In 1995 Capcom decided that, for the time being, there were enough versions of Street Fighter II in the world and so came up with something different. Street Fighter Alpha featured air-blocking, a three-level super combo gauge, counter attacks and a fancy anime appearance. Although sequels followed, it was decided to bring the first game in the series to the Game Boy Color. Of course, the differences between the CPS-2 arcade system and the little handheld meant there would be some sacrifices, but that's only to be expected.
A few things such as win quotes and a on-screen hit count are omitted but the most obvious difference is the game’s visuals. The anime look is gone: the Game Boy sprites lack detail and feature only two colours. However careful shading with black prevents a flat look and the sprites are shaped correctly. Animation for fighting stances, moves, taunts and win poses provide plenty of character ensuring you are never in doubt as to which fighter you are using as they leap about the screen. Character portraits and backgrounds have more detail but stages are shared between characters (sometimes with a change of lighting), however it should be noted that this was true of the original game as well. There are also little touches that help the visual presentation like the way the V and S spin on to the versus screen, the way the screen darkens when you activate a super combo and the bright flash should you finish your opponent off with it.
Sounds effects are poor: a limited number of scratching and thud sounds. It would quickly get irritating were it not for the music which adds a little variety to the audio experience. There’s a theme for each stage: basic compared to arcade/console versions and a little whiney, but still recognisable.
Had either of its larger character roster sequels been attempted on the Game Boy Color, it’s highly likely that some fighters would have been left out. However Street Fighter Alpha has a small line up and whilst that’s a little disappointing it does mean that all the characters from the arcade have made it across. There are ten fighters directly selectable from the character select screen: four from Street Fighter II, Birdie and Adon from the original Street Fighter, Guy and Sodom from Final Fight and two new characters: Rose and Guile-a-like Charlie. Also in the game are M. Bison, Akuma and everyone's favourite SNK parody Dan, playable either through the luck of the random select or by inputting a code.
After choosing your character, you have to pick either manual or auto guard. Should you pick auto, your character will automatically block a number of attacks, and whilst with auto your super combo gauge only has one level, once full you can perform one of your potentially devastating super combo attacks by simply pressing A and B together.
A play through of the game can be quite quick as you only fight eight characters, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a portable title. Your final opponent varies depending on who you’ve selected and despite the small line-up there are a variety of fighting styles which keep things interesting as you try to see each character's ending. However there is an unfortunate bug in the game: should you have already beaten your current character's final opponent with someone else, you are shown Ryu’s ending after your penultimate fight. The same can happen just by changing your character a lot during your game. It’s avoidable once you are aware of it but it is still annoying.
For the most part the game handles fine, featuring fairly smooth character movement as you perform a variety of attacks. Originally there were three strengths of attack but this has been reduced to two for this port. There’s a button for punch, a button for kick and the length of time a button is held determines the strength. Though losing a strength of attack, the game doesn’t suffer with there always being an option available to you. Jabs, sweeps and throws work just as you intend.
The commands for special moves have been simplified by removing diagonal inputs: e.g. a fireball is performed by pressing Down, Forward + punch. This can feel unnatural but although they are not needed you can still push the diagonal direction without cancelling the move allowing you to stick to the traditional inputs if you prefer.
The simplified controls do cause a few problems however. You may be moving about, then crouching, then you press a button and instead of the basic attack you had intended you realise you’ve inadvertently entered the command for a special attack. Also, should you follow a special move with a different special that has a similar input (example: Sagat’s low Tiger Shot and Tiger Knee) you may find yourself performing the first again. Pulling off an unintended special move will not always put you in trouble but if it causes you to lose a round, it is understandably irritating.
A two-player option is a standard feature of most beat ‘em ups (including the other Game Boy Street Fighter games) that always adds replayability. Disappointingly this game is single player only and aside from a training option there are no other modes in the game.
The difficulty is well judged with each fight generally getting slightly harder than the one before, although often your final fight is not your most difficult, with Bison in particular being oddly easy to beat. The eight difficulty settings offer something to gamers of all abilities, and if you really fancy a challenge there’s a code to fight against Akuma, who is tough to beat whatever the difficulty setting.
Visually it is a big step down from the arcade original, but this is a fairly good-looking game considering the hardware. Gameplay is the most important thing and luckily it feels like a Street Fighter game despite the occasional irritation of an unintended special move. As a single player experience this is a decent little fighter that will keep you occupied for quite a while, but some extra modes would have been welcome. Sound effects are bad and the ending bug also annoys, but the big disappointment is the lack of two-player mode with its absence making the game that bit less appealing.