Ever wondered who would win in a match between Street Fighter III's fearsome near-naked muscleman, Urien, and DarkStalkers' frisky near-naked cat girl, Felicia? No? At any rate, the answer to this and many other obscure fighting-game crossover-match questions may be found in Capcom Fighting Evolution. This is a competent product, offering a fair variety of characters and the responsive controls you'd expect from a Capcom fighting game. But it also feels like a relic, with its bare-bones set of options and decided lack of distinguishing features. The game is clearly best suited for hardcore fans of Capcom's fighting games, who might enjoy exploring some of the nuances here but probably won't find much reason to keep coming back. At least this version offers online play through Xbox Live to make up for the fact that it's hitting shelves half a year later than the otherwise identical PS2 version.
Capcom Fighting Evolution is essentially a typical one-on-one 2D fighting game, in which you compete with either another player or a computer-controlled opponent in best-of-three-round martial art matches. Purists will appreciate that it features the classic Street Fighter-style six-button control scheme. The game's main twist is that, instead of choosing just one fighter per match, you choose two. This implies some sort of a tag-team fighting system, as in Capcom's "Versus" games, but Capcom Fighting Evolution isn't that complex. You pick two characters only, so you can optionally alternate characters between rounds. So, for example, you might form a team consisting of Zangief the pro wrestler and Demitri the vampire, reserving the latter for use against pesky fireball throwers like Ryu, while letting the former and his signature spinning pile driver do most of the work. Since you decide which character to use in each round, you don't even have to use both of your selected fighters. As such, Capcom Fighting Evolution's system is rather simple, but nonetheless marginally different from that of most other fighting games, which makes it interesting.
In recent years, some of Capcom's fighting games have asked you to choose between some esoteric fighting systems in addition to choosing your characters. Capcom Fighting Evolution also features different systems, but these are dependent on the characters you choose and the games from which they come. This is the game's other twist. For example, if you choose Street Fighter III's buffed-up brawler, Alex, you'll be able to parry incoming attacks by tapping forward on the D pad at the last possible instant, since all Street Fighter III characters could parry in this fashion. Or, if you play as Street Fighter Alpha's ninjutsu master, Guy, you'll be able to use alpha counters to immediately follow up a blocked attack with another strike.
These different fighting systems also govern the respective characters' supermoves. Some types of characters can use their supermoves more quickly, while other characters' supers are more powerful, and stuff like that. There's not that drastic of a difference from one fighting system to the next, but the subtle differences between them do give the game some depth. It helps to some extent that many of the fighters have been at least slightly tweaked since you last saw them. For instance, the Street Fighter III characters have access to multiple supermoves during a match, whereas in all previous versions of Street Fighter III, you were forced to choose a single supermove prior to each match. Nevertheless, the balance is still pretty suspect, as there seems to be no one in this game that a good Ryu or Zangief couldn't thrash.
The roster includes about two dozen different characters, mostly hailing from five different Capcom fighting games, including Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, DarkStalkers, and the obscure Red Earth, also known as Warzard. Capcom Fighting Evolution could have distinguished itself by throwing together more than just a handful of characters from each game, but it failed to take advantage of this opportunity. As a result, if you're a Capcom fan, you'll instantly be disappointed by the "sampler" selections from each game, since some, if not most, of your personal favorite fighters inevitably didn't make the cut.
The cast itself is a rather strange one. You have your obvious inclusions like Ryu and Guile, but you also have some strange picks like DarkStalkers' wacky mummy, Anakaris, and Street Fighter Alpha's elegantly dressed Rose. There's also Ingrid, an original character who looks a lot like Street Fighter Alpha's schoolgirls, Sakura and Karin. The entire cast of Red Earth sticks out most of all, especially Hauzer, a huge screen-filling dinosaur. The Red Earth characters don't really fit in with the game's assorted martial artists, but they certainly look good, since Red Earth was Capcom's first game using the technology that subsequently powered the much-better-known Street Fighter III. Then again, these smoothly animated characters clash significantly with the relatively crude-looking cast from Street Fighter Alpha. Since almost all the character artwork here (as well as the voice work) is recycled from one old fighting game or another, Capcom Fighting Evolution feels like a mishmash of different, old fighting games. That's exactly what it is, in fact.
Capcom Fighting Evolution has a bare minimum of modes of play. There's an arcade mode, a versus mode for two players, a training mode for practicing your moves, Xbox Live mode, and that's it. You can adjust some basic options and unlock some hidden characters and other extras by repeatedly finishing the arcade mode, but there's no survival mode or color-edit mode, or any of the other stuff now found in most 2D fighting games. Xbox Live support works as you'd expect, letting you tweak a small number of different options when searching for matches, and conveniently offering you an at-a-glance look at how many matches are currently available (don't expect a lot of competition online). Of course, relatively lag-free online fighting such as this is no longer inherently novel as it once was, since several superior Live-enabled fighting games have long since been available at a low price. Capcom Fighting Evolution at least features some original background artwork, most of which is brimming with cameo appearances by many characters you'll wish were actually playable. Furthermore, the game includes some nicely done comic book-style ending sequences for all its characters. So, as pure fan service to Capcom's loyalists, Capcom Fighting Evolution isn't bad. However, it's also got a lame announcer and a new soundtrack consisting of some forgettable rock music.
Five years ago, Capcom Fighting Evolution probably would have been a great game, especially with online play thrown in. It does a decent job of throwing together a bunch of different characters into the mix, and letting them take advantage of their respective games' specific play mechanics. It also plays fine and looks good. At the same time, Capcom Fighting Evolution is the umpteenth game to recycle these same graphics, sounds, and mechanics, so unless you're dying to experience some of the strange matchups that are possible here, you could just as well go back to playing whichever games all these fighters hailed from.