Portraits in Pixel
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Portraits in Pixel

Great Games: Street Fighter II

The global fighting tournament that no one ever forgot

Image used as a visual aide to criticism under “Fair Use.” All rights to Capcom.

I have to confess that I’m not very good at Street Fighter II. I’ve had my ass handed to me more times than I could count. I didn’t quit, though. The game is terribly addicting. No matter how many times I saw my character beaten to a bloody pulp, I somehow resisted the urge to throw the controller at the TV and tried again. Victory was difficult, but worth it.

As its numeral implies, Street Fighter II is the sequel to Street Fighter, which came out on arcades in 1987. Street Fighter was directed by Takashi Nishiyama, who came up with the idea while bored at a Capcom meeting. He showed his idea for a kung-fu action game to his colleague, Hiroshi Matsumoto, who later became Street Fighter’s planner. The game only had two playable characters (Ken and Ryu) due to time and budget constraints. Yoshinori Ono, who went on to be a producer for the later Street Fighter games, considers the inaugural entry to be “the first modern day fighting game.”

After the success of Capcom’s Final Fight, the company became interested in making a sequel to Street Fighter. The game would be produced by Yoshiyuki Okamoto and Noritaka Funamizu, designed by Akira Nishitani and Akira Yasuda, and have music composed by Yoko Shimomura. A major difference between the first and second Street Fighters is that special moves in the latter are easier to perform. This change was suggested by Nishitani, who told Okamoto that if you made special moves like Shoryuken easier to do, “it would make the game look cooler and be less about luck.” An unintended side-effect of this is that the player could also do a string of combos against their opponent, to quote programmer Motohide Eshiro:

“…it was a side effect of giving people more time to enter the button — players could perform combos. So if you were doing a crouching kick by holding down, and then pressed right and punch when your character was doing that animation, you could connect those together. It wasn’t intentional to let players combine moves into combos, but it wasn’t a bug in that it was planned to make it easier to do your special moves.”

Street Fighter II remains a complex game. It requires a fast and precise input of buttons in order to unleash devastating combos. This part of the game is the most fun as well as the most frustrating. I played both the original version on SNES and the Hyper Fighting port on the PS2. On the SNES, controls can only be performed with the D-pad, while the PS2 port allows you to use the joystick. I personally found the joystick to be easier for combo inputs. The PS2 version also includes Street Fighter III Alpha and a edited version of the Street Fighter II anime film.

What I love about Street Fighter II is how diverse the character roster is. In the original Street Fighter, you could only play as Ryu or Ken. For the second game, they expanded the cast to include warriors from all across the globe. While some do kind of lean into stereotypes, the selection is still a colorful celebration of different cultures and different fighting styles.

Ryu and Ken are an iconic duo, though their fighting styles are virtually the same. They are well-rounded fighters who excel in both punches and kicks. Their two most notable combos are “Shoryuken”, a rising punch, and “Hadouken”, a white energy ball. Once you get “Hadouken” down, spamming it is a delightful temptation (as well as a recurring annoyance).

Akira Yasuda describes designing Chun-Li. Video by Archipel.

My favorite character in Street Fighter II is Chun-Li, who is athletic, cute, and sexy all at the same time. For this reason, she is easily one of the greatest female characters in video games, showing that women can be both strong and beautiful. Chun-Li can use her legs to send a devastating flurry of kicks against her opponents. This is a cheap combo to spam, but it’s one of my favorites.

Other great characters include the U.S. Air Force pilot Guile, who is quite strong, but also infamous for his glitches. Dhalsim’s a lot of fun because his limbs can stretch very far, which lets you inflict a lot of damage from a distance. Blanka’s best move is to cover himself in electricity, which will hurt anyone who tries to touch him. The sumo wrestler, E. Honda, has a cheap combo move where he can slap your opponent repeatedly. This also makes him my go-to. Some other characters are transparent rip-offs of real-life athletes. The African-American boxer, Balrog, is clearly based on Mike Tyson, while the Hong Kong martial artist, Fei Long, is a shameless Bruce Lee clone, down to the nunchucks.

1993 VHS tape explaining combos and tips for Street Fighter II.

Street Fighter II also has its memorable villains. There’s Vega, the stylish bullfighter from Spain who wears a mask to protect his face. There’s Sagat, an eyepatch-wearing Thai boxer who is incredibly difficult defeat. And lastly, there’s the main antagonist, M. Bison, the dictator who seeks world domination. I found M. Bison, by far, to be Street Fighter II’s hardest boss, if only because he has the devastating attack where he does a spinning dive towards you. These villains were not playable in the original arcade version, but became so in later editions.

Yoko Shimomura, who would later go on to compose for Kingdom Hearts, gave Street Fighter II its iconic score. Shimomura has said that she made music which evoked the characters’ cultural backgrounds, saying, “for India I wouldn’t make real Indian music, but I’d make what I imagined Indian music to be like.” The music, of course, is quite exciting and puts you into the mood for battle, with the standouts being “Ryu’s Theme,” “Blanka’s Theme,” “Dhalsim’s Theme,” “Balrog’s Theme,” “Ken’s Theme,” “Chun-Li’s Theme,” and “Guile’s Theme.”

Street Fighter II also received an exciting anime film. The anime still holds up today, not only as a great video game film, but also as a fun movie on its own. It has a perfect mix of martial arts action, fluid animation, and shameless sex appeal. Even if you’ve never played the game before, you can get a real kick out of the movie. Chun-Li’s fight with Vega is a particular highlight.

Chun-Li in all her badass sexiness.

Eric Patterson for Electronic Gaming Monthly has argued that Street Fighter II is one of the most influential Japanese video games ever made. This is because it demanded a level of skill which was unprecedented for fighting games before it, it popularized one-on-one tournament fights with other players, paved the way for fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and Fatal Fury, and with its many editions, innovated on the idea of revising or upgrading a game. Though the mark of Street Fighter II is felt everywhere now and it has produced many quality sequels, the original is still not to be skipped.

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Sansu the Cat

Sansu the Cat

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I write about art, life, and humanity. M.A. Japanese Literature. B.A. Spanish & Japanese. email: sansuthecat@yahoo.com