I can remember a time when there was nothing I wanted more than a Capcom crossover game. I'm not talking about an over the top Marvel vs. Capcom
aerial rave combo-frenzy either, but rather, a good old-fashioned amalgamation of Street Fighter
clones with an equal emphasis on strategic defense and aggressive offense. I wanted a game that had the same sense of style and flexibility as Vampire Chronicles
and Street Fighter Alpha 3
, but also provided a character selection that reached into a multitude of established franchises and brands. Most of all, though, I needed to know for certain whether or not Ryu was just as much of a badass in the Darkstalkers
universe as he was in his own.
But to be truthful, I never thought that I'd get my wish. Other than the long line of "versus" titles that Capcom managed to release with Marvel and SNK, it seemed that the possibility of such a homegrown experiment was virtually nil -- especially with sprite-based titles falling to the wayside to make room for the Virtua Fighters and Tekkens of the world. Sadly, 2D had become an antiquated novelty in the eyes of the popular public opinion, and it was a reality that several old school fans found extremely hard to accept.
Yet despite all these difficulties, Capcom kept plugging away with its commitment to 2D products. In 2004 alone, the company revived its Mega Man and Street Fighter franchises with cleverly worked anniversary collections, with PS2 versions of Viewtiful Joe and its sequel doing a terrific job of mixing the third dimension with the second. An all-new Mega Man X slated for next month retains a lot of its original 2D convictions as well, while a host of other classically-inspired games are likely to make appearances for our system sometime next year. This kind of obvious conviction towards a dying breed of games is admirable to say the least, but it also makes the company's latest retro effort, Capcom Fighting Evolution, all the more heartbreaking to play. Instead of being the kick-ass, no-holds barred mix of styles that it had the potential to be, Evolution comes across as little more than a quick fusion of slightly different fighting philosophies.
At first, it's actually kind of easy to get caught up in what Capcom Fighting Evolution brings to the table. It's managed to borrow more than 20 different characters from five established franchises complete with new and remixed theme songs, brand new stages, and ending cinematics drawn by the comic book experts at Udon. Street Fighter II, DarkStalkers, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, and the barely-played Red Earth (also known as Warzard) have all been given modest representation here too, with characters like Ryu, Chun-Li, Demitri, Felicia, and Sakura thrown in for longtime fans. Players can even select two different fighters before matches to take advantage of each character's specific movesets and specials.
This mixture of styles definitely poses some interesting questions for longtime fighting experts. Guys who used to dominate their local arcades in DarkStalkers only to get their butt kicked in Street Fighter III can now see who has a better mastery of their character -- or at least, in theory they can. To balance the gameplay a bit, a lot of the characters have been balanced and tuned to make things a little bit more competitive. Street Fighter II characters in particular have been really scaled down, while the Warzard and DarkStalkers crew have been bolstered a bit. Despite this tuning, though, I noticed some definite advantages for the Street Fighter II and Alpha crew -- which frequently do more damage, have better combos, and have seemingly faster reaction times.
Real experts, however, will definitely find plenty of strategy in the selections they make. The simplistic Super Turbo II power meter and old-school gameplay of SF2 serves as an interesting alternative to the counter and parry techniques of Street Fighter III. The defense-oriented Red Earth mechanics, on the other hand, can server you pretty effectively when faced against the speedy and complex Alpha characters. There will still be top and mid-tier characters for tournament players to be sure (as I alluded to in the paragraph above), but there's no denying that there's a definite strategy to behold here. And that has to count for something.
The problem is that Capcom Fighting Evolution offers little to keep you interested beyond a friendly two-player match. The implied tag-team aspect, for example, isn't what the general public probably thinks it is. Instead, it's just a method to swap characters between rounds as a tactical move to confuse your opponent with varying styles. It also doesn't help that the single-player arcade mode only lasts for six matches before it's over; contests are generally quick and have somewhat confusing conclusions (though some are cool, Jedah's in particular).
Perhaps the biggest problem that Evolution faces, however, is the fact that its character selection is thin and bizarrely populated. While it's true that it does offer one original character (a generic female fighter that bears a striking mechanical similarity to SNK's Athena) and two bonus ones (shh, they're secrets!), the lineup isn't very rewarding. Staples from each of Capcom's franchises like Talbain, Dhalsim, Ken, Sagat, Yang, Gil, Hsien-Ko, Morrigan and dozens of others are nowhere to be found (background cameo appearances don't count). And in a game that's obviously just porting sprites over from older titles that's barely using up any space, this isn't really acceptable.
Capcom Fighting Evolution fails in certain presentational aspects too. Sure the new backgrounds are nice, but why not liven them up with more than just a few repeating animations? Why not spruce up some of the older character sprites to look as good as some of the new ones (Demitri looks terrible) and include specialized intros for specific character match-ups? How about including modes other than just training and an unlockable gallery? There's just so much wasted potential here, it's truly sad.
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