This past week was my birthday. To celebrate, I have a double dose of my usual columns this week. This first part is an appendix to last week’s Street Fighter special, featuring 3 Capcom fighting games while the second part, due later this week, will deal with some RPGs. Once again, it’s my [belated] birthday, yet you get the gift. Click onward!

Maximum Letdown: Capcom Fighting Evolution (Xbox, PS2)

cfjamWhen I first heard of this game, I was beyond ecstatic. The first new Capcom fighter in several years? I was all over it. Sure, its cast consisted of fighters from several Capcom fighting games, but It had so much potential. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was diminished as I read critiques and reviews. “It’s a Capcom fighter! It can’t be that bad!” was what I said to myself. despite what fans and reviewers said, I had to give it a try for myself. I mean, after all, the same fighters we love, the moves were there, and it was Capcom! There is no way it can bomb out! Sadly, I was mistaken. This disc is best known as Capcom jumping the shark.

The cast of characters is made up of fighters from Street Fighter II, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, Red Wizard/Warzard, and Darkstalkers (with 4 fighters taken from each game). Also joining is Ingrid, a new character who was supposed to be in the ill-fated Capcom Fighting All-Stars. When you look at the game, then you’ll notice the first big problem. Not only does the game borrow characters from those games, in many cases, it also borrows the sprites. That means you’ll get Felicia’s 15 year old sprite which, while it was colorful years ago, it looks pretty damn ugly compared to many of the other guys. While Capcom managed to get away with it in Capcom vs SNK 2 (namely because the game was 1000 times better and the cast was infinitely bigger), in this game she and the rest of the Darkstalkers crew stick out like a black man at a Toby Keith concert thanks to their black outlines. You’ll also get the CPS-3 powered Red Earth and SFIII sprites, which are bigger, more colorful, and have more fluid animation. Meanwhile, Ingrid, the SFII crew and the SF Alpha clique stand somewhere in between. It’s like the art guys got lazy and wouldn’t bother redoing sprites. At least the endings are well done graphics wise and the backgrounds are passable.

The second issue is the fact that the characters have the same rulesets from their respective games. This means that the SF Alpha guys have alpha counters and custom combos, the SFII guys only have one super meter, the Darkstalkers can use ES and EX attacks, and the Red Earth crew (which contains a giant dragon and a lion man) are cheap as hell and can make work of any lesser player. So yes, weather you’re a skilled fighting game expert, or a fighting game newbie, you’ll find this game frustratingly overbalanced.

The third issue is with the cast. Urien? Kairi? If anyone from Alpha 3/SFIII should be here, it’s people like Elena, Ibuki, Charlie, and Rolent, not Johnny come lately 3rd stringers. For that matter, why is Chun-li among the SFIII list and not the SFII list? Where the heck are Ken, Cammy, Morrigan, and Balrog? Why are these people hanging out in the backgrounds? Would it have been too much to ask to add Mega Man, Strider, and Captain Commando, along with people from Rival Schools, Tech Romancer, and even Star Gladiator? This is the equivalent to the next Mortal Kombat game’s cast including only Sub Zero and people like Dagon, Taven, Drahmin, Ashura, Mavado, and Hsu Hao. Who were those guys again?

The fourth problem is well, this game is just boring. You get the idea Capcom threw this together to make a quick buck off its fans. Although the backdrops are colorful, the controls are responsive, and the team-play system is unique, the fact is that this game doesn’t do much we haven’t seen before. It’s little wonder that both hardcore Capcom fans and casual gamers have turned against this game. Thankfully, Capcom would learn from its errors throughout the next several years.

Lost Classics: Street Fighter III – Third Strike (Dreamcast, Xbox, PS2)
Capcom had revised Street Fighter II so many times, and fans have clamored for Street Fighter III for so long that the company’s inability to count to three would soon become a running gag amongst fans and critics alike. We would get SFIII eventually. However, between Super Street Fighter II turbo and Street Fighter III, we would get Darkstalkers and its sequel Nightwarriors, Street Fighter Alpha I and II, and several fighting games featuring Marvel characters, with Capcom trying out new mechanics, play styles, and gimmicks with each game. When Street Fighter III was released, the product was so different and refined, almost as if the other games were used to experiment with game mechanics that could show up in Street Fighter III. Street Fighter III had set itself apart from its predecessors in the same way that SFII before it had set itself apart from other fighting games. SFIII featured a ‘new generation’ of characters (indeed, the only familiar faces were Ken and Ryu), new attacks, new techniques and mechanics, and a new graphics board with which to power its visuals (the CPS3).

Sadly, old habits would die hard. Like SFII before it, SFIII saw a number of revisions in order to get the product ‘just right’. Thankfully, instead of each successive release being the same game with new bells and whistles, each revision contained new backdrops, a new soundtrack, and new characters to go along with the tweaks, so the revisions were separate games unto their own. The first of these revisions was Second Impact, and the second (and last) revision was Third Strike. Third Strike added several new characters; Makoto (your typical Japanese female martial artist), Remy (a goth character with moves similar to Guile), Twelve (a strange mutant from Russia) and Q (a mysterious cyborg who is a secret character of sorts). While these new faces aren’t much to write home about, they could hold their own with the rest of the cast. Third Strike also marked the return of the franchise’s first lady, Chun Li.

The CPS3 powered visuals are as rich and vibrant as ever. The backgrounds are something to look at, the animation is fluid, and the moves are as intense as ever. The soundtrack is a mix of techno, R&B, hip hop, and jazz. While it doesn’t matchup to the classic Street Fighter anthems, it does just as good a job of getting players ready to fight. The attacks and combos come off just as intricate as ever too, although the throwing and parrying systems had been redone.

After 4, SFIII Third Strike manages to be one of the franchise’s best entries. Even after several years in the game, Ken and Ryu are strong as ever, and the new generation is bringing some serious heat. While the game is available on Dreamcast, it’s also available on PS2 and Xbox as part of the Street Fighter II anniversary collection package. The Xbox version even has online play. Maybe there is even a solid chance it will show up on Xbox Live Arcade, PSN Store, or WiiWare.

$20 Game of the Week: Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max (PSP)
sfa3Of course, Street Fighter’s ‘flashback’ series, Street Fighter Alpha 3 has learned to count to three as well. Alpha 3 stands along the best of the Street Fighter pantheon thanks in part to its sheer amount of playable characters and modes in its home versions. While the arcade version had a lot packed in, the Playstation and Dreamcast versions added several characters, which saw SFA3 feature every character that was ever featured in a 2-d Street Fighter game (beside 3 or any of its remakes). It also featured several play modes, my favorites including a 3 vs 3 team battle and a ‘dramatic battle’ mode (in which 2 players can team up to take on another, kinda like the Ken and Ryu vs M Bison fight at the end of the Street Fighter animated movie). A few years later, a port was made for the Game Boy Advance. While it left out several music tracks and stages, it made up for it by including exclusive characters Maki, Yun, and Eagle, fresh from their appearances in Capcom vs SNK 2. This PSP version, SFA3 Max features all the extra characters and game modes from the home and portable versions, new character Ingrid (from the so-crappy it should have been canceled Capcom Fighting Evolution), and a new variable fight tag-team mode. Actually, this mode is basically dramatic battle with one side being a tag team instead of both being on the screen at the same time. All the modes and characters are available without having to be unlocked, and the characters from the portable games have been fleshed out with their own storylines and endings. The game is arcade perfect. The only real issue with the game is the PSP’s pad making it difficult to pull off many of the moves, and that’s not even Capcom’s fault. Basically, this is the definitive version of Street Fighter Alpha 3. While players who have experienced the game on other systems won’t find much of an incentive to pick this up, SF fans who have never given this a shot will want to grab this.