With Street Fighter IV out this week, those that follow along here on the site and podcast should (rightfully so) expect a lot of talk about it coming your way. Before I even get to talking about the new game, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back and figure out just how exactly I got here. When did I first play a Street Fighter game? Why did I stick with it? What are some of my earliest memories? Why does it continue to enthrall me to this very day?
First off, let’s be honest: very few of us actually played the first Street Fighter until we loaded it up in MAME one day. I simply never saw it in arcades or convenience stores, and if I did, I dismissed it without a thought.
I should start off by saying that I don’t think I got “into” fighting games until Mortal Kombat came around. I don’t know what it was that I was so busy playing instead, but the first round of Street Fighter II in the arcades (and even on the SNES) just totally flew by me. Even then, I didn’t get interested in playing them until the first Mortal Kombat was already out on the home systems in late 1993, nearly a year after it hit arcades. I was vaguely aware of it, but that awareness was the extent of my interest. I first remember seeing the game at a local kid’s house (wasn’t really a “friend”, especially since I kicked the crap out of him later that year for being a jackass, but boys will be boys). I have to imagine it was the prospect of doing fatalities that really drew me in, though I don’t remember all that much. I just remember seeing it, and being hooked from there on out.
Around that time, Mortal Kombat II was already hitting arcades, and I was ready to jump in head-first. Everything about the second game was better. The fighters were more realistic, the amount of moves increased, the number and types of finishing moves increased, and the game had a fantastic tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about itself. While the game certainly bumped it up a notch in terms of skilled players being able to fight effectively, all of the characters ultimately still played exactly the same with the exception of their special moves and finishing moves. Additionally, let’s continue to be brutally honest: we were still all playing the game just to see the fatalities. In the case of Mortal Kombat, the “end-game” was far more interesting than the actual game, itself. I played the ever-living-Hell out of the SNES and even Game Boy versions (the latter of which actually let you pause the game, which is the sole reason I purchased it… in addition to wanting to play against everyone else at school…), but something was lacking.
It was around this time and with this realization that I became more aware of Street Fighter. I was enjoying fighting games, but the fighting games I was playing (really only Mortal Kombat) felt more like brief competitions to see an end show rather than focusing on the fighting itself, which I was truly interested in.
I don’t know what went off in my little head, but I decided it was time to pick up a Street Fighter game.
I had my dad drive me down to the local video store, and I purchased a used copy of Super Street Fighter II for the SNES. Yes, by this point in time, we were already on the third revision for SNES, and I hadn’t even played the game before. I was initially confused by the lack of an “end” after the fight, which was to be expected coming from the Mortal Kombat camp (I don’t have a source on me, but I do remember the MK creative team noting that fatalities even came about in the first place because they wanted to move the mid-fight dizzies from other games to the very end so you could get one more hit in). Regardless, though, it was a love affair from there on out. Instead of mastering the art of B, B, LP, I suddenly became a master of F, D, DF, P. Two-in-ones became second nature. The clumsy juggles of Mortal Kombat became more skill-based than I could imagine.
It’s interesting to note that, despite becoming totally involved in the world of Street Fighter, I kept up with Mortal Kombat for a little while. I was all about Mortal Kombat 3, and will tell anyone who will listen that I was the one responsible for unlocking Ermac in my local Wal-Mart’s arcade machine of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. I rented a Sega Saturn more than just a few times for the sole purpose of playing UMK3 (though Sega Rally was nice, too). I was running around with my crazy-ass Kabal and Nightwolf combos, and proving that Smoke had more to him than just a teleport punch -> spear -> uppercut.
By now we’re into 1995, and I’ve still said more about Mortal Kombat than the supposed topic of this post. Here’s where it begins to shift, though.
I became very adamant about checking out my local arcade and playing not only against other people, but completely new games, as well. It was a big year for fighting game fans. I may have skipped over Super Turbo (other than some brief play on my friend Jason’s 3DO), but the series received a reboot with Alpha. The Mortal Kombat series had just gone Ultimate, and Virtua Fighter 2 was shocking players with how far polygonal fighters had come in a single generation of games. I took notice, too. In addition to playing the first game on my 32X, I was pretending to be good with a little Kage action in Virtua Fighter 2 in arcades, myself. I was still mostly ignoring Street Fighter, though… which I don’t really understand. I preferred the gameplay of that series more than all of the others, but I found myself leaning towards these others. Maybe it was because those arcade machines were actually free of crowds? Was I still trying to figure out exactly which game series interested me the most? Who knows?
Things shifted for good the next year, though. My arcade got a gigantic, large-screen, sit-down Street Fighter Alpha 2. The combination of the music, the characters, the animation, and the grand scale of the thing won me over. I still vividly remember seeing that pre-match character layout (which zips into the profiles) for the first time and being amazed at just how slick and refined the whole thing felt, and I even remember that it was Adon that I first went up against.
I think “refined” is the perfect word to describe what I found missing in all of the other games. Mortal Kombat 3 brought the series into more offensive territory with the Run button, but it still felt clunky and imprecise. Virtua Fighter was a great first step into 3D, but the ridiculous floaty jumps were very off-putting (though 2 did an amazing job cleaning it all up). I only briefly dabbled with Tekken until Tag, and only the second game on PS1 (thanks to a demo pack-in with my system). SNK’s games were getting to a fantastic level (despite the hardcore fans problems with the striker system, I’m a huge fan of King of Fighters ’99), but I couldn’t find anyone else to really play them with (at least until college). Here was Street Fighter, pulling everything together so nice and clean. It just… worked.
I never seemed to get around to picking up any additional home console versions for a couple years. I think I just rented them enough that I felt like I owned them. Once 1999 came around, though, I wasn’t about to miss out on Street Fighter Alpha 3. I emptied all of my change bowls and scrapped together enough right there to purchase the game. Everything about it was magical. Despite finally dropping the classic tunes for the characters, Alpha 3 just oozed fresh style. Takayuki Iwai & Co.’s new musical score was both instantly memorable and catchy (and was actually one of the first game soundtracks I ever purchased). The new “-ism” styles let you play Alpha 2-style if you so desired. The home version’s inclusion of even more characters from “Upper” (the Naomi board version) flesh out an already-gigantic cast of both familiar and new faces. It may not have been the most balanced game in the franchise, but that was hardly enough to keep a player like me away from the controller. In fact, aside from Super Mario Bros. 3, it is perhaps my most-re-purchased game of all time (PS1, PS2, GBA, PSP… nope, never owned the Saturn or Dreamcast versions, myself).
You’ve heard Andrew and I talk about Alpha 3 enough on the podcast, so I’ll leave behind one of our all-time favorite games behind.
During this time and over the next several years, we were treated to an array of crossover games that complement the main (numbered) series quite well. Whether it was dropping quarters into X-Men vs Street Fighter or playing the import Dreamcast version of Capcom vs SNK 2 day in and day out, we played them all. Marvel vs Capcom 2 also immediately jumps to mind, with all of us having college buddies that, despite having absolutely zero interest in fighting games, couldn’t resist throwing down for a few hours with us.
We’re missing a game series, though. It seems like a lot of people forget about Street Fighter III. I think like the majority of the more mainstream Street Fighter fans (those of us who thoroughly enjoyed the series, but never got up to tournament level or anything like that), something just didn’t sit right with me. Perhaps it was indeed the overall lack of returning fighters. Maybe it was the more Darkstalkers-esque characters that felt out of place (don’t get me wrong; I enjoy that series, as well!). Maybe it was yet another drop of any and all classic tunes. I played here and there in random arcade machines, but then again, maybe it was the death of arcades that was hurting my ability to even play the game in the first place. I was excited to see a III machine on my college campus while visiting the summer before school, so you can understand my sadness to see it gone when I returned later that year.
Things have changed over the years, though, with regards to III. Like a fine wine, it actually seems to get better with age. I appreciate more and more about the game as I get older. I now find the soundtrack to be one of the most fitting (if not silly) in a fighting game. I love a lot of the new characters, and even found my quasi-Fei Long in Yang. I like to pretend I’m a solid technical fighter with my parrying of simple fireballs (don’t ask me to use it in general gameplay up close, though). The animation is fluid and eye-popping. The general presentation is just as slick and streamlined as any Street Fighter game before it. It’s a very technical fighter, but it’s not as intimidating as something like the Guilty Gear series. I’m incredibly glad to have a copy of the game sitting around, and while we don’t revisit it as much as I otherwise would like to (Alpha 3 and CvS2 seem to be the default go-to games), it’s always a damn good time when we do.
It seems like there is so much more to talk about, and so many other fighting games to compare and throw into the mix (nevermind all of the assorted merchandise like anime and action figures). Alas, this is only supposed to be a simple reflection on how I came to be the type of Street Fighter fan I am, and it still ended up being a stream-of-consciousness plop of text. Here we are with IV finally in our hands, and like Ono wanted us to do, we are rediscovering what it is about the series (and these characters) that we love so much. Forgive me, but I think I need to stop typing and get back to the game, now!
Next time around, we’re going to take a look at the “Collector’s Edition” pack-ins. How does the new anime stack up to previous efforts? Does that headband fit? Are the extra costumes worth downloading? What’s on the soundtrack? Stick around…