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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Memories #21: Street Fighter II

Being a kid, or just being alive and old enough to really experience some of the things that happened in 1991 was a pretty huge deal. Sonic the Hedgehog graced the gaming world, taking the number one spot from Nintendo and consumers realized the Sega Genesis was a thing. The Super Nintendo was released, I got one for Christmas and Super Mario World wowed me like no Mario game ever had before. And in the arcade scene, a fighting sequel was making waves so huge that the ripple effect can be felt to this day. Of course, I'm talking about Street Fighter II.

Capcom's revolutionary fighter set the world on fire. 8 fighters, each one playing different from the rest (except Ryu and Ken initially, that is), special moves, combos; this stuff was freaking amazing! Kids and adults alike were dumping quarters into SFII arcade cabinets to either beat the CPU or more than likely, beat the crap out of each other in the game's very competitive Vs. mode. Man, what a time to be alive! If there was an arcade machine to crowd around in 1991, SFII was it.

The iconic opening.
Just seeing this title screen is enough
to make fans overflow with nostalgia.

And while SFII was lighting up arcades, I was not on the scene. I  did visit my local arcades, but only rarely. Most of my gaming was done at home, I was unaware of SFII's existence during 199, but SFII fever did still manage to hit me during the peak of the SFII games popularity.

My friends Justin and Matt had gotten a SNES and one of the games that got to play with it was Street Fighter II. Justin and Matt were always really cool about letting me borrow their games, some that I wouldn't even ask to borrow. After Sunday school, Justin approached me with his copy of Street Fighter II, telling me I could borrow it for however long I wanted. At the time, I'd never even heard of SFII, but I thanked him for letting me borrow the game and the cover art of a KO'd Ryu and Chun-Li looking nervous at the attacking Blanka looked really freaking cool.

Look at this screen. You can already hear themusic in your head, can't you?

There are games you play that are unlike anything else you've ever seen. I didn't truly understand what Justin had placed in my hands that Sunday afternoon until I popped it in my SNES and started playing it. Super Mario World was impressive in many aspects, especially in the visuals, but SFII was like having an arcade machine in my house. Home console games had no business looking this good in 1992.

I didn't even bother playing the Vs, mode with my dad or my sister. In fact, I thought it was a while before I had even realized players could fight against each other. I went into the arcade mode and was blown away by the number of characters I could choose. Eight characters is a super tiny fight roster today, but in 1992, that was freaking huge. Super Mario Kart hadn't been released yet, so the most playable characters I was used to seeing at the time was four thanks to Super Mario Bros. 2. Most of the fighters all came from another country. Chun-Li was from China, Guile and Ken were from America, Ryu and E. Honda were from Japan, Zangief from Russia, Blanka from Brazil and Dhalsim was from India. I liked the idea that these fighters gathered from all over the world to throw down.

I guess you could say Honda is... hard headed. No? OK.
Typical first fight with Bison. You always end up getting screwed.

Making my way through the Arcade mode, I just mashed buttons like a scrub. I had no idea that you could block and knew nothing of executing special moves or that special moves even existed. I was so amazed that you could move across the screen, punching and kicking your opponent. The concept of low, medium and highs were things that wouldn't become part of my SF knowledge for a few more years, but not knowing the intricacies of the game didn't stop me from loving it.

Every now and then I'd run into an opponent who would give me a hard time. Zangief with his numerous graple moves was always something of a hurdle for me to jump over, but the eight world warriors weren't too tough to take down. It was when their character portraits were all grayed out and four new contenders showed up that I really began to struggle.

The four bosses of SFII, or the Grand Masters, Four Devas as they are sometimes referred to, were the toughest bosses I'd ever faced in gaming at that stage in my life. Anyone that's set out to conquer SFII's arcade mode knows full well what I'm talking about. Before I'd even touched an SNK game, I'd gotten a taste of how SNK bosses operated thanks to SFII. Balrog, Vega, Sagat and M. Bison. These names are firmly etched into the minds of gamers all over the planet due to merciless beatings they dished out.

With his headbuts, and dash punches, Balrog would fit right in with the Punch-Out!! cast. I don't think I ever avoided by caught by Vega when he leaps from the fence. Much as I hated Balrog and Vega, I hated Sagat even more. That freaking Tiger Shot would always keep me at bay and when I tried to get close Sagat would unleash a Tiger Uppercut. But worse than all of them, was SFII's big bad, M. Bison. Scissor Kick, Head Stomp, Psycho Crusher; this guy had a move to counter everything you used on him. The bosses of SFII make me glad I didn't try to complete the Arcade mode on a coin-op machine.

If you didn't throw your opponent when they were
dizzy, you were doing it wrong.

Maybe its because the bosses were so tough that beating them felt so darn good. One of the many things I love about SFII was the beat up character portraits of the fighters when the battle is over. Seeing Balrog, Vega, Sagat and Bison bloodied and bruised is enough to fill anyone with glee. After all that taunting they did, I finally got to gloat and see them look like I beat

In 1993, I heard about Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting in Nintendo Power. The third version of SFII, the reason I was looking forward to this game was because I could play as the four bosses. Since they handed me so many Ls, I couldn't wait to step into their shoes. This was still during the time where I didn't really look into the character's special moves, but I still had fun playing as Sagat and Bison as they suited my play style far more than Vega and Balrog.

1993 was also the same year I saw a SFII arcade machine for the first time, I believe it was Champion Edition, the first SFII update. This was also the first time I saw the game's opening. You know the one, where two guys are about to go at it and the white back decks the black guy? Good stuff. I distinctly remember the music sounding different from what I was normally used to since my SFII experience was primarily console based. The CPSI soundtrack was much heavier than the SNES score and it would take years before I actually started to like it.

Beat up Sagat is best Sagat.
You don't look so handsome now, Vega.

Speaking of SFII music, it is impossible to talk about SFII and not touch on the game's soundtrack. Yes, SFII's music did sound different on the SNES, but I loved it. SFII's score played a huge part in making me appreciate video game music just as the Mega Man, Super Mario and Sonic games did. With all of the figthers coming from different parts of the world, it felt perfectly natural to give each warrior a theme that reflected their country. Ryu, the SF mascot, had a heroic, yet ancient Japanese theme to go with his level, Blanka's music had used bongo drums to give it a primal air, but the flute gave it a feel of elegance as well. Chun-Li's theme was jovial, meshing well with the busy market place of China. You fought Balrog in Las Vegas, so it isn't too surprising that his music was as lively.

By the time 1994 rolled around, Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers was coming home to the SNES and Genesis. I was wondering what was Capcom's strange obsession with the number 2 and why they wouldn't just stick a III at the end of Street Fighter. I remember being at Matt and Justin's house spending the night. They had rented the SNES version of SSFII and this is when I finally saw one of the game's endings and heard Cammy's amazing theme. After all these years, I still think the SNES version of Cammy's theme is the best one, even better than the arcade version. SSFII was the first game in the SFII series to be made on Capcom's CPSII hardware and as  result, the music is pretty different from CPSI hardware. This also meant SSFII on the SNES and Genesis sounded different as well. Matt had beaten the game on four stars with Sagat and it was hear that I found out that Sagat had a serious beef with Ryu, giving him that huge scar on his chest.

In the early to mid 2000s, SFII fever hit me all over again with the release of Street Fighter Anniversary Collection and Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1 and 2. Street Fighter Anniversary Collection was released to celebrate the 15th anniversary of SFII and contained Hyper Street Fighter II, a game that let you choose each version of every fighter from every version of SFII. This meant SFII Ryu could fight Super Turbo Ryu, Champion Edition Sagat could Fight Hyper Fighting Bision and so on. Great for playing with a friend, but not so much solo. Trying to beat HSFII's arcade mode was an exercise in frustration because the computer would always default to Super Turbo and ST's AI is relentlessly cheap.

With Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 1 and 2, I got my first major exposure to the arcade versions of SFII, Champion Edition  and Hyper Fighting and Super Turbo. Capcom Classics Vol. 1had some cool options such as the ability to change the audio from CPSI to CPSII. I'd always keep it on CPSII because at the time, I hadn't adjusted to the CPSI sound font. Still a few more years off before that would happen. Capcom Classics Vol. 2 had Super Turbo, which my friends and I got a lot of fun out of. In particular, my friend Justin Sivak really honed those fighting game skills. I could never beat him in all our Super Turbo fights but he always be up for a game regardless.

I've never played SFII or any of its updates competitively. I tried, but just didn't have the patience to invest all the time and energy it takes to get that good. My adoration for SF didn't lessen, though. Because of SFII, I became interested in fighting games. I know some competitive players might be reading this and scoffing, but fighters don't have to be played on a tournament level to be enjoyable. Because of SFII, I looked into the numerous spin off SF titles like the Alpha series, EX, and numerous Capcom crossovers. Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike is one of my favorite SF games despite the fact that I don't play on a pro level. I don't even wanna think of what my gaming life would be like if I never touched SFII all those years ago. The SFII series hit 25 years old this year and I really hope SF sticks around for another 25 years to keep those new challengers coming.

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