Retrospective: Street Fighter – The Second Coming

SFIILogo

Welcome back to my Retrospective on the Street Fighter series. This time around, I’ll be tackling the most popular part of the series: Street Fighter II and its various expansions. Back in the early 90s, Street Fighter II effectively ruled the entire medium, spawning an entire genre through several imitators and knockoffs. It also effectively extended the lifespan of arcades for several years, as they were already beginning their decline in the late 80s, due to technological improvements in home consoles and personal computers. There are very few video games period that become worldwide phenomena, but Street Fighter II was memorable enough to span a live-action film, an animated series and countless merchandise and remains as one of the few video games that was recognized by the mainstream both during the peak of its popularity and to this day.

As such, it only seems fitting to examine each iteration of Street Fighter II separately, showing the build from the original 1991 release all the way up to the modern day. There are quite a few versions to discuss – and that’s not even including all of the home versions – as well as various curiosities that altered the trajectory of the series itself, as well as its continued legacy.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior

February 6, 1991: arguably the most important day in the history of fighting games. It’s the day that Street Fighter II: The World Warrior was first released in North American arcades. With a worldwide launch following 8 days later, SF2 was a phenomenon that kickstarted the fighting game genre into inescapable prominence throughout the 1990s and managed to pulse new life into the ailing arcade game market. Very few fighting games were released between the original Street Fighter and its sequel. Most developers decided to focus on beat-‘em-ups instead due to the success of Final Fight and Double Dragon. Street Fighter II – commonly referred to simply as “Street Fighter”, as the second game completely eclipsed its predecessor – provided a template that jumpstarted the entire fighting game genre and led to onslaught of games, ranging from wholly unique takes on the genre to obvious knockoffs of other games in the genre.

Most of my memories of the original Street Fighter II don’t actually involve the original arcade version. Instead, I spent most of my time playing The World Warrior either on my cousin’s Super Nintendo or my own copy on IBM PC. I can say with certainty that while the SNES version is clearly where my love of fighting games in general spawned, my experiences with the PC version clearly illustrates the lengths I was willing to go to play the game – for reasons I’ve explored before and will explore again later on.

Street Fighter II’s development has an interesting story behind it. After the arcade smash-hit Final Fight, it was clear that Capcom wanted a follow-up. Instead of creating a direct sequel to the 1989 beat-‘em-up, they chose to develop a sequel to its inspiration, 1987’s far less successful Street Fighter. The reasoning behind this varies depending on who you ask: the game’s producer Yoshiki Okamoto claims that Capcom wanted a direct sequel to Final Fight, but he decided to develop Street Fighter II instead. Akira Nishitani, one of the game’s designers, corroborates Okamoto’s story. Akira “AKIman” Yasuda, the game’s other designer, claims that Street Fighter II was actually in production before Final Fight was even created, but ROM capacity limitations stalled the game’s development. Noritaka Funamizu – a producer at Capcom who was merely credited in SF2’s special thanks – claims that Capcom’s US branch made it clear that they wanted a direct sequel to Street Fighter all along.

Regardless, the game spent two years in development and had a staff of roughly 35 to 40 members developing the game. Okamoto says that “The basic idea at Capcom was to revive Street Fighter, a good game concept to make it a better-playing arcade game.” Street Fighter II utilized the same controls as the first game, opting for the joystick and six-button layout found in the later revision of the first game. Funamizu notes that balance was not a priority when developing SF2, most of the developers were actually focusing on creating visually appealing animations. As with Final Fight, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior ran on the CPS-1 Hardware and the game’s visuals benefitted from the hardware.

The second game’s story was about as barebones as the first: the primary focus was on a world-wide fighting tournament. Perhaps the most significant change from the original Street Fighter was the fact that players had eight characters to choose from, as opposed to essentially having no choice in SF1. Ryu and Ken return from the first game, but the rest of the playable cast are entirely new characters. Guile is an American soldier, bent on avenging his best friend Charlie Nash’s death at the hands of Shadoloo; Edmond Honda is a sumo wrestler bent on showcasing the supremacy of the sport; Dhalsim is a master of Yoga, reluctantly fighting to provide for his village; Chun-Li is a member of Interpol bent on avenging the death of her father; Blanka is a savage green-skinned beastman capable of electric attacks and Zangief is a professional wrestler who enters the tournament at the behest of his country’s president. This new eclectic cast of characters became pop culture icons and represented far more of the world than the previous game, though ironically the United Kingdom was left unrepresented in the second game, despite having two fighters present in the original Street Fighter.

ww001.png

A small roster by today’s standards, but absolutely mind-blowing in 1991.

Of course, there was the additional intrigue of just who was holding the tournament: a shadowy terrorist organization by the name of Shadoloo (or Shadolaw, depends on who you ask). Of course, this plot point would become almost as influential as the concept of a fighting tournament in general. Shadoloo was represented by the game’s four unplayable bosses, the “Four Heavenly Kings” – referred to as the “Grand Masters” in earlier English releases of Street Fighter II. Balrog is an ex-boxer barred from the sport due to his illegal techniques killing one of his opponents. Vega is a narcissistic Spanish ninja who fights with a claw and covers his beautiful face with a mask, lest it be harmed in a fight. The previous game in the series’ final boss, Sagat, returns as the bodyguard of Shadoloo’s leader and the game’s penultimate boss. Since his defeat at the hands of Ryu in the first tournament, he has mastered a new technique: the devastating Tiger Uppercut. The game’s final boss is M. Bison, the leader of Shadoloo. His ambitions of world domination are his key motivation and he fights wielding a powerful energy, known simply as Psycho Power.

Of course, the names for Balrog, Vega and M. Bison had to be shuffled around in the international releases: in Japan, the boxer was M. Bison (a clear allusion to Mike Tyson, which is what caused the name shuffle in the first place); Balrog was the claw-wielding Spanish ninja and Vega was the dictator in charge of Shadoloo. As such, those terms are used as nicknames for the characters in tournament settings, to avoid confusion. It’s a piece of trivia that almost everyone knows, but I figured it was worth mentioning for the sake of completion.

ww004

The rematch of the century.

If Okamoto and his team sought to take the basic elements of the original Street Fighter and streamline them into a new game that finally made good on the original game’s concept, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Street Fighter II clearly built off its predecessor, retaining the first game’s control scheme: six attack buttons, separated by strength (light, medium and heavy) and limb (punch and kick), hit up on the joystick to jump, hold down to duck and back to block. Ryu and Ken’s motions for their special moves return from the previous game, but now the timing is more lenient. Instead of pressing the button as the joystick motion is being finished, the timing now relies on pressing the button after the motion is completed.

Of course, with new characters come new motions. Many of the new characters use charge motions: holding back or down on the joystick for roughly one second, then hitting the opposite direction and an attack button. Charge motions were originally conceived as an easier method of performing special moves for novice players. Special moves could also be performed by mashing attack buttons (Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap, Blanka’s Electric Thunder and Chun-Li’s Hundred-Feet Kick), doing a half-circle motion followed by an attack button (Dhalsim’s Yoga Blast), pressing multiple buttons simultaneously (Zangief’s Double Lariat) and performing a full circular motion on the joystick followed by an attack button (Zangief’s Spinning Piledriver). The sheer diversity of character abilities made the game’s multiplayer mode much more attractive to players than the first game’s, to the extent where it became the key feature.

Of course, perhaps the most influential new mechanic was the addition of combos. Combos were originally a bug unintended by the developers: certain moves could be cancelled into others with little delay between them. It was the unintended consequence of making special moves easier to perform – allowing more leniency when performing special moves allowed players to execute special moves after performing standard attacks. While rumors circulated that the development team originally considered removing this as a glitch, Nishitani actually said they found it interesting, and since it didn’t cause any bugs, they decided to leave it in as a feature, to expand the gameplay. Considering how combos are considered a staple of the genre, it clearly worked. Likewise, there was the addition of a stun mechanic: after taking a set amount of damage within a short amount of time, a character would wake up in a dizzy state, leaving them open to attack. This only lasts for a short period and players can try to speed up the process by rapidly tilting the joystick left and right and mashing buttons. While not quite as prominent as combos, stun appeared in many future fighting games, with some games even putting their own unique spin both on how it was achieved and how it could be escaped.

ww003.png

Combos are hard to convey in screenshots, but stun? Easy.

The single-player arcade mode is pretty simple. Select a character from the eight playable characters, defeat the other seven, then fight the four bosses. Every three stages, players are treated to a bonus stage, much like the original Street Fighter and Final Fight. In fact, the car-themed bonus stage returns from Final Fight. There’s also a stage with wooden barrels being dropped from a ceiling and one with a stack of oil drums that burst into flames when attacked. I was always fond of that last one, but it seems to be the least popular of the three – it certainly hasn’t appeared in any future titles, unlike the other two.

All things considered, I’d say Street Fighter II’s graphics have aged pretty well. The sprite work owed a lot of inspiration to Final Fight, but the visuals have been improved significantly. Animations are much smoother, the colors are much more vibrant, and the backgrounds do a good job of conveying aspects of their respective characters: Blanka’s stage takes place in a small village near the Brazilian jungle, while a busy street corner in China is Chun-Li’s fight locale. Despite all of the flashy animations and beautiful backgrounds, everything in Street Fighter II is easily readable at any given moment. It popularized the now-common tendency of putting each character’s health bar over the side of the screen they start a round on – and by extension, the side of the arcade cabinet each player is on. I’m not sure if this was the first time health bars were arranged in this fashion for a fighting game, but it definitely implied a greater emphasis on multiplayer than previous fighting games, most notably the original Street Fighter.

ww005

If my math’s right, this bonus stage is due back in Street Fighter VI. Can’t wait!

Most of Street Fighter II’s compositions were handled by Yoko “Shimo-P.” Shimomura, a long-time Capcom composer who worked mostly on early Capcom console games before moving to Squaresoft, composing for such games as Live a Live, Parasite Eve and Kingdom Hearts. Her work was supplemented by Isao “Oyaji Oyaji.” Abe, who would later go on to compose on such titles as Knights of the Round, Ring of Destruction: Slam Masters II, Pocket Fighter and Auto Modellista. Each piece of music does a good job of matching its respective stage. They also do a good job of representing the action itself: when one or both characters are low on health, the music’s tempo increases, audibly signaling that the round is near its end. This went on to become a musical trademark of the series, I can’t really think of any other fighting game that does anything like this, yet it’s such a good idea that many games in the series used it or something similar.

“Iconic” doesn’t feel like a strong enough word to describe Street Fighter II’s soundtrack: considering just how many times many of the compositions from this game have been rearranged, both in other games and fan compositions, many of the songs that originated in this game have become permanently associated with their respective characters, regardless of how many attempts there have been at composing new leitmotifs for them. The sound effects are also well done for their time, though many of the characters seem to recycle the same voice clips.

ww002.png

The trash talk’s also come a long way from the first game.

Surprisingly, most of the home ports for the original version of Street Fighter II were released on home computers in Europe. U.S. Gold published versions of the game on the Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and the ZX Spectrum. North America only saw two home ports: the fantastic SNES version, handled by Capcom themselves, and the abysmal version for DOS, developed by Creative Materials and published by the fine monsters at Hi Tech Expressions. These ports were also released in Europe, published by Bandai and U.S. Gold respectively.

I’m only familiar with the two ports released in North America. While the Super Nintendo version wasn’t arcade perfect and came out a year after the original release, most of the changes were aesthetic. Many of the game’s visuals and sounds had to be simplified and compressed to run on the SNES’s weaker hardware. Fortunately, the gameplay was left more or less intact. The Super Nintendo version did add a few new features: both the wooden barrel and oil drum bonus stages were removed and replaced with one where players punched their way through a pile of bricks. The game also had a Versus mode, which kept details of both players win/loss/draw record and select characters and stages, as well as letting players set handicaps before each match. The SNES version also had a secret code that allowed for mirror matches – a feature not present in the arcade version. The DOS port, on the other hand, is an abomination. The game only allowed for a single punch and kick button, the motions for several special moves weren’t implemented correctly, most of the soundtrack was missing – and what few tracks remained were never used in their original contexts – and the animation was so jerky, the game was practically a slideshow at times. To make matters worse, the game was completely unbalanced: Dhalsim’s stretchy limbs had an obscene hit priority which made him pretty much unstoppable. The only silver lining to Hi Tech’s version was that it seemed to take assets directly from the original release, allowing for a game that appeared arcade-perfect …but only in screenshots.

SFII_SNES_Art.png

I’ll always love this box art though.

Considering the worldwide phenomenon it inspired, Street Fighter II is generally held as one of the most important video games of all-time and this reputation is well-deserved. It was even inducted in the Video Game Hall of Fame last year, a well-deserved honor. It’s hard for me to determine whether or not Street Fighter was the game that made Capcom a household name in the first place, since I don’t really remember a time before Street Fighter II existed in at least some form. Compared to many “important” video games, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior has actually aged surprisingly well, though it’s clearly been overshadowed by later revisions.

Street Fighter II’: Champion Edition

Even back in the days when arcades ruled the world, it wasn’t uncommon to see an established title receive some form of a revision at some point after its release. Most of the time, these would often just include fixes for various bugs, glitches and other problems with earlier iterations of the game. For the most part, these new versions of existing titles wouldn’t draw attention to the differences between previous releases: generally, the different versions would be identified with a hidden revision designation in an arcade cabinet’s Service Mode or hidden somewhere in the source code. It was rare for games to outright advertise being a revised version of an earlier title. Street Fighter II’ (pronounced “Street Fighter II Dash” in Japan), better known as the “Champion Edition” in the West, was one such game that took the already popular Street Fighter II and added a few new features to expand it. It was released worldwide in March 1992, just over a year after the original version.

ce001

Haven’t seen a fight like this since Wrestlemania XXIV.

The most obvious addition to Champion Edition was that the “Four Kings” of Shadoloo – the previously unplayable boss characters – were made playable, bumping the roster of selectable characters to 12. Of course, they had their abilities rebalanced in the process: as bosses, they weren’t balanced for competitive play. CE also added the ability to fight mirror matches, allowing both players to select the same character when fighting. This prompted the addition of alternate palettes for each character, which could also be chosen by hitting the Start button when selecting a character. Mirror matches also had an effect on the arcade mode: bumping the total number of opponents fought from 11 to an even 12.

The maximum number of rounds in the game was also tweaked. While the World Warrior allowed up to 10 rounds in a single match, Champion Edition decided to cut down the number to speed up play. If the third round ends in a draw, the fourth round is considered the final one – win or lose. Capcom also redrew several art assets, generally focusing on stage backgrounds (most of them were also recolored) and the endings, tweaked the game’s balance and fixed various bugs. Finally, the game was also made slightly faster.

ce002

One Blanka…two Blankas!? But he– but you can’t– oh, my medication!

Technically, Champion Edition had the least amount of home ports. It was released in Japan on both the PC Engine (or the TurboGrafx-16, as it’s known in the West) and the Sharp X68000 computer. The PC Engine version was clearly a downgrade, while the X68000 version is nearly arcade-perfect, much like the port of Final Fight. There was also a home port that was released on the Master System in Brazil, handled by Tec Toy. It’s an impressive port given the hardware limitations but not worth tracking down. Of course, most people assume that the Genesis release was also based on CE, but I’ll hold off on discussing that for reasons that will become apparent later.

Out of all the versions of Street Fighter II, I think Champion Edition is the most forgettable, which isn’t fair. CE helped to codify many of the elements that would be taken for granted in future iterations of the game, the series and even the genre. While it may not have had as much of an impact on the series at large as The World Warrior, it was a necessary step forward for the game. The Grand Masters are among the most popular characters in the series and making them playable in the first place is likely a major source of their mainstream popularity. Mirror matches, on the other hand, had a significant impact on the genre, reinventing the tired concept from the original Street Fighter and other competitive fighting games into something much more dynamic. Competing with friends or random opponents to determine who had the best Guile, Chun-Li, Balrog or Zangief added a new dimension of strategy to the meta-game.

Interlude: Street Fighter II’: Rainbow Edition

rb001

Of course, as with any arcade smash hit, there was always the possibilities for hacks sold as knock-offs. Pac-Man had Crazy Otto, Donkey Kong had Crazy Kong (I’m sensing a pattern), Dig Dug had Zig Zag and Street Fighter II… had a lot. In fact, there were so many modified versions of Street Fighter in the arcade that there are some left totally forgotten to history, hacks that are completely unknown to video game historians.

The most infamous of these hacks is generally referred to as “Rainbow Edition”, due to its title screen’s rainbow palette, but I’ve also seen it referred to as the “Black Belt Edition”. The code for this version originated from the Taiwan version of the game, which was licensed by Hung Hsi Enterprise. There is another famous hack of Champion Edition (using the same source ROM) called “Street Fighter II Koryu” which dials up the insanity of the Rainbow Edition to 11, but Rainbow is the only version that was ever acknowledged by developers at Capcom.

rb002

Just an average fight where E. Honda blocks Zangief’s Sonic Boom spam with his patented boxing gloves.

Rainbow Edition is clearly built on Champion Edition’s framework, containing a roster of 12 characters. The game’s engine plays considerably differently. For starters, the game is significantly faster than both The World Warrior and CE. The properties of various special moves have also been changed. For example, Hadoukens can either travel extremely fast or float slowly while homing in on the opponent. On top of that, several special moves from other characters (such as E. Honda’s Hundred Hand Slap) now generate Hadoukens of their own. Special moves can also be pulled off in mid-air – even when they don’t make any sense. On top of that, players can cycle through characters on the fly by pressing the Start button. In fact, when CPU-controlled opponents take a certain amount of damage, they also transform into different characters, though they revert at the beginning of the next round.

rb003.png

Wait, does this mean the Marvel vs. games were inspired by this too?

While Rainbow Edition and its sister hacks had little direct impact on Street Fighter as a whole – though they did inspire modifications of other games as recent as Ultra Street Fighter IV – it did lead to two notable changes. For starters, the ease of hacking CPS hardware forced Capcom to develop a new arcade board, dubbed the “CPS-2”. In addition to being less vulnerable to bootleggers, the CPS-2 was significantly more powerful than its predecessor, allowing for much more impressive visuals and sound effects in later Capcom arcade games. While James Goddard, a Capcom USA employee, wasn’t impressed by the changes made to Rainbow Edition, he did notice that it was significantly faster than any official Street Fighter games. This observation led to some significant changes in the next SF2 revision.

Street Fighter II’ Turbo: Hyper Fighting

Inspired by the changes made in various bootleg conversions for Champion Edition, Capcom further tweaked Street Fighter II and released another revision to arcades in December 1992. Referred to as “Street Fighter II’ Turbo” in Japan and “Street Fighter II’: Hyper Fighting” just about everywhere else, the third iteration of SF2 is my favorite by a wide margin. In my opinion, it is the ultimate version of Street Fighter II: Turbo builds the ultimate SFII experience from the framework of its predecessors, while still retaining enough material from the earlier two games to not feel like some form of a sequel.

As I mentioned earlier, Hyper Fighting was created as a response to various bootleg upgrade kits for Champion Edition, billed as a balanced and legal alternative to Rainbow Edition and other similar hacks. Apparently, the changes to the game were inspired by Capcom USA rather than the main office in Japan, who thought that Champion Edition was fine as it was. When Turbo was initially revealed at a trade show, the speed was only increased by 5%. When arcade operators made it clear that the crazier (and cheaper) bootleg upgrades were much more appealing, Capcom head Kenzo Tsujimoto told James Goddard – the Capcom USA employee who brought up the idea in the first place – to overhaul Turbo’s design in the span of a day, leading to the creation of the version we’re familiar with today.

hf001

I could’ve used the Champion Edition Player Select screen too, but I wanted to show off the pretty new colors.

The main difference between Turbo and the previous iterations of SF2 is the faster speed of the gameplay. Compared to Champion Edition, Hyper Fighting was 15% faster not only in terms of gameplay, but also the speed of the various menus and endings. This led to much stricter timing when performing special moves, but also allowed players to get into battle and react to their opponents much faster.

Hyper Fighting also gave most characters – everyone aside from Guile and the Grand Masters – brand-new special moves. Some of these moves were mundane variants on existing attacks: Ryu and Ken’s Hurricane Kick and Chun-Li’s Spinning Bird Kick could be performed in mid-air (which could’ve been a subtle nod to Rainbow Edition); Blanka was given a new anti-air variant of his rolling attack, allowing him to catch jumping opponents by surprise and Zangief was given a faster variant of his Double Lariat which can pass through to low attacks like sweep kicks. The real standouts are E. Honda’s Super Sumo Splash – an anti-air maneuver that sends the sumo flying into the air before slamming into the ground – Dhalsim’s Yoga Teleport and Chun-Li’s new fireball, the Kikoken. All of these new techniques became trademarks for their respective characters and offered new strategies for playing them, keeping the game fresh.

hf002.png

There’s something about recycling existing assets into new moves that gives me goosebumps.

A few other minor alterations were made to Champion Edition in Turbo. Most prominently, each character was given entirely new default color palettes, while the classic colors were available as alternates. This was the beginning of a trend in Capcom fighting games, where revisions would swap out returning characters’ default palettes for something else entirely. The game also received various balance adjustments and bug fixes and a new graphic was added after the single-player mode’s ending, presenting the victorious character standing on a podium with M. Bison and Sagat (or Vega, if the player chose either one) in second and third place, respectively.

Turbo’s most famous home port was the Super Nintendo version, but what most people don’t realize is that Hyper Fighting also technically made its way to the Sega Genesis. Sega originally announced a home version of Champion Edition around the same time as the PC Engine version, however Capcom wasn’t pleased with the first attempt at porting the game and delayed it. When Nintendo nabbed the exclusive rights to Turbo, Sega demanded that the features from the latest revision also be added to the Genesis release. As such, the Genesis version was renamed “Street Fighter II’: Special Champion Edition” in the West and “Street Fighter II’ Plus: Champion Edition” in Japan. Of course, the SNES and Genesis versions were functionally identical in terms of basic features: they were technically home conversions of both CE and Hyper Fighting, thanks in part to the option to change the game’s speed in the options menu.

hf004

A Hurricane Kick…performed in the air? Preposterous! 

 

There were a few other major re-releases. Street Fighter Collection 2 compiled the first three iterations of Street Fighter II – The World Warrior, Champion Edition and Hyper Fighting – onto the original PlayStation in North America on October 31, 1998. This collection contained new ports that were essentially arcade-perfect, to the extent where they would later be used in the Capcom Classics Collection on PS2, Xbox and the PSP. SFC2 was released in Japan as “Capcom Generations 5” on both the PlayStation and Saturn later that year. The collection included unlockable arranged soundtracks, as well as “Super Vs. Mode”, which allowed two players to compete against each other using characters from any of the three versions present in the collection. In 2006, the game was ported to the Xbox Live Arcade in North America and Europe. This version was also arcade-perfect and included the option for online play. This release is notable simply because it garnered enough interest in Street Fighter for Capcom to develop new titles and revive the franchise.

hf003

I forgot to show off the breakable stage elements in the earlier games. Still a nice touch.

To this day, I’d say Street Fighter II Turbo is one of my favorite games in the entire series, as well as my absolute favorite revision of SF2. On top of that, it’s easily the second-most popular version of SF2 currently – more on that later. Even more than that, it may be the fighting game I would recommend to anyone just getting into the genre. Hyper Fighting retains the simplicity of The World Warrior, but with the increased play speed and the various other new features, it showcases the insanity that I love about fighting games in general. I was ecstatic to hear that Turbo is going to be one of the games with online play in the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection.

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers

I’d have to say that Super Street Fighter II – the initial release, as opposed to its far more popular revision (more on that later) – may be one of the most tragically overlooked fighting games of all-time, on par with titles like Fatal Fury 2 and the original version of Mortal Kombat 3. Objectively the most radical revision of Street Fighter II, The New Challengers added several new features – many of which would become mainstays in the fighting game genre to this day – differentiating it from its predecessors. The fact of the matter is that SSF2 could have easily been passed off as a “Street Fighter III” in the hands of a more less company with a different amount of scruples than Capcom circa 1993 and the arcade crowd would’ve eaten it up.

Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers was first released in Japanese arcades on September 10, 1993. North America followed suit in October, while Europe didn’t receive the game until January 6, 1994. SSF2 was the first game developed for the new CP System II hardware, a new hardware that improved on the graphical and audio capabilities of the original but was mainly developed to combat bootleggers from making unauthorized copies of games and modifications. CPS-2 games were comprised of two boards: the A board connects directly to the arcade cabinet itself, while the B board contains the game itself, effectively acting as a cartridge to the A board’s “console”. Considering that CPS-2’s encryptions weren’t cracked until 2007 – four years after the final CPS-2 game was released – it’s clear that Capcom’s efforts were successful.

ssf2001

A still frame from the new opening. It doesn’t do it justice.

Very little is known about the development of Super compared to other iterations of SF2 and even other games in the series. The only interesting story about the game’s development stems from the creation of two of the game’s new characters. Originally, Capcom planned on having a pair of twin brothers who would essentially be headswaps of each other, sharing the same fighting style. James Goddard felt that a pair of characters like this would be redundant – comparing them to Ryu and Ken – suggesting a replacement character design: a black kickboxer based loosely on Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks, who would eventually evolve into Dee Jay. This gives Dee Jay the distinction of being the first Street Fighter character (and the only one in the mainline series) to be designed by an American.

Considering that it was subtitled “The New Challengers”, it only made sense that Super SF2 would add four brand-new characters to the game. Easily, the breakout character was Cammy White from the United Kingdom, the second female character in the franchise. Suffering from amnesia, she was taken in by Delta Red, an elite special forces unit. When she learns of M. Bison’s involvement in the second Street Fighter tournament, she felt a strange connection to him and entered the tournament, hoping to find answers. Fei Long is a martial arts film star from Hong Kong – and one of a plethora of fighting game characters “inspired” by Bruce Lee – who enters the tournament to test his skills among real fighters. As I mentioned earlier, Capcom originally pitched two martial artists brothers as characters for Super and Fei Long was what became of the original concept. Thunder Hawk (generally referred to as “T. Hawk”) is an American Indian of the Thunderfoot tribe whose ancestral lands were taken over by Shadoloo, forcing him to live in exile in Mexico. He fights using his tribe’s unique style of martial arts, a style that involves strong strikes, powerful throws and airborne dives. Finally, there’s Dee Jay, a happy-go-lucky kickboxer and famous musician from Jamaica. He enters the second World Warrior tournament seeking inspiration for his next album, hoping to find a new rhythm in the heat of battle.

ssf2002

Two of the “New Challengers” duking it out. No points for guessing who I like more.

SSF2 reduces the speed from Hyper Fighting back to that of Champion Edition, which was generally viewed as a negative change. However, the game also better emphasized the combo mechanic by displaying the number of hits in a combo and awarding a score bonus based on both the number of hits and the moves used. Point bonuses were also awarded to the player who made the first hit in a round, successful reversals and escaping from a dizzy state without taking damage. Speaking of which, there were new animations added to the stun mechanic that showed off how difficult it was to escape: stars and birds represented the standard length, angels were easier to escape from, while Grim Reapers represented a dizzy state that would be the most difficult to escape. Super also increases the number of color palettes per character from 2 to 8 – there’s one assigned to each of the attack buttons (Light Punch being the default color), one for the Start button and a secret color that can be activated by holding down any of the attack buttons when selecting a character. As far as I know, this is the first time this many alternate palettes were present in a fighting game and considering how much of a fan I am of using different colors, this addition was an absolute treasure to me.

Just like Turbo before it, Super SF2 also adds a host of new moves, even more than the previous revision. Some changes are a bit minor: Guile gets some new “command normal” (performed by hitting a direction and a specific attack button together); Ken’s Heavy Punch Shoryuken becomes surrounded with flames and burns opponents on impact; E. Honda gets a new air command normal, the Flying Sumo Press; Chun-Li’s Kikoken and Dhalsim’s Yoga Teleport had their inputs changes and Sagat’s normal attacks got modified. However, some characters get entirely new moves. Zangief gets a pair of new command grabs – both use a 360 motion and kick, but the properties of the move change depending on how far away from the opponent he is. Ryu gets a new “Fire Hadoken” that burns opponents on impact. Blanka gets a third variant on his rolling attack, where he leaps backwards then pounces at his opponent. Balrog gets a new anti-air, the Buffalo Headbutt; while Vega gets the Sky High Claw attack, which sends him flying across the screen in mid-air, as well as a new shorter variant of his backflip. Finally, M. Bison gets “Devil Reverse”, a feint variant on his Head Press that allows him to trick opponents and perform new attacks.

ssf2003

After years of being called a “fireball”, the Hadouken gives in to peer pressure.

Once again, there were also various bug fixes and balance changes made to Super from the previous version. More importantly, Super was an important point in the evolution of both Ryu and Ken as individual characters, in the sense that SSF2 is where they began to gain distinct abilities, as opposed to slightly different properties on their special moves. Super began differentiating the two “Shotos” by changing some of the properties on their regular attacks and their balancing in general: Ryu became the stronger, slower character, while Ken became faster but did less damage per attack.

Surprisingly, despite the new hardware, Super Street Fighter II recycles a lot of sprite work from the previous CPS-1 versions of SF2. Most of the characters do receive some new animations though – the chief standout is Chun-Li’s Kikoken which sports a new unique projectile design instead of a hastily palette-swapped Yoga Fire and a much more fluid movement. The New Challengers, on the other hand, are completely drawn from scratch. Capcom does their best to match the new artwork with the old, but the details on the new characters alone seem much more detailed than the other characters. It’s not quite as distracting as future titles that relied on similar recycling, but the sprites from 1991 are beginning to show their age. All of the returning backgrounds have had their palettes changed a second time, likely to take advantage of the CPS-2’s more powerful hardware. The new backgrounds do a good job of blending with these new takes on the older ones – Cammy’s stage is one of my favorites of all-time, due to the presence of the Northern Lights. All of the characters had their portraits completely redrawn in a new art style.  I think they were meant to help mask the age of the recycled artwork and personally, I like how most of the new ones look compared to the earlier versions. Capcom also redrew some of the artwork in the game’s endings – while giving Chun-Li, Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison entirely new ones – and a brand-new introductory animation where Ryu charges up and fires a Hadoken at the screen was drawn up for the game. The world map was also redrawn to accommodate the additional stages and modified the designs of the health bars. They even changed the victory symbols from a V hand gesture to a yellow star.

ssf2004

A screenshot that shows off a new move AND the new scoring system? Score!

The improved technology also allowed Capcom to rearrange the game’s soundtrack. While Yoko Shimomura’s compositions were still being used in Super, she’d left Capcom by this point. Isao “Oyaji” Abe returned to compose the game, along with “Syun” Nishigaki, who helped pioneer the CPS-2’s Q-Sound chip. Syun composed the themes for Cammy and Fei Long, while Abe handled T. Hawk and Dee Jay. Most of the songs from the previous games returned, though not always used the same way. For example, the new introduction had a completely original song (composed by Nishigaki) and the theme for the intro from the previous three versions of SF2 was used as the new Player Select theme. The sound effects were also significantly improved from previous installments. Nobuhiro “Nobu” Ohuchi and “Toshio” Kajino were the sound team for Super and they did an excellent job showcasing the abilities of the CPS-2 hardware. Each character has a distinct voice in SSF2 – even Ryu and Ken! There was also a brand-new announcer voice (also used by Guile) which sounded …interesting, to put it mildly.

In addition to the standard arcade version, there was also a special variant of Super SF2 that connected four cabinets together, allowing for eight-player tournaments. Referred to as “Super Street Fighter II: The Tournament Battle”, it was an interesting idea that was handled a bit awkwardly. The first round takes place on all four cabinets, but after each match is completed, players are often sent to entirely different cabinets to continue. For example, the first two cabinets are where the semi-finals take place, while the other two hold the Losers’ Bracket. It’s a fascinating curiosity that never received any direct home ports, until it was announced that it would be a unique bonus feature in the Switch version of the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, using the Switch’s built-in LAN capabilities and JoyCons to emulate connectivity between multiple cabinets.

ssf2005

It’s funny: I think this is my favorite world map out of all the SF2 games.

Compared to the previous two revisions of Street Fighter II, Super SF2 actually had a fair amount of home conversions. The most prominent of them were obviously the SNES and Genesis releases, which both came outf in 1994. Compared to the previous releases, these ports of Super definitely show the age of the 16-bit consoles, appearing much more anemic when compared to Turbo and Special Champion Edition. The graphics and sound are significantly downgraded from the Arcade version and the SNES version has various content omissions: the Genesis used a 40 Megabit cartridge compared to the SNES version’s 32, which meant that various sound samples from the announcer had to be dropped and Nintendo’s censorship policy caused the removal of blood in the character’s loss portraits. To make up for these shortcomings, both the SNES and Genesis releases included additional game modes. The Tournament Battle was carried over as a special feature, allowing 8 human or CPU players to go through an entire tournament. Time Challenge Mode challenges players to defeat a computer opponent in a 1-round fight as quickly as possible. Finally, there’s Group Battle which feels like a precursor to “Team Battle” mode for future fighting games: players can choose between Match Play, which sets up a series of matches between an equal number of characters, and Elimination, where the character who wins each match moves on to fight their opponent’s next character until one of them runs out. Both versions also had the ability to increase the speed, though it was only able to go as far as the standard speed in Hyper Fighting. On top of that, the Genesis version also added the option to fight against all 16 characters in “Super Mode”, as opposed to the standard 12.

There were also various PC ports that differed wildly in quality. The Sharp X68000 release in Japan did a fairly good job reproducing the Arcade experience, though it wasn’t quite as arcade-perfect as previous ports on the platform. Japan also received a home port on the Fujitsu FM Towns which came with an arranged soundtrack and a color edit mode that allowed players to modify each character’s color palettes. In North America and Europe, Eurocom released SSF2 on DOS computers and Amiga, though these ports were based on the Super Nintendo release as opposed to the arcade version. The DOS version was handled by our good friends at Rozner Labs and was about on par with their port of MegaMan X: functional but clearly inferior to its source material and saddled with an abominable MIDI soundtrack. The Amiga version fared even worse, being ported by Freestyle – the same company that handled MegaMan on the Game Gear.

My first memories of Super Street Fighter II involved seeing an arcade cabinet of the game with a giant screen while I was on vacation. I also had a copy of the game on Genesis, making it my first “real” Street Fighter. Maybe I’m biased because of the good memories I’ve associated with it, but I don’t think SSF2 ever got a fair shake by the masses. By the time it was released, fans were hungering for an actual sequel and despite all the improvements and additions it made to the Street Fighter II formula, it was considered a tragic misstep. While the more discerning members of the fanbase had become skeptical about this being the final version, Super was still the last version of Street Fighter to appear on 16-bit consoles in any meaningful capacity – more on that later. I guess in that sense, it was the end of an era: Street Fighter had finally grown beyond the systems it called home in its earliest days: from the obscure Fighting Street on TurboGrafx-CD, the runaway success of World Warrior on the SNES, to the console war that led to the creation of separate but equal ports in Turbo and Special Champion Edition, Super all but proved that the fourth generation of video game consoles was swiftly approaching its end.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo

Finally, we come to what is generally regarded as the ultimate version of Street Fighter II. Super Street Fighter II Turbo – or Super Street Fighter II X: Grand Master Challenge, as it was known in its home country – was released in Japanese arcades on February 23, 1994, with North America receiving it exactly one month later and coming out in Europe on April 6. Personally, I think this version is overrated, especially by today’s standards, but for so many fans of the franchise, Super Turbo is literally synonymous with “Street Fighter”. It is perhaps the oldest fighting game to still have a significant following in the tournament scene to this day, which is an achievement in itself. Unfortunately, just like the previous revision, there’s very little concrete information about SSF2T’s development. There’s speculation that it was only made due to criticism regarding the original Super SFII’s slower speed compared to Hyper Fighting.

As with the previous revisions, Super Turbo adds a few more game mechanics. Perhaps the most influential of these was the addition of the Super Meter. While SNK beat them to the punch by introducing Desperation Moves in Fatal Fury 2 and Spirit Gauges in the original Art of Fighting – both games came out in 1992 – SSF2T popularized the concept among the masses. Each character’s Super Meter appears at the bottom of the screen, below their respective health meter. Performing special moves or taking damage fills the meter and once it’s full, players have access to a Super Combo. Essentially a beefed-up version of an existing special move, Super Combos feel gimmicky and unrefined in Super Turbo compared to later iterations on the concept, feeling more like a comeback mechanic in ST. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a match to end with neither character achieving a full gauge.

ssf2tu003

Gotta love that sunburst when you finish someone off with a Super Combo.

Super Turbo also reintroduced the higher speed from Hyper Fighting. In addition, before selecting a character, players could also set the game’s speed. There were 4 speed options – labeled as Turbo 0-3 in the West and Turbo 1-4 in Japan – though generally, only the first three settings were visible. Characters are also given the ability to escape throws. Throws can also be “teched” out of by hitting a throw command in the middle of it, allowing them to recover and only take half damage. Both of these new options became extremely prominent in future fighting games during the 1990s, though only the latter persists to this day.

Of course, perhaps the most influential addition to the game came in the form of the secret boss character: Akuma – or Gouki, as he was known in Japan – the brother (and murderer) of Ryu and Ken’s master. By playing the arcade mode under certain constraints, Akuma will warp in and obliterate M. Bison, taking his place as the game’s final boss. Boasting moves from both Ryu and Ken, as well as unique techniques like a teleport and air fireballs, defeating Akuma is truly a testament to the player’s skill. It’s generally been assumed that Akuma was inspired by an April Fools’ joke in Electronic Gaming Monthly’s April 1992 issue, depicting how to unlock a similar boss fight with “Sheng Long” with over-the-top powers and a ridiculous method for unlocking the fight. Capcom has neither confirmed nor denied this urban myth’s influence on the creation of Akuma, but considering he was given a profile on the Street Fighter V site as an April Fool’s joke, they seem to at least acknowledge its existence. There was also a special code to unlock Akuma as a playable character, but while he was significantly weaker than the boss version, he was also considered unbalanced and is generally banned from tournament play. He also lacks a Super Combo, unlike every other character in the game.

ssf2tu002

I think Cammy’s stage might be my favorite out of all the Street Fighter II levels.

SSF2T also added a whole new host of command normal and special moves, far too many for me to list them all. Some have become iconic: Zangief’s Banishing Fist (generally referred to as “Green Hand”), Fei Long’s Rekku Kyaku (aka “Chicken Wing”) and Cammy’s Hooligan Combination all come to mind. Others, like Blanka’s command hop and Ken’s assortment of new kick-based special moves were promptly abandoned. Ryu and Ken’s divergence also continued, with both characters receiving unique normal attacks to further differentiate them from one another.

All of the characters in the game lost their default color palettes from SSF2, opting for 8 new palette swaps. There was also the option to use variations of all 16 regular characters, allowing them to play more similarly to older iterations by inputting unique codes on the player select screens. These “old” variants of the characters used the original palettes (with one alternate), lost access to the Super Meter and throw escapes, but would be balanced differently from the standard versions. Sometimes they were objectively worse than the newer versions, but Sagat, Ken and T. Hawk are all generally considered superior to the standard incarnations. Super Turbo removes the bonus stages from the single-player mode, but also adds a piece of artwork to the end of each character’s ending, looking significantly more detailed than the rest of the game’s artwork, showcasing the CPS-2’s abilities in a way that future games would only expand on. The game’s introduction was also expanded, adding a scene with Chun-Li and Cammy posing back to back and Akuma standing with his back turned as Ryu charges his Hadouken. New music was also composed for this extended opening.

ssf2t001

Cammy’s being remarkably cheeky here.

While previous iterations of Street Fighter II appeared on the most popular home consoles, Super Turbo’s ports were a little more obscure at first. The most prominent version was on the 3DO of all things. It was a relatively accurate port, missing the “Old” variants of characters, certain moves and various background effects, but retained the arranged soundtrack from the FM Towns version of SSF2. The MS-DOS version was developed by Eurocom and published by GameTek. This version allows players to choose the original palettes for characters, reintroduces certain moves lost in the 3DO conversion and boasts its own arranged soundtrack. Unfortunately, due to a low resolution, the game’s view is a bit compact compared to other versions, but aside from that, it far exceeds previous PC ports of Street Fighter games by a wide margin. GameTek also published an Amiga version which was developed by Human Soft. It looks far more accurate than the previous SSF2 release but suffers from very jerky animation. Impressively, it also has its own soundtrack arrangement as well.

Mainstream ports did eventually surface. Street Fighter Collection, released on the Saturn and PS1 in North America, Japan and Europe, contained near-perfect arcade ports of both the original Super SF2 and Super Turbo. There was also a Japanese exclusive port on the Dreamcast in late 2000, dubbed “Super Street Fighter II X for Matching Service”, due to the fact that it implemented online play. Finally, the second volume of Capcom Classics Collection on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox contained an emulation of the arcade version of SSF2T.

I think my lack of experience with Super Turbo may be the reason why I’ve never really liked it as much as most fans of the series. My main experience with it was seeing the 3DO version being played during my sole visit to a short-lived video game shop in my home town.  I honestly wish I’d known just how well the DOS version was designed: considering how turned off I was from Hi-Tech Expressions’ port of The World Warrior, I gave up on playing Capcom fighting games on my computer until I happened upon a copy of X-Men: Children of the Atom, which was a well-designed port. Maybe the upcoming 30th Anniversary Collection will win me over, but for now, Hyper Fighting is still my favorite version of SF2.

Interlude: The Legacy of Super Turbo

Of course, while most people consider Super Street Fighter II Turbo to be the final game in the SF2 line, that hasn’t stopped Capcom for making even more revisions down the line. While all of these versions could easily be classified as “enhanced ports” of Super Turbo, they each add enough unique elements for Capcom and most of the fanbase to consider them separate titles.

First off, we have 2001’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival on the Game Boy Advance. Not only was this the first iteration of Super Turbo to appear on a Nintendo platform, it’s the first one I owned. Revival’s a mish-mash of content: recycling sprites from both the SNES version of Super SF2 and the arcade version of Super Turbo, characters often fluctuate in size when using the new moves from ST. Two versions of Akuma are unlockable on the main character select – the standard balanced version and “Shin Akuma”, who has some of the tricks from the unplayable boss version. Akuma is also given a Super Combo, his trademark “Raging Demon” attack, the Shun Goku Satsu. The bonus stages are also reimplemented into this new release. New artwork for each of the characters have been drawn up exclusively for this game and Ryu, Ken, Guile, Zangief and M. Bison are given new stages. Chun-Li and Balrog also have different stages, though theirs are taken from Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3 respectively. Akuma is also given his own unique stage, though it’s a palette swap of Ryu’s. Most of the user interface is also completely redrawn.

revival-01

Still pretty impressive for a handheld.

Unfortunately, this port has a whole host of problems. The GBA only has four buttons, which limits the controls significantly. Players can change the button layouts in the option menu to best adjust to these shortcomings. The music quality takes a hit due to the GBA’s sound chip, but most of the voices are retained from the arcade version, with the exception of Ryu (who uses the classic SF2 voice samples) and Akuma (using the voice samples from the Alpha games). This port is also filled with various bugs, with the North American and European releases introducing bugs that didn’t exist in the original Japanese version. Most prominent among these are the dreaded “Akuma glitch”, which freezes the game completely if Shin Akuma gets reached in Arcade Mode and switching around Balrog, Vega and M. Bison’s win quotes.

revival-02

I don’t know why this always stuck with me, but it did.

Next up, there’s my favorite update, Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition. Released on the PS2 in Japan and in arcades on CPS-2 hardware, HSF2’s major difference and selling point is that players can choose between every iteration of each character. Of course, the game’s arcade mode just defaults to the Super Turbo characters, but Hyper is essentially Capcom’s answer to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Imagine the dream matches: World Warrior Guile versus SSF2 Sagat alone sounds epic! The game was also released in North America and Europe as a part of the “Street Fighter Anniversary Collection” on the PS2 and Xbox. The home versions offered the ability to choose between three different soundtracks – CPS-1, CPS-2 and the remixed soundtrack present on the FM Towns and 3DO versions. I wish this was included in the upcoming 30th Anniversary Collection, but I suppose it would be redundant considering the original Super Turbo’s inclusion.

hsf2

It’s like Mortal Kombat Trilogy, only good.

Backbone Entertainment’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is probably the most prominent of these enhanced ports. Released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a downloadable game, this version was based on the Dreamcast version. HD Remix is named for its completely redrawn art assets – produced by UDON Entertainment, who have since become a long-time collaborator with Capcom, mostly localizing art books and producing comics based on Capcom properties. These new graphics look decent when still, but downright hideous in motion: a friend of mine commented that he thought I was being ridiculous until he stopped looking at screenshots and saw a video of the game in motion. There’s an option to use the classic pixel graphics, but this only applies to the characters, not the backgrounds. The game also received a new arranged soundtrack provided by OverClocked ReMix and rebalanced gameplay overseen by David Sirlin, who would go on to develop Yomi and Fantasy Strike. Of course, there is an option to use the classic balancing as well, but Sirlin’s take on the game was center stage. This was the first version of Super Turbo I invested any real time into, which may have also contributed to my distaste for that revision in general.

hdremix

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In this case, they’re all “barf”.

Everyone assumed that HD Remix was going to be the last version of SSF2T, but last year Capcom went back to the well one more time. Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers – we’ll see about that – was released as one of Capcom’s first games on the Nintendo Switch. This version contains the two options for graphics: “Classic” uses the original spritework in a 4:3 aspect ratio, while “New Generation” recycles the HD Remix art assets on a 16:9 perspective.

usf2-01.jpg

Figured I’d start with Classic, because you might need a palette cleanser. 

Ultra adds Akuma to the base roster, allows players to unlock Shin Akuma and introduces two new characters to the roster: Evil Ryu, an alternate version of Ryu known for his appearances in the Street Fighter Alpha games and Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition; and Violent Ken, who only appeared in SNK vs. Capcom CHAOS which wasn’t even developed by Capcom. As with HD Remix, this version was rebalanced from the original arcade version. Using the newer artstyle changes the music to a unique arranged soundtrack and uses voice samples from Street Fighter IV’s Japanese dub for the characters. There was also a brand-new announcer in both versions.

usf2-02

The Final Challengers, Color Edit and… “Buddy Battle” all in one screenshot? What more could you ask for?

Other additions include a color edit mode and “Way of the Hadou”, a first-person perspective rail shooter where players take control of Ryu and fight off Shadoloo soldiers before a final showdown with Bison himself. Special moves and attacks are performed by using the JoyCon’s motion sensors. Considering the game’s $40 price tag, most people assumed this game wasn’t going to succeed. However, Capcom has announced several titles for the Switch since then – including the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection – so clearly, the game managed to at least meet their expectations. Capcom also mentioned the possibility of porting Ultra SF2 to other platforms depending on the game’s success, but considering the announcement of the compilation, it seems unlikely that this Switch exclusive will be released on any other platforms in the future.

usf2-03

I don’t know what Capcom was thinking with this one.

And with that, we close the book on the long, storied history of Street Fighter II – at least for the time being. I still find it impressive that a game that started over 25 years ago could still see new iterations as recently as last year. I originally intended to do this write-up in honor of the upcoming Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection but I decided to move it to April due to a nice little gap in my schedule. Instead, I’m going to celebrate this new compilation’s release by discussing my personal favorite “flavor” of Capcom’s fighting game institution: the Street Fighter Alpha games.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s