It’s nigh impossible for me to even utter the words Street Fighter II without getting a little choked up by heaping swells of nostalgia that overwhelm me. Without question, my childhood and Street Fighter are perfect synonyms that express years gone by, but years that no doubt shaped who I am today. As a kid, I spent hours, probably in the upper hundreds, rolling Hadukens and throwing SNES controllers at the wall in fits of fury trying to master the nuanced ways of this new thing people called “Street Fighter.” My guess is, though, if you were alive in the 90s, then you have at least heard of Street Fighter II, but also probably spent many a dollar of your allowance at the local arcade parlor uppercutting your way through M. Bison’s dastardly tactics in order to input your initials on that coveted high score screen that followed the credits.
Street Fighter II is so highly regarded due to a multitude of factors, one of the most influential being the timing of its release. In the early 90s, the fighting game market was somewhat of a barren wasteland. Meaning to say, there weren’t many solid games to choose from that pit one player against another in a battle of manual dexterity and intense concentration. Thus, when Street Fighter II was bestowed upon masses, gamers ate it up like it was breakfast. Here we were given a game that was so accessible, originally offering twelve playable characters each only possessing a handful of moves, and a button input mechanic that was intuitive and easy to understand regardless of your experience with these types of titles. With practice, though, one could quickly see that Street Fighter II was a game easy to play, but challenging to master. Because of this, many view SFII as the entry point for competitive fighters. Street Fighter II’s timing was absolutely perfect merely because its respective market didn’t exist. In essence, it created the market many of us know and love today.
Better yet, however, SFII has so much personality, especially in its graphics and art department. Sure, at the end of the day, people were most concerned with how the game played, but there’s a reason why Ken and Ryu’s red and white gi are so infamous in gaming culture, and even outside of it to an extent. The character and characters of this series became so adored, that some 20 years later, two of the game’s cast members are starring in the upcoming Disney film, Wreck-It Ralph.
As mentioned, though, how the game is played is what most true fans appreciate. Prior to its release, there wasn’t another game that controlled like Street Fighter II. Rolling Hadukens, charging Sonic Booms, and mashing buttons for E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap were refreshingly new and wholly tantalizing. Sure, in the end, there were only a few actual moves one needed to master before he or she could conquer all of the game’s playable characters, but learning how to do this was part of the excitement. Actually, this is why I view the entire experience as significant.
Street Fighter II is one of the only games that possesses the uncanny ability to make us experience emotions with a specific level of intensity. Losing to Vega in the third round because he suddenly exhibits a burst of inhuman strength and speed has turned faces red and purple with rage. Besting a friend in a down-to-the-wire match to show that Ryu actually is better than Ken, and then mocking him because of it, is hilarious fun. Toppling Bison’s endless barrage of screen-covering rolling attacks feels exclusively invigorating. If anything, Street Fighter taught me four poignant lessons: 1. How to piece together the shattered remnants a broken controller with duct tape from it being thrown into a wall after the cpu cheats its way to victory. 2. How to lose gracefully and display good sportsmanship to a real life competitor. 3. How to commit to the practice of an art until I felt confident in my abilities to perform said art. 4. How to persevere in the face of adversity and overcome crushing, demoralizing, seemingly insurmountable odds. Three out of four of those are lessons that are lifelong and important; and I learned them all through a video game.
Street Fighter transcends video gaming with its celebrated history thanks to Street Fighter II. It birthed a generation of games and gamers. It is the Mecca and maker of all fighters thereafter its own creation. Most importantly, however, it’s a timeless game that still holds up even by today’s standards. After all, there’s a reason why just a few years ago it was released on XBLA and PSN and sold like hotcakes, ushering in a whole new era of Street Fighter II competitive play. Not only will this game always hold a special spot in my heart and mind, but it will hold a specific spot on the gaming genogram. If I could Flux Capacitor myself back to 1992, I would just so I could relive all the memories I’ve taken with me today because of Street Fighter II. For that reason alone, I am eternally grateful to Capcom.