Let me take you back to the year 1987. Thatcher’s being re-elected, shiny-headed thesp Patrick Stewart is debuting on Star Trek and the Exeposé has seen its very first issue- a good year all round. But, as our DeLorean glides silently through the night air, you may miss another historical landmark; somewhere, mad Ninja Geki is duelling with bandana-favouring warrior Ryu on a Capcom arcade board, whilst cries of “Ball of Fire” and “Hurricane Kick” echo out of the machine’s ancient speakers. Who’d have known that this game’s sequel would introduce the beat-‘em-up genre to the masses.
The game? Street Fighter. The rest? Profitable.
You see, Street Fighter 2 is not just a very important title historically, but it’s also one of the most elegant and iconic videogames ever created. Even today, Ryu’s ecstatic proclamation of “Hadouken” as he expels blue fire from his bare hands is known worldwide. Likewise, the character roster will no doubt be etched into the minds of every ‘90s gamer- the distant stare of electro-freak Blanka haunting the dreams of anyone who has ever entered an arcade.
Yes, SF2 is brilliant- chunky, stylised sprites ensuring fights were as mesmerising to watch as they were to play. And, indeed, the game has been home to some of the tense, epic and bitter struggles ever; grudge matches were commonly played out, and longstanding rivalries forged in the hellish pits that Capcom had created- SF2 brought home the competitive spirit of the arcade (God rest its soul) to console gamers of the early ‘90s.
The game’s larger-than-life characters, such as Mike Tyson clone Balrog (renamed to avoid legal action, explaining why the title’s baddie is named “M. Bison”), brought life to an often soulless genre with their sheer vibrancy. Though some were seen as unfair (Dhalsim’s stretchy limbs proved the bane of many a man), these advantages were always matched with exploitable weaknesses, ensuring that any spat could be won skilfully. Essentially, it not only revolutionised the fighting genre with features nowadays considered standard (such as the combo system), but also popularised it thanks to its ruthless combination of accessibility and staggering depth. This was a perfect casual game- but, if real effort was put in, you’d discover a whole world of devilish moves, spiky hair and wonderfully upbeat ‘90s rock music.
And Capcom milked this baby for all it was worth, with perhaps the bizzarest moment coming when they actually made Street Fighter The Movie. Best remembered for featuring Kylie Minogue, Van friggin’ Damme and the late Raul Julia donning a CPR-initiating suit which was so mysteriously absent from the actual game, one simply cannot mention SF2 without referencing this gem, reckless as it was with series canon (Japanese sumo Honda now appears as a Hawaiian telejournalist. For no reason). Why, even now some madman is making a new, Chun Li-centred cinematic “masterpiece.” Good luck to ‘em.
But SF2 is also notable for being one of the original “killer-aps,” stuck as it was in the centre of the very bitter rivalry between Sega and Nintendo at the time, both companies trying to woo it over to their console. Eventually, both sides would indulge in what amounted to a minor arms race, with various (increasingly complicated in title) revisions being released before The New Challengers stepped in with some great new faces (particularly hulking racial stereotype T. Hawk and the maraca-toting Dee Jay)- a game I highly recommend purchasing come its release on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
But what of Street Fighter’s future? Well, the series never really made the transition into 3D and nowadays clutches mostly to its 2D roots. Though the glory of its second iteration was never recaptured, Street Fighter Alpha 3 had its moments and is available on a decent GBA port (you can also find a good compilation disc for the PS2, complete with the hilariously violent anime). Recently, Capcom revealed an ultra-stylised clip for the upcoming fourth game featuring Ryu and Ken locked in face-slamming combat, however specifics are sparse regarding the title.
Until then, find some mates, stick your thumb on the D-Pad and berate the bloke playing as Dhalsim. I hear “cheap” and “n00b” are popular nowadays.