Reviewed: June 30, 2006
Released: June 13, 2006
I won’t try to kid anyone here – I am no authority on the Street Fighter series of fighting games, especially not the lesser-known anime styled Alpha series. The reason being that back in the early to mid 90’s when the Street Fighter games were at their peak, I was too busy juggling a full load of Engineering courses (and part-time binge drinking duties at the local University bar) to even think about arcade gaming.
Strangely enough, although many of the Engineering lessons have been lost amidst the alcohol-induced haze of my college years, I somehow have a vague recollection of my first encounter with a Street Fighter cabinet in a dingy old Laundromat somewhere around 1993. And what I remember most was being completely amazed by the beautiful graphics, fast-and-fluid movement, and the record setting six-button cabinet layout.
By the time I graduated and got my first real job, the 2D fighting games had begun moving into the third dimension, and the reigning Street Fighter series was already handing its belt over to the likes of Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive – and I couldn’t have been happier. In fact, until the Guilty Gear games sucked me back to 2D with their creepy-cool weirdness a few years back, I wasn’t in the least bit interested in the 2D world.
Now, Capcom is once again treating their loyal fans to a budget-priced anthology of classic gaming in the form of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology – a collection of five Street Fighter Alpha games spanning the years 1995 through 1998, with enough tweaks and modifications to make their rabid fan base happy.
As for myself, I have had to do a ton of research for the benefit of this review, and I am really happy for having done so. Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is a solid – albeit dated – snapshot of one of the more interesting fighting series of yore. Collectors rejoice!
As you can guess, the Street Fighter Alpha series was an offshoot project from the original Street Fighter games. Intended to take place prior to the events of Street Fighter, the Alpha (or Zero as it was called in Japan) characters were designed with to look younger and livelier, with an overall air of Japanime-flavored style.
But the differences went far deeper that the skin, as the Alpha series introduced a number of new play mechanics that helped evolve the 2D genre from simple button-mashing bliss of the ole’ days to the super-complex hardcore games they are as of late.
The five included games are Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, Street Fighter Alpha 3, as well as the bonus Super Gem Fighter MiniMix – which is a kid-friendly spin on the Alpha series skinned with characters stolen from the Super Puzzle Fighter games.
What one notices as he meanders through the succession of Alpha games is just how quickly the series evolved both visually and mechanically over the period of three years.
Whereas the first Street Fighter Alpha game is slow moving, clunky, and horribly pixilated (especially by today’s standards) – the second (plus its enhanced gold release) and third Street Fighter Alpha iterations get noticeable quicker, more fluid, and more visually pleasing with each subsequent release. While none look anywhere near as good as what we expect from today’s lot of titles, they do play every bit as well – which is saying a lot for a series where the youngest title is over eight years old.
As for the actual fighting mechanics, the game uses every button on the DualShock controller – yes, including the shoulder buttons – to accurately reflect the six-button layout of the original arcade cabinet. And as you can guess, it does get a bit confusing at times as you fumble-bumble through the multi-button combos of Street Fighter Alpha 3 especially when the shoulder buttons get involved.
The controls really begin to fall into place once you truly understand the developer’s diagonal grouping concept, but until then it can be a bit confusing. Is it enough to cause distress? Not really – button mashing is a ton of fun with the cool results you get in Street Fighter Alpha (as opposed to the sketchy and jilted results that Guilt Gear doles out for unclear combos), and once you get the hang of things it really all becomes second nature.
Aside from being a simple depository for the arcade ports, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology also allows the hardcore gamers to mix and match characters, and tailor moves and gameplay styles, from the various titles – effectively allowing fans to make their own unique Street Fighter Alpha hybrid titles. While the common man (like myself) might shrug at the importance of moving characters from game to game, rabid Street Fighter Alpha fans are sure to cream their corn over the idea.
As for the inclusion of Super Gem Fighter MiniMix – it is a nice gesture for Capcom to toss it in the mix, but the game is overall quite clunky and not all that much fun. Still, I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but I wouldn’t recommend running out to buy Street Fighter Alpha Anthology based on this Super Gem Fighter alone.
And that is exactly where Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is really going to have its strongest appeal – to the hardcore fans and collectors who long for the days of old. It will be hard getting the kids who grew up with the Tekkens and Virtua Fighters to turn their heads for the dated looks and play of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. But us old folks, we know a good game when we see it and are willing to look below the surface to the beauty that lies underneath.
As I mentioned earlier, the youngest game in the series is circa 1988 – meaning all of the games are at least eight years old. With little-to-no visual updating, it’s no surprise that Street Fighter Alpha Anthology looks a bit dated.
Yes, even the best looking of the four – Street Fighter Alpha 3 – is terribly pixilated, dull and ultimately lo-res compared to the current generation of games. Still, no lo-res can diminish the fact that the games (especially 2 and 3) run at an awesome clip, with little-to-no slowdown or skitchiness.
And as for the animations – whoa, are they impressive for 1988. Heck, they are impressive for a 2006. Whereas most of the current 2D fighters make it a point to emphasize their sprite-based heritage, the Street Fighter Alpha series appeared on the cusp of the 3D age – back when developers were trying their best to evolve away from sprite based graphics and deliver us gamers a more realistic experience. Street Fighter Alpha’s animations are absolutely fabulous, and really leave the current “retro” titles looking awfully silly.
Fighting games never were much for listening to, especially arcade-based titles, and even more for the Japanese developed games. And going right along with the trend, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology doesn’t have much to brag about with respect to its audio.
Still, all the grunts, groans and growls from the Street Fighter games are present and accounted for – but so is all the lame menu music. Again – I know that hardcore fans will love this stuff, but it just isn’t my bag.
As I mentioned earlier, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is really only going to have a lasting appeal for the Street Fighter hardcore fans and collectors out there. The biggest reason being that although the disc packs five full games, they are all pretty much identical in the long run; Get in a ring, fight, repeat.
The Street Fighter fans are sure love the ability to tweak the game to their liking (with limitations), and the collectors will appreciate having these five old-school snapshots packed in one neat (and affordable) package. But, the everyday gamers are sure to grow disinterested with Street Fighter Alpha Anthology in short order.
The inclusion of online play may have added a bit of lasting value – maybe – but from my personal experience with Xbox Live, the 2D fighters do not garner much of an online audience much past the first few weeks of release.
Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is really a great deal for fans of the series, or for collectors interested in coveting a piece of gaming’s past. Everyday gamers will probably want to rent.
Regardless of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology’s gaming value, it does a wonderful job of showing how a fighting series evolves from a slow and skitchy brawler, to a fast and fluid fighter.
And on a final note, now that Capcom is kicking out these anthologies and collections on a regular basis – I would like to recommend the younger readers out there (especially those aspiring to become the developers of the future) to take a look at some of these “old school” games and get a good glimpse at the early days of the current gaming era.
So often we get stuck reminiscing about Pac Man and Donkey Kong, and the other early 80’s titles, and we forget about the games that really set the stage for the deep gaming experiences we enjoy today. There’s a lot to be learned from the likes of Street Fighter, Ghouls and Ghosts and MegaMan.