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.

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.

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.

Super Princess Peach — Issue 42

A peachy keen adventure

Usu­al­ly, for us die-hard Mario enthu­si­asts, sav­ing Princess Peach is the name of the game when it comes to an adven­ture. After all, we start­ed way back when with Pauline in Don­key Kong and moved up to Mush­room King­dom clean up in Super Mario Bros. But occa­sion­al­ly, the script gets flipped and it’s about sav­ing Mario instead. Super Princess Peach does just that and does a damn fine, if not stereo­typ­i­cal­ly emo­tion-filled, job.
Start­ing things off with busi­ness as usu­al, Bows­er invades the Mush­room King­dom in a bid to steal Peach and wreak hav­oc. He suc­ceeds but, chang­ing things up, man­ages to cap­ture Mario and Lui­gi instead and cre­ate chaos with the Vibe Scepter, which con­trols oth­er beings’ emo­tions. Instead of hop­ing for a hero, Peach decides she must return the favor and sets out across eight worlds set on Vibe Island to save her plumber beau and his brother. 
In her quest, Peach is assist­ed by a sen­tient umbrel­la named Per­ry. Per­ry imbues Peach with Vibe meter by defeat­ing ene­mies and pro­vides oth­er tech­niques for her arse­nal. And Vibe meter is real­ly the oth­er big mechan­ic here. On the DS’ bot­tom screen, there are four emo­tions that Peach uti­lizes to solve puz­zles: Joy, Rage, Gloom and Calm. The emo­tions are inno­v­a­tive and easy to use, mak­ing con­trol­ling Peach a breeze. Rarely are the touch­screen con­trols an issue, and it’s easy to quick­ly switch among them on the fly.
Graph­i­cal­ly, Super Princess Peach is cute and vibrant, which plays well for the vibe Nin­ten­do is going for here. I expect­ed that Vibe Island would look bright and col­or­ful in most places and has a light, airy feel to it. The back­grounds pop and the char­ac­ter sprites are cute and weird in a good way. It car­ries the nor­mal Mario charm, but there’s some­thing about run­ning around as Peach with the adorable Per­ry that looks and feels gen­uine­ly refresh­ing. The sound­track is also some­thing spe­cial. It has a groovy vibe to it, and all the tracks work well with the sur­round­ings. Also, Peach’s voice act­ing is spot-on. Peach sounds exact­ly like what I would expect in mod­ern games, and I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed the sound effects for the dif­fer­ent emo­tions she employs.
My only bone of con­tention is small but a big part of the game: The Vibe meter. While a nice mechan­ic as far as game­play goes, there was some­thing about it that both­ered me that I could­n’t artic­u­late when the game was released in 2006, but I can now. I’m not over­ly fond of the con­cept that Peach is led around by manip­u­lat­ing her emo­tions. It’s the con­cept that women are emo­tion-dri­ven crea­tures that jumps out at me as a lit­tle more than offen­sive. If we’re capa­ble of sav­ing our beau — which we whol­ly are, and it only took from 1985 to 2006 to show this — then we can do it with­out it implied that we’re wild­ly mood-swing­ing weirdos who are gid­dy at one moment and rag­ing or cry­ing at the next. It’s a lit­tle more than stereo­typ­i­cal misog­y­nis­tic non­sense that quite frankly was­n’t nec­es­sary to attach to an already damsel-in-dis­tress arche­type try­ing to change the sta­tus quo. The game, on its tech­ni­cal mer­its, is strong enough to stand on its own, honestly.
Despite some wonky ideas about Peach’s emo­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty and for­ti­tude, Super Princess Peach is a quaint and fun adven­ture. It’s not a game-chang­er in the Mario pan­theon but it’s easy, acces­si­ble, and adorable. I can’t ask for more out of my hop ‘n’ bop done right. It’s just peachy.

Marvel Puzzle Quest — Issue 41

A mar­velous puz­zle journey

Ah, qui­et, placid Puz­zle Quest. We’ve seen many ver­sions of the clas­sic match-three game and yet, some­how, some way there’s a unique spin added that catch­es the eye and delights. Mar­vel Puz­zle Quest, the mobile jug­ger­naut from Demi­urge Stu­dios, is a spec­tac­u­lar extra move-laden free-to-play boun­ty for on the go.

I’ve played at least two ver­sions of Puz­zle Quest and they’re decent. Hav­ing that his­to­ry helps with con­cepts and under­stand­ing some of the intri­ca­cies of MPQ, but the base match-three con­cept is not hard, though. Your goal is to match three or more like-col­ored gems (green, black, yel­low, blue, red, pur­ple, and sil­ver) to dam­age your oppo­nent until they are downed. You can have a team of one to three char­ac­ters who will take turns match­ing gems against an AI-con­trolled team. From time to time, match con­di­tions vary — espe­cial­ly depend­ing on the mode or in-game event, but the main goal is gen­er­al­ly to take out your oppo­nent as clean­ly as possible. 

The Mar­vel com­po­nent comes in through char­ac­ters to col­lect from the sto­ried com­ic book com­pa­ny. Your team and the AI’s team will be com­posed of Mar­vel char­ac­ters rang­ing from the obscure to the most recent MCU-themed ver­sions, ranked in a five-star sys­tem. Char­ac­ters have three spe­cial moves — some­times with sub­sets and pas­sives — that must be unlocked. How you obtain them is where the pay aspect comes into play. Pric­ing can be steep when you’re try­ing to build a decent ros­ter, but it’s no worse than some of the oth­er options out in the mar­ket­place right now, and it has a more sat­is­fy­ing feel to com­plet­ing a col­lec­tion here. As a well-known Mar­vel doc­tor­al can­di­date, I have had a lot of fun pulling togeth­er a ros­ter with MPQ. I know most, if not all, of the char­ac­ters and their vari­ants (thanks, Loki!), and it’s decent work to keep track of who I have earned or am still hunt­ing down. In the year that I’ve been play­ing, I’ve cre­at­ed a spread­sheet that’s updat­ed dai­ly to track where my col­lec­tion stands. It’s that deep.

The depth of the puz­zle engine is also sur­pris­ing. It’s not uncom­mon to strate­gize moves, match­es and board set­up to max­i­mize poten­tial dam­age in a fight. The AI is well-bal­anced, enough that I rarely feel as though it’s unfair. I also very sel­dom lose match­es now that my ros­ter is about 80 per­cent com­plete. And in terms of ros­ter-build­ing, I also tend to get my fair share of rare and pow­er­ful five-star char­ac­ters. MPQ could eas­i­ly be a mon­ey sink, but it’s avoid­ed with a lot of devel­op­er bal­anc­ing behind the scenes.

The bal­anc­ing act also extends to the dif­fer­ent modes, and it’s a job well done. There are quite a few events to choose from at any giv­en time, and they’re fun to mill around in to improve your skills and earn rewards. You can join an Alliance, which is high­ly rec­om­mend­ed. The ben­e­fits from join­ing a sol­id squad can mean get­ting a rare char­ac­ter for free, or oth­er perks you might have to pay for nor­mal­ly. The modes are nice and pro­vide a change of pace. There’s a dai­ly mode fea­tur­ing Dead­pool with dif­fer­ent require­ments; Ver­sus mode, where you face off against AI-con­trolled avatars of real teams; Puz­zle Gaunt­let, where there are solu­tion-ori­ent­ed puz­zles against teams; Sto­ry events, where pre-deter­mined sto­ries play out through match­es and cut scenes; and, time-lim­it­ed events, where you and pos­si­bly your alliance join forces to take down a boss.

Demi­urge Stu­dios also does a great job with how the game looks, as well. MPQ has some of the best mobile graph­ics of any­thing on the mar­ket right now, and the use of actu­al run com­ic book cov­ers to rep­re­sent char­ac­ters is fan­tas­tic. The back­ground art also looks amaz­ing and crisp. Demi­urge out­did them­selves and for a sev­en-year-old game, it still looks sol­id and well done. The sound­track is nice, but it’s noth­ing to write home about. I usu­al­ly keep the music turned off, but it’s by no means terrible.

If you’re into Mar­vel, you’re going to love this. You’re going to drop a lot of mon­ey try­ing to build your ros­ter, and you’re going to have fun doing it. Even if you’re not into Mar­vel that much, you’re going to find some val­ue in this. It’s a good time wrapped up in a mobile game that plays well and pro­vides a lot in small pack­age. It’s a mar­velous play no mat­ter how you look at it.

Retro Replay — Soulcalibur II (GameCube version) — Issue 41

Heart and soul of calibur

Some­times, when you’re the sequel to one of the great­est fight­ing games of all time, you need no intro­duc­tion and you’re allowed to have repeat praise heaped on your shoulders.

We pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed the PlaySta­tion 2 ver­sion of Soul­cal­ibur II in 4Q2010, yet here we are again talk­ing about it in glow­ing terms for the Game­Cube ver­sion. There isn’t much new to say oth­er than this port is just as beau­ti­ful as the PS2 version. 

With the addi­tion of Link to the cast for this ver­sion, the game is even bet­ter. Link fits right in with the pro­ceed­ings and man­ages to unbal­ance the game heav­i­ly in his favor. He’s the per­fect addi­tion, to be honest.

With a killer sound­track, beau­ti­ful graph­ics that hold up after 20 years, a deep sto­ry­line and supe­ri­or game­play to almost every­thing avail­able on the mar­ket at the time, Soul­cal­ibur II is a wor­thy suc­ces­sor in every way to one of the great­est fight­ing games ever made.

Street Fighter V — Issue 41

Don’t call it a come­back: SFV cleans up after launch

I’m going to be intense­ly per­son­al for a minute: My life by the time of my mid-30s was not fun. It was a time of change, reboots in near­ly every area (part­ner, career, school again), loss and learn­ing from the mis­takes of my 20s. I’m good now, but it wasn’t with­out strug­gle and pain.
And the old­est entry in the fight game can com­mis­er­ate with me because they know what that time is like. Street Fight­er V is sit­ting at the bar with me, drown­ing its sor­rows because it and the series, too, went through it in its mid-30s and like me is doing much bet­ter than one could expect after the struggle.
SFV didn’t start out as mag­i­cal as it has become. The launch was mired in prob­lems and things just weren’t where they should be. The game’s sto­ry mode didn’t launch along­side the actu­al game and the net­code was ter­ri­ble. But what a dif­fer­ence time makes. 

The sto­ry, while still not as engross­ing as past entries, has improved. It moves the SF world mythos along and makes sense if you know the series’ past. Tak­ing place between Ultra SFIV and SF3: 3rd Strike, Char­lie wakes up in a tomb and is guid­ed to steal an item from Guile, which would help him defeat M. Bison. Third Strike boss Gill dri­ves the plot over­all, tying up the loose ends between SFII and the endgame of 3rd Strike, which is the known end of the series sto­ry­line-wise. I love that Gill is tied into this as it always seemed like he was out of place as the end of SF lore. I nev­er ful­ly under­stood why he was the boss of that tril­o­gy of games except as some­thing new for Cap­com to try because every­one was sick of M. Bison by that point.

While I’m impressed with the sto­ry, I’m more impressed with the pre­sen­ta­tion. Much like its pre­de­ces­sors, SFV looks gor­geous. The back­grounds are beau­ti­ful as are most of the char­ac­ter designs. Even the menus look good. Some­times, when I start the game, I take a sec­ond just to mar­vel at the main menu and how the modes are pre­sent­ed. And let’s talk about the sound­track for a sec­ond. The music is all-around amaz­ing. Every time I get in-game, I dis­cov­er anoth­er track that I feel like I haven’t pre­vi­ous­ly heard, and I fall in love all over again. It’s so good that it’s worth track­ing down and adding to your music collection.

While I love the game, there is a big sec­tion I don’t care for: the play style. I’m an Alpha purist, specif­i­cal­ly SF Alpha 3. That’s my Street Fight­er style and has been for years. How­ev­er, SFV plays kind of stiff — a lot like SFIV — and that’s hard for me to grasp. It’s playable, obvi­ous­ly, but it’s not my style of Street Fight­er play. And that’s OK. It real­ly doesn’t detract from the game’s abil­i­ty to shine or be Street Fight­er, but it’s not my per­son­al pref­er­ence to play. It is a lot of fun to watch being played pro­fes­sion­al­ly, though.

Street Fight­er V has come a long way as the most cur­rent entry in the series. Game ele­ments have got­ten a lot of pol­ish, whether it’s fix­ing the net­code or expand­ing the ros­ter with old favorites and skins allud­ing to long-dor­mant char­ac­ters. It’s now the flag­ship game it should have been, and it’s still rul­ing the fight game roost while every­one waits for the announced Street Fight­er 6. 

Some­times, with the strug­gle comes the rewards and SFV has more than earned its life fight money.