It's one thing to have your intended plan for a written article to be published on a specific date thrown out the window thanks to bad timing, it's another thing to go ahead and sabotage yourself! Ladies & Gents meet the loveable Decepticon leader. If there's a hole to fall into, trust us he will find it! It's like a hobby for him.
Another passion of his is to take two things you wouldn't normally put together and somehow find a link that not only makes sense but also puts a smile on your face and hopefully get's your own mind thinking about stuff that makes you tick. Memories are a powerful thing.
Change is good. This week he takes this principle and runs with it to focus on when Capcom took a new direction.
Capcom's Fighting Triangles...
Something about old sayings just makes me smile. Not because I’m now in my 40’s and I’m starting to realise that many have truth in them because I’ve loved them since I was a teenager who used to revel in pointing at other people my age wondering exactly how long it would take them to do something else stupid. Whilst sometimes they may come across as obvious statements, occasionally they can be applied to something outside of their original intended description. Today I want to focus on one particular classic old saying “A change is as good as a rest”. On face value it’s supposed to mean that sometimes doing something different to the norm can yield the same results as not doing anything at all. Sounds like a weird thing to say and without a good example to back up the phrase it can look a tiny bit silly. A quick spin around in the GamesRoom chair with this phrase in my head and one game jumped out as the perfect example to the obvious and also not so obvious meanings of classic old fashioned saying. That being said let’s take a little look at a time when Capcom shook things up to keep something already established seem like something completely new.
Absolutely any gamer of the 1990’s of any age at the time just knows certain things. Super Nintendo carts in the UK were almost always £10.00 more expensive than Sega Megadrive being one, the introduction of Sonic creating a serious rival to Mario and igniting the real golden times of the Golden Era being another. But there are more. One of the most important periods of the 16-Bit era was the enormous and almost overnight rise of the Beat Em Up genre because consoles could now get closer to the experiences offered in the arcades. SNK and Capcom were very much in their element at this time in said gaming category and now these massively well loved franchises could come to people’s homes and look pretty damn great.
Without a shadow of a doubt and removing all fan boy/girl fixations on favourites Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 was the big dog in the yard. Since it’s original release as an Arcade game every single gaming publication of the era in absolutely every single territory was bombarded with news of it’s arrival for the 16-Bit systems. Hailed as a masterstroke at the time (and rightly so) when it hit the Super Nintendo kids lost their damn minds! Whilst Mario & Sonic were the faces of the two opposing armies of Nintendo & Sega it was Street Fighter 2 that spoke to the common average Joe/Jill on the street. Whilst Sonic absolutely had street cred, more kids in school playgrounds boasted about the exploits of Capcom’s fighters than they ever did about a Blue Hedgehog or a fat plumber with terrible choice of girlfriend.
What I’m trying to get across is that Street Fighter 2 was cool! Not… oh that’s cool in a flippant way but I’m more attractive to the opposite sex because I can complete it without losing a round cool, that sort of cool. If none of this is making sense it’s entirely possible that you either don’t like the game (fair enough) of maybe you just were not there, as a kid or teenager, at that specific point in time. Street Fighter 2 was absolutely everywhere. TV Adverts all the time, videogame TV Shows used it constantly as a challenge for contestants to try and see who was the better gamer etc. Games stores had it in prime locations in the store and quite often even had a demo machine to try it for yourself and games magazines from 1991 for about 3 full years contained something about it in every issue, trust me… I still have the mags.
For 3 full years Capcom updated it on Super Nintendo with Turbo & Super versions and Sega fans got a Championship edition and that same Super version. Whilst Super Street Fighter 2 was absolutely more full of new things it was still the same core game experience. 3DO fans (all 7 of us - lol) also got the astounding Super Street Fighter X and PC Engine lovers were taken care of too... And then it all went away!
Ok, that statement is not exactly true. The franchise and games didn’t vanish but the mania absolutely subsided. With new game systems either out or just around the corner Street Fighter was a 2D game living in an emerging 3D world. The core fan base of the series who started out dropping coins into slots in the arcade then handing over £50.00 - 60.00 to do it all over again at home had either moved on to other games or couldn’t take their eyes off the promise of a completely new way of gaming with the PS1, N64 and Sega Saturn waving polygons under noses. The huge shift that was the Street Fighter 2 mania era had, in many ways, faded as fast as it had arrived.
To highlight this point to a better degree the newer games in the series which are, I think we can all agree, vastly superior, had arrived and not exactly met with anywhere near as much a mass market open arms reception as many at the time thought they would. Street Fighter Alpha/Zero and it’s sequel Alpha 2/Zero 2 (depending on your region) were/are/always will be simply astounding. Again another round of Arcade masterpieces coming home to consoles that did them justice. Sega Saturn fans in particular benefiting from a console absolutely more geared to handle it’s complex animation frames and speed. Whilst both games received great scores from the press of the time and did in fact sell tons of units on the 32-Bit systems (and of course the SNES) almost none of that mania was present in the era’s media. A few magazine covers here and there and posters in game shops but the 32-Bit era of Street Fighter games had absolutely nowhere near the same level of industry impact as the games second incarnation. Beat Em Up fans may argue with this however they are wrong and are just not separating fan love from actual events.
It’s at some point around the mid 1990’s where Capcom, seeing how the new home consoles were generating millions of fans of 3D games decided to see if a change was needed. Several articles in mags and even reviews of the Alpha/Zero games had mentioned that the series was looking out of date compared to what Sega and Namco were throwing around in full 3D in arcade halls. With it’s rivals taking advantage of the massive 3D revolution maybe Street Fighter didn’t need to go away, it just needed fresh thinking and a change of direction. Enter Street Fighter EX.
Debuting in Arcade halls in Mid December 1996 it was the very first time when Capcom took it’s premier gaming franchise into the 3D realm. Sprites were out and Polygons were in. Staring 14 fighters, of which several were completely new to the franchise and 4 being locked behind time requirements it completely and utterly brand new in every sense of the word. I say new, but what I really mean is New but with a Deja-Vu sense of… I’ve seen this before. For half a decade gamers had been used to seeing Ken & Ryu etc from a side on point of view but now, and maybe only in my humble opinion, it felt like we were getting the Virtua Fighter game with characters we actually gave a crap about. With a similar look and feel of Sega’s outstanding fighter mixed with a Tekken vibe it just felt more instantly familiar because everyone and their mum loved throwing a fireball around the screen… right?
Taking gameplay elements and control systems from the existing Alpha/Zero games and simply changing the view was genius, it really was. It’s shocking how much EX is like the previous two games but with a fundamental perspective shift… Feels completely different. SF EX however was not just a one trick pony. Oh hell no! With a brand new blocking counter that stunned enemies and moves dependant on angle distance from opponent there was a massively new mechanic to it all. The Arcade was also pretty fast and the new characters with all the new moves to try and master gave even the biggest hater of the change to 3D (and there were many, trust me!) something to sink teeth into.
Considering how many gamers of the time saw Street Fighter as a symbol of the old way of making games and wanted something new it was a genuine surprise to see so many of the so called expert journalists immediately change tact and call for the re-instatement of said, old, boring, done to death (not my words) 2D style. Capcom of course obliged however EX went on to become it’s own spin-off franchise with a couple of quite breathtakingly cool games hitting the Sony Playstation console.
Released initially in Japan in July 1997 Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha was everything the cool Arcade cabinet was… and more! With a total of 23 fighters on the roster and an introduction of a cool Hidden Stage of smashing barrels ( a nod by developers to the classic SF2 moment) it also had more modes of gameplay to experience and most importantly CG renderings of end sequences for each character and a pretty cool re-arranged soundtrack. The Japanese version of the game and it’s North American port are absolutely spectacular in every sense of the word. Fast, smooth, a joy to play. The PAL version however is like waking up to find someone has stolen your taste buds. Horrible, slow, blocky and is an insult to both the genre and the console it plays on.
My first experience with SF EX Plus Alpha was when I grabbed a pirate copy for the then bargain price of £15.00 just after it’s Japanese release from the town’s importer and all round pirate master. For nearly 6 months myself and two friends played it. Whilst we didn’t all agree on it’s quality, we all loved playing it. I loved it so much that I actually purchased it when it was finally released in the UK only to end up with the slow mess that was the PAL conversion. Since then I have managed to track down a Japanese original of the game which you will see in the pics around this article. Whilst the front cover image is a bit bland the manual is utterly gorgeous.
Gaining very good reviews from the better games mags, those who appreciated it’s design and ideas often remarked how it was like falling in love all over again after the first love of the Arcade Street Fighter 2 and I can absolutely relate to that. The era of Street Fighter being pivotal to the gaming industry very much had died off by the mid 1990’s (sorry fans, it’s true) but Capcom had given us all one more “I play Street Fighter, and I’m cool” moment. Because this was the PS1 and Capcom sitting in a tree looking down on everyone else trying to be this relevant in an ever changing gaming landscape.
The mania had gone, the days when it could sell a games console had past but the feelings, oh my god the feelings. It’s like Capcom looked inside my head & heart and saw exactly what would make me feel like I was in love and then waved a wand and made it happen. Whilst I’m very much far from being a good player, I’ve always had a very passionate appreciation for the series. Capcom are special, very much so and it’s moments like this that keep them that way. People asked, they delivered and kept with it even when a huge number of the fan base turned noses up.
Taking a small look back to when my fingers first started typing this and you will remember that saying I love… “ A change is as good as a rest.” With luck, by now, that will have really sunk in with you and I hope it did because that’s why I type. I’m reaching out across the infinite spaces between my PC and yours with the times when a videogame made me feel like I was the most important person on the Earth. I know I’m not alone in this, I suspect every single person still reading at this exact moment has either had memories re-ignited of the game in question or it’s taken you back to a game that made you feel like the king of the world. With that in mind, my work ends here.
On the chance that none of this resonated with you on any level maybe I can appeal to your love of a saying that can mean one thing from two perspectives. Capcom changed a series and for many it was that effect of something new from an old perspective but for every single person that hated the switch to 3D the huge impact Street Fighter 3, Third Strike & Street Fighter Alpha/Zero 3 in the arcades when it went back to 2D was another new dawn for one of the genre’s old guard. From the Dreamcast, PS1, Gameboy Advance and Saturn (Japan Only) fans all you will ever hear are positives. It’s almost like a change gave Capcom the rest it needed to see what needed fixing about the older series.
However you choose to look at Street Fighter EX and it’s several versions it’s legacy is absolutely immense, so much so that it’s a shocker you never seem to see anyone actually stand up and proclaim it as such. So I will. Anyone ever have a problem with you saying the same just point them in my direction and I’ll back you up! When they finally write the book about just why Capcom were so important it’s my supreme hope that the author goes to the section on EX Plus Alpha and simply puts in the following…
"The moment Capcom proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that a change is absolutely as good as a rest!"