Revisiting Street Fighter IV

It’s fair to say that I’ve had a very rocky relationship with Street Fighter V. After giving it several chances (and after Capcom did more work to actually finish the damn game), I did end up enjoying it somewhat, but I still don’t love it. Perhaps that will change when I get around to upgrading to the Champion Edition, but I’m not holding my breath. It did make me wonder though: how has its predecessor – Street Fighter IV – aged in the twelve years since it launched? The first of several revisions, Super Street Fighter IV, was one of the games that forced me to upgrade my PS2 to a PS3 back in the day (the other being Yakuza 3) and I recall happily buying the other updates despite all the negative comments from the fanbase following Capcom’s “promise” (lol) that they wouldn’t replicate their Street Fighter II strategy…

2014’s Ultra Street Fighter IV finished the “series”, and I probably spent the most time with this final update than any of the previous versions. Well, I decided that – since I was between games – I would revisit Ultra SFIV to see how it holds up in the harsher light of 2020. That and the fact that I need to pick up the Champion Edition of SFV before flicking back over to it, but I haven’t found the enthusiasm to do so yet.

Continue reading “Revisiting Street Fighter IV”

Street Fighter V: Champion Edition…

I honestly thought that I was done discussing this game. I’d spoken at length about my problems with Street Fighter V in general THEN I gave the uprated Arcade Edition a second chance before finally reaching my concluding sentiments towards Capcom’s flagship fighting game. I didn’t think I’d be making any further posts about SFV and that I’d simply enjoy playing the game from time to time (because Soulcalibur VI is just BETTER and enjoys more of my attention).

But then Capcom decide that they are going to release ANOTHER subtitled entry into the Street Fighter V series – Street Fighter V: Champion Edition

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The gaming world be like:

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Now, some people are pissed about this and some aren’t but before I get into that, let’s have a look at what the Champion Edition consists of, shall we? Essentially, it’s as close as you can get to a “complete” edition of SFV. CE includes all of the currently available DLC characters, stages, costumes and new V-Skills. The only bits not included are the Fighting Chance costumes, collaboration costumes and Pro Tour DLC. Even so, that’s one whopper of a deal.

Price-wise, Champion Edition will weigh in at £24.99/$29.99 for the physical edition (out February 2020) or £19.99/$24.99 for the digital upgrade kit. If you want to simply upgrade whatever version you currently have then you can do that now and get ahead of the physical release, though it’s worth remembering that the “physical” version is likely going to be a tea coaster of a disc with a voucher code in the box for the content, so the digital upgrade is worth considering.

Additionally, everybody – regardless of which version of SFV they currently own – will receive a free update that adds the new V-Skills and balance changes to their game.

Finally, there are going to be two new DLC characters added to the game and the first one is an absolute tool that Street Fighter veterans will have to remove their forcibly-erected mental blockades to recall. I am, of course, talking about the ultra-cheap Gill – one of the most notorious and cheesy bastards from the entire fighting game genre. I personally hate Gill. I LOVE playing Third Strike…but I don’t like reaching the end of an arcade run-through and dealing with THIS shit:

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“Resurrection!” Literal nightmare fuel.

Hopefully, they tone this guy down for SFV. I mean, it’s kinda cool that he’s back at last – after years of being exclusive to SFIII – but he just needs to chill the fuck out.

But let’s get back to Champion Edition‘s bundled content because many are (understandably) not too happy about this. Anybody who is familiar with SFV will know that it isn’t a cheap game. Gamers who have stuck with it since launch will likely have spent a pretty penny on DLC OR earnt the add-on content by grinding away online and using hard-won Fight Money to purchase new characters, costumes and stages. Characters tend to cost around the £5 mark while costumes are (at least) a few quid apiece, as are stages. Even colour swaps cost money (remember when you had those just for using different buttons to select characters? Ah, the old days…).

So £25 for the whole shebang is a bit of a kick in the teeth for long-term players. For one, complete newbies will be able to rock up to the party late and purchase everything for this budget price. Secondly, can you even forgive Champion Edition‘s existence and low price-point when it makes a mockery of how much you’ve paid over the years for add-ons? Let’s not forget that the disc version will likely get even cheaper once it’s been on the shelves for a while.

And it isn’t as if Capcom are rewarding your loyalty because the digital upgrade to your existing copy is a mere £5.00/$5.00 cheaper. In my opinion, the discount should be a lot bigger than that. After all, that difference will be negated in no time once the retail edition’s price drops.

Of course, there are a few things to remember. Firstly, if a Street Fighter V player has been playing the game, buying bits and pieces of add-on content here and there, and feels like they’ve had their value (regardless of Champion Edition‘s devaluing of existing DLC prices), then that’s fair play. Not everybody cares about being outraged over stuff like this.

Secondly, nobody ever puts a gun to the head of a gamer and forces them to buy DLC. It is – and always will be – entirely optional. It is – as depressing as it is – just the way that modern gaming is and the way that publishers make money. If you feel that strongly about a publisher’s business model for their game, then don’t buy what they’re peddling.

Lastly, Capcom have some form with this. If you were naive enough to believe that THIS time it would be different, and that THIS time, Capcom would “play fair”, then I only have one response for you:

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This is the company that charged full price again and again for multiple updates of Street Fighter II back in the 90’s. It’s the same company that promised that it would be different with Street Fighter IV…before they released Super, Arcade Edition and Ultra flavours. And it’s the same company that APPEARED to be doing something different with SFV, and though they technically haven’t gone back on their guarantee of the base version being the only disc you will ever need to buy, they are still trolling those who spent a fortune on DLC by packaging it all up in a cheap bundle.

I’m not defending Capcom at all but what I AM saying is that the consumer needs to accept some of the blame for trusting them over and over and over. This shit? It was always going to happen. Menat could have seen it in her crystal ball thingamagic. The smart people are those who avoided the game until now because they knew that this would happen. Those people are set for a hell of a deal if they pick up Champion Edition and obtain everything for £25/$30.

Am I annoyed? Of course I am. I only recently bought the Arcade Edition, after all, and I have purchased several characters and costumes throughout Street Fighter V‘s life. But I’m still going to pick up Champion Edition because the content I haven’t yet bought far outweighs what I have, so that £25 price point still represents big value (and I will make sure to pull the trigger once that price has dropped even lower). But I went into this game knowing that Capcom would pull these sorts of stunts; I expected it to happen so how can I be outraged? This is what they DO and people are furious every single time as if they expected something different. I mean, if being charged for fucking palette swaps didn’t alert you to that fact, then what would?

In conclusion, Champion Edition is Capcom at their trollish best and I absolutely don’t blame anybody who is angry. The discount for going digital and upgrading early isn’t big enough and the package is an almighty kick in the balls for anybody who has already sunk a lot of money into DLC. That said, perhaps it’s time to finally wise-up and take Capcom’s promises with a pinch of salt when the inevitable Street Fighter VI arrives with the ‘promise’ of there being no revised versions down the line.

History will repeat itself. You have been warned.

 

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.

Street Fighter V: My Final Verdict (Super Ultra Turbo Dash Edition)

Almost two months ago, I decided to give Street Fighter V a second chance after ditching the pre-Arcade Edition version some time ago on the grounds that I just didn’t like what Capcom had done with it. I chronicled my thoughts, justifications and rants (mostly just me moaning, then…) in a dedicated post which you can read here, if you missed it. I signed off with an intelligent cheap “Meh” meme and these words…

…I still don’t really feel anything when I’m playing. It’s a solid game but that’s all. There’s a certain magic that I feel whenever I play Alpha 3 or Third Strike for example but not here. As with my first tour of Street Fighter V, I feel that there is a good game suffocating beneath all that F2P and online-biased structure.

But I carried on playing and thought I may as well share my final verdict now that I’ve played the expanded Arcade Edition.

And, well, it’s a good job that I’m feeling hungry because there’s a plate of humble pie in front of me.

Yes, that means I enjoyed SFV.

There – I’ve said it.

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[Image Source]
That doesn’t mean that the game is completely off the hook though. I still rank it below the other Street Fighter games (with the exception of the EX spin-offs), including Street Fighter IV, which in itself polarised opinion amongst the fanbase. To recap the things I didn’t and still don’t appreciate:

  • Being charged for everything, including simple colour swaps (seriously?)
  • The silly amount of in-game currencies, fortune tickets and all that BS; basically the smoke and mirrors that attempt (and fail) to disguise that SFV is an F2P game where you will simply end up paying real money for stuff.
  • The shift in focus to the online/tourney scene. Understandable but a definite thumbs-down from me.
  • The hack-job censorship applied to characters like Cammy and Mika…because we can’t scare the kiddies now, can we? Screw that shit.

And there’s a new one for the list that I hadn’t included before because I needed more time with the updated version of the game; the new characters. I’m assuming that Capcom has run out of ideas because the brand-new characters are just crap in my humble opinion. I’m not necessarily talking about their play style; more their look and inspiration. There’s ‘G’ who looks like lanky riff on Uncle Sam for starters. I thought it was a joke to begin with. At least his theme is cool.

Falke and Ed are just…whatever…more ‘tragic’ Shadaloo experiments. Abigail is Hugo on steroids and Zeku is Guy’s master from Street Fighter Alpha 2 but still not very interesting (why not just give us Guy?). His link to the Strider clan is a neat move on Capcom’s part but I still struggle to care about the guy (no pun intended). Then there is Necalli. Does anybody give a shit about this bloke or his story? I suppose somebody must…somewhere.

Finally, I really, really fucking hate Kage. Talk about lazy! I suppose his design is supposed to be ‘epic’ but really, it’s just yet another Evil Ryu with familiar moves. You know, I like Shoto characters, with Akuma being one of my go-to Street Fighter favourites, but I think I’ve had enough of all these new ones. Aside from the powered-up ‘Shin’ versions, there has also been various versions of Evil Ryu, a Super-Saiyan Akuma by the name of Oni, Violent Ken and now Kage. Just stop

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Horns, fangs and a few more red flames…is this really the BEST you could do, Capcom? I worry for Street Fighter VI…

I’m undecided on Menat. She seems to have become popular enough but, eh…she’s just a new version of Rose, isn’t she?

The only new characters I’ve warmed to on any level are Laura and Kolin, though you could argue that the latter isn’t technically a new character since she was Gill’s assistant in SFIII, albeit non-playable.

ALL of that aside, I have enjoyed playing Street Fighter V. The Arcade mode has to take the lion’s share of the credit here because it finally allows me to do what I wanted to do in the first place – just have a few run-throughs with my favourite characters in the same format as Street Fighters of old. Prior to this mode’s addition, I was stuck playing Survival in the offline mode and while that was okay, it wasn’t really the same given the different rules. Arcade gives me – a non-online player – something to do and it has been an absolute godsend.

I enjoy getting good as my favourite characters and adjusting the CPU difficulty to suit but I know I’m not good enough to take it online. I’m just not that serious about fighting games anyway, and never have been. While the gameplay ‘feel’ is damn important, I’m more about the characters, design and art direction when it comes to fighting games. If all of that is spot-on, then I’ll get a lot out of a game.

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Recently, I have been playing as Karin which has been fun. [Image Source]
With that said, I know I’m in a minority so I DO understand that I’m not Capcom’s priority or target audience anymore. My refusal to go online, for example, would probably render a lot of my complaints irrelevant in the eyes of many and I get that – I truly do. Nonetheless, I’m still a paying customer and long-time veteran supporter of the Street Fighter franchise so i’m going to give my opinion, no matter what it’s worth.

In summary, I’m not in love with Street Fighter V, but I have found myself losing more time to the game than I’d expected. I like how the game plays and the aesthetics are pleasing enough to my eyes. The game is now back in ‘rotation’ on my gaming playlist and that’s not something I could have imagined myself saying earlier in the year when the box was sitting, forgotten, on my shelf.

Moral of the story: don’t rule out giving games a second chance.

Giving Street Fighter V a Second Chance

I first played Street Fighter V around a year after it came out. By that time, it seemed that a great deal of those who had been disgruntled with the original launch had cooled down somewhat and were now accepting of the game. I wasn’t one of those people. I was highly critical of Capcom’s fighting game and recall branding it a “disgrace”. The game was released in what appeared to be a sparse unfinished state. In truth, Capcom had simply adopted a variation of the F2P approach with an increasing amount of content hidden behind a paywall. That approach is fine if it is advertised as such. But to go down that route AND sell the game disc for full RRP is to take the piss (to put it politely).

Single-player content was more-or-less extinct and you had to pay for everything, even down to colour swaps. The rub was that you could earn all of this stuff for free using the in-game Fight Money currency but amassing enough of it to unlock everything was impossible if you were an offline player. Believe me, I tried.

What Capcom did with SFV was appeal to the hardcore tournament types who were all about being online and increasing their win tallies. Single-player? What’s that? The lack of offline modes and the fact that Fight Money was easier to earn online was proof of that. In fairness, I can’t 100% blame Capcom for that because fighting games have always been about competitive play so it’s understandable that Capcom’s focus would be on the online side of things.

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[Source]
But it was still a bitter pill to swallow for somebody like me who has been playing fighting games since the 90’s and was used to loads of single-player content/modes and working to unlock stuff. The genre has changed a lot since those days however and fighting games in general don’t have a lot of SP content. As for those unlockables, they are now on the Playstation Store (and whatever the Xbox equivalent is) for you to unlock with your credit card, not perseverence and skill. To say that I’m still angry about this would be incorrect because it’s just how videogames have evolved and how publishers operate as businesses in 2019. I get it. I don’t have to like it at all but I get it.

Street Fighter V felt like a step too far however. I played the game for a while and enjoyed what I played. The gameplay is pretty damn tight and I did dig the art style and exaggerated characters. SFV also saw the return of Rainbow Mika – one of my favourite fighting game babes of all-time – so I had to play it. But I lost interest in the game fairly quickly and set it aside. I was enjoying the likes of The King of Fighters XIV, Dead or Alive 5 and even Mortal Kombat X more. True, all of these games had DLC strategies too but nothing as in-your-face as Capcom’s game. KOF for example had a mixture of free and paid-for DLC updates. DOA charged the player to play dress-up with more DLC outfits than were ever needed but at least there was ample single-player content and a standalone F2P edition (Core Fighters) that didn’t encroach on the ‘normal’ game. As for MKX, I just waited for ‘XL’ edition which had all of the DLC on the disc.

And I haven’t even mentioned the ridiculous censorship that Capcom forced on SFV, just in case people were had nightmares about a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Cammy’s gusset or were offended by Mika smacking her juicy booty. I’ve already said my piece on this before so I won’t go into it again. All I’ll say is that it was so unnecessary and the edits were nothing other than quick hack jobs.

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Retro nostalgia plus curves aplenty. Yep, I’m pretty easy to sell to despite my deep cynicism.

So I’d stopped playing SFV and, quite honestly, didn’t feel like I was missing anything. The new characters that were drip-fed over the course of several season passes didn’t really tempt me back in either. But fast-forward to the present and I have decided to give Street Fighter V a second chance. It all started when I noticed that Capcom had raided their back catalogue of slightly obscure characters and brought Final Fight 3‘s Lucia to the game. I always enjoyed FF3 so this was a nice surprise. Following this, another of my favourites – Poison – was also introduced to SFV. Yes, I like the female characters with the exaggerated curvature and big boobs – guilty as charged.

Clearly, I was a victim of the “sex sells” philosophy because I thought “fuck it” and decided that the introduction of a few more bodacious babes was the ideal excuse to give the game another shot. Aside from the expanded roster, I was distantly aware that some new offline modes had also been added. Maybe I’d enjoy the game now? I managed to pick up a cheap copy of the ‘Arcade Edition’ since it includes all of the characters from the first two season passes. A bit of a blow for those who paid for them originally but this is Capcom – what did you expect? The first thing I discovered was that you absolutely MUST buy this game sealed because the additional content isn’t on the disc itself.

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That’s right, it’s a download code on a piece of paper which means that used copies of this game are effectively worthless. This fact is also not advertised on the back of the box so be careful! As with the original version of the game, the Arcade Edition‘s Blu-Ray disc is essentially just a coaster that will be worthless in the future since there is far more DLC and digital updates for this game than whatever is actually on the disc itself. Speaking of updates…

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Yes, it had been THAT long since I’d last played this game or updated it. A whopping 27GB of data needed to be downloaded and with my extremely average internet speed, it was estimated to be a five-hour wait. This is yet another aspect of newer games that does my head in versus the put-the-disc-in-and-play simplicity of older generations. But it is what it is and so I played something else for the next TWO DAYS while this King Kong-sized update did its thing in the background.

At last, I was back into the game. Now, I did say that I thought SFV played well and I won’t retract that statement but I WILL say that it isn’t an easy game to just pick up and play. I don’t think so anyway. The basics are the same as any Street Fighter game but working out how to use the V-Trigger stuff isn’t necessarily so straightforward. Until I’d spent time experimenting, I didn’t feel as if I was playing the game properly, if you get what I mean.

Then there is an overload of rewards and in-game currencies. Fight Money, gems, Fortune Tickets…it’s all a bit too much. I’d much rather just have the game and the DLC – not all of these attempts by Capcom to make it look like you can earn stuff for free. Not easily anyway. You have to spend Fight Money to earn Fortune Tickets in Extra Battle mode for example. And even then, you can just skip this shit and pay for the stuff from the store which is what I suspect Capcom knows people will do.

All of that said, the core gameplay is still enjoyable…when you’re playing that is. I find that SFV is a very sluggish and slow-loading game. Playing the new Arcade mode for example is just boring in my opinion. I find myself looking at loading symbols spinning around or ‘dramatic’ animations announcing the next battle…just get on with it already. Being beaten and having to continue is also an irritation as it means staring at several black loading screens and having to go through the character and V-Trigger selections all over again. While this happening, I’m staring into space or at the carpet – bored. It isn’t a problem with my PS4 either because it’s just this game in particular which is so damn lazy.

Oh and I bought a costume (Mika’s School outfit) for £3.29 from the store and felt absolutely taken advantage of for doing so. But there was no way I could see myself collecting the 32000 units of FM that it would cost to obtain for “free”…

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Was this worth paying £3.29 for? Honestly, I don’t even know. [Source]
I’m not going to give up on the game. I’m going to keep playing and try out more characters beyond my usual Cammy/Mika/Akuma trinity. But at the moment, I still don’t really feel anything when I’m playing. It’s a solid game but that’s all. There’s a certain magic that I feel whenever I play Alpha 3 or Third Strike for example but not here. As with my first tour of Street Fighter V, I feel that there is a good game suffocating beneath all that F2P and online-biased structure.

But the game must have been a success for Capcom to have warranted the continued support and new DLC characters. Perhaps I’m just out-of-touch with what “works” now and what gamers are willing to accept. Overall though, my sentiment towards Street Fighter V is still a resounding…

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Nintendo Switch Lite thoughts

Nintendo have surprised everybody nobody at all by releasing a ‘Lite’ version of their Switch console. The Switch Lite is billed as a “compact, lightweight addition to the Nintendo Switch family, with integrated controls.” They also say that it is “dedicated to handheld play.”

In normal speak, this means a portable-only version of the Switch with joycons that can’t be removed and no TV output. So why would you even want to give a shit? Surely going backwards is a bad idea? Well, that’s what many said about the 2DS and look at how successful that was for Nintendo. In fairness however, the USP for the 3DS (it’s 3D effect) was increasingly under-utilised by developers and had always been divisive given how it gave some gamers negative side effects while others felt that 3D didn’t add much to the games so left it switched off anyway. In short, the 2DS had less to lose.

The Switch Lite however, loses some of the major selling points of the standard Switch (which will still be available to buy). You won’t be able to hook it up to a television for example so no more switching (hur, hur…get it? I’ll get my coat…) between the big and small screens. You also won’t be able to detach the controls for multiplayer. As far as I’m aware, both of these features have been a success with the Switch, unlike the 3DS’ 3D effect which wasn’t such a major loss when the 2DS hit stores. What’s more, an updated model of the standard Switch has apparently been released that improves battery life by upwards of 50% (depending on how you use the thing). This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the Switch Lite before it has even been released.

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[Source]
So, er…why would you bother with the Lite? Well, it’s cheaper for starters. About $100 cheaper in North America. It’s also looking to be bang on £100 cheaper here in the UK too. That makes no sense when you consider exchange rates and values of currency but we’ll just ignore that. Obviously, you could pick up a used Switch unit bundled with games and accessories for the same price (or cheaper) than a brand-new equivalent so there is that to consider but not everybody wants to go for used hardware that other people’s kids have had their grubby mitts all over. Also, the Lite is meant to be more comfortable to hold and there is that added assurance of durability with integrated controllers that can’t be worn out or damaged by constantly removing/replacing them.

All of that said, I would buy a Switch Lite. “Why?” I don’t hear you asking. Because:

  1. I’ve never owned a regular Switch so this wouldn’t be a downgrade
  2. I have no room beneath/next to my TV for more consoles or docks. When you’ve been gaming for many years and like to keep older machines and games, you tend to run short on space pretty quickly. I have no more connections TO the TV left anyway…
  3. I’m not likely to bother with local multi-player as I’m more or less a solo gamer these days
  4. £200 for a brand-new example of a current-gen system appeals to me.

Now that that’s out in the open, I feel that I have to address my previous posts on the Switch because when the console was much younger, I made a series of posts about why I – as a Wii-U owner – wasn’t interested in upgrading to the (then) new Nintendo hardware. If you missed these three posts then here are some quick links to them:

One of my major gripes was to do with feeling shafted as a Wii-U adopter/supporter. After all, I’d bought into the weird console which turned out to be a massive flop that could have tanked Nintendo. I’d put money into buying the top-spec variant of the machine and multiple games. Then it was killed off fairly quickly for reasons that I completely understand and agree with. What I was more aggrieved by was the arrival of the ports – specifically upgraded ports of Wii-U games. These were games that I had already purchased and spent money buying the DLC for and now they were being re-released as “new” titles for a new audience who possibly didn’t realise that, for gamers like me, they were a “been there, done that” deal.

The second sting in the tail was that it reduced my desire to buy into the Switch when the best games were just rehashes. Again, I can understand why Nintendo did this because games like Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament were fantastic games that deserved to sell more copies but their success had been restricted by the Wii-U’s limited appeal and tiny ownership. But the Switch also played host to a bunch of third-party ports of games that were available at a budget price on the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, but were selling for £40 on the Switch. More old games that were of no interest to a cross-platform gamer such as myself.

Thankfully, we are now out of that period and the Switch has since come into it’s own as a worthy platform in its own right. I can now honestly say that there is enough exclusive or original stuff available to make the Switch a viable purchase for me. Obviously, I haven’t kept up fully with the releases so there will be things that I have yet to discover but off the top of my head, these are a few games that sell the system to me. Note: I’m not including the obvious Marios and Zeldas etc. because those go without saying!

SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy

Switch-1Yes, the game was widely received as fanservice rather than a “serious” fighting game but even so, I still want to play this since I am a big SNK fan. Also, the game wasn’t granted a physical release on the PS4 and since I am loathe to download full games from PSN (due to HDD space, uncompetitive pricing and my crappy internet speed), the Switch retail copy is something I’d like to pick up.

 

 

 

Blade Strangers

Switch-2Another fighting game that didn’t get a physical release on the PS4 and one that I was looking forward to for a long time. It has all the elements that appeal to me: 2D-style presentation, Kinu Nishimura art and characters from the 3DS’ Code of Princess. Again, I would prefer to have this on the Switch for the same reasons as SNK Heroines. Previously, it frustrated me deeply that games like this were denied disc releases on the PS4 (because I didn’t own a Switch!) but the cheaper entry point of the Lite changes all that up (or should I say ‘Switches’ it all up? No? Oh…).

 

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Switch-3I’ve been ploughing hours into the Smash Bros. series ever since Melee on the Gamecube and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the entries in the series. The Wii-U game was one of the best things on the console and so the Ultimate follow-up for the Switch looked mighty appealing, especially given that it really does live up to its title with all of those characters. I can’t say I’ve ever really been into the online or super-competitive sides of the game but I’m confident that I would be able to extract more than enough single-player entertainment from the game to make the purchase worthwhile.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Switch-4I’ve fell out with Fire Emblem in the not-too-distant past. Awakening on the 3DS was a fantastic game that finally achieved the unthinkable and dragged the series into a more mainstream light. However, I did not enjoy Fates (a.k.a Camilla’s Breasts: The Game) at all. From how impossible the special edition (with the all-in-one cartridge) was to get here in the UK, to how I felt like I was playing a waifu simulator with an inferior visual design to what had gone before, I sacked the game off pretty early on. Three Houses is getting a good reception however and so it would the perfect chance to give FE another shot.

 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

Switch-5I’ve always enjoyed these games, regardless of what the critics say. I already have the Asian-English variants on the PS4 and Vita but this is an updated edition that I could take advantage of with the Switch’s region-free nature. Nintendo not region-locking the Switch was a shocker in itself but even more shocking is their relaxed policy towards censorship compared to Sony who have decided to clamp down on it. This means that the Switch is the best place to play Xtreme 3 and that’s not something I ever imagined me saying when the console first launched.

 

Ultra Street Fighter II

Switch-6Granted, I wasn’t kind to this game when I wrote those original Switch articles. I said that it was an old game that Capcom had simply tarted up and added two new characters to before releasing it at full-price. I don’t support that kind of thing and never will. But I really enjoyed the original HD Remix (which Ultra is an upgraded version of) and if I could buy a used copy of this on the cheap then I certainly would. To be honest, it would be worth it just to play it on a handheld, wherever I am sitting because the OG HD Remix is sat on my PS3’s HDD.

 

So there you have it…I’ve more or less been converted to the idea of buying a Switch. I agree with all of the criticism that the Lite has received but at the end of the day, I think decisions like this have to be made on an individual basis. If, for example, I needed that TV Output or was looking to play a lot of local multiplayer then the Lite wouldn’t even be on my radar. However, it ticks a lot of my boxes and I think that £199.99 price point is quite attractive, especially now that I know I’d have more than enough games to get stuck into and make the purchase worthwhile.

Watch this space.

MegaHouse Rainbow Mika Figure Review (NSFW)

RainbowResize1Manufacturer: MegaHouse   |   Year: 2008   |   Material: PVC   |   Scale: 1/8

Rainbow Mika is one of my favourite female fighting game characters. I don’t imagine that it’s difficult to guess why either. Unfortunately, there hasn’t exactly been an abundance of must-have figures based on the big-booty wrestler. As far as I am concerned, there are only two worth buying. One is the more recent effort by Kotobukiya, based on artwork by Shunya Yamashita. The other is this 2008 model from MegaHouse. For the time being, I own both of these but I will regrettably be selling the MegaHouse version very soon (as part of an ongoing personal project) so I thought I’d at least feature it here before it heads off to a new owner.

[For those who missed it, I’ve already reviewed the Kotobukiya version of Rainbow Mika here]

Anyway, what do I think of this figure? I think it captures what makes Mika, Mika I guess. She’s striking a pose with a curled bicep and one hand on her famous bottom. The quality of the figure in general is good though I think that the blue colour is definitely the wrong shade in the flesh and looks almost metallic. It’s worth noting that this costume is her original from Alpha/Zero 3 before it was updated for her return in Street Fighter V. I think I like this outfit more so it’s a shame that any future figures will likely use the SFV revision.

RainbowResize2

The question is: which is better, this one or the Kotobukiya version? I do really like this one by MegaHouse. They put Mika in a great pose and nailed her body and the way her dramatic curves are almost overflowing from her outfit. But the colours on the later Kotobukiya figure are better and I think that the pose of that figure is a little more dynamic. It has more detailed hair too which I like. It’s a close-run thing overall though with little to choose between the two. In an ideal world, I’d keep both Rainbow Mika figures but I only need one (and some would say there is an argument for having none at all). Finally, I only paid about £40 for this many years ago when nobody was really interested. Looking around on ebay, it seems to have appreciated in both value and scarcity since then. Budding investors out there should take note as buying the right figures does tend to pay dividends down the line.

I will leave you with some more pictures of the MegaHouse Rainbow Mika. Enjoy.

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The Golden Age of Fighting Games: When it happened and why it ended [Part 3]

It’s well past time that I published this third and final part of my look at the fighting game’s “Golden Age” but, well…life/shit happens and I’ve been a bit lacking when it comes to those all-important creative juices. With that said, I’m back now so I apologise to anybody who has been waiting for Pt.3 but here it is – at last. So far in parts one and two, I have declared that the genre was at its peak from 1991-2000/01 and have discussed the reasons (as I see them) for its eventual, disappointing downfall. All things have to come to an end after all but worry not for Part 3 of this mini-series will focus on the happy stuff, namely what made this point in time so bloody fantastic for fans of fighting games…

A decade of innovation

It would be an outright lie to say that modern-day fighting games don’t bring new ideas to the table but it’s a stone-cold fact that the majority of genre staples and general mechanics (that are now taken for granted) were introduced throughout the 90’s and thus is was a very exciting time to be a player of fighting games. What we tend to see in modern fighting games by contrast are refinements, gimmicks (not necessarily always a bad thing) and attempts to be as flashy as possible.

Street Fighter II kicked things off in ’91 and while I have previously said that SFII cannot take any credit for being the original one-on-one fighting game (a statement I stand by), it certainly created a template that is still in use today. Best-of-three, special move inputs (now commonly used across the majority of fighting games), play styles (grappler, charge, projectile etc.) and character archtypes were all either born or made mainstream with SFII. SNK’s Art of Fighting would introduce ‘Super’ moves to the genre (before Super Street Fighter II Turbo popularised them) and Capcom’s other fighting game, Darkstalkers, debuted air-blocking. It’s actually astonishing that for all the visual and mechanical evolution of fighting games, Street Fighter II is still running in the background.

DS1-1
How easy is it to forget that air blocking/guarding originated in Darkstalkers?

The next important innovation was already happening at the very same time that Street Fighter was dominating the scene however. Sega released Virtua Fighter in 1993, creating the first 3D fighting game. Comical moon-jumps aside, VF also championed more realistic fighting styles as opposed to the pyrotechnical wizardry and unlikely gymnastic feats of Street Fighter and began to carve out a niche of its own that would see major fruition with Virtua Fighter 2, a sequel widely regarded as one of the all-time greats within the genre. The likes of Tekken and Dead or Alive would follow (and overtake Virtua Fighter in terms of popularity) but Sega had got there first and created the genre’s second ‘main’ style.

So many smaller innovations were happening at the same time however. Fatal Fury experimented with plane-swapping, The King of Fighters brought team battles to the mix and Capcom’s Vs series would kick off the concept of crossovers between more than one company. Namco’s Soulblade (or Souledge in other territories) gave us weapons-based fighting while developers also experimented with taking fighting games into a more arena-based environment with the likes of Capcom’s Powerstone and Taito’s Psychic Force. Meanwhile, Super Street Fighter II X For Matching Service and Vampire Chronicle For Matching Service were quietly introducing online play to Japanese console gamers via their Dreamcast modems.

Obviously you can point out that it’s unfair to criticise modern fighting games for their lack of innovation due to the fact that there is only so much you can do with the genre and so the 1990’s would always boast the bulk of new, core mechanics. Regardless, the 90’s has to be remembered with greater fondness for this period of rapid evolution.

VF2-1
Virtua Fighter 2: the sort of huge leap forward that will likely never be seen again within the genre.

Art that blew us away

Outside of  the technical stuff, this was THE most incredible period in terms of artistry for fighting games. Hand-drawn backgrounds and sprites were often beautiful to behold with the absolute zenith emerging towards the latter part of the decade. The likes of Street Fighter III, Vampire Saviour, The Last Blade 2, Marvel Vs Capcom and Arc’s Guilty Gear series boasted gorgeous 2D sprites that were a joy to behold and it was fascinating to imagine how many hours of painstaking work and skill we were witnessing on our screens. Today, the same developers behind these games are using 2.5d character models and ‘2D’ characters that are actually layered over polygons as well as cinematic super move animations with multiple camera angles. All of this is far from offensive and does actually look pretty nice but it simply cannot awe in the way that fully hand-drawn characters once did.

Backgrounds and backdrops were just as mind-blowing with the very best featuring ridiculous levels of detail and – in the case of larger crossover games – lots of hidden easter eggs and cameos to pick out. These were often more impressive than the characters themselves and even earlier 3D fighting games featured some lovely, static backdrops that were appealing in their simplicity without needing to rely on distracting background action. Below is a small selection to illustrate what I mean because art speaks for itself…

SR-1
Savage Reign [Neo-Geo]. Incredible levels of detail.
T3-1
Tekken 3 [Arcade]. King’s stage. The distant, cloud-topped mountains in the background are a simple yet beautiful backdrop.
T2-2
Tekken 2 [Arcade]. Jun’s ‘Morning Fields’ stage. So, so basic yet so beautiful. The peaceful countryside is a stark contrast to the bone-snapping combat but works so well.
SFA2-1
Street Fighter Alpha 2 [Arcade]. One of the most atmospheric stages in any fighting game.
SSIV-1
Samurai Shodown IV [Neo-Geo]. Ridiculously beautiful. Capcom were the masters of sprites but SNK were the GODS of backgrounds.

SSIV-2
More Samurai Shodown IV because why not when it’s THIS pretty?

And this amazing, transitional stage from The King of Fighters ’99 that never fails to blow me away…

KOF99-1

KOF99-2

KOF99-3

This is just the tip of a very large iceberg and if you (like me) have spent countless hours exploring the full spectrum of fighting games from this era of hand-drawn artistry, you will very likely have your own nominations and personal definition of the term ‘impressive’. Given the vast quantity of fighting games that were produced in the 90’s, there is so much to see and many, many hidden gems when it comes to stunning backgrounds.

Sounds good to me

Of course, tight gameplay and pretty aesthetics need suitably good audio to match and this golden age of fighting games just so happened to represent developer sound teams at the peak of their powers. Modern fighting games tend to have very orchestral ‘epic’ soundtracks, pulse-pounding techno or mixes of older themes. The former work within the game(s) and are of good quality but are usually not that memorable. The latter – to me at least – demonstrates a distinct lack of confidence on the part of the developers when it comes to composing original, catchy themes that will be remembered in years to come.

Fighting game music from the 90’s though? It stuck in your head and is the kind of stuff that gamers flock to Youtube to listen to again all these years later. Importing expensive soundtrack CD’s from Japan is WORTH it for these OST’s. This was also an era when console ports of arcade fighting games such as Virtua Fighter, King of Fighters ’96 and the Playstation Tekken trilogy featured arranged versions of the entire soundtracks that took advantage of the CD medium. Clear effort was put into re-arranging soundtracks and catchy arcade riffs suddenly gained transitions, extra layers of instrumentation and more depth in general. The best part was that BOTH the arcade and home arrangements were usually worth listening to and I can’t have been the only one who regularly switched them about in the options menus!

There are literally hundreds of amazing tracks to choose from so below are (Youtube) links to just 10 of my favourites from the era.

Those are just a fraction of my favourites and if I’m being honest, I feel that the list does a major disservice to some of the more obscure fighting games of the era as well as some of the major ones but I could genuinely sit here linking away forever to what I consider to be amazing pieces of music.

Heart and Soul

All of this – the innovation, art, music – are however, all mere ingredients that come together to form the biggest characteristic of the fighting game genre in ’91-00/01 that gives it the Golden Age status. That characteristic is SOUL. This was an era when developers were battling to outdo one another at a terrific pace, developing bigger and better arcade boards, fighting fire with fire and racing to be the first to introduce their new innovations to the market. Capcom and SNK slugged it out for the decade (before the incredible Capcom Vs SNK series paid tribute to their war), 3D fighting games evolved at a great pace and bigger and bolder sprites vied for our attention on a constant basis.

MSHvSF-1
Let’s be honest: do modern fighting games feel as colourful and creative as this?

When the dust settled though, it was us – the fans – that were the real winners. Fighting games during this period felt like more than just simple money-making products (which they obviously were intended to be). They felt alive and you could feel how the developers had put so much creativity and artistry into trying to make the best possible product, pushing the available hardware to the limits and beyond (see the necessary RAM expansion cartridges for Sega Saturn ports of several Capcom and SNK games). The graphics, sound and even conceptual character artwork just kept getting better and better as each year passed and it was a real treat to behold.

Modern fighting games are still very enjoyable but there is a lot of focus on the almost clinical tournament play (as it is streamed over the internet as en E-Sport), online play and DLC. The creativity is still there but computer modelled characters and environments simply cannot stop the heart in the same way that hand-drawn animation once did. There is also so much recycling and updating of old music and stages from the past with an over-reliance on the glory days. True, fans don’t help this matter at times when they demand to see throwbacks in order to feel comfortable with a new generation of their favourite series but even so, the current fighting game scene certainly doesn’t feel innovative or aesthetically special (rare exceptions aside of course).

Taking one final, quick look at the stages and music for example, it felt like developers created these specifically to describe the characters that they belonged to, conveying their personalities wordlessly through the tone of the music and themes of the stages. Things are a lot more generic today by contrast.

This was actually a difficult topic to tackle because rose-tinted vision is a very real threat and we – as humans – love to tell the next generation how the old days were better (before they themselves do the same to another younger generation, despite believing that they won’t!). On the subject of fighting games however, I do genuinely believe that 1991 through to around 2000/2001 was the defining Golden Age for the genre. It was when fighting games had the most soul and a capacity to thrill with their visuals and move the heart with their sound. It was the birth of countless icons and still the place for superb gameplay.

And that concludes my three-part look at why I believe this was the one, true Golden Age of fighting games. I’d love to hear what others think!

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.

bs-1
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.

fighting-jam-1
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.

last-blade-2
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.

kof-neo-1
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.

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.

SFIV-1
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.