Life Lessons from Video Games Versus Mode: Street Fighter 2

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Street Fighter II…  Capcom’s sequel to the now-obscure Street Fighter changed the face of fighting games.  Multiple, selectable characters, specific special moves, bright graphics; it took everything that could be learned from beat em ups like Double Dragon and simplified it into a one-on-one tournament fighting game.

I won’t go into the game’s colorful history.  That’s not the focus of this review, this will just be my history of Street Fighter.

My first introduction to this legend of the arcade occurred in 6th grade.  Our middle school typically took students with decent grades and no suspensions on an “incentive” trip to a skating rink or a bowling alley.  That six weeks we all went to an local bowling alley for a couple of hours.  I wasn’t interested in bowling really, but the alley had two arcade machines.  I don’t remember what the other one was, but one was Street Fighter II.  There was a queue of kids lined up at one stick, and a kid named Ralph dominating the other.  I got into the queue, not knowing what this game was or why there was a line and one-by-one kids fell as Ralph took them out.  When it was my turn I put in my two quarters, selected the character I thought looked the most interesting (I chose Blanka…all I thought was “wow big green monster!”) and preceded to lose two rounds.  I didn’t do too badly.  In fact after the fight I remember saying, “I didn’t know what I was doing!” with a laugh and Ralph telling me, “Actually you didn’t do so badly…”

I only went to the arcade on rare instances or when the school went to a place that had some machines so I had to wait for a home version in order to really play games.  Despite having only played the game one time, I got swept up into the craze when Street Fighter II: Champion Edition came out on the Sega Genesis.

It was here that I really learned the game.  The Genesis standard controller wasn’t great for these games, but buying a six button controller made it PERFECT for Street Fighter (in fact the licensed “Street Fighter” controllers that came out with the release of SFIV look suspiciously like Sega 6-Button controllers…) and I played the game religiously.  So much so that on trips to the Rivergate Skate Center during 7th and 8th Grade incentive trips I started to run the Street Fighter II machine.  I originally played as Sagat, having recently seen Jean Claude van Damme’s Kickboxer but eventually moved to Ken, and solidified using Ken once super moves were introduced in Super Street Fighter II.

So what makes Street Fighter II a legend?

1.)    Design: Starting with the first thing a gamer would see when they first laid eyes on the cabinet or picked up the cartridge box.  The characters were all unique (except of course the Ryu-Ken similarities) and colorful.  Similarly the backgrounds were all character-specific and had great animations.

2.)    Graphics: Tied to design, the graphics of the game were amazing at the time.  The characters moved fluidly and smoothly, their jumps and attacks all looked better than anything I’d seen before, and the special moves truly looked special

3.)    Diversity: All the 14 of the 16 characters in Street Fighter II Champion Edition were unique.  Though similar commands were used for special moves, they didn’t execute the exact same moves (though they may be similar) and ALL the basic attacks were individual to each character.  Also each character (except essentially the four “boss” characters) had unique story-based endings that gave the game massive replayability.  Beating the game with Ryu was an entirely different prospect to beating it with Vega.  Similarly, fighting each enemy took thought.  You couldn’t always use the same strategy to beat Zangief as you did to beat Chun Li.  Until you mastered it…your brain had to be awake for this game.

4.)    Ease of Play: the most important aspect of a fighting game to me…and something I feel they’ve lost, even the Street Fighter series, over the years.  Fighting games are GREAT because they are “pick-up-and-play” games.  Like I said, I never played before losing terrifically to Ralph in that first game.  But I did ok.  It’s not button mashing, you don’t get far in Street Fighter doing that, but the attacks, moves, and special moves are all so easy to figure out and execute a player can easily learn how to play one or two characters after playing the game only a handful of times.  This pre-dates the over-complexity that I feel has been added into fighting games.  Long-strings of combos, idiotic “air-juggles,” and multiple counter moves are just more than I want in a fighting game.  Keep it simple and fun for me…

5.)    CONTROL: Tied to the last one but by far the most important aspect of the game.  Street Fighter II‘s control was a revolution to me.  It was intuitive to the player and even made sense for the actions being executed.  Pressing “back” to block was a stroke of genius.  Six attacks varying in strength, 3 punches and 3 kicks, all useful (thought admittedly I played for YEARS with just a jab-fierce and short-roundhouse button setup on PS1) “Down-Down+Forward-Forward” is actually the motion you’d expect a character to do when throwing a fireball.  The same goes for the Shoryuken and the Hundred-Hand Slap.   I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with more perfect control (but woe be unto the second player who’s used to playing first player…and has to reverse all those commands!)

Street Fighter II revolutionized arcade gaming.  Through various iterations of II, eventually Alpha (Alpha 3 is my favorite of the series by far…the most balanced and best character roster I feel), a 3D game (EX…ugh), and now back to 2D with Street Fighter IV (and its iterations), it retained basically the same controls.  It’s heaped on many new complex concepts, and crazy characters, but at it’s based on the same framework.

Next time will be another arcade fighting game that revolutionized the genre, Mortal Kombat!

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