December 2021

Street Fighter II: the phenomenon (part 2) – Ultra Turbo Supreme Mega-Rehash Edition

I can’t talk (at length) about SF2 and its many editions, without also covering the Capcom fighters that were basically SF2 in disguise – Darkstalkers, Marvel Super Heroes, Street Fighter Alpha, X-Men vs Street Fighter, Marvel vs Capcom… I played the hell out of all of them. Compared to the rest of the Street Fighter II timeline, 1995-1997 were some pretty busy years for fans of Capcom fighters –

  • 1991
    • February 15 – Street Fighter II (arcade)
  • 1992
    • March – Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (arcade)
    • July 15 – Street Fighter II (SNES)
    • December 21 – Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (arcade)
  • 1993
    • August 1 – Street Fighter II Turbo (SNES)
    • September 11 – Super Street Fighter II (arcade)
    • September 28 – Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition (Sega Genesis)
  • 1994
    • February 23 – Super Street Fighter II Turbo (arcade)
    • July – Darkstalkers (arcade)
    • July 18 – Super Street Fighter II (SNES/Genesis)
  • 1995
    • January 5 – X-men: Children of the Atom (arcade)
    • April 6 – Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge (arcade)
    • June 27 – Street Fighter Alpha (arcade)
    • October 24 – Marvel Super Heroes (arcade)
  • 1996
    • February 22 – Night Warriors (Saturn)
    • March 6 – Street Fighter Alpha 2 (arcade)
    • April 6 – X-Men: Children of the Atom (Saturn)
    • June 6 – Street Fighter Alpha (Saturn)
    • September – X-Men vs Street Fighter (arcade)
    • November – Street Fighter Alpha 2 (Saturn)
  • 1997
    • March – Street Fighter III (arcade)
    • March 28 – CyberBots (Saturn)
    • August 8 – Marvel Super Heroes (Saturn)
    • August 27 – Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (arcade)
    • September 30 – Street Fighter III: Double Impact (arcade)
    • November 27 – X-Men vs Street Fighter (Saturn)
  • 1998
    • January 23 – Marvel vs Capcom (arcade)
    • October 22 – Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Saturn)
  • 1999Street Fighter III: Third Strike (arcade)
  • 2000 – Marvel vs Capcom 2 (Dreamcast)

Released just a few months after Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Darkstalkers might’ve been my favorite out of the Capcom’s many Street Fighter re-skins. In terms of gameplay, Darkstalkers didn’t re-invent the wheel at all – if you played Street Fighter II, you could jump right into Darkstalkers. The main draw to Darkstalkers was its entirely new cast of characters, largely inspired by classic movie monsters, rendered with colorful, highly-animated sprites. Perhaps because its gameplay was nearly identical to SF2 – and because SSF2T was still a major draw – my local arcade never gave it a prime position. While the likes of SSF2T and Mortal Kombat II enjoyed spacious areas near the middle/front of the arcade, Darkstalkers was tucked into the back corner, where it would mostly only be noticed by kids like me who didn’t have time to wait for their turn to play (and be beaten at) the more popular fighting games.

Darkstalkers was even one of my primary reasons for wanting a Sega 32X when it was announced, because Capcom was reportedly working on a port. That port never materialized, and the 32X ended up being one of the biggest disappointments in gaming history, to put it mildly.

Several months after Darkstalkers, in January of 1995, X-Men: Children of the Atom was released in arcades. Like Darkstalkers, the game featured highly animated, brightly-colored sprites that suited the comic book characters very well. That the X-Men animated series was still running at the time likely helped the game, as well.

Unlike Darkstalkers, X-Men used Street Figher II’s gameplay more as a template. It still felt like SF2, but it added super jumps and air-combos, and the stages were HUGE.

At this point, I’m not sure where I first saw X-Men COTA in action. My local arcade never had it. I only remember being disappointed by the game, because by that point other, faster entries were available. X-Men just felt clunky. It’s entirely possibly I hadn’t played it in the arcade at all, but instead rented it for the Sega Saturn once that version was available. By then Marvel Super Heroes had already been in arcades, and I probably thought that X-Men was the next best thing at home.

In the summer of 1995, I turned 16, and got my driver’s license. That new level of freedom meant that I could hang out with my friends – who all lived miles away – outside of school, and I could visit the mall – and its arcade – almost any time I’d wanted. The only problem was that by then, the arcade at the mall had closed. Luckily one of my friends knew of another arcade not far from there, which became one of our regular haunts. The first time we went there, Marvel Super Heroes was the latest & greatest fighter on the market, and it was a sight to behold – rather than a standard CRT, the game used a large rear-projection screen, with the controls placed a few feet in front of it.

MSH attracted a crowd and dominated the immediate area, to say the least. With faster & tighter gameplay than X-Men: COTA, plus the randomness the use of the Infinity Gems added, players would compete to see who could knock out the most devastating air-combos… and we would all have our asses handed to us by The Pro, whenever he was there.

That might’ve been how I played Street Fighter Alpha for the first time – its machine was against the wall not far from MSH, but it never drew a crowd like MSH did. That meant I could play it without waiting in line, and I didn’t need to risk being swiftly defeated by The Pro.

Night Warriors on the Sega Saturn was something special, not just because it was one of my favorite games, but for what it represented – up to that point, home ports were always downgrades from the original arcade games. Smaller sprites, less animation, fewer colors, worse sound, fewer things moving on the screen… You always had to accept something that was “close enough”, no matter how much it paled in comparison to the arcade. That is, until Night Warriors.

The home version of Night Warriors was pretty much perfect. It looked, sounded, and played like the arcade game. Not “close enough” – it was spot-on. Reviewers for Electronic Gaming Monthly and Game Fan would point out that the characters had fewer frames of animation – unless two players chose the same character – but I can’t say that it was noticeable. As far as I was concerned, the game was a flawless port.

The Saturn was the system to have, if you were into 2D fighting games. Street Fighter Alpha 1 & 2 were again perfect ports. X-Men: Children of the Atom felt clunky, mainly due to its slower gameplay. If you had a sharp eye, you might’ve even noticed the missing animation frames on each character. Marvel Super Heroes was another perfect port, with the use of an optional memory expansion cartridge. X-Men vs Street Fighter required an 8 MB expansion cart, but if you were a fan you’d happily pay the extra price to have an arcade-perfect port at home. 2D fighters were perhaps the one area where the Saturn blew the Sony Playstation out of the water.

…of course, by the time X-Men vs Street Fighter was released, if you wanted the game you had to import it from Japan. Even before then, you had to import most of the Saturn’s good games. The system was such a flop in North America, the game publishers just didn’t see any point in translating and releasing titles.

The home version of X-Men vs Street Fighter also felt like a nail in the coffin for arcades… New arcade games in general weren’t being released as frequently as they had before, likely due to the growth of the home market with the Playstation. Crowds at the arcade were also getting fewer. Not to mention, but that point the amount of time between the arcade and home releases was getting short and shorter.

In hindsight, it seems fitting – poetic, even? – that the age of the video arcade happened to end around the same time that I reached adulthood.

I started college in the fall of 1998, and from that point forward, I had little time to venture out to find an new arcade. I was in a new city, and many of my classmates weren’t from the area, either. The school did have a Marvel vs Capcom machine and perhaps one other game in its student lounge, and that was about the extent of my arcade gaming for the next couple of years. MvC hardly ever went unplayed – we were all nerds, geeks, and gamers, after all – but playing it between classes just wasn’t the same compared to having hours to waste at the mall.

Something that was equal parts depressing and exciting, was a chance encounter with an arcade owner at a shopping center near my apartment, shortly before I’d graduated college. He and an employee were unloading a new machine from a truck, while I was grocery shopping. Out of curiosity, I asked if they happened to sell older games. The manager/owner didn’t hesitate to ask what I was looking for. When I said “something like Street Fighter II”, he told me to follow him.

The storage area behind the arcade dwarfed the arcade itself, and it was so packed with games that it was difficult to navigate. In the middle of all of those machines, was Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting. It was exactly what I was looking for! And for just $250, they offered to replace the screen and deliver it to my apartment!

At some point between graduation and landing a job, I would convert that SF2 machine into a M.A.M.E. cabinet that could play far more games. After landing a job, moving the cabinet into my new apartment wasn’t much fun, as I was on the second floor. There, it mostly just took up space in a corner. Moving it out a couple of years later was worse. For the next 10 years or more, it collected dust in my parents’ garage. I’d finally gotten around to selling it when they decided to put their house on the market, because moving that cabinet anywhere else just to have it collect more dust sounded insane.

Now, I look at the half-sized cabinets from Arcade 1-Up, and smile, but I would never consider buying one. Apart from the cabinets being too small, and space being a commodity, I think having an arcade cabinet now would be a depressing reminder of a time and place that is long gone. The feel of the arcade – the variety of games, the mixture of sounds, the social aspect – just can’t be duplicated at home. Just thinking about it makes my heart ache…

Street Fighter II – The Phenomenon (part 1)

Sometimes I wonder if any other game has had as big an impact on me, than Street Fighter II. It seemed that no matter how many times Capcom revised, re-imagined, or re-skinned the game, or branched out into other media, I couldn’t get enough.

SF2 was a game I’d gotten hooked on well before I’d ever played it. Seeing the graphics and variety of characters in Electronic Gamic Monthly and other magazines, it was certainly a game I’d play if given then chance. I was 11 years old when it debuted, and the only arcade I was able to visit with any sort of frequency was at the Summit Place Mall in Pontiac, MI.

I don’t think I’d even seen a SF2 machine in person – much less played it – until the Champion Edition was released. It was 1992, and my 6th grade class took a week-long field trip to Toronto, Canada. One of the first places we’d visited was the CN tower, and one of my main takeaways from the whole experience was being able to play SF2:CE for the first time in the arcade at the tower’s base. It was everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. And of course I got my ass kicked, because while I’d read up on the moves and combos extensively, I had no idea how to actually perform them.

A day or two later in the Toronto trip, we all had a free day to explore the city. My then-best-friend and I came across a game shop that, to me, might as well have been Candyland. It wasn’t the biggest game store I’d ever been to, but it was the most well-stocked that I’d seen up to that point. No space was wasted. They even had accessories I’d never seen anywhere but in the ads in the back of EGM, like the Hyperboy Gameboy mini-arcade mount… thing.

What stood out the most at that store, though, was SF2:CE hooked up to a TV in the front of the store, via a Supergun Jamma harness, another thing I’d only read about in EGM. And for $20, my friend and I could play the game with unlimited continues for 30 minutes. My mom wasn’t too thrilled about that – either the price or having to stand there for 30 minutes while we played – but we had fun.

My last SF2-related memory from that trip might’ve been the day we’d left. We were at a bus station early in the morning, just in time for the arcade there to open. We had time to kill, and whether the manager did it intentionally or if it was just a standard power-on thing, all the games were free to play for the first 10 minutes or so. This arcade didn’t have SF2, but it did have plain old Street Fighter, which surely would be almost as good, right?

…yeah, no. It sucked.

When SF2 was released for the Super Nintendo later in 1992, I was ecstatic. Yeah, it was a little disappointing that it wasn’t the Champion Edition, but it was still Street Fighter II, and I could play it as much as I wanted. And by this point the arcade at Summit Place had a Champion Edition machine, which I’d also play whenever I had the chance.

SF2:CE always drew a fairly large crowd, at the mall. If you wanted to play, you’d put your quarter up at the bottom of the screen, and wait your turn. Unless this one guy was playing. The Pro. An Asian-American dude with hair that went down to his hips. I don’t know if he played SF2 on a tournament level – if that was even a thing, at the time – but he did know all the moves and combos, and was pretty much unbeatable. But everyone wanted the momentary bragging rights that’d come from defeating him, so we all lined up our quarters on that machine, and we all lost, every time.

The only time I’d get to play SF2:CE on any sort of equal footing, was after Mortal Kombat was released later that year. The Pro moved on to that game along with everyone else, and he kicked wholesale ass at that one as well.

Christmas of ’92 may have been one of the biggest for me, in terms of gaming. My parents had gotten me a Sega CD, Night Trap, Sonic 2… and a Championship Joystick for the SNES. The funny part about the joystick is how much of a surprise it was, after everyone had unwrapped their gifts and cleaned up. I’d gone back to my room to hook up the Sega CD and take it for a spin, when my dad came back to ask what I thought about the controller. I was confused, and had to ask “what controller?”

My parents owned a small business in Union Lake, MI. The building had a storage room in the back, where they would store my & my brothers Christmas gifts. But because it also had a fair amount of the shop’s inventory, it might’ve been easy for some things to get overlooked. That’s what had happened on this particular Christmas – while loading up the gifts the night before, one got left behind – the joystick.

When my dad realized that the joystick had been left behind, he got in his truck and went back to the shop. 20 minutes later, I had a surprise gift to unwrap!

Having that joystick felt like leveling up – it felt like the arcade controls, because it used arcade parts. It made the home version of SF2 feel that much closer to its bigger counterpart.

Another stand-out SF2 experience might’ve been in the summer of ’93, at a weekend car show my dad was attending in North Carolina. The show was between the hotel and a mall – the Four Seasons Town Centre – and where there was a mall, odds are there’d be an arcade. And indeed there was, right near the entrance!

This arcade had a rainbow edition of SF2:CE. I didn’t know that mod chips and bootlegs were a thing at the time, but I could tell that something about this game was different, just from the title screen. The game itself was pretty nuts – projectile speeds, depending on the button you pressed, were either so fast that your opponent would have little time to react, or so slow that you could walk up behind your own fireball. Projectiles could also move diagonally, nearly every move could be performed in the air, and you could change your character by hitting your start button. It was wild.

Another great thing about visiting new arcades, was the chance to see and play games that your usual ones didn’t have. Apart from SF2:CE Rainbow, this arcade also had World Heroes 2, and Martial Champion. While World Heroes 2 was definitely the better of those two by far, Martial Champion stood out because of its large character sprites. I felt it was a shame that the only home port was exclusive to the PC Engine CD, in Japan.

One more thing that made that weekend special, to me – Coca-Cola in 16 oz. cans. Today I look at normal 12 oz. cans as being too much, but as a sugar-addicted adolescent, having that much more Coke in one serving was one of the best things ever.

Piracy and unofficial enhancements to SF2 apparently were so rampant, Capcom had to do whatever they could to compete. Several months after Champion Edition and the SNES release of SF2, SF2: Hyper Fighting was released. Playing it at the arcade – when The Pro wasn’t there, drawing a crowd – made it difficult to go back to the home edition, which felt so slow by comparison.

The home edition of Street Fighter II Turbo would arrive several months later, in August of ’93. Just in time for my birthday! And then just one month later, Super Street Fighter II would land in arcades. By that point it was starting to feel as if Capcom was taunting me specifically.

Speed-wise, Super SF2 felt like a downgrade, but the new characters, moves, and combos were the big draw. I also thought it was funny that Guile’s voice was now the same as the announcer’s, which wasn’t very masculine.

September of ’93 also saw the release of the Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. At the time I thought it was a joke that the Genesis was a version behind the SNES, not realizing that the Genesis version had all of the Turbo features (and then some), just under a different name.

By this point, my familiarity/obsession with SF2 was such that I was picking out the differences between the arcade and home versions. The arcade had more (and smoother) animations, and the sprites were bigger. The Genesis game’s music sounded much closer to the arcade, compared to the SNES. The Genesis voice samples were also closer to the arcade, but sounded worse than the SNES ones at the same time, due to how compressed they were. My friends at the time made fun of me for noticing these things. That certainly hurt at the time, but looking back, I can hardly blame them. Maybe I should have been more interested in music, as they were, except I felt most popular music in ’92-93 sucked.

Summer of 1994 would see the release of Super SF2 on the SNES and Genesis. The SNES version might’ve been the first game I’d purchased with my own money, which also gave me my first taste of buyers’ remorse. The game was as accurate to the arcade as the SNES could get, but the fact that Super SF2 Turbo had been in arcades for several months by this point stung a bit. I felt like I’d paid $80 for an inferior game.

A year later, Super Turbo was released for MS-DOS. I didn’t hesitate to buy it… despite the fact that my family would not own a computer until some months later. And once we did have a computer, the game’s sound wouldn’t work. Graphically it looked exactly like the arcade game, but the lack of any sound robbed it of its impact. By that point, Street Fighter II had been my #1 gaming obsession for 3 years, and showed no signs of stopping…