What you are about to read has been written by Mr Biffo, the creative force behind the 90s Teletext videogames magazine Digitiser. He now runs the show at digitiser2000.com.
Do you know my favourite bit of Street Fighter II? Some of you might be guessing “Oh, it’ll be the meticulous physicality of the interactions between combatants,” or “The subtle ebb-and-flow of the combat, and the way it balances beautifully instinctive strategic impulse with visceral thrill”.
You’d be wrong though: the thing that really impressed me when I first played Street Fighter II on my Super NES was that cool 3D effect of the backdrop in the E.Honda stage. No, really. I probably played the game to see the shifting perspective of the bath as much as I did to get off on slapping Sagat around the chops.
They were simpler times, when the world existed pretty much exclusively on a 2D plane. Nowadays you can barely step outside your front door with a 3D something or other poking you in the face. Or maybe that’s just me.
Still, I remember the day I bought Street Fighter II, such was its significance in my gaming timeline. I had to sell a bunch of old games to afford it; the first 16MB cartridge, it cost something in the region of £50 (around $70/AUS$97) – about £10,000 in today’s money. It was, and still is, iconic.
There’s a reason that Street Fighter has endured, and it’s all because Street Fighter II got it so right. Perfect visuals, great characters, and sublime combat. It’s little wonder that it inspired countless imitators; it still stands up today, whereas Mortal Kombat, Pit Fighter, Virtua Fighter and their ilk just look archaic.
I sort of knew I wasn’t very good at it, mind – I could just about launch a hadouken, but most of the special moved eluded me unless I activated them by accident. But that was okay, y’know. I only ever had to play Street Fighter II solo, or against my mates – most of whom were, if anything, even worse at it than I was.
Gradually, however, Street Fighter became a series that edged me out, that started separating its players into two categories: Heavyweights… and everyone else.
Super. The Champion Edition. Hyper Fighting. Turbo. The games just seemed to get faster and more convoluted, adding more and more characters, and move sets, and superlatives… and I got worse and worse at them. I was so overwhelmed that all I could do was button-mash, and hope for the best. It was no longer enough to accidentally activate the special moves: you had to be able to draw on them at precisely the right moment.
Then came Street Fighter Alpha. Alpha 2 and 3. Street Fighter EX. Marvel Vs Capcom. Everyone Else vs Capcom. Street Fighters III and IV… and now – at last – Street Fighter V. It’s the first Street Fighter game to debut on home systems before the arcades. And, notably, the first time I’ve ventured back to the franchise in a very long time.
I’m now at a point in my life where, I’ve concluded, Street Fighter is no longer for me. II was the perfect game: it invited everyone in. Gave everybody a chance. And yet had enough depth that it was possible to become really good at it, if you put in the hours.
Street Fighter V is essentially an online-only beat ’em up – not least because, being middle-aged, I don’t have the friends around who have the time or motivation to sit down and play it with me. They’re all off mowing their lawn, or speaking to their mortgage advisor, because they’re massive losers.
There’s not even any real single player element to speak of in V (though a story mode is on its way, apparently: V appears to be very much a work-in-progress). If I want to play Street Fighter V I have to play it against other Street Fighter V players – all of whom, inevitably, are far, far better at it than I am.
To the degree, in fact, that there’s no chance of me even getting better incrementally; pretty much as soon as I enter a match, it’s K.O. And that’s a shame, because what I have been able to play of it is a pure nostalgia blast. It feels familiar, and accessible, and the Street Fighter that I fell in love with. But then I have to encounter other players, and the fun evaporates.
Which is ok, I suppose. There are other things I could be doing with my time. Yet I miss the days when the Street Fighter brand was accessible to all, when it wasn’t a game for beat ’em up elites, but for everyone who played games. When it was up there with the Marios and Zeldas. One of those universal games that got it so right.