Street Fighter II: 25th Anniversary

Recently Street Fighter V was released for the PC and the PS4 which I only know about because I ran across the info while reading about vintage games.  Amid the frenzy of the new Street Fighter game appearing in a store near you a key milestone in the franchise seems to have been overlooked.  Street Fighter II turns 25 this month.  A few years back Capcom celebrated the 25th anniversary of the series by releasing a special boxed set but few people enjoyed or even remember the first game in the long running series.  Street Fighter II however arguably solidified the genre and set in place the key foundations that fighting games still follow today.

Released on February 6, 1991 as Street Fighter II: The World Warrior the game was an immense improvement over it’s predecessor and became an almost instant success.  The original version had eight playable characters to choose from: Ryu (of whom the pronunciation of his name has become a debate among gamers for years), E. Honda, Blanka, Ken, Dhalsim, Zangief, Chun-Li, and Guile.  In addition to these playable characters, the game also featured four non-playable boss characters known as “Grand Masters”.  They were Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison.

sfIIcharacter

The premise was a simple one.  Eight global fighters have gathered to determine if any of them is skilled enough to defeat the four Grand Masters and become the Street Fighter World Champion.  There you have it.  Now each character has their own motivation for entering the tournament but the overall concept for the game couldn’t be more straight forward.  Two guys beating each other up face to face one match at a time.

What made this game special wasn’t the story but the gameplay itself.  Each character had their own set of unique and interesting special moves and they all played quite differently from each other.  The animations were detailed, the control was extremely precise, the music was good, and rather than competing for high scores, the game introduced the concept of two players fighting head to head against each other to determine who was the better gamer.  As a result every arcade would end up with their own Street Fighter II guru who was so seasoned in the game that he would annihilate all who attempted to challenge him.  Long lines would form at the arcade cabinets as gamers eagerly awaited their turn to put their quarters into the machine and give it a go.  Crowds would also form around the cabinet as younger players would often watch older gamers square off against each other for bragging rights.

Combos were introduced in this game and it was quite by accident.  The designers found that if a player timed their attacks just right they could link together a series of moves that would score successive blows which the opponent simply could not defend.  Initially considered a bug, the designers decided to leave this in the game for players to discover.  This bug ended up becoming a cornerstone of the fighting genre and now a lot of effort and fanfare goes into developing and pulling off combos.

Street Fighter II also played an important role in the 16 bit console wars.  In the summer of 1992 Street Fighter II was released for the Super Nintendo while the Sega Genesis release was more than a year later.  Street Fighter II was one of the hottest games since Pac-Man and the only way to play the game at home was with the Super Nintendo.  The game helped boost the sales of the SNES as the console user base drew closer to the Genesis total despite the console being released several years after Sega’s.  Sega Genesis didn’t see a release until the fall of 1993 with Special Championship Edition, more than a year after the World Warrior was released for the SNES.  The Genesis ultimately did have a leg up in the controller department if you had the six button version of the game pad.  The layout was much closer to the arcade controller layout with all 6 face buttons lined up in a row.  If you only had the 3 button version however, the game was awful as it forced the player to push the “start” button to switch between punches and kicks.

Street Fighter II also became very convoluted in the sequel department.  When new features or patches were made the game wasn’t considered a full fledged sequel and as such would just gain a different subtitle.  There were no fewer than SIX iterations of the Street Fighter II series and they are as follows:

  • Street Fighter II: The World Warrior
  • Street Fighter II: Champion Edition
  • Street Fighter II: Turbo / Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo / Super Street Fighter II: X Grand Master Challenge
  • Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition

Each version had it’s own subtle differences and updates, although Super Street Fighter II was changed fairly drastically.  In Champion Edition players were able to play as one of the 4 Grand Masters while also allowing competitors to choose the same fighter as a palette swap.  Turbo introduced selectable speeds which were much faster than the original gameplay while also updating some special moves.  Super Street Fighter II could have been it’s own stand alone game as it added several new characters while also updating the graphics and audio which was much more advanced.

As a kid all of this was quite confusing as I could never understand why there simply wasn’t a “Street Fighter III”.  Each update just received a longer and longer subtitle.  I guess Capcom was simply hesitant to abandon the Street Fighter II name since it gained so much fame and notoriety around the globe; but I’d wager most consumers simply weren’t in the know and mixed up all these versions of the title.

Although fighting games existed before Street Fighter II, none of them was particularly fun or popular.  The genre to that point consisted of garbage games like Karate Champ which was borderline unplayable and certainly nowhere near as fun.  The success of Street Fighter II ushered in a fighting game boom in the 1990’s leading to knock off franchises such as Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct, Primal Rage, TMNT: Tournament Fighters, Shaq Fu, Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi and a myriad of other companies attempts to get a piece of the pie.  Of course Mortal Kombat would end up becoming the most notable competition to the Street Fighter franchise which led to countless playground and lunch table debates around the world.  Street Fighter II has gained a reputation as one of the most important and influential video games of all time because of it’s many innovations and the resulting uptick in the popularity of the genre that it essentially spawned.

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