegaMan VI” – that is, it feels like it takes far more of its elements from the later Game Boy games than it does from the NES games. There are various story cutscenes in gameplay, far more than any of the Game Boy games had. It gets to the point where there are even cutscenes after defeating each Robot Master where MegaMan and Dr. Light discuss the possible applications of the Blue Bomber’s new weapon. The shop system returns from MMIV and MMV, replacing the “P Chip” currency with “bolts”, allowing MegaMan to buy various power-ups and enhancements – most importantly, E-Tanks, Weapon Tanks and the ever-useful Super Tank. The inclusion in MM7 would make the shop mechanic an integral part of the Classic series’ identity, appearing in every mainline game (and even a few spinoffs) from that point on. Of course, most of the power-ups are actually hidden in stages themselves, much like the various items in the last two Game Boy games. They can also be purchased for a substantial number of bolts, encouraging players to search levels thoroughly to save bolts for much-needed Energy Tanks. Finally, the Robot Masters are separated into two sets of four, much like the Game Boy games, though all eight can be accessed from the beginning when using a special password. Interestingly, despite all this, MM7’s Robot Masters do have a full weakness cycle, due in no small part to the fact that two of the Robot Masters – Burstman and Slashman, from the first and second set respectively – both have two weaknesses, which they share.

MM7-02

I’ll never stop loving the animations associated with boss weaknesses.

MegaMan 7 does incorporate a few elements from the X series. For example, MegaMan does gain the ability to exit stages that have already been completed, though much like the Energy Balancer, it’s only available through a power-up that can either be found in a stage or purchased from the shop. Some have criticized this addition due to being locked behind a power-up, but it does seem to follow the Classic series’ conventions. MM7 also adds the ability to switch weapons in-game with the L and R buttons, much like the X series. Unfortunately, these are limited to the Special Weapons themselves – equipping support items still requires the pause menu. Likewise, MM7 incorporates a short introduction stage, much like the X games, as well as bringing back the “intermission” stage from some of the Game Boy games, taking place between the two sets of Robot Masters. Of course, both of these stages are quite short – the intro stage is particularly shorter than those found in the X series – but these are both firsts in the mainline Classic series. Put simply, the game itself appears to be attempting to take elements from the NES games, the Game Boy games and even a few minor elements from the X games to forge a unique identity for the Classic series moving forward. Whether it succeeded or failed is strictly a matter of opinion. MegaMan 7 also had a unique unlockable mode that allowed two players to fight in a Street Fighter-style battle – allowing players to choose between MegaMan and Bass – armed with only the standard Busters and some unique special moves. This mode was actually hidden behind a special password, obtained at the end of the credits. Inputting the password and pressing start while holding the L and R buttons unlocks the mode – entering the password normally simply sends players to the final Wily stage with maxed-out items.

Of course, many have criticized the base gameplay of the game, which is a fair assessment. Even when compared to the original MegaMan game on the NES, something about MM7’s gameplay just feels …off. MegaMan seems to move slower and his jumping ability has been severely limited, which manages to make jumps that would be completely simple in any other game in the series feel nearly impossible at times. I’ve seen a lot of people in my time blame this on the game’s graphical style: specifically, the large character sprites that even manage to dwarf those of the X series. Unfortunately, this theory falls apart under scrutiny. The Game Boy games had much less visual space to work with compared to its console counterparts, leading to a relatively gigantic MegaMan dominating the tiny pea-green screen, yet they made far less concessions when it came to the Blue Bomber’s mobility. Personally, I think the game’s short development cycle is likely what led to the game’s odd mechanics and therefore, with some additional work, the game would have likely ended up with solid controls that would have lived up to its pedigree. Of course, if I were a paranoid man – and I am – I’d also hazard a guess that the controls were made sluggish on purpose: meant as a deliberate scathing parody of the NES games when compared to the new X games. Considering all I’ve got to go on with regards to this theory is just a feeling in my gut, it’s likely nonsense.

MM7-05

Seriously, absolutely gorgeous.

Compared to previous entries in the series, MegaMan 7 has an obscene amount of support items. Unlike previous mainline Classic games – and ironically, much more like the Game Boy and X games – most of them aren’t tied to defeating bosses, this time they’re hidden in various stages or can be purchased with bolts. MegaMan starts with his trusty Rush Coil, but that’s about it. The Rush Jet power-up returns as well, hidden in Junkman’s stage. There’s also the new Rush Search ability, which summons Rush to dig around for items (you know, like a dog would) alongside the new Escape Unit, which allows players to exit from stages they’ve already completed at any time. In fact, the Escape Unit actually needs to be dug up by Rush in order to find it. There’s also the new Rush Super Adapter, which essentially combines the Rush Jet and Power Armors from MM6 with the Mega Arm from MMV to create something that makes the game significantly more playable, though again, this comes at the cost of sliding. This can be further upgraded with the PU Fist hidden in Turboman’s stage, which gives the Super Adapter’s charge shot homing capabilities. Beat returns, being held captive in a birdcage in Slashman’s stage. This time, instead of providing offensive support, Beat actually rescues Rock from falling into pitfalls, depending on whether or not the player has any whistles remaining. Springman’s stage hides the Hyper Bolt, an item that when given to Auto reduces the cost of every item in the shop by half and allows Dr. Light’s mechanical protégé to create brand-new items as well. The Energy Balancer also returns from MM6, hidden in Shademan’s stage. There’s also a hidden boss fight with Protoman there, but only if you encounter him in two other locations first. If he can be defeated, he gives MegaMan his Proto Shield. When equipped, it allows MegaMan to reflect energy shots while standing still.

MegaMan 7 also managed to find a way to make the Special Weapons feel useful again. While the X series allowed for weapons to be charged with a special Buster power-up, the developers of MM7 decided to go in a different direction. Most of the weapons have secondary uses, usually dealing with the various stage environments, allowing for rudimentary puzzle solving. While the original MMX toyed with the concept, both MegaMan 7 and X2 provided much more emphasis on using weapons strategically, to navigate obstacles and access alternative paths. For example, the electric weapon can power various pieces of inactive technology, the ice weapon can affect weather patterns and freeze heat-based obstacles and the fire weapon can burn down obstacles and even light candles, allowing for better visibility. On top of that, most of the weapons are more fun to use compared to the previous game. Ironically, compared to the previous two games, MegaMan 7 suffers from the opposite issue with regards to weapons: with power-ups like the Rush Super Adapter and more useful special weapons, the standard Mega Buster feels kind of useless by comparison. Unfortunately, 2 weapons are pretty much lifted directly from the original MegaMan X, alongside the return of a “Leaf Shield”-style weapon. Fortunately, the rest of the weapons are fairly unique.

MM7-04

Certain bosses are also strong against specific weapons. Who’d thunk zapping Springman with Thunder Bolt would turn him into an electromagnet?

As per usual, I’ll be ranking the weapons in order of how much I like them. My top choice would have to be Shademan’s Noise Crush, a standard shot with a unique charging property: when fired into a wall, it reflects and if MegaMan catches it, he starts flashing as if he’s charging a buster shot. When MegaMan fires in this state, a more powerful shot that no longer reflects comes out. Next would be the Junk Shield, fittingly taken from Junkman. It’s a shield weapon, not unlike the Leaf Shield, but unlike the ones found in the last 3 games, the Junk Shield actually improves on its predecessor. Each piece of junk provides several hits of cover but hitting the fire button a second time, shoots off the pieces of junk in multiple directions – allowing for a widespread attack. Third favorite would have to be Burstman’s Danger Wrap, which is probably the most unique weapon in the game. MegaMan fires off a bubble filled with an explosive that floats up and explodes after a brief period. The bubble can engulf smaller enemies or explode automatically when coming into contact with something larger. Holding down on the D-Pad while firing off the Danger Wrap allows MegaMan to just place the explosive in front of him sans bubble. Not particularly useful in the grand scheme of things, but too fun to ignore. Number four would have to be the Thunder Bolt, obtained by defeating Cloudman. Essentially a retread of Spark Mandrill’s Electric Spark from the first MegaMan X, this weapon fires off a bolt of electricity which splits and travels both up and down on impact. Then there’s Freezeman’s Freeze Cracker, a knockoff of Chill Penguin’s Shotgun Ice from MMX. MegaMan fires off a giant snowflake that bursts into a spread shot in the opposite direction when it comes into contact with a wall. Number six is the Slash Claw, obviously taken from the bestial Slashman – it’s a short-range swipe that deals decent damage in general. Seventh is Turboman’s Scorch Wheel. An odd take on a shield weapon, MegaMan summons four fireballs in a wheel-like formation, which eventually flies off. It can be aimed and deals heavy damage, but it’s tricky to use. The clear worst weapon in the game would be the Wild Coil, taken from the perennial joke that is Springman. MegaMan throws two springs that bounce around, both in front of him and behind him. This attack can also be charged to change the springs’ bounce arcs, effectively giving them a higher bounce. Unfortunately, no matter what trajectory is used, the Wild Coil is extremely awkward to aim, making it effectively worthless in any real in-game situation.

As I mentioned earlier, MegaMan 7’s graphics have long been a sore point for fans, due to the long-standing belief that the large character sprites had a detrimental effect on gameplay. I also mentioned that as I was first discovering the plethora of MegaMan games I’d missed out on, MM7’s artstyle resonated with me. To this day, I think this game’s artstyle may be my favorite official take on the Classic franchise. Everything just looks right to me: the size differentials between MegaMan and the various enemy robots – particularly the Robot Masters – have never seemed so concise as they were in this game. While most people are still the most enamored with the 8-bit era graphical style and some believe that the later 32-bit sprites were superior by the sheer nature of being made later, I think Capcom knocked it out of the park on this one. The characters have never seemed so expressive and this was the first time in the Classic series where Robot Masters visually react to being hit with their weaknesses – a hallmark of the X series. However, while the first two X games downplayed these reactions, MM7 exaggerated things. Turboman has a seizure when he’s hit with Noise Crush, Junkman’s body falls apart when hit with the Thunder Bolt, and both Slashman and Burstman alternatively freeze or burn up depending on whether they’re hit with the Freeze Cracker or Scorch Wheel. In fact, despite stepping away from the series’ super-deformed roots, everything in general just feels more exaggerated. The level designs are also significantly more ornate than those found in the 8-bit games – an obvious side effect of moving onto more powerful hardware. More than ever before, the theming of each Robot Master’s stage becomes completely obvious: Shademan inhabits a haunted castle, Springman invaded a toy factory and Freezeman’s tundra hideout contains dinosaur bones frozen in glaciers.

MM7-06

Rush Super Adaptor: clearly the most useful power-up in the entire game.

The game’s sound design is interesting. Some of the sound effects actually manage to sound more artificial and “video gamey” than those found in the 8-bit titles, which is just outright weird. The game’s soundtrack, on the other hand, is put together pretty well. Unlike previous games in the series that typically maxed out at 2 composers, MegaMan 7 had a full sound team of 10 composers behind it. This leads to an overall less cohesive soundtrack than previous games had, but considering some of the talent behind it, there are definitely some amazing tracks in there. Some of the more recognizable members of the MM7 Sound Team include Yuko “Yuk” Takehara, who composed MegaMan 6 and “Ippo” Yamada, who would later go on to provide the compositions for the MegaMan Zero and ZX series, as well as acting as the sound director for MegaMan 9 and 10. A couple composers that worked on the original MegaMan X – Toshihiko “Krsk” Horiyama and Makoto “V-Tomozoh” Tomozawa – also worked on the game. MM7 was also the last known project with one of Capcom’s most prolific SNES sound designers, Tatsuya “T. “Anie” .N” Nishimura, a man who previously worked on the original Breath of Fire and even the SNES version of both Street Fighter II and Street Fighter II Turbo. It was Noriko “Apple Z” Ando’s first project with the company, though he was generally associated with the Resident evil and Dino Crisis series.  Atsushi “More Rich” Mori and Nariyuki “Narinari” Nobuyama also worked on the game. The last composer is mired in mystery, referred to only as “Kan”.

Perhaps one of my favorite things about the MegaMan 7 soundtrack was a fact that I only realized years later: much like how MM2’s introduction was based on the ending to the original MegaMan, the song that plays at the beginning of MM7’s opening cinematic is based on the credits theme to MegaMan 6. It’s a far subtler reference than the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts easter egg in Shademan’s stage. Then you’ve got the Robot Museum intermission stage, which takes musical cues from Snakeman, Gutsman and Heatman’s themes. Aside from those references, the music of MM7 in general appears to be attempting to distance itself from both the 8-bit sounds of the previous games, while also avoiding the heavy metal influences of the X series. Having said that, the odd sound design finds its way into the game’s composition: I generally preferred the Genesis’s sound chip over the SNES and while most games had their own unique sound hardware installed, there’s just something unusual about the instrumentation in MM7. Having said that, the composition is still top-notch. It may sound different from most of the other games in the series, but MM7’s music lives up to the series’ reputation of great music. It’s honestly hard for me to choose specific tracks that are my favorite. The intro stage, Bass’s theme, Turboman and Burstman’s stages, the standard boss fight theme, the second and third Wily stage themes and the credits theme would have to be my favorite tracks overall.

In the end, it would be a lie to pretend that MegaMan 7 isn’t an imperfect game. However, it feels like it came far too late to make any sort of meaningful impact. Given the Classic series’ stubborn insistence on staying with the NES long after the Super Nintendo had been released and the X games’ outright “reinvention” of the franchise’s gameplay, not to mention the game’s incredibly short development cycle, there was too much working against this game from the beginning. Having said all of that, MM7 is by no means a terrible game. Certainly a weak point when compared to the rest of its pedigree, but still well above the curve when it comes to the SNES’s library. All the same, it just doesn’t live up to its Japanese subtitle, “Destiny’s Greatest Battle”. I just wonder what would have happened if the game had managed to have a more substantial development cycle. Could MM7 have exceeded MegaMan X? Probably not, but it would’ve likely trounced the other X games on SNES – fancy graphics chip or no. For a long time, I’ve honestly wanted Capcom to “remake” some of their MegaMan games in the same fashion that Sega redid Sonic CD some years back: keep all of the art and sound assets, but readjust the gameplay. Considering the release of the second MegaMan Legacy Collection, I think it’s safe to say this dream is dead. However, there was a Japanese fan remake Rockman 7 FC which reimagined the game in the style of its predecessors, and that fangame is living proof that MM7 was filled with untapped potential.

MegaMan 8

If MegaMan 7 went out of its way to recreate the Classic MegaMan gameplay on a modern platform, then MegaMan 8 tried its hardest to evolve the formula into something viable for years to come. Perhaps the most experimental game in the entire franchise, MegaMan 8 was the last mainline Classic game that would see release outside of Asia for over half a decade – a fact that could be taken as proof that the game failed to reinvent the original MegaMan style in a meaningful way. However, it isn’t a bad game by any means: truthfully, I’d say that it exceeds both 6 and 7 in terms of overall quality. However, because the X series continued – fulfilling the demand for a proper 2D MegaMan platformer – and the brand-new 3D MegaMan Legends series made its way onto the scene during the fifth generation, MM8 clearly lost out and the Classic series itself went into hibernation for the most part, at least in the West. Ironically enough, this was the first undeniable example of a problem that would plague the MegaMan franchise in its later years: oversaturation.

After a long, long hiatus from the series, MegaMan 8 was the third mainline Classic game I managed to get my hands on. At the time, a Blockbuster Video had opened within walking distance of my house and they were renting out video game consoles. At the time, they had 2 or 3 PlayStations available for rental, and a decent selection of games. Among the first games I rented for the console was MegaMan 8. I remembered enjoying the first two games when I was younger and decided this new one was worth a shot. At the time, I was completely floored – my enjoyment only hampered by the lack of a Memory Card, which made whatever progress I made meaningless. MM8 was among the few games that enticed me into getting a PlayStation of my home, my first true home console. When picking up the thing, I wanted to grab MegaMan 8 as my first game, but alas, the store itself was out, so I settled for MegaMan Legends instead. I would eventually get MegaMan 8 and though my memory’s a bit hazy, it was either the first or second MegaMan game I was able to beat on my own: MegaMan II for the Game Boy was the only other game I could’ve beaten beforehand. While there was a brief period in my fandom where I despised the game for being too easy – after all, it was the first mainline MegaMan I’d been able to beat – I’ve otherwise felt a close connection to the game.

MM8-01

Seriously, this intro always gives me shivers.

MegaMan 8’s development has an interesting story behind it. For starters, it was the first mainline MegaMan game that didn’t receive a release in any form on a Nintendo platform at launch. Originally developed as a Sega Saturn exclusive, the game would also make its way to the PlayStation as well, in spite of Sony of America’s strict anti-2D policies at that point. Each version has their own unique quirks – more on that later. Most people are familiar with the PlayStation version of the game, due to the platform’s popularity and the fact that this is the only version that has been re-released since, most recently in MegaMan Legacy Collection 2. MM8 was also the first game in the series where Keiji Inafune would act as producer, allowing him to bring a unique perspective to the game’s development. The game’s creation wasn’t without its hardships though: coordinating releases on two different platforms as well as allowing for full-motion video anime cutscenes often caused the development team to feel overwhelmed. Anime cutscenes were apparently something Inafune had wanted to include since the first game and he was pleased with the results.

The new character Duo was originally designed to be a creation of Dr. Cossack – explaining the Russian influences in his design. Ironically, Duo first appeared in MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters – more on that later – but MegaMan 8 was meant to introduce the character in-universe. Considering the fact that both MegaMan and Duo work together to stop the evil machinations of an evil energy-fueled Dr. Wily from about halfway through the game on, “Metal Heroes” was a fitting choice for the game’s Japanese subtitle. Capcom held their standard Robot Master design contest for MegaMan 8, though there were a few differences. For starters, two robot bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were already designed by Capcom staff prior to the contest. As an added caveat, Capcom also provided three skeletons for potential robot masters for entrants to design around: one with a giant sword and a separated body (which would eventually become Swordman), a robot with two heads (Searchman) and one with really long arms (Clownman). In the end, Capcom received roughly 110,000 entries for MM8’s boss design contest and the development team actually loved looking at all of the submissions. Some of the rejected designs and original drawings that led to the final robot designs actually managed to make their way into MM8’s credits, owing to the much stronger hardware of the 32-bit systems.

 

In the year 20XX, two powerful robots are fighting in outer space. As they collide into one another, a victor is decided, but both begin to fall toward Earth. Meanwhile, Bass is once again antagonizing MegaMan, goading him into a fight to prove that he is the superior robot. MegaMan is able to defeat him when Roll arrives with a message from Dr. Light. He tells MegaMan that a strange meteor with a strange energy reading has fallen on a deserted island and he wants to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, that island just so happens to be Dr. Wily’s new base and the mad scientist manages to escape with the extraterrestrial energy in hand. However, MegaMan finds a heavily-damaged robot in the meteor crater, sending it back to Dr. Light for repairs before setting off to stop Wily’s latest scheme.

MM8-05

I guess Hi-Tech Expressions was ahead of their time.

Despite the leap to 32-bit systems, MegaMan 8 is undeniably a MegaMan game. The Blue Bomber maintains his abilities to jump, slide, fire charged and standard shots and steal weapons from the eight Robot Masters. As in the previous game, the Robot Masters have been split into two sets of four – each with their own weaknesses. The introductory and intermission stages before each set of bosses respectively also return from the previous game, as well as the Shop and the standard 4 Wily Fortress stages at the end of the game. The game also makes use of both the Saturn and PlayStation’s shoulder buttons to allow MegaMan to switch weapons on the fly, as in MM7 and the X games. Interestingly, MM8’s stage select is split across two separate screens: the first includes the first four bosses (Tenguman, Frostman, Clownman and Grenademan), Dr. Light’s Shop and the Intro stage, while the second contains the other four bosses (Astroman, Aquaman, Searchman and Swordman), the intermission stage and Wily Tower.

Of course, that’s the least of the game’s changes. For starters, Robot Master stages are now split into two segments – with a continue point mechanic that allows players to continue from the second part after a game over. Some stages use a mid-boss to separate the two points, but in other cases, there’s simply a transitional area, generally with some kind of special hazard. For example, Tenguman’s stage transitions into a shoot-‘em-up style section where MegaMan rides the Rush Jet and can summon Eddie, Beat and Auto to act as “options” to assist him. And who could forget the infamous snowboarding sections in Frostman’s stage? Jump, jump, slide, slide and all that. Another interesting quirk is that the game uses the two sets of Robot Masters to its advantage. The second batch of stages incorporate obstacles that require the first set of weapons to avoid. The best example of this would have to be Swordman’s stage. The first half of the stage includes four chambers, each associated with one of the four Special Weapons MegaMan would have to have obtained before reaching the stage. I wish more games in the series had exploited this kind of mechanic, but MegaMan 8 certainly explored the concept to a great extent.

MM8-03

Seriously, the effect on level design was worth it.

Another change that I’d consider an improvement is that MegaMan now has access to his Mega Buster even when Special Weapons are equipped. I’m surprised they didn’t implement that into MegaMan 7 or even the SNES X games, and I’m disappointed that it didn’t appear in later Classic games. MegaMan no longer “space jumps” in water, he now swims in water instead, allowing for new puzzles and obstacles. While the shop returns from MM7, it’s balanced differently in MegaMan 8. For starters, there are a limited number of Bolts hidden throughout the game, essentially acting as collectables. As such, it is impossible to buy every single item from the shop in the game. Instead of selling 1-Ups and Tanks as in the previous games, MM8’s shop focuses more on persistent power-ups that can be equipped from a sub-screen on the pause menu. The shop starts with 7 items at the beginning of the game, but once the second set of bosses is unlocked, 8 more items become available for purchase. These include such things as the Escape Unit, the Energy Balancer (and similar items that affect energy management), various Buster upgrades that change its charge shot properties (I swear by the Laser shot, personally) and even stat-boosting items that speed up MegaMan’s slide, automatically refills extra lives after leaving a stage and allow MegaMan to have five standard Buster shots on-screen at the same time instead of the typical 3. Of course, the store no longer sells E-Tanks or the like, because they no longer exist in this game. Fortunately, the difficulty has been balanced around this fact, but considering that E-Cans were considered a series staple since the second game, their omission in MM8 was always a bit of a surprise.

Likewise, the support items have been completely overhauled from previous games. No Rush Super Adapter, no Rush Jet, not even the Rush Coil, they’ve all been removed. In fact, the only support item that resembles the previous ones is the Mega Ball, which MegaMan is given less than halfway through the intro stage. Even then, the Mega Ball is unique. MegaMan fires a small ball, that falls at his feet. He can then either kick it by hitting the attack button again or jumping on it to gain extra height. It’s most useful in very specific situations but it’s at least a unique weapon which is always a good thing in my eyes. The other four support items work differently. They’re accessed from the pause menu sub-screen, much like the shop upgrades and each of them is unlocked after beating one of the four mid-bosses found in specific Robot Master stages. Each of these support items only allow one use at a time and require some time to replenish. Beating the mid-boss in Grenademan’s stage unlocks the Rush Cycle, which allows Rush to transform into a motorcycle for a brief period of time. This renders MegaMan invincible, though the cycle takes damage, which reduces the remaining time. Rush can also fire missiles out of his mouth. Rush Surprise comes from Clownman’s mid-boss and summons Rush to drop a random item, not unlike Eddie from the later NES MegaMan games. Rush Bomber is unlocked by defeating the midboss in Swordman and summons Rush to fly around in Rush Jet form, dropping missiles and bombs on enemies from a brief period of time. Beating the miniboss in Aquaman’s stage unlocks the Rush Charger, which is similar to the Rush Bomber only he drops health and weapon energy power-ups instead.

MM8-02

The Mega Ball is so ridiculous, I can’t help but love it.

MegaMan 8’s special weapons take the puzzle solving elements of the weapons from the previous game and essentially ramp them up to their logical conclusion. Most of the weapons in this game have secondary uses that become necessary as the game goes on. The fact that the game is essentially separated into 3 sets of 4 – not including the introduction and intermission stages – allows for more thorough planning when it comes to some of the levels being designed around weapon utilities. Even more important is the fact that the weapons in this game are the most fun to use since MM5. My favorite weapon in the game is easily Grenademan’s Flash Bomb. It’s a straight shot that leaves an explosive flash in its wake for a few seconds after colliding with a wall or enemy that deals additional damage. It can also light up darkened areas. Next is the Tornado Hold, taken from Tenguman. It generates a tornado in place that MegaMan can jump onto, which raises him into the air. Third would be Swordman’s Flame Sword: a short-range slash attack that can light fuses and set certain objects on fire. Then there’s the Ice Wave, obtained after defeating Frostman. It sends forth a wave of ice – hence the name – that can freeze enemies in its path, destroying them instantly. Number 5 would be Clownman’s Thunder Claw: a short-range beam of lightning that MegaMan can use to grapple and swing from specific hooks found in various levels. The Thunder Claw isn’t much of an offensive weapon, but its secondary uses put it higher on the list. The Homing Sniper from Searchman is the next on the list. It’s essentially an improved version of the Dive Missile from MegaMan 4, only this time there are reticles that depict the missile’s target. The weapon can even be charged to tag multiple targets at the same time. The seventh best weapon is easily Astroman’s Astro Crush. It’s a devastating full-screen meteor shower that destroys all minor enemies on-screen as well as some obstacles. It also renders MegaMan totally invincible for a short time and locks him into position, even while jumping. Unfortunately, it consumes a great deal of energy – a full weapon bar only allows for 4 uses, not even enough to destroy the Robot Master weak to it. Finally, there’s Aquaman’s Water Balloon, which fires a ball of water at a low arc. Of course, there’s no limit to how many Water Balloons can be on-screen at a time, but it just doesn’t do that much damage in general and its angle makes it awkward to aim.

Even though the game was released around the same time on both the PlayStation and Saturn, both versions have a few differences. Personally, I’ve only been able to play the PlayStation version, but from what I can tell, the Saturn version is superior, many have even speculated that it’s the closest to Capcom’s original concept. The PlayStation version has improved graphics – displaying the animated cutscenes in their native MPEG format and capable of displaying true transparency effects, while the Saturn version utilized dithering. In pretty much every other aspect, the Saturn version is superior. The Saturn version utilized PCM audio for its music, while players on PlayStation had to settle with its onboard MIDI synthesizer. One odd change is that both versions have different music for Tenguman’s stage – I’ve never seen any information as to why. It also includes a bonus sound test, allowing players to listen to both the game’s music and sound clips at their leisure. The best enhancement the Saturn version has to offer are two exclusive hidden boss fights: MM1’s Cutman and MM2’s Woodman, which are hidden in the intermission level and Searchman’s stage respectively. They even receive MM8-flavored remixes of their classic stage themes for their respective boss fights. Defeating each of these special opponents nabs MegaMan a bolt –in the PlayStation version, they just lie out in the open. Alas, due to the difficulty of emulating the Saturn’s hardware, this version will likely remain impossible to re-release in any legitimate form for years to come, if ever, but it is interesting to discuss.

MM8-06

What, were you expecting Frostman’s stage? How cliché.

 

MegaMan 8’s graphics are probably the best in the entire franchise, for obvious reasons: the 32-bit era consoles were the strongest hardware to depict a MegaMan games with 2D sprites without trying to emulate an older style. The character sprites are vibrant and detailed. More importantly, unlike MegaMan 7 and the Game Boy games, they take up a reasonable portion of the screen – stressing visibility over clarity, but not really sacrificing the latter in the process. There’s much more animation in the game as well: MegaMan even takes on a new stance when he’s low on health, cradling his arm while breathing heavily – effectively simulating being hurt like a person would. It’s a nice visual cue that’s appreciated. The backgrounds are the real stars though, with environments ranging from a frozen city, a virtual reality maze, an amusement park and a thick jungle, the details of the various stages have never been made so clear. The user interface has also undergone a bit of an overhaul as well. The energy meters are no longer signified with individual units, but rather displayed as one solid bar. To compensate, there are additional icons on screen, signifying the amount of extra lives remaining and how many uses the special weapon currently equipped has left. The presentation’s real star would have to be the game’s full motion video cutscenes, animated by anime company Xebec. To this day, watching the opening cutscene still gives me chills. Having said that, the presentation all meshes together so well that nothing really looks out of place – I distinctly remember one review from when MegaMan 8 originally came out that praised its artstyle as resembling “a Saturday Morning cartoon you could play” and despite the relatively low resolutions compared to what can be displayed on modern consoles and computers, I’d say the comparison still holds up.

In most of these retrospectives, I’ve kind of glossed over the sound design, choosing instead to focus on the game’s famous musical compositions. After all, there’s only so much that can be said about the minute differences between the beeps and boops that the Nintendo Entertainment System’s sound chip were capable of, and the Super NES was hardly any more advanced. MegaMan 8 is a rare case where there’s actually a fair amount to say about the sound effects. After all, both the PlayStation and the Saturn were capable of playing back actual audio recordings at a reasonable quality and that ability had an effect on how the game sounded. As such, the game’s sound effects are, to put it simply, more realistic. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a positive: for example, whenever MegaMan lands, he makes this squeaking noise. I guess I just never thought of what MegaMan should sound like, but I certainly never thought he was made of dog toys. I suppose the credit for that interesting choice should go to the man behind the sound effects, Shinji Amagishi.

Even more important would be the game’s use of voice acting: MegaMan 8 was the first game in the Classic series to have voice acting and the only mainline game to make use of them. Now, the voice acting’s poor reputation is generally associated with the abysmal performance of Dr. Light, who sounded more like Elmer Fudd than a kindly roboticist rocking a Santa beard. Aside from that anomaly, I’d say that the voice acting is actually pretty good considering the time of the game’s release. Personally, I wish more people paid attention to the Robot Masters’ voiceovers. They really add a lot of personality to them and frankly, I think they hold up even to this day. From Astroman’s paranoid whining and Aquaman’s bizarre flamboyance to Clownman’s snarky jester persona and the big popsicle-loving lug known as Frostman, the voices really help flesh out the bosses in this game in a way that nothing else could. It makes me wish that more games in the series could’ve gotten this treatment.

MM8-04

Honestly, I wish I could’ve just posted an audio recording here instead of a screenshot.

MegaMan 8’s soundtrack is also affected by the new technology available to Capcom. The fifth generation marked a decided shift away from chiptune-style music, with most compositions leaning more towards actual instrumentation, thanks in part to the new platforms’ ability to utilize both CD audio and far more advanced synthesizers than the sound chips found in previous generations. MM8 scaled back to having a single composer: Shusaku Uchiyama, generally associated with the Resident Evil games. As the game’s music was handled by the onboard synthesizers, rather than the CD audio, Tomoyuki “T.K, NY” Kawakami acts as the sound programmer. The Japanese version had songs for the opening cutscene and the game’s credit performed by J-Pop group GANASIA. The international releases replaced these songs with original instrumental pieces: both are good, though I prefer the upbeat tones of “ELECTRICAL COMMUNICATION” over the piece made for the Western version’s intro. MegaMan 8’s soundtrack appears to go for a more electronica-inspired sound. Considering that’s one of my favorite musical genres, I may be a little biased but I think the music in MM8 lives up to the series’ pedigree. My favorite tracks in the game are the stage select, the tracks from Clownman, Frostman, Searchman and Aquaman’s stages, the standard boss battle music (not to mention the catchy tune that plays when the bosses introduce themselves), the Got Weapon jingle and the second, third and fourth Wily Tower stage themes. Honorable mentions go to the Grenademan and Astroman stage themes and the remix of Bass’s theme – they’re definitely good tracks, but declaring them among “my favorites” feels like overkill.

Looking back at MegaMan 8 is an exercise in melancholy. Despite all of the changes that were made compared to the earlier games in the series, Capcom managed to stumble upon a style that was able to stay true to the roots of the Classic MegaMan series, while streamlining a few aspects for modern audiences, succeeding in many ways where MegaMan 7 had failed. In fact, much like MM7, I wished that Capcom had done a touch-up on MM8: just add the Saturn-exclusive content back into the game and tighten up some of the more blatant issues. Likewise, there’s another fan-made remake in progress that reimagines it as an NES game.  MegaMan 8 certainly wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the potential was clearly there. Future sequels could’ve smoothed out the odd idiosyncrasies that didn’t quite work.  But that was it. At least in the West, Classic MegaMan wouldn’t receive a new title for roughly six years after the eighth game in the franchise – and even then, the new game had been released in Asia years prior. Whether you blame it on the fact that video games were moving more towards 3D – something I still don’t think the 2D MegaMan platformers could easily translate to – or the fact that by the end of the PlayStation era, the franchise had 3 separate brands associated with it, the point is that the original Blue Bomber would be relegated to cameo appearances in other games for many years. Of course, in the Land of the Rising Sun, the Classic series still had one game left up its sleeve…

MegaMan & Bass

Rockman & Forte – or MegaMan & Bass, as it was called in its delayed Western release – is an interesting title with an interesting history. Developed soon after the eighth MegaMan game, it was the last game to be released in the Classic series for several years. Odder still, it was developed on the Super Famicom, well after the PlayStation had been released. At the same time, Westerners would generally refer to it as “MegaMan 9”. While many people have dismissed MM&B as nothing more than a glorified spinoff, personally I’ve always considered it a mainline entry in the series. Considering the fact that Capcom actually referenced it in the actual MM9, I think they feel the same way. While perhaps even more experimental than its predecessor, MegaMan & Bass managed to refine many of the problems faced by the last attempt at creating a Classic game for the Super Nintendo.

MM&B-02

Demoted to the introduction stage. How humiliating.

According to Keiji Inafune, MegaMan & Bass was intended for younger fans who still owned a Super Famicom and didn’t have one of the newer systems. The design team consisted of several new employees, as well as several staff members from previous MegaMan games and Inafune required them to make a game that was “as hardcore as possible”, lending to MM&B’s infamous difficulty. The staff claimed that they were attempting to create a game that avoided the tried and true formula of the series, trying to avoid stagnation. That fact, coupled with the fact that the stages were clearly designed with Bass in mind – to the extent where the only advantages MegaMan has over him that some collectables are only reachable by MM’s slide and the fact that his default Buster shots can pass through walls – has led many to speculate that the game was originally envisioned as a spinoff with MegaMan’s rival as the sole character. I couldn’t find any evidence confirming or denying this theory, but it is fun to speculate on it. One interesting find regarding the game is that the header data refers to the game as “ROCK8.5”, implying that the game was always considered a spinoff rather than a ninth Classic game. The Japanese release didn’t even have the usual subtitle associated with Japanese releases.

The game was originally only released in Japan, as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was essentially dead when the game came out in 1998. However, when Capcom ported MM&B to the Game Boy Advance in 2002, it was finally officially released in the West the following year. Given the disadvantages that the GBA version had – a smaller screen resolution and less buttons than the SNES controller – as well as a poor-quality translation, I’d generally recommend the original Super Famicom version. There was even a fan-made English translation patch for the original version. It’s admittedly more literal than the official one, leading to some interesting dialogue choices that may seem a bit out of place for a “MegaMan” game, but it’s still far more coherent than the official version released by Capcom.

MM&B-03

The Treble Boost: the most broken power-up since the original Rush Jet.

While two of the bosses – Tenguman and Astroman – were recycled from MegaMan 8, the other six were created by three manga artists, all of whom worked on various MegaMan mangas: Yoshihiro Iwamoto (Rockman X-X4) designed Magicman and Groundman; Coldman and Pirateman were created by Koji Izuki (Rockman 8, Rockman & Forte) and Hitoshi Ariga (Rockman MegaMix/GigaMix) created Burnerman and Dynamoman. In fact, some of the Robot Masters were renamed during the game’s development: Burnerman was “Blastman”, Coldman was “Freezerman” and Dynamoman was “Coilman” – while Groundman was originally designated as “Drillman”, despite there already being one back in MegaMan 4. An interesting shift from the standard Boss Design contests that had been held since the second game in the series, but considering the fact that this was a spinoff game and the previous game had two Capcom-designed Robot Masters, I guess it wasn’t that much of a stretch that Capcom would commissioned professional artists to design bosses.

It’s been roughly one year since the events of MegaMan 8 and the devious Dr. Wily is still missing, leaving the world in relative peace. But as the malevolent mechanist was preparing a new assault on the world, a new robot going by the name King appears. Declaring his plans to conquer the Earth, King asserted that robots were superior to humanity and therefore should rule the Earth, rather than acting as servants. King deposed Wily from his new castle and stole data from six new Robot Masters, as well as using two of Wily’s older creations to begin building his army. His next target: the Robot Museum, which contains the data of many of the world’s most powerful robots. Dr. Light sends MegaMan to stop this new threat, but surprisingly, Bass – MegaMan’s rival and Dr. Wily’s greatest creation – also arrives on the scene, seeking to prove his superiority. After King fells Protoman and escapes from the museum, the two decide to form an uneasy alliance to stop this new automated autocrat.

MM&B-04

Meanwhile, Rock gets the Rush Search again. Totally fair trade-off.

The most obvious difference from previous games in the Classic series is the fact that players are allowed to choose between two characters, rather than simply playing as the Blue Bomber. Upon starting a new game, players are asked to choose between MegaMan and Bass in a similar fashion to the way that they chose between X and Zero in MegaMan X4. This decision is permanent – players can’t switch between characters at any point during that playthrough. MegaMan is essentially unchanged from MegaMan 7 & 8: he still retains his slide and charge shot. Of course, Bass is the game’s real star attraction. He has a MMX-style dash and a double jump. His most unique difference would have to be the Bass Buster: it acts as a rapid fire gun that Bass can aim in 7 directions – everything but straight down. This comes at the cost of his mobility: Bass can only jump while firing, he’s unable to walk or dash. Also, unlike MegaMan’s shots, the Bass Buster can’t shoot through walls by default. The best comparison I can think of would be the Fixed Shot from Gunstar Heroes. Still, he’s definitely the better choice for this game due to his unique abilities. Few stages are really centered around MegaMan’s moveset, which puts him at a bit of a disadvantage, but that’s honestly part of the fun. Having a game where using the series’ traditional character is essentially the game’s “hard mode” is a pretty unique concept that I’d love to see more games in general tackle.

Like I mentioned earlier, MegaMan & Bass deviates from most of the mainline MegaMan games in some pretty extreme ways. Perhaps the most evident change comes from the stage select menu. Instead of being allowed to select from all eight Robot Masters from the beginning or from four bosses at a time, MM&B handled things in a unique way. After clearing the game’s introductory stage, players are allowed to select from one of three Robot Masters: Coldman, Groundman and Astroman. Clearing each of these bosses open up paths to additional bosses. Defeating Coldman unlocks Burnerman and Pirateman, Groundman opens the way to Tenguman and Magicman, while a showdown with Dynamoman is the reward for toppling Astroman. The only real downsides to this method is that it ends up making most of the boss weaknesses even more obvious than usual and that it limits the order the bosses can be fought in. At the end of each “path”, is the entrance to King’s Castle, which is locked off by eight seals, each accessible by a teleporter pad. Each seal can only be unlocked by using one of the Special Weapons obtained from each boss and destroying a seal nets the player a significant amount of bolts (or screws, as they were renamed) – more on those later. After all eight seals are destroyed, players are then allowed to enter King’s Fortress, containing 3 stages in total. The fact that the Fortress in MegaMan & Bass only has three levels may sound short, but believe me, that is not the case. The second and third stages have several boss fights – the third level even forces players to undergo a gauntlet of all 8 Robot Masters similar to the first MegaMan game before the final showdown with Wily – of course he was behind it, what were you expecting?

MM&B-01

The ability to aim shots makes the weaker damage totally worth it.

Throughout the game, there are 100 CDs hidden throughout the various stages. These contain data profiles on various characters from the MegaMan games, particularly the Robot Masters, but also some human characters like Dr. Light. The way they’re arranged, some can only be collected by MegaMan and others can only be collected by Bass, generally relying on some of their unique abilities. Fortunately, many CDs can be collected by either character, though some are very well-hidden. The game also makes use of save files as opposed to passwords, using a battery back-up save on the game cartridge. There are four save files available in total, though the CDs that are collected are retained across saves. Fortunately, for those who want to find them all over again, there is a special code that erases the CD collection data.

The shop system from the previous two games returns in MegaMan & Bass as well. The collectable screws that are used for currency take on the same mechanics as those in MM7: there are an infinite amount of screws to find throughout stages, allowing completionists to buy every item in the shop. The shop itself effectively better resembles that of MegaMan 8 in terms of its offerings. Aside from extra lives, everything that can be bought from Auto’s Shop is a power-up. Some are temporary, like the shock Guard which prevents death when touching spikes once, the Item Present, which causes a random item to drop at some point during the next stage (kind of like Eddie in MM4 and 5). There are also plenty of permanent items, like the Exit Unit, Energy Balancer, an Energy Saver that reduces the energy cost for Special Weapons, Cost Energy which doubles attack power when the character is near-death and Super Recover, which increases the amount of energy recovered by power-ups. There’s even a Com System that allows the player to ask hints from Roll, which can be further upgraded with other items like the CD Counter or the Enemy Analyzer, that allow her to count the remaining CDs and strategies to take out bosses respectively.

Each character also has their own unique power-ups as well. For MegaMan, the Rush Search returns from MM7; Eddie who drops a few power-ups before leaving; Beat who gives off a shield that renders MegaMan invincible temporarily; Auto Charge, which sets the Mega Buster to charge automatically; Auto Recover, which allows MegaMan to recover his health one unit at a time by standing still and the High-Speed Buster, which speeds up the charge time for the Mega Buster. Bass, on the other hand, gets the Treble Boost, which acts sort of like the Rush Super Adapter from MM7, allowing Bass to fly for a limited amount of time; High-Speed Dash, which increases his dash’s speed; the Step Booster, which speeds up his ability to climb ladders; the Hyper Blast, which allows the Bass Buster’s shots to travel through walls; and my personal favorite, the Super Blast, which doubles the Bass Buster’s attack strength.

Of course, as far as MegaMan & Bass strayed from the basic MegaMan formula, it still retained the ability to obtain Special Weapons from defeating each of the game’s eight Robot Masters. The interesting thing about them is that while the weapons retain the same functionality for both characters, their appearances – particularly the colors MegaMan and Bass take on while using them – are wildly different. As per usual, I’ve decided to rank MM&B’s weapons from best to worst, though to be honest, the weapons in this game are more interesting than useful overall. My favorite weapon in MM&B would probably be Pirateman’s Remote Mine –  a mine which can be manipulated until it attached to the first object it collides with. Hit the fire button a second time, at any point, and it detonates with a decent blast radius. Number 2 would be the Ice Wall from Coldman. It generates a literal wall of ice, that can be used as a platform or a shield. Better still, walk up against it and it can be pushed, allowing MegaMan or Bass to ride across obstacles like spike pits. It’s probably one of the best utility Special Weapons in the entire MegaMan series. Tenguman’s Tengu Blade is easily my third favorite. It’s essentially two weapons in one: dashing or sliding allows it to work like an improved version of the Charge Kick from MM5, firing it normally shoots off a swirling slash that vaguely resembles a Sonic Boom and can bounce off walls. Next up would have to be the Spread Drill, obtained after defeating Groundman. It starts out as a giant drill that moves slowly and quickly loses altitude when left to its own devices. Press the fire button again and it splits into two smaller drills that move slightly faster, pressing it a third time and they split again into four tiny but quick drills. Then there’s Magicman’s Magic Card: a boomerang-style weapon that can be aimed either straight forward or straight up. Not really that useful in terms of attack power, but the fact that it can grab power-up items and recover them is a pretty nice bonus. The fact that it allows MegaMan to aim straight up is a plus, as well. The sixth best weapon would probably be the Lightning Bolt, taken from Dynamoman. Effectively an Astro Crush knockoff themed around a lightning storm, the energy cost is slightly lower, allowing for more uses, which gives it a slight edge over its predecessor. Number 7 is Burnerman’s Wave Burner. Effectively a complete ripoff of the Flame Mammoth’s Fire Wave from the original MegaMan X, it sprays a constant wave of flames for a short distance, while rendering the character motionless. It’s not particularly useful, but it does decent damage all things considered. Finally, there’s the Copy Vision, taken from Astroman – effectively one of the worst weapons in the entire series. It generates a holographic duplicate of the player character that fires off a slow but steady cascade of standard shots at a rate slower than Bass’s standard rapid fire. I’ve never encountered a situation where it’s not easier to just use the standard Buster.

MM&B-05

Oh yeah, that’s way better than dropping a literal meteor shower.

MegaMan & Bass’s graphics were standard for the end of the SNES’s lifespan, effectively experimenting with techniques in order to get the best graphics possible from the dying system. In this game’s case, Capcom effectively used the artstyle from MegaMan 8, recycling some existing graphics and creating new ones in the same style. Of course, it doesn’t turn out quite as well as it did on the 32-bit platforms – SNES had some severe limitations – but compared to other late-era Capcom games (Street Fighter Alpha 2 comes to mind), it turns out much better with very little in the way of outright compression. I’d almost liken it to the use of pre-rendered graphics in the Donkey Kong Country games: nothing particularly amazing by today’s standards, but the fact that they were able to so closely resemble graphics found on the PlayStation with very little compromise is impressive. The game’s presentation is also quite unique in many ways: the stage select takes on a more map-like appearance, with a mug shot of the enemy appearing in the bottom-left corner, as well as a preview of the stage in the bottom-right. The demos that play after selecting a stage also deviate from the previous games, going for a more ornate look. Instead of just showcasing each Robot Master’s entrance from the beginning of each boss fight, MM&B also includes a more-detailed profile shot of each boss. Most interesting of all would have to be the “map screen” for King’s Castle: instead of doing the traditional simple map that the series has been using since MegaMan 2, there are three rows of graphics, each giving a preview of what to expect from each fortress stage.

If there’s one area where MegaMan & Bass definitely doesn’t stray from the series’ roots, it would have to be the music. Toshihiko “Kirikiri-chan” Horiyama returns as one of MM&B’s composers, alongside Naoshi Mizuta – who composed music for the original Street Fighter Alpha and Vampire Savior – as well as Akari Kaida, who worked on the original Resident Evil, Night Warriors, Cyberbots and would go onto working on Breath of Fire III among others. The Game Boy Advance port would also credit Chiriro “T.Arisaka” Arisaka for reprogramming the sound on Nintendo’s handheld, as she would on many other ports of older Capcom games. All the same, MM&B made far better use of the SNES’s sound capabilities than MM7, going for a much cleaner sound. Maybe it’s because the game’s staff was far smaller or simply because they had more experience working with the Super Nintendo’s hardware at this point, but the music just sounds more cohesive this time around. As with most SNES-to-GBA ports, the music suffers a bit in the portable release due to the weaker sound hardware, but is still left mostly intact. Compared to the previous two games, MegaMan & Bass’s music sounds like a more modernized version of the 8-bit MegaMan music. It’s honestly hard to choose favorites this time around. The Robot Museum theme is generally considered a classic, I love Tenguman’s theme – I’d say it’s the best of the three he’s had by far – as well as the songs from Coldman, Groundman, Pirateman and Magicman’s levels. The music from the first two stages of King’s Fortress is also great, along with the standard boss battle theme, the Got Weapon jingle and the song plays in Auto’s Shop.

MM&B-06

Seriously, it’s like they made Bass way cooler on purpose or something.

For a brief period, I would’ve said that MegaMan & Bass was my favorite of the three post 8-bit MegaMan Classic games, but I’d say that MM8 has regained its dominance since then. All the same, I’d call MM&B the best Classic MegaMan on the Super Nintendo. While it suffers from the same zoomed-in graphics as its predecessor – to the extent where the character sprites take up more of the screen than those of MM7 – the control manages to feel more fluid and responsive. I’ve seen quite a few people who consider MM&B to be the worst of the Classic series, which I’ve never understood. Sure, MegaMan’s inclusion is generally considered to be an afterthought and the game is definitely among the most difficult in the entire franchise, but I’d consider the latter the plus and the choice of including two different characters with totally different abilities allowed the stage designs to really branch out and experiment. I was sad to hear that this game was left off the second MegaMan Legacy Collection that came out earlier this year, but some have speculated that we may be receiving a third compilation down the line. Saving a traditional console MegaMan platformer to include with whatever else Capcom picks from their archives is definitely a smart idea and MM&B would definitely add some value to a proposed MMLC3, especially if it means getting a new and improved English translation of the original Super Famicom version in the process.

“The Best of” Mega Man (Game Gear)

Remember how I said North America got its own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega console way back in part 1? This is it, and trust me, we Americans definitely got the raw end of the deal on this one. Originally advertised under the name “The Best of Mega Man” – a title I can only imagine was meant to be seeping with sarcasm and irony – I remember wanting this game as a child. You have to remember, when I was a kid, I was a Sega fanboy and the Game Gear was my first system. Considering that the game came out in 1995, I would’ve been around 7 years old at the time. Now imagine you told a six-year-old boy that one of his favorite video game series of all time was coming to the first video game system he had ever owned. That’d be one excited six-year-old. I missed out on the game at the time and as it would turn out, that was honestly for the best. I’d happen upon the game years later and I was absolutely horrified with what I’d found. It’s a good thing they decided not to go with “The Best of Mega Man” as the title, it would’ve been the most open-and-shut case of false advertising in American history.

This is another licensed game, published by British company U.S. Gold – don’t ask, I don’t understand it either. That’s right, the same company that brought MegaMan to the Game Gear also brought us such “classics” as Strider Returns and OutRun Europa. As per usual, U.S. Gold farmed out development to an English company, Freestyle Software Limited. Their only other credits involved a few other ports – including an Amiga port of Super Street Fighter II – as well as various sports trivia and card games. Exactly the kind of people you want in charge of a port of one of the most beloved Japanese platformers of all-time, right?

MMGG-01

Believe it or not, there’s a pit of spikes just out of frame.

The game has really little in terms of backstory. MegaMan is fighting Dr. Wily – who is using robots from MegaMan 4 and 5 once again. There’s really very little else to say here: it’s kind of funny that the game’s manual says that Dr. Wily has been MegaMan’s arch enemy since 1985. The difficulty setting from the Western release of MegaMan 2 on the NES returns, but it’s somewhat different from the previous game. The game starts off with the choice of four Robot Masters: Stoneman, Napalmman and Starman from MM5, alongside Brightman from MM4. After that, it’s on to Dr. Wily’s Fortress – which is Dr. Cossack’s Citadel for reasons I don’t entirely understand – where the first stage involves a fight with Waveman from MM5. While those playing on the Difficult setting make a brief stopover against Toadman, both players end up finishing off the game with two levels before a final encounter with Dr. Wily.

Considering the fact that this game literally came out a year after the spectacular MegaMan V on the Game Boy, expectations were pretty high for this one. The Classic MegaMan formula had been perfected across two platforms by this point and expectations were high, considering Sega had scored one of Nintendo’s third-party jewels. This was the first portable MegaMan game in full color! Unfortunately, the game failed to live up to even the most meager of expectations, delivering an experience that made MegaMan II look like MegaMan 2 – I know what I said. The controls are particularly sluggish and the physics are a bit off: the most noticeable differences are that MegaMan can only have two shots onscreen at the same time and bosses have the same amount of hit-invincibility as the Blue Bomber himself. The most detrimental change was a deliberate change on the part of the developers. Deciding to keep the graphics the same size as the NES version on the Game Gear’s smaller screen forced the game’s field of vision to shrink significantly, making even the most obvious obstacles from the original games into leaps of faith, where only perfect muscle memory can guarantee success. To make up for that, the game added vertical scrolling locked to MegaMan’s movement, essentially making the game disorienting to even look at. The devs did put in the option to manipulate the vertical scroll manually – but it required moving the camera with the D-Pad while holding down the jump button. Another terrible change to the game is that there are absolutely no continues. That’s right, Game Over is taken quite literally in this game. Better keep those passwords handy, though they’ll only get you about halfway through the game as best.

MMGG-02

By the way, this is as far as any password will take you. Have fun!

While many people mistakenly assumed that the Game Boy MegaMan games simply recycled the levels from the NES game, the Game Gear more or less delivers on that lazy promise. Each of the six Robot Masters inhabit their stages from their respective NES games, with a few minor tweaks – for example, Eddie no longer appears in the game, so he’s often replaced some form of an energy power-up. The weapons also return unaltered – aside from being rechristened with such imaginative names as “Bomb Weapon” and “Stone Weapon” – alongside MegaMan 5’s take on the Rush Coil. The Wily stages fare even more bizarrely: the first is literally just Quickman’s stage from MM2 with no boss fight at the end, while the second and final stage is a corridor leading to a teleporter that sends MegaMan directly to the final fight with Wily: nothing more than a simple fight with the now-traditional Wily Capsule.

MMGG-03

No, seriously.

The graphic style is somewhat evocative of The Wily Wars, focusing on sprites that are essentially the same as the NES games with expanded color palettes. Unfortunately, they were handled far worse in this game – some of the game’s graphics just end up looking weird, either due to the different aspect ratio of the smaller screen or just through poor redrawing in general. One example that can’t help but stand out to me is MegaMan himself: for some reason, his helmet looks too small and it looks like he’s got an off-center cyan mohawk on top. The backgrounds end up looking pretty good, like enhanced versions of the NES originals, but as I said before, the entire game is hampered by the zoomed-in camera, which just makes everything look worse.

The game’s music is a cacophony. While MegaMan II on the Game Boy had original compositions and a sound programmer unfamiliar with the system’s hardware, MegaMan for Game Gear doesn’t have quite as many excuses. The game’s music was rearranged by one “Dr. Mike Ash, PhD”: a composer that worked on various other British video games. One such game that I managed to find the soundtrack for was the Game Gear version of Marko’s Magic Football – same system, same composer. I listened to it for comparison’s sake and found that it had much better composition than Mega Man and even came out the year before, so there’s really no excuse for the game’s horrid instrumentation. Perhaps the weirdest part of the game’s composition is how some of the music is used. Most of the stage themes are pretty much what you’d expect – though Waveman was given Gravityman’s theme for reasons I don’t entirely understand – the boss music and the final Wily stage are taken from MM4, while the stage select is taken from 5. The other music is also taken from older games, but used in unusual contexts. For starters, the opening cutscene is MM5’s password and the title screen is MM5’s introduction with the title screen theme tacked onto the end. The jingles for both the stage selected and got weapon screens are two different rearrangements of the map theme from Dr. Cossack’s Citadel from MM4, the game’s ending is one of the Dr. Cossack fortress level themes and perhaps most interesting of all, the Game Over tune is Waveman’s theme… in its entirety. I don’t understand these choices, but they fall in line with many of the other baffling decisions that caused this game to take shape, so it’s hard to argue them.

MMGG-04

It’s weird seeing Toadman put up this much of a fight.

I actually think that the Game Gear’s Mega Man may be my least favorite game in the entire series, even more than the supposedly inferior PC duology from Hi-Tech Expressions and Rozner Labs. The thing about the DOS games is that while they are substantially worse at recreating Capcom’s games – in appearance, sound and even gameplay – they attempted to create their own unique scenarios, no matter how misguided. Likewise, the games themselves honestly looked more like amateurish fan works, something that most people would take one look at the screenshots on the back of the box and immediately realize that they’d been ripped off. U.S. Gold’s take on the franchise just comes across as far more insidious: lifting entire levels from the NES games, but breaking them with minor but game-breaking modifications to the game’s engine. Worse yet, they also showcase graphics that, at first glance, appear to be superior to the originals, but lead to even greater concessions in terms of presentation. The Game Gear game feels lazy at best and is an outright scam at worst. So yes, while the Game Gear Mega Man may have emulated the actual games more closely than the PC games, they offer absolutely nothing of worth – at least the Hi-Tech games had some original (albeit half-baked) concepts. Just ignore the Game Gear game with extreme prejudice, even MegaMan II on the Game Boy would be better.

MegaMan: The Power Battle & MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters

MegaMan: The Power Battle and its direct sequel, MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters were interesting games based on an obvious concept. The MegaMan series was among the first of Capcom’s success stories within the console market, but what had really made them a household name was their arcade fighting games. With Street Fighter II propelling them into the spotlight, much of Capcom’s focus during the 90s was on 2D fighting games, coming up with other franchises such as Darkstalkers, their licensed games with Marvel and the crossover games pitting their characters against other companies, both within and without the video game industry. Combining the two seemed like a natural fit, taking the MegaMan franchise’s trademark boss fights and streamlining them into a fighting game, so in 1995 and 1996, both games were released in Arcades.

While the Japanese versions are generally the most common, there were also rarer English releases released in North America. In fact, when I was a child, I managed to encounter Power Battle during a family trip on the Big Red Boat cruise line. I became obsessed with the game for my short stay, attempting to beat the game any time and any way I could. Come to think of it, this was the first time I remember being introduced to Bass – who I’d always choose when I could. In fact, tying back to MegaMan & Bass, I remember being irritated with Bass’s new attack style: in Power Battle (and by extension, its sequel), Bass had a charge shot just like MegaMan and ProtoMan. It ticked me off when I was a kid, but these days the aimable rapid fire is definitely my preference.

MM-TPB

It’s weird just how much content was taken directly from MegaMan 7.

While both games have their own unique characteristics, the base gameplay mechanics remain the same. Players are asked to choose between MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass – with Duo acting as a fourth playable character in Power Fighters – before choosing their “course”. Both games have three courses apiece, each with six Robot Masters to fight. After defeating them, it’s off to Wily’s Fortress for two boss fights, the latter against the mad doctor himself, capped off with a Wily Capsule bonus round. As with most fighting games, there’s the option for one or two players to play, but this time around, it’s cooperative play. Likewise, it’s impossible for both players to pick the same character: after all, with the MegaMan series’ emphasis on palette swapping in general, alternate colors would be a nightmare to manage. As this is an arcade game, there are also some unique quirks: for example, health is maintained between fights and each credit only grants a player a single life. The game’s controls consist of a joystick for movement, as well as three buttons: fire, jump and change weapon, which cycles through the weapons in a continuous loop. Likewise, when a Special Weapon is out of ammo, it defaults back to the standard attack.

Despite being released only a year apart, there are actually several differences between Battle and Fighters. Perhaps the most obvious is Duo. While both games include MegaMan, ProtoMan and Bass as playable characters, Power Fighters added Duo as a stealth advertisement for the then-upcoming MegaMan 8. While the other three characters are interchangeable for the most part, Duo is far more reliant on short-range attacks, stretching out his larger arm as his primary attack, but can also deal damage with his dash attack. His charge shot allows for greater distance, but also moves far more slowly than the other three. Of course, like the others, he can still use the Special Weapons, which brings me to the next major difference. In The Power Battle, defeating Robot Masters earns both characters each Special Weapon. Power Fighters, on the other hand, has each Robot Master drop an orb containing their weapon – along with health and score power-ups. Whoever picks up the orb gets the weapon. This also applies to a single-player run: no orb, no weapon. It definitely adds more of a competitive aspect to the game which makes the game more interesting when playing it in two-player: some could split the weapon amicably in order to allow for decent load-outs between both players, while other could simply race to see who gets each weapon first.

MM2-TPF

Of course, it makes perfect sense to fight Stoneman in the Egypt-themed area, especially with the giant Sphinx in the background with Pharoahman’s face on it.

Both games offer a choice of three “courses”, each with their own sets of bosses. Both games handle their courses differently. PB separates its Robot Masters by game – resulting in MegaMan 1-2, MegaMan 3-6 and MegaMan 7, which was the newest release at that point in time. PF, on the other hand, separates them into “missions”: “Search for Wily!” has players looking for Wily’s new base, “Rescue Roll!” has a Wily robot kidnap MegaMan’s sister, while “Recover parts!” has one stealing parts for an experimental device. These goals are generally associated with one of the six Robot Masters – chosen at random – and clearing it boosts the character’s abilities. Even the stage select works differently in both games: while Power Fighters allowed players to choose the stage manually, Power Battle went for a weird roulette system where it would cycle between remaining areas and stops on a button press. Both games also have different rosters of bosses: while many are shared between games, The Power Battle had a significant focus on MM7, while Fighters has a more balanced roster. The Power Fighters also adds Eddie as a random encounter during fights, dropping a limited time power-up that varies depending on which character picks it up: MegaMan and Bass get back-up from Rush and Treble respectively – who charge at enemies when charge shots are fired – while ProtoMan and Duo get a shield from Beat that renders them invincible. These power-ups render the player unable to use the Special Weapons until they wear off,

While all of the Robot Masters in both games were essentially recycled from the first seven games in the mainline series, that doesn’t mean that all of the weapons are ripped directly from them. For starters, there are cases where existing weapons have been modified – sometimes to the extent where they almost act like entirely new weapons. For example, the Super Arm now allows MegaMan et al to fire boulders at enemies at will, as opposed to grabbing giant blocks and throwing them. The Crash Bomb now attaches to the ground and fires off multiple small explosions, while the Atomic Fire becomes an arc shot that results in a pillar of flames. Airman’s Air Shooter now only fires off a single tornado while increasing its speed. Some bosses end up giving out different Special Weapons. For example, while Stone Man’s Power Stone has the same name as his original weapon from MM5, it acts completely different: causing a giant stone hand to sail across the bottom of the screen. It’s way better than the original. Likewise, Pharoahman and Centaurman get entirely new weapons: the Pharoah Wave and Centaur Arrow. The Pharoah Wave fires off two energy waves, one in front of MegaMan, the other behind. The Centaur Arrow fires off an arrow-shaped energy burst either straight forward or up-forward diagonally. While the Centaur Arrow is a slight improvement over the Centaur Flash, the Pharoah Wave only appears to have been modified because the Pharoah Shot was little more than a slightly improved Mega Buster.

The games share an artstyle that is clearly inspired by that of MegaMan 7. In fact, it looks like MegaMan, ProtoMan, Bass and the MM7 Robot Masters were all at least based on their sprites from the SNES game, albeit with some weird ratio alterations that just make them look wider, causing them to suffer a bit upon close inspection. The sprites drawn specifically for Power Battle look stupendous: I’ve mentioned that I’ve always had a bit of a preference for MegaMan 7’s spritework and this game is definitely a major factor in my love for the artstyle. You can get a sense for the size of each Robot Master in a way that most games – especially those in the 8-bit style – just simply can’t match. The added budget from being an arcade game also improved the animation budget: the Yellow Devil and its liquid body are a prime highlight of what the spriting artisans of Capcom were capable of back in the mid-90s. The new sprites made for The Power Fighters are a bit less consistent. While most of them actually look even better than those from the previous game – Stoneman, Pharoahman and Airman are great examples – others, like Elecman and Duo, just come across as cheaply-made and not at all consistent with the rest of the game’s spritework. Still, that’s just a small criticism overall – after all, PF upped the ante by adding special animations when bosses are hit with their weaknesses.

The music and sound receive a similar upgrade: Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware typically used QSound to achieve its unique instrumentation. Regardless, Capcom’s arcade games were renowned for their audio clarity and the MegaMan arcade duology was no exception. Sound effects in general sounded akin to a fighting game and quite unlike any MegaMan game that came before (or after) it. Likewise, the games made use of Japanese voice acting. While some of it was removed from the international releases of The Power Battle, it was left completely intact for Fighters. The games’ music was mostly recycled from earlier games in the MegaMan series and rearranged by Setsuo Yamamoto and Hideki Okugawa. The Power Battle actually had less compositions in general – forcing the bosses in the MegaMan 1-2 and MegaMan 3-6 courses to share music, while the MM7 bosses all had their own unique songs, Shademan’s Ghouls ‘n Ghosts Easter Egg even returns. The Power Fighters, on the other hand, took great care to make sure that every boss had their own unique themes, even the Fortress sub-bosses. Unfortunately, even with all that love and care put into the games’ soundtracks, there are still some odd quirks. For example, Turboman has the theme from MM7’s introduction stage in Power Battle, while Plantman, Quickman and Centaurman have Crashman’s theme, the MM2 boss music and Junkman’s themes respectively in Power Fighters. Aside from that, there’s little to complain about when it comes to the soundtrack – there was even an original song used in Power Battle for the first Fortress boss that returned in Power Fighters as the Yellow Devil’s unique boss theme. Considering the fact that much of the music was actually reused in the Rockman Complete Works’ arranged soundtracks, it’s clear that Capcom also recognized its quality.

rm-b&f

I seriously wish Capcom had actually pursued this art style on their own.

It wasn’t remotely uncommon for Capcom’s arcade games to receive home ports, especially if they were based around Capcom’s own intellectual properties rather than a license. The MegaMan arcade games were no exception, though their first trip home was unique to say the least. Rather than coming home on the PlayStation or even the Saturn, the first home release of Power Battle and Power Fighters was a Japanese-only release in 2000 for the Neo Geo Pocket Color, a portable system designed by rival company SNK to compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy Color. Dubbed “Rockman Battle & Fighters”, the release was by no means arcade-perfect, but it was fascinating. While the game had to make sacrifices with regards to its graphics and especially its sound, the gameplay was left intact, more or less. The game’s soundtrack was diminished to roughly 3 Robot Master themes period, but they end up sounding pretty good on the NGPC’s sound chip. Perhaps the most interesting change came to the graphics. Essentially bridging the gap between the arcade games’ unique 16-bit style and the original NES games, Battle & Fighters had a unique look that I wish more games had emulated. It didn’t always work, but when it did, it looked gorgeous, given the NGPC’s limited capabilities. The best example would be the Blue Bomber himself: the juxtaposition of his classic 8-bit face with the posture and stance he had in  MM7 made for a unique look I wish more games had tried. B&F also had an information database, with profiles on all of the game’s Robot Masters, as well as the playable characters, Roll, Dr. Wily and Dr. Light. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who wants to have the definitive experience with these two games, but it is definitely a fascinating curiosity.

That’s not to say that there weren’t more traditional re-releases as well. In fact, one of the main selling points for the MegaMan Anniversary Collection was the inclusion of the two arcade games as unlockable bonus content. As such, Western gamers had access to them whether they owned a PS2, GameCube or even the Xbox. Japan, on the other hand, saw a completely different release, referred to as Rockman Power Battle Fighters. A PS2-exclusive, the release only contained the two arcade games in a collection that resembled most of the fighting game rerelease compilations on the Japanese PS2 at the time. It was pretty much arcade-perfect, but added a competitive Versus mode to both games, where two players could fight each other with each respective game’s full arsenal at their disposal. Definitely a nice bonus and I’d hope that if Capcom decides to re-release the arcade games again, they use this version for that new feature alone.

versus-mode

It’s broken, it’s stupid, but it’s pure fun.

As a whole, both MegaMan: The Power Battle and MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters are little more than a fun little diversion. They were designed as arcade fighting games, so expecting anything more would be insane. They’re probably either best played by people unfamiliar with the franchise or fans of the series in the mood for a quick play session with little time to spare. These aren’t really meant to be criticisms of the games, just statements that they’re probably not the best way to experience the Classic MegaMan series as a whole. While the boss fights are definitely one of the most memorable aspects of any MegaMan game, the stages that precede them are equally important to the franchise’s core identity. Still, it is impressive just how well MegaMan was able to transition into a fighting game without losing the key elements that make the series so unique in the first place. Best of all, it’s an all too rare example of a cooperative fighting game and that alone makes these games worth at least one playthrough.

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha

Rockman & Forte: Mirai Kara no Chousensha – which roughly translates to “MegaMan & Bass: Challenge from the Future” and commonly referred to by fans as either “Rockman & Forte WonderSwan” or “Rockman & Forte 2” – is most likely the best officially-licensed MegaMan game in existence. This sentence, while true, is also a prime example of a “back-handed compliment”. That’s not meant to be a dig at the game itself, but given the other games Capcom licensed from other companies, it’s also not really that big of an achievement either. Released in 1999, it is one of the most well-known games for Bandai’s Japan-exclusive handheld, the WonderSwan, and honestly, in terms of quality, I’d say that while it’s still a step down from even MegaMan II on the Game Boy – which it actually references in its storyline – it’s still probably the best MegaMan game Capcom didn’t personally oversee. Of course, there are conflicting reports regarding whether Rockman & Forte WS was actually published by Capcom themselves, speculation that was probably fueled by the game’s quality.

Taking place in the year 200X – though I’m sure they meant 20XX, considering Forte didn’t exist at that point – a mysterious group of robots from “the future” known simply as the Dimensions attacked Symphony City, a place where people and robots lived in harmony. It was said that this new gang of robots was led by a mysterious and powerful robot that resembled Rockman himself. Referring to himself as Rockman Shadow, the robot resembled Quint and claimed that he wouldn’t forgive anyone who wouldn’t obey him. Rockman and Forte decide to put their differences aside to face this new threat. Not the most involved story, but it’s on par with most of the stories in the Game Boy games.

Forte

Seriously, isn’t that the butterfly robot from Sonic & Knuckles?

Challenger from the Future’s gameplay is pretty much a low-rent version of its SNES predecessor. Players are able to choose between Rockman and Forte, each with their own separate abilities – though now Forte’s dash allows him to duck under obstacles, like Rockman’s slide. The game starts with an introduction stage, capped off with a boss fight against the Grey Devil. After that, players are allowed to choose between 4 of the Dimensions: Danganman, Konroman, Airconman and Komusoman – four Robot Masters based on a bullet, a Japanese Stove, an air conditioner and a Japanese monk respectively. After they’ve been defeated, it leads to fights with the Clockmen – essentially a pair of robots with clocks in their torsos that fight as one – followed by Compassman, the one member of the Dimensions that doesn’t give up a Special Weapon upon its defeat. After that, there’s only the final showdown with Rockman Shadow himself. The stage designs are somewhat generic, but do follow MegaMan’s formula. The most interesting part of the stages would probably be the enemy selection: there’s the iconic Mettools and Battons, some old favorites like the Hammer Joes from MM3 and completely original enemies, most of them insectoid in form – there’s even a robotic butterfly that looks eerily close to the one in Sonic & Knuckles.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the game comes into play with Airconman’s stage, which utilizes one of the WonderSwan’s unique gimmicks. The WonderSwan had two sets of buttons – the standard that allows the system to be played from a horizontal orientation and an alternate set of controls for playing the system vertically – and Airconman’s stage utilized the latter. Most of the game’s stages also have a mid-boss fight and Airconman’s is probably the most unique because of the gimmick associated with it. There’s a giant squid suspended at the top of the screen, too high for Rockman to shoot. To make matters worse, there are also platforms that shield it from attacks. While Forte can aim straight up to attack it, Rockman has to rely on one of the game’s more unique physics in order to damage it. There are Mettools on both sides of the room and in this game, when their hardhats deflect buster shots, they maintain their ability to damage enemies. Therefore, Rockman has to aim and time his shots in such a way that they collide with the squid in order to damage it. Another interesting quirk about Rockman & Forte WS is that the bosses have obscenely long health bars in this game – even managing to dwarf those from some of the later MegaMan X games. The upside is that they don’t have hit-invincibility this time around, meaning that players can just lay into them. Finally, the game also retains the save slots from the SNES and GBA versions, though there are 3 instead of 4.

Rock1

Probably the coolest part of the game. (No pun intended. Well, maybe a little.)

The shop system also returns in Rockman & Forte WS. Screws can still be found throughout stages, either as item pickups or by defeating enemies. Many of the items from the other versions return in this game, such as the Spare Body, the “Exit Parts” and the Energy Balancer. Rockman and Forte also have their own unique items, but there are some exclusive to the WonderSwan version. Rockman’s shop items are the Rush Coil, which is exactly what it sounds like; Beat, which is similar to the SNES version; Eddie, which calls Eddie to drop a random power-up and most interestingly, Tango returns from MegaMan V. Forte retains the Gospel Boost, Super Buster and Hyper Buster from the console version, but also gains Reggae, who drops a random item just like Eddie.

Of course, perhaps the most unique thing about this game is that Rockman and Forte actually have different weapons in the game. Sometimes it’s just the same weapon with a different name attached, but some Robot Masters give out completely different weapons based on which character defeats them. With that in mind, I’ll be ranking Rockman and Forte’s weapons separately. First, we’ll go with Rockman.  Defeating Komusoman grants him the Doppel Crash, an attack where that renders Rockman invincible as he charges at enemies, brandishing a blade at the end of his Rock Buster. The Flame Shower is Konroman’s weapon effectively a short-ranged flamethrower that emits from the Rock Buster for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, the flames shoot upward, still capable of damaging any enemies it touches. Danganman’s Rockn Vulcan is a bullet that splits into three – each moving in a separate direction, creating a spread shot pattern. Barrier Wind is obtained by defeating Airconman. It’s a gust of wind that can destroy multiple enemies, as well as specific walls. Finally, there’s the Clockmen’s Time Switch, which freezes time for four seconds and renders Rockman completely invulnerable to enemies and their attacks, at the cost of his ability to attack.

Forte2

Surprisingly, this is also an original boss fight.

That leaves us with Forte. The Doppler Attack (not to be confused with the weather radar or the doctor from X3) is Forte’s reward for defeating Komusoman and it splits him into four tiny duplicates of himself that are able to fly around the stage at will. Did I mention that they’re also invincible? Konroman’s Flame Mixer is a unique take on the traditional shield weapon: four flames surround Forte for as long as the attack button is held. Once released, they launch straight up. Forte Vulcan is taken from Danganman, and it’s a bullet that homes in on the nearest enemy, sort of like a better version of the Dive Missile. Meanwhile the Forte Cyclone and Time Bomb – taken from Airconman and Clockmen respectively – are identical to the weapons given to Rockman. Some pretty interesting weapons for both characters and some of them are even better than the real ones. Who wouldn’t rather have the Doppler Attack or the Doppel Crash instead of Copy Vision?

The game’s graphics are, in a word, weird. While later revisions of the WonderSwan would add color displays, the original was restricted to black-and-white monochromatic graphics, much like the original Game Boy. Despite this handicap, everything in the game is completely visible – put simply, the graphics are functional. It’s just that everything’s got weird body proportions. The spritework in general actually just ends up looking like one of those original Chinese bootleg NES games that were hitting store shelves in the 2000s. Worse still, most of the game’s graphics don’t look like they came from the same game – there really isn’t any cohesion to any of the designs. To make matters worse, Rockman and Forte – the player characters – are actually hit the hardest by both of these two problems. It’s almost as if their designs from Rockman & Forte WS were meant to bridge the gap between realistic proportions and super-deformed “chibi” style artwork, but they just ended up right in the middle of both artstyles, leading to an almost “uncanny valley” effect. Worse still, it’s not even limited to the in-game graphics: even in the game’s cutscenes they retain these weird proportions. There is one thing I really liked about the game’s artwork: after defeating a boss, their portrait changes from a serious mugshot to a comedic little picture of them having been defeated. It’s cute and honestly, I wouldn’t have minded if actual mainline MegaMan games had adopted something like that.

The game’s music is essentially taken from the SNES version of the game. Not every song is used, but most of it is reused in similar contexts. The six Dimensions use various Robot Master stage themes that fit with some of their own gimmicks – for example, Airconman uses Coldman’s theme and Tenguman’s music plays during Komusoman’s level – Burnerman’s theme is used for a cutscene, leaving Magicman as the sole holdout. Rockman Shadow’s stage uses the theme from King’s Fortress, while the game’s ending uses the CD Database theme for a more somber feel than the upbeat song in the SNES version. WonderSwan’s sound chip had something of an 8-bit sound to it, and while most of the song arrangements in Rockman & Forte WS aren’t perfect, they get the job done. The sound effects are quirky – it’s odd hearing 8-bit sound effects in a MegaMan game that don’t try to emulate the ones from the NES games – but nothing really sounds out of place. Overall, Challenger from the Future’s sound design is serviceable, nothing more, nothing less.

In the end, Challenger from the Future almost feels like a companion piece to the DOS games – almost like their Japanese counterpart. They make use of their own unique characters, both clearly feel off when compared to the “legitimate” MegaMan games from Capcom (to different extents) and there’s even a weird fascination with them in their respective regions. In fact, the Dimensions have even made some random appearances in Capcom-sanctioned material. Elements from the games managed to make some minor appearances in Archie’s MegaMan comic, while Konroman actually made a cameo in a comic book in MegaMan ZX Advent. With that in mind, it’s hard to tell if Capcom actually owns the rights to the characters original to any of the licensed games. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dimensions or even the Robot Masters from the PC games make some kind of a cameo appearance in future titles and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Rock2

Seriously, you’re fighting a walking stove. This game is all sorts of wacky.

Thus, we come to the conclusion of the third part of this retrospective. While this era of the Classic MegaMan games was fairly experimental, it just simply couldn’t last. After a hiatus that began due to an oversaturation of the games in general, we’d see the sheer amount of sub-franchises under the MegaMan umbrella more than double – resulting in a total of 7 unique takes on the Blue Bomber. Indeed, Classic MegaMan would go into a state of suspended animation, living on in a compilation or two, until the end of the 2000s, when he would make his grand return in familiar form.

Retrospective: MegaMan Classic [Part 1]

Mega_Man_logo

I’ve said this so many times, it’s probably a cliché at this point, but I owe much of my love to the entire medium of video games to MegaMan. When I was a kid, my only regular outlet for playing video games on a console was the old NES at a childhood friend’s house. Of the numerous games he’d traded back and forth to Funcoland (Ah, Funcoland!), there were three games that stood out to me, that would have a profound impact on my taste in video games. Of those three games, for the longest time, MegaMan was the constant. Double Dragon II was its series’ swansong for quite some time – arguably, it only recovered recently with Double Dragon Neon and Double Dragon IV. Likewise, Contra’s relevancy diminished significantly after the 16-bit era. MegaMan, on the other hand, managed to persevere. Not always in its original form, but for most of the Blue Bomber’s life, the franchise was the recipient of much love from the folks over at Capcom. There’s the more mature themes of the X series, the experimental 3D gameplay of the Legends series, the unique RPG spin of Battle Network, my beloved MegaMan Zero quadrilogy, the woefully incomplete ZX and the profoundly underrated Star Force franchise. As far as I’m concerned, Capcom got it right the first time: I still maintain that the “Classic” MegaMan is the best of the bunch, offering what may very well be the purest take on run-and-gun platforming action in video game history. While the series has obviously seen much better days – what with the present 7-year hiatus, multiple cancelled titles and only a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it – sometimes it’s better to just dwell on the past and try to remember the good times.

In honor of the franchise’s 30th year, I’ve decided to go ahead and dedicate a retrospective to MegaMan, specifically the aforementioned “Classic” series. Chances are I will revisit other sub-franchises down the line in future Retrospectives, but this seems like as good a place as any to get started: at the beginning. As with the Retrospective on Ys, I won’t necessarily be handling this in chronological release order, at least not in the pure sense that I ordered the various listings in the first two retrospective articles. Given just how long the series has gone on – not to mention my experience with the games in question – I’ve decided to split this article into four separate ones. This first one will cover the first 3 games, all originally released on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Of course, this time around, I’ll include broader takes on my opinions regarding the various facets of each of these games, as opposed to the generalized reviews I did in previous articles. After all, the original MegaMan series may very well be the video game series I’m the most well-versed in, so it’s only fitting that I accompany each game’s analysis with my own personal thoughts on their various facets.

Likewise, I’ve also decided to cover an assortment of various minor titles: remakes, spinoffs and the like. Now, this list won’t be complete by any means, but I’ll try to hit as many traditional-style MegaMan games as I can possibly remember – and maybe even some that most people wouldn’t even bother with. These will also be split across all four articles, just to keep things a bit light and to allow me to discuss these various offshoots. Of course, that means that I’ll be skipping out on spinoffs like MegaMan’s Soccer, MegaMan: Battle and Chase, Super Adventure Rockman and Wily and Light’s RockBoard: That’s Paradise, but I think those are fair omissions. This time, I’ll be discussing MegaMan: The Wily Wars – fitting given that it’s a remade compilation of the three mainline games I’ll be covering in this article – as well as the two IBM PC games Capcom licensed through Hi-Tech Expressions, arguably the evilest company that ever lived.

Also, given the fact that this is a video game blog, I’ll be skipping over the various adaptations, but I feel like giving a couple of them some proper shout-outs regardless: the cheesy 1990’s cartoon show from Ruby-Spears Production, as well as the brilliant but woefully short-lived comic from Archie were among my favorite takes on the world of MegaMan. Having said that, there may be times where I make references to various other media that MegaMan has inhabited, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. So, with all the introductions out of the way, let’s get equipped with some Bubble Lead and get started with this celebration of 30 years since the Blue Bomber first appeared.

MegaMan

Ironically, the first MegaMan game was the second game in the series I’d ever encountered. That friend of mine I mentioned at the beginning of the article? He managed to get his hands on the first game during one of his usual trading binges. It didn’t end up staying in his collection for too long, so my childhood memories of the game are fuzzy at best, and it doesn’t help that they were mostly passive experiences. I’m sure many of you know that feeling, of being at a friend’s house when he’s obsessed with a brand-new single-player game and you’re just essentially sitting there, waiting and watching: hoping for a turn that you know, deep down, will never come. I don’t think I got to sit down and actually play the original MegaMan until many years later, when I really started getting into the series on my own terms. I’ve just always thought it was funny that the original MegaMan, the game that started it all, just barely came out within a month from the day I was born. Maybe I was just destined to love the series because of that odd coincidence. Granted, it does seem like a fair amount of series that I love even to this day – Ys, Street Fighter, even Double Dragon and Contra! – all seemed to start the year before I born. Funny how that worked out for me.

Before we get into the game itself, I feel like mentioning some random trivia about the first game and its development. It’s been long asserted that it was originally meant to be a licensed title featuring Astro Boy (better known as “Tetsuwan Atom” in Japan), but I haven’t been able to track down any concrete evidence supporting this. Regardless, Classic MegaMan in general appears to draw a lot of inspiration from Osamu Tezuka’s classic anime and manga, so it’s only fair that many people would take this rumor as gospel. Likewise, the character was originally named “Rainbowman” – likely due to the fact that he changed colors depending on which weapon he had equipped – but this was soundly rejected due to copyright issues, likely due to the live-action superhero of the same name, created by Toho over a decade prior. They would end up settling on “Rockman”, which would supposedly also find copyright issues elsewhere – considering it’s the name of a series of headphone amplifiers – so the name would be changed to “Mega Man” elsewhere, though Capcom’s then-Consumer Products Division President Joseph Morici asserts that the name was changed because he thought the name was terrible, and that Mega Man would be more appealing to US audiences.

The game’s story is simple, but appealing. In the far-flung year of 200X – which was still fairly far off back in 1987, to be fair – advances in the field of robotics have revolutionized society, allowing humanity to enter a new golden age. Roboticist Dr. Thomas Light is at the forefront of the field, having just created eight highly intelligent robots. Among these were Cutman, built for logging; Gutsman, a construction robot with incredible strength; Iceman, whose resistance to low temperatures made him a suitable choice for exploring arctic territories; Bombman, a demolition robot and expert with explosives; Fireman, built to incinerate trash and Elecman, designed to help maintain electrical plants. However, a former colleague of Light’s, Dr. Albert Wily grew jealous of Light’s fame and glory and reprogrammed these six robots, with world domination as his end goal. Wily would leave behind Light’s earliest robots – Rock, Light’s lab assistant and Roll, a housekeeping robot – feeling that they weren’t worth reprogramming. Feeling a strong sense of justice – God, I love that line – Rock volunteers to be modified into a super fighting robot, to stop the evil machinations of Dr. Wily. Thus, MegaMan is born.

Of course, as was the case with many games of this era, the English story for MegaMan took more than its fair share of liberties with the original Japanese story. For starters, while the setting in Rockman is unnamed, Capcom USA chose to christen the game’s setting “Monsteropolis”. Likewise, Rock and Roll’s origin story was nixed, with Rock always being referred to as “Mega Man”, to the extent where rather than being dismissed by Wily, he outright resisted being reprogrammed. Of course, the most important difference between the original Japanese and Western backstories would have to be Dr. Wily’s role prior to the game’s story. While he was merely a rival scientist in the original Japanese version, the American version out right states that he was originally Dr. Light’s assistant, before going rouge. While I’m not particularly a fan of the other changes, this one always made more sense to me: it added to Wily’s motivations and what better way to reprogram your rival’s robots than from right under his nose? Apparently, I’m not alone either – this particular plot point was used as recently as Archie’s adaptation of the original Mega Man storyline. Other takes that go for authenticity with regards to the original Japanese backstory have a tendency to gloss over how the bad doctor manages to get his hands on Light’s robots, skipping those events in most cases.

MM1-01

I’m still not entirely sure what this stage was supposed to be.

The original MegaMan is the perfect example of what I like to see in the first game in any new franchise: a perfect example of a “diamond in the rough”. The base mechanics are all there, but clearly, they’re going to need some refinement before they reach their full potential. For those of you that have never played a MegaMan game before – which, I’m kind of surprised you’re reading this article – I’ve heard its gameplay best describe in three words: jump and shoot. Taking the qualities of both traditional platformers like Super Mario Bros. and “run-and-gun” games, players guide MegaMan through a stage, vaulting over obstacles and blasting enemies to progress. Each stage ends with a boss fight, as was the style at the time. There are also a number of power-ups to collect: extra lives take the form of MegaMan’s face and both health and weapon energy power-ups, in both small and large varieties. Of course, the larger ones give off more energy, but the small ones are better than nothing. Capcom even threw in a reference to some of their earlier games, in the form of the Yashichi – an icon that originated as an enemy in Capcom’s first title Vulgus – which restores all of MegaMan’s health, energy for all the weapons and is worth a staggering one million points.

MegaMan also brought some unique features to the table as well. You’re allowed to tackle the first six stages in the game in whatever order you choose. The real appeal of this game is what you get after you defeat each boss. After you defeat each of the first six bosses, you get their weapons. Each boss is also weak to a specific weapon, leading to a sort of “rock-paper-scissors” strategy when dealing with the more difficult bosses. Of course, freedom is the name of the game – you can also choose to avoid using boss weaknesses if you prefer a challenge. Both of these features would become franchise staples and would come to define MegaMan as a whole. Weapons could be switched via the pause menu, accessed by hitting the Start button. This would bring up a menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, which would bring up a number of letters and energy meters, each corresponding to the bosses that were defeated thus far – for example, “C” for Cutman – though MegaMan’s standard cannon is oddly identified with “P” and its corresponding energy meter represents his current health as opposed to remaining weapon energy.

MM1-02

I’m a bit rusty, but bomb beats rock, right?

Of course, the original MegaMan also had its own unique quirks, that emphasize the kind of early installment weirdness one comes to expect in the first game of a new series. For starters, the game keeps track of your score, which is entirely pointless: the score resets on a game over, the game doesn’t keep track of high scores and even if it did, the lack of a battery save would make that pointless anyway. Various power-ups also looked different from their equivalents in future games, not to mention there was one specific power-up that only had the effect of increasing your score, which would obviously be dropped in later entries. MegaMan could revisit stages, a feature that would only temporarily be dropped, but unlike future games, the boss would reappear at the end of the stage indefinitely. There’s also some weird physics issues that get ironed out in future games. Spikes are always an instant death, regardless of invincibility frames. Likewise, the game’s physics are a little different compared to future games: MegaMan’s walking is a bit more slippery, jump physics are normal even when underwater, and when the ground falls out from under him, MegaMan drops like a rock. Future games would tweak these weird quirks, but it’s important to keep in mind if it’s your first time playing the game. Of course, the difference on gameplay that had the largest impact was the infamous “pause trick”. By hitting Select, you could activate a secondary pause feature, one that didn’t have the menu. By spamming the Select button while an attack was on-screen, you could get multiple hits off a single shot with certain weapons. Easily abusable, but it takes a certain level of skill to pull off properly.

It’s impossible to fully discuss a MegaMan’s gameplay without discussing the weapons. The Plasma Cannon is MegaMan’s standard weapon, which allows for 3 shots to be on-screen at the same time. There’s also the Magnet Beam, which is less of a weapon and more of an “item”: allowing MegaMan to generate platforms of pure energy that he can walk along for a limited time before they dissipate. It’s stashed away in one of the initial six bosses’ stages, but is paramount to completing the game.

MM1-03

I will never understand why anyone started with Cutman.

The most important weapons are, of course, those you obtain by defeating bosses. I’ve decided that it seems worthwhile to rank each of them, based on my own personal preference. So, I’ll start with my favorite and work my way down. Number 1, in my opinion, would have to be the Fire Storm, which combines a damaging flame shot with a flame shield briefly surrounding MegaMan. Second best would obviously have to be the Electric Beam, which shoots three bolts of electricity directly in front of, above and below MegaMan. Most people tend to be torn on which one of these are their favorite, but usually one comes right after the other. They’re both obviously better than any other weapon in the game. Number three would have to be the Ice Slasher. The weapon doesn’t do damage for the most part, but it temporarily freezes non-boss enemies in place, defying gravity. It’s essentially a weapon that allows you to bypass obstacles, rather than destroying them.  Next, we have the Rolling Cutter, which is essentially a scissor blade that flies in a circular arc, slowly boomeranging back to the Blue Bomber (or would he be the Gray Garderner at this point?). It’s not a particularly useful weapon, but it essentially acts as an alternate aim compared to the standard plasma cannon, which can occasionally be useful when fighting specific enemies. Also, it kills Elecman in three solid hits, so it can’t be all bad. Moving on down to number five, we have Gutsman’s Super Arm. It has good range, solid aim and awesome damage, but it’s all ruined by one simple fact: it’s extremely situational. You can only get any real mileage out of this weapon by finding special destructible blocks that flash when you’re right next to them and have the Super Arm equipped. Kind of a letdown compared to the original version of the attack, where Gutsman can literally stomp blocks out of the sky into his massive arms. Finally, we come to the worst weapon in the game, and it’s obviously the Hyper Bomb. One might expect that the Super Arm’s uselessness couldn’t be topped, but the Hyper Bomb manages to achieve that impressive feat in mediocrity. To summarize, MegaMan throws a representation of the archetypical cartoon bomb at an awkward arc, bouncing two times upon hitting the ground (three times if you use in while jumping!) and standing still for a few seconds before detonating with a moderately-sized explosion. It does decent damage to standard enemies, but it’s too difficult to hit any of them reliably with this thing.

The game’s graphical style is fairly simple, but stylized – effectively going for a super-deformed “chibi” look, befitting the NES’s graphical limitation. There’s really not that much to talk about with regards to the graphics of the first six games: after all, they effectively maintain the same style throughout, even recycling graphics with minor updates and tweaks across titles. The graphics were clearly at their roughest during the first game, which is to be expected. Many of the original MegaMan’s unique enemies have less of an edge to them when compared to future installments, both those unique to this game and those that would eventually become series staples. The Sniper Joe, for example, looks much doughier and less threatening than future incarnations. The Metool – you know, those little hardhat guys – would closely resemble its more traditional incarnations, though lacking the feet that would become a signature trait in its design and having a far more sedate expression on its face. In general, most of the common enemy designs are a lot more abstract than those from future titles in the series, giving the original MegaMan a sort of retroactive individuality compared to future titles. Likewise, many graphical conventions typical of the series had yet to be established: the stage select consisted of full body shots of each of the Robot Masters, as opposed to mugshots. Likewise, instead of empty boxes denoted cleared stages, the backgrounds would change: yellow signifies that the boss had yet to be defeated, while black specifies that the stage has previously been cleared. Even Dr. Wily’s trademark saucer looks different, even sporting a unique red and gold palette, as opposed to the more traditional blue and gold.

MM1-04

I think this might actually be the most visually appealing segment in the game.

Of course, no discussion of any MegaMan game is complete without discussing its soundtrack – these games aren’t called “Rockman” in their home country for nothing! After all, the MegaMan series in general are often renowned for their soundtracks, which have given us many memorable themes in general. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Manami Matsumae and programmed by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, going by the respective pseudonyms of “Chanchacorin Manami” and “Yuukichan’s Papa”, as staff members in video games at the time were forced to credit themselves under false names to prevent gaining any sort of fanbase or following as individuals. While it differed from future titles in many significant ways, the original MegaMan firmly established the entire franchise’s tendency towards catchy, memorable songs. In fact, many of the franchise’s most iconic musical pieces originated in this game: most notably the jingle that play when a stage is selected. The music that plays on Cutman’s stage is one of the musical pieces best associated with the series as a whole. My personal favorite would have to be Fireman’s theme, an upbeat theme with a mechanical percussion sound that evokes the sound of crackling metal, fitting perfectly with the incinerator it accompanies. MegaMan 1’s boss themes are also both catchy, yet they both evoke different emotions: the standard boss theme is far more manic, exemplifying the deadly struggle between MegaMan and his former comrades at arms, while the theme reserved for the bosses fought in Dr. Wily’s robot factory evokes a sense of foreboding and despair, that perhaps the struggle at hand is truly impossible to overcome. The soundtrack has a much lighter sound compared to future titles, but that may just be because this was the first game Capcom had developed specifically for the NES (and home consoles in general), as Capcom’s developers would likely be unfamiliar with designing a game with that hardware specifically in mind.

With regards to the rest of the series, there tends to be an unspoken agreement among fans with regards to the first MegaMan: it’s generally considered the weakest game in the entire series, but due to its overall importance – not to mention the advantages that future installments building on its solid foundation – it’s rarely referred to as such. This phenomenon isn’t unique to the MegaMan franchise, but it is generally important to keep in mind. However, the first game does manage to win out, especially when compared to various other franchises from the same company. After all, Capcom didn’t even acknowledge the existence of the original Street Fighter until it became customary to celebrate video game anniversaries. The original MegaMan, despite all of its issues and flaws, was never really cast aside or forgotten. It was a bold experiment and ended up giving Capcom one of its most recognizable “mascots” (though, they never seem to recognize the concept) and one of video gaming’s most beloved icons. Given the ubiquity of the game, not to mention the fact that it’s generally packaged with other games in the series, I’d definitely say it’s worth playing, if only as a curiosity. After all, I’d generally consider knowledge of a game’s roots to be important, and despite the myriad of differences compared to future installments, there are more than enough similarities to prevent any sort of confusion. To those just getting into the series, however, I’d suggest playing one of its sequels beforehand, as the first game is among the hardest games in the entire franchise.

MegaMan 2

I don’t really know how to discuss my history with the second MegaMan game: after all, what hasn’t been said? It contributed a vast amount to my love of video games as a whole, it was the first MegaMan game I ever encountered and while it’s not my favorite game in the franchise, I can at least acknowledge why it is generally considered to be the best game in the entire series. Hell, I got way more playtime on this one when I was a mere Icepicklet compared to the first game, but that’s not really that much of an achievement all things considered. I beat a few bosses, got my grubby little hands on a few boss weapons and I was absolutely hooked on the franchise, even with my access to it was essentially blocked off for a number of years following. Regardless, while this game will always occupy a very special place in my heart, MegaMan 2 – subtitled “The Mystery of Dr. Wily” in Japan – has definitely been far outstripped by a fair share of its successors – more on that later. Of course, not prostrating before the 1988 classic as the absolute apex of what the Classic MegaMan series could hope to offer always struck me as a little weird. In the end, having future titles surpass this beloved game strikes me as an ideal scenario: after all, what’s the point in continuing a series that peaked as early as the second game?

The original MegaMan wasn’t a run-away hit in any region, but it did manage to sell well enough in both Japan and North America to warrant a sequel. Keiji Inafune, long-time steward of the franchise, blamed the poor sales of the first game in the latter region due to its infamous box art, literally drawn in six hours with no reference material. MegaMan 2 incorporated various concepts and content that was left out of the original game, and while the majority of the staff from the first game returned to develop the second, they were assigned to other projects in the interim, only allowed to work on MM2 in their spare time. Akira Kitamura, the director for the first two games in the series, wanted to incorporate a greater amount of fan feedback into this game, compared to the first game which was an internal affair. As such, they held a contest for fans to submit their own concepts for boss characters, something that would become a staple for throughout the series history. Capcom received a whopping 8,370 submissions, but only 8 ended up making it into the final product, with major tweaks made to the designs that ended up being accepted. Of course, it all ended up being worth it: MegaMan 2 is the top-selling game in the franchise to this day, moving roughly 1.5 million units, cementing MegaMan’s place as a beloved video game icon.

MM2-02

This area just always stuck out to me.

One year after MegaMan put an end to the evil machinations of Dr. Wily, the not-so-good doctor returns, setting his sights on world domination once again. This time, however, Wily has built eight combat robots all his own to defeat MegaMan. These robots include Metalman, designed as an improvement over Cutman, wielding razor-sharp saw blades; Airman, a robot with a giant fan capable of generating typhoons built directly into his torso; Bubbleman, an aquatic robot resembling a frogman, designed strictly for underwater combat; Quickman, a robot capable of moving at supersonic speeds based loosely on Elecman’s design; Crashman, a combat robot wielding time-bomb explosives with design elements taken from both Bombman and Gutsman; Flashman, a robot capable of temporarily stopping time, freezing his opponents in place; Heatman, an improvement on Fireman’s design, built to resemble a Zippo lighter, providing extra protection against high temperatures and Woodman, a defensive robot built mostly out of wood. Wily himself has taken refuge within a castle lined with a skull motif.

The gameplay is mostly unchanged from the first game: pick from eight stages, beat the boss, take his weapon, rinse, repeat. The fact that the game has beefed up its initial roster of stages from six to eight, which would become the standard for the series. Fun fact there: apparently, MM1 was originally intended to have eight bosses itself, but it was pared down to six due to time constraints. So, it was less that MM2 was adding content, rather it was finally delivering on the original concept. Those physics issues I mentioned from the first game? All changed, leading to the general engine that the series would follow for years to come. MegaMan 2 also added a new power-up: the Energy Tanks, an item that could completely restore MegaMan’s health. Better still, they were added to MegaMan’s inventory, so they could be used at any point. You can, however, only carry four E-Tanks at a time and you lose any that you were carrying on a Game Over. The superfluous score system was removed, it didn’t serve any actual purpose in the first game after all. MM2 also began the trend of coupling the support items with specific weapons, as opposed to hiding them within the stages themselves. MM2 is also fairly unique in the sense that it’s the only game without an obvious “perfect cycle” of boss weaknesses.

MM2-03

This was always a fun boss fight.

Perhaps the most significant addition MM2 made over the original game was the addition of the password system. The original MegaMan was a “one-session” game: if you needed to take a break, you either had to finish it in a single shot or you had to leave your system on while taking breaks and pray that nothing changed that fact before you got back to it. While a battery save would’ve made things even easier, it’s better than nothing. Best of all, passwords even keep track the number of E-Tanks you have left. Besides, the password jingles in many of the MegaMan games are among my favorites in the series – especially the one from MM2 – so it worked out pretty well for me in the long run. The Western releases also added a difficulty setting, that was somewhat misleading: the “Difficult” option had the balancing from the original Rockman 2, while “Normal” doubled the damage MegaMan could inflict on …well, everything. These days, I only play on “Difficult”, but adding that easier difficulty (and not dubbing it “easy mode”) was a brilliant move on Capcom USA’s part: I probably never would’ve gotten into the series back when I was 4 or 5 if I’d only had the original difficulty as an option.

That being said, let’s move onto the fun part: ranking the weapons. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon returns unchanged from the first game. The Magnet Beam gets retired, in exchange for three new support items. These three items were devised as a response to feedback from both customers and Capcom’s marketing team regarding the first game’s difficulty. Item-1 is a platform with a propeller on its bottom that stays in place for a brief period before disintegrating; Item-2 is a rocket sled that propels MegaMan forward until its weapon energy dissipates; and Item-3 crawls up the first wall it collides with, draining energy until MegaMan jumps off of it and it begins descending towards the ground. These support items are collected by beating Heatman, Airman and Flashman respectively, and while they mainly factor into the later Wily Castle stages, they allow MegaMan to reach otherwise unreachable powerups in the earlier stages as well.

MM2-01

Everyone’s favorite!

With those out of the way, let’s get on with the weapons, once again, going from best to worst. Obviously, the crème de le crème is the Metal Blade, it literally couldn’t be anything else. Generally considered the best weapon in MegaMan history, this thing is broken. Low energy consumption, 8-way aiming and hits harder than your standard buster. Not to mention the fact that it’s often a better option for fighting most bosses than their official weaknesses. It’s so overpowered, I legitimately save Metalman for last in many of my more recent playthroughs, just to get a feel for the other weapons. The next best weapon would have to be the Leaf Shield. Often imitated, never duplicated, the Leaf Shield surrounds MegaMan with a barrier of 4 indestructible leaves. Hitting a direction on the D-Pad, even to move forward, sends the leaves flying in that direction, doing massive damage, but I always found that the weapon works best while standing completely still. Number three would have to be the Crash Bomber. While its best use is destroying destructible walls, the Crash Bomber also does some awesome damage, making it a multi-purpose powerhouse and an extreme improvement over the Hyper Bomb. Then there’s the Quick Boomerang: a short-range attack capable of extreme rapid fire, and perhaps the weapon with the most weaknesses in the later stages. I never really had much love for this thing, considering I’d always go after Quickman last, but it’s still good. Next comes the Atomic Fire, which can be best described as the predecessor to the Mega Buster – more on that later – it fires off a weak fiery shot, but if you hold down the shoot button, it can be charged up into a giant fireball of destruction, albeit at a steep weapon energy cost. Number six is probably the Bubble Lead –I never knew whether it’s pronounced like “reed” or “red”, both make sense honestly, but I always went with the latter. Generally considered the joke weapon of MM2 – I mean, come on, it’s a bubble – it’s actually better than you’d expect, especially around the end of the game. Next comes Flashman’s Time Stopper. I used to love that thing when I was a kid, but once I got actually experience with it, its flaws became apparent. While it freezes enemies and obstacles in place for the duration of the attack, some things aren’t easy to avoid while in this state. As MegaMan lacks any other form of attack while the Time Stopper’s active, it’s impossible to destroy any enemies that are both frozen in place and too large to jump over. Of course, that leaves the Air Shooter as the worst weapon in MM2. It fires at an awkward angle, a lot of enemies are immune to it, it’s basically only useful for beating Crashman and those terrible Sniper Armors. Otherwise, it’s best to just stick with the Plasma Cannon.

As I mentioned earlier, the game’s artstyle doesn’t really vary all that much from the first game – after all, the main character’s graphics are ripped directly from it. At best, we’re essentially looking at a refinement of the first game’s look. The backgrounds are more detailed, the new enemies are more cohesive in style, and the bosses themselves actually seem a little more animated than their predecessors. The major difference between the two games focuses more on presentation. While the title screen in the first game was just a still image – either the “MegaMan” logo on a black screen or a static image of MegaMan with the Rockman logo above it, depending on region – MM2 greets players with an animated cutscene, detailing the game’s backstory. The bosses are represented by unique mugshots, as opposed to the static sprites of the previous game. Transitions between menus, the stage select and even the screen signifying that a stage has been chosen are all animated smoothly. Defeating one of the eight robot masters is accompanied by a new screen that would become a series staple, detailing the name of the weapon MegaMan got from them, showcasing the color palette associated with it and allowing Dr. Light to chime in when the support items get unlocked. The game’s pause menu is mostly similar to that of the previous game, a floating menu box on the left-hand side of the screen, but it’s been expanded with a second “page” to accommodate the larger array of weapons and items available to MegaMan in this game. Perhaps the most impressive transition in the game is when you reach Skull Castle. At the beginning of each of the Wily Fortress stage, an exterior view of the castle is shown, accompanied by a sinister melody. Then, a simple map of the castle’s interior is displayed on screen, detailing the progress MegaMan has made so far. By no means the most complex way they could’ve done it, but there’s just something so satisfying about that whole sequence. It’s completely understandable why it would become another common element of the Classic series.

MM2-04

Kind of impressive how all these crystals can withstand an explosion.

MegaMan 2’s soundtrack was composed by Takashi “Ogeretsu Kun” Tateishi, though Manami Matsumae (credited as “Manami Ietel” this time) did provide minor support as well. Yoshihiro Sakaguchi also returned as sound programmer. MM2’s soundtrack is generally considered an improvement over that of the first game’s, and I’m inclined to agree. One of my favorite elements of the game’s soundtrack is one that I wouldn’t find out until I actually got to sit down and play through the first game: the song that plays during MegaMan 2’s opening is essentially a reprise of the song that played during MegaMan 1’s ending. An obvious statement, but somehow, even though I’ve known about it for years now, it still impresses me. It’s hard to really choose my favorite song from this game, though I often lean toward the Crashman stage theme. The themes from Heatman, Woodman, Airman and Bubbleman’s stage are also pretty good. I already mentioned the Password jingle, but it definitely deserves high praise. The stage select music goes for a far more intimidating and upbeat tone – an objective improvement over the first game’s. The title theme and the credits are both variants on the same composition and deserve their place as MegaMan’s most commonly recurring theme. Of course, the most popular song in the entire game is easily the first theme from the Wily Stages, a song which I personally believe is required by law to be in every single MegaMan music remix album. I used to be a big fan of it myself, but as they say, familiarity breeds contempt. Honestly, it’s still a good song, just a little overrated in my opinion. The rest of MM2’s soundtrack deserves way more love.

MegaMan 2 is considered by many to be the quintessential MegaMan game and for good reason. While I won’t contest the game’s importance, I’ll just restate that I think later games in the series improved upon the framework provided by MM2. Having said that, for anyone just getting into the Classic MegaMan franchise – or even MegaMan in general – there’s no better place to start than the second game in the franchise. MM2 smooths out the odd quirks present in the first game, while keeping the base gameplay equally barebones. It’s a good place to learn the rules – and perhaps more importantly, the feel – of the standard MegaMan game. The fact that the Western releases also include an easier difficulty can also help those new to the series get their bearings, which in turn, may help to spark a new love for the series. Again, as with all the other NES MegaMan games, it’s easy to find these days, even on modern platforms, so I’d recommend giving it a shot. Who knows? Maybe it’ll spark a love for the MegaMan series in you just like I did roughly 25 years ago. Unsurprisingly, MM2 is also the most popular game in the entire MegaMan franchise when it comes to modding, as there are an impressive number of hacks of this game, completely changing stage layouts, boss patterns and even the weapons themselves. So, for even those that have memorized MM2 front to back, there are entirely new ways to play this NES classic.

MegaMan 3

After MegaMan 2, I didn’t really keep up with the series as much as I would’ve wanted to. The friend who first introduced me to them didn’t grab any more NES games after the first two – by that point, we were both way more into his new Genesis – so, for quite some time, I didn’t even know there were any games beyond the first two. I ended up discovering the existence of the third through sixth games when I first found my way onto the World Wide Web itself. Though I was still quite young when I first got my hands on the internet, I was still struck with pangs of nostalgia and curiosity for the MegaMan series I’d enjoyed roughly half a lifetime ago. Granted, four years isn’t that long in retrospect, but it was long enough at that age. My first experience with any of those four games came from sprite sheets, sprite sheets that I moronically printed out instead of saving them to the hard disk. Oh, what a fool I was! Oh well, at least I got some nifty decorations for my school folders and notebooks out of all those drained ink cartridges. All the same, it was definitely not the ideal way to discover that my favorite game series had tripled in size from my perspective, but an important revelation all the same.

Of the NES MegaMan games, I generally consider the third to be my favorite. For quite some time, it was my favorite in the series overall. These aren’t exactly unique opinions. If a Classic MegaMan fan’s favorite game in the series isn’t MegaMan 2, chances are it’s going to be MM3. In that sense, MegaMan clearly follows that trend that you’ll often see in long-running video game franchises: if there’s one game that’s generally considered to be the objective in the series, expect a faction of fans that disagrees and chooses a specific alternate game as their favorite. Maybe it’s a way to establish a higher sense of devotion to the franchise in question, or maybe we’re all just a bunch of colossal hipsters. For whatever reason, after replaying both MegaMans 2 and 3 so many times, I still prefer 3. The way I’ve always looked at it is that 2 is the better NES game, but 3 is the better MegaMan game. That probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the best I’ve ever been able to articulate my opinion.

MegaMan 3 – boasting the subtitle “The End of Dr. Wily!?” in its original Japanese release – was the first game in the series where the man long considered the “father of MegaMan” Keiji Inafune took on a planning role in a MegaMan game. Akira Kitamura, the director of the first two MegaMan games, had just left to form his own company Takeru alongside various other former developers from large Japanese developers, including Capcom. As such, Inafune had a much greater role in MM3 compared to previous games. Having said that, Inafune considers MM3 to be a disappointment, likely due to the loss of key staff members during development, leading to a game that clearly falls short of its own lofty aspirations. The game itself is fairly glitchy at times, especially with regards to accessing the pause menu in certain areas. Likewise, the game itself has an odd array of cheat codes: high jumping, slow motion and the infamous “Zombie MegaMan” glitch, which renders the Blue Bomber invincible at zero health, but unable to use his standard weapon. My theory is that these were simply debug functions that the development team didn’t have the time to remove for the final release. While I love MM3, I have to admit it makes me sad to think about what this game could have been with a longer development cycle, being brought to completion. Perhaps the final product could have even surpassed MM2 in the hearts of gamers in general. Regardless, the game did fairly well: selling over 1 million copies and is still the 4th highest selling game in the entire MegaMan franchise to this day. Likewise, the game had significantly more boss submissions from fans compared to the previous game, boasting 50,000 in all, while again only eight ended up being used.

MM3-03

Unbeknownst to Rock, Breakman is actually his older brother, Blues.

After two failed attempts at world domination, Dr. Wily is a changed man. He’s reformed and has decided to join forces with his colleague Dr. Light to develop a giant peace-keeping robot named Gamma. The two worked hard designing the robot, with the final step being to collect eight different Energy Elements from various uncharted planets. The two doctors created a set of eight new robot masters to set off to these mining worlds and collect the power crystals. Unfortunately, these new robots all end up going haywire, attacking everything in their sights. MegaMan is once again enlisted to travel to these distant worlds and recover the elements. But he’s not alone, Dr. Light has built a new companion robot to accompany MegaMan on his mission: Rush, a robotic dog that can transform into a springboard and more. Throughout his journey, MegaMan continuously encounters a mysterious red robot who seems to be an even match for the Blue Bomber. Referring to himself as “Break Man”, is he friend or foe? And what about the robots gone berserk? Did they really just go haywire at random or was their sudden defection just the beginning of a new sinister plot?

As I said earlier, much of MegaMan’s gameplay was refined in the second game. As such, for the most part, MegaMan 3 is more of the same. There are, however, a few new wrinkles. For starters, MegaMan gains the ability to slide, which can allow him to pass under areas blocked off with low ceilings and even dodge certain enemies and their attacks. I’ve always mused that I wished that MM1 had incorporate passwords and I feel the same about MM2 and sliding – it just adds a new dimension to the Blue Bomber’s repertoire. Energy Tanks are now retained between continues and now MegaMan can hold a whopping 9 of them at a time. There’s also the brand new “? Cans”, which only appear in this game. They can be shot to reveal a random power-up, ranging from a small weapon energy all the way up to extra lives and E-Tanks. An interesting little gimmick, but one that never really caught on. You’ll also remember that I said MM2 didn’t have a perfect loop for boss weaknesses. Well, MM3 makes up for this shortcoming by having two individual weakness cycles: Magnetman – Hardman – Topman – Shadowman – Sparkman and Needleman – Snakeman – Geminiman. Crazy stuff, right? The game’s format has also been slightly adjusted. For example, in addition to the standard boss fights with the Robot Masters, MegaMan also has encounters with “Breakman” during four of the game’s stages – three of these lead to miniboss fights, while the fourth time, he simply allows MegaMan to proceed through the stage.

MM3-01

But where’s the jump?

Likewise, MegaMan 3 has many more stages than the previous two games, which works to both its advantage and its detriment. After defeating the 8 Robot Masters, four new stages, utilizing the art assets and themes of Shadowman, Sparkman, Geminiman and Needleman, pop up, each guarded by the maniacal “Doc Robot”. Fun fact: “Doc Robot” is just a mistranslation of “dokurobotto”, a pun on “dokuro”, the Japanese word for skull, and “robot”. Doc Robot utilizes the powers of all 8 Robot Masters from MM2, though only uses one at a time. As such, you fight him twice in each stage, and each time he uses a different ability. After that, MegaMan has one last showdown with Breakman in what appears to be the remnants of Hardman’s stage. After that, we enter Wily’s latest iteration on the Skull Castle, for a whopping 6 stages. While the Doc Robot stages may be among the hardest the game has to offer, the Wily Fortress stages are laughable at best. This is what I was referring to when I said having more stages had drawbacks for MM3. Likely due to the game’s troubled production schedule, the Wily Castle stages feel incomplete and simpler than anything that came earlier in the game as a result. It gets so bad, that the final two “stages” are literally just a screen filled with power-ups before the boss fight. I kind of wish that Capcom would’ve been able to remake this one and put some actual effort into redesigning the Wily stages into something truly memorable, as this is probably the game’s true fatal flaw.

This brings us to my favorite part yet again: talking about the game’s arsenal. MegaMan’s trusty Plasma Cannon makes a return as his standard weapon, but that’s the only thing that returns from previous games. The support items from the previous game have all been replaced with various functions of the Blue Bomber’s new canine companion, Rush. Rush Coil is available from the start and transforms MegaMan’s poochy pal into a springboard, significantly increasing MM’s jumping height, allowing him to reach areas previously unheard of without assistance. Defeating Shadowman nets MegaMan the Rush Marine, which turns the crimson canine into a tiny submersible, able to navigate watery areas with ease. Finally, defeating Needleman allows MegaMan access to the Rush Jet, which I consider the “Metal Blade of support items”. When activated, Rush transforms into a fully-controllable rocket sled, capable of flying anywhere onscreen with absolutely no drawbacks. Of course, the Coil drains energy on each use, and both the Marine and the Jet drain energy while being used, but most people have found an exploit for the latter: the Rush Jet only depletes energy while MegaMan is standing on it, but he can jump at will while riding it, which slows the energy drain and Rush continues to fly beneath you even as you jump.

MM3-02

Such a ridiculous power-up.

With those out of the way, let’s start ranking those weapons. I originally considered shifting the order to worst to best for a few of these, but I decided that consistency was key here, even if it made things a little boring. My top pick for MegaMan 3 would have to be the Needle Cannon. It’s pretty similar to Mega’s standard weapon, with one clear advantage: rapid auto-fire. Its energy consumption is the lowest in the game too, which just adds to the fun. Number 2 would have to be Hard Knuckle. A slow-moving non-explosive take on the Crash Bomber, this fist-shaped projectile can smash through breakable walls, does massive damage and its vertical aim can even be adjusted after it’s been fired. Next up would have to be the Shadow Blade. Charitably described as a cross between the Rolling Cutter and the Metal Blade, in reality it’s just the Metal Blade tethered with boomerang mechanics and being limited to a 5-way aim. Still, despite the balancing, it’s a pretty good weapon. My fourth favorite weapon is probably the Magnet Missile. It’s essentially a standard projectile, but if it’s not aimed properly and it approaches an enemy, it can turn either up or down to lock in on and attack it. Then, there’s the Search Snake. Effectively a weaker Bubble Lead, it makes up for this shortcoming by allowing three snakes onscreen at once, compared to the two-bubble maximum. Sixth best weapon is the Spark Shock, which is functionally identical to the Ice Slasher, except it can only stun up to two enemies at a time, and there are more enemies that actually take damage from it. Second-worst weapon is easily the Gemini Laser, though I wish I could put it lower. The Gemini Laser is a slow-moving laser beam, that can bounce off of walls and ceiling, which changes the trajectory of the act. There can only be one on the screen at a time, and if its aim is off, it will ricochet multiple times, leaving MegaMan defenseless. The worst weapon in MM3 is the Top Spin, but that’s only because it’s literally broken, and I’m not talking about in the overpowered sense. It does no consistent damage, its energy consumption is equally erratic, and it’s a melee-range attack that can only be done while jumping. While I’ve seen more than a few speedrunners use the Top Spin to turn the Blue Bomber into a whirling dervish of destruction, it takes too much effort and luck to use it properly. The only upshot is that it’s the final boss’s weakness – capable of felling the beast in a single hit, if you’re lucky – but frankly, I’m not even sure if that was intentional, a glitch or just an exploit the developers accidentally left in the game.

MM3-04

Spin on, you crazy diamond.

Much like the gameplay itself, the series’ graphical style had pretty much been established in MM2, but 3 attempts to add its own flourishes, again with mixed results. Later games in the series would attempt to expand on the style established in the second game, and MM3 was a first, albeit shaky step in that direction. Stage backgrounds seem a little more complex than those from previous games, though many of them evoke similar themes to its direct predecessor. I do like how they gave MegaMan center square on the stage select, especially how his eyes move to follow the cursor. It’s a simple touch, but still appreciated. The pause menu also changes completely from the previous two games, take up the lower third of the screen, instead of just being a floating box off-centered. It maintains the “two page” format of the previous game, but it’s got a much more ornate layout. For starters, each weapon is now symbolized by two letters instead of one – likely due to the sheer amount of Robot Masters with names that start with the letter “S” – with the exception of the standard arm cannon, which retains “P” from previous games. Each special weapon also has its own unique icon when selected, which is a nice touch. Plus, the E-Tanks can be selected from either page now, while in MM2, they were limited to the second page. Unfortunately, the implementation of this fancy new UI was clearly imperfect, as there are numerous points in the game where the top edge of this menu will glitch up slightly. A shame, because otherwise, I thought it looked great.

The game’s presentation takes a hit in some areas too. This game lacks an opening cinematic, likely due to the game’s troubled production, but I’ve always sort of imagined that the epic tune that plays on the title screen implied that they considered one. MM3 does seem to do a much better job at expressing its story in what few cutscenes it does have, though these make me wonder if more were originally planned. And then there’s the ending, where Breakman returns to the collapsing Wily Fortress, too late to save Wily but just in time to save MegaMan. As Rock awakens in Dr. Light’s lab, the two wonder how he was able to make it back in one piece, when they both hear Breakman’s signature whistle. Dr. Light identifies the whistle as that of ProtoMan, MegaMan’s older brother and prototype, who mysteriously went missing. As MegaMan chases after the whistle, we see a notebook with entries for all of Light’s robots from newest to oldest. First the six robot masters from the original MegaMan, then Roll, then MegaMan and finally Protoman himself. This is definitely one of my favorite endings in the entire series.

It seems like the area where the game tried to deviate the most from its predecessors was in its soundtrack. The original composer for the game was Harumi “Mrs. Tarumi” Fujita, but she ended up giving birth fairly early into the project and was forced to drop out because of it. She did manage to compose the themes for Needleman and Geminiman, as well as part of the credits song before leaving though. The project was then picked up by Yasuaki Fujita – no relation – better known as “Bun Bun”. The MegaMan 3 soundtrack actually manages to avoid reusing any musical compositions from earlier games. The boss victory jingle established in MM2 – that would eventually become a trademark of the series – was eschewed. Even the jingle that plays when a stage is selected is completely original and the previous one was used in the first two MegaMan games. I have to say, overall, I think I like MM3’s soundtrack more than the previous two, and its sheer boldness in discarding tradition is a big reason why. While MM3 does a lot to set itself apart from its predecessors, it still manages to sound like a “MegaMan game”, if that makes any sense.

Another thing this game’s soundtrack does that I love is utilize two separate boss themes: one for most of the boss battles in the game and one exclusive to the Wily Fortress stages, just like in the first MegaMan. I would like to say that it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite song from this game, but if I’m going to be honest, the theme to Hardman’s theme is my clear favorite, without a doubt. That’s not to say I don’t love a majority of the songs from MegaMan 3: the aforementioned Needleman stage, Sparkman’s theme, Shadowman, both boss themes, the first two Wily Fortress stages and both the game’s ending and credits theme all come to mind quickly. All the same, MM3’s soundtrack deserves way more love than it gets – the sole exception would have to be the theme that plays when MegaMan gets a new weapon. That one actually managed to end up becoming something of a recurring theme. It’s a shame that the rest of the soundtrack doesn’t get nearly as much love.

In the end, I think the reason that I love this game is completely intertwined with its failings. It’s easy enough to understand why MM3 became the MegaMan game of choice for more contrarian fans: while its myriad troubles during production clearly took their toll on MegaMan 3, flickers – no pun intended – of the game’s true potential shine through. It’s a shame that Capcom gave up on remaking MegaMan games so quickly: MM3’s problems are so obvious and easy to fix, that a true remake – more akin to Powered Up, as opposed to the one found in The Wily Wars – could’ve brought the game up to the lofty standards associated with its predecessor, if not outright surpass it. All the same, it’s still a fun game, definitely well worth playing, regardless of its obvious flaws. Better still, since most people are only familiar with MegaMan 2, MegaMan 3 could act as an almost entirely new experience, for those out there who are only familiar with the most popular game, but still find themselves craving more action in the same vein. Many fans who consider MM2 the best series in the game recognize MM3 as the next best game in the franchise. If that’s not enough of an endorsement to give this game a shot, I don’t know what is.

MegaMan: The Wily Wars

Considering that I just discussed the first three MegaMan games, it only seems fitting to take a quick look at the first attempt at a MegaMan remake – one that encompassed all three of these games – and one that is a bit of a curiosity, especially in North America. MegaMan: The Wily Wars – or Rockman Megaworld as it was known in Japan – was also the first MegaMan game to be released on a non-Nintendo console, specifically for the Sega Mega Drive, or the Genesis as we Americans know it. I think the mysterious nature of the game in our region is what made it so much more intriguing to us in the first place. The prospect of enhanced remakes of the first three MegaMan games – the games in the series that are generally considered the best overall – and one that most Americans missed out on is a very tempting prospect. Unfortunately, it sounds much better than it actually is.

Originally released in 1994, The Wily Wars was outsourced to Minakuchi Engineering – the same team that worked on the vast majority of the Game Boy MegaMan games (more on those later) as well as large portions of MegaMan X3 – and it seems that they just couldn’t cope with the Mega Drive’s hardware. Of course, every other project I’ve seen attributed to them were on Nintendo platforms, so that makes sense. Keiji Inafune described the game’s development as an “absolute nightmare” and even stated that he had to help with the game’s debugging himself. Aside from that, Inafune’s involvement with the title was fairly limited: he designed the three new boss characters and drew a piece of artwork that was incorporated into the game’s box art. The new characters, dubbed the “Genesis Unit” (or the “Mega World Corps” in Japan) were based on characters from the Chinese novel, Journey of the West. Buster Rod G., Mega Water S. and Hyper Storm H. were based on Sun Wukong, Sha Wujing and Zhu Bajie. Of course, these same characters also inspired many other works, most notably Son Goku, Yamcha and Oolong in Dragon Ball.

WilyWars01

Power Pole, extend!

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind generally revolves around the game’s release. While there were physical releases in both Japan and Europe, The Wily Wars was exclusive to the Sega Channel service in North America. However, it does appear that there were originally plans to release the game properly in America as well. The success of Street Fighter II’: Special Championship Edition fueled the initial rumors of a MegaMan title hitting a Sega system. Sega of America even displayed the game at their Sega Summit sales meeting back in May 1994 Apparently, it was put on hold indefinitely due to “graphical problems” in October of the same year, and the game’s American release was officially cancelled in 1996. With that and the Sega Channel being discontinued in 1998, the American version appears to no longer exist in any form, official or illicit. I doubt there’s much difference between the American and European versions in terms of content, but it would’ve been nice to have an official release in English that ran at the proper NTSC speed. Of course, that could be achieved by playing the European version on an NTSC Genesis, using a Game Genie to bypass the region lock, but that just strikes me as being more trouble than it’s worth.

The game even manages to have an original backstory, despite being a compilation title. Tired of his schemes for world domination being foiled by MegaMan, Dr. Wily decides to build a time machine to undo the Blue Bomber’s earliest victories over the not-so-good doctor. Transporting himself into the past, Dr. Wily restores the robots that MegaMan previously defeated and started to create chaos across the timestream, aiming to cause chaos even in the peaceful past, before his megalomaniacal aspirations even begin. In order to stop Dr. Wily, Dr. Light manages to hastily build another time machine and sends MegaMan back to stop Wily’s twisted time tactic. Of course, even if the Blue Bomber manages to stop his plan, Wily has another trick up his sleeve in the present: three new robots he built to guard his new Wily Tower, a massive structure with traps and enemy robots taken from the past to ensure MegaMan has no future. Of course, the remade games retain their original storylines as well, but since I’ve already gone over them, it just seemed like it was worth detailing the new content instead.

WilyWars03

If you can’t handle me at my worst…

The gameplay is difficult to discuss. The simplest way to put it is that the remakes definitely play worse overall when compared to the original NES releases, while there are a few improvements as well. This is most evident when playing MegaMan 2, which gets hit the hardest with the Wily Wars’ flaws. The sole advantage this version has over the original is that now, E-Tanks are no longer lost when continuing, much like in MM3. On the other hand, the first and third games manage to get a few improvements out of the deal. MM1’s physics now align properly with those of later games in the series, which definitely makes the game feel less unfair at various points. Likewise, MegaMan 3’s presentation improves significantly and the Top Spin is no longer as glitchy as it used to be: now it deals consistent damage and all with a non-random energy expenditure. Of course, these benefits come at the cost of gameplay quirks like MM1’s pause trick and MM3’s various cheat codes and exploits – seems like a fair trade to me, in the end. I’ve been told that MegaMan 3 is more prone to locking up when compared to the original NES version, but aside from one instance – while I was using certain Game Genie codes, more on those later – I never experienced any game-breaking glitches. Likewise, the password system has been excised – replaced with a save system that works about equally well, saving data on all three games to a single file. Even MegaMan 1 gets this save functionality – definitely an improvement over having to beat the game in a single setting on the NES. The save feature does have its limitations, however: it will only recognize progress as far as reaching the Wily Castle stages, the Castles themselves must be completed in a single sitting. After completing any of the games, the system must be reset in some form in order to make it back: the game’s completion is confirmed with a giant “GAME CLEAR” written over the game’s page on the save file.

Unfortunately, there’s not much else positive to say about the remakes. Movement feels significantly more sluggish than the original NES games, especially the walk speed. What’s even worse is the weapons. The fire button’s response time is even slower than the movement, sometime weapons don’t come out on a single button press, and sometimes, it takes a while for fired shots to be considered inactive, even after they’re off-screen. Worst of all, the game won’t let you pause if there are any weapons or support items on-screen. For example, in the NES version of MM2, you could pause the game while using one of the support items, which would remove it and prevent you from draining precious energy on misfires. This is no longer possible in The Wily Wars, which means that shots must be planned carefully. As far as I can tell, Wily Wars also gets rid of the ability to aim the Super Arm weapon taken from Gutsman in MM1 – if it’s still possible, it certainly works completely differently than it did in the original. There’s also a significant change to the gameplay that significantly throws off the balance: the Robot Masters – and by extension, the Copy Robot bosses from MM1 and 3 – now have invincibility periods after taking damage (much like MegaMan himself), preventing the weapon spam possible on the NES. While this was common in later games, the games aren’t rebalanced for this new property. In turn, this has some strange effects on balance: between this and the inability to aim the Super Arm, Cutman, of all things, becomes incredibly threatening. Strangely, no other bosses appear to be affected by this change.

WilyWars04

…you don’t deserve me at my best.

Perhaps the worst aspect of The Wily Wars would have to be the slowdown. The early MegaMan games pushed Capcom’s limited knowledge of the NES hardware to its limits and oftentimes, the Blue Bomber would be put into situations thought to be beyond the system’s capabilities. To compensate for this, sprites would often flicker, limiting any framerate drops to a minimum. The Wily Wars decided to do away with that method – after all, the Mega Drive was so much more powerful than the NES. Given how the games originally came out roughly midway through the NES’s lifecycle and this remake was coming out closer to the end of the Sega’s 16-bit powerhouse, was it even possible for the Genesis to run into any issues when running these ancient games? The answer was a resounding “yes”. I think what I encountered in Wily Wars may very well be the worst slowdown I’ve ever seen in a MegaMan game, official or otherwise. There’s one moment in particular I remember while playing that embodies these limitations: while on one of the Wily Stages, there’s a segment where you have to ride a moving platform through an area, while being attacked by 3 enemies that constantly respawn. Attempting to use the Leaf Shield in this area literally slowed the game down to a crawl. Worst of all, one might be under the impression that destroying at least one enemy would mitigate the slowdown. They would be right, unless that defeated enemy drops a power-up, in which case, the game continues to chug at a pace that is downright molasses-esque. It’s embarrassing. The worst part about it is that there are times where the slowdown makes the game easier. The Yellow Devil fight in MegaMan 1 is so much more manageable now than in the original thanks to it, it almost makes up for the loss of the pause trick!

By far, the best part of the game would have to be the original content. After clearing all three of the NES remakes, a brand-new entry is added to the game select menu: the mini-game “Wily Tower”. The game starts off with a cutscene of Dr. Wily talking about how while MegaMan stopped him from changing the past, but he still has one last plan up his sleeve. From there, players are sent to a stage select screen, with the three Genesis Unit robots as the choices. At the start of each level, players are allowed to choose any eight weapons and three support items from the first three games. This is somewhat a mixed bag: it’s cool to have mix-and-match different elements from previous games, but most of the bosses have two weaknesses at the most, and if the wrong weapons are chosen, it can make things difficult in general. The Genesis Unit’s stages are essentially hodgepodges of various elements from the previous games – which is neat, because it leads to some interesting synergy. Once those three are defeated, MegaMan moves onto the eponymous Wily Tower. The theming is pretty simple: the first stage is themed around elements from MegaMan 1, the second takes aspects from MM2, the third from 3 and the final stage is the standard corridor to the final boss.

WilyWars02

A weapon from MegaMan 3 , an enemy from the first game and obstacles from MM2, it’s madness!

The weirdest aspect of Wily Tower is that, while the remakes feel off in various ways, it feels “right”. It feels more distinctly like the original NES games than their remakes in this collection. If I have one comment to make about Wily Tower, it’s that I wish it were longer and had a bit more content. The Genesis Unit don’t give out weapons after being defeated – which makes the presence of original and unused “New Weapon” music in the game’s data even more bizarre. Were they originally planned to give MegaMan boss weapons at some point? I wouldn’t even specifically ask for additional robots: considering the fact that the game was called “Wily Tower”, a larger take on the Wily Fortress could’ve been pretty cool. The first three stages were essentially remixes from each individual game – imagine if they had added stages that mixed elements from 2 games and then done an extra-long one with aspects from all 3. Even more than that, it makes me wish that Capcom had just made an original game for the console. Definitely not a mainline, but one unique full-length spinoff game would’ve probably ended up way better than three mediocre remakes of some of the most common games in the franchise.

The graphics are something of a mixed bag. The backgrounds and some of the characters have been redrawn from scratch and they look great. The characters have been redrawn slightly larger than their NES counterparts while still maintaining their general look. They boast a much wider palette of colors compared to the original versions and there’s more detail put into the sprites themselves – for example, Sparkman’s face is actually visible now, Bubbleman’s air tank is visible and both Gutsman and Hardman are less squat, better emphasizing just how colossal they’re meant to be. Unfortunately, for most enemies and even a few major characters – looking at you, Protoman – they literally just took the NES sprites and recolored them to match with everything else. It generally works alright for less humanoid designs, but for anything that’s supposed to be even vaguely in scale with MegaMan, they’re just clearly too small, it honestly gets a little distracting at times. I wish that Capcom had had the resources to redraw everything, because what they managed to get done looks excellent, even by today’s standards – I wouldn’t mind if a new MegaMan game had a similar art style.

The music is actually pretty good in this one. Both the rearrangements of the classic NES music as well as the original compositions were handled by Kinuyo Yamashita – one of the composers for the original Castlevania. Unfortunately, much like everyone else who worked on this game, her work went uncredited. Regardless, I’d say that, for the most part, I personally prefer most of these arrangements over the originals, but I’ve always been a fan of the Genesis’s sound chip. My favorite arrangement in the entire game would have to be Fireman’s stage, which gets turned into a samba. I wish more tracks in the game could’ve received rearrangements that thorough. My only real gripe is that, at least in the case of MegaMan 3, some of the music – particularly the Dr. Wily stage map and the ending – were truncated to match what could’ve been heard in the original release. Of course, given the fact that the full compositions were never legitimately accessible in the game itself, this makes sense – but it’s still a bit disappointing to try to listen to these tracks and expect the full tune, only to be cut off at an inopportune moment. Of course, as with everything else, the songs original to the Wily Wars are the best part of the game’s soundtrack. The song that plays during the game’s introductory cutscene has been stuck in my head for well over a decade. The music for the third and fourth stages of Wily Tower are probably my favorite in the entire game, especially stage 4’s. I can’t describe why, but I love it when original music from various spin-offs sound like they belong in a mainline MegaMan game, and the Wily Wars soundtrack certainly fits the bill.

In the end, I’d say that it’s probably not worth trying to track down a copy of The Wily Wars, especially if you’re from North America like I am. The NES versions of the first three games are significantly more widely available – both as digital re-releases and even the original cartridges – and those are the definitive way to play. While Wily Tower is a good bonus, it just doesn’t add enough to the base package to make the whole thing worth it: the fact that one has to complete all three remakes just to reach just manages to make things worse. Regardless, I’ve been meaning to play through The Wily Wars for years, ever since I first learned of its existence and I’m thankful that this article gave me both a reason and the motivation to finally complete it. While it’s a shame that North America missed out on a physical release of Wily Wars, we did get our very own exclusive MegaMan game on a Sega platform – one that I’ll be covering later on.

Mega Man & Mega Man 3 (DOS)

With those out of the way, let’s move on to what are certainly the worst officially-licensed MegaMan games of all-time. Mega Man and Mega Man 3 – they skipped 2 – are difficult to define. Most people are sure to differentiate these two from the NES originals, generally either appending their titles with “PC” or “DOS”, to make sure that they’re being perfectly clear when discussing them. The reason behind this is simple: both games are terrible, yet it seems like anyone and everyone I’ve ever encountered who’s ever played them and still consider themselves fans of the series at large have an almost masochistic fascination with them. At worst, they’re not unlike an eldritch abomination, maintaining a small but permanent space of one’s memory and psyche; at best, remembering the games is akin to watching a car crash – you want to look away, but just can’t bring yourself to do it. Despite being released in 1990 and 1992 respectively, it’s really impossible to discuss one game without the other. Both are so intertwined with one another in a way that no other two MegaMan games can match. I only managed to play the first game when I was a child. A cousin of mine owned it, and I was only barely able to make it one level in before the game became far too difficult for me to continue.

Capcom licensed out the right to develop PC games based on the MegaMan franchise to an American company known as Hi Tech Expressions. On the surface, Hi Tech seems no worse than many publishing companies of the time: licensing the rights to develop video games that were typically mediocre at best based on various properties from other media – Hi Tech just managed to be one of the few that upped the ante by doing the same with existing video games. In addition to the MegaMan games, Hi Tech also published PC ports of the first two Street Fighter games – which would eventually be bundled with the MegaMan games in a later release – as well as the original arcade version of Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Development of the title was handed off to Rozner Labs. Effectively a one-man development team headed up by Stephen Rozner, his brother William would eventually take over the position of artist during the development of Mega Man 3. Rozner Labs was a short-lived company, though they would also end up developing the PC port of MegaMan X directly under Capcom.

The games’ backstories are both fairly simple – not to mention redundant. Both games involve plots from the devious Dr. Wily attempting to take over the world, using a mere 3 Robot Masters in the first game and doubling that number in its oddly-named sequel. This time, however, Wily has the assistance of CRORQ, a mega-computer as powerful as its name is unpronounceable. While it was originally developed by the government as an advanced peacekeeping system, the devious doctor reprogrammed it in order to control robots from all over the world. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the DOS MegaMan games is their sheer originality: most poorly-made cash grabs based on popular franchises would be content with aping existing material poorly, but Rozner Labs went one step further, essentially making officially-licensed fanfiction and that’s probably the major reason why I’ll never be able to get this game out of my head.

MMPC-01

Times have been tough for Rock, I hear he’s been moonlighting as a bug zapper.

I’ll talk about each game’s gameplay separately, simply because there are pretty much as many similarities as differences between the two. Both games maintain the same awkward control scheme: the arrow keys move, but the J key is jump and the fire button is the space bar. I don’t know how people were intended to orient themselves on the keyboard while playing this. To make matters worse, F9 pauses the game but F10 quits to DOS. The Escape key opens the weapons menu in game, and pressing F10 while there kills MegaMan instantly. Both games also have the usual assortment of power-ups, health and weapon energy refills, extra lives and even E-Tanks. Mega Man has a total of five stages. The first of which is actually a franchise first: Mega Man DOS had an intro stage. Sure, it simply involved MegaMan trying to run through a tollbooth while being mauled by a nigh-indestrucible mechanical dog that just respawns if you destroy it, but it’s an intro stage all the same. It managed to even beat MegaMan X to the punch by roughly 3 years. No wonder they hired Rozner to handle that game’s PC port. Apparently, the man was a visionary.

After clearing that slog of an opening, players are dropped into a slightly familiar stage select screen, allowing them to tackle Wily’s three robots in any order. They are Sonic Man, who looks like someone tried to recreate Bomberman using stock clipart; Volt Man, the clear winner in terms of design; and Dyna Man – short for Dynamite, much like “Elec” being short for Electric – who boasts a strange design with blue, green and yellow body armor, topped with a blue helmet and a black facemask that only reveals his eyes. After defeating all three and gaining their keys – which are shaped like calculators for reasons I don’t entirely understand – players are then sent to Dr. Wily’s castle, a single stage consisting of rematches with the three robot masters, followed by a two-stage fight with CRORQ, who has been converted into a bipedal mech piloted by Dr. Wily. That’s the entire game, a mere five stages. The controls feel sticky at times, the jumping and shooting is really awkward and the game has an odd fascination with enemies that are too small to hit with the standard arm cannon, forcing you to take damage in order to progress. There’s also a notable lack of checkpoints: it gets so bad that I’m not even sure if the final stage has any, I never actually died once I got past the rematches with the first three bosses and dying on any of them sent you all the way back to the beginning.

MMPC-02

I can’t even begin to comprehend this design. That’s what I love about it.

MegaMan 3 improves on the original game’s formula in some ways, but makes entirely new mistakes to compensate. For starters, the controls feel marginally better than the previous game and the enemies that are too small to hit normally are gone. Another interesting quirk, MegaMan now swims when underwater, as opposed to the standard moon-jump physics – which means, once again, Rozner Labs introduced a gameplay mechanic to one of their games before Capcom would go on to implement it in a game of their own. Unfortunately, the level design takes a hit: everything goes from straight-forward and linear to literal mazes. It’s interesting, but trying to progress can get confusing and frustration can set in when faced the sheer commonality of dead ends. This game misses out on the intro stage, but given the fact that there are three more boss stages, it brings the grand total to 7. The bosses are a lot less original this time around – most of them are directly based on existing robots from the actual MegaMan 2 and 3. Torch Man, Bit Man, Shark Man (well before Battle Network), Wave Man (not the one you’re probably thinking of, although both MM3 PC and MegaMan 5 for the NES came out the same year), Oil Man – not that one – and Blade Man – not that one. After that, it’s another gauntlet of rematches in Wily’s Castle, followed by a rematch against CRORQ and then finally, a two-stage battle with Dr. Wily himself, who has surrounded himself with acid that kills MegaMan instantly. I personally think that MM3 was the better of the two, but there’s no real objective way to measure which game is superior. It’s all just a matter of opinion. Besides, it’s not really that much of an achievement to be the better of the two Rozner Labs Mega Man games.

MM3PC-01

An underwater maze with awkward controls. Clearly, a good omen.

I suppose I might as well mention both games’ array of weapons. Both games grant MegaMan the use of his standard Plasma Cannon. The way that one selects weapons in this game is intuitive but also weird: on the pause screen, you hit the key on the keyboard associated with the weapon to select it – the E key is, of course, reserved for E-Tanks. Of course, the oddest bit is that MegaMan doesn’t change colors based on which weapon he’s using – this is especially weird in Mega Man 3, where he shows up in different colors on the “New Weapon” screen. The weapons in the first game are fairly unique: the Force Field is a unique shield weapon that can be turned on and off with the fire button, keeping it on drains the weapon energy; Sonic Wave is like a faster version of the Gemini Laser and Nuclear Detonator, which is like a worse version of the Hyper Bomb: it has a lower firing arc, takes longer to go off and can damage MegaMan himself. It can destroy certain blocks though. The weapons from MegaMan 3, on the other hand, are a lot more one-note. The Torch Arm shots off a fireball; Oil Stream looks almost identical, though it’s colored black to signify that it’s oil; the Shark Boomerang effectively works like the Ring Boomerang from MM4; the Blade Launcher fires off an upward spread shot of three blades; the Bit Cannon is probably the best weapon in the game, firing off a powerful lightning bolt and the Water Shooter fires off three water balls at a downward arc at different angles, almost like an upside-down Air Shooter from MegaMan 2. Kind of fitting when you consider Wave Man’s design. I’d say the first game has the edge when it comes to weapons – while there are less overall, they’re way more unique than the ones in MegaMan 3.

The graphics in this game are, in a word, terrible. Instead of essentially recycling the graphics from the NES games, Rozner decided to redraw everything from scratch. This ends up leading to an array of unique enemies – in the first game, MegaMan ends up fighting more animals than robots, bats, ants, spiders, even parrots and mosquitos. In fact, the only traditional MegaMan enemies that show up in the game are Mets and Sniper Joes, which only show up in the final stage. The enemies in MegaMan 3 make a little more sense: a few of the animals return, but now MegaMan’s mostly fighting gillmen, plant monsters and guys in hazmat suits. The Mets and Sniper Joes return and better still, they show up more often. The robot masters are drawn in a completely different style, with more realistic proportions. They look like they belong in a different game. The oddest part is that, even though Rozner’s brother took over art duties in the later game, most of the Robot Masters’s in-game sprites appear to be traced over the Dynaman sprite from the first game. The backgrounds are the only aspect of the game that look good. In fact, the crates from Dyna Man’s stage and the nuclear barrels in Sonic Man’s stage were actually used in the original Duke Nukem, which is perhaps the game’s most enduring legacy. As for music, there’s really nothing to say: this game has none, which feels like the biggest blasphemy to me. The sound effects all come through the PC speaker anyway, so even if there was music, it would probably sound terrible.

MM3PC-02

Somehow more incoherent and less lovable that even Sonic Man.

Like I said before, these games are both trainwrecks, but I can’t help but remember them. While they are by far the worst games I’ve ever played that have borne the MegaMan name (and I’ve played more than my fair share of them) but I do still manage to have some positive feelings toward these games – and I’m almost certain they aren’t ironic! I think it all stems from the fact that Rozner Labs came up with original content while making this game, as opposed to just taking content directly from earlier (read: better) games in the series. Perhaps it’s just a trick, but the originality of CRORQ and Rozner’s own take on Robot masters – many of whom would eventually be reused by Capcom in one form or another – implies that, regardless of how poor the final product came out, actual effort went into the creation of these two games. The only remaining mystery is why Hi Tech and Rozner Labs skipped directly to MegaMan 3, as opposed to making a MegaMan 2: after all, MM2 was the most popular of the NES games, so making a game with that title likely would’ve sold even better. The best explanation I’ve heard for it is that they wanted the game to sound as “new” as possible. Granted, since the first Mega Man game on PC came out in 1990 – the same year MM3 came out – so you’d think they’d be called MegaMan 3 and 5, instead. I think the titles are perfect in their own way: they perfectly represent the outright bizarre nature of both games. Still, they both seem to have a handful of …I’m not sure if “fans” is the right way to describe them. Nevertheless, I’ve seen fanart of the characters from this game, heard attempts at creating original songs to associate with them and I’ve seen at least two attempts at remaking the games to bring them more in line with the quality generally associated with the Blue Bomber. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing the characters from this game show up in some form in a future Capcom release. After all, we’ve seen other licensed games get similar treatment – but that’s a story for another time.

Six games – or would that be eight? Nine? – seems like a perfect place to stop for now. I’ve got a lot more to talk about, but I think keeping these articles shorter should make them much easier to read. What do you think: do you prefer the massive, almost novel-length Retrospective articles I did before, or do you prefer these smaller, much more digestible segments over a longer period of time? Feel free to let me know in the comments and keep your eyes peeled for Part 2, which should be coming your way soon.

Retrospective: Ys – Part I

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Growing up, RPGs were never really my thing. Sure, there were the occasional games I liked – the Lunar games on PS1 and Evolution on Dreamcast come to mind – but for the most part, the genre eluded me. That is, aside from one subgenre: the action RPG. Now being a child and, by extension, having a fairly low budget for video games meant that I had to choose my purchases wisely and quite frankly, I tended to prefer platformers, puzzle games like Tetris and especially fighting games. Fortunately, I did manage to cement my love for the genre via various demo discs, with my introduction to the franchise at the hands of such games as Brave Fencer Musashi and Threads of Fate – games, ironically enough, made by the main purveyor of RPGs I found bland: the company then known as Squaresoft.

Since then, I’ve been able to better explore the action-RPG genre and have found many of the titles of old to be enjoyable. One series stands above the rest in my eyes: Ys. Developed by the good people at Nihon Falcom – a Japanese development team that cut their teeth developing for various PC platforms – Ys stands out as one of the longest-running action-RPG series of all-time, effectively the subgenre’s equivalent to Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. Unfortunately, aside from a few early releases, the series never managed to gain a major foothold in the West until the days of the PSP, which saw the release of a whopping 4 titles in North America – most coming from the good folks at XSEED. Before that, it was mostly relegated to the perpetually third place TurboGrafx-16 system when it came to American releases, though the third game also saw releases on the Genesis and Super Nintendo outside of Japan. I can’t quite recall if this is wishful thinking or a repressed memory, but I somehow recall seeing the box art for the Genesis version of Wanderers from Ys up for rental at a mom-and-pop video store back during my childhood. I almost wish I could’ve gotten into the series sooner, but considering the lack of options I would have had for obtaining the games back then, it’s probably for the best that I waited.

Since I started playing the series, I’ve become something of a journeyman with regards to it. I’m by no means an expert on the series, but among my group of friends, I’m generally considered the best direct source of information. As of yet, I haven’t played the “full 3D” games in the series – specifically Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta – but aside from that, I’ve played at least some version of every other game in the series. Granted, in many cases, it wasn’t “the original” – I would generally aim for the “definitive versions”. So, considering that today is the 30th anniversary of the original release of Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished and with the North American release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana coming later this year, it seems only fitting to discuss the series or at least as much of the series I’ve played thus far.

Compared to the previous two Retrospective articles I’ve written for Retronaissance, this Ys article will be handled slightly differently. In the earlier entries, I sorted the games by release date. This time, however, I will be sorting them in the order I played them. While this will lead to an effectively identical ordering throughout the majority of the article, I feel that this format will better serve to illustrate my thoughts on the franchise as a whole, with each consecutive game adding to my insight regarding the series as a whole.

Ys I & II Chronicles+

Ironically, the first Ys game I ever played was not the first one I purchased – it was a remake of the first one I ever owned. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: Steam sales are a hell of a drug. Admittedly, I bought the Ys games that were available on Steam at that point due to my interest in the series and because I felt like if I was going to play the games on any platform, it would be PC. What I’d heard of the soundtracks intrigued me, action-RPGs were always a passing interest of mine and the unique combat mechanics of the early games in the series piqued my interest enough to start me on the series, a whopping 2 years after I’d purchased the game on Steam. Looking back, I regret nothing.

Chronicles+ has a unique history behind it. In 1998, Falcom developed an enhanced remake of the original Ys for Windows computers, dubbed Ys Eternal. It was followed by a remake of the second game – fittingly dubbed Ys II Eternal – in 2000, which made even more improvements to its source material than the first release. The following year, Ys Eternal was further improved and bundled with the second as “Ys I & II Complete”. This release was ported to a few consoles by various developers: the PS2 saw Ys I & II Eternal Story from DigiCube; Interchannel ported both games separately to the Nintendo DS – and both of these ports would later be released in North America on a single cart by Atlus USA as Legacy of Ys: Books I & II and finally Falcom themselves would further enhance their original PC version on the PSP as Ys I & II Chronicles. Falcom would eventually port Chronicles back to the PC themselves, but this isn’t the version available in the West. Instead, XSEED – the company responsible for the most recent batch of Falcom releases in North America – went back to the original release of Complete and managed to rebuild Chronicles in its entirety with a host of further enhancements: hence “Chronicles+”. It’s kind of impressive when you consider this was done for a remake that, at best, was already over a decade old. Since then, Chronicles would be re-released on iOS and Android by DotEmu as two separate games.

Unlike later games in the franchise, Ys I & II are linked to the extent where it’s difficult to truly understand the story of the latter without the former. Ys introduces us to a young swordsman by the name of Adol Christin – dubbed “Adol the Red” due to his crimson hair – as he ventures to the small island nation of Esteria. Hearing rumors of the fabled lost Kingdom of Ys – which once existed alongside Esteria according to legend – Adol recklessly ventures there by boat, only to end up shipwrecked in the port town of Barbado. He eventually makes his way to the Town of Minea, where he finds the fortune teller Sara who shares what she knows of Ys: legend states that six books were left behind when Ys disappeared and the location of Ys will be revealed to the one who obtains every tome. Upon searching for the first book, Adol meets a mysterious young woman by the name of Feena, who was being held captive by the demons that have invaded the once-peaceful land of Esteria. After collecting the first three books of Ys, Adol soon learns that the remaining three are locked away in Darm Tower – a colossal fortress said to be built by demons that reaches far into the sky. What evils will Adol confront at the tower’s summit?

Ys II continues directly after the events of the first game. After collecting the six books of Ys, Adol is forcibly teleported to the mystical land of Ys – the continent now resides in the sky, floating effortlessly above the world below. Drained from both the arduous trials he faced in Darm Tower and the journey to Ys, Adol falls unconscious. He’s then rescued by Lilia, a young girl from nearby Lance Village, who helps to nurse him back to health. After recovering from his wounds and exhaustion, Adol continues his journey – after returning the six books of Ys to their resting place and conferring with the spirits of the priests that once ruled Ys in its infancy, he explores more of the mystical continent, including the labyrinthine Solomon Palace. Eventually, Adol discovers the true plan of the demons: they seek to revive their master Darm, an unimaginably powerful demon who caused such calamities that the people of Ys had no choice but to raise their great nation to the skies to escape his malice. Darm seeks to steal the powers of the twin goddesses of Ys to achieve world conquest and the destruction of humanity.

The gameplay in the original Ys is simple but unique. At first, it appears to be a standard top-down action RPG, not exactly uncommon for its time. There is, however, one simple difference: there’s no attack button. To attack enemies, Adol must ram into them – but there’s a caveat, he must attack from off-center. Attacking dead-on allows the demons to trade hits, which will generally work in their favor. This makes boss fights particularly grueling – as it can be difficult to determine what doesn’t count as a direct attack with some of them. Fortunately, Adol is also capable of recovering his health by standing still – but only outside of dungeons. The game also allows players to save their game at any time, though one must be careful when saving: the game can be saved directly over an enemy spawn point, which will render the save absolutely worthless and force players to restart from an earlier save – or worse, from the beginning of the game. Trust me, this has happened to me not once, but twice.

Of course, the game also has various elements that are common to the RPG genre. Adol still gains experience by defeating enemies and can level up to increase his strength. Adol can also equip swords, armors and shields to further augment his power – new swords increase his attack, while armors and shields increase defense. The ability to improve Adol’s arsenal remains a consistent throughout the series. Adol can also find an assortment of rings, which he can wear to grant various abilities. The Power Ring doubles his attack, Shield Ring halves the damage he takes, the Heal Ring allows him to heal within dungeons, the Timer Ring halves the speed of most enemies and the Evil Ring …slowly taints and destroys whoever wields it. So maybe just ignore that last one. Switching between these rings and determining which is best for your current situation is perhaps the closest thing to actual strategy the game requires. There’s also a standard inventory, which keeps track of all of the minor items Adol collects on his journey – only one of them can be equipped for active use at a time. A few key items from the original Ys include the Mask of Eyes, which allows Adol to see secrets at the cost of being able to see enemies (also color); the Blue Necklace, which protects Adol from demonic traps and the Monocle, which allows you to decipher the ancient text of the six books of Ys.

The second Ys builds on these mechanics, adding entirely new wrinkles to change things up. Perhaps the most prominent of these would be the Magic system. Throughout the game world, there are six different magical staffs found during Adol’s journey – each associated with one of the six priests of Ys. The Fire Magic allows Adol to shoot fireballs – which completely changes the dynamic of combat and becomes essential to completing most of the boss fights in this game; Return Magic allows Adol to warp to any towns or villages he’s previously visiting; Light Magic illuminates dark areas and reveals secret exits; Shield Magic protects Adol from any and all attacks and Time Magic freezes enemies in place temporarily – far outstripping the Timer Ring from Ys I. The most interesting of the magics is the Alter Magic, which transforms Adol into a Roo: a creature as demonic as it is adorable. This leaves you defenseless, but also prevents standard enemies from attacking you and even allows you to understand the language of the demons, which even becomes relevant to the plot at various points in the game. However, this new mechanic comes with the addition of magic power (MP), which helps to balance things out. For example, though Shield Magic renders Adol invincible, it also consistently drains MP at a steady rate, and taking damage reduces it significantly.

The Rings from the previous game are replaced with a new set of “accessories”, which by and large serve the same purpose. The Spirit Cape – like the Heal Ring from Ys I – allows Adol to heal in dungeons. The Hawk Idol adds homing capabilities to Adol’s Fire Magic, which can be further augmented by the Falcon Idol. The Cleria Ring allows for random attacks to be parried, avoiding damage. The Ring of Ease – ha! – halves the consumption of MP. Finally, there’s the Goddess Ring, which increases Adol’s strength and defense. Likewise, the Inventory system from the previous game returns, effectively serving the same purpose. Some items return from the first game, but there are also some brand-new ones: for example, the Roda Leaf filters out poisonous gas; the Stone Shoes give Adol traction when navigating slippery areas; and the Elixir can revive Adol after he runs out of health – but there’s only one available in the entire game.

Having said all that, Chronicles+ is not a perfect representation of how the original Ys I & II played – and I mean that in the best way possible. Various improvements were made to the game engine: including the ability to move diagonally, the addition of a bestiary and character log allowing the collection of information on both the game’s enemies and various NPCs respectively and even expanding on the story with some additional content. Chronicles+ even gives players the ability to choose between two separate user interfaces: the more compact one seen in the PSP version and a more ornate border, based on the one present in the earliest releases in the Ys series. I personally went with the latter, but offering players the option between the two seemed like a nice touch overall.

For the most part, Chronicles recycles the art assets from the Eternal and Complete releases, including character sprites, backgrounds and even the animated cutscenes. Fortunately, none of them really show their age: one of the advantages of pixel art from that era. In addition, entirely new CG art was drawn for the various major characters in the game specifically for the PSP release. Chronicles does offer players the choice between both versions, which further cements its status as the definitive version of the Eternal line of remakes. Both art styles differ only slightly: Complete better resembles a JRPG from that era, while Chronicles has a style more befitting a manga. The stylistic differences are visible, but difficult to properly articulate – both are clearly Japanese, but illustrate this cultural origin in different ways. I personally preferred the new artwork for Chronicles, simply because the characters’ posture looked a little more realistic and less staged. Still, having both options was great.

Perhaps one of the most acclaimed aspects of the Ys franchise would be its music. Best described as “symphonic metal”, much of Adol’s adventures have been accompanied by a soundtrack that perfectly characterized their tone – equal parts epic and relentless. The first game in the series started this tradition, ranging from the courageous overworld theme “First Step Towards Wars” to the downright imposing “Tower of the Shadow of Death”, effectively the theme of Darm Tower. Ys II would further expand on this, with songs like the anxious “Companile of Lane”, the melancholic “Apathetic Story” – which I’m sure was meant to be “A Pathetic Story”, but whatever – and the imposing theme of the battle with Darm himself: “Termination”. The soundtracks of both Ys I & II were expanded upon in Complete, adding a variety of unused tracks intended for the first game to improve the already exceptional soundtrack. These include “Tension” and “Dreaming” – both used to break up the monotony of Darm Tower – as well as “Over Drive” which was given to Dalles – Darm’s second in command – as a unique theme for his boss fight. Technically, only one piece of music was exclusively arranged for Complete: “Colony of Lava”, which itself is simply a serene take on “Moat of Burnedbless”, better suited to its village setting. As with the artwork, players are given the option of three soundtracks: the original version used in the PC-88 release – composed by Mieko Ishikawa and the legendary Yuzo Koshiro – as well as the arranged soundtrack made for the Eternal games (and by extension, Complete) which was handled by Falcom’s Sound Team J.D.K. and finally, a brand-new arrangement from Yukihiro Jindo that uses actual instruments in addition to synths. Again, I personally used the soundtrack unique to Chronicles, but having the option to use all three is a major plus.

Chronicles itself appears to be something of an anomaly at this point: a pure throwback to the early games of the Ys franchise. As such, it’s generally not recommended as a first game for most people just getting into the series, as the game just doesn’t offer an accurate representation of what the series has evolved into since then. Personally, I found the bump system engaging as an introduction to the series, simply because it differs so much from the norm of the action RPG subgenre. It was a unique method of attack that clearly influenced the trajectory I took when further exploring the series itself: focusing on the older games in the series, before working my way to more modern iterations.

Ys: Book I & II

Having played through the first two games on Steam, I’d become a huge fan of the Ys series in general. With the long-awaited English release of the original PC version of the sixth game in the franchise finally arriving on digital storefronts, I decided that I would dedicate a significant chunk of my free time in 2015 to playing through some of the older games in the franchise to prepare myself: to experience the storyline of the Ys games for myself and to scope out the series’ evolution through the ages. This would also finally give me the chance to right a self-inflicted wrong and finally play through Ys: Books I & II on the original Wii’s Virtual Console. This was the first Ys game I ever received, given to me as a gift some Christmas past – I’m still a bit angry that Nintendo removed gifting from future platforms, but that’s a delusional rant for another time – and since then, it had rotted away in my backlog, effectively forgotten. As I was going to be playing through the other games in the series released during the fourth generation of consoles and because I was otherwise starting from scratch, it only felt right to start my streaming marathon with the duology where it all began …again.

Ys: Ancient Ys Vanished was originally released in 1987 for various Japanese computer platforms – particularly NEC’s PC-8801 and PC-9801, but also Fujitsu’s FM-7, Sharp’s X1 and the MSX2. The following year, Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished – The Final Chapter would be released on the same platforms. These would eventually be followed by a variety of ports for other platforms. Both games would be ported to the Famicom in 1988 and 1989 and Sega’s Master System would receive a port of the first game in 1988 as well: this would be the first game in the series released in North America. 1989 would see English PC ports for Ys I on both Apple IIGS and DOS computers, handled by Kyodai. The very same year, the two games would be ported to the PC Engine CD by Alfa Systems and published by Hudson Soft. In 1990, it would be released in North America as “Ys: Book I &II”. Future releases of the two games would include a port of the original to Sharp’s X68000 in 1991 – this version had some bizarre mish-mash of graphical styles, including pre-rendered 3D bosses and poorly-digitized photographs for CG art – as well as the Falcom Classics collections on Saturn, which included enhanced remakes of Ys and Ys II on the first and second volumes respectively. These would later be followed by the Ys Eternal remakes on Windows, which I mentioned earlier.

The story is identical to the game’s remake, but I guess it’s worth mentioning the differences between the two versions. For example, while Adol ends up shipwrecked in Barbado in the remake, he uneventfully arrives in Minea Town’s port at the beginning of the original version. As such, the town of Barbado didn’t exist in the original game, leaving Minea and “Zeptic” Village as the only two towns in the entire game. One major difference that only exists in the TurboGrafx-CD version would be the fate of the fortune teller Sara: she survives in this version, while she dies in every other version. I assumed that this was a case of censorship for the Western release – specifically because she just essentially disappears for the remainder of your adventure regardless – but it turns out she survived in the original Japanese release on the PC Engine as well. Aside from that, Chronicles simply expands on the original’s story, which could be taken as a testament to how well they handled the story in the first place.

As a bit of an aside, I’d like to discuss the final boss of Ys I’s campaign: Dark Fact. The first time I played through the Ys games, I found him intriguing, simply because he was an enigma – you had no real interaction with him until the end of the game, but you heard vague references to him throughout the story: the mysterious cloaked man stealing anything made from “silver”. Adol was a hero fighting simply for unknown reasons and Dark Fact served as a perfect foil, performing evil deeds to further equally mysterious ends. The fight with him was perhaps the hardest thing I had to deal with in the entirety of Chronicles – maybe even the entire series – and then I ended up beating him on my first try in the TG-CD version. I was staggered by that. Looking back, Dark Fact was unique in the Ys series – simply because he was the only case where the main villain you face ends up being the game’s final boss. His backstory, detailed in future releases, would also prove interesting: born Siegue Fact, a descendant of one of the Six Priests, he sought power to avenge the death of his parents, who were killed by a mob for preventing the mining of what the people of Esteria knew only as silver – in reality, Cleria, a holy metal sealing off the evil that would eventually spawn the demons he would end up commanding. Kind of ironic in the grand scheme of things.

As with the story, the gameplay in Ys Book I & II is, for the most part, identical to the later release. Motion is limited to the cardinal directions in this version – no diagonal movement – which in turn helps to better define the strategy associated with the “bump” system. Being able to move diagonally outright breaks this method of attack, which is likely why they dropped it in future games. However, the TurboGrafx version of the first two games were generally considered an improvement over the previous PC versions of the game, strictly because there was a lot more leniency given to aiming the bump attack – these early versions would require exact aiming to deal damage without being harmed in response. This change is perhaps a big part of the reason why this version was considered the definite version of the first two games before the Eternal re-releases, though being readily available in English was likely the biggest factor.

Of course, as with most early translations of Ys games, there were a few misnomers in the TurboGrafx version, though thankfully not nearly as many as in the earlier Master System and Kyodai releases – the former referred to Adol as “Aron” and Dark Fact as “Dulk Dekt” for some inexplicable reason and apparently the latter had so many translation issues, it’d be worth discussing in detail at a later point. Reah is renamed “Lair” – clearly just a poor translation – but Dogi has been rechristened “Colin” for reasons I don’t entirely understand. Thankfully, his name was reverted in Ys III, but in retrospect, that makes the earlier change even more baffling. A few items have also been renamed, but these are relatively minor by comparison. The most significant example would be the Rod that allows you to travel through the mirror maze near the end of Darm Tower is reclassified as a “brooch”. Aside from these minor quibbles, the translation appears to be relatively accurate, which is a pretty remarkable feat given both the game’s relative obscurity and the period it was translated during. Perhaps both the minor reputation of Ys and the TurboGrafx itself worked to the localization process’s advantage.

I think what I found the most interesting about this version of Ys I & II is the fact that it outright links the two – both adventures have been combined into a single narrative. This led to some balancing changes between the two games: in most versions of Ys I, Adol’s ability to level up is generally capped at 10, but this version allows for a much higher limit, allowing a much more gradual boost in power compared to most versions of the first game. As Adol maintains his experience when shifting over to the Ys II portion of the game, the beginning of that game also had to be rebalanced to allow a smooth transition. This direct continuity is unique to the TurboGrafx release – even the current Chronicles releases packaged both Ys I & II as separate titles. As such, I found the concept unique and thoroughly satisfying – it had always struck me as odd how you could technically play the games in any order in most other bundled re-releases.

The graphics in-game aren’t particularly spectacular, though they do far outstrip all of its predecessors. The TurboGrafx-16 itself wasn’t exactly a powerhouse, especially when directly compared to its contemporaries during the 16-bit era. This coupled with the fact that the game was released roughly one year after the PC Engine’s CD add-on – the first video game home console to use the CD-ROM format – makes the graphics a little more impressive by comparison. Of course, the game’s true graphical star would have to be the animated cutscenes. Boasting 20 minutes of fully animated cutscenes – an impressive amount given the game was originally released in 1989 – Ys Book I & II typifies what I’d expect all CD-based games of the time should look like: that distinct anime style common in the 1980s and 1990s, the limited yet fluid animation, even the limited color palette representative of video game consoles and home computers at the time. The game even managed to sneak in animated character portraits for important moments within the game itself.

The TG-CD version of Ys I & II retains the amazing soundtrack the games were known for – for the most part. In addition to lacking the tracks that were clearly added in the Eternal releases, Book I & II is missing a few tracks: the original game over theme from Ys I – which is, honestly, forgettable – as well as the standard boss fight theme from Ys II. These tracks were just replaced with the counterparts from their respective pack-in. On the plus side, another unused track from Ys I – “Theme of Adol” – was rearranged for one of the game’s opening cutscenes. The soundtrack is split between the TurboGrafx’s internal sound chip and Redbook Audio courtesy of the game’s CD format. To many, the TurboGrafx-CD arrangements are considered the best versions of each game’s soundtracks – though I’m not clear on if they mean the direct TG-CD soundtrack or the extremely similar “Perfect Collection” albums. However, as both were arranged by Ryo Yonemitsu, it may not matter in the long run.

The sound effects are pretty much what you’d expect from the hardware: nothing too spectacular. Fortunately, the game’s CD format added something quite impressive to the mix: voice acting. While most of the game isn’t voice acted, there’s still a fair amount – with 24 minutes in total, many major characters receive their fair share of voice work. What’s more impressive is the big names they got for a variety of roles: Debi Derryberry plays Feena, Dan Gilvezan plays the rogue demon Keith, Dark Fact is played by Michael Bell, Alan Oppenheimer plays both the narrator and Darm and, most surprisingly, his lead servant Dalles is played by none other than Jim Cummings! Unfortunately, the quality of the audio is fairly poor – which was to be expected, considering the TG-16’s weak audio processor – but the fact that the game was dubbed in the first place (and with such big names) is still impressive to me.

One might expect that I’d consider replaying an earlier version of the game that got me started on the franchise a waste of time, but honestly, it served a few purposes for me. For starters, it was technically still on my backlog, so it felt good to put that behind me. Secondly, it did provide a decent start to the stream marathon – considering I was playing the remainder of the games that saw at least some form of a release during the 16-bit era, it only seemed right to show off its respective form of the first two games. Most importantly, it gave me an even deeper insight into the games that started it all. While it’s unlikely that I’ll ever go back and play these two games in any other form – barring some ill-conceived future remake – Ys: Book I & II gave me an insight into what caused the cult following of the series in North America to get its start in the first place. Likewise, I’d have to acknowledge that even if I would probably say I preferred Chronicles+ overall, the earlier release on the all but forgotten TurboGrafx-CD did some things better than the later release would: in addition to the downright ‘90s presentation of the game, the seamless connection and subsequent rebalancing of the first Ys games made it feel like one truly grand adventure, rather than the two parts they’re separated into in practically every other iteration. It’s just a shame that, as of right now, the only ways to find this version would be to trawl for used copies in the usual fashion or hope that the original Wii’s Virtual Console stays on long enough to grab a copy digitally – which seems to grow more difficult by the day.

Ys III: Wanderers from Ys

Once considered the black sheep of the entire Ys franchise – Wanderers from Ys isn’t, at least in my opinion, really that bad of a game. It’s just a very stupid one. I’m aware of just how insulting that last statement is, but honestly: I mean it in the best way possible. Ditching the top-down overhead perspective of the previous Ys games, Wanderers resembles Zelda II – another controversial sequel in a beloved series – more than anything that came before it. A side-scrolling action RPG; what Ys III lost in overall complexity, it more than gained in pure “stupid fun”. Adol no longer rams askew into his foes, rather now he can just rapidly hack-and-slash, while also gaining the ability to jump – and by extension, a killer downward stab. Keep those additions in mind for later.

This was the second game I tackled in my retro Ys marathon back in 2015 and I was determined to play it early, simply due to both the poor public opinion surrounding the game and the existence of a “far superior remake” (more on that later). I chose to play the TG-CD version, handled again by Alfa Systems and Hudson Soft, which was generally considered the easiest of the three Western released versions. I ended up choosing that version mainly due to the animated cutscenes and the (admittedly terrible) voice acting, but also because I wanted to play as many Ys games on the TurboGrafx as I possibly could.  The Genesis version –  published by Telenet Japan (the company behind the Valis series among others) and developed by their RiOT division – is generally considered the definitive version of the game, due to proper difficulty balancing and improvements over both the TG-CD and SNES versions in various technical areas. The SNES version, developed by Advance Communication and published by Tonkin House, is generally considered both the hardest version of the game and the worst home version available in North America, despite having the most accurate translation by far. As with the first two games, the game was originally developed for the NEC PC-8801 and PC-9801 – with further ports made to the MSX2, the Sharp X68000 and even Nintendo’s Famicom.

The game’s story is fairly simple: at the behest of a fortuneteller, Adol and Dogi travel to the nation of Felghana (Kenai) to visit the city of Redmont (Sarina), Dogi’s childhood home. Unfortunately, the local economy has suffered due to mysterious weather patterns, a poor harvest and the local quarry being infested with monsters. Despite all that, Dogi returns home to a warm reception, except for Elena (Ellena), a young girl Dogi knew when they grew up together who has grown distant and indifferent. To make matters worse, the wicked Lord McGuire (King McGuire) has been terrorizing the townsfolk and the wicked knight Chester, Elena’s brother and – at one time – Dogi’s childhood friend, is leading the charge to fulfill the count’s evil ambitions. At the behest of Redmont’s mayor, Adol investigates the mysterious happenings and stumbles upon a plot to revive an ancient demon known as Galbalan (Demonicus).

There are a few things one must understand before the above paragraph makes complete sense: Wanderers from Ys was the one of the few early games in the series to actually receive an official contemporary English release – on the TurboGrafx-CD, Sega Genesis and Super NES – as well as the last game to receive such a treatment until XSEED gained the license in the 2000s. As such, many names were changed in a few of the translations – TurboGrafx changed the most, Genesis kept many of those changes, while the SNES probably has the most accurate translation of the three. To make things more coherent in the future, I decided to use the original Japanese names, while putting the new names devised for the translations in parentheses.

Having said that, Wanderers from Ys’s story has a few odd quirks behind it. Most notably, Adol’s characterization – he actually has one this time. No longer the essentially silent protagonist, Adol actually gets a fair amount of dialogue in this game. It just comes across as awkward, as Adol is portrayed as more invested in the fates of the people of Redmont than anyone else. This is only compounded by the outright apathy displayed by Elena, who is the most prominent supporting character in the entire game. The worst example comes fairly late in the game: when it appears that her brother Chester has died, Adol seems to care more about his demise than Chester’s own little sister. Furthermore, the game itself has little to do with the games that precede and follow it – effectively acting as an odd little shaggy-dog story. To make matters even more confusing, Wanderers from Ys wasn’t originally intended to be deemed the third Ys game: its Roman numeral was added in later releases. This would make sense given the game’s placement in the timeline, which I’ll elaborate on later.

As I said earlier, the game can be best described as “pure, dumb fun”. It plays like a Zelda II with far looser controls –  while Zelda II had stiff controls, Ys III goes too far in the opposite direction –  but isn’t quite as far removed from its predecessors. The game starts out difficult, because the game itself generally only consists of the Town of Redmont and the dungeons: travel between these areas is handled via a map that acts like a stage select. The general rules of the first two Ys games apply: you can heal by standing still, but only outside of dungeons. Unfortunately, the lack of substantial overworld space (you’ve got about a screen or two’s worth before each dungeon) makes this ability useless and as you need to be within the dungeon to spawn the enemies you need to gain experience and power up.  As a result,  you’re pretty much forced to constantly enter and exit the dungeon to gain your first few levels without dying at the beginning of the game. Boss fights range from insane to just plain boring – quite a few bosses are stationary, which could have posed a suitable challenge in the earlier Ys games, but not so much in the context of a side-scroller.

Ys III chooses to eschew the magic system from Ys II in favor of the rings from the first game. Most are identical to the assortment from Ys I, each granting Adol a specific ability. The Power Ring, Shield Ring, Heal Ring and Timer Ring all return with their respective enhancements from their previous appearance. However, like the Magic system from the second game, Adol’s rings require magic power – or ring power, as it’s called this time around – to activate and different abilities exhaust his RP at different rates.  They are joined by the Protect Ring, which shields Adol from any damage at a high RP cost – much like Ys II’s Shield Magic. Adol can also carry limited-use items as in previous games, including an herb that heals him to full health, medicine to restore RP, a mirror that can freeze enemies temporarily and an amulet that can destroy nearby enemies. The inventory system from previous games also returns, simply keeping track of any and all passive items Adol needs in his quest.

This brings us to perhaps the greatest flaw in the entire game: it fails to take advantage of both the shift in gameplay and the most popular features from the first two games. Switching from a top-down perspective to a side-scrolling game could have allowed for some interesting new game mechanics, but aside from some extremely stiff platforming – to the extent where it makes the original Castlevania feel like Super Mario Bros. – things stay relatively linear throughout, ditching the treacherous labyrinthine level design from the first two games. It’s not like side-scrolling games weren’t capable of complex layouts: imagine if Ys III’s dungeons were designed as if they were miniature versions of the maps you’d find in Metroid. Likewise, Wanderers from Ys ditches the then-iconic bump system, exchanging it for a fairly simple slash attack, which makes up for its lack of range with its ability to be “rapid fired” by holding down the attack button. What if, instead, holding down the attack button simply allows Adol to hold out his blade and ram into enemies for extra damage, effectively combining the more versatile slash with the more traditional bump mechanics of Ys I & II?

The one aspect of the game that is rarely criticized would be its soundtrack. Even the most discriminating Ys fans generally consider the music in this game to be among the best in the entire series, if not the best. While I personally don’t rate it quite that high, I do recognize the quality of the game’s soundtrack. Falcom’s legendary Sound Team J.D.K. – at the time, still led by the incomparable Mieko Ishikawa – was firing on all cylinders and delivered a soundtrack so memorable, even those entirely put off by the game it accompanied could not help but admit its quality. My favorite tracks in the game would have to be “The Boy’s Got Wings” – played at the entrance of each dungeon; “Sealed Time” – the theme of the Clock Tower; “Behold!!” – the introductory theme for the game’s final boss; and most of all, “The Theme of Chester”. The only real shortcoming I’d have to attribute to the soundtrack would have to be the fact that many of my favorite tracks only have fleeting appearances in the game itself – “The Theme of Chester” didn’t even appear in the TurboGrafx-CD version.

Regardless of the game’s flaws, I still had a blast when playing the game. The voice acting was horrible to the point of having a kitschy charm, the gameplay provided some good mindless hack-and-slash fun, the game’s short length meant that it didn’t overstay its welcome and best of all, the soundtrack is amazing. In retrospect, I enjoyed Ys III despite its flaws. It was just pure dumb fun – almost like an intermission, providing something of a breather between the first two games and the later, more complex entries in the series. While I acknowledge its shortcomings, I can’t say that I’d consider Ys III the worst game in the franchise’s history. Unfortunately, for me, the worst is yet to come.

Ys IV

Finally, we reach the end of the “classic Ys” era. After the quick diversion that was Wanderers from Ys, Ys IV would return to the classic overhead gameplay of the first two games, “run and bump” and all. Of course, Ys IV’s development was complicated by several factors: the most major of which being that there isn’t a singular Ys IV, rather two entirely different games were released by two entirely different companies at the behest of Falcom themselves. As such, Ys IV was the first game in the series to only be available on consoles – Falcom themselves did not develop a version for any Japanese computer systems. At this point in time, Falcom’s finances were struggling and while they did wish to create a fourth game in the Ys series, they lacked the necessary funds for development. As such, they created a story outline and a soundtrack, which they provided to both licensors of Ys IV.

The first company to license the creation of a fourth Ys game was Hudson Soft. They handed off development to Alfa Systems, who handled the development of the previous Ys games on the PC Engine, the Japanese counterpart to the TurboGrafx-16. They titled their treatment of the game “Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys” and created a game that managed to surpass the quality of their previous Ys treatments – no small feat, given the fact that their ports were generally considered the definitive versions of the previous Ys games. Unfortunately, in doing so, Dawn managed to stray significantly from Falcom’s original outline for the game. In response, Falcom also licensed the game to Tonkin House – the company that published the Ys III port on SNES – who once again handed development to Advance Communication, the developer that handled every Ys port on Nintendo platforms. Christening their own version as “Ys IV: Mask of the Sun”, Tonkin House stayed truer to Falcom’s original vision, but still deviated in some ways. Though Tonkin House’s version of Ys IV entered development after Hudson Soft’s, the game managed to release first on Super Famicom – and believe me, the difference in development time is reflected in the disparity of quality between the games.

Perhaps the most interesting tidbit about Ys IV’s development was that there was a third version planned as well, but it never came to fruition. At this point in time, Sega and Falcom had partnered up to port various Falcom games to Sega consoles, including MegaDrive ports of Lord Monarch and the first two Legend of Heroes games. The most famous product of this collaboration was, of course, the Sega CD version of Popful Mail, which actually managed to see release in the West via Working Designs. Very little is known about the Sega-Falcom version of Ys IV, aside from the fact that it was also developed under the title “Mask of the Sun”. Many speculate that the game was being developed for the Mega-CD in Japan. Admittedly hearing about this makes me feel sad: given the fact that Sega’s version of Popful Mail is generally considered the definitive edition of the game, not to mention Working Designs’ partnership with Sega – not only could this have been the best version of Ys IV, it could’ve been the only version that would’ve seen release in the West.

Regardless, due to the differences between the two versions that saw release during the fourth generation, I will be covering both games separately, followed by a direct compare-and-contrast, detailing what I liked more about each respective iteration of Ys IV.

Mask of the Sun

When I was doing my series of retro Ys streams, there was only one major question I had to ask myself: which version of Ys IV should I play first? Admittedly, my arguments for starting with the PC Engine version were weak – both keeping the systems together and the fact that Dawn had entered development first – but there was one particular reason I chose to start with Mask of the Sun: most people said it was garbage compared to its counterpart. Not specifically that the game itself was terrible, but just so underwhelming compared to the other iteration that it might as well not even exist. This essentially meant that I felt I owed the Super Famicom version the first playthrough, simply to make sure that I could be as unbiased as possible when comparing the two games. The thing is, they were right. In fact, even when I could only reasonably compare this game to the TurboGrafx version of Ys I & II, something just felt inherently wrong with this game.

Despite being called Ys IV, this game actually takes place between Ys II and Wanderers from Ys. Two years after his adventures in Esteria and the legendary continent of Ys, Adol Christin is reminiscing about his old adventures while looking at the ocean. Suddenly, a bottle washes ashore, containing a message in a language Adol didn’t recognize. He took the letter to Luta Gemma, who determined that it was written in the Celcetan language and translated it: “Celceta is in dire need… please, if a great hero lives among you, send him to aid us…”. Adol’s natural sense of heroism implored him to do what he could to help, so he immediately prepared to journey to Celceta. He leaves Esteria through Minea Port, but is joined by Dr. Flair – the doctor who cured Lilia of her mysterious yet deadly illness with medicine created from the Celcetan flower. He decides to join Adol to further study the flower in its natural habitat. The two arrive in Promalock, a port town near Celceta. There he first encounters some soldiers representing the Romun Empire – a kingdom with aspirations for world domination – who have stationed themselves across Celceta to protect the villagers from the demons that have sprung up. They quickly imprison Adol, having been ordered to lock up anyone suspicious. When locked in his cell, Adol meets Duren, a roguish “information vendor” who helps him make his escape. Fortunately, the Romun Captain meets with Dr. Flair who convinces him that Adol is nothing more than a harmless adventurer. The unnamed captain frees Adol (and Duren), offering him items from their armory as compensation, but warns Adol not to interfere in the Romun Empire’s affairs. Along the way, Adol learns of the legend of Lefance, the hero of Celceta, by stumbling upon the ruins of a temple built in his honor. He also meets various allies: Karna, a warrior from the Wind Village of Komodo searching for people who have gone missing from her village and Leeza, the caretaker of the mysterious Eldeel, the last of the angelic “winged ones”. Likewise, both Dogi and Lilia return to offer what assistance they can. However, in the background, three mysterious figures – the brutish Gadis, the steamy sorceress Bami and the small but sinister Gruda – appear to be working alongside the Romun Empire to unknown ends.

I’ve heard people compare the base gameplay of Mask of the Sun to some of the early computer versions of the first two games in the franchise, with walking controls that were significantly more clunky than the later console versions. The game also only allows players to move in the four cardinal directions. Likewise, the aiming required to properly attack enemies is significantly more sensitive – you need to line up exactly when attacking enemies or you’ll either miss or take damage yourself. Truth be told, I’ve tinkered with a few of the early PC versions of Ys and frankly, a keyboard generally allows for more precise control in this style of game when compared to the D-Pad, likely the reason why earlier console releases tended to fudge the minutiae of the targeting. Unfortunately, this in turn leads to a case of the worst of both worlds. Given the lack of quality control in the previous Ys game on the SNES, it’s not really much of a surprise. Regardless, having to essentially fight with the game’s controls to progress puts a damper on the game’s fun factor. An odd change that I found annoying is that after dying, instead of simply respawning you with your latest save, the game sends you back to the title screen. Seems kind of like an odd decision for a game that lets you save at any point – it just adds tedium to continuing.

It doesn’t help that for whatever reason, they decided to add poison effects to this game. I’m not entirely sure who was behind this addition, but it definitely ended up being a thorn in my side. To make matters even worse, Adol’s ability to heal while stationary outside of dungeons has been severely hampered compared to previous iterations. To be honest, I was well into the game before I even realized he still had this ability. The amount of time Adol needs to stand still to start recovering health is downright ridiculous. Even Wanderers from Ys handled it better than Mask of the Sun did! In the end, all of these small issues I had with the game ended up consolidating in a game I don’t think I’d ever want to replay. Honestly, while I was playing through the game, I essentially had to cheat in order to make progress: if you level up to a certain extent in each area, weaker enemies do minimal damage, no matter how poor your aim. I’m not sure if this was an intentional exploit designed into the game itself, but it still felt like cheating to some extent. I don’t particularly hate breaking a game’s rules, but it feels a little different when it’s the only way to make any progress.

The item and inventory system are essentially functionally the same in this game. This time, however, the “Equip” menu only allows you to equip Adol’s sword, shield and armor – no extra items, rings or magic this time around. Of course, in this game, some of the higher level swords contain special magics of their own. For example, the Flame Wind Sword acts like the Fire Magic from previous games, the Thunder Sword fires off two balls of lightning and the Hero’s Sword allows Adol to heal himself. Of course, all of these abilities come at the cost of MP. The Wing from the original Ys returns as an inexhaustible standard item, though for some reason, it now has the functionality of the Return Magic from Ys II – lacking the MP cost. The items also work like they do in previous games: Adol can only equip one at a time and uses it by hitting a specific button. Overall, this is somewhat simpler than previous games, due to the lack of additional items in the equipment menu – however, due to the fact that there is a total of 8 sets of swords, shields and armor and certain swords offer special abilities, it seems to even out in the end.

The graphics in this game are average for a SNES game: nothing impressive, but at times they represent the capabilities of the system fairly well. There are a few segments in the game that even utilize Mode 7, to my dismay. It’s kind of a mixed bag to compare the two games in this field – due to the Super Famicom being more powerful than the PC Engine, there are some things it does better than the other version. For example, the various character sprites have more detail and better coloring in Mask compared to Dawn. Likewise, the SNES can display a wider color palette than the TG-16, and there are some areas where this is clearly visible. Of course, the fact that Dawn of Ys used CD media gave it some advantages Mask of the Sun simply could not match, but there are some other odd stylistic choices that Tonkin House made when developing their version of Ys IV. For example, while most Ys games up to this point would use a single, static but detailed image to represent specific shops and homes in game, MotS elects instead to maintain the overhead view for the entire game. This decision diminishes the impact of a lot of scenes, given the limited range of expression allowed by the overworld sprites.

Likewise, many in-game areas have dull designs that don’t really utilize the SNES’s graphical capabilities very well: most dungeons are dominated by at least one shade of brown or gray – kind of a let-down given the diverse terrains Adol normally explores. Even the game’s standard border is dominated by a particularly dull shade of gray. I believe their intent was to draw greater attention to the gold trim, but it’s particularly sparse. There was one thing that sort of bothered me about the game in general, but it’s not entirely unique to Mask of the Sun. The way the game handles dialogue is somewhat awkward: during conversations in the game, new dialogue boxes will generally spawn on top of existing ones. It’s another choice that just seems a bit ugly. To make matters worse, this is another game that decides to grant Adol the full power of speech, which definitely negatively affects his character this time around – even more so than Wanderers from Ys did. Maybe this is just my opinion, but at this point particularly, Adol worked better as a silent protagonist.

I’ve got mixed feelings on the sound design as well. Falcom’s soundtrack for Ys IV contains many of my favorite songs in the entire series. Unfortunately, Mask of the Sun uses a relatively small number of these tracks – and consequently, quite a few of my favorite songs don’t appear in this version. However, they do manage to not only use one original track that wasn’t utilized in any other version, a song from a previous game that also didn’t appear anywhere else, and even managed to make an entirely original opening theme, as well as a few other original tracks. Likewise, the instrumentation is a little on the weak side compared to other arrangements of what appears in the game. Now, it’s not fair to compare the SNES’s sound chip to Redbook-quality CD audio, but many of the tracks have also been reproduced on weaker sound chips – hell, Falcom provided a version of the soundtrack that utilized the PC-88’s hardware – to a far better effect. This isn’t to say that Mask of the Sun does a bad job on its soundtrack, I actually enjoyed many of the game’s arrangements while playing. It’s just been outclassed by essentially every other iteration of the Ys IV soundtrack.

Of all the Ys games I’ve played so far, I think I’d have to consider Mask of the Sun to one of the worst games in the franchise, if not the worst. While I can understand the hatred for Wanderers from Ys, the game was at least enjoyable to charge through, even if it didn’t particularly represent the rest of the series. Mask of the Sun is essentially the exact opposite in its design: it tries too hard to represent the previous games in the franchise, at the expensive of creating an enjoyable experience. Tonkin House’s previous work on Wanderers from Ys is generally considered one of the worst of the versions, with two of its major flaws being high difficulty and non-responsive controls. With issues like this in their previous release, why would they consider making a “run-and-bump” style Ys game – a style of game that relies entirely on good controls and proper difficulty balance? I’ve heard some Ys fans claim that without its counterpart on the PC Engine overshadowing it, Mask of the Sun would be considered a far better game – but if I were to be honest, I played this version first, so I think I’m justified when I say that’s an exaggeration, if not an outright lie.

The Dawn of Ys

From what I can tell, The Dawn of Ys is considered the best iteration of the original Ys format – the games that utilized the unique “run-and-bump” system found early on in the franchise – by the majority of the fanbase that has played it. I’m inclined to agree with that assessment: if Hudson deviated from Falcom’s original vision more than Tonkin House did, it was clearly to the game’s benefit. Dawn of Ys was the last game in the franchise to make use of the classic gameplay style from the first two games, effectively perfecting it to the point where it could no longer be improved. Likewise, unlike the other follow-ups to the first two games before it, it pays homage to the first two games in the franchise in a way that would not be surpassed for over a decade. The PC Engine’s take on Ys IV is a love letter addressed to Adol’s original adventure in its entirety, in terms of its gameplay mechanics, its storyline and various other elements of the game. Yet, in spite of this, the game itself also manages to carve out its own niche within the franchise, certainly earning its reputation as one of the best games in the entire series.

Ironically, the game’s storyline is similar to its Super Famicom counterpart in many ways. I’ve read conflicting information about whether or not DoY takes place before or after Wanderers from Ys, but like Mask of the Sun, it takes place two years after the first two Ys games. Likewise, there is a throwaway line where Dogi tells Adol about Felghana – his homeland and the setting of Ys III – which would seem to imply that it predated that game as well. Another major difference is that instead of finding a message in a bottle, Adol is told to go to Celceta by Sara, the fortune teller from the first game who, if you’ll remember, only managed to cheat death in the TurboGrafx-CD port. Furthermore, you start off with all of the Cleria items – the top-level items from Ys II, a nice little continuity nod.  You also end up encountering Karna earlier, as she’s being detained by the Romun Empire. The Romun Empire’s captain also has greater characterization: he is now known as Leo and comes across as both power-hungry and arrogant. Of course, as with Mask of the Sun, the Romuns imprison you, but not before displaying their military strength and stealing your high-level equipment for good measure. Once in prison, you meet up with Duren again – this time, he regales you with the legend of Celceta’s fabled Golden City. Soon after, Karna returns the favor by assisting you in your escape – you’re only able to steal a new sword, shield and set of armor on your way out – only to be surrounded by 6 guards. Durna bails on you, and as a result you and Karna are left to face off with the guards. This time around, Gruda, Bami and Gadis are working independently of the Romun Empire – this time, they take a far more active role in fighting Adol. Another major difference would be the location names: aside from Promalock, Dawn of Ys renames all of the shared locations that appear in both games. An odd quirk, considering most other versions use the names from Mask of the Sun, but I’m not going to judge. Finally, Adol’s ability to speak has been reverted to the same levels as Ys: Book I & II, which makes him significantly more charming: somehow our red-haired swordsman is much more charming when he’s essentially mute.

While Mask of the Sun’s gameplay was more unwieldy than the previous games in the series I’d played, Dawn of Ys goes in the exact opposite direction – essentially taking the responsive controls from Ys: Book I & II and further streamlining them. This is the first game that allows Adol to move (and attack!) in 8 directions – this is the key improvement Alfa Systems made over their previous ports. While this ability would be added into future remakes of the first 2 Ys games, this was the first release in the Ys series that allowed players to move in more than just the standard 4 directions. Even without this new ability, Adol effectively glides around the game world effortlessly, a decided contrast from the somewhat clunky controls from the Super Famicom release. Unfortunately, there are times where this can be detrimental: there have been times where the responsiveness of the controls inadvertently got me trapped right near an enemy, effectively wiping out my health in one shot. On the other hand, the addition of diagonal attacks also proved to be the undoing of the “run-and-bump” system: when walking diagonally, it’s essentially impossible to line up with a standard enemy in such a way where Adol takes damage from the enemy. Of course, bosses are generally immune to this sort of trickery – they’re generally large, so it’s far easier for them to reposition themselves in such a way that ramming into them from any angle will result in a quick suicide – but it does put a bit of a damper on the strategy behind fighting standard-sized enemies. Another unique addition to Dawn of Ys was that, at various points in the adventure, Adol can be joined by a partner character, essentially mirroring Adol’s movements like Tails in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and randomly locking onto and attacking various enemies. This is a double-edged sword: while you gain no experience for demons felled by your partner; they can also effectively act as a shield when Adol’s low on health, providing cover when escaping from a dungeon. Something similar showed up in Ys II Chronicles+, though it was simultaneously simpler and more complex: one escort mission allowed you to attack enemies using your charge, who was even capable of leveling up and getting stronger as he defeated more enemies. I’ll never know whether that optional side-quest was inspired by Dawn of Ys, but I’d like to think it was.

The equipment system once again adheres to the standards of previous games, but this time, the line-up is slightly different. Sword, Shield and Armor all return – but Dawn of Ys also adds in the Rings (acting as they do in the original Ys) with Ys II’s Magic. All other items are essentially shunted over to the inventory, allowing Adol to choose one of each at a time. Most of the Rings and Magic return from previous games, but there are also some new power-ups as well. The Ring of Roda replenishes magic points, similarly to how the Heal Ring allows Adol to recover HP in dungeons; the Magic Ring increases the strength of magic attacks; the Seeker Magic uncovers secret entrances – effectively a less useful version of the already situational Light Magic; and my favorite of the new items: Freeze Magic. Freeze Magic allows Adol to fire ice bolts which, while they do less damage than the Fire Magic’s fireballs, will freeze standard enemies in place, leaving them open to other attacks. Likewise, the Inventory contains a lot of old items, though there are some new ones. One interesting item is the Flute of Wind, which allows Adol to send messages via a messenger bird. This is actually crucial to obtaining an optional but powerful set of weaponry. Aside from that, many of the items are mostly contextual – the usual set of recovery items, various keys and items that are otherwise functionally identical to keys. The Mask of Eyes reappears, and actually factors pretty heavily into the storyline: its true name is the Mask of the Sun and along with its sister relic, the Mask of the Moon, holds the very key to the lost civilization of the winged ones.

I’d argue that the graphical style of Dawn of Ys suffers from the exact opposite issues Mask of the Sun had: Hudson Soft clearly understood the PC Engine’s hardware, but despite its add-ons, it was severely limited when compared to its fourth-generation contemporaries. As such, for the most part the graphics are only marginally better than those of Books I & II and those improvements that were made appear to be more due to being allowed to make an original title, rather than matching the artstyle of a game originally designed for weaker hardware. Having said that, Alfa Systems still managed to create a fairly vibrant game world with loads of variety in its settings. Of course, the true star of game would have to be the animated cutscenes, which have been significantly improved since the previous title in the franchise. I’m still impressed with the video quality the TurboGrafx-CD could achieve, especially when compared to the more powerful Sega CD. Dawn of Ys is perhaps the greatest example of what the system was capable, dwarfing even what was considered the PC Engine CD’s quintessential masterpiece, Dracula X: Rondo of Blood.

Once again, the music takes center stage in Dawn of Ys. In addition to using the most songs from Falcom’s original soundtrack of any iteration of Ys IV, the tracks that managed to utilize the Redbook CD audio have been once again lovingly rearranged by the incomparable Ryo Yoneimitsu. Unfortunately, a significant amount of the soundtrack had to be reproduced on the PC Engine’s built-in sound chip, leading to a less impressive sound. Oddly enough, I’d probably say I preferred even these takes on the songs over the arrangements found in the Super Famicom version. In order to enjoy the game as much as possible, I played the game using a fandub – a unique concept in general, but extremely rare with PC Engine CD games – as opposed to the original Japanese voiceovers. Since then, I’ve listened to snippets from the original audio and I was floored with how good both the voice acting itself and the audio quality was in the game. The fandub, on the other hand, also felt like it was handled perfectly: it was mostly the work of enthusiastic amateurs, but they managed to create a product that truly sound like it could’ve been a commercial dub of a video game from the mid-1990s. In the end, that’s exactly what I would’ve hoped from a labor of love like that.

In the end, perhaps “The Dawn of Ys” was an ironic title: it marked the end of the first stage in the Ys franchise’s development. Even though only 4 games in the franchise – Ys I, II and both versions of IV – utilized a unique method of attack that set it apart from other action RPGs, this was considered the franchise’s trademark in its early days. As such, it was perhaps fitting that Dawn would be the last original (i.e. non-remake) title in the franchise to make use of it, but at the same time pushing the design to its logical conclusion. Hudson’s last Ys game was perhaps its best – ultimately paying homage to the first Ys games, while crafting their own new experiences at the same time. My only real criticism was that by pushing the classic “run and bump” mechanic to its limits, Dawn ultimately exposes the limitations of this system – leading Falcom to essentially reinvent the wheel in future titles. In the end, I feel The Dawn of Ys is really the best ending to the initial era of the Ys series anyone could have asked for. Even today, the game is considered among the best games in the entire series, which is a testament to just how well it was crafted.

Comparison

Considering both the glowing praise I’ve heaped upon Dawn of Ys and the scorn I’ve leveled at Mask of the Sun, one might suggest that attempting to compare and contrast the games would be a fool’s errand. Regardless, I still think it’s worth doing, simply because it’s fascinating to detail the differing paths both games took in the development process. Interesting side note: there are even a few things I thought Mask handled better than Dawn anyway, so those could be fun avenues to explore as well.

It would seem like the best place to start would be cataloging the various references both games made to Ys I & II, their direct predecessors both in terms of gameplay mechanics and timeline placement. Both games contain cameos of varying degrees from Dogi, Lilia and Dr. Flair. As I said, Dr. Flair has a much more important role in Mask of the Sun – acting as Adol’s travelling companion during the first leg of his journey – but he appears as a traveler tending to the wounded in Karna’s village in Dawn of Ys. Likewise, both Dogi and Lilia’s roles are far more limited in MotS compared to DoY: they make various small appearances through the Super Famicom release, while Dogi acts as Adol’s constant companion in the PC Engine version and Lilia ends up as a damsel in distress at one point. Interestingly, both games do send Adol back to locations from his previous adventures during his journey in Celceta. Mask of the Sun sends him back to Rance Village from Ys II, which is accompanied by its classic tune “Too Full with Love”. Dawn of Ys, however, manages to outdo it: not only does Adol return to Minea Town in his adventure, but has to once again scale the dreaded Darm Tower – scored by a new arrangement of “TOWER OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH”. The way both of these games handled these throwback segments were suited to their general developmental approach as well. Mask of the Sun took a far less detailed approach, keeping in line with the game’s basic structure, while many familiar faces reemerged in Minea Town, including the pawn shop owner Pim and the aforementioned Sara.

This brings me to my next point: world-building. Mask of the Sun tended towards a more minimalistic approach – each character, no matter how major or minor, has about the same level of detail to one another. I guess this is somewhat fitting, considering that future games in the Ys series (particularly Ys I & II Chronicles) would take a similar approach, only with more detail applied to even the most minor characters, as opposed to reducing the characterization of every character in the game. Dawn of Ys, on the other hand, had different aspects that fleshed out the various denizens of the game world: voice acting wasn’t strictly limited to major characters, a few minor characters also got some lines of dialogue. Some minor characters even had in-game artwork dedicated to them, particularly the shopkeeps. Both elements helped to flesh out the world, but clearly favored certain characters over others. DoY only chose to highlight specific characters while MotS’s approach led to a far less vivid world but treated each character equally, regardless of their importance to the story.

Of course, essentially building a game’s story from an outline can lead to some weird quirks when portraying various characters in the game, especially with two completely different creative teams working entirely independently of one another. Therefore, we’ve got multiple versions of various characters that appeared in both games, with their own unique traits and storylines. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the villainous trio of Gruda, Bami and Gadis are affiliated with the Romun Empire in Mask, but act independently in Dawn. This actually manages to have an effect on the portrayal of the Romun Empire itself: in MotS, they are an outright evil faction, unwitting pawns to the Clan of Darkness’s true machinations; DoY portrays them as a powerful group as well, but one that’s more greedy than megalomaniacal – searching for the fabled Golden City and its treasures rather than focusing on their usual goals of world domination. Likewise, while the Romun Captain in Mask was essentially just a generic bad guy, Dawn’s General Leo had actual characterization behind him – not to mention a name. Duren’s effectively a source of exposition in the Super Famicom version, but his involvement is a lot more personal in the PC Engine version: he was a former member of the Clan of Darkness.  Karna receives roughly equal characterization in both games – she just manages to show up earlier in Dawn of Ys. Leeza, on the other hand, is much more important in Mask of the Sun: she acts as Eldeel’s caretaker, a responsibility passed on from generation to generation in her village. She also wrote the message that brought Adol to Celceta in the first place. She’s still got the relationship with Eldeel in Dawn of Ys, but aside from finding Adol after a severe injury and nursing him back to health, her involvement is much more limited.

As I said before, both games essentially shared the same basic storyline, but the way they handled discussing various aspects of their stories differed greatly. For example, Dawn of Ys essentially has Adol commune with the spirits of Lefance’s disciples: fleshing out various aspects of Celcetan history, including the role of the “winged ones” in building the Golden City as well as the role they played in building the ancient human society, the Clan of Darkness’s war with winged ones and their motivations, as well as some information about the role Adol’s adventures in Esteria and Ys played in his current situation. Even Dark Fact’s true identity was essentially stated in DoY – his original name was Siegue Fact. The Clan of Darkness even attempt to resurrect Dark Fact by using his long-removed relative Keith’s body as a vessel. Feena and Leah resurface when Adol visits Darm Tower, which heavily hints that they too were members of Eldeel’s race. Mask of the Sun essentially implies a lot about the history of Celceta, but doesn’t really state outright nearly as much information as its counterpart.

I also mentioned earlier that the gameplay between both games, while using the same core concept, varied significantly in terms of execution. It may seem like gloating to bring this up again, but in the end, I speculate that both games when taken together were what caused Falcom to depart from their traditional mechanics in future iterations of the series. Mask of the Sun favored a more classic approach to the gameplay, essentially emulating the gameplay schema of the original PC versions of the first two Ys games. While this reliance on more precise controls didn’t quite lend itself well to the twitchier style of gameplay expected of console games, it did manage to make the game more difficult. Conversely, Dawn of Ys took the simplified version of these mechanics and expanded on them, essentially making them even more user-friendly with the addition of diagonal movement. Unfortunately, in turn this broke the balancing of the entire concept: the ability to walk diagonally makes it essentially impossible to not run into an enemy off-center which, in turn, essentially makes Adol invincible throughout most of the game. This would essentially leave Falcom in an awkward position for future titles if they decided to retain this mechanic: either essentially crippling players with an archaic concept while retaining a sense of difficulty or throwing any sense of balance out the window while modernizing the concept. Perhaps playing both versions of Ys IV essentially makes the shift to new gameplay styles feel like less of a betrayal of their trademark concept and more like a pragmatic shift in order to keep the series moving.

One final contrast I feel is a bit of a necessity to explore, though I guess it relies significantly more on spoilers than anything else I’ve mentioned so far. Then again, as this article is a retrospective on a series that’s been around for 30 years now, spoilers had to be expected. Each game approached its climax in very different ways, leading to substantially different final bosses. Mask of the Sun sets Eldeel as the game’s final boss – a choice that is definitely a significant improvement over how they used him in Dawn of Ys. In Dawn of Ys, Eldeel was essentially the pawn of the Clan of Darkness and gets unceremoniously stabbed to death by Gruda. Kind of weird seeing a god-like being get taken out so easily. Dawn of Ys, on the other hand elects to use an original character: Arem, the legendary leader of the Clan of Darkness during their war with the Golden City. Again, this sort of elevates the Clan of Darkness significantly when compared to Mask, where they’re essentially staged in such a way where they’re getting ready to betray Eldeel and steal his powers but never actually manage to pull off their schemes, which just ends up making them look stupid. In both games, the Clan of Darkness are the ones who persuade Eldeel to turn on the people of Celceta, but it is interesting to see how both games took this story prompt in completely different directions.

Personally, I always found it amusing that Falcom would consider Mask of the Sun to be the “canonical” take on Ys IV. I mean, it’s understandable – Tonkin House more closely followed Falcom’s outline than Hudson Soft did, so it’s only fair that their version would earn the title of the “true” Ys IV – but at the same time, it’s a little baffling. Not exactly from a quality standpoint, that’s irrelevant. Rather, a majority of the merchandising surrounding Ys IV in general appeared to favor Dawn of Ys over its Super Famicom counterpart. The “Perfect Collection” albums used the PC Engine’s selection of songs as its basis, but this may have been due to the fact that Ryo Yoneimitsu handled them as usual. Of course, that didn’t explain the fact that the soundtracks that showcased Falcom’s own original PC-88 compositions were also named for DoY. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of this whole affair is the fact that Falcom themselves produced several videos focusing on Dawn, not to mention the fact that their pitch trailer for an anime based on the fourth game was named “The Dawn of Ys” and utilized designs that clearly resembled that version more than those from Mask of the Sun. In the end, the arguments are irrelevant in general, simply because Falcom ended up releasing their own version of Ys IV several years later: Foliage Ocean in Celceta, or “Memories of Celceta” as it’s known in the West.

Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand

While Ys IV would mark the end of the classic Ys formula, Falcom had one last game in the series planned for the fourth generation of video game consoles. Whether Falcom themselves knew that they had reached the logical conclusion of the original “run-and-bump” system present in the previous games or simply believed that the franchise needed to be refreshed, Ys V would take things in an entirely new direction. Of course, it didn’t exactly work out for the best: the game shares a Black Sheep status with Wanderers from Ys. The game was so bad, I even managed to write an entire article on what I feel the best course of action would be if the game were ever remade – and believe me, it desperately needs a remake. Yet, despite all its problems, Ys V would have a profound impact on future entries in the series, albeit not an entirely positive one.

Released at the tail end of 1995, Ys V: Ushinawareta Suna no Miyako Kefin – generally translated as “Kefin, Lost City of Sand” – was the first game in the series developed exclusively for consoles by Falcom themselves. This was may very well have been Falcom’s first attempt at developing directly for the Super Famicom, Tonkin House handled the previous Ys games and Koei would handle the ports of the first two Brandish games on the platform. This simple fact entirely foreshadows the game’s quality. To make matters worse, I’ve heard speculation that Kefin had a particularly short development cycle, leading to the excision of various content, including an appearance from Adol’s constant travel companion Dogi, whose absence was particularly worrying. Apparently, many fans complained that the game was too easy, so Falcom would release “Ys V Expert” the following year: in addition to raising the game’s difficulty level, Expert also included various bug fixes, a hidden dungeon and a brand-new Time Attack mode – essentially a Boss Rush, the first (but not the last) in the series. Surprisingly, the game took a long time to receive a fan translation, due to various technical difficulties found while editing the game itself. Aeon Genesis, the same team that handled the translation for Mask of the Sun, managed to release a fully playable translation in 2013. To put that in perspective, the English fandub project for The Dawn of Ys was completed the previous year. Currently, the fan translation is the only way to play the game in English in any form, which is very telling.

Ys V lives up to its name, in the sense that it takes place after both Ys III and IV. This time around, our hero Adol lands in the Xandria region in the continent of Afroca – don’t ask me, I didn’t name it. Adol has built quite the reputation, earning the attention of a wealthy merchant named Dorman. Dorman hires Adol for the expressed purpose of finding a special set of crystals that are said to be related to the lost civilization of Kefin, a legendary city in Afroca’s desert said to have disappeared over five hundred years ago. In fact, the desert where Kefin was said to reside has been expanding recently, ruining various towns across the continent and displacing their residents. Dorman believes that the secrets of the people of Kefin, who are said to have discovered the magic of alchemy, should be able to revive the land. On his quest to find the crystals, Adol meets various people who help him on his journey. Niena, a young shopkeeper with a mysterious past; Massea, a wise woman who teaches Adol the ways of alchemy, and the Evil gang, a family of thieves consisting of young Terra acting as a decoy, her older brothers Dios and Nortis as the muscle and their mother Alga who acts as their leader. Throughout his journey, Adol also encounters Stoker, a spirit from 500 years in the past, whose motives are unclear. Of course, things may not be as they seem, which seems to be the case with most RPGs. Can Adol discover the secret of Kefin and save Xandria from desolation?

Perhaps the weirdest part of Kefin, Lost City of Sand’s story is the fact that outside of a few character appearances, it doesn’t really relate to anything that came before it or, even more surprisingly, follows it. I’ve heard some Ys fans categorize the fourth, fifth and sixth games in the franchise as a “trilogy”, but the story of Ys V just sort of comes across as a bit of a non-sequitur in a lot of ways. For example, apparently Dogi was originally planned to be involved in the game, with minor character Effy even planned to be his girlfriend at that point in development. Aside from Adol, the only character or story element from this game that even reappears is Terra, who ages 3 years and becomes a pirate in the process. It doesn’t really help that the game’s true villain – the captain of Dorman’s guards: Rizze – doesn’t really do anything of importance after her reveal as the true mastermind. The game’s final boss is a random henchman of hers, who Adol ends up fighting twice in succession. I’ve joked in the past that playing an Ys game strictly for the story entirely misses the point of the series, but even the most threadbare of storylines from previous games were at least coherent.

Just like Wanderers from Ys before it, Ys V departs from the established Ys formula, though not quite to the extent of its predecessor. The game maintains its top-down overhead perspective, as well as various staples of the series such as the ability to regain health by standing still outside of dungeons, as well as the standard inventory system shown in games past. However, Ys V did ditch the classic attack system, going for a more traditional attack button, mimicking games like The Legend of Zelda, Crystalis or Secret of Mana. Adol’s attacks would often vary based on which weapon he has equipped: either a traditional sword slash or a stab, which offer more range sideways and straight forward, respectively. The shield is also given a tangible use in this game, allowing our red-haired adventurer to block oncoming attacks. He also gains the ability to jump, allowing for simple platforming in a slightly isometric style. Jumping would also come into play in several of the game’s boss fights. On the surface, all these changes sound like they would be positive additions to the series – as I said earlier, both iterations of Ys IV showcased the impending limitations of the traditional “run-and-bump” gameplay from previous titles in the series. Unfortunately, they came with a caveat: terrible controls. Ys games are traditionally fast-paced affairs, relying far more on reflexes than thoughtful planning, and Ys V is no exception. Unfortunately, Adol’s new slash and stab attacks both move at a glacial pace, giving players only a short window of opportunity to attack without trading hits. Compared to the original Zelda, which came out nearly a decade prior, the attack speed is abysmal. Likewise, the jumping controls are incredibly clunky, which makes the mercifully few segments that require pixel-perfect platforming a nightmare to complete.

The game’s magic system is also significantly overhauled. While previous games, even Ys III, tied specific effects to specific items, Ys V utilizes a brand-new system it dubs “alchemy”. Throughout the course of his adventure, Adol finds various elemental stones, each representing one of six elements: Fire, Water, Earth, Wind, Light and Dark. Three of these can be combined to form a Fluxstone, which contains the spell itself. These Fluxstones can be attached to Adol’s current weapon, allowing him access to their magic. Unfortunately, once a Fluxstone has been attached to a weapon, it’s no longer usable on any future weapons. Also, due to the addition of various elemental weaknesses and strengths, as well as relying upon specific locations to create Fluxstones in the first place, I just ended up ignoring the magic system throughout the clear majority of the game, only really making use of it when it was first introduced. The fact that Adol levels up both his physical and magical strength separately only served to encourage this decision – for the first time, I was perfectly happy battling through the game with only Adol’s sword. Ys V also dismisses the ability to save anywhere at any time, instead using various locations such as inns to allow for saving. Players can also make quick saves, but these only last for as long as the system is left running. The game’s inventory is also slightly modified: Adol can now hold multiple healing items at one time and pause the game at any point – even during boss battles – to make use of them. I’m not sure if I would consider this a change for the better, because though the game’s poor controls make things difficult, this is a game-breaking feature. Finally, enemies no longer drop money – instead they drop gems, which can be sold, which essentially just adds another step to the process of grinding to buy new items.

Ironically, despite having terrible controls, Kefin, Lost City of Sand is significantly easier than previous Ys games, to the point where it almost makes me wish that translation patch worked on the Expert version instead of the original release. The weirdest part about the game is just how front-loaded the difficulty is. The boss fights I had the most trouble with were among the earliest in the game – particularly the fourth boss, the fire dragon from the Se-Be Ruins.  It only gave me so much trouble because I wasn’t levelled high enough. Of course, boss fights that are nearly impossible without the proper levelling are practically an Ys staple, so I can’t really say that that bothered me quite so much. On the other hand, many of the later bosses were fairly easy by comparison. It’s to the extent where I ended up beating the final boss on my first try. That’s not even the worst part: to this day, I don’t even know how I ended up doing it. I just sort of flailed around and ended up winning. Maybe this is another one of my weird opinions, but the only thing I find more annoying than losing without knowing why is winning for the same reason. I can’t really explain why, it just ticks me off.

The graphics are also an extreme departure from previous games in the series. For starters, the character sprites are significantly less “super deformed” than previous games in the series, going for slightly more realistic proportions. Personally, I’m not a fan – the realism doesn’t really go far enough, so it just ends up coming across as a half-measure in the long run. The game’s setting also suffers in the process. Graphically, everything looks just fine, to the extent where I’d say it has the best-looking in-game graphics of any Ys game up to this point by a wide margin. Some of the magic spells’ special effects are particularly impressive, especially given Falcom’s small team of artists. Unfortunately, in the process, the game loses a lot of its charm: even the traditional border from previous games in the series disappears, expanding the playing field. There is also a distinct lack of even the rudimentary cutscenes seen in the earliest releases in the series. Ys V ends up resembling a knockoff Squaresoft RPG in the worst ways, coming off less as a logical extension of the previous settings in the series and more like a generic fantasy setting, almost bordering on parody with its sheer genericity. I’ve heard various speculation as to why this was the case: some said it was an attempt at attracting a broader audience; others think this was simply Falcom’s attempt at improving the graphics. Regardless, the graphics have definitely improved since Mask of the Sun and Wanderers from Ys on Nintendo’s 16-bit powerhouse – it just happened to come at the cost of the Ys series’ unique charm.

The sound design fares similarly. Many sound effects present in previous Ys games return, effectively recreated using the Super Famicom’s hardware – but this is the only common audible thread this game shares with its predecessors. The music doesn’t really seem to match with that of the rest of the series. The soundtrack’s tone better resembles your standard SNES-era RPG, both in terms of composition but especially in instrumentation. I’ve heard many people compare it to the songs found in most Squaresoft and Enix RPGs released that generation, and I’m inclined to agree. Once again, the music found in this game isn’t necessarily bad, but I’d have to say Ys V may have among the most forgettable soundtracks in the entire franchise, simply because while deviating from the traditional tone found in the Ys series, it does so by creating a far more generic sound. The fact that this was the first game in the franchise not to receive a fully arranged album doesn’t really help matters.  Only two albums –