The arcades of the 1990s never wanted for fighting games. Capcom’s Street Fighter II saw to that, striking gold with its 1991 debut and inspiring wave upon wave of imitators. Yet that proved a burden whenever Capcom created an arcade game that wasn’t Street Fighter. Their new attempts weren’t just competing with the Mortal Kombats and Killer Instincts from rival companies; they also went up against the latest iteration of Street Fighter that Capcom always had in the pipeline. It was often hard for less-hyped Capcom entries to stand out.
Capcom Fighting Collection sheds some light on these occasionally neglected classics. There’s a pure Street Fighter title in there, yes, but the real attractions come from other corners: all five main Darkstalkers games, the mecha-based brawler Cyberbots, the parody-filled Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (aka Pocket Fighter), the block-matching Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and the truly obscure Red Earth. They’re all presented in their original arcade versions, recreated precisely on modern hardware and dressed up with a wealth of extra material.
The Darkstalkers series headlines this anthology and with good reason: it’s the most successful Capcom fighting line that doesn’t have Street Fighter or Marvel aboard. The original Darkstalkers (aka Vampire) debuted in 1994, introducing Capcom’s take on classic monsters and myths as well as their new style of animation. Combining a sleek anime look with cartoony exaggeration, Darkstalkers was stunning to watch—heck, it still is. The character lineup hits every major cinematic beastie, from vampires and werewolves and mummies to a yeti named Sasquatch and a catwoman named Felicia (remember the Cat People movies? No?), and they’re all animated in gorgeous style.
Darkstalkers’ gameplay mechanics also took typical fighting-game attacks in outlandish new directions. Even standard punches and kicks make the characters twist and distort and shapeshift, while the more powerful attacks can transform your opponent, slice them comically in half, or bounce them around the screen. That flair builds on Street Fighter’s six-button layout and combos, resulting in a game that’s complex even if you’re just checking out the over-the-top moves and the catchy soundtrack. The Capcom Fighting Collection also goes beyond the call and makes Pyron and Huitzil, the game’s two bosses, into playable characters—something missing from the original release.
That said, the first Darkstalkers may be the most disposable of the bunch. While it established the strengths of the series, the gameplay is a little rough and unbalanced if you dig into it. That was amended by 1995’s Night Warriors (aka Vampire Hunter). Everything was more even, and players could now use full versions of the bosses as well as two new characters: the hopping vampire-ghost Hsien-Ko and the half-monster warrior Donovan. Each character has fresh moves, and even if Night Warriors felt like an expansion of the first game back in 1995, here and now it’s the best version of Darkstalkers in its original form.
That’s because Darkstalkers 3 (aka Vampire Savior) brought daring ideas when it arrived in 1997. For starters, the cast gets four more characters, including a new villain in the demonic Jedah and the series’ first fully human fighter in the heavily armed and violent B.B. Hood. The flow of battle changes dramatically as well: instead of separate rounds, each fight is one continuous session where characters have two (or more) life meters, possibly inspired by Killer Instinct, and a power that grants each Darkstalker different temporary abilities. The animation and backgrounds are at the absolute peak of Capcom’s pixel artistry, with countless little touches you might barely notice in the thick of sparring. It’s enough to make both Darkstalkers 3 and Night Warriors essential.
Darkstalkers 3 bit off more than it could chew when it came to the character mix. The programmers couldn’t fit the previous games’ cast and the newcomers into the memory limit, so the initial release cut out Donovan, Huitzil, and Pyron. To make amends, Capcom released Vampire Hunter 2 not so long afterward, putting back the three missing characters at the expense of Jedah and the other fresh faces. And then there came Vampire Savior 2, which has the four new Darkstalkers 3 characters and the three once-absent Night Warriors characters…but ditches the werewolf Jon Talbain, the fishman Rikuo, and poor under-appreciated Sasquatch.
If that’s confusing, don’t worry: all three versions are here in the collection. Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2 never had localized versions, however, so they’re only in Japanese.
Red Earth might be the most notable piece of the collection, as it’s never before been released for a home system. Known in Japan as Warzard, it presents an alternate fantasy world untouched by industrial revolutions or further technology. It also puts forth an interesting idea: most fighting games have some giant creature as a final or near-final boss, so what if every battle was made like that?
Players can choose from the lion-headed swordsman Leo (essentially the hero of Guin Saga), the ninja Kenji, the martial artist Mai-Ling, and the witch Tessa, but their foes are screen-filling squid horrors, Egyptian chimeras, lumbering Japanese demons, multi-armed idols, ram-horned tyrannosaurs, knights in whirling machine armor, and other impressively animated creatures. While Darkstalkers ran on Capcom’s CPS-2 arcade hardware, Red Earth used the more advanced CPS-3 that would also power Street Fighter III. It’s a gorgeous showcase for the animators, with a variety of imposing beasts and painstakingly rendered backgrounds to dissect in detail.
Red Earth also twists its approach to fighting games. Arcade titles like Konami’s Monster Maulers and Pandora Box’s Metamoqester tried out the boss-rush concept, but Red Earth enhances it with the trappings of an RPG. Characters gain levels, upgrade weapons, and learn new moves as they progress through the game, and a password feature, possibly inspired by BloodStorm, lets players save their character status (the Capcom Fighting Collection’s save feature lessens the need for it, and there’s an option to immediately crank your level to the maximum). Red Earth even introduced death moves of a sort, as it’s possible to cleave monstrous foes in half. One of the game’s multiple endings depends on that.
It’s not hard to see why Red Earth failed in arcades. It focuses on single-player campaigns, the passwords are a little too complicated, and it takes a while to build up a fighter’s arsenal of special moves. The two-player mode limits the roster to the four heroes instead of offering the game’s enormous creatures as selectable (two of them did appear in the widely disliked Capcom Fighting Evolution, if you’re curious). Red Earth went against the grain of the fighting-game climate of the mid-1990s, but it’s much easier to appreciate its innovations, visual artistry, and memorable soundtrack in a collection like this—and to depress yourself by imagining how good a Darkstalkers game would have looked on the CPS-3 hardware.
Cyberbots is another inspired take on fighting games: a Gundam-like tale of orbital colonies and heavily armed mecha. The robots mostly come from Capcom’s earlier brawler Armored Warriors (aka Powered Gear), but the characters and backdrops are all new. The game’s six pilots, ranging from vengeful brawlers to escaped lab experiments, each follow a unique storyline, with cutscenes more elaborate than most fighters of the 1990s cared to employ. The machines and backgrounds are superb in their detail as stages show both subtle and major changes between rounds, and the mechs emit steam, eject spent shells, and change their forms almost as freely as the Darkstalkers cast.
In gameplay terms Cyberbots stays simpler than its Capcom relatives. There are two attack buttons, a boost, and a dedicated weapon button. Combo attacks aren’t hard to pull off, and neither are cheap hits that probably wouldn’t fly in a more precise six-button fighter. Yet the designers use that loose quality to pull off creative attacks beyond convention, such as the robots losing limbs or having weapons overheat. The varied story arcs and carefully designed machines make for both a fine tribute to mecha anime and an enjoyable fighter in general. Cyberbots did not earn a sequel, but it’s heartening that the bratty space princess Devilotte and brash warrior Jin Saotome (and his Apocalypse Zero attire) showed up in several other Capcom games.
The collection goes into more familiar territory with Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix (aka Pocket Fighter), a clash of cutely big-headed characters from Darkstalkers, Red Earth, and Street Fighter. It uses a button layout simpler than any of its inspirations, with a focus on pulling off humorous combos. Characters change outfits and reference other Capcom creations: Felicia dons a procession of Darkstalkers costumes or a Mega Man getup, Street Fighter III’s Ibuki attacks with discordant shamisen music, while Dan bludgeons foes with his long-nosed father, who is himself a parody of SNK’s Mr. Karate from the Art of Fighting series, which in turn was…
In other words, Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix is a treat for deeply devoted Capcom fans and lightly invested fighting-game players, as the moves rarely require a great deal of precision. That may detract from the game’s head-to-head intensity, but it makes Super Gem Fighter no less enjoyable.
The Capcom Fighting Collection’s most recognizable piece is probably Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. It developed a cult following through its PlayStation and Saturn ports back in the 1990s, and it’s since been revamped and reissued for later systems. The arcade original remains just as playable now, with a cast of pint-size Darkstalkers and Street Fighters (and a Cyberbots cameo) gloating and grimacing as the player tries to assemble falling blocks into gems and shatter them. It’s a cunning challenge in the solo mode and endlessly exuberant with two players.
The Capcom Fighting Collection couldn’t avoid at least one full-blown Street Fighter game, and it’s a good choice. Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition is a 2003 roundup of every official Street Fighter II variant, letting players choose any version of any character from the original 1991 fighter up through 1994’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It’s an effective look at the evolution of the game that started the entire fighting game craze.
For those who love hand-drawn animation in video games, playing Capcom Fighting Collection is mandatory just for the look of it. The modern era has a plethora of talented artists making sprite-based 2-D games detailed beyond anything seen in the 1990s, but Capcom’s animators from that decade had an intricate style that’s never been duplicated. It’s on full glorious display here, whether it’s the sight of two uniquely detailed mecha dueling inside an orbital weapon plunging through the atmosphere…or just that glimpse of a Frankenstein monster’s brain popping comically out of his skull as he crashes to the floor.
These games are more than just pretty. Whether it’s the relatively simple combos of Cyberbots and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix or the deeper layers of Darkstalkers 3 and Night Warriors, there’s plenty to explore in the collection. Of course, fighting games hinge heavily on competitive play, and that demands a robust head-to-head mode. Capcom Fighting Collection has a sturdy online experience with convenient matchmaking, lobbies, and other standard features. Connections seemed solid apart from some international slowdown, and you can search for possible matchups in every game at once.
It’s fair to point out that these aren’t all-encompassing versions of the games. They’re the arcade titles, so they’re missing extras from the home versions. The PlayStation and Saturn releases of Darkstalkers 3 offered all the characters in one convenient package (with actual new endings for Huitzil, Pyron, and Donovan), and the PlayStation 2 anthology added Dee, an alternate version of Donovan. The console ports of Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix had a marathon battle mode and other bonuses. The Japan-only PlayStation and Saturn editions of Cyberbots had full voice acting, three new storylines, and a mech version of Street Fighter’s Akuma. It would have been laborious for Capcom to bundle every iteration of every game, but those who previously played them mostly on consoles will note a few absences.
The Capcom Fighting Collection fixes several bugs and lets you assign special moves to a single button, saving you the trouble of executing the more complicated motions. If it’s not going to help players learn the finer points of the play mechanics, it’s quite handy when you only want to see pint-sized Chun-Li pelt her opponent with a stream of cyclists, Sasquatch ensnare opponents and ride them around like a sled, or any other elaborate super move. Each game can be customized extensively, even enabling or disabling an authentic arcade bootup screen. There are also multiple filters for mimicking a CRT monitor’s look, but they’re identified only by “Type A” names instead of any description or preview of the effect.
The most interesting extra is a voluminous helping of art, from full-color promotional material to production sketches and design documents. A few of the development illustrations are even animated like flip-books, presenting more opportunities to appreciate all the work that went into them. The collection’s music library is just as comprehensive, offering even the individual victory jingles for each Darkstalkers character.
The Capcom Fighting Collection’s greatest issue might come from outside its borders. Less than a month after this anthology arrives, Capcom is set to launch their second Arcade Stadium bundle. Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium will have over 30 of the publisher’s arcade games, and that includes Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Hyper Street Fighter II, and the first three Darkstalkers games. This cuts deep into Capcom Fighting Collection, with its bonus features and online play being its only clear advantages over the Arcade Stadium package. Just as in the 1990s, Capcom is their own worst enemy.
There’s little fault with the Capcom Fighting Collection games in themselves: they’re excellent. And if they’re missing a few extras here and there, that’s no reason to neglect a lineup that includes the fascinating experiments of Red Earth, the ornate anime tributes of Cyberbots, and two of history’s best 2-D fighting games—those would be Night Warriors and Darkstalkers 3. The 1990s and Capcom themselves weren’t always kind to these titles, but time hasn’t dulled their enticing gameplay, their marvelous animation, or the splendid mix of the two.