When I was between the ages of 10-12, I played Street Fighter 2 like a boy with a vision. I beat the game with every character except Dhalsim because he was slow as hell and couldn’t beat some of the faster characters. Maybe there is a person out there that was the greatest Dhalsim player this side of the Mississippi. Maybe it got him somewhere.
Street Fighter 2’s popularity peaked right before Mortal Combat came out and hours upon hours were spent learning the special kill moves to “finish him.” Challengers would show up to my house and I would vanquish them one by one (my memory is biased). My mother would bring us food and snacks and every three minutes there would be yelling as epic clutchness surely ensued the end of every round.
My player of choice was Ken. He was like Ryu, except he wore red. Why Capcom made two characters that are exactly the same, I don’t know. I’m sure there was some cut-scene story to it. Ken in a way taught me all the karate I’ll ever know.
I have two distinct memories of how Street Fighter 2 paid off for me.
I remember in college when someone dusted off their old SNES and brought it to the dorms. I walked down a hall to see a crowd in one room and jostled my way in to see what the commotion was about.
They were playing Street Fighter 2.
The owner of the system was defeating everyone easily. “He is unstoppable” said his roommate. Others nodded in approval as if they had just seen a miracle. I hadn’t played the game in at least six or seven years, but anyone that knows what it was like to play Street Fighter 2 at its peak knows the memorized moves stay with you forever, much like the Contra code.
“I can beat him,” I said. The crowd grumbled like I was the biggest gamer poser. Supposedly this guy had just left a hundred dead bodies on the floor and was thought to be untouchable. They handed me the controller and he picked Guile.
I picked Ken.
The first round kicked off and my hadouken was just a powerful and fast as I remember. It was all muscle memory. Ken beat Guile in round one and the crowd was roaring. The owner’s hands started to sweat. He looked at his controller to act like maybe there was something wrong. Round two kicked off, and his sonic booms were no match for me. The key to Street Fighter 2 is know it is a block and counter game. You block everything from a distance and up close, you usually do a low sweep or grab-and-throw. I won the game and the crowd was shocked. I tried standing up like a champion. All those hours as a kid paid off, somehow, someway.
He wanted a rematch.
This time he chose Ryu. He wanted to prove I was a fluke. It would be hadouken vs hadouken. With a crowd of countless people (it was probably only a dozen), we kicked and punched and uppercutted but it was no use. I had simply “trained” more for this moment than him. I beat him again and he finally handed the controller to someone else saying he was tired. He could still hold his chin up. He was like 40-2 for the night.
That was my first memory of Street Fighter 2.
Whenever I pass by an arcade, I look for four games, all from the early 1990s. This is one I’ll stop and donate a quarter to. That quarter usually lasts me twenty minutes, except for one time in Vegas. I was at Circus Circus.
Yes, the mythical casino of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The place is a relic at this point, but one cool thing is that it sports an awesome arcade in the back. So after losing maybe $150 in roulette, I roamed the place broke. In the arcade, I spotted the machine. I put in a quarter and began my usual 20 minute campaign. It wasn’t a regular machine, maybe it was Marvel vs Capcom or some variation. About five wins in, some Asian guy about twenty years older than me showed me a shiny quarter and motioned that he wanted to play against me. The only common language he spoke was Street Fighter. I said ok and he stuck in a quarter.
I beat him. He looked a little upset, but nodded gracefully.
I continued playing.
He came back with 4 fresh quarters. I nodded in approval and we played four more times and the result was the same. He nodded gracefully again and smiled but he wasn’t someone who gave up easily.
Then he came back and placed five dollars in quarters on the screen (for those who never played in an Arcade, if you place a quarter on the bottom edge of the screen and top of the dashboard where the planes meet, the quarters will stand up and make it easy to show how many you have left while not really blocking the screen). I looked at him, and he nodded as if this as life or death. His asian wife held on to her purse about five feet off to the side (she probably feared getting blamed for jinxing him). Part of me wondered if he was a designer on the original game. If you are reading this Circus Circus Asian man, let me know, because that would be an epic fact.
We kicked and punched each other in Circus Circus that night. Somewhere in his stack of quarters, he did beat me. Evidently he finally cracked the code to my weakness, which I won’t say, but there is definitely a character and sequence of moves I’m not great at stopping. It was fun.
When I rented Street Fighter 5 on PS4 this past weekend, I wish I could say the same. First the game asked me to download a 37 minute update. WTF? Then it has a minute of cutscenes to teach people who to fighter. WTF? Then each match takes like 20 second to load to a cutscene you only want to skip. WTF? The basic combos are all the same. Do all kids need a damn tutorial to play any game? What happened to just putting in the game and hitting start? Evidently the entire game is online, just playing with lag with other online players and ranking up. I have skill, but no time, so I stuck to the single player campaigns which are easy. I beat half the character’s storyline and barely got hit. The graphics are surely better and combos are kind of cool to see, but there is nothing original about the gameplay other than a random dancing bear with a red collar on one of the stages. I then decided at 12:30pm to try to do the 100 person survival mode. Here you fight a hundred players by only getting small boosts after each round. I put it on the hardest level … “hell” mode. I expected a tough fight. Instead, I vanquished the first 10 opponents easily. Evidently kids these days still don’t know how to block like I was taught. I was bored and tired and shut the game off. There is probably a kid out there at the top of the Street Fighter 5 PS4 leaderboards who thinks they are the greatest ever, but they would be greatly mistake. Somewhere in the world there is a middle aged person working at a job they loathe, with the golden reflexes of a champion.
I won’t be playing Street Fighter 5 ever again, but will still stop if I see the old arcade machine somewhere, or will ask about the old SNES you have in the corner of your living room if you invite me over. Don’t be sheepish. Let’s play.