Fan Art Fridays – Street Fighter and Final Fantasy Anniversary Edition

Street Fighter and Final Fantasy are both 25 years old this year! With that in mind, I’ve got some nice fan renditions of their universes to share today.

Jen Zee had the good fortune to have this amazing standoff between Ibuki and Vega printed in UDON’s Street Fighter Tribute book. She’s got a good knack for action!

Jurithedreamer’s spin on Terra from Final Fantasy VI is delightful! I love the colors and the way she made Terra look, combining Amano’s design with her own design whimsy.

Congrats to Capcom and Square-Enix!

Fan Art Fridays! – 8/3/2012

I’ve been wanting to spotlight awesome artwork from fan artists for a long time, and today is going to be the day that I actually do it. :) Every Friday I’ll put one to two pieces of fan-made artwork that I think is the bee’s knees up for you to peruse. I’ll link to the artist’s DeviantArt or Home page (if I can) to allow further discovery, although I cannot vouch for their personal pages to be safe for work! So leave LVLs. at your own risk. ;)

To start off with, here’s a great sketch of San from Princess Mononoke done by Mayumi Nose:

Captures San’s wild spirit, methinks. Her art can be accessed at Q P, a Blogger site.

For the second, I’d like to dial back the Wayback Machine and showcase one of my favorite interpretations of Street Fighter’s Vega, done by my old online buddy rook:

Wow, this is from 12 years ago! XD rook has improved a lot since then, but I still think this is some of his finer work. His current site is his dA page, where he posts occasionally under the name “rook over here“.

Okay, that’s our first installment! Wish me luck in doing this regularly. XD

Custom Street Fighter Lego Figures

If only these were the real deal!  Custom Lego designer Julian Fong has created a set based on the original 12 World Warriors, plus the New Challengers.  While they aren’t a part of Lego’s official catalog of products, he’s submitted them to the company’s CUUSOO division.  Fingers crossed, people!

Lord knows I’ve already got a ton of those Kubrick figures for the Metal Gear Solid series.  These would look right at home on the shelf next to them.

Fatal Fury – The Other Street Fighter II

Fatal Fury

I quite enjoy SNK’s Fatal Fury series. I’ve recently posted an article at my personal blog discussing the original 1991 Neo Geo fighting game and how it’s really like an alternate evolution of Capcom’s 1987 Street Fighter:

A common misconception is that Fatal Fury is a rip-off of Street Fighter II. It was easy to come to this conclusion in 1991, being that Fatal Fury‘s release trailed Street Fighter II by nine months, and given the enormous popularity of the latter, it was impossible not to compare them. What needs to be realized, however, is that both games share common ancestry. Fatal Fury was the brainchild of Takashi Nishiyama, who had previously worked at Capcom, and was actually the creator of the original Street Fighter. Both Fatal Fury and Street Fighter II were building off the foundations of the same game, but taking its concept in entirely different directions.

You can read the full article at my blog, Lark’s Island: Fatal Fury – The Other Street Fighter II

Wildcat’s Favorite Franchises – Street Fighter

Sometimes there’s a game that just seizes upon you, and you become so taken with it that you need more to satisfy some inner longing built from its excellence.  In these cases, there’s been plenty of ample sequels or prequels to fulfill that itch for me.  These are the franchises I have been following the closest over my gaming existence, the ones that I hold the highest standards to and anticipate the greatest.  They are not in any real order, because that would be agonizing to determine what I love more.  It’s hard enough with individual games – uniting them all would be a nightmare.  However, I will go into what game left the impact and which of the series I adore the most, as well as discuss each game I have (or have not, and explain why) played and its furthering impact upon my feelings.  There’s nine that I consider the finest – here’s one whose pivotal chapter just had its twentieth anniversary this past week.

Street Fighter (Capcom)

Game That Left the Impact – Street Fighter II (Arcade)

The Game I Adore – Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Dreamcast)

Street Fighter was sort of a unique franchise in terms of how I became a fan of it – I adored the artwork of it.  I loved my Gamepro strategy guide that was packed full of Capcom’s stunning character designs, and I definitely consider the cast of Street Fighter to be among the finest in all of gaming.  It took until my mid-teens to finally have a chance to sit down and play the game extensively and learn the rudimentary elements, and many more years to become competent.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert, but I do feel that I can hold my own these days (although I tend to not block enough, and have a nasty habit of dropping my guard right at the worst time).  Despite enjoying other franchises like King of Fighters, Soul Calibur and even Capcom’s own Vs. series (which I recently wrote about as another favorite franchise), I have to declare that nothing has quite toppled these games from being my favorite in the genre.

What I’ve Tried

Street Fighter – The very first game doesn’t win any fun awards, that’s for certain.  With the extremely limited roster (Ryu…anyone?  No?  Well, how about Ken too, but only for two players?), stiff controls and some poorly recorded dialogue that’s become a slight meme, you won’t miss much by skipping this in favor of any of its sequels.

Street Fighter II – Comparing this to its prequel is extraordinary.  8 fully playable characters with 7 of them being unique (Ryu and Ken were pretty much carbon copies at this early phase), plus 4 bosses to tangle up against…but the biggest improvement was the overhaul the gameplay received, making special moves easy to perform, combos much more simplified, and the game a far cry from the frustration of before.  A definite classic.

Street Fighter II Champion Edition – The beginning of Capcom’s stream of Street Fighter II updates mainly added the four bosses to the playable roster, as well as the ability to have both players play as the same character.  Nothing too amazing compared to later upgrades.

Street Fighter II Turbo – Characters received their first major upgrades (Chun-Li’s fireball being one of the most notable) here, as well as a major speed boost.  Often considered the best in the pre-Super trilogy, and with good reason.  I like this one a lot, as well.

Super Street Fighter II – With four new challengers and the bosses gaining some massive improvements to become fully-featured with their standard movesets, alongside a graphical overhaul, Super SFII is a great second beginning to the series that would become even better with its sequel…

Super Street Fighter II Turbo – …thanks to its further tweaking and the addition of Super moves to its cast, making amazing comebacks and/or stunning victories possible.  I haven’t played this as much as I should.

Street Fighter Alpha – This was the first game in the franchise I beat in the arcade (with Guy!), and the first that I began understanding the intricacies of the mechanics.  With a brand-new visual style and a great blend of new and old faces, I became quite attached to Alpha in my teens.

Street Fighter Alpha 2 – I’ve spent too little time with this one, but it’s a solid sequel that added in the Custom Combo system, which really opened up some crazy opportunities.  The additions of Sakura, Rolento, Gen, Zangief and Dhalsim were welcome, too.

Street Fighter Alpha 3 – My personal favorite of the entire franchise, thanks to its large roster, gameplay system options and feeling the most refined of the Alpha series.  I adore this game and have spent a lot of my training time here, so it’s a vital part of my fighting career.

Street Fighter 3: Third Strike – A gorgeous-looking game with the tightest gameplay in the series I’ve played, it’s far more technical and precise than the games that preceded it, but it’s a marvelously well done fighter.  The cast has some awesome designs, too.  I’m a little overwhelmed when I play it, but it’s quite enjoyable.

Super Street Fighter IV – I’ve dabbled with Super SFIV some, and I’ve decided I like the game, but I need a lot of additional practice to come to grips with its new mechanics and characters.  A solid effort, but I don’t know if it exceeds my favorites or not.

What Haven’t I Played?

Street Fighter EX series – Akira’s earlier attempts to move Street Fighter into 3D didn’t look all that fun to me, so I’ve never invested in them.

Street Fighter 3/SF3: Double Impact – I went with Third Strike, but I’ve heard these two are pretty good, too, but I haven’t seen the Dreamcast disc since its heyday, so I can’t add it to my collection if I can’t find it…

What Makes It One of the Best?

Phenomenal Character Design – I went and gushed extensively about this above, but Capcom’s crack design team has consistently created some of the best characters in all of gaming as far as I’m concerned.  Iconic and cool, being able to briefly become and control these avatars is a treat.

Stellar Game Engine – Starting with Street Fighter II, the series has taken that core and have constantly tweaked, enhanced and built upon that foundation, making each game a progression of concepts that usually pushes the sequels further into new and fantastic places.  But that core is never sacrificed in the process, so a player familiar with one title will have minimal adjustments to make getting into a different chapter.  It’s a testament to how incredible SFII really was that the later games continue utilizing its mechanics after all this time.

Eye-Opening Super Moves and Combos – Some of the best moments in Street Fighter is landing one of the game’s signature super moves on an open opponent…especially if it turns the tide.  It can also quickly change the results of a match to be able to string together a hard-hitting combo and manage a come-from-behind victory as it finishes.  It takes practice to be able to learn when to best use your character’s tricks to your best advantage, and that when they are ingrained in your reflexes, it makes fighting the CPU or human players that much sweeter.

Training – In fact, speaking of training, I’ve found that spending time with each fighter to learn their nuances and seeing how to best defeat the rest of the cast with them is a unparalleled joy in gaming for me.  It’s something that must be done to fully appreciate a fighter, and despite lacking local friends these days to serve as adversaries (they all moved!), I still find a great deal of pleasure in the devotion of practice, practice, practice.

Competition – Lastly, and again looking back and speaking of my old gaming buddies, some of my greatest memories in this medium have come from dueling with my friends.  Chris spent time training me and eventually became my rival, not my teacher, and Anthony rose from student to equal over our friendship.  Since having some understanding of Street Fighter’s gameplay, the few times I’ve engaged in arcade matches have also been delightful.  I’ve enjoyed putting my skills to the test, and hope that, thanks to network battling, I can continue doing that.

Level-based Fighting Games

Introduction

When Capcom’s Street Fighter II was releasaed in 1990, it set the standard for all one-on-one fighting games to follow. It combined fluid controls, special moves, a large cast of characters, and an emphasis on competitive play to create one of the most popular and influential games of its time. In many ways, it was the first game of its kind.

But wait! What about that ‘II’ on the end? Obviously there were other one-on-one fighting games before Street Fighter II came along. However, they followed a distinctly different design mentality that set them apart from what the genre evolved into. I call them “level-based” fighting games for lack of a better descriptor.

Unlike Street Fighter II, level-based fighting games place emphasis on the single-player experience. Much like traditional action games, you play as a main character, and you proceed to fight against opponents in a level-based fashion. Think of it like a boss rush. You fight opponents in a particular order, and each one is designed to be more difficult than the last. Defeating them sometimes requires learning their patterns or weaknesses.

This is quite different from a post-Street Fighter II fighting game in which you have several characters to choose from, and you then fight against some or all of the other characters in a random order. All of the characters are more or less balanced with only the AI adjusted to increase challenge. Basically, the game was intended for two players.

Many old level-based fighting games are looked upon as archaic today. That’s probably because most of them simply didn’t play very well. It’s not really the fault of the design so much that they didn’t play as smoothly as Street Fighter II. However, the conventions of current fighting games are so ingrained in the genre that players today probably wouldn’t accept a return to a level-based approach.

I thought it would be interesting to look back at the evolution of level-based fighting games because they are a precursor to the fighting game genre as we now know it and there are still some influences that have carried over.

Note that this is by no means a comprehensive retrospective. I’m only covering some of the more notable games.

Karate Champ (Data East, 1984)

Karate Champ

Karate Champ

Karate Champ was not the first one-on-one fighting game, but it’s probably the first that really resembled a current fighting game. It was also very influential in its own right.

You play as a guy in a white karate uniform, and you fight against an identical character in a red uniform. Sound familiar? Karate Champ also introduced different environments to fight in, as well as bonus rounds. However, it doesn’t quite play like a modern fighting game. Your character is controlled using two joysticks and no buttons. Rather than having health bars, knockouts, and a set number of rounds, Karate Champ is score-based. As soon as one character manages to hit the other, the round is over, and either a half or whole point is awarded. The winner is the first to reach two points. If time runs out, a winner is “judged” by the game.

The original release of Karate Champ was strictly a single-player affair with only one set of joysticks to play the game. However, only a few months later, a “Player vs. Player” edition of the game was released that allowed for two players. It also added new backgrounds and other features. This was probably the very first ever “upgraded edition” of a fighting game.

Yie Ar Kung-Fu (Konami, 1985)

Yie Ar Kung-Fu

Yie Ar Kung-Fu

Yie Ar Kung-Fu is the quintessential level-based fighting game. You play as a kung fu master named Oolong, and you fight against various opponents in a set order, each with a different style and weapon. There are no bonus rounds. Although it may look like a modern fighting game, it doesn’t quite play like one. You can’t attack during jumps, and there are no rounds, per se, just a set number of lives. If you lose a round, you lose a life. Also, there is no time limit.

There is absolutely no two-player mode in Yie Ar Kung-Fu, so it’s strictly a single-player game.

Street Fighter (Capcom, 1987)

Street Fighter

Street Fighter

The original Street Fighter is almost an enigma in its own series. At the same time, it still established many conventions that would later be greatly improved upon.

You play as either Ryu (player one) or Ken (player two), who are completely identical except for appearance. You fight against several other characters (many of which would appear in later games) in a set order, but it was possible for the arcade machine to be set to allow players to choose their first opponent.

The game included health bars, a timer, and bonus rounds. The standard six-button interface associated with the series began here. Some versions of the arcade game, however, used only two large pressure sensitive buttons, with the strength of the attack determined by how hard you (literally) hit them.

Street Fighter was also the first fighting game to introduce special moves that are performed by inputting certain joystick movements and button presses. The hardware, however, was not ideal for detecting such movements, so the moves were extremely difficult to pull off.

Street Smart (SNK, 1989)

Street Smart

Street Smart

SNK’s first fighting game is probably not what you might expect. Street Smart plays more like a beat-em-up than a standard one-on-one fighting game, with your character able to move in eight directions in an arena. Fighting games of this era probably took this direction due to the popularity of the beat-em-up genre at the time.

The game also allows for two-player cooperative play, so you can team up against the game’s opponents. However, both players face off against each other after each match. There are no rounds and no timer. The fight ends only after the opponent has lost all of his health, but there are buy-in continues that let players continue a fight at exactly the point they lost.

Pit-Fighter (Atari Games, 1990)

Pit-Fighter

Pit-Fighter

Like Street Smart, Pit-Fighter is more like a brawler. Its most defining feature is its digitized graphics, but this is no Mortal Kombat. Pit-Fighter is notorious for being awful, but I find it bad in a humorous way. I always play it at least once whenever I fire up Midway Arcade Treasures 2 just for a few laughs.

The game allows for three-player cooperative play, but every few levels allows them to have a “grudge match” between them. It’s notable, however, that each of the three characters in the game have unique stats and abilities, so they weren’t just clones of each other. Not only that, but it was also possible for different players to pick the same character. These were features that are, of course, common in current fighting games.

Fatal Fury: King of Fighters (SNK, 1991)

Fatal Fury

Fatal Fury: King of Fighters

Fatal Fury has the unfortunate honor of being one of the first one-on-one fighting games to be released after Street Fighter II. However, it was actually in development longer than Street Fighter II, and it’s really more comparable to the original Street Fighter.

The game has three selectable characters, all with their own unique abilities. There are eight opponents, but you can choose which of the first four you want to fight first. The order of the other three depends on whom you chose, and the last four opponents come in a set order.

Although the fighting is restricted to a plane as with the Street Fighter series, there are two planes to switch between. Perhaps this was intended to be some strange compromise with beat-em-up-style fighting games, but it became a staple of the Fatal Fury series. The game also allows for two-player cooperative play, but after each match, the two players must fight against each other. Only the winner can continue on.

Fatal Fury also emphasizes its story, with scenes of the final boss between each match commenting on the fights. This lends a little more weight to the final showdown.

Art of Fighting (SNK, 1992)

Art of Fighting

Art of Fighting

After Street Fighter II was released, many fighting games imitated its design very closely. Even SNK’s own Fatal Fury 2 was quite an obvious clone. Yet interestingly, SNK took one more stab at a pure level-based fighting game with Art of Fighting. Perhaps this had something to do with director Hiroshi Matsumoto having previously worked at Capcom as a designer for the original Street Fighter.

Art of Fighting includes 10 characters, eight of which are playable in the two-player mode. However, in the single-player game, players are forced to choose one of only two characters. The reason for this is because Art of Fighting is heavily story-based for a fighting game. Opponents are fought strictly in order, and there are dialogue scenes before and after each fight that unfold the story. The bonus rounds also serve more than just an opportunity to increase your score. Successfully completing them allows you to increase your health meter, spirit gauge (your power for performing special moves), or gain access to new moves, so there’s a very slight character building aspect to the game as well.

After this, level-based fighting games would largely become obsolete, but there was one more notable level-based fighting game that would come from an unlikely source…

Red Earth (Capcom, 1996)

Red Earth

Red Earth

Capcom, the company that revolutionized the genre by focusing on its competitive nature, was ironically the last company to attempt a pure level-based fighting game. However, they went all out on it. Red Earth was the first game to run on Capcom’s CPS3 arcade board (which was later used for Street Fighter III), so its sprite-based graphics and animation were quite impressive for the time.

There are only four selectable characters, and eight unplayable opponents. Those opponents, however, tended to be large and unwieldy characters like dinosaurs and demons. Your character starts off weak, but gains experience points and can level up after each match, which increases abilities and stamina. Coins, health and other treasure can also be collected during a match as you beat up your opponent. There are also multiple endings per character, depending on certain conditions (usually based on how many continues were used, but others as well). Most interesting, perhaps, is that the game uses a password system that allows you to save your character and continue building him/her up in a subsequent play-through.

Of course, there’s also the obligatory competitive two-player mode, but with only four characters, it’s clear that this game was intended to be a single-player affair.

Unfortunately, Red Earth failed in arcades and was never ported to any home systems, so it ended up being the last hurrah for pure level-based fighting games.

The Spirit Lives On

Although the fighting game genre is now completely focused on the competitive multiplayer experience, many fighting games still include a dedicated single player mode that attempts to flesh out the solo game. Home versions of Street Fighter Alpha 3 included a “World Tour” mode that allowed players to choose a character that could be built up in an RPG-type fashion. The Soul Calibur series has a “Weapon Master” mode, in which completing various challenges not only teaches players about the game, but also unlocks new weapons, arenas, and even characters. The Super Smash Bros. games include “Adventure” modes that try to mimic traditional side-scrolling action games. Even Street Fighter IV includes a challenge mode.

Given modern expectations of fighting games, it’s unlikely there will ever be a return to “proper” level-based fighting games. But for a genre that’s specifically about one-on-one fighting, it’s easy to see that it naturally lends itself to multiplayer competition. However, it’s interesting to look back at the roots of the genre, because we can still see the residual influence level-based fighting games have had.

References

Hardcore Gaming 101
Wikipedia

Make or Break – Boiling Gaming’s Mechanics to its Essence: Voice Repetition

Games have been a massive part of my livelihood.  I adore the medium, and consider them to be as vital to my being as air or water.  Recently I decided to try to strip video games down to their basest ingredients in an attempt to highlight what works best and what simply doesn’t.  I’ll be covering a myriad of topics and concepts within this series, with examples of games that manage to impress me with its handling of the subject, as well as titles that failed miserably at it.

Repetition really is a make or break aspect of games, no matter how it decides to manifest itself.  Recently, however, I discovered a nagging correlation between three of the games I was playing at the time – they all had a high frequency of repeated dialogue, and one of them was to such a degree that it crippled the enjoyment of the entire game for me.  The three games in question were Madworld, Exit DS and Oblivion.  I touched upon the issue a little when I wrote the impression piece regarding them a while back, but now I’m going to fully discuss why it bothered me, as well as presenting some additional examples, good and bad, for additional discussion.  This is certainly not intended to be an encompassing article, but merely an introduction.  Let’s begin with the one that got my ire most first.

Unfortunately, it was the game I was most anticipating when it was announced, and it seemed that it couldn’t do any wrong given the pedigree of who was behind it.  Alas, Madworld has been sitting in my game case ever since I wrote the impression piece back in January, and I am planning on selling it in the near future.  The gameplay was great, despite me occasionally slinging the Wiimote too hard (usually when they had to be separated from each other).  It certainly was a visceral, violent game, but it stood out as stylish to me.  The graphical approach was also well executed.  It seemed like all would go well.  There was a problem, though, and it slowly began to dawn on me as I got more engaged into the action (Grace, who was getting VERY agitated about it, noticed it a lot sooner) – the enemies had far too limited a sound bite bank to pull quips from.  Here’s what I reported back then about this:

Basic explanation: you’ll hear the same three or four guttural shrieks that have the word “fucker” in it somewhere every 10 or so seconds…maybe even more frequent than that.  Or you’ll hear “Sir!”, which I don’t have any clue as to why that is even being said in the first place.

I didn’t lie.  It’s beyond frequent – hearing “fucker” is like clockwork in Madworld.  It’s going to happen a lot.  I’d be willing to bet I heard the same insult over 100 times, and I only got through the first two levels.  What drove Sega to record such a scant amount of dialogue for their standard grunts is baffling to me.  Clearly they cared some about their audio choices, otherwise they’d have not hired Steve Blum, Greg Proops and John DiMaggio, who are talented VA’s.  Maybe they cared too much for their headliners.  Maybe they ran out of room on the disc.  Maybe they figured people hear “fucker” so much in the real world they wouldn’t care.  Shame is, I did care.  I’m not a fan of censorship, and I cuss fairly often (not a ton on the blog, outside of angry Amazon diatribes, at least) when I’m with Grace, so the word itself is not the issue.  It’s the excessive abuse of three infinitely looping lines that ruined Madworld for me.  They could have been saying “pen!” – it still would have been irritating.  And then there’s the issue of the nonsensical “Sir!” that both confounds and annoys me.  Why are they screaming it all the time?  It makes no rational sense.  Sure, Jack is a man, but I don’t believe they’re shouting it at him.  Do they communicate in military lingo in reference to each other?  That may be more feasible, but it’s still weird.  And in the grand scheme of things, it wore out its WTF value in moments.  Before “fucker” even sunk into my skull, the amount I was hearing  “Sir!” was sending off warning alarms.  I find it to be tragic, really, because I liked the game.  I genuinely got a kick out of it.  It’s too bad that Sega had to make such a decision.

Now, I can hear some of you saying “Well, why not turn the sound off, then, if it bothers you that much?”, and that’s a reasonable question.  I would have done that, but Sega and Platinum made another audio folly that becomes far more noticeable without sound – the Wiimote revs like a chainsaw when Jack uses his wrist-mounted weapon, and having that racket continually break the silence over and over also became intolerable.

Fortunately, the other two games have their own saving graces, despite featuring the same repetitive voice over issue.  Exit DS reuses the same voice clips for its victims that Mr. ESC has to rescue per civilian type, and after a few stages, it loses any trace of appeal.  Mr. Esc’s shouts are also a little much after a bit.  Must they be so gutteral?  It sounds like a serial killer from a bad horror flick or something.  Thankfully for me, I don’t care much for the music either, so I play it with the sound off (which doesn’t have special sound effects coming from the machine when it’s silent!).

Oblivion, on the other hand, does tend to repeat similar dialogue as you roam around the various cities, but because the game had such a massive amount of voice work performed, as well as the player actively participating in the world which opened up more topics for discussion, it didn’t blemish my overall enjoyment of the game all that much.  It did get a little tiring hearing several townsfolk talk about the Fighter’s Guild, for example, but that wasn’t the only discussion topic flowing from their lips, either.

That was a bit lengthy for an introduction to the overall piece, but I think Madworld serves as a pristine example as to how much audio influences the overall picture of a game.  It deserves equal care, thought and proper development to truly shine and build upon the game’s visual and gameplay impact, giving birth to a unique and powerful connection to the player.  Repetition is something that must be accounted for, and if it exists, it has to be done very carefully to escape tormenting its participants.  Let’s dig into some other game genres that feature some voice-over repetition, and if it becomes a nuisance or not.

Sports games are notorious for repetition because of the simple fact that commentators are not actively recording each game as a unique performance.  The frequent regurgitation of the sound bites will happen because the announcers/VA’s are unable (monetarily and time-wise) to be able to treat each game with the spur-of-the-moment passion and enthusiasm that the real deal can garner.  A long recording session, the determination of what to record and how much dialogue to take from each subject from the session,  and the need to cherry-pick the finest (or weirdest, in some cases) material all come into play.  As nice as it would be to actually have John Madden and Al Michaels be there in the recording booth properly reacting to your game as it happened, the odds of such an event are not all that great.  However, some games do pull off their play-by-play better than others.

International Superstar Soccer 98 happens to be one of my favorite sports games, and magically, Konami’s hiring of Tony Gubba worked very well to the game’s advantage, despite the space limitations of the N64 cartridge.  While Konami could only stuff so much audio onto the game’s code, what they recorded is the key thing.  While Gubba repeats himself a bit, his commentary manages to find the sweet spot that doesn’t grow obnoxious over time.  His reactions are perfect, his lines fitting, and his voice is more than tolerable (it probably helps that he does this sort of thing for a living).  If I were making a soccer game, I would definitely consider him to be the commentator for it.

On the other hand, football games like Madden and, when they existed, the NFL 2K series, have had the tendency to limit their recordings on particular football mechanics, and will recycle the same quip whenever it happens.  There’s a solid enough reason for this to occur – in real-life football, these kinds of events are rare, and one would expect that the videogaming equivalent would act the same.  Unfortunately, because of its very nature of being a videogame, rare real-life situations can be easily replicated.  If one can score several defensive touchdowns, or can block a punt, or returns a kickoff for a TD, the likelihood that they will hear the exact same comments they heard last time they accomplished that feat is almost guaranteed.  Chris Berman’s intros and Sportscenter bits are a solid example of this.  You’ll be able to recite some of his witticisms after one season in franchise mode.

Fighting games have one of the highest frequencies of repetition in gaming, and it’s absolutely vital to have solid voice actors supplying those lines.  I’ve noticed that the Japanese voiceovers tend to be more successful than English dubs in fighting games, but I haven’t discovered why I feel that way.  Maybe Soul Calibur’s half-hearted attempt to do English TWICE has left a distinct imprint on my brain (thank Soul Edge that they left the Japanese tracks in both SCII and SCIII).  Japanese seemingly makes the lines more meaningful, or at least tolerable, to me.  Imagine if Ryu yelled “FIREBALL!” every time he used his Hadoken.  It would be a little awkward, wouldn’t it?  Or, even better, directly translating the Japanese SHO-RYU-KEN to “Rising Dragon Fist”.  Ken would lose a little of his awesomeness if he let that one loose on the battlefield.  Mortal Kombat may be the only case of English-speaking fighters that did not bother me.  Killer Instinct I’ve played too little of to comment on, and any other significant US/Europe based fighter is escaping my memory.

Capcom’s Street Fighter series has consistently been delivering excellent voice-over work for its cast, with only the occasional miscast (I really want to know what Capcom was thinking when they replaced Cammy’s voice in Capcom Vs. SNK 2 – she’s bloody British!) marring its reputation.  While Grace may think otherwise (she’s not much into the fighting scene), I think that the voices and exclamations are excellent and fitting, and I can listen to “Hadoken” millions of times without any sort of irritation (I probably have, to be honest).  What makes Street Fighter so effective is that Capcom puts a high level of thought into all the necessary components that a fighter’s voice needs – the moans of being struck, the grunts of throwing a hard punch or kick, the crushing gasp of defeat, and everything in between.  Their voice builds upon the character’s artistic design, transcending them from being mere players on a screen to something more substantial.

SNK’s Fatal Fury/King of Fighters series also have done some awesome stuff with voiceovers.  While they have run into a few more snags than Capcom’s SF cast (Whip in KoF Evolution is aggravating as all hell), they’ve managed to successfully blend Japanese with horribly mangled English to create some of the most memorable lines in fighter history.  Terry’s “Are you okay?  Buster Wolf!” is just incredible, for one.

Also, I think Iori’s voice actor is one of the best voices in gaming.  He captures the sinister element of Iori’s personality perfectly.

Since the introduction of voice into the videogaming medium, repetition has been a hurdle many sound designers have had to leap.  Some have cleared it, while others have tripped and failed.  At the very least, I can wish that you’ll be thinking about the subject a little more than you have before thanks to this article.  It was one that I enjoyed writing, and one I may revisit to delve into more.

Looking Back: My Favorite Game from 1987

1987 was a key year for me.  For Christmas in ’86, I got a NES as my big present.  Packed inside was Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.  The former was, as I mentioned before, revolutionary to my young mind.  It was obsessively compelling, and there were times that I got in trouble because I yearned to revisit the Mushroom Kingdom.  The TV was not in my room (and would not be for several more years), so despite my youthful urges, I had to be cleared to play games by my parents (which was probably a good thing in hindsight…).  My parents have sometimes debated if buying me a NES was a mistake. :p  I’m glad that they did, though, because gaming has been a massive part of my livelihood, and I wouldn’t want to have missed the experiences, joys and thrills that this medium have given me.

I would not be getting any new games until the following year, so Mario and Ducks were all I had to go on for a while.  Luckily for me, a local video rental place started carrying NES games around the time that I got my NES, so one of my great pleasures was going there and checking out games.  SMB was a behemoth for any game to compare itself to, and I relished the chance to try out new genres and frontiers.  Most did not match up to Mario’s stellar gameplay execution, but as a kid, sometimes even the crappiest games were incredibly engrossing in some way. I seem to remember slogging my way through Godzilla just because I could.  Somehow it captivated me, despite it being little more than a slow-paced button masher.  And then there’s Back to the Future Parts II and III, which, for the life of me I don’t quite understand, I adored the rental of that.  Looking back on it, I’m not really sure why…it was nothing too spectacular, and it certainly wasn’t true to the movie (a rare feat in the NES era, let me tell you :p ), but those collect-a-thon mini-stages were awesome to my little boy brain back then.  Go figure.

My mom had a daycare, and early on, she would let other kids play the console with me.  I distinctly remember renting Joust, and not having any sort of idea of what the hell I was doing.  It soon turned into an over-competitive gauntlet for the controller, however, so that practice quickly subsided.  It was a brief introduction of multiplayer gaming, and the possibilities it presented were tantalizing, to say the least.

The NES and I would be spending many years together.  Until 1993 or so, it was the only gaming box I had.  I got the Commodore 64 around 1993, and a Nintendo 64 in 1996.  Many cherished memories would come from that tiny gray box of digital miracles, and the years to come would be some of the most groundbreaking to my youth.

Shortlist:

Legend of Zelda (NES, Nintendo)

As the young boy Link, you must recover the hidden Triforce of Wisdom shards, buried deep within diabolical dungeons.  During your quest across the vast world of Hyrule, you’ll gather special gear and weapons to help make your adventure easier or to traverse obstacles to find secret passages.

Castlevania (NES, Konami)

As the brave vampire hunter Simon Belmont, you’ll whip your way through the punishing halls of the evil Count Dracula’s castle, defeating various monstrous demons and conquering the difficult level designs with deft footwork.  You can collect special weapons and hearts to power them, as well as boost the strength of your whip, Vampire Killer.

Metroid (NES, Nintendo)

Samus Aran, a bounty hunter, has been deployed to the remote planet of Zebes to defeat a space pirate called Mother Brain.  Zebes is a labyrinth of open-ended subterranean tunnels and caves clock full of nasty alien life, but Samus has the ability to pick up items that boost her Power Suit’s gadgetry capabilities.  Tons of hidden paths reward patient players, and those who have mastered the game will be rewarded with one of the more “shocking” revelations of the NES era: finding out that Samus is a woman!

Last Ninja (C64, System 3)

This isometric action title boasts remarkable backgrounds, tense gameplay and tons of ninja weaponry to wield.  Careful footwork and a quick hand to attack are all keys to truly embracing your ninjahood.

In my opinion, the best game of 1987 was…


The Legend of Zelda (NES, Nintendo)

The Legend of Zelda is to this day one of my favorite gaming experiences.  The incredibly huge world for its time was perfectly sized, packed with so many tricks and hidden passages that a plucky gamer could spend hours randomly bombing walls, flaming bushes, or pushing rocks to uncover them all…if they had the right tools to do such a thing, that is.  Shops supply some items to Link, but the majority of the nifty gizmos Link can use are locked up tight within the game’s nine dungeons.  While they are not as puzzle-heavy as later games in the series, the balance between action and exploration is perfect.  With a variety of enemy types to deal with, including such legends as Wall Masters, Like Likes, Dodongos and Gohmas, the combat is gratifying and diverse.  The boss fights are as engaging as the NES could probably handle, and after defeating Ganon and rescuing Princess Zelda, a second quest appears, offering a more difficult trek through a remapped, retooled Hyrule.  The enemies are tougher, the dungeons relocated and punishing, and served as a perfect reward for gamers who hungered for more.

I remember very well burning the first bush that led to a secret stairwell, untangling the chaotic Lost Woods maze to end up in the graveyard, inadvertently stumbling into the waterfall to find a hidden cave, discovering that Athos statues can come to life if you touch them, using the Whistle to drain the entrance to a cleverly disguised dungeon, riding the raft, fighting the seemingly invincible Digdogger (figuring out that the whistle was needed to greatly weaken him was a pleasant untangling of the game’s occasionally obtuse hint system in my younger days), feeding bombs to Dodongo, being grabbed by a Wall Master, fuming after a Like Like swiped my Blue Ring and Magic Shield by my clumsy mistake…in short, this game is packed full of memorable moments that imprinted themselves to my gaming meddle.  This is exactly what games are supposed to do! This concept, born from Shigeru Miyamoto’s early childhood wandering the Japanese countryside, has left its mark again and again on countless gamers all over the world.

Some personal anecdotes:

This game and I have a funny habit of losing each other.  I owned the NES game twice.  I gave them to friends to play, never to see them again.  I’ve closely guarded my Gamecube Collector’s Disc, as it remains the only copy of the game I currently own.  I could download it onto my Wii, sure, but why do that when I don’t need to?  I have become very protective of my games because of this, rarely lending them out to anyone, even to people I trust.

My dad got into the original Zelda quite a bit.  He arguably spent as much time playing it as I did when we first bought it.  However, the gaming bug did not hold onto him, and it took the Wii all these years later to reel him (and my mom, who isn’t a game player by any stretch of the imagination) back in.  I suppose I should alert him to being able to download this, eh? ;)

I sat down and properly beat the Second Quest the summer of 2010.  I was very happy to be able to check that obstacle off of my checklist.  I still like the first one more, but it didn’t disappoint with its high degree of challenge.

Other Awards:

Starting this year, I will be much more thorough with my award giving, including Surprise and Disappointments of the Year, dividing Heroes and Heroines into separate categories, covering the best overall soundtrack of a game, and also giving nominees to all of the awards.  As I officially became a console owner in 1987 with the NES, it feels appropriate to dig deeper into these choices.

Worst Game of the Year: Street Fighter (Arcade, Capcom)

Street Fighter is a fine concept marred by poor execution.  As a successor to Karate Champ and its other martial-arts cousins, it fails to capture the precision of those title’s controls. It instead relies on delayed responses and wonky movement to power its gameplay, and those give a player little motivation to keep plugging away at it.  Granted, the original control scheme was meant to use two joysticks: one that would move Ryu around and the other to create attacks. Alas, that too didn’t work due to the sluggishness of the character’s reactions to the button inputs we see now.  As for the visuals, the backgrounds are pretty nice, but the character design and animation leave much to be desired.  Luckily, Ryu, Ken, Sagat, Adon, Birdie, Gen and Eagle would have a chance to see their initially uninspiring designs see significant improvement in later games.  To sum up, clunky gameplay and somewhat dull graphics do not add up to awesomeness.  Those traits would arrive with the sequel.

Contender: Avengers (Arcade, Capcom)

Surprise of the Year: Black Tiger (Arcade, Capcom)

Black Tiger’s a good mix of arcade action and platforming.  It’s definitely an quarter-muncher in terms of its difficulty, but the game world is rather unique, the controls are responsive enough, and there’s plenty of opportunity to expand your stats and march into these levels with a sense of confidence.  Black Tiger is also a fairly impressive hero with his long-range mace/dagger combo.  If only his shield did something. :p

Contender: Side Pocket (Arcade, Data East)

Disappointment of the Year: Bionic Commando (Arcade, Capcom)

Having played the superior NES game first, realizing that the arcade original was so substandard was pretty hard to take.  It lacks the precision, flow and fluidity of the NES game, coming off as clunky and, as much as I don’t want to say it, boring.  There’s really no need to try out this one compared to its excellent cousin.

Contender: Mega Man (NES, Capcom)

Best New Hero: Mega Man (NES, Capcom)

Ah, Classic Mega Man is one of the legends of the gaming pantheon, and he wholeheartedly deserves the status.  I love the little guy.  He’s a great design with a great mechanic backing him (stealing the weapons of his opponents), and Capcom had managed to maintain his awesomeness despite overdoing his sequels nonstop in the NES era.  He’ll always be one of the best examples of an action game hero in my eyes.

Contender: Link (Legend of Zelda, NES, Nintendo)

Best New Heroine: Samus Aran (Metroid, NES, Nintendo)

Samus is a complex character, that she is.  Her origins were shrouded in her heavy armor, and her sex was a revelation revealed through a …lingerie striptease. :p  However, despite the occasional sexist angles her designers have put her through over the years, Samus Aran is one of the finest woman protagonists in all of gaming lore.  Her wide arsenal and her Power Suit abilities are unique and incredibly cool.  I really like playing as Samus, and two of her adventures, Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, are among the greatest games ever made in my book, so I definitely consider her an incredible leader for female character design.

Contender: Alas, I haven’t played any other games that star a female protagonist from 1987 enough to proclaim a second place winner.  I’d count the roller skater from California Games, but that’s sort of cheating. XD

Best New Villain: Ganon (Legend of Zelda, NES, Nintendo)

Ganon is such a terrific antagonist.  His first appearance here was terrifying, as he drifted around his lair under a cloak of invisibility, and without the right tools he would quickly shrug off Link’s attacks.  As he evolved over the years his dastardly deeds would increase, and his design would become more wicked and sinister, developing into Ocarina of Time’s Ganondorf, which is my personal favorite of his many personae.  A masterful and powerful force in evil, without question.

Contender: Ridley (Metroid, NES, Nintendo)

Best New Enemy: Metroids (Metroid, NES, Nintendo)

Borrowed from an Enemy Encounters article:

The most fearsome game enemy in existence to me is a Metroid. I remember back when I got to Tourian in the original Metroid and being freaked out when these jellyfish-like enemies began flying my way. Panic is a natural instinct that occurs once they latch onto you, leeching away all of the hard-earned energy you spent a lot of time replenishing for the final battle.

Aye, I love these jellyfish-inspired aliens. Among the most terrifying enemies in all of gaming!

Contender: Reapers (Kid Icarus, NES, Nintendo)

Worst New Character: Rastan (Arcade, Taito)

Rastan is a very blase barbarian type, with very little to distinguish him from the army of other barbarians that permeate gaming of this era.  His clunky animation, lackluster moveset and slow response time doesn’t aid his cause.  A boring, typical stereotype hero that could have used some significant time in the development oven.

Contender: Duke Davis (Bad Street Brawler, NES, Mattel)

Best Box Art: Castlevania (NES, Konami)

Taken from an Artistic Discussion:

Konami had the rare capability to create box art that wasn’t god-awful in the NES era, and Castlevania is a shining example of this talent.  The essence of the game is perfectly rendered on this box. A bold warrior, whip in hand, squares off against the evil Count Dracula (or at least, a vampire, but I figured it was Dracula on first glance, myself), and the demonic castle that gives the series its namesake is prominently featured.  Moody colors and the striking silver border surrounding the art create a haunting motif that remains a highlight of the NES era.

Contender: Galaga ’88 (Arcade, Namco)

Worst Box Art: Mega Man (NES, Capcom)

Borrowed from my Artistic Discussion rant:

There’s so many things wrong here that it’s hard even to begin. Mega Man’s pose is awkward in multiple ways: his legs jut out at odd angles, his shoulders are too far forward, his left arm is holding the gun unrealistically, his helmet is off-center, his right arm is not drawn to scale, his boots look like they were merely colored over his original legs…etc. The background fails perspective 101 practically everywhere, with only the explosives resembling anything that looks like…what it should be, I suppose. The random palm trees that abruptly cut off, the bizarre domes that are in the foreground that seem to serve no purpose other than adding some buttcrack peaches into the mix, and god, I could keep going. When the best part of your box is the nifty 80′s grid BEHIND your composition, there’s a problem!

Contender: Avengers (Arcade, Capcom)

Best Song: Wicked Child (Castlevania, NES, Konami, Kinuyo Yamashita)

Taken from a Song Highlights:

Man, how I do love me some Wicked Child. Definitely one of the finest NES compositions, this tune captures the frantic pace of the third section of the game perfectly. With its tough foes (especially the Fleamen, whose random hops manage to tie into this tune very well), high amount of pits, and the ambient scenery of scaling the castle’s walls and towers, this is a lovely example of how to properly set up a tense mood with your gaming music. I wonder why Konami hasn’t brought back this classic into the modern Castlevanias…scared of living up to the awesomeness of the original, perhaps?

Contender: Norfair (Metroid, NES, Nintendo, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

Best Soundtrack: Metroid (NES, Nintendo, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

From its ominous introduction to its atmospheric caves to the decadent conclusion, Metroid’s overall soundtrack is among the finest on the NES.  All of it suits the place it represents, and almost all of it has been revived one way or another down the road.  Tanaka did a splendid job with the variety and quality of this game’s music.

Contender: Castlevania (NES, Konami, Kinuyo Yamashita)


Worst Song: Stage Select Theme (Street Fighter, Capcom, Arcade, Yoshihiro Sakaguchi)

The song in question starts about 0:30 in. Sakaguchi is quite capable of good music, but the majority of Street Fighter’s soundtrack doesn’t showcase his talent. This grating stage select theme stands out as the horrendous epitome.  Perhaps he took some vital lessons from this game for his future projects. Don’t listen to it for too long!

Contender: Under Attack (Kid Icarus, Nintendo, NES, Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

Back to 1986Forward to 1988

Virtual Console Recommendation: Fighting Street (TG16-CD)

Fighting Street (TG16-CD)

W- Fighting Street is a port of Capcom’s arcade Street Fighter (don’t get confused!), but as a game experience, there’s not much point to DL’ing this over any SFII option.  The game’s controls are awkward and hard to pull off, the roster’s one deep (Ryu) for one-player, and it’s lacking the magic that SFII features so well.  It’s interesting as a transitional piece of gaming history, but little more than that.  It’s certainly not worth the points it’s being asked for here.

4 of 64: Sagat

Click Sagat to visit my DeviantART page to get a bigger version.

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