Here Comes a New Challenger!

It began, as is the case with all great legends, with a challenge.

It’s 1992. Two first-graders rush over to the Super Nintendo, charged with Friday afternoon enthusiasm and armed to the teeth with fruit snacks and chocolate milk. My friend’s older brother bought a new game where you can beat up on your friend. It’s called Street Fighter II, and it’s sooo awesome.

Neither of us cares about the characters or story; the fat guy slaps people, the Indian guy stretches his limbs, the Russian guy is hairy (and totally cheap), and that was enough. Dozens of hours were whiled away as hundreds of matches and rematches were waged in the first competitive gaming experience of my life. A genre was born and new fighters emerged, but Street Fighter II remains the true stage of history.

Now it’s 2009 — seventeen years later. I’m an avid a gamer as ever, but I’ve never owned Street Fighter II or any of its ports or iterations. Yet I never forgot the halcyon days of Street Fighter: the rush of adrenaline, the stream of quarters into the arcade cabinet, the improbable victories (admittedly, few of them belonging to me) and the cheering spectators. It’s one of a kind.

I was trawling the Xbox Live Marketplace one day for something new to play through when my buddy Doug suggested I download Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix: It’s the definitive version of the classic fighter with fancy redrawn graphics and remixed music, it’s powered by gamer-tested bulletproof netcode, and it’s only $15. I bit, but I had my doubts; could a game this old work well in an online age?

Well, that was stupid of me. Of course it works! It works brilliantly. I went from a button-mashing neanderthal to a rapid-fire Hadoken spammer in just a few weeks, thanks to the ridiculously challenging crowd of players populating the ranked matches online. But getting my ass handed to me by a series of faceless opponents in quick succession pales in comparison to the joy of grabbing a few good friends and duking it out in a winner-stays-on battle royale. Spectators can cheer and heckle as they watch the two current players battle it out. And that’s where HD Remix does the impossible: It revives the legendary game for a modern era, and it leaves the thrill of the social arcade scene perfectly intact.

Incidentally, Street Fighter IV is out tomorrow, and the initial impressions are nothing short of stellar. I’m picking it up as soon as I can this week; anyone else planning on doing the same?