Street Fighter purists have their work cut out for them when it comes to Street Fighter Alpha 3. Released almost two years later than expected and designed as a port of the former PlayStation title, the GBA version joins the ranks as one of the most uncompromised, and faithful, fighters on the system. Players can duke it out in all the classic games of yore, from the standard best-of-three-round arcade mode and time trial to survival and two-player co-op, while employing more than 30 characters, both new and old alike. Blanka, Vega, E. Honda, Sakura and the rest of the notable Street Fighter cast are all present, as well as three characters introduced in Capcom vs. SNK 2 (Yun, Maki and Eagle). Not only does is each character coupled with his or her own individual fighting style and move set, whether it’s Ryu’s infamous Shinku Hadoken or Chun-Li’s Senretsu Kyaku, but players can also choose from one of three fighting style Isms, increasing character dynamics and furthering the game’s depth.
Unfortunately, the elephant in the room are the controls. Like nearly all Street Fighter titles, SFA 3 was always intended to don a six-button control scheme opposed to the four-button layout offered on the GBA. It works, requiring the player to press multiple buttons at once to perform secondary moves, but a more thoughtful design would have been welcome. The graphics are slightly stunted, yet remain crisp and fluid, with parallax-lifted scrolling environments that are still a pleasure to see on the small screen. SFA 3 is by no means subpar on the GBA — even if we have to leave the joystick at home.
Let’s rehash the plot for Final Fight One for old time’s sake. The Mad Gear Gang kidnaps the daughter of beefcake, Metro City Mayor Mike Hagger when the pro-wrestler turned mayor refuses to work alongside the street gang. Afterward, Haggard recruits his daughter’s boyfriend, Cody, and his affable sparring partner, Guy, on his quest to bust mad goon skulls and reclaim his daughter from the malevolent outfit. The GBA version of the title contains all six original arcade levels, including the industrial zone omitted from the SNES incarnation of the game, along with all three playable characters (Haggard, Cody, and Guy). The five difficulty settings range from incredibly easy to pretty much ridiculous, with a set number of lives featured in the single-player mode and save points after ever level.
Each character performs differently given their size and fighting style, but once chosen, the game is a class side-scrolling beat-’em up. The visual design, ripped directly from the SNES version of Final Fight, remains a pleasure, embellished with the same 16-bit animation regardless if you’re trudging through the damp slums or pile-driving your way through an uptown high-rise. Additional cutscenes and various unlockable content has also being added into the mix, but it’s the challenging core gameplay and memorable cast of characters that will having you shouting “Shut your mouth up! Get Ready!” in no time.
Let’s not pretend like the speed-seared, platforming tales of everyone’s favorite hedgehog haven’t become at least a little old since they debuted on the Sega Genesis in ’91. However, Sonic Battle was one of the most notable titles in the franchise given its sheer gameplay departure from past titles and emphasis on brawling dynamics. Like any Super Smash Bros. title, Sonic Battle pits a cast of memorable characters (i.e. Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, etc.) against one another in an arena, equipping each of the nine characters with three special attacks in the form guard, ground or airborne-based maneuvers. The combat system is far quicker and more frantic than that of others titles, rooted in the B button and directional pad, with the A button and left trigger serving as jump and block, respectively.
Furthermore, character moves and attacks are culled directly from Sonic Advance and Sonic Adventure, allowing characters like Tails to hover and Knuckles to unleash a flurry of midair punches. It’s not the smoothest and most fluid title there is, yet the 2D sprites work well with the 3D-rendered arenas, providing ample barrel-strewn space for which to bash your opponents in a myriad of game modes. The title is also laced with an episodic story, one in which you must rescue an emerald-power robot named Emerl, unlocking various abilities with which you can then customize your own character. It’s no Super Smash Bros. contender, but it’s a fine fighter nonetheless.
As a portable, somewhat stripped incarnation of Tekken 3, it’s not surprising Tekken Advance excelled where some many other fighting ports failed, sans the unfortunate exclusion of the Brazilian capoeira fighter Eddy. Enveloped with admirable, prerendered character models and bolstered by well-loved roster of Tekken staples, the title remains one of the quintessential fighting titles for the GBA given its brash similarities to the original game. The title prides itself in simple controls and timing, with a healthy assortment of returning game modes including arcade mode, time attack, tag battle, practice and a link-cable versus mode. However, although the title provides plenty of replay value housed within the various modes, unlockables are few and far between. Spoiler: the infamous Heihachi remains the sole bonus character, with team battle mode being the other only unlockable.
Yet, Tekken Advance is still an excellent fighter at its core. It may take some time acclimating to the docked control scheme — after all, it essentially only uses a combination of three buttons to perform any move in a given character’s skillset — but most players will be up to speed within an hour or so of picking up the title. And who doesn’t like a Chemical Brothers-inspired big beat soundtrack featuring the likes of composer Yu Miyake and Nobuyoshi Sano? I know I do.
Whether Sun-Tec and Marvelous Entertainment’s King of Fighters EX2: Howling Blood is actually the king of fighters is debatable, but its merit on our list is far from it. As sequel to the shoddy and severely King of Fighters EX: Neo Blood, the second installment in the franchise remains tightened and surprisingly refined, basking in colorful, concrete animation liken to the franchise’ roots on the Neo Geo arcade platform during the late ’90s. The premise is simple, pitting players against one another amid an assortment of weather-dappled dynamic environments, but it’s the SNK style that gives the game its appealing girth. Every character, regardless if they’re pulled from classic titles like Fatal Fury or originally conceived for the KOF, features their own set of special abilities and flagship moves with which to fight, no matter from which team they’re from.
Fights are three-on-three affairs opposed to traditional one-on-one bouts, meaning you’ll have to form an entire team of fighters prior to beginning a match, all of which must be downed for the match to end. Unlike Street Fighter Alpha 3 the King of Fighters franchise has always been designed for a four-button control scheme. Being the case, the controls are responsive and well-placed, with expansive and illustrious move sets to match. “Striker” moves also add an element of unpredictability and an intuitive means of stringing combos together, allowing team member’s to jump into the fight by pressing two buttons simultaneously, while the title’s differing game modes fortify the so-so storyline. Howling Blood set the bar … and it hasn’t been raised since.
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