Review: You must defeat Shen Long to stand a chance against this game!
I would like to start out by saying that I completely missed the Alpha series during its run. I had always been into Street Fighter more than any fighting game, but the entire time Alpha was being released in the arcades must have been my fighting game dark ages. With my lack of experience with the Alpha series, I must say I was in for a real treat when this game showed up for me to review. This collection is definitely God-sent for anyone who may have missed out on these great games their first time out of the gate, or for people who are just die-hard fans of the series. While it won't necessarily win any awards for having the greatest interface, this is definitely a collection to be reckoned with.
It's common knowledge that Street Fighter II and all of its off-shoots primarily had stories that were there only to justify the fighting. For that reason, SFII's story wasn't exactly that enthralling, nor was it very coherent. The same could be said for the majority of fighting games out on the market. Sure, we knew Chun-Li wanted to avenge her father's death against Bison, Ryu wanted to be the greatest fighter in the world, and Ken just wanted to catch up, but there wasn't much to tell us that besides a few short end-game cutscenes. This is why I was actually a little surprised to see that the Alpha series uses its story more liberally. There are points in the game (usually before the final few fights) where fighters stop and have a pre-fight dialogue. Most of the story doesn't kick in until Alpha 2, but I just felt like all of the Alpha games did a better job conveying the plot, as confusing as it may be, than the other titles.
Of course what really drives this game series is its awesome fighting systems, and in this collection you'll find some of the best Capcom has ever created. The game features five games, as well as two hidden versions of two of the games. The featured games are Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Super Gem Fighter MiniMix. There are also a few bonus games that can be unlocked once each game is beaten. These extra games are basically remixes of Street Fighter Alpha 3.
With the exception of Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold and the different variations of Street Fighter Alpha 3, the majority of the games on this disk offer up different enough experiences to make the game worth having for any fighting game enthusiast. This is especially true for Super Gem Fighter MiniMix- a fighter that features the super deform characters from the Puzzle Fighter series. It works like a simplistic fighting game featuring only three buttons, and a special level-up system. It's fun and a little addictive, but not nearly as deep as the other games in the collection.
Games that don't stand out above the crowd as well do feel a little like wasted space on the disk. The only real difference between Street Fighter Alpha 2 and SFA2 Gold besides a few small gameplay tweaks is the inclusion of Cammy as a selectable character on the main menu. That isn't to say she isn't selectable in the original SFA2, it's just a little trickier to get her in that game. As for Street Fighter Alpha 3, players can expect a bit of a neutered version of the classic PlayStation and PSP ports. The World Tour mode has been scrapped as well as the PSPs Reverse Dramatic Battle mode. Instead we are given a fairly bare-bones port of the game.
Now, don't start assuming that because several modes have been thrown out of SFA3 this is a collection that cuts corners. On the contrary, the creators of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology dedicated quite a bit of effort to making the game as arcade perfect as they possible. I haven't seen this much attention to detail since the Dragon's Lair Anniversary Collection. In each game found in Street Fighter Alpha Anthology players can open a hidden menu that will not only allow them to specify a certain build of the game, but they can also toggle any of the dipswitches to customize the game just they way they want it. And Street Fighter Alpha 3's tougher than nails difficulty is definitely still present. Unfortunately when it comes to things like toggling arcade dipswitches, I couldn't even begin to understand what any of them were there for, and that actually leads to one of the problems with the game- presentation.
There is quite a bit you can do with Street Fighter Alpha Anthology, but the problem is that the game quite often doesn't tell you what to do, or it cryptically hides some of its best features. Take for instance Hyper Street Fighter Alpha- a game that only unlocks once every game has been beaten once and allows you to play virtually any version (ie. SF2, SF3, etc) of any character available in the Street Fighter universe. To even find the game, one has to hold the select button while picking the original Street Fighter Alpha from the main menu. Once the game starts up, players will have to sort through a plethora of game style options and -isms that aren't very clearly defined. The real kicker is that the game features special ?isms that replicate some of Capcom's other popular games such as the Vs. series and Street Fighter III, but if you didn't know how to access them, you would completely miss them. For your information, these can be found by selecting the Alpha 3 characters, then holding start and pressing left while selecting either Classic, Normal, Mazi, or Saikyo modes. Even the dipswitch toggling is confusing- showing players a cryptic screen that doesn't explain what switch does what- it's all left up to trial and error. The other gripe I have with this collection is that in Hyper Street Fighter Alpha players are limited to only playing the game on versus mode- there is no arcade mode despite the fact that all of the characters featured in the game are available in the other Alpha games. Even the menus look shabby featuring only the arcade game's artwork with a black background. The feeling just permeates the whole game- its good, but if they had just added a little more the title could have been great.
One odd feature of Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is that it's one of the few games on the PS2 that allows for the PlayStation Hard Drive. I can't imagine why anyone would want to load this game on the hard drive considering that there are virtually no load times in the game. The few load times that are present are so short one hardly notices them. It's questionable why features like this made it into the game and yet Internet play is unavailable. Go figure.
Visually, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology keeps its old school integrity. The characters look very anime, and the backdrops all look very crisp and colorful. Everything is present from the bikers in Chun Li's stages, to the busted up prison cell found in Cody's stage in Street Fighter Alpha 3. It's also cool to see little nods to Final Fight fans in places such as Guy's SFA3 stage where characters like Hugo, Hagar, and Poison can all be seen in the background. Another pleasant surprise is that Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is one of the very few games Capcom has released that features Progressive Scan. There was definitely TLC shown when it comes to the graphics in the game.
Aurally, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology sounds good. Every game features the ever popular Q sound. From what I can tell they didn't do anything different to the sounds of the game- they all sound like mid-to-late-90's sounds. One really neat feature that is present in the game is Hyper Street Fighter Alpha's sound test, featuring every piece of music from just about every pre-Street Fighter 3 SF game- for example; the SNES versions of the SFA themes are present. It even has some of the music from Final Fight available.