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

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

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

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

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

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Gotta love that sick intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

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

Street Fighter Alpha 2

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

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

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

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

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such a weird port.

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

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

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the old Sagat.

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha 3

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

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

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

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

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I always loved these backstory screens.

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

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

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

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

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

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GUARD BREAK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheeky.

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

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

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

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

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

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A true masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Axioms and Idioms: Best but Not Least

Well, it certainly has been awhile since I’ve written in this series. The funny thing about this article is that the concept behind it was originally completely different from what I’ll be writing about today: in fact, the original concept was going to be the third article in this series, but eventually, I just ended up discussing the bulk of the content in other articles. There was still some facet of the earlier iteration that I hadn’t explored, so I decided to change my approach to this whole concept and workshopped it into an entirely new direction. Unfortunately, my brain waits for no idea – I was originally going to write this up back in November but came up with an entirely new topic instead – so it just ended up sitting in my drafts folder, as I was working on other projects up until now. I just hope it was worth the wait.

It’s still difficult to articulate my thought process here, but I’ll try to summarize.  Put simply, this article’s topic is about how my favorite games in a particular series generally aren’t the ones I would consider the best. I think the most prominent example I have of this is the comparison between the second and third MegaMan games. For years, I’ve had difficulty explaining my exact feelings on the subject: the most accurate take I’d been able to articulate is that “while MM2 was a better NES game, MM3 was a better ‘MegaMan’ game”. A bold, ham-fisted statement, yes, but still the best I could do until recently. These days, I’ve got a much better handle on my thought process – my favorite game in a series and the “best” game are two distinct concepts that have been intertwined for far too long, so it’s just better to handle both of these indicators separately.

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but as far back as I can remember, I’ve always held preferences that aren’t particularly mainstream. When asked if I wanted Coke or Pepsi, I asked for Sprite – or more accurately, Lemon-Lime Slice. When it came to pizza toppings, I generally shied away from the standards of cheese, pepperoni and sausage. I’m not sure if it stemmed from a need to be different, rebel against the status quo or what have you, but I’d always pick things I enjoyed – even if it wasn’t on the menu. The thing is, this wasn’t just limited to food choices: I felt the same way about media. If there was ever anything resembling a consensus about the best entry in any fictional series I enjoy, chances are I’ll end up disagreeing. I never liked the seventh Friday the 13th film; my take on The Simpsons’ “dark age” is totally out-of-whack with the general consensus and I think Sonic Lost World may have been the best 3D Sonic since the first Sonic Adventure. At the same time, I’ve always acknowledged any widespread agreement on any such topic, albeit with varying levels of contempt. If I’m going to be honest, agreeing with it has always been something of an uncomfortable realization – even when default opinions shift with time – to this day, I feel strange whenever my personal favorite ends up being “the best”.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this distinction is by defining both terms I’ve been using so far. Let’s start with the simpler of the two: “favorite”. It’s the pinnacle of subjectivity: my personal choice for what I like the most. Given the fact that what I personally consider best can vary based on anything from my mood to seemingly random criteria at any moment – if you could see how many drafts any top ten list I’ve written has gone through, your head would spin – in my case, the concept’s far more nebulous than subjective most of the time. As such, “favorite” lives and dies by personal preference. It’s strictly a personal opinion, one that varies from person to person, one that shouldn’t need to be defended or even explained (but this world is far from perfect). In the end, it’s useless with regards to objectivity – but that’s not the point.

Conversely, the concept of being the “best game” is much harder to define. It’s safe to say that it’s a much more objective concept than being a mere favorite, but that’s a gross oversimplification. In my eyes, the title of best game doesn’t depend on things like personal preference or any sort of quality that can be concretely proven. Instead, it relies on a general consensus – and one that is outright agreed upon by those familiar with the series at large. Going beyond that, this opinion must be stated out loud, repeatedly to the extent that it essentially becomes a “meme” – of course, I’m referring to the original definition (a cultural item transmitted repeated, similar to the biological transmission of one’s genetic code) as opposed to the more commonly-known one (running jokes on the internet). For all I know, there could be a widespread silent minority that considered the second Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy VIII or even (God forbid) MegaMan X6 to be the most beloved games in their respective series, but the deafening silence surrounding such opinions disqualifies them from being considered the “best game” of their franchises.

Of course, I personally disagree with this concept, but this is my gut reaction when describing a “best game”. However, this isn’t the only way to characterize this idea. In fact, there is a much more simplistic way to look at things that doesn’t revolve around the mob mentality of my original definition, but in most cases would lead to the same results, if not choices that are much more representative of each intellectual property in question. At this point in time, the most accurate definition I have for describing the “best game” in a series would the one that you would recommend to a complete newcomer that would give them the best representation of the series as a whole. But more specifically, they serve as the best example of what you – or I or anyone, for that matter – like about the games in question regarding their core concepts. Once again, this isn’t a perfect answer to the question at hand, but it’s the best that I’ve been able to come up with when properly defining the concept at large. At this point, that’s good enough for me.

Of course, the best way to define this entire concept is by, as usual, going through various examples from my own questions. When it comes to the Ys series, the fanbase generally recognizes three distinct “flavors” – Classic (the games that use the bump mechanic, along with black sheep Wanderers from Ys); the “3D” games (utilizing the hack-and-slash Napishtim engine with pre-rendered sprites on fully 3D backgrounds) and “modern” (which utilize a party system – switching between up to 3 characters on the fly – and incorporate 3D models into the game’s themselves). While there’s a recurring joke about “every Ys game being the best game of the series”, the most vocal segments of the fanbase swear by those Napishtim engine games, specifically the second game: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of the third game. Personally? I prefer Ys Origin, a far-flung prequel to the first two games and the last game to make use of the engine. That being said, due to the sheer amount of references to the first two games in Origin, I’d generally recommend Felghana to people interested in finding out about the series. There are other cases that just boil down to preference. For example, while it’s safe to argue that both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are among the best representations for 2D Mario games as a whole, I always find myself gravitating more towards SMB2 (or Super Mario USA, as the Japanese know it). The unique game mechanics just make it that much more enjoyable for me, but it’s probably the worst representation of the Mario series as a whole. This also manages to skew my views on even the most niche titles. Of the Darkstalkers games, I will always prefer playing Night Warriors over its more-lauded sequel, Vampire Savior – even while acknowledging that the latter has some much more interesting game mechanics.

The weird thing about this entire concept is just how much it ends up helping me understand some of my own opinions and biases. Separating my personal favorites from a much more objective ranking of things has been pretty helpful in the long run, keeping me from twisting myself into intellectual knots in order to just why I’d acknowledge other things as being better than my personal favorites. Having struggled with articulating the concept for well over a decade, it’s honestly relaxing to be done with the mental gymnastics I’d often associated with trying to justify why I liked certain games more than ones that were often considered “the best”, but the added benefits of being able to apply this to other opinions I’ve had that are out of the ordinary is a significant bonus. Thanks to this new perspective – that personal preference and widespread consensus can exist separately and simultaneously – I’ve honestly become a bit less defensive about my own opinions. Who knows, maybe the same could be true of anyone who shares this perspective. If this article causes anyone to reconsider these two concepts as being separate rather than identical, then I think it was worth the wait.

Armchair Dev: Darkstalkers 4

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a tendency of coming up with ideas for sequels to some of my favorite video games. I’m pretty sure that some of my previous works have made that pretty clear, but it goes back even further than that. I mentioned in the final part of my Retrospective on the Classic MegaMan series that I’d come up with a few concepts for titles in that series when I was younger. It goes back even further than that, though: when I was barely in grade school, I was already coming up with ideas for new characters in games like Sonic the Hedgehog or Mortal Kombat. These days, terms like “OC” would be thrown around, but my reasoning back then was a lot more innocent: it was just a way to entertain myself.

As such, I’ve always had something of an itch to come back to some of these ideas. Even before the beginning of Retronaissance, I’d written a few random blog posts on the subject of various sequels I’d like to see and how I’d like to see them done. More recently, we’ve got the examples of such series I’ve done like “Retro or Reboot?” and “Sum of Its Parts”, though each of these series would often add their own unique spins to the concept, rather than just being a straight design document. The closest I came to the original concept was my first “Under Reconstruction” article, detailing a potential remake of Ys V. Still, none of these quite sated my almost gnawing need to do a straight write-up for a sequel. So, here we are – with absolutely no experience in the video game industry, I’m nothing more than an “armchair developer”, so I welcome you to Armchair Dev.

In Armchair Dev, I’m effectively setting out to produce my own takes on sequels to games I like in the form of design documents. Don’t expect any sort of consistent length between entries in this series: some games are just more likely to invoke a much broader reaction out of me than others. These documents will be a bit more segmented than other articles, with various headings and subheadings relating to whatever categories I consider necessary when discussing each concept

And what better way to kick off this series than with a game I’ve been craving for roughly two decades now: a fourth entry in the Darkstalkers series. If we discount Capcom’s various fighting game crossovers, Darkstalkers is clearly their second most popular fighting game franchise: a distant second to Street Fighter, but still relevant enough to see references even to this day, in games like Project X Zone and even Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Capcom did attempt to revitalize the series last-gen by way of a compilation two-pack, Darkstalkers Resurrection. The title’s irony was only visible in hindsight. Coupling Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (my personal favorite) with the more popular Vampire Savior (or Darkstalkers 3, as most people call it), Capcom was obviously trying to recreate the magic of such re-releases as Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, trying to feel out the potential audience for a new game in the franchise, but sales were disappointing.

Darkstalkers_Chronicle_The_Chaos_Tower_group

While Capcom has merely said that their plans have been shelved, it’s safe to say that the Darkstalkers are likely dead and the most we’ll see of them are cameos from Morrigan and a handful of others in the occasional crossover title, leaving the vast majority of the game’s lore and universe lost to us even beyond the foreseeable future. I see things differently. With Capcom focusing more on the eSports side of fighting games, it’s clear that they need to be a little less conservative when it comes to experimenting with new forms of monetizing some of their titles. As Street Fighter is their key fighting brand, it would be nearly suicidal to take unnecessary risks and poison the brand’s reputation – after all, it could be argued that games like Street Fighter EX3 and the earlier iterations of Street Fighter III impacted the brand negatively in the long run, leading to its hiatus, which Street Fighter IV reversed with its safer return to form. On that note, however, the monetization of Street Fighter V was healthier even during its dry period than the more traditional Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, which appears at this point to be on death’s door. Therein lies the rub: Darkstalkers has a dedicated fanbase that hungers so much for a new game that they outright rejected Capcom’s attempt at gauging interest with re-releases. We’re left with a simple juxtaposition: a small, but rabid fanbase that desires a new game and a company that appears to be experimenting with new ways to prop up a genre that saw its heyday in the long-dead arcade scene.

All that being said, I present my take on a fourth Darkstalkers game.

Core Concept

My core idea behind Darkstalkers 4 can be summarized in a phrase: Capcom’s answer to Killer Instinct. While Capcom has a tendency to prefer being innovators in their own rights rather than simply mimicking their competitors, Killer Instinct’s unorthodox success is one that I’d hold up as an example for the future of the fighting game genre. While being one of the greatest success stories on what is either a distant second or even a third-place platform in a console generation isn’t a shining recommendation, it was KI’s sheer longevity that I find so inspiring: a free-to-play fighting game that literally launched with the Xbox One itself managed to survive with new content and balance patches well into 2017. The 2013 reboot of KI managed four years of support, despite the game’s original developer being bought out by Amazon. I can’t help but be impressed.

I’m honestly convinced that some of the decisions made regarding Street Fighter V were inspired by Killer Instinct 2013. The only problem is that they handled things backwards: instead of offering a free “base game” with various levels of transactions for content, SFV went for a base $60 cost while giving players the potential to earn important content with in-game currency. No doubt a bold move, but considering how lackluster SFV was at launch, it definitely led to the game suffering from some major growing pains for the first couple of years. With the advent of Arcade Edition, Capcom’s premier fighter is finally well worth its initial $60 price tag, but considering how many people were turned off when the game launched in 2016 and throughout 2017 – especially when compared to KI’s solid four years of growth – it was an obvious misstep in hindsight.

As such, I suggest that Darkstalkers 4 be Capcom’s first attempt at a true free-to-play console (and ideally, PC) fighting game. Of course, given the fact that Capcom required partnerships to develop their last two fighting games – with Sony providing major funding for SFV and Disney effectively taking control of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite – it would still be imperative for Capcom to both get this game on as many systems as possible and avoid fracturing the userbase by implementing crossplay between systems, just like they did in SFV. With Sony as the lone hold-out in terms of console cross-play, it becomes difficult to determine whether a PS4/PC or XBO/Switch/PC roll-out would be more beneficial.

Price Point

In terms of the game’s price point, I’d suggest outright stealing Killer Instinct’s system. The “base game” of Darkstalkers 4 would be a free downloadable demo, with only 1 rotating playable character available. The free character would be playable for a period between 1-2 months, before a different character is selected. In retrospect, I assume that when Capcom was marketing SFV, the major selling point was less the game itself and more the sheer number of online opponents made available to their customers. This would explain why Capcom gave users the option to unlock future characters for free – an option MvCI lacked. Offering a free, stripped-down version of Darkstalkers 4 would do a much better job of capitalizing on that strategy. Obviously, characters would have to be purchased one way or another – more on that soon – and in cases where a player already owns that month’s free character, they’ll receive another random choice from the remainder of the roster.

On that note, I’d love to see a return of the Fight Money concept from Street Fighter V. Obviously it should be rebranded to something more fitting for the Darkstalkers universe, but for the purposes of this article, I’ll just stick to the existing “Fight Money” term. Of course, I do think it needs a bit of an overhaul, particularly in the way it’s earned. The online component should revert to the way it was during SFV’s beta: at least a small amount of FM should be earned when fighting online, even when losing a match. Even a miniscule amount like 5FM would do a lot to motivate less-skilled players to continue playing online matches and contributing to the health of the community. I’d also take inspiration from Netherrealm Studios’ mobile card fighting games and allow a compromise for earning Fight Money through single-player content: the first completion would pay out a very large amount, but future attempts would pay out at a severely reduced rate.

Likewise, I’d also suggest expanding on the amount of content that can be purchased with fight money. Individual characters can still be purchased with Fight Money, but attempting to do so from the free version alone would be extremely difficult, though not impossible. That or perhaps earning Fight Money would be suspended while playing the free version, with any amount earned deposited as a massive lump sum once a character is purchased.

Purchasing the core content of characters would take on three forms, not unlike what Killer Instinct did in its first two seasons. Individual characters could be purchased for $5 apiece, perhaps with the inclusion of a single extra premium costume. The medium price point – between $20-30 – would nab the entire season of characters in a bare-bones fashion, just the characters and nothing else. Then, there would be a premium package: all of the characters, with an extra premium costume per character, plus some additional features. Maybe a free copy of Darkstalkers Resurrection – or perhaps an even more significant re-release – maybe a large lump sum of in-game currency. Just some bonuses that would cost Capcom very little, while enticing consumers to purchase it due to its perceived value. Obviously, that last package would ideally cost somewhere in the $40-50 range. Future installments of content would offer similar price points: effectively selling season passes without the typical initial $60 investment, an idea I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing attempted in a fighting game.

Gameplay

Of course, the most important part of any video game is easily the gameplay itself. With regards to fighting games, I’d break it down into two equally important core components: mechanics and roster. I’ll be handling both of these in their own respective sections.

Mechanics

Mechanically, I’d draw a lot from the latest game in the series, Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3). While Night Warriors is my personal preference, it’s clear that VSav is a superior game from a purely mechanical standpoint. For example, DS3 went from the standard rounds system used in Capcom fighting games to using downs: effectively a lives system where players had two whole lifebars to burn through and health isn’t replenished after one player is defeated. I’d love to see a return of the Downs system in a fourth Darkstalkers game (or any new Capcom fighting game, for that matter), but I am a bit concerned: after all, Killer Instinct has used the exact same system in all three of its games. Still, considering the novelty of such a system in Japanese fighting games, I’d definitely keep it.

downs

ROUND REBEL LIFE 2, FIGHT!

Likewise, there’s the recoverable damage system, where permanent damage is colored red and white damage can be recovered after a short period of time. Again, a similar system has appeared in Killer Instinct 2013, but considering how similar it is to similar systems found in tag team fighters, I’m sure that mechanic will have an easier time avoiding direct comparisons.

white-health

I love that little flame movement when characters take damage.

Likewise, you’ve got to deal with the various uses of the meter. In Darkstalkers 3, 1 bar of meter can be used to perform Enhanced Special (ES) Moves, Extra Special (EX) Moves and the Dark Force mechanic. I’ll try to cut through the confusing terminology as painlessly as I possibly can, by comparing each of these to relative counterparts found in Street Fighter games. VSav’s EX Moves, despite their name, are effectively like Street Fighter’s Super Moves (Critical Arts, Super Arts, etc.). ES Moves, on the other hand, are equal to the EX Moves found in Street Fighters III, IV and V. Dark Force, on the other hand, is a completely different beast, with no real equivalent until SFV’s V-Trigger: a power-up activated via a button combination that grants each character a unique ability for a brief period of time.

In the past, I considered tying Dark Force to a “Revenge Meter” mechanic, not unlike the Ultra Combos in SF4. Half a bar could perform the traditional power-up, while saving an entire bar would allow for a much more powerful “Dark Force” attack, not unlike those aforementioned Ultra Combos. Since then, I’ve changed my mind – adding new meters would simply drag down the importance of the standard meter. Also, keeping all of the gameplay mechanics tied to a single bar would make a new Darkstalkers game pretty unique compared to other modern Capcom fighters. As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that ES Moves and Dark Force activations should cost 1 bar apiece, while EX Moves would cost anywhere from 2 to 3 bars, depending on the amount of damage they deal.

dark-force

Street Fighter V, eat your heart out.

The game utilizes a more flexible combo system, opting for chain combos over links. It only makes sense, the original Darkstalkers is considered one of the ancestors of what would eventually become the Marvel vs. Capcom series of games, and it’s shown in every iteration of the franchise. Frankly, I’d just keep that as-is – the 1-on-1 nature of the Darkstalkers games allow these mechanics to differentiate themselves from the more chaotic Marvel titles.

There are a few other mechanics present in VSav that feel worth salvaging. First and foremost, is how the series has generally handled projectile collisions. While most fighting games have the two fireballs cancel one another on impact, Darkstalkers goes for a more momentum-based system: whichever projectile has more momentum behind it – usually the more recent of the two projectiles – pushes the other out of its way, at the cost of some of its own force. “Pursuits” are a common technique that allow players to attack downed opponents. As such, downed characters can wake up straight up, forward or backwards – though this isn’t particularly uncommon, especially in modern fighting games. Pushblocks, a hallmark of the defensive options in the Marvel games, were also present in Vampire Savior; as well as Guard Cancelling, which is functionally identical to Street Fighter’s Alpha Counters and more recently, V-Reversals.

Of course, then there are old trappings common in Capcom fighting games of the era that have been ditched in modern games. For example, the entire Darkstalkers series had the option to choose between multiple game speeds, a feature that was discontinued even before Capcom revitalized their stake in the genre with the original Street Fighter IV. As much as I loved this functionality back in the day, I wouldn’t be heartbroken if it didn’t return. The generally accepted rules for VSav in a tournament setting is to use the “Turbo 3” setting, so that seems like the ideal speed to try to match in a new iteration of the series. Likewise, many iterations of Darkstalkers 3 included the option to enable Auto-Block (exactly what it sounds like), another hallmark of Capcom fighters from the mid-90s. Considering the fact that Capcom seems to be attempting to court a more casual audience, I feel like bringing back auto-block would be a good idea when it comes to teaching new players the ropes. Ideally, this could also be accompanied by some form of Simple Mode, like those found in some of the early Marvel games. To make up for these advantages, I’d suggest dampening the player’s health (for Auto-Block) and/or damage (Simple Mode) by anywhere from 5-10%, just to make things even. Capcom tried something similar in Street Fighter x Tekken, but unfortunately, they tied it to the unpopular “Gems” mechanic. I’d simply go for a traditional menu on the character select in the case of a Darkstalkers 4. Also, differentiate players who are and aren’t using these mechanics. Maybe change the tint of characters using either mode, just to serve as a visual cue for players or force these settings to be set beforehand in online matches and allow players the option to filter them out.

In general, I think that many of the elements from previous games in the series like Night Warriors and especially Vampire Savior should be retained, but also streamlined and modernized. One particular oddity in the classic Darkstalkers titles were their tendency toward, shall we say, “unique” inputs for special moves. Nothing exactly on par with some of the most infamous fighting game inputs, but in the early games especially, there was an odd tendency toward “down-to-up half-circles” (that’s the best way I can describe them) and other motions that just felt awkward in practice. I’m not asking for the game to be dumbed down to say, Marvel levels, but keep it within the realm of the Street Fighter games this time around.

Roster

I’ve always argued that a fighting game is only as good as its roster – and Darkstalkers 4 should be no exception. Looking at the launch line-ups for games like Killer Instinct 2013 and Street Fighter V, I’ve decided to go with a more classic number. At launch, I’d expect DS4 to have a total of 10 playable characters: the same number available in the original Darkstalkers from 1994. Not particularly a huge number, but it should allow for a diverse assortment of characters and considering my take on DS4 has been conceived as something of a budget title with lots of support in mind, I’d rather have a smaller and more polished base roster to work with from the beginning.

roster

Still one of my favorite designs for a character select.

The roster breakdown, on the other hand, is something I’ve dreaded coming up with. When it comes to fighting games, my tastes tend to deviate from the norm, even in the most niche of titles. Instead, I’ll merely start with a breakdown of how I feel the roster should be situated: a majority of old characters, with a few new original characters to add new life to this undead franchise. Originally, I’d settled on a “9 old to 1 new” ratio, but I think that “8 old to 2 new” would also be a feasible choice. My preference still lies with the former, however. After all, most of the appeal of the Darkstalkers series comes from the universe itself, and by extension, the existing cast.

With that being said, I do have some picks for who I’d consider viable choices for returning characters, which I’ve ranked in order from what I’d consider most to least likely. Many of the characters in the earlier Darkstalkers games had a tendency towards versatile movesets that diminished each character’s identity. As such, I’ve got suggestions for how to reimagine characters in order to give their playstyles unique and cohesive identities – not unlike how Street Fighter V handled many of the returning characters in its own base roster. That being said, I’ve left some popular choices off my list and I’ll explain my omissions after I’ve gone through the ten characters I’d expect to see in a new Darkstalkers game. I’ve also come up with an idea for a “new” playable character I could see as a viable choice among even the most purist of Darkstalkers fans.

Morrigan Aensland

My first character is clearly the most obvious choice possible. It’s to the point where most people don’t think of Morrigan as a Darkstalkers character, but rather “Darkstalkers is the series where Morrigan came from”. Appearing in more crossover games than I can count – though strangely not every single one –  Morrigan is the de facto mascot of the series and has been for quite some time. It just wouldn’t be a Darkstalkers game without her.

Archetype: Honestly, I’d keep her as-is. Considering the sheer amount of experience people have had with Morrigan in recent releases compared to other characters in the series, she already has a modern iteration to use as an effective template in Darkstalkers 4. Give her the same treatment Street Fighter V gave Ryu – she’s equally as iconic in her respective series. As such, Morrigan makes sense as a character meant to ease newcomers into the Darkstalkers series as a whole: easy to learn, but with plenty of depth when mastered. Her moveset is varied, boasting a projectile, “Shoryuken” anti-air and even a command grab. Bring back Valkyrie Turn as an EX move, alongside Darkness Illusion and Finishing Shower (with new, manageable inputs, of course) and for the love of God, just bring back Lilith as her shadow clone. She showed up in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, for crying out loud!

Demitri Maximoff

Character number two seems a bit like a weird choice: bringing in Darkstalkers’ other resident “shoto-like” character so quickly may feel a bit premature. Fun fact – Demitri was originally the main character of the series. In fact, he was the title character in Japan: the titular “Vampire”. There’s also the fact that he’s one of the most prominent characters in the series – sharing the spotlight with only one other in that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer from what feels like a lifetime ago – yet never appeared in a Marvel game. Still, cameos in Project X Zone and Capcom Fighting Jam have kept Maximoff relevant to at least some extent, so he’s no wild card.

Archetype: There’s really very little I’d change. His stats were already different from Morrigan, effectively making him the stronger Ryu to her faster Ken. Drop his “Negative Stolen” command grab, to further differentiate himself from Morrigan, but give him a new special move to compensate.  Also, definitely include the Midnight Bliss: it’s a divisive element of the character, but it seems to have more fans than detractors. Just include the Midnight Pleasure – the version where he just eats his opponent without turning them into a sexy lady – to please everyone.

Felicia

Perhaps the second most prolific character in the series, Felicia has gotten a bad rap as of late, but still manages to consistently show up in various crossovers. She hasn’t appeared in quite as many as Morrigan, but actually managed to appear in one that the succubus was left out of. As such, it would just feel wrong to leave her out of a new game in her series of origin. Her costume may raise a few issues – some have even speculated that this is why she was left out of the latest Marvel vs. Capcom – so a more eSports-friendly redesign may be in order, but as long as her original outfit is made available as an alternative costume, everything should be fine.

Archetype: Felicia’s movelist varies from game-to-game, so trying to create a complete version of her fighting techniques seems like a good place to start. Many of her techniques over the years have cemented her position as a rushdown “pixie” character, relying on close-range combos as her best avenue for damage. As such, I’d mix-and-match my favorite moves from her various iterations to create a fleshed-out, cohesive character concept. Take the Rolling Buckler from MvC3 – where it had numerous follow-up techniques, as opposed to just the uppercut; bring back the Rolling Scratch (follow-up and all) and Sand Splash from Night Warriors and keep the VSav iterations of Delta Kick, EX Charge and Cat Spike. Felicia’s Hellcat technique should also return but heavily modified: rather than an up-close command grab, I picture it starting from a pounce. The medium iteration would act like a command grab from the pounce with a short hop – best example I can think of is Hakan’s Oil Dive from Super Street Fighter 4 – while the heavy iteration would be a strike, with better range but the potential to be blocked. Keep her standard EX Moves and she should be good to go.

Lord Raptor

Demitri’s co-star in the aforementioned “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” concept trailer, this ghoulish Australian death metal rocking zombie is among the most popular characters in the series, despite his lack of appearances in any Capcom-developed crossovers. Of course, that’s likely just due to the animated nature of the character: when rumors swirled of a Capcom character in MvCI so impressive, “the animators deserve a raise for getting this character into the game”, Lord Raptor (going by the moniker of “Zabel Zarock” in Japan) was one of the most common guesses for the character’s identity. After all, Raptor’s animations are among the most impressive in the series’ history.

Archetype: Another high-speed character, Raptor has traditionally had high attack strength, but ended up with below-average health. As such, I’d probably exaggerate this in a new Darkstalkers game and turn him into a glass cannon-type character: high offense, but low defense. With this in mind, I’d keep Raptor’s moveset similar, though with modified inputs – Raptor’s one of the most prominent examples of those weird inputs I mentioned earlier.

Hsien-Ko

I’d argue that Hsien-Ko (or Lei-Lei, if you’re Japanese) is probably the third most popular Darkstalker character, but that’s mainly based on her appearance record in crossovers. Appearing in games like Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Pocket Fighter and more recently, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Project X Zone, a lot of people clearly have a soft spot for this Jiang Shi. She’s also my first character choice that didn’t appear in the original Darkstalkers, making her debut in Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge.

Archetype: Unfortunately, the love for Hsien-Ko has never really translated to her playability in fighting games. Generally ranked as a low-tier character in most of her appearances (and merely mid-tier at her best), Hsien-Ko is among the slowest characters in the series with low health and defense and decent attack. As such, I’d simply keep her low speed, but boost her attack and defense substantially, effectively making her a heavy-hitter, keeping her utility at both close- and far-range. Keep her motions from VSav, and she should be good to go.

Jon Talbain

In my experience, Jon Talbain (alias Gallon) was among the most highly-requested Darkstalker characters to appear in the recent batch of Marvel games. Considering the fact that Infinite added MegaMan X – by far, the most rabidly requested character for MvC3 – it stands to reason that Capcom would be likely to include the kung-fu werewolf in a new Darkstalkers character.

Archetype: Much like Felicia and Lord Raptor, Talbain is a rushdown-heavy character, relying on a balance of strength and speed. Generally considered a top-tier character in Night Warriors and Vampire Savior, it seems fair to retain the character’s abilities. While Felicia and Lord Raptor would represent specific sub-types of the rushdown archetype, Jon would end up being a more balanced, standard variant, with equal emphasis placed on combos and strong attacks.

Anakaris

My reasoning for including Anakaris is sound but unorthodox. Anakaris appeared in both Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Capcom Fighting Evolution – and was even a high-tier character in the latter – giving him more exposure when compared to the rest of the series’ cast. There’s also the worry of including too many female characters, given Darkstalkers’ reputation as a “waifu fighter”, so adding a little testosterone in the form of a dried-out, yet somehow bulked-out mummy doesn’t hurt.

Archetype: Anakaris has generally filled the role of zoner in most of his appearances, it feels fitting to keep him in this role. Most of his attacks are long-range, meant to keep his opponents away from him, meaning that he fits in with the trapper archetype, meaning that he works best when pinning his opponents out from close-range. He can curse enemies, rendering them helpless but small; inhale enemy projectiles and cough them up ad nauseum (pun intended) and even perform a mid-range grab, wrapping his opponent in bandages and swinging them back and forth before slamming them into the ground. Many versions of Anakaris had some decent rushdown capabilities – he even has a divekick – but I’d downplay those elements to emphasise his ranged capabilities.

B.B. Hood

The fourth and final Darkstalkers character that appeared in Marvel vs. Capcom 2, B.B. Hood (or Bulleta, as she’s known in Japan) made her debut in Vampire Savior and has been a cult-favorite ever since. She’s appeared in SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium on the NeoGeo Pocket Color and more recently, as a boss character in Project X Zone. She even managed to appear in Cannon Spike, a free roaming shoot-‘em-up game featuring a variety of Capcom characters.

Archetype: B.B. Hood’s standard moveset appears to have a little bit of everything: projectile attacks, a powerful strike and even a command grab. It leads to an interesting array of attacks, but little cohesion when it comes to strategy. However, her normals are where an identity can be surmised. Firing uzis and tossing and dropping landmines juxtaposed with her missile-heavy moveset and Dark Force implies that B.B. Hood would be best considered as a zoner, but I’d keep her other attacks for the sake of flavor. Her speed and mobility has always been important, making up for the short range of some of her normal attacks. Focusing on the zoning aspects of B.B. Hood would provide an interesting contrast to Anakaris, who has the longest-ranged normals out of the entire cast, while being among the slowest characters in the game.

Sasquatch

At this point, my choices become a little more esoteric. Sasquatch is probably no more popular than most of Darkstalker’s remaining cast, in terms of the fandom. However, when it comes to the tournament scene, the character’s considered top-tier in both Vampire Savior and Night Warriors to this day, so there is clearly at least some kind of love for the character, even if it’s strictly functional.

Archetype: Of course, the real reason I’m choosing Sasquatch is due to what he represents. The Darkstalkers games never really had any pure grapplers – likely because almost every character had at least one common grab – Sasquatch generally has at least two such moves in his repertoire, making him a prime candidate. Coupling that with the fact that his Big Snow projectile was replaced with a shorter-range (but otherwise functionally identical) Big Breath in Vampire Savior, along with his other moves make him perfect as a close-range fighter. I’d simply take his moveset from VSav and give him back his Big Cyclone from NW, to give him more tools to get close the distance between him and his opponent.

Q-Bee

By this point, the last three characters I’d even consider for the game are about equally likely in my eyes: after all, I’d shoot for a ten-character base roster, with at least one original character, so this is honestly more about covering every character I’d personally consider for an initial slot. Q-Bee is, by no means, a popular character, even in the context of a niche series like Darkstalkers. This isn’t really helped by the fact that she was only playable in Vampire Savior (and technically, Vampire Savior 2, but that doesn’t really count as a new game), though she did made appearances in the Card Fighters games, Namco x Capcom and both Project X Zone games. However, she was considered a top-tier character in VSav, which is why I’d consider her worthy of inclusion.

Archetype: As with B.B. Hood, Q-Bee’s moveset is kind of…all over the place. She’s got two command grabs, an aerial assault and even an attack similar to Chun-Li’s Lightning Legs. Her EX moves are a giant ball of honey that immobilizes her opponent and an attack that allows her to summon her hive to attack. I’m tempted to reimagine Q-Bee as a puppet character, simply due to the legions of soul bees at her disposal, but they’d clearly be support rather than Q-Bee’s main source of damage, and I worry about attempting to add a puppet character to any game with Morrigan in it, considering her use of Astral Vision. Still, I’m confident that the concept can be differentiated enough. Perhaps the P-Bee drones can appear in new special and EX moves added to Q-Bee’s current repertoire.

Rikuo

Rikuo’s been a mainstay of the Darkstalkers series from the very beginning, only sitting out in Vampire Savior 2. On the other hand, his appearances outside the series have been pretty sparse. Still, this curiously attractive fishman (better known as Aulbath in Japan) has been mid-to-high-tier for the entirety of the series. Perhaps that’s a poor justification for including him, but it seems valid to me.

Archetype: Rikuo suffers from the same “jack-of-all-trades” movesets that many Darkstalkers characters have, but in this case, I feel it may be a strength. Make him an all-around character: shotos typically fulfill that archetype, but having a non-shoto variant would add some depth to the roster. Keep his moveset from VSav, but bring back Screw Shot from Night Warriors. Rikuo’s generally been a character that generally uses his projectiles to disable opponents, allowing him to get in close to deal major damage, that seems like a pretty good basis for the character.

Those ten characters are the ones I’d consider the most likely. Admittedly, anyone of them that didn’t make it would be a shoe-in for Season 2, along with Huitzil – I just can’t justify him being in the base roster, no matter how much I love him – and Bishamon – probably my least favorite character in the franchise.

Darkstalkers fans have probably noticed a host of omissions regarding my potential roster. Compared to many fighting games, especially Capcom’s, the Darkstalkers series has a pretty big emphasis on storyline. By the end of Vampire Savior, quite a few characters’ futures can be called into question. Pyron is generally assumed to have been killed and absorbed by Demitri at the end of Night Warriors. Lilith has clearly been absorbed into Morrigan – a fact that would hopefully be represented in a fourth Darkstalkers game, unlike the latest Marvel vs. Capcom games. Thus, Pyron and Lilith are off-the-table, at least for the base roster. However, there are other characters that we can surmise have met with unfortunate fates. Given Jedah’s goal to reconstitute both Makai and Earth’s souls into a single perfect being, it can be safely assumed that he was defeated at the end of Vampire Savior, and may very well have died once again in the process. Granted, the ending in Vampire Savior 2 implied that Jedah can easily revive himself, so maybe he could appear as an unplayable boss in the initial release, while becoming playable in a future season.

Likewise, while most fighting game endings tend to be non-canonical, the Darkstalkers series appears to take a “broad strokes” approach. For example, in Night Warriors, Jon Talbain regains his humanity; Felicia becomes a famous celebrity; Rikuo meets a surviving female of his species and the two settle down and have a child; and Hsien-Ko and Mei-Ling give up their lives to save their mother’s soul, only to be reincarnated as a new pair of twins. All of these story elements end up being canonical in Vampire Savior’s storyline, so it’s safe to assume that many of the endings in Vampire Savior would likely be considered canonical in a fourth Darkstalkers game. After failing to bring his sister back to life, Victor gives up his life to revive her.

Finally, there’s Donovan. In his Night Warriors ending, he ends up succumbing to his tainted blood, effectively becoming a vampire in his own right. Capcom has tried to keep Donovan’s fate ambiguous, but the presence of “Dee”, a hybrid character with Donovan’s head pasted on Demitri’s body, in an arranged version of Vampire Savior (only present in the Japan-exclusive Vampire Darkstalkers Collection on PS2), seems to imply that Donovan’s grisly fate may have come to pass. On the other hand, Donovan himself did appear in the home versions of Darkstalkers 3, with an ending. However, given the similar presence of the deceased Pyron, as well as the fact that his ward Anita hadn’t aged a day, despite VSav taking place several years after NW, makes me think that a terrible fate did end up befalling Donovan after all.

donovan-canon

Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

That’s not to say that I’d leave these characters out of the game entirely – quite a few of them have some pretty big followings – I’d just suggest that Capcom should find a way to bring these characters back while logically following the canon established in previous games. If Capcom does end up bringing back any of these characters, I hope it doesn’t end up happening in a “I didn’t actually die” manner, sort of like how they revived Gouken in Street Fighter IV. Fortunately, Nash’s resurrection in Street Fighter V was handled a lot better, so I have some confidence that Capcom would put some effort into revitalizing these defunct characters.

At the same time, there should definitely be some new blood added to the game, and it needs to take place from the very beginning. Night Warriors made the bosses from the original Darkstalkers playable and added two completely new characters on top of that. Vampire Savior added another four, which came at the expense of three characters from the previous game, though it’s hard to say if hardware limitations were the sole cause of their removal – at the very least it led to the creation of both Vampire Hunter 2 (to bring the old characters into the new engine) and Vampire Savior 2 (which replaced 3 existing characters in the VSav roster, allowing the NW-exclusive characters a chance to combat the new characters that arose in their absence). As such, it’s safe to say that Darkstalkers games generally rely on adding new members to their cast, and regardless of the mixed reception towards many of Capcom’s more recent attempts at creating Street Fighter characters, relying entirely on nostalgia from the beginning feels like a big miscalculation.

I’m not going to bore you with fanfiction-level pitches for original characters or even talk about what iconic characters from myths or horror movies would make good choices for new characters. I just have one suggestion that Capcom should keep in mind: try bringing in an older Anita as a playable character. This isn’t even an entirely new concept, unused data found in the arcade version of Vampire Savior implies that both she and Huitzil (alas, poor Phobos!) may have been planned as playable characters, but were likely left out due to space limitations. Dee’s ending in that Vampire Darkstalkers Collection I mentioned earlier uses a sprite that appears to be modelled after the design found in the arcade version’s data, along with two still shots that seem to have been used for both the versus screen and a victory screen, respectively. All of this artwork matches up perfectly with the character design found in the unused content, which leads me to believe that Anita was pretty far along in development before being scrapped.

anita

Is this the little girl I carried? 

Hopefully, that would mean that there was already a moveset concept far enough along for the character, which Capcom could recycle and use in a Darkstalkers 4. Of course, due to Capcom’s reluctance to comment on Donovan’s fate, it’s also possible that they may avoid using Anita in general. However, both Night Warriors’ and Vampire Savior’s storylines have made allusions to her growth and power: Donovan’s ending in Night Warriors shows her as a grown woman, while Jedah’s ending in Vampire Savior makes reference to an unknown “ruler of humans”, making nothing clear aside from her gender. On the other hand, Street Fighter V itself seems to be pushing its series’ particular storyline forward, filling in the gaps between earlier games in the canon and III, which seemed like a dead-end for the series storyline as recently as the previous game. Perhaps Capcom’s becoming bolder and we’ll finally get some answers to whatever questions we may have about the fate of the popular Dark Hunter and his young ward can finally show off some of her incredible potential. With all of that in mind, Capcom may decide to save Anita for inclusion down the line and go with a completely original idea in the base roster. From a storyline and popularity standpoint, Anita kind of reminds me of Jubei from Blazblue: both characters have been established as extremely powerful in canon, but Capcom and Arc System Works respectively have dragged their feet on making them playable. I just hope that if Anita isn’t in the base roster of a new Darkstalkers game, that she becomes playable sooner rather than later.

Modes

Back in the 90s, all you really needed for a fighting game was an Arcade mode for single-player and a versus mode to allow two players to compete head-to-head. Anything else felt like a bonus. At this point in time, consumers are a lot more discerning. While the most hardcore players of the genre feel like any resources spent on anything that isn’t the versus mode is a waste, mainstream audiences generally prefer a great deal of single-player content. In recent years, Capcom had suffered difficulties when trying to court both audiences, so let’s see if we can find a way to make both groups happy.

First, let’s take a look at the additional modes – that is, anything besides the standard Arcade and Versus modes – present in previous home versions of Darkstalkers games, if only for inspiration. The first game to add any additional modes was the home port of Darkstalkers 3 on the original PlayStation. These new modes include Training (a staple in the genre today), Collection (which allowed players to unlock artwork, music and the arcade mode endings for repeat viewings) and most importantly, Original Character. In what was clearly a predecessor to World Tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, Original Character Mode allowed players to choose any character from the main roster, edit their colors and names and play through multiple run-throughs of Arcade mode in order to power them up, boosting their strength, allowing them to start with more and more full Super Meters and even increasing the number of downs they have available. There wouldn’t be another new mode until Darkstalkers Chronicle: The Chaos Tower on the PlayStation Portable. Fittingly dubbed Tower, players would select three characters and try to tackle a long tower, filled with opponents. Completing certain tasks like finishing an opponent with an EX move would change the path taken in the Tower itself, leading to quicker routes. Enemies become more and more dangerous the higher a player reaches, and the mode only allowed for interrupt saving, and that’s only due to the mode’s length.

tower

In my defense, it’s really hard to summarize an entire game mode into a single image.

Let’s start with the obvious modes: the multiplayer. The usual should suffice, both local and online versus modes, allowing for fights with human opponents, the latter of which likely using a new iteration of Capcom’s proprietary “Kagemusha” netcode. Throw in a “VS CPU” mode and that should keep most hardcore players happy. Personally, I’d want to see a 2-on-2 tag mode as an option – sort of like the Variable Battle in Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX – simply because it would be interesting to see Capcom add a tag option in a game that didn’t rely upon it as a standard mechanic (the most recent game I can think of that tried this was the reboot of Mortal Kombat). That seems a bit outside of the scope of this kind of game though.

Then there’s the single-player modes. As Street Fighter V has taught us, Arcade Mode is a must. In Darkstalkers 4’s case, I’d suggest using Arcade Mode as the basic story mode at launch, simply due to a small roster that could have the potential for expansion. A cinematic Story Mode wouldn’t be available at launch, but rather once the game’s roster is large enough to bring such a mode to its full potential. Ideally, the Arcade Mode would work similarly to Vampire Savior’s: with rival battles, minor story segments and different boss fights per character. Of course, given my early proposed roster doesn’t have any obvious boss characters, but ideally the Arcade Mode would be updated as new characters are added to the game, with expansions made to existing characters’ storylines.

As for extra modes, I’d love to see Darkstalkers Chronicle’s Tower Mode return in a new Darkstalkers game. It seems like a much more interesting concept than SFV’s Survival Mode, leading to a greater deal of replay. Considering the addition of Fight Money, bringing in the Weekly Missions from Street Fighter V would also be a good idea. Training Mode and Trials round out the game’s single-player offerings, with the potential for more content down the line.

Aesthetics

While most people would argue that a game should only be judged on its gameplay, it’s just not realistic in practice. Before one can play a game, they must have their senses enticed by the sights and sounds of the game in question. If that weren’t the case, then The King of Fighters XIV wouldn’t have been derided for its PS2-quality visuals and this industry wouldn’t be obsessed with pushing graphical quality to its limitations, despite the diminishing returns. The Darkstalkers games are clearly among the most stylish out of all of Capcom’s fighting games, to the extent where I’d argue they might even be the most stylish games Capcom has ever produced in its entire history. As such, a true successor to the series would have to live up to those expectations.

Tone

First and foremost, there is the game’s tone. Despite sharing a Teen rating in North America with other Capcom fighters like Street Fighter and Rival Schools, the games themselves contained much more adult content compared to their contemporaries. Characters would be dismembered in standard attacks – Jedah used to decapitate himself in his Guard Counter – causing the game to be a much gorier affair than other Capcom games at the time outside of Resident Evil. Likewise, most of the female cast members were far more sexualized compared to other fighting games at the time. Morrigan in particular could be counted upon to deliver double entendres: she was a succubus after all, a literal sex demon.

gore

One second, you’re carving out your enemies’ entrails…

Obviously the 90s were a long time ago, and graphical resolutions have skyrocketed since then. Likewise, the all-seeing eye of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board has focused a lot more on Japanese content since those days. As such, if Capcom attempted to do some of the stuff they attempted back in 1994, it would probably net them a Mature rating… and I’m actually completely fine with that.

silly-win-pose

…the next, a robot’s a one-man (bot?) band.

Darkstalkers is already a niche franchise and I’ve seen a loud minority of the Street Fighter fanbase – particularly the ones who wanted a Mortal Kombat crossover – crying out for Capcom to try experimenting with an M-rated fighting game. I wouldn’t want Darkstalkers to be toned down from its mature, yet wacky tone in the original ’90s releases and considering the fact that these days, the games’ content would be placed under greater scrutiny, I say Capcom should just throw caution to the wind and deliver a worthy successor. That’s not to say that I want Capcom to go out of their way to shoot for a Mature rating: I just want the same style of content present in the earlier titles to be present in a new one, with no worries over censoring content to hit a specific rating. That being said, avoiding the dreaded Cero Z rating – effectively the Japanese counterpart to the rarely-seen “Adults Only” (AO) ESRB rating – is crucial, but given the fact that Capcom’s a Japanese company to begin with and most of the content that could potentially earn said rating would be perfectly hunky-dory in America, aiming for a Mature rating seems like a safe bet for retaining the series’ tone in a new entry.

Artstyle

In an ideal world, a fourth Darkstalkers game would consist of high-definition, hand-drawn 2D graphics, similar to Skullgirls, but on a much grander scale. Alas, the days where we could expect companies to undertake a project in that style are long gone, so clearly, a new Darkstalkers game – and in fact, any other future Capcom fighting games – will likely use a 2.5D style: 3D models facing off on a two-dimensional plane. While sprites and hand-drawn 2D animation will always have a certain flair, 3D models are generally easier to market to the general public, cheaper to design in the long run and best of all, allow for additional flourishes, like alternative costumes that would generally require completely redrawing characters in traditional 2D games.

 

So, with a heavy heart, I acknowledge that 3D models are clearly the more realistic choice for any new game in the series. However, special care must be paid to the animations. Fortunately, we do have at least some small pieces of evidence that Capcom may be up to snuff in this regard. On a system as powerful as the Wii – itself, on par with consoles from the previous generation – Capcom was able to achieve Morrigan using Lilith as a shadow double in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, a 2-on-2 tag-team fighting game. Likewise, Morrigan (sans Lilith, unfortunately), Felicia and Hsien-Ko were able to be recreated relatively accurate in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which had the twin disadvantages of being a 3-on-3 fighter and being developed for two systems with severely narrow bottlenecks when it came to RAM.

ex-move

Of course, even characters like Felicia are gonna need at least five models.

Of course, the most relevant indication I have is also the most recent. In Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Jedah Dohma was added with extreme detail and work put into his animations – a gilded rose in what was otherwise a pile of manure. Given the current swarm of rumors around MvCI, specifically that the entire game’s budget was on par with a single season of DLC for Street Fighter V, that would seem to imply that achieving a 10-character roster with the same level of animation quality from scratch – which isn’t even entirely necessary, given the existing assets for three of the characters I’ve listed – isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility.

pyron-cfe-special2

Even by today’s standards, this is amazing.

With that in mind, a fourth Darkstalkers game – regardless of budget – should definitely go for a more abstract look compared to its creator’s contemporaries. Street Fighter V tried to bridge the gap between realistic and bizarre visuals, with mixed success. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, on the other hand, went for an even more realistic look, a fitting choice given the game’s emphasis on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the visuals suffered greatly as a result. Darkstalkers 4 should go in the exact opposite direction, favoring a more abstract style.

bSsX1zC

Try to recreate those gorgeous backgrounds too.

We’ve seen this work in lower budget fighting games – despite it’s low graphical fidelity, ARIKA’s Fighting EX Layer is generally considered a joy to look at, due to its emphasis on aesthetics over impressive graphics. I’d argue the same for The King of Fighters XIV, but I’m probably in the minority, considering the rough state of the visuals when the game was first revealed. Perhaps the best example would have to be Microsoft’s Killer Instinct revival, a game that didn’t deliver on impressive graphical quality, but still managed to create an appealing look that made it one of the most popular Xbox One exclusives throughout the console’s entire experience – one that even the discerning eyes of PC gamers were more than impressed with.

Detailing the kind of art style I’d like in a new Darkstalkers game is difficult. My mind automatically seems to default to a cel-shaded look, likely due to the fact that I’ve recently watched the Night Warriors OVA from several years back. Despite criticisms surrounding the piece, I felt like it did an amazing job recreating the style and substance of the Darkstalkers series in general.  Frankly, I wouldn’t mind something like that “Darkstalkers Are Not Dead” trailer I kept mentioning earlier for a final look of the game. Considering how old that concept trailer must be by now, recreating the particular dark, exaggerated style in a full game shouldn’t be too difficult for Capcom to achieve, especially with a small introductory roster of 10 characters.

tumblr_nn2nugl9zF1r7sijxo1_400

Imagine this, but in 3D.

 

It cannot be understated how important the artstyle has been for Darkstalkers throughout its entire history. Boasting among some of the best-drawn 2D sprite work of all-time, Darkstalkers felt like a direct response to Street Fighter. Perhaps in an effort to offset some of the game’s darker material, characters would often take on cartoony, exaggerated proportions and expressions, making the game almost as enjoyable to watch as it was to play. The visuals in these games definitely pushed Capcom’s CPS-2 hardware to its limit and produced among the most beautiful backgrounds in the entire fighting game revolution of the 1990s – rivaling even those of SNK. (Seriously, if you’re unfamiliar with these and a huge fan of pixel art, look up backgrounds for both the Darkstalkers games and SNK’s later titles on the NeoGeo hardware, you won’t regret it.)

Sound Design

Usually, when I write about video games, I have a tendency to listen to video game music to help me focus. When writing about a series I particularly enjoy, I stick to music from those particular games. I originally didn’t intend on doing a section regarding the game’s audio – I’m not much of a composer and frankly, listing off a dream team of voice actors feels inconsequential – but as I was listening to old songs from the games themselves, rearrangements and even original fan pieces inspired by the series, I was reminded of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite’s soundtrack, the latest game to feature compositions from the Darkstalkers series, and how lifeless the game’s compositions were. I decided to listen to the two songs (Morrigan and Jedah’s themes) once more, to convince myself that they weren’t as bad as I remembered.

I didn’t get far in either track before I shut them off. To make matters worse, I compared them to other recent iterations of Darkstalkers themes, yet Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s iterations didn’t evoke any of the disgust I felt listening to Infinite’s compositions. I ended up doing a little research and found that the game’s composer, Eishi Segawa, had mostly done work in film and television: MvCI was the first video game credited to him. I’m inclined to believe he was chosen for his background in an effort to make the game sound more “cinematic”, so I’m not going to blame him for the poor showing, rather Capcom and Marvel for once again perpetuating the idea that “cinematic” has to be synonymous with “bland”.

That being said, I still have my concerns about Capcom’s musical output as of late. I’d say that Capcom’s recent attempts at scoring their fighting games have been less good and more “mixed”. There have definitely been some amazing rearrangements of classic themes and original compositions in Capcom’s recent output, but it seems just as likely that a bland take or an annoying new song is just as likely to crop up in any given soundtrack.

I’d probably want a new Darkstalkers game to have music that evokes the same kind of tone that the original CPS-2 compositions did, but that’s a difficult thing to really quantify, especially against modern sound technology. The musical themes from Darkstalkers, Night Warriors and Vampire Savior all managed to capture their own settings, while still sounding similar enough to form a cohesive soundtrack, yet the way that these two conflicting goals were achieved was likely due to the technical limitations at the time, as opposed to despite them. Having said that, I wouldn’t suggest using the classic instrumentations in a new game, simply because it feels like in many cases, attempting to directly recreate the instruments from older video game hardware often leads to a more calculated and less enjoyable sound.

Instead, Darkstalkers 4 should embrace newer technology with its musical compositions. At the same time, it should definitely pay homage to the sounds of previous titles, which brings up a question: what would the more realistic equivalent of the music in the original Darkstalkers games even sound like? There are a few obvious answers – Lord Raptor’s themes have generally gone for a heavy metal vibe; Anakaris, Hsien-Ko and Bishamon’s music have always tried to represent stereotypical notions of their countries of origin; Huitzil’s themes have been mechanical with tons of brass instruments in their composition; Felicia’s themes have been upbeat dance numbers (with plenty of meowing added for good measure); and Green Scream (along with Rikuo’s other themes) tends more towards natural sounds, attempting to recreate various forest settings. With all that being said, there were a few instruments that are abstract and difficult to discern any real-world equivalents. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ compositions would generally incorporate sounds that managed to sound otherworldly despite the clear limitations of the sound hardware. These sound effects have a tendency to show up in fan compositions and arrangements, but not as much in officially licensed tracks… and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I suppose Morrigan’s theme provides the best basis for comparing and contrasting official arrangements of Darkstalkers music, simply because of the entire cast, she’s the most likely to be present in crossover games, therefore I would have a lot of material to work with. Tatsunoko vs. Capcom’s original Japanese soundtrack performed Morrigan’s Night Warriors theme in a style not unlike smooth jazz, and I think it’s my personal favorite official modern take on the composition, though I’m not sure if that’s because of my musical tastes or how well this new arrangement matched the original composition. The version in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 sounded a bit more artificial and bombastic, but managed to keep a jazzier sound with a great emphasis on a synthesized saxophone. Project X Zone reimagined the same theme with a greater emphasis on synthesized sound, which while accurate, just ends up sounding hollow. The sequel went with Deserted Chateau and gave it a more orchestral sound, which just seems wrong to me for some reason. Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite went back to the Night Warriors theme and gave it a techno club sound, which seems incredibly wrong to me for some reason. Maybe it’s because the original composition gets overpowered throughout the track, but low-quality arrangements seem to be a recurring theme in that soundtrack in general.

While a jazz motif seems to fit with Morrigan’s theme, it seems out-of-place with themes like Victor’s solemn dirges, Sasquatch’s more playful and upbeat theme or the aforementioned heavy metal of Lord Raptor. As such, it become imperative for Capcom to shift from style to style depending on the composition in question. Multiple composers would likely sidestep this problem entirely, but there must be cohesion between the entire sound team in order to match the spirit of the classic compositions.

There is one more thing I feel I have to mention if I’m going to be thorough about any new Darkstalkers game’s soundtrack: individual victory themes for each character on the roster. They need to return. While more recent iterations of Street Fighter and Marvel vs. Capcom have stuck to a single theme for character victories, this was a constant in both series for the most part. Meanwhile, even from the very beginning, Darkstalkers attributed unique themes to each character after winning a match. I see no reason to break this beautiful tradition, as they serve to further differentiate each character, giving them a more unique persona – most notably in Vampire Savior, where characters didn’t really have individual stages, and by extension, stage themes.

win-lose

Also, miss the contrasting win/lose poses from the first game.

This brings up one final, yet major question: new compositions or rearrangements? I’d personally go with both, taking a similar stance to Street Fighter V: with character themes being retained, but new, original themes for characters with less iconic themes and new stages. Characters from the first two games in the series clearly have existing themes, while Vampire Savior characters don’t have any specific themes, though they are generally associated with existing themes: for example, B.B. Hood was given the War Agony theme in Match of the Millennium and Jedah was given a remix of the Fetus of God stage music in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. It could be argued that the VSav characters could get brand-new themes – like Karin and R. Mika, who eschewed their leitmotifs from Street Fighter Alpha 3 in favor of new compositions – but I’ll leave that up to Capcom. After all, considering the sheer amount of recreations of old stages found in SFV, it’s entirely possible that all of those areas in VSav could reappear and it would be odd for them to lose the songs associated with them. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind if Darkstalkers 4 went for entirely original compositions as well, while selling new arrangements of classic themes as cosmetic DLC.

That brings us to the voice acting. Ideally, we’d be looking at a dual audio situation, much like Street Fighter V, as opposed to just an English voice cast like in Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Of course, given Darkstalkers’ relative popularity in both regions, that seems like a given – or at the very least, if the game only has one set of voice acting, it would likely be Japanese. Regardless, it seems likely that the voice cast used in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 – and in Morrigan’s English voice actor’s case, Infinite – would return if Capcom were to ever make another game in the series.

With all that being said, there are really only two voice actors I would want to come back in a fourth Darkstalkers game – and they’re both for the same character. I’d want Yuji Ueda and Scott McNeil to reprise their respective roles of Lord Raptor in Japanese and English respectively. Considering the fact that Ueda has reprised the role of Lord Raptor as recently as Project X Zone and has still been playing characters for Capcom – specifically, Blanka in Street Fighter (though it’s unknown if he’s returning for SFV) – I think he’s pretty much a lock for the role. Scott McNeil, on the other hand, hasn’t really worked as much in video games, though he did do voice acting in Dead Rising 2.

Post-Launch Roadmap

Of course, most of what I detailed in this write-up is meant for the game’s launch. Killer Instinct managed to launch with a similar amount of content but proved so successful, it ended up getting two more seasons worth of content across four years. Ideally, Darkstalkers 4 would also end up being successful enough to obtain additional content down the line. Of course, Capcom seems to have a tendency of greenlighting at least a single additional season of extra content, regardless of the game’s success. However, given the free-to-play nature of this pitch, Capcom may count the initial release as the only guaranteed content for the game, withholding future funding until the game proves successful.

Each of Killer Instinct’s seasons included eight characters, though the first two seasons also included bonus characters reworked from existing members of the roster (Shadow Jago and Omen, respectively), while the third season was followed by what was dubbed “Season 3.5”, consisting entirely of three characters similar to the bonuses in the first two seasons. Meanwhile, the DLC seasons in both Street Fighter V and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite consisted of six characters apiece. In the case of Darkstalkers 4, I would suggest a compromise: the usual six characters that Capcom usually does, but with the addition of a seventh bonus character, free with the season pass but available as a separate purchase, at a cheaper price than a standard character.

I foresee the game having roughly two additional seasons if the initial release ends up being successful. The first would consist of four returning characters (likely whoever gets left off my proposed roster, along with Bishamon and Huitzil), two brand-new characters and Lilith as the season’s bonus character – a big part of the reason why I’m so adamant about her model being included as one of Morrigan’s art assets. The third season would bring back the remaining old characters, along with a few more newbies. Whether or not the game continues to receive support after that would likely depend on the popularity of the original characters created for the game.

While reading over this article, my editor pointed out that guest characters would be a good idea for content in a new Darkstalkers. While he suggested Dante (from Devil May Cry), I’ve also heard people mention Tessa and the rest of the cast from Red Earth (or War-Zard). Arthur and Firebrand from the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series also come to mind. Generally, I’ve been against the concept of guest characters in the past, but given their ubiquity in modern games, my stance has mellowed. My only stipulation is that they wouldn’t be added to the game until after every character from the previous games is playable.

4c4

Couldn’t resist.

Once Capcom decides to end support for the game, it would make sense to release a physical version with all of the content from every season of the game included, much like Killer Instinct’s Definitive Edition. Perhaps, Capcom would do two versions of this, a cheaper standard version and a more expensive version with additional physical goods, just to sweeten the deal for collectors and die-hard fans.


Thus concludes the first edition of Armchair Dev. What do you think? Am I completely off-base with my pitch for a new Darkstalkers game or do you think free-to-play would be an interesting avenue for revitalizing the cult classic? Do you think my choices for the base roster were among the most popular characters in the series or did I forget anyone? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Last Splatterhouse on the Left

Well, Halloween is upon us and this is a video game blog, so why not talk about horror video games? Of course, the concept of horror games is itself loose: some people associate it with any sort of game that utilizes themes or elements of other horror media, while others assert that only games that truly cause fear can be considered a part of the genre. Of course, those two are merely the extreme opinions and whether or not a game can be considered horror is usually up for debate. We see it when people have arguments regarding when Resident Evil left the survival horror genre and became a third-person shooter action game. We see it when people debate whether or not Five Nights at Freddy’s should be considered a horror game, due to its mechanics. Needless to say, the horror “genre” runs into the same pitfalls one encounters with the “action” and “adventure” genres.

I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think I’ve ever really been a fan of “true” horror games. You know, the old-school Resident Evils, the Silent Hills, the Alone in the Dark games, that sort of thing. I can’t explain it but I’ve just never really felt myself drawn to them. On the other hand, I do have a preference to horror-themed video games. I loved the Splatterhouse series, even the 2010 reboot which got mixed reactions for the most part. Darkstalkers is probably my favorite Capcom fighting game series of all time (and I think it’s a crime that we still haven’t seen a sequel, but that’s a rant for another time). I love the House of the Dead series, especially the Typing of the Dead spinoffs.

But why? Why do I love games that use horror themes, but not their implementation into core gameplay mechanics? Hell, I love horror movies, horror stories, even some horror TV shows. The fact that I just can’t enjoy video games as a horror experience baffles me. It’s not like I haven’t tried though. Hell, I even had Code Veronica on the Dreamcast. I just could never get into games like that, especially those deemed “survival horror”. However, there have been some cases where I’ve liked games that were arguably considered horror to some extent.

The Dead Rising games are a good example of what I’m talking about. In terms of games I actually thoroughly enjoy, they’re among the closest to actually being considered “true horror”, mainly due to their storyline being based on a horror movie cliché: fighting off a zombie apocalypse in a once-densely populated area. Of course, the Dead Rising games’ silliness and action-oriented gameplay (relying more on an active survival approach by murdering zombies as opposed to the passive approach commonly seen in survival horror games) makes it a very poor example of a true horror game.

The Left 4 Dead series comes significantly closer and is perhaps the closest thing to a “true horror game” that I actually enjoy. Although the games share the same zombie apocalypse theme as Dead Rising, they take a different approach to combat, generally acting as a detriment to the player’s survival and generally considered a last resort from a gameplay design perspective. A poorly-run multiplayer campaign often provokes more panic than anger from me, which is definitely a step in the right direction in terms of the emotions horror games are intended to provoke. However, both Left 4 Dead games seem to play more like first-person shooters and the game’s versus mode (which allows one team to take control of Infected) tends to undermine the attempts at achieving a tone of true horror.

So what are my main problems with most “true horror” games? Well, I can think of 4 main issues that come to mind. They may not apply to all games from the genre, but enough of them to become pressing concerns for me. First, many games that are considered “true horror” (especially survival horror games) tend to have really stiff or otherwise poor controls. Looking at you, old-school Resident Evil. Now I understand that this is an attempt to immerse the player into their character’s perspective of utter helplessness. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people running for their lives are stuck with things like tank controls or the ability to only aim their gun at three very distinct heights, especially not elite members of a paramilitary organization. There are probably better ways to achieve the same feeling of vulnerability. Maybe give the character a stamina meter that can be drained both by physical exertion and direct confrontations with whatever fiends they encounter. Maybe apply kickback to firearms that either damages the player character or at the very least stuns them, leaving them open for attack if they waste a shot. Hell, some kind of an injury mechanic could be interesting.

Number two: jump scares. I’m going to be honest, I just think they’re a really cheap tactic. Pretty much every horror game I’ve seen has relied on them to at least some extent. I’m not saying that they should be removed, not at all. Regardless, games shouldn’t rely on them entirely for their scare factor. It just ends up coming off as hokey. There are other types of horror that one can exploit: paranoia, revulsion, the fear of the unknown, helplessness and even the loss of sanity itself. All of these topics have been explored in games in the past, the problem is there just hasn’t been enough of it. Jump scares are far too common and we could all probably benefit from a more cerebral style of horror showing up in the genre at large.

That brings me to my next point: sometimes, when horror games attempt a more involved storyline, it usually comes at the cost of the player’s immersion in both the game itself and as a horror experience. The main culprit would probably be cutscenes. In the past, cutscenes had a tendency to look very different from the game’s usual artstyle. I can understand that they were generally used to animate something that would either be impossible to achieve or at least done significantly inferior with the in-game engine. Even today, however, there is still at least a slight difference between cutscenes and in-game events that just throws me off, not unlike comparing watching a live-action film to a live-action TV show. Maybe it has something to do with the framerate? I can’t really say.

Unfortunately, no matter how insignificant the difference between the two artstyles, it definitely has a detrimental effect on the player’s absorption with the game’s setting. It’s to the point where, unless you’re trying to recreate the FMV horror games of old on a modern platform, you’d be better off leaving out cutscenes entirely. It would likely be better to focus on in-game event, where players maintain the same sense of atmosphere. Of course, there are some cases where you may want the players to lose their autonomy. This would still be better achieved through some kind of an in-engine event, as opposed to a cutscene, just due to a more seamless transition.

My last problem is one where I have seen actual solutions, but at the same time, I also understand cannot really be fixed without a major paradigm shift in terms of how modern games are designed in general. It’s the lack of a sense of pressing danger. You die in a game and…well, then you go back to a previous save. In the early days, Resident Evil tried to work its way around this setback, by tying the player’s ability to save with a specific item, the ink ribbon, which could be used at typewriters in order to save. This did add a sense of choosing one’s saves in the game, but I feel that the saves themselves are the problem. Of course, then you’ve got ZombiU (recently re-released as “Zombi” on Xbox One, PS4 and PC), which I felt handled it better. If your character died in Zombi, that was it. That character became one of the undead. End of story. If you decided to continue on, you’d use an entirely new, randomly generated character and the only way you’d be able to get any items you had earlier back would be to take out your former character’s reanimated corpse. It was sort of like Dark Souls or a rogue-like game in that sense. However, I feel like the fact that the loss of a life came with some sort of permanence made survival more urgent. Now I get that this wouldn’t work out properly in a more narrative-based horror game, but maybe the implementation of a “bad ending” upon failure state, plus a way of making saves unusable upon a failure state would be a good compromise.

Are the solutions I pitched for my problems with “true horror” games actually viable, especially with regards to existing fans of the genre? Probably not, there are just some genres I don’t like. Survival horror may just be one, though I still feel sympathy for the fans who tend to think of the genre as dead, at least outside of indie games. I think I’ll stick to hybrid experiences like Dead Space and Left 4 Dead, those that only use the themes of horror like Splatterhouse and Darkstalkers (seriously Capcom, at least put Resurrection out on Steam!) and those games that aren’t considered horror, but still draw from some of the same tricks (you can’t tell me the Splicers in Bioshock weren’t scary as hell – Vita-Chamber or no).

Play It Forward

Earlier this year, I bought up my distaste with just how ubiquitous the $60 price point has become among physical video game releases in recent years. Seems like the worm is beginning to turn on that front: this past month, Nintendo released Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker at a $40 price point and plans to release the upcoming Kirby and the Rainbow Curse at a similar price point in Japan (which seems to imply that other regions will see similar pricing). Not exactly an overwhelming victory by any means, but it definitely makes me feel confident that this may lead to a sort of revival of the A and AA markets in the form of cheap games that still manage to be worthy of physical releases.

Of course, the more I think about it, simply reviving mid-range development wouldn’t solve all of my problems with modern game development. Bringing back tried and true methods for smaller companies to survive is one thing, but we must also look into new techniques for allowing developers of all sizes to better adapt to today’s gaming marketplace. Like it or not, video games are a business and in order to stay alive, games have to be profitable. However, it’s incredibly cynical to simply consider new forms of monetization as a soulless cash grab. As surprisingly out of character as this may sound coming from someone as pessimistic as me, I like to think of the potential to fix some of the problems I’ve always had with gaming in general.

For one thing, I feel that a lot of games, especially today, have a serious lack of long-term support. Yeah, DLC helps, but that’s got a horrible reputation as it is, especially with regards to $60 games. Making the base games cheaper doesn’t necessarily mitigate this bad reputation. On the other hand, you’ve got cases like Valve’s Team Fortress 2, a strictly multiplayer game, which actually makes more money as a free-to-play game than it ever did when they charged for the base game. By extension, TF2 sees so much support from Valve, it’s practically a whole new game compared to when it was originally released.

There have also been cases where games have small, niche audiences. Games that, under current methods, typically don’t do so well due to their limited fanbases. Of course, considering how passionate fans of cult classic games tend to be, there’s a total waste of potential there. Just look at most indie games financed by crowdfunding services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo: most of them offer tiers that simply amount to a preorder (or lower), but they also try to milk any interested parties for all they’re worth, throwing in countless bonuses like T-shirts, artbooks, soundtrack CDs, even physical copies. Hell, I’m a perfect example of that, there have been many times where I myself have paid in extra on a crowdfunding service, not just to get my hands on any bonuses offer, but to show my support for the product itself. Another thing about crowdfunded games that interest me would have to be the concept of stretch goals: the ability to expand the game’s scope, based not on just how many people fund it, but based on just how much those people are willing to invest into it. Imagine the impact that sort of thing could have on series like Darkstalkers or Zone of the Enders with small, but dedicated fanbases.

As such, despite what many gamers have constantly said ever since the beginning of last gen, traditional “lump sum for ‘complete’ product” pricing doesn’t always appear to be what’s best for every single game out there. Of course, at the risk of sounding like a complete jackass, I can understand why they feel that way. Gamers have been burned before. Hell, I’ve been burned before. We’ve seen companies literally nickle-and-dime a $60 release into a game that could easily balloon to twice or even three times its original price tag with content seemingly cut out of what would’ve been included in the base game just one generation prior. However, just like I don’t think DLC is inherently evil, I also feel that straying from the traditional single-pay model could lead to a better ecosystem for certain games.

Let’s take a look at some examples of alternative forms of monetization. First, I’ll start with one of the most controversial words in video games today: microtransactions. Feel free to send in your hatemail on this one. I mean, sure, when you hear the word “microtransactions”, you think of mobile games slowly bleeding their customers dry or failed experiments in the console space (Dead Space 3, anyone?). Attempts at exploitation like that have definitely left a bad taste in the mouths of hardcore gamers, but I’m not sure that it should put us off the idea entirely.

Case in point: Microsoft’s recent take on Killer Instinct. The base game was a free download, which offered only one playable character (which changes on a regular basis). You could buy individual characters for $5 each (which is about average for DLC characters in fighting games) or pay $20 for a “season” set of 8 characters. There were extras as well, a $40 package gave you the $20 package, all of the costume customization gear and one of the earlier KI games, emulated perfectly from the original arcade version. There was also a $60 “physical” package, which gives you the entire $40 package and some collector’s pins, but the less said about that, the better. Better still, around the time the second season was up for preorder, Microsoft offered a $20 physical copy, which matched the digital package in terms of content, but also added the first of the season 2 characters. Paying for characters, either individually or in packages, is pretty much the definition of microtransactions, and yet the most controversial thing about Killer Instinct 2013 is the fact that it’s an Xbox One exclusive.

So, with this particular example in mind, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of relying on microtransactions for particular titles, specifically competitive multiplayer games. For one thing, long-term support is pretty much guaranteed as long as the game remains sufficiently popular to warrant more content. There’s also the fact that costs for future content can’t really be folded into the game’s base budget, another recurring trend in the industry that pisses off a lot of gamers.  Finally, there’s what might end up being the most attractive advantage: allowing customers to, more or less, set their own prices when it comes to how much they want to pay for content. So basically, depending on what you want out of a game, you can pay as much or as little as you want. For example, recently I was talking with KI about the potential of the recently-announced Street Fighter V utilizing Killer Instinct 3’s price model and he said that paying just $5 to play as Ryu permanently appealed to him, as that’s the only character he actually uses in Street Fighter games. I, on the other hand, tend to like playing as multiple characters and buying all the alternate costumes in the Street Fighter 4 games, and affording that kind of a package to me for $40 sounds appealing to me. In other words, if it’s properly utilized, microtransactions can attract a wider audience by allowing them to set their own price for whatever content they feel is worth the money.

That’s not to say that there aren’t disadvantages with this system. After all, as I said, the entire concept of microtransactions in general has been tainted due to misuse of the concept. So saying that any game makes use of that system immediately sends up red flags when it comes to a majority of core and hardcore gamers (myself included). The damage has been done and that’s probably why more successful games that utilize similar systems don’t refer to their pricing models by that name. There’s also incredible potential for abuse: if you limit certain options behind paywalls, there is a chance that certain more expensive items can be more powerful than others which leads to what is commonly referred to as “pay-to-win”. I’ve also heard the argument that if a game is constantly getting new content, it can never be considered truly “complete”, another point of contention with core gamers. One last disadvantage stems from late adopters: they may have to spend large amounts of money in one lump sum in order to catch-up with those who purchased the game early in its lifespan. On the other hand, if the game’s developer and publisher were to release discounted package deals for earlier content, this could easily be mitigated, though at the chagrin of said early adopters.

Splitting a game into multiple “episodes” is another alternate form of game monetization that has seen moderate success, specifically with single-player titles. The idea behind this one is that the main campaign is split into multiple parts and released and developed on a standardized schedule (though this may not always come to pass). The idea is that this allows developers to release a full-scale game without a strict deadline for delivering the full game’s content. Publishers get paid smaller amounts multiple times, while consumers can elect to buy each individual part of the game or try the first and purchase the rest based on whether they liked the first episode or not.

A good example of how to handle episodic titles is the majority of Telltale Games’ body of work. They typically work in the point-and-click adventure genre and have embraced episodic games to an amazing degree. Usually, a typical TTG title is split into five episode “seasons”, though this isn’t always the case. Of course, it isn’t exactly a perfect system: you can only buy games episodically on consoles. On PC, all you can do is pre-order the entire season, which seems like a load of crap, especially if you don’t end up liking the first episode. On the other hand, buying the entire package on consoles is a bit of a hassle, because they only list the individual episodes.

Most of the advantages with episodic titles fall on the side of the developers. Most importantly, with proper scheduling, this allows them more time on development, leading to an overall superior product. Even more important is the fact that it allows for scalability of the game’s scope. So if the game ends up being more popular (and profitable) than originally expected, they can increase its length without any major hiccups. Conversely, if the game ends up being a bomb, the game can be significantly scaled back, saving money and resources for another, potentially more successful title. In cases where individual episodes can be bought, it allows customers to try out the game without committing to paying full price, thus allowing sort of a “paid demo” scenario.

Coincidentally, the disadvantages of this pay model seem to fall more on the consumer side of things. For one thing, a successful title isn’t guaranteed a satisfying conclusion. Remember Half-Life 2?  Dropping a game before it’s even complete is far worse than any canceled sequel in terms of cliffhangers. There’s also the fact that despite the potential of getting some content early, some gamers may be impatient about receiving the final product and possibly even lose interest. One last problem is the potential for a lack of continuity between episodes as development marches on. It’s not exactly impossible that gameplay could possibly be refined during a game’s development cycle, leading its first and final episodes to feel like two entirely different games. This would probably be less jarring for people who played the game as it developed, but for those who pick it up as a complete package sometime after its completion, earlier installments lacking specific features that came into play later in development could make the entire package look sloppy.

A final option is one that, to be honest, I’m not really familiar with: games as a service. I generally tend to think of these as subscription models. Basically, pay to play. Not exactly a perfect system, mind you, but it does seem to allow for long-term support as long as the game’s subscriber base remains profitable (how long has World of Warcraft been at it?). On the other hand, once support ends, the game itself becomes essentially worthless. Not just in the sense that it won’t receive any new updates, but rather, most times the game itself ceases to exist. With regards to subscription model games, an off-line only version would almost certainly be useless and technically, since customers only pay for previous months of gameplay, there wouldn’t be any sort of refund. While it’s probably the best idea when it comes to extending support for games, the end result is typically nothing more than an empty shell.

Now, please realize that this was all more a thought experiment than an active cry for reducing the amount of “complete” single releases. Frankly, I love getting the entire game the first time around myself. That’s why I usually wait for “Game of the Year” editions when it comes to things like that. There are some cases, however, where I’d be completely fine with alternative pay methods if they would further develop games that would benefit from it. After all, who doesn’t want a game they already love to be bigger (and hopefully better)? Last month, Mario Kart 8 recently saw the release of the first of its 2 announced DLC packages, which on its own effectively increases the game’s size by 25%. By the time the second batch comes out in May, the game will be one and a half times its original size and it just cost me an extra $12. I don’t know about everyone reading this, but personally? I think that’s something to keep in mind with future games, especially those relying on multiplayer elements.

Sum of Its Parts: Capcom vs. Capcom

Time for another Frankensequel article. I’ll be honest with you, when I thought up the idea for this article, I almost wanted to put the last article on hold and just go ahead with this one. Of course, since I had taken so long to come up with another topic for this series, it just didn’t seem fair to shelve it again. Fortunately, I managed to come up with another idea fairly quickly, so I was able to write this article on schedule, which I’m really happy about. I really have fun playing armchair game designer with these articles, and placing some constraints on my creative visions for future releases of video games I enjoy actually makes it a lot more fun.

Having said that, let’s discuss the topic of today’s article. Capcom vs. Capcom is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: another crossover fighting game, except this time, it exclusively stars characters from Capcom’s various intellectual properties. Unlike the last two sequels I pitched, this one isn’t exactly far-fetched. Capcom attempted to make one back in the early 2000s (which ended up being terrible) and prior to his departure, Christian Svennson (former senior VP of Capcom USA) was actually a champion of returning to the concept, given how fickle Capcom’s partners on these projects tend to be. Now obviously, the final game probably wouldn’t be called “Capcom vs. Capcom”, maybe they’d go for something along the lines of “Capcom Fighting All-Stars”, “Capcom Fighting Evolution 2” (which would be suicidal, in my opinion), but considering Capcom’s recent DLC announcement, I’d probably go for a more tongue-in-cheek title: Capcom vs. Street Fighter! You know, as sort of an homage to their first two crossover games with Marvel.

Why do a self-contained crossover? Well, as I said before, Capcom hasn’t had the best luck keeping deals with their partners for their crossover games this generation. Tatsunoko’s license was extremely hard to negotiate outside of Japan in the first place, Marvel’s dead and buried and Street Fighter X Tekken (although my favorite Capcom fighter of the generation) was generally unpopular and failed to meet sales expectations. Despite this, the so-called “Versus” series is Capcom’s second-most popular fighting game franchise (first place goes to Street Fighter, obviously), so it would be in Capcom’s best interest to make another one. Considering the fact that Street Fighter V is currently being planned and isn’t set for release until 2018 at the earliest, it would probably be in their best interest to release another fighting game.

So, onto the fun stuff. First off, the base gameplay engine. Now, there are quite a lot of ways to go with this one, especially considering that we’re going to be basing this on series that has seen a lot of diversity. Most people consider Marvel vs. Capcom 2 to be the apex of the series’ evolution, while Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and even Capcom vs. SNK 2 are also popular bases for this game. Me personally? I’d use the gameplay from either the first MvC or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom as a base. I don’t know why, but Capcom’s 2-on-2 tag fighters just feel a lot more coherent than their 3-on-3 counterparts to me. Of course, if they can allow both options, then that would be the best. Better still, if they allow for 1-on-1 matches and allow mixed ratio fights (like in CvS2), then they’d be on-par with Skullgirls. Of course, most people are going to want a large roster, and balancing characters for singles and tag matches is a difficult task. So, it’d be best to keep it at 2v2 and 3v3 tag matches. If I had to choose one option, I’d definitely just go for 2v2.

Another important part of any fighting game would be the control scheme. Part of the reason I’d prefer this game going with strictly 2v2 gameplay is because that would allow for the return of the 6-button control scheme. Capcom’s 3-on-3 fighters generally need to reserve two buttons for each tag-team partner, so they typically experiment with 4-button layouts for the main attack buttons. Personally, I preferred the TvC and MvC3 layouts over that of MvC2, but hell, if I’m building my ideal Capcom crossover game, it’s going to use the ideal Capcom layout. 3 punches, 3 kicks, just like in the original MvC and its predecessors.

Next, let’s deal with some more specific attributes of the fighting system itself. Frankly, if we’re going to make a fighting game that entails the entire Capcom multiverse, I’d prefer it if the game was more akin to the fast-paced crossovers with companies like Marvel and Tatsunoko. More conservative crossovers, like those with SNK and Tekken, have their places, but the Capcom universe is entirely too off-the-wall to keep everything as anchored as your typical Street Fighter game. As for in-game mechanics, as unrealistic as it may be, I’d kind of like to see the assist character mechanic from MvC1 return. However, as this game would more than likely use 3D models than 2D sprites (not to mention, there would be backlash if anyone’s favorite characters get demoted to assist status), it just wouldn’t be viable. Let’s just stick to the typical assist format from the majority of the series: character(s) that are both currently not in use and not knocked out can be called for assists. In this case, this is the mechanic I’d be the most willing to borrow from MvC2 and 3. Those games allowed players to pick from 3 different assists, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, to create better synergy within a team. Custom assists would be an interesting idea, but indie fighter Skullgirls has already implemented that and has shown that even with its small roster, it’s hard to balance. Trying to apply that to a game the size of a modern Capcom crossover game would be nearly impossible, especially considering both a likely lack of a beta and the inherent difficulty of updating the console versions of the game.

Also, while controversial, I’d actually like to see some kind of a “comeback mechanic” in this game as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about something as simple and broken as MvC3’s X-Factor, but I was actually a fan of TvC’s Baroque system, which allowed players to trade regenerable red health to cancel out of attacks, extending combos and dealing extra damage (tied to how much health was sacrificed). It was a proper risk/reward system that required skill to use effectively. Similarly, I was a fan of the Mega Crash system, which despite being a burst mechanic, did have a cost: 2 bars of super meter and 10% of your character’s health. Even if these mechanics themselves don’t make it into “Capcom vs. Street Fighter”, if mechanics with similar risk/reward elements are implemented, I would be happy. As for the rest of the game mechanics, bring back crossover counters, Delayed Hyper Combos, Team Hyper Combos, snapbacks and the pre-MvC3 air combo system, and I’ll be happy.

Now for everyone’s favorite part of devising a crossover: the roster. Obviously, the best place to start would be to use the entire Capcom side from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, which gives us a starting roster of 25 characters that can likely easily be ported into the new game. To improve on that, I’d throw in some characters from Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, specifically Roll, Saki, Alex and possibly Kaijin no Soki. These characters would probably need more of a rework than those from UMvC3, but I’m sure some of their materials could be salvaged. After those characters, it’s pretty much a crapshoot. Anyone could probably just throw together a list of characters they would expect to be in this game, but coming up with a proper roster wishlist for this game given the circumstances of this article would be impossible. So instead, I’ll just say I’d hope the game has roughly 40-50 characters and then list a few characters I would personally like to see in the game:

  • Lord Raptor would be great (people have been complaining about the lack of male Darkstalkers representatives)
  • Classic MegaMan (or heck, just bring back Volnutt from TvC)
  • Jin Saotome (and/or Devilotte) from Cyberbots
  • another Dead Rising character (anyone’s fine, but one of the psychopath bosses would be awesome)
  • some more Street Fighter characters, my picks would be: 
    • M. Bison/Dictator
    • Cammy
    • Charlie/Shadow
  • SonSon II from Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (always kinda hoped she’d get a spinoff game)
  • Tessa from Red Earth (I loved her in Pocket Fighter)
  • Asura from Asura’s Wrath
  • Gene from God Hand
  • Nilin from Remember Me (but only if Capcom actually owns that IP)

Just to reiterate, those are my personal picks, most of them probably wouldn’t even make it into any actual crossover.

With the basic gameplay detailed, I guess it’s time to get to the less important factors. Regarding graphics, Capcom should probably stick to 2.5D, using 3D models on a 2 dimensional plane. A new artstyle would be great though, maybe something that actually looks like the old-school sprites (like Arc System Works is doing with Guilty Gear Xrd). Even something matching the artstyles from Tatsunoko and MvC3 would be acceptable in my opinion, but something new and gorgeous that really flexes that “next-gen” muscle would be spectacular. As for the music, I tend to prefer character themes over stage themes, but considering that recent Capcom fighters like the SF4 games and MvC3 have offered both, having a toggle between those options would be great. A more old-school sound would be appreciate, but so long as the whole soundtrack doesn’t end up being techno or dubstep-flavored, I think I’d be fine with whatever Capcom’s modern sound team can cook up.

Of the three articles I’ve written about dream sequels so far, this one probably has the greatest chance of coming to fruition. Yoshihiro Ono, the lead producer of the Street Fighter 4 games, has recently been teasing that Capcom is working on a project related to fighting games and has been trying to put together an internal development team to work on them. He’s also been teasing the announcement of a new fighting game project unrelated to the fifth Street Fighter game (which appears to already be in a planning phase). Whatever this project ends up being, whether it’s a new crossover, an entirely new IP or dare I dream, a new entry in one of Capcom’s more obscure fighting franchises (C’mon, Darkstalkers 4!), I have to admit I’m kind of excited to hear what it ends up being.

10 More Games I Want Ported to PC

Hey, I said this was going to be a recurring series last time, didn’t I? If you’ve read any of my previous articles, you’ll know that I’ve been getting more and more into PC gaming in the last few years. One of the big reasons for that is the emphasis on backwards compatibility: even when the game’s original developers fail to deliver, it usually takes a resourceful fan a short amount of time to make it work again on newer systems. Consoles just don’t deliver on that as well as they did during the previous two generations. On the plus side, with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 running on PC architecture, PC ports could be beneficial to console gamers as well, allowing for easier and enhanced re-releases of these older games.

Before I recap the rules I established in the previous article, I’d like to give a shout-out to Deep Silver for taking down one of the games I had planned for a future list, before I even got the chance to set it up: Suda 51’s latest game Killer is Dead is coming to PCs this May. So I’ll have to replace that in a future list. Anyway, the rules are the same as they were in the last article: only one game per company per list; sticking mostly to third-party companies (with the exception of Microsoft, who is known to release games on PC as well), especially those that have released games on PC recently and games will specifically be taken from the seventh (Wii/360/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/XBO/PS4) generations, especially those that were on multiple consoles at the time of their release. Finally, games that are both from the same series that were released on the same platform CAN be packaged together. So, once again, let’s get on with the list.

Darkstalkers Resurrection – Capcom (360/PS3)

Anyone who has known me for a good amount of time knows that I love me some Capcom fighting games. At the top of that list stands not Street Fighter, not the Vs. Series, but Darkstalkers, a cult classic fighter revolving around some of cinema’s classic monsters duking it out in a fight to the death. I love me some Darkstalkers and when the second and third games in the series (Night Warriors and Vampire Savior, respectively) recently got re-released on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, I just had to jump on it. I got both releases of the game the first day they were available and I had a lot of fun with them. Unfortunately, the game sold poorly on these platforms. So why ask for a PC release? Well, while it is possible to emulate both games online with the same netcode Resurrection used, that’s not exactly legal. I’d jump at the chance to have a legal avenue to play some Darkstalkers on my PC. More importantly, PC gamers are clamoring for some legitimate fighting game releases, to the point where Arc System Works recently allowed other publishers re-release the mediocre PC ports of both Guilty Gear Isuka and the Blazblue: Calamity Trigger on Steam (which lacks netcode, due to GfWL shutting down and no one bothering to convert it to Steamworks) and people are just eating it up, in an effort to show ASW that yes, people want their games on PC. Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 may be the number one Capcom fighting game people are demanding a PC port for, but I’m well aware that Capcom’s deals with Marvel has lapsed.

Blazblue Chronophantasma/Continuum Shift EX – Arc System Works (AC/PS3/Vita/360*)

Speaking of Blazblue, I definitely want the other games in the series to see releases on PC. I guess at this point, getting Continuum Shift EX is useless for the most part, since its sequel Chronophantasma is already out in Japan and is due out in North America later this month. Anyone who’s familiar with the series, however, knows that there’s more to Blazblue than just having the current version ready for tournaments. The series has an extensive story mode, and considering the fact that we’ve got the first game’s story mode, it seems like it would be good to have the complete story up to this point, so doing a two-pack (perhaps gut CSEX’s online component like CT’s if that would make a port more cost-effective) would be great, especially for PC-only gamers who really want to get into the series. Xrd is still probably my top priority for a PC port, just because it’s both newer and runs on Unreal Engine 3 (which was literally made for PCs). Still, I’d probably be happier if the other Blazblue games made it to PC instead, as Calamity Trigger was the first Arc fighter I honestly enjoyed: my poor luck with the Guilty Gear series is legendary. Just my opinion, though.

Splatterhouse – Namco Bandai (360/PS3)

I’ve never really been that big on the survival horror genre, but I do tend to love games that borrow thematic elements from horror movies. Each game in the original Splatterhouse trilogy was a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up where you take on the role of Rick, who dons the cursed Terror Mask to save his girlfriend from a mansion filled with Lovecraftian horrors. In 2010, Namco Bandai rebooted the classic series as an action hack-and-slash, and while it wasn’t critically-acclaimed by any means, I loved the game. The atmosphere, the gameplay and especially the voice acting: if you can’t appreciate Jim Cummings cursing out Josh Keaton, I pity you. The only real flaw that bothered me was the abysmal load times which a properly-optimized PC port could easily fix. As an added bonus, Splatterhouse 2010 actually contained ports of the original trilogy as well, so even long-time fans who hated the reimagining have some incentive to pick it up. Besides, Namco Bandai recently ported Enslaved to PC, so why not Splatterhouse?

NeoGeo Battle Coliseum – SNK Playmore (360)

Considering we’ve recently seen Metal Slug 3 released on Steam, it seems like SNK Playmore has jumped on the Steam hype train. Frankly, I’d like to see something a little more recent come out. NeoGeo Battle Coliseum was one of Playmore’s first fighting games after regaining the SNK license and it’s an awesome little game. A 2-on-2 tag-team fighter that uses characters from various SNK games: King of Fighters, Samurai Shodown, Last Blade, Garou: Mark of the Wolves, King of the Monsters and even Marco Rossi from Metal Slug. I’ve had a hankering for more classic SNK fighters and NGBC is not only one of my favorites, but an underrated gem. Considering it was re-released on XBLA, just port that version, throw in the improved netcode from King of Fighters XIII or MS3, and you’ve got a solid release on your hands.

Sega Model 2 Collection – Sega (360/PS3)

The worst part is, this shouldn’t even be on here. Many sources online claimed that Sega’s Model 2 Collection was coming to PCs back when it was initially announced. Unfortunately, that never came to be, which is a shame, because I really want to get my hands on Fighting Vipers, one of my favorite 3D fighters of all-time, and the enhanced port of Sonic the Fighters, which finally made long-time dummied-out character Honey the Cat fully playable for the first time in any legitimate release. Virtua Fighter 2 would always be welcome as well. To make matters even better, Sega could also pony up the two games that we never got in the North American or European console releases: the original Virtual-On and Virtua Striker. Granted, in that case, Virtual On would be a higher priority for me than even VF2, but let’s keep it simple: porting the 3 games that were released outside of Japan to PC would be fine.

Vigilante 8 Arcade – Activision (360)

I’ve been a fan of car combat games ever since I played the original Twisted Metal at my aunt’s house when I was a kid. Unfortunately, Twisted Metal’s a Sony franchise, so asking for a PC port these days would be a fool’s errand. Besides, the latest game in the series (Twisted Metal for PS3) was apparently garbage. Fortunately, there’s one series in the genre I liked even more than TM and it’s ripe for the taking: Vigilante 8. Vigilante 8 Arcade was the third game in the series, released on the Xbox Live Arcade early in the 360’s life cycle, but it’s a pretty stellar semi-remake of the original game. Sure, it’s a little barebones and it’s an early title, but frankly, I’d love to see it get ported to PC at some point, even if just for the sake of preservation.

Red Dead Redemption – Rockstar (360/PS3)

This is a big one that people have been demanding for a long time, so I’m really just stating the obvious here. I’m one of the few gamers out there who actually remembers Red Dead Revolver, so I was ecstatic to hear it was getting a sequel on seventh-gen consoles. Unfortunately, they ditched PC for that release. Many other Rockstar games from that era got late PC ports: Grand Theft Auto IV, L.A. Noire and it’s been speculated that even GTAV is getting a PC port at some point. Unfortunately, I don’t really care much for GTA, I want RDR on my PC. Make it happen, Rockstar.

Mighty Switch Force! Hyper Drive Edition – WayForward Interactive (Wii U)

I haven’t really made it a secret: I’m a really big fan of WayForward Interactive’s work. They’ve made some of the best licensed games in recent times and their original IPs are generally fantastic. Considering we’re already getting the second and upcoming fourth Shantae games on PC, it seems fair to branch out and ask for a different series. Mighty Switch Force! HD Edition is a perfect choice, as it’s already an upscaled version of the 3DS eShop hit. Since the Gamepad support in the game was minimal, it seems like porting this to the PC would be simple, if not for the fact that WayFoward has a hectic schedule as it is. Still, this is a wishlist and I want more WayForward games on PC.

Muramasa: The Demon Blade (Rebirth) – Vanillaware/Marvelous AQL (Wii/Vita)

Muramasa: The Demon Blade was probably one of my favorite games on the Wii, so I was happy to hear it was getting an expanded port. Then I found out that port was for the Vita. What a waste of resources. Marvelous AQL has some experience porting games to PC and they handled the North American release of Muramasa Rebirth. Maybe they could even upscale the graphics to at least 720p, so we’d finally be able to appreciate Vanillaware’s hand-drawn 2D artwork in its full splendor. Bundle it with the additional DLC content exclusive to the Vita version, and it would be perfect.

Shadow Complex – Microsoft Studios (360)

I love a good Metroid-like. Most people call them “Metroidvanias”. I used to be one of those people until a friend of mine told me it bugged him and why it bugged him: because while Castlevania games in that style may have borrowed from Super Metroid, the same could not be said for the Metroid series itself. Why have I gone off on this random tangent? Simply because the only thing I really know about this game is that it’s one of the best Metroid-style exploration platformers to have come out in a long time. That’s good enough for me.

And that’s another list done. So far, two of the games on any incarnation of the six lists I’ve planned already have PC ports confirmed. While Killer is Dead: Nightmare Edition isn’t due out until this May, Double Dragon Neon was released last month. Abstraction Games did an excellent job on that port, even quickly patching many minor glitches in the PC version. Hopefully, by the time my third list is ready, a third game’s PC port will have been announced. Sure, that’s just wishful thinking at this point, but here’s hoping.

The Sequel Conundrum

After years of reading various video game reviews and comments all over the internet, I’ve realized that there has to be a perfect formula you’ve got to keep in mind when making the sequel to a video game, especially a popular one. There must a perfect equation that accurately represents, to the finest decimal place imaginable, the ratio between changes and similarities compared to the previous game in the franchise. Unfortunately for developers, I’ve got no idea what that equation is or even any sort of idea where one would even begin to start calculating such a mystical equation. How do I know it exists then, you ask? Simple: the proof is the very nature of the number one and two most common complaints with regards to video game sequels: too much of the same or too different. …or vice versa, it depends on the franchise honestly.

Let’s answer the easier of the two questions first: under what circumstances would the sequel to a game to be considered “too different” from its predecessor? It’s hard to come up with an objective definition of what could make a sequel too different, but the general consensus seems to involve a complete shift in gameplay – the American/European Super Mario Bros. 2 is a particularly common example of what it means when a game is too different from the predecessor, though this is somewhat justified, considering it was originally a Japanese game by the name of Doki Doki Panic. But by that token, Super Mario World is even more different from its successor, Super Mario 64, but both of these games are held in high regard to this day. Needless to say, accusing a sequel of being too different appears to be extremely random: Grand Theft Auto III is held in much higher regard than the first two GTA games, despite being an almost complete departure from them in terms of gameplay. On the other hand, even now, some people still complain about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’s differences from the original Legend of Zelda.

In my opinion, another game that diverged from its source material to its own detriment was the NES Strider. Lacking the slash-’em-up action seen in both the Arcade and Sega Genesis games of the same name, the NES Strider reminded me more of another NES Capcom game: Bionic Commando, stripped of all of its unique gameplay elements. There have also been a myriad of Sonic the Hedgehog games that overtly abandoned the series’s signature formula to each game’s detriment: Sonic 3D Blast comes to mind right off the bat. Sonic’s first foray into 3D was a colossal misstep: shoddy controls and confusing perspectives made what could’ve been an interesting diversion into an aggravating sendoff to the blue blur’s glory days on the Genesis.

Despite the argument’s simplicity, it’s easy to understand why many people can criticize a game for diverging from earlier titles in the series. After all, losing the basic essence of what made the fanbase fall in love with the franchise in the first place is a perfectly reasonable fear. Take, for example, Resident Evil: once considered the first true “survival horror” game, the series is now more of an action-shooter these days, much to the chagrin of the older games’ fanbase. Of course, considering that Resident Evil 5 outsold Resident Evil 2 (the highest selling “survival horror” RE) by over 1 million units. Factor in that the last Resident Evil game made with emphasis on “survival horror” underwhelmed Capcom in terms of their target sales (some sources claim it didn’t even break 100k sales) and chances are that in spite of the fanbase revolting (and trust me, they are revolting), the new direction has taken hold over the series for the foreseeable future, but perhaps Revelations’ re-release on more platforms might change things. The point is, that you never know what any sort of major change to a franchise may bring.

Of course, shifting gameplay mechanics can also be extremely advantageous as well, breathing new life into a franchise, when done properly. Take, for example, the Darkstalkers series. The original Darkstalkers was effectively a prototype of the Street Fighter Alpha games starring some wacky Universal Monsters knockoffs, and while the second game Night Warriors didn’t change much, it did begin to carve its own niche within Capcom’s stable of fighting games, focusing more on fast-pased chain combos and non-stop action, effectively inspiring the later Marvel vs. Capcom games. But the series reached its peak with its third (and as of yet, final) game: Vampire Savior, which offered fighting game action so fast, some Japanese players even say it’s “too fast for the West”. Another example of a series that benefitted from some fresh new ideas would be the Castlevania franchise, at least with its shift between standard, stage-based platformers to the “Metroidvania”-style games that focused more on exploration. While I did always prefer the old-school Castlevanias more than any other gameplay style for that particular series, I must admit that the “Metroidvanias”, as they’re called, offered an excellent change of pace. Finally, there’s also Kid Icarus: Uprising, which wasa complete change from the original Kid Icarus games on NES and Game Boy, but was amazing nonetheless.

But then there’s the flip side of the coin: accusing a game of being too stale by not changing enough between iterations. As gameplay is the most important part of any video game, simply improving upon the previous mechanics and perfecting them, in most gamers’ minds, is simply not enough to justify making another game in the franchise, unless there’s some kind of a new mechanic that changes everything. You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of the MegaMan Classic franchise, right? MegaMan has been the video game poster child for stagnation since the ’90s, to the point where even the joke that “MegaMan is stale” has been stale for years now. I’m not going to lie and say that there’s no truth to that, it’s a valid example. People have also said the same thing about Call of Duty and Madden, but those two franchises still sell like gangbusters and are critically-acclaimed.

One game comes instantly to mind when I think of stale franchises: Dynasty Warriors and its various spinoffs. Egads, there have got to be at least 30 of those games all together by this point, and I got sick of this game back around Dynasty Warriors 4. But Koei just keeps making them again and again and again and again and you get the idea. I’d also argue that Mario Kart has been suffering from this kind of stagnation since the Wii incarnation and the fact that another one’s been announced for Wii U already fills me with dread.

Again, this is a valid point: letting a series stagnate is probably the worst thing you can do to it. At least if you end up changing things for the worse, you’re trying to improve on the original. Enshrining the design and mechanics of a series pretty much kills any incentive for most people to buy any future titles (again, aware of my hypocrisy with regards to this statement and my love of Classic MegaMan). So, much like how changing a series too much can be seen as a detriment to the fanbase, leaving everything exactly the same as before has the potential to kill any potential future sales, and by extension, the series itself.

I guess I tend to look upon a franchise’s stagnation much more favorably than most people do, I’ve seen so many ROM hacks, remakes and fan tributes to old games that have piqued my interest in the past. The number one example I’d use with regards to loving a franchise that saw it was fit to “stop evolving” is obviously the aforementioned MegaMan games. You could also bring up numerous old-school puzzle games like Tetris or Puyo Puyo, which don’t really change much in terms of mechanics from games to games. Some also argue that the Professor Layton series also follows a set formula and few have held that against that series.

So we’ve established that all video game sequels have the potential to either discard what made the series so beloved in the first place or to remain exactly as its predecessor was to the point of becoming stale. I never really had any problem with either hypothesis. The real question I wrote the article to figure out is whether or not there is a perfect median between these two extremes. I mean, it would clearly need to vary from franchise to franchise if such a happy medium existed, but whether or not this point exists in the first place is what I’m trying to figure out.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, all of these complaints are the products of people having their own opinions on video games in general. Obviously, there is no perfect ratio to save a sequel from the criticism of being considered too similar or too different from its predecessor. In several cases, you’ll hear people on opposite sides make opposing arguments over the same game: one person’s stale rehash is another’s bastardized departure from what made the original great. The real lesson for developers here is to just avoid trying to please everyone and focus more on developing a proper follow-up to the preceding game(s) in the franchise, regardless of how much you change and how much you retain from earlier games. Because if you don’t, you’ll just end up with something like Resident Evil 6: an ambitious game that tried to please everyone, but in doing so, ended up bland and unsatisfying.