Retrospective Overdrive: Street Fighter series

The Overdrive continues unabated. This time Doug is looking at the king of all fighters, the Street Fighter series. Other entries in the Retrospective category can be found here.

This month is the 20th anniversary of Street Fighter II. Let that sink in for a while; how old were you 20 years ago? For how much of your life have you used a joystick and six buttons to try and beat up your opponent?

For my money, the most amazing thing about the Street Fighter series is how such a simple core concept has proven to be both flexible and timeless. I'm not going to do a full, detailed analysis of the history of the series — 1up has done a decent job of that in recent weeks, including an excellent SF-centric episode of the revived Retronauts podcast — but instead point out a couple of games in the series that have meant quite a bit to me and my appreciation of the greater series. It's a high-quality franchise, but some of the titles mean more than others.

Street Fighter Alpha 3

Back when Street Fighter II and its infinite 16-bit revisions (Championship Edition, Turbo, Hyper Fighting, Super, etc) were new, I was way too young to appreciate what was going on; pick the girl, mash buttons to get her to kick forever, be amazed when something cool happens or pick the red karate guy, reel back and wonder how you got him to throw a fireball or spin like a top in the air. It was still fun though, which is something of a testament to the mechanics of Street Fighter, but I was approaching the game as an ignorant kid.

Fast forward a few years and a couple of console generations, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 was the one where I learned what the hell I was doing. I rented it once for PlayStation and then, when I found it cheap at a Hollywood Video for Dreamcast, I knew I had to buy it. I'd already spent an inordinate amount of time learning a fighting game, Soul Calibur; now, this great-looking 2D fighter was available, and it was time to figure out what I'd missed before. EGM said it was an arcade-perfect port, and that was really all the prodding I needed.

What a re-introduction. Alpha 3 was worlds ahead of what I knew from the SFII era; with three different ways to control a super meter, alpha counters, and more nuanced combos, this was a distinctly evolved product from what I knew on the SNES. However, it allowed me to dig deep and learn characters and the fighting system at the heart of the Street Fighter series. I learned shotokans and shoto-clones, the intricacies of charge characters, and the fine balance between speed, power and health presented by the game's wide selection of characters. Even within the various shotos, you have four characters with subtle differences, and then Dan for when you're drunk or want to challenge yourself. I also learned to hate the standard Dreamcast controller, but that's another matter for another time.

It still holds up, too, of course. Alpha 3 remains my favorite true 2D fighting game, partially because it was the first I dug into, but also because of the wide variety of characters and great, balanced action.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2

And from the technical styles of Alpha 3, we uncork the madness of Marvel vs. Capcom 2. If it hadn't been re-released on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, I would perpetually be trying to track down a copy of this for the Dreamcast. There's a reason brand-new sealed copies go for more than $300: It was published in somewhat limited numbers for the Dreamcast, but is also one of the best-remembered 2D fighters of all time.

Fire the game up and hold on. While the previous "versus" games stayed close to the established Street Fighter formula, MvC2 was the first that really broke away and differentiated itself. From six buttons down to four, the controls are simplified, but it's not just a game for beginners — streamlining just allows easier access to insanity. Make no mistake, because that's what the game is: unbridled 2D insanity -- fighting game sprite-porn. Everything is over the top, and the super combos are indicative of this.

Seriously, MvC2 is absolutely bananas. In a good way.

I'll also take a second to tip my cap to another Street Fighter game you can go out and download right now, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. This recognition is not just for having the most Street Fighter-est game name of all time, but for being an incredibly good remake of 16-bit Street Fighter II. It's SFII as we want to remember it, but with slight rebalance tweaks to perfect the fighting and an amazing graphical and musical remastering to make the game stand out in the HD era. Seriously, I fired this up the other day for the first time in a long while and it almost made me feel like the dude in that old hi-fi ad, totally blown away.

Plus, it was the first contemporary Street Fighter game to "get" online play, with the online lobby system allowing eight people to spectate and quarter up at a time. Doing this with friends online is awesome fun. GIVE 'EM THE GIEF!

Super Street Fighter IV

Street Fighter on the cover of a video game magazine? It was like the mid-90s had never left a couple years ago when Street Fighter IV came back. Super took it up another level, adding characters and gameplay twists — and coming out for $40 brand new! — and is a worthy heir to the throne. Yes, I know, this isn't an old game — but I love it. There's a lot to learn in the game, but it's still open to newcomers who can pick up the gameplay and have fun.

Not gonna go into too much about Super Street Fighter IV, but let me put it this way: while it does have solid online play, before Nick left to work in Texas we would get together on the regular to throw down, old-school same-couch style. Few other games in the current, networked era inspire that sort of competition.