GameSpite Journal 10 | Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II | Dev.: Capcom | Pub: Capcom | Genre: Fighting | Release: July 1992

In the one-on-one brawl that was the 16-bit console wars, Street Fighter II was the knockout punch that won a round, if not the entire match.

If it seems weird to imagine a fighting game being a key factor in so many peopleís choice of console, well, 1992 was a different time than 2011 is. Back then, the fighting game -- and Street Fighter II specifically -- reigned supreme. People were drawn to the content, of course, but in truth the appeal was as much about graphics as anything else.

Street Fighter II was the best-looking game of its day. Its characters were huge, beautifully animated, and occupied hopelessly cool stages. The secret was in the narrowness of the gameís content. Unlike the platformers and RPGs and shooters that so many flocked to in the latter half of the Ď80s, Street Fighter II didnít try to offer up dozens of enemies across vast, varied realms. The action revolved around a mere twelve characters battling in twelve different locales.

This specificity of content allowed Capcom to focus on building in as much depth and variety to each fighter and setting as possible. The characters could afford to be huge and dynamic, and the backgrounds could be crammed with detail, because thatís all there was to the game. And just as a location-specific modern game like Catherine invests more detail into its setting and characters than a vast, thinly spread adventure like Fallout: New Vegas can, Street Fighter II offered visual detail that curb-stomped anything that come before.

It didnít hurt that the game really was as good as it looked. In fact, the developers didnít actually realize just how good it was until fans started playing and began to uncover strategies and techniques the creators hadnít even intended. Combos and counters and other tactics evolved naturally from the gameís impressive array of battle skills (some obvious, some hidden behind arcane controller inputs). The characters were as memorable in design as they were gorgeous to behold; few could name even a single combatant from the dozens of imitators that sprang up in the wake of Street Fighter II, but most Super NES owners could rattle off the names of all twelve World Warriors a lot more easily than they could name the Seven Dwarfs.

When the game arrived on Super NES, it wasnít a perfect arcade conversion... but it was so amazingly good that few cared. It was the most expensive console game yet released, but few thought twice about coughing up the cash to cover its asking price. Street Fighter II was a technical showcase for the system; when it arrived on Genesis a considerable time later, the graphics and sound were downgraded, and the controls were badly compromised.

More than that, though, Street Fighter II was a showcase for the appeal of multiplayer gaming. The solo game was fun enough, but the ability to go head-to-head with a friend to assert fighting dominance was the essence of living room fun.

Capcomís rapid-fire string of updates and semi-sequels quickly squandered the Street Fighter seriesí cachet and capital, and the brand never again commanded the frenzied gotta-have-it obsession that surrounded the Super NES version. Its was a short-lived reign... but for that brief while, the gut-punch impact of a brilliant port of the most popular arcade game of the decade helped Nintendo narrow the gap behind Segaís 16-bit head start.

By Jeremy Parish? | Nov. 2, 2011 | Previous: Final Fight | Next: Final Fantasy II?