Hello, good evening and welcome to 16 Bit Memories by me, Oli J. Here, we look back at a time where motion control was leaning while playing racing games, and Bowser had an army of kids to do his dirty work. Where are those kids now I wonder…
Anyway, do you remember your first games console? Finding the box at Christmas and opening it up to see the huge machine lying before you. You couldn’t wait to play, but what could you play? Back then, all consoles came with a game inside (or installed, if you had a Master System. Alex Kidd, where art thou?) instead of having to buy a massive box deal (or get a Wii… Ok this may be falling apart a little bit now but just go with it. IGNORE! IGNORE THIS PARENTHESIS!). The joy came with what game you were lucky enough to get. Back in the days of the Super Nintendo, some lucky young’uns could find themselves with the colourful world of Super Mario Land, or in my case, the awesome violence of Street Fighter II…
Street Fighter II today is seen as the Grand Master of all fighting games, when in reality Fatal Fury was released around the same time and games like Final Fight had been about for a bit. But this doesn’t matter, as it was the brutal fighting styles of Ryu, Ken, Chun Li and Guile who got kids to cut their pocket money down to silvers and feed the arcade boxes. When it came to the Super Nintendo, Street Fighter II’s fame exploded.
And with very, very, very good reason. At the time it was something so new and different that it blew young minds. Fighting, as we all know, is ingrained in our human nature, and now we had a release from it which wouldn’t get us ticked off by our parents. In addition to the punches and kicks, we also had “special moves”, everything from fireballs to fast punches/kicks to a God Damn Spinning Piledriver! There was a sense of crazy wackiness within Street Fighter II that appealed to the young mind that made you desperately try and pull of such moves with this crazy cast of characters.
And what a cast they were. For a moment, let’s boil them down to: Kung Fu Masters from Asia and America, an Indian mystic, a Matador/Ninja, a Russian wrestler, a Sumo Wrestler, a Muy Thai kickboxer, a regular boxer, a mutant, a soldier, a schoolgirl (later revealed to be secret agent?) and a psychicly charged dictator… and that’s just in the first game! While each fighter had their pro’s and cons, what I found as a player was who I was drawn to. Ryu and Ken were your “starter” fighters, who were easy to pick up and play and go pretty far with, but I found myself using the likes of Guile and Blanka because of their easier to perform “charge” specials. Every character had something for everyone, and only the true masters would be able to perfect the likes of Dhalsim and Zangief.
All those fighters were not there to simply fill a void though. Each had their own story for why they were in the Street Fighter Tournament. To be fair, as a young gamer you didn’t really care much for storylines in fighting games, and to be fair Capcom knew this in Street Fighter II, limiting any story to the characters bio and endings. But what story did make you stand up and notice were the Big Four Bosses: Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison (or, for our Asian viewers: M. Bison, Balrog, Sagat and Vega…) While getting through the playable characters was tough, these guys were the cream of the crop. I remember the joy I had as a kid facing Balrog and finally beating him, only to see the flamboyant Vega and thinking “What the…” and getting my ass handed to me. It would be many years before I’d face Bison, and many more before I saw an ending.
I mentioned how colourful the game looked amidst all the punching and kicking, and that came from the fighting grounds you found yourself in. Each were lovingly crafted and detailed by the graphics bods at Capcom, and saw you fighting in a variety of places. Be it the shine of Las Vegas, the wilds of the Amazon or simply an Air Force Base, those with a keen eye would be impressed by the visuals on display for the time. In fact, seeing the same backgrounds lovingly updated for Street Fighter IV made this gamer weep a tear of nostalgia… before laying waste to who I was fighting.
Street Fighter II wasn’t just about the spirit of competition… it was about button mashing as well. And you had your fix of that during the Bonus Stages that you had you taking on a brick wall, a car and some barrels! Destroying these would boost your score and climb you higher on the Hall of Fame rankings within, giving a sense of pride to see your name up in lights. Yes you could just punch, punch, punch your way to the top, but a true fighter knew that it took skill to get there.
Street Fighter II launched a genre into the mainstream, and to be fair the games I mentioned before followed it. If you look at todays fighters, it introduced the likes of combos, special moves and wacky characters in a serious environment. Street Fighter II was the Grand Master… well, until Hyper Fighting/Turbo Edition came out…
But that’s a column for another day.