Thursday, 26 July 2012

Arcade Fighting Games #2

Street Fighter (1987)
By: Capcom Genre: Fighting Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 55,500
Also Available For: PC Engine CD, Amiga, Atari ST, PC, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum (also available on compilations for PS2, Xbox, etc)
Download For: Wii Virtual Console

Unusual to see the logo without numbers after it...
It's hard to believe there's now been over twenty distinct games released bearing the legendary 'Street Fighter' name, not even counting the dozens of related titles, but we often forget that the series started right here with this 1987 release and, unusually for me, not only is it a game that I've played, but it's one I had spent quite a bit of time with before Capcom even unveiled its sequel! Although I managed to play the game to completion on my Speccy, my first encounter was with this version in my local arcade and it was the first one-on-one fighting game I'd played there. It was also one of the first times I'd seen a game with a 'special' control method (not counting racing and lightgun games, of course). More on that later though. For now, I'll take a more detailed look at the game that started it all, propelling Capcom's name into the stratosphere in the process, and it'll be my first look at the game since all those years ago too.

Ryu takes a facepalm from Retsu before his temple...
The timeline of the Street Fighter series has become somewhat convoluted over the years but I believe this original game forms the basis of the first such tournament and stars a few faces that would become rather more well-known. There's no choice of characters though - two players assume the roles of Ryu and Ken respectively, but you do get a choice of four countries to start from, each of which hosts two fighters. Retsu (a monk) and Geki (a ninja) are in Japan, Joe (a karate champion) and Mike (a boxer) are in the US, Birdie (a punk) and Eagle (a bouncer) are in the UK, and Lee (a kung-fu expert) and Gen (an assassin) are in China, with a brick-breaking bonus round separating each location. Phew! That's not all though - if you manage to best all eight fighters, you'll qualify for the final showdown against muay thai champions, Adon and his master... Sagat.

Eeek! Geki quickly proves to be a handful. Or facefull...
Although it's possible to play as either of them in one-player mode, Ryu and Ken are identical aside from their appearance so there's just one set of moves to learn. I didn't know it all those years ago but that includes their now-legendary Hadooooken, Hurricane Kick, and Dragon Punch moves as well. Indeed, many of the gameplay elements that would become standard were born right here, albeit sometimes in more basic forms, so it all feels very familiar by now. Each fighter has an equal energy bar, his own stage/background, and unique moves. Opponents can block each others attacks, although there are no throwing moves here, there's a time limit to each round, and contests are fought on a best-of-three basis. Not only that but the game is already controlled using the now standard six-button attack configuration - three for varying strengths of punches, and three for kicks, and it's here that Capcom implemented their innovative control method.

This is harder than it looks...
The arcade cabinet, you see, was not equipped with six buttons per player at all but only two (the version I encountered, at least). These could barely be called buttons at all, though - they would be more accurately described as 'pads' about the size of a grapefruit, or turnip if you prefer. The varying strength of Ryu or Ken's attacks were thereby determined by how hard you 'pressed' (i.e. hit) the pads. It was an idea I was very taken by at the time and recalling it now makes me wonder why Capcom didn't employ this control method on more of their cabs. Maybe they did, actually, but I never saw any. As we gamers know all too well, though, novelty controls are often used to mask the otherwise smelly nature of some games and the fact that this was Capcom's first ever fighting game could've also spelt trouble. I remember enjoying it in its day but the big question is: how does it hold up now?

Nice choice of location, American oaf!
Considering the sheer number of times Capcom have polished and reworked the basic formula they laid down here, it would be most understandable if Street Fighter had aged somewhat, and this is indeed the case. The lack of selectable characters is probably the most obvious absence. Since I nearly always use Ryu in other Street Fighter games anyway, this doesn't bother me too much, but I imagine other players wouldn't be too impressed. What impressed me least, however, was the controls. Later SF games are noted for, among many other things, their precise, tight, and intricate controls. The more basic techniques and move-sets on offer here are to be expected but Ryu moves around quite sluggishly and is often quite unresponsive as well. I personally found performing his trademark special moves to be very tricky and timing jumps and strikes is rather hit and miss as well (no pun intended!) with jumping attacks being particularly ineffective much of the time.

Not many stops to make... yet...
But even without this irritating problem, the difficultly would still be unbalanced. Later fighters can deplete your entire energy bar with three or four non-special moves but it's okay because you can more often than not finish the whole game by repeatedly performing weak attacks while crouching down! The presentation is superb throughout though - the title and map screens are nice and each character has post-fight screens showing submissive praise or lairy taunts for player wins and losses respectively. Surprisingly, there's also a fair amount of sampled speech here. Sadly it's of croaky sub-Gauntlet quality but it's an admirable feature all the same! The graphics aren't bad either - the fighters feature above-average animation and are well drawn for their time, and some of the backgrounds are really nice with each stage scrolling a small distance each way. The music isn't too bad either (perhaps a little loud) but hardly to the 'anthem' standards we would soon get used to!

See if you can guess which country this guy's from...
So many things we take for granted in fighting games today were started right here with this game so, as unfair as it may sound, it's really difficult to judge it without thinking of later games in the series. In the end I gave up trying - the simple fact is, Street Fighter was a decent enough game in its day - it's nice looking (although special moves are much less flashy), it was fairly innovative, and it is of course great fun for two players. Plus, in historical terms it's a hugely important release, but it's not aged well (thanks mainly to the brilliance of its many, many sequels) so there are almost no reasons to play it over one of those. Huge respect, both to the game itself and to Capcom for creating it, but it's still the mighty, and thus-far unbeaten Third Strike for me!

RKS Score: 5/10


  1. I think we played very few in the very first chapter of the series! Including myself

  2. Hi Marco :) Yes, I think it's safe to say that most gamers first encountered the series thanks to SFII! Hardly surprising I suppose...

  3. Has there ever been such a massive leap between two consecutive titles in a series? Most sequels iterate on the previous game, but Street Fighter is so inferior to its successor that you would be forgiven for thinking they were from separate franchises.

  4. Yeah, you're right there, Marc - Street Fighter isn't a hopelessly terrible game now and was fairly good back then, but the sequels have been so much better that they make it look like a pile of poop. Oh well, certainly nothing to complain about, it's given us some cracking games!

  5. I'm really looking forward to Third Strike review! In particular, reasons you prefer.....Have a particularly happy day today, BTW!

  6. Cheers buddy! Don't expect the Third Strike review for some time if I decide to review the series in order though :P