The first truly new Street Fighter post-SF2, Alpha 1 had quite a legacy to live up to. I remember the commercials for the game, which made it look a hundred times more intense than SF2 with its dazzling array of special effects and super combos. It even had Guy from Final Fight! Unfortunately, the actual product was a huge disappointment for many die hard fans, as it was rushed to release and is obviously an unfinished game. Yet I’ve also seen players reminisce about Alpha’s simple, straightforward gameplay.
So which side is right? I’ll have to agree with the naysayers. Alpha 1 is just too archaic and unpolished to be of much worth these days, especially considering how vastly improved its sequels are. Yet there is one redeeming quality that has, ironically, made me play it more than any other game in the Anthology.
It seems rather bold for so many people to claim that a game is unfinished, but with Alpha 1 there is little argument against it. At the risk of setting myself up for a paint by numbers review, let’s break it all down:
Roster: The cast of characters here is pitifully tiny. If you throw in the secret characters of Dan, Akuma and Bison, you have 13 fighters total. That is exactly the same amount as the standard roster in Super SF2 Turbo (which actually has 14 if you unlock Akuma). You know a game is lacking when it can’t match its predecessor in terms of scope even with unlockables. Looking at the small but important additions that are found in Alpha 2 only further drives home the feeling that this group is incomplete.
Graphics: The sprites in Alpha 1 are a huge step up in quality from SF2, so much so that these sprites would be reused throughout the entire series. The fighters are drawn in a colorful anime style, with much of the returning cast looking younger and less experienced (which makes sense, since this is technically a prequel to SF2). The sprites are also complimented by some fairly smooth animations that are surprisingly good for a game of this age.
The backgrounds are a completely different story. This is the biggest clue that the game was rushed, since almost all of them are a downgrade from Street Fighter 2. That game had stages full of color and detail and motion. In contrast, most of Alpha’s BG’s are limited to very small palettes and have little to no animation. They didn’t even have the courtesy to color in the crowd in Charlie’s stage!
There are a few exceptions, such as Sagat’s and Ryu’s, that actually look pretty decent. Something tells me these were the only ones that were rendered to completion. The rest are simply boring or ugly (who challenges someone to a fight in a train yard?). Compare these two stages that take place at the Great Wall of China. The first one is from the original Street Fighter. The second is from Alpha. I think that’s enough said. I’m almost glad that most characters have to share a stage, since it means fewer eyesores to look at.
Sound: Street Fighter 2 has, by far, one of the greatest soundtracks in the history of gaming. I can hum any one person’s theme song by memory, and they fulfilled the important goal of setting the tone for each fight. Someone at Capcom must have felt the same way, since many of the classic themes make their return here in new arranged versions. They don’t sound quite as good as the originals, but there is something comforting about fighting Ryu while his infamous battle music plays in the background. The original songs, however, aren’t quite as memorable. In fact I can’t remember any of them.
The voices don’t fare nearly as well. The characters and announcer sound fuzzy and washed out, as if they were either compressed or poorly recorded. In comparison, they make SF2 sound crystal clear.
It may seem strange to go on for so long about presentation in a fighting game, but look back to some of your favorite SF2 memories, and you’ll quickly see that without the music, the stages, and the character designs, it would probably be a much different experience. Presentation is a big part of this genre, and Alpha’s is some of the most lackluster I’ve seen from Capcom (which is saying a lot).
Surprisingly, the most important part of the game, the combat, isn’t nearly as half assed as the rest of the package. The only truly new thing that Alpha’s sequels would introduce is the idea of the Custom Combo. The rest of the features that the series is known for are here in pretty good form. You’ve got a strong emphasis on super combos, the three level super meter, and the Alpha Counter (which lets you use meter to counter any move). The result is a game that feels a little more tactical and complex than SF2, without feeling at all foreign.
That being said, most veteran players won’t be too excited with the combat. Even in Turbo mode, Alpha 1 is criminally slow, perhaps even slower than some of the faster iterations of SF2. You can literally point out when your opponent crosses you up, and a whiffed Dragon Punch gives you ample time to punish your opponent. This is a good thing for guys like me, who love fighting games but aren’t particularly good at them, as it is a great way to practice advanced techniques. For those who are much better, or simply like a faster paced game, this just won’t fit the bill.
Sadly, practice and pure nostalgia are about the only things Alpha 1 is good for these days. It isn’t any better than its sequels, nor is it “classic” enough to justify playing it over the later incarnations of SF2. There is nothing that Alpha does that makes it stand out. This effort obviously wasn’t at 100%, either due to pressure, laziness, or fear of the high standard the series was held to.
Considering the other two Alpha games are included in the Anthology, and especially considering that Alpha 2 is essentially an improved, polished, speedier version of Alpha 1, I don’t see too many people sticking with this game for very long. At least I can finally tell my inner child that yes, the commercial lied to you. But I finally got to do that cool move, on Guy no less. I try to keep my promises.