X-Men vs. Street Fighter was the start of, without question, one of my favorite Fighting Game franchises. On the other hand, to me, XvSF will always represent the end of an era.
It’s hard to describe today, but it seems like the arcades of yore are destined to be a singular, unique creature in the history of video games. Nowadays, arcade cabinets are something of a novelty. Look, you’re in a diner lobby, and there’s a copy of Ms. Pac-Man. How quaint! I can play a video game here in this alcove while I wait for my table… as if my phone can’t already do that. Similarly, actual arcades are now relegated to theme parks and tourist attractions, just as much a piece of entertainment fluff as Guess Your Weight Booths or Strong Man Contests. You wouldn’t spend a dollar to fill a clown’s mouth with liquid at home, and you wouldn’t blow 50¢ a pop to play a round of a video game either, but you might in the happy, shiny environment of a Six Flags. Whatever the case, arcades have ceased to become a destination, and are now nothing more than charming reminders of a time when tokens could be more valuable than gold.
To put all my cards on the table, I’m a child of the 80’s. As such, there was never a time in my memory that I did not possess a color television, VCR, and all the modern appliances of today (man, was the washing machine interesting to a ten year old). If there was something on TV I wanted to watch, I didn’t have to watch it through a store window like some Dickensian urchin, I watched it on the couch, or maybe a beanbag chair. What’s important was I didn’t have to wear shoes. We didn’t have Netflix, but we did have the video rental joint (heck, even the local supermarket rented movies), so any film I’d ever want to see (Back to the Future, over and over again) was available with like a buck and dad’s membership card. Point is, practically from birth, I had been spoiled with a complete lack of reasons to leave the house.
But the arcades were something different. I could puke out another seventeen paragraphs about this, but let’s take a quick look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the arcade…
And then we’ve got the NES game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game.
See the difference? It’s subtle, but I think you might be able to notice a slight graphical shift between the two versions. Even beyond that, TMNT NES was merely a two player game, while TMNT Arcade could support all four ninja turtles simultaneously. Couple this with a few other quality of life improvements (I want to fight Bebop and Rocksteady together, dammit!), and no one would ever claim the NES version had anything to offer over its arcade cousin, give or take the ability to be squashed by a snowplow.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the obvious example, but so many arcade games absolutely demolished their console brethren. Double Dragon and Robocop barely survived the switch from arcade to console, and some games, like Strider or Bad Dudes, became completely different experiences on the couch. Some games could barely be ported at all, like “sit down” racing games and more complex shooting games that included their own guns. And some essential titles never bothered, like The Simpsons and X-Men: The Arcade Game (which featured an amazing six players!). Donkey Kong, friggen Donkey Kong, never received an “arcade perfect” port, and that game was shorter than Jump Man!
So, to a child of the 80’s, the message was clear: the arcades are where the real games are, and the consoles will always be pale imitations. Yes, by the SNES era we were receiving “better” ports like SNES Street Fighter 2 or TMNT: Turtles in Time, but, inevitably, these games were still, in some fashion, gimped. The Playstation took it a step further, with console and arcade Tekken blurring the lines between home and arcade, but there was definitely one place the Playstation was left lacking…
Depending on who you ask, Capcom invented the Fighting Game genre with Street Fighter 2 (and you can see how there might be a flaw in that reasoning if you stop for a second to consider the “2” in there), and, from then on, redefined “a good fighting game” over and over again. Darkstalkers springs immediately to mind, but there are also lesser known titles like Rival Schools, Red Earth, and Star Gladiator. And through it all, we all knew pretty much anything involving Ryu would be golden, whether it was the Alpha series or that one aborted attempt at integrating skeleton luchadores. So when it was announced that Ryu and his street fighting buddies would battle against the X-Men, well, suffice it to say there was more than a little hype.
Ultimately, the Vs. series was just an evolution of the X-Men: Children of the Atom and Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems fighting games that Capcom had already produced. Rather than create another fifteen 90’s X-Men sprites, Capcom decided to only manufacture a new trio (Rogue, Gambit, and Sabretooth), a new boss (Apocalypse), and populate the rest of the roster with reused Street Fighter Alpha 2 sprites. Granted, the Street Fighters gained new moves to properly compensate for a group of rivals that could literally kill with a glance, but, by and large, you can see how much of this game was a cost-cutting measure to continue exploiting a worthwhile license on a budget.
But, oh man, did it work.
Ryu vs. Cyclops, Ken vs. Wolverine, and M. Bison vs. Magneto were the “headliners” of the game, but it was kind of impossible to not have a favorite “who would win” matchup in that roster. My only complaint is that we never got the obvious Blanka vs. Beast match I’ve been waiting for for years (they’re both very smart! Blanka learned how to channel electricity from eels!), but we did get Rogue vs. Cammy, Storm vs. Chun-Li, and, my personal favorite, Zangief vs. Juggernaut. And if you were just an X-Men fan, there were plenty of choices: Spiral and Iceman might not have made the cut, but Rogue vs. Gambit or Sabertooth vs. Wolverine are classic battles. And former bosses Juggernaut and Magneto are right there for the picking, so if you want to be a bad guy with a punch the length of the screen, feel free. All around, X-Men vs. Street Fighter was a fun, and unique, fighting game.
Assuming you were playing it in the arcade.
A trademark of the Vs. series is tag-team play: you choose two characters, and may switch between them both over the course of the match. There’s a surprising amount of strategy involved there, as, not only should you choose the fighter best suited to the current opponent, but you can also swap characters so your prime fighter may rest and recover some vitality while the partner is out tossing fireballs. In later games, this would be expanded to include “summons” that allowed your partner to come out for a single move while your main fighter prepped for some other shenanigans. Honestly, it’s a very obvious addition to the 2-D fighter (King of Fighters says what?), but its “instant” implementation here never stopped being a blast.
Assuming you weren’t playing on the Playstation, at least. The Playstation couldn’t handle the tag-team play, so, sorry, you’re stuck with one fighter at a time, and the “partner” is relegated to the occasional counter or “Variable Combination”, which allows both of your characters to use a hyper move simultaneously. This dramatically decreases the strategy involved in the game (Cyclops becomes the only partner worth having. OPTIC BLAST!), and, couple that with the reduced framerates and muddier graphics, it was pretty clear the Playstation version was inferior to its arcade counterpart.
But, really, that’s what we all expected at the time. It was another arcade port, so, of course it can’t be as good as the arcade version. That’s how it works: arcade games are always better in the arcade. Duh.
Except, for my memory, that was the last time that happened. Yes, there was also Marvel vs. Street Fighter and, eventually, Marvel vs. Capcom for the Playstation, but they both wound up ignored for one reason (“Don’t I already have a vs. game?”) or another (“I got it on Dreamcast”). By the era of the Dreamcast/Playstation 2, and, specifically, Soul Calibur and Marvel vs. Capcom 2, arcade ports had become perfect. More than that, they had become better than perfect. Show me someone who spent as much time as playing DC Soul Calibur as Arcade Soul Calibur, and I’ll show you someone who didn’t know a system could be thinking. Poor, misbegotten soul. And, yes, as some of you have already no doubt leapt to explain, there was a “perfect” X-Men vs. Street Fighter port for the home consoles, and it was on the Sega Saturn, a system that, unfortunately, was only owned by drug dealers and the criminally insane.
So, to me, X-Men vs. Street Fighter will always be the capstone on the end of an era. This was the last game that made me think, “It’s cool, but I’d still like to play that arcade machine.” There are other factors, but, looking at it from that perspective, it’s no wonder that, following this game’s release, the arcade’s grip on the hearts and minds of gamers began to soften, and, within a console generation, the arcade would go from The Spot to a minor novelty remembered only by ranting old men on blogs.
X-Men vs. Street Fighter, you may have been the swan song of the arcade, but at least you sung it in style.
FGC #96 X-Men vs. Street Fighter
- System: Playstation for a gimped version, Sega Saturn for a good version, Arcade for the proper version.
- Number of Players: 2, because Fighting Game. We’d have to wait until Marvel vs. Capcom for the true four.
- Favorite Fighter: Split between who I like to use and who I want to be able to use. Rogue is awesome: I love her 90’s design, and, conceptually, I love her animations and special attacks that, really, boil down to “Superman that likes to punch things”. That said, I can barely win a match with her. On the other hand, I can somehow destroy everything with Dhalsim. Is he overpowered in this game? I’ve never been one for tiers, but it seems like he can zone like a champ in this one.
- Z-Fighters: All winning X-Men get an “X” silhouette background, but Street Fighters get… a stylized Z? I suppose it’s a holdover from Street Fighter Alpha 2, but it’s surprising how that little detail has aged poorly alongside the perennial Street Fighters featured in this game (their 90’s designs are their designs).
- Apocalypse Now: I want to say this is the first 2-D fighter I ever played to feature a gigantic, almost action-game-esque final boss. Apocalypse becomes screen filling in his final form, and he would eventually be followed by Onslaught, Abyss, and Galactus in other Vs. games. This was, incidentally, the best thing Onslaught ever did. Beyond that, it appears the Blazblue franchise and other “anime fighters” have picked up the tradition… which can be really confusing in an arcade mode that is over before you’ve even mastered your character’s super jump…
- Akuma Now: Akuma is, once again, the unlockable fighter of this game. Despite his “hidden” status, he’s right there on the cover of the game. Such is the amazing draw of the one and only Akuma.
- Did you know? I want to say this is the first game to include a lesbian kiss. I’m almost certain it’s the first game to include a lesbian-clone kiss.
- Would I play again: I want to say yes, but, no, it’s completely overwritten with either Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (which includes all the fighters seen here), or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (which is the more modern interpretation). I guess this game does include a Rogue that can steal special moves as opposed to just stat boosts, but that’s no reason to ignore any and all games that include Morrigan.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Kid Chameleon for the Sega Genesis! Aw, I thought we might get a full week of Capcom. No matter, this is still a good one… assuming you have like six continuous hours to kill… Please look forward to it!