Street Fighter II
Well, it had to happen eventually. I don't know a single person from my generation that didn't hear, play and live Street Fighter II when it was unleashed upon its susceptible populace in 1991. There was nothing like it before and a million things just like it since. It had that kind of impact: it came, it conquered and everyone has been trying to emulate it ever since.
Street Fighter II dominated the arcades for years, yet it wasn't an arcade where I originally played it. I'm strangely noticing a trend on that - it seems all the classic arcade games I played in places other than arcades. For Galaga it was a bar/grill, for Donkey Kong it was just a home game and, here, for Street Fighter II, arguably the biggest arcade game of all time, it was at a bowling alley.
Every week my parents played in a bowling league and every week I was dragged along with them. I wasn't in to bowling and neither were the other kids whose parents also dragged them along. I much preferred being at home, watching television. What was on during that time? Cosby Show. Cheers. I don't think Seinfeld was big yet but probably some sitcom like those. I digress
The bowling alley knew this, I think, and a side room near the entrance they had a small room of about ten arcade games (later expanded with a pool table). I was about eleven or so and the bowling night was like any other night we trekked out to the lanes and the familiar "rumm rumm rumm CRASH" of balls scooting down the polished pine and into stacks of pins. Like any other night, I departed my parents for the few hours they would be bowling and headed to the room with the arcade cabinets, a dark room away from the sounds of people enthusiastically shouting the fact they just picked up a split. This time, though, there was something a little different. It was new (going to the bowling alley was already pretty new, but this was even newer than that) and a group of kids I usually hung out with at the place gathered around the latest entry into the bowling alley's gaming repertoire.
Like a shining beacon of hope...or we were just moths to a flame
It easily had the best graphics of any game in the place. Large animated characters and special effects glowed from the screen. It looked and moved like nothing else at the time. It was…fast. Smooth. One look at it and you could see the polish it had. It wasn't some cheap little game thrown together to get quarters. This was new and fresh and looked like someone put time and effort into it. Plus, you had people fighting each other one on one. This was something pretty new.
Street Fighter II was unexpected. There had been little fighting games in the past, but they were cumbersome and bland. Street Fighter was smooth, intuitive and something that made you say "where has this been all my life?" It was so simple and straightforward, it's hard to imagine it took so long to be made, and made so damn well. Most of all, though, is Street Fighter had personality and character. Like I said, it didn't look or play like some cheap piece of shit. This was revolutionary.
Speaking of characters, it's easy to forget that the first street fighter only had eight character to choose from. Today that number would be balked at, but back then it was great because each one felt different. They looked different, had different personalities, different fighting styles. It wasn't a cut-and-past group (other than Ken and Ryu) but all distinct. If there's anything I remember from my first glance at two guys playing Street Fighter II, it was the image of Ken getting toasted by a fire-breathing Dhalsim, who then stretched his arm the length of the screen and punched Ken right in the face. Poor Ken, but he probably deserved it for copying my favorite character's fighting style.
Seven guys. One woman. Imagine the possibilities.
That character was Ryu. We all called him "Rye-you" back then, but when the internet came along to educate us on all things Japanese, it was revealed it's actually pronounced "Ree-you." I don't know why I liked him, perhaps the simple "white knight" heroic aspect and awesome kicking style. My second favorite was Blanka, only because he was cheap and I could pull off his electrocution move easily. Least favorite was Zangief, the Russian / Commie wrestler. I never understood why I never liked him. Maybe it was because I just saw Rocky IV on television or something.
Anyways, the waiting time to play a round went quickly thanks to consistent entertainment of watching two crazy looking fighting character knock the shit out of each other with special moves and KOs. There wasn't a line, I don't recall, but certainly a group of "nexts" surrounding the cabinet. It was finally my turn. Though Ryu would eventually become my favorite character, my first choice was the yoga-master, Dhalsim. I think it was because he was the first character I saw, and the guy playing him seemed to be doing pretty well. What I didn't know is that you had to put in special commands on the joystick and buttons to pull those moves off. Whoops. That's why I got my ass handed to me by E. Honda. The thing is, that guy didn't know any of the special moves either, but he did figure out the thousand-hand-slap which was more than enough to take down a Dhalsim that couldn't even figure out which punch button was which, much less how to teleport and breath fire.
Blanka, you cheap bastard...
It was a quick two rounds. I didn't have a chance. But I wanted more. I had a pocket full of quarters and 25 cents for at least a few minutes of pure bliss was well worth the price. The trick to good arcade games, from a business standpoint, was to get the most money as quickly as possible. Make games fun and engaging, easy to play, but make play times fast. Fighting games were the easiest for this. Timed rounds, and usually a match was over in just a few minutes. Capcom was raking the dough and they certainly got a share of mine. Those few minutes were like a drug dealer giving out samples. I was hooked and waited for another round. Then another. Then a few more, trying out new characters and toying around with the special moves, still getting my ass kicked, watching one single-player make it to one of the "boss fights," Balrog, who everybody simple called Mike Tyson. The bonus challenge levels. The discovery of a new move. The classic Ken versus Ryu matches. Guile's theme. Vega's claws and climbing maneuvers. Sagat's massive reach with those legs. Chun Li's very sexual upside-down spin move. The backgrounds. The music. The entire sense of captivation.
Then, the next thing I knew, it was over. The time to leave had arrived.
I felt as though I just got there.
Two iconic game images: Ken versus Ryu and Chun Li's thunder-thighs spread-eagle vagina attack.
I no longer groaned when it was time to take the weekly trip to the bowling alley. I looked forward now. I especially looked forward to buying the home version of Street Fighter II on my Sega Genesis (I had yet to get the Super Nintendo which held the superior version). Like the arcade, I played it. They called it the "Championship Edition" for some reason. After a time, I learned and earned my way up to beat the final boss, M. Bison. By this time Street Fighter II was the most popular thing going. There was a movie planned, action figures out, all sorts of ports and the money was flowing.
I can't quite recall playing with any of the action figures or anything like that. But I do slightly remember an Anime of Street Fighter II I bought on VHS. It was dark, gritty, pretty well done from what I recall. The entire world was crazy for everything Street Fighter, but maybe I was too old to really get into the dolls and other marketing ploys that came out. Still, I, like just about everyone, couldn't get enough of it.
I, though, was burned out by this point. I sped through it so quickly that I didn't even want to be around it anymore. It was a good year or so of constant fighting and moves and reading gaming magazines to discover all the tricks. I had enough and I didn't fall into the Capcom ploy to coax me with "new and improved" installments that came out for the home consoles. I was just fine. There was a new fighting game that had come out, and in this one you could rip people's heads off.
I played a lot of those types of fighting games back then. Fatal Fury. Samurai Showdown. King of Fighters was probably the closest in terms of quality. Mortal Kombat, obviously. But the impact came straight from Street Fighter, both in the world of arcade fighting games in my own appreciation of them - because none of those other games hit me as hard as that one.
Today, I absolutely suck at the game. I've tried picking up other Street Fighter titles, but I'm just awful. So awful that I actually hate the game and everyone associated it and everyone that is better than me. None of that is true, though. It's just misguided frustration and my inability to accept the fact that the good days of my coordination and reaction time being able to compete with others, and even the computer for that matter, are well behind me. For a young teen, it was all instinctive. You simply "did it." As an adult, I find myself thinking too much and just wishing I was a kid again.
Idiots. They spelled "Congradurations" wrong.