Sunday, January 30, 2011

Street Fighter Alpha

by Capcom for PlayStation

In 1991, Capcom revolutionized arcade gaming with the introduction of Street Fighter II. It took the setup of the first Street Fighter, of two characters facing each other in a martial arts contest, and took it up to 11. The characters were now large, colourful, and distinct, with crazy moves and satisfyingly fluid controls. Capcom then took this formula and tweaked it for the next few years, selling each new iteration at full price.

As much as the thought of all those different versions annoys me now, I was thrilled by all the new Street Fighter II games back when I was in junior high. Imagine how thrilled I was when Capcom announced an all-new Street Fighter, with a visual style based on Capcom's gorgeous X-Men and Darkstalkers! That it was Street Fighter Zero and not Street Fighter III dampened my enthusiasm for a time, but any disappointment was gone by the time the game hit North America as Street Fighter Alpha. After a bus trip to Toys R Us, I made it the first game I would buy for my PlayStation.

Street Fighter Alpha is a fantastic looking game. Capcom would use the anime-styled character sprites originating here in different fighting games for the next decade, with their final bows coming in 2004's Capcom Fighting Jam and 2006's Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX. The backgrounds are attractive, although their pre-rendered style was jettisoned for further games in the series. The strangest aspect of the visual style is the subtle placement of the letter 'Z' throughout the game - something that makes sense for a game named Zero, but not one named Alpha. The PlayStation version is hurt by tons of loading screens which interrupt both the flow of the game and the attractive screen transitions from the arcade. Another disappointment comes from the lack of characters to play as - at ten, Alpha contains the fewest available characters since the original Street Fighter II. The three hidden characters just barely manage to edge Street Fighter II out for total cast members.

It plays the way you expect a Street Fighter game to play - something that's not always easy to pull off, as evidenced by the Street Fighter movie game and the Street Fighter II DOS port. There's a nagging feeling that the gameplay is a little bit too much vanilla Street Fighter - one certainly reinforced by the number of systems the Alpha series spawns in its subsequent games. The game is even replaced in the Street Fighter fiction by its sequel, indicating Capcom may never have been have been completely happy with Street Fighter Alpha. Sadly, I've never been good enough at Street Fighter to detail Alpha's strengths and shortcomings as a fighter beyond my vague misgivings that ultimately weren't strong enough keep me from enjoying myself a great deal.

Ultimately Street Fighter Alpha was a very conservative choice as a purchase, and I was much better served by the next couple of games - both of which were chosen by my brother. And a better fighting game would have been Tekken 2 (although I'm not sure I have ever played it). But I like to think I've learned my lesson: take some damn chances sometimes! It'll be okay.

Despite that, it should come as no surprise that the first game I intend to buy for the Nintendo 3DS is Super Street Fighter IV. Hey, at least this time it's likely the ultimate version of the game, not the one that replaces it a year later. That one, Street Fighter IV, I bought for the XBox 360. And also the PC.

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