IGN Review of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology
There's a small selection of games out there that remain timeless -- software that continues to be as much fun today as it was a dozen years ago despite further advancements in technology and innovation. Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man, Tetris... these are all great examples of exactly the sort of game I'm talking about. Luckily for fighting fans, Capcom's Street Fighter Alpha series falls into that same category; though this offshoot franchise may not get as much respect or recognition as Street Fighter proper in most historical circles, hardcore fighting nuts can tell you that the Alpha (Zero) series more than holds its own against the mainline collection of SF games.
If you're a doubter, or worse, have never played any of the Zero titles before then please turn your attention towards Capcom's PS2-exclusive Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. It proves pretty quickly what a fun little series this really was (while also boasting a nice assortment of gameplay tweaks for the ultra-determined tournament folk).
But first things first: what's in this Anthology exactly? Well, just as the title suggests, it's the complete Street Fighter Alpha collection -- Alpha, Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold, and Alpha 3, with the additional bonus of the SD favorite Pocket Fighter (under its original Japanese coin-op name, Super Gem Fighter MiniMix). What's great about this set for purists is that all of these titles, save for one, are direct ports of their original arcade counterparts. Players can even mess with virtual dipswitches and load specific versions of the software or meticulously customize the rules of each game to their liking. The only title that isn't "arcade perfect" is Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, which was previously released in Japan as a PS One and Saturn favorite.
What's more, the compilation even includes an unlockable "arranged" version of Alpha 3 that can be accessed once you've met certain requirements in the regular game. However, it should be noted that the other arranged titles available in the last month's Japanese version (Fighter's Generation) have not been included in this set (due to a different release and revision history for the coin-op titles in America). But since players can adjust and customize the already-deep games that are in the anthology anyway (along with the fact that some of the arranged versions ended up as the standard U.S. releases), the lack of extra unlockables is really no big deal.
Casual players may wonder what the difference between Street Fighter and Street Fighter Alpha is anyway. Besides the obvious graphical differences (Alpha was designed in the anime style, Street Fighter had a more traditional artistic look), the Zero series also introduced new features such as super combos and air blocking, which made some legitimate changes to how the game was played. Rolling defensive moves, limited chain combos, and "Alpha Counters" were included and the fact that characters from other Capcom franchises like Final Fight and Street Fighter 1 made appearances was a nice touch also.
Certainly, one of the Alpha series' great advantages is that the games actually changed significantly from release to release. Street Fighter Alpha 2, for example, did a much better job of balancing its characters and introduced custom combos as a replacement for Alpha 1's flawed Chains among various other fixes. It also had far more memorable stages and a better overall presentation. Naturally, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold was really just an enhanced version of Alpha 2, only with a few more tweaks and the beautiful Cammy added into the mix.
The best game in the whole set, though, has to be Street Fighter Alpha 3. The ultimate iteration of the series, it had every single character from the previous Alpha titles as well as a number of exclusive fighters that hadn't been used before. The "Ism" selector was a great addition too, and it allowed users to customize their fighting style to fit the classic Alpha mentality, the old Street Fighter II series, or a customized combo system for something entirely new. Character-wide air throws, longer juggles, and a reconfigured method of grabbing deepened the gameplay quite a bit as well, and the character balance is my favorite of the bunch. For those of you who never picked this one up for your Dreamcast or don't have access to the arcade version, don't miss your chance at playing Alpha 3 -- it's awesome.
Pocket Fighter, while fun, isn't anywhere near the league of the other four titles and is the last game available in the collection. A "cutesy" interpretation of classic Street Fighter and Dark Stalkers fighters, it offers a barebones but humorous take on some of the most popular arcade characters of the 90s. It can be genuinely entertaining in small doses, but can't offer the depth of its bigger, more established counterparts.
Perhaps the most compelling piece to the Street Fighter Alpha Anthology puzzle, however, is one of its secrets. Granted, it's one of the worst-kept secrets in existence, but that doesn't change the fact that it isn't immediately accessible from the start. Of course, I'm speaking about the hidden Hyper Street Fighter Alpha Mode -- a special inclusion that gives users the ability to mix and match versions of characters from different games for one diverse (and huge) battle royal. There are even secret "Isms" that further change the way the game is played by introducing styles from Darkstalkers, Street Fighter II Champion Edition, Marvel, and SF3 Third Strike. That's pretty awesome!
And now, the bad news: there's more to creating a compilation than simply putting a bunch of games on it and calling it a day. The Activision Anthology and original Mega Man Collection had it right when they incorporated huge amounts of content from advertising, commercials, and design documents to create a more complete experience. Hell, Capcom has already proven that it knows what it takes for an in-depth retro set with its popular "Classics Collections" for PSP and PS2. That's why it's so disappointing to see that none of the cool historical stuff (or artwork and other similar goodies) was included here. If I wanted to be especially nit-picky then I could also mention the obviously-aged audio and visuals, but I'm not going to. These are old games, get over it.
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