Best Games - Street Fighter Alpha for the Game Boy Color
This game has no business playing as well as it does on a Game Boy Color.
I bought a Game Boy Color in 2001. The Game Boy Advance had just come out and people were rightly more interested in the new handheld machine than the aging hardware of the Game Boy Color. I think I paid roughly $50 for it, and it came with a multi cart full of games. I remember playing a bit of Pokémon, a lot of Link’s Awakening, and more Street Fighter Alpha than I ever thought I would.
I tried the Game Boy port of Street Fighter II on a friend's Game Boy once, and found the experience frustrating. Nothing worked right. The inputs felt off and everything ran at around ten frames per second. I think I played a couple matches before giving up.
I figured that the Game Boy was just not the right platform for a game so kinetic and demanding. Street Fighter Alpha proved that assumption wrong.
Whenever I write one of these, I always try to find a way to play at least a bit of the games that I am writing about. Often, I think a game would be a great candidate for a Best Games post, and find that raw nostalgia is not enough. They might have been interesting diversions at the time, but some games just don’t hold up as classics. In other words, they aren’t actually the best of games. I believe Street Fighter Alpha for Game Boy Color deserves a little context here.
I have been regularly playing a few rounds of Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Street Fighter Alpha 3 on a handheld device. These are arcade accurate. Tough act to follow. Not being able to find my old Game Boy Color, I tried Street Fighter Alpha on the same handheld, and it is absolutely breathtaking.
The pixel count and color pallet are extremely limited on the Game Boy Color, but the game is unmistakable. It looks and, more importantly, moves like Street Fighter Alpha. There are only two buttons, but the developers have somehow managed to fight most of what makes a fighting game work into those limited inputs. Specials, Supers, Counters, they are all in Street Fighter Alpha, and they work just like you would expect.
I went and looked up who could have executed such an amazing port. What I found was both astonishing and unsurprising.
The Game Boy Color port of Street Fighter Alpha appears to be mostly the work of two people. A tiny team managed to pack all this game into a tiny amount of space and processing power. It seems impossible until you look up the other things that they worked on.
Keith Burkhill is a British programmer that worked on some of the smoothest, fastest, and most technically impressive ZX Spectrum games. The ZX Spectrum was never a powerhouse, so lots of tricks had to be employed to get games to run well on a speccy. Kevin McMahon worked on some of the fastest pixel art games of the early 90’s.
There were probably a few people or teams that could have created a port as good as this one. I would guess that most of them had experience working with the extremely tight constraints of early home computers.
It might be fair to say that the title of Best Game should go to the original arcade version of Street Fighter Alpha, but I think that the ability to carry a game of this quality in your hand changes the way you relate to it. There was nothing else like it at the time, and while it was missing multiplayer, it truly felt like playing a good game of Street Fighter.
The Game Boy Advance would go on to have many spectacular ports of fighting games. Possibly the most impressive is Street Fighter Alpha 3, and it may come as no surprise that it was worked on by the same people.
At the twilight of the original Game Boy, there was no better way to play Street Fighter in your hand than Street Fighter Alpha on the Game Boy Color. An achievement, and still one of the best games.