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SummaryStreet Fighter: The Next Generation (demo version)
The GoodIt's was quite a while since we last saw Ryu and the gang kick butt in the arcades, by 1995 the arcade fighting scene had finally started to evolve beyond the SF2 clones and there were new games in town that had managed to take away Capcom's lead in the genre with the Mortal Kombats, Virtua Fighters, etc. Heck! Even SNK had managed to pick up the pace and started to grow a bigger fanbase thanks to titles like Samurai Shodown and The King of Fighters 94'! What had Capcom been doing in the meantime? Just continuing their track record of cheaply stretching game series forever by releasing hundreds of minimally changed versions of their games... Riiight.... Anyway, after the 5th version of SF2 everyone was kinda fed up with Capcom so they finally unveiled the first true sequel to Street Fighter 2 since 1989, Street Fighter Zero (Alpha in the states).
The changes in the game became evident as soon as you started it, for starters the game had much better visual quality than it's predecessors, sporting hand-drawn sprites that featured much more detail and had much more frames of animation per move. The backgrounds and interfaces also received a much needed facelift and the hit effects and special moves were upgraded to look bigger and better than ever, with the Super moves being the most obviously improved by freezing the game for a second or so while your character charges up power and then releasing it with spectacular (specially if you manage to finish them with it) effects.
This brings me to the new gameplay additions that introduce new mechanics to focus on. Air blocking makes it's first revolutionary appearance but it's the aforementioned super moves that take a major starring role in the game, with a new segmented power bar that offers 3 different power levels for each super move. The bar gets charged up normally by doing just about everything so the game doesn't turn into a typical SNK power-managing borefest but still incorporates a new level of strategy by adding depth to the super moves as bigger levels take longer to charge up but reward the players with better hit priority, larger damage and more hits. Another feature that takes up power levels are the new alpha counters, which while rather redundant for most fights still are a nice and functional addition to the game that work as simple universal moves performed during the block stun that allow you to perform a quick reversal that sends your opponent flying back with a nice fist in their face. A more comprehensive chain-combo system also improves gameplay as it adds a faster rythm to the fights and effectively brings the series into the new generation of combo-loving gamers without going overboard into Killer Instict waters. Then you have a selection of auto and manual fighting modes that enable novices to quickly get into the game by simplifying the power management and adding auto-blocks to help you not get your ass whupped.
Last but not least you might have noticed the title prompts you to think of a prequel and that's what the game is so you get younger version of SF2 characters with some new faces that actually mix Street Fighter 1 characters with Final Fight veterans Guy and Sodom (man don't you just Love those names???:)) These characters don't progress towards the final battle in the same way and each character actually has a personal nemesis that acts as his end boss, for instance Chun Li faces Bison at the end of her tournament, but Ken has to tangle with Ryu in the final match. All characters are perfectly balanced in the time honored-Capcom tradition so you get a different yet enjoyable experience with any of the 11 characters which also include 2 secret ones plus a really, really REALLY cool addition called "Dramatic Fight Mode" that enables you to fight with a friend as Ryu and Ken vs Bison at the Same time!!! Probably the best feature in the entire game.
The BadThe biggest considerations against SFA1 come from a consumer-value standpoint, as per standard Capcom practices the game is NOT what it was intended to be, and got released way sooner that it should. This shouldn't be misinterpreted as noting that the game is buggy or prone to glitches, but it does mean it came out without as many features as it was intended. The character lineup is nearly below average considering most big games at the time were in the 14-18 range (SSF2 Turbo had 16), the backgrounds are rather lame and there are only about 6 or 8 meaning that you seem them all too often, and several other features and moves were kicked back to SFA2. Translation: yeah Alpha 1 is good but why the hell would you waste your time in it when 2 is the real deal? The home port actually exarcerbates the issue as it just offers you the standard arcade, vs and practice modes, and doesn't add anything else for your enjoyment. On the other hand the lack of features means that the shitty PSX can handle the port quite well and the only missing things are some random frames of animations for the more complex moves.
The Bottom LineStreet Fighter Zero/Alpha is a great return for the king of fighting games and made it clear that Capcom was still the big name in the genre. The only flaw one should consider against it is the fact that it's merely an abridged version of SFA2 which feels more like an actual game and has much more longevity when brought home even on the PSX.
If you don't have any SF games in your library Alpha 1 is worth picking up if you find it in a bargain bin. If you are a fighting aficionado and you absolutely Must have Alpha 1 then you are encouraged to find the Street Fighter Collection which has Street Fighter Alpha Gold, a re-release that adds Cammy to the fighter lineup among other features, but quite frankly it's redundant for anyone that has any of the sequels.