Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: November 25, 2008
There's getting it right, there's getting it too right, and then there's getting what was wrong and correcting it. Capcom seems to be really good at knowing which is which lately, with the slowly increasing array of remakes and revivals of positively ancient series that still maintain massive fandoms. Megaman 9's classic 8-bit graphics, Bionic Commando's beautiful restyling, and, in a great wave of sheer want from the fans, a full remake of Super Street Fighter II Turbo in the form of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix.
To give you a clue, this game, now almost 15 years old, remains one of the more commonly played advanced tournament video games ever to have been released. Tournament play of the title represents a changing and shifting scene that has continued to go strong all this time, and the mastery of it shifts constantly and advances; some would even say that SSF2T originated serious direct-competition tournaments (as opposed to score-based tournaments, which were common with many previous games, and have their own documentary in "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters").
Now, place yourself in Capcom's shoes. No new Street Fighter title has come out for several years, after you stopped Street Fighter 3 at the third release. You don't even have a version of the recent Versus series to help keep you up to date. Your older games still see highly regular play and have large competitive play scenes. Fortunately, you've proven that you can bring back the classics just as well as you can make new successes, and you can get people to forget the occasional failure. Capcom got its fighting game muscles back in shape by using a safe bet: remaking a classic.
However, they couldn't just stop at a quick port to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Sure, they could probably make millions that way, but it wouldn't be an exercise that might help to improve Street Fighter IV. Nope, the challenge was to update this tournament favorite, while keeping its greatness intact and making an already great game even better.
But what about those who have never played the original? Gamers who are either too new, or just ignored the series, perhaps in favor of headlining competitor Mortal Kombat or SNK's long-running fighting game lineages? Where do they start? Capcom needed to pull them into the loop, too, and this could be a challenge for players who are used to mechanically complex titles like the Guilty Gear series or any number of doujin fighting games. Fortunately, Capcom's response was not to interject those game mechanics, but figure out how to build on their core, rebalance the game, and create something that's stronger than ever before.
For those who have never played it, Super Street Fighter II Turbo sets up many of the traditional fighting game mechanics at a simple level. Pick a character, and pit him or her against one other character, CPU- or human-controlled, at a time. Fights are centered on a mere six buttons — three punches, three kicks — and certain combinations of them with the d-pad. As fighters deal and take damage, a special gauge, which enables high-power super moves, builds up. That's about it. What made Street Fighter II work was that this simple core proved to be extremely deceptive.
This core worked because of how precisely tuned each move's timings were, and how every special move counted on this. Fighting an opponent, especially a human one, became a rapid-fire series of rock-paper-scissors rounds, each player trying to outguess the other at a superhuman rate, where an entire match of three rounds could be decided in single frames of animation, one-sixtieth of a second. This sense of pacing attracted a surprisingly wide field of players who still regularly play the game at varying levels of seriousness. Devoid of the different cancel systems and flashy combos of later games (Capcom-developed and otherwise), it had this one thing to stand up to Mortal Kombat and Killer Instinct with. Needless to say, it worked.
Returning to the core question on how Capcom made things stronger, it went to four fronts — graphics, rebalancing, restoration and sound — and hammered each to a mirror sheen. So let's take a look at each.
If you liked the original, you've got it. The original graphics, sounds, and to-the-frame balance of Super Street Fighter II Turbo is available, online and off. Furthermore, it's not as if you simply have it "on" or "off." You can choose to have the classic rule set and new graphics, enjoy everything in updated form except for the music, or any combination you'd like. For fanatics of the original version who wouldn't touch an update, this is a dream come true — and yes, you can take the classic rules online. The restoration of the original game feels complete and precise to the arcade, once you get out of the fully HD initial menus.
The graphics were brought up to date with the assistance of UDON Studio, who is also the team behind the Street Fighter manga series. The results feel like they simply drew over the original sprites to clean them up for high definition … and this turned out beautifully. The style results in a new "pop," distinct from the more anime-style tones of more recent Street Fighters, while reminding heavily of the style of the upcoming Street Fighter IV, which is most likely highly intentional on Capcom's part. Even the stages get updated in keeping with their original styles, gaining a fresh feel while keeping with the nostalgia of the original releases. The results also have the impressive result of allowing the two different graphics sets to almost play each other; the hitboxes between the two modes aren't just identical, but look matched-up as well, turning a cosmetic decision into just that, so that graphics don't change the gameplay, as some games end up being forced to do.
The sound sorely needed some updates to avoid sounding cheesy. Punches that sounded great back in the day lose some, well, punch against modern recording techniques, so Capcom put in the time to do a bang-up job. But what about that music, which keeps its punch? Just leaving it in would have been nice enough, and possibly allow some straight arrangements that would better use the newer audio formats. Instead, Capcom went straight to the experts to remake the music. You're probably guessing some big names from Capcom, but you would be wrong. Instead, David Lloyd, AKA "djpretzel," and the OverClocked Remix community provide a completely fan-made musical set, and words can't do it justice. It pulls off the same effect as the graphics — both nostalgic and new at the same time — and it could've certainly been a source of crib notes for Street Fighter IV's tracklist.
Finally, but perhaps greatest of all, comes the way that Capcom rebalanced the game on two different fronts. Super Street Fighter II Turbo had a lot of little glitches that could be taken advantage of and countered, but Capcom didn't just leave in this classic and then remove them in the new style; it's offered in the "Dip switches" menu, and you can turn them on or off. Then came the actual remixing, where Capcom again went to an outside expert and champion player, David Sirlin. Between him and lots of communication with the community, the results are subtle, but telling. Whether it's Ryu gaining a fake fireball motion to trick opponents, or the complete redesign of Zangief's special moves, it's very, very clear that the entire team took its time, analyzed the tournament history of the game, and did a bang-up job creating a rebalance that even the most die-hard fanatics of the original rules would be hard-pressed to dislike. Then they gave them the original rules with online play, too.
To cap it all off, the requisite but highly anticipated online play is absolutely top-notch. Using lag-based input adjustment techniques and other network management code written from the ground up for this game produces an online experience that feels almost like my opponent was sitting right next to me. My first major experience on the PlayStation Network was free of delay or issues, allowing me to go into the menu, find a match, and get completely owned within the span of five minutes. (I'm not very good, especially with a Dualshock controller. What I wouldn't give to have reviewed this on a Sega Genesis six-button controller.) Eight-player tournaments can be organized in a snap between friends, with the results viewable after the fact. Sadly, it doesn't quite compare to the massive double-elimination tournaments on the Genesis versions, but the fact that Capcom put it in at all indicates a wondrous knowledge of who would be playing online seriously.
It isn't every day that a company takes the opportunity to update an old game, even when it promises surefire profits. Doing it well enough to attract more than nostalgic players has proven difficult, time and time again. Capcom knew that it could do better and took every decision seriously, considering factors some companies wouldn't even notice, let alone look twice at, and produced something far, far beyond what even my high expectations could have envisioned. The quality is further reflected in the silky-smooth online play and detailed options that let you choose how much updating you want. Add that to some of the best that the game's fandom has to offer, and Capcom has managed to produce what is probably the best downloadable title this year, and one of the best games of the season, period (yes, even given Castle Crashers). As an update, as a re-release, and as an advertisement for Capcom's newest efforts, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix succeeds in every imaginable way.
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