Street Fighter is 25

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Aug 032012

Apparently today is the actual 25th anniversary of the Street Fighter franchise.

I’ve talked about Street Fighter plenty of times in the past, but I figured I’d do some waxing of nostalgia today. Not that today’s date is particularly relevant to my Street Fighter fandom, since I never played the game until SF2 hit the US in… 1991? But hey, this is as good of a day as any to do this.

The first time I saw Street Fighter 2 was at the arcade in Rolling Oaks Mall. At the time, Rolling Oaks was the mall here in San Antonio. North Star was a bit more upscale, and Rivercenter was, is, and always will be the tourist trap mall, but Rolling Oaks was the one to which all the suburban kids flocked. Those brats being the very lifeblood of the mall entity, yeah, Rolling Oaks was the place to be if you were bored middle class kid with too much money and time to kill.

I was a middle school kid. It was either late in my seventh grade year or that summer between seventh and eighth. Pretty sure it was the former. I was wandering around the mall while my mom and sister did their shopping thing. I had ten bucks at most in my pocket– cash for a couple of slices of pizza and about five bucks of actual spending cash. No way in hell I’d be able to afford any of the shit at Electronics Boutique. I was in that time between childhood and adulthood phases of buying toys, so Kay Bee Toys was useless to me. I didn’t have enough time to catch a movie at the mall theater. Everything else was mall fashion territory– it may as well be the poison swamps from Dragon Warrior to a geek like me.

So I hit up the arcade. I was a video game geek, spending most of my free time at home playing shit on the NES. I’d play games at the arcade, but it wasn’t as frequent of a haunt as it’d soon become. I looked around the arcade for something to play. I can’t remember exactly what I played at first, but I played some other stuff before Street Fighter 2 finally caught my eye. The mall wasn’t too busy at the time, and the game was fairly brand new, so there wasn’t a huge crowd around it just yet. It was just another kid around my age playing some weird Indian dude with skulls around his neck fighting against some Chinese chick. I figured it was a boss fight, since they were the only two characters on the screen.

The kid lost to the girl and left. I didn’t want to continue off of his game, since I’d never played it before and didn’t want to start right in the middle of a boss battle, so I let the timer tick down before jumping in.

That’s when I looked down and saw six buttons. SIX FUCKING BUTTONS. What kind of game needs this many buttons? I knew the SNES was gonna have that many buttons, but the idea seemed kinda excessive. Who needs that many options to punch and jump? What do all of these buttons do? It was downright arcane– like peering into some eldritch spellbook and seeing an entirely new language, and in reading it you find your consciousness rewritten. I was intimidated.

But once I plunked in my fifty cents I noticed something. That chick that kicked that one kid’s ass? That chick who I thought was a boss? She was selectable. What? You can play as a boss? What kind of game is this? Seriously, my whole concept of video games was being challenged here. This was some revelatory shit. So I picked this “Chun Li” character and started playing, expecting this to be like Final Fight or something.

Yeah, that’s when I found out that the kid before me wasn’t fighting a boss. This game is all about boss fights. One on One. Fight this one dude. Best two out of three. Win and fight the next dude. Lose and you gotta plunk in another quarter (Continuing usually costing less than buying in on single player games.).

It didn’t sink in at first. I knew this was a cool game, but I didn’t grasp what was happening at the time. This was all new to me, and I was aware that this game was different, but that was it. I played a few games. I discovered that mashing kick would make Chun Li do a super kick. I discovered that doing the same with the punch button did jack shit, much to my dismay. I accidentally discovered that she could do a flying spinning kick, but had no idea how to replicate it. It’s a bit like those half-truths about Columbus not realizing he was on a new continent, believing he was just in a part of Asia. I knew I was onto something here, but how much of a something was beyond me. I spent my quarters, it was time to go home, and that was that.

It wasn’t until that summer that I’d see how big of a phenomenon Street Fighter 2 would become. People crowding around the lone machine in an arcade, waiting forever to get one lousy game in, plopping down quarters or tokens to reserve their spot. I’d slowly discover the arcane language of controller movements. Charge back or down, then move forward or back. Quarter circles. Half circles. The mythical Spinning Piledriver 360 degrees. I’d soon become fluent in that then-esoteric controller language.

Street Fighter 2 would pretty much define the latter half of my grade school years. I’d go to the arcade at least once a week to battle it out with other dudes. I’d buy a SNES just to get access to Street Fighter 2 at home. My grades in school would suffer as I’d spend far more time playing this shit than studying. Granted, we’re talking about an A student falling into low B he’d-be-awesome-if-he’d-just-do-his-homework territory, but yeah.

It defined me in a lot of ways. Still does. Other than maybe Katamari Damacy, no other game really sank in as deep and as permanently. And my Street Fighter fandom was one reason why I ended up becoming an anime fan. It led me to subscribe to gaming magazines, and they’d talk about all of these crazy games based on Japanese cartoons. That led to curiosity and that soon led to hunting down VHS tapes at video rental places.

Yep. Street Fighter’s one of the main reasons why I’m here at this blog thing blabbing about this shit. You should thank it. Or hate it.