There was a time, around 15 years ago, when the slightly deranged fighting game fanatic had the option of leaving the arcade, and saving his quarters for a gigantic Neo Geo cartridge, and practicing one of SNK's many "homages" to Street Fighter II; all for the wallet-tightening price of around $200 a game.
A decade and a half later, and our PlayStation 2 (and 3) can display arcade-identical ports of the entire World Heroes series; from the now-horrific World Heroes to the rather-playable-but-not-actually-perfect World Heroes Perfect - all for $196 dollars less per game than we originally paid. When you add all-new abilities to soften the pixels (which, admittedly, look horrendous on a flat-panel TV), switch between the jarring midi and arranged music tracks, and colorize any fighter in a variety of hues, you have all the elements of a great collection.
Look closer, and you'll see this is a warts-and-all anthology, starting with the original World Heroes. This poor-man's Street Fighter II uses historical figures from around the world instead of contemporary ones, allowing you to play as one of two palette-swapped ninjas, a German cyborg with Dhalsim-like stretchy legs, and an American wrestler named Muscle Power instead of Zangief.
For all the similarities, there's a first; the appearance of a Bruce Lee-influenced sprite (called Dragon), and in an admittedly feeble attempt to one-up Capcom, two styles of play are available. One has regular stages, while the other is a "deathmatch," featuring flaming boxing rings, saw-blades popping out of the ground, or a cage match.
The action is incredibly slow-going, the move sets are small (Fuuma, the "Ken Masters" ninja, sports only six different moves aside from punches and kicks), and the art is sub-standard. Still, the port is perfect, right down to the way the game starts the next bout before you can read most of the victory subtitles.
World Heroes 2 is essentially the same game, but with 14 characters instead of eight. Newcomers include Erick the Viking, Shura the Sagat clone, and the zombie footballer, J. Max - arguably one of the worst attempts at coaxing a western audience into an arcade. Still, once again, this is arcade-perfect; right down to the misspelling of "quarterback" on J. Max's profile. These games had only three move buttons (punch, kick, and throw), but were pressure-sensitive, allowing weak, medium, and strong versions of each attack. Our Sixaxis controller worked well, as did arcade sticks, but this is still a flawed way to fight.
This button scheme infected World Heroes Jet, which upped the quality of the announcer (less mangling of the English language this time), and the menu artwork, but did little to enhance the game except add a couple of characters.
Fortunately, by World Heroes Perfect, by far the best game of the four, a button was assigned for weak, medium, and strong punches and kicks, the speed was increased, characters become more balanced, and Special moves could be built up during rounds. SNK have to be commended for giving fans exactly what they want (although we didn't see many online petitions for this re-release), even down to the difficulty choice, and a moves list when you pause the game (or a print out at SNK's website).
The only minor quibble? You can only quit the particular version of World Heroes you're playing once you've begun a bout, and not at any other menu screen. But play the original World Heroes for half an hour, and you'll be used to greater hardships than that.
This collection presents something of a quandary; there's no doubt this is a fantastic package and perfectly-priced, and a must-buy for video game historians, fighting game collectors, and fans of the franchise. But the years haven't been kind to Ryoko, Janne, and the other second-rate "stars."
Instead, it ends up being a retrospective showing how fighting games have improved spectacularly in the last decade. Younger gamers usually spend their time laughing hysterically at the sheer simplicity of it all; older gamers look - mouth agape - wondering how these were ever considered cutting-edge graphics.
Apr 4, 2008