I’m a professional computer geek, but I’ve never analyzed the specifications of my cherished video game systems. From the Atari to the Playstation 4, I’ve made a conscious decision to stay away from looking at the nitty gritty of any given gaming hardware, because, frankly, I don’t want to know. I know that I can get… obsessive about details, and, like avoiding checking my checking account balance every five minutes, I figure I’ll be happier if I don’t know that game x is only using 80% of the processor speed, and, ugh, this game would be so much better with a proper frame rate. I like Clerks and Star Wars The Force Awakens equally despite their wildly disparate budgets, why should I judge Cave Story against Super Mario Galaxy just because they happen to be on the same system? We’re well past the point when graphics or framerates were the be-all end-all of gaming (if such a time ever existed) so knowing the exact specs of any given hardware isn’t going to give me a good idea of whether or not its games are “good”.
And, really, with that in mind, as a layman to the idea of platform functionality, there have been very few occasions when I “noticed” the failings of any given hardware. I always (eventually) upgrade to the most modern gaming consoles not because I’m sick of looking at yesterday’s graphics or because I need that many more zombies on my screen, I upgrade because Final Fantasy 13 isn’t going to be on Playstation 2, so it’s time to upgrade to Playstation 3. Come to think of it, I have never upgraded to a newer system for anything other than the latest iteration of a franchise, whether that be Mario, Final Fantasy, or… Toejam and Earl. I’m not proud. Point is, if they had kept making NES games, I’d have kept buying NES games… and my functioning NES and games like Shovel Knight and Mega Man 9 seems to prove that. Okay, I know those games couldn’t really work on old school hardware, but maybe that’s the point? Thanks to not worrying about hardware specs, I can fondly recall old systems as less “hardware” and more “an aesthetic”. Ah, the neo-classical 8-bit days…
But the good old days weren’t always good, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 is as bad as it seems.
Now, I want to be clear here: I really like the Street Fighter Alpha series. For one thing, right from the start, it fully embraced the anime aesthetic of Street Fighter 2: The Animated Movie. Street Fighter 2 has practically become a part of my DNA, but I was never really fond of the general “look” of that game. Can’t really tell you why, but if I had to put it into words, I’d say that the designs of Street Fighter 2 look more like an animated adaption of the WWF, while Alpha is decidedly Dragon Ball. Maybe I like super beefy Bison, or this has become a retroactive fondness for the Alpha sprites thanks to the Vs. series, but whatever the case, I know I didn’t give Chun-Li a second thought until she started fighting on the Great Wall of China. And, while Alpha seemed like more of a random experiment than anything else, Street Fighter Alpha 2 really started to seem like its own series that incidentally happened to feature some familiar faces. And Street Fighter Alpha 3? It’s one of the best Street Fighter games, period, and I’d play it over Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (its closest analogue in the SF2 series) any day. Heck, I think I like SFA3 better than Street Fighter 4 (pick the version of your choice).
Street Fighter Alpha 2 even gets a special place in my heart because it introduced my most common Street Fighter go-to: Sakura. Like Dan and Akuma, she’s another variation on the Ryu mold, but unlike her male contemporaries, she seems to be a perfect combination of “weird” and “actually fun to use”. Yes, I know she only really appears in Alpha and 4, but she also snuck into Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and she might be my favorite character to actually play as in that overcrowded roster. I’ve always said that the shoryuken should have more horizontal windup.
So, as an officially recognized arcade rat and lover of Street Fighter, I was looking forward to Street Fighter Alpha 2 for the SNES back in the late 90’s. Following the tradition of roughly every other Street Fighter hitting the SNES (Street Fighter 2, no champion edition, Street Fighter 2 Turbo, Super Street Fighter 2, no super 2 turbo), Street Fighter Alpha (1) completely missed the system… but here’s the superior sequel, anyway! And, yes, this game was released for those “next gen” systems, but who cared about those? I didn’t want Tekken, I wanted more SNES hits like Chrono Trigger and Yoshi’s Island. Why upgrade to new hardware when the SNES is pumping out hit after hit? Street Fighter Alpha 2 arrived the same Christmas as Donkey Kong Country 3, so obviously we’re dealing with a very healthy platform.
Except… not so much.
Street Fighter Alpha 2 is more than a little compromised to fit the confines of the SNES. I was always one to “believe the lie” when it comes to arcade ports or sprite reuse (Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is one of my favorite fighting games, and it was years before I noticed [at another’s insistence] that its sprites had a number of frames clipped from earlier, more expressive versions), so when I was told SNES Street Fighter 2 was “arcade perfect”, I believed it, because it’s not like I was dragging the ol’ fat TV into the arcade to compare. But here, in this Street Fighter, it’s more than a little obvious…
At the time, I wouldn’t have been able to enunciate exactly why I thought it was wrong, but I would have been able to tell you that… something got lost in the trip from the arcade to my basement. A game doesn’t have to be 100% arcade realistic… but it should be somewhere in the ballpark, particularly for a game as pretty as Street Fighter Alpha 2.
And then there’s the worst part: load times. Every match starts with an announcer shouting “Fight!”… and then a significant pause as the game catches up. First of all, load times are annoying, that’s a given. But even beyond that, the pause is right as the match starts, so, until you learn to figure out the exact delay involved, you can pretty much kiss scoring a first hit goodbye, because you better believe your opponent has no problem with the interruption.
Today, these load times are just an annoyance, but back in ’96, this was practically salt in a gaping wound. I was a Nintendo kid, and had decided that the N64 was the only system I would ever need. I didn’t have many concrete reasons for this lifestyle choice, but one of the few irrefutable facts I could hoist in the direction of the haters was that the N64 was cartridge based, so I wouldn’t have to sit around waiting for discs to load like on the hated Playstation or irrelevant Saturn. No load times! That and Mario 64 were all we had! And here was a cartridge game on my beloved SNES (home of Secret of Mana!) that had load times! Betrayal most foul!
Within six months, I would own a Playstation. By the following Christmas, I would have already completed Wild Arms, Final Fantasy 7, Tekken 2, and Mega Man 8. I completed the abhorrent Beyond the Beyond through sheer, dogged determination (“I will make this purchase worthwhile!”). By New Year’s Day, 1998, thinking about the SNES as anything but old news would seem quaint. Most of my friends had already sold their old systems, and only ever held that “ancient” ABXY controller at my place for the occasion round of Super Bomberman. The old generation had passed, and the new gen of CDs and Z-buttons reigned supreme.
If it hadn’t been for Street Fighter Alpha 2, I never would have seen which way the wind was blowing. Yes, I would have bought the N64 (actually… I think I already had), and, yes, I would have bought the Playstation (alright, I would have begged my grandparents for a Playstation… same difference when you’re 14), but I never would have felt that the SNES to N64 was anything but an involuntary transition. Forced obsolescence, right? No, SFA2 proved that SNES’s obsolescence was anything but forced, and we’d squeezed every last drop out of that 16-bit hardware. Time waits for no generation, man or hardware, and Akuma was the reaper du jour.
Not a bad lesson to learn from a game about face punching.
FGC #106 Street Fighter Alpha 2
- System: Super Nintendo was the point of this whole article, but it was also available for the Playstation and Sega Saturn. And arcade, of course. I can’t speak to the other system ports, though, as I waited until Alpha 3 to pick up on the series again.
- Number of players: Two, which is the apposite number of street fighters.
- Any more modes than the launch version of Street Fighter 5: Don’t think so.
- Favorite Character: It’s Sakura. We already covered that. Really, I’m trying to find a way to phrase “inevitably I was going to gravitate toward the one that looks like Sailor Moon” without sounding like a creep. I was thirteen, alright?!
- It makes less sense every game: How do all these guys afford airfare to fly around the world, fight for two minutes, and then fly off to some other country? Sakura is a high school student! Zangief doesn’t even own a shirt!
- Final Fight: We’re still a game away from jailbird Cody, but Guy, Rolento, and Sodom all officially make the Final Fight universe square with Street Fighter in this edition. Alpha 1 already had Sodom and Guy, but that game was already coasting on dubious canonicity.
- Did you know? As a bit of a SNES bookend, Sodom is known as Katana in Final Fight (SNES) and Street Fighter Alpha 2 (SNES). It even reads “Katana” on his truck’s custom license plate. The name change didn’t stick, though. I wonder why Capcom never decided to “correct” the Bison/Vega/Balrog trilogy…
- Would I play again: This version? No. Street Fighter Alpha 2 in general? Probably not, because I vastly prefer Street Fighter Alpha 3. Sorry, but, you were great at the time, but times change.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Fable 3! Oh, I shall be king for a day. Or queen. Whatever it takes, really. Please look forward to it!