E3: Capcom Looks To The Past

By Mathew Kumar, Special to CBCnews.ca

LOS ANGELES - Game developers with as long and as varied a history as Capcom often face the accusation that after creating a number of successful properties, they choose to only ape their past successes by simply adding barely-different sequels and spinoff titles endlessly, secure in the knowledge that they’ll sell to their established fan base.

The crazy thing is that this year, Capcom is being lauded for transparent attempts to recapture its previous glories with the new iterations of the Street Fighter and Megaman franchises.

Each title has been created quite obviously with their series’ “original sequel” in mind – Street Fighter II and Megaman 2 – with a near fetishistic attention to detail. Street Fighter IV painstakingly recreates the famous characters and stages of Street Fighter II in impressive cel-shaded 3D, and Megaman 9 goes even farther by accurately recreating the original title’s NES graphics.

Though it’s the legendary title that introduced me to one-on-one fighting games (at the tender age of 10 years old) I’ve long since passed the point where I idolize the original Street Fighter II. To me, the later titles, notably Street Fighter III, introduced new concepts (and especially characters) to that far surpass the original’s.

Street Fighter IV screenshot.

But Street Fighter IV delivers. The game offers a precise 2D fighting game in a smooth 3D environment, and the characters, while largely the same as they always were, feel better to play than ever. The only disappointment is that the new characters don’t seem particularly worthy additions to the roster thanks to particularly ugly design, and, for me, the inclusion of Street Fighter II’s boring Mike Tyson-esque boxer Balrog rather than Street Fighter III’s superb dandy pugilist Dudley is a travesty.

Megaman 9 is an entirely different experience.

Drawn in NES tile graphics despite being developed for the current generation, this 2D platformer will please players who loved the original series (of course) but wish it was harder than ever – because Megaman 9 is brutally hard. I have a fondness for the Megaman series, but I can’t understand Megaman 9 at all. While the concept of a 2D platformer with retro graphics but modern design sensibilities is strong, nothing about Megaman 9’s design seems modern in the lest, from the tired levels full of cheap deaths to a complete lack of features that take any advantage of modern hardware’s possibilities.

Megaman 9 screenshot.

Megaman 9 isn’t finished yet, but unlike Street Fighter IV, it feels like “retro for the sake of being retro”, and plays like a poor-quality fan hack of the original NES titles.

The fundamental difference between the two, though, is that while Street Fighter IV is for Street Fighter II fans, it’s still more than good enough in its own right it will make new fans for the franchise. The only people who are going to like Megaman 9 are Megaman fans (though they are going to love it). That’s fine - but it’s nothing to get excited about.

(The author is a Canadian freelance writer blogging for CBCnews.ca from the Electronics and Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.)