By the mid-nineties videogaming's polygon revolution was in full swing, with companies falling over themselves to replace outdated 2D graphics with the latest Gourad-shaded, texture-mapped blocks of the future. Capcom were not immune to this, and in 1996 they teamed up with Arika to produce Street Fighter EX, the first game in the venerable fighting series to feature fully 3D models. It reviewed well, (and I'm rather fond of it,) but in my personal experience at the time most people seemed to think of it as something of a poor relation to the sprite-based Street Fighters. This combination of cutting-edge 3D graphics and perhaps a slightly luke-warm reception made Street Fighter EX the perfect candidate for bootleg SNES port, as long as you're from a different universe where the laws of logic run backwards. Unluckily for us, one enterprising group of pirates managed to break through into our reality and make this madman's dream a reality.
That's right, it's Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha - "Plus Alpha" originally referring to the enhanced Playstation port of Street Fighter EX - brought to the SNES, possibly by a company called DVS Electronic. Wisely, the developers decided not to include their name on the final product.
As you'd imagine, Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha: Baffling SNES Edition Turbo is pretty light on content, with only the standard arcade and versus modes available to choose from and a couple of options to fiddle with. There's an option to change the difficulty of your CPU opponents. I'm fairly certain it doesn't actually change anything.
Okay, that's a fairly faithful recreation of SFEXPA's painfully gaudy character select screen, or it least it would be if it wasn't missing half the characters. Despite being based on SFEX, this "port" only includes two of the fighters introduced in the SFEX series. One of them is Skullomania, thankfully, while the other is Hokuto. Already this is a worrying sign, because why bother porting SFEX if you're going to remove all the characters that made it unique instead of just making, I dunno, Street Fighter Zero 6: Rainbow New Challengers Edition or something? Well, the reason for the lack of SFEX characters will become clear once we get into the game. I'll be playing as Ryu for the purposes of this article. Yes, it was quite the emotional struggle not to pick my beloved Skullomania, but I chose Ryu for a reason. After twenty-five years of Street Fighter, I've spent more time moving Ryu around that I have moving my own physical body, so he offers a good baseline for deciding how accurate a copy of Street Fighter this game really is.
Ryu vs. Ken: the eternal struggle. Ryu has a finely-honed mastery of karate and the invincible soul of a true warrior on his side. Ken is a millionaire with a loving family. In a lot of ways, the winner here is already decided.
I'm sure you're all excited to see how the developers of this game managed to cram the polygonal graphics of the original into a SNES cart, and the simple answer is...
...they didn't. The main thing that set SFEX apart from its forebears is completely absent from this version, replaced with familiar 2D sprites. I suspect most of these sprites are based on sprites from the Street Fighter Alpha series - Ryu having a white headband is something of a giveaway - but they're definitely not straight rips of the Alpha graphics, either. Did someone sit down and edit the sprites or draw over them to produce these unconvincing, blobby clones? Probably. They did a bloody awful job, mind you. Just look at Ken's right knee. That's not where knees are in relation to the rest of the leg, not unless his femur is about three inches long.
So, I set to playing SFEXPA and immediately noticed some problems. For starters, there're only one button each for punch and kick. I tried to do a jumping kick but Ryu point-blank refused, jumping into Ken's Dragon Punch instead. Normally this would be a minor setback, but for some reason Ken's Dragon Punch - his regular, unadorned Dragon Punch - hit Ryu about fifteen times and drained nearly two-thirds of his health. I retaliated by throwing a fireball, and to the games credit it actually worked first-time. The ability to perform special moves with any degree of reliability was not something I expected to be included, so there's that. However, everything else about the fighting engine is utterly woeful, a heinous juddering mess of missing frames and unfathomable hit detection. I think in this case, showing is better than telling, so here you go:
I don't know which is my favourite part: when Ryu is tripped and briefly goes completely upside-down, or when Dragon Punches are being traded and the game just decides "fuck it" and pops the characters into random positions. They're both pretty wonderful.
After grappling with the controls for a while, particularly when it came to not pressing the shoulder buttons for heavy attacks because surprise, they don't do anything, I managed to avoid Ken's ridiculously lethal uppercuts long enough to win the fight. Naturally you don't get a victory screen or a win quote or anything like that, but to be fair those things weren't in the original SFEXPA either.
The next battle is against Ryu's deadliest foe: himself! Okay, second deadliest after "this game's shocking amount of input lag." Further proof that these graphics aren't just ripped straight from Street Fighter Alpha is offered here: in the SFEX games Ryu's usual Hurricane Kick is replaced by a jumping triple-kick move which you can see above, so the developers must have drawn new sprites (or at least heavily edited existing ones) for these new moves.
If I wrote a sentence describing every weird bug I ran across during this game, this article would end up longer than War and Peace but with considerably more anguished swearing, but some things cannot be allowed to pass without comment: things like my Ryu refusing to face his opponent while he performs his super Hurricane Kick. Shouting out "HE'S BEHIND YOU!" is something that really should be limited to children's pantomimes or watching horror movies while drunk. Oh, and yes, this game does include super moves, which was a surprise. You can see the super bar just below the health bar at the top of the screen, although how and why said bar fills up is a mystery to me and the CPU often seems to able to summon up a string of uninterrupted super combos one after the other. This is a problem, and the problem is exacerbated by blocking not working properly. You hold back to block as usual, but any multi-hit attack can and will ignore your defences whenever it bloody well feels like it. If Ryu catches you with his super Hurricane Kick and you're blocking, you'll take at least three or four hits out of the fifteen or so it throws out.
Next up is the strongest woman in the world: Chun Li, with her massive legs and teeny-tiny arms and her famous pink dress. Chun Li has reached such an advanced level of martial arts prowess that she is able to to become utterly intangible, turning her physical form on and off like a goddamn light switch.
See? This, amazingly, did not register as a hit despite Ryu's fist - which is bigger than Chun Li's entire head - definitely being in a position that should result in Chun Li losing some health and possibly filing criminal charges. The worst thing is that sometimes this would count as a hit, but SFEX's hitboxes are as ineffable and unknowable as the whims of the jerkiest of trickster gods. This serves to make the game extremely difficult, because while a human player can never truly comprehend what's going to happen from one moment to the next, the CPU always "knows" what's going on. Perform a super move and the computer will have the exact right move ready to counter it, for example, or it'll walk straight through one of your seemingly clean punches and smash you with a Spinning Bird Kick that wipes out half your health. Obviously this makes SFEX a very unfair game, and I was having real trouble getting past Chun Li until I hit upon the One True Strategy: stay as far away as possible, hit them with a few fireballs and wait for the time to run out. They're too dumb to come and get you most of the time, and these tactics are helped by the game clock starting at forty "seconds" rather than the usual ninety-nine - making matches so short that you'd struggle to defeat your opponent before the time ran out even if you could fight properly.
Even in a game as illegally cobbled together as this one, Guile here is looking particularly bootleg-y. I think that's because his sprite is actually based on Charlie / Nash (wait, I think his name is canonically "Charlie Nash" now, right?) from the Street Fighter Alpha series, as evidenced by his ploofier-than-usual trousers and orange vest. They've replaced Charlie's bizarre "Misfits' devilock wrapped around a wire coat hanger" haircut with Guile's marginally less bizarre "mighty desert plateau" 'do, but he still doesn't look all that much like Guile. The lack of Stars and Stripes tattoos on his biceps doesn't help, either.
After some painful research - that is, I played some more of this mess after I finished the arcade mode - I realised I could have made my life easier by playing as Guile. This is because projectile attacks were the main pillar of my combat strategy, and Guile doesn't have to charge up his Sonic Boom like he does in other, actually competent Street Fighter games. Nope, you just tap away, towards and punch to throw a Sonic Boom, which makes Guile feel a bit like a Mortal Kombat character.
Long-time VGJunk readers will know all about my affection for Skullomania, a character introduced into the Street Fighter universe via the first Street Fighter EX game - a tragic figure and balletic fighter who lost his mind after his boss forced him to dress as a skeleton for a work promotion and became a costumed... well, I'm not sure "champion of justice" is exactly correct so let's just call him a puncher of faces. I have long awaited another chance to play as Skullomania, but not like this.
Wow. Just... wow. It's so graceful I can hardly take my eyes off it, a statement which, sadly, is almost true. And here I though the digitised clowns in the background would be the most upsetting part of this fight.
It's Akuma. He's waving at me. Hello, Akuma! I hope you like fireballs.
It turns out Akuma does like fireballs, and he spent the entire fight throwing them at me, including a big super fireball and even his trademark air fireballs. Further testing indicates that his other trademark, the deadly Shun Goku Satsu super combo, is not included in the game. This is hardly surprising, as it would be difficult to input light punch, light punch, forward, light kick, heavy punch when there are only two buttons and they don't even work half the time.
I have no idea what M. Bison is trying to do here. I've been playing this game for so long that everything's started to blur into a dizzying mess of indecipherable bullshit. Bison appears to be performing a hyper-exaggerated "slipping" pose, as a cartoon character who's just trodden on a banana peel might. His poorly-drawn boots make his lower half look like he's wearing blue shorts, tights and black pumps, while a giant slug perches on his shoulder. For his part, Ryu is about to plant a Dragon Punch right into Bison's testicles, which is an apt metaphor for playing this game.
Seriously, I'm really struggling here. Between Sakura's pencil-thin thighs and the statue of a green jelly baby in the background, this SNES version of Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha feels like it pushing me to the edge of either madness or a catastrophic cerebral haemorrhage.
I know it's crude, but I have to ask: are you farting on Sakura, Ryu? Is that what's happening here? Does the answer lie in the fart of battle? Oh god, I'm so sorry. Do you see what this game has reduced me to? I don't think I've ever said "wait, what? What is going on?" so often in such a short span of time, apart from maybe the time I watched Twin Peaks while I had the flu and was dosed up on Night Nurse.
The final bout of the arcade mode is against Hokuto, one of the characters introduced in the Street Fighter EX series. She's a serious shrine maiden type who sometimes becomes a murderous berserker assassin, as you do. The graphics on her portrait picture are messed up, because of course they are.
Here we see why this Street Fighter EX game barely contains any Street Fighter EX characters: because they've never been represented in sprite form before, there was nothing for the developers to rip off and so adding in more EX characters would have taken a lot of extra effort. I think by now now we have a good idea as to the developer's feelings on "effort," and so we're left with a wonky Hokuto sprite with a waist so thin she couldn't possibly eat solid food and a colour scheme that only dogs should be allowed to look at.
Thus the arcade mode ends as it began, with me throwing fireballs and waiting for the clock to run out. Hokuto didn't stand much of a chance, mostly because she kept doing her "perform a counter attack if someone punches me" move and you can't counter-attack a fireball. I mean, I suppose you could but it's fire. Don't punch fire.
The ending sequence, in all it's majesty! I know you think it says "you are number one," but reflect on that for a moment. Don't you think it's more likely it means "you are no-one"? I'm not saying that this game is so bad that it has stripped away all sense of my identity and left me a hollow shell of a man, but that's just because I only played it for a few hours.
In case you didn't read this article and skipped to the end for my admittedly very important final judgement, let me be clear: Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha is an absolutely wretched experience, and one of the worst videogames I've played in a very long time. It gets every single facet of the fighting game experience wrong: blocking doesn't work, hitboxes come and go as they please, controlling your fighter is like trying to play Operation using a JCB and every character jerks around the screen though someone hollowed out their bones and replaced the marrow with angry wasps.
I like to try to say something positive about every game I play, but in this case I'm struggling to come up with anything. The music's pretty good, but that's because all the music is ripped straight from Street Fighter II. It's poorly compressed and doesn't sound quite right, but a bad version of Guile's theme is still Guile's theme. Erm, it has Skullomania in it? Apart from that, the only nice-ish thing I can say about this game is that I have to admire the sheer cheek of the developers. They were determined to cram Street Fighter EX into a SNES cart, and by god they sort-of managed it. Sure, the cramming process absolutely destroyed the game, but these noble fools dared to dream. I just wish their dreams had been in a medium I have no interest in. Street Fighter EX: The Ballroom Dance would have been fine. I could have comfortably ignored that. Unless it had Skullomania in it, of course.