In the 90s, Golfland USA was a magical place. On the surface, it looked like any other miniature golf course with a small arcade and ticket booth, but it had one thing most didn’t: proximity.
Located in Sunnyvale, California, it was surrounded by many companies managing the US arcade video game industry. Sega was about 20 miles away. Atari was about 10. Capcom just a few. And when these companies needed to test their games, they often dropped them off at Golfland while they were still in development. It was not uncommon to walk in and see games that were not only unreleased, but had yet to be announced.
For a kid obsessed with video game news, that meant everything. I lived a few hundred miles away, but always made it a point to stop by when I was in the area. And often, I saw games that hadn’t been officially unveiled yet. X-Men vs. Street Fighter. San Francisco Rush 2049. I was trying to take pictures for whatever fanzine or hobbyist website I was working on at the time, and the employees were yelling at me to stop. Which could have been more of a liability issue, but it still made me feel like I was seeing something top secret.
During one of these visits, I came across Red earth, a new game from Capcom that was unlike anything I had seen before. It was a fighting game, but featured an elaborate story mode built around boss fights. There was a versus mode, but only four playable characters. It was set in a weird fantasy world, but with masterful character sprites and animations.
As I later learned, this was the first game for Capcom’s new CPS-3 arcade hardware, which allowed for a level of detail unmatched by other 2D games at the time. But more than anything else, it felt like a game made for people like me, who loved the fighting game mechanics but were less invested in the competitive element that made the genre so successful.
When asked about the origins of the game now, more than 25 years after the initial release, producer Takashi Sado explains to Polygon that the idea behind it all was born out of a desire to level the rules of the game for different types of players.
“When I started working on the proposal for Red earth in the mid-90s, fighting games were hugely popular,” he says. “Obviously I followed that trend and planned the game as a fighting game, but at that point I felt that the skill level [difference] between the players was growing. It wasn’t easy to bridge this skills gap, so we thought, Can’t we compensate for this somewhat by changing the settings, equipment, etc.? ? That’s why we decided to incorporate a character progression element.
Sado cites Capcom action games from the early 90s as magic sword and The Dragon Kingwho share loose thematic fantasy connections with Red earthas inspirations on how to implement this type of progress, which allows players to level up their characters and use passwords to continue where they left off.
That day at Golfland, however, I only had about an hour with the game. I played what I could and took pictures on the way out, but I kept think it. I loved the style and approach, and felt like there was so much more to it. It was the last time I saw the game in an American arcade.
A little infamous, Red earth then tested the limits of what was referred to as an official arcade release in the United States. It was localized – Red earth is actually the Western title, as it passes War-Zard in Japan – but given that few units, even established brands like Street Fighter were selling at that time, the difference between an unknown quantity on officially released expensive new hardware or not seems almost a matter of opinion . I contacted two former sales people who worked at Capcom at the time for this story, and neither remembered the game existed.
Despite the game’s limited reach in the West, it has managed to stay in various references and appearances over the years, and it continues to have fans at Capcom Japan. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Red earth the characters entered Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix and Capcom Fighting Evolution. More recently, in street fighter 5fortune teller Menat holds a crystal ball named after Red earthis half-man, half-lion King Leo. And there were a number of Red earth references in the Monster Hunter series thanks to Monster Hunter series director Kaname Fujioka, who worked as an artist on Red earth ninja Kenji earlier in his career.
As it turns out, Red earth also inspired Capcom to create the next Capcom Battle Collection — a package planned for June 24 which includes Red earth in its first console release, the Darkstalkers series, Cyberbotsand the Street Fighter spinoffs Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, Super Gem Fighter, and Hyper Street Fighter 2.
As Capcom Battle Collection producer Shuhei Matsumoto recounts, the collection began when longtime Capcom programmers, who go by Kobuta and Muumuu, approached him saying, “Matz, it’s time to bring Red earth to current generation consoles!
Little by little, the collection was enriched with other games. But the team didn’t let Red earth slip away. On the collection box art, for example, rather than established characters like Ryu appearing in the foreground, Red earth‘s Leo gets the majority of the real estate.
For many, the draw of Capcom Battle Collection will be the Darkstalkers series or puzzle fighter – games that hit a certain level of success the first time around and have proven themselves commercially, or at least enough to headline a collection of beloved leftovers.
But for some at Capcom, it’s an opportunity to revisit a game that fell victim to difficult circumstances the first time around. And for me, it’s a perfect chance to finish what I started playing over 25 years ago.
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