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Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Arcade) artwork

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Arcade) review

"For a moment, forgive creator Capcom's penchant for watering down the viability of their own games by releasing sequel after sequel, and see SFII for the head-to-head combat, genre-blazing pioneer that it is. Similar titles had come before it, such as its own predecessor, but none of them were like this. From a relevance standpoint, Capcom's fighter is no less than Super Mario Brothers with uppercuts. "

Only Street Fighter II can simultaneously conjure up images of Manga movies, Mike Tyson and mercy rounds.

I think back to wondrous days of frequenting the corner coffee shop and smacking quarters down above that second player button, as if to say, ''I got next.'' A grim and confident first player, who may or may not have been there for a half hour already, would nod almost imperceptibly, acknowledging all comers.

This was the world of Street Fighter II, the world it began. For a moment, forgive creator Capcom's penchant for watering down the viability of their own games by releasing sequel after sequel, and see SFII for the head-to-head combat, genre-blazing pioneer that it is. Similar titles had come before it, such as its own predecessor, but none of them were like this. From a relevance standpoint, Capcom's fighter is no less than Super Mario Brothers with uppercuts.

You can choose from eight World Warriors with differing backgrounds and skill sets. Unlike the original game, you arenít limited to a red-haired Ryu (his hair is now dark brown) and a sorry Ken character who was only implemented to be the 'second player.' Ken would now gain some acceptance as a real character, with his own personality in this edition.

A motley crew of six others would join the two Shotokan Karate disciples as fan favourites. They included: Chun Li, the high-jumping and kicking Chinese and female representative; Guile, the uniquely coiffured American army brute; and Blanka, the mutant Brazilian beast. Rounding out the ragtag group were Zangief, the gargantuan Russian grappler; E. Honda, the overly muscle-bound sumo wrestler; and Dhalsim, the Indian mystic with superhero-like (remember that guy from The Fantastic Four?) limb-stretching capabilities.

There were four 'boss' characters to encounter when your player defeated the other seven selectable fighters. The horribly stereotypical M. Bison (Mike Tyson) was a black boxer with a bad attitude and little depth in his fighting repertoire. His name had to be changed - to Balrog - for the North American release of the game, for obvious reasons. Next was Vega, a slender, lithe Spanish bullfighter who valued his beauty enough to wear a mask, and his winning streak enough to wear a claw. He could perform aerial claw slashes and German suplexes from the heights of the metal fence in the background of his native Spain. Defeating him would introduce you to Sagat, the bruising Thai boxing final boss from the first game. A rather nasty scar on his chest serves as a painful reminder of his unsuccessful battle with Ryu. Finally, the character who would be M. Bison (after all the name-swapping). He is the reason everyone is here; he is the almighty evil, as it were. And his devastating Psycho Crusher technique promises to make quick work of any who make it far enough to challenge him.

The quality of SFII's cast of characters is one of the main reasons the game is still so popular today (there are at least two movies and a 29 episode TV series featuring the World Warriors). Never before have I witnessed such serious countenances hovering about an arcade machine. It says a lot about a game's quality when players are so willing to put their pride on the line for a chance to be crowned winner. This is why a few 'rules' of play were introduced in many circles.

Firstly, the mercy rounds. If you crushed your weaker human opponent in the first round, you could be noble and offer him a mercy round in the second (read: let him win), being that it was a best of three contest. Colourful stories abound of players feigning ineptness in the first round to gain the second, only to come out strong in the third. Any player who tried that might find himself in a real fight at the wrong arcade.

The second rule of thumb: don't be cheap. There were numerous 'cheap' techniques that could be employed by weaker and/or unscrupulous players. For instance, a few rapid in-close attacks would set up a sort of character encroachment, allowing the true no-no in Street Fighter combat. The throw. Never mind that it was included in the game for you to use. The throw was off limits to everyone except those skilled Zangief users who hadnít much else going for them. Certainly selecting a powerhouse such as Guile and following behind slow-moving Sonic Booms to execute German suplexes was out of the question for any 'real gamer.'

And I became a real gamer eventually, though it wasn't easy at first. I learned the trade from a group of Asian fellows from around the way. We would congregate at a coffee shop (their machine had the best joysticks, the long ones that felt good in your hands) and I would foolishly use Chun Li because of her cool rapid-fire kick attack. I could whup many an amateur with my moderately skillful control of her, but against the Brotherhood, I stood no chance. My Chun Li would often find herself on her back after taking a heaping breastful of Dragon Punch with her every mistimed leap.

This is the beauty of SFII. Play with beginners as a beginner, and you can have lots of fun using characters that have easier to learn moves. Then, become a pro, and play other pros with the harder to use players. Although head-to-head combat with friends and enemies is the best practice, playing against the computer provides a decent challenge, and one that is fairly balanced.

The two extremes that exist in facing the CPU, are that Blanka can literally tear the computer-controlled opponents to shreds (a good character choice for those first-timers), while Dhalsim may struggle even under the control of seasoned fighting veterans. Chun Li is on the easy side, just a little less effective than the electricity-charged Brazilian monster, and Ken and Ryu end up somewhere in the middle. Zangief and Honda take skilled players to achieve any kind of success.

Back to the coffee shop. After having Chun Liís rather ample posterior (insert moldy celebrity joke here) unceremoniously dumped one final time, I vowed to learn the Hadou. The skills of Ryu and Ken would be mine! One day, one particularly gracious Asian assemblage taught me the secrets of the Sho Ryu Ken (Dragon Punch) technique. I would practice every day without exception, toiling at cranking out the fearful rising uppercut on the overworked joystick. The quarters would vanish with the ephemeral satisfaction of hearing that cry. The cry that would unfailingly spark interest in fans lurking about the store: Sho Ryu KEN! It certainly sounded more like the karateka were shouting 'old yuken' or something like that, rather than the ostensible meaning. But either way, when on the receiving end, it was deafening, and for the winner it was chest-expanding. True, there was Chun Li yelling similarly while performing her Spinning Bird Kick, and Dhalsim's Yoga Flame, but the Dragon Punch was set up as the piece de resistance. And as such, there is nothing quite like hearing the shout of the most powerful attack in the game as your enemy collapses in slow motion, through the splintering wood of some conveniently placed edifice. And to cap it all off, ''You win, perfect!'' So very satisfying.

Facilitating all these memorable moments, were ideal controls, so that blocking, jumping, throwing (shame on you!) and most importantly, those special attacks, are all performed rather intuitively once the proper motion is learned. And the joystick motions come as a set. For example, Guileís Sonic Boom projectile attack is facilitated in the same way that Blankaís human(?) cannonball attack is performed. The motions set the standard for future fighting games in their complexity and natural feel. Unlike other popular head-to-head beat 'em ups to follow (Mortal Kombat with its klunky kontrols springs to mind), pulling off a successful, skilled combination of moves in SFII feels easy to do.

Throw in fun bonus rounds, memorable music, and colourful, sharp visuals throughout the individualized character areas (Guile fights his battles at the army base), and there is no doubt why Capcomís crown jewel still manages to garner so much respect. New generations of fighting games continue to pay homage to this first game to truly get it all right, and to play it now only confirms that it is still right.

There have been games in released in more recent years with more complex fighting systems, featuring smoother combat sequences, more characters and flashier maneuvers. They include Capcom's own Street Fighter II: Turbo, arguably the best of the series. Many of these games are notable because they continue to refine something great. Not Street Fighter II - its claim to fame is that it started something great.

When I visit the coffee shop now, there is no Street Fighter II coin-op there anymore. Now there is some generic polygon-based racing car game where greatness once stood. A trip to the larger arcades will find me some respite; they have older games in the rear, forgotten, pushed back to make room for the new breed of games, many of them also fighters. I step through the Tekken 13 fans, find the familiar classic, insert a coin, and hear that familiar music. Another old-time gamer sees this, and smacks his coin down just above the second player button. I nod, knowingly.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 17, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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