Retro: how a great port of Street Fighter ruined the relationship between Capcom and Nintendo

Image: Capcom

Much has been written about how the N64, for all its amazing games and technological advancements, was kind of a mistake for Nintendo, especially after a decade of incredible success with the NES, Game Boy and SNES.

Nintendo famously chose to use expensive cartridges rather than cheaper (but easily pirated) CDs, a choice that cost it the support of more than one third-party publisher, with former staunch ally Square being perhaps the most notable example. Dave Perry of Shiny has been vocal about not supporting the system at the time, but the loss of Square’s support hit Nintendo harder. The company’s Final Fantasy RPGs sold millions on the Famicom and Super Famicom, but the relationship between the two companies broke down in the mid-90s when Square teamed up with Sony for the seminal Final Fantasy VII, a title that was originally intended for Nintendo hardware.

Another formerly loyal company that cooled off sharply with Nintendo during the N64 era was Capcom. Early supporters of both the NES and SNES, Capcom games have played a huge role in the success of Nintendo’s home systems. Games like DuckTales, Mega Man, Final Fight, Breath of Fire and, of course, Street Fighter II have turned both consoles into must-have platforms for mainstream gamers around the world, but the company will at best support the N64 from time to time. In fact, only three Capcom games have ever been released on a 64-bit console: Resident Evil 2, Mega Man Legends, and Magical Tetris Challenge.

What caused this massive rift between two firms that had previously enjoyed such success? Well, the answer isn’t all that shocking – it’s basically the same reasons why so many other third parties have flocked to the PlayStation (low cost and large user base) – but as touched upon during a recent Retronauts podcast about the Street Fighter Alpha series, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the wonderful SNES port of the second Alpha game, which launched very late in the console’s lifespan.

Back in the days of the SNES, third-party manufacturers had to place orders with Nintendo (and Sega, for that matter) for physical cartridges and had to estimate how many copies they would need before placing an order. If you reprice an order and find that the game failed, Nintendo was not going to reimburse you for the production of these cartridges – and there will always be a temptation to place a large order just in case, because the turnaround of a production of millions of cartridges can be quite long.

Speaking with Polygon as part of his excellent Street Fighter: Oral History SeriesFormer Capcom USA account manager Justin Berenbaum explained the situation with Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the SNES, which flopped at retail and left the publisher with a warehouse full of unsold stock:

I was looking for third parties who could take away the games that were in the warehouse from us, because at that time the cost of goods for the Super Nintendo game – especially since these games required so much memory – was from 25 to 40 dollars. bucks cartridge. So if you remanufacture one hundred thousand cartridges, you’ll end up with $4 million to $5 million in inventory value. And I remember the warehouse because the shipping warehouse was next to the Capcom office. And I remember the warehouse was just loaded with pallets and pallets with the game. […]

Part of Berenbaum’s job was to get rid of this unwanted inventory, and he explains that Capcom was forced to resort to some unorthodox cartridge replacement methods because Nintendo’s policy didn’t allow for returns:

I remember dealing with some companies that we shipped them to and then they guaranteed to ship them out of the country so they wouldn’t be resold back to retail. It was a very common practice back then. […] It was a legalized gray market where stocks could be sold without disrupting the US retail market. […] They sold it to distributors who promised to deliver it south of the border. And then it was a gray market south of the border, for the most part, but they needed content. So we sold at a loss, but they were contractually obligated – if these devices come back to the US, they will be fined. It’s one of those dirty secrets that nobody really talked about. […]

We do these deals for a full pallet or two pallets for these companies. And they were good deals because they were paid in cash up front so we didn’t ship them until [wire transfers] would pass. And then they literally came with a van, we loaded the pallets into the van, and they took them away.

Sony’s use of CDs avoided such problems; not only was it cheaper to manufacture CDs, and therefore there was no problem with millions of dollars sitting in a warehouse unsold, the faster production of duplicate CDs meant that publishers could afford to release smaller runs of games to see how they do well in retail before increasing. step up production when they knew they were successful. This approach was not possible with cartridges, which were more complex to manufacture and (as with the Street Fighter Alpha 2) often contained special (and expensive) chips designed to increase the power of the host system.

Of course, by the time the GameCube arrived, Nintendo and Capcom had completely reconciled, and Capcom even created a series of system exclusives for the platform, which originally included games like Resident Evil 4 and Viewtiful Joe. But it’s clear that the bond between the two allies was significantly weakened during the N64 era, and the Street Fighter Alpha 2 saga on the SNES played a part in that.

What makes this all so interesting is that porting Street Fighter Alpha 2 to the SNES was a stunning technical feat. Of course, this pales in comparison to the Saturn and PlayStation versions that were released around the same time, but considering the console is six years old by this point, it’s a very respectable effort – and one that deserves a better legacy than being the first. a title that (briefly) soured relations between the two major gaming firms.

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