Release Date: February 1991
Capcom have made some classic games in their five decades as developers, but for me they will always be synonymous with the Street Fighter series.
Back in 1991, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior took arcade arenas by storm. After lukewarm reviews for the original Street Fighter coin-op, Capcom upped the stakes by completely revolutionising the competitive fighting game. Of course, the transition from pedestrian punch-out to fluid, fast-paced milestone did not come easy.
Although the original Street Fighter proved a financial failure, Capcom wanted a sequel, but it was thought that major changes had to be made if it was to escape the stigma of the original. Those changes came in the form of a side-scrolling beat ’em up which was originally set to be titled Street Fighter ’89, but which became what we now all know as Final Fight.
That wasn’t the only accident that happened along the way. One of the reasons why Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was considered a milestone in the Fighting Game genre was the fluidity of its one-on-one combat and the ability to deliver a quick series of moves to your opponent, a fact that the SNES port’s hyper fighting variation would improve upon even further.
Incredibly, this was initially viewed as a glitch by developers. The idea had been to allow the player more time to execute special moves, but they found that if a player was quick enough they were able to execute a series of moves, which infuriated the designer no end as the game was on the verge of release and suddenly promised to be a bigger flop than the original. I suppose some things are just meant to be.
Another of the game’s strengths lay in its colourful delineations of both character and setting. Here we had a variety of varied and quite frankly racist stereotypes, but these were simpler times, and nobody, race nor religion, escaped the primitive typecasting on offer, which made it an even playing field. After all, this was only a game.
Even so, those flocking to the arcades to see what all the fuss was about, this felt like more than just a game. Compared with the often laborious and plodding style of genre predecessors, this felt real, and as a miniature plane traversed a pixelated map Indiana Jones style, you felt like you were hotfooting it across the globe, particularly when you arrived at your destination to be greeted by the sights and sounds of your opponent’s country of origin. Whether it’s E-Honda’s Neon bathhouse, Guile’s pro-America airbase or wrestler Zangief’s vodka-swilling Communist battleground, you know you’re in enemy territory, and you know you came to fight.
Perhaps the biggest novelty of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was the vast array of special moves available for a plethora of different characters. Although special moves had been established four years earlier in the game’s clunky predecessor, players had never experienced such variety, and it wasn’t long before the most seminal fighter in history became a cultural phenomenon. For the first time, gamers required a strategy to win instead of merely trading blows in a race to see who could bash their buttons hardest. This game required skill.
Crucially, each character stayed loyal to their heritage in terms of both imagery and fighting style. Where else in the games world would you find a fire-breathing, yoga practising Indian like Dhalsim? Which other game offered the equivalent of the Spinning Bird Kick, Hundred Hand Slap or Ryu’s legendary Hadouken fireball. Well, you could find the latter in the original Street Fighter too, but it was hardly the same spectacle.
What truly made Street Fighter II stand out were the cute little touches. It was just so polished and creative and ahead of its time. The animation was sharp and realistic, while moments such as opponents seeing stars inspired players to go in for the kill. The narrator’s commanding, battle-urging voice was also something fresh, setting the scene for each battle and making your victory all that more rewarding by finally declaring the immortal ‘You Win!’ after fifty battles with nigh-on impossible final boss, M. Bison. Losing could really get to you, but hitting continue and seeing the twinkle in the eye of your bloodied character was almost worth the despair, and the fact that each character had there own unique ending was all the incentive one needed to stay the course.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Capcom introduced a series of badass bonus rounds to the fray, stages in which players had to complete various tasks of high-kickery in an allotted time. The first two were simple smash-mouth affairs in which players were challenged to smash a car and bricks respectively, the site of bricks cracking and bumpers flying never becoming tedious, while kicking barrels mid-fall was just a tad trickier and more rewarding.
It is almost thirty years since the game’s release, and the Street Fighter franchise is still going strong. There have been other great fighting games during that time, real classics of the genre, and although those games have gone on to spawn money-spinning franchises of their own, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was the template, and for pure battle prowess and technical ingenuity it has never been bettered, and in all likelihood never will.
Mortal Kombat, Tekken, Soul Calibur: they have all upped the bar at one time or another, knocking the genre’s great innovator down for an 8 count, but there has been one constant throughout that period, and just when the stars are beginning to form, a twinkle appears in your eye. When Ryu and co. come knocking, all the giant bears and demon ninjas in the world don’t stand a chance.
This is like asking a parent who their favourite child is, but for all the electric mutants and bendy-limbed Yoga gurus on offer, I have to go with the game’s marquee character, Ryu. He’s fast, ruthless, and simply has the coolest arsenal of moves, while some of his combos are just brutal.
E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap. It’s simple, devastatingly unavoidable, and the animation is just a joy to watch. He also makes the best sounds of all the characters. Dosukoi!
I’ve always had a soft spot for Vega’s level. The Hispanic band and colourful dancers are pleasing to the eye, while the fast and frantic music just seems to make matters all the more difficult. Plus, you have the added novelty of the fence jump, while knocking off the character’s claw makes victory all the more satisfying.
Fun, seminal, endlessly creative, and, most crucially, timeless—whichever way you look at it, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is a bona fide classic. A century from now, when people look back at the most influential games in history, this will still be right up there with the best of them. A genre-defining phenomenon that will never be bettered.