It's tough to imagine what gaming might be today without Street Fighter II. Street Fighter II was a milestone. This was the game that introduced the concepts of combos, the quarter-circle motion, the six button control layout, and the ability to cancel out each other's attacks. This was the game which ended friendships and perhaps even began one or two in afternoons of Mountain Dew, M&M and pizza-fueled mayhem. This was the game which brought the arcade gaming experience to its highest pinnacle and made people say "Wow, I'm NEVER going to own a game THIS cool on any home console!" In short, Street Fighter II was a MAJOR leap forward in gaming from a solid developer - Capcom - which already had a solid track record which included Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Legendary Wings, Forgotten Worlds, and Final Fight.
What we have in Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition for the Sega Genesis is a great port of one of the finest arcade games ever released. Even today, Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition Genesis holds up as a breakthrough in the area of console ports of arcade games. Today it would of course be a small and fanfare-lacking deal for one of those six-quarter 30-second electronic thrill rides to be brought onto the Wii. But if you're new to gaming, understand the game world I grew up in was a lot different. Back then the arcade was always the place to be, to test pop single quarters into a brand-new machine and dream about owning a perfect port of it. 16-bit technology had nothing on the advanced arcade machines and so the software developers for console games were always the ones doing the chasing. Anyone saddled with the unenviable task of posting one of those arcade monsters to the Super NES or Genesis would have to take a number of creative liberties in porting it, and so home ports of arcade games were hit-or-miss much of the time.
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition was a harder hit than anyone ever could have imagined. The voices are scratchier and the animation isn't quite as complete. But other than that, Special Champion Edition brings home all of that great two-player gaming goodness you remember from 17 years ago. (I can't believe it's really been that long since Street Fighter II was introduced! But my memory might not be right - it might actually have been even longer!) Today of course Capcom has become has burned out and is running on fumes, trying to recover its past glory. The Street Fighter series has become an embarrassing parody of itself. But that doesn't diminish the greatness of the game that started everything.
At least most of the greatness. Gamers of my own generation of course tend to look at games from our era through rose goggles. What they don't want to remember was that Street Fighter II was effing CHEAP. The computer was able to use its special moves at a rate which would embarrass The Flash. The popular signature character of Street Fighter II, Ryu, is supposed to be a student of martial arts who goes around fighting and learning moves for the sake of it. But instead of trying to show off those flashy, funky moves his bio says he wanted to perfect, he has this annoying habit of wedging himself into a corner and launching fireballs at an impossibly fast rate. This makes it difficult to attack him because you have to keep dodging the fireballs. If you manages to do that and get close enough to Ryu to mount a counteroffensive, you're still sticking your neck out because the only way to attack is from the air, where Ryu can easily nail you with a dragon uppercut. This is the most egregious example of cheapness in this game, but far from the only.
Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition actually gives you two Street Fighter II games to choose from. The first is the traditional Special Champion Edition. The second is Hyper Fighting, which contains more special moves, more speed, and probably a few more combos which aren't possible in ordinary old Special Champion Edition. Hyper Fighting will be liked by caffeine freaks because the speed in it can be adjusted from one to ten stars, ten being a kind of light speed which is almost too quick for the naked eye. But the thing is, except for the special moves and speed and combos, there really isn't any difference between the two games. They both involve a series of 12 progressively tougher three-round matches against different opponents. The first eight will always be randomized matches between your character and the other World Warriors, including one against a palette-swapped clone. The last four come against the Grand Masters in the order of Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and finally the evil M. Bison. You can play as any one of those 12.
The great weakness with being the first game of its kind, of course, is that its foibles can be pointed at by any one of its countless imitators. In Street Fighter II, the gap between good characters and bad characters is wider than in most other fighting games. I know there are other fighting games which do this too, but I never thought it was acceptable how some characters get projectile special moves and others have to risk being knocked out of the air by a well-placed roundhouse. (I find it even more absurd that even with all those different editions of Street Fighter II, and then the advents of Street Fighters III and IV, Capcom never stopped doing this.) What gives the characters with projectiles a distinct advantage over the others is that they can use those projectiles to cancel out just about every attack which comes their way. This is made even cheaper by the fact that projectiles - save for Sagat's high tiger shot - can't even be ducked under - you either have to block them over jump over them, and blocking them still nicks off a small amount of your energy! Only Guile's projectile move, the sonic boom, doesn't give him an instant advantage and that's because it requires a two-second charge. Chun Li gets a fireball only in the Hyper Fighting game. In Special Champion Edition, she has to rely on her wind kick and helicopter kick.
While the balance issue wrecks things a bit, the game isn't unfair to the point where it's impossible to get through it with a touch of skill. Zangief might be one of the most useless characters in the history of fighting games, but it's still perfectly possible for a skilled player to totally wreck you with Zangief's brute strength and some incredible feats of timing. This is part of the reason why Street Fighter II works. It's just a lot of fun to pick a character you think is cool then get creamed time and time again, each time learning your character's different strengths and weaknesses. Experiment around and you'll learn that Balrog doesn't kick (he's a boxer so this makes sense), Vega and Chun Li can bounce off the sides of the screen (how?), E. Honda is dangerous because of how he can corner foes with his hundred hand slap, and Dhalsim has extendable limbs.
The ordinary moves consist of three punches and three kicks for each character. One punch deals the kind of damage equivalent to the amount of damage a feather would do to a diamond, but it moves out and back quickly so you don't stand there vulnerable if it misses. The second punch does more damage but it's a bit slower. The third punch is as slow as boiling rice, which leaves you vulnerable if you miss-time the thing, but it leaves a hell of a bruise if it hits. The kicks have a similar layout. Two characters don't really kick - Vega depends on a claw, so the buttons for his kicks cause him to just thrust his claw upward. Balrog's kicks are basically uppercuts. (Despite his handicap, Vega is still a powerful fighter for those willing to take the time to learn him. Balrog is close to useless no matter what.) Now, it's important to note that a six-button controller isn't REQUIRED to play Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition. Capcom did manage to cram the whole game into the Genesis's three-button layout, but I'm not wild about it. No one is. What Capcom makes you do is press the start button to switch between punches and kicks. This robs you of the ability to pause the game, which you're allowed to do with a six-button controller.
Face it, between the cheap computer and the option for a second player to jump in at any time, Street Fighter II is simply meant more for the unbeatable two-player mode. Your friend will not be able to do cheap things with special moves which human beings aren't capable of doing with the Genesis controller. Nothing beats the feeling of just inviting a few people over and throwing a tournament party with copious amounts of junk food, pop, beer, or whatever your preference is.
The graphics in Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition hold up pretty well today. It's true there are several animation frames missing from the Genesis version, but with these brilliant and imaginative character designs and MOST of the animation being present, there's no complaining. Capcom has developed a reputation for giving us the most gorgeous two-dimensional character designs outside of a Disney movie for a reason. When these characters move, they do so with their whole bodies - when Blanka jumps, for example, his whole body moves and there's animation for his taking off, peaking, and landing. The characters you see in some backgrounds move stiffly, but come on, they're part of the background! The sounds you'll remember are just a few contact noises. The background music is fine but not relevant. What you'll likely remember the most are the voices - the classic Ryu and Ken shouts of "Had-DO-kin!" as well as lesser-noted sounds like Guile's "Sonic boom!" and Sagat's "TI-ger!" are all in the game. They're scratchy as hell, but at least they're here.
The gameplay has a couple of notable quirks: First, the special moves can be ridiculously difficult to pull off. It takes a lot of practice and patience to be able to perform even the simplest special moves with any kind of consistency. The most complicated special move in the game would be Zangief's pile driver, which requires a VERY fast 360 degree spin on the d-pad. It is the only special move in the game I've never been able to perform. The other thing is that blocking is done automatically if you press the back button which the opponent is attacking. Got that? That means it can be difficult to move backward at times, so don't be shocked if you suddenly stop to block while moving backward. Gameplay is smooth and impressive and it takes years to learn the full range of what each character can do.
Street Fighter may not be as relevant as it used to be and Capcom may be running on fumes these days, but you should not deprive yourself of the Street Fighter games. (Unless the Street Fighter games in question are either Fighting Street - the very first one - or the original Street Fighter. Those games would be footnotes today if Street Fighter II hadn't been the milestone it was. And even then, all Street Fighter II did was turn them into novel curiosities which people usually play only to find out if they really suck and if so, how badly they suck.) It may be cheap and dated, but most fighting games are cheap in some way or another and eventually they all age. There's a reason Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition is still mentioned in hushed tones despite the advances in technology from all those years ago.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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