There are so many retro compilations these days, one trip to EB and you could snap a weak Ikea table with stacks of them. Most are filled with totally useless games you never wanted to play in the first place, let alone revisit these days. That makes Street Fighter Alpha Anthology stand out even more. With four full-fledged games that sold for around $40 or $50 each around 10 years ago - that are all still really good, even in 2006 - you can't go wrong here.
Anthology contains four games that were originally released between 1995 and 1998. Looking back, it was a golden period for Capcom's 2D fighting series, and even if you're not hardcore enough to care about the whys and wherefores, this compilation bears fruit you can still easily enjoy.
The original Street Fighter Alpha is a pared-down, basic game - you probably won't spend much time with this one. Street Fighter Alpha 2, on the other hand, is a real refinement of the punchy/kicky formula. A bunch of interesting new characters were thrown into the mix, and gameplay tweaks like the Custom Combos (which allow you to string together random punches and kicks for massive damage) allow you to mix your strategies up to a pleasant degree. It's no surprise, then, that this compilation also contains the director's cut, Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold, an arcade re-release that has a few nips and tucks to the game - further proof that it was a high creative watermark for the series.
Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the one that went off the charts - plenty of new characters were added with little regard for play balance; personality was the plan, here. This is a bold and entertaining game, and that's probably why we so recently saw it on the PSP. Unfortunately, the little additions they made to that version - like new character Ingrid - didn't make it here. On the other hand, once you play around with this compilation for awhile, you can unlock some really off-the-wall modes that fundamentally change SFA3's gameplay to mimic Capcom's other fighting game series. Hardcore fans will want to dig deep, here.
If that wasn't enough, Capcom's also dropped in Super Gem Fighter - also known as Pocket Fighter. It's a strange game that allows you to play as super-cute versions of characters from Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter III, Darkstalkers and other games. It's mostly interesting for its novelty value; even though the control is simplified, it's still worth a few spins for the outrageous gameplay and comical graphics. When Zangief takes a break from splitting heads to do a Russian dance, you know you have a thoroughly politically uncorrect but amusing little game on your hands.
Besides vibrant, detailed and colorful graphics, what all these games have in common is absolutely precise control. From the original up through Street Fighter Alpha 3, you'll find subtle differences in the gameplay that, thankfully, this compilation makes it super-simple to investigate for yourself. It's like being given three pints of Ben & Jerry's at the same time. If you scarf them all, they'll blend together... but if you take the time to savor them, you'll taste the differences. With amusing unlockable bonuses and three (and a half) solid, good-looking games, you'll get plenty of mileage out of this one if you have the bare minimum one like-minded friend who makes playing fighting games worthwhile.