Street Fighter Alpha Strike Again !!!!!!!!!!

Ah, the days of wailing on opponents stuck in screen corners. Has it really been slightly more than a decade since the original Street Fighter Alpha came out? Pinch yourself, then pinch yourself again, because Capcom’s gone and released the ultimate Alpha anthology, and yes, it holds up just fine if you’re partial to fighters that don’t flash polygons and swooshy 3D camera angles, and which (mostly) forego depicting women as nimble-limbed exhibitionists of bouncy over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders. In fact as nostalgia grails go, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology’s as good as golden.
Take a whole fruit basket of Alpha games: Alpha, Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold, and Alpha 3, and (without rhyme or reason) add the goofy Super Gem Fighter Mini-Mix, originally released on consoles as Pocket Fighter, and Anthology is like getting an everlasting box of Cracker Jacks with a happy mess of hidden prizes. No, it has no special bonus interviews or commentary tracks, or developer post-mortems, but as anthologies go, it’s comprehensive and arcade-faithful from top to bottom, and that should buzz even the steeliest diehards.
The Street Fighter series rates an easy “iconic” in videogame-dom. Street Fighter Alpha: Warriors’ Dreams arrived in 1995, a few years after the legendary Street Fighter 2 (and its various hyper/turbo/champion editions), and was intended to be an overhauled prequel of sorts. Carrying forward just a few of the popular Street Fighter 2 characters and introducing scads of new ones, Alpha sported a more anime Darkstalkers look and added things like blocking while jumping, three-tiered “super” meters that held their charge between rounds, and “chain combos” which strung normal attacks together in devastating succession. Fans of Street Fighter 2 were split, some digging into the new visuals and punched-up battle-fu, but many others decried it as rushed, minimally innovative, and significantly unbalanced.
Magic Numbers Two and Three
Played in the anthology pack, it’s evident the latter group was in fact right (or moreso anyway), and you’ll probably agree the series didn’t find its stride until Alpha 2. Released in 1996 a year after the original, Street Fighter Alpha 2 corrected Alpha’s balance issues and removed the overwrought chain combo system in favor of customizable ones and the more timing-centric back-and-forth fighting for which the earlier non-Alpha games were revered. Loading it or its director’s cut cousin Alpha 2 Gold (the only arcade-imperfect translation—it’s still missing battle mode) again after all these years, it’s a little unnerving how much fun swatting a red-Speedo-clad Russian Zangief around with Chun-Li can be, and as with Alpha, this PS2 port moves and feels arcade identical.
But almost no Street Fighter fan would quibble with slapping the “best-loved” award on Street Fighter Alpha 3—a game so popular it’s still making rounds on systems like the PSP (though the latter version, called Street Fighter Alpha 3 Double Upper, strays notably from arcade-fidelity). The PS2 translation is once again spot-on and includes: all the characters available in the previous versions plus new ones, the “ISM” fight-style selector which impacts everything from combos to super moves, combo-juggling (hitting a character more than once using the same combo in succession, or while they’re still reeling from the last one), and the ability to recover from falls in mid-air by hitting all three punch buttons at once. This was the pinnacle of Street Fighter gaming in its heyday, and Anthology’s worth picking up for Alpha 3 alone.
Finally, Super Gem Fighter MiniMix is a funky little throwaway brawler using super-deformed versions of popular series characters. It was originally released for the Playstation and panned for its dumbed-down combat. Maybe you grew up playing the original Alpha games, have since gotten married, and now have young children—this one’s for them, not you.
Tweak Your Ride
Weirdly, the anthology offers the option to dump the whole shebang onto your hard drive (for the one or two of you that actually own one) if you have 2 GB free. Word on the street is this speeds load times a bit, but frankly with just the CD alone, those load-ups feel like little skips compared to the CD-screeching potholes you tend to hit with today’s data-beefy 3D fighters.
Other perks include the ability to slap a visual “filter” over everything. Sure, it’s a glorified “blur” tool, but the 2D “jags” looks a lot nicer with it flipped on. You can also customize any button on the controller, and if you beat each game’s single player mode, you’ll unlock extra games, including a special version of Alpha 3 that dishes up new characters and fighting styles, or the brand new Hyper Street Fighter Alpha which lets you pit inter-series character against each other in versus mode.
What a legacy. Ports for Game Boy, SNES, Playstation, Saturn…even Windows for Pete’s sake, and as a tournament centerpiece, more or less influencing everything that came after—you might as well karaoke Chaka Khan and sing “I’m every fighter” as this series’ anthem. And with a dearth of top-notch fighters on next-gen hardware, Street Fighter Alpha Anthology may be just the thing to wile the summer months away: Gem Fighter for giggles, Alpha for nostalgia, Alpha 2 to see how a few critical tweaks can re-unite divided fans, and finally Alpha 3 for the whole caboodle and sheer pleasure of 2D fighting perfection.