Hit me baby…one more time!

In the early ?90s, most players’ idea of a LAN party was huddling around a coin-operated arcade machine in a smoky room surrounded by other gamers and skulking, dubious looking types. One of the main reasons we risked our lives and our money in some of these places was to play games like Street Fighter 2. A sequel to 1987’s one-on-one frenetic fighting game Street Fighter, Street Fighter 2 far exceeded the quality of the previous game, and would itself, throughout the ?90s see various enhanced versions, including Street Fighter 2: Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting, The New Challengers, and what would prove to be the final arcade iteration, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo. Having enjoyed an illustrious career on virtually all consoles since the release of the arcade version, Xbox owning Street Fighter fans can now get their hands dirty once again with Ryu, Ken and the rest of the gang in Street Fighter Anniversary Collection.

First impressions of this package are favorable. Containing (essentially) two games, the anniversary collection consists of Hyper Street Fighter 2 – basically an update of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and Street Fighter 3: Third Strike. Hyper Street Fighter 2 will be familiar to anyone who has played Street Fighter 2 or any of its four upgrades. It is wonderfully nostalgic to be able to pick up this game with all your old favorites once more within familiar settings. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike will likely be a pleasant surprise to many gamers, as it was (and indeed is) a worthy successor to the Street Fighter 2 series. It features a host of improvements, which may have slipped by unnoticed for many of the arcade elite, while remaining faithful to the basic gameplay that makes it a Street Fighter title.

In terms of gameplay Hyper Street Fighter 2, is an odd proposition. Besides being a faithful conversion of SSF 2 Turbo, it also allows you to choose characters with their complete move-sets from any of the previous four games. While sounding like an awesome idea, unless you are indulging in copious amounts of multiplayer, the benefits may be lost on many gamers. In terms of the single-player aspect, you may want to choose ?original’ Ryu from Street Fighter 2: The World Warrior, and you can. However, the game does not allow you to tweak the A.I. opponents in the same fashion, so irrespective of which game you choose a character from, the A.I. will always be a HSF 2 character. Considering this is essentially a port of SSF2 Turbo, that should not be surprising, but it is an unfortunate oversight if you are a purist and not too fond of the updated titles. The gameplay in SF3: TS is a natural evolution of the previous series, and any player familiar with a Street Fighter game will be right at home. Bearing a great deal of similarity to its predecessors, it still has some unique refinements all its own – primarily a new parry system, which allows for the ability to make fast counterattacks against unsuspecting opponents. As with all fighting games, much of the value comes from the multiplayer aspects, and the anniversary collection does not disappoint.

HSF2 is as great as most gamers will remember, and the previously mentioned single-player issue with character matching is a non-issue here. Nostalgic gamers will be able to create any ?dream match’ they so desire. Want to pit SF2’s Blanka against SSF2’s Turbo Dhalsim, go ahead. Or maybe you want to go back to basics and match up SF2’s Ryu and Ken for the ultimate old-school battle? You can do that too. Street Fighter 3 loses out somewhat in its multiplayer aspects, and not in terms of gameplay, but rather in terms of choice. You do not have the breadth of options that the other title in this package offers, but you do, as with all Street Fighter titles, have the ability to play some superbly balanced matches against interesting foes. As anybody who likes these games can attest, there is little better than being able to play against a similarly skilled opponent. For those players with Xbox Live, finding a worthy opponent should be even easier. The Live options contain the same familiar faces, and matchmaking is nicely customizable, allowing you to see open matches for each option set you choose. Actual online matches are smooth and relatively lag free, so reclaiming that feeling of being in a smoky arcade with a trash-talking second player is just a login away.

Unsurprisingly, in a graphical sense, the main draw here is SF3. The animation is superbly fluid, and the character designs fall somewhere between the ?realism’ of SF2, and the anime look of the Alpha series. Backgrounds are also drawn with the same level of detail, and feature various animated elements that are either incidental or triggered by a player having their face pummelled into the floor by an irate opponent. HSF2, while still looking good today, has not really advanced from its original graphical style. Having been on gaming machines since the 16Bit era, most gamers, unless new to the series, will see little that they haven’t before, although the character and background animations are perhaps the most complete they have been for several iterations.

Much like the graphics, all of the favorite old musical tracks are present within HSF2. In an interesting twist, Capcom has seen fit to include three different soundtracks for the game. The original SF2 music is selectable, as are the remixed tunes that first appeared several games later in SSF2, and there is also an arranged soundtrack that, well, doesn’t sound as good as either of the previous two. SF3 also has a surprising blend of tunes that range from Asian-inspired tunes on some characters’ backdrops, to some rather excellent hip-hop tunes for others. Like in the other anniversary collection title, you have a choice of the original soundtrack, or an arranged version, which is not as bad as you may fear, although purists may want to stick with the original tunes for that truly nostalgic feel.

Replay value with this collection obviously depends on whether multiplayer gaming is within your grasp. Gamers with access to Live should have no qualms about picking this up if they are Street Fighter fans, while gamers who have other versions of these games may well wonder what (besides the online play) all the fuss is about. One other element worth mentioning is the inclusion on the disc of the full-length Street Fighter 2 animated movie. This is definitely a welcome addition, although some unfortunate dubbing, and censorship issues may annoy people who already own an original uncut version.

Overall, this is a bittersweet package for expectant Street Fighter fans. The ?Anniversary Collection’ title is actually somewhat misleading. Despite looking and playing like Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, it isn’t entirely that game, nor is it entirely any of the other games in the series, either. This is definitely an odd situation for fans, as they will inevitably find something that they miss. It would have made more sense to the fans if Capcom had chosen to include full, and separate versions of all the games whose elements are included here, and the absence of the original Street Fighter, or any of the Alpha series are sore omissions. What we do get, however, is an interesting new amalgam of several seminal fighting game titles, as well as a movie and the highly overlooked Street Fighter 3, which is arguably worth this software’s retail price alone. For arcade dwellers of the early ?90s this is an easily recommendable purchase, for younger gamers looking to see where it all started, look no further.

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