Depending on how you do the math, you could say that Capcom's Street Fighter Alpha Anthology contains anywhere between four and 20 games. Just know that the entire Street Fighter Alpha history is here on one disc, perfectly reproduced without any in-game load times, for less than what a single PS2 game normally costs.
The official line holds that the disc includes 5 separate titles: Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (a.k.a. Pocket Fighter). Those are the five titles listed on the game selection menu, anyway. In addition to those titles, however, you can also unlock Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper, which has a larger character roster than its "non-Upper" predecessor, and a versus-only hybrid called Hyper Street Fighter Alpha.
Hyper Street Fighter Alpha lets you mix-and-match characters from all of the above-mentioned games and select from any of eight different fighting styles (Alpha, Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold, Alpha 3, Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter III, Darkstalkers, and VS series). Pick SF3, for example, and you'll be able to parry attacks. Select VS series and you'll be able to perform mid-air special moves, just like in Marvel Vs. Capcom. For whatever reason, Capcom opted to only include three different backdrops in Hyper Street Fighter Alpha ( lame ), but they made up for that shortsightedness by making it so that the game randomly selects music from any of 16 different relevant Capcom games. It's sweet when the match starts and you realize that a classic Street Fighter 2 or Final Fight tune is playing.
And, good lord, on top of all that stuff, you can access multiple revisions of each game (hold R2 and select "Game Options" in the Options menu). Ever play a particular revision in the arcade and wish you could play that exact revision at home? This disc lets you do exactly that.
No matter how you add it up, that's a heckuva lot of content for thirty dollars!
Alpha 1 may not have a huge roster, and most characters share a background with another character, but its utilitarian feel is part of its charm. Alpha 2, Alpha 2 Gold, and Alpha 3 sequentially one-up each other with dozens of playable characters and backgrounds. Once you unlock Alpha 3 Upper, by beating Alpha 3 once, you'll be able to select the extra characters and backgrounds that Capcom produced for the Dreamcast version of the game (and a very-limited arcade release), bringing the final overall count to 33 characters. Pocket Fighter is a nice bonus too, with its midget graphics and multi-game roster that includes characters from Street Fighter Alpha, Darkstalkers, and Street Fighter 3.
Keep in mind, though, that these are the arcade versions, and not the home console ports. You won't find the extra modes, such as the world tour mode in Street Fighter Alpha 3, that were included in the home releases of these games. Also, to access certain "secret" characters, you'll have to input cheat codes. Every game does include arcade, versus, and survival play options, at least.
The controls, the graphics, the flashy super attacks, the slick between-fight transitions… everything is as it was in the arcade. Capcom didn't recycle old PSOne ports for this collection. Instead, they built around the original arcade ROMs. Hook a joystick up to your PS2 and you'll get the true arcade experience. If you don't have the scratch to bring home a stick, don't worry. Moves come out just fine using the standard Dual Shock controller. Best of all, there aren't any in-game load times. None. The screen transitions from one match to the next quickly and seamlessly. You can even "fast forward" to the next match by holding down a button on the controller.
These games are all great fun, and they've held up well against the ravages of time. Each game features a deep combat system that involves basic attacks, combination attacks, special moves, and super attacks. Longtime fans often argue which is the better game, Alpha 2 Gold or Alpha 3 Upper. Alpha 2 Gold is better balanced and has a more consistent art style, but Alpha 3 Upper offers multiple play styles and has a character roster that can't be beat. Thanks to this collection, nobody has to choose.
Obviously, the 2-D graphics don't push the PlayStation 2 whatsoever. Nonetheless, the backgrounds and characters are colorful, the characters are large, and there's always plenty of action going on. The characters' moves have loads of animation frames behind them and their various attacks often bring about flame-a-riffic visual effects. Most backgrounds have something to look out for (people milling about, environmental atmosphere, and so forth). I personally adore this series' manga art style. That cutting-edge look, I believe, is part of the reason why these games still feel fresh, whereas other one-on-one fighting games, including the almighty Street Fighter 2, feel old by comparison.
Capcom's tunes and sound effects are similarly timeless. When you hear a punch sound effect in one of these games, or one of the characters shouts "Hadoken," you just know you're playing a Street Fighter game. Everyone recognizes these themes and voices. Anyone that doesn't will soon have them stuck in their heads after a couple plays. There's never a quiet moment either. Theme music is constantly playing in the background and every attack is accompanied by a sound or voice effect.
Previously, when Capcom has developed a new compilation for home systems, they've had trouble reproducing some aspect of the audio properly. For instance, the sound effects in the Street Fighter 2 games included in Capcom Classics Collection were muffled. Street Fighter Alpha Anthology doesn't suffer from any such problems. Sounds and voices are loud and clear, and the original Q-Sound enhanced music comes across like a CD soundtrack when piped through decent speakers.
Optimally, you'll want to play these games on an older standard-definition television, as opposed to a newfangled high-definition-capable set. The graphics employ a symmetrical 2X stretch so that the image fills the screen. On a hi-def set with the game running in progressive mode (hold triangle and X during initial boot-up), the graphics look colorful and sharp, but also appear blocky because each pixel has been stretched to double its original height and width. By contrast, an old school set effectively obliterates half the pixels, due to the way interlacing works, which in a backhanded way allows these "older" televisions to reproduce the exact original arcade image. Capcom implemented a bunch of adjustable filters and options to make the game look nice on newer sets, but the harsh reality is that 384×224 is always going to look nicer on old TVs than on monitors that have to stretch the image to fill 1280×720 and up.
My main gripes against this disc are 1) that it doesn't offer an online mode, and 2) that Capcom neglected to implement any sort of museum features, such as an art gallery or music jukebox. They did that for Street Fighter 2 games in Capcom Classics Collection, so their failure to do so here is a bit of a disappointment. On the upside, you can listen to all of the music from each game, as well as the classic Street Fighter 2 games and Final Fight, through the sound test mode in Hyper Street Fighter Alpha. Navigating the nonsensical hexadecimal song titles is a major pain, but at least all of the music is in there.
Quickie wrap-up in 3… 2… 1….
Unless you're totally averse to 2-D graphics, you definitely need to add Street Fighter Alpha Anthology to your game library. Thirty dollars brings home five wonderful fighting games, each perfectly reproduced from the arcade without any animation removed or pesky load times mucking things up.