Review by Deathspork

"It's like a hadoken -- downright fierce"

I'd hate to be a Ken fan. Capcom can wedge new chapters into the Street Fighter timeline all it wants, but there can be no reversing the series' ultimate conclusion. When the subject of best character comes up among enthusiasts, and the Ken crowd starts in with legends of fire-laced uppercuts, the other side has a kill-all in their arsenal; a point of argument so strong that once this bomb has been unloaded, the Ken fans will have no choice but to be quiet. In the future, Ken Masters will sport Dale Earnhardt shades and a phase two mullet.

As arcade lines began to stretch out past the entrance in the fervor over Street Fighter II, Capcom was no doubt regretting its bastard child, a game meant to spread the Street Fighter brand name to a console that couldn't properly handle Street Fighter. Forget continuity, here we are introduced to a peace loving Ken; a harmless scientist long retired from the fighting circuit. Someone has broken into his lab, killed his partner, and stolen his experimental Cyboplasm, leaving behind a trail of mutated life that gives away the killer's interplanetary escape route. Our hero is rusty, but justice must be sought. This time, Ken must be more than tough. This time, Ken must be cyborg tough. Yep, 2010 more or less craps all over Street Fighter canon, taking a respected member of the cast, giving him suped up bionic armor, and putting him in a futuristic platform shooter. Capcom wanted to forget it, the hardcore fans wanted to forget it, and everyone else, in kind, was all too ready to forget it. But there's no reason why a conceptual embarrassment can not also be a hell of an action game.

Street Fighter 2010 has legs. The game remains obscure in spite of its namesake, and that's because players generally don't know what to make of it. Upon firing up the cart, those adjusted to other NES platformers are overwhelmed by its swarming enemies, its unfamiliar control scheme, and its boss gauntlet structure, so the cart is sentenced to a life behind Tupperware lids beside the other undesirables of one's library. But there comes a day for every player when, after a glazy-eyed inventory of the collection, it seems nothing will quite hit the spot. This is when 2010 practically cries out, for it is different enough to demand a replay. Once again it thoroughly smashes all challengers, and once again the console is turned off in a daze of disgust, but the cycle continues, and each time, Street Fighter 2010 looks better and better alongside its tired brethren. Appreciating it is a matter of turning oneself away from conventional platformers and getting used to its myriad ins and outs.

The techniques that saw players through the likes of Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden jingle like so much loose change in the pockets of those who square off with this beast. Think back on what it took to beat the classics, and a certain order develops. Progression was largely a matter of memorization. After a while, one could fall into a singsong pattern for overcoming large portions of the games - jump here, inch forward and wait, leap across this chasm just so, and lash out just as that bird is about to fly down. Skilled players are really just clairvoyants; people who have spent enough time with the games to elude all the predetermined traps in Minority Report fashion. Dispatching enemies in flawless form is thrilling in its own right, but the best moments come when the pattern is broken and one is forced to rely on instinct. 2010 is a bully in this regard. It does all it can to prevent one from getting a toehold against its obstacles, and by extension, from falling into a lull.

The very structure of the game effects an urgent mood. Ken doesn't fight the bosses, the bosses fight HIM. Marvel-inspired space goons make their entrance as soon as the hero lands on their turf and then promptly set out to put a hole in his head. Don't count on the stage guardians to stand still and pathetically open up their weak spot, either - Ken must throw himself in the line of fire if he hopes to score a hit. Any attempt to back off and regroup will end with him getting coldly mowed down by the diminutive seeker drones or skeleton fish that infest the multi-screen boss arenas. Onslaughts are as aimless as reasonably possible, and the helpers spawn at random points, so only one approach will yield victory: kill, and quickly. Once the job is done, Ken better hurry his ass up and find the exit portal, or he'll be left behind to die. And if it thinks Ken has been hoarding powerups, the game says, "**** you kid", and removes the rest of them from his path. Even when a little more scenery is in order, stages scroll by on their own, keeping in line with the idea that players should have as few measures of comfort as the game can get away with. 2010 seeks to dominate all who challenge it, and nothing less.

But with investment comes reward, and as one gets more acquainted with Ken's moves, one will be surprised by the awesome displays of agility that can flow from one's fingertips. Just as no one ever sat down to a more conventional Street Fighter title for the first time and started busting out super combos, no one will gain proficiency at 2010 before a humble period of education. Ken can't shoot while walking forward, he can only shoot once during each jump, and his straight shots alternate in height, leading many a beginner to die at the hands of a drone that should have been destroyed. One must stay mindful of a wide array of quirks in the system. But then, 2010 never takes away a common ability without giving back an uncommon ability that is much better. Backflip over some fool's head, becoming invulnerable in the process, and plant an extra powerful blast right in the bastard's skull. Pick up the proper icon and turn that same backflip into a deadly slash kick. Climb any surface and hook the underside of any ledge with more cat-like finesse than Ryu Hayabusa could ever match. Smash capsules and find powerups to extend the range of Ken's arm cannon, then press down on the D-pad to curve his shots. Do so with a fully powered cannon, and watch in amazement as Ken's projectiles turn into searing white discs that orbit the screen in elliptical, 3D paths. When these moves can be called upon by instinct, the design of the game starts to make a lot more sense.

Take, for instance, the crustacean nightmare that rules over planet four from the confines of a tremor-bound cave. Try to attack him from the fluctuating cave bottom and get swallowed alive by his downstairs neighbor, a rock snake eager to snatch Ken into the icy world below. But balance the fight around the algae pillars in mid-screen, smashing the boss's exposed entrails with well-measured curved shots, and maybe Ken will live to see the next level. Stages are short bursts of frenzy that go by quickly, with hero and monster laying into each other until one side is dead, or alternately, with Ken fighting a quota of normal enemies to open the next portal. Whatever the challenge, Ken must stay on guard and get his licks in when he can. Take on the limping eyeball embedded into the ceiling in planet two and carefully weave around the eyeboogers it sends to the ground. When enough mucus has accumulated, climb up there and pump furiously at the attack button, making sure not to squander the rare moment in which Ken has a clear shot amid all the falling debris.

In the backdrop, caches of gelatinous bubbles assert themselves so weakly that one does not notice them until after several runs through the game. Even stage one's Statue of Liberty, standing dark against a red dusk sun, can be hard to spot among the technological waste of future Earth. Drab schemes of purple and black appropriately cloak such ruins, causing them to feel distant and lifeless against the action in the foreground. But these cold cityscapes are contrasted later on by the fecund alien frontier, unexplored by man and rippling with mutant life. Surf down a torrent of glowing hot sand as it rages along the side of planet three's rocky cliffs, all the while avoiding the segmented centipedes that move like trains about the screen. Enter the underwater passage that leads to the aforementioned cave, and witness phosphorescent fish eggs that fade and brighten like fiber optic ornaments. Climb skyward along bulky green vines in the dark jungle of planet two, playing keepaway with the bugs and the flying plants, and watch as each enemy or block explodes in its own distinct animation. While that's going on, listen to this segment's pulsing and whining pop tune, and wait for its dynamic power to fully sink in.

Capcom takes the sci-fi approach to sound that it perfected in the Mega Man series but brings it more in line with what other developers were doing at the time. This sounds less like techno and more like the intricate anthems of Journey to Silius or the invigorating fanfare pieces that rocked the arcades in Street Fighter II. Each track models itself around the situation at hand. The music climbs in orchestration as Ken himself climbs the jungle vines, and it's chilling and dissonant as he finally confronts the villain. One can close one's eyes and think of a specific moment and, without much trouble, hear the music that accompanies it. The developers really brought their A game to this one.

For five planets and nineteen stages, Street Fighter 2010 molests those who dare to cross its dark passageways and savage landscapes. A certain level of stubbornness (or insanity) is requisite here, but don't get the wrong idea - 2010 can be beaten. It can be beaten without the loss of a single life. It is truly a game of investment and reward, where the players who persevere inevitably sharpen their instincts, and in the process, open themselves up to a different kind of platformer; a platformer that callously guns down those unwilling to fight. The ferocity of a street fighter is necessary for arriving intact at the other end of the gauntlet.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 06/08/04


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