Street Fighter is 25

 Games, Street Fighter, Video Games  Comments Off on Street Fighter is 25
Aug 032012
 

Apparently today is the actual 25th anniversary of the Street Fighter franchise.

I’ve talked about Street Fighter plenty of times in the past, but I figured I’d do some waxing of nostalgia today. Not that today’s date is particularly relevant to my Street Fighter fandom, since I never played the game until SF2 hit the US in… 1991? But hey, this is as good of a day as any to do this.

The first time I saw Street Fighter 2 was at the arcade in Rolling Oaks Mall. At the time, Rolling Oaks was the mall here in San Antonio. North Star was a bit more upscale, and Rivercenter was, is, and always will be the tourist trap mall, but Rolling Oaks was the one to which all the suburban kids flocked. Those brats being the very lifeblood of the mall entity, yeah, Rolling Oaks was the place to be if you were bored middle class kid with too much money and time to kill.

I was a middle school kid. It was either late in my seventh grade year or that summer between seventh and eighth. Pretty sure it was the former. I was wandering around the mall while my mom and sister did their shopping thing. I had ten bucks at most in my pocket– cash for a couple of slices of pizza and about five bucks of actual spending cash. No way in hell I’d be able to afford any of the shit at Electronics Boutique. I was in that time between childhood and adulthood phases of buying toys, so Kay Bee Toys was useless to me. I didn’t have enough time to catch a movie at the mall theater. Everything else was mall fashion territory– it may as well be the poison swamps from Dragon Warrior to a geek like me.

So I hit up the arcade. I was a video game geek, spending most of my free time at home playing shit on the NES. I’d play games at the arcade, but it wasn’t as frequent of a haunt as it’d soon become. I looked around the arcade for something to play. I can’t remember exactly what I played at first, but I played some other stuff before Street Fighter 2 finally caught my eye. The mall wasn’t too busy at the time, and the game was fairly brand new, so there wasn’t a huge crowd around it just yet. It was just another kid around my age playing some weird Indian dude with skulls around his neck fighting against some Chinese chick. I figured it was a boss fight, since they were the only two characters on the screen.

The kid lost to the girl and left. I didn’t want to continue off of his game, since I’d never played it before and didn’t want to start right in the middle of a boss battle, so I let the timer tick down before jumping in.

That’s when I looked down and saw six buttons. SIX FUCKING BUTTONS. What kind of game needs this many buttons? I knew the SNES was gonna have that many buttons, but the idea seemed kinda excessive. Who needs that many options to punch and jump? What do all of these buttons do? It was downright arcane– like peering into some eldritch spellbook and seeing an entirely new language, and in reading it you find your consciousness rewritten. I was intimidated.

But once I plunked in my fifty cents I noticed something. That chick that kicked that one kid’s ass? That chick who I thought was a boss? She was selectable. What? You can play as a boss? What kind of game is this? Seriously, my whole concept of video games was being challenged here. This was some revelatory shit. So I picked this “Chun Li” character and started playing, expecting this to be like Final Fight or something.

Yeah, that’s when I found out that the kid before me wasn’t fighting a boss. This game is all about boss fights. One on One. Fight this one dude. Best two out of three. Win and fight the next dude. Lose and you gotta plunk in another quarter (Continuing usually costing less than buying in on single player games.).

It didn’t sink in at first. I knew this was a cool game, but I didn’t grasp what was happening at the time. This was all new to me, and I was aware that this game was different, but that was it. I played a few games. I discovered that mashing kick would make Chun Li do a super kick. I discovered that doing the same with the punch button did jack shit, much to my dismay. I accidentally discovered that she could do a flying spinning kick, but had no idea how to replicate it. It’s a bit like those half-truths about Columbus not realizing he was on a new continent, believing he was just in a part of Asia. I knew I was onto something here, but how much of a something was beyond me. I spent my quarters, it was time to go home, and that was that.

It wasn’t until that summer that I’d see how big of a phenomenon Street Fighter 2 would become. People crowding around the lone machine in an arcade, waiting forever to get one lousy game in, plopping down quarters or tokens to reserve their spot. I’d slowly discover the arcane language of controller movements. Charge back or down, then move forward or back. Quarter circles. Half circles. The mythical Spinning Piledriver 360 degrees. I’d soon become fluent in that then-esoteric controller language.

Street Fighter 2 would pretty much define the latter half of my grade school years. I’d go to the arcade at least once a week to battle it out with other dudes. I’d buy a SNES just to get access to Street Fighter 2 at home. My grades in school would suffer as I’d spend far more time playing this shit than studying. Granted, we’re talking about an A student falling into low B he’d-be-awesome-if-he’d-just-do-his-homework territory, but yeah.

It defined me in a lot of ways. Still does. Other than maybe Katamari Damacy, no other game really sank in as deep and as permanently. And my Street Fighter fandom was one reason why I ended up becoming an anime fan. It led me to subscribe to gaming magazines, and they’d talk about all of these crazy games based on Japanese cartoons. That led to curiosity and that soon led to hunting down VHS tapes at video rental places.

Yep. Street Fighter’s one of the main reasons why I’m here at this blog thing blabbing about this shit. You should thank it. Or hate it.

Katamari Damacy’s the Closest I’ve Come to a Religious Experience

 Games, Video Games  Comments Off on Katamari Damacy’s the Closest I’ve Come to a Religious Experience
Apr 012012
 

That title’s only half-sarcastic.

When I was in elementary school, my parents made me go to bed super early. Like, I was lucky if I got to watch TV past 7pm. There were times where I was lying in bed and I could hear the neighbor kids still playing outside. It sucked.

But I didn’t go to sleep. I was in that bed like the parents commanded, but I’d spend several hours every night reading stuff. Said reading material would either be comic books or science books. One particular science book that I remember reading numerous times was a book on the development of life on Earth. I think it was one of those Time Life books you’d see commercials for on cable television back in the 80s. It was mostly pictures, so the second and third grade me didn’t have to pour through a bunch of heavy scientific text.

What fascinated me the most about this particular book was a depiction of life developing in the sea. On the bottom of the page was pictures of single-celled organisms, and as the picture flowed up the page the life evolved until it got to the first life crawling out of the sea and onto land. I would lie in bed and think about what it’d be like to be one of those single-celled organisms. What would it be like to be one of the first living things on Earth? And my mind would drift off into thinking about what it’d be like to have already lived billions of years ago. Like, would I feel disappointed that I missed out on being more evolved? Would I be jealous that I already lived and died and didn’t get to see stuff that happened after my lifespan?

And that got me thinking about how awesome it’d be to be able to observe this passage of time from some sort of distance. I didn’t want to just be some kid reading a book billions of years after the fact, I wanted that same sort of scholarly distance from my “subject” while being able to see it in real-time. It wasn’t like I wanted to be God or anything, I hadn’t developed that much of an ego in elementary school. I just wanted to be some observant force of nature watching things play out. I wanted to see things change and grow. I honestly felt kinda cheated that I was stuck here as some kid having to read about this shit after the fact. What’s up with that?

And that’s how this plays into Katamari Damacy. More so than anything else I’ve experienced, it captured that feeling. Watching movies like The Tree of Life, Mind Game, or 2001 come close to that feeling, but it’s a bit too divorced from the subject matter. In those movies I’m watching someone recreate their own vision of that ebb and flow of time and life. With Katamari, I’m more in tune with that vibe.

Most levels of Katamari start off on one scale and stay on that same relative scale. The early levels have you start off in a room in a house or on the street. Later levels have you starting out large and getting slightly larger. But the last level always has you starting off on a small scale and growing to gargantuan proportions. And in that 20 minutes or so that it takes you to start from the level of a thumb tack to the point where you can literally roll up The King of All Cosmos, I’m able to capture the very feeling I always wanted to experience as a kid.

It isn’t a literal translation. In Katamari you’re just rolling up objects to create a larger ball, but that metaphor is there. You’re starting out on a near-microscopic level, much like how life started on Earth, and you get to experience the exponential growth that is Life.

In all seriousness, that’s about as close as I’ve come to having a truly positive spiritual experience. In a fucking campy Japanese video game where characters talk in record scratches. It’s beautiful, man. Truly beautiful.

Uncharted

 Games, Video Games  Comments Off on Uncharted
Dec 042011
 

It ain’t the main reason, but one of the reasons why I haven’t blogged in, like, a week is that I’ve been immersed in the Uncharted games. Bought all three during those evil Black Friday sales. Stood in line for over an hour at Best Buy to buy the damn things. I had no idea what to expect beyond claims that they were meant to be modern-day takes on the whole Indiana Jones spiel. Since I love me some Indy, I’d been meaning to give them a try.

Overall, I dig the series. It ain’t rocking my world like Katamari of Street Fighter, but it’s cool.

The gameplay can be a little repetitive. There’s two styles that dominate all three games: shooting scenes and platform scenes. The shooting scenes can be intense when other elements are tossed into the mix, but most of the scenes boil down to you hiding behind a box and waiting for people to stop shooting so you can pop up and shoot. It can be a little tedious, and if this is how these “cover fire” games tend to play it makes me glad I never bothered with the likes of Gears of War. Because of this, I looked for every opportunity to just rush in and punch people.

The platform bits are a little better, but they’re way too easy. I played the game on Normal, and the only time I ever failed on a jump was when I didn’t know where to jump because of camera angle issues. There wasn’t much of a need to time your jumps or anything like that. And the puzzles tend to be just as easy, since they usually boil down to matching up symbols and simple stuff like that.

But when the games decided to change things up a bit, it gets pretty damn awesome. The chase scenes, where you have to outrun swarms of spiders or collapsing bridges or tanks, tend to be pretty intense. The shooting scenes become just as intense when they toss in new elements, like when you’re on the top of a moving train and having to worry about low-hanging bridges and helicopters all while having to shoot at dudes. Unfortunately those cool scenes are outnumbered by the tedious ones, especially in the first game, but they’re cool enough to make up for the disparity.

So yeah, the actual gameplay is kinda mediocre. And if these games were from the same gung-ho paramilitary school as all of those obnoxious Modern God of Battlefield Grand Theft Warfare games that dominate this generation of gaming, I’d probably hate this series. I can’t stand that trend, with its faux-grittiness and hyper-realism. While Uncharted leans towards realism over stylized shit, it wants to be Indiana Jones rather than 300, Black Hawk Down, or Saving Private Ryan. The main dude, Nathan Drake, is your classic roguish hero. He’s a bit of a deceitful, amoral scumbag– he does it all with a good bit of charm and ends up doing the right thing mostly out of the need to screw over someone who screwed him over. He’s a bit more like Han Solo than he is Indy Jones in that regard.

And the stories are straight from the Indiana Jones school of thought. Each game deals with Drake trying to find some lost city (El Dorado in 1, Shangri-La in 2, Iram of the Pillars in 3), and his quest quickly turns into a race with some nasty individual wanting to exploit some relic found in the city. And each of the games seems to be a deliberate reference to one of the Indy Jones movies. The artifact in the first one is basically a South American version of the Ark of the Covenant, and the game references how Nazis were heavy into searching for such items back in the day. The second game shifts over to Asia, not unlike Temple of Doom. And the third one has scenes completely lifted from The Last Crusade, like when Drake is looting the tomb of a crusader knight while being chased by a swarm of things, or when he has to chase down a convoy of trucks in the desert while on horseback. I look at these bits as homage rather than rip-offs. These games are modern love letters to this sort of pulp shit, and it’s good stuff.

The first game was my least favorite. Part of that is due to the fact that it was the first in the series and didn’t have the room to be “experimental,” and part of that is due to it being released early in the PS3’s run, so the developers didn’t have as much experience with the system. All of that makes the game feel “small,” especially when compared to the sequels. It doesn’t have the same scope as the other two games, with most of the story taking place on a single island. This leads to a lot of repetition in terms of setting. I was sick of jungles and brick walls by the time I was done with the game. And the jet ski parts were pretty awkward. I fucking hated those barrels that would explode if you so much as touched them. Yeah, it makes sense if you rammed into one going full speed, but there was a point where I was just sitting there and the barrel slowly floated towards me and it still blew up as if I smashed into it going 100MPH. That was lame. And the climax was a little underwhelming, mainly because the final baddie was just some second-tier dude who looked like every other generic dude you fought in the game. And the running Nazi zombie things came out of nowhere and kinda ruined the vibe of the game. Had I just bought this game and hadn’t bought all three at once, I probably would have given up on the series after this game.

But the second game changed all of that. It broadened the scope, turning the games into the globe-trotting spectacle they should have been from the get-go. The villains were a bit more interesting, especially since one of them was your former partner-in-crime who betrays you in the early levels. The game also adds in a few more supporting characters, adding to more witty banter and the like. The only thing I didn’t care for in this game was the “twist” at the end. Up to that point, you had been encountering some Yeti-like monsters, and it felt “right.” You’re in the Himalayas, so it makes perfect sense, but then it turns out that they’re actually dudes in suits. What makes this particularly annoying is that they’re blue-skinned dudes that look like super-buff Avatar cat-people. And once you discover this, these guys abandon their Yeti suits and you spend several levels thinking “when did this become Avatar?” But other than that detail I think the second game is the best in the series.

The first half of the third game is the best stretch in the games thus far. The opening level is a bar fight that revels in melee combat. And after that you work with an entire team of characters, and it makes the whole thing feel like a heist movie. It also introduces the most interesting villain in the entire series. He’s a smarmy, arrogant type who’d just as much pay you off as shoot you in the back, and he also pulls off some mysterious moves as you chase him around. I was thinking this dude was being built up as something of a rival for Drake, or at the very least a memorable one-off villain, but the second half of the game kinda ruins all of that. The climax feels like a retread of the second game, and the finale just sorta happened. But what ruined it for me was the fact that said villain doesn’t pan out. You get to duel him in a cool knife fight in the final level, but all of his mysterious posturing amounts to nothing. All this talk of djinns and secret societies and he’s just a dude with a knife? Really? So yeah, the third game has the best set pieces (the airplane scene is great, and there’s a cool bit where you race out of a sinking cruise ship, among other scenes), but it doesn’t come together as well as the second game. Still better than the first, and it left me wanting more, so it did plenty right.

The games are the sort of action movies I wished Hollywood was churning out. The set pieces are awesome, the banter is good, and the characters are likable for the most part. There’s stuff that kinda pisses me off (Fuck you Nazi zombies and blue cat-people.), but it wasn’t enough to completely turn me off.

World Heroes

 Games, Video Games, World Heroes  Comments Off on World Heroes
Oct 272011
 

Back in those mythical days of the early 90′s, where I roamed the aisles of arcades like some sort of ravenous predator looking for its latest prey, my ultimate goal was to find “The Next Street Fighter.” It was pretty evident that we weren’t gonna get a “proper” Street Fighter 3 anytime soon, since all we got were minute changes that resulted in increasingly ridiculous adjectives being tacked behind the Two in SF’s title. So while I still loved my Chun Lis and my E Hondas, I wanted that game that would up the stakes and be just as badass as SF2 was the first time I played it.

When I first played World Heroes, I thought I found that game. Then I literally beat the damn thing on the first token I spent on it.

So yeah, World Heroes wasn’t that next evolution in fighting game shit. In retrospect it was little more than a mediocre SF wannabe released at the peak of that period of time when everyone wanted to jump the bandwagon. But like another “lesser” fighting game, Street Fighter EX, I have a hell of a lot of affection for the damn thing. Call it fighting game hipsterdom turned into genuine, non-ironic nostalgia.

Despite the fact that I was able to beat the whole game on a single toke the first time I played it, and despite its now-obvious mediocrity, for a brief amount of time I really did prefer the game over Street Fighter and its more well-known competitors such as Mortal Kombat. I think I can chalk that up to how damn silly the game was.

Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat and the other copycats that were released in ’92 and ’93 were all pretty straight-laced. Dan was years away from appearing in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat had yet to lapse into self-parody with Friendships and the like, and we hadn’t been subjected to the likes of Power Instinct with its denture-tossing old granny character. The genre was still pretty new, so it had yet to try to mock itself. And World Heroes may have been the first.

The question is whether said parody was intentional or not. I have no fucking clue.

The plot of the game is pretty standard. Fighters from across the world are brought together to compete with one another in a tournament, and said tournament’s ultimate purpose is to find someone strong enough to defeat some evil robot thing that wants to destroy the Earth. For whatever reason, said fighters are assembled from different time periods. I guess they’re going for the greatest warriors of all time rather than just depending on fighters alive right now (“right now” equalling 1992, that is). Hey, if you have T-1000-styled robot end bosses, you can have time travel too.

And who do you get to gather these dudes? Dr. Brown. As in Doc Brown from Back to the Future. For reals. He isn’t a playable character, unfortunately, but the character who gathers everyone together in the story is named Dr. Brown and he looks exactly like Christopher Lloyd’s character. And the peeps that he gathers are supposed to be based on historical figures. Like Janne, the chick with the sword from the first picture. She’s supposed to be a riff on Joan of Arc, but the only similarities between the two of them begin and end with “French sword chick.” Joan of Arc fought the English and got burned at the stake. Jeanne travels around with a circus and laughs like Kodachi from Ranma 1/2. But she’s still supposed to be Joan of Arc.

That’s World Heroes’ charm, if you wanna put it that way. It goes for this “Civilization the Fighting Game” vibe, but then it rapes historical accuracy. Rasputin is made into a magician who can create giant magical hands and who creates rainbows and flowers when he wins all while having a maniacal laugh. Other historical peeps, like Genghis Khan and Erik the Red, get off fairly easily, although Khan is turned into what amounts to a Blanka ripoff style-wise. And other characters are based off of historical stereotypes rather than specific people. The Ken and Ryu of the game are stereotypical anime-styled ninjas, for instance, while Brocken is a German soldier who’s clearly a Nazi (but never called such) if the Nazis created Inspector Gadget.

And it was those crazy quirks that made me dig World Heroes at the time. It may have been insanely easy, and few people may have lined up to play it in arcades, but I would flock to it first rather than Street Fighter for a period of time. And the game got crazier as time went on. The sequel introduced characters like an evil football player and one of my all-time favorite fighting game characters: Mudman. Mudman’s an extremely stereotypical Pacific islander, complete with tribal mask, who fights by summoning cute little spirits that he hurls around as projectiles and shit. He’s insane in all the right ways, and he’s the sort of fighting game character we haven’t seen before or since style-wise.

The game also has some gameplay quirks that made it stand out for me. You can play the game normally or you can play it in “death match” style. In these death matches, traps pop up all around you, and you have to worry about the environment just as much as you have to worry about your opponent. But what makes this mode awesome is the seesaw style health meter.

You don’t get your traditional health meter in this mode. Instead, there’s one long meter stretching across the screen with a bar starting dead center. Every time your opponent takes damage, the bar moves closer to his side of the screen, while every time you take damage the bar moves closer to your side of the screen. If the bar ever reaches the end of your side of the screen, you lose, and if the time runs out before either character is KOed, whoever has the bar on their side of the screen looses. So you might take an insane amount of damage from a combo, and might be right on the brink of being KOed, but you always have the chance to turn the table. It makes matches that much more tense, especially since you have to watch out for those spinning blades, land mines, and death lasers. I’d love to see a mode like that inserted into a modern era game, like the SF4 series or one of the King of Fighters games.

Despite all of these quirks that appealed to me, the game never really caught on. Some of the characters appeared in SNK compilations, like Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, and apparently there was a World Heroes manga that lasted for several years that starred Jeanne, but that was about it. It never got the sort of revivals that fellow Neo Geo fighters Fatal Fury and King of Fighters got over the years. I would flip over a HD remake of World Heroes 2. But that’s one of those “It’ll only happen if I win the lotto” situations.

I need to win the lotto.

I Wanna Live in a World Where Haggar AND Zangief can Co-exist

 Final Fight, Games, Video Games  Comments Off on I Wanna Live in a World Where Haggar AND Zangief can Co-exist
Jul 252011
 

Seriously, Capcom, what is with you and your denial of such a beautiful would-be friendship?

Yeah, I get that they’re essentially carbon copies of one another. Haggar was busting out Spinning Lariats and piledriving dudes before Zangief came around, but when Street Fighter got made someone decided to jack all of Haggar’s badass moves and give them to some massive mountain of a commie bear wrestler. They even do the same jumping splash/bodyslam thing where they basically look like a kid jumping belly first onto their bed after being yelled at all day at school.

They do the same shit, so they’re essentially redundant.

But fuck that, Capcom. You’ve gotten away with the palate swap for ages with Ken, Ryu, Akuma, Gouken, Sakura, Dan, Batsu, and half the cast of Street Fighter EX. You’re totally down with the Shotoclones. Yet when it comes to pro wrestling you insist on diversity.

First there was Saturday Night Slam Masters. This was your first opportunity to bust out this potentially legendary rivalry, but while you opted to give Haggar some screen time, you chose to create an entirely new Russian wrestler to act as one of the game’s protagonists. I guess I can forgive you in this instance, since you were trying to create an entirely new franchise. Haggar was just a token reference to an older game. I’m down with that. Zangief’s absence is OK.

Then the Alpha series came about. The first game wasn’t too bad, since this was our first taste of the Final Fight and Street Fighter universes mixing. We saw Guy fighting along side Ken, Ryu, and Chun-Li. And you even tossed in Sodom, a pretty obscure (but pretty damn iconic, image-wise) boss dude from Final Fight. This got us Capcom fanboys all excited about potential match-ups between characters from both games, and one of the first pairings to come to mind was Haggar and Zangief. We already knew they were knock-0ffs of one another, but we liked that. We’re the ones that embraced the Shotoclone Army. We’re down with it.

Alpha 2 came along after that, and you tossed Zangief into the mix. The only new Final Fight addition to that game was Rolento, but that was perfectly fine. We were all distracted by Sakura’s awesomeness to be too concerned with missing out on our Haggar/Zangief dream match.

Such wasn’t the case with Alpha 3. It might not have been bad if there was a dearth of Final Fight characters in Alpha 3– it woulda been a missed opportunity rather than an outright betrayal. But lo and behold– motherfucking Cody appears!

Now I’m down with Cody. Back when Final Fight came out I was a big Cody fan, of only because I preferred his “balanced” fighting style over Guy’s speed and Haggar’s slow power. But you took a hell of a lot of effort to redesign Cody for Alpha 3. He was no longer the clean cut boyish protagonist type that he was in Final Fight. He was transformed into a thugish criminal who escaped from prison and “challenged” himself by fighting while still in handcuffs.

Capcom, you took the time to make Cody a unique character so that he could co-exist in the Street Fighter universe, yet you refused to even touch Haggar. You wouldn’t change up his fighting style a bit so he wouldn’t be a direct copy of Zangief. Instead you decided to make Rainbow Mika, a stupidly-proportioned wrestler chick who looked like she belonged in fucking Tenjo Tenge rather than Street Fighter. That’s what we got instead of Haggar. Fuck you.

Other potential chances to play off of this came and went, but they didn’t have as much of an impact as Alpha 3. We saw Hugo in Street Fighter 3 2nd Impact, but neither “original” wrestler was in sight. Rather, we got to see Hugo’s massive girth and transvestite lovin’ go up against Alex and his “new” style of “I can actually move faster than a rock” wrestling. Seeing two well-executed styles of command throws and the like made me yearn for that Zangief/Haggar dream match, but it was easier to take when both were absent.

Then came Super Street Fighter 4. Not only were Guy and Cody back, but you decided to taunt us by giving Zangief a Haggar costume. You knew that we want this match, Capcom, and you reveled in rubbing that salt into our 360 degree wounds. You showed us that you hadn’t forgotten the past, but you wanted to watch us squirm. You even had the balls to charge us for this alternate costume. While I can appreciate such an evil deed, as I do love a good maniacal laugh, this was too much.

But I held out hope. When Marvel vs Capcom 3 was announced and Haggar was on the roster, I assumed that this dream was coming true. Zangief had been in every single VS game up to this point. There was no way in hell he would be left out of MvC3. That’s just not how the world works. I got that y’all were trying to make each character play in a unique manner so as to avoid the “half these dudes play exactly the same” vibe of MvC2, but I assumed that meant Haggar would finally get that revision he shoulda gotten back in the Alpha days.

And again, Capcom, you writhe your hands in sadistic satisfaction. Zangief is nowhere in sight. Not only did he not appear in MvC3, he was neither a downloadable character nor one of the new characters mentioned for Ultimate MvC3.

What is it about this pairing that makes you so afraid, Capcom? Why do you cringe at the notion of these two joining forces and putting the Saturday Night Slam down on all those Shotokans and juggling comboers? The world needs this. These are desperate times, and all of the world’s ills would be solved if a pro wrestling mayor and a man who can crush a bear were to be united by fate.