As a spin off to our History of Fighting Games, we’d like to concentrate today’s Editorial Tuesday on the game that popularized the genre, the Street Fighter saga. Though it didn’t break out until Street Fighter II was released, its predecessor (which got in a nod in the recent release to “It,” the horror film based on the Stephen King novel) still introduced a good number of characters and features that are still in use to this day.
Street Fighter I
Before its sequel came out in 1991, the first game hit the arcades in 1987 with releases on the Commodore 64, the PC Engine (as Fighting Street), Amiga, and MS-DOS the following year. As we shared in our History of Fighting Games, there were two versions to the original arcade game. One version had a joystick, a pad button for punch, and a pad button for kick (you can presently find this version at the Warehouse arcade in Kawasaki, Japan). Depending on how hard you hit the pad, it would make the punch or kick stronger. The other version is the standard six-button layout – 3 for punches and 3 for kicks. Despite its huge roster, Ken (for player 2 side) and Ryu (for player 1 side) were the only selectable characters. The game not only introduced Ken, Ryu, and the standard 6-button lay out, it was one of the first to introduce gimmick moves such as Hadoukens, which were a homage to the Hadouhou from Space Battleship Yamato, or Starblazers in the West.
Though it is presently standard to have instructions on how to do each character’s move on the cabinet, the special moves were kept a secret as a hidden novelty so they were very difficult to pull off. The developers of the first Street Fighter were Takashi Nishiyama (as we have previously shared, the alternate reading to the kanji of Takashi’s name 隆, can also be read as Ryu) and Hiroshi Matsumoto, who would later contribute to the genre for SNK with Fatal Fury and Art of Fighting. Prior to making Street Fighter, Nishiyama created Spartan X (the Japanese title for Jackie Chan’s hit 80s flick, Wheels on Meals), or Kung-Fu Master in the West. Due to his success of that game, Capcom recruited him to make Street Fighter. Nishiyama was a martial arts enthusiast and the rest of the development team were fans of martial arts anime and manga, most especially Karate Baka Ichidai. Ryu and Sagat were actually inspired by characters from that manga, and were also inspired by real life martial artists.
Street Fighter II
Though the first game wasn’t exactly a big hit, Capcom still wanted to make a sequel. With beat ‘em ups becoming popular around the late 80s thanks to Double Dragon and Kunio-kun (or River City Ransom), their intended sequel ended up becoming Final Fight (with some of the characters joining the Street Fighter roster in the Alpha series). Thanks to Final Fight becoming a success, they wanted to capitalize on its popularity to finally getting around to making a true sequel to Street Fighter. Capcom knew that fighting games were conceptually a good idea and how to improve them, mostly in the visual department.
While Street Fighter is famous for its flowing combo system, the staff actually confessed that it came about by accident. While testing, a programmer noticed it and thought it was a nice feature to keep and it has been a staple of the series since. Not only did it have combos and fireballs, it was one of the first fighting games to allow players to freely choose their own character with a distinct fighting style. Beyond the standard karate practitioner, you could now play as a matador ninja, a kung fu master, a sumo wrestler, a pro wrestler, a kickboxer, and a boxer.
Thanks to all of these features, the game became an instant success. The following years, it released upgrades for both consoles and arcades, and helped make the Super Nintendo a success. The Championship Edition and Turbo versions offered faster speeds, Chun-Li a fireball attack, and the ability to play the four bosses of the original release. Then when Super Street Fighter II came out, it introduced four new characters and Super Street Fighter II Turbo introduced the super combo system (though they were already used in SNK fighting games) and Akuma.
Multimedia Hit (and Miss)
With Street Fighter becoming one of the most popular games of the mid-1990s, it was only a matter of time that it would branch out as a multimedia franchise. In August of 1994, the Street Fighter II anime movie debuted in Japanese theaters and got a US VHS release the following year with a different soundtrack featuring Korn, KMFDM, Silverchair, and Alice In Chains. Many long time fans have praised the anime movie for its intense action and being an excellent representation of the source material.
Thanks to the success of the anime movie, it paved way for Capcom to make a spin off series, Alpha, or Zero in Japan. One of the unique features to Alpha is the Dramatic Battle, where you can do a 2 vs. 1 as Ken and Ryu vs. M. Bison like in the movie’s finale. If you play the Japanese version of Alpha, it uses an instrumental version to Ryoko Shinohara’s Itoshisa to Setsunasa to Kokoro Zuyosato, the song featured in the Japanese version of that fight in the anime movie, which was also a hit in Japan. In addition to paving way for the Alpha series, it paved way for an anime TV series, Street Fighter II V.
Though the anime versions to Street Fighter have been excellently received by fans, a majority of its Western adaptations have been subjected to ridicule and bashing. A few months after the debut of the anime movie, a Hollywood adaptation of Street Fighter hit theaters in the US around Christmas of 1994 co-starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia. To appeal to American audiences, Guile, played by the Muscles from Brussels, is made the main character as he leads a multinational coalition effort to defeat Bison, played by Julia. Unfortunately, Julia passed away shortly prior to the movie’s release and his portrayal as Bison has been considered one of the positives to this movie. Shortly after its release, it would spin off an animated series on the USA Network. While the presentation of the series is a better representation of the game, some select clips from the series have also been subjected to ridicule as memes.
However, it is interesting to note that the choreography of both the anime and live action movies were conducted by a couple martial arts legends. Former K-1 kickboxing and karate legend Andy Hug along with K-1 promoter Kazuyoshi Ishii helped coordinate the action of the anime movie, while undefeated kickboxing icon Benny Urquidez (who was Jackie Chan’s opponent in Wheels on Meals) did the choreography for the Van Damme movie. While Urquidez still trains fighters to this day, Ishii would later be imprisoned due to tax fraud and Hug would lose his life to leukemia in 2000.
In 2009, Hollywood once again attempted to make a Street Fighter movie, Legend of Chun-Li, starring Kristin Kreuk of Smallville fame. The movie bombed and is considered one of the worst movies of all time. A few years later, Assassin’s Fist, a passion project spearheaded by Christian Howard and Joey Ansah, would redeem Street Fighter as a live action franchise as it retells the story of Ken and Ryu’s training in Japan.
Later Sequels and Spin-Offs of Street Fighter
After many upgrades and spin offs to Street Fighter II, Capcom finally released a true sequel, Street Fighter III in 1997. Though 3D was progressively becoming the norm with the rise of Virtua Fighter and Tekken, Capcom decided to keep the game 2D because it was a better representation of its true spirit. It kept super combos from Alpha and Super Street Fighter II Turbo, introduced counter parrying, but did not use air blocks like the Alpha series. With its first release, Ken and Ryu remained but a majority of its roster would be original characters (though Akuma and Chun-Li would come back in later versions). Though it did not achieve the same fame as Street Fighter II, it became a hit amongst hardcore followers. As for entering the world of 3D, Street Fighter would briefly explore 3D through its EX spin off series.
Though Street Fighter III and EX were mostly cult hits, Capcom still delivered a knock out by using Street Fighter characters with its crossover series along with their licensed Marvel characters. While the versus franchise didn’t truly break out until Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, the first game to pave way for this series was X-Men Vs. Street Fighter. It was the game to introduce tag team play, faster pace and more explosive action. Due to its simpler gameplay compared to the standard Street Fighter games, it became a hit as it followed up with Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter, and finally with Marvel Vs. Capcom.
Though the PlayStation releases of the first two versus games were criticized for not being up to the standard of the original arcade games, fans around the world would have to import better quality versions of X-Men Vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Vs. Street Fighter for the Saturn, which used a 4MB RAM cartridge to offer a true arcade experience. Capcom initially wanted to keep those games exclusive to the Saturn but demand for the PlayStation made them released it anyway because of accusations of Capcom showing favoritism to Sega in Japan. Due to the unfortunate failure of Saturn in the US, the Saturn versions were exclusive to Japan, where the console had more popularity. As for the first two Marvel Vs. Capcom games, gamers at the time could get the best home versions on Sega’s final console, the Dreamcast.
With Capcom busy with their Versus series (in addition to making other spin offs like Pocket Fighter), they wouldn’t get around to making another sequel, Street Fighter IV, until 2008. As opposed to the anime/manga inspired 2D graphics, Street Fighter IV would use rendered graphics that felt like cel-shading, but with a style that is similar to traditional Eastern calligraphy. The game appropriately retained some old characters such as Ken, Ryu, Chun-Li, and Guile, but introduced some new characters with some new styles. Some new characters are Crimson Viper, El Fuerte, Abel, and finally, Gouken, Ken and Ryu’s master. With the updates of technology, the game put some more emphasis on cinematic drama with the supers and intros. By balancing a perfect mix of old and new, it received popular reception.
As opposed to waiting another eleven years for a sequel, Street Fighter V came out for the PS4 and PC in 2016. Though it didn’t get the same praise as Street Fighter IV, people still enjoyed the game but criticized it for having too many microtransactions and for an underwhelming single player mode. Another issue was rage quitting on online play and fans demanded that players who would rage quit be penalized.
The Original E-Sport
For the past decade, e-sports have progressively become popular around the world with numerous games. Though the Japanese can’t conduct them the same way other countries do for legal reasons, they still have some of their top dogs, most notably Daigo Umehara, who has been a dominant force in Street Fighter long before the term e-sports was even coined. We are positive that some of you are familiar with EVO, the annual fighting game tournament that is conducted in Las Vegas every summer. While the event now uses numerous fighting game franchises, it originally started as The Battle of the Bay in Sunnyvale, California in 1996. The games at the time were Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Though it was initially just a local event, as time went on, players from around the world would compete every year in some of Capcom’s biggest fighting games. Then eventually, it would lead to where it is today and this is all thanks to the Street Fighter franchise.
Granted the fighting game genre did exist prior to Street Fighter thanks to the likes of Karate-ka, but Street Fighter II simply perfected it. As stated, it introduced stringing combos, fireballs, super combos, and selecting characters of different nationalities and fighting styles. Then as it evolved, it established tag team fighting games (of course this has always been done in pro wrestling games but that’s a different story for a different time) and crossovers. Though we can’t deny that without Karate-ka we wouldn’t have Street Fighter, but in turn, without Street Fighter, we wouldn’t have Mortal Kombat, King of Fighters, Guilty Gear, and other fighting game franchises as we know them today.