Monday, February 07, 2011

Street Fighter Alpha 2 on Saturn

My current go-to game on Sega Saturn is Street Fighter Alpha 2.  I've always been a big fan of fighting games, going back to Archer MacLean's International Karate Championship on the Commodore 64 and Atari 800.  Street Fighter remains the king, as far as I'm concerned, and thank heavens for Capcom's dedicated devotion to Sega's home consoles.  This is one of my favorite Sega Saturn titles.

I was a great fan of SF2: Champion Edition, but steadily lost interest with each successive revision and each new $70 cartridge that arrived on store shelves every nine months.  By the end of the 16-bit era, I was burned out, and I'm guessing most gamers were, too.  That's when Capcom began to branch out with different fighting games in a more anime style. Darkstalkers was the first one I remember, and that was a lot of fun; it was followed up by Nightwarriors, which is even better (and a rare opportunity for Saturn fans to have one over their Playstation friends).

Street Fighter Alpha was a good change of pace for the aging franchise.  I felt, at the time, that it was a bit too lean on the content side, not enough characters or environments or new fighting moves.  Fortunately, it seems Capcom was nurturing a healthy competition within their arcade ranks, with the Darkstalkers series and all the Marvel Comics fighters, each one better than the last.  Heck, if nobody else besides SNK was going to compete, then I guess Capcom had to compete with itself.  And in this environment we get Street Fighter Alpha 2.

I think it's easy to overlook Alpha 2 today, particularly with Alpha 3 and Third Strike waiting in the wings.  But I defy anyone to stop playing Alpha 2 once they've begun.  It has a certain charm all its own, that sense of newfound freedom, as though Capcom's designers and programmers were finally let loose from Street Fighter 2's long shadow.  This was now a new series, and it allowed for fresher ideas, faster action, more intense competition.  At this point, the Alpha series truly comes into its own.

The character roster is tilted a little too heavily towards the Shotokan fighters, which are all reworkings of the Ken & Ryu Dragon-Punch-Fireball arsenal.  But there are plenty of newer fighters who don't fit into the old paradigm, like Rose and Gen and all those cats from Final Fight.  I especially enjoy the Final Fight influence, which is bigger than ever.  Capcom fan-service in all its glory.

There's still a good balance between old and new techniques, and it's such a relief that all the controls fit withing the paradigm of quarter-circle moves.  I'm not being overwhelmed with too many moves, like I am with the Virtua Fighter-inspired 3D fighters.  I can never remember half the moves in Dead or Alive on the Saturn (a game I dearly love), and that's really not a problem with Alpha 2.

I wouldn't at all be surprised if there were gamers out there who enjoy Alpha 2 more than Alpha 3.  It's probably just a question of which arcade game you fed the most quarters and who you made friends with.  It's reassuring to know that the great video games never really go out of style or lose their edge.  This game sits in a nice, comfortable groove.  It's not the epic everything-but-the-kitchen-sink that is Alpha 3, nor the back-to-basics-but-not-really style of Third Strike.  It's just solid Street Fighter action, with enough familiarity to keep you from feeling lost, and enough new faces to keep you from becoming bored.  And Saturn fans have another 2D triumph to crow about.  The Playstation, mighty as it is with 3D polygons, could rarely compete in the 2D arena.  In that sphere, Sega was the king; a rare triumph for a contender on the decline.

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