Finally, the progenitor head to head fighting game STREET FIGHTER 2 (1991) has arrived at the House of Targ rock ’n roll arcade. This is the game that is singlehandedly responsible for redefining the fighting game genre as a whole. In the past there had been clunky versus games such as KARATE (1982) where two random assemblages of purple and green pixels are pitted against one another, as well as the original STREET FIGHTER (1987) which allowed for head to head combat between Ryu and Ken, who are essentially the Japanese and American incarnations of one identical set of moves. SF2 upscaled the graphics with Capcom’s signature 90’s era pixel art and quickened gameplay with smoother character mobility. Both of these upgrades were largely made possible by the then new CPS-1 hardware that the game operates on. More importantly, SF2 allowed for a host of matchmaking with the selection of 8 playable characters (??? unique match ups!), each with their own unique set of special moves and personal stages with unique music (Guile’s theme is a true masterpiece).
Although those examples are all milestones in their own right, the most essential improvement that the fighting game world owes to SF2 is the advent of the combo system. When the developers were play testing the game they discovered that certain normal attacks were able to be cancelled into special attacks, resulting in multiple uninterrupted hits and more damage! They may have perceived this to be a flaw at first glance but soon realized it had nearly limitless gameplay implications. Ever since this accident, player ingenuity has become a defining trait of the genre and every fighting game offers a limitless array of attack combinations waiting to be pulled from the combative aether. Street Fighter is one of the few examples of a game that developers designed, but the players have always defined.
Furthermore, while many arcade games reward quick reflexes, they also tend to fall prey to pattern based gameplay where enemies follow a predetermined pathway and set of behaviour. This can eventually create a game of rote memorization where the player simply needs to remember the order of enemy engagement and behaviour in order to meet success consistently. SF2 is the antithesis to this issue, it offers the ever-changing dynamic of human decision making where no two matches will ever unfold in exactly the same way. This is a realtime game of cartoon chess that rewards twitch reactions but places equal emphasis on predicting your opponent’s behaviour (a key to victory is keeping your intentions ambiguous, never allowing for your opponent to get a “read” on you).
For many of us who were too young to live through the glory days of the arcade there is a longing sense of nostalgia. We romanticize the pre-internet days where reputations were earned through steady dominance at the local arcade and great players were carved into the annals of urban folklore. By contrast, the fate of the modern gamer is to lethargically sit on a couch and meet competition online where he or she is eventually likely to encounter an enraged child who screams homophobic and racial slurs at them. This is a world all too disconnected from the physical community that arcade culture was built to thrive on. Back then players weren’t just losing the time spent failing to achieve victory, there was a monetary component at stake. The quarter was your lifeline. It represented a single credit, but if you could achieve a streak of success it offered theoretically limitless play. Your skill level determines its value. Putting a quarter on the machine’s controller panel was the universal message for “I got next”.
To quote the late supreme wizard Carl Sagan, “A still more glorious dawn awaits…”, the environment that previously only existed in the arcade fantasies of the unfortunately young has resurfaced yet again. So charge your sonic booms and load your dragon punches because the kumite is now in session! There are already legacies awaiting the labour of competition and player rivalries in primordial stages of conflict. Thanks TARG for being home to a new chapter of this undying tradition.
By STREET FIGHTER 2 Fanatic: