By Martin Dixon (@BunnySuicida)
Not everything is certain in videogames but there is one universal truth that cannot be denied: the Playstation 1 had real trouble with 2D fighting games. History shows that the little grey box of tricks could do amazing 3D graphics and effects with ease but when it came to sprites, it didn’t have the processing grunt to accurately pull off faithful ports of some of the late 90’s biggest and boldest arcade fighting game hits. In most regards this didn’t have too much of an effect on many games, a few missing frames of animation here, some absent background animations or other flourishes there and only when placed side by side with superior ports or the arcade originals would the PSX’s shortcomings be revealed. In three cases this would be much more pronounced however, fundamentally altering the games at their core. I speak of capcom’s VS series, X-Men VS Street Fighter, Marvel Super Heroes VS Street Fighter and Marvel VS Capcom. This trio of late 90s excess introduced the “crossover battle” system with players able to choose a pair of fighters and swap between them at will during matches and utilize team attacks that cause screens to erupt in a riot of colour and spectacle. Such hyperactivity was beyond most home consoles at the time, indeed Sega’s competitor to the PSX, the Saturn is regarded as a 2D powerhouse machine and even that needed a special cartridge to be plugged into the console, boosting its memory capacity in order to cope with the demands of the games.
No such luxury could be afforded the PSX however, it didn’t have the ability to expand its processing power so like many arcade ports right up until the dawn of the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era, difficult compromises had to be made. Upon hearing that Marvel VS Capcom et al were getting ports to the PSX, many wondered how the little grey box could possibly cope with such demanding titles. The answer was, it couldn’t. Capcom knew it couldn’t release the games as was on PSX so opted for a very unusual and at the time controversial step of removing the crossover from the crossover battle, turning the games into one on one ‘EX’ versions to meet the limited memory of the host console. Some crossover elements would survive the change, players still picked a second fighter but this teammate is relegated to a support role, able to leap in with attacks to aid their partner before jumping back to the sidelines. Characters can be swapped, but only between rounds or fights at predetermined points. It seemed that the entire reason for these games existing had been stripped away and thus were regarded by many (me included) as inferior curiousities, especially as a Saturn and later Dreamcast owner, my versions of these games were largely intact.
So for nearly 20 years I would scoff at the PSX games, laugh at how butchered they were and use them as examples of why my chosen consoles were superior pieces of electronic hardware, and then I played them.
It seems time for me to eat a lot of very stale humble pie right now, firing up the PSX version of Marvel VS Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes reveals a game that looks familiar, feels very unfamiliar but is an incredibly enjoyable experience, one I realise that I secretly wanted all this time.
Stripping the game back to a one on one fighter is an inspired choice, it allows individual characters room to breathe and allows players to concentrate on finding one fighter’s strengths and weaknesses without the added pressure of having to do the same for another fighter at the same time. The inclusion of a best of three rounds system also allows for more time as the whole game goes from a frenetic, hyperactive light show to a more measured and balanced game. The actual fighting is still faster than the norm but the chaos feels more controlled and in many ways, more preferable.
All the time I spent on the originals was sometimes tempered with the wish that I could play these games as traditional fighters but now having actually played traditional versions of them I was far too harsh on them for far too long, the PSX versions of these are very different animals to their bigger and brasher brothers but definitely hold their own as enjoyable fighters in their own right and in some ways are even superior to them.
Now can I get some ice cream to go along with all this humble pie, please?