Playing Super Street Fighter 2 has provoked sweeping rushes of excitement and gut-wrenching drops of disappointment in me. IT manages to change from being hugely entertaining at times to fearsomely dull, clumsy and unresponsive at others, and then to precise and poised, seemingly from one minute to the next.
Why? Well it depends what you play it on and how you play it, but that's getting a little ahead of myself. Rewind a bit and join on an emotionally draining marathon tour through every character and location in SSF2.
Compared to today's beat-'em-ups, the original Streetfighter 2 (AP22, 74%) is pretty ambarrassing. Back in 1993, a junior upstart staff writer going by the name of Mark (who he?) Winstanley was quoated as saying that "you just help the players along and don't control them. There's too much context-sensitivity in the control. I'd say about 65%."
I, that is, he, thought it embodies everything that's wrong about trying to convert arcade games onto home computers, as it looks the part, but moves jerkily and has a stupid control system where the game picks the type of attack based on where you're standing.
If you can't do a proper version then why bother (obvious answer - to cash in) to churn out a second-rate effort? It's been sitting in our disk boxes for years now, and only won a reprieve because I wanted to compare the two versions.
"Ahh," the people at US Gold tell me, "but the programmers of the original Amiga version didn't have support from Capcom or access to the actual game. They were forced to nip out to the arcade or watch videos to work out the technicalities. For Super Streetfighter Two, Capcom have provided the collision charts, the source code and everything else from the original. This Time it's the Real Thing."
So off I start with high hopes and high expectations, which are lifted even higher by the smart intro visuals, and then promptly clubbed on the head by the first sight of the game - acres of black banding at the top and bottom of the screen, a painfully, thin playing area and tiny, tiny, tiny character graphics. Almost shamefully small really.
"The little graphics don't bother me" chips in Jonathan cheerfully, but even so, my heart sinks, and switching it to 60Hz Mode doesn't help. As well as allowing it to be played on the 11 Amigas in the USA, this switch also makes the playing area a bbit bigger, but this just goes to highlight how poor the graphics are, how Ryu's got black lines round him and Sagat's face is all squishy and how the frail Cammy hardly shows up at all.
Surely beat-'em-ups are all about two huge characters facing each other? This is nearly as bad as Shaq Fu. And it's really, really slow too. This is a low point in the proceedings.
"Ahh," says the Voice of Authority in the strange guise of Amiga Format's technical editor Graeme, "but this version's obviously based on the SNES one, and the laying area wasn't much bigger on that. And it's only slow because you've got it on the slowest setting. Pump up the turbo setting and I dare say it'll fairly blur along. And I should know, because I've finished that version with every character. And done pretty much the same thing on the arcade game too."
I inwardly hate him for being so proficient at games, and make a mental note to haul him in during his dinner breaks to play through the game with me. Hmm, this isn't too bad after all.
Round one, and Graeme and I go head-to-head using various characters. We're having problems with our hard drive and are forced to play from disks. From the seven disks. Bad idea. The AMIGA POWER stopwatch (last used to record the humiliating 11 minutes between loading and playing World Cup USA '94 in AP41) is brought out and used in a similarly devastating manner.
For a poor quality beat-'em-up player like me, I find more time's being spent swapping disks and staring at the loading screen than playing, and although you get none of this if you replay a match with the settings and characters unchanged (you just press space and start instantly), pretty much everything else takes swaps or loading time. You finish a game and the winner's announced. Loading. You see the results table of matches so far. Buzz, whirr, more loading. You choose new characters. More loading, more disk swapping. This is not good.
Sagat's face is all squishy and how
The sound is irredeemably poor, and although I could write a novel on its listless, whiney-qualities, I'll restrict myself to a few examples. Imagine the Street Fighter 2 music being played through that little speaker inside a ZX Spectrum. Now imagine Dale Winton from TV's famous Supermarket Sweep saying "sonic boom" in his most effeminate voice. Such is the sound in SSF2.
And yet when we get into the game a bit, it's all uphill again. We're playing on an A1200 and both using CD32 game pads, revelling in the control we're given over our characters. The collar buttons give you a punch and a kick, leaving two buttons for a weak punch, and two for weak and strong kicks. For the first time in my life, I start to see why everyone's so into this game, it's kind of fun, isn't it? Kick, punch, flying, kick, low punch and a 'Four combo' bonus is announced. Cool.
Even the mythical 'special' moves are easy to pull off with the CD32 pad, and a quick check with Graeme confirms they're the same as the SNES Version, so format jumpers should have no problem with that. And Graeme's relentless attacks that leave all my characters bloody and broken just increases my optimism in the game. I mean you've got to practice to get good, right? In the unlikely event of you owning an A1200 and two CD32 pads, make sure you add ten percent to the end score, they make that much difference.
The range of moves makes or breaks any beat-'em-up, from the nine or so in Rise of the Robots to the many and diverse ones in SSF2, all animated with enough in-between frames to make whatever combinations you choose flow together well. But I still can't shake my hatred of the iddy-biddy graphics. The static backgrounds are a compromise I can live with, although no doubt many hardened SSF2 veterans will weep copious tears at the lack of gyrating and wiggling behind men.
But these little graphics - yuk. You can see that Terry Hawk's got all kinds of Indian gizmos on his costume, but they're too ill-defined to see what they are, and Cammy's supposed to be this famous computer game babe, but she looks like a stick man in tights. Graphics ARE important in beat-'em-ups, and this one constantly disappoints me.
Rudely dismissing Graeme, I plunge into the single-player game, turn the difficulty down and the turbo speed up, and manage to actually beat one or two opponents, even getting the option to kick in a car or two, which, due to the (grrr) tiny characters, are far too large for any of them to drive.
Switching from a CD32 pad to a two button joypad, I find the going a little tougher, but still sort of acceptable. Changing to a single button joypad (which I guess most people own) and it's starting to get faffly, requiring you to hit the keyboard to switch from punches to kicks, which makes combat awkward and combos a lot more difficult.
The AP stopwatch returns to record damning disk accessing testimony. If you lose a match you have to sit through three disk swaps and around two and a half minutes of accessing time just to replay with the same character, which is numbingly boring. Combiining that with the standard joystick, SSF2 is starting to look like the poor conversion its predecessor was.
And here's the rub. Running it from hard drive and controlling it with CD32 pads, SSF2 reveals the multitude of options, moves and 'special' bits that have made SSF2 universally popular in game terms (and ignoring the tiny characters) it's got more scope than MK2 and better moves than Shadow Fighter making it, in terms of gameplay, my best beat-'em-up on the Amiga.
But you CAN'T ignore the tiny playing area or the miniscule characters, or the terrible sound. If you haven't got a hard drive you CAN't ignore the disk swapping as it completely breaks down the flow of the game. And with a one button joystick, it's not got the precision or easily accssed 'special' moves that Shadow Fighter's got.
SSF2 purists and Capcom would have been annoyed by compromises in the game, but as it stands, I think most people will be disappointed by all the things that get in the way of them simply playing the game.