Throwback Thursday - An Ode to Street Fighter II
I know of few kids with access to video games in the 1990's who did not both play and love Street Fighter II.
This game arguably created the "Fighting Game" genre, a billion-dollar subset of the gaming industry responsible for a vast array of alternative revenue streams from collectibles and comics to novelty tees. Street Fighter II was not just another game; it was a game-changer.
This first occurred in the arcade, with people from various backgrounds pouring quarter-after-quarter into boardwalks, restaurant lobbies, and shopping malls where the game had a crowd around it. Everyone seemed to have their favorites: G.I. Joe kids might opt for the military styled Guile, while martial arts enthusiasts went with Ryu and Ken; the sci-fi kids might have found a kindred avatar in Blanka, while wrestling fans slammed their opponents with Zangief. My characters of choice were Ken and Guile, because they had blonde hair as I did; and when I was a pre-teen that was enough. If we wanted to impress a girl in the 90's, me and my buddies were clueless, but if we wanted to impress fellow fighters, we'd master Yoga Flame or the spinning Piledriver. The game became part of the vernacular. Phrases like "Haduken", sonic boom", and "hundred-hand slap" became as commonplace as "rad" and "bogus".
Then the game arrived on consoles. I'm not sure who at Sega talked Capcom into giving them Championship Edition which made the four "bosses" playable, but it took the home-gaming world by storm (and gave Segaphiles ammo in the ongoing debate against Nintendorks before SNES' Street Fighter II Turbo struck back). I have no idea what the sales numbers were for these games, but we know they had to be huge given the endless Street Fighter knock-offs that followed (looking at you, Eternal Champions and Art of Fighting). Once folks were away from public scrutiny and able to be more candid in their own homes, well, the duels fought across the globe by "the World Warriors" got ever-more intense. I literally saw two brothers break into actual fisticuffs over the game, which showed me just how different violence is between real folks and cartoon characters.
To be honest, I'm fairly lost on release timelines, so I have no idea when Super Street Fighter II entered the rotation, but for me that was a clincher. The addition of "the new challengers" plus the ability to change outfits ("Finally, a Ken in PURPLE and Guile in Blue Camo. My life is complete!!") gave the update just enough variety to make it both fresh but also familiar, that rare balance that renews waning fan interest. I played that game far too much, and I even kept up the action in narrative form with my action figures; I had not only the real Street Fighter G.I.Joes, but also kitbashed versions of the final four characters (nerd much?).
Yes, for all the love and mythic significance Mortal Kombat would soon engender among me and my peers, Street Fighter II was still the pioneer and remains my personal favorite fighting game (the reasons for which will be debated this summer at GamingWithSwag). I still have my Super Street Fighter II cartridge at home awaiting another round more than 20 years later, and that's saying something.
—Old School C.J.