Three years after porting the first Street Fighter Alpha to the Game Boy Color, Crawfish Interactive tried something a bit more ambitious, this time for the more powerful Game Boy Advance. The decision was made to skip Alpha 2 and instead port the third game of the series. Street Fighter Alpha 3 had arrived in arcades in 1998, with home versions following on Playstation, Saturn and Dreamcast. There was a large character lineup, three fighting styles and the introduction of a guard gauge (that depletes as attacks are blocked). So how would the portable Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper (to give it its full onscreen title) compare?
First off, the game features some great-looking multi-layered backgrounds. Character designs are excellent and they are well animated. Compared to the arcade and console versions, the characters aren’t as detailed and background animation is reduced, but when you’re viewing it on a 2.9 inch screen it still looks impressive.
As good as this port looks, anyone familiar with the game will soon notice that a lot of the stages are missing. However, there are still 13 unique stages included with a few also having alternate versions. The locales that did make the cut all look different ensuring you won’t get bored of the scenery whilst you’re busy pummelling your opponent. They include a jungle, a train junkyard and poolside of a hotel. The most impressive stage, however, is the final one (for all but one character) where you fight in a thunderstorm as rain pours down and lighting flashes: the image fitting perfectly with the dramatic music. The music for the other stages is also good — full of excitement and aggression, it can be a bit samey but it suits the game just fine.
Movement is smooth and the game handles wonderfully with all attacks acting as they should. Of course, this is a six-button game on a four-button system, so to get around this problem, one strength of attack is activated by pushing the other two together. The default button assignment will not be to everyone’s tastes, but thankfully it can be changed from the options menu. It’s a bit strange at first but once you find a setup you are comfortable with, it works well.
While you are getting used to the controls you may want to try one of the easier difficulty settings. There are eight in total, each a little harder than the one before. The difficulty as you progress through the game is judged just right, although if you are playing on the easier settings you will notice a big increase in challenge once you reach M. Bison.
Every character from the arcade is included, as are those added to the console versions. This gives you a large selection to choose from including everyone from Street Fighter II and all the characters from the previous Alpha games such as Rose, Charlie and Sakura. There’s also a few new faces including female wrestler R. Mika and Final Fight’s Cody - who after being left out of the Final Fight sequels threw a hissy fit and turned to a life of crime. As well as all of those fighters, three extra ones were added to this port: Eagle from the very first Street Fighter game, Maki from Final Fight 2 and finally Street Fighter III’s Yun. A few characters have to be unlocked first, but once you have, you will be able to choose from a total of 38 fighters, although playing as “Final Bison” or Shin Akuma requires a bit of extra button holding.
The three fighting styles are present and correct. A-ISM features the three level super combo gauge introduced in Street Fighter Alpha. X-ISM has a one level gauge and V-ISM allows you to perform a custom combo. There are also other differences: for instance X-ISM is the most powerful but you cannot air-block. Later on you can unlock a few modes that affect your character, including the Dan-inspired “Saikyo” mode that reduces your fighting ability – good if you feel like a bit more of a challenge.
After selecting your character, you are shown some stats about them and given a bit of background information, explaining the reason for all this fighting. Each character has a few brief pre-fight animations where they are seen either dashing on to screen or getting ready for the fight. Some character match-ups result in unique moments, like the way Sagat’s scar glows when faced with Ryu. Characters also have a few victory poses and a number of win quotes. Again, some of these are opponent-specific: for example Maki asking Cody where Guy is. It didn’t have to be done but these fun moments really add to the personality of the characters.
Whilst the character lineup has been slightly expanded, elsewhere there have been cuts. There is no announcer and some character speech has been removed. Speech for some of the special moves has made it in whilst for others it hasn’t: there’s a “Hadouken” but no “Tatsutiramisu” (or whatever it is). The characters still make a wide range of noises though, which enhances the game. Moves connect with satisfying thumps and smashes and there are plenty of “ya,” “ha,” “guh” and “argh” noises. Other characters have unique sounds such as Blanka’s growl or Cody’s “ha-ha” laugh.
Anyone who isn’t overly familiar with the game may not notice the missing sounds, but most players will realize that something is up with the endings. There’s not as many as there used to be with the majority of characters sharing an ending that sees Bison defeated. The conversations that happen between certain characters on a play through have been cut from this version of the game, meaning some people don’t appear to have a reason for fighting Bison, but it sort of works.
Unsurprisingly Bison has a different ending, as does Evil Ryu who faces Shin Akuma for his final battle. Should you lose to your final opponent and opt not to continue, you are treated to an alternate ending. Whilst this means something different for Evil Ryu, Bison gets the standard ending as his alternate and everyone else gets Bison’s one. Bizarrely this means you can see three of the four endings without actually beating the game.
Still, four endings is more than some games and there are some other game modes to occupy your time. To begin with your only other option is a training mode, but as you play you unlock more. If you don’t want to faff about unlocking things there are cheats to gain access to the missing modes (as well as the initially absent fighters).
Dramatic Battle partners you with a computer controlled character as you take on other fighters. A fun mode of play despite your idiot partner constantly wasting your shared super combo gauge. Survival mode gives you one energy bar and a series of opponents to beat. You have eight options to pick from, such as “Boss” and “50-Battle”. There’s also a Dramatic Battle one, this time allowing you to choose your partner. There’s one more single player mode: Final Battle, which just skips you ahead to the final opponent.
VS mode is the game’s two-player option. Simply pick your fighter and a fighting style. If you want a handicap you can adjust how much energy you start with, then you choose your speed, stage and battle away. The instruction booklet makes mention of a two-player Dramatic Battle mode, but it seems the developers could not fit it in. That’s unfortunate as it would have made a great addition, but the VS mode still adds plenty of replay value to a game that is already bursting with it.
Cuts have been made in order to bring the game to the Game Boy Advance, but that was to be expected. What’s surprising is how Crawfish managed to cram in the huge character line-up, multiple modes of play and still got it to look and (most importantly) play like Street Fighter Alpha 3. Controls may take a bit of getting used to and there are a few quibbles (with this many characters you really need an in-game move list) but overall this is an excellent game with plenty to keep you entertained.