Thursday, June 15, 2006

Street Fighter Alpha Anthology + Strategy Guide Review

So, I picked up Street Fighter Alpha Anthology yesterday. I've already played through all the games and unlocked all the extras. I have to say, Capcom has done quite an amazing thing with this game.

First off, you have arcade perfect ports of all the Street Fighter Alpha games, plus Alpha 2 Gold (I believe this is some sort of updated special US release of SFA2? I'm not sure), and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix, a cute little fighter featuring characters from various Capcom fighters. All the games come equipped with little survival and training modes, and an array of options, including the option to mess with any of the arcade dipswitches! They have special dipswitch settings to make the game play in accordance to certain arcade revisions, too. All in all, quite amazing.

As for unlockables, you can unlock Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper (The Dreamcast version - changes certain gameplay features and has new characters, like Guile, T. Hawk, Fei Long, Dee Jay, and Evil Ryu). This is nice to have for completion's sake, though I imagine most people that are serious about the game will play the original Alpha 3. I know that my friends who are less into fighters, however, would better appreciate having the new characters. It works out quite well.

The last unlockable is a special game called Hyper Street Fighter Alpha, which allows you to play any character from any Alpha game, with the characteristics of any version of SFAlpha. Also, if you choose Alpha3 style, you get even more options, like the option to have a Street Fighter 3 fighting style, Marvel series fighting style, Street Fighter 2, and Darkstalkers. All in all, QUITE an impressive unlockable to have.

So basically, we got pretty much everything you could ask for: Arcade Perfect ports of all the Alpha games (This release marks the very first Arcade Perfect port of SFA3, as opposed to SFA3Upper, which people don't play in tourneys), as well as an added Gem Fighter game for kicks, A3Upper for those who enjoy the game casually, and the uber bonus of having Hyper SFA, probably the most impressive unlockable feature I've ever seen in a fighting game.

That being said, there's not really much that could be done to improve on the game. There's only a few things I could think of that would possibly make it better:

1. Allow a Counter Hit option in the Training Modes (Maybe there is one? I'll keep looking dilligently).

2. A 3-Player Dramatic Battle Mode in A3Upper. Some of the most fun times I've ever had screwing around in fighting games was when me and two other friends played "Bitch" on the Dreamcast A3. Trying to play as Dan and beat your two friends who are using Guile and Charlie is something that you just have to experience to realize how hysterically funny it is. I suppose it's not a huge deal though, since I HAVE the Dreamcast A3, but still...

3. If, perhaps in Hyper SFA, you could use the extra characters added into the handheld A3 games (Eagle, Yun, Maki, Ingrid). But, that's really icing on the cake; it's not a huge deal.

Also, if you buy it at Gamestop, you can get 20% off on the guide. Now, even if you're a veteran player, I would reccomend you buy this for various reasons:

1. Street Fighter Alpha 3 in particular is a very complicated game, and this game has lots of basic info explained very well; it's a great starting point if you want to get into the game, casually or seriously.

2. If you're already good at the Alpha games, it's really nice to show your friends, at least...

3. It was written by Kamui and Dr. Deelite, members of the boards at Basically, it was written by a fellow member of the fighting game community, and, as Derek Daniels so eloquently put it, "If it wasn't for people like him writing these guides you would get 15 pages of how to do dragon punch after you throw a fireball as a pro tip." So, for the love of god, get the guide. It's really good.

All in all, this is a step in the right direction for Fighting games. If you like fighters, go buy this game. If you play them casually, buy it; if you play them seriously; buy it. It's got something for pretty much everyone! Crazy extras, tons of games, and best of all, Arcade Perfect ports of Alpha2 and Alpha3, two of the more popular fighting games around. In my opinion, it's only a matter of time before SFA3 sees a major tourney revival. If you want to see a new fighter, or more quality products from Capcom, place your vote by buying this game. It shows Capcom you're interested. Have a nice day.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

My problem with Guilty Gear

So yeah. Not long after its release in mid-April, I picked up a copy of the newest version of Guilty Gear: "Guilty Gear XX #Reload - The Midnight Carnival: Slash." Quite a mouthful, huh? Well, I picked up "Guilty Gear Slash" as I call it, because I'm a big fan of companies making constant revisions to their fighting games (It shows a big dedication to making the game great, in my opinion), and I decided that I should learn how to play Guilty Gear once and for all, since it was the last popular 2-D fighter I had yet to play thoroughly and make an opinion on.

Well, it's now June, and I think I've reached a verdict: I enjoy it, but it's waaaaaaaaaaay too technical. There are three big assets to improving in fighting games that all work in conjunction with one another: Game-Specific Knowledge, your Mind Game (being able to outthink your opponent), and Technical Mastery (being able to perform moves, combo sequences, make opportunities for setups, etc.). I should really write a blog on this some time, but for now, just keep that fact in mind. Guilty Gear is no different from other 2-D fighters in that it requires all three of these factors to be a really great player; but, the BIG difference is that it has a huge emphasis on the last factor - the one which I think should not ultimately be a crutch - Technical Mastery.

Now, forgive me if I seem biased against that particular aspect. I should throw this out there - I think I'm a pretty damn good player; however, based on people in my equal skill level, my level of Technical Mastery is comparably bad. I make up for it because I'm very good at reading people, and playing the game. I'm also very good at recalling lots of specific knowledge.

Now, obviously, I'm not a huge blunder at all things technical - I play combo-based games like X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Vampire Savior, and I can do lots of other Technical things with ease, like Kara Cancelling and Roll-Cancelling (A Capcom Vs SNK 2 - specific glitch, where characters that can roll as an evasive manuver can cancel the roll into a special move; the end result is a special move with the invincibility of the roll) with much ease. On the other hand, I've never personally been a huge fan of combo-based characters that have to consider their opponents heights, widths, weights, and other game-specific combo safeguards in mind (All these things exist in a lot of games, and trust me, they matter a lot!). For that reason, I don't play a lot of Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Capcom Vs SNK 2, where a lot of the best fighting styles revolve around doing outrageous custom combos, or 3-D fighters, where the combos seem oddly contrived and unstandardized.

Guilty Gear Slash (and incidentally, all previous installments) are very combo-based. They have a few basic principles that are the same from character to character, but there are so many various special game-specific features that lend themselves to comboing (and various safeguards to prevent infinite combos), that every character becomes outrageously complex because of it (because every character is made with the idea in mind that no oversight of theirs will result in something extremely broken). So what does this all mean? Basically, while you have a wide variety of characters that seem to play wildly differently, what you basically have in the end are an outrageous amount of combo-based characters that are only different in their combos. This isn't really a difference in how you have to play them from a strategic standpoint; it's just a difference in what you have to do while implementing (more or less) the same strategy: Rush That Shit Down! In fact, If you don't attack enough, Guilty Gear penalizes you by taking away all the Super Meter you've built up!

In fact, one of the best games in the genre - Street Fighter 3 - is so good because you have a variety of playing styles that aren't just based on what combos the character has, but what aspect of the games are your strengths. Are you a really technical type? You'd do well with a character like Yun, Urien, or Necro - characters whose best fighting styles rely solely on being able to do tough technical setups and combos that vary depending on the opponents you face. Are you really big on the mental games? Try Elena or Ibuki, characters that go defensive or offensive based on the situation, and rely on having very rough, unpredictable repetoires of normals that most their entire strategies are based upon. Are you interested in a character that tries your hand at both? They've got that, too - Makoto has her share of amazing technical combos she can do - including a 100% stun combo! But, to get the chance to do anything like that, she needs to mount an offensive, and the only consistent weapon in her arsenal is her randomness, and her ability to psyche people out. Hugo is a slow grappler that doesn't have a particularly amazing offense or defense, but relies on one powerful, difficult-to-perform move that does a lot of damage to psyche people out. He has to use his own built-in fear factor, along with a vast amount of knowledge to discern whether or not it's a good idea to make a move.

Now, I'm not saying that Street Fighter 3 is perfect (that's for another blog, probably), but if there's one thing it gets right, it's that it caters to several different fighting styles without relying on the gimmick of 'grooves' or '-Isms' (a fighting style that you pick before the match that gives your character access to certain universal features, like air blocks, evasive rolls, dash manuvers, etc.), where there's generally one best one for each character.

So, what's the point of me bringing all this crap up about Street Fighter 3 if I'm talking about Guilty Gear? Because, as David Sirlin brought up in one particular article (and he's probably right), Guilty Gear is a game that was made with so many different gameplay features in effect that there's virtually infinite freedom to make any character in any way you want. On one hand, it worked - there's quite a diverse cast, both in visual appearances, and what they can do; however, the big problem is that all characters basically revolve around doing outrageous combos and setups that they have leeway to do with all these crazy features intact.

Okay, so you might be saying "Well, Jamie, maybe Guilty Gear just isn't your game?" I don't agree. I think that the characters were intended to cater to different philosophies, similar to how Street Fighter 3 does. I think the combo-friendly features just sort of mess that up. In fact, what's worse is that this side-effect ALSO has a huge, glaring side-effect: Characters that have easy combos are generally the best characters in the game! I don't wanna sound too much like John Madden, here, but one big side-effect of having the game based around complex combos and setups is that the simplest characters in terms of combos are usually the best. Let's look at three of the best characters in the game.

"I think it's clear that the character with the
best combos is gonna come out on top, Pat."

First up: Sol Badguy. This guy has used to be notorious for one of his old combos, the 'Dust Loop', a simple, very damaging combo loop that could do a number on any character in the cast. Well, they took it out of this game, but he got something which, in my opinion, is even better: His staple move, Volcanic Viper, got increased damage. Based on the training mode in the PS2 version, where damage is represented in numerical value, I found that every character has 400 hit points; Sol Badguy's basic combos that involve Volcanic Viper do upwards to 140 damage; that's about the damage of a SUPER MOVE.

By the way, I swear it sounds like he says
"Give it up for White Power!" when he does this move.

With his bread-and-butter combos easily hitting almost every character in the game for more than 1/4th of their life, it's easy to see why Sol is one of the best.

Second on the list: Ky Kiske. Strangely enough, Sol and Ky are the Ryu and Ken of Guilty Gear, and they're definitely the best. It wasn't always this way, though; Ky used to be a rather mediocre character, because he had trouble mounting an offense, and his combos weren't exactly that devastating to begin with. The funny thing is, he's now consistently considered to be the number 1 / number 2 character of GG Slash. Are his combos now amazing and complex? No, not really; in fact, they're kind of the same as they used to be. So, what's the difference?

Better projectiles. Ky used to have one small projectile (which he could do in the air), and one large, slow-moving projectile. Now, he can do the large one in the air, which is sort of cool, but more importantly, he has two versions of the small projectile: one that recovers somewhat slow, but is outrageously fast, and his normal speed fireball, which recovers OUTRAGEOUSLY fast. Just to give you an idea, check out this video of Ky, the guy with the sword, using those fireballs to lock down his opponent, Axl, especially in the corner.

Ky had a few other positive changes, but this movie of a top level player versus one of THE best Axl players around highlights ONLY the one I'm talking about. All those combos you saw were a result of Ky being able to close in on his opponent, due to his now effective projectiles. Some of those combos might even be more difficult now - a lot of Ky's moves were actually given ADDITIONAL startup time, so his basic combos are now more difficult than they've ever been! But, now that he can actually get close to his opponent and USE them, they're good, regardless of how basic they are, or how much more difficult they might be to perform now.

Sometimes, Ky seems to say "Fuck off!"
when he throws his fireballs. You can
hear it in that movie I just linked!
Guilty Gear characters say the darndest things.

Last, but definitely not least: Potemkin. Potemkin is the grappler character of Guilty Gear. For those who don't know, grappler types are usually slow, strong fighters whose staple move is a throw attack which has a difficult motion to perform during the heat of battle; however, if you can land this attack, it does outrageous damage. Since the time that Guilty Gear started becoming a respectable competitive fighter, Potemkin has consistently been one of the top five characters in each installment. Why? My personal guess would be this: As a grappler character, Potemkin does heavy damage with all his normals, but his combos are not very advanced; even more, he really doesn't need to do combos to do damage. If you wanna get a feel for what this is like, check out how fast Potemkin rules on Dizzy in this video. I mean, seriously. The MATCH was seventy seconds. That's absurd.

In short, while I commend Guilty Gear in general for making a new, innovative game, and making several revisions of their game to try and perfect it (something I'd also like to eventually touch on), the game puts a HUGE emphasis on Technical Mastery, while lending itself to the characters that require the least amount of Technical Mastery to use. Now, maybe it's just me talking here, but I think when the best characters in the game are the ones that supercede the MAIN IDEA of the gameplay, it really defeats the purpose. Strangely enough, the characters that don't don't have complex or damaging combos don't have much of anything else either, and are low tier because of it (Robo-Ky, Order-Sol, Dizzy). The Guilty Gear series has come a long way, and I hope to see it evolve at least once or twice more before they call it quits, but when they do, I think that these are points that should be addressed.

-- Jamie (FYI, I use Axl, Ky, and Faust. GGPO.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

An introduction, of sorts?

Hi. I'm Jamie. I've been playing video games all my life; in fact, I learned to read phonetically from playing video games when I was three. I used to be the socially reclusive type who would play video games for like, thirteen (!) hours a day; but, one day at around the age of sixteen, I told myself, "Hey, video games are really cool, but I want a life, too!" So, while I've kept my hobby, I certainly don't find time to play any video game - for any amount of time - anymore. For me, balancing 'having a life' with 'playing video games' can be a rather dangerous endeavor, but I manage. In fact, not using my free time for only video games has made me appreciate truly good games even more, now. Hell, I can still remember when I would swear up and down that Final Fantasy 7 wasn't an amazing game, simply cos I could play so many damn games and consider them ALL to be a good experience; they were all I ever did, anyways! Those were some funny times.

So, to mitigate my problem of balancing my time-consuming, money-consuming hobby with being social, having friends, getting a job, and focusing on my studies, I generally narrow down the games I buy to my three favorite genres: 2-D and 3-D platformers (FYI, I consider Castlevania to be a platformer; it seems relevant to me to point that out. I'm not sure why), 2D Fighters (3-D fighters are a completely different ballgame; just as anyone that plays either one seriously), and - the WORST perpetrator of time-wasting in video games - RPGs of all different forms, be it traditional RPGs, tactics RPGs, action RPGs, or what have you. This presents a huge problem to me, as the platformer genre is waning in popularity on non-handheld consoles, 2-D fighters are practically on the verge of death in America (With Global Gaming League taking an interest in the competitive fighting scene as of late, this will hopefully change, but as of now, we're fighting an uphill battle), and RPGs are incredibly difficult to make truly good games out of, in my opinion (I plan on writing many blogs about this).

Now, perhaps I'm not the most enlightened gamer; on one hand, I own a lot of consoles, and I even take drastic measures to play imported games if I'm interested enough - Most of my friends from my hometown will remember how much I ranted and raved about a certain Tactics RPG series called Langrisser; some RPG enthusiasts will remember this series by the Genesis RPG called "Warsong," the first game of the series, and, incidentally, the only game in the series that was released stateside. On the other hand, the scope of games I've played - especially in recent years - is fairly small outside of the genres I enjoy. While I still deviate occasionally from my preferred platforms (Who's gonna pass up the newest Metal Gear Solid game, anyways?), the days of Pre-PS2, where video games were the sole joy of my life, are gone. I no longer rent and try every single game at a rental store.

And who'd want to, anyways? Games are so focused on being long and complex. Bigger graphics means bigger games means bigger headaches. I'd feel overwhelmed even if I DID still play video games for thirteen (!) hours a day. Unless you play a lot of games on handhelds, you don't get a lot of the quick and dirty fun you used to be able to get from games; but, even that is sort of out of the question, since it's hard to find places where you can rent handheld games. But I digress.

Anyways, though I'm not a 'hardcore' gamer anymore, I'd like to think I'm pretty knowledgeable in my areas of focus. I hope to talk about what makes games in my favored genres truly great, how to make them better, and how to learn from previous mistakes (and previous successes, too). These are tough times for people that are into these specific genres, but hopefully, someone will take up the cross and make something truly great out of these genres.

And, if no one does, maybe I will someday...