Review by hangedman

Reviewed: 06/24/02 | Updated: 06/24/02

Ryu. Ken. Crackerjack?

Hadoken. Again.

I’ll give you something to consider. Mortal Kombat’s palette-swap ninjas catch a lot of flak for their similarity, but the truth is that each ninja fights differently from one another. Scorpion spears and teleports, Sub Zero slides and freezes—this is boiling it down to the utmost essentials, but every character has a different set of tools by which they wage war, even if they are just one sprite tricked out in rainbow colors.

So, what’s the opposite of this? Several different looking characters with the same move set? That’s what Street Fighter EX +a gives you, but is it hardly palette-able? If you haven’t died from my awful pun, your enjoyment of this title will depend largely on your answer. SFEX has several characters: 23 is a lot to work with, and you’re bound to get good with one character; purists will seek the challenge in finding the nuances of all of these combatants. The key word, in many cases, is nuance, because outside of a few very unimportant details, these guys are a Ken by any other name.

Returning are some veterans from SF2: Ryu and Ken, the twins of fighting from the neck-down, obligatory villain M. Bison, close-to-joke character Zangief and his bendy-stretchy buddy Dhalsim, Chinese super-kicker Chun Li, and Guile: as usual, horribly voiced-over and about as American as haggis.

I’d guess that these characters are thrown in for familiarity: their moves are predictable, yet they’re as comfortable as an old pair of jeans. All the other characters are new, so when one goes beyond the SF2 archetypes of 2d fighting, things may get frightening. It’s not that Capcom’s new cast of characters isn’t good, but rather that they don’t mix in the SF universe. Pick up the game with Ryu, and don’t be surprised if your first opponent is a Blues Brother look-alike that can puzzlingly enlarge his fists at will: Crackerjack. Beat him, and it’s very likely that you could face a knife-pulling psycho that meekly drops sticks of dynamite. It seems that creativity came at the sacrifice of unity.

Well, I did want something different, but…

There are more horror stories, like the mammoth-sideburns sporting Shotokan, Allen, who throws fireballs and pulls dragon punches much like another character that can throw fireballs and uppercut: Kairi. The shoto-insanity doesn’t end there, as despite the abundance of shared moves, Capcom saw fit to include the always-boring Akuma, who has the same move set as Evil Ryu, and also Sakura, Ryu’s shoto-wannabe. Look, kids, that’s SEVEN shoto-characters—way too many with too few differences per character.

Getting back to the new creations, they all have different moves never seen before in a Capcom game, some pretty cool. A vixen named Blair can kick people in rapid bursts, the demon Garuda has spikes that enlarge to puncture his opponents, and awkward superhero Skullomania slides and pounces from screen-lengths away. It’s interesting, and the characters that don’t beg to be called “Ryu-lite” have got some great things going for them.

It’s just too bad all of these things came packaged with the “Street Fighter” title, because it certainly doesn’t feel like a SF game.

The fundamentals reflect this as well—though SFEX is Capcom’s self-proclaimed “three-dimensional” Street Fighter, it’s only important in a cosmetic sense. The gameplay is still 2d: both fighters rest on one plane and are incapable of sidestepping, but the graphics are now polygonal. As far as that goes specifically, the characters and backgrounds are bulky and clumsy-looking. It’s not bad, but it’s a far cry from either the original SF2 or any of the Alpha-series spawns.

The combo system is much like the alpha games, where your combos are limited mostly to a jump-in, a standing attack, and a special move. It’s simple and doesn’t go over the top, but it limits your choices very much because of the relatively few ways to get a decent-damaging combination. The expert practice mode in-game will elaborate on how to achieve elaborate combinations, but the incredibly anal timing of these sequences deter as much as they encourage. Additionally mutual to SFA, SFEX builds up a super-move bar based on how much damage you inflict and how many moves you throw out.

So, what IS different?

However, Capcom decided to ditch alpha’s variable-level super moves (although a select few powerful ones have a 3-level prerequisite), instead opting for the ability to chain a special move into a super move, or even chain super moves together. There’s a lot of skill in deciding when to cancel out one move into another; one must be aware of where one super knocks down and does good damage and where another is capable of picking up. Certain characters are better at this technique than others: Blair’s steady series of kicks makes her extremely super-combo happy whereas Zangief lacks this almost entirely.

A new Capcom innovation is the guard-break, where at the cost of a single super-bar you can rear-back and smash your opponent out of his guard. When it connects, your opponent staggers around for a long enough while to let you unleash a strong combo or series of super moves. It’s a nice thing to have against a cowardly opponent, and it adds some depth.

To further its merit, SFEX has a good soundtrack, great voice work (excepting Guile, but when don’t I?), and good sound effects. Many themes have been reworked entirely and the tracks don’t hesitate to become adventurous: you’ll find everything from Japanese dojo music to glam-rock. Some themes are awesome; Ken’s stage is a hard-rocking number that doesn’t quit.

SFEX isn’t a street fighter game. It’s a game with new characters and people that fight like old street-fighters; because of this it feels like many games like it that attempt to cash in on the SF2 player archetypes. The unusual thing is that it throws in these same archetypes right along side what would normally be considered knock-off characters, infallibly exposing their nature as SF impersonators. Do the SF characters not belong in the EX universe, or is it the other way around?

In any case, SFEX is a solid title that brings enough new to the table to excuse what would seem like a total lack of style balance or creativity. Make no mistake: the clash of these heroes will bug you like it did me, and you’ll be wondering if Capcom was really serious with creating some of these freaks; at times SFEX can feel like the unsuccessful merging of two titles that should have had nothing to do with one another. Whether you’re a street fighter or 3d game fan is insignificant, because frankly, SFEX isn’t much of either.

OVERALL: 7 / 10
A freak of the SF lineage worth exploring.

*No Sodom or Rolento? Psshh.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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