In the 90’s, Golfland USA was a magical place. On the surface it looked like any other miniature golf course with a small arcade and a ticket booth, but it had one thing most didn’t have: proximity.
It was located in Sunnyvale, California and surrounded by many companies operating the US arcade video game business. 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 brought them to Golfland while they were still in development. It wasn’t uncommon to walk in and see games that were not only unreleased but hadn’t been announced yet.
For a kid obsessed with video game news, this meant everything. I lived a few hundred miles away but always made it a point to stop there when in the area. And I often saw games that hadn’t been officially revealed yet. X-Men vs Street Fighter. San Francisco Rush 2049. I was trying to take photos for the amateur fanzine or website I was working on and the staff were yelling at me to stop. Which maybe was more of a liability issue, but it always made me feel like I was looking at something top secret.
I stumbled upon it on one of those visits Red earth, a new game from Capcom that looked unlike anything I’d seen before. It was a fighting game but with a sophisticated story mode built around boss fights. It had a versus mode but only four playable characters. It took place in a weird fantasy world but with masterful character sprites and animations.
As I later learned, it 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, it felt like a game built for people like me who loved fighting game mechanics but invested less in the competitive element that had made the genre so successful.
When asked about the game’s origins now, more than 25 years after its initial release, Producer Takashi Sado tells Polygon that the idea behind it all came out of a desire to level the playing field for different types of players.
“When I started working on the proposal for Red earth Fighting games were very popular in the mid-90s,” he says. “Of course I followed this trend and planned the game as a fighting game, but at that point I felt the level of skill [difference] between the players grew. It wasn’t easy bridging that skill gap, so we thought Can’t we partially compensate for that by changing parameters, equipment, etc.? Because of this, we decided to include a character progression element.”
Sado cites Capcom action games from the early ’90s like Magic Sword and The King of Dragonswho share loose thematic fantasy connections Red earthas inspirations for implementing this type of progression, allowing 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 to play. I played what I could and took photos on the way out, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved the style and approach and it felt like there was so much more to see. That was the last time I saw the game in a US arcade.
somewhat notorious Red earth continued to test the limits of what passed as an official US arcade release. It was localized – Red earth is actually the western title as it goes by War Zard in Japan – but given the few units even established brands like Street Fighter were selling at the time, the difference between whether an unknown amount of expensive new hardware will be officially released or not seems almost a matter of opinion. I reached out to two former sales reps who worked at Capcom for this story, and neither of them remembered the game’s existence.
Despite the game’s limited reach in the west, it has held up in various references and appearances over the years and continues to have fans at Capcom Japan. Late 90’s and early 2000’s Red earth Characters made their way in Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix and Capcom fights against evolution. Recently in street fighter 5Fortuneteller Menat holds a crystal ball named after her Red earthis half human, 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 put together what’s to come Capcom Fighting Collection – a pack scheduled for release on June 24th, which includes the following Red earth in its first console release, the Darkstalkers series, cyberbotsand Street Fighter spinoffs Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo, super Gem Fighter, and Hyper Street Fighter 2.
As Capcom Fighting Collection Producer Shuhei Matsumoto says the collection came about when longtime Capcom programmers, who go by the names Kobuta and Muumuu, approached him and said, “Matz, it’s time to bring it up Red earth on current-gen consoles!”
One thing led to another and the collection filled with more games. But the team didn’t let up Red earth be overshadowed. For example, on the box art of the collection, instead of mainstream characters like Ryu appearing in the foreground, Red earth‘s Leo gets the majority of the real estate.
For many, the draw Capcom Fighting Collection will be the darkstalkers series or puzzle fighter – Games that have achieved a certain level of success the first time around and have proven commercially attractive, or at least enough to lead a collection of beloved holdovers.
But for some at Capcom, it’s a chance to revisit a game that suffered under difficult circumstances the first time around. And for me it’s a perfect opportunity to finish what I started playing more than 25 years ago.