Version tested: PlayStation 2
It's becoming increasingly difficult to review retro games. As recently as a year ago, you knew who you were writing for - the hardcore die-hard gamer who'd been playing since the 80s. But now, with the games of yesteryear available on mobile phones, on Live Arcade and Virtual Console, and on compilations such as this, what was once an underground scene of nostalgic aficionados has crept into the mainstream.
On one hand, it's a wonderful vindication. Those of us who stayed true to the mantra of "it's the gameplay that counts" have been proven right, as tried and trusted titles from two decades ago entice a whole new audience. It also bodes well for videogaming as a medium, showing that ordinary people will enjoy an old game just as they'll watch a movie from the 70s or 80s and not think it's some kind of cultural aberration.
But on the other hand, it puts us in the tricky position of sorting the wheat from the chaff in an atmosphere torn between people who couldn't give a stuff about frame rates or ROM states and just want a few minutes mindless fun, and devoted enthusiasts who have spent so long on the outskirts of modern gaming that they've developed a knee-jerk defence against any criticism of any old game. For these folk, if it's old then it's a classic, and automatically better than whatever modern rubbish the kids are into. End of debate.
Capcom's compilation output hasn't exactly helped matters. While the company can lay claim to more memorable hits than most, their misuse of the word "classic" to describe its mostly adequate back catalogue still suggests delusions of grandeur (or at least a marketing department that realised a compilation called A Few Great Games, Lots Of OK Ones And Some Right Old Crap wouldn't sell very well).
Spread across two volumes, and released with different line-ups on both PS2 and PSP, they've certainly squeezed plenty of mileage out of these titles (many of which I reviewed in their handheld format last year but it's hard to avoid the feeling that they're padding things out under the guise of completist zeal. While the die-hard retro nuts will be able to appreciate the minor differences between the six horizontal fighting games on offer, the mainstream gamer looking for fun will feel an extreme case of déjà vu. As it is, what we have here is a reasonably priced selection that veers from greatness to tripe, with the net result averaging out at something that's enjoyable but just slightly unsatisfying.
The ace up the sleeve of this disc (if discs had sleeves) would be Super Street Fighter II Turbo. It's easily the game with the most longevity, and it's the one game here that can honestly be credited with defining a genre. However, it's also rapidly becoming the Evil Dead of the retro scene, a beloved classic that has been released in so many versions and on so many formats that it's hard to imagine anybody who wants it not already owning at least two copies. For what it's worth, the very first Street Fighter - an absolutely leaden mockery of a fighting game - is also on the disc, but serves only to showcase just what an amazing evolution the sequel represented.