Friday, October 31, 2014

Viva Oktober-Fist... and Horror Gemonth! Darkstalkers

I was all set to eschew Anne Lee's Horror Gemonth and do my own thing, but then I remembered Darkstalkers. Out of the hundreds of fighting games released in the 1990s and beyond, it's my absolute favorite, and with a cast of creepy monsters, it's the perfect way to celebrate Halloween. How do I love Darkstalkers? It may take a while to count all the ways.

One of the best reasons
to own a Saturn.
(image from Giant Bomb)
One: Darkstalkers was the first fighting game to look incredible and play the part. Before its release, you usually had to settle for one or the other. Street Fighter II was brilliantly designed but had an unremarkable art style cribbed from 1989's Final Fight. On the flip side of the coin was Martial Champion, which had colossal characters but rather dismal gameplay and a dearth of special attacks. Darkstalkers stretched the boundaries of video game visuals with its color-drenched backgrounds and clever animation, but it was a great game even without the window dressing. Darkstalkers got even better in the sequels, leading to...

Two: Darkstalkers was the reason I bought a Sega Saturn. Hell, I was so impressed with the Saturn port of NightWarriors: Darkstalkers' Revenge that I bought the game months before I owned the system! There was a conversion of the original Darkstalkers for the more popular Playstation, but it was outsourced to Psygnosis and suffered from all the usual shortcomings of early PSOne arcade ports. Beyond that, NightWarriors was more refined, with extra characters and the option to fill your super meter up to nine times. Playing the game with the Saturn's fighting game-friendly joypad was also a better option than the Dual Shock or its predecessors.

The Darkstalkers cast. Really, how
could you not love these guys?
(image from Popcults)
Three: Darkstalkers has a brilliant cast of characters. The game was originally supposed to star monsters from the Universal Studios film library, but the creatures dreamed up by Alex Jimenez and touched up by Capcom's art staff are so much better. You've got a vampire who shows his dark side whenever he attacks, a ghostly samurai with a cursed sword, a hyperactive feline fatale with a massive mane of hair, a punk rock zombie, and a werewolf who actually looks like a wolf and not some guy who fell face-first into a puddle of Rogaine. Future games included everything from a kyonshi with Swiss Army sleeves to a ruthless bounty hunter disguised as Little Red Riding Hood, making the cast even more deliciously demented.

Four: Darkstalkers is a pretty good reason to own a Vita. Although Darkstalkers Chronicles: The Chaos Tower was designed specifically for the PSP, it's even better here thanks to the system's vivid OLED screen and a more responsive D-pad. The system's four face buttons hurt the game a little, but it's still extremely playable... just set the shoulder buttons to three punches and three kicks and you're in business.

Five: Darkstalkers had a cartoon, which... uh, forget the cartoon.

Fear this reaper.
(Image from NowGamer)
Six: Darkstalkers was an important evolutionary step for Capcom games and the fighting genre as a whole. The chain combo system is similar to the ones in Killer Instinct and especially the Marvel vs. games, which would come years later. It also ran on more advanced hardware than the first few Street Fighter games, broadening the horizons of the art staff and paving the way for Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, and competing games like the Guilty Gear series and Skullgirls.

Capcom hasn't released a Darkstalkers sequel since 1998's Vampire Savior, and because of the middling sales of the Darkstalkers Resurrection collection on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, it doesn't look like we'll ever get one. However, the last two games in the series have aged pretty gracefully, and are tremendously fun to play whether it's Halloween, Thanksgiving, or a week from next Tuesday!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Viva Oktober-Fist! Learning to Love Tekken

And goofy haircuts.
It's been nearly twenty years since the Tekken series first debuted in arcades... and it's taken me about that long to find the charm in the franchise. However, after picking up the PSP version of Tekken 6 at a steep discount, I'm determined to squeeze every drop of entertainment out of it that I can.

Some things I've learned from my time with Tekken:

* It doesn't hold a candle to Street Fighter X Tekken, but it looks pretty darned nice for a PSP game, and is more than acceptable on the beefier Vita. The fighters' faces are more detailed than the rest of their bodies, but you don't notice much when the camera's zoomed out. What you do notice are the attractive backgrounds, including a dimly lit backlot with train tracks in the distance and ground zero at a messy tomato festival.

* It's technical, almost to the point of obscenity. I went to Tekken Zaibatsu to look up a moves list for the Jackie Chan-esque Lei Wulong, and it was a daunting fourteen pages long. Seriously, count 'em for yourself! Some attacks are dependent on your position, your opponent's position, your distance from the wall and the other fighter, the current lunar phase... it's complicated, is what I'm saying.

Newcomers to Tekken 6 include Miguel and
the creepy contortionist Zafina.
(image from Modojo)
* The combat system seems like a random jumble at first, but things start to fall into place after a few dozen matches. There's a button assigned to each of your fighter's limbs, which isn't far removed from the two punch and two kick buttons in most Neo-Geo fighting games. Pressing a punch and kick button together throws your opponent, while pressing both kicks (usually) switches stances. You can move around the playfield by double-tapping up or down, and charge toward your opponent by double-tapping toward them. Running sets up some interesting possibilities that weren't available in Virtua Fighter... if you do it from halfway across the screen, you can tackle your rival for minor damage. Do it from a greater distance and you can shoulder check them for a lot more. 

* Never stop attacking. Whether they're on their feet, on their back, or stuck in mid-air, your opponent is always vulnerable, so keep that punishment coming! It may not seem sporting to kick a man (or woman, or panda, or wooden automaton...) while they're down, but unrelenting aggression is a big part of what makes Tekken Tekken.

* I'm a little surprised by how personality-impaired these characters are after playing Street Fighter X Tekken. You get comments before and after every match that offer some insight into each fighter, but the outrageous facial expressions and exciting cinematography from SFxTK are deeply missed. Tekken 6 is too grim for its own good, although there are rare moments when a sense of humor creeps into the gameplay. After all, one of the stages is set in a Swiss pasture, complete with wandering sheep and yodeling!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Sublime Scrap: Dreamcast Fighters (part 1)

The Dreamcast was one of gaming's most fascinating paradoxes. It was a 21st century console that came to the party a few years early and left just as the festivities began. It had all the good games in 2000, while the Playstation 2 got all the attention from customers. It courted a young male demographic, yet had a distinctly feminine, sterile design, looking disconcertingly like a Japanese tampon dispenser. Considering Sega's misfortunes in the late 1990s and its eagerness to abandon the Dreamcast shortly after its American debut, perhaps this peculiar system shouldn't have existed at all... but gamers were nevertheless glad that it did.

Captain Parakeet here is tougher than he looks.
(He'd just about have to be!)
Without a second analog stick or the horsepower of later consoles of its era, the Dreamcast didn't do everything well... but one genre it mastered was the fighting game. Arcade hits that were a challenge for the Playstation and Saturn were no trouble at all for the Dreamcast, and it was capable of so much more. Soul Calibur and Dead or Alive 2 are still considered some of the best games in their class, and even the bad fighting games don't seem so awful in hindsight. Take Plasma Sword, for instance. This Dreamcast conversion is barely improved over the Playstation-powered arcade game, with flat levels and noticeably boxy character models. It's hardly brimming with technique, either, but it's still dumb fun to cut down a motley assortment of cyborgs, hairy giants, and space cockatiels with your light sab... er, plasma sword.

Freeze, punk! (Sorry.)
Mortal Kombat Gold is another Dreamcast dud that's sweetened with age. It's painfully dated next to the 2011 Mortal Kombat remake (even the Vita version!), with stiff animation and splatters of blood that look more like scattered gems. However, it at least plays like classic Mortal Kombat, which is more than can be said for the dreadful Deadly Alliance and its sequels. It's fast and frantic, and the addition of weapons doesn't gum up the works like the many pointless features in the Bush-era Mortal Kombat games. (Why give each character three fighting styles when none of them are any fun to use?) The two on two battles are also a welcome feature, although you can't swap fighters on the fly like you can in Mortal Kombat 2011's tag-team mode... one character just leaps into the fray after the first explodes in a shower of blood and limbs.

Tennis the Menace.
The Dreamcast fighting games that were pretty good in 2000 remain so today, although I'vestill got mixed thoughts about Rival Schools 2 after all these years. On one hand, it's the best high school-themed versus fighter in a crowded market (trust me, there are a lot of these in Japan), with outrageous parodies of familiar student archetypes. You've got a surprisingly tough bookworm, a big-breasted cheerleader, and a dozen flavors of athlete, ranging in size from a tiny tennis phenom to a (literally) barrel-chested sumo in training. It's hard not to love a cast this crazy, but the gameplay is a harder sell. It borrows from a handful of previous Capcom fighting titles, resulting in an awkward patchwork that doesn't play as well as any of the games that inspired it. Combos feel stiff, jumps don't have enough horizontal reach, and in an unwelcome change from the first game, super moves can be interrupted with a brief showdown which the computer opponent usually wins. It's not Capcom's best work, but Rival Schools 2 certainly has its moments. There's nothing like calling out your massive partner to shrug off hits meant for you, then flatten your would-be assailant with a tooth-shattering blow!

My money's on the walking tank.
One Dreamcast game I didn't get to play back in the day was Tech Romancer, but after trying it in an emulator I wish I had. It's not fighting in the traditional sense, but rather an epic battle between giant robots. Each metal colossus is based on a character from a popular Japanese cartoon- for instance, Giant Kaiser is a dead ringer for Mazinger Z- and the action follows suit with bright colors and big explosions. I haven't gotten the hang of the gameplay yet (super moves are possible... somehow) but I really like what I've seen so far. It's way more approachable than Virtual On, which offers all the confusion of piloting a fifty foot tall metal soldier without much of the fun. It's just a shame about the title, which brings to mind a really uncomfortable fetish.

I'll cover some of my favorite Dreamcast fighters in a future update. Believe me, there are a whole lot of them!

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I've seen some stupid things from the Game-Я-Gate* mess, but this has to take the lead paint-frosted cake. Just... just look at this.

Listen, you little rectal wart. There's no feminist hiding in the bushes, hoping to extract the challenge from your video games. Nobody's taking away your killy-killy-bang-bang games packed to overflowing with blood, swearing, and barely covered breasts, either. Hell, there's a new title on the horizon called Hatred, which true to its name is the most antisocial yet.

Let's dispense with the absurd hypotheticals and talk about something that did happen to me ten years ago.

(walks into video rental store)
ME: "Hey, do you guys have Culdcept?"
CLERK: "No. What the hell is that?"
ME: "Well, what about Katamari Damacy?"
CLERK: "Nope, don't got that one either."
ME: "Well, what do you have?"
CLERK: "What we got is over there."
(motions over to a shelf with eighteen copies of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I kid you not, there were at least that many copies on the shelf)
ME: "Lovely. Look, don't you have anything a gamer from my generation would like?"
CLERK: "We stock what's popular. If you don't like it, buy something from a store."
(storms off grumbling)

So you'll understand when I say that I have no sympathy for the legion of überdorks who complain that the hobby is being taken from them. None, nien, zip, zilch, goose egg. You seemed all too eager to push old-school gamers like myself into the periphery by demanding polygonal games with all the whimsy of the latest Saw movie. Guess what? Now it's your turn to watch helplessly as the industry caters to a new audience at your expense. 

Besides, it's not like you're really losing all that much, since you've got way more options than I did in Playstation-dominated 2004. There are three next generation game systems, two older but still currently supported ones, two handhelds, hundreds of tablets and smartphones, and PCs with about a dozen different game distribution services. Believe me, you have options. And you'll have plenty of opportunities to satisfy your bloodlust. After all, there will always be room for that lowest common denominator schlock, as long as there's room in the video game industry for a movement as moronic as Game-Я-Gate.

To make a long story short (and at the risk of ending a sentence with a vulgar preposition), shut the fuck up.

* Yeah, I'm not spelling out the hashtag as it appears on Twitter. I don't need the flood of assholes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This victory has strengthened the soul of... Gabrielle!

My new video card has opened the door to a world of cutting-edge gaming... yet I find myself returning to the fourteen year old Dreamcast library. The emulator NullDC runs the bulk of the system's library with ease, while bumping up the resolution of polygonal games to a crowd-pleasing 1440x900. That's, uh... (counts on hands) a buttload of pixels. Maybe even a buttload and a half!

I've learned a few things from my reunion with the Dreamcast. The first is that its graphics have gotten a little creaky in the decade and a half since the system's launch in 1999. The games we loved the most still look fantastic, but they're not always an accurate reflection of the Dreamcast experience. Many of the system's titles- even very good ones- are tarnished by boxy limbs, repetitive backgrounds, and coarse textures. The previously savaged reviewed Virtua Fighter 3tb is a good example of this, but so are more warmly received games like Power Stone and Rippin' Riders. Aside from a small pool of standouts, Dreamcast titles could never match the visual luster of later Playstation 2 games. 

We'll never know for sure how far the DC could have been pushed if it had been supported past 2001, but I tend to think that it would have hit a brick wall in 2003, around the time the Prince of Persia remake had been released for its competitors. I recall a friend offering this unflattering description of the frame rate in the Dreamcast version of Shenmue 2: "Just step into a crowd and watch the slideshow." No wonder it was an Xbox exclusive in the United States...

The other thing is that the Dreamcast was the 20th century's best system for fighters... not even the Neo-Geo and Saturn could touch it. Heck, it can even run Neo-Geo CD games with the aid of an emulator, and without the absurd load times that took a sledgehammer to any enjoyment players could have gotten from an actual Neo-Geo CD. The Dreamcast could play 2D games like Street Fighter III: Third Strike that were beyond the Saturn's reach, along with 3D games that wouldn't have been possible on the dated Playstation hardware. Take Soul Calibur, for instance. The arcade game ran on modified Playstation hardware, but the Dreamcast version was significantly improved, with the rough polygonal edges smoothed out and a bounty of console-exclusive features.

Oh yeah, that brings me to the other other thing I noticed while playing Dreamcast games. After looking at the Soul Calibur cast, I've noticed that Greek warrior Sophitia is a dead ringer for another Mediterranean hero, Xena's sidekick Gabrielle. Just look at the two of them side by side! No way that's a coincidence. It's amazing how much developers cribbed from the likenesses of celebrities in the days before gaming hit it big.

(Poor Xena: Warrior Princess. It was a fun show before Hope and all that Quantum Leaping.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Night Vita-Thon II: Dead and Loving It

The Vita is doomed! DOOOOOMED!

But it's still fun. Here's a few games I've played on the system lately.


Shiny on the surface but retro at its core, Pix the Cat is a smart reinvention of the classic maze game. It seems simple at first, with your wide-mouthed feline scooping up duck eggs, but the eggs quickly crack open, leaving you with a trail of hatchlings. You'll quickly be trapped by your brood if you don't drop the ducklings in nests scattered throughout each level. Just when you think you've got the hang of it, skulls, mines, and serpentine passages arrive to further complicate matters. If the action gets too intense, you can switch to a puzzle mode where fast reflexes take a backseat to careful planning. Between the fluorescent graphics and a wealth of features, Pix the Cat will make fans of Pac-Man Championship Edition and its sequel very happy... although they won't be as thrilled with its obscenely long load times. A-


Most Wanted is a shotgun marriage of the white-knuckle action of Burnout and the more realistic racing of the Need for Speed series. It's a forced pairing which will leave fans of both series satisfied, yet somewhat underwhelmed. The customization that was at the heart of later Need for Speed games has been kept to a minimum, while the crashes of Burnout aren't as frequent or exciting. The gameplay most closely resembles Burnout Paradise with its dozens of events scattered across a vast playfield, but it's a dingy rust belt town without the appeal of Paradise City. Having said all that, there's fun to be had in Most Wanted if you're willing to look for it. Races (although often too long) are still packed with excitement, and you can launch your car off ramps and into billboards, just as you could in Burnout Paradise. Chases by an ever-growing swarm of cops are the secret ingredient that makes Most Wanted more than just the diluted offspring of two of gaming's biggest racing franchises. B-


This one gave me warm, fuzzy memories of Phantom Dust, an obscure action game on the classic Xbox that was equal parts Power Stone and Magic the Gathering. In both games, you charge into battle with a handful of pre-chosen abilities, ranging from weapons to shields to healing items. However, Soul Sacrifice Delta lets you keep all of these powers at your fingertips, rather than having to frequently run back to home base for a recharge. It's also got a more entertaining storyline, courtesy of a living book which instructs you how to bring down the demon sorcerer Magusaur... when it's not subjecting you to withering insults. With its nightmarish setting and the option to slaughter defeated enemies to strengthen your magic, Soul Sacrifice Delta isn't one of the more optimistic games in the Vita library, but it's undoubtedly one of the best. A-


Whoever said "looks aren't everything" clearly wasn't on the Netherrealm staff when they were making Injustice. This fighting game starring the heroes and villains of DC Comics is the definition of style over substance, with fighters being punched through buildings, fed to sharks, and charging after each other in clashes worthy of an episode of Challenge of the Superfriends. In fact, the designers packed so many awesome sights and sounds into Injustice that they barely had any room for gameplay! Like other iffy fighters, it limits itself to three mostly random attack buttons, with a fourth button reserved for character-specific abilities. It makes memorizing each character's special moves tougher than necessary... not that you'll want to stick around to learn them after you've seen every super move and level transition. C


There's an unwritten rule in fighting games that there has to be an oddball to round out the cast of generic karate experts, lightning-fast ladies, and brawny wrestlers. For Street Fighter, that was stretchy-limbed yoga master Dhalsim, and for Virtua Fighter, it was the perpetually drunk Shun Di. BlazBlue rewrites that rule by making all of its fighters the weird one. The closest BlazBlue has to an ordinary character is the vaguely Ryu-esque swordsman Ragna the Bloodedge; the rest of the cast includes a frantic cat girl, a child puppeteer, a creepy amorphous shadow, and a scarlet-clad martial artist armed with a pole and massive breasts. BlazBlue's bag of mixed nuts are brought to life by Arc System Works' crisp artwork and some surprisingly deep back stories, but the peculiar fighting styles and life bars that take an eternity to drain might make BlazBlue a hard sell for players who already own the faster, more intense Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter X Tekken. C+

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fighter's Misery: Virtua Fighter 3tb

I'm very disappointed in you, Sega.

Granted, it wouldn't be the first time. Sega's offered a steady stream of disappointment since the well-intentioned but badly botched Sonic Spinball. However, Virtua Fighter 3tb is the company's most bewildering blunder. Since its debut in 1993, Virtua Fighter was critically important to Sega; perhaps even more than its mascot Sonic the Hedgehog. It helped ease Sega into the 3D gameplay that would become dominant in the 21st century. It was the fighting game other fighting games wanted to be, as evidenced by Tekken and Dead or Alive. It was one of the few titles that made Americans seriously consider buying a Sega Saturn.

And this is the send-off it gets on Sega's last game console.

Pants... too... shiny! Can't... concentrate!
Admittedly, Virtua Fighter 3tb isn't a bad fighting game. Well, it is compared to other fighters on the Dreamcast, and the original arcade game, and players' expectations after Virtua Fighter 2 on the Saturn. When judged on its own merits, however, it's... okay. I mean, it's recognizable as Virtua Fighter. You've got the usual punch, kick, and guard, along with a button that grants some rudimentary 3D movement. If you press it, oh, about thirty times, you can lure the opponent to the edge of the playfield and knock them out of the ring. The stages are more organic than in previous Virtua Fighter games, with dips and hills in the topography. However, it doesn't add much to the action beyond window dressing, and it's not nearly as exciting as knocking your foes off buildings and down stairs, like you could in Dead or Alive 2.

There's a sumo wrestler somewhere in
that mess of polygons, I swear!
I tried, I really did, but it's hard not to compare Virtua Fighter 3tb to other Dreamcast fighting games. The graphics are well below the standards of fellow launch title Soul Calibur, with sharp-edged polygons that frequently clip through each other. The developers tried to disguise the low poly count with an extra helping of gouraud shading, but the hasty paint job only highlights the fighters' creepily skeletal finger joints and scraggly hobo hair. 

Virtua Fighter 3tb has a (tacked-on) team battle mode, but without the robust character selection of Project Justice, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, or King of Fighters Evolution, it gets repetitive in a hurry. If you fought Aoi in one match, don't be surprised if she comes back for revenge in the next. Adding to the boredom is the fact that you can't swap partners on the fly or double-team your rival. What you can do is wait five seconds for your next fighter to load after losing a round, which is all the time you'll need to reset the game and play the traditional arcade mode instead.

Finally, the game lacks the thrills of Dead or Alive 2 or Fighting Vipers 2, with a leisurely pace and little to distinguish it from previous games. Sure, you get a couple new characters, but one's not especially memorable and the other is a generic sumo wrestler Sega would like to forget, writing him out of later games. 

Luckily, that includes Virtua Fighter 4 for the Playstation 2, which set the series on the right track after Virtua Fighter 3tb derailed it. It's fun, it's gorgeous, it's readily available, and there's even an update with more characters and some compelling bonus features. Its only real flaw is that it's not on the Dreamcast, but Dreamcast owners are used to that kind of disappointment.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys? Terra Cresta

Look, I'll start writing about fighting games again really soon, I promise. Right now, though, I want to show you something I turned up while doing research for an article on Hardcore Gaming 101. (I'm writing something for them! I know, I'm excited, too!)

It turns out that Terra Cresta, the overhead view shooter that I'd reviewed last month for Shmuptember, was more popular in its home country than it was here in the States. In fact, it was so popular that it inspired its own toy, with another coming soon. Here's the first one, released in the 1980s:

This is the Double Detach & Combine Terra Cresta. All five ships from the game come together to form the mighty Wing Galiber. But that ain't all, folks! Since turning the ship into a phoenix would probably just melt the plastic, the manufacturers took a page from Voltron and made the alternate form a towering robot. Observe!

Yes, I've seen better robot toys too. This Pixiv image posted by MIP makes him look more presentable. I'm not sure if MIP himself drew this or if it was promotional artwork for the toy, but either way, it was worth sharing.

Special thanks to Marionette Mind for the images.

This may have been the first Terra Cresta toy, but it won't be the last. Takara Tomy plans to release its own Wing Galiber at the end of the year, as part of its Shooting Game Historica EX series. Only concept drawings of the toy exist so far, but I have every confidence that the finished product will look a lot better than the Double Detach & Combine Terra Cresta figure.

You can pre-order the Wing Galiber from AmiAmi (where I got the picture) or my favorite online retailer of import gaming goods, National Console Support. At sixty dollars or more, it'll tear a big chunk out of your budget, but nobody said this hobby was cheap!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

He Slices, He Dices! The Ballad of Strider 2

I'm gonna take a break from Oktober-Fist... you know, soak my bruised fists in Epsom salt for a little while, and talk about an unrelated game I picked up for my Vita. Strider 2 was recently released on the PSN download service, some fourteen years after its debut on the PSOne, and as a Capcom fan from way back, I just had to have a copy for myself. The game's gotten a mixed response from Strider fans, and it's not hard to understand why, but let's discuss the good news first.

A knight on a robot horse? Sure, why not?
(image from
And here's your headline, ladies and gentlemen... Strider 2 is a welcome return to Capcom's CPS1 days, with a dash of modern technology to make it go down smoothly for players raised on polygons. Futuristic ninja Hiryu and his many foes are hand-drawn, but the backgrounds are three dimensional, adding cinematic flair to the manic gameplay. Like the original Strider, it's got a barely coherent action film vibe, with Hiryu scaling German castles, charging down booby-trapped hills, and slicing through massive enemies which burst into a shower of blue coins. It rarely makes sense, but man is it ever stylish!

Strider 2 includes an arcade-perfect port of the first game, a blessing for long-time fans who won't be happy with the ways the sequel differs from the original. The first Strider was a viciously tough platformer which demanded precision and sharp reflexes from players. If you could beat the game, especially on the Sega Genesis where continues were meted out as generously as orphanage gruel in a Dickens novel, you were worthy of all the praise your friends could muster. 

Which disc plays Strider 2? The answer
may surprise you!
(image from JustGoVintage)
By contrast, the only skill you need to beat Strider 2 is the ability to press the Start button in twenty seconds. It's a classic button-mashing arcade experience, giving the player a generous life bar and all the continues they can eat. If Hiryu falls off a cliff, he's returned to solid ground with a little less health. If he dies in a spastic crescent-shaped explosion, he can return with no lost ground and no penalty aside from an unflattering grade at the end of the stage. It's easy, is what I'm saying. Easy and mindless, in the same way that Final Fight and Metal Slug were. Foes blindly run toward you, and you cut them to ribbons. Occasionally, you bound over chasms that would have presented a challenge to Hiryu in 1989, but are no threat now that he can double jump.

I actually dig this style of gameplay, and have been too busy soaking in the sights and sounds to complain that Strider 2 is being spoon-fed to me. I'm fighting the Ton Pooh triplets in rush hour hover-traffic! I'm hacking up parka-clad thugs as penguins merrily march past me! I'm picking up barrels and cows and the stars of long-forgotten Capcom games for points! I'm having absolutely no difficulty doing any of these things, and I don't care! However, you might want to reconsider buying Strider 2 if a silly little thing like challenge means something to you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Days of Future Past: Street Fighter III vs. Garou: Mark of the Wolves

"I knew Street Fighter III. Street Fighter III
was a friend of mine..."
I like SNK. In fact, I probably like the company more than it really deserves. Through the years, SNK has piggybacked on the success of games like R-Type, Final Fight, and of course Street Fighter II, while rarely meeting the standards set by those groundbreaking titles. Sure, they'd stumble across the occasional masterpiece, like the Metal Slug series. However, more often than not, SNK's games would be the RC Cola to Capcom's Coke... perfectly palatable, but not quite up to snuff with the real thing.

Right back at 'ya!
That tradition of second-bestery continues with Garou: Mark of the Wolves. Designed as a direct response to Capcom's Street Fighter III games, Garou is a pleasant continuation of the South Town series and a welcome departure from the messy Real Bout games, but it's no match for Third Strike. The new characters aren't as imaginative, the gameplay lacks Street Fighter III's relentless aggression, and the Neo-Geo shows its age next to the CD-quality sound and buttery animation of Capcom's CPS3 hardware.

Rock Howard: The next generation of
South Town heroes.
However... however. Garou is an excellent game considering the advanced age of the Neo-Geo hardware, and it does a nice job of expanding on the South Town mythos. Characterization has always been the one thing SNK consistently did better than Capcom in the 1990s, as evidenced by the game's star Rock Howard. He's the orphaned son of South Town villain Geese Howard, raised by Fatal Fury's Terry Bogard and possessing the skills of both fighters. Capcom didn't give players much reason to care about its paper-thin characters, but if you've been paying any attention to the South Town series over the past two decades, you'll care about Rock. Does he have the pure heart of his foster father, or is he destined to travel down the same dark path as the elder Howard? It'll be the motivation that drives you to finish the game in spite of SNK's predictably infuriating final bosses.

Mark of the Wolves isn't as good as Street Fighter III: Third Strike. Given the history between Capcom and SNK, I doubt anyone expected it to be. Nevertheless, as a conclusion to the Fatal Fury series and the last truly important fighting game on the Neo-Geo, it's good enough.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Viva Oktober-Fist! Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX

Tastes great, more fighting!
(image courtesy of RickDavisPhotographic)
It's officially Oktober-Fist, so step up to the bar and have a nice frothy mug of whoop-ass! Our first selection is Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX, originally brewed in 1998 and served in a chilled mug we call the PSP eight years later. It's even more refreshing in 2014 thanks to the crisper screen and the fighting game-friendly joypad of the PS Vita.

Like trying to stuff Godzilla's foot into
Cinderella's glass slipper.
(image courtesy of the Street Fighter Wiki)
All right, enough with the strained beer metaphors. MAX isn't the first time Street Fighter Alpha 3 was released for a handheld game system... it was ported to the Game Boy Advance four years earlier by British development team Crawfish Interactive. However, as valiant as that effort was, it was still burdened with compromise... not just the kind of compromise that the limited hardware made necessary, but the compromise of a cartridge that was much too small for the designers' lofty aspirations. The sixteen megabyte cart size demanded by Capcom meant that stages had to be cut, voices needed to be recycled, and the World Tour feature from the console games had to be trimmed down to a simple character edit mode. There are rumors that a more complete GBA version of Street Fighter Alpha 3 exists in some form, but since Crawfish disbanded shortly after the retail game was released, it's unlikely that it will ever surface.

Two opponents for the price of one!
(Image courtesy of
Luckily, Street Fighter Alpha 3 was less of a handful for the PSP. The spacious UMD format left more than enough room for all the features from the console versions of Alpha 3, plus a few extra bonuses. (Well, Ingrid from Capcom Fighting Evolution counts as a bonus, right? Right? Hello...?) It's not just a more complete game, but a more satisfying one thanks to the PSP's cutting-edge hardware. The characters are larger, the soundtrack no longer has a shrill chiptune edge, and the control improves considerably with four face buttons instead of two. Alpha 3 on the Game Boy Advance is good for what it is, but it's hard to imagine why anyone would slum with it when it's so much better on the PSP... and better still on the Vita.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 introduced Sakura's
rival, the Nellie Oleson-esque Karin.
(Image courtesy of Fighter's Generation)
How does it compare to past Street Fighter Alpha games, though? Well, to be honest, the X-Games presentation of Alpha 3 was a turn off to me, at least at first. You get a lot of flashy ticker tape messages, a more intense soundtrack, and a fight announcer so obnoxiously earnest, some CPS2 emulators give you the option to turn him off completely. ("Beat 'em up, guys! Go for broke! I sure hope my check from Capcom clears...") However, like so many things from the 1990s, the revamped look has sweetened with age. What seemed like desperate trend-chasing then seems charming now; a nostalgic snapshot of a bygone age. The high-energy presentation also lends a sense of urgency to each fight which the previous two Alpha games lacked. When the pace has shifted into fourth gear and your heart is pounding along with the thumping background music, the stakes- and the excitement!- of each battle are raised considerably. I didn't see the wisdom of the turbocharged design in 1998, but it makes a lot more sense in hindsight.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Velkommen Oktober-Fist!

Okay, Anne Lee's had enough fun. This time, I'M going to declare a month! Since tournament fighters are among my all-time favorite video games, I'm going to brand the next thirty one days Oktober-Fist. There are plenty to choose from, so pick a favorite (or even an obscurity) and give it the love it deserves. Alternately, you can pick a terrible fighter and tear it to shreds, like I used to do on my old web site. Either one'll work... I ain't picky!