Street Fighter II may have been a sequel, but for most of us, it was the first game in the series. The relatively unknown Street Fighter, released in 1987, was also a head-to-head fighting game. However, you could only play as two fighters, Ryu and Ken—they were palette swaps, and were otherwise indistinguishable. The single player campaign was the main draw—you traveled to five different countries and defeated ten unique fighters to become the World Champion.
Aside from Ryu and Ken, you saw a few other familiar faces during the campaign. There was Sagat, minus his Shoryuken chest scar (although he was still missing his eye—I guess Gou Hibiki canonically predated this game). You also fought Gen, Birdie, and Adon—years later, they would re-debut in the Alpha series.
The first time I played Street Fighter II, I was an elementary schooler—I was invited to a classmate’s birthday party at the local arcade, where everyone gathered around the Street Fighter II machine for the entire time.
I was drawn to the more bizarre characters on the roster. It was normal to see a karate guy in a gi, or a massive strongman in wrestling tights. But a green beast who could electrocute his opponents? A Yoga master who could stretch his limbs and breathe fire? These were the characters that I wanted to play the most.
Of course, like any kid who played a fighting game for the first time, I did what came naturally—I mashed buttons and hoped for the best. Sometimes, by sheer luck, I would spew a Yoga Flame, or deliver a Lighting Kick, or whirl around with a Spinning clothesline. These special moves intrigued me, but in a pre-Internet era, neither my classmates nor I knew how to duplicate them.
Then, an incredible thing happened—Capcom ported Street Fighter II over to the Super Nintendo and the other home consoles. Even better, the instruction booklet published all of the special moves for every character. Now, finally, I could play the game to my heart’s content, without using a mountain of quarters to do so.
Unlike its predecessor, Street Fighter II had a playable roster of eight characters. There was Ryu and Ken, of course, but now, they were a bit different from one another. Ryu was a little bit stronger and steadier—Ken was bit quicker and flashier. Defensively and offensively, however, they had all their bases covered. The Hadouken fireball and Hurricane kick provided ground pressure, and the Shoryuken Dragon Punch took care of any aerial attacks. When played by the computer, Ryu did nothing but lay fireball—threw the Hadouken, and then hit you with the Shoryuken when you jumped.
I stayed away from Ryu and Ken, because everyone else used them. My main guy was E. Honda, the massive sumo wrestler with the Headbutt. He was slow, but if you managed to corner your opponent? Damn. His Fierce chop could knock 17% off your opponent’s life meter, and his Bear Hug could take off 33%. His Roundhouse was a low sweep with range, and when you performed it close to an opponent, it double comboed, and could dizzy him.
And of course, Honda wouldn’t be Honda without his Hundred Hand Slap. It was the first special move I ever learned—tap the Punch button, and keep tapping it. For low jumping opponents like Balrog, the Hundred Hand Slap was an impenetrable, defensive shield, perfect against pitbull opponents. Later editions of Street Fighter II would actually give Honda a Moving Hundred Hand Slap—a relentless, cheap way to finish off your opponent.
My other favorite character was Dhalsim—I loved playing mind games against my opponent, tricking him or her into making wrong moves. Dhalsim’s entire strategy was based upon evasiveness and proper spacing - you had to pick your spots, and slowly whittle away your opponent’s health. Dhalsim’s defenses were weak—one wrong misstep could be your end. Still, there was nothing more satisfying than sliding under an opponent’s fireball and sweeping his legs out from underneath him.
The most frustrating opponent? Vega, by a mile. That son of a bitch was a cheetah, not to mention a cheater—he’s the only one who found it necessary to bring a steel claw with him to the fight (although, if you hit him enough times, he would lose it). He also had evasive backflips, sharp kicks, and a nasty suplex. If you injured him badly enough, he would climb the walls of his steel cage, and attack you with a deadly swan dive. The swan dive was extremely difficult to avoid, and so you tried to kill him as quickly, before he did it. But by rushing things, you’d make mistakes—you lost, one way or another.
We’ve written about Street Fighter II’s incredible music in previous articles, but we don’t talk enough about its beautiful backgrounds and the incredible attention to detail. Just look at E. Honda’s Bath House, for example. The color palette and the ukiyo-e painting give the stage a cool, muted look. It looks like the perfect place for E. Honda to relax his muscles after a long fight. The tiny water drips from the ceiling complete the depiction.
For years afterwards, Capcom coasted on its success, releasing and re-releasing different permutations of the original game. Sometimes, they added new, playable characters, and sometimes, they added new features. Champion Edition, Turbo, Super—they were all slightly better their immediate predecessors, and so we played or bought all of them. Each time, however, we got a little more resentful, and wished the creators had released a single, definitive version from the very start.
Capcom is still up to its old tricks. Last month, they released Ultra Street Fighter IV —what they claim is the final incarnation of Street Fighter IV (although we’ve heard this before). It’s got 44 characters, it’s available for digital download, and it’s the perfect way to relive your childhood—now in 2.5—Dimensional HD.