Soundtrack Saturdays: Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike – Jazzy NYC ’99

Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is a serious contender for my favorite game of all time. I could spend hours waxing poetic about its incredible design. How fun it was despite the relatively small roster. How unappreciated it was in its time, simply because of its ridiculously steep learning curve. How its intricate and technical combat mechanics set new standards for the fighting genre. How its complex parrying and combo systems unapologetically demanded memorization down to individual animation frames. How the graphics were some of the finest 2D sprites in the 90s. How high-level play is insanely difficult but extremely entertaining, even almost two decades later. How it’s one of the few games that I’m still willing to play anywhere, anytime.

Yeah, I love 3rd Strike.

What many folks remember it for most, however, is the soundtrack. The playlist borrowed from and blended several genres, most notably jazz, rap, techno, and instrumentals. It was a risky departure from the simpler, traditional game music themes (which Street Fighter II helped establish), but the decision paid off in spades. Jazzy NYC ’99 is arguably the most famous track, for obvious reasons. Its catchy beat goes perfectly with the bustling, gritty city subway in which its stage is located. Even after all these years, any old school fighting game fan will recognize it instantly. That’s a testament to this game’s quality.

If you want more 3rd Strike, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Capcom VS SNK 2 – This Is True Love Makin’

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Much like Nintendo and Sega, the rivalry between Capcom and SNK was one of the defining aspects of 90’s video gaming. Both companies had immensely popular fighting games; it’d be impossible to find an arcade that didn’t have at least a couple of their cabinets. They had no qualms about taking little jabs at the other, either. Dan Hibiki, one of Street Fighter’s most iconic characters, was a parody of Art of Fighting’s main protagonists. After nearly a decade of mounting tension, someone finally had a bright idea: turn the rivalry into a game! Capcom VS SNK came out in 2000, but it was quickly overshadowed by sequel, Capcom VS SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001. It had 48 characters spanning almost all of both companies’ libraries, intricate combat mechanics, a deliciously hammy announcer, slick animation, flashy special effects, and a metric ton of fanservice. It also had an absolutely killer soundtrack, as demonstrated by the London stage theme, This Is True Love Makin’. Few fighting game themes can get you to stand up and dance. Turn it up!

If you want more Capcom VS SNK 2, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Street Fighter II – China Street Beat

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I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before how much I love fighting games. Especially Street Fighter; from the original 1992 release of Street Fighter II on the SNES through the latest PS3 titles, I’ve been playing along the entire time. Chun-Li has always been one of my favorites, and I’m not sure why. Probably because she (and Samus Aran) was the first female character I’d played. Her unique style and color scheme made her stand out. The fact that she was one of the fastest and strongest warriors might have had something to do with it, too.

Like any good fighting game character, Chun-Li has an awesome theme song. It – along with several other iconic tracks – were composed by Yoko Shimomura in the early days of the SNES. It was the among the first to really demonstrate the console’s audio capabilities. Over the last 20 years and several Street Fighter games, the songs have been remixed dozens of times. That they’ve lasted so long is a testament to their quality and appeal. McVaffe’s version from OC Remix isn’t officially on any soundtracks, but it’s easily one of the best renditions of Chun-Li’s theme.

If you want more McVaffe, you can find his page here. If you want more Street Fighter…Well, you can start with SF II here.

Good gaming, good music.

Contra: Evolution Review

Shot through the heart…

Once upon a time, there was a game called Contra. While it wasn’t the first run-and-gun scrolling game, it was probably the best of its kind. It featured Bill Rizer and Lance Bean, whose flagrant machismo and Rambo-esque exploits made them stand out amongst other arcade heroes. With their trusty, oversized guns at the ready, they bravely ventured forth into a futuristic wasteland and systematically slaughtered an invading alien horde. It was a grueling, harrowing task. Not only were the enemies and landscapes unforgiving, but the heroes could die with a single hit. Beating Contra quickly became the stuff of childhood legend; no one would blame a young gamer for resorting to the now-famous Konami Code and all the extra lives it offered. The game’s reputation only grew from there, spawning a long-running series that spanned decades and consoles alike. With the advent of smartphones and tablets, Contra was poised to make a triumphant return for a whole new generation…

And it failed miserably.

The problems with Contra: Evolution begin before the game even starts. Due to a programming bug, the app crashes almost every time you make it past the first menu. It looks so full of promise; a few bonus modes, a couple of unlockable characters, flashy colors…and a loading screen that takes so long that it freezes. After being kicked back out into your phone’s home screen, you summon enough patience for a second attempt. The official Konami logo pops up, almost reassuring you that no, this was all just a silly misunderstanding. The title screen appears again, giving you shadowy glimpses of the alien queen and desolate, fiery wasteland. Eagerly, you start up Arcade Mode and watch the little red loading icon spin merrily in the corner…and suddenly you’re back on the home screen, this time with a slight but ever-growing headache.

When the law of averages (or just blind luck) finally works in your favor, the game will load and you’ll be thrust into Contra’s world. If you grew up with the older game, it’s easy to be swept away by the nostalgia; the iconic levels have all been revamped with updated graphics and backgrounds. The rocky outcroppings and tree lines have better textures and scaling, and that first wall boss actually looks metallic. The characters look better proportioned and animated. Not bad, you might think. Maybe this will be worth it after all! Then you try actually getting through the first level, and you realize how horribly wrong you were. As a run-and-gun game, the original Contra required accurate directional inputs; responsive controls allowed you turn around, duck under enemy fire, aim at different angles, jump to avoid attacks, and manage the uneven terrain. In Contra: Evolution, the controls are mapped to a touch screen directional pad and a jump button. It would’ve been fine, if the buttons actually responded to your fingers. Missed landings and ducks, accidental kamikaze runs into enemy fire, and abysmally inaccurate diagonal shots are common.

The control layout makes things physically worse as well. The original Contra was built as an arcade game, with a large display and easily-accessible buttons. When you try to cram all of that into a smartphone screen, everything becomes cluttered and difficult to see. The buttons obscure huge chunks of either side of the level, which potentially leads to unnecessary deaths. Not that it’ll matter much, though; there are fewer enemies to kill, and your characters fire their weapons automatically. As you’re frantically wrangling with the controls, you might mow down a small army unintentionally. The game has the usual assortment of laser beams, spread shots, and machine gun power-ups, but you probably won’t need them. Since you spend in-game gems on extra lives, it’s possible to finish the game in a single blind run. However, using those extra collectibles can come back to haunt you; without gems, you can’t earn as much money for weapon upgrades or character levels. That’s where the game tries to trick you into using in-app purchases. You can either grind through levels with the frustrating controls, or you can spend a few more dollars to max out all of the stats. But you don’t need to; the game is beatable without additional upgrades. It’s just thinly-veiled attempt to fake longevity and get your money.

The game desperately tries to keep your attention with its extra challenges. The Mission Mode puts you back into the same levels, but with focus on high scores, completion times, and the number of deaths. Elite Mode does something similar; the weakest cannon fodder enemies take more hits, explode after dying, etc. It’s a welcome twist on the otherwise bland gameplay, but still lacks creativity. Nostalgia-prone gamers will likely dive right into Boss Rush, though the luster fades quickly. There are trophies and leaderboards to contend with, but they’re probably not worth the time. Your efforts also result in more funds for weapon upgrades, as well as medals that go towards unlocking another character. Unlike Bill and Lance, Ricci and Sally have more unique play styles; the former can dual-wield guns, and the latter a katana and shurikens. They exist for the sole purpose of adding variety and bragging rights – killing an alien queen with a shuriken is pretty cool – but offer little else. It would’ve been interesting to see a story mode, some dialogue, or anything resembling a reason to keep playing.

But there isn’t. Contra: Evolution is easily the worst version of its classic predecessor. It’s as if the designers attempted to capture everything that was awesome about the arcade experience, only to completely miss why it was great. Yes, the graphics look amazing for a cell phone game. Yes, there’s plenty of nostalgia go around. But the joy of Contra didn’t come from its graphical details; it was due to the satisfaction of surviving the brutally difficult levels and mastering the controls. There’s none of it to be found here; the touch screen buttons are clunky and unresponsive, the continue system makes it easy to blindly charge through levels, and there’s no reason to bother with any of the extra features. The hardest part of the game isn’t the bosses, but actually getting it to run in the first place. It’s so glitchy and broken that it makes you want to quit before you even begin. Ironically, Contra: Evolution is anything but.

Originally posted here.