There was a time when Street Fighter was the biggest deal in arcade gaming. When Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was released in arcades in 1991, it literally captured the minds and hearts of video gamers. To this day, I have never seen a game draw people in the way Street Fighter II did. There would be long lines of people waiting to play and it was also a game where even if you didn’t want to play, you had to stop and watch the other players compete. I remember people inserting their quarters into the machine without any hesitation whatsoever. The game was a huge success for Capcom and is the reason why we still see Street Fighter games to this day.
I was in middle school when the game was released. After school, I would stop by a donut shop or a pizza place that had Street Fighter II and just spend anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes just watching other people play. Because I lived about 30 minutes away from school, it was a great midway point during my walk home. The game was very fascinating because you had Ryu and Ken shooting out fireballs, Zangief performing leaping spinning piledrivers, Blanka conducting electricity from his body and Guile taking out opponents in the air with his flip kick. All 8 of the playable characters had signature moves to use within the best two of three round battles. For me, it was a game unlike any that I had seen up until that point.
It took a while before I finally had an opportunity to insert my quarter into the coin slot and experience the game for myself. Over time, I was able to figure out certain pockets of time when the Street Fighter II unit would be free. I wanted to be able to experience the game for myself without having to worry about how good I was against human competition. Street Fighter II was the first time I would actually see people have index cards with notes on how to perform the different moves of the game. The controls were unique to every character so there were motions such as half-circle forward, full circle, hold back for 2 seconds and then forward, hold down for 2 seconds, etc. There were also six action buttons that consisted of three levels of punches and three levels of kicks. Just thinking about it, at the time it must have seemed complicated to a lot of people.
When I finally did play and became more comfortable with the controls, game mechanics and A.I. behavior, I found that the game really rewarded practice and taking the time to learn how it functioned. The feeling I felt when I finally was able to pull off the special moves was one of significant accomplishment. Remember that the control scheme used for Street Fighter II was not commonplace at the time. The majority of games simply had the user pressing a button with very minimal motion input in order to pull off moves. So playing Street Fighter took effort and required the ability to retain information in order to be good at the game.
I want to note that the original Fatal Fury: King of Fighters was released around the same time as Street Fighter II but did not receive nearly the attention that its competitor did. Having also played the SNK game, I believe it was because the characters overall were not as memorable as Street Fighter’s cast and the gameplay was not as polished and responsive. Sure the game introduced the world to Andy and Terry Bogard, but I honestly can not remember the full roster of Fatal Fury. On the contrary, I could easily name off every single character in Street Fighter II. Many times I found myself frustrated trying to pull moves in Fatal Fury because the controls did not respond to my input the way Street Fighter did. As a result, I never beat the arcade version of Fatal Fury when I was younger.
Defeating Bison and completing the game always felt like a major achievement in the arcade version of Street Fighter II. Ken was my favorite character and going through the game with him was the easiest playthrough for me. While Ryu had the superior fireball and spinning kick, Ken’s uppercut was the better version. Blanka and Chun Li were two other characters that I really took to and loved playing as. Over time, I ended up defeating the game with everyone but definitely found Dhalsim and Zangief to be the most difficult to use. Because he was a slower character, it was a big adjustment to use Dhalsim. And with Zangief, his strength came through throws and grapples so it required getting in close to the opponent to deal major damage. I believe the different styles and strategy required from character to character is why I would see many players simply stick to using just one main fighter.
Street Fighter II was really a groundbreaking game and when it came to the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles, it was just as big a deal as it was when it was first released in the arcades. When I think of fighting games, this is the title that I think back to as one of the forerunners that laid the foundation for what we would eventually see in games such as Mortal Kombat, World Heroes, Dead or Alive, Virtual Fighter, Killer Instinct and Tekken. It was also one of the first games that I remembered having different versions without advancing to a sequel right away. There was Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Street Fighter II: Turbo Edition, Super Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II Turbo and a host of hack editions as well. I can remember playing the Rainbow Edition in a 7-Eleven where you could switch characters on the fly during a match by simply pressing the 1P or 2P button.
Before Resident Evil, Street Fighter II was the franchise that really cemented Capcom’s legacy. I can still remember the rush that the game provided when I played it in the arcades in the early 1990s. It was a blast to play alone and with other people. You would find the game in arcades but they would also appear at pizza places, donut shops, laundry mats and sometimes even department stores. Street Fighter II captivated my generation like no other game in the arcades did before it and I look back with fond memories on a time when Street Fighter was king.