Accuracy vs. Quality
Repackaging old games is a curious thing. Playing the classics on new hardware has been a part of gaming since new hardware became a thing. It’s funny to think back to the days of arcade ports on home consoles and how much variation there was in their accuracy based on how powerful the system was. Those were fun times. Today though, arcade perfection is more or less the norm when it comes to ports. Emulation of classics is still tricky in some regards, but for the most part, recreating the experiences we had as kids is a very attainable goal. The question now is, when is a perfect port the right choice?
This popped into my head when I was thinking about the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. First of all, let me say that I’m very excited for this game. I absolutely love having all these versions of these classics in one place. A lot of the games aren’t radically different from one another, but it’s still really cool to root around with all the different flavors of Street Fighter’s arcade history. The problem is, a couple of these games had vastly superior versions that never hit arcades. I understand that the goal of this collection is to celebrate Street Fighter’s arcade history with arcade ports (and I really appreciate them including the original Street Fighter this time around. It’s more than a little silly that the previous Street Fighter Anniversary Collection didn’t include the actual game they were celebrating) but that devotion to accuracy is coming at the cost of quality.
The Street Fighter III games didn’t have crazy home console revisions that were significantly better than the arcade, so aiming for arcade perfection there smells like a sound decision. I’m pretty sure the original Street Fighter was only ported to the TG16 as Fighting Street, so there’s definitely no loss there. The problem comes when we start to examine the Street Fighter II series, and Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Alpha 3.
When Street Fighter Alpha 2 was ported around, a version based on an updated build in Japan called Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha showed up in the Street Fighter Collection for Saturn and PlayStation called Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold. (How’s that for a confusing sentence?) This new version of Alpha 2 included EX versions of several fighters as well as a version of Cammy who wasn’t playable in the original arcade release. It also featured your typical run of balancing and minor feature upgrades. It’s without question the best version of Alpha 2 there is, but it’s nowhere to be found in the 30th Anniversary Collection. Instead we’re getting an arcade perfect port of Alpha 2, which is nice and all, and certainly an important inclusion in the collection, but by tethering themselves to the idea of only including arcade ports, they missed out on releasing the best version of a game. The faithfulness of the arcade port is a fantastic curiosity, but Alpha 2 Gold is just a better game.
Alpha 3 gets it the worst though. The arcade original featured a nice roster of 28 characters. A pretty respectable lineup, except that several fan favorites were left off the list. Capcom took a swing at fixing that when they ported the game to home consoles by including Fei Long, Dee Jay, Evil Ryu, Shin Akuma, T.Hawk, and the most egregious oversight, Guile. But they weren’t done there! When they released Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max for the PSP, they added Ingrid, a character from a cancelled Capcom fighter, Yun from Street Fighter III, Maki from Final Fight 2, and Eagle from the original Street Fighter. That brings the roster up to 38 characters, as well as a handful of fancy modes and other fixes. An arcade-quality port of Alpha 3 Max would have been incredible to see, but again, they stopped at the arcade originals, which again, I get, but it’s leaving the better version of the game on the table.
Finally we have Street Fighter II. The classic home versions (SNES/Genesis/etc) served their purpose back in the day, but I don’t think anyone’s arguing that those versions are superior to the arcade games they were trying to emulate. They’re fantastic pieces of gaming history, but they’ve been re-released before. Even the TG16 version of SFII was released on Wii Virtual Console for those who just had to know what that played like. (It was weird, but remarkably playable!) However, there are two distinct flavors of Street Fighter II that bring a lot to the table that are also absent from this collection. First, there’s Hyper Street Fighter II which was included in the Street Fighter Anniversary Collection for PS2 and Xbox. This beauty may have been a little on the broken side, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to play. In it, players could not only choose which fighter they were going to use, but which version as well. You could pit Street Fighter II: The World Warrior’s Guile against Ryu from Super Street Fighter II Turbo if you wanted to. Guile’s Flash Kick would do insane damage and Ryu’s voice would sound all weird, and it was all manner of fun. You could even mess with the soundtrack, choosing everything from the CPS II, to even the 3D-O version of Super Street Fighter II (in the Japanese release, anyway). It’s kind of nuts, but it’s one of the most fun versions of Street Fighter II there is. This one’s an especial bumer because they did make an arcade port of this game, so it could fit in with the motif if Capcom really wanted it to.
Then we have Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. This Switch-exclusive version of Street Fighter II was met with lots of criticism from fans for its price tag. I have my feelings about how Switch games are priced sometimes, and this one also rubbed me the wrong way, but that’s neither here nor there. This one here is basically an enhanced port of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix with the addition of a few modes and “characters” Evil Ryu and Violent Ken. It’s probably the best version of Street Fighter II ever released, but it remains a seperate (and Switch exclusive) game from the 30th Anniversary Collection. This one makes a small amount of sense to me because after charging folks $40 for a spiffy port of Street Fighter II and then including that very same port in this collection would be kind of a dick move to the folks who ponied up the cash for Ultra Street Fighter II.
So, what we have is a compilation that’s aiming for arcade accuracy, and that’s perfectly swell, but in the process, it’s ignoring superior versions in favor of arcade perfection. I can respect what they’re trying to do, and I can respect that it’s probably easier for them to go that route instead of including the best versions of all the games, too. I honestly don’t know if I should be faulting Capcom for its decisions on inclusion. It sucks that an overall more enjoyable version could exist, but is it really right to complain about the amount of content in the 30th Anniversary Collection? I don’t think so. I’m definitely still buying it day one, and I took a hard pass on Ultra SFII when Switch launched.
But that’s just Street Fighter. That’s the example that got in my head first, but what about other ports out there? The version of Star Fox on the SNES Classic Edition is basically a perfect copy of the SNES original, but wouldn’t it be much better if they tweaked it a bit and made it run at 60fps? Sure, that’s not faithful to the original release, but can you really tell me that low framerate makes for a better game? Or what about Shadow of the Colossus? That new version all but renders the original version useless. Obviously for historical reasons the original should absolutely still exist, but it’s not exactly fun when stacked up against the new version. Even something like Super Mario All-Stars raises a whole ton of questions, especially since Nintendo doesn’t really see fit to re-release the game, except that sad ROM dump on a disc they released back around Mario’s 30th anniversary, and even that wasn’t the super-interesting Super Mario All-stars + Super Mario World version with the different Luigi sprites.
So really, the question is, should accuracy always be the goal, or should a balance be struck? Personally, I’m all for the balance option. Take the Mega Man Legacy Collections for example. You can speed up the game’s CPU so there’s no slowdown, but you can also choose to play them as they originally played on NES. This is a huge step up from the old Mega Man Anniversary Collections that also added a bunch of other sound channels so the music wouldn’t need to use the noise channel to sound full, thus sacrificing certain sounds like the NES originals did, but it also had the problem of playing rapid sound effects all at the same time. Taking that approach, of allowing people to play enhanced versions with the quality-of-life improvements modern games enjoy at the same time as allowing access to the original experiences of players so choose is probably the best option. And who knows? Maybe Capcom is just saving those fancier versions of their games for the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection 2.