Christmas is over, and I'd like to thank the sugarcane farmers of the world - their hard work and dedication allowed me to consume an average of roughly 40,000 calories a day over the festive season. There goes my girlish figure. The time for good cheer, twinkling lights and rosy-cheeked gift givers is behind us now, and it's time to get back into the muck and mire with TOSE / Bandai's 1992 NES mop-em-up Toxic Crusaders.

I'm wary about this one. TOSE are hardly known for their stellar output. If anything, they're know for being a mysterious "shadow developer" who have worked on many titles without revealing themselves. They're like the A-Team of games development: If you need some coding done quickly, if you need to churn out a licensed tie-in title, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... TOSE. Except the A-Team generally sorted out whatever mess needed fixing and left everything wrapped up and neatly resolved at the end of the episode. TOSE... not so much.
On top of that, it's a licensed title based on a cartoon. Quelle horreur! Oh, but what a license it is...

Meet our hero. Yes, the lumpy green fella who looks like the unholy spawn of Sloth from The Goonies and a cabbage. His name is Toxie, and he first appeared in a little movie called The Toxic Avenger, where he looked like this:

Less like a cabbage, more like some kind of root vegetable. A yam, perhaps. Anyway, The Toxic Avenger was a horror-comedy B-movie released in 1984 by cult studio Troma. The Toxic Avenger is the heartwarming story of a neo maxi zoom dweebie called Melvin who, via the bullying of his 80’s-street-punk tormentors, falls into a barrel of toxic waste and mutates into "a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength" - the Monster Hero, AKA the Toxic Avenger. He uses his newfound power to defeat the criminals plaguing Tromaville, and when I say defeat I mean murder horribly. Arms are torn from sockets, a man's testicles are used as a punchbag and a child's head (that is, a watermelon in a wig) is graphically crushed. Oh, and there are loads of tits everywhere. Given this pedigree, it seems like an odd candidate for transformation into a Saturday morning kid's cartoon, but that's exactly what happened.

Hey, there's nothing kids love more than gore and boobs. Obviously, all that stuff was removed and for the animated Toxic Crusaders Toxie was changed to a kind-hearted soul who just happened to look like an ogre's ballsack. He spent his time fighting the evil pollution-based schemes of Dr. Killemoff, but thankfully the environmental message wasn't handled nearly as leadenly as Captain Planet, and Toxic Crusaders is a surprisingly funny little show even now. Not Pixar-style "adult humour in a kid’s film" levels of fun, but quite away ahead of dreck like Street Sharks.
As inappropriate as the source material was, this was a time when a lot of adult films were getting a kid-friendly makeover: there was a Rambo cartoon, a Terminator 2 toyline, Robocop action figures... Even Aliens - you know, the film about nightmarish space-demons who breed via oral rape and sudden chest explosion - were in line for a (tragically cancelled) cartoon show called Operation: Aliens.

They still made plenty of Aliens toys, though, and when compared to that concept The Toxic Avenger seems like a charmingly wholesome source of entertainment for the little 'uns. The Toxic Avenger is certainly the most child-like (or childish) of these adult films to be reworked for kids, so at least it has that on its side.
The Toxic Crusaders cartoon wasn't very successful, running for only 13 episodes, but it did last long enough for a spin-off to appear on the NES, and that's what I'll be looking at today. See, I knew I'd get back around to the game eventually.

When devising a plot for Toxic Crusaders, TOSE reached into the big box marked "Videogame Clichés" and pulled out an old favourite: the kidnapped girlfriend. Dr. Killemoff has captured Toxie's extremely near-sighted (and possibly mentally handicapped) girlfriend Yvonne, along with the other crime-busting mutants, and it's up to Toxie to rescue them.

He plans to do this by travelling across Tromaville and using his sentient mop to clobber anything that gets in his way. Yes, Toxic Crusaders is a side-scrolling beat-em-up! Hooray! Well, kind of - while it shares the standard two-button jump/attack control system of most similar games, you can only perform one attack at a time and not the chain combos that you'd get in something like Final Fight. Still, walking along and hitting things in an NES game based on a kid's cartoon based on a low-budget exploitation film? I'll take that.

The enemies consist mostly of Killemoff's Radiation Rangers, hazmat-suit-wearing thugs who throw toxic waste at you. Sadly, it isn't the kind of toxic waste that gives you super powers. Just radiation burns and rapidly-developing cancers. Even in the first stage, they're pretty tough to beat for a few reasons. They're fast, fairly accurate and then there's our old friend collision detection. It's not great in this game, and Toxie is forever being damaged by globs of ooze that seem like they should sail over his lumpen head; even if you can avoid the enemy's attacks, your attacks often pass right through them. In the original Troma films this'd mean that Toxie had literally punched a hole in them, (accompanied by a fountain of unconvincing fake blood,) but here it just means you're swinging at air.
Things are made tougher by that fact that getting hit makes Toxie drop his mop, meaning you have to use you mutated fists to deliver justice. This is a problem, because they have a much shorter range and seem to suffer from even more collision detection problems than your cleaning utensil. You can get your mop back, but I'll come to that in a bit.

Wander along far enough, and you'll reach the first boss. It's an oily mound of sludge with the head of a... rat? Alligator? Wolf? Whatever it is, that's its weak point. The game takes this opportunity to remind you of the difficulty level and until you realise that the best way to beat him is to try to interrupt his attacks before he can use them, the stream of projectiles that this guy launches at you can quickly wipe out your health.

I think the Tromaville Times needs to fire their photographer - that picture is cropped in a painfully amateurish manner. Still, it convinced me that I really did want to be like Toxie: so much so that I planted a tree right away. It must be working, because I'm starting to go bald and my skin has taken on a sickly green hue.

Tromaville High is the next location, and I think it might be on some kind of space-station because the moon is right there. Actually, there's a really nice touch here where the moon rises as you play the stage, gradually lightening the colours of the background.
As for the gameplay, it's the same as stage one except I've powered up my mop to level two and now it fires green lumps of pain at my foes. You can collect replacement mops and health items by destroying the various barrels that roll through the levels, and if you collect more mop icons while you still have a mop in your warty hands then it becomes more powerful. Level one is a normal mop attack, level two gives you an extremely useful projectile and when you get to stage three you can throw your entire mop at the bad guys and have it return to you, often hitting them on the way back for a very handy two hits. You could say it's like a broomerang, a ha ha ha.

Having made it into the school itself, I'm left to wonder why Toxie's here at all. Are the Radiation Rangers dumping toxic waste here too? I suppose it's the ideal place to ditch some harmful mutagens - after all, who's going to notice if teenagers start having sudden growth spurts or erupting in clusters of weeping boils?

The boss is Bonehead and his frankly radical motorcycle/wheeled couch. Bonehead was one of the bullies that tormented the pre-mutation Melvin, and one of the first things Toxie does when he gets his new powers is to throw Bonehead into a barrel of acid rain and mutate him into a skull-faced villain. And that's in the cartoon, not the film. Toxie, you're kind of a dick.

See, Toxie? You did that to his face, you hideous green bastard. The acid bath must have also shaved some points off Bonehead's IQ because he's much easier to beat than the first boss, his only attack consisting of driving back and forth along the same path and lazily throwing molotovs at you.

Stage three: the Tromaville Factory (yes, there's only one). Definitely a more appropriate setting for ecological devastation than a high school, but the gameplay is starting to feel very repetitive already, what with the same two enemy types showing up over and over again. But hark! What gameplay changes through yonder factory break?

It's a platforming section. Oh joy. However, in a rare twist of fortune, this shoehorned-in jumping section isn't actually all that bad. Toxie controls well enough that it's not a complete nightmare getting him to land where you want, and the enemy placement is challenging without being utterly infuriating. All in all, it's a rather welcome change of pace. At the top of the tower waits the third boss...

...or rather, a red version of the first boss. Disappointing. He's still tougher than Bonehead, though.
Stage four takes place on the Tromaville Highway. Once again, Toxie seems to have had a wasted trip: you'd think a highway would be dripping with pollution, but for some reason there are no cars here.

I've been trying not to compare Toxic Crusaders to Konami's NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, but when you're playing as a green, bandana-wearing mutant crimefighter riding a skateboard the overlap becomes too pronounced to ignore. Yes, Toxic Crusaders is quite similar to the side-scrolling TMNT fighters, only not as good due to the much higher difficulty and temperamental collision detection.
One thing that TC does get right is the graphics. Character sprites are bold and well-animated, the artwork in the mini-cutscenes really nails the look of the cartoon and best of all are the excellent background effects. Stage two had the rising moon, and the highway even has parallax scrolling (which that gif I made doesn't really capture all that well). I certainly didn't expect to be praising a TOSE game for its dazzling graphical tricks, but there you go.

Sadly the fancy graphics don't stop this being the most painfully irritating part of the game. I know that NES games of the nineties (especially cartoon tie-ins) practically demanded a skateboarding section, but that doesn't mean you have to make it such a chore to play. The big problem is that it seems almost impossible to avoid taking damage from the Radiation Rangers as they glide about at hitherto-unseen speeds. If only Dr. Killemoff had equipped all his troops with rollerskates, he could be ruling the planet by now.

The boss is less of a pain, mostly because you're not sliding along on a skateboard, and somehow his machinegun ends up being less of a threat than the flimsy wooden barriers that were placed across the highway. I also suffered a particularly embarrassing death here. The boss battle takes place in a shipping container being carried by a helicopter. I didn't realise you could walk out of said shipping container. That big open door probably should have clued me in, but I’m not an intelligent man and around fifteen seconds into my first attempt I made poor Toxie blithely walk straight out of the door and into thin air. Poor Toxie - he trusted me, and now he's a green smear on the pavement.

Because the boss was - aha ha ha, get this - a policeman! Classic.

What could be a more appropriate stage for Toxic Crusaders than a sewer? You might think that Killemoff has already dumped plenty of waste down here, enough to turn the water bright green, but don't be so quick to jump to conclusions: when I was a kid I once had a birthday cake shaped like Yoshi, complete with an inch-thick layer of green icing. I ate pretty much the whole thing, and for a week afterwards everything that issued from my body was as vibrantly green as the mighty rainforests of the Amazon.

There's a swimming section, which would be a pleasant diversion if it wasn't so ball-constrictingly difficult. Of course, it's not hard because of challenging level design or anything like that: there're just far too many enemies attacking at once, and Toxie has the aquatic grace of a housebrick. At least one of his many mutations gave him the ability to breathe underwater, so you don't have to worry about collecting air. I know some of you still have nightmares about the "drowning" music from Sonic the Hedgehog.

As for the boss, it's a submarine. Ayup. A green one. If it's supposed to be shaped like anything, I can't tell what, and I think Bonehead's sofa-cycle is assured a spot as this game's best vehicle.

The final stage is, naturally, Killemoff's base. It's pretty swanky I guess, although as with all villains’ mansions from NES games the colour choices suggest a serious ophthalmic problem on the decorator's part.
All the usual things make an appearance - hundreds of Radiation Rangers, spike traps, annoying robot bird-things - but after the tedium of swimming section, I'm glad to have it back. Maybe that was the developers' plan all along: by including the shitty skateboarding and swimming sections, it makes the rest of the generic and uninspired scrolling action seem fresh and rewarding. Nice try, TOSE, but you can't fool me.

In their defence, the platforming areas in this stage are handled quite well and are nowhere near as shudderingly awful as most bolted-on jumping sections.

Having reached Killemoff's inner sanctum, a boss battle awaits. It's a train, albeit one with a human face, an arm attached to the ceiling and a separate machine that drops drills on your head. I've always wondered what a crossover between Thomas the Tank Engine and Tetsuo: The Iron Man would look like and now I guess I know. There's just something a bit... off about it.

Once you've defeated the train, (by punching it in the face, naturally,) Dr. Killemoff appears and the real fight can begin... and end almost immediately, because this is a very simple and somewhat underwhelming climactic battle. I know Killemoff has four arms, but apparently that's no match for superhuman size and strength.

Armed with nothing but a mop, an unwavering sense of justice and a set of pustules that'd put most teenage frycooks to shame, Toxie saves the day and Tromaville can sleep easy once more, safe from Killemoff's pollution. You know, Toxie's quest to rid the world of pollution seems a little strange when you consider the fact that if it wasn't for toxic waste, Toxie would still be the kind of lonely nerd who brings a gun to work one day and teaches a deadly lesson to all those who have wronged him. It was either that or a suicide that isn't discovered until weeks later when the neighbours complain about the smell, the police busting down the door to find his corpse has been mostly eaten by his fifteen cats.

Toxic waste gave Melvin/Toxie strength, self-confidence, friendship, a path in life and a beautiful if almost certainly brain-damaged girlfriend. He should be pollution's biggest cheerleader, not its staunchest foe!

Putting aside the hypocrisy of Toxie's actions, is Toxic Crusaders a good game? I suppose I couldn't really praise it that highly, but what I will say is that its peaks and troughs are pretty extreme. The graphics are very good, with some really nice touches, and the music is well above average. The gameplay is decent and becomes much more enjoyable once you've played for a while and gotten used to the controls, particularly the fact that Toxie stops for a moment after you've attacked.
I have to give the developer kudos for at least trying to make the game more interesting by adding in some different gameplay styles: so often licensed tie-ins are such low-effort affairs that any attempt to inject something different is worthy of praise, however faint it may be.
TC's biggest failing is definitely the difficulty level. Between the poor hit detection, the tendency for enemies to appear right where you're standing and the sheer volume of foes in some places when it gets tough, it gets really tough. That wouldn't be so bad if the difficulty curve was consistent and didn't bounce around the place like a kangaroo on a space hopper.

Overall, I'd still just about recommend giving Toxic Crusaders a go if for no other reason than that you get to play as the Toxic Avenger. It's rare that you get to play a NES game as a character who once ripped a guy's intestines out and made a joke about it: the only other one I can think of is Kid Icarus. Just do yourself a favour and use the passwords to skip between the levels before the difficulty starts getting you down.

P.S. - Bonus Troma info! Fellow tumblrer spaceleech informs me that Troma were also approached to contribute material for the Xbox 360 Kinect title The Gunstringer. This means the only thing to give me even the slightest interest in the Kinect is Troma. A motion-controlled Toxic Avenger mop-em-up: now that I would play.



The one-on-one fighting game seems to be experiencing something of a renaissance in recent years, and as usual Capcom are leading the way with games such as Street Fighter IV, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and the upcoming Street Fighter X Tekken. Of course, these things move in cycles and after the boom years of the post-Street Fighter II beat-em-up era, the late nineties and early two-thousands weren't the greatest period for the genre. There were still excellent 2D fighting games being released - the Capcom vs. SNK and Marvel vs. Capcom series' spring to mind - but on the whole the gaming public seemed fatigued by the deluge of SFII clones, which is fair enough because most of them were shit (and I'm saving my distaste for Mortal Kombat for another day). It was into this situation that, in 1997, Capcom released one of the most overlooked entries into the Street Fighter series: Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha.

The Street Fighter EX series began as a 1996 arcade release. This received an upgrade titled Street Fighter EX Plus the following year and a few months later it was ported to the Playstation under the title Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, a title I will be shortening to SFEX from now on because there's no way I'm writing all that out every time. This is the version I'll be rambling on about today.
SFEX’s big deal, its main gimmick, the thing that was meant to wow fighting game aficionados the world over was polygon graphics. No more for us the childish 2D sprites of previous SF games! This is a bold new world of characters so boxy you could use them as shipping crates!

Yes, almost a full twelve years before the release of Street Fighter IV, Capcom made a Street Fighter game which retained the beloved single-plane versus fighting of the SF series but replaced the flat sprites with chunky polygon models that look like the Duplo to SFIV's Lego Technic. I say Capcom made it, but here's the thing: it was actually developed by a separate company called Arika. One of the things that Arika brought to the games (aside from the move to 3D models) was the other thing that SFEX is most remembered for, and that's the significant number of brand-new characters that were added. Can they be as memorable as a green beastman raised by electric eels or a heavyweight boxer who is in no way related to Mike Tyson? Let's meet them and find out!

Of course, there are some of the classic fighters included in SFEX - after all, a SF game without Ryu would be like the Beatles without whichever Beatle was best at karate (my money's on Ringo). The returning SF characters consisted of Ryu, Ken, Chun Li, Guile, M. Bison, Sakura, Dhalsim, Zangief and Akuma (and Evil Ryu, if that counts). All the others are fresh to the SF canon and you know what? Some of them are pretty cool.

Allen Snider

Okay, we're not off to a great start here. Allen is, to be blunt, a shotoclone. He's got a fireball, a dragon punch and a really stupid voice that renders him about as threatening as a Huey, Dewey and Louie. He once dreamed of becoming the American Karate Champion, but after getting his ass kicked by Ken he decides to aim higher and be the best in the world. A bit of ambition is a good thing here, I think: in a world where all the other Street Fighters are battling global terrorist masterminds and demonic martial-arts masters who can punch people's souls to death, becoming the karate champion of a country that's hardly renowned for its love for the way of the empty hand seems a little... small-minded.
Despite all his backstory, Allen's main distinguishing features are his bright orange sideburns.


Another shotoclone. This one's the emo sort, but he makes up for it by having a super move where he punches right through his opponent's torso. He also suffers from Plot-Convenient Amnesia, which I suppose is fair enough. You'd think more of the World Warriors would have neurological problems after years of severe head trauma. Apparently, he was intended to be the series' main character, but that's an accolade for one man and one man alone. We'll get to him in a bit.


You wa SHOCK! No, sadly not a master of Hokuto Shinken but some kind of dour shrine-maiden type. She's Kairi's sister, but happily she's not another shotoclone. If anything, she feels a little like Karin from SFA3. Also, she has no nose.

Doctrine Dark

Leon Kennedy and Hunk had a baby! No, of course not. One of the more interesting new characters, D. Dark was a former member of Guile's unit. Military unit, I mean. They got into a scuffle with a unit led by Rolento, presumably in the manner of some rambunctious schoolboys, except everyone apart from Dark wound up dead. Oops. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this caused him to go straight-up bananas and now he seeks revenge on Guile, blaming him for not training him properly. That's... that's a pretty crappy reason for revenge, man. I should know, I swore vengeance on my high school for not teaching me maths properly and all I got out of it was a restraining order.
Still, Dark's fighting style is interesting - he fights with knives, capture wires and explosives, and his dirty-bastard trickery makes him feel rather unique.

Blair Dame

Not realising the position of "long-legged Street Fighter characters who wear leotards and long boots and fight primarily with kicks" was already filled by Cammy, Blair enters the fray! Okay, so that's not really fair: her fighting style isn't much like Cammy's at all, and leotards offer a freedom of movement that comes in very handy in the world of competitive ass-kicking.
Blair is another fun character, with lots of multi-hit kick moves, an unusual sliding throw and even more unintelligible voice acting than Allen. She's also the game's "sexy" character. Given the primitive nature of the game's graphics, Blair has been handed a rather thankless task, but she tries her best.

Cracker Jack

Yes, he's called Cracker Jack, because his name is Jack and he's a cracker. He's SFEX’s equivalent of Balrog, and he's equipped with dashing punches and a huge punch that can be charged up by holding all three punch buttons. So, like I say, he's Balrog. Except he can clobber people (and projectiles) with a baseball bat, too. And he has a hat.
He's also Blair's bodyguard, and you'd think that his aristocratic employer would have told him that's not how ties work by now.

Pullum Purna

A middle-Eastern princess, Pullum is all about the kicking as well as being one of the few characters who doesn't look really grumpy in their portrait. There's really not that much to say about her, to be honest, except that her trousers are all ploofy. Oh, and apparently she knows Blair through something called the "International Debutante Club". I imagine the elegant world of sickeningly opulent aristocracy seems rather dull after you've travelled with globe to face the strongest opponents you can find, revelling in the sound of their snapping limbs and seeing the world through a red haze as blood drips into your eyes. Still, think of all that Ferrero Rocher.

Darun Mister

Pullum also gets a bodyguard because apparently the women of the SFEX universe can't look after themselves despite being elite martial arts masters. Darun is a wrestler, and to their credit Arika did a good job of not making him feel too much like Zangief despite their similar movesets. This sense of individuality is helped by the fact Darun has a move where he fires his opponent into the sky by thrusting his groin at them.
Also, he seems to be based on the near-legendary Indian wrestler The Great Gama, who also appeared in Shadow Hearts 2 and possessed a moustache that gave him magical powers.


The true hero of SFEX and probably the best thing about the game, I wrote about Skullomania before in the Halloween-y Fighting Game Characters article, but here's a quick recap: he used to be a normal salaryman, struggling with the crushing monotony of his everyday life, until one day he was asked to dress as a superhero for a work event. Then he went crazy, and now he acts like he's an actual superhero. His fighting style matches up very nicely with his weird persona, as most of his moves revolve around him hurling himself at his opponents with no regard for his own safety. He's heavily influenced by tokusatsu heroes such as Kamen Rider, but he's dressed in a lycra Hallowe'en costume so he's obviously much, much cooler than that description can convey. Say what you like about SFEX, but it gave us Skullomania and for that I will always be grateful.


Finally there's Garuda. He's SFEX’s version of Akuma, or at least he would be if Akuma wasn't in the game. He's the super-secret boss that you can only face by winning all your battles with super combos and not losing a round. His main deal, aside from looking like some unreleased "Japanese Armour Skeletor" toy, is spikes. He can shoot spikes out of his body at will and from a variety of places including what an immature person might describe as "the boobular region". I'm sure he and Akuma would get on like a house on fire.
One final thing while we're talking about characters - poor Ken Masters did not receive a flattering portrait.

That's not the face of someone looking forward to a fight. That's the face of someone who's thinking about what they're going to do to your body after they've knocked you out.

Of course, it's all well and good having these fresh new faces to pummel, but it doesn't mean anything if the game's no good. So how does SFEX play? It plays like Street Fighter II, funnily enough. It shares the same control system you all know and love, with three punch and three kick buttons, special moves activated with the time-honoured inputs and a three-stage super bar system. The only major gameplay additions are a generic unblockable attack, performed by pressing two buttons of the same strength and rather reminiscent of the Focus Attacks from SFIV, and the fact that while fighters can get trapped in a corner, a strong hit will push them backward and expand the playfield.

There's a certain emphasis on cancelling moves, particularly cancelling supers into each other, and a few of the old characters received tweaks - for example, Ken and Ryu's usual Hurricane Kick has been replaced with a three-stage kick attack more like Dan's Dankukyaku. Overall, it's the same Street Fighter action you're used to, except with new characters and not quite as fast. That's SFEX’s only glaring gameplay flaw, really: it feels quite slow, particularly if you're used to playing something like MvC3. Everything just has a hint of slow-motion about it, particularly the aerial attacks. Once you've jumped up, you're going to be staying there for a while, floating around like a karate zeppelin. It certainly doesn't ruin the game or anything, it just takes a little getting used to, and some more methodical thinking when you're planning your attacks.

Any slight issues with the gameplay are compensated for by the sheer amount of gameplay modes the game throws at you with a big grin on it's face, saying "hell, I know you love to kick people in the face: here's a whole bunch of different ways to do it!". Aside from the regular arcade mode (which features not one but two secret bosses), there's a team battle mode, survival mode, time attack mode and a watch mode if you essentially want a screensaver of nothing but Skullomania fighting Skullomania. It may not be the only use for the watch mode, but by God it's the best use. There's even a mission mode: much like Capcom's recent fighters you can face a series of trials, starting with things like chucking out hadokens but quickly progressing to ridiculously difficult combos that my enfeebled hands cannot master. Bloody Guile and his charge supers. By completing the trials, you can also unlock the game's hidden characters, who frankly are a bit disappointing: evil versions of Ryu and Hokuto and the two training dummies.

Content-wise SFEX has plenty to go at, but in terms of presentation it's... mixed. Starting with the graphics, and let's be honest here: they're bad. The low-poly models are covered in corners sharp enough to shave on and everyone's hair looks like it's been carved from wood. Well, apart from Akuma - he appears to be wearing the magical Ruby Crown of the Elven-Folk.

Things get particularly bad when the action gets up-close and personal, especially during throws when the fighters become an amorphous cuboid mélange of body-parts.

I hope that's meant to be dust floating out of Guile's groin and not some kind of crotch-ghost.
At least the fighters are well animated and move around fluidly, but it's not just the fighters that are graphically challenged. The menus and HUDs are all very bland and basic, with simple gradients for health bars and poorly-rendered CG backgrounds. Perhaps most disappointingly, there are no post-match win-quotes. I'm pissed off about this because I'm sure Skullomania had some very important things to say, assuming he hasn't gone completely insane underneath that mask and can now only communicate using puppets made of human hair or something.

Speaking of noise, the sound design is even more variable quality than the graphics. A big fat tick goes in the "YES" column for SFEX’s music, because it's all really excellent. Composed and arranged by Shinji Hosoe, Ayako Saso and Takayuki Aihara, I don't really know what genre you'd describe it as - electro-jazz, possibly - but that's not important. You don't need labels when it's this much fun. Standout tracks include Sakura's theme, an impossibly cheerful saxophone explosion called Precious Heart:

I'd be quite happy if this was Sakura's theme in every videogame she ever appeared in. Hell, I'd be happy if it was my theme tune. Also very good is Garuda's theme, "Stronger".

An excellent mix up-tempo synths and traditional Japanese instrumentation, it's a fittingly dramatic track for a hidden boss who fights like an angry samurai hedgehog. Who knew that the one thing more powerful than Akuma's Dark Hadou would be spikes? Apart from Megaman, I mean. Anyway, the whole soundtrack is very good and readily available on Youtube, so do go and have a listen.

On the flipside of the sound design, nearly all the sampled speech is strangely-enunciated to the point of being unrecognisable. I know the Street Fighter games have long been associated with misheard attack names, but in SFEX they're a particularly garbled bunch of battlecries. Here, I made a video to demonstrate:

Is it wrong to make fun of the work of these voice actors, these honest people who are just doing their best in a language they do not speak? Probably, but I'm not above a cheap laugh, and "Juice Kick!" has been making me laugh ever since my younger brother pointed it out when we were kids. Speaking of voices, if SFEX’s announcer - the guy who sounds almost offended by having to say "Plus Alpha" at the end of the title - sounds familiar, that's probably because you know him better as Chris Redfield from the original Resident Evil, AKA voice actor Scott McCulloch.

I'm not really sure where Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha stands in people's estimation of the Street Fighter series as a whole. While it seems quite fondly remembered these days, and the review scores at the time were above average, when I was younger I remember getting the feeling that the general opinion of the game was largely negative. This was due partly to the poor graphics but mostly because it wasn't considered a "real" SF game (probably because so many of the established SF characters were left out) and that the move to 3D models was seen as some kind of cop-out in the face of emerging series like Tekken.

Maybe it's just my personal little bubble of youthful experience happened to contain people who didn't rate SFEX, but all I can think these days is that anyone who thought that SFEX was a bad game simply hadn't played it. It's most definitely not a bad game; at its core I'd say it's a very good game. Admittedly the graphics hold it back slightly, and it might be a little too similar to earlier SF games to make a lasting impact, but it's a well-crafted title with interesting new characters that's still fun to play today. And for anyone who still thinks it's not a "real" SF game, the founder of Arika and executive producer of this game was one Akira Nishitani. He was also a designer on Street Fighter II, so I guess he knows what he's doing when it comes to digital violence.

Sadly, we'll probably never get to see another SFEX game, or even have the new characters appear in other Capcom games. While Arika did make SFEX2 and 3, they had a falling-out with Capcom and because they own the rights to the original characters, Capcom can't use them in any future games. That's a real shame, because I think Skullomania, Blair and D. Dark in particular would have been fun additions to the overall SF family. Sadly it was not to be, and Skullomania will have to live on only in our hopes, dreams and a series of erotic thrillers that I'm writing for the silver screen. Nicholas Cage has been pencilled in for the main role.

If you're a Street Fighter fan and you've never played SFEX, then I can definitely recommend tracking it down if for no other reason than to play as the new characters. If you're not a full-on SF obsessive, then I can't recommend that you go out of your way to hunt it out, not when there are so many better and more readily-available SF games out there, but if you happen across it in the wild then pick it up and give it a go.
I'll leave you with one last bit of madness: Guile's ending.

The thing that gets me about this is the way he holds his arms perfectly still in that weird robotic pose as he somersaults. Oh yeah, and surfing on the F-15. And the fact he didn't notice D. Dark up there with him. I guess the whole thing gets me, really.

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