Street Fighter Alpha Anthology Review
If Capcom's marketing and release schedule are to be believed, then fighting game fans just can't get enough of buying a game over and over again. They've been the most guilty of this with the classic fighting game series Street Fighter, and after dozens of releases in arcades and on home and portable consoles, there seems to be no end to the number of ways they've been repackaging the same few games in different ways.
Even the original arcade classics didn't differ too much from one to the next. Sure, Street Fighter Alpha brought in new characters and had a fully re-done set of art, sound, and graphics, but it still kept pretty close to the gameplay of the many Street Fighter II clones. And now, Capcom is selling just about every SFA incarnation in one package for the PS2 called Street Fighter Alpha Anthology.
What you'll get in Anthology are the three main Alpha games which were released from 1995 through 1998. These 2D fighters took the gameplay formula of the now legendary Street Fighter II and tweaked it while coming up with a whole new, more anime-flavored and less realistic art style. Each edition adds to the complexity of the last, throws in more characters, and generally tweaks the balance better than the last. Many favorite characters from the series, like Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, and Sagat have returned, but some have disappeared (these came back in later games). Along with the regular Arcade mode, you'll also get Vs. modes, training modes, and even the "Dramatic Battle" mode for all the main Alpha games that lets you do two-on-one simultaneous battles.
You'll also get some more obscure SFA games, like SFA2 Gold, which managed to add one character and change little else, and if you can unlock it, Hyper Street Fighter Alpha, which rounds out the roster and brings all of the Street Fighter II characters back together for a massive number in total. Finally, we also get a copy of Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (also known as Pocket Fighter), which is an amusing fighting game which takes the "super deformed" characters from Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and pits them against each other like a classic SF game. Gem Fighter is unique and really pretty funny due to the insane, hilarious moves, instant costume changes, and tons of weird cameos with Capcom characters. With only three action buttons it's not exactly as deep as the more technical Street Fighter games, Gem Fighter is still a fan favorite that's worth it for its wacky sense of humor.
The presentation here is fairly barebones, but that's very likely to be exactly what fans of the series want and expect. What is nice is that the PS2 is perfectly capable of running these games with every frame of animation pretty much perfectly, and Capcom even allowed some Street Fighter-licensed gamepads to be made for the PS2 which will work very nicely with this series. Players can even mess with virtual "dipswitches", options that were only available in the real arcade versions, to tweak the gameplay even more. And Hyper SFA allows players to mix and match the various "versions" of many characters, allowing you to see and compare the changes made to these characters from the original game up through the third.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of important omissions in this package. First, online play has been completely skipped; with the imminent release of Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting over the Xbox Live Arcade on the 360, online play is clearly something that Capcom wants to do, and it'd have been very nice to see it here. There was also a World Tour mode that has made it into some home or console ports of Street Fighter Alpha 3, where players could "build" a character and customize specific abilities, and that mode is conspicuously absent here. Some players will have a hard time caring, but it was fun to mess with and configure specific features like air blocking or super combo cancels that high-level players use constantly to win.
Despite the lack of any real innovation and a couple of missing specific features, Capcom has put together a solid package here in Street Fighter Alpha Anthology. Fighting game newbies will probably wonder what the big deal ever was with these games, but these titles represent a great balance between simplicity and a very reasonable learning curve. The graphics have plenty of style and while they're far behind for today's standards, anyone who has enjoyed the Alpha games in the past would do well to give this one a try. At a pretty reasonable price of $30 or so, I find this Street Fighter port to be one of Capcom's best arcade compilations yet.