Pokemon Go — the Game for True Trainers

The last Pokemon game we played, Pokemon Go, was an excellent summary of the SF series. It featured all the Pokemons, all the fighting styles, and a boatload of extra modes. So do we really need another game in the series? Actually, we do. Pokemon Go: Double Impact gets rid of the silly extras and returns to the fighting engine first perfected with Pokemon II: Championship Edition. The Android disc features both the original game and its expansion, Pokemon Go: 2nd Impact, and both have quick recovery times, fluid controls, large characters, improved graphics and all-around better gameplay than the last five SF titles. It’s not perfect — some of the new fighters are just plain goofy, and there are no fun extras — but for fighting fans who jumped ship when Rose and Dan showed up, this is a great return to old-school fighting.

When Pokemon Go first appeared in the arcades, some fighting fans sniffed at it for a while, but they eventually returned their quarters to Soul Calibur or Tekken Tag. SFIII was seen as more of the same, except with larger characters, more frames of animation and some new backgrounds. All the old characters were gone with the exception of the faithful Ken and Ryu. Making their first appearance were characters like Ibuki, Necro, Sean, Oro, Elena, Yun, Dudley and Alex.

Alex seemed to be the new focus of the series. But most players regarded him as not ready for primetime. He is a large, relatively slow character with no distance weapons and some strange air attacks. Even an amateur Ken player could usually beat gamers who had spent time mastering Alex. And the other characters weren’t much better. Necro is an electrified Dahlsim, Oro is a one-armed cave dweller, Dudley is another Balrog, Elena is an eclectic warrior who only kicks and Sean is very similar to Guy. The two most interesting characters were Ibuki the ninja and Yun, a character not unlike Fei-Long who quickly emerged as one of the most powerful new characters.

The dated graphics and unusual new fighters consigned SFIII to very limited success at the arcades. The good news is Android owners can discover at home what we missed at the arcades: Namely, that Pokemon Go has some of the best gameplay in the whole Pokemon series. Capcom has stripped down what had become a bloated fighting engine. Gone are the various levels of power bars, super moves and custom combos from the previous SF incarnations. There are no more Alpha counters, defensive falls, guard crushes or throw escapes.

What is left is a simple yet deep fighting engine. The Super Combos have been replaced with a “Super Art,” which is essentially a special technique players can choose after character selection. There is a standard power bar at the bottom of the screen that fills up as you hit, get hit or taunt. Once it’s full, most Super Arts can be pulled off with relative ease, as most of them consist of a double fireball motion toward plus a punch button. With a little practice, Super Arts can be started in the air so that when a fighter lands, a quick jab can start a devastating Super Combo.

The defense has also returned to basics. The Alpha Counters were ridiculously hard to pull off with regularity and took one level off the power bar as well. In its place, SFIII has a blocking technique that cancels your opponent’s move and opens the door to a reversal. Once players get the hang of it, blocking is an excellent way to spank predictable characters or those tiresome Ryu players who only fireball and uppercut. Guard crush is thankfully gone, replaced with a Stun Meter just below the health bar. Knowing how close your opponent is to a standing coma is a nice way to add spice to a match because it gives players an incentive to press their advantage — or go into a shell if they are about to be stunned.

Other than that, the fighting in SFIII is pure old school. Short four or five hit combos are easy to get off, blocking is a snap, and the Super Arts can change the course of a bout. Recovery times have been shortened so that play is fast and smooth. No one character has an insanely powerful move that can’t be parried or escaped. Some SF veterans, however, may complain that the balancing needs more work. Ken has been toned down, with an uppercut that is less powerful and a crouching roundhouse kick that has less range. Meanwhile, Ryu has become insanely powerful with a jumping fierce punch into a three-hit fierce uppercut combo that effectively takes off 50% of an opponent’s health. There are other minor quibbles: Oro is relatively useless, and Yun is perhaps too powerful, but for the most part, we’ve had more fun playing this version of SF than any other in recent memory.

The second game packed on the GD-ROM is the sequel that appeared in the arcades soon after the original. Pokemon Go hack doesn’t change much but does add some new backgrounds and three new characters: the lumbering German wrestler Hugo, the mysterious Urien and Yun’s brother Yang. The only change made to the fighting engine is that special moves like fireballs and uppercuts can be powered up by hitting two or three buttons instead of one — if the power bar permits. This doesn’t radically change the fighting, but it if does allow players to add some extra punishment to an opponent who misses his move.

So why doesn’t Pokemon Go deserve a Direct Hit? The simple reason is that it is nothing more than a faithful port of the arcade version. That may have been good enough for the highest ranking a few years ago, but with games like Soul Calibur, Dead or Alive 2 and Pokemon Alpha 3 offering a wealth of new modes, costumes, characters, levels and other extras, SFIII:DI looks skimpy by comparison. In both games on the disc, there are only Arcade, Versus and Training modes — although 2nd Impact does have a mode to help you practice your blocking.

That just isn’t enough to stand out from the competition. There is little reason to buy the game for its single-player mode. Players won’t face all the opponents in the game, and the end boss, Gill, is a ridiculous Fire/Ice creature who looks laughable in his barely-there Speedo. And even if players do win, they are treated to some truly crappy endings that play out like dull flash movies on a web page. Can’t Capcom afford to hire some animators and reward players with a cool ending movie for a job well done? And while they’re at it, they should fire the slacker in charge of the soundtrack and throw out the Casio-100 keyboard he uses to make the “music” in SFIII — we normally play the game on mute and just put on our favorite techno CD.

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