35 years ago, a terrible Capcom video game spawned an unstoppable genre

street fighter has always been an important part of the fighting game community. Many point to Street Fighter II as the first modern fighting game that launched a now thriving genre. As the series nears its sixth entry and 35th year, the long list of characters is among the most iconic in all of gaming. But before the series could run with the success of Street Fighter II, he had to learn to walk. The first entry in the series remains a flawed game, the value of which lies in what came after it. But 35 years later, it’s still clear that the blueprint for the fighting game genre was born with street fighter.

Rough on the edges

The beginning of the franchise was not a polished experience.Capcom

On August 12, 1987, arcade enthusiasts in Japan got their hands on Street Fighter for the first time. What they found was an attempt to refine the gameplay loop of director Takashi Nishiyama’s first side-scrolling beat-em-up. Kung Fu Master. The key change to Street Fighter was that it removed everything from a beat-em-up except for boss fights. Similar to how FFXIV raids remove unnecessary mob phases from other MMOs to focus on a tough boss fight, street fighter did the same in 1987. These matches would be played over three 30-second rounds.

Although the game is messy and unrefined, it created a list of mechanics that would become the defining elements of any fighting game. The player had an eight-way joystick for movement and two buttons for punching and kicking. These action buttons were originally analog and allowed players to fine-tune the power of an attack based on how hard they pressed. Later arcade versions replaced it with a six-button layout, separated into three power levels. This remains the standard for fighting game controls today.

In addition to gameplay innovations, street fighter introduces the rivalry between Ryu and Ken.Capcom

It was also the first game to create combos. Hurricane Kick, Dragon Punch, and Psycho Fire were special moves that could only be performed if the player entered the correct chain of button presses in quick succession. The player was never told about these special moves and would have to figure them out by trial and error.

These gameplay innovations helped show what a fighting game could be, but what really made it the forerunner of the street fighter franchise was the introduction of Ryu and Ken. A lot of street fighter can be boiled down to the rivalry between these two fighters who are basically the same but with different colored clothes and hair. Ryu served as a playable character in street fighter, but if a second player joined the game for a player versus player fight, they would take on the role of Ken. Thus, a legendary rivalry and franchise began.

A lasting legacy

street fighter created the thriving fighting game community that helped launch large-scale video game competitions.Evo

The original receipt for the arcade release of street fighter was that the game was good, but not great. It would be ported to other consoles over the next two years, including a more favorable PC Engine version. But then came Street Fighter II in 1991.

It is no exaggeration to say that Street Fighter II was a global phenomenon. The refined gameplay and larger character roster focused on the intricate button-grabbing system as well as the ability to play one-on-one against another player. This led to arcades becoming hotspots for people playing the game, creating dedicated spaces for what would become the modern fighting game community.

The series is still going strong.

Street Fighter II would be repeated over the next few years, which the series continues to do, with the final arcade version being Super Street Fighter II Turbo in 1994. With the arcade scene being so popular, people finally decided to hold tournaments. In 1996, ‘Battle by the Bay’ was launched as Street Fighter II tournament in California. This would become the Evolution Championship Series, the world’s premier fighting game tournament.

In time since Street Fighter II released the fighting game genre expanded to include mortal combat, Smash Bros.and numerous entries into the genre from franchises like Character. With the imminent release of Street Fighter 6 in 2023, the franchise that started it all remains one of the top dogs. But at its core, it still shares the same DNA that made the original street fighter full of potential. Even though it wasn’t the greatest game of all time, it still paved the way for everything that followed. Why be a good game when you can have one of the greatest legacies in gaming?

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