Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Final Fight

Final Fight, Sega CD, Capcom, 1993

Final Fight started as a decent 2D beat-em-up arcade game in 1989, then was ported into a mediocre Super Nintendo one in 1991. Critics postulated that consoles of the day were simply no match for Final Fight. But they forgot about one system. They always forget about it. The only 16-bit system that could handle Final Fight. The chosen one.That's right.The Sega CD.
You forgot about the Sega CD? That makes me SO...DAMN...ANGRYYYYYY!!!!
In 1993, Capcom brought it's star beat-em-up to Sega's bastard add-on. Except it's not a bastard, it's the Sega CD, and I love it. It's got goofy flaws, but more than many other systems, it's got character. It also has the best 16-bit port of Final Fight by a mile, even though I am realizing as I play through it that maybe I just don't like Final Fight.
You don't like Final Fight? That makes me SO...DAMN...meh, actually, I don't care. Let's go get a schnitzel.
This Final Fight has the same story as usual. Mayor's daughter gets kidnapped by crime syndicate. Mayor and two others take on crime syndicate. The controls are the same as the others, as well. One button for jump and one for attack. Hit them at the same time to do a super move that drains some of your power bar. Push jump, then attack in mid-air to do to a flying kick. You can also grab an enemy and throw them if you get close. The game handles smoothly, though it still feels like there's no way to stop enemies from getting a hit in. It's just not quite fair. The levels are straightforward: head right, get to the end, though unlike the ones found in its superior Sega rival, Streets of Rage, they don't naturally build to a logical environmental conclusion--in Rage, you make your way through the city to the boss' tower, climb it, and fight through it, but in Final Fight, you just kind of go places.
And this lady can send you there. Oh, hi lady. Glad you're back from wherever Nintendo hid you.
This leads me to the point. Yes, unlike the SNES version, you can actually play Final Fight on the Sega CD in cooperative two-player mode with a buddy. Yes, unlike the SNES version there can actually be more than three bad guys on the screen, the backgrounds are more detailed, and the game rarely slows down. Also unlike the SNES version, there are actually some female baddies. Spencer Nilsen even gives this CD-cut of the game its own original score, featuring early 90's action-TV guitar and keyboard jams, far more memorable than the bland SNES score. There's even some voice-acting in the intro (though it's terrible, so just ignore it). This Sega CD version of Final Fight truly does the arcade original justice. There's just one problem. Another 2D beat-em-up already owns the Sega Genesis.
Oh, cool, they added two-player. You know what Sega beat-em-up already has two-player?
Yes, Streets of Rage is such a substantially better game than Final Fight, that bringing the other major beat-em-up franchise to a Sega system seems superfluous. Why pick up Final Fight when you can just play the more fun Streets of Rage? I may never pull out my Sega CD copy of Final Fight again, but I might actually go play through Streets of Rage again for the umpteenth time as soon as I finish this review.
However, the battle between Streets of Rage and Final Fight had just begun. Sega may have been one-in-done for the Final Fight franchise, but the SNES would pump out two more installments to challenge Streets of Rage 2 & 3. Who would come out on top? That's the topic of another review...in fact, I smell a series brewing.

Graphics: 8.0/10.0
Sound: 7.5/10.0
Gameplay: 7.0/10.0
Lasting Value: 6.5/10.0
Overall (Not an Average): 7.0/10.0

Monday, June 18, 2018

Streets of Rage

Streets of Rage, Sega Genesis, Sega, 1991

Now this one is special. My Sega cousins blew my mind with the first Sonic the Hedgehog in the summer of 1991. However, nothing prepared me for Streets of Rage later that fall. I had played beat-em-up games in the arcades, like Final Fight and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game, but they were nothing like this.
Streets of Rage was gritty, visceral, with a blood-pumping soundtrack and dark urban setting that felt wholly original. And no arcade was necessary! We could play it in my cousin's den!
Streets of Rage, I will press any button you tell me to.
The crazy thing is that Streets of Rage still holds up, even outside the lens of nostalgia, without which, admittedly, I will never be capable of viewing it, hence this sentence may be a lie, but I doubt it. Streets of Rage uses a simple setup, "A" for a special movie, "B" to attack, and "C" to jump. You only get one special move per life, unless you earn an additional one. By tapping "B" rapidly as you pummel foes, you can do combos. By tapping B while you are in the air, you can do a flying kick. Hold B and C together and you can hit behind you. Press B when you're close to an enemy and you can grab and throw them. That's it. About as simple as it gets.
As simple as kneeing this dude in the nuts.
The player essentially moves up, down, left, and right through the corridor of each level, attempting to get the angle on soon-to-be-beaten-senseless thugs. There are three characters to choose from, burly Adam, head-banded Axel, and the nimble Blaze. All three are ex-cops, determined to clean up the crime-infested city streets. The trio can pick up weapons like baseball bats, pipes, and knifes throughout each level, though using these changes the timing of attacks. Most importantly, two players can play at once cooperatively, taking on Streets of Rage together.
I've never felt closer to you than I do right now, though I do feel just a bit closer to this guy, who I have in a headlock.
Streets of Rage is one of the best buddy team-up games ever, though the fact that you can damage your friend's character can also completely destroy you friendship in the heat of battle. Someone will most definitely pull out"You did that on purpose!" no matter how evil the other player's intentions actually are. It's awesome. Not quite as awesome: it's really easy to accidentally hit "A" in the thick of battle and waste the special move, which in this game involves a squad car pulling up and raining instant death fire upon all of the bad guys onscreen. Better to save it for the bosses, who aren't insta-killed, but are still extremely damaged by your backup's fiery justice.
"We'll just identify their bodies by their dental records."
The game looks great, with detailed, sometimes scrolling backgrounds, a wide array of color, both neon and gritty, well-designed, distinct characters, and cool environmental touches within each level, like wind-blown trash and rain. However, in the production department, it's Yuzo Koshiro's surprisingly atmospheric, early 90's club music-influenced soundtrack that's the star of the show. I can't stress enough how effective Koshiro's score for this game is, fully transporting the player into Streets of Rage's unique world--it's an all-time great. The sound effects are also delightful, punches popping satisfyingly. The best is the death gasp every enemy lets out when you've defeated them, letting you know its time to move on to another baddie.
Blaze, holding it down.
Thankfully, Sega's dreaded, "the game is only 15 minutes long so we have to make it impossible" bug was starting to wear off during Streets of Rage's development, as the game is suitably challenging, but not impossible, while still taking a good 45 minutes to complete.
The insane thing about the first Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage games is that in just a year, Sega would both completely top and perfect them with their sequels. Early 90's Sega was on fire!

Graphics: 8.5/10.0
Sound: 10.0/10.0
Gameplay: 9.5/10.0
Lasting Value 9.5/10.0
Overall (Not an Average): 9.5/10.0


Strider, Sega Genesis, Sega, 1990

And here is another one of those classic, early Sega Genesis games that sounds incredible, looks great, and is almost completely impossible. Strider is Sega's port of Capcom's arcade game of the same name, a 2D side-scroller featuring the ninja, Strider Hiryu. Strider can run, jump, flip in the air, pull himself up ledges, slide into enemies, and most importantly, slash with his sword. Level design varies from good to unbelievably good, going in so many unexpected directions, it's better to expect the unexpected. For instance, start out on a snowy plain fighting wolves, slide under a shutting metal door, fight a giant, mechanized gorilla, climb up a cave wall to some vertical conveyor belts, fight through a system of electrical conduits, spring off of floating platforms, and climb aboard an airship bossed by a trio of evil acrobats. This describes what is probably Strider's most conventional level.
Why don't you point that thing someplace else?
While the level design is great, holy cow, do these levels, enemies, and Strider himself look incredible. People were amazed by these graphics in the early 90's, and compared to some of the lazily made indie 2D games of today, they still look absolutely revelatory. Strider is a huge, well-detailed and animated sprite, enemies are huge, and backgrounds look great, detailed, bold, and colorful. You know what's better than the colors, though?
The soundtrack, composed of phenomenal, complex, classically influenced tunes. makes perfect use of the Genesis' unique bassy tones. It's a classic. The best part is that each piece is dynamic, changing as Strider progresses through each new segment of a level. This all comes together to create a truly unique musical experience. The sound effects, though, are tinny and minimal. Of particular note is the fact that Strider's sword only makes a sound if it hits an enemy...otherwise, he swings it in silence.
"He Swings It In Silence" was also the moniker for my failed beat poet career.
I wish the silent sword was my only complaint, but unfortunately, the gameplay poses a far bigger problem. There are times where Strider is incredibly fun, exploding foes with Strider's sword, slashing through the game's ridiculously imaginative bosses. However, the overall experience features a considerable lack of polish. Enemies come from all directions, and their attacks are often unavoidable. The player often has to tap the attack button non-stop to take out incoming foes, and still, it's impossible to stop all of their attacks. The controls are also a bit imprecise: jumping accurately is often not an option. Of course, like most of those early Genesis games, a playthrough of the entire game only takes about 20-minutes, so to make up for it, the game has to be impossibly hard. A personal story to really drive this point home: Strider features a swap trick wherein the player can put a copy of Altered Beast into their Genesis, then quickly switch it out for Strider, and get infinite lives. A buddy of mine tried this trick with me, and it worked. The two of us have played through many games successfully over the last few decades. With an infinite amount of lives, we still could not beat Strider. It is that damned hard.
You see a thing of such grace and beauty as this mechanical gorilla, and your first instinct is to chop it in half?!
Still, Strider is so pretty, sounds so good, and features such insane, off-the-wall level and boss design, these factors almost overcome the fact that playing it can, at moments, be control-shattering-level infuriating. Maybe, I'll play it again right now.

Graphics: 9.0/10.0
Sound: 9.0/10.0
Gameplay: 7.0/10.0
Lasting Value: 6.5/10.0
Overall (Not an Average): 7.5/10.0

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Altered Beast

Altered Beast, Sega Genesis, Sega, 1989

"Wise from your gwave!" That's about the only thing most gamers know about the Sega Genesis original pack-in game, Altered Beast, and unless those gamers are huge Genesis fans, it's all they need to know.
"kick a ghoul/in the nuts/cover his buddy/in his guts"
Altered Beast is a beat-em-up, "A" to punch, "B" to kick, and "C" to jump. The game stars some random mythological muscle-dude, who must rescue Zeus' daughter from a bunch of ghouls. He traverses a barely 16-bit Roman mythological world, and if he smashes three blue three-headed wolves (until the instruction manual told me afterward, I thought they were bulls) in a level and collects their floating orbs, he gets to become the Altered Beast. Actually, he has to become the altered beast because if he doesn't, the level will go on and on forever, tossing the player a random blue three-headed wolf until they finally get three of the danged orb things. Once the player transforms into the beast, whose form is unique to each level, they gain new superpowers, and access to that level's boss.
I bet those ghouls are intimidated now! I know I am!
Altered Beast only contains five short levels, and to make up for that, it does the same thing nearly all games from that period did--be really, really hard. It gives the player three lives with no continues, and a hit meter with three bars that cannot be filled. Sure, you can beat the game in 15 minutes, but good luck doing it in your first 20 tries. And yet...there's something here.
Wolf life.
First, the game's music is delicious, yummy Sega Genesis trippy, bassy jingles that make all of the dopamine flow around one's brain like marbles in a Rube Goldberg machine. Also, as caveman simplistic as the game's "Hulk Smash!" gameplay is, there's always something satisfying about punching a monster into bloody chunks. And finally, Altered Beast has a two-player mode where it is possible for one player to hog all of the orbs, becoming a giant, barrel-chested wolf-monster, while the other player has to stay a puny human in ancient Roman underwear. This is always a good thing, and perfect for a ribald night of retro-gaming. It was fun back in the day when it was just "regular" gaming, too.

Graphics: 5.8/10.0
Sound: 7.5/10.0
Gameplay: 6.0/10.0
Lasting Value: 4.0/10.0
Overall (Not an Average): 6.1/10.0

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega Genesis, Sonic Team, 1991
I don't remember what came first--the advertisement, or the experience. I'm pretty sure it was the commercial.

Sonic looked so awesome, so fast it was unbelievable. At the same time, I chafed at the derogatory comments toward Mario...I mean, I like Mario. Who doesn't like Mario? In 1991, the jumping plumber still rode high on Super Mario Bros. 3, released just a year before. However, my cousins who always got the newest thing, including the Sega Master System in the late 80's, got a Genesis and Sonic. Their house not only had all the coolest stuff, but was far less restricted than my home--I was already going there to watch Baywatch everyday, anyway. Why not try out Sonic while I was there?
What's the worst that could happen?
In just 30 seconds of play time, the game blew my mind. Sonic WAS so fast. So fast he could run upside-down. Way faster than Mario, even if the experience wasn't quite as well-refined. It was an entirely new experience! But 27(!) years later, does the experience still hold true?
Spoiler: The answer is the same as the one to, "does Sonic like to act out Lionel Richie songs?"
Honestly, it feels the same.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a 2D platforming game, where the player runs the blue critter through loops and jumps him over spikes and pits. Sonic can also roll into a more resilient ball form if the players presses down on the control pad. Like Mario, Sonic collects 100 of a particular item to get an extra life. Unlike Mario, this item, in Sonic 's case, golden rings, acts effectively as a life preserver. Get hit and the rings all bounce away from sonic like loose change, but if Sonic can grab more, he is once again safe from death when he is hit again. Run out of rings and get hit, or fall into a pit, and Sonic's life is over.
The game's sense of speed is still excellent, with Sonic blazing through levels. The sense of discovery, and the way the game's designers laid out multiple paths through each level makes for an insanely replayable game. The insane difficultly level, trademark of early Genesis games, also increases replayability, as it will take many, many playthroughs for most gamers to make it to the end.
Get ready to become intimately familiar with this screen. Not...in a dirty way...unless that's your thing, I guess.
It must be said, when there's a lot going on, the Genesis can't quite handle it, and the framerate slows down to a stutter for moments. This is one of many ways the first Sonic is also a little rougher around the edges than its descendents (the Sonic's 2, 3, and 4). Another way is the gameplay, itself. There are times it feels like the developers are punishing the player for going fast--an unseen spike will suddenly shoot from the ground, or a hidden enemy will dart in from behind and take out Sonic--Sonic the Hedgehog features cheap hits galore. There are also times the controls and level-designs clash just a little bit--for instance, Sonic might lose momentum on a hill, and can only get over it with great difficulty and maximum player effort.
Obviously, Dr. Robotnik programmed those parts of the game...or as we liked to call him in 1991, "Dr. Robuttnik." The 90's were so edgy.
The game's graphics are bright and iconic, with memorable level backgrounds and villain design. Sonic can jump on the game's bad guys to destroy them (as long as he is rolled up in a ball), and every time he does, he frees a forest animal from its mechanical innards.
The game's plot, which I remember being explained in an issue of Disney Adventures, is that Sonic and a scientist, Dr. Robotnik, were best buddies, until a failed experiment made Sonic blue and fast, and Robotnik evil. The wicked Doctor then enslaves the game's animals into the aforementioned dastardly robots, and it's up to Sonic to set the little creatures free.
While the game's plot is only implied within, its music is explicitly awesome. The Sega Genesis' soundchip may not have been as powerful as the one of its arch-nemesis, the Super Nintendo, but it created some unique, bass-heavy, metallic tones, and Sonic the Hedgehog utilizes it for a fast-paced, funky 16-bit earbath. Earbath sounds gross. I screwed that description up. Let's just say, the soundtrack is bouncy in the best way, and catchy enough that I am humming along replaying it so many years later. It's a crime that Masato Nakamura doesn't have a few dozen more video game soundtracks to his name.
I still remember this particular image from the commercial more than anything else from the game...which is ironic, as I often didn't make it this far in 1991, and was never able to acquire this extra life.
Sonic the Hedgehog is exactly as I remember it. Very fun, very difficult, and a bit frustrating. The graphics, while more simple than future installments, are visually pleasing, and the music is excellent. I must admit, this game does provoke some negative feelings for me, simply because it reminds me of a time in life, namely early junior high, when I had the realization that I wanted agency, but had none. In more human terms, I was ready to watch R-rated movies and drive a car, but I wasn't old enough to do those things. That carried over a bit into video games, as I started to feel like they could be more forgiving, while still occupying a lot of the player's time. Perhaps due to the put-in-another-quarter influence of arcades, or maybe just because games had to be ridiculously hard so that players couldn't beat their ten short levels in 20 minutes, games from the 80's and early 90's were so frustratingly difficult, and often for reasons that felt cheap. Play for an hour, make it to the final boss, die, start all over. A lot of times, it felt like a wasted hour. With better technology, games no longer had to be that way, and the first Sonic game comes on the cusp of this, meaning it could be just a bit better, and just a bit longer, while also being just a bit less difficult. That task would be accomplished by future games in the series.
Or in this one, you can just press up, down, left, right, then hold "A" and press start at the main menu...but you didn't hear that from me.

Graphics: 8.0/10.0
Sound: 8.0/10.0
Gameplay: 8.5/10.0
Lasting Value: 8.5/10.0
Overall (Not an Average): 8.5/10.0

Thursday, January 11, 2018


Released April 24, 2013, Duranik's Sturmwind not only proves that old consoles don't have to die, but that shoot 'em up games don't have to be impossible.
This blue laser could double as a bitchin' bug light.

Poor old Sega Dreamcast--cut down in its prime after just 18 months on American shelves. The first console to feature a built-in modem, able to seemingly crank out classic games like clockwork, the final console released in the 20th century, murdered on March 31, 2001.
Sega, terrified of Sony's big mean Playstation 2, and hampered by the mistakes it made in the mid-90's, decided to cut its losses before the Dreamcast actually incurred any. My Official Dreamcast Magazine suddenly stopped arriving in my mailbox, Sega announced the Dreamcast was being discontinued, and ever since then, I and other Dreamcast fans have only had the ability to play our old games and wonder what might have been...
Until now.
Actually, games have been trickling out for the Dreamcast since the exaggerated reports of its demise. People who love the Dreamcast as much as I do, but also know and understand how to make video games, have been putting out scattered independent titles for years, but few have been stronger than German devoloper Duranik's Sturmwind.
Just who is this snowman? And why does he need such a large dish?

Sturmwind, released in 2013, belongs in the shoot 'em up genre, a group of games, like fighting and racing, that I both love and suck at. Shoot 'em ups generally involve the player piloting a space ship or fighter plane either horizontally or vertically across an automatically scrolling screen. The player must shoot down a variety of enemies while dodging barrages of their fire.
Shoot 'em ups, or shmups for short, have over the years been leaning toward a subgenre called "bullet hell." This is exactly what it sounds: bullet hell games throw the player into massive waves of enemy fire that they must dodge with insanely fast reflexes and picture perfect memory.
The insane level of difficulty involved in bullet hell games unfortunately neglects all but the most hardcore and battle-hardened gamer, cutting off the shmup genre from many who would otherwise enjoy it.
Thankfully, in the spirit of creating a game for a console the manufacturer ceased producing 12 years before, Duranik had the casual, as well as the hardcore gamer in mind when they created Sturmwind. The game's adjustable difficulty can be set to a mode that, while still challenging, will allow your average player the opportunity to enjoy all the game has to offer...and the horizontally scrolling Sturmwind offers a lot.
Saw some pretty glass. Shot it with my laser.

Sturmwind's graphics look incredible--the lighting effects, explosions and full-screen-sized bosses are all visually stunning, archaic Dreamcast graphics chip or not. The particle effects from the ship's weapons and their subsequent-caused destruction are a feast for the eyes, excellent explosions of color. Backgrounds, a brilliant mix of 3-D and 2-D, are richly detailed and varied, from deep, starry space, to skies high above a lush green planet, to an undersea graveyard, to hellish lava pits and factories, and everywhere in between. The Dreamcast's considerable power is fully tapped.
The sound effects are on point, explosions, laser fire, sirens, and panicked pilots shouting in German all creating an enveloping atmosphere, while the throbbing, expertly produced electronic soundtrack gets the blood pumping.
I'm all out of bombs, I'm so lost without them.

Thankfully, Sturmwind's gameplay is no slouch.
The player's fighter ship starts with three laser-powered weapons: one concentrated but powerful, one with a broader range but weaker firepower, and one that is a good balance of both. These can be switched through at any time, and all three can be powered up three times within a level by picking up various floating power-ups dropped by certain destroyed enemies. Get hit, and you lose the weapon you are currently using. Lose all three, and you lose a life  (you start out with three lives). The floating power-ups can be toggled through each weapon-type by consistently firing upon them (before the screen scrolls past them), allowing the player to decide whether or not they want to power up their favorite weapon, or ensure that they can take more damage by choosing a weapon they've lost. In addition, the player can switch fire from front to rear with the touch of a button, and even shoot in both directions simultaneously when a weapon has been sufficiently powered up. Of course, there are also the requisite bombs, scarcely given, and wisely saved to use against Sturmwind's enormous, awesomely absurd bosses.
What do you mean, absurd? I always fight giant cod with my spaceship!

Sturmwind controls like a dream, though I highly recommend using Agetec's Dreamcast Arcade Stick for the most immersive experience. Duranik has fine-tuned Sturmwind's handling with a fine-toothed comb, and you'll be dodging through space, switching between weapons like a pro in no time. You also won't be feeling like you are terrible at video games thanks to the aforementioned difficulty settings.
If you just want to see Sturmwind's incredible sights, jam to its music, and enjoy its clever weapons system and refined controls, you can set the difficulty to easy and cruise on through. There are still 20 levels to experience, which will take some time flying through, though thankfully this doesn't have to all be done in one sitting. The game has an excellent save system, and also allows the player to revisit any previous level any time they choose. Of course, if you are looking for bullet-riddled insanity, you can amp up the difficulty to experience that, as well.
Overall, Sturmwind is an old-school Dreamcast fan's...dream. It not only keeps the memory of the system alive...it keeps the very system itself alive. If modern developers can keep squeezing gems like this out of our orange(or blue if you're European)-studded box, the Dreamcast will have a life for years to come.

Bright, colorful, full of great lighting and particle effects, with awesomely bizarre boss designs.
Music and Sound
Excellent, pulse-pounding soundtrack, along with speaker-rattling booms and blasts.
One of the most balanced shooters in recent memory, perfect for both beginners and longtime fans of the genre, featuring some inventive mechanics.
Lasting Value
Tons of missions, an adjustable difficulty level, and hi-score unlockables stretch out the play time.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes

Released on June 28, 2000, on the Sega Dreamcast, after a successful life in arcades, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes pits a giant combined roster of Marvel and Capcom characters against each other in chaotic, 2D fighting mayhem.

Eighth grade. Don Carter's Bowling Alley, Baton Rouge, LA. I love bowling. I love hanging out with my friends. But the thing I love the best is when no one is anywhere near the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade, so that I can play the 2D fighting masterpiece, X-Men: Children of the Atom, without the threat of some game rat with a handful of quarters scoping me out, and coming over to slaughter my character and take over the cabinet.
I have never been great at fighting games (except for a stretch of mid-2000 when I briefly became an ace at Soul Caliber). If anyone other than my friends who are also not great at fighting games challenges me to fighting games, I will probably lose. This has always been true, even earlier in junior high when Street Fighter II was still shiny. Nothing in 1995 was worse than finding X-Men: Children of the Atom free, winning a couple of fights against the computer and feeling like a badass, then having some high-schooler waltz over and ruin it with a quarter and his superior fighting skills. Yes, 1995 was a pretty chill year for me (it was one of the best years of my life).
As time passed by, and home console technology improved, I rejoiced. Now I could play 2D arcade fighting games on my Dreamcast without worry of some professional jerk ruining my fun. Better yet, X-Men: Children of the Atom's descendant, Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes, was coming to Dreamcast--combining favorite characters from both Marvel Comics (The X-Men, Avengers, Spiderman, etc.) and video game studio Capcom's (Mega Man, Resident Evil, Street Fighter, etc.) storied histories.
By this point in history, arcades were becoming a dying destination. Finding a fully-loaded one was becoming next to impossible. Thankfully, the now demolished Siegen Village movie theater procured their own Marvel vs Capcom 2 machine. I figured I'd give it a spin before purchasing the home console version. Rather ironically, I used a trip to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as an excuse to play me some 2D fighting goodness...and then, the unthinkable happened: some junior high kid a foot shorter than me challenged me to a fight. I soon learned that Marvel vs Capcom 2 did not feature breakable, interactive, expanding environments like X-Men:Children of the Atom. It did, however, feature a combo system so blindingly fast, I actually broke into laughter when the 13-year old kid billion hit combo'd me, swiftly sending my Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm tandem to the grave.
This did not appear to be the game I wanted, and stores in Baton Rouge didn't seem capable of stocking the Dreamcast version anyway. I forgot about it for a few years until I came across a complete copy for $25. Marvel vs Capcom 2 generally sells for considerably more than $25, so I scooped up this mint copy. I've now had the benefit of playing an "arcade bully-free" Marvel vs Capcom 2 for quite a few years. Is it the classic it's been billed to be, or is it the senseless, hyper-speed oddity that freaked me out so many years ago?
Longer: this cast of characters, or the introduction to this review?
Yeah, you guessed it. It's both, of course.
First, we should talk about aesthetics. New Age of Heroes is pretty. The 2D characters are well-animated, though they don't look as ridiculously good as their Dreamcast brethren in Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Guilty Gear X. However, Marvel vs Capcom 2's ridiculous hyper-combos are animated insanity. When a certain amount of regular moves have been landed or attempted on the opponent, the player fills up a gauge at the bottom. When the gauge is full, a hyper-combo, like Mega-Man morphing into a giant, laser-firing robot, Iron Man unleashing a massive wave of energy, or Wolverine unleashing an unbelievably fast salvo of claw-swipes, can be used. These are all nuts.
Hey, Cyclops, instead of standing around looking annoying, how about you stand around getting hit with cannonballs from a pirate ship?

Yeah, now you look way less annoying!

Except your visor. Haha, it looks so dumb!

You get to use three fighters in a fight, one at a time, switching freely, until all have been KO'd, or you have KO'd all three of your opponent's fighters...or the game's 99-second fight timer runs out...or your cat rubs against he power outlet and unplugs your Dreamcast. However, if you build up your hyper-combo gauge three times over (you can fill it up to four times over), all three of your characters can attack with their hyper-combos at once.This looks spectacular. The game's graphics do feature a divisive aspect, however. Instead of utilizing 2D, as it does with the fighters, the developers animated the MvsC2 backgrounds in 3D. The player's range of motion, however, is still 2-dimensional.The results are strange, and shouldn't work, but as I'll address again momentarily, this is one trippy game, and in that context, the backgrounds work.
Why is the game so trippy? In addition to the aforementioned backgrounds, MvsC2 plays like a strange drug trip. You can be winning a fight, when suddenly the computer decimates you with combos for a minute straight. I don't mean hyper combos either--MvsC2 utilizes some insane air combo'ing, where you can hit your opponent into the air, then use your various punches and kicks to deal blow after blow that your foe can be helpless to defend against. Unfortunately, that never really happens for me, and I am generally on the receiving end of these air combos. I am just not good at fighting games, particularly ones where you have to tap out dozens of button combinations to pull off these sorts of moves. Thankfully, MvsC2 understands players like me.
And their solution is far better than Mega Man's general, "launch a fireball and yell like a kid" problem-solving method.

New Age of Heroes, thankfully, features an adjustable difficulty level. This way, I can play on easy, and enjoy more reasonably-paced fights, instead of nightmare acid trip clobberings. This also makes mastering the game's simple control scheme far easier. Each fighter has a light and heavy punch, and a light and heavy kick. Many fighters feature the classic down, down-right-, right, push B projectile moves from previous fighting games, as well as directional variations. This only uses four of the Dreamcast controller's buttons, though (not counting the joystick or directional pad). The two shoulder buttons are used in certain combinations to respectively do hyper-combos, tag-in a teammate, or call said teammate to rain down an assist move (these fights, outside of hyper-combos or brief assists, are mano a mano)--this, of course, all adds to the chaos, but as mentioned, in the easier modes, at least it is controlled chaos. Thankfully, the game features a practice mode to hone all of these skills, as well.
In practice mode, Doctor Doom just looks at you smugly, instead of floating around like a chump, as usual.

Wait, did I say, "Dreamcast controller?" I guess using a Dreamcast controller is okay, but for fighting games on the system, you should really splurge and pick up the Agetec Arcade Stick controller. As of this writing, it is still reasonably priced used, and makes playing fighting games on the Dreamcast so much more fun. Speaking of fun...
Hey, you know how I mentioned an acid trip a minute ago? Speaking of that, Marvel vs Capcom 2 features a bizarre acid-jazz soundtrack that is extremely out of place, but pretty hilarious. I'm not sure if it is intentionally so, but listening to the wonky vocalist belt out over-dramatic lines over weird saxophone melodies, while the Incredible Hulk throws boulders at Mega Man's face is pretty funny. The announcer also sounds like he's been hitting the uppers pretty hard, speaking in a strange, almost psychopathic smiling voice. Even some of the character voices, like Sabretooth and his weird lisp, accentuate the craziness--though most characters speak in voices more apt for their characters. Oh, yeah, also, the menus feature a bunch of bright, swirly colors. What's not trippy is excellent replay value, and New Age of Heroes has it, and that segue was terrible.
The player begins with a limited roster of characters, and must fight and win in the game's arcade or score attack modes to earn points, so that further characters can be unlocked from the in-game store. The game's roster is huge, featuring dozens of Marvel Comics and Capcom games most beloved characters, as well as a few newcomers, unique to this game. Get all of the characters, and then you can earn alternate uniforms for them. Buy all of those, and you get the option to use the same character as all three members of your team. Mastering the game will also take time, and playing it is fun, so you are going to want to try to do that.
Yep, this is what OCD looks like.

I forgot to mention, there's some weird story about how all of the characters are fighting so that they can reach, fight, and defeat some weird shapeshifting beast named Abyss--you fight against seven sets of foes gathered from the game's cast in both arcade and score attack to reach him/it. You know, typical fighting game stuff--with that said, every character has the same ending...you are using three at a time, anyway. You can also play against a friend, hopefully not that jerk from the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade. That's always fun, particularly if you are evenly matched, but even better if you actually are that jerk from the Don Carter's Bowling Alley arcade.
Unless mankind finally invents both time-travel, and reverse aging, I will never get to play mid-90's 2D fighters as a teenager ever again. However, old enough to be President me can laugh with my son, as we unleash yet another cheap laser burst from Cable into Juggernaut's face...because like all good fighting games, Marvel vs Capcom 2 features some really cheap characters. That wasn't where I intended to go with that sentence, but I guess I should talk about it. This game features several characters who can shoot laser projectiles that do damage even if the opponent is blocking. You can block with the back button--sometimes it doesn't work, but against these types of moves, it never works. So feasibly, you can just stock Cable or Iron Man, and have them shoot lasers at your haplessly blocking enemy until they die. This takes little skill, and you definitely shouldn't do it, especially if you are fighting against your own child. That is, of course, unless you are teaching them to do it, so in the future, when arcades hopefully make some inexplicable comeback, they can be that kid. Yes. The cycle continues. FOREVER!

Beautiful, crazy fast animation, bright colors, and trippy visuals, though not quite on par with the best of the Dreamcast best.
Music and Sound
Weird acid jazz soundtrack casts a bizarre atmosphere, as well as do some of the character voices, though most voice-acting and sound effects are solid.
Some of the zaniest, most fast-paced 2D fighting ever, at the service of an insanely vast Marvel and Capcom combined cast.
Lasting Value
Collect every available fighter, earn every costume, play the game to you and your friends' hearts' content, and congrats, you're eligible for Social Security!