Street Fighter Anniversary Collection Updated Hands-On

We recently got our hands on the Xbox version of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, which lets you take the action online. This is a very good thing.

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The worst thing we have to say about the Xbox version of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection is that it's arriving on these shores later than we would have liked. The PlayStation 2 version of the game shipped last summer, and Street Fighter fans hungry to relive nostalgic memories of the greatest fighting game series of all time had no alternative but to play it. However, that earlier version lacks one key feature that will make the otherwise identical, soon to be released Xbox version worth getting even for those who have already picked up the PS2 release: the ability to play online.

What strength! But don't forget that there are many guys just like you all over the world!
What strength! But don't forget that there are many guys just like you all over the world!

Frankly, the name "Street Fighter Anniversary Collection" is rather misleading. Street Fighter II inspired the fighting game genre as we know it, and is easily one of the greatest games of all time, so it and the other games in the series deserved some kind of lavish anniversary celebration. Instead, though, this is a pretty bare-bones package. But the game faithfully delivers the classic gameplay that defined and redefined the fighting game genre, making it well suited for fans. It would have been nice if Capcom had taken the extra time to add more substance to the Xbox version of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, but we're not going to complain for two reasons: First, there's the online play thing, and second, given major publishers' aversions to 2D gaming, we'll take whatever we can get.

In case you're not familiar with the contents of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, it contains two games. One is called Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, which is based on 1994's Super Street Fighter II Turbo but features alternate versions of all the classic characters, dating back to the original 1991 release of Street Fighter II. It also sports a rather badly remixed soundtrack, but luckily you can choose to listen to the original SFII tunes instead. Extras are thin, but one of them is significant: An English-dubbed version of the feature-length Street Fighter II animated movie is tucked away in the menus. The other game in this compilation is 1999's Street Fighter III: Third Strike, the last iteration in Capcom's attempt to follow up the legendary Street Fighter II's success. The original Street Fighter III failed to live up to its predecessors' nigh-unattainable standards, but Third Strike actually fulfilled a lot of its untapped potential, and remains an attractive, complex, and interesting fighting game even by today's standards.

Though the domestic version of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection for the Xbox won't be out till next month, many hardcore Street Fighter fans already have it. That's because, in an interesting twist, the Japanese version of the game that was released in the fall of last year happened to be region-free, meaning it was playable on any Xbox--and the Xbox Live features worked, too. Many assumed that the region-free encoding was some kind of an accident--especially since Capcom quickly recalled the software from store shelves--but the recall was for other reasons, and Capcom later confirmed that the region-free encoding was intentional. Capcom has confirmed that the domestic version of the game will also be region-free, so it's essentially the same product that shipped in Japan several months ago.

The online play works just fine. Which means it works great. The computer opponents in both games present a hefty challenge, but there's nothing like playing against a human opponent. Don't expect the sophistication of Dead or Alive Ultimate's "virtual arcade" system when online, but do expect the standard suite of Xbox Live features. One nice touch is it's possible to see how many open matches are available at any given time. Considering this is going to be a niche game, and that its relatively small audience will be split between the two different titles contained in the collection, it'll be helpful to know just how much competition is available at any given time. It will indeed be possible to take on players from all around the world in either of the two games, though you'll be able to limit yourself to playing only against opponents on these shores if you prefer.

Street Fighter III: Third Strike still holds up great against today's standards.
Street Fighter III: Third Strike still holds up great against today's standards.

The games' technical elements have held up surprisingly well. Sharp, colorful graphics, great animation, and memorable character designs highlight both games, and there's plenty of catchy music, too. Those unaccustomed to playing 2D fighting games on the Xbox may need some time to get a feel for the control scheme, but the controls themselves are responsive, and both the big and small versions of the standard Xbox controller sport six face buttons that map nicely to the classic Street Fighter II button scheme, so you won't need to worry about using the shoulder buttons while you play.

We've never met a Street Fighter II fan who's gotten bored of the series. If you have memories of playing these games at arcades, at your friend's house, or in a dorm room, then we challenge you to take just one look at our new screens and videos of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection for the Xbox--chances are you'll end up eager to start practicing all over again. In fact, in many ways, this is the Street Fighter II game that fans have been wanting for ages. Arcades may be pretty much dead, but with Street Fighter II Anniversary Collection for the Xbox, you can relive the arcade experience at home, minus the cigarette burns above the start buttons.

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