In 1991, Street Fighter II was released in video arcades all over the world, and it became an instant classic. This one-on-one 2D fighting game featured incredibly responsive controls and unprecedented depth with its eight memorable and highly complex playable characters. It ushered in a new era of arcades--a decade dominated by Street Fighter II-inspired fighting games. Street Fighter II itself saw several substantial upgrades over the years, which added new characters and new moves for the returning fighters. But the core gameplay never changed, and because of its timelessness, it didn't have to. Now you can experience the Street Fighter II series, as well as 1999's Street Fighter III: Third Strike, in a single volume in Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. Unfortunately, the name of this volume is misleading, since it's a missed opportunity to celebrate one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time. But the good news is that these fighting games--true to their classic roots--have aged gracefully. And, finally, you can play them online.
The Xbox version of the game lets you compete against other players over Xbox Live, whereas the otherwise identical PlayStation 2 version of the game, released six months prior, didn't include an online component. You get the standard array of Xbox Live features when playing online, plus a helpful statistic that lets you know how many open matches are available at any given time. In our testing, performance was solid and relatively lag-free in each of the separate titles in this compilation. It's also worth noting that this same version of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection has been available in Japan for several months already (the disc is region-free, unlike most Xbox games), so you're pretty much guaranteed to find a niche of dedicated players online.
Despite what's implied by the game's title, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection is a no-frills package. The Street Fighter series' legendary status is known even by those who've never played a game in the series before. However, if you are one of those who haven't played before, you'd be hard pressed to understand the games' importance judging by Street Fighter Anniversary Collection. Sure, it includes a little gallery mode that lets you sample some cutscenes and music and things from the old games. It also contains an English-dubbed, censored version of the feature-length Street Fighter II animated movie that was released in the mid-'90s (a nice extra, apart from the bad dubbing and the censoring). But there's no history here--and considering this is one of Capcom's most important, most successful series, there probably should have been. There's no sign of the original late-'80s Street Fighter game, which wasn't that great, but it is still a representation of the origins of the series and many of its memorable characters. There's no context for the different versions of Street Fighter II. There's no description of the changes from one upgrade to the next, apart from a cursory explanation in the game's thin black-and-white manual. None of the mid- to late-'90s Street Fighter Alpha games are included, either; nor is the original version of Street Fighter III or its first upgrade, Double Impact. However, Third Strike is undeniably the best of the Street Fighter III variants, so the absence of earlier versions of the game is no big loss.
Simply put, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection is best suited for Street Fighter fans--those who will gladly settle for just having that familiar gameplay experience again. To a lesser extent, fans of other 2D fighting games will also appreciate this set.
When you load up Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, it lets you choose between playing Street Fighter III: Third Strike and a game called Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, which is an amalgam of Street Fighter II and its four upgrades: Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (1991), Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1992), Super Street Fighter II (1993), and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo (1994). Specifically, this "new" game is an updated version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo that optionally lets you to play as older versions of the game's cast of 17 characters.
Hardcore Street Fighter II players know that some dramatic changes were made to the game's characters from one year's version to the next. This was done mostly in an effort to balance out the various fighters' strengths and weaknesses, but it was also to further differentiate each respective character. As a result, it can be interesting to pit the relatively simple yet very strong Street Fighter II-era characters against their more complex Super Turbo counterparts. You choose from one of five different styles prior to selecting a character. Your decision not only affects the moves and abilities of your character, but also determines such things as the character's portrait and voice, and even the sound effects made when he or she hits the opponent. Again, the hardcore will appreciate this, though they might also notice a few relatively slight yet annoying discrepancies here and there. They'll also notice that, despite being an arcade-perfect port of Super Street Fighter II Turbo for the most part, it's missing something important.
Mind you, Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition plays very well--practically as well as ever. Each of the game's characters is complex, yet it's pretty easy to pick up and start playing. Even after all these years, it's still a joy to play against an opponent of similar skill. Both the big original and newer, smaller stock Xbox controllers work well with the game's various linear and circular special move motions (the original pad has the added perk of a six-button layout similar to that of the arcade). In addition to special moves, each character has a variety of normal attacks with distinct properties for you to learn and master.
So what's the problem? The problem is that this is not Street Fighter II, nor is it any of the four subsequent upgrades; it's something different, even if slightly. But since the original games are considered classics, the change is not entirely welcomed. Sure, the new option of being able to pit the different versions of the characters against each other is cool. Yet it would have been preferable for a product called "Street Fighter Anniversary Collection" to include the Street Fighter games in their original form. As it stands, purists will lament the absence of the original Street Fighter II's notorious glitches, such as Guile's "handcuffs" or "magic throw." They'll also be disappointed to find that, while the older versions of characters thankfully retain their original voices and sound effects, the game's announcer is the horrible, happy-go-lucky one introduced in Super Street Fighter II.
On the plus side, the game lets you choose from three different soundtracks, including the original Street Fighter II music, the remixes introduced in Super Street Fighter II, and a new "arranged" soundtrack that plays by default--and sounds about as exciting as elevator music. Be sure to select one of the arcade soundtracks for best results. You've also got a basic versus mode and a practice mode in addition to the arcade mode. Adjustable difficulty settings are available for the arcade mode, and unless you've been practicing your skills lately, you're going to need them, since the opposing artificial intelligence in the game isn't just difficult; it's cheap (to employ the most hated of Street Fighter II-related adjectives). At the default difficulty, the computer can inflict much more damage than you can, and it will magically knock you out of many of your moves with machinelike timing that most human players are completely incapable of.
As such, unless you seek out human competition online, or unless you're an old-school Street Fighter II player, you probably won't get all that much satisfaction out of Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. But again, if you are a purist, you'll still find things to complain about, if not because of the changes to the content then possibly because the crisp visuals you remember from the arcade will look noticeably blurrier on your television.
Luckily, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is a totally different story, and it's far and away the highlight of this package (it would arguably be worth the price of admission all by itself). The game's crisp, incredibly fluid animation translates perfectly to the Xbox--not a single frame seems to be missing in action. The same goes for the audio, which was overhauled in Third Strike. The game features a solid musical score with some rather ahead-of-their-time hip-hop-style tracks, as well as memorable character voices that effectively befit each respective fighter. It's also worth mentioning that there's no noticeable loading time in the game. Once you reach the title screen, there's no longer any discernible waiting period to interrupt fight after fight after fight.
Beyond all that, Street Fighter III: Third Strike stands as one of 2D fighting's better balancing acts of pure, fast-paced action and think-on-your-feet tactics. The ability to parry opposing attacks--accomplished by tapping the D pad toward the opponent (or downward) a split second before getting hit, which results in your character deflecting the blow and gaining a narrow window of opportunity to counterattack--helps give the game a deep learning curve to balance out all the fighters and to reward skilled players. Furthermore, besides having access to use powerful "super art" techniques, you may use enhanced "EX" versions of special moves in a pinch. Yet since these all draw from the same surplus of energy that is gained as you fight, there's a constant balancing act and a guessing game at work, since your opponent has the same types of choices available. Hardcore fighting game fans will tell you that the pleasure of these types of games, apart from the thrill of watching expert martial artists (and other, stranger types) beating the daylights out of each other, comes from how these games represent a real battle of wits--like a game of chess, only much, much faster. Street Fighter III: Third Strike truly lives up to this notion.
When it was originally released in 1997, Street Fighter III was met with mixed reactions. The game looked impressive and it didn't jump on the 3D-graphics bandwagon; instead it stuck to its hand-drawn 2D roots. However, it eliminated most of the series' signature characters and whittled down the roster to a small number of fighters who many felt were not as appealing as the old cast. The game's balance was also pretty suspect, and the new parrying mechanic eventually dominated gameplay. Double Impact did a few things to address some of these issues, but Third Strike did a lot. It brought back Chun-Li, Street Fighter II's "strongest woman in the world," and also added several other fairly interesting new characters for a respectable total of about 20 different fighters. Third Strike is also loaded with subtle little references to previous Street Fighter installments, which serve as great fan service for Street Fighter II diehards. Overall, the game looks great (even by today's standards), it packs lots of depth and complexity, controls as responsively as possible, and it features numerous cool characters. There are also some decent storylines and endings for each game.
When the ironically titled Third Strike was originally released in arcades, the arcade scene (at least in the United States) was already beginning to wind down, and many one-time Street Fighter fans had already given up, or mostly given up, on the series. To them, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection presents a chance to experience a game that they might have missed, but one that's still well worth trying, learning, and learning to play well.
Put it this way: If you've played and enjoyed other fighting games on the Xbox, but you've never played Third Strike, then you've been missing out and would do well to give it a try. The fact that you also get Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition thrown in as part of the deal is a great bonus. And if you think of yourself as some kind of Street Fighter pro, then this version of the game lets you put that theory to the test. So get online and show everyone what you've got.