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Robert Cartagena is a boxing correspondent for SFBay.ca. He graduated from SF State in 2011 with a B.A. in journalism and spent more than a year contributing monthly articles to The Hudsucker, an online magazine with a blog twist. He has a passion for sports journalism -- particularly boxing -- as well as film reviews. He also enjoys blogging and aspires to be a professional actor one day.

‘Street Fighter’ Still Packs a Punch 25 Years Later

This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the most popular fighting game franchises of all-time – not to mention, one of my personal favorites: Street Fighter. If I had to rank the franchise among my favorite video games, Street Fighter would definitely make my top five. I honestly can’t believe it’s been 25 years since iconic characters such as Ryu, Ken and Sagat first debuted in video arcades and took the world by storm. As of 2012, the games have sold over 30 million home units and 500,000 arcade cabinets. And of course, the franchise is responsible for coining one of the most iconic catchphrases in gaming history: “Hadouken!”

Image Credit: Capcom

Many incarnations of Street Fighter have appeared on pretty much all gaming consoles, and I had my fair share of titles growing up. I had two for the Super Nintendo, one for the Sega Genesis, four for the Playstation and even one title for the Dreamcast (yes, I still have my original Dreamcast console – and it STILL works). With the exception of the special editions released in Japan, I have played pretty much every incarnation that has been released. All the games are basically the same in terms of gameplay, but each title has its own special features. But when it comes down to it, my all-time favorite Street Fighter game is … Street Fighter II: The World Warrior.

Before there was Street Fighter II, there was Street Fighter, which was released in arcades on August 30, 1987 by Japanese gaming company, Capcom. Players took control of Ryu, a Japanese martial artist who competes in an international tournament to crown the greatest warrior on the planet. Ryu had three special moves: A fireball known as the Hadouken (a Japanese neologism which means “wave motion fist” or “surge fist”), a jumping uppercut known as the “Dragon Punch” (Shoryuken in Japanese) and the “Hurricane Kick.” Ryu travels to four countries (Japan, the United States, China and England) and must defeat each country’s two competitors in order to advance to the final round in Thailand. After doing so, he confronts the final two warriors: Muay Thai master Adon and his mentor, Sagat, the final boss who is considered the “Emperor of Muay Thai.” Ken, an American martial artist – and Ryu’s rival and former training partner, also debuted in the game, but could only be played by the second player. But if the second player defeats Ryu in a versus match, the second player can play as Ken throughout the single player campaign.

Street Fighter II was released in arcades in March 1991 and then ported to the Super Nintendo in August 1992 (two months after the game was released in Japan). The game featured the same gameplay as the previous title; each character had a health meter and the first to deplete their opponent’s meter wins the round; the first to win two rounds was declared the winner. Unlike the previous game, Street Fighter II allowed players to choose their own character from a group of eight. In addition to Ryu and Ken, players could also choose:

  • Chun-Li, a Chinese martial artist and Interpol agent (not to mention, the game’s only female warrior).
  • Blanka, a Brazilian man-beast who was raised in the jungle.
  • Guile, a former special forces operative from the United States.
  • Zangief, a Russian professional wrestler.
  • E. Honda, a Japanese sumo wrestler.
  • Dhalsim, an Indian yoga master.

After defeating the seven remaining opponents in the single player campaign, you must defeat the four hidden bosses to complete the game. These are four of the most challenging bosses in any fighting game. Along with Sagat, you’ll face:

  • Balrog, an African-American boxer.
  • Vega, a Spanish cage fighter who uses a claw as a weapon.
  • M. Bison, the final boss and master of the mysterious “Psycho Power.”

Growing up with both a Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in my house, there was no game that brought the out the gamer in me like Street Fighter II, which was the first fighting game I ever played. Two of my older cousins (both of whom are brothers) had a copy of the game for the SNES and I’ll never forget its artwork: Blanka launching himself like a cannonball toward Chun-Li – all while Ryu is lying unconscious on the ground. But I really got into the game when I played it for the first time at the local Round Table Pizza inside the Colma shopping center. I selected Ryu, who wore a white martial arts gi and a red bandana. To be honest, I think the red bandana was what drew me to him simply because I thought it made him look badass for a martial artist. Plus, it reminded me of Ralph Macchio’s character from the 1984 version of The Karate Kid.

Though I understood the basics of the game, I didn’t know how exactly to execute Ryu’s special moves. The original Street Fighter II arcade cabinet had six attack buttons (three punch and three kick that varied in strength) and a joystick which could you move in pretty much all directions. Though I was a novice, I quickly picked up on the gameplay. Dodging attacks in the original Street Fighter, however, was very difficult because whereas now you can fully jump forwards or backwards, you could only jump straight up or bounce forwards and backwards. I am not too fond of the 1987 game simply because of its awkward – let’s be honest, frustrating – controls, but least the game developers improved those mechanics and made the game’s fluidity much smoother starting with the sequel.

I remember watching a demo of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition (one of the game’s two upgrades released in 1992) involving Ryu and … Ryu. That’s right, Ryu was fighting Ryu! Champion Edition and the second upgrade, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, allowed players to select the same character as well as play as the hidden bosses. This time around, the second Ryu wore a dark blue gi and bandana. I remember both Ryus firing their fireballs and simultaneously shouting, “Hadouken!” I thought it was so cool watching them execute the same move that I made it my goal to finally master it once and for all.

Whereas many characters in Street Fighter II had simple ways of executing their special moves, the Hadouken was quite advanced because of the direction it required you to move your joystick or directional pad (D-pad for short). Today, I can pull it off no sweat. Back then, however, it was difficult to figure out. One morning before I went to school, I fought Dhalsim and tried motioning my thumb on the D-pad like a smile from left to right – and lone and behold, I finally figured out how to throw the Hadouken, which is a staple of the Street Fighter franchise and has been given to other fighters introduced in later incarnations including Akuma, Sakura and Dan (who has the weakest, by far).

In addition to its innovative fighting engine, I also enjoyed the game’s diversity – not just in terms of characters. After every three fights during the single player campaign, you would play a bonus stage where you earned points based on how fast and accurate you destroyed certain items, including a car, wooden barrels and flaming drums. My favorite moment from these three stages was watching the remains of the car’s body hit the ground once it was completely totaled.

Each character’s stage was colorful as well and effectively represented their respective heritage. From the elephants inside Dhalsim’s palace to E. Honda’s Japanese-style bath and Ryu’s traditional martial arts dojo, you felt like you were actually there. Balrog’s was great simply because you fought inside a Las Vegas casino. It had everything affiliated with Sin City: bright lights, gamblers, sexy women and of course, money, money (yeah, yeah)! Vega’s stage was another of my favorites because of the steel cage that drops just seconds before the bout begins. The cage, however, definitely favors him because of the aerial assaults he can execute simply by climbing it – which made him hard to defeat. Unless you successfully time and counter his cage dives, you’re guaranteed to lose a huge amount of health – and trust me, I have and it isn’t pretty.

Each successful run in the single player campaign rewarded you with a special cut scene that followed your fighter in the wake of their tournament victory. I clearly remember Ryu’s ending: A post-tournament ceremony was held and while Bison and Sagat, who finished second and third respectively, were present, the audience was concerned about Ryu’s whereabouts. Turns out, he began seeking his next challenge. I’ll never forget the animated sequence of him walking down the road while the words “The ceremony means nothing to him. The fight is all” (written like a true poet, I must say) appeared on screen. Ken’s ending was also classic because immediately after he is reunited with his girlfriend, Eliza, they get married and the traditional wedding march plays as the game fades out.

When I think of Street Fighter, I think of its nostalgia factor. Back in the day, there was no feeling than being the next in line to play a Street Fighter game at the local video arcade. I spent hundreds of quarters playing countless Street Fighter games and though I spent a lot, I always got my money’s worth. It’s also amazing to see how the games have transitioned from traditional 2D to 3D in the past 25 years, especially with the release of Street Fighter IV. These new releases feature plenty of detail on not just the characters, but the stages as well. The franchise has also produced a string of classic crossover games, including the popular Marvel vs. Capcom series. They even went head-to-head with one of their fellow fighting game rivals with the March release of Street Fighter X Tekken (The “X” is pronounced “cross”).

Aside from its mind-blowing action and blistering combo systems, Street Fighter has revolutionized the fighting game genre. Its global success paved the way for fellow fighting franchises such as Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct and the aforementioned Tekken to also take the world by storm. Remember how I mentioned that Chun-Li was the game’s only female fighter when it first debuted? Turns out, she was also the first female character to EVER appear in a fighting game. Her introduction to Japanese and American gamers also sparked a female fighter revolution. From Street Fighter favorites Cammy, Sakura and Crimson Viper to Sonya Blade, Kitana and Mileena from Mortal Kombat, fighting gaming franchises would not have as many iconic female characters as they do today if it wasn’t for Chun-Li’s contribution.

Street Fighter is not just a popular gaming franchise – it’s a global phenomenon. It has been adapted to television (including an animated series I used to watch on the old USA Network), comics (and their Japanese counterpart, manga) and film (including the animated classic that featured Chun-Li’s explicit shower scene). Of course, I can’t forget the (infamous) 1994 cult classic starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (which I personally believe is much more entertaining – let alone, watchable – than 2009’s Legend of Chun-Li spin-off starring Kristin Kreuk).

Whether they read this or not, I just want to thank the game developers at Capcom for blessing gamers like myself with the gift of Street Fighter. I grew up with these games, and I’m not just saying that because I’m 25 years old, myself. As the games evolved and introduced innovative features, I was there to play them and sharpen my skills. One might think that I would get tired of playing the same games after 25 years. But I’ll put it to you this way: If I’m at a local arcade and I see any vintage Street Fighter arcade cabinet – be it, Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter IV, whatever – you had best believe I will play it.

Cheers to Street Fighter’s 25th anniversary and see you in 25 years for its 50th anniversary!

Hadouken!

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