Just a small warning. This gets a bit personal near the end.
On August 30th, 1987, Capcom released the first entry in the Street Fighter series. The game wowed players with its innovative control scheme and color cast of characters and was a massive success in arcades. Seeing money in this Capcom began work on a follow-up. Their first attempt was Street Fighter ’89, a side-scrolling cooperative beat ’em up. While the game tested well at trade shows it was criticized for it having nothing to do with the previous game, leading Capcom to rebrand it as Final Fight, which was released in 1989 and became another massive success for the company, forming yet another franchise. After seeing the success, Capcom decided to try and bring back Street Fighter once again, this time building upon the fighting mechanics to make it more appealing to arcade goers. After a light testing period in select arcades, Street Fighter II was unleashed unto the world in March of 1991, and to call it a hit would be a Fucking Understatement.
Let’s make something clear, Street Fighter II didn’t just become a success, it became a worldwide phenome and practically INVENTED the modern fighting game in some respects. It brought so many things to the table. Not only did it improve upon the special move inputs from the first Street Fighter, but they also expanded upon it by adding charge motions and 360° inputs for its cast of characters, and that’s another thing! It HAD a cast of characters! While fighting games, of course, had selectable characters, they never felt as unique as they did with Street Fighter II. Did you want to play as the slow but powerful Zangief, or would you prefer using the aggressively defensive Guile? Do you want to try to overwhelm your opponent with the quick and nimble Chun-Li or keep them at arm’s length with the pliable Dhalsim? Every character, even the returning Ryu and Ken felt unique from each other and absolutely blew people away with its quick and precise combat.
Street Fighter II’s gameplay is an evolution of Street Fighter 1’s while making that game feel like a decrepit piece of shit. It retains the six-button layout from the second revision but made the supreme decision of letting the player have actual control over their actions. Everything in this game feels amazingly fine-tuned and responsive and there is rarely any delay with your inputs. The only time the game will stutter a bit is when certain special moves hit the player, but I bet that’s more so by design to make the moves feels more impactful. The game also has a very simplistic, but fun combo system that lets you cancel normal attacks into special moves. Now, I know that sounds pretty unimpressive but you need to remember, this was released in 1991. NOBODY had seen stuff like this before. It was such an amazing addition you have to wonder if the devs were geniuses.
So Street Fighter II’s combo system was created by total accident.
One of the designers, Noritaka Funamizu stated in an interview with Edge magazine that while he was testing the car destruction bonus game that he was able to string together punches by inputting them at specific times. He and a few other programmers decided to run with the idea, adjusting the timing to be more comfortable and decided to just…leave it in! Isn’t that wild? Combos being an accidental invention? Christ.
If it isn’t obvious by now, Street Fighter II is still, to this DAY an amazing game. It’s still fun to play with friends and it’s an interesting game to go back to, especially after playing newer entries. But that’s not where the story ends with Street Fighter II, is it? No. Nooooo nonononononono. See outside of innovating the fighting game genre Street Fighter II is also famous for something else. Revisions. Lots. And Lots. AND LOTS of revisions.
Now for the purposes of this review I decided to stick with the arcade revisions of Street Fighter II. While the easy explanation for this is that they’re all on the excellent Street Fighter 25th Anniversary Collection, the main reason is because I don’t have 80 years to spend playing through EVERY SINGLE VERSION OF STREET FIGHTER II.
The first revision was the Champion Edition in 1992. While this version fixed a few minor bugs and added adjustments, it also added the ability to play as the 4 bosses of the game. Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and M. Bison were playable for the first time and were horrifically fucking busted. They were still VERY much the boss editions of these characters and were not meant for competitive use at all. After that version was Street Fighter II Turbo and this one was FAR more substantial. Turbo not only balanced the bosses to be fairer, but almost every new character got a new move to use. Ryu and Ken could perform their Tatsumaki Senpukyaku attack in the air, Chun-Li had a fireball in the form of the Kikoken, and Guile got jack shit because he’s already a good character. Each new version of Street Fighter II got better and better but something still felt…off. You’d think with all these revisions they would add something REALLY new like an original character or something. Well, that’s where the New Challengers came in.
Street Fighter II: The New Challengers is where Street Fighter REALLY started to form its modern identity. The game was faster, the combos were smoother and easier to pull off, the music got even better, and the new characters breathed so much life into the game it’s unreal. It really did feel like the game finally peaked. But then….Super Turbo happened. Super Street Fighter II Turbo is Fucking Unreal, Dude. Not only is the game at the PERFECT speed now, but characters got even more moves to play with. Ryu, for instance, got the Collarbone Breaker, an overhead punch that can hit crouching enemies and can be performed by holding forward and pressing Medium Punch. Chun-Li received the Tenshokyaku, a series of aerial kicks that can be performed after holding down and pressing up in conjunction with a kick. Super Turbo also introduced a super meter into Street Fighter, taking a page out of SNK’s book with Art of Fighting, which builds up and allows the player to perform a devastating super move that can eat the opposing player’s health bar.
And, most importantly, introduced a boss character that was so difficult, so hard to reach, and so ICONIC…that he ended up becoming one of the most beloved fighting game characters ever made. Akuma. I didn’t get to Akuma because are you ACTUALLY kidding me? Beat the game with no continues? Reach the end in 25 minutes? FUCK THAT, MAN.
Super Street Fighter II Turbo is Street Fighter II perfected. It’s by far the best game in this series (of a sequel fuck OFF) and is still played competitively to this day. And yet? I still have a bigger soft spot for the original version. Street Fighter II was one of the first games I ever played and really helped cement my love of video games as a whole. I loved picking Ryu and just goofing around on the Super Nintendo version, but above all else, I loved playing it with my dad. My father was instrumental in me playing video games as a child and introduced to me SO many different types of games, franchises, and even systems. He always took me out to the arcade and played games like House of the dead and Marvel vs Capcom with me. He taught me how to perform my first special move in Mortal Kombat Trilogy. And he always played Street Fighter II with me whenever I asked. He always picked Blanka and I always picked Ryu. Sure he beat my ass a bunch but I had so much fun playing it with him, those are some of my happiest video game memories.
When my father passed away, it messed me up for a very long time. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to recover. It was around this time that I got Street Fighter IV on the Xbox 360 and I played it to death. SFIV was the first time I started to take fighting games seriously and I remember always blasting through arcade mode with Ryu and never had a single problem with the computer opponents. Except one. Blanka.
For some reason, it always took me a few extra tries to beat Blanka. I don’t know why but he always seemed smarter like another person was controlling him. Of course, it’s silly to think that, it’s a CPU after all and I was still learning the game, but for a brief moment in time…I thought it was my dad playing against me. It was then I was reminded of all the matches we played in Street Fighter II and I don’t know..that really kept me going.
Street Fighter II means a lot to me. It holds a very special place in my heart for so many reasons. I love its satisfying and responsive gameplay, I love its cast of characters, I love how every version just kept getting better and better. Street Fighter II is an important game, but it’s really important to me. Without Street Fighter II, I don’t know if I would love video games even HALF as much as I do now. I meant it when I say this with complete sincerity: Street Fighter II is my favorite game of all time.
I miss you, old man.