No Bad Ideas? – Resident Evil 5

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

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

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

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

Why It Didn’t Work

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

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

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

How To Fix It

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

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

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

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Falcom got it to work, on Vita!

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

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My Mega Man Introspection

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

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

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And that’s how we met.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What could have been.

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

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

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

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

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

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Behold what became of your false idol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Single-Player Modes in Fighting Games

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention: Original Character – Darkstalkers 3 (PS)

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

10. Chaos Tower – Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower

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

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

9. Shadow Lords – Killer Instinct (2013)

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

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

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

8. Fight Lab – Tekken Tag Tournament 2

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

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

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

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

7. Abyss Mode – Blazblue Continuum Shift EXTEND/Chronophantasma

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

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

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

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

6. The Challenge Tower – Mortal Kombat (2011)

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

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

5. Quest Mode – Tobal No. 1

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

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

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

…and people wonder why I’m so bitter.

4. Chronicles of the Sword – Soulcalibur III

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

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

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

3. World Tour Mode – Street Fighter Alpha 3

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

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

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

2. Tekken Force Mode – Tekken 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective: Street Fighter – A New Fight Is On!

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

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

Prelude: The Road to Street Fighter IV

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

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

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…use your imagination on this one.

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

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

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

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More like 3rD Strike, am I right?

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter IV

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

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

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Not that impressive, but it’s a start.

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

 

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

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He looks like a gender-swapped Dural.

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

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

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

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Burning Knuck–oops, wrong game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I love these little vignettes before rival battles.

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

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

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

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Probably my favorite Easter Egg in Street Fighter IV.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Street Fighter IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I miss Hakan.

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

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

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Never gets old.

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

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OH! MY CAR

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

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Hey look, it’s Hugo!

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

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

 

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

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I always thought this bonus stage was overrated.

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

Interlude: Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition

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

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

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Finally, an Evil Ryu design worth caring about!

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

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

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

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Can’t forget the obligatory starburst.

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

Street Fighter X Tekken

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

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

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

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The sheer contempt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love that charge mechanic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love the team intros, by the way.

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

 

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

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I really love the interaction between teammates in Arcade Mode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlude: Ultra Street Fighter IV

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

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

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

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Hail, hail, the gang’s all here!

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

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

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

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

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

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Double your Ultra, double the fun!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter V

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

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

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

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

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

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Hadouken, begin again.

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

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SFV has some interesting takes on classic designs.

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

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

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Seriously, I love these guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adorable.

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

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

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

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

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Top 10 Anime Fights.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who could they be?

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

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

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

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

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They did churn out some beautiful cutscenes though.

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

 

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

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

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Who’s that Street Fighter?

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue: Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition

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

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

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

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

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Can’t beat the classics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This was surprisingly refreshing.

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

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

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What a difference 2½ years makes, right?

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

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

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Beating palette swaps for fun and profit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wishlist Named GOG 2: Electric GOGaloo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonic Heroes – Sega

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

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

Last Bronx – Sega

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

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

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

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

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

The King of Fighters ’99: Evolution – SNK

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

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

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

Breath of Fire IV – Capcom

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

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

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

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

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

G-Darius – Square Enix (Taito)

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

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

Taito Legends 1 & 2 – Square Enix (Taito)

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

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

Battle Arena Toshinden 1 & 2 – Tamsoft/Playmates Interactive

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

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

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

Brain Dead 13 – ReadySoft (Digital Leisure)

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

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

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

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.

Any Port in a Storm: A PC Gaming Field Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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Duke Phillips: the first modern games journalist.

7.0 – Console Parity (or Is It Parody?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplement: 7.5 – Pick Your Poison

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

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

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

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

8.0 – The Bare Minimum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supplement: Late Ports, Buggy Ports and Both

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I forget: is quality job one or job none?

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

9.0 – The Gold Standard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thesis: The GOG Equation

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfect 10 – An Abstract Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

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

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

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Gotta love that sick intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

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

Street Fighter Alpha 2

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

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

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

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

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such a weird port.

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

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

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the old Sagat.

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha 3

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

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

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

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

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I always loved these backstory screens.

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

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

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

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

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

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GUARD BREAK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheeky.

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

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

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

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

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

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A true masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remaking History Repeats Itself

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

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

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

MegaMan 7

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What?

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

Why?

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

How?

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

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

Shantae

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What?

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

Why?

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

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

How?

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

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

Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II

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What?

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

Why?

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

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

How?

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

Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

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What?

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

Why?

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

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

How?

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

Bloody Roar

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What?

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

Why?

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

How?

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

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

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

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.