I first played Streetfighter II, I think, when I was about 9 or 10, on a friend’s Amiga. It was already legendary, from the arcades at bowling allies to the legendary SNES port owned by friends. It had a strange allure; the cast of characters, some more peculiar than others; impressive visuals; and, perhaps, the chance to beat the living daylights out of your friends. It was wish fulfilment, basically; grudges taken out with a stick and six buttons. What was irksome was that it was harder than it looked. How did you do those special moves? We spent ages jiggling sticks, pushing buttons, whilst the characters on screen produced entirely arbitrary actions in response. We didn’t even know what blocking was. I always used to pick Blanka (who was rubbish, back in the days of World Warrior) for no other reason than his electricity move looked cool.
I always got beat, by someone who could never work out how they did it.
After II comes a succession of patches. Not quite sequels, more just different flavours; Championship Edition, Turbo, Super, Super Turbo, Hyper Fighting. Not to mention a succession of home console ports. Still the same game.
My first encounter with a flavour other than vanilla was on a ferry to Austria. There was a cabinet playing Championship Edition; the main feature of this was the ability to play as the same character as the other player, and to play as the bosses. We took these new features as new rules, and fought match after match, every player as Vega, just because we could. Terrible character. Nightmarish special moves. But we were both being a boss character. We’d never done that before. And still, deep down, the catharsis of beating the shit out of someone.
Ryu is a constant. Ryu has been in every game, from I to III: Third Strike, not to mention Alphas and VS games galore. He’s unchanged, balanced to hell and back: a ranged attack, a rising close attack, and a distance covering attack. The cursor falls on him by default, and the player automatically picks. This isn’t like chosing Liu Kang, who fulfilled the desire to be a badly dubbed Bruce Lee, or Akira, who looked like Ryu but fought nothing like him, and confounded beginner after beginner; this is Ryu.
Ryu is a constant in the young man’s life. The skills learnt on a SNES joypad translate years later, when a friend pulls out a dreamcast. I may be Chun Li, I may be Captain America, I may be Terry Bogard, I may be Twelve or Q; you are always Ryu.
You might, of course, be Ken, Ryu’s palette-swapped twin. Ken was the hotheaded American to Ryu’s cool, calm Japanese. Ken was the close-in brawler; Ryu was superior at the distance. Ken was popular with jumpy, excitable, rough-and-ready types; latent xenophobia shining through, perhaps. Ken was good, but there was no competition, really. All the cool kids picked Ryu.
Ryu is the first, the default, the constant. One night, last year, a friend and I sat playing Marvel vs Capcom 2. I was getting hammered. Another friend arrived, a veteran of years of Street Fighter 2, both SNES and chipshop; he was coaxed into taking up a pad. He stared blankly, at the sea of characters, all waiting to be picked.
“Can I be Ryu?”
The motions of SFII supers are like nothing else. They are not the random sequence of pushes favoured by Mortal Kombat, nor the endless strings of numbered buttons Tekken players know and hate. It is not even the graceful flicks of Virtua Fighter.
It is a dance; sticks held back and then released, rolling, circling motions capped by button presses, the right hand stabbing at buttons, the left stirring digital custard. It takes ages for a ten-year-old to master. Once inbuilt, you never forget it.
You never forget your first fireball. The grace of the system is finally revealed. No longer floundering, executing moves by random; the player realises the extent of his control, and demonstrates it.
Grasp the stick. In a neat flowing motion, with me: down, down-forwards, forwards, punch:
methyl | 4 Aug 2004
jblount | 5 Sep 2004
This article really amazed me. Your skill accurately descibing the Street Fighter phenomenon and how it has affected my life is above par. Thanks a lot.