One of gamings’ most enduring series turns thirty this year – Street Fighter, the series that first introduced us to Ryu, Ken, Cammy and company is as old as RoboCop and Aretha Franklin’s induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame (the first female artist, too), but what’s made this series stay for so long, when others have bit the dust? What’s the appeal behind the franchise?
The series began life as an arcade brawler with awkward controls. The first Street Fighter pit you as Ryu or Ken (a palette swap of Ryu) as you battled through a series of opponents until you faced the head honcho in the final – the King of Muai Thai himself, Sagat! Whilst not as memorable as its subsequent entries, the original did lay the groundwork for many mainstays of the series. Six-button controls, best of three rounds, special moves activated by a button and controller combinations, as well as the idea of travelling the world to face various and colourful opponents. A foundation had been laid, but it was the second entry, the originally titled Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, that smashed the record books and became one of the most popular games of all-time. Not only did it do that, it also set the precedent of what people could expect from a fighting game. It was a blueprint that titles like Mortal Kombat, Bloody Roar, Virtua Fighter, Tekken, Dead or Alive and more all owe their franchises to.
Not including ports, the series has over twenty-one different entries from Street Fighter to Street Fighter V, and has gone from a 2D hand-drawn game to a fully-rendered 3D entry. You don’t get many games have that level of commitment from their developers. Capcom certainly know a golden goose when they see one, and people can’t get enough of this golden goose.
I’ve been playing the series since the initial release of Street Fighter II on the SNES and I’ve been addicted ever since. I had every release of it on the SNES, and played them all religiously. I can remember the fevered excitement of my younger self when I got Champion Edition and got to play as the bosses. It was a magical moment for me, I also got to play as my second pick (first is always Ken) and developed an affinity for playing as Sagat. Great times, now, of course this would all be DLC, but not back then, it was a new game and you were happy to get it. I know I did! I bought pretty much the same game four times. My adult self would be a whole lot more cynical about pulling this multiple editions twaddle and probably brand it as ‘being fleeced’, but I prefer my younger self’s rose-tinted view of the series so we’ll stick with that for the purpose of the article.
I still love the series that much, that when Capcom announced they’re re-releasing Street Fighter II as a SNES cartridge I got a little giddy and considered buying it (even though my SNES has long since abandoned me), but the $100 price tag is a little too rich for my nostalgic blood. But out of the 5,500 copies they make, I guarantee you they’ll sell every single one. I know my first game I intend to play when the SNES Mini Classic launches is, you guessed it, Street Fighter II.
That’s enough about my love affair with the series, I want to look into why the series has lasted this long. It has a mythology surrounding it that can’t be beat. Each character will gain a fervent fan-base that will master them with precision. Now, with esports on the rise, heated competitions between ethletes (yes, I used that) take place in arenas where the winners will walk away with hundreds of thousands of dollars, you can make a lot of money these days being a pro at Street Fighter.
Part of the popularity of the game is the versus aspect. You, and a friend, can knock seven shades of shoryuken out of each other, and you know what? You can do it again, and again, and again. Who doesn’t like a little healthy competition? People who can’t win, or can’t play, that’s who, but with Street Fighter it becomes like an arms race when fighting friends, you have to be better than your opponent, it’s mainly for the rights to lord it over your friend that you kicked their arse at the game (therefore making you a better human by some twisted logic) but beyond that, it’s a little bit more.
Just as Anime has a healthy dose of obsessive compulsion from some, Street Fighter has kept its series alive and well by spreading over into all other kinds of media and merchandise. Ryu and Ken are as recognisable as any Superman, Batman, or big-eared mouse spewed out by the great monstrosity that is Disney. They are iconic, and along with their iconic status so too are the series they come from. Iconic beings living in an iconic world. How many people know exactly where shouting ‘Hadoken!’ Comes from, quite a few I imagine, even if you’ve never played the game, if you’re a gamer, you know where that word originates from.
Ryu and Ken are as recognisable as any Superman, Batman, or big-eared mouse spewed out by the great monstrosity that is Disney
Street Fighter is THE fighting game series. Whilst I’m partial to a bit of Mortal Kombat and Injustice, it’s always SF I feel most comfortable playing. Whilst the game series is light on an actual storyline, there’s plenty of comic books and anime that will happily fill in the blanks for us. This hasn’t been one way either. The fan community has given back to the series with the inadvertent creation of Akuma and Gouken. An April Fools’ joke, a mistranslation, and an urban legend about being able to fight Ryu and Ken’s master led to Capcom bringing this character into creation. Wish for something hard enough and it comes true. Although Akuma has since become beloved, with many people choosing to play as him. And there was a chance to fight Ken and Ryu’s master when Gouken made his gaming debut in Street Fighter IV. So that all worked out for the best.
But before that became an esport, and before the internet what kept the series going? It was a mix of the arcades and the home consoles. The console market was in a resurgence following the crash of the Eighties, and the 16-bit era had arrived. The SNES was the first to get dibs on the port, followed by the Megadrive (Genesis), and was so popular that Nintendo even packaged the game with systems. Take this into account for the time when I tell you the following figures, this was a time before downloads and digital content, this was the time of physical buys, but the SNES port of World Warrior alone sold a staggering 6.3 million copies – on one console, that’s not including the other ports. By the mid-nineties the game had been played by twenty-five million people in North America. It was an unstoppable juggernaut, but not everything was by design. Some of its more famous features came about by accident.
One of these features was the combo! If you can combo in Street Fighter you can be a king. But the combo wasn’t put in purposely, it was a bug that was left in when a tester discovered they could land a second blow on a combo stage! Who would think that the one decision to leave that in as a hidden feature would become a crucial aspect of the game. Timing, like a combo blow, is everything.
The reason we still have the franchise to this day is because it is beloved. People spend billions a year between the arcades and console versions of the game, and Capcom are only to happy to feed the machine. Now, instead of different versions of the game we are treated to additional character costumes, unlockable stages, and new characters available as a download. New characters are of particular importance in the series as people will calmer to try out a new character when they are released. Normally, a Street Fighter character will be vastly different from their peers, of course, there are those that fight a little too close to the styles of Ken or Ryu, but normally a fighter will be based on a particular martial art and a stereotype of a country. Chun Li, a Chinese detective, is dressed in traditional Chinese dress, not exactly ideal for a fight, but fans have never complained about the larger than life characters the series creators conjure up. Street Fighter is hardly a series known for its realism, and that’s what’s so great about it, the fights are of epic proportions, they are a fight beyond human capabilities, a fight with fireballs, psychic energy attacks, flying punches, spinning kicks, and teleportation, that’s not something you’d see in any dojo that I know of.
So, with thirty years now here, what can we look forward to in the future? Without question there will be a sixth entry in the series. Street Fighter VI isn’t a will it’s a when. Will we see another thirty years from the series, I certainly hope there will be, and wherever the series may go, whatever new fighters enter the fray, you can be sure there will be a fan base waiting to welcome them.