THE TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH OF STREET FIGHTER II

This post originally appeared on Gameranx last week. And now it’s here with pictures. You like pictures right?

It was Guile that first drew me in. Whether it was his move set or ludicrous hair, something about the character made me notice the sheer fluidity of the game for the first time. This was in the very early nineties, and nothing even came close to the insanity and amazing depth of colour and style than when Street Fighter II first appeared in my local arcade. If memory serves, the arcade had the rather uninspired name of FunZone and was typically home to pinball machines and large gun cabinets like Taito’s Operation Wolf. Fighting games weren’t even a consideration before then. The only real comparison for me that existed before Capcom’s seminal machine was Yie-Ar Kung Fu on the Commodore 64.

Everything about it was unusual. There weren’t any games at the time that had green-skinned beast men, flying sumo wrestlers or women who could perform helicopter kicks. Still being high school students, it didn’t take much to get my friends and I excited for something and Street Fighter II was like a fireworks show exploding in our brains. Games weren’t supposed to be like this. We were used to slow-moving adventures like Commander Keen and Prince Of Persia. Street Fighter II moved like lightning. For a long time, we didn’t even know what was happening. There were no instructions that we were aware of. Just a stick, some buttons and an overwhelming sense that we were discovering something brand new.

To some extent, the same feeling of excitement struck me when I first played Street Fighter IV. When I first heard that it was in development, I had no idea what Capcom’s plans were for the return of its flagship fighting series. Fortunately for me at least, they focused on the essence that made Street Fighter II great. The base characters, the two-dimensional plane and the beautiful simplicity of one-on-one battle. Both games hold something unquantifiable in their gameplay; a steadfast commitment to maintain complex and yet not overwhelming controls and execution that has been imitated but not bettered by many over the years.

Ryu says it best with his current pre-match quote. “The answer lies in the heart of battle”. The heart of battle in Street Fighter has always been playing against another human being. The separation between the predictable nature of a computer opponent and another living, breathing fighter is immeasurable. This was most likely part of the reason I decided the best course of action for this mind-blowing arcade machine was to have it all to myself.

About a month after it arrived in my local arcade, I rented a Street Fighter II machine for the weekend.

IT WAS LIKE THIS BUT WITH NO CABINET ART. WHICH WAS A SHAME.

We’re talking about a monetary value that is twenty years old here, but if memory serves it cost approximately eighty dollars to hire a machine for forty-eight hours. Naturally, I had very little money of my own at the time. My mother, bless her soul, saw fit to grant her teenage son a wish that many boys had bubbling away in their minds and helped me find a local arcade machine distributor in the Yellow Pages. Those annoying lumps of tree paper that still get unnecessarily dumped on our doorstep in 2012 was the key to my dream becoming reality.

When the delivery man arrived, he very kindly wheeled the machine on his little trolley into our downstairs rumpus room. If that wasn’t exciting enough, he showed me how to open the coin slot hatch and repeatedly click on the part of the machine that gave me infinite credits. To a young boy at that time, it was as if Jean Claude Van Damme and Macho Man Randy Savage had showed up at my house to give me tips on how to be totally awesome. Only this was better. This machine was going to be all mine for two days. Immediately, I got to work on playing as Guile. I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I had other teenage kids, just as excited as me, to play against.

As you might expect, word spread like wildfire that I had a Street Fighter II arcade machine at my house. I had told a few friends but by Sunday morning, you’d have thought I had broadcast it on the evening news in between the stories about highway reconstructions and harness racing results. Most of the kids from my school turned up to play. I don’t have any memory of my mother’s reaction to this sudden influx of underdeveloped testosterone arriving at her house but I’m sure it wasn’t good. I didn’t care. I was too busy boasting about how I could execute Guile’s Sonic Boom one time out of ten. At its height, there were probably twenty to thirty wide-eyed boys crowding around the machine that morning. The room was packed to capacity.

Character selection became crucial throughout the crowd. Unfortunately, between remarking how fat E. Honda was and nobody being able to pronounce ‘Dhalsim’, the majority of boys chose either Ken or Guile. Thinking back, inherent casual racism which ran like a river through my hometown probably played a part in these choices. But at the time, this was just the way of things. I have a distinct memory of people playing against Ken saying how he looked like a ‘fag’. Teenage boys are terrible human beings.

It was rare that special moves were used. Mainly because nobody knew how to do them. As the day grew closer to midday, fights consisted of punches and kicks and the occasional yell when someone managed to launch a projectile attack. The traditional Street Fighter rumours also started in earnest. Kids started saying they had heard from a friend that he did a move that decapitated your opponent. Ryu could shoot a gun. One of E. Honda’s special attacks was to take a dump on your face. Everybody started to believe it all. Considering the elation we were feeling, we would have believed anything about this magnificent game. I was having the time of my life. Kids were having fun, I was temporarily popular and I had to continually pinch myself to make sure of the fact that I had a Street Fighter II arcade machine right here in my house was actually a reality.

It was around lunchtime when that all went to hell.

A few of the kids that had arrived at my house that day were total strangers. Whether they were friends of friends or just kids from next door, I didn’t know. But there was one rough looking kid whose name escapes me now. He was the only kid there who kept choosing Blanka as his character, something that stood out amongst the blonde locks of Ken and Guile. Only after he kept winning matches did I really start to notice him. He gloated a lot, proud in his unbeatable skill. After watching only one of his matches, it was apparent his winning strategy was an unfair one. Sitting on the right side of the screen, his victorious tactic consisted of spamming Blanka’s Electricity attack. At the time, we called it his ‘lightning’ move and started to realise it was close to unbeatable. If you don’t know, Blanka squats in position and becomes electrified by the simplest of button presses. If struck by a physical attack, the attacker gets electrocuted and Blanka remains unharmed. Due to hardly anybody being experts at throwing projectiles, any kid who went up against Blanka was quickly defeated. A turtling Blanka spamming that lightning move until he won.

YEAH THAT'S THE ONE.

Nobody came close to knocking this kid off his perch. Everybody received a shock of electricity and kept going back for more. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to simply give up his position on the machine, other kids grew angry that he was being unfair. Stop being a prick and play a different character, they told him. Despite the protests, he just kept on winning.

After what seemed like hours, he vanished. Whether it was because his parents arrived or he had to go stab people in the hardware section of Kmart, I’m not sure. But he left destruction in his wake. Some other kids started choosing Blanka. The ‘lightning’ returned. A snowball effect started happening and more kids joined in. They had seen the benefit of spamming a single, unbreakable move and chose to exploit it. Suddenly, any sense of character experimentation or dedication was gone. Replaced by gloating and anger. I remember trying my best to play around with Guile and master his Sonic Kick but I just repeatedly landed on top of Blanka’s electrified head. It was maddening.

A feeling of resentment started to swell as kids gradually started leaving my house. Any sense of excitement had vanished along with that kid whose name I can’t recall. My few remaining friends had stormed out of my rumpus room, furious at the game and quietly unreasonably, at me. I had hired the machine, so I was somehow responsible for the frustration they now felt.

By the time the delivery man had returned on Sunday evening to collect the machine, I was almost crying. A collection of assorted rubbish had gathered around the base of the cabinet, which my mother and I cleaned up. As we sifted through the chip packets and soft drink bottles, I apologised to her and burst into tears. I didn’t want this damn thing here any more. What was initially wonderful, Street Fighter II was a game I no longer wanted to play. If a single game could produce these types of feelings, I didn’t want any part of it. When it was finally gone from the rumpus room, I was happy to see the back of it. I wished I could start the weekend from scratch and do something else.

From that point on, I avoided the Street Fighter series. I was vaguely aware of the release of Street Fighter III and the Alpha series but had no desire to play any of them. In reality, the memory of that day had most likely disappeared but something about Street Fighter rubbed me the wrong way. A subconscious reason perhaps. It was completely unfair to the series and looking back, quite ridiculous. But still, the desire to avoid it remained.

In 2008, I bought a copy of Street Fighter IV. Caught up in the hype, I was overwhelmed by sense of responsibility to the series to make up for lost time. As I started playing, I grew excited again. Unlocking titles and icons and closing out matches with Ultra finishers only hinted at the depth this game possessed. Impressed with every minute detail that Capcom had crammed into ever corner of the game, I even went so far as to buy some costume packs for select characters.

When I took the fight online, I was rudely reminded of that day almost twenty years ago. Fighting against a Rufus from the USA, his bizarre moves were peppered with constant stream of what can only be described as vibrating. Jittering up and down, he never stayed still for a second during any of our matches. He was a total blur up to a point where I was convinced it was deliberate, rather than a defective controller. I was utterly confused and quickly defeated. It was a viable, if somewhat strange tactic he employed but it brought into sharp focus the memory of that day in the early nineties.

MAN, WHAT AN ASSHOLE

That was the only time. Since then, fighting matches online in Street Fighter IV (and later with the subsequent Super/Arcade Edition) have been fun. Sure, there’s the occasional Abel who keeps using the same throw and I still can’t get anywhere near Yun players, but the excitement hasn’t disappeared this time. It’s a testament to the nature of Street Fighter. The mechanics, depth and outright fun of the series drew me back in just like that first sighting of Guile in a dank corner of FunZone. The series continually triumphs overs any questionable human decisions on how to play it. In essence, I think it’s a single moment that gets me. That split second just before the announcer yells “FIGHT!” which still raises the hair on the back of my neck. No matter how many times I play over however many years through countless different versions of the series, it is that moment that instantly renews my excitement once again and makes me think, “Can I win this one?”.

As I write this, I have a copy of Street Fighter X Tekken in the post headed my way and if I’m brutally honest with myself, I couldn’t be more excited.

2 responses

  1. Third Strike is still my favourite fighting game of all time, and you should really check it out if you missed out on it when it was new. Fortunately for you, SFIV feels much more like a sequel to Super Turbo than a sequel to Third Strike, and many of the new mechanics from 3S were discarded for SFIV. I think this was probably deliberate on Capcom’s part, since there’s legions of people like you who played SF2 as kids and skipped 3S, but it sure does suck for people who played a lot of 3S.

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