With the advent of cheap and affordable color televisions came the need to make as much content available for the new platform as possible. As the number of black and white programming significantly outweighed its colored counterparts, a fevered effort was made to colorize and ‘improve’ existing film and broadcasts, perhaps under the idea that color alone would justify the revisions. Forgetting that much of this work was crafted to suit the medium, time and common sense have restored these films to their original monochrome beauty. With the HD revolution settling in, the videogame industry is experiencing its own rush to ‘improve’ the aesthetics of its large and pixilated catalog, and perhaps no greater example can be found than Capcom’s ambitious effort to modernize and update a true classic with Super Street Fighter 2 HD Remix for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Its easy to see why this particular version of past iterations was chosen; with its familiar cast and resistance to the silliness found in later sequels, Super Street Fighter 2 is the most logical evolutionary link to the long-awaited Street Fighter IV. The last ‘true’ upgrade to the original Street Fighter 2 lineage featured an elegant mix of past and future, cramming every element of previous versions and adding – new for the series – super moves for every World Warrior. It would also be the last time we’d see the original cast in one game, a sizable feat considering Capcom’s diminishing ability to introduce new faces that could legitimately stand alongside such favorites as Ryu, Chun Li, and Guile. Although later spin-offs (most notably Street Fighter Alpha 3) would attempt to get the whole gang back together, overexposure and a general disinterest in the fighting genre made such premature celebrations all but impossible.
Much has been made of the game’s redone visuals, and no doubt much will continue to be made. Udon Comics (thanks to their long and trustworthy allegiance to the franchise) was chosen to completely redraw each and every sprite of the original game, effectively putting the HD Remix into the title. Wisely, the artists were confined to stay within the very narrow borders of the original’s hit-boxes and ratios, as to not thrown off any gameplay elements and keeping the overall look and feel virtually intact. With so much new technology at their fingertips (or tablets), Udon’s talents were put to good use, with gobs of color and finely-tuned details that just weren’t possible on the older arcade machines. In their full, widescreen glory the new characters look positively gargantuan, and its with a straight face that I can say the game is utterly gorgeous from a technical perspective.
Unfortunately, there’s no pleasing everyone, and its likely that not everyone will take to Udon’s reworked visuals with open arms. While I felt the actual playable sprites quite good for the most part, the re-rendered backdrops seem to fall a bit flat. Its not for a lack of animation and style (these shortcomings were in the original), but rather their artwork doesn’t seem to match the rest of the game very well. The same can be said for many of the character portraits, which range from OK to downright awful (Balrog’s mug is embarrassing). Unsurprisingly, the closer Udon kept to the original designs, the more successful the results seem to have been. Purists can also opt for the original sprites and 4:3 aspect ratio, but you’re stuck with the redrawn backgrounds no matter what.
The game’s epic soundtrack has received a complete overhaul as well, but given the countless remixes that have been squeezed out of these compositions already, the new tracks are only slightly less noticeable. But, like the visual overhaul, some of the new mixes are bound to make someone out wince just a bit. Certain stages, such as Cammy’s England or Fei Long’s Hong Kong, have been brilliantly realized and have seldom sounded this appropriately epic – good stuff! Unfortunately other classics, particularly Zangief’s U.S.S.R throwback refinery, are complete rubbish and almost unlistenable. Suspiciously absent is the actual Street Fighter opening theme itself, replaced with Ken’s reworked stage music. But those picky enough to care can opt for the original soundtrack, or at least what passes for the original one, at any rate.
Although the majority of onlookers will feel this version of SSF2 just a prettied-up port, the true changes lay with the massive tinkering and jiggering of the game’s central gameplay balancing. For this, Capcom enlisted the talents of David Sirlin, a figured known within the Street Fighter community for his skills behind the controller, and the growing field of gaming academia for his meta behind the matter. Heroically, the idea to go back and fine-tune a 15-year old arcade game’s mechanics – simplifying moves while adding others – may seem like heresy to some, particularly as this generation has yet to produce anything remotely as fluid and appealing as the original. While the list of changes and modifications are mostly successful and work well, some have stood out over an extended playing period and deserve special mention. I’m taking a highly critical look at certain changes I feel diminish the expectations of a ‘perfect’ Street Fighter experience, so it should be noted that many of my opinions probably won’t reflect the average player’s experience.
As noble as many of these efforts seem to be, where the fundamentals of this rebalanced Street Fighter break down is the science behind it all. In attempting to socialize the experience (in both gameplay and cultural appeal), Sirlan’s academic view that the player should be more concerned with pulling off moves – and not the action of pulling off the move itself – completely ignores the relationships between strength and success rate. Counteracting Zangief’s aggressively powerful Spinning Pile Driver by lessening its damage seems appropriate on the surface, but strengthening less powerful characters is a bit much. This effort to rebalance previously unbalanced characters has only resulted in newly unbalanced characters. That Cammy should be as or more powerful than T. Hawk is laughable and seems to miss the essence of what Street Fighter truly is. You could rebalance a game of chess to better appeal to the masses, but that would only leave you with checkers…
Another effect of this tampering comes with the absurd hit/damage ratios, which have never been set higher and threaten to ruin any long-term appeal the game may have. Nearly every move seems to shave massive health from your life bar, with single throws and holds (Blanka’s bite, Dhalsim’s noogie) taking off one-fourth to one-half instantly. Smaller, faster characters seem to have gained considerable advantages over their larger counterparts, and with so many smaller jabs and kicks effectively cancelling each other out, I’ve never seen quicker matches or more Double KOs in my nearly twenty years of playing the game. Any noble attempts to broaden the game’s appeal past its rabid fanbase is negated by this frustrating addition, and I suspect all but the most dedicated players will throw their arms (and controllers) up in disappointment.
In all honestly, the majority of my playing time was with the Xbox 360 version, which wasn’t what I was expecting at all. From its relatively seamless match-making to the actual online play itself, the Microsoft version positively toasts its Sony counterpart. Of course, as far as stock controller options go the DualShock 3 is much better suited to the game’s complex motions, but the Xbox 360 pad isn’t as terrible as you might think. A proper arcade stick is still the best, most accurate option if you can manage it, but given the simplification of some of the more complex moves, a standard gaming controller works surprisingly well.
Also worth mentioning were a series of bugs that hampered the online modes now and then, including mismatched power bars, wrong character names, as well as any number of smaller, technical glitches. Unlike the occasional loss of network, none of these affected gameplay per se, although not being able to ascertain your opponents remaining life did put a kink the strategy (not to mention any superfluous dreams of a stylized Super Combo finish!). Given the game’s downloaded nature, it would be nice for a future update to button up these loose ends, and possibly alleviate some of the more egregious balancing snafus (or at the very least, give options to moderate them).
It seems that with every positive that Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix comes a negative, effectively turning what could have been a celebratory look back at the world’s most popular fighting franchise into merely a superb fighter. And superb the experience remains, which despite many of the issues I may have with the unbalancing and quirks, the core elementals of the series are mostly present. But even in its flawed state, the game remains irresistible, easily besting the many boob-fighters and crossover spectacles that many of its contemporaries have become. As gorgeous as the new visuals are, I’m sure the original sprites – much like their monochrome film counterparts – will triumph over time, as will the original gameplay, however imperfect it may be. Some twenty years under my belt, Street Fighter has become family, and its hard to resist just one more match with the best fighting game ever made.