Every so often, a game comes along that changes the whole landscape of video games forever. Space Invaders was one, Manic Miner another. The list isn’t massive. Often this is because the game in question brings something new to the table, and this is the case with the subject of this Looking Back article: Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. After the original Street Fighter game failed to set the world on fire, and slipped quietly into obscurity (I for one have never even seen a Street Fighter arcade machine, let alone played on one), Capcom went back to the drawing board for their next foray into the fighting game world.
And boy oh boy (and you’re at risk of slight spoilers if you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years) did they get it right this time. Let me give you some facts and figures before I get into my memories of this game: all Street Fighter II versions have sold over 200,000 arcade machines to date, and over 15 million copies of the software for home systems. This makes it worth over $10 billion to Capcom over its lifespan, and places it in the top three highest grossing video games of all time – at least up until 2017 – and the best selling fighting game ever as of 2019.
So, what made the game so good then? Well, it was a combination of things. When I first saw it, in a smoky arcade on the mean streets of Oldham back in about 1992, it was unlike anything I’d seen before, and blew the games I’d been playing at home out of the water. At home, we had a SEGA Megadrive with the likes of Sonic and Ghouls and Ghosts to play, and this really was the cutting edge of gaming.
Now, on my regular Saturday afternoon constitutionals around Oldham, I discovered, in a small covered shopping arcade, a dimly lit, smoky little room, with sticky carpets and thankfully unidentifiable things squishing under foot. Filled to the brim with not only fruit machines, but a small selection of video arcade games too, as I wandered, having a look at what to play, I came across what can only be described as a poster child for the people that my mother had always warned me about: leather jacket, ripped jeans and a fag hanging out the corner of his mouth. He seemed to be smashing a car up, in-game, and so I paused, fascinated to see what was going on. The size of the sprites, the detail of the musculature as they fought and battered a lump of inanimate metal, and then when he passed that stage to see him fighting a green monster with orange hair – I knew I had to try this game.
When he moved aside, I was confronted with a joystick, and no fewer than six buttons to press. Some investigation later, I discovered some buttons dropped kicks, some actioned punches, and I think I got battered on the second stage, as I had less than no idea about what to do. I then hung about a bit longer, watching other players pulling off moves like fireballs and electric zapping. It was here where I was hooked.
I’m harking back to the days where if you wanted to know anything about video games, you had to go and buy a magazine and read about it. The Internet was invented, but mostly was full of the stuff of science fiction; there was absolutely no sign of the explosion that was to come a few years down the line. Luckily, magazines were popular, and I found one with an article about Street Fighter II, and so bought the mag, learned all the moves (and even had the article in my pocket next time I went to the arcade), and so did better. I was fascinated by the different characters and the way that they were all different (except Ken and Ryu, obviously, some sort of photocopier accident I think). I quickly adopted Guile as my go-to character, as his moves were both charge types, and had the advantage of blocking while you charged them up. A big old Flash kick to keep people away, and a Sonic Boom when they were knocked back was all I needed.
This didn’t work as well when fighting human opponents, as I found to my cost, and so branched out into the rest of the fighting. All except Zangief: whoever decided that his most powerful move should require a full 360 degree rotation of the stick is off my Christmas card for good. I was never able to pull off a Spinning Piledriver in anger, not once…
Of course, a big part of the appeal of the game was the combo system; the way that you could chain moves into one another to create an unblockable series of hits. Doing my research for this article, I was fascinated to discover that the combo system actually came about by accident.
The game producer, Noritaka Funamizu, speaking at the time had this to say: “While I was making a bug check during the car bonus stage… I noticed something strange, curious. I taped the sequence and we saw that during the punch timing, it was possible to add a second hit and so on. I thought this was something impossible to make useful inside a game, as the timing balance was so hard to catch. So we decided to leave the feature as a hidden one. The most interesting thing is that this became the base for future titles. Later we were able to make the timing more comfortable and the combo into a real feature. In [Street Fighter II] we thought if you got the perfect timing you could place several hits, up to four I think. Then we managed to place eight! A bug? Maybe.”
It’s weird to think that the combo, the basis of every fighting game today, where more hits equals a better result, came about thanks to a bug, as a mistake.
So, having conquered all the worlds there were to conquer in the arcade, the Capcom juggernaut set its sights on the burgeoning home console market. I still remember, to this day, buying a SNES because Street Fighter II was coming out on it, and I still remember sending off for a Japanese copy of the game, and a ridiculous adapter to play it on. This adapter plugged into the top of the SNES, and then the Japanese Street Fighter II cartridge went on top, and Super Mario World went on a slot on the back. Through some jiggery pokery (similar to how I played a Japanese copy of Biohazard on my Playstation, ripping out a PAL disc halfway through the boot routine to put in an NTSC one), I was able to play Street Fighter II before it was officially released in the UK. I was in arcade heaven.
Since then, Street Fighter II has obviously had a lot of versions released, and I’ve played pretty much all of them. One of the weirdest at the time was Street Fighter EX + Alpha, a weird kind of 3D game featuring very, very polygonal graphics, and a strange way of fighting that I never really got on with. For me, Street Fighter II works best as a 2D fighter on a single screen, and the best was the original Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES. My most acclaimed achievement was beating the game on seven star difficulty in one credit, which got you a special end screen. I was at university at this point, and am happy to admit that I completed this feat on Thursday, left the SNES switched on, on that screen, until the following evening when my girlfriend arrived. I have never seen a woman more unimpressed by a video gaming feat in my life since.
After this time, Street Fighter really did go on to take over the world, even turning up on a battered, gravy-stained old arcade cabinet in the local kebab shop when I was a student. And from then it’s only got bigger and bigger. Films, anime, graphic novels, cuddly toys – the world of Street Fighter merchandise is massive. In fact, it was possibly only the arrival of Killer Instinct in the arcade that ended my arcade love affair with Capcom’s creation, and I have to admit that the affair is still alive and well in the home, with me having played almost every version of the Street Fighter franchise, except V – and that’s only as I don’t have a PlayStation. That’s not for any console war nonsense reason, by the way, it’s just I have no room under the TV, and the wife feels that having five Xboxes of varying types is more than enough.
But anyways, these are my memories of Street Fighter II, from dingy back streets to shiny HD gaming – how about you out there? When did you first come across Street Fighter II, and do you agree with me that Killer Instinct is better? Do you remember having to find a magazine article when you were stuck on a game? Let us know in the comments!