By Michael Mygind
Platforms: Arcade, Super Nintendo, Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Master System, various computers and compilations.
Release Date: February 6, 1991
Mode: Single Player, Two Player Versus
I feel that it’s so hard to just write a review on Street Fighter II and not reflect back on just what this single game has done for not only a genre of gaming, but gaming culture and even popular culture. Chances are that even if you haven’t played a Street Fighter game in quite some time, you are likely able to recognize at least a few of the original eight characters in the picture below simply based on their color palettes. This is not as much of a review as it is a thank you letter to one of the greatest video games ever made.
The early games in the competitive fighting genre such as Karate Champ (1984) were based around competitive martial arts with points awarded for single hits. Yie Are Kung-Fu (1985) introduced opponents with unique move sets and actual matches that ended when the opponent’s life bar was depleted, rendering them unconscious. This game would lay the initial groundwork for the modern fighting game. Up to this point, games in the genre were still very simple in their controls and premise, with a very small move set and only one playable character.
The original Street Fighter debuted in arcades in 1987 and brought a new sense of detail to the then primitive fighting genre. Special moves were introduced and the graphics were much more improved. The story centered around Ryu, who would take part in a world-wide martial arts tournament. Much like its predecessors, playable characters were limited to one with the first player being Ryu by default. If a second player chose to play, they assumed the role of Ken, Ryu’s rival with an identical move set, but a varied color pallet. Capcom’s beat-em-up franchise, Final Fight (1989), would lend visual inspiration to the upcoming sequel.
Street Fighter II: The World Warrior debuted in 1991, and would change the face of fighting games from here on out, with its formula serving as the benchmark for all future titles while creating a revolution in arcades everywhere. This sequel surpassed its predecessor in all areas. Most notably, the game featured eight playable characters with unique looks, back stories, extensive move sets, special moves, strengths and weaknesses, theme songs, backgrounds and voice effects. Every one of these characters is iconic in their own right and has their own shortcomings and advantages. The gameplay was near perfect with amazing hit detection, quick matches and the utilization of a six button control scheme. The loser of two rounds would fall to the ground in dramatic fashion to relay the loss. The backgrounds for each stage felt alive with visuals such as moving clouds or a cheering crowd. Due to a bug in the game’s design, it was possible to actually cancel one of the opponent’s moves and perform a combo of multiple basic and special moves. Actual combos would become a mainstay for the series in the re-iterations and sequels that followed.
Street Fighter II redefined the competitive fighting game and raised the bar. Many other developers created a franchise of their own to try and bank off the success of Capcom’s new hit. Companies like Data East released almost identical copycats while others released games that actually added to the genre. Most notably, SNK emerged as a powerhouse of competitive fighting games that would continue to compete with Capcom throughout the 90’s for gamers’ quarters.
Capcom would improve on the Street Fighter II formula by incorporating new characters and gameplay components, such as a full blown combo system and a fillable power bar for performing extra powerful special moves into its Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II re-iteration follow ups.
Because of Street Fighter II, the arcades were no longer a place where high scores were sought, but were transformed into a proving ground where reputations were not only earned, but tested time and time again with a new rival that could walk up at any time and pose a challenge. Tournaments began being held on a small scale and eventually became bigger and bigger as the fighting game scene became more and more competitive. Ordinary gamers became icons in this community for their dedication to the genre and even traveled far for a new challenge. The largest fighting tournament, EVO, has been running continuously since 1996 and attracts thousands of competitors and spectators every year from many different countries in a multitude of fighting games with large cash prizes for the winners. While many different fighting games are played, the mainstay will always be a Street Fighter game. Gamers such as Justin Wong and Daigo have become celebrities in their own right from their success in the tournament scene.
In a time when multiplayer games are glorified most for their online matches, the real notoriety for fighting games remains in the triumphs achieved in person while standing next to your opponent. In cities all over, Friday night is fight night at a local arcade or video game store. Competitors will show up with fight stick in hand to claim their victory and make a name for themselves on a local level. In my opinion, this is the most endearing part of the fighting game genre, the emphasis on maintaining the traditional way that multiplayer video games are played, in person with friends.
Following the success of Street Fighter II, Capcom released additional sequels and brand new fighting franchises that became successful in their own right. However, it should go without saying that every fighting game that is popular today has to bow in respect to the game that defined the genre as we know it, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.