Let’s pour one out for the concept of videogame characters as actors.
Today’s title is Cannon Spike, what could best be described as one of Capcom’s final arcade experiments. The same company that revolutionized the arcades by establishing at least two genres (crediting beat ‘em ups to Final Fight and fighting games to Street Fighter 2) while pumping out more than a few general hits for two decades basically attempted to create a twin-stick shoot ‘em up for the arcade and Dreamcast. Such a genre would become very popular around when the Xbox 360 started warring against Geometry a few years later, but in 2000, Cannon Spike was showcasing a fairly unexplored genre. And it was character based! No space ships for this shooter, it’s all about actual humans (give or take) zooming around and shooting on… roller blades. Okay, one kid has a skateboard. Look, this was clearly designed in the late 90’s. Don’t have a cow, man.
But this makes perfect sense for Capcom, as its bread and butter was earned through bright, colorful, memorable characters, rollerblades or no. Final Fight was a dumb beat ‘em up, but Haggar-mania led to more than a few dudes walking the streets sporting that glorious “one-suspender strap, no shirt” style. Mega Man’s host of robot masters guaranteed everyone had a favorite robot (I’m fond of Snake Man), and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts had some monsters that became so popular, they got their own games. Even Capcom’s JRPG division gave us the wonderful world of furries that is the Breath of Fire franchise. And Street Fighter 2? After the wholly forgettable duds of Street Fighter 1 (sorry, Birdie, but you know it’s true), the cast of SF2 was nothing but solid gold that got us to a point where “generic sumo guy” has more renown than the car manufacturer that also bears his moniker. And by 2000, we had seen Street Fighter Alpha and Street Fighter 3. Say what you will about SF3, but no one is ever going to forget battling a final boss that can rock a banana hammock so hard. Face it, in the era of Cannon Spike’s release, Capcom was the absolute best at creating remarkable characters, and every other gaming company should have just gone home to be a family man. Why would Capcom generate a generic shoot ‘em up ship when it could build the game around characters as extraordinary as those Street Fighters?
Or, here’s a thought, let’s just go ahead and use those Street Fighters wholesale. Is Cammy doing anything else this week?
The cast of Cannon Spike is very familiar. They might be wearing slightly different outfits, but Cammy of Super Street Fighter 2 and Charlie of Street Fighter Alpha are immediately recognizable. Arthur of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts returns, too, but he’s encased in a vaguely familiar suit of golden armor. Shiba comes compliments of Three Wonders (look it up!), and Simone is technically original, but clearly has origins in a shared, licensed title. And, just for giggles, the two secret characters are B.B. Hood (of the Darkstalkers franchise) and Mega Man (of the Dr. Wily and his Rambunctious Robo Pals franchise). Give or take how much you believe in the omnipresent threat of xenomorphs, the cast of Cannon Spike is entirely recycled from other Capcom titles, complete with expies of Vega and Felicia on the villain’s roster. If you were a fan of Capcom and saw Cannon Spike’s player select screen, you were looking square at a screen full of familiar faces.
But… isn’t Charlie supposed to be dead? Aren’t Mega Man and B.B. Hood from another time and/or dimension? Arthur shouldn’t be palling around with robots! He’s from some silly medieval time that hasn’t even properly worked out pants-based technology! Is Cammy fighting Vega because of a Shadaloo-based sleight? And where does that leave Chun-Li? What’s going on here?!
And the answer is a resounding “it doesn’t matter”.
Cannon Spike is not “canon” with the Street Fighter universe. Cannon Spike is not canon with any universe, Capcom or otherwise. Mega Man and The Hood feel like cameos, but Charlie, Cammy, and Vega are very much their own characters that just happen to resemble other videogame stars. You can count on these heroes and villains to behave similarly to their other-universe doppelgangers, but they’re their own men and women, with their own motivations and lives. Charlie never died fighting some evil organization, because this is his first evil organization. Cammy was never brainwashed (or grown?) by Bison, because there is no Bison. And Arthur never fought a legion of demons, because this is a world generally devoid of ghosts and/or goblins. You know these characters. You might love these characters. But these are not the characters you are used to seeing.
And that can be pretty great sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, I love continuity as much as the next nerd. But sometimes it’s nice to throw off the shackles of continuous stories, and just have fun with the basic archetypes involved. Arthur and Mega Man are always going to fight for justice for the sake of righteousness. Charlie is always going to be a hero that is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. Cammy is always going to like cats (it’s part of her ending!). But consider that the Street Fighter story has technically been going strong since 1987, and has definitely been rigid since Street Fighter 2 in 1991. Include “sister series” Final Fight in that equation, and you have 30 years and hundreds of characters that have to be accounted for every time you tell a Street Fighter story. So wouldn’t it be nice to just have a game where Charlie doesn’t have to worry about being an undead abomination, and he’s allowed to zoom around on rollerblades? So can we have more games where Samus Aran doesn’t have to constantly reference her daddy issues, or where 2-B can run around without bearing the weight of the world? Can’t these characters from famous franchises just be like “actors”, and, like when you see Tom Hanks light up the cinema screen, you can just smile at the appearance of good ol’ Charlie once again?
Apparently the answer is no, as even “simple” characters like Mario are stuck with decades’ worth of continuity. Link has to consult a complicated timeline involving multiple dimensions before he can even get out of bed, and Mega Man is overwhelmingly tied to a chronology that sees the literal end of all humanity. Yes, while you’re having fun steering Mega Man through Coffee Man’s latest maze of zany traps and colorful robots, remember that this all ends with global catastrophe and thousands of years of mavericks warring against elves. It seems our heroes are stuck with histories that are often older than the people playing their games, and we’re not allowed a simple, Bugs Bunny-esque “he’s an opera singer now, just roll with it” reprieve. Even when we see such a thing, it’s generally because a director has gone soft on characters that were created for a dud, like when the cast of Snatcher kept migrating over to the Metal Gear universe. For reasons that have never been adequately explained, videogames are stuck with continuity like a bad case of crabs, and Mario doesn’t seem to be getting around to clearing out this sewer.
But at least we have Cannon Spike. At least we have one Capcom game where the heroes don’t have to explain themselves, and we can all just have fun runnin’ n’ gunnin’ on some anonymous secret base. At least this Charlie gets to have a life that doesn’t end before Street Fighter 2 even begins, and an Arthur that isn’t shackled to a literal hell world.
It just goes to show: to enjoy a company’s canon, sometimes you have to spike it.
FGC #518 Cannon Spike
- System: Sega Dreamcast and Arcade. Modern gamers are going to have just the easiest time playing this one!
- Number of players: Two! And it’s cooperative! It’s pretty great!
- Port-o-Call: Cannon Spike has the unfortunate issue of being a quarter-killer arcade title that limits credits on the home version. I completely understand the concept behind adding challenge through limitation here, but maybe we could have an infinite credits cheat for those of us that don’t want to play the first level over and over again? Actually, I think the first level is randomized… but still!
- What’s in a name? Charlie is definitely named Charlie, not Nash like he is in Japanese territories. But the flamboyant murderer with a claw hand is named Balrog, ala his Japanese moniker, not Vega, his more familiar, American designation. So it appears there was some localization here, but not an awful lot.
- Additional Names: One boss is a trio of mech opponents. They seem to be named according to their robot colors: Rick Blue, Bob Green, and Ken Brown. I don’t know about Rick, but Bob and Ken wind up with incredibly mundane names, which seems a little unusual for gigantic fighting robots.
- Favorite Character: I like every character except Shiba, who refused to be an actual dog. That said, if I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Mega Man. Don’t look at me like that! I have a type!
- Other Crossovers: There aren’t any members of STARS, but there is a haunted mansion with zombie dogs, giant bio-monsters, and at least one peculiarly rotting guerilla. This is all an obvious allusion to Resident Evil, but the setting and the bullets flying fast and furious also evokes Sega’s House of the Dead franchise. Maybe this was an homage to another company that was having issues with the fall of the arcades?
- An End: Cannon Spike not only has individual endings for every character, but it also has unique endings for every 2-player pairing of characters. An obvious advantage of this situation is that Charlie dies in his own, solo ending, but survives every other ending where he has a buddy around. An unfortunate side effect of this, though, is that every ending with Mega Man almost exclusively focuses on the Blue Bomber… which kind of gives the impression that Rock jets off on Rush while his partner is left to explode. It… does not portray our favorite robot in a favorable light.
- Did you know? Cammy gets a Cannon Spike costume in Street Fighter 5, and it impacts her win quotes against Charlie and Vega. Unfortunately, Vega doesn’t get the same courtesy, which is a shame, as his Cannon Spike look of “emaciated, murderous zombie” is pretty distinctive… assuming you don’t just think he looks like Mumkhar.
- Would I play again: Oh yeah, I kinda forgot to talk about the gameplay. It’s fun! It’s a lot of skating and shooting and could be pretty entertaining for an hour or so on a modern system. I’d play Cannon Spike again in a heartbeat… assuming there was an easy way to do that.
What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Smash TV! Wow! It’s twin stick shooting before twin stick shooting week! Or something! And there will be fabulous prizes! Please look forward to it!