1987’s Street Fighter wasn’t the first fighting game—see the likes of Yie Ar Kung Fu and Karate Champ—but it remains the most influential. The game introduced three levels of attack speed and strength for punches and kicks mapped to six buttons (replacing an earlier version with pressure-sensitive pads), and it offered three special attacks that required a specific combination of button presses and joystick movements. Street Fighter was far more complex that its trivial title implied.
Street Fighter II improved on its predecessor to that point that it was almost unrecognisable. Eight playable characters. Hugely improved graphics. A combo system that—while fabled to have come about by accident, rather than by design—resulted in huge depth. For children of the ’90s huddling round a coveted cabinet in a local chippy, mini-cab station, arcade, or wherever else one would randomly turn up, Street Fighter was a rite of passage.
Many of those children, myself included, went on to enter tournaments. A lucky few became superstars. Others became heroes. Despite its ups and down—particularly when it comes to female participants—the fighting game community that evolved out of Street Fighter continues to thrive. 2015’s Evo tournament, arguably the largest fighting game tournament in the world with a prize pot of over $300,000 (£200,000), was watched by just under four million people. The most popular game in the tournament? Ultra Street Fighter IV, which drew more 250,000 viewers on Twitch during the momentous final between Momochi and Gamerbee. Sure, Evo might ostensibly be about more than just Street Fighter thanks to having games like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Killer Instinct on its roster. But to the average joe who might not know his high kick from his Hadouken, Street Fighter is Evo.
Of course, this presents a problem for Capcom. How can it replace Street Fighter IV, a game that many have spent the best part of decade trying to master? How do you introduce a user-friendly, intuitive, and attractive game without alienating existing fans and followers? I had my doubts. After all, I too have spent much of my career perfecting the art of playing Street Fighter. Why would I want to scrap all of that and start over? People gave Capcom hell for releasing tweaked versions of the same game over the years—Super Street Fighter IV, Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition, Ultra Street Fighter IV—but as a pro this is exactly what I wanted: a tweaked version of the game with better balance and a few new characters. And that’s what I hoped Street Fighter V would deliver. I wanted Ultra SFIV: Enhanced Edition. I wanted Capcom to acknowledge all the hard work I’d put into the game. I wanted things to be easy.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Street Fighter II was dramatically different to Street Fighter thanks to a much overhauled fighting system. Street Fighter III‘s parry system—which allowed players with precision timing to deflect attacks without taking damage—changed the way the game was played when compared to Street Fighter II. When Street Fighter IV was announced, all I could think about was how Capcom would update the parry system. When I saw that SFIV had no parry system, I was just as disappointed as I was during the Michelangelo “weapons amnesty” in the ’80s when the famed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle‘s nunchucks were suddenly replaced with a far less appealing grappling hook. Hero Turtles indeed.
Street Fighter V offers a fresh HUD, musical score, and new stages. It has a roster of new characters. And most importantly, character ranges, normal moves, special moves, and supers are all different from SFIV. This is topped off with an adjusted game speed and the removal of the focus attack in favour of new “V-Trigger” powers. The Focus, Attack, Dash, Cancel routine so beloved of SFIV players—where you perform a special or normal move and cancel in in the middle of animation by pressing Focus Attack and dashing forward, allowing you to quickly perform another move—has been rendered useless.
It would be easy to be bitter, as many in the Street Fighter community have been. But because the game is so different, SFV has given failed fighters and newcomers a clear direction, another chance at victory. Many players felt they missed the boat on high-level Street Fighter play during the long SFIV period, and unless you were a player devoted to mastering the game, catching up was next to impossible due to the plethora of patches and updates Capcom threw into the game. SFV wipes the slate clean. You have the players that feel they missed their opportunity and want to prove their worth. You have the professional players that want to show their skills are not limited to just one game. You have the current SFIV champions that want to keep their crowns moving forward. Everyone has motive to learn.
Beyond players, there are even more parties invested in the success of SFV. There are content creators, like those who want to be the next professional shoutcaster (commentator) at high-level events—an important role that conveys to an audience and to potential sponsors that Street Fighter is more than just button-bashing dopamine release, that it’s a game of instinct, creativity, speed, and dexterity. Then there are those who want to run large tournaments (and have them become annual successes) or those who want to be the next social media giants with Street Fighter content. Everything was set in stone with SFIV: the players, the pros, the commentators, the events and the champions. But everyone now has a renewed chance at victory.
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