Finally, Capcom has a 3D Street Fighter game worthy of its heritage. But by the same token, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha is perhaps too closely tied to its heritage. While the gameplay is great, it's standard SF fare, and you can't help but get the feeling that SF EX Plus Alpha is nothing more than a stepping stone to a more impressive Street Fighter game yet to come - as was the case with Street Fighter Alpha.
At its core, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha doesn't attempt to be anything more than a juggling- and combo-filled game like Super Street Fighter II Turbo - but with the play speed and graphic style of Namco's first Tekken game. Like Tekken, the animations of the characters - rather than their slightly jagged bodies or uninspired backgrounds - are supposed to be the stars of SF EX Plus Alpha's graphics. But unlike Tekken 3, absolutely no attempt is made to give the characters any freedom of 3D movement.
Dizzies have been replaced with super meter-draining guard blocks that stun and leave opponents temporarily defenseless, and super combos now execute at only one level of power and can be interrupted or chained together to form bigger and more damaging combos. Lifted from Tekken is Namco's penchant for "new" characters whose only distinction from "old" characters is appearance - nine of the 23 SF EX Plus Alpha characters mimic existing characters in some way.
There is, however, a new and decided emphasis on offensive attacks. The previously defensive Guile, for example, does a lot more rushing forward with kicks than he did in earlier SF games, and even Ryu and Ken have had their standard "roll back once with a kick button" hurricane kick shifted into an Art of Fighting-style multihit aerial kick. SF EX Plus Alpha is not a game for turtlers and not necessarily even a game for Street purists - this is now less of a game of strategy than it is a game of action, without a doubt. To keep the game flowing, SF EX Plus Alpha has reasonably forgiving controls that ease the chaining together of combos and execution of special attacks. The CPU opponent puts up a decent struggle, but I found that the features that brought me back for more were the expert mode, which lets you unlock four previously nonplayer characters and a few extra game options, and the bonus game, a polygonal version of the SF2 barrel-smashing bonus stage.
In the video and audio departments, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha is pretty solid. Its old characters closely resemble their 2D predecessors - Zangief is the only negative exception - but lack the more dramatic flourishes that made SF2 and SF Alpha 2 so memorable. Some of the new characters seem to have picked out costumes from the Halloween leftover bins at a Japanese K-Mart, but their unique moves often make their inclusion worthwhile. Special effects are generally handled well, but not spectacularly, and the flat backgrounds are reasonable but not as impressively conceived as those in Capcom's original SF2 or the later release of SF Alpha 2. The game does have its visual moments, though, with a few nice close-ups of multihit throws that bring to life scenes that we could only imagine in earlier SF titles - images that, in my mind, are the only real justification for SF EX Plus Alpha's existence. SF EX Plus Alpha's audio is quite good, full of pleasant, upbeat synthesized techno and rock music, plus a number of clear voice samples that are easily as good as those in any previous SF title.
Taken as a whole, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha is a fun game with great gameplay, better than average aesthetics, and a large number of characters. As we've seen many (perhaps too many) times before, Capcom has a tendency to use its "good" Street Fighter games as a foundation to build truly great ones. How long will SF EX Plus Alpha be worth playing? Your answer will depend upon how tired you are of traditional SF gameplay.