Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Most Dubious Capcom Ports "Street Fighter Alpha 2 for Super Nintendo"

If there's one thing gamers know about Capcom, it's the love of the game. Capcom has been one of the most beloved developers by 1980s and 90's gamers alongside Konami and Nintendo. Most notably, franchises like Mega Man, Street Fighter, Resident Evil and everything in between spawned from these have kept fans coming back, and back and back again. So if you grew up in the 90's, you also know by now when Capcom makes a successful game series, there's a likely going to be as many as three more revisions coming right after that, followed by an avalanche of ports for virtually every current and yesteryear console to play them on.

Most notorious for this is the Street Fighter II series. Capcom made sure just about every single console got a version of the game. Not even counting the ports, we have the first spin-off, a worthy add-on Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, which enabled alternate color palettes and playable Shadaloo bosses. The home version Street Fighter II Turbo emulated this for the Super Nintendo. Then came Super Street Fighter II, bringing 'New Challengers' and redesigned art, Super Street Fighter II Turbo invites Akuma, the birth of the 'SUPER' combo and more alternate color schemes and lastly a Game Boy Advance port Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival which introduces all-new art and a slew of things to help compensate for the handheld's shortcomings. At the time, every Street Fighter (and that Alpha) port for Game Boy was dismal, so this game marked the uptick.

 When some of the games came home, like on the Sega Genesis, we get Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition, which was really just the Genesis version of Nintendo's Turbo and the arcade's Champion Edition. Most recently, they did it with Street Fighter IV. Super Street Fighter IV and then Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition. Arcade Edition? The game was designed and even debuted on PS3 and XBox 360! 

But it's accepted. It's tradition for Capcom to milk us, the franchises and the fans will keep buying every single Street Fighter Alpha port that comes our way. They know it. We all roll our eyes, but we love it because we just can't enough of that Street Fighter action. Like an irregular heartbeat, Capcom has strangely ported versions of games to dead or dying consoles for whatever reason, marking the company with a known history of questionable or dubious ports.

In this episode, we're going to look at Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the Super Nintendo. 

Street Fighter Alpha 2
Super Nintendo / November 1996
It's late 1996. Sega's Saturn had come out a few years earlier and wasn't doing too well in the North American market, butting heads and often getting stomped by Sony's Playstation. Factor in Nintendo having just released their 64-bit console to limited quantity, nearly impossible to find in stores, just in time for Christmas season. It was also the month Capcom released the Super Nintendo port of Street Fighter Alpha 2, which had just released on the Saturn and Playstation weeks prior. Wait, what? Two excellent, arcade apparent ports on the current generation CD-based consoles and then a Super Nintendo version? I remember it all too well, if you weren't busy being blown away by Super Mario 64 or scrambling to find an N64, you were likely playing or hoping for something else on Playstation, maybe Saturn. Nobody was thinking about the Super Nintendo much anymore: a console that was practically on its way out the door with maybe a few more planned games coming in the next couple months. But it was over, the SNES was finished, shadowed by a trio of newcomers.

Turns out the Super Nintendo port really isn't bad -- but not at all that great either. It won't take you long to realize this game just doesn't belong here -- and why it was ever developed. One of the most notorious aspects of the port is that of its inheritance of the worst aspects from it's Saturn and Playstation versions: LOADING TIME. Yes, loading on a Super Nintendo cartridge. Have we ever seen this before? And what's so hefty about what's going on here that requires loading? Castlevania IV, one of the console's most impressive graphical showcases doesn't have it. Star Fox and Stunt Racer FX which had that faux-polygon processing FX Chip, which pushed the graphical capabilities of the console far beyond what a 16-bit console was doing at the time doesn't have it. But this sprite-based versus fighter that we've seen done before hiccups aplenty before your eyes!

"FIGHT!" Err, rather, just wait a second or two.
While the game itself plays fairly well despite the usual missing animations, the music particularly, took a beating in translation. While the adaptations of the arcade music were done very well for many Capcom games on the Super NES, especially Final Fight and Street Fighter II Turbo, the same wasn't done here and the result is quite awful. Compare the music from the arcade's CPS board or even the later cleanly studio arranged music from the 32-bit versions against the SNES. Not pretty. 

Turns out the reasoning behind it and the load times was a special SDD-1 chip used to heavily compress 32-bit data onto a 16-bit console. The result is something of an experimental rarity: only two games including Alpha 2 ever used it, both in the last months of the console's life. I'd like to say it had relevance in advancing the Super Nintendo's capabilities, but it did not and likely wasn't fine tuned enough and just too late. By the time it released, the poor SNES (and SNES Jr.) was practically on clearance.

With a retail price of around $60, I have to believe many weren't going to chose this one over the CD ports, and only the desperate who weren't getting a Playstation that year were about to settle for this. At this juncture, for a cartridge, why not just develop an N64 version? Capcom has been very loyal to its fans on fading consoles, likely to command market share because that's the only reason that comes of this oddball port. But developing games near the end of a console's life isn't foreign. They did it with the NES, releasing as many as four games in 1994 long after most other companies jumped ship to develop for the bigger, better deal. Today, those last few NES Capcom games are worth around $100, fodder for collector's.

Though I rented the SNES port of Alpha 2 in its heyday purely out of curiosity, I tossed it aside and popped in my Saturn version, which I contend to be one of the best revisions of the game, outside the later released direct arcade ports on the Street Fighter Collection and Alpha Anthology. This port was quickly ushered to the bargain bins, where I finally bought one for $20 out of pity, opportunism and fanboyism. I never had any intention of playing it, so it's been sitting sealed on my shelf ever since. To make matters worse, Capcom attempted to squeeze everything they didn't make out of this one by releasing it on the Wii's Virtual Console.

Stay tuned for the next episode, where I'll explore another Capcom fighter in our series of Most Dubious Capcom Ports.

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