This year, Street Fighter turns 35 years old. Yes, it’s been that long since the first game showed up in arcades, revolutionizing the concept of fighting games with, er… two playable characters and massive pressure-sensitive buttons that mashed your clenched fist into mincemeat as you had to hammer them ridiculously hard to get heavy attacks. Yeah. That’s not what the series is remembered for at all.
The series is really remembered for Street Fighter 2, of course. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a world where that first game never got a sequel, and what a worse world that is – with no Street Fighter, there’s no Mortal Kombat, no King of Fighters, no Killer Instinct… it’s not worth thinking about.
The difference between Street Fighter and its sequel raises what I think to be an interesting pattern in the series; an ebb and flow that matches up to the game’s numbered status. I’d put it like this: odd-numbered Street Fighter games are full of great ideas, but for one reason or another are either flawed, or struggle to gain full appreciation from a wide audience. And the even-numbered games blow the bloody doors off.
On the even side, we have Street Fighters 2 and 4 – arguably credited with bringing mainstream popularity back to the fighting game genre on the occasion of both their releases. Street Fighter 2 ushered in a golden age of arcade fighting right across the world during the 90s. In the late 2000s, Street Fighter 4 was the vanguard of a new generation of fighting games, where online connectivity acted as a gateway drug to explosive growth in the competitive scene. Street Fighter 4, in many ways, took EVO from hotel ballrooms to the Mandalay Bay.
On the odd side, we’ve got Street Fighter (a wonderful mess that was entirely necessary to get to the second game), the gravely misunderstood third game (which arguably hugely miscalculated by jettisoning one of the most recognizable and beloved video game casts of all time almost entirely), and Street Fighter 5… which is, now, a pretty great game that’ll forever be haunted by netcode problems and a lack of quality and content at launch.
As Street Fighter turns 35, it’s imperative that Capcom make sure Street Fighter 6 follows the pattern. By which I mean: it’s absolutely key that this is a rock solid game that has a cultural impact that ripples right through the genre.
This isn’t just about delivering a quality game, either – it’s about preserving Street Fighter’s status. Anybody with a brain would agree, whatever you think of the games, that Street Fighter is the beating heart of the fighting game world. It is the originator. Mortal Kombat sells more, and perhaps KOF has a more dedicated fanbase, but Street Fighter is the one. Street Fighter’s status as the ‘lead’ game at EVO, for instance, has always felt practically assumed. But that might not be the case for much longer.
As Connor wrote about recently, a major player is coming for a slice of fighting games. Riot Games has ‘Project L’ – a curious looking fighter set 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-in-class GGPO netcode – attached.
In the 90s, there was a battle for the crown of fighting games – and King of Fighters was never really in contention, despite the name. There arguably wasn’t 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 wide-reaching populist sales behemoth (as demonstrated by the performance of SF4/5 and MK 9 through 11). Riot’s Project L wants to be both of those things. It wants the crown.
In that sense, Street Fighter 6 might be the most important sequel this series has ever seen – since that second one, anyway. Once again, it is imperative that Capcom gets it right. And another even-numbered banger would be the perfect way to celebrate the 35th, anyway.
How can they do that? Well, the netcode has to be spot-on. Street Fighter finally has to figure out what it wants to do for a single-player mode (My prediction? Some sort of Krypt style overworld with quests and things to link fights together and unlock gear). And Capcom finally has to find a monetization model it’s happy with, where it can present Street Fighter as a ‘service game’ without making fans want to hurricane kick them in the face. It also needs to look right, and a transition to RE Engine is the ideal time to redefine the way Ryu and crew look. Just look at what that same transition has done for the Monster Hunter series.
As somebody who really rather likes Street Fighter 5, and as the sort of mad nerd who actually has an original Japanese Street Fighter 4 Vewlix arcade cabinet sitting right here in his office, I’m obviously really excited for Street Fighter’s 35th. But I’m also acutely aware that this could be a perilous time for the series. Here’s hoping that Capcom makes the right calls.