Capcom Fighting Collection — Issue 47

Give this col­lec­tion a fight­ing chance

Cap­com tends to tread a lot of the same ground these days. Whether it’s “get­ting back to their roots” with Street Fight­er’s mod­ern ver­sions or return­ing to the past with a lot of upgrad­ed col­lec­tions, Cap­com sure has a way of remind­ing you that, yes, they made Street Fight­er and a bunch of oth­er fight­ing games. The ques­tion is do we care? Yes and no, if this cur­rent col­lec­tion is to be judged.

I will admit that, despite being a strict Mor­tal Kom­bat old head, I am inclined to speak up about my favorite genre in fight­ing games and how it relates to Cap­com. This col­lec­tion, filled to the brim with noth­ing but Cap­com fight­ers, aims to show that Cap­com had some hits and mem­o­rable prop­er­ties. Fight­ing Col­lec­tion fea­tures 10 entries: Vampire/Darkstalkers 1–3, Vam­pire Hunter 2, Vam­pire Sav­ior 2, Cyber­bots: Full Met­al Mad­ness, WarZard/Red Earth, Hyper Street Fight­er II: The Anniver­sary Edi­tion, Super Gem Fight­er Mini Mix/Pocket Fight­er and Super Puz­zle Fight­er II Tur­bo, with the North Amer­i­can or Japan­ese ver­sions avail­able for play. In all cas­es, these are arcade rom ver­sions gath­ered togeth­er in one spot and you can freely switch between them on free play. Col­lec­tion-wise, this is a top-tier pack­age for those who love fight­ing games made by Cap­com. Main­stream mon­ey mak­er that’s still around today? That’s Hyper Street Fight­er II. Obscure weird fight­er that no one even knows that Cap­com made it? Take your pick from Cyber­bots and WarZard. Cutesy, chibi fight­er that unabashed­ly mocks its mak­er? Puz­zle Fight­er and Pock­et Fight­er have that on lock. Defunct series that should still be a thing, but Cap­com does­n’t pay atten­tion? All of the Vam­pire you can pos­si­bly shake a stick at sat­is­fies that require­ment. There is lit­er­al­ly some­thing for every­one here. But the ques­tion is, do you want it, espe­cial­ly now that you know what’s avail­able here? As ear­li­er, yes and no.

While the pre­sen­ta­tion is top-notch, the actu­al assort­ment of the games involved is a mixed bag. Gen­tle read­ers, I just com­piled and cre­at­ed an entire issue devot­ed to Vam­pire (Edi­tor’s note: That’d be Issue 46. Go down­load it now if you haven’t.) and its inner work­ings and the his­to­ry behind the series. Know­ing that, please explain to me why I have Vam­pire burnout and why I had it before I did that issue because of this col­lec­tion. Cap­com does this song and dance every sin­gle time Vam­pire is whis­pered some­where by some unsus­pect­ing gamer who loves the series and wants to see it once more have its day in the sun. I wrote an entire col­umn in that pre­vi­ous issue dis­cussing the need for a Vam­pire revival — a new game, not an old rehash — and how we were nev­er going to get that because Cap­com does the series dirty constantly. 

Well, would­n’t you know it, Cap­com pulled a skunk out of their hat by includ­ing all of the Vam­pire games here. It’s like they said, “Well, you asked for more Vam­pire. Here, be sat­is­fied that we released all of them final­ly in North Amer­i­ca and shut up.” You know, I’m slight­ly hap­py but I’m more offend­ed than any­thing else. Because, as you should have read by now gen­tle read­er, Cap­com is nev­er going to give us a new Vam­pire game with­out there being some weird­ness attached. And because this col­lec­tion sold “OK,” — not great, just OK — you know we aren’t get­ting a new game. Because it did­n’t set the world on fire in sales does­n’t mean the demand isn’t there. But I digress. Every­thing else in this col­lec­tion has been released in some way, shape or form in either region, so it was­n’t nec­es­sary for their inclu­sion, either. 

What I would have pre­ferred to see are Rival Schools, Project Jus­tice, Star Glad­i­a­tor and Plas­ma Sword. These are defunct Cap­com series that they also like to act like they did­n’t cre­ate. Rival Schools and Project Jus­tice are espe­cial­ly egre­gious because while they’ve been port­ed to PlaySta­tion Net­work, we haven’t got­ten a full, unal­tered port of either game. A mod­ern trans­la­tion of the board game and sim­u­la­tion mode in both games is not that hard, but I digress again because we know we are nev­er get­ting it. It’s a shame because this col­lec­tion as pulled togeth­er in 2022 could have used some bet­ter curation.

While I love Cap­com fight­ing games, I’m OK about this col­lec­tion. It’s nice to have these in a mod­ern pack­age for mod­ern con­soles but I’m not enthused about the behind-the-scenes fool­ish­ness that could have been avoid­ed with bet­ter curat­ing on Cap­com’s part. There are some heavy hit­ters that could have been includ­ed imme­di­ate­ly that would have made it a bet­ter pack­age, and the extras includ­ed could have been bet­ter also. How­ev­er, it’s not a ter­ri­ble pack­age and is infi­nite­ly use­ful and valu­able to the fight­ing game pop­u­la­tion so it’s not a total wash. Cap­com could col­lect bet­ter, though.

TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge — Issue 46

Shred­der’s Revenge served hot in sequel

As a con­nois­seur of most things relat­ed to the Teenage Mutant Nin­ja Tur­tles, I find that the first two movies, the comics and the first ani­mat­ed show are worth my time. In addi­tion to those men­tioned, cer­tain games are accept­able uses of my hard-earned scril­la. I am a dis­cern­ing fan, and my dol­lars and time are pre­cious. So, it is with great joy and ela­tion that I spread the word that TMNT games have recov­ered slight­ly from the Dimen­sion X por­tal that the fran­chise fell into and the lat­est game, Shred­der’s Revenge, is proof of this return to glory.

Con­ceived as a trib­ute game of sorts, Shred­der’s Revenge takes every­thing we found awe­some about TMNT II: The Arcade Game and TMNT IV: Tur­tles in Time and ramps up the awe­some lev­el. The sto­ry con­tin­ues Tur­tles in Time, which was a wise choice. The Tur­tles find Rock­steady and Bebop and their adja­cent vil­lain asso­ciates guard­ing Krang’s exoskele­ton head in var­i­ous loca­tions includ­ing Man­hat­tan and Dimen­sion X. Appar­ent­ly, Shred­der is alive and kick­ing again after being top­pled on top of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty in 1992. In 2022, he wants revenge for the Tur­tles stop­ping this par­tic­u­lar plot of may­hem of using Lady Lib­er­ty to take over the world. Because they’re used to Shred­der’s fool­ish­ness — bear in mind this is 1986 car­toon Shred­der, not com­ic book Shred­der who was­n’t a major vil­lain — the Tur­tles and their friends and fam­i­ly band togeth­er to stop the revenge plot once and for all.

Adding April O’Neil, Casey Jones and Splin­ter along­side the Tur­tles was a smart move. It’s almost incon­ceiv­able now that we were nev­er able to play as those three sup­port­ing char­ac­ters in a Tur­tles beat-’em-up before, and it has to be allowed in future games. Once you get going with a char­ac­ter cho­sen, the lev­el-up sys­tem is quick and easy to learn. And learn you will because there are so many ways to dis­patch Foot Clan sol­diers and oth­er ene­mies for points that work with­in the sys­tem. It’s almost too much to keep up with, espe­cial­ly in the heat of bat­tle where know­ing the cor­rect way to dis­patch a boss is impor­tant. Hav­ing some pre­vi­ous knowl­edge of Tur­tles in Time helps tremen­dous­ly, and there are in-game instruc­tions and a tuto­r­i­al, but it’s nigh over­whelm­ing. Though, to be fair, I’d rather have too much than too lit­tle. The game is giv­ing me a feast and thank­ful­ly, the con­trols are easy to grasp and clean as you romp through 16 gor­geous levels.

The game looks just as fan­tas­tic as well as it con­trols. The art imme­di­ate­ly dips into the nos­tal­gia of the orig­i­nal after­school show and had me hum­ming the super ’80s theme song. This is the area where that trib­ute comes into play. If you’re a fan of the show, you will love every­thing about how the game looks, feels, and sounds. Well, almost. 
While the sound­track is also fan­tas­tic, we can’t not men­tion the atro­cious remake of the theme song. Of all of the music cho­sen to remake, the theme show is the one track that you don’t mess with. It is a rev­er­ent piece of pop cul­ture his­to­ry and is sacred to most Tur­tle fans, includ­ing myself. My 42-year-old adult self knows the words by heart and has it in dig­i­tal form; it’s on that lev­el for me. So, hear­ing the theme butchered as it were in Shred­der’s Revenge had me tak­en aback. I was griev­ous­ly wound­ed but the soul still burns in this old Tur­tle girl. Because the rest of the sound­track is great ’80s cen­tric pop, tunes snatched direct­ly from the ear­ly sea­sons of the TV show, and beau­ti­ful voice­work from the orig­i­nal ani­mat­ed cast, I can let the remake theme slide, but it bet­ter not be in the sequel.

My only oth­er gripe here is the dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el. Even on the eas­i­est dif­fi­cul­ty, there were a lot of arcade rip-off ten­den­cies going on. Tac­tics like ene­my AI gang­ing up on char­ac­ters with already low health, not-so-clean hits from off-screen ene­mies that you can’t see and los­ing health rather quick­ly ran as ram­pant as those Stone Sol­diers that Krang employed. Any lev­els involv­ing vehi­cles and fly­ing are impos­si­bly hard and feel designed to be annoy­ing­ly frus­trat­ing. Boss fights, I’m fine with; they’re sup­posed to be hard. But reg­u­lar lev­els beyond the first stage were like this on easy dif­fi­cul­ty, which is obnox­ious. It was like try­ing to play TMNT II: The Arcade Game all over again and watch­ing the cab­i­net steal my mon­ey out of my pock­et. It feels unfair and set up to be against the play­er, which is unfor­tu­nate. Know­ing that going into the expe­ri­ence now makes it a lit­tle eas­i­er to nav­i­gate but is a detraction. 

Despite a try-hard col­li­sion sys­tem that keeps it from obtain­ing leg­endary sta­tus, Shred­der’s Revenge is a nice love let­ter to old­er TMNT fans who were around for the orig­i­nal craze. The quirks are notice­able, but Shred­der’s Revenge tries real­ly hard in every oth­er area, and it suc­ceeds well. Let’s call it a Cow­abun­ga for now.

Jet Grind Radio — Issue 45

Jet Grind Radio sets cool standard

Bom­bas­tic yet cool. This is the dichoto­my you encounter in the atmos­phere of Jet Grind Radio. There’s noth­ing quite like it — except its sequel — and that’s a bless­ing because I don’t think the world could han­dle any­thing else. It’s quirky, futur­is­tic, stun­ning, and unde­ni­ably cool when you get down to it: Jet Grind Radio is the future.
Set in a futur­is­tic Tokyo, Jet Grind Radio fea­tures a wide cast of rollerblad­ing graf­fi­ti gangs vying for suprema­cy and strug­gling against an ego­ma­ni­a­cal mad­man and his con­glom­er­ate, which are attempt­ing to take over the world. The sto­ry­line serves its pur­pose but it’s the char­ac­ters that are the draw here. Each char­ac­ter — includ­ing the unlock­able — has an inter­est­ing look and sto­ry going on. They are the lifeblood, and it’s fun to learn about them and their motivations. 
While we’re lov­ing the char­ac­ters, let’s also give love to the art style that brings them to life. The art style is gor­geous and still holds up after 23 years. The graf­fi­ti cel-shad­ed look has aged well; graf­fi­ti nev­er fails to be awe­some and impact­ful, and Jet Grind Radio looks phe­nom­e­nal. It’s the first game to use this tech­nique, and it set the stan­dard in 2000 in terms of pre­sen­ta­tion. The back­grounds are also well done and inspire runs through the game. It’s clear­ly an ear­ly 2000s game, but that only por­tends good things about the Dream­cast and what it was capa­ble of.
And as good as the game looks, the graph­ics almost don’t hold a can­dle to the sound­track. This is one of the best sound­tracks ever done, and it will have you bop­ping while you’re run­ning around on inline skates. This is one of those sound­tracks that you put on while work­ing and you get some of your best work done. Funky and pop-cen­tric, the sound­track has so much going on the­mat­i­cal­ly that there’s bound to be some­thing for everyone. 
And in terms of appeal­ing to mass con­sump­tion, the con­trols are a com­mon denom­i­na­tor kind of sen­si­bil­i­ty. The imme­di­ate com­par­i­son here is Tony Hawk, which isn’t sur­pris­ing since the Hawk­man had just released his first game — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — a year ear­li­er to crit­i­cal acclaim. Jet Grind Radio does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly grind on Hawk’s coat­tails, but you’re bound to say to your­self at least once, “These con­trols sure feel famil­iar.” And you would­n’t be wrong. That’s a good thing, because it plays like ear­ly Tony Hawk, you know when it was good.
While every­thing is great in terms of pre­sen­ta­tion and con­trol, I’d be remiss in men­tion­ing that there is one both­er­some flaw with Jet Grind Radio. While the con­trols are eas­i­ly anal­o­gous to ear­ly Tony Hawk games, it was­n’t easy to pick up the game and know what’s going on imme­di­ate­ly. It’s a lit­tle too inac­ces­si­ble at first, like it’s ask­ing you to have some in-depth knowl­edge ahead of play­ing for the first time. You may not be famil­iar with the con­cepts the game is throw­ing at you, and it’s the game’s respon­si­bil­i­ty to ease you into the fray. Thank­ful­ly, the sur­round­ing game is so good that you’ll come back to get more in-depth with the trap­pings of Tokyo-to.
The Jet Grind series has last­ed into the mod­ern era with re-releas­es and a rumored reboot, and the orig­i­nal game details exact­ly why. Easy con­trols, var­ied modes, an engag­ing cast (love Pots, Piran­ha and Beat!) and pop­ping sound­track make for an imme­di­ate­ly unfor­get­table expe­ri­ence. Get in-line to get down with the fan­tas­tic Jet Grind Radio.

Monster Hunter: World — Issue 44

A whole new world awaits

Lush, breath­tak­ing, com­pli­cat­ed, try­ing. If you weren’t a fan of Mon­ster Hunter as a fran­chise until you played Mon­ster Hunter: World, con­sid­er your­self miss­ing out on some­thing won­drous. Mon­ster Hunter: World is as close to per­fec­tion as an action RPG can be.

Every­thing begins with you. You begin your adven­ture as a hunter join­ing the Fifth Fleet on an expe­di­tion to the New World. You are tasked with explor­ing the vast wild in search of infor­ma­tion and sci­ence. You’re sup­port­ed with an assis­tant — Pal­i­coes — and oth­er offi­cers of the Fifth Fleet, who help with hunt­ing the flo­ra and fau­na in the wide unknown so that you may inform the Research Com­mis­sion of your find­ings and pos­si­bly stop the extinc­tion of vital drag­ons. The sto­ry is engross­ing, well-writ­ten and eas­i­ly digestible with hints of more to come as you explore every nook of the new land. 

And explore you will because that’s the name of the game here: Hunt­ing. You, the hunter, go into the world to hunt mon­sters of all sizes. Dur­ing your hunts, you’re using your wits and the envi­ron­ment to your advan­tage, care­ful not to faint too many times while work­ing to take down a crea­ture so that you may get new parts to craft gear and weapons. The craft­ing aspect is fan­tas­tic. The vari­ety of gear and equip­ment that can be gen­er­at­ed is off the charts, and there is noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than tak­ing down a new ene­my and obtain­ing new, more pow­er­ful gear. Cap­com knew the essence of the high that comes from win­ning a hard-fought bat­tle, loot, craft bet­ter gear and repeat. And they’ve cap­tured that essence mas­ter­ful­ly here with increas­ing incen­tives and nuanced pac­ing. Fight­ing nev­er feels weird, and it quick­ly becomes sec­ond nature to swing your sword and make waves in bat­tle. My only gripe here is that there is so much to learn with the bat­tle mechan­ics and item craft­ing and usage that some­times it gets over­whelm­ing. Tak­ing your time to read the tuto­ri­als and work through sce­nar­ios in train­ing is the way to com­bat that. I’m pleased with this set­up because I’d rather get too much infor­ma­tion than not enough.

While on your expe­di­tions or even at the hub, stop a moment when you can and admire the beau­ty that Cap­com has cre­at­ed. The game is one of the most beau­ti­ful I have ever seen. I fre­quent­ly stop to watch the scenery and take in the detail of the sur­round­ings. And, I want to espe­cial­ly high­light the impres­sive char­ac­ter cre­ation suite. If I can cre­ate my own char­ac­ter in a game, I want bold and accu­rate tools to do so. Mon­ster Hunter: World gave me that and more. I spent two hours with it alone and I still want­ed to spend more time there. The wealth of options is out­stand­ing, and I’m extreme­ly impressed with the diver­si­ty found with­in. I can make a char­ac­ter that accu­rate­ly looks like me with gor­geous options for hair­styles … or not. But I love the options giv­en, and I can’t praise that fea­ture enough.

The sound­track is anoth­er stand­out in the pre­sen­ta­tion. It’s fun, fast-paced and engag­ing. No track is out of place and it’s well-scored with so many dif­fer­ent instru­ments that it puts almost every oth­er adven­ture title to shame. This is big-bud­get music and it shows in every sit­u­a­tion you’ll find your­self in every envi­ron­ment. Also, the Pal­i­coes’ sound effects are some of the most adorable cat rep­re­sen­ta­tions I’ve ever heard. If you love cats like I do, you’re going to be say­ing “Aww, how adorable!” every five sec­onds and it’s not going to ever get old. That’s the mark of good audio, honestly.

Mon­ster Hunter: World is a mas­ter­piece in adven­ture. No short­age of things to do, a wealth of options and sto­ry and great mechan­ics come togeth­er in a majes­tic mag­num opus of craft­ing and sur­vival. The hunt for per­fec­tion is over with Mon­ster Hunter: World.

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

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.

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.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) — Issue 40

Mario Kart races back to form in Wii U edition

There comes a time in every Mario Kart fan’s life when you have to make a choice of whether you still love the series or if you don’t. I assume this, of course, because I have no idea if any­one still plays Mario Kart or not. I assume they do, and I just don’t know it. The series hit that fabled peak of ques­tion­abil­i­ty for me when Mario Kart Wii was released. GI wasn’t using a rat­ing scale when we reviewed it (editor’s note: This was reviewed in 3Q2008), but suf­fice to say it would not have received a good score. Mario Kart had a lot of work to redeem itself for me, a long­time lover of the series who start­ed in 1992. The lat­est orig­i­nal entry, Mario Kart 8, has made sig­nif­i­cant effort to pol­ish the series again.
Mario Kart, at its core, has always been about arcade rac­ing. There’s noth­ing real­is­tic about play­ing as var­i­ous Mario and oth­er gen­er­al Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters while romp­ing through var­i­ous Mush­room King­dom locales. It’s always been about the Mario charm expand­ed to fit with­in a palat­able dri­ving scheme that makes any­one a cham­pi­on go-kart enthu­si­ast. Mario Kart 8 does not shirk on this charm. If it’s a mem­o­rable Mario char­ac­ter, they’re prob­a­bly in this game. 
And, in a nod to the appeal of Nin­ten­do crossover and nos­tal­gia, there are new addi­tions from out­side the port­ly mus­ta­chioed plumber’s usu­al sus­pects: You can now play as Ani­mal Crossing’s Isabelle and The Leg­end of Zelda’s Link. While they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tribute any­thing new to the series, their pres­ence is enough to elic­it excite­ment because it means Nin­ten­do is final­ly open­ing Mario Kart up to the gen­er­al ros­ter. There is much to mine from, and if you’re ques­tion­ing any of this, look at the lead Smash Bros. has tak­en in this field.
Mario Kart has always been the sort of series that takes its his­to­ry seri­ous­ly. Entries after Mario Kart: Dou­ble Dash have begun ref­er­enc­ing the pre­vi­ous tracks of yore, some­times with var­ied results. Mario Kart 8 man­ages to gath­er a lot of stel­lar new tracks and some old that aren’t favorites but will suf­fice as entries. A lot of the old­er tracks are from more recent entries but make no mis­take — they are there for the pur­pose of draw­ing you in to remind you of the good times and then send you on your mer­ry way to try the new tracks. Tug­ging at my heart strings with a mod­ern SNES Rain­bow Road remake will get you every­where, though there are caveats to these remakes. 
While the tracks are great graph­i­cal­ly, the music is hit or miss. When I say I want a Rain­bow Road throw­back, I also want the orig­i­nal music to go with it. It doesn’t need a musi­cal over­haul because the orig­i­nal music was bril­liant. I’m not sure why Nin­ten­do thought it need­ed to have the sound remade, but it wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly great deci­sion. Oth­er remas­tered stage choic­es, includ­ing Grum­ble Vol­cano and Music Park, are fine. And a lot of the new tracks are great; Drag­on Drift­way and Excite­bike Are­na are def­i­nite standouts.
Graph­i­cal­ly, the game looks amaz­ing. It’s the best-look­ing Mario Kart pro­duced yet. All the char­ac­ters look life-like, and the stages are incred­i­bly detailed. Even the water par­ti­cle effects look amaz­ing. There are times when there’s a brief lull in action that I can soak up the sur­round­ings, and I’m impressed by the Wii U’s under­stat­ed capa­bil­i­ty. Mario Kart 8 shows what the sys­tem could poten­tial­ly do. It’s a tes­ta­ment also to just how good Mario Kart looks in the mod­ern era.
Now, here’s where we may have some issues. I’m not fond of the AI rub­ber­band­ing, and I haven’t been a fan of it since the Mario Kart 64 days. We are a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry grown up and past that, and we’re still hav­ing issues with last-minute vic­to­ries by the AI. This is a known issue at this point, yet it rears its ugly head still. Also, while a lot of the new tracks are cool — Excite­bike Are­na among the best of the bunch — there are some that do absolute­ly noth­ing for me. Track selec­tion is impor­tant, and this entry has dullards. Big Blue, for what­ev­er rea­son, keeps show­ing up in mod­ern catchall Nin­ten­do games, and it’s here, too. I’m not impressed with the track at all, and they could have come up with some­thing else. 
Also, while I love the Ani­mal Cross­ing track, it needs some­thing else than the series’ cute motif and catchy music. It’s your basic, run of the mill dri­ve around in a loop track, but it needs some­thing else to give it some pop. Same thing goes for the Hyrule track. It’s basic, too. What makes this worse is that the tracks are part of the DLC bun­dle for the game. If you’re ask­ing me to spend hard-earned mon­ey on extras, the extras need to be super spe­cial. I’m not get­ting that with those two tracks, specif­i­cal­ly. Thank­ful­ly, there are oth­er extras to be had that kind of make up for those.
Over­all, this is a sol­id entry in the Mario Kart sphere of influ­ence. This is the best entry in years, and it deserves some high praise for a lot of the things that it gets right. There’s always room for improve­ment, but the rac­ing king con­tin­ues to show why it’s the arcade rac­ing champ and why it con­tin­ues to rule the road of go-karting.

Ghost of Tsushima — Issue 39

A ghost­ly com­pelling tale

Beau­ti­ful. Stun­ning. Breath­tak­ing. The Japan­ese coun­try­side of Tsushi­ma can only be described this way, and this is being mod­est. Immer­sion in the strug­gle and bur­den of a samu­rai lord in 13th cen­tu­ry Japan against invad­ing Mon­gols is stu­pe­fy­ing once you real­ize that it’s intri­cate­ly craft­ed in a video game. You are the ghost, the Ghost of Tsushima.

Wan­der­ing around the real island of Tsushi­ma, Japan, in 1274 is a fairy­tale. Every loca­tion and near­ly every blade of grass or tree tells a sto­ry. That sto­ry is of samu­rai lord Jin Sakai, a man des­per­ate to save his home from an invad­ing Mon­go­lian force led by the grand­son of Genghis Khan. Jin gath­ers a coun­ter­force, only to be defeat­ed and near­ly killed. In the process of heal­ing, Jin finds allies to ral­ly to the cause and peti­tions for help from the shogu­nate to defeat the Mon­gols. You become Jin in your quest to save his home and gath­er weapons and sup­plies, learn skills, acquire alliances, and fight to repeal the invaders. There is much to learn and see in the open world pre­sent­ed to you even if you aren’t a his­to­ry buff or care about the pol­i­tics, econ­o­my, or goings on of feu­dal Japan. There are no time lim­its for tack­ling mis­sions, and you are encour­aged to free roam and explore the land.

Much like any oth­er open world game I’ve ever played, what I like to call the “Metroid instinct” kicks in and I find myself search­ing every nook and cran­ny to find hid­den sup­plies and oth­er good­ies. Dur­ing my explo­ration, of course, I come across peo­ple who don’t like Jin. I note the pres­ence of bon­fires, which gen­er­al­ly indi­cates who I like to refer to as “dudes.” Dudes are the type that are gen­er­al­ly hos­tile to me and my inter­ests. Those inter­ests involve inves­ti­ga­tion and sav­ing peo­ple in the gen­er­al pop­u­lace who require the ser­vices of a skilled samu­rai and con­tract killer. This is usu­al­ly how the fight starts: Dudes notice me in my fin­ery and my mag­i­cal horse frol­ick­ing in the coun­try­side and now they want to get reck­less about things.

In an absolute­ly fun mechan­ic, I tend to get into stand­offs with ban­dits. Now, my fight­ing skills here with a katana and tan­tō are not the best, but I have been known to make dudes meet their mak­er quick­ly. Sim­i­lar­ly, I’m not great with archery, but I make the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion and stealth kill my way through the coun­try­side clean­ly and quick­ly. My grasp of the con­trols is ten­u­ous at best, but that’s on me and my lack of skill and “old­er folks’ reflex­es™”. Ghost’s con­trol mechan­ics are sound and easy to pick up with a lit­tle practice.

As I explore after my fights, loot­ing what I need, I take in the scenery. Ghost of Tsushi­ma is quite pos­si­bly the most beau­ti­ful video game I have ever seen. I’ve been play­ing games a long time, and I can’t say until now that I’ve ever been just wowed by a game where I specif­i­cal­ly take in-game pho­tog­ra­phy to use as a back­ground. This is what you buy the lat­est con­sole for and the best TV for: mar­veling at the graph­ics. I’m not even on the lat­est PlaySta­tion mod­el (I’m play­ing with a PS4 Pro), and Ghost makes almost every­thing else look like stick fig­ures from the Atari 2600 era.

With a mas­ter­ful audio expe­ri­ence, Ghost has the sound and feel of a Kuro­sawa mas­ter­piece. You want to feel like the epic Sev­en Samu­rai? Turn on the Japan­ese dia­logue and Eng­lish sub­ti­tles. It’s that type of expe­ri­ence. The nat­ur­al ambiance is also nice. It’s com­fort­ing to know that pay­ing atten­tion to sounds in the envi­ron­ment can save Jin’s life when I’m explor­ing. I’ve lost count of the num­ber of times lis­ten­ing for audio cues linked to bears or dudes has helped me avoid an ambush.

While it’s a great expe­ri­ence, Ghost is not with­out its prob­lems. The cam­era work doesn’t always help when it’s time to fight. Often, I’m fight­ing the cam­era to see my ene­mies and avoid tak­ing mas­sive dam­age. The cam­era could use some refine­ment in lat­er updates. And my oth­er issue is the Leg­ends mode, added after the game’s ini­tial release. I was all geared up to play with my part­ner and then real­ized that this long-await­ed co-op mode does not sup­port local play. We were hot­ly antic­i­pat­ing being able to roam around Tsushi­ma togeth­er as we’re gamers, engrossed in the tale of Jin who absolute­ly love samu­rai. But we were high­ly dis­ap­point­ed to learn that the only co-op sup­port­ed is online. Though the mode is free, it was a mas­sive let­down to real­ize that we weren’t going to be play­ing this epic together.

Despite some minor tech­ni­cal issues, Ghost of Tsushi­ma hits the mark in a lot of areas. A com­pe­tent nar­ra­tive, open world explo­ration, stun­ning visu­als and an easy-to-grasp sys­tem are just some of the good­ies await­ing engross­ment in Jin’s tale of revenge and rev­o­lu­tion in 1274 feu­dal Japan. Ghost of Tsushi­ma scares up a great adven­ture wor­thy of all the praise one can muster.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution — Issue 38

Tekken’s fate unknown after mile­stone entry

Tekken is about a cer­tain sub­stance and style. The fight­ing engine is so deep in Tekken that if you’re just start­ing with the sev­enth game, you’re at an imme­di­ate dis­ad­van­tage because you’re behind. Way behind. Sto­ry-wise, you’re behind, too. There’s so much going on with the Mishi­ma clan that you’re bound to be ask­ing the ques­tion: Why now? Tekken isn’t just answer­ing that; it’s pos­ing the ques­tion of what’s next?

For the Mishi­ma clan — and Tekken’s ros­ter at large — the future is the ques­tion on everyone’s mind, but to get there, Tekken 7 stakes its ambi­tions on look­ing back to tell the sto­ry of the future. Spoil­er alert: With Hei­hachi gone, there’s only Kazuya and Jin left to car­ry on the blood feud of the clan. The sur­round­ing enti­ties are on either side of the con­flict between father and son, and there will be casu­al­ties. But that isn’t Tekken 7’s main sto­ry to tell. Real­ly, it’s two ques­tions: How did Kazuya become enmeshed in the dev­il gene fool­ish­ness, and how is Hei­hachi entan­gled in that as well? The answers lay with new char­ac­ter Kazu­mi Mishi­ma, Kazuya’s moth­er and Heihachi’s wife. She plays a cen­tral role in unrav­el­ing the mys­tery of Kazuya’s trans­for­ma­tion using the dev­il gene and why Hei­hachi threw his child off a cliff more than 40 years before.

While Bandai Nam­co is set­ting up the pay­off, look around. You’re in a Tekken game and many things will be true at once: The sound will be phe­nom­e­nal, and the graph­ics will be stun­ning. After all, this is a Tekken title; the King of the Iron Fist tour­na­ment does not slouch. What’s strik­ing is, this is a four-year-old game and it still looks decent. Tekken has nev­er been one to hold back when it comes to looks, and even with the upgrad­ed PlaySta­tion 4 Pro, it’s still a good-look­ing game. Tekken 7 could look worse with the ben­e­fit of more pro­cess­ing pow­er, and some sec­tions do show the age of the game. How­ev­er, it’s min­i­mal as far as Tekken is con­cerned, and Tekken 7 is still a pow­er­house when com­pared to every­thing else on the market.

The sound­track is excel­lent, though I want­ed a lit­tle more from it. I real­ize that not every Tekken sound­track is going to be the first Tag, where every track was a banger. How­ev­er, this is Tekken, and a cer­tain bar has been set by past games that cur­rent games must live up to. There are some bangers here, but not near­ly enough. For ref­er­ence, I have every Tekken sound­track ever released, arcade and home ver­sions. For the first four games, I have the entire sound­track saved on my iPod. As the series pro­gressed, I had few­er songs from each sound­track. As of Tekken 7, I have two tracks. It’s a good sound­track, but it just isn’t any­thing I haven’t heard before in a Tekken game. Tekken 8, or what­ev­er it will be called, will have to step things up in the sound department.

As far as Tekken’s playa­bil­i­ty, I can’t real­ly attest to it on a hands-on lev­el. Full dis­clo­sure: I’m not a good Tekken play­er. That said, how­ev­er, I find it a lit­tle eas­i­er to pick up Tekken and play with the new fea­tures added in the arcade mode. I real­ly like that there’s an easy com­bo assist fea­ture. It makes it far less frus­trat­ing to learn the com­bo sys­tem, and it makes it much eas­i­er for begin­ners to under­stand how moves flow together.

Tekken, despite hav­ing only four attack but­tons, has always been about depth, and that’s scary for the unini­ti­at­ed like myself. With the assist fea­ture, I’m more inclined to take the time to learn and dig just a lit­tle deep­er with the series. It’s a fan­tas­tic addi­tion that needs to stick around in future entries.

The char­ac­ter cus­tomiza­tion mode also deserves some praise as it’s com­ing along nice­ly. It’s been around now for at least three games, and it’s got­ten bet­ter each iter­a­tion. This is part of the depth of Tekken — along with its engine and com­bo sys­tem — that makes it such a great series. Tekken 7 takes care of the details, and the obvi­ous love and care put into the cus­tomiza­tion sys­tem gives the game con­tin­ued life, even as it gets a lit­tle long in the tooth. The fact that new char­ac­ters and upgrades are still being released is fan­tas­tic con­sid­er­ing the game’s age.

With the sto­ry­line dic­tat­ing growth and the graph­ics engine need­ing to catch up to oth­er fight­ing game dar­lings, Tekken has its work cut out in keep­ing up with the sur­round­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Tekken 7 does an admirable job demon­strat­ing its sta­bil­i­ty and abil­i­ty to lead the pack as the King of the Iron Fist, and its longevi­ty and intu­itive fea­tures con­tin­ue to make it an attrac­tive option for those need­ing a fix from Mishi­ma and Co. Tekken 7 is good enough to keep its crown and can prob­a­bly shrug off new chal­lenges for the throne until its time for the eighth go-round. Long live the king.