Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Street Fighter 2 - The 16-bit Shoot-Out!

Like most of the kids from the '90s, I'm a big fan of Street Fighter 2.  I played it way too much in the arcades, and way too much on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.  Tonight, while going through PC Engine/Turbografx games for Virtual Console reviews, I decided to spend a little time with the Japan-only Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition.  To my great surprise, I really loved this version.

I liked it so much that I've been forced to reconsider which 16-bit console had the best version of Street Fighter 2.  It was always a tossup between the Super NES and Genesis versions; the Genesis Special Champion Edition was closer to the arcade, the SNES Turbo had the better audio.  Now here comes along the PC Engine Champion Edition, recently released on Nintendo's Virtual Console.

So let's take a look at some examples from the screenshots...This is Zangeif's Russian stage.  The first screenshot is PC Engine, the second is Super NES (Turbo), and the third is Genesis.  It's very, very close between all the versions.

When I was playing, the PCE felt the most fluid.  It was very swift on its feet, the characters felt large on the screen, and highly detailed.  I'll need to snap some more photos, but the faces looked sharper and more detailed than either the Nintendo or Sega versions.  That's how it felt to me.  There's less nuance in the color shading, but everything looked so bold and confident that I didn't mind at all.  I really loved playing the PCE version.

The Super NES Turbo looked the most refined, and that's to be expected, since it's the most powerful hardware.  However, the graphics felt slightly washed out, and that's a common feature on many SNES games.  The colors are easy on the eyes, and the match was as swift as ever.  This version lacks the extra animation frames of the Genesis version.

The Genesis version looked the darkest of the three, but also the most richly saturated.  It's as though the contrast was turned way up.  I'm surprised to see it look so much rougher than the SNES version.  In my memory, both versions looked nearly the same.  You can see that the Genesis was being pushed to its limits.  Strangely enough, it felt slighly sluggish, a couple beats slow.

Let's take a look at another stage.  Once again, first screenshot is PC Engine, second is Super NES, and third is Genesis...

Chun Li's China stage has always been my favorite, thanks to the bright graphics and bustling city scene.  This time I made sure all the photos match, so we can take a good look.

Once again, the PC Engine version felt the most colorful, the most vibrant of the three.  I loved looking at this version the most.  This is easily the best looking game in the PCE/Turbografx library.  The audio also felt right; slightly mellow, but the voices are perfectly clear and the sound effects felt true to the arcade.  I know the Super NES and Genesis Street Fighters are technically "more advanced," but this version hits me in the gut more.  It's more emotionally satisfying to me right now, like a really good Shure cart on the turntable.

The Super NES Turbo has the sharpest graphics, and the most refined, of the three.  There's really no contest.  The resolution is much higher and color shading is more pronounced.  However, the color tones are the most neutral, and there's that slightly washed-out feeling.  The Super Nintendo never could do "gritty" well.  The sound effects are satisfying, and it's keyed to the console's strength, but it's notably different from the arcade.  I'm not sure how I feel about those crowd sounds at the end of every fight.  It feels tacked on.

And there's no doubt about it now: the Genesis version runs slow.  I have no idea why this is.  But it is slightly more sluggish than the other Street Fighters.  On the upside, this version is the most animated; this is especially true when compared to the Super Nintendo version.  Colors and graphics are sharp, detailed, not overly saturated, still a bit of contrast.  Sound effects are very punchy.  Voice samples are atrocious.  Good Lord, it's hard on the ears.

Final Verdict

This was a very interesting shoot-out.  Each home version of Street Fighter 2 has its set of strengths and weaknesses.  The PC Engine version is the big shocker.  I honestly didn't expect that version to look and play as good as it did.  It's the best game ever made for that system by a country mile.

If I could only download one copy of Street Fighter 2 on Virtual Console...hmm, tough call.  Aw, skip it, I'm going with the PC Engine/Turbografx.  I can't yet say it's the best version; but for now, it's the most addicting and satisfying.  Ask me again in six months and we'll see what I think.

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