A casual passer by would have you believe it’s just a game about two guys in pyjamas decking each other, but to countless others worldwide, it’s far more than that – a global phenomenon that draws people together to study its every intricacy, to practice as if it were a real martial art, and to revere its top performers as rock stars. If you’ll allow me to wax lyrical for a moment, let me tell you why I love Street Fighter so.
In its most basic form, and across all iterations of the series, you’ve always had the option of playing against a computer-controlled opponent. However, the true game was, and will always be, in pitting yourself against a human rival. Whilst anyone can mash out the odd special move or two after a bit of practice, the real measuring stick for any fighting game has always been in providing sufficient depth for a more seasoned player to tap into, allowing them the competetive edge – and it’s that fine balancing act which Street Fighter has always excelled at.
The polar opposite of a real life brawl, watching two skilled players face off is a battle of wits more akin to a game of chess, with the ability to read a match and demonstrate foresight being essential to avoid falling into traps of predictability. As well as the mental agility required, precise inputs and quick reactions are needed to punish any mistakes that are made by an opponent to their fullest with complex and lengthy combination attacks. Even speaking as someone typically without a competetive bone in their body, there is something special in the pure satisfaction these moments of brilliance provide – especially knowing the practice that has gone into getting to that point, and that a victory is down to an outclassing in such a range of talents.
To clarify – it’s not cricket.
With the original Street Fighter game inventing the special move, and Street Fighter II widely accepted as the origin of ‘combos’ (albeit by accident), it’s a safe acknowledgement that many conventions of the genre stemmed from the series. Whilst many other games also tried to innovate in the space – whether it be by introducing ultra-violence, excessive combos triggered by single buttons presses, or racing to be first to offer a 3D playing field – none can claim to have laid down so many original ideas which have been taken on quite like Street Fighter has. Staple move archetypes such as ‘fireballs’ and ‘dragon punches’ are used to describe moves almost universally, and the rival (read: palette swapped) Ryu/Ken starter characters have been ‘borrowed’ so timelessly that it’s no longer noticed. SNK’s early efforts were so obvious in their inspiration, that legendary Capcom artist Akiman took similar inspiration from Art of Fighting’s Ryo & Robert, mashing them up into a victim in one drawing that eventually led to the introduction of Dan Hibiki into Street Fighter – an overly cocky but ultimately hapless clone dressed in pink. Some would have you note at this point that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Let’s not downplay the impact the original Streetfighter II had on the UK gaming scene on the whole, either. With the arcade version stirring a revolution amongst gamers, and arriving as locally as the chip shop down the road, the subsequent SNES home release was something of a catalyst. An entire generation of gamers were so eager to practice in their own homes that they would stump up three-figure sums to grey importers to get Japanese carts months before they were released on our own shores. Ask most of these whether it was worth it, and I’m sure they’d tell you it was. More recently, Street Fighter IV has had similar success too, re-invigorating a number of estranged fans with its high-definition take on the genre. Whilst not quite as meteoric a landing as SFII had, it’s still paved the way for a number of other fighting games to jump into the fray, and capture some of the newfound attention the genre is getting.
I think you can let go now.
In the early 90s, select few will fondly remember the kudos in proving themselves champion amongst their peers either at home or in a local arcade. Those stepping outside this circle of familiarity might have fell foul of a shock though – given its popularity and depth, more strategies and tactics were being discovered all the time, and competition was rife wherever you went. Today, with online matchmaking being what it is, you’re never more than a couple of menu options away from being reminded just how much you’ve left to learn. As such the level of dedication amongst the fanbase has risen and risen, and unsurprisingly, the scene has evolved with it. Huge tournaments draw in crowds from all over the world, DVDs of highlight reels sell like hot cakes, and top-level players earn enough from sponsorships and cash prizes to make a living from being just that bit better than the competition.
For me, Street Fighter III: Third Strike takes the crown as favourite entry in the series. Belonging to an offshoot story arc that was ostracised at first for abandoning a lot of the cast that people knew and loved, many found that given time, the kooky ensemble are just as prolific and loveable as the original roster. The 2D art and animation is still some of the finest I’ve ever seen, an incredible feat given the game is now over 10 years old. Then there’s the parry system; a defensive art requiring a player to push into an attack, granting a split second advantage if executed perfectly, or proving fatal if mis-timed. A perfect example of risk/reward game mechanics, and a skill that can lead to some truly stunning displays of skill, such as the notorious video below.
Over-used yes, but is it still relevant? You bet.
If any of this has struck a chord, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition is already available in shops across the country, and some balance issues aside, is still a solid game. However, slated for a release later this summer, Street Fighter III: Third Strike is finally being brought to XBLA and PSN, with all of the love and care it deserves – best-in-class GGPO netcode, offline tutorials and trials, enhanced visuals, and Youtube match uploads. My advice? Get it, get online, and join in appreciating one of the finest multiplayer games known to man.