Ah, Street Fighter. It's been a while since we had a good new one, but like an old friend fallen on hard times, you'll always have the memories of better days. And what better way is there to celebrate the former glories of Capcom's flagship fighting series than to relive them? Street Fighter Alpha Anthology not only represents an excellent opportunity to do just that, but is also one hell of a bargain thanks to its budget price point.
The Street Fighter Alpha series was born out of a need to deliver a worthy follow-up to Super Street Fighter II without jumping straight into development of Street Fighter III, and so started a prequel series whilst bringing in conventions and graphical style from the Darkstalkers series. While it never achieved the phenomenal success of Street Fighter II, thanks in part to the emergence of Tekken and other 3D fighters, the Alpha series is still held by many fans to be the zenith of the series.
This compilation takes in the entirety of the Alpha series: Street Fighter Alpha: Warrior's Dream; Street Fighter Alpha 2; Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold; Street Fighter Alpha 3; and, as an extra bonus, Super Gem Fighter: Mini Mix (also known as Pocket Fighter), a super-deformed fighting game which takes in characters from several Capcom fighters.
Super Gem Fighter is probably the weak link in the collection, bringing simplified gameplay. but adding a gem collection system to power up your character and use of the elements to freeze or burn your opponent. It's an interesting enough game and the graphical style is cool (if occasionally seizure-inducing), but in this context, presented along with some of the most refined fighting games ever produced, it feels like little more than an obstacle to get to the unlockables. More on those later.
Street Fighter Alpha, although the first and least sophisticated in the series, still holds up as an excellent fighting game which laid the foundation for the rest. The anime-styled graphics are in place, and the multi-levelled super combo bar, cribbed from Darkstalkers and expanded from the single bar introduced in later versions of Street Fighter II, is fully implemented. The game is as excellent as ever, even if it's unlikely to be played much due to the relatively meagre selection of characters when compared to the sequels.
It's Street Fighter Alpha 2 where the brilliance really kicks in. The gameplay doesn't differ hugely from the original, but the character roster is expanded and graphically the game is far better, with improved character animation and highly detailed backgrounds. Gold is essentially the same game, but with the additions made to the original home conversions - new characters and classic versions of the Street Fighter II characters, amongst other minor tweaks. This is arguably one of the best fighting games of all time and is worthy of the price of admission alone.
The final game is Street Fighter Alpha 3, which is by far the most graphically impressive of the Alpha tetralogy, with a vast selection of characters taking in every fighter from every version of Street Fighter II, as well as the entirety of the Alpha crew and its own new additions. It's also the instalment that makes the most radical gameplay changes, with the super combo bar replaceable with the single bar from Super Street Fighter II or the new variable combo system through the selectable fighting systems, or "-isms". Whether or not it's actually the superior game to Alpha 2 is open to debate, but the presence of both of them on one disc is undeniably good value.
For fans of these games, dumping them all on a disc would probably have sufficed, but to its credit Capcom has added plenty of enhancements. The PAL version thankfully includes a 60Hz option to play the games at the correct speed and also, for those with high definition televisions, it's playable in progressive scan - an excellent feature to have on such fast-moving games. Additionally, tucked away in the options is an anti-aliasing filter to smooth out the jagged edges of these decade-old sprites. I found it made the games look worse, but it's there for those who prefer their screen coated in Vaseline.
As an extra incentive to play through everything, there are a number of unlockable alternate versions of the games to the extent where you can play any arcade revision, so if you want Street Fighter Alpha 3 with Vega's Izuna Drop damage bug still present, go for it. Completists will even find a number of hidden "-isms" for Alpha 3, including the parry move from Street Fighter III. The only thing that would have been nice to have that has been inexplicably removed from the English-language version is the moves list, a feature that would make mastering so many characters in so many games far easier. There's no reason for it unless they're intent on selling guides.
The PlayStation 2 controller is decent from a 2D fighting perspective, but it should be noted that the design of the D-pad as four separate buttons can be very uncomfortable after prolonged periods when used to perform the half and quarter-circle motions that are fundamental to these games. I certainly have a blister to prove it and fans may want to invest in a decent arcade stick or fighting controller. This isn't really the fault of the game but is worth noting nonetheless.
Street Fighter Alpha Anthology is how a retro compilation should be done. It's reasonably priced and provides a comprehensive compendium of these superb games, with plenty of content for both hardcore and casual fans, and accurate conversions of the arcade originals. An absolute bargain.