This year, Street Fighter turns 35 years old. Yes, it’s so long ago that the first game appeared in arcades and revolutionized the concept of fighting games with, uh … two playable characters and massive push-sensitive buttons that masturbate your clenched fist to minced meat while you had to hammer them ridiculously hard to get powerful attacks. Yes. That is not at all what the series is remembered for.
The series is really remembered for Street Fighter 2, of course. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a world where the first game never got a sequel, and what a worse world it is – without Street Fighter there is no Mortal Kombat, no King of Fighters, no Killer Instinct … it’s not worth thinking.
The difference between Street Fighter and its sequel raises what I think is an interesting pattern in the series; a ebb and flow that matches the numbered status of the game. I will put it this way: Street Fighter games with odd numbers are full of great ideas, but for one reason or another they are either flawed or struggling to gain full appreciation from a wide audience. And the straight numbers blow the bloody doors off.
On the straight side, we have Street Fighters 2 and 4 – no doubt credited for bringing mainstream popularity back to the fighting game genre on the occasion of both of their releases. Street Fighter 2 ushered in a golden age with arcade fights around the world during the 90’s. In the late 2000s, Street Fighter 4 was the vanguard of a new generation of fighting game in which online connectivity served as a gateway substance to explosive growth in the competitive environment. Street Fighter 4 in many ways took EVO from the hotel’s ballrooms to Mandalay Bay.
On the weird side, we have Street Fighter (a wonderful mess that was absolutely necessary to get to the second game), the seriously misunderstood third game (which was arguably hugely miscalculated by rejecting one of the most recognizable and beloved video games -casts of all time almost exclusively), and Street Fighter 5 … which is now a pretty good game that will forever be haunted by network code issues and lack of quality and content at launch.
As Street Fighter turns 35, it is imperative that Capcom ensure that Street Fighter 6 follows the pattern. By that I mean: it’s absolutely central that this is a rock-solid game that has a cultural impact that waves through the genre.
This is not just about delivering a quality game – it’s about maintaining Street Fighter status. Anyone with a brain will agree, no matter what you think of the games, that Street Fighter is the beating heart of the fighting game world. It’s the author. Mortal Kombat sells more, and maybe KOF has a more dedicated fanbase, but Street Fighter is the one. Street Fighters’ status as a ‘leading’ game at EVO, for example, has always felt practically accepted. But that may not be the case much longer.
As Connor wrote about recently, a great player is coming to a piece of fighting game. Riot Games has ‘Project L’ – a curious fighter taking place in the League of Legends universe. The game clearly wants to shake up fighting games, and it has the Cannon brothers – the founders of Evo and creators of the best GGPO network code – attached.
In the ’90s, there was a battle for the crown of fighting games – and King of Fighters was never really in conflict, despite the name. There was probably not really a winner. Instead, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat took divergent paths, with the former becoming the heart of the genre and the latter becoming the far-reaching populist sales behemoth (as demonstrated by SF4 / 5 and MK 9 to 11). Riot’s Project L wants to be both of these things. It wants the crown.
In that sense, the Street Fighter 6 is perhaps the most important sequel this series has ever seen – at least since the other. That’s it once again urgently needed that Capcom is right. And another banger with even numbers would still be the perfect way to celebrate the 35th.
How can they do that? Well, the network code should be spot-on. Street Fighter must finally figure out what it will do for a single-player mode (My prediction? A kind of Crypt-style upper world with quests and things to connect battles and unlock gear). And Capcom must finally find a monetization model it is happy with where it can present Street Fighter as a ‘service game’ without making fans want to hurricane kick them in the face. It should also look right, and a transition to the RE Engine is the ideal time to redefine the way Ryu and the crew look. Just look at what the same transition has done for the Monster Hunter series.
As someone who really prefers Street Fighter 5, and as the kind of crazy nerd who actually has an original Japanese Street Fighter 4 Vewlix arcade sitting right here in his office, I’m obviously really excited about Street Fighters 35. But I’m also very aware that this can be a dangerous time for the series. We hope Capcom makes the right calls.
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