"At the end of the day, most everything special is here, but loving the anomaly is like drinking a can of V8 when all you really wanted was celery juice. Instead of selecting the title of the original game you wanted to play, you choose things by picking the ‘mode’ as you choose your character."
I manage a web site, spend ten hours out of the typical day sitting in front of a computer, and in my more active time, I write fantasy and science fiction stories. Knowing that, you would probably never picture me walking through the streets, brandishing tire irons as weapons and shaking down little old ladies for their money. When I was younger, though, my mother didn’t find her imagination fettered by such realities. She was certain that if I played violent games like Mortal Kombat and its ilk, I’d turn into some sort of monster in a foolish attempt to mimic the fantasy my mind was incapable of separating from reality.
It took months of begging on my part to persuade her that I should be allowed to purchase Street Fighter II, thanks mostly to its unfortunate name. Now, twelve years after the summer of my discontent, Capcom has produced Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. It’s a good look at the games of yesteryear, but if I were to tell one of today’s ten-year-olds about the trouble I had convincing my mom that she should let me play the game, they would have one simple question to ask me: “Why did you even bother?”
Before we go anywhere on our analysis of this ‘game,’ we should first take a look at just what it contains. The title suggests that it is a collection, and for the most part it’s right. In theory, what you get are (so far as I can tell) arcade-perfect ports of the main titles in the Street Fighter II set of games, as well as Street Fighter III: Third Strike for double measure. Not only that, but Capcom also included the feature-length anime movie, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, accessible from one of the menus. In essence, you’ve got everything a fan of the franchise could dream of. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the presentation is slightly flawed.
When I say ‘flawed,’ what I really mean is that Capcom tossed all the Street Fighter II games in a blender, set it to ‘puree’, then turned it on without remembering the lid. They called this project Hyper Street Fighter II. Parts are missing. Others are blended so thoroughly it takes a moment to tell the various ingredients apart. At the end of the day, most everything special is here, but loving the anomaly is like drinking a can of V8 when all you really wanted was celery juice. Instead of selecting the title of the original game you wanted to play, you choose things by picking the ‘mode’ as you choose your character.
So, from the start you first pick Hyper Street Fighter II, then you decide you want to kick butt as Ryu. First you are prompted to choose your game mode, then your character. These game styles refer to the mechanics that will apply to your move set. For example, Ryu debuted with a hurricane kick, a dragon punch, and his fireball move. That’s all he had in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, and so those are the only special abilities you can use if you go with ‘Normal’ as your choice. Not only that, but if you pick ‘Normal,’ the game will prevent you from choosing characters like M. Bison or Cammy, who were playable only from Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II and onward, respectively.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I was prepared to live with this setup when I found out that Capcom had implemented it. Unique, sure, but it seemed doable. And for the most part, it is. But there are problems, as I’ve already mentioned. For one thing, you have to access original arcade intros through the ‘Options’ screen, something that could have been avoided if the games were just listed as separate titles from a main menu. But more importantly, your opponents don’t seem to be as restricted by the rules of the compilation as you are. Chun Li will quite happily toss fireballs at you even if you’re stuck with ‘Normal’ Ryu. The option to choose ‘Normal’ anyone is thus relegated to the role of a novelty. Why should anyone but one who loves handicaps prevent himself from using the chosen fighter to his or her fullest potential?
Other changes to the game’s presentation are thankfully more welcome. It’s nice to know I no longer have to start my adventures with the ‘Options’ screen every time I play the game. Custom button configurations are saved to memory card, and you can also save other desired information. It’s still simple to adjust the difficulty level (though the computer is much more brutal than it was in the case of home conversions you may have played previously, even if you drop its difficulty rating significantly). And though Capcom still lets you listen to the original music, you now have the option to choose ‘arranged’ compositions that bring the sound quality up to the twenty-first century. Since the developer already mangled the possibility of having a ‘true’ port of the old games when it threw them all in the mixing pot, I personally just prefer to listen to the new music. Its quality is much higher while retaining the original flare that kept me sampling it back in the days when midis were cool.
Of course, saying the sound is ‘better’ doesn’t seem like a huge compliment if you never liked the music in the first place. And if you didn’t like the old games back in the day, well, you won’t like them now. I was surprised to find that none of the Street Fighter II titles have aged well. The series was a pioneer in its field that inspired cartoons and comics and movies and more, but at the end of the day it was just a simple fighting game with computer opponents too anxious to grapple and a control scheme that will cramp your fingers within minutes if they’re not used to such exercise. The new compilation brings each flaw to attention quite noticeably. It’s just no fun to land a solid kick on an opponent, then watch him staggering backward, blood spewing from his mouth even as he grabs your leg and throws you to the ground with a move that depletes the last remnants of your own life meter. Such debacles are painfully common, as they always were, but they’re no longer kosher in an age where fighting games move so smoothly and with such great physics. Menus allow you to adjust some of this, but nothing will ever make me entirely forget that one of the main reasons I played this game back in the old days was that it looked so damn good. Now it doesn’t, and that’s half the reason to play tossed out the window.
Fortunately, there’s the ‘other half’ to the game, Street Fighter III: Third Impact. If you’re a fan of the series and you owned a Dreamcast, this was the game you wanted back in the day. By itself, at least until now, it went for more than $30 if you could find it new on store shelves. So far as I can tell, there aren’t any noteworthy changes between the two ports. You still choose from a huge cast of mostly original characters, you still pick which opponent you’ll face in each round, and you still get to swear at those adversaries that look like they belong in a Todd McFarlane comic book instead of a Street Fighter game. Plenty of fans have been willing to forgive the game its few flaws in the past (probably because it looks so damn good; check back in ten years), and I suspect they’ll continue to do so for awhile yet.
Which brings us to the verdict, with a recap definitely in order. On the one hand, the collection suffers from a sloppy puree of game elements that keeps the ports from being ‘perfect’ without adding much that’s desirable to the mix. On the other, you are getting what amounts to six games and a $20 movie, all for the same price one of those six selections currently fetches in stores. When you look at this as the chance to pick up that one game and everything else as a free bonus, then Street Fighter Anniversary Collection shifts into proper focus and becomes a recommended purchase for anyone who has liked the series for its 15-year run. I know you’re out there.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 11, 2004)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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