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10 Features

History Lesson: Why Street Fighter is one of gaming's most enduring franchises

By Michael Gapper on Saturday 2nd Aug 2014 at 2:00 PM UTC

You're 11 years old, crowding around a Street Fighter II arcade cabinet while bigger boys and girls hog the machine.

You're 13, saving every penny for a SNES import converter to play that chunky USA SFII Turbo cartridge early.

You're 16, putting aside your PlayStation and playing SF Alpha 2 on a friend's Saturn because it had the best controller ever.

You're 18, leaving your sixth form Sociology lesson and calling in sick for your £2.80 an hour evening job because SF Alpha 3 has arrived and you have to triumph or die.

It's in our blood. Whether you're an old hand or a newbie; whether you were there 20 years ago for Street Fighter II or SFIV was your first time on the street; whether you smashed faces and bloodied noses in Alpha 1, 2, and 3, or you never touched a fighting game until Soul Calibur IV. Whether on SNES or Mega Drive, Saturn or PlayStation, Dreamcast or PS2, Xbox or PS3 - we are gamers, and Street Fighter is in our blood.

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It was an April morning in 1999 when Street Fighter Alpha 3 dropped through the door, a full year before the game would officially see the light of day in Europe. It had been ordered from the internet - the internet! - and was an imported copy from a late-90s dotcom startup which would go bust within eight months, played on a PlayStation chipped to run imports and 'backups' by a-friend-of-a-friend-don't-ask-what-his-name-is-but-he's-a-good-bloke-don't-worry.

We didn't even need to call it by its full name. It was just 'Alpha 3'. "Hoy, Dwayne; wanna play some Alpha 3?" Of course he bloody did; it was Alpha Three. It was the best. It was Street Fighter the way it existed in your head - the fluidity and accessibility SFII never had with the sheer spectacle and drama SFIV wishes it could touch with its canned Ultra combos and 3D hulks.

Armies of teens crowded into bedrooms beneath posters of Buffy and Louise Nurding, squinting through binoculars at miniscule 16-inch Curry's own-brand portable tellies. Winner stays, loser pays; there were no 50p's to stack and no bigger boys to kick you off the machine but it was Street Fighter and there are rules.

They were rules you all knew - common ground every gamer shared. There were the same three punches and kicks, the same joystick motions and results, the same one-on-one fights and the same World Warriors.

Those barely-supplemented mechanics from SFII were well into their tweens when Alpha 3 hit shelves but with three fighting styles, dozens of play modes, and a screen-filling character roster, the game felt brand-spanking new.

The cast was the biggest anyone had ever seen - everyone from Alpha 2 and more besides; better yet, there were hidden characters who weren't part of the arcade game you had made special trips into Weston-super-Mare to play throughout the summer of '98.

T. Hawk, Dee Jay, Fei Long, Guile, Evil Ryu, and Shin Akuma were all selectable from their own slots on the character select screen, ready to be mastered or re-mastered on a brand new battlefield. But hoy, Dwayne - don't select Evil Ryu now. That fool is cheap.

Alpha 3 was the right game at the right time, and it was always about playing with the right friends. Street Fighter was never great because Capcom had made it great; it was great because it brought you together after school and work, at weekends and on holidays. Street Fighter III proved it; Third Strike was the best Street Fighter ever but it was a 2D fighter in the middle of a 3D revolution and only the Sega Dreamcast could handle it, so the audience stayed relatively small.

There were no weekend warriors and no armies beneath the Buffy posters. Without that avid community, it never brought that same magic home.

By the end of the decade Tekken and Soul Calibur had finished off 2D fighting, and GoldenEye had changed the face of multiplayer console gaming. Halo picked up where GoldenEye left off and it took a full ten years for Street Fighter to recover.

SFIV was the return of the king - more remake than sequel, handling like a super-slick SFII. Street Fighter IV simply demanded to be played, whether by old blokes or by brand new players who hadn't even been born when Street Fighter II changed the gaming world 18 years previously.

It understood that the future of fighting games doesn't lie with a few thousand hardcore players, but with the millions of gamers of all levels of ability, playing after school and after a hard day at work, across PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

There are some games which seem to define a generation and set the agenda for almost every developer for years to come. Ridge Racer's launch alongside the PlayStation ensured the PS1 would be flooded with racers from Destruction Derby to Gran Turismo.

Halo's release on Xbox's launch day made first-person shooters the dominant console genre in the western gaming world from 2002 to today. But back in 1991, it was Street Fighter II which set the fisticuff standard. In 1995 we raced; in 2002 we shot one another to death; but in 1991, we fought fist-on-face, one-on-one, best-out-of-three.

Consoles come and consoles go, but there will always be a Street Fighter. Between the Spice Girls, the Millennium Bug, and Stone Cold Steve Austin getting hit by a limo-driving Rikishi Fatu, the end of the 90s was so bleak it was just one Tina Turner song and a Thunderdome away from being the endtimes.

But Street Fighter Alpha 3 signed off the decade with the same unrelenting barrage of awesome with which Street Fighter II had welcomed it in. It was the last great 2D fighter from the final years of the original PlayStation's life - two giants who conquered the 90s, going down fighting side by side.

It took ten long years but, in the last generation, Street Fighter became ours again - a game for everyone, on every platform.

Artwork courtesy of SFGalleries

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