Welcome to the next post in my year-long series “Play or Pass” that takes on the proverbial “must before death” theme with video games. Every other week I will be covering one or two games from “32 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die,” a list compiled by BuzzFeed based on a reader poll. I will not be critiquing the list itself, but rather I’ll be discussing each game or games in whatever manner feels fitting and will attempt to answer a couple simple questions: Have I played [insert game name here]? If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why? If no, do I want to play the game before I die? I’ll be going through the games in the order in which they appear on the BuzzFeed list. Good? Good. Let’s get on with the games!
Week twenty-one: (27) Street Fighter II
In the BuzzFeed list upon which this series is based, its says the following about this week’s game:
Street Fighter 2 is the first game that made the arcade feel like a real battleground.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak to that reference personally; I never played Street Fighter II in the arcade. (Yes II. I can’t use plain ol’ numbers when referring to SF games. It’s just not right!) In fact, I can’t speak to anything about Street Fighter II because I never played it. But! I played later iterations of the game, namely Street Fighter II Turbo, Super Street Fighter II, and Hyper Street Fighter II. And while I’ve written about this favorite series of fighting games, here and elsewhere, I now have visual proof!
So I think I’ve developed enough cred to say something intelligent about Street Fighter II, even if the original game and I never crossed paths. And although I never met up with Dhalsim and Blanka the arcade, I think BuzzFeed’s statement could easily be applied to the game’s many ports to consoles, which made many, many homes, mine included, feel like a battleground. And that was pretty damn awesome. My brother and I sunk hours, that surely equated into months, into Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II. These are the two games upon which I cut my fighting game teeth. These are the games that taught me to love Zangief and always made me jealous that I could never be more than mediocre with Chun-Li. They are where I learned the subtle but important differences between Ken and Ryu and where I found a lifelong nemesis (Oh, Vega…). And they remain the two games that created some of my dearest gaming memories.
So…maybe I can just answer my questions now?
Have I played Street Fighter II?
No to the original games, but yes to later ports.
If yes, then do I consider it a “must?”
If no, then do I want to play the game before I die?
But that’s kind of cheating, isn’t it? Because those answers could be wearing rose-colored glasses, right? I mean, how could I not call any version of Street Fighter II a “must” seeing has how important they were, and are, to me? Bias, bias, and more bias!
So here’s a question. In the face of recent entries into the series, namely, Street Fighter IV and V, should I really call Street Fighter II a “must?” Because SFIV and SFV (caveat: played but not owned) are brilliantly enjoyable games. They look gorgeous, play as smooth as butter, and offer up enough variation in gameplay to attract new players and keep the long-time fans satiated. And, really, I don’t even need to ride so far forward in time from Street Fighter II to find other Street Fighter titles that, in some ways, I like even more, like Street Fighter Alpha 3 and Street Fighter III: Third Strike.
But the fact remains that there’s something kind of special about Street Fighter II. When I think about that oddball time in gaming history of the late 1980s and early 1990s, I can’t think of a single moment in which I knew anything about the original Street Fighter game. (Of course there was one…came out in the arcades in 1987 or 1988, I think.) But I can think of several instances in the early 1990s when Street Fighter II popped into my purview, whether through conversation or TV ads. The decision to port the game to console, and then improve upon those ports, was a very smart move, surely. Without the overwhelming success of Street Fighter II (and let’s not forget the original Final Fight, which found it’s own U.S. fanbase in the late 1980s), would we have seen the likes of Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and crossover titles like Capcom vs. SNK and Marvel vs. Capcom? My guess is probably not.
But setting aside the importance of Street Fighter II in the history of fighting games, can we even compare its original gameplay to the SF games of today? I think we can, because in many ways, the game’s control scheme hasn’t tremendously evolved. And that’s a good thing! At least it is for a player like me who developed muscle-memories of the controls with the early games. Of course, the controls aren’t exactly the same throughout the series. Street Fighter II Zangief and Street Fighter V Zangief are like third or fourth cousins — they share the same roots but their branches are different.
Now, I do think that the later games are a little bit easier, particularly when playing standard rounds against the AI. Frankly, beating Street Fighter II with any one character was a downright chore. (Just because I love the games it doesn’t mean I’m necessarily good at them.) Street Fighter II really made you work to learn exactly how to play the game. Button mashing only got you so far. I’d say that in Super Street Fighter IV, for example, button mashing still isn’t great, but it’ll get you a sight farther along, and I don’t even think you have to be all that lucky with it. The game is set up to be more forgiving, because that’s how games are today. (No sleight meant; it’s the truth, we know.)
(Really, there’s no way I could have done this in one sitting with an older SF game. Though I guess experience might count for something.)
While I don’t know if I could call Street Fighter II a “must” for everyone, it is a “must” if you’re into fighting games or want to get into them. And honestly, I’d suggest to anyone who’s never played a Street Fighter game before to actually start with Street Fighter II, maybe Street Fighter II Turbo if not the original. It serves as such a strong and imperative foundation for so many fighting games that follow it. It’s certainly not perfect (I still laugh at some of the poor localization, like Guile’s high-pitched “Sonic Boom!”), but it’s an integral piece in the puzzle that is Street Fighter lore. And with those fundamentals under one’s belt, playing the later Street Fighter games would be like cake — purely delicious and satisfying.