Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior

Four years after the release of Street Fighter, its sequel was finally about to arrive. And in general nobody cared. The first game probably had its following, but was terrible any way you slice it. I'd even go so far as to say the game not only didn't deserve a sequel, but also that the creation of a followup game would be on the fast track to being one of the worst games of the year.

Sometimes, it feels pretty good to be wrong, and Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is one of those times. With this game Capcom took everything that was awful about the original and either removed or fixed it. Then they took everything that was good about the first game (which wasn't much, but it had its decent ideas, execution aside) and made it better. That Street Fighter II was a good game was surprising, but after playing it, there was no surprise at the way it spawned an entire fighting game industry.

Multiple choices.The first improvement is obvious from the beginning. While Street Fighter only let you play as Ryu (or Ken if you were in two-player battles), Street Fighter II expands the character selection to eight. And while Ryu and Ken are still essentially the same fighter with different appearances, each of the remaining six choices are completely unique from one another.

Ken and Ryu continue to rely on their special moves from the first game, but then you have Guile, who is less a martial artist and more of a street fighter in style. Which is already a step up, since now there is finally someone whose technique actually fits the game's title. There is Zangief, a Soviet wrestler covered in scars from all the bear wrestling he does in his spare time. Now that's a man (who just happens to be adapted directly from Mike Haggar of Final Fight fame). We have E. Honda, a sumo who can launch himself like a human projectile. We have Dhalsim, a Hindu ascetic whose yoga mastery allows him to stretch his limbs across half the screen. And we have Chun Li, significant more for being female than for anything else, though she can kick like lightning.

Army chill time.Finally, there's Blanka, who gets Street Fighter II's "Why Do You Exist?" award. He's supposedly human, despite the greenish appearance, and he's supposedly fighting with the Brazilian martial art capoeira, but most of the time he'll be somersaulting, biting his opponent like a vampire, or generating electricity by constipating himself. Not that I'm upset he's in the game; he's a great character and fun to play. It just doesn't make much sense when compared to everyone else. In that sense we might call Blanka the father of all the bizarre characters in fighting games...those guys who always seem just a tad out of place.

The gameplay mechanics are unchanged from Street Fighter, but are actually in working order this time around. Blocking is still accomplished by moving away from your opponent. There are still six attack buttons, but now they really make up six different kinds of attacks. There are still special moves, but now they control far more tightly so it's not a debacle trying to execute one. And the entire game is now responsive. The first game was so laggy it was nearly unplayable, but the game and control speed have now been evened out to make the whole thing run very smoothly.

Asceticism.Bonus stages make a return in Street Fighter II, occurring after every three victories through the single-player game. Now instead of kicking through boards, however, you have to beat a car to death with your bare hands, or destroy barrels that are falling on your head. These stages make less sense than their predecessors, but perhaps that's part of why they're so much more fun. And it's nice to have a diversion on occasion from the senseless violence the rest of the game espouses.

Not that the violence is bad - it's thoroughly enjoyable. But the story for the game is still pretty sparse. The overarching "plot" is virtually identical to the first game: it's a fighting tournament taking place all over the world to determine who the world's strongest/best fighter is. But that's not really compelling. We know that you won the first tournament in Street Fighter as Ryu, and he is therefore the defending champion, but it's meaningless within the game. To that end Capcom created loose backstories and motivations for each character. Guile and Chun Li are hunting down the game's final boss for criminal activity, for instance (Guile with the US military and Chun Li with Interpol). E. Honda wants to prove that sumo isn't just fat dudes in thongs belly bumping. None of these is fleshed out, but I give Capcom credit for recognizing they should explain the presence of all these diverse characters.

Background fighting.After defeating every selectable character in the single-player game, you must fight through four consecutive boss battles. The common thread is that all bosses are members of the criminal organization Shadaloo, which is also sponsoring the tournament. When the game was released in Japan, the first of these four bosses was an African American boxer named Mike Bison who was designed to be, of course, Mike Tyson. He even had the gap in his teeth, and wore some bling in his closeup photo. Because in America that would result in a suit for copyright infringement (you can copyright a human being?), they changed his name to Balrog.

Balrog is the game's only fighter who can't kick, but he doesn't need to. He punches absurdly hard, and is pretty quick to boot. Defeating him sends you to Vega (who had been the original Balrog in Japan...this is confusing I know), a Spanish narcissist who is the only character to use a weapon. That, and he can go into the background where he is invincible (as pictured above) to swan dive on your face. Afterward, you fight Sagat, who was the boss of Street Fighter. He's now got a massive scar on his chest from Ryu's dragon punch special move at the end of the first game, and he's pretty pissed about it. Which I guess led him to join a crime ring.

Psycho Crushaa.Finally, when everyone else is defeated, you fight the end boss. In Japan this was the original Vega, but because Vega was now the claw dude, America was left with Mike Bison as the remaining unused name. But does a military dictator in full uniform really strike you as a "Mike Bison?" No? What about an "M. Bison?" Yeah, sounds better now doesn't it? What's the M stand for now? Murder?

While the single-player game is superior in every way to Street Fighter's, it's the multiplayer mode where the game really shines brightest. You're bound to find a character out of the eight who is your favorite, and with six attack buttons that themselves can do 3-4 different attacks each depending on situation, there are a lot of nuances to learn. It's one of those "easy to learn, hard to master" types of games that generates a lot of really fun and rewarding competition. And the balance between fighters is significantly better than you might think. At first you'll choose Dhalsim because he can punch you from across the screen, and you'll think you're unstoppable. But then you'll realize that he's one of the slowest people in the game and is easily counter-attacked. So you'll move on to another fighter, but will find weaknesses there too. No single character is vastly superior to any other, and that's quite a feat considering it's the first time Capcom branched out beyond one playable guy.

Every character also has an individual ending for finishing the game. They range from lame (Dhalsim showing a kid a picture of him winning), to cool (Ryu skipping the awards ceremony to find more people to beat up), to downright strange (Blanka shouting "Mommy!" and blubbering like a baby). It further enriches the depth of the experience, which is one with few flaws. The only real complaints are that a few of the special moves still don't command reliably (Guile's "flash kick" comes to mind), the bosses feel like they should be playable, and the fighting can feel a bit stiff. Not laggy or terrible, but just stiff.

All that said, Street Fighter II: The World Warrior is a good game. Comparing it to the original isn't even fair. The main reason nobody remembers Street Fighter is that it was garbage. But the secondary reason is that with this game, Capcom eliminated any reason for anyone to ever play the first title again. So with that said, I think it's now time for us to celebrate in the appropriate Russian fashion.

Soviet Hoedown.

Bottom Line: 15/20

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