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Street Fighter: Why I love it

Michael Gapper explains his love of Capcom's fighting series...

You're 11 years old, crowding around a Street Fighter II arcade cabinet while bigger boys hog the machine.

You're 13, saving every penny for a SNES import converter to play that chunky USA SFII Turbo cartridge early. You're 16, putting aside your PlayStation and playing SF Alpha 2 on a friend's Saturn because it had the best controller ever.

You're 18, leaving your sixth form Sociology lesson and calling in sick for your £2.80 an hour evening job because SF Alpha 3 has arrived and you have to triumph or die.

It's in our blood. Whether you're an old hand or a newbie; whether you were there 20 years ago for Street Fighter II or SFIV was your first time on the street; whether you smashed faces and bloodied noses in Alpha 1, 2, and 3, or you never touched a fighting game until Soul Calibur IV. Whether on SNES or Mega Drive, Saturn or PlayStation, Dreamcast or PS2, Xbox or PS3 - we are gamers, and Street Fighter is in our blood.

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YOU CAN'T GIVE UP
It was an April morning in 1999 when Street Fighter Alpha 3 dropped through the door, a full year before the game would officially see the light of day in Europe. It had been ordered from the internet - the internet! - and was an imported copy from a late-90s dotcom startup which would go bust within eight months, played on a PlayStation chipped to run imports and 'backups' by a-friend-of-a-friend-don't-ask-what-his-name-is-but-he's-a-good-bloke-don't-worry.

We didn't even need to call it by its full name. It was just 'Alpha 3'. "Hoy, Dwayne; wanna play some Alpha 3?" Of course he bloody did; it was Alpha Three. It was the best. It was Street Fighter the way it existed in your head - the fluidity and accessibility SFII never had with the sheer spectacle and drama SFIV wishes it could touch with its canned Ultra combos and 3D hulks.

Armies of teens crowded into bedrooms beneath posters of Buffy and Louise Nurding, squinting through binoculars at miniscule 16-inch Curry's own-brand portable tellies. Winner stays, loser pays; there were no 50p's to stack and no bigger boys to kick you off the machine but it was Street Fighter and there are rules.

They were rules you all knew - common ground every gamer shared. There were the same three punches and kicks, the same joystick motions and results, the same one-on-one fights and the same World Warriors.

Those barely-supplemented mechanics from SFII were well into their tweens when Alpha 3 hit shelves but with three fighting styles, dozens of play modes, and a screen-filling character roster, the game felt brand-spanking new.

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The cast was the biggest anyone had ever seen - everyone from Alpha 2 and more besides; better yet, there were hidden characters who weren't part of the arcade game you had made special trips into Weston-super-Mare to play throughout the summer of '98.

T. Hawk, Dee Jay, Fei Long, Guile, Evil Ryu, and Shin Akuma were all selectable from their own slots on the character select screen, ready to be mastered or re-mastered on a brand new battlefield. But hoy, Dwayne - don't select Evil Ryu now. That fool is cheap.

Alpha 3 was the right game at the right time, and it was always about playing with the right friends. Street Fighter was never great because Capcom had made it great; it was great because it brought you together after school and work, at weekends and on holidays. Street Fighter III proved it; Third Strike was the best Street Fighter ever but it was a 2D fighter in the middle of a 3D revolution and only the Sega Dreamcast could handle it, so the audience stayed relatively small.

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