Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection: Bring back the brawlers

Much of my early life can be marked with memories of Street Fighter games along the way.

I remember a Street Fighter II cabinet at Toronto’s Pearson Airport blaring its attract screen music as two nondescript brawlers squared up in front of a skyscraper.

At a birthday party in Grade 2 or 3, one kid mangled all comers in SF2: Champion Edition on the Sega Genesis because no one could figure out a way around Chun-Li’s Lightning Kick.

Playing years’ worth of SF games with my cousins at our grandparents’ house – from Super SF2 (my Chinese-Caribbean family loved Fei-Long and Dee Jay) to the frenetic, anime-infused SF Alpha 3.

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I stared at a 320p YouTube video of Daigo Umehara parrying Justin Wong’s Hoyokusen – Chun-Li’s impossibly fast flurry of 17 kicks – in front of a rabid crowd at 2004’s EVO tournament (before it headlined the MGM Grand in Las Vegas), and became enraptured by the competitive side of fighting games.

These memories flooded my mind as I played Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, an impressive package with a full 12 games that reminded me just how great old-school 2D brawlers can be, despite a few frustrating choices in Capcom’s packaging and presentation.

SF30th includes the arcade versions of every Street Fighter game from the original Street Fighter in 1987 to 1999’s classic Street Fighter III: Third Strike. That includes every major release of Street Fighter II (the 1991 original; Champion Edition; Hyper Fighting; Super SF2 and Super Turbo), all three Street Fighter Alphas and the three iterations of Street Fighter III culminating with Third Strike.

The best iterations in the list have stood the test of time and can still be as exhilarating to play as they did when they first hit the arcades.

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Knocking someone out with Ryu’s Shoryuken punch can deliver a narcotics-strength high. Parrying an attack in Third Strike to turn the momentum can make you feel like a genius. Guile’s Street Fighter 2 theme is a timeless a piece of music that belongs in the Museum of Anthropology.

Even the weaker games are fascinating from an historical perspective. The original Street Fighter is a real clunker with only hints of DNA tying it to its descendants, but my guess is few people managed to play it, so it’s a welcome addition.

Following in the tradition of recent Capcom retro collections like the Mega Man Legacy Collections and The Disney Afternoon Collection, SF30th has a sizable Museum with concept art, music and some cool background info thanks to extensive research by Digital Eclipse.

Much of the material won’t be a surprise here – posters, concept and character art, and a timeline of the franchise. But Digital Eclipse have also unearthed some genuinely cool materials on top of that, including the original pitch document for Street Fighter 1 and a never-before-seen screenshot of an unfinished port of SF1 for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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The major bummer here is that there’s no way to browse through the art galleries in a thumbnail mode – you’ll have to scroll through them one by one, which can be a real pain when some of the galleries have more than 150 items.

It’s the tip of a medium-sized iceberg of interface issues on the connective tissue in the collection. Switching between games is incredibly fast and responsive, but loading up the Versus and Training modes feel unusually abrupt, as though you were loading a save state in the emulated arcade game about half-a-second too late, cutting off the first note of many games’ character select screens.

Fighting game forums have described minor input lag in online versus modes, which can be a major problem when clutch moments in tense matches require such precise timing.

Perhaps the most surprising omission is the inability to map all three punches or all three kicks to a single button – a major problem for most players using a controller instead of a fight-stick. Given that 3P and 3K options have been around in console versions since the 90s, the choice is very odd indeed.

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The focus on arcade ports also means you’re missing out on some exclusive modes and features we saw in later console releases. You won’t get the nifty challenges in the Xbox 360 release of Third Strike, or the six-to-ten extra characters added to SFA3 over the years in successive updates. The last bit there is most aggravating, since Capcom added it as an unlockable extra in Street Fighter Alpha Anthology way back in 2006.

The aforementioned problems will become more troubling the more serious you are about Street Fighter – and considering this is supposed to be a celebration of the series, Capcom might have alienated its primary target market with these choices.

Finally, it’s probably not a major surprise that Street Fighter 4 isn’t included here –it’s still on sale on current consoles – but it’s been a full 10 years since its first version hit the arcades and revived the fighting game scene.

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Considering this is supposed to be a celebration of 30 years of Street Fighter, one might wonder why 11 of its 12 games included were all released in the span of a single decade.

Even adding up all these complaints, a longtime fan would probably do well to pick this up. It’s still the most complete set of Street Fighter games ever released by Capcom, despite a few glaring omissions.

If you had fond memories of throwing out Hadokens, Psycho Crushers and Sonic Booms in the ‘90s, you should be able to pick up this collection and get right back to it.

Final Score: 3/5

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