Friday, October 22, 2010

Top Games of All Time #2 Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Arcade)

Capcom’s seminal side scrolling brawler Final Fight helped revitalize arcades in 1989, but by 1991, the arcade scene was all but finished. Final Fight began its life as Street Fighter ’89, the sequel to 1987’s relatively unknown one-on-one fighting game, Street Fighter. Ironically, it would be the true continuation of the Street Fighter series that would bring arcades back from the brink of death.

The immortal title screen.
When Street Fighter II: The World Warrior found its way into arcades in early March 1991, video parlors were no longer the domain of the unwashed gaming elite: From novices to power players, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior brought together the masses with its colorful selection of unique brawlers, from a thong-clad Russian wrestler with a Mohawk and an India yoga master who could stretch his limbs across the screen and a deformed Brazilian beastman who could harness the power of electricity through his skin.

SFII machines started cropping up everywhere, from laundromats to pizzerias. I even discovered one unit placed under a pavilion in a Floridian park, where I battled and defeated a noble Ryu player.

An SFII aracde unit.
Street Fighter II put competitive play on the map, something that up to that point had been a rarity. Players could finally determine who had the more advanced skills, and by the time Street Fighter II: Champion Edition came out a year later, gamers could fight mirror matches for a truly fair matchup. There’s no telling how much money the SFII faithful poured into arcade machines, but it’s a safe bet that Street Fighter II units were nearly as profitable as some fast food vendors at the time.

SFII was also responsible for many of the fighting game conventions that players nowadays take for granted, including half- and quarter- circle motions and charging attacks. Most fighting games released in the wake of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior have utilized similar controller inputs.

Street Fighter II spawned the one-on-one fighting game craze of the early and mid ‘90s and – however unintentionally – gave birth to games like Killer Instinct, Weapon Lord, SNK’s long list of fighters, and perhaps the series’ biggest rival, Mortal Kombat. Tensions ran high between the MK crowd and the Street Fighter faithful, but given that the latest lukewarm Mortal Kombat entry resorted to the inclusion of D.C. Comics superheroes whereas Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV almost singlehandedly revived the 2D fighting genre, it’s clear which side “won” the debate.


After FIVE separate Street Fighter II upgrades, all but the hardest of the hardcore were interested in the likes of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, the final version of the game which hit the arcades in 1994. Perhaps with good reason, players begged for a truly new Street Fighter experience. In 1997, Capcom tried and arguably failed to recreate the ol’ SFII magic with Street Fighter III: The New Generation. While SFIII was technically superior to its predecessor in the eyes of true fighting fanatics, with its unfamiliar and frankly weird cast, it failed to capture the attention of casual players, who had moved on to the likes of Tekken 3 and other 3D fighters at that point. The third incarnation of Street Fighter III – Third Strike – is perhaps the greatest fighting game ever made, but by the year 2000, the Street Fighter series had become inaccessible to casual fans. The arcades where ailing again, and Capcom simply didn’t have it in them for another SFII-style revival.

Go Chun-Li, go!

We all know how the story ends: The arcades have gone bankrupt sans a few Dance Dance Revolution games, and the console versions of SFIV harken back to the days of SFII. To some extent, casual players have made a comeback, but not nearly at the level of  the classic fighting action found in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. But hope springs eternal and the cast of SFII will never die. Maybe one day, another Street Fighter title will captivate the masses once more and bring arcades back to life.

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Don't forget to vote for your top three games of all time! Just leave a comment and I'll mention your choices in a future article here at Wordsmith VG!

Tomorrow: A down-to-earth #1 title!

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This article is dedicated to Claire and Chris Shortle and the fight against cancer. You don't know them, but if you're religious, please keep them in your prayers. And if not, play a round of Street Fighter II in their name; anything is appreciated.

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