Where do I begin singing the praises of the Street Fighter series? It's had a hold on me since I first saw the original game at my local arcade, and I've followed it through versions 2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, etc., etc., et cetera already! through SFIII and its various encores. I've probably logged more time on Special Championship Edition for the Genesis and Street Fighter Alpha on the Saturn than most people spend with their kids in a typical year. And I haven't regretted a minute of it, no matter how many times M. Bison cheaped me out or Gill demolished me.
Does II plus III equal a perfect 10?
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection contains Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, a game that allows you to use characters from all the official SFII titles against one another. While you can't play, say, SFII: Turbo from beginning to end, you can use a character from that game against one from Super SFII. The look, sound, and feel of whomever you choose will be intact, meaning the earlier version of a fighter will often have fewer moves but may compensate in other ways. For example, the oldest version of Ryu can't do an Air Hurricane Kick, but he can't be knocked out of a Dragon Punch the same way his later self can. Original Guile seems especially overpowering at first, even though he's missing some of his glitchy tricks from the original, but he doesn't have the super combo his SSFII: Turbo self wields. No more complaining about watered-down favorites - in this collection you can play them all, strong and weak.
The main appeal of the series is its simultaneous depth and accessibility. Mastering a handful of moves can pay off handsomely, since quarter-circle and half-circle motions and charge and tap moves are used across characters. Learn to play Guile and you are two-thirds there with Blanka and about half the characters in any SF, master the Dragon Punch and fireball and you're in business with most of the rest. Because you don't have to pore over move lists to find 95% of the moves, you can not only pick up and play one character, after a very brief time you can be "conversational" in all the styles. However, though the motions are the same, the moves come out at different speeds and angles, and each special move can usually be done with three different levels of intensity, so there is plenty of nuance to master.
In both II and III, the idea is to progress through a tournament to a final showdown with a megalomaniacal super-powered boss. II has the more memorable characters and arguably the more memorable music, but Third Strike delivers in spades when it comes play mechanics and graphics. Truthfully, either game is worth mastering, but Third Strike's fighting system is far richer, even if its characters are flatter.
The oft-copied fighting system is based around three punch and three kick buttons, fast and weak on one side and slow and strong on the other. SFIII and Super SFII:Turbo also include a super combo meter that gradually fills as you fight and block. In addition to blocking, III has the option of parrying a move by hitting forward to meet the attack a split-second before it would otherwise connect. This takes relatively great skill, but there is a training mode and a mini game to help you polish your parrying in a danger-free environment.
Both games are customizable as far as number of rounds per match, difficulty level, and other basics, but as you play Third Strike you will unlock even more options, like toggling throws and air blocks. TS also allows you to choose from among three hyper combos or "Super Arts." Fighters differ in not only the strength and priority of their moves but in how easy they are to dizzy. Super Arts differ not only in the range they cover and the amount of damage they deal, but in how many can be stored and how fast they can be charged up. When you factor all that in with buffering moves (starting one move as another is being completed), canceling one move into another, passing through projectiles with some Super Arts, the way some Supers stop early if they are blocked, and enhanced "EX" versions of special moves that use up some of the combo meter, you can see that this is a game that demands your full attention. SFII has the basic elements of all this, but Third Strike takes it to the major leagues.
And if making the most of your moves isn't enough to force you to concentrate, the AI is. Even on the low difficulty settings, the computer is tough. And the bosses, Bison and Gill? Forget about it. Gill can wipe you out just like that if you aren't focused. May I suggest laying down some pillows to catch the errant thrown controller?
When you're this good, you don't need extras, but . . . where are the extras?!
I was having so much fun with the World Warriors that I almost didn't notice that this disk was kind of light on extras for an anniversary collection. The most glaring omission, of course, is the very first Street Fighter, but at least some biographical material would have been nice. The series has such a rich history, not just in the games themselves, but in tournaments, strategy guides, and especially artwork, that leaving it all out is a real shame. Capcom did include the American version of the Street Fighter anime, censored to meet the disk's Teen rating. I have the Japanese original release on tape somewhere, and I noticed the English language version is heavy on weenie voices and mood-deadening music, so I'm not exactly thrilled that this is the only major extra. Had Capcom packed in the goodies, this definitely could have been an essential, five-star collection.
The best goodies are actually outside the game. As usual, the official strategy guide is also heavy on extra artwork, and even comes with an SFIII soundtrack. The real impressive items, however, are special PS2 controllers from NubyTech (see below). Each comes with six action buttons and a hologram of a Street Fighter on the face. The art on both the controllers and the packaging is striking, with Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, and Akuma performing a signature move. Too bad nothing this cool came with the game.
So yeah, if you have Third Strike and Alpha 3 already, you can sit this one out. There's nothing crucial here that you can't find elsewhere. Capcom has always been of the "just a little bit more than last time" mindset and it shows here. But that's served the company well. I remember when the uppercut motion and the 360 were the hardest part of the game, then it was pulling of the hyper combos. Now I see top players parrying multi-hit combos without a thought. The series has suffered a lot of criticism for its frequent incremental upgrades, but the tweaks to balance and control have kept people playing and resulted in some seriously dedicated fans. Having all these characters in one place is great, but I have a feeling an even better version will be out next generation.