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.