Star Gladiator — Episode 1: Final Crusade — Issue 43

Cap­com’s space opera side series sad­dles up

I pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed Plas­ma Sword, the sequel to Cap­com’s 3D weapon fight­ing game Star Glad­i­a­tor. I played Plas­ma Sword and real­ly liked Cap­com’s approach that com­bined ele­ments from Star Wars with ele­ments of ani­me and fight­ing games. Years lat­er, hav­ing played games like Soul­cal­ibur, I want­ed to play a fight­ing game with weapons. I’m glad I got my hands on the first game in the series, Star Glad­i­a­tor — Episode 1: Final Crusade.
In Star Glad­i­a­tor, in the year 2348 humans have explored space for cen­turies, allow­ing for reg­u­lar peace­ful and trade rela­tion­ships with var­i­ous alien life­forms. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some alien species have made threats against Earth, result­ing in a defense project cre­at­ed by Dr. Edward Bil­stein that uses ener­gy of the human mind or plas­ma pow­er. Once the project became known, Bil­stein gained fame and prof­it. How­ev­er, the Earth Fed­er­a­tion uncov­ers that Bil­stein engaged in unlaw­ful human exper­i­men­ta­tion dur­ing plas­ma pow­er research and impris­oned him in a satel­lite. Four years lat­er, a fed­er­a­tion base was attacked by dis­ci­ples of Bil­stein known as the Fourth Empire. With the Fourth Empire’s attacks toward Earth con­tin­u­ing, the Fed­er­a­tion’s hopes rely on a project allow­ing plas­ma-pow­ered users to acti­vate their gifts on a whim. That pro­jec­t’s name is Star Gladiator.
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a com­plete depar­ture from usu­al set­up for fight­ing games like Street Fight­er and Dark­stalk­ers. Instead of using a six-but­ton scheme for punch­es and kicks, Cap­com used a four-but­ton set­up that resem­bles Soul­cal­ibur. You have but­tons assigned for kicks, defense, and weapon attacks. I found this sim­ple and easy as I did not strug­gle with fight mechanics. 
You also have use of two counter moves called Plas­ma Revers­es: One is called a Plas­ma Reflect, which allows block­ing of an oppo­nen­t’s move and stun­ning them for a brief peri­od. The oth­er, Plas­ma Revenge, allows you to counter an oppo­nen­t’s fast attack while you unleash your own light­ing attack. Star Glad­i­a­tor also intro­duces the Plas­ma Com­bo Sys­tem, which allows you to set­up rapid attacks that, with the right tim­ing, can result in a tech­nique called Plas­ma Final that inflicts major dam­age. Final­ly, anoth­er stand­out fea­ture in Star Glad­i­a­tor is the plas­ma strike abil­i­ty that lets you deliv­er heavy dam­age, if timed per­fect­ly on the opponent. 
Keep­ing with the mechan­ics, let me deliv­er a safe­ty warn­ing: This game has a rotat­ing and hov­er­ing are­na that may cause motion sick­ness. With the rotat­ing are­na, if you are knocked out of bounds, you will lose auto­mat­i­cal­ly. I learned a hard les­son about using the Plas­ma Reflect and Plas­ma Final tech­niques: Like any oth­er weapon-based fight­er, your tim­ing must be accu­rate; oth­er­wise, your char­ac­ter will be open for a ring-out attack or Plas­ma Final that will end the round before you can blink. And, for those who see the Plas­ma Strike as an easy use any­time weapon: Plas­ma Strike is an impres­sive move; how­ev­er, it can only be used once per round. 
The graph­ics and music are top tier for a 3D fight­ing game from the era it was released. It looks good and tries hard but with­out being over the top. The replay val­ue is strong and is a great show­case for the start of the 3D weapon fight­er genre. 
Star Glad­i­a­tor is a clas­sic 3D fight­er that showed how fight­ing games tran­si­tioned from the arcade to the home mar­ket. I com­mend Cap­com for think­ing for­ward and not rely­ing on the same for­mu­la. Star Glad­i­a­tor is an exam­ple of Cap­com’s bril­liance in the fight­ing game are­na and the series is long over­due to return. There’s cer­tain­ly room for it in today’s space.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 — Issue 43

The Alpha of the genre wears its crown well

Street Fight­er per­fec­tion.” That’s what they were call­ing it in adver­tise­ments in 1999. Per­fec­tion it is. There are a select few Street Fight­er games that we can call per­fect, and Street Fight­er Alpha 3 is at the top of that list.
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 begins and ends with the con­cepts of Street Fight­er II and choic­es. Alpha 3 — set between 1987’s Street Fight­er and 1991’s Street Fight­er II — goes back­ward in sto­ry­line to tell the sto­ry of the future. Street Fight­er II is what it is: A fight­ing game with sim­ple mechan­ics and super moves — as of Super Tur­bo in 1994. But choic­es? In a Street Fight­er game, no less? Unheard of, until Alpha 3. 
The mechan­ics present choic­es ear­ly and fre­quent­ly. Once you pick your char­ac­ter, you then choose the fight­ing style from three main choic­es (four in the Dream­cast ver­sion). A‑ISM is straight-up Street Fight­er Alpha. It plays just like the pre­vi­ous games in the series and grants access to three bars of mul­ti­ple super moves. V‑ISM fea­tures man­u­al cus­tom com­bos, first seen in Alpha 2 and removes super moves. X‑ISM is most con­sis­tent­ly like Super Street Fight­er II Tur­bo, with access to one bar of super meter and one super move. There are dis­tinct dif­fer­ences and nuances to using each ISM, and advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages in their styles with top char­ac­ters for each. What works for Alpha 3 the most is the fact that there is so much vari­ety for a sin­gle char­ac­ter across all three ISMs. You can make some­thing out of noth­ing with almost every­one on the ros­ter, even the low­er-tier characters.
And the ros­ter is some­thing to behold in this game. The arcade ver­sion has a nice ros­ter of who’s who in Street Fight­er up to this point but get­ting it home for the con­sole ver­sions adds even more playable char­ac­ters. Favorites like Evil Ryu, Shin Aku­ma and Guile join in the fun and make it an even more round­ed cast. Basi­cal­ly, if they were in Super Tur­bo or men­tioned in Street Fight­er they’re here with a few new addi­tions like Cody, R. Mika and Karin.
The ros­ter plays nice­ly as well. The mechan­ics are easy to under­stand, espe­cial­ly if you have pre­vi­ous expo­sure to Street Fight­er in any form. It plays beau­ti­ful­ly and han­dles well in all of its var­i­ous modes.
And a vari­ety of modes there are. While some have to be unlocked — such as Final Bat­tle and Dra­mat­ic Bat­tle — the oth­er modes are fun to play and are well-inter­con­nect­ed. One of the best modes avail­able from the out­set is World Tour Mode. This is where you should spend most of your time because it’s fan­tas­tic. Trav­el­ing around the world fac­ing var­i­ous Street Fight­ers with spe­cif­ic con­di­tions that uti­lize the dif­fer­ent ISMs is the per­fect way to learn how Alpha 3 works. Using World Tour Mode effec­tive­ly blows the game wide open and is fun to play through with a ton of replay value. 
Also adding val­ue is the sound­track, one of Cap­com’s mas­ter­pieces. The game is set in the mid-to-late 1980s and it sounds appro­pri­ate to that era. Beyond the bangers for mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters — Sagat, Bal­rog and Juli/Juni instant­ly come to mind — even the nar­ra­tion deserves praise. It’s over the top but it fits per­fect­ly. The sound­track also works well with the graph­ics. The sprites are big and col­or­ful as are the detailed and stun­ning stages. It’s one of Cap­com’s bet­ter-look­ing games and is a mas­sive improve­ment from the rest of the Alpha series. It almost looks like it belongs in an entire­ly dif­fer­ent game series.
A per­fect sound­track, visu­als and game­play expe­ri­ence is what Street Fight­er Alpha 3 brings to the table. As usu­al, it took Cap­com to get it right by the count of three, but right is an under­state­ment. Even after near­ly 25 years, this is tru­ly Street Fight­er perfection.

Street Fight­er Alpha 3 Dream­cast version
The Dream­cast ver­sion war­rants men­tion because it is sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent from the PlaySta­tion and Sat­urn ver­sions. The Dream­cast ver­sion is enhanced with the addi­tion of an online mode and lat­er the Japan only Match­ing Ser­vice, which allowed online play as Cap­com had with sev­er­al oth­er fight­ing game titles such as Vam­pire Chron­i­cles, Mar­vel vs. Cap­com 2 and Super Street Fight­er II X.
The most notable and use­ful changes are the secret char­ac­ters Guile, Evil Ryu and Shin Aku­ma are already unlocked for use and the addi­tion­al ISMs and ISM-Plus mechan­ics avail­able to unlock. The PlaySta­tion ver­sion was plagued by a bug that pre­vent­ed some ISM-Plus items unlock­ing in World Tour Mode. These were made avail­able for the full expe­ri­ence, and the S‑ISM that CPU-con­trolled Final M. Bison uses was also made available.
Final­ly, the Saikyo Dojo mode is avail­able here. This mode pits a weak char­ac­ter against two strong oppo­nents. It imi­tates the Saikyo char­ac­ter select mode avail­able in the PlaySta­tion version.

Ports of Street Fight­er Alpha 3
Street Fight­er Alpha 3, Sony PlaySta­tion, 1999
Street Fight­er Zero 3, Sega Sat­urn, 1999 (Japan only)
Street Fight­er Alpha 3: Saikyo Dojo, Dream­cast, 1999
Street Fight­er Alpha 3: Saikyo-ryu Dojo for Match­ing Ser­vice, Dream­cast, 2000
Street Fight­er Zero 3 Upper, Arcade, 2001
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 Upper, Game Boy Advance, 2003
Street Fight­er Alpha 3 MAX, PlaySta­tion Portable, 2006
Street Fight­er Alpha Anthol­o­gy, PlaySta­tion 2, 2006
Street Fight­er Alpha 3, PlaySta­tion Clas­sic down­load, 2011
Street Fight­er 30th Anniver­sary Col­lec­tion, mul­ti­ple con­soles, 2018

Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha — Issue 43

A Street Fight­er lookalike

I want to love Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha. I promise, I real­ly do. 
It’s Street Fight­er with­out being Street Fight­er, but that’s the prob­lem. It’s Street Fight­er adja­cent, and it’s not real­ly Street Fight­er. There are mechan­ics, char­ac­ters, and oth­er Street Fight­ery-type things here that make it part of the brand mys­tique, but this isn’t like the oth­ers and that isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a good thing.
Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha starts off lur­ing you with the promise of being some kind of “dif­fer­ent” Street Fight­er. It has most if not all of Street Fight­er Alpha’s mechan­ics and it adds a few more. The most notable addi­tions are the ded­i­cat­ed Guard Break and can­ce­lable super moves. Guard Break here is a stun move that leads to a dizzy instead of open­ing an oppo­nent up like in the Alpha series. Super can­cel­ing means you can can­cel one super move into anoth­er. Both mechan­ics instant­ly fresh­en the Street Fight­er II well-worn com­bo for­mu­la and give it a new feel. The game plays solid­ly, akin more to the sim­i­lar­ly toned Rival Schools, and when the AI isn’t being obnox­ious, you can do a lot and feel sat­is­fied about the way it flows.
The ros­ter is decent and com­ple­ments the Street Fight­er name. Sure, you have a lot of Street Fight­er vet­er­ans and main­stays here like Ryu, Guile, Chun-Li, Zang­ief and Ken, but there are some inter­est­ing Ari­ka char­ac­ters, too. Doc­trine Dark and Hoku­to are cool as is Skul­lo­ma­nia. The char­ac­ter designs are nice and make it just a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent from reg­u­lar Street Fight­er with some vari­ety and thought put into them.
While I love the ros­ter, there is some­thing that grinds my nerves. Note that I said when the AI isn’t being obnox­ious it’s playable. At this point, we all are aware of how Cap­com’s AI can be in fight­ing games. Even on the low­est dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el, though, it’s not friend­ly. There were times I bare­ly made it to the fourth fight before I got tak­en out, and I’m a Street Fight­er and over­all fight­ing game vet­er­an. It’s hard to gauge if it’s inten­tion­al giv­en that this once began life as an arcade update, but it cer­tain­ly has that quar­ter-eater feel to it in a bad way.
While I despise the AI, I don’t hate the graph­ics as much as I should. The pre­sen­ta­tion, for its time, is good. The back­grounds are gor­geous in some stages, and the poly­gons are super blocky and polyg­o­nal. How­ev­er, this was 1997, so it’s accept­able giv­en what every­thing else poly­gon-based looked like at the time. Again, as Rival Schools was around at the same time, it’s com­pa­ra­ble to that game but it does­n’t look quite as good. The sound­track is pass­able, much like the graph­ics. It was­n’t impres­sive but it was­n’t ter­ri­ble, either. It’s rem­i­nis­cent of oth­er Cap­com fight­ers at the time, despite this not being devel­oped by Capcom.
There was work to be done going from here, and Ari­ka did make improve­ments. Street Fight­er EX Plus Alpha is ser­vice­able and a good start, but I don’t think I’d stay in this region of Street Fight­er adja­cent. It’s got enough to get me inter­est­ed and going but the AI makes this a frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ence, and it all feels just a lit­tle bit like “well, we aren’t Street Fight­er, but we can slap the name on and try.” Skip this one and see if there’s a lit­tle more Street Fight­er and pizazz to your lik­ing in the lat­er sequels.

Street Fighter Collection — Issue 43

World War­riors col­lect­ing mad mon­ey in this bundle

Let’s be frank and call Street Fight­er Col­lec­tion what it real­ly is: A mon­ey grab of the finest order. Thank­ful­ly, it’s a good mon­ey grab for the time peri­od it was released in but make no mis­take that you’d have to be a hard-up Street Fight­er devo­tee to grasp the inher­ent val­ue of the con­tents from Capcom.
Street Fight­er Col­lec­tion fea­tures three games: Street Fight­er Alpha 2 Gold, Super Street Fight­er II and Super Street Fight­er II Tur­bo, two cer­ti­fied hits then and now and one that could have been left at home in com­par­i­son with the others.
Street Fight­er Alpha 2 Gold is a slight­ly more enhanced port of the cus­tom com­bo clas­sic, fea­tur­ing Cam­my as a secret char­ac­ter and the peren­ni­al sec­ond-best evil shotokan Evil Ryu. There isn’t much else dif­fer­ent in this port, and Alpha 2 is what it is: a bet­ter ver­sion of War­rior’s Dreams. Take that for what it’s worth if it’s the decid­ing fac­tor in purchasing.
The oth­er side of the coin are the Super Street Fight­er II games. Plain old New Chal­lengers is here, and it’s instant­ly made irrel­e­vant by includ­ing Super Tur­bo. Super Tur­bo is every­thing New Chal­lengers hoped to be with super moves includ­ed, so the col­lec­tion real­ly did­n’t need New Chal­lengers. The only pos­si­ble rea­son that both revi­sions were includ­ed in the col­lec­tion is because it was a way to have the most recent Street Fight­er II revi­sions in the lat­est gen­er­a­tion at the time. Super Tur­bo was­n’t released for home con­soles for obvi­ous rea­sons — no one was spend­ing $70 for anoth­er Street Fight­er revi­sion when New Chal­lengers had just been released in 1993 for the dom­i­nant Super Nin­ten­do. Cap­com might have been fool­ish, but they weren’t try­ing to push their luck, either. Make no mis­take, Super Tur­bo is the draw here, just by its exis­tence alone.
Because this is a col­lec­tion of already exist­ing games, we’re not touch­ing on the graph­ics, sights and sounds, because you’re already famil­iar with Street Fight­er II and Street Fight­er Alpha 2. None of that changed for these ports and that’s actu­al­ly a good thing.
If you’re going to buy this col­lec­tion, buy it because it’s arcade per­fect for Super and Super Tur­bo. Sure, you can find oth­er ver­sions of these games these days and in faster, bet­ter for­mats, but this isn’t a bad col­lec­tion if you remem­ber what exact­ly they stood for: Acces­si­ble Super Street Fight­er II revi­sions and an exer­cise in Cap­com cash grab mechanics.

Resident Evil 2 — Issue 43

Evil still tak­ing up res­i­dence in PSOne classic

Ah, Res­i­dent Evil, you’re a plea­sure and a bane of my exis­tence. Cap­com’s sur­vival hor­ror series has enthralled its fans and raked in mil­lions of dol­lars from fol­low-up install­ment games, a Hol­ly­wood movie series, three CGI ani­mat­ed movies and a poor­ly stream­ing Net­flix show. It’s safe to say that Cap­com has been push­ing Albert Wesker and com­pa­ny hard on that big Umbrel­la plan­ta­tion. One of those gems of RE intro­duces two fan favorites in the series’ uni­verse: Claire Red­field and Leon S. Kennedy. They make up the sequel that’s loved, though not with­out its prob­lems: Res­i­dent Evil 2.
RE2 takes off a few months after the events of the first Res­i­dent Evil dur­ing in which Jill Valen­tine, Chris Red­field and the rem­nants of the Spe­cial Tac­tics and Res­cue Ser­vice (S.T.A.R.S.) of the Rac­coon City Police inves­ti­gat­ed a series of bizarre mur­ders that took place in the near­by Ark­lay Moun­tains. The mur­ders took place in a man­sion used for cov­er­ing up ille­gal sci­en­tif­ic research con­duct­ed by Umbrel­la Inc. After defeat­ing Umbrel­la’s secret pro­to­type know as tyrant, the S.T.A.R.S. was able to trig­ger the man­sion to self-destruct, destroy­ing Umbrel­la’s evil plan and leav­ing for parts unknown. A few months lat­er, Leon Kennedy starts his first day on the job as a mem­ber of a new­ly reformed Rac­coon City Police Depart­ment and dis­cov­ers that the city has been over­run with the walk­ing dead. As he search­es for the R.P.D head­quar­ters, he runs into Claire Red­field — sis­ter of the miss­ing Chris Red­field. Now trapped in a city of walk­ing corpses, they must find a way out of Rac­coon City and stop Umbrel­la’s lat­est plan for absolute power. 
Game­play of RE2 is like the first install­ment but with a twist. You have two discs ded­i­cat­ed to Leon and Claire. I found this to be strange at first but real­ized that they have dif­fer­ent back­sto­ries, which adds a lot of replay value. 
Con­trol of both char­ac­ters is sim­ple but requires use of the Dual Shock con­troller. Both char­ac­ters start off with reg­u­lar hand­guns but can find var­i­ous weapons such as shot­guns, cross­bows, and grenade launch­ers. No mat­ter which char­ac­ter you start with, I advise that you con­serve your ammo; much like the first game, it’s in short supply. 
Leon and Claire will meet two sub char­ac­ters — Ada Wong, a spy hire to recov­er a sam­ple of the virus that turned Rac­coon City into a city of zom­bies; and, Sher­ry Birkin, daugh­ter of the virus’ researchers who is try­ing to find her par­ents. In addi­tion to bat­tling legions of zom­bies, you’ll be deal­ing with gigan­tic spi­ders, zomb­i­fied crows and the lat­est Umbrel­la mon­stros­i­ty, Tyrant aka “Mr. X,” who is hard to kill and can appear at any time. The puz­zle ele­ments from the first game have returned, also hav­ing an enor­mous impact on play. 
The graph­ics are OK for the PS One, but the hideous in-game cam­era appears even more use­less than a tum­ble­weed as a car engine. The voice act­ing is OK but feels forced dur­ing the cutscenes. The music is out­stand­ing, meet­ing my expec­ta­tions from Cap­com’s sound team. The game still plays like a tank, which either appeals to your estab­lished RE sen­si­bil­i­ties or is a mas­sive turnoff. Take your pick.
“Res­i­dent Evil 2” con­tin­ues Cap­com’s for­ay in the sur­vival hor­ror genre. While a RE2 and RE3 remake were intro­duced to a new gen­er­a­tion of fans, it’s going to be awhile for me to ful­ly adapt to it. If you hear Mr. X’s theme music “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” by late rap leg­end DMX, either run and hide, or if you have it, present your rock­et launch­er to Mr. X; he’ll kind­ly apol­o­gize and go about his day. That’s the clas­sic you’re deal­ing with in Res­i­dent Evil 2.

Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000 — Issue 42

The fight of the century

Who would win between Cap­com and SNK?
That’s the ques­tion that was at the fore­front of every­one’s mind in the ear­ly 2000s. The rival­ry between the com­pa­nies was well known, and the streets were hot with love for their respec­tive fight­ing game series. When Cap­com vs. SNK was released, the ques­tion was answered, though we still did­n’t know who was bet­ter defin­i­tive­ly. There’s a sequel for that.
What CvS did get right was the ini­tial ques­tion. Take some of the best and most pop­u­lar fight­ing game char­ac­ters from both com­pa­nies and pit them against each oth­er. Mar­quee SNK names like Ter­ry Bog­a­rd, Mai Shu­ranui, King and Rugal Bern­stein face off against Cap­com main­stays like Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, and Sagat. The full ros­ter has some­one for every­one from each com­pa­ny. If you like grap­plers, there’s Zang­ief rep­re­sent­ing Cap­com while Raiden shows up for SNK. Love fight­ing teenage girls? You’re cov­ered with Saku­ra and Yuri. The selec­tion is a nice buf­fet to choose from.
But then it gets a lit­tle more inter­est­ing. Each char­ac­ter is slot­ted into a one-to-four ratio cat­e­go­ry. Heavy hit­ters like Aku­ma and Orochi Iori, usu­al­ly hid­den boss char­ac­ters in their respec­tive games, are Ratio 4. Ratio 3 fea­tures boss char­ac­ters such as M. Bison, Geese and Rugal. Ratio 2 is for the mid­dle-class fight­er like Ryu, Ken, Kyo Kusana­gi and Mai. In the low­est ratio are light­weights like Saku­ra, Ben­i­maru, Yuri and Dhal­sim. The Ratio Sys­tem allows mul­ti­ple com­bi­na­tions so long as the ratio equals four. Build­ing your team is cru­cial because of the pow­er bal­ance impli­ca­tions and their poten­tial matchups.
The in-depth fight­ing sys­tem is not with­out its flaws, how­ev­er. The place­ment of some char­ac­ters in the Ratio Sys­tem is ques­tion­able and their movesets being pressed between EX and reg­u­lar cat­e­go­riza­tion is arti­fi­cial lim­i­ta­tions imposed at best. This is fixed in the sequel but here it’s a prob­lem that slight­ly affects game­play adversely.
In addi­tion to the Ratio Sys­tem there is the Groove Sys­tem. A two-part func­tion, the Groove Sys­tem deter­mines how the char­ac­ters per­form cer­tain basic moves like rolling and dash­ing and how super moves work. Cap­com Groove plays a lot like Street Fight­er Alpha 3 with access to Lev­el 3 supers imme­di­ate­ly with enough super meter built up. SNK Groove plays sim­i­lar­ly to the Extra Mode in the King of Fight­ers series. Here, you only get access to Lev­el 3 supers when your life meter is flash­ing, though you can charge your meter man­u­al­ly to gain Lev­el 1 supers. There’s a lot of strat­e­gy involved in choos­ing the right Groove and apply­ing its prop­er­ties to your advan­tage, which is a nice change of pace.
Cap­com vs. SNK also gets its envi­ron­ment right. The game looks fan­tas­tic, with beau­ti­ful back­grounds of famil­iar loca­tions for both com­pa­nies. Of spe­cial note is the SNK graph­ic mode for Cap­com char­ac­ters. Shinkiro out­did him­self with the stun­ning and life­like art­work. I was­n’t super famil­iar with his work before­hand because I was­n’t an SNK enthu­si­ast. But, you can con­sid­er me a devo­tee as of this game because I fell in love with his art through his char­ac­ter portraits.
And, along­side the gor­geous envi­ron­ments is a won­der­ful­ly nos­tal­gic sound­track. Sure, there are some new tracks, but the meat and pota­toes are in the old­er remixed tracks. The sound mix­es well with the action, and there are quite a few bops to be had here. The sound­track is one worth adding to the collection.
Cap­com vs. SNK is a great start for the fran­chise. It’s built with vet­er­ans in mind, but even as a new­com­er you can find a char­ac­ter to learn and devel­op. Cap­com banked on the unini­ti­at­ed tak­ing the time to learn the back­ground of the char­ac­ters fea­tured, and the result is worth tak­ing a spin 22 years after its ini­tial release. No, the ques­tion of who’s the best was­n’t answered here, but it’s one worth explor­ing in a top-notch release for the Dream­cast fight­ing game library.

QuackShot Starring Donald Duck — Issue 42

Don­ald the Explorer

As a child of the ’90s, I grew up on the “Dis­ney After­noon” car­toon line­up. All the shows received the video game treat­ment for either 8‑bit, 16-bit sys­tems or for both con­soles at the time. I had a Sega Gen­e­sis and won­dered when Dis­ney would license a game based on a DA show for Gen­e­sis. Lit­tle did I know, Sega had license deals with Dis­ney direct­ly, and like Dis­ney games made by Cap­com, Sega made a game that was­n’t anoth­er “Duck­Tales,” but was set in the series’ uni­verse and had its reg­u­lar char­ac­ters. His name is Don­ald Duck, and he made his debut in plat­form gam­ing in “Quack­Shot Star­ring Don­ald Duck.”
In Quack­Shot, Don­ald sets out on a trea­sure hunt stretch­ing across nine stages. One day in Duck­burg, Don­ald vis­its his Uncle Scrooge and while check­ing out his library, Don­ald stum­bles upon a mes­sage from King Grazuia, an old ruler of the Great Duck King­dom who has hid­den his leg­endary trea­sure across the world. Enclosed with the mes­sage is a map that Don­ald believes leads to trea­sure that would make him rich­er than Uncle Scrooge. How­ev­er, Big Bad Pete and his gang also find out about the trea­sure and set off after Don­ald, turn­ing the trea­sure hunt into a race to see who gets it first. 
Con­trol of our dar­ing adven­tur­er is sim­ple with the d‑pad and, com­bined with abun­dant options, ensures that you can set up move­ment, weapon use and dash­ing to spe­cif­ic buy­outs. Don­ald may have odds against him, but he has some advan­tages with his plunger gun uti­liz­ing yel­low plungers to stop Pete’s hench­men and oth­er foes tem­porar­i­ly with an unlim­it­ed sup­ply, and a reload­able pop­corn gun that shoots five ker­nels at once. Don­ald also has some of the “Duck­Tales” crew help­ing him: Nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie pro­vide trans­porta­tion to each des­ti­na­tion, and Gyro Gear­loose pro­vides Don­ald with bub­blegum ammo that can break down obsta­cles. The MVP weapon in the game is the “quack attack,” which Don­ald can use to knock down any ene­mies instant­ly. I give cred­it to Sega for using Dis­ney’s knowl­edge of Don­ald’s tem­per. The graph­ics and music were excel­lent, live­ly, and bright for an appro­pri­ate­ly spry game.
The down­sides to “Quack­Shot” are few but are sim­i­lar­ly found in most plat­form games. You must ensure per­fect tim­ing for Don­ald when he either cross­es dan­ger­ous obsta­cles or per­forms his dash move. Also, mild­ly infu­ri­at­ing is small voice sam­ple usage for the char­ac­ters as this was not only a debut game for Don­ald, but also it is set in the Duck­Tales uni­verse. There was so much untapped poten­tial for rich, estab­lished his­to­ry. Final­ly, you can only start the game in Duck­burg, Mex­i­co, or Tran­syl­va­nia. To pass lat­er stages, you need a par­tic­u­lar item, so there is a lot of back­track­ing unnecessarily.
“Quack­Shot Star­ring Don­ald Duck” was one of the games that I start­ed off with as a Gen­e­sis own­er. A sol­id plat­former, it showed that Sega had tal­ent of devel­op­ing con­soles and leg­endary games using orig­i­nal and licensed char­ac­ters. Most impor­tant­ly, I got to see anoth­er Dis­ney clas­sic char­ac­ter get his lime­light in his first video game with a star­ring role. Car­ry on Don­ald, car­ry on.

Strider — Issue 42

The ulti­mate nin­ja warrior

Strid­er Hiryu. Best known for his appear­ances in the Mar­vel vs. Cap­com series, he has been con­sid­ered a top-tier char­ac­ter by play­ers and is con­sis­tent­ly pop­u­lar. Strid­er also appeared in a stand­alone game in 2014 for var­i­ous con­soles at the time. How­ev­er, Strid­er was already estab­lished, start­ing in 1989 with his orig­i­nal arcade release that was port­ed to the NES and to the Gen­e­sis in 1990 via Sega. It was titled, yep, you guessed it, “Strid­er.”
In the year 1998, after a series of dis­as­ters fell upon Earth, peo­ple across the globe real­ized their sit­u­a­tion and began to work togeth­er to rebuild. Four years lat­er, in an East­ern Euro­pean nation called Kaza­fu sev­er­al red dots appeared as the advance guard of the evil space being Meio. They caused imme­di­ate destruc­tion of Kafazu, Europe, and North and South Amer­i­ca, result­ing in 80 per­cent of Earth­’s pop­u­la­tion being wiped out. How­ev­er, on a small South Seas Island called Mora­los, a secret orga­ni­za­tion known as “Strid­ers” began to move to stop Meio’s reign of ter­ror. They sent their best agent, Hiryu, for­ward with the task of stop­ping Meio and his plans for world domination. 
Con­trol of Hiryu is sim­ple, allow­ing him to attack in either direc­tion, duck when fight­ing, and climb to reach high­er areas. Hiryu also has use of his plas­ma sword, Fal­chion, to assist in remov­ing ene­mies from any direc­tion on the screen. I also found that Hiryu has two reli­able tech­niques that are game-chang­ers: a slid­ing move that gets him in tight areas, and a cart­wheel move that allows you to glide from sur­face to sur­face while in a spin­ning wheel, mak­ing Hiryu unpre­dictable when he lands. Hiryu also can per­form a ver­ti­cal jump, hang­ing and squat­ting attacks with Fal­chion. Hiryu will also get some mis­sion sup­port from three bat­tle robots: Dipo­dal Saucer, which fires light­ing bolts wher­ev­er Hiryu swings Fal­chion; RoboPan­ther, which cov­ers Hiryu from frontal attacks; and, Robot Hawk, which assists Hiryu by severe­ly attack­ing air­borne ene­mies. Apart from the usu­al powerups in hack-and-slash games, there’s also a powerup that increas­es Fal­chion’s power.
The music is accept­able for each stage, match­ing its theme with a few stand­out tracks for the levels. 
As much as I love Strid­er, there are a few flaws. The chal­lenge is on full dis­play from the moment you hit start. In the options screen, you can add up to five lives for Hiryu, but you must frus­trat­ing­ly hunt down extra lives and score points to acquire the rest. You also have an obnox­ious time lim­it for each stage; if you don’t clear a lev­el in time, you’ll lose a life. I also found it frus­trat­ing that Hiryu can gain up to five life bars, but if he has a sup­port part­ner, that can be tak­en away if he suf­fers too much dam­age. That makes his mis­sion much more dif­fi­cult unnec­es­sar­i­ly at times. 
Strid­er is per­fect for any­one who wants to act out their post-dystopi­an hero fan­tasies with­out fear of pos­si­ble legal ret­ri­bu­tion. It’s an endur­ing clas­sic that has tran­scend­ed the hack-and-slash genre and made a name for itself in the fight­ing game com­mu­ni­ty via the MvC series. If there was ever a time that I wish that Strid­er Hiryu was real and ready to kick a cer­tain vil­lain­ous coun­try’s ass, that time is now. Hail, Hiryu-sama.

Final Fantasy Anthology — Issue 42

Reach­ing a new audience

Chances are, if you’re think­ing about buy­ing this retro pack­age of Final Fan­ta­sy, you’ve already played at least one of the two games includ­ed. So, why buy this? Because the pack­ag­ing is the draw, and it’s a must-own if you like the Final Fan­ta­sy series.
Let’s start with the obvi­ous: Final Fan­ta­sy Anthol­o­gy does not have a lot of Final Fan­ta­sy games includ­ed. Two clas­sics with inter­est­ing and sto­ried back­grounds are here: Final Fan­ta­sy V and Final Fan­ta­sy VI. Until this release, Final Fan­ta­sy V had nev­er been trans­lat­ed and released in the U.S because it was deemed too hard for the mar­ket. Final Fan­ta­sy VI was released in the U.S. as Final Fan­ta­sy III. It was a crit­i­cal dar­ling in both mar­kets and is wide­ly regard­ed as one of the best retro-era Final Fan­ta­sy games and role-play­ing games ever. So, Square Enix putting these two games togeth­er in a pack­age would kill two birds with one stone: Good sales — near­ly a mil­lion copies sold — and intro­duc­tion of a “lost” game to the bare­ly tapped mar­ket. Square Enix suc­ceed­ed on both fronts.
Released in the U.S. and PAL regions, FF Anthol­o­gy fea­tures FFV and FFVI in full with new CG intro­duc­tion movies for both games. Although we have reviewed FFV pre­vi­ous­ly (see 2Q2010 issue), we have nev­er reviewed FFVI. Just know, how­ev­er, that both games are fan­tas­tic, with FFV as our choice to play in the pack­age. Both games have a deep sto­ry with mem­o­rable char­ac­ters that you come to know and love by the end of your adven­ture, and beau­ti­ful graph­ics and stun­ning sound­tracks. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the strong sto­ry­telling found in the retro FF era, and the pack­age is bet­ter for includ­ing these two games particularly.
Round­ing out the pack­age is the oth­er high­light: The includ­ed bonus sound­track CD. The sound­track fea­tures 22 of the best tracks from both games, with our favorites com­ing from the FFV por­tion. FFVI does have some bangers, also, so the sound­track is great addi­tion all around. 
What you should care about — and why you should buy this pack­age — is the fact that you’re get­ting the best of the 2D Final Fan­ta­sy games. Add in that sound­track CD, which is like a gate­way to FF music, and you have a good deal with in-depth game­play to boot. This is Square Enix at its best before it embraced the 3D era for its flag­ship role-play­ing series.

ModNation Racers — Issue 42

The mods must be unimpressed

Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers stum­bles at start­ing line despite wealth of options

When you come for the king, you bet­ter not miss. And, as much as Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers tries to come for Mario Kart, it miss­es by quite a wide mile.
Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers tries, I’ll give it that. There’s depth to be had here for an arcade go-kart rac­er. There are var­i­ous modes to jump into, includ­ing a career mode and online and offline play. Addi­tion­al­ly, the cre­ate-a-char­ac­ter and track edi­tors are seri­ous time sinks. A once-thriv­ing and robust online store for all sorts of mods — the name of the game — is still there. The cus­tomiza­tion remains deep, with var­i­ous ways to dress your char­ac­ter and build a rig that suits your aes­thet­ic. This is where Mod­Na­tion has the advan­tage over Mario Kart, and that’s obvi­ous from the get-go. 
But under­neath the sur­face, Mod­Na­tion starts to fal­ter big time. The tracks are gener­ic and bor­ing and are gen­er­al­ly under­whelm­ing with a clunky design to the over­all feel. There was noth­ing that jumped out as inter­est­ing, and they feel slapped togeth­er and cliche. And, equal­ly as bor­ing is the char­ac­ter design. Despite the char­ac­ters being chibi-rac­ers, they aren’t cute. The super-deformed look works when you can pull it off, and Unit­ed Front Games did­n’t suc­ceed here. The char­ac­ters look gener­ic and stale with no personality.
As bland as the char­ac­ter design is, even goofi­er are the con­trols. Kart rac­ing, while not a pre­ci­sion genre, should be easy to con­trol. Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers is not easy to race in, con­sid­er­ing there’s some­thing assigned to every but­ton on the con­troller and then some. On top of that, the con­trols feel impre­cise, loose, and slop­py. Also, the speed lev­els, while cus­tomiz­able, are not tuned prop­er­ly. What should have been the eas­i­est and slow­est speed for a new­com­er still felt like the equiv­a­lent of 150CC in Mario Kart. That’s not easy, and the con­trols are unhelp­ful in deal­ing with that sen­sa­tion of speed. 
Also, some of the rac­ing mechan­ics are ques­tion­able at best. The drift­ing fea­ture is ter­ri­ble; at no point was com­plet­ing a drift pos­si­ble going as fast as I was going. And, the AI’s con­sis­tent abil­i­ty to pre­vent weapon pick­up even on the eas­i­est lev­el was grat­ing as was the con­stant bump­ing into objects and bar­ri­ers. It’s obnox­ious also that there is no weapons dis­play beyond words and a meter. Explain­ing what the weapons are and their effects would have con­tributed to more playing.
Adding insult to injury, the sound­track is gener­ic and for­get­table. Not a sin­gle track stood out, and much like the lev­el design, seemed half-thought-out and lazy. I kept hop­ing and lis­ten­ing for some­thing, any­thing, to pique my inter­est, but I was dis­ap­point­ed there also.
Mod­Na­tion suf­fers from the adage of too much of a good thing. While it’s nice to have the wealth of cus­tomiza­tion options, it comes across as what the kids call “doing too much.” Every­thing seems extra and a lit­tle bit too much. It’s try­ing too hard to tack on a lot of things that are designed to out­shine the com­pe­ti­tion when it should have focused on get­ting the basics cor­rect. Even where there is depth, some­times you have to know where to rein it in, and Mod­Na­tion Rac­ers stum­bles on the steps on the way to cast their bal­lot for them­selves as the king of kart rac­ing. It’s an admirable but ulti­mate­ly flawed chal­lenge to the throne.