Capcom loves anthologies. After coming up with collections featuring the company's greatest arcade hits, the beloved Mega Man titles, and even a chunk of Mega Man X's career, the time has come for a collection of one of the most beloved fighting game series of all time: Street Fighter Alpha. In the Sony PlayStation 2 title Street Fighter Alpha Anthology fans of the series can finally bring all three Alpha games home on a single disc along with some nifty extras. The collection includes Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Alpha 2, the revised Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Super Gem Fighters: Mini Mix as well as secret unlockable variations. This anthology is everything you remember about the Alpha series plus a little more.
I've never really been a fan of fighting games, but when this title landed at my doorstep I decided to give it a go. One week later I'm hooked on the set. The Alpha series expands on Street Fighter lore, attempting to bridge the storyline gap between the original Street Fighter arcade game and the many variations of Street Fighter II. The basic Street Fighter formula is in place throughout the series, as characters attempt to pound the tar out of one another in a variety of exotic locations for personal reasons. The first Alpha title is the simplest of the set and features the fewest playable characters in the series. Fan favorites such as Ryu and Ken are back for more fighting as are new & reintroduced characters such as Birdie (from Street Fighter) Rose (a new character), and Guy (crossing over from Capcom's other street beat-'em-up, Final Fight).
Moving along, Street Fighter Alpha 2 takes the framework of its predecessor and expands it, adding more characters (including the familiar Zangief, stretchy Dhalsim, and newcomer Sakura). The Gold revision (listed as a separate title on the game's overall menu) adds a few gameplay tweaks and audio revisions. Character animation appears more fluid than the original Alpha and characters continue to occasionally pause before a fight to briefly chat in order to move the story along. The series grows one more time into Street Fighter Alpha 3 which includes not only more new characters (Street Fighter II's Blanka, newcomer R. Mika, and Final Fight's Cody) but a new fighting system that allows players to exert greater control over various special moves, thereby allowing both amateur players and experienced fighters to execute powerful attacks. Alpha 3 feels much more complete than the other Alpha games for some reason, as if the series had been building to this game all along. However, it is also more comical and goofy than the other titles. Consider the numerous precocious schoolgirl fighters and the energetic announcer who proclaims such things as "You have fists of God!"
Rounding out the set is the playful Super Gem Fighters: Mini Mix (known as Pocket Fighter in Japan). Gem Fighters recasts classic Street Fighter characters as cute anime characters, arms them with whimsical attacks, and includes a gem collection dynamic that allows characters to grow in power. A few other Capcom characters are thrown into the mix including Darkstalkers favorites Morrigan and Felicia. To be honest, Gem Fighters is the weakest game in the anthology. The style and tone of the game vary significantly from the Alpha games and while the game has its fans, it seems to be an odd inclusion in this collection.
There are a number of gameplay options available on each game in the collection. The standard Arcade mode allows a single player to fight his or her way through a number of CPU-controller characters, while Versus mode pits two players against each other. Fire up the Dramatic Battle mode for a 2-on-1 match, while Survival mode pits one character against all of the others without a break or a complete life meter refill. A Training mode allows players to test special moves and combos without the inconvenience of a ticking clock or a draining health meter. An extensive set of options allows for tweaks to each game (such as difficulty, turbo speed, and even color settings), but changes to these settings do not stick unless they are saved to the PS2's memory card. Fortunately there is an auto-save option, but it must be enabled manually. Finally, players with a PS2 hard drive have the option of copying the anthology to disk for quicker play.
I've enjoyed my time with Street Fighter Alpha Anthology and predict it will become a mainstay title in my PS2 library. If the anthology can sway a person like myself who doesn't commonly enjoy fighting games, then it must be a keeper. Consider it recommended to die-hard fans and newcomers alike.