Retrospective: Street Fighter – Bonus Stage

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

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

Street Fighter: The Movie

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

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

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Clearly, the right people to handle Street Fighter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bafflingly, this was a legitimate advertisement for the game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh look, Fei Long!

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

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

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

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

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No, I’m being serious.

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

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

Interlude: The Console Release

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

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

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

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However, I am in love with this Super Combo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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The percentage meter was a nice touch.

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

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Say it with me now: “Exprosive”.

 

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

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Two characters with a short but memorable tenure.

 

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

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Again, not lying.

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

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Guard Break: the clear ancestor of the Focus Attack.

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

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

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The addition of instant replays was a nice touch.

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

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

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

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Multiple rocks.

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX2

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

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

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Welcome back, guys.

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

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Here’s Hayate!

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

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It’s just Custom Combos with prettier effects.

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

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

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

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Another game, another string of revisions.

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

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

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

 

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Way cooler than beating up some old Honda.

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

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A true dream match.

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

Interlude: Fighting Layer

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

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What a cliquey intro.

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

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

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

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Gotta love these unique stages.

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

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

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

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Still shots really don’t do this game justice.

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

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

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

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Wait, did you think I was joking?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter EX3

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

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This sure was an intro.

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

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Not a bad roster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, the imprint of his face is horrifying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams

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

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

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Gotta love that sick intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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Doesn’t mean I don’t love him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looks like a nightmare, plays like Warriors’ Dreams.

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

Street Fighter Alpha 2

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

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

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

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

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A perfect shot, wouldn’t you say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Such a weird port.

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

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

Interlude: Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That’s the old Sagat.

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

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

Street Fighter Alpha 3

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

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

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

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

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I always loved these backstory screens.

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

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

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

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

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

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GUARD BREAK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheeky.

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

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

Interlude: SFA3 Home Ports and Revisions

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

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

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A true masterpiece.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Crawfish knocks it out of the park again.

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

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

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

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

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Seriously, look at all these modes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retrospective: Street Fighter – The Second Coming

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

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

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The rematch of the century.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’ll always love this box art though.

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

Street Fighter II’: Champion Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlude: Street Fighter II’: Rainbow Edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter II’ Turbo: Hyper Fighting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Hurricane Kick…performed in the air? Preposterous! 

 

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

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

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

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Street Fighter II Turbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cammy’s being remarkably cheeky here.

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

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

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

Interlude: The Legacy of Super Turbo

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

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

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Still pretty impressive for a handheld.

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

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

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

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It’s like Mortal Kombat Trilogy, only good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC III: Beyond Thunderdome

It’s that time of year again. It’s funny: I originally intended these lists as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the recurring PC port lists I did years back, yet they’ve become one of my favorite traditions on this site, right up there with the collaborative wishlists we do here at the end of the year. I think part of what I like about these lists stems from the fact that it’s my way of sharing the wonders of games currently exclusive to PC with SNES Master KI, a man who would sooner gnaw an arm off than consider gaming on PC regularly. I don’t know what’s going on here, but these lists of mine seem to have some kind of mojo – for crying out loud, Double Dragon Neon was announced on Steam literally days before my first list came out – so it feels good to share the love, even a little bit.

Before we get to this year’s list, I might as well go through what’s been announced since December. The PC-to-console front has been pretty quiet as of late. The only major gain that’s been made is Streets of Red: Devil’s Dare Deluxe, which appears to be an expanded port of the rogue-like beat-‘em-up Devil’s Dare. It was released on both PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch just a couple of days ago. There was also the recent announcement that GameMaker Studio 2 was going to be compatible with the Nintendo Switch, which was preceded by the announcement of Undertale on Switch. Granted, Undertale was already released on PS4 and Vita before that, but it’s good to see it reach a wider audience. Since then, Hyper Light Drifter has also been announced for Switch, but again – it was already available on consoles.

The PC ports fared way better these past four months. First, there was the announcement of Devil May Cry HD Collection back in late December – less than a week after my last article went up – though it’s also coming to Xbox One and PS4. Then a few days later, they announced that the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection would be coming to all four major platforms this May. I bring this up simply because it includes Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (with online play!) – thus essentially giving us Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition on PC. Of course, between this and the upcoming MegaMan X re-releases, I think that kills off any chance of those older conversions from my GOG wishlist – particularly Eurocom’s classic release of Super Street Fighter II Turbo and those old MegaMan X PC ports – being re-released, unless Capcom decides it’s worth the effort to try to exploit the few of us willing to double-dip, either out of nostalgia or curiosity.

After that, February brought us Puyo Puyo Tetris on PC. March brought us Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash and the announcement that Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy would be coming to PC (as well as Switch and Xbox One). Speaking of exclusives, Super Bomberman R – arguably the Switch’s break-out third-party launch game – will be coming to Steam (as well as PS4 and Xbox One) this June, with a nifty little P-Body (from Portal 2) Bomber as exclusive content. XSEED also announced that Ys: Memories of Celceta – my #1 most anticipated PC port from last year’s overall list – will be coming to PC (via Steam, GOG and the Humble Store) sometime this summer. In fact, the same day they announced Celceta on PC, DualShockers released an interview with XSEED’s Executive Vice President Ken Berry, focusing on their recent round of PC ports. Berry said that XSEED wanted to bring as many titles as possible to PC due to the ease of releasing a game worldwide and the lifecycle of PC games lasting much longer than consoles. He also hinted that the gap between console releases and PC ports will continue to shrink as time goes on.

Now that I’ve sufficiently patted myself on the back, it’s time to go over the rules I hold myself to when writing these lists. I’ll be sticking to games that were released on PC during the seventh and eighth generations – so pretty much from 2006 onward – that have not appeared on home consoles or portables by the time this article has been released. I’ll also list the platforms I think would be the best fit for each one, in the case that a game becomes exclusive to a single platform.

Spark the Electric Jester

I’ve always been a fan of the Sonic the Hedgehog series, but for years, Sega has struggled to recreate the magic of the Genesis-era 2D platformers in the modern day. While Sonic Mania – a game that was a collaboration between the creators of some of the most beloved Sonic fan games – managed to finally score Sega some acclaim last year, there have also been some attempts at recreating the style of the 16-bit Sonic games’ magic with various new IPs. Freedom Planet made it to the Wii U and PS4 in recent years, but one game that hasn’t been so lucky is Spark the Electric Jester.

In what I can only summarize as the love child of Sonic the Hedgehog and Kirby raised by MegaMan X, Spark the Electric Jester was developed by Felipe “LakeFeperd” Riberio Daneluz, the man behind such acclaimed Sonic fan games as Sonic Before the Sequel, Sonic After the Sequel and Sonic Chrono Adventure. The game itself skates the line of clearly taking inspiration from Sonic without feeling like a knockoff. Spark came out a few months before Sonic Mania did and felt like a good buffer game while waiting for Freedom Planet 2 – which was pushed back to 2019 at the beginning of the year.

Best Platform: Unfortunately, support for Spark has been discontinued by LakeFeperd, as he’s moved onto new projects, including a 3D sequel Fark the Electric Jester, which is clearly inspired by the Sonic Adventure games. The game was built in Clickteam Fusion 2.5 – the same engine used for the original Freedom Planet. Since it looks like there’s an (admittedly convoluted) way to port games from that engine onto all three modern platforms, it seems possible that it could make it to anything.

My money’s on Switch though, as Freedom Planet’s first console port was on the Wii U. Nintendo seems like the kind of company that would throw money at getting a game like this on consoles.

OmniBus

Weird and wacky games spawn on PC all the time, but it seems like there’s a decent market for them on consoles as well. Goat Simulator, I am Bread and Surgeon Simulator all seemed to do pretty well on PS4 and even the licensed Rick and Morty game Virtual Rick-ality is making its way to PlayStation VR later this month. So why not Omnibus? It’s a game that looks like a PS1 throwback – honestly, some of the models remind me of MegaMan Legends – where players take control of a bus and perform various tasks, mostly involving flipping the bus into the air and crashing through anything in sight. It’s stupid, but it’s fun stupid.

Honestly, I’m kind of surprised this one isn’t already on consoles. The game’s built in Unity; it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux and it was published by Devolver Digital of all companies.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4, hands down. The visuals look distinctly like something out of an early-to-mid PS1 game and Sony’s the main company taking risks with more bizarre PC games. I could see it coming to other platforms later on, but Sony would definitely insist on at least a timed-exclusive.

Super Star Path

For some reason, I’ve always felt like shoot-‘em-ups and puzzle games are a match made in heaven. Ikaruga and Zoop were two games that seemed to blend some elements from one genre into the other, though neither went far enough. Enter Super Star Path: a perfect combination of the two. Players are tasked with blasting through waves of alien enemies and when one enemy is hit, all adjacent enemies of the same color are also destroyed, while enemies of different colors essentially get turned into “garbage blocks” that block the path through the level. Super Star Path is a game that relies on quick thinking and quick reflexes.

Best Platform: Unfortunately, the game’s developer has yet to release any of their games on consoles. The game was built in GameMaker Studio, so it’s easy enough to port to any of the current three consoles. In fact, because of that, I’ll probably go with the Switch, simply because they seem to be making a big deal about how it’s compatible with the GameMaker engine now.

Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection

With a heavy heart, this will probably be the last Falcom game I can actually include on these lists, unless XSEED manages to pull off some kind of miracle and gets their hands on a Falcom game that’s extremely old and PC exclusive. Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection – née Zwei II – was the second and final entry in Falcom’s obscure action-RPG series and the last game they developed on the PC, both as an exclusive and overall. The franchise’s primary gimmick involves constantly swapping between two characters: one that focuses on physical attacks, while the other focuses on magic, hence the name (“Zwei” is German for “two”). I’m actually surprised that Zwei II didn’t receive any sort of console ports, especially considering the fact that many of Falcom’s Windows games were ported to the PSP when they pivoted to console development.

You’re probably wondering why I’m only doing the second Zwei game and not the first (subtitled “The Arges Adventure” in the West). For starters, the game was technically ported to consoles in Japan, with Taito handling the 2004 PS2 port and Falcom porting the game to the PSP themselves in 2008. Of course, those were Japan-exclusive releases, but considering the sheer number of hoops XSEED had to go through the get the game working on modern OSes, not to mention several PC-only features that aren’t viable on consoles, it would be easier to base a port of the first game on the existing console versions as opposed to the current Western release.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4 and the Vita are the obvious choices here. Even if you discount the fact that the game likely wouldn’t be ported by Falcom themselves and handed off to a partner, Falcom still tends to primarily focus on the Sony brand, as that’s where they think most of the domestic audience is. Having said that, I wouldn’t count out a Switch port down the line, if Falcom decides to revisit the series on consoles.

Verdict Guilty – 유죄 평결

When Street Fighter II ruled arcades back in the early 90s, it spawned numerous imitators – ranging from great to terrible. In fact, there was practically an entire subgenre of mediocre fighting games available on the Super Famicom, both licensed games and original properties. Verdict Guilty feels like a love letter to these games. In the near future, Neo Seoul has been hit with countless terrorist attacks and a massive crime wave, with few police officers willing to protect the people. Players can choose between 4 cops and 4 criminals in their search to unmask the crime lord responsible for the mayhem.

Verdict Guilty may be based on bad games, but it elevates the wonky mechanics of its inspirations into an artform. The game prides itself on being “easy to pick-up and play” with various interesting mechanics that make for a poorly balanced but still extremely fun game.

Best Platform: This is a difficult one. Verdict Guilty was coded from scratch in C++, the developer hasn’t released anything on consoles before and while the game has a clear SNES aesthetic, I’m not sure who would want exclusivity if any. I guess the Switch wins based on that last point alone.

Rosenkreuzstilette/Rosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel

Admittedly, I wouldn’t have considered either of these games for console release – just due to the fact that I’d be concerned about whether they would be considered original releases or fan games, given its material – but if the games are allowed for sale on both Playism and Steam, then I think the game’s safe for consoles.

While the rebirth of MegaMan is nigh, the original Rosenkreuzstilette was actually released back in 2007, before the Blue Bomber went into hibernation. Both games are essentially love letters to not only the MegaMan series, but include references to various other Japanese retro games like Castlevania, Bomberman and even Super Mario Bros. Both games are among the best MegaMan tributes of all time and the fact that they both managed to get official English releases last year was amazing.

Best Platform: Playism is the games’ English publisher, so my pick would probably be PlayStation 4. While Playism has also published games on the Xbox One and the Switch, most of their console output has been on the PS4, so that just seems like the most obvious release platform, at least at this point.

Odallus: The Dark Call

Speaking of spiritual successors, Odallus: The Dark Call is a game built from the ground up to pay homage to the Castlevania series, mixing elements from Metroidvania and Classicvania to form an experience that’s both new and familiar. Developed by one of my favorite indie developers, JoyMasher – the same people who brought us Oniken – Odallus has been called “the best Castlevania game in years”, acting almost as a Shovel Knight to the franchise. While I hope Bloodstained doesn’t meet the same fate as Mighty No. 9, Odallus has certainly kept us busy while waiting for a “true” successor.

Best Platform: JoyMasher hasn’t released any of their games on console at this point and the game was made in Clickteam Fusion, so if I had to hazard a guess, my money would have been on the Switch. Danilo Dias seems to take a lot of his inspiration from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming, so I was sure he’d favor Nintendo over Sony or Microsoft.

However, seeing that JoyMasher’s upcoming game, Blazing Chrome – a love letter to the best Contra game, Hard Corps for the Sega Genesis – is being published by DotEmu’s new publishing arm, known as The Arcade Crew, I have to say that PlayStation 4 has become a lot more likely. While no platforms have been confirmed for this new game, DotEmu tends to favor the PlayStation brand when it comes to consoles. If Blazing Chrome does well, I could see them doing something similar with JoyMasher’s previous games.

Them’s Fighting Herds

In most lists, I’d consider this game to be a dark horse, but considering the sheer amount of off-the-wall choices I’ve made so far, I think it’s got a decent shot. Originally conceived as a fighting game starring the mane cast of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Them’s Fighting Herds received a complete overhaul after a cease and desist came from Hasbro. Entirely new designs were conceived by Lauren Faust and Lab Zero licensed them their proprietary “Z-Engine” to improve on the game’s design. The game’s recently entered Steam Early Access – due to issues with implementing the story mode, something Skullgirls fans should remember quite well – but the game should launch in full sometime this year.

Best Platform: Another difficult choice. Humble Bundle is the game’s publisher and as far as I know, they don’t have any preferences regarding platforms. The Z-Engine doesn’t help matters: Indivisible is set to debut on all three modern consoles this year. My gut tells me that Switch would be more likely, simply because of the sheer number of fighting games already available on PS4. TFH’s quadruped gimmick might help it stand out there, but not in a positive way.

River City Ransom: Underground

Developed by Conatus Creative Inc., a Canadian team, River City Ransom: Underground is a game that managed to be released despite having the entire world against it. After managing to receive a license from Million (the successor of RCR originator Technos Japan), all of Technos’ IPs would end up in the hands of Arc System Works. Fortunately, ASW signed off on the game anyway. While other modern River City games have merely felt like extensions of the NES classic, Underground feels like a true sequel. Taking place years after the original game, there’s an entire new generation of fighters waiting for players – each with their own unique fighting style. With four-player co-op, an arena mode for head-to-head fights and a total of 44 fighters to unlock, RCR:U takes the Kunio-kun franchise to new heights.

Best Platform: I’m torn between two extremes here. While the River City games seem to be released more reliably on Nintendo platforms, the PlayStation line is clearly the platform of choice for Arc System Works. What really complicates matters is the fact that the game itself was programmed using Microsoft’s XNA game engine, using the open source FNA for the Mac and Linux ports. Fortunately, all three platforms can use MonoGame, an engine that’s compatible with XNA games, so there are no hardware limitations.

In the end, I’d give the edge to the Switch. The game’s emphasis on co-op and the series’ history with Nintendo makes it seem like the much more logical choice.

Aliens Go Home Run!

I think the best way to describe the game is written on the store page itself: it’s a cross between Breakout, a shoot-‘em-up and baseball. Aliens Go Home Run! is an arcade-style game with less emphasis on branching storylines and more emphasis on clearing stages. It’s a game that’s clearly evocative of a simpler time and looks like a lost NeoGeo game. That’s really all I have to say about it.

Best Platform: This one easily goes to the Switch.  ANIM・ACE hasn’t released any games on console as of now, but considering their mission statement involves releasing games in the style of “Sega, Taito, Namco, Treasure and Nintendo”, it seems like the Big N is the safest bet.

Thus concludes another list of 10 PC games I’d like to see ported to consoles. As with last time, I own every game on this list – which makes sense because I’m recommending that they be made available to a larger audience. Doing lists like this is actually pretty fun: since I’ve already got the games in question, there’s less stress about choosing specific games. Clearly if I own them, I already enjoy them on some level, right? The only real limitations I have are choosing from the increasingly shrinking number of PC exclusives. However, as long as there are hobbyists and small independent developers, with budgets far too small to cough up the licensing fees to work on consoles from the beginning, there will always be games exclusive to PC. Whether they stay that way for good is anyone’s guess.

Retrospective: Street Fighter – Round 1, Fight!

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

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

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

Avengers

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

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

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

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

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

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The most interesting part of the game’s intro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We did 20 takes and that was the best one.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stabby stabby! No wonder Cody ended up in jail.

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

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

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OH! MY GOD CAR!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight

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

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

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I guess we owe Capcom USA an apology.

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

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

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

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

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

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Ah yes, the far-flung year 2010.

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

sf2010-02

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

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

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

sf2010-03

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

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

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

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2018

SNES Master KI

2017 didn’t quite turn out the way I expected when I wrote my top ten list for it.  Between delays and disappointments, I’d say only three games on it really matched my expectations.  In the end, I’m forced to say that 2017 in gaming was… freaking incredible!  Lists don’t define years, releases do, and between games I didn’t know I wanted so badly (Ys VIII, A Hat in Time, among others), a huge amount of games being both announced and released in 2017 (Xenoblade 2, Wolfenstein 2, Splatoon 2, The End is Nigh, Metroid II: Samus Returns, the long awaited console Undertale), the honorable mention games exceeding expectation (Crash N. Sane Trilogy, Sonic Mania) and my number one pick for Game of the Year both meeting my hype and actually making it out in 2017 (unless you want to take Nintendo at their word and say Super Mario Switch was a tech demo that just happened to have a level from Super Mario Odyssey in it), 2017 was amazing.  It was also great for announcements, so many franchises that had their future in doubt in 2016 got new games announced, and while some of them I’m not expecting until 2019, others will definitely be on this list.  Between those and the delayed/never confirmed for 2017 games, there’s plenty to anticipate in 2018, so let’s get started.

Honorable Mentions

  • Pikmin 4 (Switch): While not confirmed for 2018 (main reason this is only an honorable mention), with this game being “near completion” since 2015, I think we’re due. The only RTS I’ve ever gotten into, Pikmin finally getting an original mainline game on a successful console could be the big break it needs to go from Miyamoto passion project to major Nintendo IP.  Either way, it should be another great adventure in the cutest post-human world ever.
  • God of War (PS4): I was not pleased when this game was initially revealed. Well, that’s an understatement, I was heartbroken.  Thankfully, 2017 showed some improvements (more action, less WRPG) that have given me cautious optimism, although if this played like the original God of War games it probably would have made the top three.  This game’s cycle for me has been the complete opposite of Breath of the Wild, where I loved it at reveal but got more and more nervous as it approached release.  BotW was a fantastic game that disappointed me as a Zelda game, so is this going to be a terrible game that feels completely faithful to God of War?  Yeah, probably not.
  • Spider-Man (PS4): If you think about it, the Arkham series’ gameplay seems better suited to Spider-Man than Batman, with the emphasis zipping to (near) the ceiling, warning prompts, and “detective vision” that feels a lot like Spider Sense. Since Spider-Man is my favorite superhero, that definitely puts this game on my radar, even if it doesn’t quite crack the top ten.  Just hoping for lots of real boss fights against super villains and some platforming.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I remember when Wii U made its official debut at E3 2012, Suda 51 basically confirmed that No More Heroes 3 would be made for it. Then it was never heard from again.  Well, fixing everything that went wrong with Wii U is Switch’s main purpose, so it getting a new kind of-No More Heroes game seems appropriate.  Haven’t followed this too closely, but will definitely pick it up when it comes out.

10.  Red Dead Redemption 2

Publisher/Developer: Rockstar Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The delays got this one, and we still haven’t really seen any more than we did in 2016, but this is still the first new Rockstar open world game in years, and the sequel to the game that signaled them getting their head out of their ass when it comes to quality of life features.  Not a whole lot to say about this game, I already complemented the environment graphics last year, and… yeah, nothing else to really do.  I did play Red Dead Revolver last year, that was fun, but completely different from Redemption and I’d never mention it if there was anything meaningful known about this game besides its series and developer.  Red Dead Redemption also taught me how to play poker, so that’s… yeah, let’s just move on.

9. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

The best case scenario for this game is that it comes out 12 years after Kingdom Hearts 2 and six years after the last new Kingdom Hearts game.  Where did it all go wrong?  Well, whatever the reason was, 2018 is the first year where I feel like there’s a real possibility of this game coming out, and I am looking forward to it.  The combat looks greatly improved and Disney has bought a ton of franchises since Kingdom Hearts 2 that would make great worlds.  And they just bought more, maybe if I’m still alive when Kingdom Hearts 4 comes out it will have a Simpsons world.  I liked Final Fantasy XV’s combat system, combine that with a better story and characters and you could have a masterpiece.  This might actually be higher on my list if I had more confidence in it coming out in 2018, but whenever it comes out I think I’ll like it.  It may have taken forever, and I’ve lived more than a third of my current life since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, but at least it wasn’t a half life scenario (puts on sunglasses).

8. Runner3

Publisher/Developer: Choice Provisions
Platform: Switch (at least)
Release Date: 2018
 

The other game from my list last year that got hit by the delay stick (or would have if I hadn’t just been guessing when it would be released), we should actually get it in 2018, and it’s even a Switch semi-exclusive!  Back when the Bit.Trip games were being released, I thought Runner was the best of them by a wide margin, and was shocked when the developer agreed with me and gave it, and only it, a sequel.  And I was even more shocked when Runner2, which everyone seemed to forget about as soon as it was released, got a sequel.  Runner3 became a bit of a symbol of hope for me when it was announced, that the series I felt like I had lost in recent years weren’t gone forever (and that hope was completely valid, with the long awaited returns of Metroid and… something we’ll get to later).  But symbolism aside, Runner and Runner2 are great games and Runner3 looks at least as good, this game is slotted for early 2018 and I can’t wait.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

There’s hope for Konami’s franchises, there’s always hope, 2017 made that abundantly clear.  But while we wait for whatever demon has possessed Konami to be excised by a priest who calls his cross a boomerang, we have Bloodstained to tide us over.  Despite some people desperately trying to tie this game to Mighty No. 9, there is nothing to indicate that Igarashi exaggerated his creative talent the way Inafune’s was, and Bloodstained still looks great as we finally get close to its release date.  With a huge amount of content (Metroidvania mode, Classicvania mode, retro mode), this could be a feast that makes the wait worth it.  I even backed this game on Kickstarter, mainly to reward it for not pulling that “yeah, we’ll put it on consoles if hit this stretch goal placed above every extra for the PC version that we can think of” crap.  That alone shows a level of integrity that certain other Mighty disappointing games never could have matched, I think we could finally get a good replacement goldfish from Kickstarter.

6. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

Kirby has been doing great recently, ever since Return to Dreamland brought back the deep combos and variants for powers that had been missing since Super Star, Kirby platformers have been getting better and better.  So what can Star Allies do to stand out and keep that improvement streak going?  Maybe being the first HD Kirby platformer and the first console one since 2011?  Screw that, we got the goddamn yo-yo back!  My favorite Kirby powerup of all time, which was confined to Kirby Super Star for more than 20 agonizing years, is finally in a new game!  There isn’t too much else to say about the game at this point, but with Kirby’s recent track record there’s no reason not to expect a great platformer.  And again, it has the yo-yo; that’s on the level of Charging Chuck’s return for me.

5. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Not even a game released as its publisher died, that starred Death himself, could kill this series.  After years of re-releases and vague promises that “something” involving the series would be announced by its new owner, in 2017 we finally got Darksiders 3 announced.  The hybrid of character action combat and Zelda style puzzles is one I absolutely love, and Darksiders 3 looks to continue that and tone down on the WRPG elements added to the second game.  And with your character in this one using a whip, it looks like the new God of War game that I wanted.  Character action games haven’t been doing so great in the past couple years, but with this game, the hopefully at least decent brand name God of War, the heavily rumored Devil May Cry 5, and something you’ll see in a bit, 2018 looks like a comeback year for the genre.  At this rate we won’t see what happened after the end of the first game until Darksiders 5, but as long as we keep getting great playing games, this series can draw it out as long as it wants.  It was a long War, full of Strife, that may have caused some Fury, but this series was rescued from the grip of… doom.

4. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I didn’t play Guacamelee until I was given a free copy of the Wii U version to review, and it made me wish I had supported the series from day one.  Guacamelee is my favorite digital only game of all time and one of my favorite Metroid-likes of all time.  The other games I played by its developer, Drinkbox, were also high quality, but nothing compared to Guacamelee.  So it getting a sequel (the developer kept their word about making it after they finished Severed, that’s something I always respect) natural caused a great amount of excitement for me.  I’m not sure how the story will continue, the first game seemed pretty self-contained, but I don’t care.  As long as we get that same mix of platforming, melee combat, and exploration, all done fantastically, the story can be whatever it wants.  Even with Metroid back, this series is one of pinnacles of its genre and deserves more praise and attention.

3. Yoshi Switch

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

It may not have a name yet, but after Yoshi’s Wooly World miraculously not only made a good Yoshi game again but one that goes toe to toe with the legendary Yoshi’s Island, a sequel from the same developer is something I prayed for and am ecstatic that we got so quickly.  Aside from a couple interesting new features (being able to aim eggs at things in the background and flip to the other side of levels) we don’t know too much about this game, but I think that will change very early in 2018.  With levels demoed at Nintendo’s Treehouse during E3 2017, I think this game is close to completion and we should get it pretty early in 2018.  Whenever it comes out, I can’t wait to have Yoshi’s amount of great games finally average one per decade since the 90s… yeah, that’s really sad, but it’s water under the bridge.  Yoshi has finally found a Good home, and I can Feel that things will be all right for him from now on.  But what will Arzest do now?  Yeah, I don’t care either.

2. Bayonetta 3

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Platinum Games
Platform: Switch
Release Date: TBD

Okay, they never said this was coming in 2018, but I have two arguments for why this is on the list while Metroid Prime 4 and Pokemon Switch aren’t.  One, we’ve technically seen more of this game that either of those, and with Bayonetta 1 and 2 being ported to Switch in very early 2018, I feel like waiting over a year from then to release Bayonetta 3 seems unlikely.  And it’s not like Nintendo hasn’t released some games faster than anyone thought possible recently. (Wait, why isn’t Xenoblade 2 on this list?  Oh, right, the “inevitable” delay didn’t happen.)  Two, it just wouldn’t feel right if I DIDN’T put something on this list with a high chance of showing up on the 2019 list.  It’s tradition!  That aside, this announcement filled me with glee.  Bayonetta 2 is one of the best action games of all time, and I’m so relieved that Wii U’s sales struggles didn’t doom the series.  Now that Bayonetta 3 is on a successful system (and it being on one system is better than zero, regardless of what your favorite platform is) we can see what a Nintendo/Platinum team up is truly capable of.  As mentioned earlier, character action games seem to be making a comeback in 2018, and Bayonetta 3 is the perfect title to symbolize that.  Time for this series to achieve a triple platinum.  But would you believe it wasn’t the most exciting game announced during the week where it debuted?

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform:
Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date:
“Late 2018”

I think this was the closest a game announcement has ever come to making me cry.  Even with Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Super Mario We Swear It’s A Tech Demo, it’s not like I thought there was a chance we’d never see another Mario game.  But Mega Man… I kept the faith, during the dark six and a half year between Universe (yes, Icepick, I did care about it from the start) and Legends 3 being cancelled and Mega Man Isn’t Dead Day I always insisted that series as popular and long running as Mega Man couldn’t permanently die.  But there’s always doubt, always fear, until it actually comes back.  And it did, it finally did.  I would have settled for a licensed game based on the new cartoon, so even if Mega Man 11 isn’t my very first choice, it’s still way more than I dared to hope for.  Classic Mega Man gameplay combined with the first attempt to feel like a modern game in over a decade should make the game fantastic, but I’ll be honest, the emotional impact was a big factor in this getting the number one spot.  It feels like a giant weight has been lifted from gaming, and the one two punch of Metroid and Mega Man returning after being MIA since 2010 made 2017 a better year than even my hope for it last year could have imagined.  As 2013 proved, even releasing great games can leave a dark aftertaste if the future doesn’t look bright, and 2017 was both the best year for gaming in a long time and one of the most hopeful.  2017 has left the world of gaming a much brighter place than it was at the start, and 2018’s games are a testament to that.  2018 has big shoes to fill, but it also has momentum on its side, I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Dariwan

2017 is winding down. It was a pretty decent gaming year. We got great games like Persona 5, even better systems like the Nintendo Switch. Now that 2017 is coming to a close, we’re looking forward to 2018.  Here’s my top 10 Games (if I can find 10 I’m even interested in…) but first, a few honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a few games that didn’t make the top 10 but I feel still deserve a mention…

  • Bayonetta 3 (Switch) – I love the Bayonetta series. A sexy witch who fights angels because she doesn’t like them. How can you hate this! (oh wait, you hate that the game isn’t on your system even though when it was, no one bought it …but I ain’t saying nothing you ain’t already heard…)
  • Death Stranding (PS4) – This game …I’m not even sure it IS a game at this point…interests me. I like the whole death and life thing it’s trying to portray, and I hope to see more of the gameplay that may interest me in the future.
  • Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PS Vita, PC) – I’ve half been a fan of the Castlevania series, despite playing half of one game. This game somewhat interests me because it seems like what the creator wanted to do with the Castlevania series if he had the chance.
  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) – The Street Fighter anniversary train still won’t end! Re-releases of most of the old games (Street Fighter 1, some of the Street Fighter 2s, Street Fighter Alpha, and all of Street Fighter 3) some with online and they’re all Arcade Perfect! There are some problems we’ve found with this but again, another article for another time.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – the only game with an actual date on this list! Dragon Ball FighterZ is a pretty much pitch perfect anime fighting game made by the great minds at Namco Bandai and Arc System Works. They really put in the work to make the game look like it literally came from the anime to my console! 3V3 combat is reminiscent of Marvel vs Capcom 2 and 3 and the combat looks pretty good for a Dragon Ball Z/Super fighter.

10. Spider-Man

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Insomniac Games
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I have a small bit of nostalgia for this game, mainly because of how I got certain consoles in my youth. I got an Xbox around the time the Raimi Spider-Man movies came out, and  of course they had games for said movies. I had the first Spider-Man Raimi  movie game (what a mouthful!) and I thought it was pretty awesome!  I’d eventually get my hands on the second game as well. Even if the games are considered mediocre for this day and age, I enjoyed them. So seeing a new Spider-Man game in this generation with great graphics and  great gameplay. Even though I also loved Shattered Dimensions in its day, I cannot wait to web-swing the streets of New York as Peter Parker (or maybe even  Miles Morales) against fighting Spider-Man’s great rogue gallery!

9. Ghost of Tsushima

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/Sucker Punch Productions
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: TBC

We don’t know a lot about this game, as all we saw were some nice looking cut scenes (I guess?) and some developer talk on  the game at the Paris Games Week in 2017, but the premise got me hooked. Being a Samurai in the feudal era of Japan interests me. And I’d like to play as that since I missed out on so many other games in the past like that (Brave Fencer Musashi, for one) The closest to a game like this I’ve played Is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. So I’m excited to see what more Sucker Punch can give me after the Infamous series.

8. Vampyr

Publisher/Developer: Focus Home Interactive/Dontnod Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: Spring 2018

Again, this one I know little about. I have a love-hate relationship with Vampires. There are times when they’re awesome, (Castlevania series and the Vampire: The Masquerade series in games, almost anything really involving Dracula -OR BLACULA!- in movies/TV) and times when they’re just not. (Twilight, anyone? I shudder when I think about it: VAMPIRES DON’T SPARKLE!)  The little I’ve seen of this game reminds me of The Darkness, one of the only 3 FPS games I’ll actually play and enjoy. (If you want me to delve into that, I’ll talk about it some other time) and the Infamous series, which interests me a bit. So I’ll see how this goes…even though the developer, Dontnod, has had some stinkers in the past (Life is Strange, a train wreck using time travel to make things worse; and Remember Me, which no one remembers…ha ha) Let’s see if they can actually come up with some gold with Vampyr.

7. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

I backed this game back in 2015. (I know, that feels SO long ago..) and this game is finally coming out in 2018! The things that sold me on it back then were the people who made the then-wonderful fighting game Skullgirls were developing it, and it had an interesting battle system. Now in those 3 years, we’ve seen a couple games copy this system, like the Fallen Legion series and Has-Been Heroes to an extent. But I think Indivisible will be a great game on its own and I hope my 3-year-old payment will be worth it in the end!

6. Darksiders III

Publisher/Developer: THQ Nordic/Gunfire Games
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

I have had an interest in this series for a while. I bought the first game on PS3 a few years ago, I got stuck in it (as I usually do) and eventually shelved it, but I did like what I played. It definitely had God of War vibes and I love the fact that it involved the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I enjoy the supernatural parts of religion, such as angels and demons and the such, so this game is right up my alley! I haven’t played the second game yet, but I have it on my PS4, so hopefully by the time this comes out, I may have a chance to play, if not beat the second one. Maybe even get the first one played and beaten to so I can enjoy this one. As always, a female protagonist is never a bad thing and neither is a whip for combat! (Here’s looking at you, Belmonts!)

5. God of War

Publisher/Developer: Sony Interactive Entertainment/SIE Santa Monica Studio
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: Q1 2018

How fitting this game is next after talking about Darksiders 3, since that game is pretty much inspired by this one! I’ve loved God of War since I bought the first game on an impulse so many years ago at Walmart (back when I bought my video games exclusively at Walmart…those were the days) I call(ed) it my rage game because I can let out all my anger and kill and gnash and have blood everywhere and no one will tell me anything AND I won’t go to jail!  Anyway, I’ve played most of the  games in the series by now (sans Ascenion) and I’ve loved every one I’ve player (save Chains of Olympus…don’t ask.)  Even though this game is straying from the old formula and it’s kind of giving me “dadmance vibes” like Spider-Man Homecoming did with Peter Parker and Tony Stark, I think the game will still be solid. Also using Norse gods this time instead of Greek will defintely spice things up in Kratos’ world, and he’ll obviously show that age isn’t anything but a number, and he can still kick butt, beard and all!

4. Soulcalibur VI

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Project Soul
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: TBA 2018

Ah yes, “it’s time to go back to the stage of history!” I’ve loved the Soul Calibur/Soul Edge series for a while, even if Namco themselves went a bit crazy for a few years. The last Soul Calibur game I played and loved was Soul Calibur II, but some of the characters in the later games were interesting to see. I didn’t really play very much of Soul Calibur III, IV, or V, so I’m not gonna comment much on them. But I got really excited when I saw the announcement for Soul Calibur VI during The Game Awards. The game looks superb, even if it looks like a retread back to  the original Soul Calibur, I personally think the game needs to go back to its roots, since the current games really have left  a sour taste in some people’s mouths. It’s also fitting since Soul Calibur just recently had its 20th anniversary, so a nod to its roots is never a bad thing. Also I may need another solid fighting game as it looks like my choices are dwindling…but that’s another article for another day.

3. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

NO MORE HEROES. Another impulse game on the Wii, one of my first in my Gamestop days of buying games (I’m feeling  a bit old typing this). I bought this game because I’m a sucker for a cool guy with a sword. And oh that rabbit hole that Goichi Suda (Suda 51) dug was a nice one. The game is about a crazed otaku-turned-assassin who’s told to kill other assassins and rise up to the top of the leaderboards. The gameplay is amazing and one of the few games of its time to truly make motion controls feel fun! I really felt like I was Travis Touchdown and I was swinging that katana around! I beat the first game and loved it, and got stuck in the second. I got a bit angry when they remade the first game for PS3, because I really felt like the Wii was the perfect system for the game, but people gonna complain until they get what they want, and apparently it wasn’t that good a game. (good for them…) I got a bit scared for this series, because as I recall, Suda51 said on many occasions that this game wouldn’t be on a Nintendo system if it was gonna get an update, and the game wouldn’t really see a release. But when I saw this trailer, I felt like Suda51 gave me an early Christmas/birthday gift! (My birthday is 4 days before Christmas) I cannot wait to see what (and WHO) Travis Touchdown has gotten his awesome katana(s) stuck into this time!

2. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I’ve personally had some bad times with this series, but I’m actually happy that Mega Man is gonna come back again in 2018! It’s been a long, long  wait for a new Mega Man game since Mega Man 9 and 10 came out in 2008 and 2010, respectively.  Most people even thought Mega Man to be a dead series, never to see another new game again. But for its 30th Anniversary, Capcom announced Mega Man 11 and also the Mega Man X series coming out to next gen consoles (PS4, Xbox One, and Switch)  I am personally very excited for the new Classic Mega Man game, even if I had much trouble with the series in the past, and it caused me a few…issues. I’m sure this game will be amazing and I will hopefully beat it sometime in the next 10 years….

1. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Oh god I’ve been waiting for this game FOR-EVER!  Almost as long as the smash hit Persona 5 that finally came out last year in 2017!  (Winter 2015….grumble grumble) Anyway I’ve loved this series for a long time. Ironically I got into this series because my cousin had it. And she was afraid of one of the bosses. So she ended up giving it to me. My Xbox got stolen so I got a PS2, mainly for this game, and I’ve been in love ever since. I’ve played almost all of the games except for the few mobile games since then. I’ve been waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3 since I finished 2 around…2006-ish. When I heard this game was actually happening, I was shocked. I didn’t expect this game to come out at all in my lifetime since it took so long between 2 and 3 and they had so many side stories and spin-off games. I think they’re finally putting Nomura’s foot to the fire and telling  him to release this game in 2018, so I hope it actually comes out. The worlds look amazing from what I’ve seen and the properties they’re using are also top-notch. I chose this as my number one because I think this game will hopefully be the best of them all as it will end the Keyblade Seekers portion of the Kingdom Hearts series, then they can start on a whole other adventure, which I cannot wait to hear about in the far-flung future!

Well 2017 has ended and 2018 will soon begin. The last 12 months of gaming have been great and let’s hope for 12 more!

This is Dari, signing off!

NekoGamerX

2017 was a great year for video games and 2018 is looking good so far as well. This is my list for most anticipated games for 2018.

Honorable Mention

Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is not a new game. I love classic Capcom fighting games and this sounds like a great collection. I only wish Capcom would release some more of their other classic fighters like Darkstalkers but that dream is dead.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I liked the original Guacamelee. It was a really fun Metroidvania/Metroid-like game. I didn’t care for the game’s theme but the gameplay was solid. I want more games like this.

9. project OCTOPATH TRAVELER

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire/Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

This game reminds me of the old RPGs that were on the Super NES back in the day. I’m glad to see games like this are still around. Hope to see more like it in the future.

8. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

Okay, classic MegaMan is my second favorite MegaMan, but I won’t lie: I was hoping for a new MegaMan X game. Oh well, this is the next best thing and at least the older MegaMan X games are getting re-released on everything and MegaMan is not dead.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

I’ve been a Blazblue fan for years and I think it’s a way better series than Guilty Gear. I’m just waiting for Taokaka or Kokonoe to be announced as playable characters. Hell, why not both? I’d be happy with just one of them though, but at least Makoto is in it.

6. Monster Hunter: World

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

The Monster Hunter series is really fun and I’m glad to see it come to the PS4, though I don’t mind what it comes out on, as long as they keep coming out here.

5. Kingdom Hearts III

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2018

Okay, this game has been a long time coming. I just about gave up on it, but it looks like it’s finally going to happen. And it’d better!

4. Indivisible

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/Lab Zero Games
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: 2018

Now this game, from what I’ve seen. It looks good and it’s being made by the same people that made Skullgirls, so I’ve got faith that it’s going to be good.

3. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco/Arc System Works
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: January 26, 2018

This game looks way better than what MvCI could ever hope to be and a lot more. MvCI was the biggest letdown of 2017 for me and I hope there are more fighters like this in the works – and less games like MvCI.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018

The first Freedom Planet was one of the most fun 2D platformers I’ve played in a long time and I was hoping for a sequel. Glad it’s coming in 2018. Well, at least I hope it does and doesn’t get delayed.

1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

I’ve wanted a new Metroidvania-style Castlevania game for a long time and with Konami being the way they are right now, I’ve given up on that. Bloodstained is the next best thing and it’s my only hope for a Metroidvania game. I don’t want this to be another Mighty No. 9 and from what I’ve seen, it looks like it’s not going to be. It looks like the people working on this game know what they’re doing, which makes me happy and I can’t wait to play the final game.

Shellshock

The year 2017 started with, and ended with a bang on many different fronts. We had what many consider to be one of the best years in gaming, and with good reason. We’re already seeing a growth in many different gaming markets with compelling software, as well as new hardware being released. Now that 2018 is on the horizon, there are many different games I’m excited for, more than how I was going into 2017. I don’t expect 2018 to top 2017, but it doesn’t have to, as it needs to be able to hold its own with lots of games that will keep people playing.

Now, I’m going to omit games with no set release window or date (Metroid Prime 4, Pokémon Switch, Fire Emblem Switch [sic], and Bayonetta 3, to name a few), as we don’t have a lot of info to go by. I’m also going to shy myself away from ports or remakes, with one exception. That being said, let’s get on with, what I would consider to be my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of 2018!

Before we get into the list, let’s get into some honorable mentions, shall we?

Honorable Mentions

  • Soulcalibur VI (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Announced at The Game Awards 2017, Soulcalibur VI is returning to its roots by bringing us fan favorites from the original series, with a new take, and a reimagining of the series’ story and setting. Soulcalibur V was a disappointment, and it’s been years since that game was released, so I’m looking forward to seeing if 6 could give us the experience we’ve been wanting to see again.
  • Wargroove (Switch, PC, Xbox One): A strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars, Wargroove has a lot of interesting characters, and a battle system that will keep you coming for more. I’ve enjoyed the Advance Wars games, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to this.
  • Runner3 (Switch): The Runner games were fun to play, especially Runner2, in addition to the cool background music during gameplay. With paths that you could now branch off into the background, and the ability to double jump, there’s lots of new experiences to be had in this installment.
  • Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes (Switch): I’m going on record to say that I still need to finish the first game (as well as start the second after that), but that doesn’t take away my excitement I have for this game. There’s a lot of crossovers with other indie games, which is really cool. From what I’ve played of the first game, I liked, so there’s a high chance that I will enjoy this one.
  • Indivisible (PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One): Lab Zero made a great fighting game in Skullgirls, and I’ve enjoyed that one a lot. With Indivisible, it looks a lot more ambitious, by combining Valkyrie Profile and Metroidvania-style gameplay, and that’s an awesome combination. However, there’s not a lot of info on this game, which is why it’s an honorable mention at best. Hoping we get more info on this game really soon!

And now onto the main list.

10. Valkyria Chronicles 4

Publisher/Developer: Sega
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Valkyria Chronicles 4 looks to be a return to form for the series, as it’s going back to a similar style that the first game had. It’s set in the same timeframe as the first game, so it’s not required to have played any of the other games in the series to have knowledge of what’s going on, or to even get right into it. If you are into turn-based strategies with an overhead view, and controlling characters with different methods of combat, then you’ll definitely want to pick this up.

9. Yoshi (Nintendo Switch)

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Yoshi makes his return, this time on the Nintendo Switch. The game is developed by Good-Feel, and has a similar gameplay style as Yoshi’s Woolly World. Unlike Woolly World, Yoshi is made of a different material than yarn. When this was announced at the Nintendo E3 Spotlight, it was overshadowed due to the announcement of Metroid Prime 4. Despite that, I thought it was nice to see a new Yoshi game on the Nintendo Switch. Eggs are back, which made sense since Yoshi’s not made of Yarn in this one, so he won’t need Yarn Balls. Otherwise, the game is just like Woolly World, which is a good thing. I like Yoshi, so I’m definitely looking forward to this!

8. Dragon Quest XI

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Armor Project
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: 2018

The Dragon Quest series outside of Japan has always been overlooked, at least until Dragon Quest VIII on PS2. That game sold well, but it did have a demo for Final Fantasy XII as part of it. We did get Dragon Quest IX on DS, and that ended up being the best-selling game in the series outside of Japan. We never got X here, though it did go the MMO route, but I’m sure some people would’ve appreciated it. That being said, when Dragon Quest XI was announced, I couldn’t be any more excited! It’s back to the traditional Dragon Quest gameplay we all know and love, and the game itself looks even more beautiful than ever before. I’m hoping it gets localized here in 2018, as I will be spending so much time with this game!

7. Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection

Publisher/Developer: Capcom/Digital Eclipse
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: May 2018

I said I wasn’t going to talk about ports or remakes, but I have to make this one an exception. Coming from Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers, many people criticized the price point, using HD Remix’s graphics, and the awful Way of the Hadou minigame. Out of nowhere, Capcom announced the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection at the 2017 Capcom Cup, which includes twelve different Street Fighter games. You get the original, five versions of Street Fighter II, all three games in the Alpha series, and all three games in the Street Fighter III series. The reason I’ve added this game to my list is because of the Nintendo Switch version, specifically. The fact that I could take Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike anywhere with me is a big deal. Now I could play with my friends at the meetups I run, at conventions, or even online. You could only play Hyper Fighting, Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Alpha 3, and 3rd Strike online, but those are the four that are worth playing the most, so I’m fine with that. No matter where I go, Street Fighter will always be with me.
 

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: 2018

Konami’s Castlevania series has been dormant for a couple of years now, mostly because Lords of Shadow 2 didn’t set the world on fire. As such, we haven’t seen a Metroidvania style game since Order of Ecclesia, though we did get Harmony of Despair, but that’s more-or-less a multiplayer platformer. Bloodstained returning to the Metroidvania style roots is something that I’m excited about. There’s also a prequel to the game in retro style, which is right up my alley, as I loved classic Castlevania.

I’ve backed this game on Kickstarter, and originally went for the Wii U stretch goal. Earlier this year, the development staff confirmed that the Wii U version was cancelled, but later confirmed that it was coming to Switch. I made the Switch (no pun intended), and now I’m looking forward to playing this game anywhere I go!
 

5. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Publisher/Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment/Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, XBOX One, PC
Release Date: January 26, 2018

I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, and I’ve enjoyed many of the DBZ fighting games in the past, so this one is a no-brainer. After the disappointment that was Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, many fighting game fans (including myself) took a look at this game’s previews and trailers, and were wowed at the execution of the fighting system. This felt more like a Marvel vs. Capcom game than Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and it showed. This game also has elements of many different Arc System Works games, such as “Vanish” and “Dragon Rush” moves, as well as “Super Dash”. Who is developing this game, might you ask? Well Arc System Works, of course! Even the element where you could collect the Dragon Balls to make a wish that helps you in the match sounds interesting, too! Dragon Ball FighterZ is definitely going to be a lot of fun, whether you love fighting games, the Dragon Ball universe, or both!

Sadly, this is the final Dragon Ball series video game where longtime Japanese voice actress Hiromi Tsuru voiced Bulma, as she passed away on November 16, 2017. May she rest in peace.
 

4. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC
Release Date: 2018

Another crossover fighter? Yes, please! Arc System Works is two for two with multi-man tag team fighting games, both with Dragon Ball FighterZ, and now Blazblue Cross Tag Battle! Who knew they would be the ones filling a huge positive void in that market that not even Capcom could do?

Anyway, you have characters from the Blazblue series, Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY, all colliding against each other in this tag team fighting game! The gameplay is a mix of Blazblue Central Fiction, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and Under Night In-Birth EXE: Late[st], with lots of tweaks. While I’m looking forward to Dragon Ball FighterZ, I’m looking forward to Blazblue Cross Tag Battle even more!

3. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

Kirby has a lot of fun games; some of them are easy, and many of them are very challenging. Kirby: Star Allies returns to the 4-player co-op style, similar to Kirby’s Return to Dreamland. However, it also brings back the Helper feature from many games in the series, such as Super Star and Squeak Squad [sic]. You could have up to three companions with you throughout the game, and turn into a giant tire as you roll down hills. There’s a lot of new puzzles, which I always enjoy, since they could be challenging. You could also combine power-ups, something that hasn’t been seen in the series since Kirby 64, which is neat. During the September Nintendo Direct, they revealed King DeDeDe with huge muscles, so clearly, he’s been working out (though he still has stubby legs). This looks like it’ll be released during the Spring, and I’ll be picking this one up as it’s released!

2. Project Octopath Traveler

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Acquire
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2018

The moment I first laid my eyes on this game when it was announced back in January, I fell in love with it! Using an HD 2D engine, Project Octopath Traveler goes back to the old school JRPG roots with many new twists. In this game, you could make your command multiple times via boost points, which allows you to attack, defend, or increase potency of abilities. This game gives me vibes from Final Fantasy VI, Chrono Trigger, and the Bravely series of games, all rolled into one, with beautiful 2D graphics. This game feels more like a Final Fantasy game to me than a lot of modern games in that series. Acquire and Square Enix captured the magic of the older 16-bit era Squaresoft RPGs, and if they could add a lot of content to this game, it’ll make a lot of people come back for more! I also look forward to what the final name of the game will end up being.

1. Mega Man 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, Playstation 4, XBOX One
Release Date: Late 2018

Many of you who know me better have already seen this one coming, and why wouldn’t this be my most anticipated game of 2018? I was so happy to see The Blue Bomber back with a new game! I had a glimmer of hope for a new Mega Man game for years now. I felt like there was hope since Mega Man was included as a playable character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Since then, all we’ve had were Mega Man Legacy Collections 1 and 2, up until December 4th, where Capcom had that Mega Man 30th Anniversary Livestream. Even with the hope that I had, I went in, and kept my expectations low, as I didn’t want to be upset if there wasn’t a new Mega Man game that wasn’t a port. I sat through watching a game show, a Mega Ran Live Performance, and some developers talking about Mega Man’s history. Not long after the Mega Man X games were announced for all major platforms, Capcom showed off the History of Mega Man retrospective, in the form of Mega Man in 8-bit, running, jumping, and climbing through a big stage, showing off all the main games in the Classic series. It was sad to see Mega Man pass through 2011 and onwards with nothing (Mega Man XOver doesn’t count as a real Mega Man game in my eyes). Once I saw Mega Man in Dr. Wily’s lab, I was wondering what was going on, as Dr. Wily went through a turning door. When I saw Mega Man get the ? Orb that represents 2018, I wondered what was up, only to be shocked at what I saw.

MEGA MAN IS BACK!!!

So let’s talk about the game, and what we know so far. It’s a 2.5D style game that plays like the Classic Mega Man games. Mega Man looks a bit taller and sounds like a teenager, which I didn’t mind. The slide and Charge shot are back, which is great, because I wanted them to add a lot of elements from the entire Classic series. It looks like there was a Super Charge Blast of some sort, which I don’t know much about, but it looks to do a hefty amount of damage. The music sounds good, but I want to hear more catchy tunes that the Mega Man series is known for. The graphics look exactly what I would expect them to, a modernized Mega Man game with a 2.5D Gameplay. I’ve seen people claim that this game looks like Mighty No. 9, but to be honest, I think this looks a heck of a lot better. You could collect gears in this game, but it’s unknown as to what purpose they serve, but I wonder if it’s either similar to the Nuts and Bolts from previous entries, or something different? I’ll have to wait and see to find out all the details when Capcom’s ready to share them.

Capcom has been on a huge roller coaster ride with many of their fans for over 11 or so years, and they’ve made a lot of stupid decisions that really ticked people off. It seems like they now want to get on their fans’ good graces again, and while Mega Man 11 is a great start, they still have a long way to go before they get universal praise again. I really hope Capcom delivers with this game, and I trust the new lead director and producer to get the job done. I also had a funny feeling that Capcom wanted to make a new Mega Man game for years now, and there have been cancelled games, even after Universe and Legends 3’s cancellations (the Metroid Prime-styled Mega Man X game for Nintendo 3DS [sic] says hi), but they weren’t sure as to how to go about it. Now that the Blue Bomber is back, I will do everything I can to support this game. I will buy this game on both Switch and Steam (and if I had a Playstation 4 or XBOX One, then I’d get them on those platforms, too). Not only am I happy that Mega Man is back, I also never want him to go on another seven-to-eight-year hiatus ever again. Saying that I cannot wait for this game is a complete understatement, but the latter part of 2018 is going to be worth it!

So that’s my 10 most anticipated games of 2018.I had a lot more games that I was more anticipating than previous years, as there’s a lot for me to look forward to. There are many other games I’m looking forward to that’s not on this list, but they lack info or a solid release date, but if any of them get released in 2018, you bet I will be picking them up! Again, I enjoyed 2017 a lot more, and while I don’t expect 2018 to top it, I do hope we get yet another great year in video games.

Professor Icepick

2017 was probably one of the best years for gaming we’ve had in a long time. What I find really surprising is the fact that, for once, the vast majority of the games on last year’s list actually managed to come out – for better or for worse. The only real issue I’ve got with this year is that it seems like compared to this time last year, relatively few new games were announced to fill in the gaps the stellar releases that hit in 2017 left behind, but that’s just nitpicking. Hopefully, 2018 manages to continue 2017’s trend of timely releases and amazing titles. With that being said, let’s get started with this year’s honorable mentions before we tear into my top 10.

Honorable Mentions

  • Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection (PC/Switch/PS4/XBO): Okay, so technically this is a cheat. But that’s why it’s only on the honorable mentions listing. 12 classic Street Fighter games, with 4 of the most popular games getting full online capabilities for $40 sounds like an amazing offer to me. The fact that Digital Eclipse – who previously brought us the original MegaMan Legacy Collection and the Disney Afternoon Collection – is heading up this game’s development, and we know that there’s at least some form of rollback netcode involved makes me feel confident in this upcoming anthology’s quality.

I just hope they reconsider making Alpha 2 an offline-only experience. There has also been a bit of controversy over the fact that they’re only including the American versions of each game in this collection: even MMLC had both the American and Japanese versions of each game included in all releases.

  • Toejam and Earl: Back in the Groove (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): One of the few stragglers from last year’s list, TJ&E may look amazing, but it’s been demoted to honorable mention this time. It’s partly due to the fact that so many other amazing games were announced for 2018, but I’m still bitter that it didn’t manage to release in 2017. I guess adding a Switch version pushed everything back.
  • Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Monster Boy also hits the honorable mentions for the same reasons as Toejam and Earl. Of course, I guess Cursed Kingdom has an excuse: they’re retooling the graphics from sprites to hand-drawn animation. Considering how late into development they decided to shift the artstyle, it only makes sense that it’d be pushed back at least a year.
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ (PC/PS4/XBO): DBFZ was actually on the main list until I realized that there was another game slated for release next year that I preferred. It’s nothing personal, but I generally tend to prefer 2-on-2 tag fighters over the 3-on-3 versions – but looking at how well Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite turned out for me, that’s not an automatic sign of quality.
  • Indivisible (PC/PS4/XBO/Switch): Another game that was just barely kicked off the main list, Indivisible is the newest product from Lab Zero Games, the people behind Skullgirls. News on the game’s development has been slow and I’ve been following for a long time now. By this point, I’m just kind of burnt out on the whole concept, to the point where I’ve been ignoring news until something significant pops up. Still hoping they make that final stretch goal – which would add a bonus dungeon and multiple endings – by their end of the year deadline.

Dishonorable Mention

  • Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (PC): “Same day release”, my fat, pale hairy ass.

10. Guacamelee 2

Publisher/Developer: DrinkBox Studios
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: “Early 2018”

I consider the original Guacamelee among the best Metroidvanias platform-adventure games ever released, so I was incredibly excited to hear that it’s finally getting a sequel. The only reason that it ends up so low on my list is that it’s presently a PS4 exclusive. That’s not much of a surprise, considering the first game launched as a timed exclusive on PlayStation, but considering the game took roughly 15 months to hit other consoles, that means I probably won’t be getting my hands on it until 2019 at this rate. Kind of kills the hype, don’t you think?

9. Lethal League Blaze

Publisher/Developer: Team Reptile
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: 2018

The original Lethal League is perhaps one of my favorite indie games of all-time. Effectively the bastard love child of Super Smash Bros., Super Dodge Ball and Pong, the game is a unique blend of arcade sports and fighting game action. The game managed to finally hit both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this year, but they also announced a pseudo-sequel – it’s been stated to be an expanded retelling of the original game – for those two platforms as well as PC. Boasting additional characters and a sleek new cel-shaded 2.5D art style, Blaze seems to be well on its way to taking Lethal League to the next level. We have very little information over all, but Team Reptile seems confident that the game will launch next year. I’m hoping that there’s some form of crossplay – ideally between PS4 and Steam – but even if there isn’t, I’m still excited for this remake.

8. Kirby: Star Allies

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/HAL Laboratory
Platform: Switch
Release Date: Spring 2018

I’ve been a fan of the Kirby series for a long time and I’d consider them to be the “chess” of the platformer genre: easy to learn, but difficult to master. Considering how much I ended up loving Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot, I was excited when Nintendo first revealed their new Kirby game for the Switch back at E3 this past year and we got to see even more footage this past September during one of their Nintendo Directs. The ability to combine copy powers returns from Kirby 64, though in an entirely new form, which seems like a pretty good gimmick to base an entire game around. My only nagging doubt is the implication at the reliance on co-op play – and by extension, AI partners in single-player. I’m hoping that this doesn’t end up dragging things down, but I’ll just have to wait and see when the game releases.

7. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle

Publisher/Developer: Arc System Works
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

Okay, so Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite ended up being a huge disappointment to me and many others and to capitalize on that, Bandai Namco partnered with Arc System Works to deliver what looks like an amazing 3v3 tag fighter featuring the Dragon Ball franchise, with gorgeous cel-shaded 3D models on par with those of the Guilty Gear Xrd games. I was impressed, but still a bit sad: I’d been waiting for so long for a return to form for 2-on-2 games and Capcom had clearly messed that up for me. Turns out Arc System Works had my back the entire time – and with Blazblue no less! A crossover fighter utilizing Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, French Bread’s Under Night In-Birth and the popular online animated series RWBY, I was suddenly unshackled from the tyranny of MvCI’s oppressive mediocrity. I’m not particularly fond of the current roster, but Arc’s promised many more announcements in the coming months.

6. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Publisher/Developer: 505 Games/ArtPlay/DICO
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation Vita
Release Date: “March 2018”

This has been a long time coming. Originally slated to be released this past year when it was first Kickstarted, Bloodstained was quickly booted back to 2018 once the fundraising came to its conclusion. Since then, we’ve had a revolving door of developers: Inti Creates was booted off the project and replaced with developers more proficient in Unreal Engine 4. The Wii U version was killed off and replaced with a Switch version, which led to mixed reactions at first, but inevitably met with more and more support as time went on. I played the demo they released back in 2016, and while it was a bit rough, the potential was definitely there even that early into development. So, as we finally approach the game’s release, I’m excited once more. I’m probably far more excited for the pack-in retro-themed prequel game and the game’s linear mode than I am for the base game itself, but the entire thing should be a blast. Yet for all that excitement, I still worry that we may have another Mighty No. 9 on our hands.

5. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes

Publisher/Developer: Marvelous Entertainment/Grasshopper Manufacture
Platform: Switch
Release Date: 2018

“It’s a new game in the No More Heroes franchise” should be enough of a reason for this game to nab the number five slot on this list, but I’ve got a reputation of going above and beyond when it comes to describing just why these games end up where they do. Travis Strikes Again isn’t a traditional entry in the series, but instead chronicles Travis Touchdown being assaulted by Badman – the father of NMH’s Bad Girl – only for the two of them to get sucked into Travis’s Death Drive Mark II video game console and forced to beat its games in order to escape back to the real world. It’s implied to be a collaborative game, developed by several indie developers and might feature some crossovers with paradoxical big-name indie titles like Hotline Miami and Shovel Knight. To put it mildly, this game is for me what Death Stranding is to what feels like everyone else on the planet: I have no idea what it is, and yet I can’t help but be excited.

4. Fighting EX Layer

Publisher/Developer: Arika
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: 2018

This game almost didn’t make the list – simply because I was unaware that it was set for release next year. Back when I was a kid, I loved the original Street Fighter EX – a close friend of mine lent me his copy of the game for an extended period of time. Sure, the graphics were crude, the mechanics imperfect, but there was just something endearing about the whole game. I feel exactly the same about Fighting EX Layer: not an amazing technical powerhouse – either in terms of graphics or gameplay mechanics – but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the game’s currently slated as a PS4 exclusive, but maybe if the game performs well, it could make its way onto other platforms.

…just wish they’d gone with “Fighting Layer EX” for the title instead. FLEX is a perfect acronym.

3. “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch”

Publisher/Developer: Nintendo/Good-Feel
Platform: …Switch
Release Date: 2018

20 years. 20 long years. 20 long, agonizing years filled to the brim with broken dreams and unfulfilled promises. That’s how long it took for Yoshi’s Woolly World to deliver a worthy successor to Yoshi’s Island and one that arguably outstripped its predecessor. Fortunately, it’s only taken 3 years for yet another sequel. Once again developed by Good-Feel, “Yoshi for Nintendo Switch” looks like it’s going to expand on the previous game’s formula – and honestly, that’s all it really needs to do. It looks like the game is going to expand on the craftwork setting of the previous game, implementing papercraft and various other media, while the gameplay appears to be better utilizing its 3D graphics, not unlike the early 2.5D platformers, allowing Yoshi to walk into the background and foreground. The truth is, this could’ve been a level pack sequel and I’d still be excited, but it’s good to see further experimentation with the solid formula of the previous game.

2. Freedom Planet 2

Publisher/Developer: GalaxyTrail
Platform: PC, possibly more
Release Date: 2018?

It’s funny: I put Freedom Planet 2 in the #2 spot and GalaxyTrail comes out with a massive update on the game’s progress. The original game is probably one of my favorite 2D platformers of this generation thus far and FP2 looks to deliver at least twice as much on everything the first game had. While we were never really given any sort of release window for the game – only a mention that a playable beta would be available in “mid-2017” (it hit in January of that year) back when the game was announced on Christmas 2015 – the game looks to be nearing completion. GalaxyTrail has mentioned that they have a release date in mind, but simply don’t want to announce it until they’re absolutely sure they can hit it. Considering the issues they had with the first game’s Wii U port, I can’t really blame them. They also mentioned that they can’t confirm any platforms besides PC, Mac and Linux, but are working hard to secure at least some form of console release.

1. MegaMan 11

Publisher/Developer: Capcom
Platform: PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: “Late 2018”

I know I said these same exact words last year – and I know how well that turned out for me – but once again, “it couldn’t be anything else”. The Blue Bomber has been in dire straits the past seven years, with only a free PC game, a crummy mobile game and a disappointing spiritual successor to show for it. In retrospect, Capcom’s choice to let Inafune make the first move was a brilliant one, but it left the fanbase feeling frozen out. With the specter of Mighty No. 9 finally banished from the forefront of the fanbase’s mind, MegaMan 11 seems poised to capitalize on our aching hunger pangs and deliver a true new-generation MegaMan game.

The ironic thing is that one of the main criticisms I’ve seen leveled at MM11 is that the game has decided, like MegaMan 7, 8 and MegaMan & Bass before it, to abandon its 8-bit roots. Yet I seem to recall an incalculable amount of teeth-gnashing and wailing when MegaMan 10 decided to reuse that retro throwback art style, two years on the heels of MegaMan 9. I guess it’s true what they say: you can’t please everyone. The 2.5D style looks gorgeous, with the character models properly representing the concept art’s new take on the classic anime-inspired look. Some of the backgrounds even look hand-drawn, which just adds to the appeal.

Capcom has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years, delivering on the promise of Resident Evil 7, while stabbing me in the back with abominations like Dead Rising 4 and Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite. Perhaps it’s naïve to believe in Capcom blindly at this juncture, so I’m looking at this game through the lens of cautious optimism. Still, after 7 years of radio silence, I’m ready to get hurt again. MM11’s set to launch on all four major platforms late next year and I’m willing to give Capcom the benefit of the doubt given what we know so far. At the very least, it should be better than nothing.

Those are my picks for 2018. Last year, I was cynical about any of my choices releasing in 2017, but considering how many did, I was able to come up with an entirely new list this time around. However, this was a double-edged sword: I’m a bit less hyped for this list overall, simply due to a lack of information on what’s been announced and the fact that it feels like very little has actually been announced in 2017 for next year. My previous lists all had the stench of constant delays permeating from some of my major picks, but this year has all but wiped the slate clean. I guess that makes creating a new list difficult: chances are, there could be some pretty amazing games set to release in 2018 that we don’t even know about yet. That’s my hope, anyway.

A Wishlist Named GOG

On the one hand, giving up on the PC ports articles helped me out with regards to the quality of my writing, at least in terms of the topics I’d cover. After all, they were effectively vanity pieces, where I would essentially just lay out a list of ten games I’d love to see ported to my current platform of choice, particularly via Valve’s Steam platform. Back in the early days, this was a much more viable endeavor: many companies (particularly those of Japanese origin) had just began looking at PC ports as a potential revenue stream and I simply wanted to make my voice heard, even against the backdrop of a little-known blog, echoing from the most obscure corner of the vast internet. Since then, I’ve gotten a significant dividend on my investments and at this point, it seems like more companies have adopted the PC as a secondary platform for Western releases, superseding the current incarnation of the Xbox, with many smaller Japanese companies considering the PC market as a viable place to invest in general. As such, I decided to focus my interests elsewhere – honestly, those lists about ports of PC-exclusive games to consoles have been fun to write – but at the same time, it feels empty. After all, what’s in it for me? I’ve been itching to write another list and despite the fact that I’ve decided to revive the original concept for one more go this holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different first.

Before we dive into this new list, I’ve clearly got some updates to right, on the acquisitions the PC platform has made since that last list back in April. Truth be told, this was one of the determining factors that all but assured that this list would become a reality: if I’d waited until December to write up on everything else, I probably could’ve written an entire article on all the new PC ports we’ve seen announced and released alone. First off, the first Bayonetta was ported to PC as expected, but it was soon followed by a second Sega/Platinum project, the oft-requested Vanquish. Both have been given an even further coat of paint from their original HD releases and as such, now the PC versions are generally considered the definitive releases. de Blob 2 has joined its predecessor on Steam, skipping out on console versions at this point for some strange reason. Glad to see both games have been re-released on PC – I always felt that they were a bit of a longshot – and I hope this means that THQ Nordic has plans to revive the series down the line as well. Then there were games I’d wanted that didn’t even get the chance to be put on this year’s upcoming list: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was confirmed for release tomorrow on Steam, GOG and Humble Store via XSEED, who confirmed that the second game in the trilogy would also be receiving a PC port later this year and is now apparently taking PC development far more seriously (more on that later); Natsume released their first PC game in the form of Wild Guns Reloaded last month; SNK finally granted my wish and released The King of Fighters XIV on PC, with the port being handled by Abstraction Games, the very company that handled Double Dragon Neon, my first successful request; and Raiden V: Director’s Cut, an enhanced release of the former Xbox One exclusive was announced for both PS4 and PC. Speaking of which, last year, I wrote up a top 10 list of the games that I’d mentioned in previous lists that I most wanted to see become a reality. I’m happy to say that not only did two of those entries become a reality, but they were my top 2 choices overall. MegaMan 9 and 10 are coming to PC (as well as PS4 and XBO) via the upcoming MegaMan Legacy Collection 2, with all of their DLC included. As an added bonus, MegaMans 7 & 8 will also be included: truth be told, I’d have paid the $20 asking price for MM9 and MM10 with their bonus content alone; including MM8 was just gravy. Even more amazing was the news from last month that Ys Seven would be coming to PC in the West, via a brand-new port commissioned by XSEED themselves. Coming to us with an improved translation, 60FPS gameplay and enhanced graphics, it’s looking to be the definitive version of the Ys franchise’s first fully-3D adventure. Better still, this means that now, none of my lists are complete failures: at least one game from every list I’ve written up has had at least one PC port listed made, so I’m absolutely ecstatic about it. What this means for Memories of Celceta, now the only modern game in the series missing from PC, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, especially in light of the information that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo went on record saying that he wants “all of their games on Steam“. Of course, with my top two games on that cumulative list acquired, that may just mean I’ll have to write up a new one in December.

So with that gargantuan list of victories, let’s get to the topic at hand – what is the list going to be about this time around? Quite simply, I’m going to turn the entire concept on its head: instead of asking for games that are exclusive to consoles to receive brand-new ports, why not ask for some old PC games (ports or otherwise) to be re-released so that modern generations can enjoy them? If the title didn’t give it away, this wishlist is dedicated to the fine people over at GOG. Formerly known as “Good Old Games”, G-O-G – or “Gog” as I prefer to pronounce it, simply because it sounds like a caveman’s name. Since they generally deal in older PC games, it just seems fitting to me – is perhaps the second-most popular digital platform when it comes to PC games, and that’s probably due to their unorthodox strategies. If their original name didn’t make it obvious, GOG focuses mostly on providing digital re-releases of old games that are long since out of print. That is to say, the majority of their “new releases” are a bit of a misnomer.

I personally believe that GOG’s popularity is because it bucked the trend that many digital storefronts embraced: attempting to create a “Steam-killer”, seemingly going after an entirely different niche audience of PC gamers – a solid concept given their focus on “good, old games”. Of course, perhaps the most prominent way they’ve separated themselves from Valve’s nigh-monopoly is with their strict policy against DRM software. That essentially makes GOG one of the few digital storefronts where you can literally buy PC games. While that’s had the unfortunate consequence of making them the perfect source for PC game piracy, it’s still something that has earned them quite a few companies’ respect, not to mention a dedicated fanbase, especially among anti-DRM advocates. Likewise, while GOG traditionally works off their website, they’ve also built their own Steam-like client, GOG Galaxy, which allows for various quality of life features Steam is acclaimed for, such as in-game achievements, automatic updates and even online cross-platform play with Steam users.

GOG is the class valedictorian to Steam’s starting quarterback with really rich parents. Valve’s massive war chest has allowed them to become everyone’s favorite PC gaming service, effectively becoming the last man standing after the all-out war against the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. GOG’s focus and policies make them a far less popular choice for the majority of developers and especially publishers, but in return, they provide their customers with far better service. Perhaps the best illustration of this is by comparing the two stores’ refund policies: while Steam offers a strange 2 weeks owned/2 hours played policy, GOG offers a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked. Of course, many times when GOG goes out of their way to secure the re-release of an oft-requested title, it’ll often just show up Steam later on, usually after a particularly anemic exclusivity period. Seems a bit thankless to me, but I guess I understand it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about GOG would be their community wishlists. In my opinion, these are the ultimate proof of their dedication to provide their customers with the best possible service. GOG has wishlists for new features on the website, new features on their Galaxy client, new movies (yes, GOG offers digital video downloads as well), but the longest-running and my personal favorite would have to be their wishlist for new PC games. While there are quite a few cases of people completely missing the point of the service, I’ve upvoted quite a few of these and quite a few of these games have ended up emerging on the service. In fact, GOG’s community wishlist is what inspired this wishlist in the first place, both the concept and some of the entries on here. I’ll include links to those with entries on the community wishlist, in an effort to get them some support and, perhaps, one day, some of these games will find their way onto the service.

The rules are going to be a bit different this time around, just to make my life a bit easier. Chances are this will end up being a one-shot, so I’m not particularly worried with the changes. I’ll be keeping the concept of consolidating multiple games in a single series into one entry, simply to both save space and get as many games in as possible. As these are all existing PC games, there’s no point in separating series by platform, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all in that regard. I’m bumping the company limitations from 1 to 2 entries this time around, simply because there just aren’t as many companies with games I’d want. Likewise, much like previous “special” lists, I’ll be including an additional write-up, this time focusing on my thoughts on the likelihood of these games being released on GOG in the future. That seems like it might be good for a laugh.

The House of the Dead/The Typing of the Dead – Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions that when I was young, my main outlets for gaming were the Game Gear, my ill-fated Nomads (never give a child with a temper a fragile, yet expensive handheld) and of course, the family computer. Sega was a constant presence on all three platforms. I was always a fan of the “Sega PC” line of games: it blew my mind to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my friend’s computer and I was equally blown away by the mere existence of Sonic CD. But there were many more games in there, and as time went on, Sega’s offerings improved. The Sega PC lineup was particularly strong during the Saturn days. Given the fact that the source code is long gone, I think Sega re-releasing the original House of the Dead’s PC port would be a good way to honor the franchise, especially given the fact that every other game in the franchise has been re-released in some form. Likewise, I’d love to see a re-release of the original Typing of the Dead, given how much I’m loving Overkill. Unfortunately, since The Typing of the Dead 2 was Japan-exclusive, I’m far less optimistic about that one seeing a re-release on GOG, unless Sega decides to include a translation.

Odds: Well, Sega has yet to release any games on the GOG platform, so that makes things kind of dicey. Still, given Sega of Europe’s recent shift towards PC ports and original development, I think there may be a chance that we could see some of these games pop up in the future with enough fan demand. (5/10)

Panzer Dragoon – Sega

It almost pains me to include this one, simply because there was another game I wanted from the Sega PC line-up. Alas, that game ended up below, in the honorable mentions, simply due to the importance of this game. Generally considered one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, not to mention one of the best games developed by Sega period, Panzer Dragoon only saw release on the Saturn, on the Japan-exclusive Sega Ages line and as a bonus feature in the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta. The Xbox version utilized the PC port as its basis – a not-at-all uncommon move for Sega with regards to many titles from around that era – which should speak to its quality. As such, I had to put my nostalgia aside and give Panzer Dragoon the nod: besides, I never really got to play it and I’ve been interested in the game for quite some time now.

Odds: I’d almost say that it’s on par with the HotD games, but honestly, given the sheer zealotry of Panzer Dragoon’s small but dedicated fanbase, I’d say that if any Sega PC game makes it onto GOG, it’s got to be Panzer Dragoon – though, hopefully, Sega doesn’t decide to stop at just one. (6/10)

Metal Gear Solid: Integral/Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami

I guess it just sort of proves how dumb of a kid I was: I had no idea that either of these games had even received PC ports. Of course, given Konami’s history with the MSX, I guess it kind of makes sense. From what I can tell, both ports were fairly well done, and there were even mods that upscaled all of the textures and graphics to allow for HD gameplay, effectively giving the PC versions an edge over any other version. There was a rumor for quite some time that Konami was planning to port the MGS HD Collection to Steam, but frankly, I think I’d rather just see these ports of the first two games re-released instead.

Odds: Like Sega, Konami has absolutely no presence on GOG at the moment. To make matters worse, they’ve earned themselves a fairly poor reputation among gamers in recent years, both through many of their releases but mostly due to some of their managerial shenanigans. Unless Konami decides they want to win back gamers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (2/10)

MegaMan Legends/MegaMan X3, X4, X5 & X8 – Capcom

The funny thing about MegaMan Legends is that, for quite some time, the only version you could buy new was the PC version. It was sold for quite some time on GameStop’s digital service, then just randomly vanished into the ether. I’m not sure if Capcom ordered them to take it down or if the game just stopped being compatible with current versions of Windows. Whatever the reason, it just disappeared. Considering the fact that Capcom was able to license a re-release of all three games as PS1 Classics, I’d kind of hope that they would be willing to swing a similar re-release of the PC version on GOG.

I also decided to include all of the MegaMan X games that came out in English-speaking regions, with the exception of the piss-poor port of the first game, handled by the folks at Rozner Labs. From what I can tell, all the ports I’ve mentioned are on par with their counterparts on PlayStation consoles (that includes X3), which is honestly fine by me. There were also ports of X6 and X7 (as well as Legends 2), but these were strictly made for the Asian market, and therefore, wouldn’t be available in English. From what I’ve heard, the port of Legends 2 was of poor quality anyway – and given how little I think of X6 in the first place, I’d be fine with just ignoring them. X8 was released exclusively in both Japan and Europe, so it gets a pass.

Odds: Well, for starters, Capcom has already released a couple games on GOG, namely the recent PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but more importantly, their Windows PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This effectively makes them the first company I’ve mention that’s clearly aware of GOG’s existence. Having said that, I’d have to give Legends and the X games two separate scores here. While it’s unlikely that Capcom’s planning any major re-releases of the Legends games, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a MMX-themed Legacy Collection down the line. While a release along those lines would technically bring those games back to the PC, it would still be cool to see those old ports re-released on GOG, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Legends: 5/10; X Games: 3/10)

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – Capcom

This may seem a bit redundant to many of you: after all, I included the HD version of Puzzle Fighter in one of my earlier wishlists. However, I think both versions offer me something different. While the HD version includes online play and the additional two modes that originated in the Dreamcast version, the existing PC port was based on the PS1 release, which means that it has one thing going for it that the HD version couldn’t possibly compete with: nostalgia. SPF2T was one of the earliest games I owned on the PS1, and it included both the original and arranged soundtracks, as well as Street Puzzle Mode. Street Puzzle Mode was among one of the first video game challenges that I found difficult, but managed to overcome after hours of practice and it left me feeling satisfied. Quite simply, Street Puzzle Mode taught me the joys of “gitting gud” at video games, and I can’t stop thanking it for that. While most people would probably just prefer the HD version to get a re-release, I’d personally love to see both: HD on Steam and the original port on GOG.

Odds: Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, re-releasing the old port would probably be easier than porting the newer version to PC. But given the fact that current platforms in general also lack Puzzle Fighter HD, it’s entirely possible that Capcom would just do it in an effort to keep bringing older games forward to the current generation of platforms. Like I said, I’d like to see both re-released, but something tells me Capcom wouldn’t be onboard with that. (4/10)

Jazz Jackrabbit series – Epic Megagames

It’s actually really surprising how many great platformers there were on PC back in the good ol’ days. I mainly remember Commander Keen and Duke Nukem, but they weren’t the only ones. Perhaps the most popular was Jazz Jackrabbit, who I mainly remember because I kept confusing him with Bucky O’Hare for reasons that…I’m honestly sure I don’t need to state. I never ended up playing the Jazz Jackrabbit games, but when I was young, I absolutely wanted to play them, and considering all of the good things I’ve heard about them, that interest definitely lives on.

Odds: Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a legal caveat here. Jazz Jackrabbit is co-owned by Epic Games and the series’ original creator, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski. Cliffy B departed from Epic awhile back and is currently puttering around on his own, and I’m not sure if the break-up was amicable enough to allow Jazz Jackrabbit re-releases to be licensed by anyone, let alone GOG. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the odds don’t look too good. (1/10)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos/Croc 2 – Fox Interactive (Jeremy “Jez” San?)

I didn’t exactly adjust all that well when platformers made the shift from 2D to 3D. To this day, I’m still not fond of Super Mario 64, which is generally heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time. I preferred games like the original Crash Bandicoot and Fox Interactive’s Croc. Croc has recently seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, due to the alleged effect the game had on the development of Super Mario 64, and by extension, the 3D platforming genre. Even before I knew about any of that, I was just fine playing the game on PS1. Seeing the game revived would be a nice little treat in my opinion.

Odds: Another tricky one for rights issues, but for totally different reasons. With Argonaut – the game’s developer – shuttered and Fox Interactive having been closed down, it’s hard to pin down exactly who owns the rights to the Croc franchise. I’ve heard rumors that the whole shebang belongs to Argonaut founder Jeremy “Jez” San, and therefore any re-releases or new iterations of Croc may have to go directly through him, but considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be quite as hands-on within the video game industry these days, that may make this pretty much impossible. (1/10)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – Eidos (Square Enix)

I’ll be honest, in recent years, I’ve found myself interested in the Legacy of Kain series from …well, I guess at this point, it would be Square Enix Europe, wouldn’t it? But I’m a stickler for these kinds of things: especially when delving into series that are “newer” – namely, those that started well after I’d gotten into video games – I generally like to start at the very beginning and work my way forward. The original Blood Omen is the one game from the LoK series that hasn’t seen re-release on PCs, though the PlayStation version is available as a Classic on the PS3. I don’t know why, but I always find incomplete collections to be troubling and re-releasing the first game would be the perfect excuse for me to try getting into it.

Odds: Much like the previous two games, there are apparently some legal issues at hand here. I find this particularly baffling, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the PS version is still currently available on both the PS3 and PSP. Apparently, Activision and Silicon Knights ported the game to PC, which is likely the source of the hang-up. The game’s been made available on Abandonia, an online repository for games that are considered “Abandonware” and has apparently seen no legal action from either Activision or Square Enix. Either way, the chances of an official re-release seem quite poor at this point. (1/10)

Mortal Kombat Trilogy/Mortal Kombat 4 – Midway (WB Games)

Growing up as a kid, I was in a tough spot: I was absolutely obsessed with fighting games, but generally limited to PC as my main outlet for gaming. Man, if only little Icepick could see the literal deluge of big-name fighting games available on PC nowadays! My main outlets for 2D fighters in my early years were the god-awful port of Street Fighter II, handled by the abomination known as Hi-Tech Expressions (even writing their name sends chills down my spine!) and the first 3 Mortal Kombat games. Sure, later on, I’d become enamored with the PC version of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but that’s a story for another time. Now, the Mortal Kombat ports were actually very well made, pretty much as good as their source material, and I loved these games growing up. Fortunately, GOG already has these games available on their service. What I didn’t know is that these weren’t the only MK PC ports made during this era. No, despite my beliefs that the series took a hiatus between 3 and the 2011 reboot, two more games actually made their way to Windows PC. While Trilogy and 4 weren’t the best games in the franchise – Trilogy was the true forerunner to MUGEN and MK4 was just another in a long line of games that were tarnished by the fifth generation’s obsession with 3D – I’ve got enough nostalgia attached to the previous games in the franchise to want to see just how well or poorly these games translated to the PC.

Odds: Like I said, WB Games already put the first 3 PC ports on GOG, they own the rights to the series and I’ve seen footage of both ports running on modern hardware. I think the only thing keeping these games off GOG is their relative lack of popularity compared to earlier games in the series. Seems pointless to keep them off otherwise. (7/10)

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Midway (WB Games)

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I had to make the wishlist entry for this one myself, but it is what it is. The Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits Collection on PC was one of my earliest introductions to retro video games, particularly those made before or around the time of my birth. Truth be told, I absolutely loved every game in this collection, even if I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. The first two Defenders, Joust, Robotron 2084, Bubbles and Sinistar – all great stuff. Since PC missed out on WB’s most recent slew of Midway/Williams Arcade re-releases, this would be the next best thing.

Odds: Well, if Midway Arcade Origins gives us anything to go by, it’s that WB Games owns the rights to all six of the games present in this collection, so clearly there are no legal issues. This may just be another case of WB not knowing what they’re sitting on. (7/10)

Honorable Mentions

Virtua Fighter PC/Virtua Fighter 2:  I actually had Virtua Fighter PC when I was a kid and that’s what made it so hard to leave it off the main list. I had no idea that its sequel also received a PC port, but considering the fact that I’d almost certainly prefer to see the version from Sega’s Model 2 Collection hit PC instead, I almost considered leaving it off. Still, it’s better to have options in general, so I figured why not?

Jill of the Jungle: This game actually almost made the list, but considering my lack of nostalgic love for the game and what I’ve seen of the gameplay, I decided to push it down to the honorable mentions instead. Still, it’s an important game when looking back at platforming games on the PC, so it deserves to be preserved in some form and enjoyed by modern audiences.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo: I really wish that I had known about this port when I was a kid: if only that SF2 port had been half this good, I would’ve been happy. By no means arcade-perfect, the game is still impressive in just how much they got right. Supplemented with an amazing arranged soundtrack, courtesy of Redbook audio, Gametek’s port of SSF2T should have gotten way more love than it got. I’ve seen its demo floating around on the Wayback Machine’s PC game archive, but I’d love to own the real deal – even just a digital copy.

Having the past of PC gaming available in the modern day is great. It shows you just how far PC gaming has come and what we’ve lost along the way. While I doubt I’ll have enough material to do a follow-up list for GOG in the future, I’m still happy I decided to write up this list. While I’ve got my clear favorites on this list, I’d love to see any of these hit the service in the near future. I’m not particularly optimistic about most of these games seeing re-release, but who knows, maybe by the time I write the next list, this one too will have borne fruit. I just wouldn’t expect any future lists on other services – I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin with Battle.Net, let alone Origin.

First Impressions

These past few months, I’ve been working on a couple more retrospective articles not unlike the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda back when Breath of the Wild launched last month. In addition to writing a far larger than average article, I’m also left researching various things, simply to jog my memory for games I haven’t played in quite some time, so I’ve had little time to write much else aside from a post on my side blog and another list in what’s quickly become my April Fools tradition. The one upshot to all of this is that I was running low on topics to write about outside of said retrospectives and in the process of writing them, I’ve had time to think of new topics to write on. In fact, the topic for this very article was inspired by a trend I noticed while writing one of the retrospectives.

Effectively, I was researching the fan reception of one of the games I was writing for – a game that I specifically remembered being considered the worst of its series – and found that, unsurprisingly, the game had its own set of fervent defenders. Some of the people defending the game in question made the argument that it was, in fact, the first game in the series that was truly the low point of the series and that most people gave it a pass simply because it was the first game in the entire franchise – and therefore, was owed a great measure of respect, as the series itself wouldn’t exist without it. Obviously, the argument raged on after that, but I must admit the statement gave me pause. I’d felt this way about the originators of various other classic series: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, MegaMan …the list goes on. Yet somehow, an obscure flame war on some internet forum actually made me reflect upon it. Many fans of video game series do generally afford the first games of the franchise in question a greater extent of leniency than all other games in the series.

I mean, the reasoning is understandable. Being the first release in a series means that not only have the basic gameplay mechanics not been completely established, as the games that start series generally end up being far more experimental in nature, simply because they were often developed as stand-alone titles in the first place. As such, it’s dishonest to compare them to their sequels: after all, most sequels tend to build on whatever framework the original had. You know the old metaphor, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”? Same basic principle here – the clear majority of video game sequels wouldn’t be able to reach their level of quality without learning from both the mistakes and successes of earlier titles.

Of course, that leads to the major question at hand: do we overcompensate when it comes to discussing these first games? It does seem entirely possible that when looking back at the games themselves, especially in the case of longer-running series, we’ll often forgive bizarre design choices, stiffer controls, blander level design and other short-comings, simply because they were the originators of their respective franchises. Of course, this is particularly evident in series where there is a designated black sheep – a later game in the franchise that is despised by the fanbase in general, no matter how many lone wolves claim that they actually liked it, either due to contrarianism or genuine love for the game in question.

The weird thing about this is that this level of protectionism only seems to apply to the first game in the franchise, as opposed to earlier games in general. It’s as if, by the time the second game rolls around, every aspect had better be perfected or else the game itself is considered garbage. Take the second Ace Attorney, for example – despite the fact that we only received the enhanced port of the first game, people judged the second game far more harshly. As such, people would ignore the improvements Justice for All made compared to its predecessor’s gameplay, such as increased complexity, a higher difficulty level and the addition of the “Psyche Lock” mechanic.  Instead, most player reactions concentrated on the game’s flaws, particularly some story elements that were not considered on-par with those of the first Ace Attorney. You’ve also got to consider many cases where the second game was a complete departure from the first game’s base concept, though this will often yield softer criticism than incomplete refinements of existing formulas. Yet, in other forms of media that gravitate towards a more serialized approach, missteps in the process of development are generally more easily forgiven. Why then are video games so different?

Is the reason for this standard practice merely consideration for the game’s age and relative simplicity compared to its follow-ups or is there more to it? Could nostalgia play a role? The fact is that while there is a case for nostalgia being attributed to some cases of blatant protection – Legend of Zelda, Virtua Fighter and Metroid all come quickly to mind – this isn’t particularly a rule of the case. I mean, I honestly doubt that many people attribute any lasting nostalgia to games like the original Tekken or Bomberman, but even new fans of a series avoid scrutinizing these early iterations harshly. On the other hand, there are cases where there are objectively worse games later on in the series, which kind of muddies discussion about the first game’s flaws – it’s kind of difficult to pick apart a game if one of its successors is obviously flawed in ways even the original managed to avoid.

This phenomenon is particularly strange when you consider video game genres and sub-genres in general. While the first game in a beloved series will often be given a pass for their various shortcomings, the same is not always true for games that originated entire genres. For example, Pac-Land could be said to be one of, if not the, earliest attempts at creating a side-scrolling platformer, but doesn’t receive nearly as much love as the original Super Mario Bros., which popularized the genre in general. The same can be said for Karate Champ with regards to the fighting game genre: it’s generally viewed as a curiosity as opposed to hailed as a legitimate game, despite creating many of the conventions the genre enjoys to this day. Likewise, I’ve heard few discussions of the history of RPGs mention the Atari 2600’s Dragonstomper, perhaps the earliest example of the genre appearing on home consoles. Most discussions favor discussing Dragon Quest, or worst case scenario, the original Final Fantasy. This would seem to imply that age is not the only factor that causes people to be protective of the first games in these series, likely because these games are so obscure, they aren’t really under attack either. Still, it feels a bit hypocritical that if earlier games are considered important, these trailblazers aren’t afforded the same privilege.

While writing this article, I also considered if there were any major examples of series originators that missed out on these protections. I racked my brain, trying to think of multiple examples, but in the end, I could only think of one: the original Street Fighter. For the longest time, most people’s knowledge of the series started at “Street Fighter II” and for some reason, no one ever seemed to question what had happened to Street Fighter “One”. I’m not sure what people thought – maybe they figured that the “two” was referencing that there were two fighters in a match? I’m not entirely sure. Basically, back in the 90s, if someone mentioned “Street Fighter”, you knew they were talking about SF2, period. Of course, I had limited knowledge of the original Street Fighter game – but that came in the form of a port that managed to be worse than the original in every respect. These days, however, knowledge of the original 1987 arcade game is a lot more common, albeit tinged with copious amounts of vitriol. I’d probably argue that it’s almost a comedy of errors that Capcom still celebrates the franchise’s anniversaries on the original Street Fighter’s release date. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s the fact that it isn’t afforded any respect that made Street Fighter stick out in my mind: at best, I’ve seen people request characters that are forever tied to the game reappear in later titles as fully playable characters, as they are considered concepts too good to be left as unplayable characters in a game no one likes.

Maybe the true reason for handling the first game in a series so gently is less due to hostility towards follow-ups, but simply done with the purpose – subconsciously or otherwise – of making sure that these games don’t end up like the original Street Fighter. In the end, these games definitely hold an important place in the history of not only the franchises they started, but in the case of some particularly old series, video game history itself. I guess when you take that concrete level of importance into account, it’s easy to see how an attempt at treating these gaming giants with well-earned respect can quickly go overboard – nostalgia filter or no. Likewise, bashing a game simply because the ones that followed it improved on the formula isn’t particularly fair. However, by that very same token, holding a sequel accountable for “not doing enough” to improve on its precursor by criticizing it excessively doesn’t strike me as the proper response either. In the end, I guess it’s just better to keep a firmer grasp on context in general when documenting a series’ evolution, regardless of medium.

Lots of Red, No White but Blue

Hello. This is Dari.  I am starting a new series called “Dari-Isms.”  This is going to try to explain the inner machinations of my mind, which apparently a lot of people don’t understand.  Most of these are going to be about gaming, but I may throw some other opinion pieces in, if people want to hear them. Today I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite and least favorite Capcom “mascots” of yesteryear. I am mainly going to talk about Ryu and Ken (of Street Fighter) and Zero and Megaman X (of Megaman X).

Let’s start with Ryu. Ryu is the mascot and the face of Street Fighter. He is most likely the first person anyone thinks of when they think of fighting games in general, not just Street Fighter. This is one of the reasons I hate him. He’s a very boring character. And his moveset, while copied and done better by most of the other characters that share his moveset, is also quite plain. Ryu himself usually moves like an old man with bad arthritis. He’s so stiff; I wonder how he even fights with any sort of speed! (i.e. crossover games like Marvel vs Capcom.) His Hadoken attack is usually very slow, but powerful. His Shoryuken is again, slow but powerful, and invincible on startup depending on the game, but again, it’s very stiff and can easily be stuffed or even just plain dodged, because it’s easily telegraphed. Ryu’s story is just plain sad. He’s a nomad from Japan who doesn’t have a family who just wanders around trying to get stronger, fight strong opponents and fight the ‘Satsui no Hado’ which can (and has depending on the game/timeline) overtake him and turn him evil, like another one of his counterparts, Akuma. But that’s another story for another time. Ryu is a terrible character. I understand he’s the “entry character” and he’s the base for everyone to learn off, but I feel like they’ve added so many more interesting characters that can take his place, that Ryu really would have, and should have faded into the background. He can still be the face of the series, but he can just be that. He doesn’t need half the popularity he has. He needs to sit down somewhere and stay there for a while. Now, again, he doesn’t need to sit out of a game where Street Fighter characters are prominent, but I mean he needs something to make him interesting.

In contrast, let’s talk about Ken Masters. Ken Masters originally started as the Player 2 alternative for Ryu. But he’s grown so much more since then. Ever since Street Fighter 2, he’s grown so much since being Ryu’s copy. He has fire in his shoryukens, which differentiates him from boring old, stiff Ryu. Also it seems like Ken has more mobility than Ryu ever will. It’s possibly because he’s younger than him.  Ken, I feel focuses more on his kicks than his counterpart. He also seems to have evolved more than his sparring partner. He has a shinryuken attack (in some games and media) that has him doing a strong shoryuken attack covered in a pillar of fire. Ryu cannot do this as far as what’s been shown. Ken also has a shin shoryuken which can hit for 2 or 3 times with his fire shoryuken. Ryu only does it once, but while there’s a lot of power behind it, it’s not as flexible or unique as Ken’s. Ken’s story is also fairly interesting. He has a family, a wife and a son. Some people would say that someone with a family shouldn’t be fighting, but he makes money this way and he also keeps up with his buddy Ryu, and keeps him relevant. So it’s fine. Ken is also an American. He met Ryu while at a tournament. They became friends and sparring partners under Gouken. Ken fights for his family and to be stronger in general. See how much better Ken is than Ryu? This is why I like Ken more than Ryu. They may have started as clones of each other but Ken Masters evolved more as a character than Ryu probably ever will.

Time to switch gears and move on to the two robots. I’ll start with Zero.  Zero is the bane of the Megaman X series in my eyes. He is supposedly the only creation of Megaman X that Keiji Inafune made. He wanted him in the beginning of the Megaman X series to be the star, but Capcom told him no. He decided to make him the star anyway. He had to save Megaman X in every game. If he wasn’t trying to save him, X himself was trying to rebuild him because he felt like he needed his friend back to save the world. I find this demoralizing to X and it made him seem like he was trying to steal the main character’s thunder. I find this extremely rude. Zero was so prominent in the grand scheme of things, that Megaman X was an unlockable character in his own game over him! Megaman X8 was the last game in the series. The Character who has been most prominent of the few times that Megaman X was represented was Zero. X appeared in the Project X Zone games, but those games weren’t as popular. Zero was in Tatsunoko vs Capcom, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and a few other games. Megaman Zero even got his own very successful series of its own right, even using X as a boss. I find that demeaning but Capcom did what they wanted so I cannot fault them for what gave them a bunch of money in the end, even if they wouldn’t give X a chance.  I feel like Zero was made to steal the thunder of X and make him obsolete in comparison. They succeeded a bit too well. There are some fans who still care about X and remember who he is. These people are the only people who keep X’s spirit alive. And thanks to that X finally appears in a popular game again, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. The rumors say that X will be very prominent in the story and he was the first character shown, aside Ryu. My personal opinion is that Zero shouldn’t appear in this and let X have his own shine, as he’s never allowed him to do so in his own series besides then. All Zero did was take over someone else’s series, kill it and then get his own series to succeed, to leave the character he stepped on in the dust.

Finally, we’ll talk about X. Megaman X is the Megaman who took over for Megaman Classic in his own series. X is a really good character that’s underestimated. He’s very powerful, yet he also wants peace. Gamers don’t like this aspect of him, even if Megaman Classic had the same attitude, and he was praised for it. Megaman was sadly overshadowed for Zero. And Zero went out of his way to kill his character and his series. Megaman X was a good character, but most people didn’t like him over his counterpart. He had powerful armors and he was great when he did battle. I feel like X needs more recognition and respect. He was unlockable in one of his own games where his name was still prominent in the title! He is a Megaman and he seems to be either bad luck or a curse upon anything he’s been in recently. I still enjoy Megaman X over Zero because he’s the underdog and even though he’s the main character, some people don’t acknowledge him, or will give him its due respect.

In summation, I like Ken Masters because he’s a great evolution of what was literally a palette swap of Ryu, who is a boring nomad who’s trying to control his evil. I enjoy X because he’s disrespected even though he’s the main character. I hate Zero because he stole the show from Megaman X and killed the entire series to spite X. He also apparently took over the entire representation of the series for some odd reason.  Not to say I hate all second fiddles to Capcom games, Protoman was good because he knew his place. He was a second fiddle to Megaman Classic,  but he didn’t outshine his Megaman, and he was still popular in the long run. I wish Zero could have taken this precedent, but sadly he didn’t.