Capcom was a king of the nascent arcade industry back in the 1980s. An innovator, a game-changer, its invention within the fighting game genre remains unsurpassed. The company isn't new to releasing retro collections, with close to thirty compilations across various platforms. With newer hardware, however, there’s a more reliable chance that arcade games will be accurately preserved, and in a more streamlined format. Essentially, this is exactly what Capcom Fighting Collection offers.
Be aware, though, that the featured titles are strictly arcade-only, meaning Donovan’s corrupt alter-ego from Vampire Savior (PlayStation and PSP compilations), three rather excellent console-exclusive characters from Cyberbots (Sega Saturn/PlayStation) and three appearances unique to console releases of Super Puzzle Fighter II X aren’t present.
Despite this, Capcom Fighting Collection is an excellent purist package for fighting game fans. Unlike the console releases, there are no missing animation frames and everything is 1:1 to its arcade counterpart.
When it comes to 2D gaming, lag is a death knell. Thankfully it’s relatively undetectable here – or at least too minute to notice in local modes. Playing online may introduce a touch of lag, but Capcom’s bespoke netcode works well to eliminate it. In our online testing, we barely noticed any issues unless we were having a seriously bad internet moment – and even then, these instances were rare.
Presentation is excellent across the board, with a simple but smart interface, direct and to the point. The menus are clean, with a nice jazzy jam playing over colourfully cute wallpaper that wouldn’t look amiss on your desktop.
Every game defaults to graphics filter Type-D on initial launch. Of the seven superb screen filters to choose from, this is probably the best, closely echoing the default MAME CRT filter in quality. There are no options for screen-edge curvature or corner distortion, but a variety of screen sizes are available, including correct 4:3 aspect ratios. Various wallpapers imbue the flavour of '90s arcades, but can be turned off entirely if preferred. Unfortunately, an in-game soft reset option is absent, forcing you to quit out if you want to get back to the title screen.
For some, this will be the Darkstalkers collection with bonuses. For others, it will be the Red Earth port they’ve waited for forever with other stuff thrown in. The Darkstalkers line-up spans all five arcade releases, although it should be noted that Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Savior 2 are actually modified versions of the third game, Vampire Savior/Darkstalkers 3, that add and remove certain characters, and introduce speed and gameplay adjustments.
A horror-themed fighting series, Darkstalkers was head-turning when it debuted in 1994, putting Capcom’s CPS-II arcade system to task with incredible animation and moody, artistic backgrounds. Although based on the Street Fighter II engine, it follows a new set of rules, introducing crouching forward crawls, air-blocking, and the ability to chain combos together for dazzling offensive stings. Super attacks and the way they’re stocked evolved with each iteration, and Vampire Savior 2 tactically removed air-chaining altogether. Although the series didn’t perform up to expectations in the West, characters like Morrigan, Felicia, and the machine gun-toting B.B. Hood have become firm fan favourites, cameoing in scores of titles since the Darkstalkers series wrapped in 1997.
Which is the best of the Darkstalkers games is subjective. Some may prefer the simpler, more deliberate nature of Night Warriors, others the more furious nature of the sequels and their options to switch between turbo and auto-blocking play styles. For reference, Vampire Savior/Darkstalkers 3 and Vampire Savior 2 still see the most action in tournament settings, so if you’re a fighting game aficionado it might make sense to hone your skills there. Regardless, this Universal Monster-inspired, Japanese ghost-laden series is a thing to behold. Bursting with visual personality, strategy and atmosphere, it’s a testament to Capcom’s ingenuity in the evolution of the genre. If there’s any downside, it’s that Vampire Savior 1 & 2 are Japan-only and certain sections of text remain disappointingly untranslated.
Elsewhere, Red Earth (War-Zard in Japan), Capcom’s first CPS-III Arcade System title, makes its console debut, and for some will be the collection’s highlight. Red Earth did poorly enough in 1997 to never see a sequel, and much of this is down to it being misunderstood. It is, essentially, Capcom’s "Dungeons & Dragons: the fighting game", featuring a glorious fantasy setting and multiple endings. Quirks such as treasure, coins, super orbs and food being spilled and collected mid-fight might not lend themselves well to serious competitive play, but they do make for an incredibly unique game. You can even earn experience points, bestowing new abilities on a character, and, using the password system, continue to play using their levelled-up state (made simpler here with the new quick save option).
With only four characters to choose from, you fight eight bosses in the campaign. These range from the enormous horned Tyrannosaurus Rex, Hauzer, to Kraken-esque monsters, dark wizards, Sphinxes and flying Harpies. It’s graphically sumptuous in sprite-work, backgrounds, and overall presentation, your progress marked on interim map movements and occasionally interspersed with bonus rounds. It blends fantasy with technology, mythology with lore, each of its bosses – and their enormous health bars – a spectacular encounter. It’s true that, once you have a handle on your preferred character, the battles don’t hold as much strategic nuance as they could, and it’s generally not too challenging overall – but the potential for online match-ups is an interesting one. The only downside is that, without only four characters, it’s a limited two-player experience. Interestingly, bosses Hydron and Hauzer were made playable in Capcom Fighting Evolution (2004), but sadly there’s no recourse to use them here.
Hyper Street Fighter II: Anniversary Edition was the swan song for Capcom’s CPS-II system, and the game was released in incredibly limited numbers in arcades after it made its debut on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. A modified version of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, it allows the player to choose any version of any character from any Street Fighter II release. For competitive play, this is a dream come true. If you want to pit SFII Turbo’s Balrog against Champion Edition Zangief, or Super Street Fighter II Blanka against original 1991 Ken, go nuts. With a full roster of sixteen World Warriors, it’s a delight, and should be buzzing online for years to come. A word of warning: this was a game made infamously difficult for its US version. The AI will rip your heart out, Bison style. Although it was a challenge once savoured by elite Western Street Fighter II players, you can adjust both region and arcade difficulty settings from the game selection menu. Phew.
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo is the only non-fighting game in the collection. Rather, this is a cross between Puyo Puyo and Capcom’s own Pnickies, a Tetris-style puzzle game where you combat opponents by arranging and destroying coloured blocks falling into an empty grid. And it’s hugely entertaining thanks to its system of combining coloured gems into large blocks and then waiting to strategically plant a ‘Crash Gem’ to detonate them, littering your opponent’s grid with junk. With chibi Street Fighter characters comically interpreting your successes and failings in the centre of the screen, it’s presented beautifully and offers a fun puzzle diversion for one or two players.
Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix, or Pocket Fighter in Japan, rethinks the fighting game formula with a dramatic makeover. Utilising Puzzle Fighter’s chibi characters and their gem-based antics, it’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing Capcom titles (no mean feat); a dangerously cute extravaganza featuring more on-the-fly costume changes than any game ever made.
In addition to six squat Street Fighter favourites, both Darkstalkers characters (Morrigan, Felicia, Hsien-Ko) and Tessa from Red Earth are included for good measure, as well as Dan and Akuma as secret combatants. It’s a game that might resemble a super-deformed Street Fighter II, but it doesn’t much play like one. Yes, there are fireballs and Dragon Punches, but, as well as borrowing Red Earth’s treasure and elemental orbs, coloured gems can be collected to initiate Mega Crushes and Mighty Combo supers. It’s fast, furious, charming like few others (M.Bison sledging in the snowy mountain background is pure gold) and has plenty of original mechanics, including integral roll manoeuvres and combos that sequentially change the character’s appearance. If you ever wanted to see Morrigan fight in a nurse’s uniform, here’s your chance, you filthy animals.
Finally, Cyberbots, taking the mech theme of 1994’s Armored Warriors (a scrolling beat-em-up, and part of the Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle) and converting it into a one-on-one fighting game. The character artwork is outstanding, and it’s visually impressive, featuring giant, heavy mechs with destructible parts slamming each other around the screen. In all honesty, it’s the least deep of the collection, and that’s despite the ability to mix-and-match your characters to different mechs and different appendages to try and eke out an advantage. It’s more of a novelty affair, in our opinion, and mainly fun for a little metal-on-metal carnage.
Capcom Fighting Collection does exactly what it sets out to do, and bar a few very minor presentational oversights, is a product with years of longevity. It’s a shame to lose those bonus characters present in previous console releases, and you do need to consider what appeals to you when considering a purchase. If you want the best Darkstalkers collection, look no further. If you want to experience Red Earth and take it online, the time has finally arrived. Or, for Street Fighter II diehards, Anniversary Edition’s modernised netcode really lets you be a world warrior.
Bar Red Earth, however, this isn’t the first time these games have been released, and it surely won’t be the last. A purchasing decision comes down to how many times you have bought these titles before, how much time you spend on MAME (which has been a viable, albeit illegal, option for years) or whether or not you just want the most polished, accurate, easy-access fighting game experience to date, either at home on your TV or portably on the go. If you fall into the latter category, it’s a no-brainer.