But Is It Art? – Street Fighter: The Movie (Arcade)

I’ve wanted to do another one of these articles for quite some time now. In fact, I really wanted to do another one right after finishing up the first one about Bubsy. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t think of any topics that I both considered interesting and had enough knowledge about. However, not too long ago, a friend of mine suggested I do a new one, as he was a fan of the first and challenged me to rack my brain for inspiration for a suitable topic. Somehow, challenging me to continue this series gave me the inspiration for a new topic in record time.

If you haven’t read the title of the article, the topic of this entry in the “But Is It Art?” series is Street Fighter: The Movie: …The Game. Specifically, the version released in arcades circa June 1995. Now this game (which from here on out, I’ll abbreviate as “SFTM”) is the pinnacle of willfully forgotten Street Fighter games: it lacks the historical significance of the original Street Fighter from 1987; there is no real (albeit misguided) demand for character original to this iteration to make reappearances in future titles, quite unlike the Street Fighter EX series (developed by ARIKA) and there’s definitely no call for the game to be re-released, due to the game having the infamous reputation of being the worst Street Fighter game of all-time – even when taking into account the hyperbole slung at the most recent Street Fighter V.

Yet, I still beg the question: is it art? Where most stream monsters see an abomination cobbled together by the hands of a worthless “baka gaijin” company from the 1990s, I see what may very well be the most brilliant movie-to-video game adaptation of all time! Consider this, SFTM’s arcade version was generally considered a poor conversion of the classic Street Fighter 2, but who among you would not claim the exact same of its source material: the ill-received, ironic cult classic that was 1994’s Street Fighter movie. Can one consider a game that truly embodies the essence of the film it was commissioned to represent really be considered a failure? As I argued that Bubsy was a parody of the original Sonic the Hedgehog before, I now argue that Incredible Technologies made the greatest video game adaption of a major motion picture in the history of both mediums.

First off, let’s look at Exhibit A: the mindset behind the movie’s creation itself. Steven E. de Souza, the movie’s director actually wanted to actively downplay the “supernatural” elements of the games in his film adaptation, citing that adherence to the source material was what made the Super Mario Bros. movie a critical flop. Considering the fact that the movie that provided the basis from this game decided to actively avoid elements from the source material, wouldn’t it be more accurate to equally avoid those elements when converting the inaccurate movie into its own video game? Indeed, the game would only be considered defective if you were looking at it as a straight replication of the Street Fighter II games –this was strictly not the case: the game was a tie-in for the movie, which took its own creative liberties.

Exhibit B is a little more esoteric, but hopefully all will be revealed by the end of this paragraph. During the production of the Street Fighter movie, Capcom put an extreme emphasis on nabbing famous action star Jean-Claude Van Damme to play the leading role of William F. Guile, to the extent where they used a majority of the film’s budget signing both him and Raúl Juliá. The majority of the film’s cast reprised their roles in the game, with the exception of Juliá, who was replaced by a stuntman due to his ailing health. Why do I bring this up? Simple, it is almost common knowledge at this point that the original plan for Mortal Kombat was to create a licensed video game based on van Damme’s 1992 film Universal Soldier. Midway counter-pitched a game focused on Van Damme himself instead, taking inspiration from his 1988 film Bloodsport. As we all know, those plans fell through, but Van Damme provided the inspiration for the character Johnny Cage. Considering the fact that at least in the West, Mortal Kombat was Street Fighter’s chief rival at the time, bragging about the fact that Capcom had succeeded where Midway had failed seems like an entirely plausible theory – though ironically, van Damme only managed to record four hours of motion capture for the game, the rest of the digital captures were provided by one of Van Damme’s stuntmen: Mark Stefanich.

Finally, there’s Exhibit C: the fact that the movie itself was a Western production, it would only make sense for the video game adaptation itself to take on some Western design philosophies, in order to better match the tone and style of the film itself. Unfortunately for the game itself, at this point, the majority of 2D fighting games were simply terrible clones of the Mortal Kombat series, many so bad I have a sinking suspicion they were intended more as parodies than copycats. Even Mortal Kombat’s chief Western rival, Killer Instinct, aped elements of the game including blood and dynamic finishing moves. In fact, Incredible Technologies, the game’s developer, was no strange to Mortal Kombat clones, having made two of their own: 1992’s Time Killers and 1994’s Blood Storm – which is likely the reason why Capcom recruited them to make their own digitized live-action fighting game (even though both games actually used sprites).

As an aside, I just find it kind of interesting that many people consider the home console game – which was an entirely different game from the arcade version, which never received a home port – to be the superior game, though both are generally disliked. The home version was just a dolled-up recycling of the engine for the classic Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Granted, the home version of SFTM did add some new elements, actually being the first time in a Street Fighter game where you could use “EX” special moves (referred to as “Super Special Moves” in-game), predating even Street Fighter III 2nd Impact. Likewise, the roster was changed to better resemble Super Turbo as well: Sawada was kept, as he was a replacement for Fei Long, but the four palette-swapped Bison Troopers were removed from the game and replaced with Blanka and Dee Jay. Interestingly enough, there was an unused ending for Blanka in the arcade version, implying that he may have at one point been considered as a playable character. Even more bizarre was the absence of both Dhalsim and T. Hawk from both versions, despite appearing in the movie itself. Regardless, though the home version is considered the superior version of the game, my preferences lie with the arcade version, because all-in-all, no matter how bad the game itself may have been, the conversion made for home consoles was just an inferior version of a game that was eventually made available for both of the consoles SFTM appeared on – via the first Street Fighter Collection, a two-disc set that included Super Street Fighter II, Super Turbo and Street Fighter Alpha 2 Gold.

Of course, the argument that could be made against this theory is pretty obvious: Incredible Technologies doesn’t exactly have the best track record, though they would eventually enjoy reasonable success with the Golden Tee series. Likewise, while you’re unlikely to find Time Killers and Blood Storm on anyone’s top 10 worst fighting games of all-time list, the memorable aspects of these two games were their gimmicks, not great gameplay. Considering the fact that Capcom worked with such abominable companies as Acclaim, U.S. Gold and my mortal enemy, Hi-Tech Expressions, it’s entirely possible that this was just a cynical cash grab at the hands of Capcom to try to win over fans of their chief fighting game rival for the least amount of money possible. Fun fact: Incredible Technologies also co-developed Ducktales: The Quest for Gold on various computer systems (not to be confused with Capcom’s NES and Game Boy titles). That was actually the only Ducktales game I ever played growing up. Maybe I’ll revive Repressious Memories and do an episode on it someday.

In the end, whether or not it was art, despite all the horrible things people have said about this game, it did some interesting things. Alongside the original Street Fighter Alpha (which came out the same month), it was one of the first Street Fighter games to expand on the Super Combo concept, allowing characters the chance to perform more than one. It gave some classic Street Fighter characters some brand new moves, most notably Guile’s Handcuffs, a reference to the infamous glitch from the original version of Street Fighter II. It was even unique to see a Capcom-published fighting game ape the concept of SNK’s desperation moves – special attacks only available to fighters when they lost a certain amount of health – though in this case, they were more like standard special moves than the super combo-esque moves more common in SNK’s version. There were also counter throws, the ability to interrupt blocks to perform special moves (not unlike an Alpha Counter) and SFTM Arcade even had the distinctive honor of being the first Capcom game to incorporate a “Tag Team” mode, predating X-Men vs. Street Fighter by over a year. Granted, this game’s Tag Mode was more like the 2-on-2 mode in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3: not allowing to switch characters on the fly, rather the second character would take the first’s place when they were defeated and the round would continue until both of one player’s characters were defeated.

Granted, I probably don’t have the best opinions with regards to the Street Fighter series in general. I don’t consider the first game to be an unplayable abomination, simply because my first experience with it was with a PC port so terrible, it made the original arcade version look like a gaming masterpiece. While most people fight over whether Super Turbo and Third Strike is the best game in the series, I personally tended to prefer the Alpha sub-series. So maybe considering Street Fighter: The Movie: The Arcade Game to be something of a work of art is just another one of those offbeat opinions I have.

What do you think? Was SFTM a brilliant commentary on its own flawed source material or a truly cynical fighting game built by committee to appeal to Capcom’s own pessimistic viewpoint of Mortal Kombat fans? Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.

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