Compilations are ten a penny these day, but it's rare to find one with more than two or three games worth playing.
It's a cunning ruse though. Twenty-odd games for twenty-odd quid? Bargain! Except it isn't always, is it. Because once the excitement's died down, you're only going to be playing a couple of them, and bargain status is revoked. Often too late for your twenty-odd quid. Kudos to Capcom, then, for collecting five games which are all worth playing, and charging us just four quid a pop for the privilege. (And what with some very reasonable conversion rates for odd-quid and quid-a-pop at the moment, all the better.)
Alpha Anthology brings together arcade conversions of all three Street Fighter Alpha titles (as well as Alpha 2 Gold for the completists) and offers Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix as a bonus. That they're derived from the coin-op versions seems somewhat double-edged to begin with, in that while it does mean you get the optimum version of each game technically, additions made over the last few years - characters added to Alpha 3 for the PSP and GBA versions, for example - are sadly omitted. Or so it first appears. Luckily, Capcom has had the grace to include Alpha 3 Upper as an unlockable when you beat Alpha 3 (extra character ahoy) and if you finish each of the games once, you're given a brand new remix known as Hyper Street Fighter Alpha. This is where the real fun is at.
Hyper Street Fighter Alpha, like Hyper Street Fighter 2, allows you to pick any character from the huge Alpha 3 Upper roster and use them in whatever guise you'd like. Want to use Alpha Ryu? Go for it. Prefer your Isms? Take an Alpha 3 character and you're all set. Also, on top of the three regular Isms for Alpha 3 characters, there are four entirely new options tucked away that draw upon other games such as the Versus series for chain combos and even 3rd Strike with a parrying option for the more technically-minded among you. With so many characters and so many variations, this mode alone will never fail to present interesting match-ups - once you unlock it, Hyper Street Fighter Alpha becomes pretty much the only thing you need on the disc. For versus play at least, as there's no single-player options to be found in this new mode. What's more, there's a certain purity and charm to the arcade originals and you will find yourself drifting back to them from time to time.
Of course, these ageing games aren't without their faults - Alpha's lack of characters, Alpha 2's chronically overpowered counters and Alpha 3's comparative lack of balance due to its huge roster and different play modes are the key points to mention here. But nitpicking is pointless when you've been given so many quality games for so small a price. If one of these in particular bugs you, you can always move onto another game in the pack and continue to get your street fighting fix.
Of the original games, it's Alpha 3 that really wins through - Capcom's crowning glory sits alongside 3rd Strike as the pinnacle of the series and twenty notes is a fair price to pay for this one game alone. But with the added bonus of four other titles (plus some awesome extras like Hyper Street Fighter Alpha) also residing on the disc, you'll be able to go back to older versions to either overdose on nostalgia or learn how the series progressed, depending on your experience of the series. And play Gem Fighter, which is always good for a laugh.
Indeed, where each title on the disc has its own relative strengths and weaknesses, every one of them is perfectly playable and enjoyable even alongside more recent releases. Your choice of character will also probably influence which game you play most - any Birdie players out there (massive respect to you all) will likely plump for Alpha 2 before he was messed about in 3, while those that use newer characters have no choice but to go for Alpha 3. Or indeed Hyper, the glorious culmination of the entire Alpha series. Give Capcom your money. Do it. You will seldom see a better investment of twenty quid and whether you have fond memories of the Street Fighter series or (somehow) you're just getting into it, Alpha Anthology is about as essential as beat-'em-ups come.