In the brief history of the video arcade, a handful of games have started major trends, but very few have inspired a true revolution. Capcom’s Street Fighter II earned its spot on the shortlist by creating the one-on-one fighting game boom that took over the arcade in the 1990s.
The Street Fighter series actually began in 1987, with the little-seen and little-played original Street Fighter. One or two players could take control of Shotokan karate masters Ryu (1st player) or Ken (2nd player), fighting through ten international opponents – two each from the US, Japan, England, China and Thailand.
One joystick and six buttons (three punches, three kicks) controlled the action, and the winner of two out of three rounds moved on to face the next challenger. Some versions of the game featured pneumatic controls, which determined the strength of the strike by how hard the button pads were hit (overexuberant punchers kept this malfunction-prone trend from taking off in other games).
The original Street Fighter laid the foundations of an empire, but at the time, players were too enthralled by side-scrolling fighters like Double Dragon to pay much attention. It took four years and several tweaks to the design and gameplay, but when the series resurfaced, it did so with a fury not seen in the arcades for years.
1991’s Street Fighter II – The World Warrior took the basics of the 1987 game and added a few major enhancements.
To start with, players could now choose their fighter from a roster of eight: Ryu, Ken, Russian wrestler Zangief, US military man Guile, Brazilian beast Blanka, Indian yoga master Dhalsim, Japanese sumo E. Honda, and Chinese martial artist (and the sole female fighter) Chun Li.
The eight world warriors had all come to participate in a tournament hosted by the evil M. Bison. Together with his henchmen – tall Thai fighter Sagat (the only other original Street Fighter holdover), boxer Balrog and speedy Spaniard Vega – Bison hoped to take over the world, and these brave warriors had to battle through each other to win the right to take on the big guy himself.
With its detailed character and background graphics, excellent play control, special moves, and customised endings for each character, Street Fighter II made a fine one-player game, but this revolution was a two-player affair.
A one-on-one match against a computer-controlled opponent could never match the thrill of beating a human player standing right next to you.
As players began to learn and master each character’s strengths and weaknesses, tournaments sprang up everywhere, and each arcade bred its own local hero, humbling anyone foolish enough to lay down a challenge.
Street Fighter II completely revitalised the arcade, bringing back the players that had slowly drifted away for several years.
Fighting games flew into the arcade, including other long-running hits like SNK’s Fatal Fury and Midway’s Mortal Kombat.
Every video game maker on the market had its own fighting title or two (or twelve) involving everyone from samurai to famous monsters to dinosaurs to Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and other Marvel superheroes.
The Street Fighter series kept pace with the boom, delivering more than a dozen enhancements and new versions over the rest of the decade. The first upgrade, Street Fighter II – Champion Edition, delivered the two features players had been clamouring for – playable bosses and mirror matches.
Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison were now up for the taking, and players could finally pit one Guile versus another Guile to see who really was the king of the arcade.
The changes, both minor and major, continued over the years, delivering more speed (Street Fighter II Turbo – Hyper Fighting), new characters (Super Street Fighter II – The New Challengers) and even “super” meters like several SNK fighting games.
Street Fighter Alpha, released in 1995, took the game back to the days before Street Fighter II (but after the original Street Fighter), opening up several new characters for play. The Alpha series also redesigned the characters, giving them a look more closely patterned after Japanese anime.
In 1996, the series joined the polygon-based 3-D trend with the Street Fighter EX series. Capcom didn’t neglect their 2-D fans, however, and continued to release new Alpha series games through 1999’s Street Fighter Alpha 3.
The long-awaited Street Fighter III: The New Generation arrived in 1997, keeping only Ryu and Ken in a lineup of 11 fighters.
The new game was another 2-D fighter, but along with its roster of new characters, the game also introduced “Parrying,” allowing characters to block and reverse their enemies’ attacks.
Though countless other games have joined the fighting party, the Street Fighter threads – Alpha, EX, III – remain alive and well in arcades and on home consoles.
1987 – Street Fighter
1991 – Street Fighter II – The World Warrior
1991 – Street Fighter II – Champion Edition
1992 – Street Fighter II Turbo – Hyper Fighting Edition
1993 – Super Street Fighter II – The New Challengers
1993 – Super Street Fighter II – The New Challengers: Tournament Edition
1994 – Super Street Fighter II Turbo
1995 – Street Fighter: The Movie
1995 – Street Fighter Alpha
1996 – Street Fighter EX
1996 – Street Fighter EX Plus
1996 – Street Fighter Alpha 2
1996 – Street Fighter Zero 2 Alpha
1997 – Street Fighter III: New Generation
1998 – Street Fighter EX 2
1998 – Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact
1998 – Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact – Giant Attack
1999 – Street Fighter Alpha 3
1999 – Street Fighter III 3rd Strike: Fight for the Future