Red Earth. Released in arcades in 1996 as the showcase for Capcom’s new CPS3 arcade platform, this somewhat eccentric fighting game soon slipped into relative obscurity. A quirky little fighting RPG with just four unfamiliar characters was always going to struggle to step out of Street Fighter II‘s shadow, and the complete lack of ports to any other platform certainly didn’t help. But with Capcom Fighting Collection, that changes: more than 25 years since its launch, Red Earth is readily available on home consoles.
That’s a big deal, because it’s a fundamental piece of Capcom’s history, precisely because of its unorthodox approach. Capcom could have launched CPS3 with a Street Fighter III that followed closely in SF2‘s footsteps, or even a new revision of SF2; instead, they chose to show off what the new hardware could do by pushing creativity to its limits. A fighting game with an RPG levelling system, in a fantasy version of 14th century Earth that pits you against a series of classic monsters—a dinosaur, a harpy, a giant oni, a sphinx—each with a particularly vibrant, creative interpretation. Every foe in Red Earth is one that would be a boss in any other game, and within that lies the perfect way to show off new possibilities for fluid animation that became CPS3’s defining feature.
You can see the genesis of so many later ideas in Red Earth, too. It sparked a particularly creative era for Capcom, with the divisive-at-launch but beloved Street Fighter III at the heart of that. So much of SF3 has its roots here, from the more eccentric character designs like Twelve and Necro, to the general animation style, to little details like Ibuki’s kunai-throwing win pose or Makoto’s Abare Tosanami animation. It’s fascinating to look back on just how influential Red Earth was.
But even putting that historical significance aside, Red Earth is just a whole lot of fun, and it’s aged incredibly well. It controls like a typical six-button fighting game, but the boss-like design of the enemies encourage (or demand, in higher difficulties) different strategies, like working around the oni’s immunity to any sort of hitstun or the harpy’s flight. The RPG layer adds an interesting dynamic, too, both in terms of both EXP gathering during combat and the steady progression of stat boosts and new moves. A password system lets you carry your character from one play to the next, too.
The two-player side of the game arguably suffers a little due to the limited roster; none of the monsters are playable in multiplayer, just the four main characters. Even so, those four are varied and interesting enough, and with some neat universal mechanics that lean into the fantasy theme, to make versus play enjoyable, even if it’s not necessarily a recipe for competitive longevity. And as an experiment in a more solo-focused, progression-driven fighting game, Red Earth is an intriguing, impressive game that a lot of modern fighting games could still learn from.
The first-ever official port of Red Earth is the most noteworthy feature of Capcom Fighting Collection, at least from a historian’s point of view, but that’s just one of 10 games included. The overall focus is on games that don’t get quite as much time in the spotlight as Capcom’s flagship games, but are still significant. Street Fighter still gets its moment with Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition (originally released in 2004), but even that is something of a (comparatively) niche version of SF2 these days, with Super Street Fighter II Turbo still being the tournament standard. But with the chance to pit different versions of SF2‘s characters against one another—say, Super Turbo Chun-Li against Champion Edition Ryu—Hyper SF2 is an odd, somewhat imbalanced, but fun iteration of the classic.
Beyond that, you’ve got the full suite of Darkstalkers games, including the formerly Japan-only updates to Vampire Saviour (aka Darkstalkers 3) in Vampire Hunter 2 and Vampire Saviour 2. Each one features a slightly different cast to Vampire Saviour and some mechanical tweaks, and while the original might still be the preferred version for competitive players, it’s nice to finally have a comprehensive set all in one place.
Cyberbots, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix round out the collection with some of Capcom’s more experimental fighting games. A unique approach to mech combat mixed with “traditional” 2D fighting, a very cute chibi-style crossover game, and a head-to-head competitive puzzle game make for an eclectic selection, and whether you get deep into them or just occasionally enjoy their novelty, they’re nice to have—Super Gem Fighter especially, which hasn’t had a console release since PS2.
As a compilation from Capcom’s back catalogue, Capcom Fighting Collection is good enough, but it takes one crucial extra step: online play. Niche as these games are beside the likes of Street Fighter V and Tekken, they’re all good, competitive games with dedicated communities—Vampire Saviour, especially, is a game that holds up particularly well, and still makes regular appearances on the tournament circuit. Until now, convenient options for multiplayer have been limited (outside of legally murky third party services), but now it’s readily available, with decent rollback netcode and proper training modes.
Matchmaking can still be tricky—these games do have comparatively small playerbases, after all—but it’s not hard to find communities of like-minded players to tee up matches with. (And if you do want to sit in the matchmaking queue, you can queue for multiple games at once, and play arcade or training mode while you wait.)
Those who come to Capcom Fighting Collection for the historical value will find themselves similarly well taken care of, with an extensive Museum mode. There are hundreds of pieces of concept art, design notes, promotional material, and other such documents that are fascinating to dig into. The amount of material varies from game to game, and a couple of games do feel like they got the short end of the stick—most likely due to the limited amount of stuff that’s actually been preserved—but overall, it’s a solid collection.
More casual audiences may find less appeal, with little in the way of different game modes or novelty features—these are, after all, emulated ports of decades-old arcade games. But for the historically-curious who want a dive into a slice of Capcom’s more esoteric history, or competitive fighters wanting a more convenient way of playing some games that still hold up, Capcom Fighting Collection hits the mark. And even if nothing else, the first-ever home release of Red Earth makes it worth the price of admission.