Capcom Home Arcade Thoughts

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By now, you’ve probably seen the trailer and reviews for this thing but I’m going to talk about it anyway. I love retro/classic games and I adore Capcom’s back catalogue so a product like this should either be in my hands already, or on my Christmas wishlist. But it isn’t and here’s why.

What is Capcom Home Arcade?

Essentially, the Capcom Home Arcade is a premium version of the tried-and-tested retro-themed plug ‘n play devices. This one means business though. The device features a pair of arcade-style controls for starters, and competition-spec sticks/buttons from Sanwa. Here it is from the horse’s mouth a.k.a. the official site:

“Featuring a pair of competition class Sanwa JLF-TP-8YT sticks with 8-way GT-Y directional gates and OBSF buttons for the finest precision, response times and durability.”

So this isn’t something that’s going to fall apart and break after a few hammerings. Sanwa are, after all, a well-known and respected brand in the arcade stick field.

The device has the (pretty much now standard) HDMI-out connection and also wi-fi connectivity for uploading high scores.

As for the games, you are once again assured of quality. These are original CPS1 and CPS2 arcade ROMs running on a licensed (not without controversy…) version of the emulator, Final Burn Alpha, so you won’t be getting the kind of shady emulation associated with cheaper retro handhelds or plug ‘n plays from the likes of Blaze.

So as far as the actual quality and execution of the hardware goes, I cannot fault the Capcom Home Arcade.

What are the games?

The device comes with sixteen pre-installed arcade titles:

  • 1944: The Loop Master
  • Alien Vs Predator
  • Armored Warriors
  • Capcom Sports Club
  • Captain Commando
  • Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness
  • Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors
  • Eco Fighters
  • Final Fight
  • Ghouls ‘N Ghosts
  • Gigawing
  • Mega Man: The Power Battle
  • Progear
  • Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
  • Strider
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

So what’s wrong with it, then?

So…solid hardware, a decent line-up of games and sound emulation; should be a great product then, right? Well, I would never ask anybody to take my viewpoint as the gospel (because this is just my opinion after all) but, in my eyes, the Capcom Home Arcade is FAR from deserving of a “shut up and take my money!” meme.

For starters, this thing is ugly as sin. Look, I get where they were going with the design, and I’m not saying that it won’t appeal to anybody, but this just looks a bit tacky. The non-symmetrical, oddly-shaped form isn’t pleasing to my eye. It’s like the next Playstation being a giant Sony logo – who would take that seriously? I would have much preferred a traditional-shaped arcade stick decorated with some original artwork from an artist associated with Capcom such as Kinu Nishimura, Bengus or Akiman.

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But the physical shape of the Capcom Home Arcade is the least of the problems.

The roster of games is, admittedly, far from awful. These types of products are usually loaded up with the same games over and over again rather than the juicy, rarely re-released titles that fans of the company involved are constantly clamouring for. So credit must be handed to Capcom for including the likes of Alien Vs Predator, Gigawing and Armored Warriors. They also avoided two other pitfalls: wasting slots with sequels and wasting slots on a slew of Street Fighter II revisions.

That said, I have to wonder why they went for the Hyper Fighting version of SFII rather than Super Turbo, or why they chose the original Darkstalkers over the much expanded sequels. On the whole though, these are petty moans when many of these games have never been ported to home systems. In fact, almost all of these aren’t available on the likes of PSN, XBLA or Nintendo’s E-Shop at the time of writing.

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I’d honestly given up on ever seeing AvP re-released. Shame that you have to pay £200 for the privilege…

There are even two trump cards in the pack: Alien Vs Predator and Progear. The former is one of the all-time greats in the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre and has never received a home conversion (the SNES version is the same in name only), something that fans had long written off as ever happening due to licensing issues with the characters. As for Progear, this is a CAVE-developed bullet-hell shooter that has also never been released outside of obscure, mobile ports for old phones.

Did I say the line-up of games is “far from awful”? I should take that back because it’s actually bloody good once you realise that you can’t just go and (legally) download them from PSN or XBLA for a few quid.

So…what IS wrong with it?

That price.

The Capcom Home Arcade retails for £200 and that is BIG money for a plug ‘n play, no matter how good it is. You ARE getting solid build quality and an interesting collection of games to play but it’s just too much in my opinion, and that isn’t me being a tight-arse git who wants everything for nothing.

For starters, you have to be a fairly hardcore gamer to pay that much money for sixteen games, and those sorts of gamers have been playing un-converted arcade games for years on dedicated emulator-based arcade cabs. Many committed retro-heads even have the original CPS1 and CPS2 boards for these games and play them via JAMMA-compatible SuperGun devices.

Then there is MAME. Yes, it isn’t technically legal but, again, most people haven’t been waiting 20+ years for Capcom to re-license Alien Vs Predator. When a game is THAT good, you just emulate it, as you would with the other titles that have never received home conversions. Yes, we would ALL (myself included) like to play and own everything legally but it simply isn’t possible when certain games don’t get re-released. We have our virtual collection of arcade cabinets on our computers and MAME does a damn good job of emulating them by this point.

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Never forget about these beauties or their bigger home console sisters.

And if MAME is too dodgy for you, several of these games were included in the various Capcom Classics compilations for PS2/Xbox/PSP which are readily available on the second-hand market. Additionally, Final Fight, Armored Warriors and Captain Commando were not long ago included in the Capcom Beat ’em Up Bundle along with four other games. This is still available on PSN for £15.99.

And it’s highly unlikely that casual gamers, younger gamers or those new to Capcom’s back catalogue will want to drop £200 on this.

The fact is, you are so much better off by obtaining what you can via the aforementioned, existing compilations and just emulating the rest. The quality of the Capcom Home Arcade and its games cannot be disputed but why do yourself out of money? If this was a £100 or less then I would endorse a purchase immediately, even if the device IS butt-ugly.

Capcom would have been better off dumping these games on a disc or lumping them together as a digital compilation. Heck, release them individually on PSN, XBLA and the E-Shop. Start a new line of retro re-releases under some sort of fancy banner, perhaps. I have to assume that more money goes into Capcom’s pocket by doing it this way. Certainly, they are attempting to cash-in on the Christmas rush when more unsuspecting punters – partners of gamers for example – are likely to pay the £200. Nothing says “I love you” at Christmas when a long suffering partner presents you with a thoughtful and expensive gaming item, after all.

What I SHOULD be doing is celebrating and going nuts over Alien Vs Predator finally being shown the light of day again but, instead, I’m sitting here in disbelief having seen that £200 price tag and the naff aesthetics of the Capcom Home Arcade. If it bombs and stores are forced to slash prices by 50% or more to get rid of them then I will probably buy one but I have a feeling that these won’t be that mass-produced. The Capcom zealots will probably buy them anyway, no matter the price.

Capcom planning to revive dormant IPs

A lot of gaming news and announcements completely fail to enter my sphere of interest these days but, sometimes, I see/hear something that I can’t help but be excited for. It’s these little moments that remind me that, as much as I have cooled-off on the hobby in recent years, I still love gaming. Such was the case when I saw the news that Capcom is planning to “revive dormant IPs”

In fact, I was so pumped, that I decided to make a quick post about this news. First thing’s first though: I read this on The Fighters Generation, a website dedicated to fighting game news, reviews and artwork that any fan of the genre really should have saved in their bookmarks/favourites.

And HERE is a direct link the story.

Apparently, Capcom’s confidence in their classic franchises has been bolstered by the success of Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Monster Hunter World and the collective sales of 18.5 million units.

Naturally, the potential here is incredible. Capcom’s back catalogue is enormously impressive and I believe most gamers could think of a franchise or standalone game that had the Capcom logo on the box, and that they would like to see revived going into 2020 and beyond. Obviously, it’s far too early to get any hopes up yet but I’m going to throw caution to the wind and list off the top five games (in no order) that I would like to see announced…

Darkstalkers

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It should come as no surprise – given the name of this blog – that I have always been a huge fan of Darkstalkers. It’s basically Street Fighter with vampires and mummies but Darkstalkers is so much more than that. The beautiful 2D art style lent a colourful and playful comic-book style to characters and themes rooted in horror. It was also an incredibly creative series with crazy moves and nutty supers that were a gazillion times more interesting to behold than Street Fighter‘s equivalents. And that’s saying something when much of Ryu and co.’s pyrotechnics, gravity-defying punches and outrageous super moves weren’t exactly grounded in reality in the first place.

In theory, a new Darkstalkers should be a success. After all, you only need to look at how popular and enduring the characters still are. However, Capcom have a recent history of trolling the fanbase with various hints and rumours that haven’t led anywhere unless you count Darkstalkers Resurrection for PS3/360 which was just a duo of tarted-up ports.

This being one of my absolute favourite series’ of all-time, I do have some reservations, however. Firstly, the game really needs a sumptuous 2D style to do the originals justice. I know that hand-animating genuine 2D sprites and backgrounds is no longer a viable thing in the industry but I’d happily settle for a convincing imitation. The King of Fighters XIII and Blazblue spring to mind, for example. But knowing Capcom, they will likely fall back on the tried-and-tested 2.5D style that has powered recent Street Fighters and MvC games.

Secondly, I will be underwhelmed (to say the least) if a new Darkstalkers becomes the next Street Fighter V and adopts the same rushed launch, DLC/F2P approach and focus on online play. And please, no petty stuff like censoring Morrigan’s cleavage or putting Felicia in a nun’s outfit (and yes, I know that that actually happened in one of her endings).

Capcom Vs SNK 3

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The timing for a third installment in the CvSNK series has never been better. SNK are riding high at the moment with the successes of KOF XIV and Samurai Shodown (both great games) and they have been setting the fighting game world alight with mini crossovers. Mai Shiranui slotted neatly into Dead or Alive, Geese Howard brought his counter-attacks to Tekken 7 and Terry Bogard has starred in TWO non-SNK games – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Fighting EX Layer.

So why not blow the minds of fighting game fans and bring back the crossover series that gamers have been clamouring for for so long? The potential is immense. So many new characters have established themselves on both sides of the Capcom/SNK divide in the last twenty years so there’s ample room to spice up the roster. They could even expand it some more so that it doesn’t feel like just Street Fighter vs King of Fighters. Tatsunoko Vs Capcom and the last two Marvel Vs Capcom installments have shown that the developer isn’t averse to some left-field thinking and sending out tournament invites to characters not traditionally associated with their fighting games.

As with Darkstalkers, my main reservations would be the visual style and whether a CvSNK3 would become DLC: The Game. I have to be honest though: neither would put me off playing it.

Haunting Ground

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A bit of a different survival horror game that didn’t do brilliantly at retail first time around, but now commands a fair price on the second-hand market due to gamers eager to play what they missed out on. Away from commercial success (or lack of), Haunting Ground was a interesting game from the same publisher that brought us Resident Evil. Unlike that series, however, the protagonist – Fiona Belli – didn’t fight back against the sinister enemies stalking her. The twist was that you really were just a frightened teenage girl, trapped in a massive castle, and being hunted by the owner’s servants.

Fiona had to avoid her enemies and hide in closets or underneath beds and it was very tense, knowing that you may or may not be discovered. She also had her faithful canine companion, Hewie – a German Shepard that could be instructed to attack enemies or retrieve out-of-reach items. You had to look after Hewie though, and keep him healthy so it almost felt as if you were building a genuine relationship with this dog, Fiona’s only friend and – in many cases – chance of survival.

Haunting Ground had such a fantastic, chilling atmosphere. There were only three enemies in the game but the threat of being found, and knowing that you could only flee in terror, ramped the tension up to often unbearable levels. Fiona could also fall into a state of panic if she was exposed to too much. Visibility worsened, she could start running about of her accord and could even fall over. Staving off exhaustion played a key part in keeping Fiona’s sanity at healthy levels and preventing a dehibilitating state of panic from setting in, so you had to be careful not to run too much or abuse the backstep and tackle abilities.

It was such a creative and original survival horror game. It also looked superb by PS2 standards. Additionally, there aren’t many enemies in the survival horror genre that can hold a candle to the robotic creepiness of the maid, Daniella.

Dino Crisis

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In period, Dino Crisis was often described as “Resident Evil with dinosaurs” and that’s pretty much what it was. The controls and camera angles were very familiar to Resi players and the game was even developed by the same team. The original Dino Crisis was a big success and cemented itself as a firm favourite that most 90’s gamers will have played or at least heard of.

Unfortunately, the series never achieved the same longevity as it’s zombie-infested sibling. Dino Crisis 2 traded survival horror for a greater focus on all-out arcade action but was still a success for Capcom. The same couldn’t be said for 2003’s Dino Crisis 3, however; a sequel that took the series into space with new characters, mutant creatures engineered from dino DNA and one of the worst in-game cameras ever implemented. The fact that it was exclusive to the original Xbox – when Dino Crisis was traditionally a Playstation-first series – probably didn’t help sales either.

So it would be awesome to see a brand-new Dino Crisis that perhaps uses the Resident Evil 2 Remake engine. Come on, Capcom: bring things full circle again.

Final Fight

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Thanks to digital platforms, side-scrolling beat ’em ups have seen somewhat of a resurgence in recent years with many enjoyable, original examples finding their way onto PSN and XBLA in amongst welcome ports of classic arcade brawlers. Even Streets of Rage is finally getting a true fourth installment so wouldn’t it be great to see a Final Fight 4 as well?

Obviously, there have been other Final Fight sequels post-Final Fight 3 but it’s difficult to count those as ‘proper’ sequels. Final Fight Revenge was a pretty poor attempt to simultaneously take the series into the third dimension AND the one-on-one fighting game format. Final Fight Streetwise returned to the beat ’em up format but barely had anything in common. I didn’t entirely dislike Streetwise (it’s so bad that it’s fun) but the miserable urban ghetto setting, swearing, a storyline based on substance abuse and even mutated abominations towards the end of the game, all marked the game out as the blackest of black sheep in the Final Fight series.

What we need is a REAL Final Fight follow-up that reintroduces some colour as well as the traditional side-scrolling format. It would be great fun. The recent inclusion of Final Fight 3‘s Lucia in Street Fighter V proves that even the lesser-known sequels to the original arcade hit are still in the front of Capcom’s mind so maybe and brand-new installment isn’t such a wild wish…

So those are my personal top five choices for Capcom revivals. What do you think of this news? What would be on your wishlist?

Review – Metal Slug Anthology [PSP/Playstation 2/Wii]

MSA-1Release Date: 2007 (Europe)   |   Developer: SNK Playmore/Terminal Reality   |   Publisher: Ignition (Europe)

If you’ve lived behind a tower of modern games or are a younger gamer then you may not be familiar with SNK’s Metal Slug series and that is truly a shame because you might be missing out on something special. For those already in the know, Metal Slug is a stone-cold arcade classic requiring no introduction but for the uninformed, here’s the deal. Released in 1996 for SNK’s Neo Geo arcade hardware, Metal Slug quickly became one of the quintessential run ‘n gun experiences that the rest of the genre suddenly found itself compared to. Nazca Corp. blended tight, challenging gameplay with their stunning 2D artistry to create one of the defining Neo Geo experiences and a killer app for the (incredibly expensive) home version of the hardware.

The game oozed charm and was overflowing with character thanks to the comical nature of the cartoon-like visuals which should have been at odds with the military theme and bright red blood. It was – as previously mentioned – challenging too but not necessarily in an outrageously cheap way; not to begin with anyway – that’s a sin for some of the sequels to atone for and we’ll hold court on that subject in due course.

By the time SNK called time on the creaking Neo Geo hardware in 2004, the system had hosted six Metal Slug games. If you weren’t rich enough to own a Neo Geo and splurge on massive cartridges sporting eye-watering price tags (so most of us then) then it was difficult to be a Metal Slug fan though. There were ports to all kinds of the consoles such as the Playstation, Saturn, PS2 and original Xbox but these tended to vary in terms of quality and accuracy. In 2007 however (2006 for the US), we were treated to Metal Slug Anthology for PSP, Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii. This compilation from the retro gods collected unaltered arcade versions of the five Neo Geo ‘Slugs plus the Atomiswave’s Metal Slug 6 which was brand-new for the West when Anthology hit the shelves.

LOADING…

I’ll start by quickly talking about the compilation in general. I won’t discuss the Wii port as I haven’t been lucky enough to own a copy but I have owned both the Playstation 2 and PSP editions of the game. Sadly, Sony’s versions suffer from unwelcome load times, even in basic areas such as the front end menu or in-game character select screens. It’s not a deal-breaker but is still pretty unforgiveable in my opinion, especially since the PS2 and PSP shouldn’t have been at all taxed to run a small collection of old Neo Geo games when the PS2 didn’t appear to break a sweat over big stuff like Gran Turismo and Black. The PSP is a more understandable situation given that the handheld’s loading capabilities were often scuppered by the UMD drive. Even so, I play all of my PSP games direct from the memory stick (thanks to the wonders of Custom Firmware) and even then, the loading isn’t completely eradicated. The Wii port is meant to be a lot better as it was allegedly coded by SNK themselves while Terminal Reality handled the PS2 and PSP versions. Don’t quote me on that though; it’s something I remember reading in period reviews.

In terms of extras, there’s an art gallery to unlock using tokens earnt by playing through the six games. It’s not much but I’m personally a big fan because outside of the official press art for SNK games, there is a wealth of bizarre artwork resembling fan art and this is often included in their games. Artwork won’t be of interest to everybody, granted, but I love the quirkiness of SNK’s galleries at times. That said, what we are really for are the games so let’s talk about them.

Original and best

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the original Metal Slug is in close contention for being the best game of the series. It’s a purer experience than the sequels and suffers with less of the bloat and often unnecessary variety that its successors injected (in a well-meaning way of course). You simply run to the right, avoiding enemy fire and blasting anything that gets in Marco Rossi’s way. You are granted three lives per credit and ten grenades per life. Continuing with a fresh credit gifts you the Heavy Machine-Gun power-up upon re-spawning as a welcome gesture. You might think then that Metal Slug is about as complicated as Paris Hilton and that’s a fair assessment as there’s nothing overly innovative about the whole thing. It’s HOW the game does what it does that makes it so endearing.

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First of all, the controls and ‘feel’ are spot-on and you should never find yourself condemning either for getting iced by an enemy. Secondly, the power-ups are just so damn fun to acquire and put to use. The Heavy Machine-Gun makes you feel like a force to be reckoned with, the shotgun’s explosive punch fills you with confidence and the Rocket Launcher is just the nuts. Special mention must go to the Arnie-like “Rocket Lowncher!” announcement from the voice-over dude when you collect the latter – always a pleasure to hear. Then there’s the Metal Slug tank itself which can take several hits before being destroyed. The tank is actually pretty cutesey thanks to its stubby profile and ability to jump but the rapid-fire machine-gun and cannon pack a serious punch.

Finally, there’s that distinctive art style which is a big part of the game’s appeal. Without it, Metal Slug would just be another solid run ‘n gun game but thanks to Nazca’s artistic sorcery, every backdrop, sprite and tiny detail deserves close attention. In fact, there is such a ludicrous level of detail in every single thing that it’s a wonder that they ever finished the game or were permitted the time to go so crazy in the first place. Special mention must go to the enormous bosses which are both intimidating and spectacular. Taking them down always feels like an achievement.

The visuals are backed up by the audio which consists of memorable voice-overs, fantastic sound effects (the explosions are awesome) and memorable music that blends military-themed composition with Nazca’s jazzy sound, the latter fitting in perfectly against all sound reason.

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I’ve already stated that the game is challenging as it really is but the original Metal Slug is perhaps the fairest of the lot. The first three missions are no cake-walk but can be completed with minimal stress. It’s only towards the end of the game that the opposition begins to overwhelm and you will have to feed in credits in order to push on. This was an arcade game designed to part punters from their cash but that said, I’ve certainly played much, much worse that would have you searching for Dick Turpin’s name in the developer credits.

Put simply, the original Metal Slug is a creative masterpiece and a very enjoyable arcade action game that deserves its lofty reputation. If you only play one game in the series then this has to be it but SNK did make some sequels so let’s address those next…

Bigger isn’t always better

Metal Slug 2 is probably the closest rival that the original game has for the honour of being the best in the series. I did say that if you only play one entry then it should be the original but ideally, you’d play the immediate follow-up as well. MS2 is more of the same but bigger and more extreme than before. New power-ups and new Slug vehicles debut as do the Mars People alien enemies. The bosses are equally impressive if not better than before with special mentions going to an Arabian palace that turns into a missile launcher and the second mission’s boss which sees you constantly climbing to avoid the chasing jaws of an enormous machine. The only issue I have with Metal Slug 2 is that the last few levels are a bit brutal with the player being expected to dodge too much crap and kill far too many aliens. That aside, it is a worthy follow-up deserving of your time.

Metal Slug X is essentially a remix of Metal Slug 2. The first stage for example now takes place at dusk, there are new enemies, remixed music and new power-ups. There’s a handy list of the updates here on Wikipedia. Whether you prefer X over ‘vanilla’ Metal Slug 2 is a personal preference but being as it is very similar, I would also class X as a game you can definitely keep coming back to.

Unfortunately, the series takes a nosedive with Metal Slug 3 that it never really fully recovered from. This was the last game produced by the original Nazca/SNK partnership before SNK went bankrupt and rose from the ashes as SNK Playmore. They went all-out and cranked the creativity up to the max with MS3 which should have been a positive thing but ends up being both good and bad. Starting with the good, they went pretty wild here and introduced a ton of new stuff and awe-inspiring bosses, all rendered in the same agonisingly attractive art style. The game also still plays perfectly soundly. The first problem however is that you aren’t only fighting military forces this time around but all manner of organic creatures and aliens. This did allow Nazca’s artists the chance to flex and animate a bunch of crazy stuff (which all looks lovely) but you will miss the characterful enemy soldiers and military hardware when you’re shooting at crabs, insects and…zombies?

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Yes, there is a zombie-themed level that mimics a slasher movie and I really hate this shit. When you get killed, a bolt of lightning will resurrect you albeit as a shambling, sluggish zombie with none of the agility that you need to avoid the onslaught of enemies. It doesn’t fit in with what Metal Slug is meant to be but even if you can overlook that, playing as a zombie slows the action to a crawl and puts a definite damper on things. Even when you are still in human form, emptying vast amounts of ammo into walking bullet sponges is no fun. The only enjoyable thing that comes from the whole zombie thing is the ability to vomit a massive arc of blood that covers most of the screen and takes out enemies with the force of a grenade. That’s fucking cool.

The other killjoy is the fact that Metal Slug 3 is just too damn hard. They really wanted your pocket change with this game, possibly to stave off impending bankruptcy. The first level is reasonably manageable but the cruelty factor soon arrives with the player being expected to dodge an unreasonable amount of on-screen shit. The final stage in particular is downright sadistic with overwhelming quotas of dangerous enemies clogging the screen and an insane amount of lethal projectiles to avoid. It also feels as though it will NEVER end. Whenever I decide to play MS3, I find myself begging the game to simply stop by this point. The bosses in this game also absorb a ridiculous amount of firepower before they go down, to the point that you may question whether your game has glitched out and granted said bosses immunity to death.

Metal Slug 3 is not a bad game per se. It has a lot going for it in the aesthetics department but the difficulty spike and general madness of battling crustaceans, Aztec gods and zombies really let it down. I simply cannot enjoy this game when I play it because it’s the first time that Metal Slug felt too cheap and remorseless to WANT to perservere with. It was the end of the original era though so how did SNK and Metal Slug fare in the Playmore era? Hmm…

A mixed bag

By this point, SNK Playmore didn’t yet exist and it was entity simply known as “Playmore”. In conjunction with Mega Enterprise, they kept SNK’s franchises’ ticking over with Metal Slug 4 being one result. I have to be honest and say that I really don’t care for this game. It’s not that it’s bad but it’s incredibly “meh”. Unsurprisingly – given the financial situation – MS4 is a recyclathon of old sprites and ideas but the classic Nazca art clashes somewhat with new stuff doing its best to imitate. The game receives points straight away for returning to military enemies but then throws it all down the toilet by re-introducing mummies and zombies. The level design is incredibly by-the-numbers and dull with very few set-pieces since the game instead favours holding the player up on the same screen for an eternity while wave after wave of enemies pour in from both sides, often in suffocating volumes that slow the game down. Bosses aren’t too interesting either and trade patterns for simply filling the screen with as many bullets, bombs and enemies as possible. Granted, I’m no master player of videogames but I don’t see how it’s possible to avoid some of the stuff that later bosses throw at the player.

Metal Slug 4 could have been a lot worse but at the same time, there’s no avoiding the fact that it had very little charm or creativity going on. It’s not a sequel that I can recommend on any grounds, really.

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Conversely, Metal Slug 5 is far superior. Aside from some tribal enemies at the outset and the final boss itself, it’s back to military enemies for a more traditional ‘Slug affair. The opposing army isn’t headed up by series antangonist Morden this time (even though the sprites are blatant re-skins) but the darker colours, black ops-style enemies and gritty rock music do suck some of the series’ trademark humour out of the game it has to be said. However, this is a reasonable trade off considering that the game is much fairer than the previous two and as a result, far closer to the formula of the first two games which were challenging but not downright malicious as per MS3 and 4. Bosses too have much better attack patterns and as such, aren’t a drain on your soul to take down. The final boss is a bit cheap though and probably the most ridiculous, out-of-place end boss in the series. Looks awesome though.

Unfortunately, Metal Slug 6 ruins the redemption of MS5. This was the first post-Neo Geo Metal Slug with Sammy’s Atomiswave platform taking over the hosting duties. Appropriately, SNK Playmore tried to inject some new blood into the series by upping the character select screen to six with the addition of Ralf and Clark from Ikari Warriors/King of Fighters. In addition, each character has special abilities such as Ralf’s Vulcan Punch attack and Eri’s ability to aim grenades in specific directions. You can now also stock up to two power-ups and switch between them. Also, MS6 introduced an easy mode which lowers the difficulty and grants the player the Heavy Machine-Gun as the standard weapon at the expense of not being able to challenge the game’s final stage.

That’s the good/interesting stuff. Sadly, the game just feels like an imitation or a fan-made tribute. Yes, the familiar sprites and visual design are correct and present but as with MS4, the new backgrounds and enemies aren’t as impressive and clash with the old, classic Nazca creations. Sound effects and enemy voices are also different (not for the better) and once again, the series returns to aliens and weird shit before long. The difficulty beyond the first few missions is also tough to swallow with all manner of bullet-sponge aliens and bizarre creatures flooding the screen and demanding a ridiculous amount of firepower to put down. The game feels cheap too with so much shit happening at once that there’s no hope of surviving. The final stage takes a (rotted) leaf from Metal Slug 3‘s book and features and seemingly endless gauntlet of everything that makes this sequel so charmless and unenjoyable to endure. By the time I reached the final boss, I was both bored and frustrated – emotions that I would never have associated with Metal Slug when playing the first two games. In short, it’s still a solid run ‘n gun but only because of all the work that Nazca put in back in the 90’s. Without their blueprint and artwork, games like Metal Slug 4 and 6 wouldn’t even be worth talking about.

Conclusions

To sum up the core Metal Slug series, I would say that the first two games + Metal Slug X are utterly essential run ‘n guns that any gamer with an interest in old-school, arcade gameplay should experience. As for the rest…Metal Slug 3 is worth a look for it’s aesthetics but is simply too cheap to enjoy, Metal Slug 4 and 6 are not worth your time while Metal Slug 5 is surprisingly decent with genuine replayability. Personally I’d rank them as MS1 > MS2 > MSX > MS3 >MS5 >MS4 > MS6. As for the Anthology specifically, it’s a shame that there are those loading niggles with the PSP and PS2 versions but whichever port you go with, the value is undeniably strong.

The Golden Age of Fighting Games: When it happened and why it ended [Part 2]

In the first part of this little series, I explained that the one true ‘Golden Age’ of the fighting game genre took place – in my opinion – from ’91 – ’00/01. I’ve also discussed how I believe the decline of the arcades was a major factor in this most excellent era coming to an end. Now it’s time to continue where I left off with Part 2, where I will discuss two more factors that I consider to be highly influential to this disappointing demise.

Capcom pulling out of developing new titles/sequels

Like it or not, Capcom are a major driving force in the fighting game arena and what they do can have a massive effect on the genre as a whole. Fighting games DID exist before Street Fighter II (International Karate, Yie Ar Kung Fu and even the original Street Fighter to name a few examples) but SFII became a template for fighting games to imitate, something that is still happening today. The move inputs for specials for example were near enough universally adopted by every following fighting game with the same input motions still in use today.

I also made a note in Part 1 of how Capcom eventually returning to the fray with Street Fighter IV revitalised the genre, encouraging the revival of other dormant fighting games and creating a hospitable breeding environment for brand-new challengers to emerge. This is a clear example of Capcom’s actions carrying serious clout. No, the genre didn’t fully die out while they were away from the action but the return of Capcom and Street Fighter brought much-needed attention and popularity back to the world of fighting games.

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Niche productions such as the upcoming Blade Strangers may never have existed if not for a resurgence in fighting game popularity that goes back to Street Fighter IV’s emergence.

So when Capcom backed out of developing new titles post-Capcom Vs SNK 2, it was a big blow to the genre and the community. I will be going into more depth on those barren years for fans of fighting games in a separate post but Capcom basically focused on brand-new console franchises such as Devil May Cry while keeping their fighting game heritage on the backburner with some re-releases and compilations. In fairness, these were welcome additions to any fighting game fan’s library. The likes of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, Vampire: Darkstalkers Collection, Hyper Street Fighter II and the PS2 port of Third Strike represented immense convenience and (in the case of the collections) fantastic value for money. Nobody could knock the quality of these releases but they weren’t proper, new sequels and gamers began to ask questions. Would we ever see new Street Fighter, Darkstalkers or VS games again?

Capcom did try something new with the 3D Capcom Fighting All-Stars, a project which was eventually cancelled. They then disappointed with the underwhelming Capcom Fighting Jam, a lazy crossover game featuring a jarring collection of re-used sprites and a limited roster. The game wasn’t broken but it was surprising to see such a poor original effort from a company that had previously been the gold standard.

Street Fighter was a household name and at this point, it was slipping into the background with the more casual gamers that had been caught up in the franchise’s prior popularity no longer being that invested in fighting games as a whole. Without any new, good games in the series, SF became a relic of a bygone age, something that people who had owned the game on the SNES talked about in nostalgic tones. 3D fighting games such as Tekken and Dead or Alive carried on thanks to the polygon-based side of the genre being more resilient such was its appeal to both the hardcore fans and casual console gamers alike. 2D fighters however became a serious niche and games like Guilty Gear and The King of Fighters were still around but consigned to a more obscure status. These were games that resembled Street Fighter to the casual observer – that old fighting game thing that they remembered playing in the 90’s.

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A nice idea and a bit of a novelty but the backdrops had more characters than the game. Also: look at that ancient Demitri sprite!

This is why I consider Capcom to be so influential. If they or the Street Fighter series aren’t around, it gives the impression that there’s no confidence in the genre or money to be made by publishers weighing up whether or not to greenlight a sequel for one of their own franchises. Capcom helped define the genre as we know it, the genre faded away as they took a step back and it finally experienced a resurgence when they returned. Whether you like Capcom or are more partial to the offerings of a different developer, there’s no denying their influence.

The bankruptcy of the original SNK

Every warrior needs a sparring partner or a fierce rival to help them push their mind and body further. SNK played this role for Capcom back in the 90’s and it was almost a decade of the two giants trading blows. SNK pumped out series after series: Fatal Fury, Art of Fighting, Samurai Shodown, The King of Fighters, The Last Blade and Garou: Mark of the Wolves to name the more well-known games. Not all of these games were great and the clunkiness of the older ones prevented them from being true Street Fighter II beaters but SNK were in this for the long run. Their Neo Geo MVS arcade hardware was massively powerful and long-lasting, easily capable of hosting fighting games that could beat Capcom’s for aesthetic detail and on-screen action.

If that wasn’t enough, the Neo Geo AES was essentially a consolised, home version of the MVS meaning zero reduction in quality when playing the latest King of Fighters on your TV as opposed to in the arcades. The downside was the immense price tag that the AES came with and the prohibitive cost of cartridges which quickly marked the system out as a premium product that only the richest gamers could afford to put beside their TVs. There were conversions to the Playstation, Sega Saturn and Sega Dreamcast available but these were largely confined to Japan with the Saturn needing a RAM expansion cartridge before it could handle the games.

In any case, blow-for-blow was traded in this little war. SNK introduced team-based fighting while Capcom put their iconic characters up against Marvel’s comic book heroes/villains for the innovative and very epic ‘Vs‘ series. Street Fighter III introduced the legendary parry ability to separate the men from the boys. SNK replied with the equally beautiful Garou: Mark of the Wolves which just so happened to feature its own counter system – the Just Defend mechanic. SNK had a Ryu-alike character named Ryo so Capcom had a playful dig back at their rival when they created Dan Hibiki, a parody of the Sakazaki family’s moves and win poses…garbed in a pink gi.

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The Last Blade 2: SNK at their zenith.

As the 90’s drew to a close, Capcom and SNK had actually teamed-up for the fantastic Capcom Vs SNK, an amazing event for fans of the genre which would receive a sequel and also a quirky version from SNK themselves (SVC Chaos). When the dust had finally settled, it was gamers who had won. Capcom had hit hard with Third Strike, Vampire Saviour, Marvel Vs Capcom and Rival Schools but SNK held its ground with Garou, The Last Blade 2, King of Fighters ’98 and Samurai Shodown IV. SNK had began the decade with ambitious but clunky and sometimes crude efforts such as the original Art of Fighting but they were eventually able to legitimately match Capcom for quality art, animation and fantastic gameplay.

Sadly, the original SNK went into administration before being acquired by Playmore and being subsequently rebranded as SNK Playmore. King of Fighters games continued to arrive but the quality severely dipped during the 2000’s with the constant re-use of ancient Neo Geo sprites being less and less impressive each time they were wheeled out for the latest KOF game. SNK Playmore also mirrored Capcom with a slew of ports and collections of their back catalogue to newer systems. As with the Capcom re-issues, these were solid, desirable products but not exactly new games. Still, where Capcom binned Fighting All-Stars, SNK did at least manage to release TWO 3D spin offs of the King of Fighters even if they weren’t all that great.

But if Capcom’s fighting game properties had fallen into obscurity then spare a thought for SNK. New ports to the PS2 and Xbox were published by the unreliable Ignition Entertainment and sometimes extremely difficult to track down on release such was the niche nature of their fighting games post-bankruptcy. Essentially, it was only those in the know and an ever-dwindling fanbase who sought out the likes of KOF: Neowave and Neo Geo Battle Colisseum. A giant had fallen and it is arguable that SNK would have needed Capcom’s active presence within the genre to continue thriving had they not found themselves in trouble. In any case, the end of the rivalry and the loss of the original (and still the best) incarnation of SNK was a defining moment in the genre’s history.

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KOF lived on with the likes of Neowave (pictured here) but the sprites were showing their age by this point and no longer impressing anybody.

All of these reasons for the golden age of fighting games coming to a close are closely interlinked. The decline in arcade popularity for example pushed Capcom to withdraw and focus their efforts on the profits available in the booming console industry. Street Fighter used to be their cash cow but there was greater commercial sense in developing new Resident Evil and Devil May Cry sequels for Sony’s world-conquering Playstation 2. Had SNK not run into financial issues, they too would have been affected. Given how ALL of SNK’s properties were arcade-centric, it’s a (thankful) miracle that they are still around today. It’s important to note that they also had their own issues to contend with such as piracy of the Neo Geo cartridge format.

With all of the negativity out of the way, join me for Part 3 when I take a closer look at the top reasons that make ’91-’00/01 such a special time for the fighting game genre.

Retro Re-Release Wishlist [Part 1]

Gaming is a vast medium with an enormous history, some of it mainstream but much of it niche or obscure. However deep you choose to delve into our hobby however, there will always be great games that never get a modern re-release on the likes of PSN, XBLA or Steam due to licensing issues, a perceived lack of profit potential for the IP owner (often a legitimate reason) or for more bizarre reasons such as Sega claiming to have lost the source code for such classics as Panzer Dragoon Saga and the original House of the Dead (arcade version). Ignoring ALL of these boring, technical explanations for a moment, I’d like to kick off a new series where I look at some retro titles that I’d love to see re-issued for modern platforms. Take my money!

#1 – Outrun and its sequels

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The original 1986 Outrun has been re-released several times and is fairly easy to play. Discounting period conversions that all differed wildly in accuracy, some ‘arcade perfect’ ports eventually appeared including the Sega Ages edition for the Saturn and – more recently – a handheld version for the 3DS under the ‘Sega 3D Classics’ umbrella. Outrun‘s sequels haven’t been shown the same love however and that’s a shame. My personal favourite is Turbo Outrun which swapped the Testarossa for the mighty Ferrari F40, added a turbo boost feature, more hazards (such as oil slicks and wet surfaces) and fantastic music. Japan were lucky enough to receive a 3DS conversion of Turbo Outrun but that’s it as far as accurate arcade conversions go. Then there was the visually-thrilling Outrunners, a further sequel that seems – bizarrely – all but forgotten by Sega despite it channelling the essence of the original game and being a lot more exciting to behold.

To go even further, there were also the console-exclusive sequels like Outrun Europa and the divisive Outrun 2019 but I would be stoked just to have a digital collection containing arcade-perfect conversions of Outrun, Turbo Outrun and Outrunners. If the (long expired) Ferrari license is an issue then Sega could just slightly alter the details on the cars as they have been known to do before.

#2 – Capcom Vs SNK (and other Capcom VS series fighting games

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Capcom VS SNK 2 is a near-universally loved fighting game that brought the curtain down on the 1990’s and a fabulous era for fighting games. The game deserves the love it receives and it is a firm favourite of mine BUT the original Capcom Vs SNK is also a tremendous fighting game that is – in some ways – superior to its lauded follow-up. The stage backdrops for example were among the last to be hand-drawn and animated by Capcom for example (the sequel uses 3D and while perfectly attractive, aren’t as impressive) and the music is superb as well as exclusive to the original game. Sadly, the original CvS only saw period Dreamcast and Playstation conversions with the latter being the only way to play the ‘Pro’ update outside of Japan without resorting to importing the Dreamcast version. Even worse, CVS: Pro on the Playstation suffered (like with many of the VS series) from downgraded animation + audio as well as frequent load times as Sony’s machine struggled to host the game. The PS2 version of the sequel has been re-issued on PSN but the original game is mysteriously forgotten about. As somebody who no longer owns a DC, I’d dearly like for Capcom Vs SNK to get a re-release.

And while on the subject, not many of the Marvel VS series entries have been re-released. Marvel Superheroes and the original MvC had their arcade editions packaged together for an ‘Origins’ digital re-release but the other early entries in the series – X-Men: Children of the Atom, X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter – remain exclusive to the arcade, Playstation or Sega Saturn. Capcom began producing VS games again with MvC3, Ultimate MvC and the recent-ish Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite so the sensible time to whack the older games on PSN/XBLA seems to have been and passed. Add in the poor performance of Infinite and it would seem that the window of opportunity may have disappeared which is a shame. A compilation of all the older games would be an instant purchase as far as I am concerned.

#3 – Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death Adder

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The debate over which Golden Axe game is the best is a popular one. Some say that the arcade original is the only answer to the question while others have a fierce, nostalgic sentiment towards its Mega Drive conversion. Golden Axe II floats the boat of others while almost nobody opts for Golden Axe III or the spin-off, Golden Axe: The Duel. And if you try to claim that Beast Rider on the PS3/360 is the best? Get out of here! The tragedy of this once great side-scrolling beat ’em up series is that its best installment remained exclusive to arcades. The Revenge of Death Adder is bigger, brighter and so much more expansive than any of its predecessors with new characters, fantastic effects and more depth than ever before yet it has never been re-issued on anything at all, not even receiving an obscure port in some form on a Japanese-only computer. It’s understandable that Sega would see little merit in watering everything down to cram Revenge onto the Mega Drive or even the 32X but a belated Sega Saturn conversion would have been perfect. A counter argument would be that interest in 2D gaming and beat ’em ups was waning by the time of the Saturn but you only have to look at how revered the likes of Guardian Heroes have become to see that Revenge would have fitted the Saturn like a particularly snug glove. Besides, how many other styles of games that were perceived to be of little consumer interest were nonetheless released for the Saturn and Playstation in the 90’s?

#4 – Snatcher & Policenauts

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It might seem odd now but Konami actually used to make a lot of great games. Even typing that feels wrong but unfortunately, they have lost their way with high-profile stories about poor treatment of employees and severe scaling back on active use of their wealth of enviable IP. Yes, Konami may be a Metal Gear Solid/Pro Evolution creature propped up by pachinko machines and the Yu-Gi-Oh!! card game but in the past, they put their name to such games as Snatcher, a distopian cyberpunk graphic adventure that remains frustratingly difficult to play by conventional means (emulation and bootleg fan translations notwithstanding). The only English-language version of the game was released on Sega’s Mega-CD (Sega-CD in the US) and now commands insane prices due to it’s desirability and notoriety for being a game very much worth playing on a system where the quality of the software library otherwise borders on being schizophrenic. At the time of making this post for example, copies are selling on ebay UK for between £250-£300 with ease. Higher condition copies with the spine card are pushing £500 while even loose discs have been snapped up for close to £100.

Spiritual follow-up, Policenauts, suffers an even harsher fate having never received an official translation of any kind. Both games were released for the Playstation and Saturn in Japan (along with various native home computers and – with regards to Policenauts – the 3DO) and language-patched translations are available for emulation or chipped consoles capable of playing back-ups but wouldn’t a proper, digital release be nice? Translate both games and I wouldn’t be able to hand my money over fast enough for the double pack.

#5 – Violent Storm

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I’m ending part one with another old-school Konami game: 1993’s Violent Storm, an arcade beat ’em up designed (like so many games of the period) to capitalise on the popularity of the likes of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. Thing is, Violent Storm is every bit as slick as Final Fight but manages to be a bit more light-hearted despite the main attraction still being smashing in the faces of thugs. The characters are big and bold while the crazy music and questionable enemy designs help Violent Storm stand out from its peers as an amazing beat ’em up in its own right. Unfortunately, the game wasn’t ever converted to a home system and – for some reason – it is quite obscure and unknown today outside of those in the know. Yes, I play it on MAME but I’d still happily pay for an official re-release.

Well, that’s part one done and dusted (with many more still to come no doubt). Please feel free to comment with your thoughts on my choices or for any suggestions for other games that are crying out for a modern-day re-release. We can but hope that some of these wishes may some day become a reality!

The Golden Age of Fighting Games: When it happened and why it ended [Part 1]

The last two generations of home consoles have hosted a major resurgence in the fighting game genre. Widely credited to success of the original Street Fighter IV (before it was updated twenty billion times at the last rough estimate), developers began dusting off their old franchises again and arcades in Japan were treated to a new slew of 2D and anime-styled fighters, many of which managed to reach us here in the West. Of course, the genre never completely died out; it just lost a lot of popularity. The likes of Tekken, Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive quietly soldiered on and were played by the genre faithful but gamers were more interested in open-world adventuring, sports games and online shooters.

SFIV represented Capcom finally deciding to quit it with the ports and re-releases and invest serious money into a brand-new installment. It was a very well-received game that revived a genre. Rival series’ that had never really gone away received more exposure and new franchises such as Blazblue exploded onto the scene. Mortal Kombat and Guilty Gear became big names again and we were treated to all manner of quirky, interesting fighters such as Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth and Tatsunoko Vs Capcom. As I type this today, Arika have just returned to the fray with Fighting EX Layer, Blade Strangers is on the horizon and a Dragonball fighting game has become a serious tournament contender. It’s a great time to be a fan of fighting games and yet, this is no “Golden Age” because that time has already been and passed.

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Street Fighter IV (seen here in ‘Ultra’ form) was a very welcome sequel.

That “Golden Age” – in my opinion – began in 1991 with the release of Street Fighter II (the game that all 2D fighting games still owe their basic templates to) and ended around 2000/2001 with Capcom Vs SNK 2 and Marvel Vs Capcom 2 – a duo of games that represented a culmination of a decade of advances in presentation, gameplay and crossover spectacle. I might look like I’m giving Capcom too much credit here by only citing their games but it’s simply a fact that some of their greatest and most popular creations bookend this fantastic era. Before discussing why I believe this ’91-’01 period to be the undisputed Golden Age of fighting games, I want to talk about the three main reasons that I believe were responsible for its eventual death.

  • The decline of the arcades
  • Capcom pulling out of developing original titles/new sequels
  • The bankruptcy of the original SNK

Again, it really isn’t my intention to downplay the likes of Namco who side-stepped all of this and continued to keep Tekken in the public eye but I simply see Capcom as a bigger driving force in the genre who – when they get the attention of gamers – can help lift up everybody else along the way.

The Decline of Arcades

As the 90’s progressed, home console gaming grew in its power to impress consumers with the Playstation, N64 and Sega Saturn all offering cutting-edge 3D visuals which look hideously dated today in many cases but were mindblowing coming off the back of what the SNES, Mega Drive and other lesser competitors had been able to offer. PC gaming was continuing to gather serious steam with graphics that outstripped consoles (if you had the money to invest in the right upgrades for your tower) and that all-important online play. One ultimate side effect of this mighty technological push was that chasing perfect home conversions of arcade games suddenly seemed redundant when superior, more in-depth experiences could be had with original software on home consoles. Gamers wanted the story-driven style of gaming and genres that the arcades couldn’t offer due to their quick-play nature and so the arcades had their days numbered.

No longer was it the case that you had to hit up your local amusements or city centre arcade to gape in awe at the best graphics, smoothest animation and booming audio. Why would you when Ocarina of Time could deliver a vast, detailed game world? Gran Turismo offered hundreds of detailed real-world vehicles and circuits while Final Fantasy‘s CG segments were like movies except they came with monstrous amounts of gameplay unlike the old FMV “movie” experiments of the early 90’s. Gaming was evolving and it was no longer important to debate over which system could provide the most accurate home version of an arcade fighting game.

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The Darkstalkers series is one of my all-time favourites and one of the best fighting games of the 90’s

The irony however was that despite the pressures placed upon the arcade arena, some of the greatest and most memorable of fighting games were released during this period, a golden age of creativity that paradoxically took place while its traditional host environment received a slew of super moves to the face from the home console market. It wasn’t KO time yet but the writing was clearly on the wall. After all, new, increasingly powerful arcade technology cost a lot of money to develop and manufacture, a practice that made decreasing financial sense when a publisher could make easier profits on shipping thousands of copies of their game on a CD for home consoles.

Home conversions of the great games of this era still happened but the dedicated fighting game fan had to go to greater lengths to acquire the optimal versions of the arcade games they wanted in their home. Capcom’s games for example were usually severely compromised to function on the market-leading Playstation (due to a lack of video RAM) so if you wanted to play the likes of Marvel Superheroes Vs Street Fighter or Vampire Saviour as intended then you had to have a Sega Saturn capable of playing Japanese imports and the RAM expansion cartridge. To a fanatic of the genre, this was probably not a great deal but it pushed fighting games a little further from the mainstream compared to the SNES days when anybody could walk into a shop and purchase Street Fighter II.

It was at this point that the popularity within the genre mirrored the trend of 3D being more interesting than 2D with Namco’s Tekken proving extremely popular. Tekken was an arcade game but the name quickly became associated with the extremely accurate Playstation conversions and many consumers weren’t even aware of where each installment originated from. A further interesting fact is that the first three Tekken games + Tekken Tag Tournament all ran on Namco’s System 11 (Tekken, Tekken 2) and System 12 (Tekken 3, Tag) arcade technology which was very closely linked to the Playstation. System 11 in particular was essentially a Playstation except that it used surface-mounted ROM chips to store game data whereas the Playstation obviously had CD-Rom storage.

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Tekken 3 was a huge hit that helped keep the fighting game genre alive on Playstation.

Numerous imitations emerged while Namco struck gold again by innovating with their weapons-based SoulEdge (known as SoulBlade in the West) and following it up with the massively popular SoulCalibur. Truly, it was the 3D fighting games that made perfect sense at home which were leading the way now. Conversions of 2D fighting game giants such as Third Strike and The King of Fighters were relegated to less successful consoles such as Sega’s short-lived Dreamcast with more and more games becoming import-only affairs denied to Europe and sometimes the US as well. The genre was not dead but it was evolving and the likes of Tekken and SoulCalibur would soon become more synomonous with home consoles than arcades (SoulCalibur III for instance was developed for the Playstation 2 first and then converted back to the arcades for a limited release).

Home technology also allowed for some franchises to find a second wind. Mortal Kombat for instance was able to ramp up the detail in it’s gory gameplay and spawn several spin-off games that – while not fantastic – sold pretty well and played to the strengths of the third dimension. Bloody Roar showed off flashy beastial transformations and Dead or Alive jiggled it’s way into the public conscious, taking advantage of the increasing processing power to animate its sexy females. True, many of these games had arcade releases first but they were difficult to distinguish from their home conversions unless you had a trained eye and it was the latter editions that the majority of consumers cared about.

Arcades are still around today and didn’t ever truly die out but it is an unavoidable fact that they are a mere shadow of their former selves, dominated by claw machines and flashy lightgun games that are brutal in their cynical game design, impossible to complete unless you feed the machine a steady flow of coins. Some fighting games still begin in the arcades (such as Tekken) but this is predominately in Japan, the homeland and last bastion of “proper” arcades (or Game Centers as they are known natively). The home console releases and profit-spinning DLC strategies are the top priorities now.

Some developers simply didn’t move with the times and the result was sub-standard home console sequels to their franchises or doomed experiments in the newly-dominant 3D realm such as Capcom’s cancelled Capcom Fighting Evolution. Other arcade stalwarts simply faded from popularity or mainstream relevance as home consoles nurtured new tastes in genres with RPG’s, driving games, FPS’s, huge open-world games and online gaming taking the place of established favourites including the fighting game.

Come back soon for Part 2 where I will discuss Capcom’s withdrawl from the scene, SNK’s downfall and why ’91 to ’01 was the definitive golden age of fighting games.

The Soul Still Burns (Soul Calibur VI!!)

Well…did anybody see this coming? After years of rumours, random polls and a few filler games that I don’t class as “proper” entries, a brand-new Soul Calibur has been announced by Namco Bandai. Soul Calibur VI will be hitting PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2018 and the initial reveal trailer was quite intriguing. I thought so anyway but then again, I’m a weirdo with strange concepts of what is “interesting” so take it with a truck of salt.

The little teaser shows Mitsurugi squaring off against Greek goddess Sophitia and judging by the outfits and Mitsurugi’s apparent reversal of age, I’m going to assume that this is a prequel of sorts or at least a game that takes place earlier on in the storyline. Let’s face it, Soul Calibur‘s plot has gotten utterly ridiculous during recent games so going for something easier to digest while not binning off the existing canon wouldn’t be a terrible idea at all.

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Mitsurugi forgets how to treat a lady and gives Sophitia a right wallop. (image: Gamespot)

So am I hyped for this? Well obviously I am in some way or else I wouldn’t be writing about the announcement BUT I am still feeling extremely cautious. So far, I’m pleased that the game is even going to exist (because SC is one of my favourite series’ of all-time and I’ve been playing it since Soulblade/Edge on the Playstation) and of course, I’m doubly pleased to see that my main character and one of gaming’s most beautiful ladies, Sophitia, is back after being unceremoniously killed off between SCIV and V (because: rubbish plot).

My caution comes from the fact that I thought Soul Calibur V was absolute pants and not the fancy, lacy variety being worn by a pretty lady but that pair of nasty old boxer shorts that you sometimes randomly spot on the ground in an alleyway. The game looked incredible and it had one of the most enjoyable character creation tools that I have used in any game but everything else was wrong. There was no single-player experience to speak of to begin with and perhaps that should have been expected given how fighting games are all about the online these days but for me, SC has always been a fighting game with killer SP. I have great memories of unlocking all of the characters in SCII and the ridiculous amount of modes in SCIII for example. By contrast, SCV was a complete insult with its pathetic arcade mode that had the same two opponents for the last couple of battles every. single. time (Aeon and Nightmare).

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Best way to die ever? The trailer confirms the return of this classic neck-breaking grab of Sophie’s.

Worse still was the loss of so many favourite characters with many being replaced by descendants or students/disciples in order to keep the classic fighting styles present in the series. The problem was that not many people liked these new characters and just wanted their old favourites back. Some (such as Natsu) looked completely out of place for a game set in the fifteenth century, others were simply “WTF?” (Z.W.E.I) and there even characters that seemed to mock players such as Elysium who looked like Sophitia but wasn’t Sophitia. The plot was rubbish and nobody wanted to play as the whining Pyrhh or pretty-boy Patroklos. There were way too many characters that adopted random fighting styles between rounds as well – wasted select screen slots for sure. All we wanted was Cassandra, Mina and Hwang but no, we got the likes of Dampierre (*shudder*) instead.

Clearly, they had attempted to do what Tekken 3 and Street Fighter III did before: breathing new life into an existing series by introducing some fresh faces and youth into the roster. In Tekken 3‘s case it worked due to the replacement characters being closely modelled on their forebearers and while SFIII‘s updated roster alienated a lot of the SFII fanbase, it did at least have a killer gameplay system to fall back on.

Speaking of gameplay, this was the final thing about SCV that switched me off due to how they’d messed about with an established and very enjoyable template. It was done with good intentions no doubt but the addition of flashy super moves seemed unecessary and having the classic Guard Impact only available when a specific meter had some stock was a very, very poor change. I suspect that the latter was implemented in order to make the game more accessible to those who couldn’t learn to use GI frequently but it rubbed me up the wrong way. The SCVI trailer appears to show super moves of some variety and the breakable armour feature that debuted in SCIV but I hope that this doesn’t signify a continuation of what SCV was.

It might sound like I’m being negative but I’m still actually cautiously excited for Soul Calibur VI and until there’s any evidence of the bad stuff returning, there’s no reason to be overly cynical. Street Fighter V has set the benchmark for disappointing fighting games this gen anyway – with its poor single-player and F2P style DLC onslaught – so SCVI can’t be any more deflating can it? I just hope that Namco Bandai heard what people didn’t like about SCV. Recent strong form with the Tekken series gives me some confidence at the least.

What happened to Tekken X Street Fighter?

It’s been a long time since Capcom released the divisive Street Fighter X Tekken, a landmark in terms of crossover fighting games that pitted two absolute giants against one another. It was perhaps the crossover that nobody expected would ever have happened yet it did and despite such a fantasy becoming a very real, er…reality, gamers still moaned about it. There was good reason to be disappointed too: the gem power-up system and “Pandora” ability were both superflous mechanics that could be ignored entirely and felt like weak attempts to add some form of additional depth. Worse still, the game shipped with a small DLC-related scandal whereby it was discovered that the code for fifteen or so additional characters was already locked away on the disc. Today, we are usually unfazed by a publisher planning DLC before a game has even been released but when SFxT hit the shelves, the issue was a hot one that rubbed a lot of fans up the wrong way.

All of this was before Tekken fans had to get to grips with their favourite characters now existing in a 2D game and with radically different movesets and inputs to match. The game felt fine if you were a Street Fighter IV player but somewhat alien if you were used to Namco’s series and were hopping into the crossover to follow your favourite characters.

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Ignore the criticism and give the game a chance…it’s pretty fun.

I personally really enjoyed Street Fighter X Tekken. The game played very well in my opinion which was no surprise given how similar to Street Fighter IV it felt. I enjoyed the spectacle of an amazing crossover that I had never believed possible and there were some fantastic remixes of classic tunes thrown in for good measure. Yes, the DLC strategy was a massive mis-step and to this day I haven’t bought the additional characters (though they come as standard on the Vita edition) but it was a lot of fun and very competent to boot. Go and play it, damn it!

Anyway, as much as I enjoyed Street Fighter X Tekken, I was FAR more excited for Namco’s promised version of the crossover, imaginatively titled Tekken X Street Fighter (wow…see what they did there?). How would Ryu and co. look in Tekken‘s highly detailed 3D world? More importantly, how on earth would projectiles, anti-air attacks and super moves translate to a 3D fighting game without unbalancing the world of Tekken? So many questions and unfortunately, so few answers as of 2017.  Let’s remember that the game was initially announced in 2010 and in that time, all we have had are a few promotional images and periodic promises that the game is “still happening” or is coming along in development.

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The original promotional image…such a tease!

Let us take a look at a rough timeline accounting for what we know so far…

  • Tekken X Street Fighter announced at San Diego Comic-Con 2010
  • March 2012 – poll released on Namco’s Tekken Facebook page, asking fans which characters they would like to see in the game. 55 Tekken characters and 66 Street Fighter faces are available to vote for with voters having a choice of 5 from each franchise. Harada later clarifies that the poll results will not define the final roster but will be used in conjuction with other research to determine what the character select screen will look like.
  • April 2012 – Tekken X Street Fighter confirmed to be around 10% complete.
  • 2014 San Diego Comic-Con  – Namco/Harada confirm that the game is still in development and the reason for a lack of information is due to parent company Bandai-Namco waiting for the ideal time to market the crossover so as not to conflict with the release of solo releases such as Tekken 7 and Street Fighter V.
  • 2015 – development of the game reported to have come far along. At the end of 2015, Street Fighter‘s Akuma is revealed as a guest character for Tekken 7.
  • April 2016 – Tekken X Street Fighter officially “on hold”. Polygon models and gameplay systems are reported to be complete but the game is on-hold so as not to split the communities behind both franchises.

So what IS happening? It’s been seven years since the game was first announced and it’s difficult to tell whether it will ever actually happen or if Namco are – for some reason – prolonging making a statement that officially announces the cancellation of the crossover. I find it odd that they haven’t simply binned the game by now rather than keeping it on hold while tiding fans over with scraps of information and promises that Tekken X Street Fighter is still happening.

Revealing Akuma as a guest character in Tekken 7 was what I believed to be a major moment. This was huge news, especially given how Namco went as far as to officially weave Akuma into the Tekken canon, writing him into the main Mishima storyline where he has apparently been involved from the very beginning. More interestingly, was Akuma a test to see how well Street Fighter characters would integrate into the Tekken universe? I certainly believed so and even considered the possibility of the standalone crossover game being canned in favour of releasing a stack of Street Fighter characters as a DLC expansion of sorts for Tekken 7. The idea seemed to make more financial sense than persevering with a full-on crossover release.

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Admit it: you didn’t see this coming. Nobody did.

But then, something else happened that blew my theory out of the water. Namco announced another guest star…a nonStreet Fighter guest fighter in the form of SNK’s Geese Howard. Suddenly, instead of this being a pure Namco/Capcom relationship, it looked like Namco were opening up the floor for guest characters in general. Akuma appearing in a Tekken game no longer looked like a ‘test’ of sorts but the first of a possible wave of outsiders entering the King of Iron Fist tournament. And so it has proven to be. At the time of me bashing this article out, Namco have just announced Noctis from Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy XV as the next guest fighter! This is a LOT more random and unexpected than Akuma or Geese so I can now honestly say that I have no idea what any of this means, if anything at all. This is now likely to be Namco simply raising the profile of its flagship fighter and drawing in new players as other publishers have done before. Let us not forget that Namco themselves have already made this move in the past with Soul Calibur II featuring Link/Spawn/Heihachi (depending on which console you owned the game for) and reportedly intending to host Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud Strife in the PS2 version before various obstacles scuppered what would have been a real nerdgasm moment.

(on a side-note, I’m not sure what I think about Noctis after watching his reveal trailer. I’m all for guest characters but a sword in Tekken? Hmm…I’ll have a dedicated post for Tekken 7‘s guest character DLC soon perhaps)

So what do I think about all of this? Well, I would be very surprised if Tekken X Street Fighter actually happens at this point. With Namco and Capcom working so closely together these days, it SHOULD be easy but I’m always highly sceptical of any game seeing the light of day when it has dwelled in the dreaded “Development Hell” for so, so long. I’m no expert on videogame development but with the pace that both hardware and software evolves at these days, wouldn’t the completed assets be out of date before they can be utilised? The reveal of Geese and Noctis puts paid to my theory of a full-on Street Fighter invasion of Tekken 7 so…I don’t know. This has been one of my most eagerly anticipated games ever since the initial announcement but I am also keeping my hopes firmly under control because games in development for this long usually get canned or turn out to be disappointments (Duke Nukem Forever, I’m looking at YOU). Given the consistent high quality of the Tekken franchise on a technical and aesthetic level however, I refuse to believe that a finished product from Namco would be scrappy.

One thing is for sure though: it has been a great couple of console generations for fans of fighting games and the scene hasn’t been more alive since the 90’s. Yes there is a lot of crap out there and perhaps a lot less soul than the likes of 3rd Strike, Capcom Vs SNK and Soul Calibur II managed to possess but hey, at least there are fighting games for us to play. We can only hope that Tekken X Street Fighter turns up fashionably late to the party rather than shying out.

Upcoming Fancies: Blade Strangers

Fighting games are probably my favourite genre in videogames. Outside of stimulating gameplay, I love the characters, music, artwork and even the stories (yes, really). I enjoy the pick-up-and-play gameplay which can last thirty minutes or even several hours if I want to get good at what I’m playing or simply because the game is that good. Unfortunately, the current generation of consoles has served up a few nasty disappointments such as Street Fighter V (unfinished on release, cynical F2P/DLC feel) and Marvel Vs Capcom Infinite (unimpressive visuals and – again – more fucking pre-determined DLC!!). The good, fair stuff is still out there (The King of Fighters XIV for example) but it seems that so much about modern fighting games is about cash-grabbing or telling us what add-ons we will be buying post-release before a game even hits the shelves.

If you want to try and fight “progress” then the best bet is usually obscure imports from Japan but this is a road that can lead to incomprehensible menus, purple hair and obscenely enormous breasts. Not that these things offend me but I just wish that I didn’t feel so apathetic towards the mainstream fighting game series’ and what they have become.

A game like Blade Strangers then is the kind of thing that I can get on board with. It’s going to get a fairly mainstream release in the West for several platforms (PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC) and is beautiful 2D-styled fighting game that looks very retro and features a mash-up of characters from smaller games such as Code of Princess, Umihara Kawase and Cave Story.

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Who would have ever imagined Kawase in a fighting game? Well, it’s happening, yo.

So far the gameplay looks like it could be quite intuitive and easy to get started with but with layers of complexity below the surface for old-school competitive players to get excited about. This gets a big thumbs-up from me because I want some depth and the scope for technical combos but I’d also like to be able to get into the game fairly easily and learn as I go along. For all the talk of being accessible for newbies, I found Street Fighter V (I know I keep bashing on it…) to be quite difficult to get into initially with the new combos/moves for existing characters and new V-Trigger system so anything which doesn’t make feel like I need to use the tutorials after years upon years of playing fighting games is welcomed by me.

Above all however, Blade Strangers simply looks like fun (remember that?) and I love a good crossover, especially when lesser-known characters/series’ are involved as they are here. Code of Princess was a big disappointment for me on the 3DS but I loved Kinu Nishimura’s artwork for the game and respected the stubbornly old-school gameplay so I’m really pleased to see these things being allowed to continue breathing in a sometimes stifling industry. It’s also nice to see Princess Solange continuing to strut her stuff in spite of all the criticism of Ms Nishimura’s scantily-clad design for the character, especially (surprisingly enough) in Japan. Nipple armour, a wispy skirt and a building-sized sword are all a King’s daughter needs to go into battle after all.

Blade Strangers is slated for a 2017/2018 release but I would be surprised if we see it this side of Christmas. Something to look forward to in the often dry post-holiday season at the least.

[Disclaimer – I do actually enjoy Street Fighter V…it’s just too easy to pick apart!]