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"Man… Don, this bootleg version of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition is great. Ken and Ryu should be able to do those hurricane kicks in mid-air in the real game, and Chun Li would rock if she had a fireball. I'm going to let my hair grow long so I can look more like Ken."

So went the conversation between myself and Don Tam back in 1992 while playing a hacked version of the Street Fighter II: Champion Edition arcade game that somehow made its way from Hong Kong into Spaceport, the local arcade that was once situated on 44th avenue in Seattle's University District. The rest of the conversation involved Don's desire to "do" Chun Li, my disgust that his ugly and then-28-year-old sister was always coming on to me (I was 16!), and the upcoming release of the Super NES version of Street Fighter II–which changed my life–but none of that is important.

What is important is that Capcom went on to give Ken and Ryu the ability to perform hurricane kicks in mid-air in the next iteration of the game, called Street Fighter II Turbo Hyper Fighting, and then gave Chun Li a fireball in the following update, called Super Street Fighter II. The last game in the series was Super Street Fighter II Turbo, which came out in 1994. Street Fighter II revolutionized the fighting game genre, and all of these subsequent updates just made the game better and better and better. But, all of these later versions also started debates about whether or not later versions of characters could beat older ones, and wishful thinking about what it'd be like if you could pit Champion Edition characters against Super Turbo characters, and so on.

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Street Fighter franchise, Capcom has come up with a "brand new" version of Street Fighter II called Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, and its purpose is to satisfy some of those decade-old curiosities. The game is included as part of the company's Street Fighter Anniversary Collection , which also happens to include Street Fighter III: Third Strike as part of the package's $29.99 cost.

Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition

My opinion on Hyper Street Fighter II continues to sway back and forth.

My right brain thinks it's great that Capcom took all of the old SF2 games and "smushed" them into one game. That's right–Hyper SF2 is not a compilation of individual games, but rather an amalgamation of various aspects of each of them. You can pick and choose between the "World Warrior," "Champion Edition," "Turbo Hyper Fighting," "Super," and "Super Turbo" versions of each of the 16 available characters; the game contains all of the character sprites, win/loss portraits, voice effects, and music files from each of those games. This lets you put those old fantasies to the test. Want to see if "Super Turbo" Chun Li with her fireball can stand up to "Champion Edition" Dhalsim (without a teleport move)? You can. Want to put the brute strength of "Champion Edition" E.Honda or Ken against the quick yet weakened "Hyper Fighting" variations of those characters? You can. That's what Hyper Street Fighter II is all about.

My left brain is bothered by Capcom's choice to cheap out with regard to the backgrounds (from Super Turbo only) and the announcer (f**king "Big Bird" from Super Turbo), and by the way the CPU A.I. has been programmed–It's cheap , doles out twice the damage of human-controlled players, and only picks the Super Turbo versions of the characters. Considering that Capcom went to such lengths to include every different character sprite, win/loss portrait, ending, and music track from each of the five games, it's disappointing that you can't vary the backgrounds or change the announcer. The way the CPU has been programmed is the bigger issue though. I don't mind the cheap A.I. much, even though it is a shame that Capcom didn't use the behavior patterns from previous SF2 games just for authenticity's sake. What I do mind, very much so, is that the CPU only picks the Super Turbo playing style and gets a strength upgrade to boot. Those things negate one of the main reasons for the game's existence–to let players see how the older, stronger characters stack up to the newer, faster-weaker characters.

It is worth noting that the versus mode does allow players to choose whatever version of each character they want to play, and that there's no "strength bonus" involved either. So, while the single-player arcade mode doesn't live up to its potential, the two-player versus mode does. That's bad news for introverts, but good news for anyone that knows at least one other SF2 fan.

Overall, though, I feel that Capcom did a nice job with this one. The half-circle, quarter-circle, and "charge" motions required to perform fireballs, hurricane kicks, and flash kicks come out surprisingly well on the stock PS2 pad. All of the graphics and audio assets were drawn from the arcade games and not the later Super NES or PS One releases, so you needn't worry about the screen dimensions being cropped or characters looking "too small."

The graphics, while out of date compared to a game like Guilty Gear XX, still manage to evoke that "Woah, How did they do this?" feeling that seemed part and parcel to the arcade experience when Street Fighter II was introduced in 1992. Between the colorful backgrounds–full of scrolling effects and large moving objects, such as elephants and bicyclists, which were groundbreaking at the time–and the 16 different highly animated characters–who can hurl fireballs from their fists–you probably won't mind that there isn't a lens flare or a polygon to be seen anywhere.

Few games these days seem to be able to match the catchy rhythms of Dee Jay's Jamaica stage or the infectious "doodly-doo" beat that fills the Chinese street market in Chun Li's stage. And what about the voice effects? Do you remember the first time you heard "Tiger. Tiger. Tiger… Uppercut" coming from a machine in the back corner of the local arcade? How about the first time you heard "Hadouken?" They're all here.

The inclusion of all three main soundtracks (CPS1 board, CPS2 board, CD arranged) gives players the freedom to choose the soundtrack that they think best fits the action. The CPS1 board was used for Street Fighter II, Street Fighter II Champion Edition, and Street Fighter II Turbo Hyper Fighting; the CPS2 board was used for Super Street Fighter II and Super Street Fighter II Turbo; and the arranged tracks were taken from the previous PS One releases of the Street Fighter Collection games.

Menu options include the obligatory arcade, versus, and training modes, as well as a gallery that lets you immerse yourself in Street Fighter II related media. There, you can view the openings and endings to every version of Street Fighter II ever made and listen to every piece of music ever made for every version as well (CPS1, CPS2, and CD release). The full-length, 96-minute Street Fighter II Animated Movie from 1994 is also present as a bonus.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike

The second game on the disc is Street Fighter III: Third Strike and it's really the main reason why everyone should go out right now and drop $30 on this disc.

When Capcom introduced Street Fighter III into arcades in 1997, people were blown away by the game's oil-painting style backgrounds and by the sheer amount of animation put into the game's sprite-based character graphics. Every move in Street Fighter III required 40 or 50 individual frames of animation as opposed to the 10 or 20 that made up the moves in the older Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha games, and the end result was a fighting game that flowed more like a cartoon than just a bunch of images linked together in rapid succession. Capcom proved that 2D fighting games could exist in the post-PlayStation world of polygons and texture-maps; they just had to look damn good. Perhaps most importantly, Capcom revamped the play mechanics to include moves like parries and quick guards, which finally gave players something new to master besides the super moves and chain combos that had been part of the 2D fighting genre for more than 5 years up to that point. Capcom continued to tweak Street Fighter III and add new characters until settling on a final, third version of the game–Street Fighter III: Third Strike–which was released in 2000.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike has stood the test of time better than Street Fighter II has, in part because it's a relatively recent game (so it looks and sounds up-to-date), but also because there's so much depth to uncover and master. Each of the 21 different characters has a style all his or her (its?) own. There's Elena, who practices Capoeira. There's Necro, a bizarre creature that can extend his limbs and transform himself similar to the way Venom did in X-Men VS Street Fighter. Dudley is an English boxer with a few sucker-punch moves. Alex is a burly fighter who has some cruel shoulder attacks and throws. Ken and Ryu are in–they still practice Capcom's video game brand of Shotokan karate. There's Sean, Ken's young disciple who practices a more stylish version of karate. And so on. If you've ever felt that the character roster in a 2D fighting game was too limited, you won't experience that in Street Fighter III: Third Strike. From the traditional to the unconventional to the just plain weird, the game covers the bases.

Beginners can easily get by on the basic punches, kicks, throws, and special moves that the game has to offer. If you can move the control pad from down, down-right, to right quickly and press a button, you can play this game. Intermediate players can take their game to a whole new level trying out the dash, hop back, EX attack, and super attack moves. When an opponent is putting the pressure on, you can dash past them, hop back a few steps, or channel some of your character's super bar into a stronger special attack or a visually impressive super attack. For those players that want to take their game to the final level, there's the parry system. By tapping forward the instant an opponent attacks, you'll block their attack, regain some health, and fill up your super meter twice as fast. It's possible to parry special moves, combinations, and even every hit in a super combo. Whoo!!—depth baby!

The menu options for Third Strike also include the obligatory arcade, versus, and training modes, as well as a rather unique System Direction menu. There, you can toggle on or off just about every aspect of the game's combat setup–including a few advanced options that allow you to interrupt special moves with super attacks and to chain one super attack into another.

Visually, the game is a stunner. Still images don't do it justice. Sure, the characters are large and the multi-layered backgrounds are very colorful–but to see SF3 in motion is a revelation. It seriously looks like you're watching hand painted characters fight one another against backdrops that resemble intricate oil paintings. 2D graphics can co-exist in this 3D world! Little details–like people milling about, leaves falling from trees, and water shimmering in puddles–help hammer home the game's artistic merit.

So too, the soundtrack kicks @$$. Most people can take or leave the sound and voice effects, but I have yet to meet anyone that hasn't said, "boy, I'd sure like that on CD." If you want, you can actually purchase the soundtrack as part of the player's guide for the game that Brady Games has put out. If not, hey, just sit back and listen while you play. Not since the original SF2 has there been a collection of music this memorable. Between the jungle noises in Elena's Africa stage, the subtle woodwinds in Ibuki's forest, the Taiko drums in Ryu's stage, and the techno beats in Dudley and Remy's stages, Capcom has come up with a diverse and melodic soundtrack that should please almost anybody with working ears.

The inclusion of Third Strike in the Anniversary Collection is a blessing–first, because it shows how far Street Fighter games have come since 1992, and secondly, because the only other home version of the game was released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000. Good luck finding THAT version now–one or two copies appear on Ebay every month or so, and sealed copies tend to sell for upwards of $200. Also, *psst*, this CPU A.I. and attack timings in this version are based upon the actual arcade game and not the modified Dreamcast game (which means it's the most authentic port of the game available for home systems).

Parting Shots

1) An added bonus on the disc is the Street Fighter II Animated Movie that was originally released to DVD in 1994. This goodie is available from the gallery menu in Hyper Street Fighter II. It runs 96 minutes and is worth the time if you haven't seen it. Capcom kind of screwed the pooch with the transfer though. The original DVD release was Widescreen (1.85:1) and included quite a bit of blood during fight scenes. The version included with the Anniversary Collection is Pan & Scan (widescreen image is cropped to 1.33:1 full frame) and all of the blood has been digitally removed. That's f**king lame–but waddya gonna do? It is a freebie.

2) Considering the title of the package is Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, it would have been nice of Capcom to include the full versions of all of the Street Fighter II games, the original Street Fighter game that came out in 1987, and an artwork gallery containing posters and box art from every game in the series. They didn't, and that's sad, but there's still plenty here for SF2 fans to sink their teeth into.

3) Lastly, some people have expressed chagrin that Capcom hasn't done a damn thing to make these two games look nicer on the progressive scan displays that many of today's gamers now own. That's a fair complaint. The original resolution that these games were drawn at was 384×224 pixels, while many of today's displays are capable of 480×240, 1280×720, and higher. Instead of re-drawing everything, which they should have done, Capcom took the easy route and line-doubled the graphics and applied an anti-aliasing filter to them. I'm impressed that doing so hasn't hurt how the games look on low end displays–they both look arcade perfect on my old 21" Curtis-Mathis–but I have to admit that I didn't like what I saw when playing on my VGA monitor using a Component transcoder. The blocky look of a low-res image blown up far-too-large is plain to see and the anti-aliasing filter just makes those pixels seem wiggly instead of rectangular. You can disable anti-aliasing for Street Fighter III in the options menu, but doing so really doesn't help much. If you do pick up this collection, I recommend playing it on a low-end TV if possible.

Various gripes aside, the only good reasons to take a pass on Street Fighter Anniversary Collection are if you're sure you don't like fighting games or if you're waiting for the Xbox version to come out (which supports online play). Otherwise, if you do like fighting games and you own a PS2, this disc is a $30 no-brainer.

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