Days of Future’s Past
My nephew is 11 years old. He has just about every modern console known to man, a gaming PC, a powerhouse iPad and iPhone and the other day, in casual video gaming conversation, he happens to mention Street Fighter II.
I paused immediately, asking him how in the world he knows the original Capcom classic in a time when Street Fighter V is, itself, considered archaic with its release coming back in 2016.
“Uncle Jay,” he told me in a tone of mockery laced with sympathy, “everyone knows that Street Fighter II is the greatest fighting game ever made.”
Huh! I suppose I should explain that back when the original Street Fighter II rose in popularity in arcades, I was only a little older than said nephew is now. In fact, I was of high school age at the time and spent weekends with my friends at the malls in the arcades. I can remember very clearly the first time my cousin and I encountered the cabinet. We had both studied the moves lists in the pages of EGM prior in preparation of the inevitable day so that tossing a fireball at my unsuspecting opponent as Ryu would turn the tides in my favor. My cousin, similarly inspired but a bit lazier, decided Blanka would be his warrior of choice. His logic? Tapping the punch button was all it would take to charge up electrically. Victory would be ours over a sea of imaginary opponents who were not aware of these advanced abilities. Or so we told ourselves.
Suffice to say – we both learned immediate lessons in humility that day. Our one-trick-pony combo moves were seen, countered then used against us both by fellow human players and AI controlled opponents alike. However, we didn’t leave that day defeated, in fact – quite the opposite. We were inspired. Inspired to come back again better prepared. We would study up on all of our characters given move sets. The desire to play again, to practice against the computer, became an obsession in the months to follow.
Shortly thereafter, the first official home port came to the SNES and, both Sega Genesis supporters at the time (this was an era where most individuals working part time jobs and going to school could afford to support one system at most), the only way we could get our fix was to rent the Super Nintendo and the Street Fighter II cart from the local video store. We did this every chance we could. There were occasional weekends where SFII was out so we’d come back with the system and Final Fight (which, sadly, ditched the two player co-op ability) in a funk of disappointment. We tried renting lesser game experiences – Pit Fighter, wrestling, boxing. None came close to duplicating the rush we were after.
That year’s birthday witnessed the depths of my SFII desperation when I picked up Fighting Masters for my Genesis. My nephew may think he has a grip on the best fighting game ever made, but I’m sure I can enlighten him on several of the worst.
Ultimately I caved and worked my way up to the SNES and Street Fighter II – in fact having purchased the cart even before getting the system. The logic here being if we rented the console in the meantime, there would be no fears of the game being out for the weekend.
And as it would turn out – right when our skills had matured enough to be able to hold our own in the arcades, a new game, this one from Midway, appeared and began luring the masses over to its cabinet instead. This one was called Mortal Kombat and while it played largely the same, it did away with the pixel art graphics in favor of actual scanned actors and, while the combo moves were certainly retained, this one introduced a concept that would forever change the one-on-one landscape: Fatalities.
Gory and over the top finishing moves accomplished by button and stick combinations at the end of the bouts certainly had earned the attention of the masses. A new rivalry was born immediately. And with no home ports on the immediate horizon, it was looking like heading to the arcades, moves lists memorized to the best of one’s abilities, and a pocketful of quarters was the only way to learn this new entry.
While all of this was going on, a strange multi-game cabinet from SNK was garnering more and more attention from its place in the corner. Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat may have been getting all of the attention but these guys, the ones we remembered making games like Ikari Warriors and Alpha Mission on the NES, seemed to be taking this new one-on-one fighting game thing seriously too.
To many, it looked like they were trying to capitalize on the success of Street Fighter II’s popularity. That incorrect assumption has lasted for many, many years. In a truly strange and fascinating tale, the real Street Fighter II was in fact an SNK arcade game. In next month’s column we’ll take a look at how many of the staples of the genre are miscredited as SFII innovations and how Capcom tried to go after others for copying what was not, in fact, exclusively theirs in the first place.