In 1991, Capcom first unleashed Street Fighter II: The World Warrior, and the Street Fighter series still rules the fighting game roost 24 years later. Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons, but a big one is that Street Fighter II laid the strongest of possible foundations.
Street Fighter II was by no means a surefire prospect. It was created by a small team of, shall we say, unique individuals, and a lot of its innovations were essentially stumbled upon by luck. Street Fighter II could have gone wrong in so many ways, but Capcom somehow managed to produce one of the most solidly designed games in history. Here are a few things you might not know about the first fighting game that really mattered…
1) Final Fight was originally supposed to be Street Fighter II. Yes, nobody really remembers it, but there was a Street Fighter game before Street Fighter II. The original Street Fighter wasn’t a great success, selling under 3,000 arcade units worldwide, but Capcom brass nevertheless gave producer Yoshiki Okamoto the task of making a sequel. Okamoto wasn’t exactly thrilled about developing a sequel to a game not many people liked, so he made major changes, transforming Street Fighter into a side-scrolling brawler.
They also added one pretty epic mustache.
Until very near release, this game was going to be released as Street Fighter ’89, but Capcom decided at the last second that the game was too different from the original Street Fighter, so it was renamed Final Fight. If the game hadn’t been renamed, the Street Fighter series, and the entire fighting genre, might have gone in a very different direction.
2) Dhalsim originally had six arms, and Vega was a British knight. One of the things that set Street Fighter II apart was its incredibly varied roster, and that distinctly wacky lineup of fighters wasn’t born overnight. The original 12 Street Fighter II characters only emerged after a lot of trial and error and discarded bad ideas.
Capcom released Street Fighter II concept art in Japan, showing that the rubber-limbed Dhalsim once looked like the Indian God Ganesha, complete with six arms and an elephant head. Meanwhile, Vega originally came from England and sported a full suit of armor.
Six stretchy arms? Talk about OP.
Those are characters were eventually kept. Characters who were cut altogether included a baton-wielding cop, a mashup of the WWF’s Kamala and Jimmy Snuka, and a dude with a beard, spiked gauntlets, tight pants and Zubaz shirt. I’m not sure what they were going for with that last guy back in 1990, but Capcom could totally bring him back as a fightin’ hipster today.
I want all these characters in Street Fighter V right damn now.
3) Zangief was going to be called “Vodka Gobalsky.” It wasn’t just the visual aspect of the fighters that took a long time to nail down. Capcom had a hard time with names, too. For instance, Dhalsim was originally Great Tiger, and Chun-Li was China Daughter, but the award for most regrettable/hilarious early moniker goes to Zangief, who was originally called Vodka Gobalsky. Between this and Punch-Out’s Vodka Drunkenski, the late ’80s/early ’90s were a golden age for totally offensive (except, not really) Russian stereotypes in video games.
4) M. Bison, Balrog and Vega had their names switched for the American release of Street Fighter II. While we’re on the subject of names, a number of Street Fighter II characters actually swapped names when the game made its way to America. The guy we know as Balrog was originally named M. Bison because he’s a caricature of Mike Tyson (Mike Tyson, M. Bison, get it?). Capcom’s American branch thought that was a little too on-the-nose, so they rechristened him Balrog, which was Vega’s original name. In Japan, Vega was the name of the game’s big boss, so, to close this confusing loop, Capcom of America transferred the M. Bison name to him. To recap, M. Bison became Balrog, Balrog became Vega, and Vega became M. Bison. Hope you were taking notes.
5) The makers of Street Fighter II almost blew their deadline because the game’s character designer was obsessed with Chun-Li’s legs. Here’s a fact that should shock approximately no one: Street Fighter character designer Akira Yasuda has a pretty serious thigh fetish, according to pretty much everyone who’s worked with him. One need only glance at Chun-Li’s gloriously hammy gams to confirm that.
Unfortunately, Yasuda’s peccadillo almost caused a serious problem during development of Street Fighter II. The dude spent so long rendering Chun-Li’s legs and stockings (he scrapped his Chun-Li sprite three separate times) that the team barely made their deadline. Yasuda’s co-workers probably weren’t too happy with him at the time, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I’d like to commend the guy on time very well spent.
Speaking of “hindsight.”
6) Special moves were going to do increased damage depending on how quickly you pushed the buttons. Special moves are notoriously hard to pull of in Street Fighter II, particularly compared to modern fighting games. That quarter-circle + punch had to be timed just right, or your Hadoken wasn’t happening.
Well, Street Fighter II was originally going to be even more unforgiving for those with slow thumbs. At one time, there was a plan to reward players with extra damage if they entered a special move faster. If that had been implemented, I’d probably be winless at Street Fighter II to this day.
7) Combos were considered a bug and almost removed from the game. Street Fighter II didn’t give birth to the fighting genre, but, until it came along, most fighting games tended to be slow-paced affairs that focused on haltingly trading blows with your opponent. Street Fighter II greatly increased the speed and fluidity of fighting games by allowing players to chain multiple attacks together, but this integral part of the game was surprisingly considered a bug by the developers.
Make sure not to punch each other twice in a row, fellas.
Basically, late in the development of Street Fighter II, it was decided that the time players were allotted to enter special moves should be made slightly more lenient. Not a bad idea, but it had a side effect: If somebody entered a special move quickly, they had a bit of extra time they could use to initiate another move. So, if you were fast enough, you could rain a barrage of unblockable moves down on your opponent. Street Fighter II director Akira Nishitani was horrified when he discovered this “flaw” in his precisely engineered baby, but there was no time to fix the problem, so the game was released with combos intact. Of course, it turned out that combos actually added an extra level of depth and skill to Street Fighter II and have become a major cornerstone of the series, but bugs and features are often hard to tell apart.
8) Street Fighter II Turbo was inspired by hacked versions of the game. We all like to poke fun at Street Fighter for releasing countless barely-tweaked variations of every game in the series. Now, it’s just done out of misplaced nostalgia, but there was actually a good reason Street Fighter II came in so many flavors.
Street Fighter II had a serious problem with hacking and piracy. Capcom sold around 60,000 legitimate Street Fighter II arcade cabinets, but there were hundreds of thousands of illegal Street Fighter II machines on the market. Yup, there’s a pretty good chance the Street Fighter II machine you played down at the local pizza parlor was a rip-off, particularly if the place had a little of that old country, wise guy flavor. Worse, a lot of these illegal Street Fighter II machines added features, making them more appealing to players than Capcom’s legit game. Capcom was in a constant competition with the pirates to have the most feature-rich version of Street Fighter II, hence the release of Championship Edition, Turbo, Super and a million other variations.
Weird, constipated/sad Sagat, made possible by piracy!
Perhaps the most direct result of this war was the release of Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting, which was inspired by a Taiwanese Street Fighter II hack called Rainbow Edition. This version sped the game up by 25 percent and introduced the ability to do special attacks in mid-air, amongst other craziness. James Goddard, head of localization for Capcom’s American branch, tried out Rainbow Edition and generally thought it was an unbalanced mess, but when he went back to play vanilla Street Fighter II, he suddenly felt like the characters were fighting underwater. Goddard knew the increased speed would be a game-changer, and he begged his Japanese masters to make another revision to Street Fighter II. The Japanese side was very resistant to the idea. They had specifically designed the game to be the speed it was, but they eventually relented. So, in this case, the pirates, and everybody else won.
9) Capcom tried to lock down the fighting genre by suing competitors. Pirates and hackers weren’t Capcom’s only concern. There were also plenty of legitimate developers pumping out shameless clones following the success of Street Fighter II. In fact, Data East’s Fighter’s History was such a blatant swipe, Capcom decided to take them to court.
Now, Fighter’s History was derivative as all hell, and most of its characters were clearly “inspired” by Street Fighter II, but Data East changed things just enough that it wasn’t infringing on the Street Fighter property, and Capcom knew that. By suing Data East, Capcom was basically trying to lock down the fighting genre by claiming exclusive right to anything that looked, felt or played anything like Street Fighter II. If Capcom had won (they didn’t), they would have been able to shut down most Japanese fighting games, and maybe even competitors like Mortal Kombat. Fighter’s History is kind of a lousy game, but if you’re into fighting games, you owe it a debt for challenging Capcom’s monopoly over the genre.
10) Mattel sued Capcom over Ken’s resemblance to Barbie’s boyfriend. Capcom was also on the receiving end of lawsuits related to Street Fighter II, because that’s karma for ya. Once Capcom started marketing Street Fighter toys, Mattel went after them because they felt the blonde beach bum Ken was too similar to their Ken doll. Apparently, somebody decided that Mattel had a leg to stand on, because Capcom would later give Ken the last name Masters in order to differentiate him from Barbie’s smooth-crotched boyfriend.
11) We actually know what model of car you’re beating up in the game. Is there anything more satisfying that destroying a car piece-by-piece with dragon punches? Well, your vehicular victim in Street Fighter II was actually based on a real car, namely a Lexus LS400 (or Toyota Celsior, as it was known in Japan).
These days, you can get 1990 Lexus LS400 for around $1,000, so taking your frustrations out Street Fighter-style is now within the average man’s grasp.
12) There’s another live-action Street Fighter II movie that makes the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie look like an Academy Award contender. The Hollywood Street Fighter movie is a staple of bad movie night, but you’re not a true connoisseur of so-bad-it’s-good cheese unless you’ve watched Future Cops, the spectacularly awful Hong Kong take on Street Fighter II. Guys, it involves FUTURE COPS Ryu, Guile, Vega and Dhalsim traveling back in time to 1993, where they go undercover at a high school. Also, the movie ends with them fighting Goku from Dragon Ball Z for no reason. It’s pretty fantastic, is what I’m saying. Here’s the full thing.
There you are, a few super, turbo, EX+ facts about Street Fighter II. Know any interesting facts I missed? Just want to battle tooth-and-nail over which Street Fighter character is the best? Hit the comments and let’s rumble.